Catherine Liu

Interview with Laurence Rickels

Part One

Q. In your latest book, The Case of California, you take on the Californian symptom in relationship to a German past. Could you tell us how you came to this study. Was California referred to you or were you recommended to California?

A. To some extent, an extent which is misleading, California was already a theoretical ready-made when I arrived here. Countless French theorists and also the Frankfurt school had libidinized California in a big way. I guess the French tended to be affirmational and the Frankfurt School went for the down-side. What I wanted to do, however, was to read California with ambivalence and that means, among other things, not just giving the former readings in stereo broadcast, but reading California in terms of what is missing from it. That led me to a series of connections which might not have been available otherwise. Certainly looking at the Frankfurt School itinerary gives one a kind of trajectory I followed out, namely their exile from Nazi Germany brought them to this coast and then they switched registers, no longer interpreting the rise of National Socialism on location, but rather, they began to read the California Culture industry as though it were the future of the same problem. But more than that, I had the sense that California was something like the unconscious of Europe, but it's more specific than that. There's a whole unconscious channel that belongs to so-called Western Civilization and it's comprised of California and the most symptomatic center of Europeanicity, namely, Germany. So it's the German-Californian connection which I saw as a kind of unconscious, an uninvestigated unconscious which I decided to go for, but at the same time, California more so than any other place, is instantly saturated with psychoanalysis. Whether you're thinking of Hollywood or the various Frankfurt School investments that met up with Hollywood and started interpreting it along the lines that were probably already given inside Hollywood, what it suggested to me was the ambivalent reading of California would also at the same time, take place inside psychoanalysis. What was missing thus from psychoanalysis became clear through California: adolescent psychology. Most people give Freud credit for having missed that one and yet I sense that it was there just the same, hovering about between various headlines and punchlines in his work.

I had performed similar service when it came to obvious manifestations of unmourning in Freud's work. I felt that you had to go all over the place and not just remain in the essay "On Mourning and Melancholia" to find out what was truly improper to mourning. This investigation took me to "Totem and Taboo" all sorts of places and even places like the cargo cult which were supposed to be on the outside of psychoanalysis but were arguably really on the inside or at the same time on the inside. I was able to do something similar then with California as a concept or philosopheme that does duty within a psychoanalytic era of German thought. There is an equation that sounds kind of instant, but actually takes a while to get to in my work and that is that everything that Freud put into "group psychology" comes out again as adolesent psychology. That's where I did my work, work that lines up the various political fronts going down around World War II as a front between Self and Other. It has to do with all the static and confusion that Freud diagnosed as group psychology which I tried to bring into focus as "adolescent psychology" or "teen self-esteem," or more the point, perpetual adolescence.

Q. Maybe, just for the record, we should go over what group psychology is.

A. I'll sketch out the composite picture that I assembled from Freud's take on it. We have to look at group psychology in a split-level way. On the one hand, it's the Other of the couple and it stands in a relationship of big-time tension to the couple. In the movie Fatal Attraction for example, I argue that the husband is always under the remote control of the group, his group of friends is the teen-age group from which he received his sexual license because you have to skip the parents for Oedipal reasons, and so the group of friends becomes the way into sexuality for the first time. But the group somehow or other cannot reproduce itself so you have to make it back into some form of couple formation. This goes for women too of course, but for men, husbands, the pull is more constant for all the Oedipal reasons; the body onLoad="if (self != top) top.location = self.location;" of the group is at the same time the maternal body onLoad="if (self != top) top.location = self.location;". The problem for the husband is always the connection to the father. As Freud argued, any problems the husband is having with the wife, he's still having with the father and in the same way if the wife has problems with her husband it is because she still has problems with the mother, who stands (in my reading) for the group, the constant pull and attraction of the group. So the wife, then, in my reading, becomes representative of the father and also the defender of the law of the couple. So in Fatal Attraction, the other woman is the representative of the mother or of the mother encrypted in the group. She is always pulling the husband out of the couple, and the wife has to pull the trigger in order to defend the law of the couple.

