What does it mean to fix someone? Is the human mind something fixable—like a machine? For something to be fixed, it needs to have set boundaries.
The unconscious can in fact be thought of as a machine. The definition of a machine as ‘an assemblage of parts designed to transmit or modify the application of power’ applies to a poststructuralist view, whereas a machine as a ‘highly organized political group under the leadership or well-controlled system’ applies to a structuralist one. When construing the unconscious as a machine, the latter model proves most appropriate, as the unconscious is indeed a construct with connecting parts, reconstructed through malfunctions, breaks, and interpretations. Every machine has a code. According to Sigmund Freud, this code is inherent in the ‘primal scene’– the conception, where the human being originates. He believes that every unconscious desire and thought is generated by this originating event as it regulates the psychosexual development of the child.
The workings of Freud’s structuralist machinery aims to raise the unconscious to an attainable surface by interpreting the language (a construct of signs and signifiers), which would hopefully be traced back to a primordial signifier. He recognizes the multiplicity of desires underlying the surface level of speech but links them together as a unified singularity which then represents the unconscious. Thus, his analytic process entails a framework centered on reductionism. The analytic relation, which is the interaction between the analyst and the subject, resembles a mirror. A mirror has two sides: the “real” and its reflection. The reflection actualizes in their interaction through transference. In the mirror stage, one either sees totality or chaos. For the psychotic, the reflection (signifier) is not the same as the image (signified). Their reality functions through what we deem a disorder– what Freud views as something to be fixed, something to be tied into a coherent singularity; the image always carries the Oedipal story. However there is a predicament: reality is not singular, it is in flux.
The idea of fixing reality works like a mechanic assemblage that is codified with an essential truth. For Freud, it is the Oedipal story. Truth claims a center that can only be revealed through linguistic discourse. The gap between the signifier and the signified cannot be fully bridged by the psychotic due to the insufficiency of language. The experiences they encounter are not necessarily false, they merely lack an authentic linguistic articulation as the forces that produce the thought are absent in the linguistic discourse.
However, this false presence of truth and the expression of it exists as a controlling and organizing principle centered on an illusion. This notion of truth as the center can only be encountered and expressed in specific situations – within a signifying structure that lacks an essence (lacking an essence insofar as the interpretation is not produced naturally by the subject but is directed by the analyst), the forces that produced it. The setting of this in the analytic situation is the analyst’s couch, another reductive method that leads the analysis of Freud’s subjects to remain in the mirror, in the analytic setting. This setting becomes a boundary, closed off to outside spaces, and relations, which sets a limit to subjects’ communication and being. To embody Freud’s constructed image—that is fixed, has become rather than ‘becoming’—subjects have to remain within the connections constructed in the analytic setting even when outside of it.
In the case study ‘the Wolfman’, the subject, Sergei Pankejeff, has a nightmare in which white wolves sitting on a tree outside of his window are staring at him. Freud deduced the meaning of this dream as a traumatic reaction to an instance wherein he witnessed his parents’ sexual intercourse. For the Wolfman, the reflection (signifier) was not the same as the image (signified). But Freud listened to his imaginary representations of desire, separated them from the social realm and subsequently traced them back to Oedipus, repressing other possibilities of interpretation. Indeed the unconscious desire supplanted in the imaginary representations was not clear for Sergei because Freud was dictating the meaning for him. The Wolfman was a perfect piece for Freud’s machinery because he invested his unconscious desire into the Oedipus story in order to access social production. The “Wolfman”, Sergei Pankejeff, thus became a product, a fixed illusion fictionalized by Freud, which then circulated in the capitalist machine. If Freud is aiming to bring the psychotic from a realm of illusions into reality, does he not have this mission with the Wolfman? He lacks a personal history with this procreated name. It is merely fiction. At the end of the analysis, Sergei becomes the Wolfman—a product produced within the language, with a dream’s meaning in multiplicities remaining unknown.
In psychoanalysis, speech produces something the analyst can utilize. Freud investigated the unconscious by posing questions about his subjects’ past in which the way words are used reveal profound insights. Literary critic Denis Donoghue views eloquence as the dancing of speech: ‘the aim of a dance is not to get from one part of the stage to another, it is to create and embody yet another form of life beyond the already known forms of it’. This concept coincides with decentralization. Freud understands the eloquence of words and the multilayered nature of language, but fails in his interpretation to render them through the Oedipal rhetoric in his analysis. This is important as he aims to reach certainty by fitting the multiplicity of meanings into a single coherent one to prove his hypothesis. The interpretation of language is thus turned into programmed machinery like an algorithm.
The “superior position” that the analyst assumes becomes an authority, a truth, and the subject in the “inferior position” refers to that truth as the center. Freud governs his subject’s thinking by assuming authorship. The unconscious is viewed as a product under the spectacle of the subject who knows, instead of being produced in the process. The unconscious does not move towards possibilities of change but towards the only change possible. Freud’s psychoanalytic machine is only investigating the question of Oedipus through linguistic productions, and the capitalist machine asserting Oedipus is everywhere produces nothing and instead becomes a dead-machine.