Book presentation / Cultural Theory and Concepts

The​ ​Neurotic​ ​Turn: Inter-Disciplinary Correspondences on Neurosis.

Neurotic turn

Recently Charlie Johns edited an extremely interesting book that works through the argument that neurosis is the dominant condition of our society today. An array of thinkers, as Graham Harman, Benjamin Noys, Patricia Reed, Dany Nobus, John Russon, Charles Johns and Katerina Kolozova, have addressed the following question: How can the concept of ‘Neurosis’ help us understand the new digitized world in which we live and our place in it?


An ​interview​ ​with Charlie Johns and​ ​Anna​ ​Zhurba​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Moscow Museum​ ​of​ ​Modern​ ​Art​ ​(MMOMA).

A.Z.: What​ ​is​ ​the​ ​relationship​ ​between​ ​technological​ ​progress​ ​and​ ​neurosis?

C.J.: The​ ​phrase​ ​‘technological​ ​progress’​ ​is​ ​already​ ​a​ ​dubious​ ​one;​ ​is​ ​progress​ ​determined culturally​ ​qua​ ​differences,​ ​and​ ​what​ ​are​ ​the​ ​criteria​ ​for​ ​progress​ ​to​ ​be​ ​achieved​ ​(standard​ ​of living​ ​etc.)?​ ​If​ ​we​ ​made​ ​an​ ​analogy​ ​between​ ​progress​ ​and​ ​proliferation​ ​we​ ​could,​ ​however, suggest​ ​that​ ​neurosis​ ​is​ ​progress.​ ​Why?​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​essentially​ ​the​ ​hyper-sensitivity towards​ ​-​ ​and​ ​determination​ ​of​ ​-​ ​concepts.​ ​Whether​ ​we​ ​describe​ ​concepts​ ​as​ ​a​ ​type​ ​of clothing​ ​draped​ ​over​ ​the​ ​‘unknown’​ ​world,​ ​or​ ​whether​ ​we​ ​describe​ ​concepts​ ​as​ ​autopoietic agencies​ ​in​ ​their​ ​own​ ​right,​ ​it​ ​still​ ​amounts​ ​to​ ​the​ ​same​ ​thing​ ​on​ ​a​ ​phenomenological​ ​level; we​ ​interact,​ ​assign​ ​and​ ​orient​ ​our​ ​lives​ ​via​ ​concepts​ ​(or​ ​-​ ​if​ ​you​ ​will​ ​-​ ​conceptual​ ​sign systems/semiotics).​ ​Second​ ​nature​ ​is​ ​superimposed​ ​onto​ ​a​ ​putative​ ​first​ ​nature​ ​and​ ​it​ ​is inevitable​ ​that​ ​further​ ​concepts​ ​will​ ​be​ ​produced​ ​and​ ​ensue.​ ​In​ ​this​ ​sense​ ​we​ ​are​ ​living​ ​in​ ​a highly​ ​proliferated​ ​conceptual​ ​world,​ ​where​ ​many​ ​concepts​ ​do​ ​not​ ​even​ ​refer​ ​to​ ​an​ ​object, representation,​ ​or​ ​what​ ​some​ ​philosophers​ ​have​ ​called​ ​‘the​ ​real’.​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​the exaggeration​ ​of​ ​such​ ​a​ ​viewpoint​ ​(which​ ​can​ ​be​ ​found​ ​in​ ​various​ ​thinkers​ ​such​ ​as​ ​Hegel, Deleuze​ ​and​ ​especially​ ​Baudrillard).

It​ ​would​ ​actually​ ​be​ ​more​ ​cogent​ ​to​ ​think​ ​of​ ​concepts​ as a type of technology,​ ​after​ ​all,​ ​every form​ ​of​ ​naming​ ​and​ ​crafting​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​conceptual​ ​form​ ​(it​ ​is​ ​a​ ​conceptual​ ​signature​ ​onto putative​ ​external/material​ ​reality).​ ​The​ ​world​ ​of​ ​objects​ ​and​ ​their​ ​uses​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​world​ ​of conceptual​ ​functions​ ​(remember​ ​that​ ​we​ ​put​ ​those​ ​uses​ ​there​ ​in​ ​the​ ​first​ ​place),​ ​a​ ​conceptual cartography​ ​which​ ​helps​ ​us​ ​navigate​ ​as​ ​humans.​ ​Following​ ​Heidegger,​ ​and​ ​later Wittgenstein,​ ​we​ ​become​ ​aware​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are​ ​always​ ​already​ ​within​ ​this​ ​conceptual technology;​ ​taking​ ​up​ ​speech​ ​and​ ​language​ ​for​ ​instance,​ ​using​ ​pre-existing​ ​equipment​ ​to enable​ ​mastery​ ​over​ ​ourselves​ ​and​ ​our​ ​world.​ ​What​ ​comes​ ​to​ ​the​ ​fore​ ​in​ ​my​ ​concept​ ​of neurosis​ ​is​ ​that​ ​such​ ​‘embeddedness’​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world​ ​could​ ​also​ ​be​ ​limiting​ ​and​ ​ignorant; Wittgenstein​ ​famously​ ​stated​ ​that​ ​“when​ ​I​ ​obey​ ​a​ ​rule,​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​choose,​ ​I​ ​obey​ ​the​ ​rule blindly”​ ​(Wittgenstein,​ ​Philosophical​ ​Investigations).​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​the​ ​pessimistic​ ​counterpart to​ ​the​ ​Hegelian​ ​notion​ ​that​ ​a​ ​culture​ ​can​ ​be​ ​swept​ ​along​ ​by​ ​a​ ​certain​ ​conceptual​ ​paradigm, or​ ​the​ ​Humean​ ​notion​ ​that​ ​we​ ​gain​ ​knowledge​ ​through​ ​experience​ ​qualified​ ​through​ ​custom and​ ​habit​ ​(i.e​ ​compulsive​ ​repetition).

