The Knowing Psychical Body
Stephanie Grace Schull
The unconscious has access to a wealth of knowledge, and it is not expressed in a form we have come to expect truth to be in, i.e. following rational logic. But rather, it is a direction, an unconscious motion, that can be described to be more of an affect than a statement and is epistemologically the function of intuition resulting from a repressed logic. In the end, I show that the positing of a psychical body is the means by which, the arguably intuitive, internal perceptions that Freud at times refers to as sensations and feelings are expressed according to a repressed logic.
First I will outline four possible ways of knowing. The first two belong to the realm of reason and, I will argue, occur at the level of a well-defined ego. Within the parameters of reason, one finds the mode of knowing which is common and well-known, that of rational, scientific, observation which concerns itself with moving bodies and their respective interaction within the realm of the visible in the sense employed by Merleau-Ponty.
The second mode is what is known as abstract, rational, thinking, and here the individual is interested in the interaction of abstract bodies. The force behind this method of knowing resides in the abstracted bodies, which are extrapolations of what one once observed in the first mode of knowing. With regard to the two modes of rational knowledge, we see the individual observing the interaction of a plurality of bodies, for rationality operates on the assumption that the smallest number is two, (1) that is, rational logic are based on a binary system. Within this realm, all comparisons and observations need to be performed under standardized, regulated conditions, i.e. performed by an individual objectively processing data according the logic of rationality. While the two modes of rationality are concerned with bodies, the two other modes on the other hand operate through the body.
The second set of epistemological modes is derived from a special notion of intuition; a mode of knowing that functions according to what I will call "repressed logic." This second set operates in the deepest strata of the psyche where the individual loses its boundaries and becomes social. The first of the two, I will term "intuitive sensing," as it is concerned with phenomena that are not sensitively distinguishable at the gross level of our five senses, nevertheless it processes data as it would information about its own body, while dissolving boundaries of the ego. As such it operates at the level of intercorporeality. This mode is an unconscious processing of fluctuations in the environment that the body senses as its "own," insofar as it extends its boundaries beyond the individual's ego boundary, allowing it to sense the environment through its 'extended-body.' It has sensory powers that necessarily enlarge the scope of the individual to the point that it encompasses many individuals and, as a consequence, it is unindividuated.
In the same vein, the counterpart of intuitive sensing, intuitive thought, is grounded at the level of interalterity (I call it interalterity as opposed to the intersubjectivity of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty because the subject belongs to the realm of the ego and the object is the other as the unconscious). Intuitive thought also operates unconsciously at the level of its phylogenetic archaic heritage-the collective psyche-again in a social mode. In intuitive thought, the person feels that they know something or they are pushed from within to do something. When a person knows something intuitively to be the case, the person experiences the information sufficiently for knowledge, but it is often the case that it is not recognized as such by those who emphasize rational logic. This being the case, one must make a concentrated effort to process the simple, unitary motion provided by the repressed logic into the always at least binary, language based system of reason to be recognized.
Using this schematic division between rational and intuitive knowing, i.e., between traditional logic and repressed logic, I will argue that the two kinds of knowing I outlined, correspond to the ego and the id, insofar as the ego is associated with reason and common sense, and the id with affect. (2) These associations will be at the core of this essay; how they fit and where they seem incommensurable will be discussed throughout.
Looking first at the ego, we will begin with a description that Freud consistently supported, "The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego; it is not merely a surface entity, but is itself the projection of a surface." (3) More problematically he also writes, "A person's own body, and above all its surface, is a place from which both external and internal perceptions may spring." (4) Now, I would like to associate the external perceptions with the rational faculties and the internal perceptions with the intuitive faculties, but the problem arises with the fact that earlier I claimed that reason belongs to the ego and intuition to the id. I would still like to hold to those distinctions while working through the problem, and I will put forth the proposal that Freud himself is constantly running into difficulty by maintaining that internal perceptions are the function of the ego. I will argue that the difficulty he encounters is the result of not clarifying the differences between the sources of these perceptions, the point of their mediation and translation, and where in the psychical apparatus the person can be said to register these sensations.
