Saturday, November 24, 2007

The uncanny city stroll

from the article "Repeating Making Meaning in Freud and Aristotle" by William N. West--

"Freud gives an example of repetition and meaning more closely related to the tripartite structure visible in Aristotle. In "The Uncanny," written a year before Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he recounts getting lost one summer in an almost deserted Italian town and wandering by accident into the red light district. Embarrassed, Freud "hastened to leave the narrow street at the next turning" (237). After wandering a bit more, though, Freud found himself back in the place he had just left, "where my presence was now beginning to excite attention." Freud leaves again, only to return by accident once more. It is the third time that strikes Freud profoundly and oddly: "Now, however, a feeling overcame me which I can only describe as uncanny." Freud's story expands on Lacan's aphorism in a few ways. First, he shows that the sign of a subject is not always the sign of a subject, or at least not always the subject it seems to be the sign of. The sign in fact produces the subject, but outside of the subject within a spectator--that is, the spectator (mis)recognizes a certain intention in Freud's repeated return. Freud's returning is not a sign for him until his third arrival, but it is a sign of him to the prostitutes the second time he shows up, when he begins to "excite attention." Meaning, then, accumulates out of stupid repetition and coincidence--the first of which Plato fears when he describes the imitator of weather, and the second of which Aristotle decries as a bad plot--but not in the repeater or imitator, only in the spectator. But Freud's awareness of the awareness of the watching prostitutes doubles his own displaced meaning back onto him; their gaze constitutes him as meaningful for himself, or rather he sees what he means to them. In effect, Freud recognizes in himself the split that characterizes the mimetic object. For the prostitutes, he is not mimetic at all; he truly is what he seems, a slightly nervous potential customer suitable for traditional life-instinct relations like cathexis or identification. Freud recognizes this, and the embarrassment he feels is his knowing misrecognition of himself as the abashed would-be client."

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