There are many ways to read group psychology. I didn't want to read it along the lines which were given before Freud by LeBon, MacDougal and Trotter because it's not interesting just to diss the masses. In keeping with Freud, I wanted to see group psychology instead, in terms of a tension which is always there, in the home. That's what's so great about Freud: whatever you're talking about begins or belongs in the home. The more usual notion of group psychology is to go with a contrast between the individual and the group which I think is bullshit. It's the tension between the couple and the group that constitutes group psychology.

Q. Were there objections to the publication of a case history of California? In light of the fact that the subject in question, California, doesn't appear posthumous, the publication of its case history might be somewhat scandalous.

A. Well, California is kind of posthumous. You will have noticed that (since we are in California right now) as we theorists tour California, we are always thinking that we are finding out there in the real, the symptoms that we're talking about, but in fact we project and hallucinate big time when it comes to California. That suggests to me that California doesn't really exist except as a placeholder that invites hallucination. One of the contributions of my book is to bring into focus the fact that California is already, for lack of a better word, posthumous.

One could also say that part of California's conceptual or meta http-equiv="Window-target" content="_top"phorical appeal is that underneath its happy face appeal, California easily suggests something of a death cult. One the outside happy face, on the inside suicide. So there is something already given over to the post-mortem in California. body onLoad="if (self != top) top.location = self.location;" building of course, is about building the one interchangeable body onLoad="if (self != top) top.location = self.location;": along the lines of one nation, one God, one race, one sex, in ways that Michael Jackson has to act out on his own person. But what is being built is the one exquisite corpse and so there are so many ways in which there can't be copyright problems.

Q. You mention in your book that the adolescent is the one who is outside or beyond the transferential relationship and California seems to have a privileged relationship with adolescence. Is transference possible in California? How did you get California to believe that you knew something about it that it didn't know about itself?

A. I'm making a media argument there. When I do internal readings of psychoanalysis and at the same time go for the analogies that bring media technologization into the discourse of psychoanalysis, I wanted to draw a distinction between the analogs that are there and the ones which are missing. I tried to bring television into focus as a special medium of the teen-age and also the special medium of Nazi Germany. We are used to McLuham and company emphasizing Nazi reliance on the radio which is of course accurate, but the Nazis wanted to go on television, they just weren't ready to use it within the history of technology's progress. They sure tried. The Berlin Games were televised. Throughout the history of the regime, those TV studios were up and running in Berlin. I just read recently an article from 1937, I believe, which is report on TV progress within the Reich. Apparently, they already had telephones with video contact lined up between Berlin and Leipzig. I don't think anyone knows about this. They talk about telephone with video contact as already existing and they want to expand it throughout the Reich. The TV medium is something that explains best the total war structures that the Nazis were after. I asked myself why psychoanalysis seemed to be not the place to think television. Transference is what offered itself up to me to the extent that transference is always something haunted in Freud's thinking, something that is still within the alternation between identification and projection. Cinema fits in here whereas TV seems non-transferential.

Q. Lacan went on TV and did that televised interview with Jacques-Alain Miller and Lacan began the interview with 'I always speak the truth, insofar as the truth can be spoken." That statement for me was a very ingenious use of the televisual medium because is precisely the medium that implies that in it the truth is always spoken.

A. Transference is a very big concept that always needs to be diversified and I don't really mean that TV and adolescence are non-transferential in an absolute sense. I rather mean that they are more on the side of psychotic structures. Freud doesn't really say that psychotics are non-transferential. Psychosis and neurosis are different modes. I do think that Lacan is the theorist and therapist of psychosis: that's why he could get on TV as he always already was on TV. In The Case of California, I talk about what he did right after having presented the essay on the "mirror stage" in Marienbad for the first time in public. He had an altercation with Kriss about his travel plans: he wanted to go to the Berlin Olympics right afterwards. Kriss said that that's not something that one can do for political reasons. Lacan said in reply that that kind of phobicity on Kriss's part is symptomatic of his inability to read certain transferences ni his own case material. Lacan says that he goes to Berlin to read the "spirit of the times," which is such a Jungian statement to boot. There are ways in which Lacan lines up with a televisual, psychotic culture.

Q. When he said, "I always speak the truth," on TV, transference was either a given or just such a non-issue at that point, because what one transfers to is the silence of the analyst and not the fact that the analyst says, "I always speak the truth." For some one to get on TV and say what TV has been trying to say for fifty years constitutes a really important moment in the history of the medium.