Regardless​ ​of​ ​the​ ​philosophical​ ​assertion​ ​that​ ​concept​ ​and​ ​craft​ ​cannot​ ​be​ ​reduced​ ​to​ ​either one​ ​domain,​ ​we​ ​can​ ​say​ ​in​ ​an​ ​everyday​ ​sense​ ​that​ ​technology​ ​(as​ ​we​ ​know​ ​it)​ ​aids​ ​this neurosis​ ​because​ ​it​ ​constantly​ ​generates​ ​and​ ​re-inserts​ ​concepts/symbols​ ​back​ ​into​ ​the​ ​lived social​ ​experiential​ ​domain,​ ​creating​ ​a​ ​high​ ​intensity​ ​of​ ​concepts​ ​and​ ​a​ ​type​ ​of​ ​redoubling​ ​of the​ ​concept​ ​onto​ ​the​ ​human​ ​(think​ ​advertisements)​ ​that​ ​are​ ​akin​ ​to​ ​traumatising​ ​the​ ​subject (technologies​ ​modes​ ​of​ ​distraction,​ ​seduction​ ​and​ ​capture).

Neurosis​ ​is​ ​a​ ​philosophy​ ​‘beyond​ ​good​ ​and​ ​evil’​ ​in​ ​the​ ​sense​ ​that​ ​it​ ​is​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​the intensity,​ ​exaggeration,​ ​proliferation​ ​and​ ​dissemination​ ​of​ ​concepts​ ​without​ ​recourse​ ​to judging​ ​them​ ​as​ ​‘good’​ ​or​ ​‘bad’​ ​(this​ ​is​ ​not​ ​to​ ​say​ ​that​ ​semantics​ ​is​ ​absent​ ​in​ ​the​ ​concept).

Neurosis​ ​does​ ​not​ ​necessarily​ ​mean​ ​‘bad’,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​used​ ​partly​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​to​ ​light​ ​how​ ​we​ ​are affected by​ ​concepts,​ ​as​ ​Marcuse​ ​and​ ​Fromm​ ​knew,​ ​‘bad’​ ​and​ ​‘good’​ ​are​ ​only​ ​relative​ ​to​ ​the ideologies​ ​of​ ​a​ ​society.​ ​Using​ ​the​ ​Freudian​ ​dynamic​ ​of​ ​the​ ​pleasure​ ​principle​ ​may​ ​be​ ​an interesting​ ​exercise​ ​however.​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​against​ ​any​ ​humanist​ ​notion​ ​of​ ​a​ ​‘way​ ​out’​ ​of​ ​the impasse​ ​of​ ​determinism,​ ​it​ ​in-fact​ ​believes​ ​that​ ​constructs​ ​such​ ​as​ ​‘genius’​ ​and​ ​‘freedom’ should​ ​be​ ​reconceptualised​ ​as​ ​compulsive​ ​repetitious​ ​acts​ ​of​ ​concept​ ​production​ ​as opposed​ ​to​ ​any​ ​moral,​ ​supernatural​ ​or​ ​metaphysical​ ​definition.