While the ego is clearly about the individual to the extent that it is the very boundary of the individual, the id is more collective and nebulous. Freud writes of the social aspect of the id:
Also on the id, he writes:
On the level of the bodily surface, and its relation to external perception, the notion of time arises from the work of the Pcpt.-Cs., and we shall see that the id lives in a non-temporal realm, prior to the formation of the Pcpt.-Cs. (7)
So while the ego is responsible for time, and functions within a temporal system, the id is prior to time consciousness and is not temporally influenced. He comments, "We have found by experience that unconscious mental processes are in themselves 'timeless.' That is to say to begin with, they are not arranged chronologically, time alters nothing in them, nor can the idea of time be applied to them." (8) The chronological and evolutionary priority of the id seems to conflict with the following assertion made by Freud, "All perceptions which are received from without (sense-perceptions) and from within--what we call sensations and feelings--are conscious from the start." (9) He continues, albeit unassured, "But what about those internal processes which we may--roughly and inexactly--sum up under the name of thought-processes? They represent displacements of mental energy which are effected somewhere in the interior of the apparatus as this energy proceeds on its way towards action." (10) Freud writes, "Internal perceptions yield sensations of processes arising in the most diverse and certainly also in the deepest strata of the mental apparatus." (11) It follows that the id is responsible for the internal perceptions, and yet there is no account for phylogenetically based internal perceptions.
Trouble surfaces with his claim that all sensations and feelings are conscious originally as opposed to unconscious. (12) Here we begin to see the problems that internal perception can cause for Freud. He also writes:
He later claims:
From these quotes it seems that Freud believes that internal perceptions that come from, the deepest, oldest, primordial part of the psyche are not necessarily conscious from the start. The only way he can make such claims without serious contradiction, and maintain that sense-perceptions from within are conscious from the start, is if he means by consciousness "the ego" for then we would understand that to be the unconscious part of the ego, as it makes no sense to say the unconscious part of the conscious. (15) A fact which leads Freud to say, "A part of the ego, too--and Heaven knows how important a part--may be unconscious, undoubtedly is unconscious." (16) At the same time, one can look at the preconscious in the descriptive sense as being closer to that which is conscious than what is unconscious all the while remaining between the two. (17) If we decide that the preconscious is the unconscious part of the conscious than it is precisely the preconscious psychical body that is also the unconscious part of the ego; consequently, one can deduce that it is the psychical body that is a source of internal perceptions.
Whereas the preconscious was the translator for the movement of an idea from unconscious to conscious, the psychical body, I will argue, is responsible for translating a feeling (an internal perception) from the unconscious to the conscious. Intuitive sensing is likewise, at the level of intercorporeality, unconscious and internal. It is internal because the body has been extended to encompass many 'other' things, and unconscious because it occurs without word-presentation or comparison (with respect to objects or time), and exists in a part of the apparatus that is prior to consciousness. The difference between rational recollection or knowing, and intuitive ones, ride on this point. Reason deals with comparisons of data, while intuition is in effect, one simple, unique, motion, about which a comparison cannot occur. This movement is what Freud thinks of as an 'internal perception,' that seems to spring from the ego, insofar as the ego is a projection of the bodily surface. If this is indeed the case, one can add that a part of our body, including the surface of our body, is unconscious and repressed, and expresses itself through internal thought processes.
The id has access to a wealth of knowledge, and it is not expressed in a form we have come to expect truth to be in, i.e. by a rational logic. But rather, it is a direction, an unconscious motion, that can be described to be more of an affect than a statement and is epistemological the function of intuition resulting from repressed logic. During therapy, that which is being expressed bodily, intuitively, and emotionally will be navigated through the preconscious where it will be scrutinized by the faculty of reason in the attempt to free oneself from its power by placing it outside of oneself--'to talk it out.' Ideally, we could circumvent a great deal of this process by learning anew the 'language' of the id, rendering it unnecessary to direct the information from the psychical body through the preconscious thereby avoiding any potential manipulation by language and its cohort, reason, otherwise known as resistance. To our eventual distress, we misinterpret the information and disregard the communicative efforts of our phylogenetically rich reservoir of knowledge, the id, by forcing it through the parameters of the verbal preconscious which is ultimately incommensurable, and therefore, dissonant, with the knowledge of the preconscious body.