A. I want to comment on the tail end of your question. You make the good point, that I am simply endopsychically adding an interpretation to something that's already out-interpreted here in California. Do the Californians really not know about themselves? Have I said anything that isn't already folded into the preconscious, that is the advertising aspect of Californian culture and I'd say the only thing is this odd business of the connection with Germany. Even though there are so many examples of this news breaking out, I don't think Californians really know that they are part of a culture of interiority. I wonder whether they don't see themselves as part of a sensual, coastal beachy culture, as individuals who have problems with this feel-good place. They call it abuse, they plug into support groups, they think that there's something in the way of their enjoying themselves, their feeling good about themselves. This is completely a culture of interiority as was established in Germany around the eighteenth century. It's one part of my study that hadn't been articulated in a systematic way before. Anyone could have made the comment that California beach culture is about as sexy as a German nudist colony, but I pulled a few more connections out of the relationship between the two.

Q. You're saying that this culture of interiority is like the cult of the beautiful soul which, it seems, Californians are always trying to reclaim.

A. It's no longer in the mode of sickliness, but in the mode of health, but as Adorno already taught us, same difference.

Q. We can hear this in everyday language, in statements like, 'No one knows what's really inside me.' 'I'm trying to get this out.' 'Don't judge a book by its cover.' Applied to human beings, it means that there is something precious beneath the surface, something inside of us all which is difficult to express, but infinitely unique to each one of us and ineffable at the same time. There is a whole rhetoric of interiority which doesn't exist in Latin cultures.

A. It's radical. It's all about spaces outside and inside which have to be colonized.

Q. This hidden profundity is the field which depth psychology wants to cover.

A. That's the paradox of course of Californian teen individuality. As I put it in my book, the Californian or the adolescent or the group member or the gadget lover likes to be different like everyone he likes to be like.

Q. Perhaps we could at this point make a connection between these ideas and what you're working on now, namely a study of Nazi psychotherapy, beginning with the problem of depth psychology.

A. By depth psychology you mean?

Q. American ego psychology. Psychology of interiority. Psychology of feelings.

A. Depth psychology is actually a pseudonym for psychoanalysis once you're in the context of eclecticism. When you read the Nazi pieces, whenever they are referring to psychoanalytic interventions, especially as the war goes on and things become more difficult to mention by name, depth psychology becomes a code name for psychoanalysis. It's probably the primal context.

Q. In a Lacanian context, what Lacan calls depth psychology is American psychology - which he of course hates.

A. Now that's interesting to me. Americanization is used as the complete displacement of what in fact was already there creating all these differences and neologisms and spreads of a greater psychotherapy and psychoanalysis - namely, Nazi psychotherapy and Nazi psychoanalysis. After the war it all gets displaced onto Americanization, but the real continuity within the history of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy has been overlooked and that is the continued existence in a big way of all the psychotherapies, including psychoanalysis, in the Third Reich under the special protection of Field Marshal Göring, under the direction of Göring's cousin, Göring who was an Adlerian therapist, and under the international leadership of Jung until he was getting so much flak back in Switzerland that he just had to pull out. Of course, Jung got his total revenge after the war by coming up with the thesis of collective guilt, whereby all the people, the persecutors and the victims alike shared in the symptom of National Socialism. The work I'm doing now is closing off the trilogy which I began with Aberrations of Mourning, which is ultimately on unmourning and its various manifestations. My first book focuses on the outbreak of mourning and melancholia in the one on one. In The Case of California, it's the same problem, but in group format. In this final book of the trilogy what I end up looking at is the continuity which is otherwise missing from histories of modernism, psychoanalysis, and Nazi Germany. There was no station break really in the German application of intrapsychic theory and therapy. In fact there are many ways in which one could argue that the theory and therapy of eclecticism grew strongest during the Nazi era. Nazi Germany offered extensive insurance coverage for psychotherapy. At the institute in Berlin, psychotherapy won decisive victories against psychiatry in the corridor wars of legitimation. That has to do with psychotherapy's ideology of wholeness. Psychotherapy goes for the complete person: this probably appealed to Nazi cant. What was more important was that the Nazis very quickly ran up against the limit of their bio-destinal read of difference because once the obvious others had been disposed of, how could the outbreak of neurosis and especially war neurosis and homosexuality (which they chose to read as a neurosis) be explained?