I​ ​am​ ​giving​ ​you​ ​a​ ​philosophical​ ​answer​ ​to​ ​your​ ​question,​ ​however,​ ​one​ ​can​ ​easily​ ​see​ ​a relatively​ ​straightforward​ ​link​ ​between​ ​technological​ ​‘progress’​ ​and​ ​neurosis,​ ​such​ ​a​ ​link being​ historical. That​ ​link​ ​would​ ​be​ ​the​ ​instantiation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​concept​ ​of​ ​neurosis​ ​by​ ​William Cullen​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mid-eighteenth​ ​century​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Industrial​ ​Revolution​ ​arising​ ​at​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time. Both​ ​events​ ​are​ ​in​ ​many​ ​ways​ ​interchangeable;​ ​the​ ​neurotic​ ​desire​ ​for​ ​totalization​ ​and positivism​ ​found​ ​in​ ​the​ ​spirit​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Industrial​ ​Revolution,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sudden​ ​affair​ ​of​ ​the​ ​human sensorium​ ​with​ ​the​ ​exotic​ ​and​ ​intense​ ​rates​ ​of​ ​speed,​ ​power,​ ​seduction,​ ​and​ ​claustrophobia of​ ​technology​ ​that​ ​made​ ​us​ ​in​ ​turn​ ​slow,​ ​weak,​ ​naive​ ​and​ ​powerless,​ ​such​ ​effects condensing​ ​as​ ​forms​ ​of​ ​neuroses​ ​(foreign​ ​thoughts​ ​and​ ​general​ ​anxiety).

In​ ​many​ ​ways​ ​the​ ​Industrial​ ​Revolution​ ​has​ ​simply​ ​proliferated​ ​in​ ​our​ ​present​ ​epoch​ ​(one​ ​can call​ ​it​ ​Advanced​ ​Capitalism​ ​or​ ​Late​ ​Capitalism​ ​or​ ​Globalization​ ​etc).​ ​When​ ​Psychoanalysis came​ ​onto​ ​the​ ​scene​ ​with​ ​Freud​ ​and​ ​Jung,​ ​a​ ​similar​ ​event​ ​had​ ​happened,​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​impasse where​ ​the​ ​individual​ ​was​ ​reasserted​ ​within​ ​the​ ​domain​ ​of​ ​technological​ ​determinism.​ ​It​ ​was in​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​necessary​ ​that​ ​repressed​ ​powers​ ​of​ ​sexuality,​ ​violence​ ​and​ ​taboo​ ​were​ ​to​ ​be disclosed​ ​by​ ​psychoanalysis,​ ​as​ ​such​ ​powers​ ​were​ ​in​ ​contradistinction​ ​to​ ​technology​ ​(i.e technology​ ​was​ ​not​ ​thought​ ​of​ ​as​ ​sexual​ ​or​ ​rebellious,​ ​these​ ​were​ ​traits​ ​affirmed​ ​by​ ​man​ ​in human​ ​nature).​ ​The​ ​relation​ ​of​ ​psychology​ ​and​ ​technology​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​personally​ ​interested​ ​in is​ ​not​ ​a​ ​contra-distinctive​ ​one​ ​however​ ​(a​ ​relation​ ​made​ ​by​ ​differences)​ ​but​ ​rather​ ​one​ ​of interconnectedness;​ ​the​ ​technological​ ​presentation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​subconscious​ ​into​ ​the​ ​realm​ ​of photography,​ ​film​ ​and​ ​animation,​ ​and​ ​vice​ ​versa,​ ​the​ ​arrival​ ​of​ ​such​ ​visual​ ​technology​ ​into the​ ​human​ ​mind,​ ​man’s​ ​thoughts​ ​and​ ​his​ ​dreams.