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.

A “literary” graphic novel?

By Jan Baetens

David SalaSala1

Le Joueur d’échecs (d’après Stefan Zweig)

Paris : Casterman, 2017, 129 p.

ISBN : 978-2-203-09347-8


Although graphic novels are now considered part of literature, only very few are literary adaptations in the traditional sense of the word. What makes the graphic novel a work of literature is not its literary sources (preferably high-literary ones, bearing some traces of the original material supposed to add prestige and cultural value), but the fact that it has a single author who, on top of that, also has a recognizable style and voice. Hence, inevitably, the success of autobiography and semi-autobiographical fiction in the field: to tell one’s own story is the easiest way to proclaim one’s difference as well as one’s distinction, and the unique features of the story told are the best possible guarantee that the author’s style will also be acknowledged as personal and unique.

In spite of a powerful cliché, to adapt a literary work is not an easy task; that is,  it is not easy to cash in on the reputation of the adapted work. To adapt is, instead, a minefield. The possible dangers are countless, and they are even bigger in the case of the adaptation of a well-known and much-loved work. For, even readers who have never read the original will have a certain idea of what it is and thus of what they expect the adaptation to be. When the author of the adaptation takes the supplementary risk of remaining faithful to the original –for, in spite of another devastating cliché, it is much more difficult to produce a convincing faithful adaptation than to reshape the original in order to cater to the tastes of either the maker or the public–, the dangers are even bigger.

It should therefore not come as a surprise that the graphic novel field does not present many examples of literary adaptations, the work of Kafka being a noticeable exception (but there the dangers are somewhat reduced by the sheer number of existing adaptations in all possible genres and media, which reduce the anxiety of influence). Zweig’s “The Royal Game” or “Chess Story” (1941), the last novella published by Stefan Zweig before his suicide, has been adapted to the screen and to the stage, but as far as I know, never in graphic novel format. Sala’s adaptation is a great accomplishment, which can be read at three levels: first,  as an independent creation; second, in comparison with the original novella; third, in relationship with current tendencies in the graphic novel, which is forced to supersede its autobiographical bias and post-underground stylistic tropisms. In all these cases, Sala’s work is amazing, and one can only hope that it will soon become a textbook example of how to make a literary adaptation in “bande dessinée” (that wonderful word that helps us question the comics vs graphic novel divide in new ways).


50 Key Terms in Contemporary Cultural Theory

Anthropocene, posthumanism, biopolitics… Terms such as these have not only become very popular in academic circles, but they are also increasingly used in public debates, catalogues of exhibitions and policy documents. Sometimes a term suddenly becomes a fashionable buzzword, only to go out of fashion as quickly as it gained attention, but there are also terms that people keep on using because they help us to understand something important about contemporary society.

finale cover 50 Key Terms croppedIn the book 50 Key Terms in Contemporary Cultural Theory, edited by Joost de Bloois, Stijn De Cauwer and Anneleen Masschelein, 50 important terms are explained by 35 scholars. In short texts, the history and context of each term is explained, as well as the debates that the term has triggered. Each text is followed by a short bibliography for further reading. There are terms that help us to understand contemporary political challenges: precarity, immaterial labor, biopolitics, common(s), anthropocene, surveillance, debt, cultural memory, agonism, multitude, spectacle, post-truth and political theology. Some terms help us to understand new media developments: algorithm, open access, digital cultural heritage, convergence, archive and network. Other terms help us to come to terms with the diversity of human life: intersectionality, heteronormativity, posthumanism, postfeminism, postcolonialism and crip theory. Some terms are deceptively simple but they have a complex history and their use has become the object of critical research in the Humanities: love, war, life, justice, immunity, noise, image, participation, crisis, creativity, performance, rhythm, curating and that mysterious notion people like to use so easily, culture. Certain terms may be considered to be somewhat outdated in the public opinion but they have continued to be relevant in the Humanities: utopia, class and ideology. Finally, there are terms which have become much-debated theoretical terms: accelerationism, plasticity, affect, individuation, speculation, medicalization and the sensible.

Amongst the 35 authors in this book, there are several staff members of the Cultural Studies program (Anneleen Masschelein, Stijn De Cauwer, Jan Baetens, Jonas Rutgeerts, Leni Van Goidsenhoven, Silvana Mandolessi, Laura Smith, Clarissa Colangelo, Gert-Jan Meyntjens, Heidi Peeters) and the Literary Studies department (Elke D’Hoker, Tom Chadwick, Michiel Rys, Jan Vanvelk, Tom Willaert).

With this book, the authors hope to clarify the meaning and use of these 50 key terms, which can be of great value to comprehend some of the challenges we all face today. The terms are not only of interest for students or researchers, but also for policy makers, people working in the art world and other cultural domains and people active in social and environmental organizations. Anybody who wants to take part in debates about the current political, social or cultural state of affairs will inevitably encounter these terms and this book will be a useful guide.

In Leuven, the book will be available in book stores such as Acco.


Book presentation: “Starchitecture. Scenes, Actors and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities”

Wednesday May 10, 2017, 6-8 pm at the Aud De Molen, Campus Leuven.