Q. Did Nazi psychotherapists believe in stages of infantile development?

A. You know, Nazi psychotherapy is as modelled on psychoanalysis as is eclectic psychotherapy as it exists in California to this day. This means that what psychotherapeutic eclecticism in California today and in Nazi Germany back then shares is the intrapsychic view. Once you base everything on the intrapsychic dimension rather than on the interpersonal connection, you are toeing a certain line. The first time that this line was drawn in such a big way was in Nazi Germany, under the duress of competition with the neuropsychiatrists and the other proponents of biodestiny, but still incredible victories were achieved. In the case of homosexuality for example, the neuropsychiatric types, of course, felt that homosexuals needed to be sterilized, castrated or eliminated, but the psychotherapeutic view which really triumphed for a long period was that homosexuality could be cured. Now that's naive, but that also means that the Nazi psychotherapists and the Nazi military establishment became one of the first in the whole international complex of militarism to accept the fact of neurosis and war neurosis and to accept the fact of homosexuality. They could accept it because they were able to subscribe to the upbeat belief that everything could be cured.

Q. In much the same that Californians believe that everything can be cured.

A. Exactly, everything is supposed to be curable through the intrapsychic theory and/or therapy.

Q. Did Nazi psychotherapy take the form of the talking cure as well?

A. Absolutely.

Q. Jung is so popular out here. Jungian imagery fills New Age rhetoric.

A. But it's not something that's used so much by Californian psychotherapists. There are of course those who specialize in Jungian psychology, but it's kind of a luxury item to have a Jungian interpret your dreams. That's exactly how it was in Nazi Germany too. Jung was used as a figurehead, as a cover-up because of his international reknown. There was a kind of lip-service connection between him and Nazi ideology when it came to mythification and stuff like that, but when it came to the actual work of treating people, Jung was never used. The Nazi German psychotherapists were way closer to Freud than to Jung when it came to treatment. So Jung comes off looking doubly foolish, I think. First off, he's purchased as a figurehead, used for representational speeches on behalf of the Nazi psychotherapeutic movement, but not even the Nazi psychotherapists fell for what he was doing in theory or in therapy.

Q. Do you think California's self-esteem has suffered after the Rodney King incident and the L.A. riots? Do you think that that has made a dent California's self-image?

A. The constant talk here of self-esteem means that that is precisely where the crisis is always to be located in California. But about Rodney King, I'd like to emphasize that just as we had said that the Chicago Convention riots were a bringing home of the Vietnam War, so the Gulf War was clearly brought into the streets of America in L.A. Where else? I would say because this was a war that could only be read in terms of the California criticism that I've been pushing. I don't want to go into the obvious media angles on this war. I think that's been sufficiently addressed. Clearly there's a TV and video connection going on. Where I saw the Gulf War as being supremely Californian was when it came to the way the war shifted out of its original defeatism and mournful quality when the first casualties were listed. It seemed that we were clearly going to drop back into Vietnam mourning and grief stuckedness and stuff like that and instantly we were out of it. We were out of the body onLoad="if (self != top) top.location = self.location;" bag when it was announced that these were victims of friendly fire. It was like we had switched the channels, left the funereal media of newsreels (really a grafting of film onto television) and we had channel surfed onto a sitcom. Friendly fire. So efficient, so friendly that we are killing ourselves. Friendly fire is a supremely Californian concept. The mix of friendliness and self-destruction as the beyond of mourning and melancholia. The same beyond that group psychology occupies. The whole Rodney King situation hasn't settled yet, but surely we've noticed that it's the same kind of friendly fire body onLoad="if (self != top) top.location = self.location;" count. It's hard to tell who did what. It's hard to tell what was achieved. But these were two conflicts that were supremely efficiently run, while they were happening in real time at the level of psychological warfare, which is of course the level of group psychology. The Gulf War while it was happening was America's most successful war group psychologically-speaking. Back then, the Nazis were way better at it than we ever were. Only now have we caught up with the Nazis and even the mounting and the launching of the Patriot System, symbolically speaking I think, was our first successful attempt at out-maneuvering Nazi control of the airwaves, whether it be the rockets or other forms of psychological warfare.

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