​ ​For​ ​me​ ​Walter​ ​Benjamin​ ​becomes​ ​a​ ​great guide​ ​for​ ​this​ ​phenomenon.​ ​Using​ ​his​ ​theory​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Optical​ ​Unconscious​ ​we​ ​simultaneously become​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​the​ ​‘repressed’​ ​phenomena​ ​in​ ​visual​ ​culture​ ​(​ ​disclosing​ ​the​ ​twenty​ ​four frames​ ​that​ ​make​ ​up​ ​a​ ​filmic​ ​second,​ ​the​ ​zoom​ ​of​ ​the​ ​camera​ ​lense​ ​penetrating​ ​into​ ​a​ ​new world​ ​of​ ​images​ ​etc)​ ​and​ ​also​ ​the​ ​power​ ​of​ ​the​ ​image​ ​itself.​ ​All​ ​one​ ​needs​ ​is​ ​a​ ​representation and​ ​that​ ​is​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​get​ ​the​ ​neurosis​ ​started.​ ​The​ ​representation​ ​in-fact​ ​takes​ ​on​ ​a​ ​new meaning​ ​distinct​ ​from​ ​the​ ​object​ ​or​ ​referent​ ​and​ ​harnesses​ ​its​ ​own​ ​phenomenological powers​ ​(look​ ​at​ ​the​ ​subliminal​ ​power​ ​of​ ​the​ ​image,​ ​it’s​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​become​ ​recognized​ ​in collective​ ​consciousness​ ​such​ ​as​ ​certain​ ​brands​ ​and​ ​icons).​ ​This​ ​is​ ​partly​ ​why​ ​Jean Baudrillard​ ​characterised​ ​the​ ​image​ ​as​ ​“fundamentally​ ​immoral”​ ​(Baudrillard​ ​Live,​ ​Selected Interviews,​ ​Gane,​ ​Routledge,​ ​1993). As​ ​I​ ​have​ ​stated​ ​in​ ​my​ ​introduction​ ​to​ The Neurotic Turn (Repeater​ ​Books,​ ​2017),​ ​this relation​ ​between​ ​contemporary​ ​human​ ​consciousness​ ​(neurosis)​ ​and​ ​technology​ ​can​ ​be sentimentalised​ ​in​ ​different​ ​ways.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ Frankenstein effect whereby​ ​the technology​ ​that​ ​was​ ​implemented​ ​and​ ​integrated​ ​by​ ​society​ ​for​ ​utilitarian​ ​purposes​ ​has reached​ ​the​ ​point​ ​where​ ​it​ ​has​ ​transgressed​ ​such​ ​moral​ ​and​ ​economic​ ​goals​ ​and​ ​is​ ​now​ ​the source​ ​of​ ​our​ ​ills​ ​(we​ ​watch​ ​technology​ ​turn​ ​its​ ​head​ ​away​ ​in​ ​neglect​ ​of​ ​us,​ ​like​ ​how​ ​Dr Frankenstein​ ​does​ ​with​ ​his​ ​monster).​ ​Or,​ ​we​ ​can​ ​be​ ​less​ ​romantic​ ​and​ ​argue​ ​that​ ​there should​ ​be​ ​no​ ​lament​ ​of​ The Real,​ ​or​ ​of​ ​the​ ​‘peasant’​ ​life,​ ​and​ ​instead​ ​insist​ ​that​ ​conceptual formation​ ​would​ ​have​ ​become​ ​highly​ ​simulated​ ​in​ ​its​ ​own​ ​right​ ​anyway,​ ​or​ ​that​ ​a​ ​legitimate contemporary​ ​ontology​ ​would​ ​have​ ​to​ ​do​ ​away​ ​with​ The Real ​(in​ ​any​ ​objective​ ​sense)​ ​and understand​ ​processes​ ​of​ ​neurosis,​ ​extrapolation​ ​and​ ​simulation​ ​as​ ​part​ ​of​ ​nature​ ​‘in-itself’.

