Contempt for Imaginary Believers

Histories of Meaning
Earl Jackson, Jr.
Winter 1999 Seminar


Jeff Bobis


Earl Jackson, Jr.


On your comments on my response to Aristotle


Thursday, March 11, 1999 2:52:24 AM

[Earl’s comments in

red until further notice.]

This is turning into

autobiography again. I feel like I have to apologize

for it, but you already know what I chose to present to you about my

„life story.“ What happened to that Groucho Marx

elenchus? I really

wanted to know what you would think about that paragraph about critics.

That has to be one of the funniest things I’ve written in a while, but in

a developed sense, „le humour noir.“

I suppose much of my urge for that essay, the essay on Aristotle, or

anything I write about a theory, is to totally countermand

[split infinitive! See my „Conversational Swedish Tips„- ej ] theories and

science, to overthrow them. The only problem with this is that I attempt

to write this using their language and to think this using My Scientific


One of my favorite lines from a different translation of

Antigone which I

read in high school came from the discourse between Haemon and Creon.

Haemon says something like (this must go through five years of memory):

If I am young and right, do not begrudge me the truth because I am

young.“ Of course, the presumably pretentiously literal translation

produced by the U. of Chicago rephrases this into something

unrecognizable. At any rate, this is a good motto for

a young


I can’t have that great of an opinion of Freud, as my first exposure to

him was this passage, chosen at random. In all honesty, this was the

first passage of Freud I ever read. It poisoned me. We all know what

psychology has to say about the „primacy effect

[We do? And what does psychology have to do with psychoanalysis? And how did we get from Aristotle to Freud?],“ I assume:

„The retention of fecal masses, which is at first intentional in order to utilize them, as it were, for masterbatic excitation of the anal zone, is at least one of the roots of constipation so frequent in neurotics. The whole significance of the anal zone is mirrored in the fact that there are but few neurotics who have not their special scatalogic customs,ceremonies, etc., which they retain with cautious secrecy.



masterbatic irritation of the anal zone by means of the fingers,evoked through either centrally or peripherally supported itching, is not
at all rare in older children (italics mine) („Contributions to the Theory

of Sex, 590).“


I was instantly swept by paroxsysms of

uncontrollable laughter. Whether a

Freudian would believe that

this laugh occurred for a purpose, that I was

merely laughing at my own

retentive practices, is beyond the scope of my

inquiry. Anal retention is an entirely silly thing to psychoanalyze, much

less connect it to sex

[Jeff, argue if you’re going to argue. Don’t make pronouncements. Consider this: any science or specialized discipline is going to come up with theses about its object of study that will not be obvious to non-specialist observers. Otherwise what would the point be of the discipline and the intense observation? The germ theory is not obvious. But people who are not bacteriologists or virologists or biologists are less likely today than a few centuries ago to scoff at that theory, saying, „Germs? Where? I don’t see anything. And how could something so small do so much damage to a big guy like me? That‘ silly!“. I’m not defending Freud’s theory here or asserting my adherence to it at all – that is not my point. My point is that it is important when engaging in an intellectual disagreement to keep it on that level. You have every right to your opinion regarding Freud’s association of „anal retention“ with sexuality. And you may find the topic distasteful or „silly.“ But that opinion is strictly and only that. It is not a counterargument. If you want to refute Freud, you need to engage in his argument with arguments of your own – this means theses, observations, and readings of Freud’s statements against the grain. The moment you interject personal opinion into the would-be argument, you disqualify yourself. Freud elaborates an intricate [and possibly outlandish] theory. He builds it up carefully, and supports it both with data from his clinical practice and with the logical structure of his argumentation. This does not mean he is correct. It just means that, in the face of Freud’s thesis, your response, „It’s stupid“ doesn’t make the slightest step toward any argument that would discredit that thesis, but it does immediately discredit you as an opponent of that thesis. You might as well ring his doorbell and run] Of course, in Freud’s theories, sex is

everything, an objectified opinion which I cannot share. When I read this

passage, however, I did think of Leopold Bloom wiping with cheap

literature. I wonder if that’s in the Odyssey

I think

people who like psychoanalysis want to believe that they can

actually know these things

[Another oracular prophesy from the Sybil of Merrill 2!]. However, Freud writes in an entirely literary

style, never eschewing rhetoric or literary tropes

[ and why should he? Before you were complaining about the cold scientific language.]. I also cannot believe

that he chooses this sort of subject matter, especially what I quoted

above, without some titillatory intent. Believing in Freud

[This religious idiom vis-à-vis Freud is very odd and is more interesting for what light it sheds on the nature of your discourse than for the shadows it casts over a discipline it refuses to engage.] could be

analogous to the impulses of readers of so-called „readerly“ texts; to

believe that some sort of psychoanalytic insight can be gained from a

work, that some sort of rational truth

[Huh?] can be taken from a work of

literature. I think

those people do not understand the seriousness of

what psychoanalysis is attempting to accomplish

. [Wait a minute – you psychoanalysis was worthless and couldn’t do anything now what do you mean by the „seriousness of what“ it attempts to accomplish“? And what is that goal, by the way? You don’t specify it. Why don’t we go back to Aristotle? You’v e now given psychological portraits of at least four non-existent sociocultural groups. We know that the really was an Aristotle and company so we’d be at the advantage there.]