9781580934688In recent years, widespread media and critical attention has been lavished on famous architects and how their spectacular designs contribute to the branding of cities. Far less is known about the decision-making processes behind these projects and their subsequent urban effects. The book Starchitecture (by urban scholar Davide Ponzini and photographer Michele Nastasi) investigates recent skyscrapers, cultural projects, and high-profile developments designed by star architects in cities such as Paris, New York, Abu Dhabi, and Bilbao. The book addresses key questions: How and why do spectacular works get commissioned and procured? What are their visible urban effects? What can urban planners, architects, and policy makers learn in order to engage in more successful citymaking? In his presentation Davide Ponzini will explain and critique a growing global condition by revealing how starchitecture has been and continues to be deployed in cities around the world. These arguments are vital to understanding the urban landscapes of today, and tomorrow.

More info can be found at the following link:

Moving Together – Book Release

By Jonas Rutgeerts

51dgEA9UbKLOn Friday, October 23 one of Belgian’s leading sociologists and dance critics Rudi Laermans presents his new book Moving Together: Theorizing and Making Contemporary Dance in the Kaaitheater (Brussels). In this book Laermans analyzes contemporary dance through a combination of dance studies and sociology. The book consists of two parts. In the first part Laermans retraces his personal history as a dance theorist through a detailed analysis of different seminal dance works. In the second part he researches the “multi-faceted dynamics of co-creating dance”. Based on personal observations and in-depth interviews with dance artists linked to the Brussels dance scene, Laermans manages to analyze both individual dance works and the social contexts that precede or envelope these dance performances, thus bridging the gap between aesthetics-centred and context-centred tendencies in the study of contemporary dance. Building on years of expertise in both the field of dance-studies and sociology, he is one of the few theoreticians that manages to adopt this symmetrical approach that examines dance both as an aesthetic and social practice.

For the occasion of the presentation of the book, Laermans will enter into discussion with Brussels-based American performance artist and choreographer Eleonor Bauer.

‘Clearly written, meticulously researched and theoretically enriching, Rudi Laermans’ first-hand accounts of key performances by some of the most influential names that have defined contemporary choreography since the mid-1980s make us see how crucial the Flemish dance scene has been for the development of contemporary experimental dance — and therefore, how it has also been a strong influence in those discourses that inform the reception and perception of international dance today. Absolutely essential.’ 

André Lepecki, Associate Professor in Performance Studies, New York University 

Bojana Kunst’s ‘Artist At Work: Proximity of Art and Capitalism’

By Jonas Rutgeerts

bojana-kunst-artist-at-workBook presentation of Bojana Kunst’s ‘Artist At Work: Proximity of Art and Capitalism’. 1/10 in De Vooruit, Gent.

When Belgian philosopher Dieter Lesage was invited to write an introductory text for the catalogue of German artist Ina Wudtke Lesage slightly changed the proposal. Rather than describing Wudtke’s artistic “products”, his “Portrait of the Artist as a Worker” describes what the artist does when she works:

“You are an artist and that means: you don’t do it for the money. That is what some people think. It is a great excuse not to pay you for all the things you do. So what happens is that you, as an artist, put money into projects that others will show in their museum, in their Kunsthalle, in their exhibition space, in their gallery. So you are an investor. You give loans nobody will repay you. You take financial risks. You speculate on yourself as an artistic asset. You are a trader. You cannot put all your money into one kind of artistic stock. So you diversify your activities. You manage the risks you take. You would say it differently. I know. You say you suffer from a gentle schizophrenia. You have multiple personalities. You are a photographer, but also a DJ. You have a magazine, you are a publisher, but you also organize parties. You take photos of party people. You throw a party when you present a magazine, you make magazines with photographs of party people, you throw a party and you are the DJ. You do interviews with people you meet, you do interviews with people you would like to meet, you tell the people you meet about your magazine. You buy records on flea markets, you distribute flyers announcing parties in the bar where you have a coffee after visiting the flea market, you make videos recording how you destroy the records you bought on the flea market, you liberate your country from its bad music, you show the video in a gallery and you are a DJ at the vernissage.”

In her new book Artist at work art historian and Bojana Kunst takes up exactly this question of “how do artists work?”. What should we consider as artistic work? Is everything the artist does part of the artistic ‘practice’? Where is the work? Is it in the gallery? In the theatre? In the rehearsal space?…

In her thought-provoking book Kunst addresses all these questions through a more extensive analysis of contemporary “postfordist” or “immaterial” labour. Mapping the evolution in the organisation of labour, Kunst shows how the modernist claim that ‘the work of art and the work of life should be inseparable’ has established itself in the very hearth of capitalist society. However, rather than becoming cynical or pessimistic Kunst searches for way to reclaim ‘work’ and to emancipate artistic work from its neoliberal counterpart.

In this time where every ‘creative worker’ is juggling several projects and manages several “projective temporalities”, Kunst analysis of the way artist works provides an insightful analyses on how artist work and looks for pathways to “rebel against the project and demand the temporality of work as duration”.