A.Z.: Do​ ​you​ ​see​ ​any​ ​productive/​ ​positive​ ​outcome​ ​in​ ​liberating​ ​neurosis​ ​from​ ​its​ ​repressed status?

C.J.: Yes​ ​I​ ​do​ ​very​ ​much.​ ​Similar​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Enlightenment​ ​spirit,​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​we​ ​as​ ​humans​ ​can​ ​be​ ​a​ ​bit more​ ​sensitive,​ ​aware​ ​and​ ​cautious​ ​of​ ​the​ ​prejudice​ ​and​ ​bias​ ​we​ ​act​ ​out​ ​on​ ​a​ ​minute​ ​to minute​ ​basis.​ ​By​ ​learning​ ​to​ ​heuristically​ ​separate​ ​ourselves​ ​from​ ​the​ ​concepts​ ​we​ ​inhabit and​ ​produce,​ ​we​ ​can​ ​take​ ​an​ ​analytical​ ​approach​ ​which​ ​is​ ​both​ ​enlightened,​ ​post-human​ ​and traditionally​ ​psychological;​ ​1)​ ​we​ ​can​ ​analyse​ ​the​ ​criteria​ ​or​ ​strength​ ​of​ ​the​ ​concepts​ ​at​ ​our disposal​ ​and​ ​can​ ​question​ ​which​ ​concepts​ ​may​ ​be​ ​beneficial​ ​and​ ​non-beneficial​ ​to​ ​our objectives​ ​and​ ​our​ ​behaviour.​ ​2)​ ​we​ ​can​ ​move​ ​beyond​ ​the​ ​embodied,​ ​impassioned​ ​view​ ​of concept​ ​formation​ ​as​ ​inextricably​ ​linked​ ​to​ ​human​ ​subjectivity​ ​and​ ​our​ ​drives​ ​(seen​ ​in​ ​Hume and​ ​areas​ ​of​ ​Nietzsche).​ ​3)​ ​we​ ​can​ ​ask​ why a​ ​person​ ​is​ ​articulating​ ​certain​ ​concepts​ ​in certain​ ​ways​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​define​ ​the​ ​problem​ ​in​ ​concept​ ​production,​ ​transmission​ ​and reception,​ ​as​ ​opposed​ ​to​ ​defining​ ​the​ ​problem​ ​in​ ​an​ individual​(this​ ​notion​ ​is​ ​sympathetic​ ​to various​ ​‘criminals’​ ​outlawed​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sidelining​ ​of​ ​the​ ​mentally​ ​ill​ ​in​ ​society).​ ​The​ ​concepts​ ​at our​ ​disposal​ ​are​ ​precisely​ ​that;​ ​ours,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​must​ ​learn​ ​where​ ​they​ ​come​ ​from​ ​and​ ​under what​ ​circumstance​ ​they​ ​can​ ​prove​ ​to​ ​have​ ​purchase.​ ​Although​ ​this​ ​may​ ​sound​ ​inhuman​ ​and rationalistic,​ ​the​ ​alternative​ ​would​ ​be​ ​technological​ ​nihilism​ ​or​ ​solipsistic​ ​Nietzscheanism, you​ ​choose.​ ​In​ ​many​ ​ways​ ​I​ ​am​ ​still​ ​following​ ​that​ ​tradition​ ​of​ ​psychology​ ​and​ ​socio-cultural criticism​ ​found​ ​in​ ​Marcuse​ ​and​ ​Fromm;​ ​we​ ​need​ ​to​ ​liberate/​ ​disclose​ ​what​ ​is​ ​left​ ​repressed by​ ​ourselves​ ​and​ ​our​ ​institutions,​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​guarantee​ ​a​ ​less​ ​one-dimensional​ ​man​ ​and culture.​ ​Saying​ ​this,​ ​however,​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​neurosis​ ​truly​ ​can​ ​be​ ​liberated; psychoanalysis​ ​does​ ​not​ ​assume​ ​a​ ​perfect​ ​end​ ​state​ ​(in​ ​fact​ ​it​ ​denies​ ​the​ ​very​ ​possibility​ ​and is​ ​thoroughly​ ​pessimistic​ ​in​ ​this​ ​respect).​ ​Psychoanalysis,​ ​I​ ​believe,​ ​is​ ​more​ ​about​ ​process and​ ​transformation.​ ​All​ ​we​ ​can​ ​hope​ ​to​ ​do​ ​is​ ​transform​ ​ourselves​ ​in​ ​relation​ ​to​ ​the​ ​world​ ​we are​ ​implicated​ ​in.​ ​The​ ​worst​ ​situation​ ​would​ ​be​ ​a​ ​stalemate.​ ​That​ ​for​ ​me​ ​is​ ​the​ ​true​ ​meaning of​ ​nihilism.