The believers do not see that any quasi-scientific theory such as this concretizes aspects of existence

[Isn’t existence already concrete? What do you mean?], and condemns man [there’s that Swedish word again ][who?] to a deterministic fate through finding some sort of name for all of his [That’s funny, I could have sworn humans came in TWO sexes.] afflictions. It attempts to establish some sort of predictive theory of everything, in the constraints of which man will live in unpleasurable monotony. He will not be unhappy, however. [You must have great telepathetic powers if you can make sweeping generalizations like this about a group of people who don’t really correspond to any recognized sociocultural category – a „believer of Freud“ does not denominate any classification. There are many people who, to varying degrees, find part of Freud’s work useful (and the variations in the contexts for this would again be incalulable). And that’s not counting psychoanalytic profession from any number of enclaves, or literary who borrow from Freud, or feminists who are struggling with one or more of the demonized „Freud’s“ of the slander heaped on him unabated. In other words, while you damn Freud to hell for his assiduous investigations, empircal studies, and dedication to founding a new science, you reserve the right to yourself to make ex cathedra pronouncements outside of any clearly stated context, or research, or any form of external corroboration. I’m referring here to you hallucinogenic vision of a pact of „Freudian believers“ and what they would and would be able to understand about Freudian psychoanalysis, the truth of such analysis some how residing with you in spite the fact that you refused to read it after happening upon an obscure passage in an obscure text by accident [?].

Now, Jeff I know you’l think I’m just being partisan, but I cannot in good conscience let you wallow in a misconception like this when it’s so easy to clear it up. The Freudian analyses of sexuality and its vicissitudes dispelled centuries-old superstitions that confused sexuality with reproduction, tyrrannized individuals, and thwarted human potential by maintaining rigid sex/gender roles that were supposedly as „natural“ as – or“natural extensions of,“ the „naturalness“ of a biologically determinate, stable and yet unspeakable sexuality reduced to its lowest common denominator – continuation of the species within this joyless, compulsory regime. It is the

psychoanalytic secularization of our views on sexuality that disperses the determinism heretofore imposed on civiizations prior to [and still, of course, remaining entrenched within many populations to this day] the advent of psychoanalysis. Freud also, by the way, was not a „pansexualist.“ It surprised me to see such an old fashioned misconception surface again here. I recommend Jean Laplanche’s argument in response to the „pansexualist“ charge, an argument, ironically, that proves to be a better defense against that charge than Freud himself managed to articulate. See the first chapter of Laplanche’s brilliant, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis .

By the way, while I find Freud’s work very very important, I do not

believe in “ him, nor do I worship him. If you were to read my work, you would encounter my frequent and often profound disagreement s with him. But he did establish a critical apparatus and a language at once clear and flexible, adaptable, to account for sexuality and its micro- and macro-political implications. I do not see anything „cold“ or necessarily oppressive about concission in terminology. I see absolutely nothing „deterministic“ about having a more subtle and complex understanding of sexuality. Neither do I find there to be anything radical or liberatory in confusion, especially confusion willfully maintained. Of course, women and other groups who have been disenfranchised by the dominant sexual order have had more reason to seek for clarity and subtlety in their views on sexuality and the deadly hoax of a „natural sexuality.“ Persons who fall into the dominant category would have far less daily experience of the consequences of that hoax and its exclusions. Therefore those persons may be slower to realize the important of the paradigm shift. In the case of such persons, in fact, their very social privilege and their extraordinary sense of entitlement often depend upon maintaining the ignorance that was vouchsafed them.

It also puzzles me why you felt the need to write about Freud at all. You paper on Aristotle had nothing to do with Freud, Freud’s hardly been a topic in the seminar at all – only meeting briefly when we discussed [or I talked aloud for two hours in the same room as you all] the Leonardo text I havent been imposing Freud on any one in this seminar, and since it is after all a pre-modern seminar, your volunteering information about your attitude towards him is rather mysterious. As is your reason for disliking him. What an remarkable set of circumstances there must have been for you to encounter that obscure paragraph in a minor work Freud’s as you first glimpse of his writing! I’m sure there are many who have deliberately read Freud, and read extensively in his work, and have never come across that passage. Since this seminar isn’t about Freud I will spare you my arguments against your asides on that passage; in any event, I don’t think there’s point in debating the value of a writer or a thinker with someone who hasn’t read that writer/thinker.It would be my word against your Muse.

Jeff: So, the rest of my response is formatted in the way that one might

respond to a newsgroup:

<text deleted>

[For the rest of the conversation, click


To Be Continued . . . .

Contempt Part Two


Earl’s response to Jeff’s response to Aristotle’s dream

To a

letter from Jeff that Earl distributed to the seminarians



Lisa on Antigone


Nichole’s final proposal with harassment from Earl

The elenchus intervention

Joseph explains why there are zombies.