Placing a psychical body in Freud's system in the manner that I have proposed, is a key to solving not only enigmas in psychoanalysis as in the case of hysteria, but it can be applied in interesting and fruitful ways to the paradoxes found in classical and fuzzy logic. But in order for it to do so, we must understand more about the functioning of repressed logic. One possibility would be to look at the sense with which Jung operated as he engaged in a study of the language of the imaginary world; the world of the imago. Of course, Freud rejected Jung's work, again in a motion to prioritize the process of applying word-presentations in the Pcs. This dismissal is evident when after a discussion on the value of verbal residues he counters it with the fact that while it is possible for something to become conscious via optical mnemic residues, it is only "...a very incomplete form of becoming conscious." (18) He then goes on to posit that this form of becoming conscious is undoubtedly older both "ontologically" and "phylogenetically." The reason Freud gives for claiming that such a process is an incomplete form of becoming conscious is quite interesting; he writes that thinking imagistically is necessarily incomplete because it is not capable of representing relations between things--the very point he argues that gives thoughts their shape. In response, I would like to go back to the beginning of my paper where I discuss the difference between rational and intuitive thinking and sensing to bring those ideas closer to the more recent discussion on the unsignifiable gap between signifiers--between cause and affect. My interest lies in the fact that rational operations depend on comparisons between two things, which is to say, it entirely focuses on the relationship between things. While intuitive processes operate with a radically different logic, a logic that has a single, unitary, motion as its base, it is the logic of the gap, the logic of the negated. In sum, it is a repressed logic. This being the case, we can see why Freud would be led to think that imagistic thought that arises from this level of thinking is somehow incomplete when viewed from the position of a rational thought process. Nevertheless, it is ridiculous to believe that this ancient process of thinking (one which we may very well have alone operated before the more recent development of rational thought) could be so flagrantly incomplete. Freud wrote:
In this quote it is easy to see that Freud thought that the id does not obey the rules of logic, insofar as they would be nonsensical in the domain of the id where negation does not exist. We have a repressed logic and an epistemology of intuitive sensing that operates at the level of intercorporeality where the preconscious psychical body is at work in its proper realm.
All this being said, we may now broach the notion I am most eager to speak to you about, the psychical body and its characteristics of intercorporeality and interalterity. Of course, there are many more dimensions to the psychical body than just these two, but in the context of psychoanalysis, explaining these two sides of the psychical body is a task more readily approachable. First, I would like to introduce the idea of intercorporeality. The notion of intercorporeality works against the supposition that there are sharp boundaries between our 'selves' and the world. The term "intercorporeality" taken literally means among-body-realities. Keeping in mind that the body at this level is psychical and unconscious, we will take seriously Freud's position that the ego is the surface of the body. Nevertheless, it is an impossible task to point to the border of the bodily surface and the environment, although that is exactly where we claim the ego is to be found. Considering the conscious part of the ego, the body seems clearly enough delineated, but the unconscious part is quite fuzzy. The surface of the unconscious ego-body is neither a limit nor a wall, but rather it is closer to a limen and not unlike a busy intersection such as the round-about at Bastille. The ego as unconscious psychical body is in direct contact with the unconscious processes of the cellular world as much as it is with macroscopic ones. Here, let us not forget that Freud urged us to consider that in the hysteric the body was affected at the cellular level. To which we should add, if the psychical body is unconscious and occupies itself with unconscious processes, perceptions, etc., of which there is no subject proper, then why should it not equally incorporate unconsciousness and unconscious events of others that surround it? It can be argued that there is an intercorporeal relationship amongst individuals that occurs at the level of disindividuation.
The Latin-American Psychoanalyst, Juan David Nasio writes, "Paradoxically, the analytic relation will progressively cease to be a relation between two persons as it becomes a unique psychical place that includes conjointly the analyst and the analysand, or rather, the place of the in-between which envelops and absorbs the analytic partners." Nasio writes, quote "Thanks to this logical conception of an unconscious that is extended between two subjects, we have broken with three intuitive prejudices: chronological time, Euclidean space, and individual unity." (20) Although he begins his statement with reference to two subjects, once individual unity is dissolved one cannot claim to have two subjects anymore (as there is no individual unconscious.) This being the case, I prefer to call this field of being, interalterity, as opposed to intersubjectivity, which would be rather relations between subjects. Obviously, the epistemic output that results from such interaction may never reach the individual consciousness as the resistance against paying heed to such information is very great. Psychoanalysis is well positioned to overcome this resistance and to understand the epistemological value of listening to the psychical body--the enigma of the body that knows to speak the truth of that which we are.
(1) See Aristotle's Physics for an early understanding that rationality depends on a plurality of things with which to compare, and knowledge can equally only occur via negation--that is by way of something and its opposite--based on a bivalent system.
(2) Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, trans. Joan Riviere. ed. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1960), 19. Hereafter 'E&I'
(3) E&I, p. 20.
(4) E&I, p. 19.
(5) Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1949), 40. Hereafter, 'AoP'
(6) Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1965), 91-92. Hereafter, 'NIL'
(7) NIL, p. 212.
(8) BPP, ch. 4.
(9) emphasis mine, E&I, p.12.
(10) emphasis mine, E&I, p.12.
(11) E&I, p. 14.
(12) E&I, p.12.
(13) emphasis mine, NIL, p. 94
(14) E&I, p.14-15.
(15) Sigmund Freud. "The Unconscious." in General Psychological Theory. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1963), 52.
(16) E&I, p. 9.
(17) E&I, p. 6.
(18) E&I, p. 14.
(19) NIL, p. 92.
(20) Juan-David Nasio. Cinq leçons sur la théorie de Jacques Lacan. (Paris: Éditions Payot, 1994), 103. (translation mine)