A.Z.: How​ ​do​ ​public/collective​ ​and​ ​private/subjective​ ​realms​ ​relate​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other​ ​in​ ​your reading​ ​of​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​the​ ​neurotic?

C.J.: There​ ​is​ ​no​ ​distinction​ ​in​ ​my​ ​view.​ ​As​ ​I​ ​have​ ​stated​ ​above,​ ​the​ ​intersubjectivity​ ​of​ ​man​ ​and technology​ ​has​ ​always​ ​been​ ​there,​ ​in​ ​concepts,​ ​in​ ​language,​ ​in​ ​craft,​ ​in​ ​techne,​ ​in​ ​society etc.​ ​The​ ​main​ ​difference​ ​now​ ​is​ ​how​ ​we​ ​view​ ​this​ ​intersubjectivity;​ ​at​ ​first​ ​we​ ​acknowledged the​ ​union​ ​but​ ​believed​ ​that​ ​it​ ​was​ ​primarily​ ​for​ ​man’s​ ​benefit.​ ​We​ ​used​ ​philosophical​ ​notions such​ ​as​ ​freedom,​ ​final​ ​cause,​ ​virtue​ ​and​ ​teleology​ ​to​ ​qualify​ ​the​ ​position​ ​that​ ​it​ ​was​ ​the​ ​realm of​ ​man​ ​who​ ​had​ ​goals​ ​and​ ​purpose,​ ​technology​ ​being​ ​simply​ ​a​ ​means​ ​to​ ​an​ ​end.​ ​With​ ​the advent​ ​of​ ​various​ ​doctrines​ ​such​ ​as​ ​Marxism​ ​this​ ​sentiment​ ​had​ ​changed​ ​and​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a much​ ​more​ ​negative​ ​(albeit​ ​only​ ​at​ ​first)​ ​view​ ​of​ ​technology​ ​as​ ​deterministic​ ​and all-pervasive.​ ​The​ ​reason​ ​I​ ​bring​ ​this​ ​up​ ​is​ ​because​ ​I​ ​think​ ​technology​ ​allows​ ​us​ ​to​ ​think about​ ​the​ ​private/public​ ​dichotomy​ ​with​ ​more​ ​clarity.​ ​Language​ ​is​ ​always​ ​already​ ​a technology​ ​where​ ​one​ ​is​ ​implicated​ ​within​ ​but​ ​never​ ​fully​ ​owns.​ ​Perception,​ ​likewise,​ ​is always​ ​produced​ ​socially,​ ​and​ ​such​ ​an​ ​‘order​ ​of​ ​things’​ ​is​ ​not​ ​found​ ​explicitly​ ​within​ ​one’s own​ ​perception.​ ​The​ ​argument​ ​for​ ​this​ ​interconnectedness​ ​has​ ​been​ ​described​ ​since​ ​the dawn​ ​of​ ​Western​ ​philosophy​ ​(but​ ​much​ ​development​ ​has​ ​been​ ​made​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Continental tradition​ ​of​ ​philosophy).​ ​I​ ​am​ ​probably​ ​the​ ​most​ ​pessimistic​ ​philosopher​ ​of​ ​this​ ​‘deterministic’ interconnected​ ​tradition​ ​(following​ ​Baudrillard​ ​in​ ​many​ ​respects).​ ​Neurosis​ ​attempts​ ​to characterise​ ​the​ ​contamination​ ​(Derrida)​ ​and​ ​bricolage​ ​(Levi​ ​Strauss)​ ​of​ ​meaning​ ​within contemporary​ ​consciousness​ ​and​ ​hence​ ​the​ ​conflation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​two​ ​poles​ ​private​ ​and​ ​public. Someone​ ​is​ ​always​ ​plugged​ ​into​ ​someone​ ​else,​ ​speaking​ ​as,​ ​for​ ​or​ ​through​ ​someone​ ​else (this​ ​is​ ​the​ ​entire​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​capitalism;​ ​retail​ ​service,​ ​customer​ ​service,​ ​etc.).​ ​On​ ​the​ ​other​ ​side, the​ ​‘private’​ ​domain​ ​has​ ​never​ ​been​ ​exteriorised​ ​more​ ​than​ ​in​ ​the​ ​21st​ ​century;​ ​with​ ​the advent​ ​of​ ​facebook,​ ​instagram,​ ​twitter​ ​etc​ ​personal​ ​life​ ​is​ ​public​ ​life​ ​and​ ​all​ ​positive​ ​meaning between​ ​the​ ​chafing​ ​of​ ​the​ ​two​ ​has​ ​disappeared.​ ​What​ ​I​ ​am​ ​more​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​nowadays​ ​is not​ ​the​ ​private/public​ ​dichotomy​ ​but​ ​the​ ​secret/non-secret​ ​dichotomy.​ ​The​ ​true​ ​secret, always​ ​there​ ​in​ ​psychoanalysis,​ ​always​ ​there​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mad​ ​and​ ​the​ ​criminally​ ​insane,​ ​the concept​ ​that​ ​one​ ​man​ ​may​ ​be​ ​hiding,​ ​is​ ​keeping,​ ​like​ ​a​ ​form​ ​of​ ​property​ ​etc.​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​wish​ ​to know​ ​these​ ​secrets,​ ​and​ ​perhaps​ ​this​ ​is​ ​the​ ​last​ ​fruitful​ ​life​ ​of​ ​the​ ​romantic​ ​concept​ ​of authenticity​ ​or​ ​identity​ ​within​ ​human​ ​civilization.

A.Z.: What​ ​are​ ​the​ ​main​ ​historical​ ​shifts​ ​in​ ​the​ ​popular​ ​perception​ ​of​ ​the​ ​neurotic?

C.J.: I​ ​would​ ​not​ ​claim​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​expert​ ​at​ ​answering​ ​this​ ​question,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​the​ ​shift​ ​is enormous​ ​in​ ​many​ ​ways.​ ​If​ ​we​ ​even​ ​attempt​ ​to​ ​anchor​ ​it​ ​to​ ​its​ ​psychological​ ​home​ ​we​ ​will find​ ​it​ ​challenging.​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​disclosed​ ​in​ ​1769​ ​by​ ​Dr.​ ​William​ ​Cullen.​ ​Not​ ​to​ ​take​ ​it​ ​away from​ ​Dr​. ​Cullen​ ​but​ ​we​ ​can​ ​gauge​ ​philosophically​ ​why​ ​this​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​case;​ ​psychology had​ ​‘developed’​ ​to​ ​a​ ​point​ ​in​ ​the​ ​eighteenth​ ​century​ ​where​ ​‘symptoms’​ ​were​ ​assumed​ ​to come​ ​from​ ​exclusively​ ​material,​ ​biological​ ​and​ ​organic​ ​processes.​ ​Many​ ​mental​ ​disturbances (such​ ​as​ ​neurosis​ ​and​ ​psychosis)​ ​could​ ​not​ ​be​ ​discerned​ ​by​ ​this​ ​method​ ​(physiologically​ ​or causally).​ ​At​ ​the​ ​time,​ ​scientific​ ​legitimacy​ ​depended​ ​on​ ​its​ ​allegiance​ ​to​ ​the​ ​material​ ​world hypothesis​ ​(against​ ​superstition​ ​etc).​ ​However,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mid​ ​1700’s​ ​the​ ​enlightenment​ ​ideal​ ​of the​ ​individual​ ​was​ ​taking​ ​place​ ​(one​ ​can​ ​see​ ​Immanuel​ ​Kant’s​ ​debt​ ​to​ ​the​ ​father​ ​of​ ​Early Modern​ ​Philosophy​ ​Rene​ ​Descartes)​ ​and​ ​this​ ​was​ ​against​ ​the​ ​scientific​ ​realism​ ​supporting certain​ ​psychological​ ​discourses​ ​at​ ​the​ ​time.​ ​Hence​ ​‘neurosis’​ ​was​ ​adopted​ ​by​ ​this​ ​new mind-set​ ​and​ ​disclosed​ ​as​ ​both​ ​mental​ ​and​ ​subjective​ ​(it​ ​was​ ​later​ ​adopted​ ​in​ ​the​ ​same non-scientific​ ​way​ ​by​ ​Romanticism​ ​and​ ​given​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​‘tension’/​ ​cathexis​ ​(the​ ​moving elements,​ ​the​ ​relation​ ​between​ ​man​ ​and​ ​nature)​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​a​ ​solitary​ ​denotation).​ ​Before then,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​writings​ ​of​ ​Christian​ ​Wolffe,​ ​and​ ​even​ ​in​ ​the​ ​pre-Socratics,​ ​neurosis​ ​was characterised​ ​as​ ​either​ ​‘mind’​ ​or​ ​‘soul’​ ​(soul​ ​pertaining​ ​to​ ​the​ ​whole​ ​world,​ ​the​ ​‘world-soul’). Although​ ​I​ ​find​ ​these​ ​earlier​ ​characterisations​ ​illuminating,​ ​I​ ​find​ ​that​ ​Cullen​ ​picked​ ​up​ ​upon the​ discomforting ​quality​ ​of​ ​the​ ​psyche,​ ​and​ ​this​ ​is​ ​of​ ​main​ ​interest​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​So​ ​already​ ​there you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​large​ ​shift​ ​of​ ​the​ ​term​ ​psyche;​ ​from​ ​soul,​ ​spirit,​ ​nature,​ ​to​ ​simply​ ​‘the​ ​mental’,​ ​and later,​ ​with​ ​Cullen,​ ​the​ ​term​ ​neurosis​ ​is​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​instantiation;​ ​the​ ​moment​ ​when​ ​mind​ ​and spirit​ ​is​ ​reflected​ ​in​ ​an​ ​eighteenth​ ​century​ ​mind​ ​now​ ​bridled​ ​with​ ​ideas​ ​and​ ​passing​ ​into​ ​a new​ ​phase​ ​of​ ​alienation.​ ​In​ ​many​ ​ways​ ​I​ ​see​ ​Cullen’s​ ​instantiation​ ​of​ ​neurosis​ ​as​ ​the condensation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Gothic​ ​quality​ ​of​ ​mind;​ ​the​ ​ghosts​ ​in​ ​the​ ​machine,​ ​the​ ​nightmare​ ​images of​ ​irrationality​ ​(think​ ​of​ ​Goya’s​ The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters).

In​ ​popular​ ​culture,​ ​however,​ ​neurosis​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​have​ ​been​ ​embraced​ ​(Patricia​ ​Friedrich​ ​talks about​ ​those​ ​characters​ ​we​ ​love,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​those​ ​played​ ​by​ ​Woody​ ​Allen​ ​and​ ​the​ ​character​ ​of Patrick​ ​Bateman​ ​in​ ​American​ ​Psycho​ ​etc.,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​ ​ ​book​ The Neurotic Turn, Repeater​ ​Books).​ ​In​ ​literature​ ​too​ ​we​ ​have​ ​a​ ​line​ ​of​ ​thinkers​ ​from​ ​Dostoevsky,​ ​Bataille​ ​and Barthes,​ ​and​ ​later​ ​we​ ​could​ ​say​ ​that​ ​almost​ ​everyone​ ​in​ ​the​ ​21st​ ​century​ ​has​ ​an​ ​element​ ​of what​ ​Freud​ ​had​ ​called​ ​‘narcissistic​ ​personality​ ​disorder.​ ​’​ ​As​ ​I​ ​said,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​an​ ​expert​ ​in​ ​the social​ ​representation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​neurotic,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​obvious​ ​-​ ​at​ ​least​ ​on​ ​a​ ​surface​ ​level​ ​-​ ​that​ ​the neurotic​ ​has​ ​been​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​accepted​ ​‘outsider’​ ​figures​ ​in​ ​the​ ​twentieth​ ​and twenty-first​ ​century.​ ​Research​ ​has​ ​to​ ​be​ ​done​ ​into​ ​exactly​ ​why​ ​this​ ​is.​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​it​ ​is because​ ​the​ ​traditional​ ​psychological​ ​neurotic​ ​was​ ​diagnosed​ ​with​ ​what​ ​we​ ​are​ ​all​ ​beginning to​ ​realise​ ​we​ ​have​ ​too,​ ​and​ ​was​ ​always​ ​there​ ​in​ ​some​ ​repressed​ ​form;​ ​a​ ​renewed​ ​sensitivity to​ ​the​ ​onslaught​ ​of​ ​concepts,​ ​an​ ​awareness​ ​of​ ​the​ ​compulsive​ ​repetition​ ​inherent​ ​in​ ​any​ ​act of​ ​making​ ​meaningful,​ ​the​ ​daunting​ ​anxiety​ ​of​ ​feeling​ ​the​ ​value​ ​of​ ​personal​ ​identity​ ​wither away​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​neutral,​ ​indifferent​ ​postmodernism.

A.Z.: What​ ​is​ ​your​ ​description​ ​of​ ​neurosis​ ​and​ ​is​ ​it​ ​a​ ​‘first​ ​world​ ​problem’?

C.J.: A​ ​neurosis​ ​is​ ​any​ ​trajectory​ ​of​ ​thought​ ​that​ ​you​ ​abide​ ​by​ ​(whether​ ​willingly​ ​or​ ​unwillingly).​ ​It names​ ​the​ ​process​ ​of​ ​experiencing​ ​consciousness​ ​without​ ​knowing​ ​where​ ​it​ ​comes​ ​from​ ​and where​ ​it​ ​is​ ​leading​ ​you.​ ​You​ ​are​ ​in​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​‘in​ ​the​ ​middle’​ ​of​ ​consciousness,​ ​hence,​ ​you​ ​are the​ ​patient,​ ​or​ ​the​ ​victim.​ ​In​ ​this​ ​sense​ ​neurosis​ ​could​ ​not​ ​be​ ​considered​ ​as​ ​only​ ​a​ ​first​ ​world problem.​ ​Every​ ​human​ ​participates​ ​in​ ​this​ ​role​ ​of​ ​consciousness,​ ​just​ ​as​ ​everyone participates​ ​in​ Geist ​in​ ​Hegel.​ ​However,​ ​yes,​ ​neurosis​ ​has​ ​always​ ​been​ ​an​ ​exaggerated​ ​form of​ ​thought-processing,​ ​the​ ​traditional​ ​neurotic​ ​(of​ ​the​ ​diagnosed​ ​kind)​ ​gives​ ​us​ ​a​ ​clue​ ​as​ ​to the​ ​future​ ​state​ ​of​ ​cognition,​ ​he/she​ ​is​ ​simply​ ​the​ ​first​ ​that​ ​recognises​ ​it.​ ​Most​ ​of​ ​our​ ​thoughts do​ ​not​ ​have​ ​direct​ ​reference​ ​to​ ​‘physical​ ​reality’.​ ​I​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​think​ ​about​ ​something​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am perhaps​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​do,​ ​told​ ​by​ ​someone​ ​else.​ ​I​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​think​ ​about​ ​how​ ​someone​ ​else​ ​might think​ ​about​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​realise​ ​that​ ​the​ ​objective​ ​of​ ​my​ ​thoughts​ ​are​ ​simply​ ​to​ ​attain symbolic/imaginary​ ​goals​ ​such​ ​as​ ​sexual,​ ​monetary​ ​and​ ​social​ ​status.​ ​I​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​understand that​ ​the​ ​desire​ ​intrinsic​ ​to​ ​my​ ​thought​ ​processes​ ​have​ ​nothing​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​maintaining​ ​social stability,​ ​they​ ​do​ ​not​ ​uphold​ ​any​ ​moral​ ​sense​ ​or​ ​moral​ ​value​ ​etc.​ ​The​ ​proliferation​ ​and sensitivity​ ​of​ ​thought​ ​in​ ​neurosis​ ​is​ ​relative​ ​to​ ​the​ ​dissolution​ ​and​ ​homogenising​ ​of​ ​traditional meaning​ ​(the​ ​subsequent​ ​relentless​ ​production​ ​of​ ​commodity​ ​fetishism​ ​everywhere​ ​in​ ​life).​ ​In this​ ​respect​ ​you​ ​could​ ​say​ ​that​ ​‘neurosis’​ ​is​ ​an​ ​anthropological​ ​description​ ​of​ ​thought​ ​in​ ​the ‘first-world’​ ​…​ ​but​ ​neurosis​ ​does​ ​not​ ​go​ ​away​ ​if​ ​you​ ​find​ ​concrete​ ​uses​ ​for​ ​it​ ​in​ ​nature;​ ​the eskimo​ ​is​ ​just​ ​as​ ​neurotic​ ​when​ ​he​ ​attributes​ ​eleven​ ​different​ ​meanings​ ​to​ ​the​ ​phenomenon snow.

The​ ​Neurotic​ ​Turn​ ​book​ ​is​ ​now​ ​available​ ​through​ ​Repeater​ ​Books.