Neurological Subordination of Sexuality: Reading Malabou.

[continuing from here]

Part One of Les Nouveaux blessés (which Malabou herself proposes to translate as The New Wounds here) is entitled – La subordination neurologique de la sexualité. This part deals primarily with the “struggle for etiological domination” between neurology and psychoanalysis. This struggle, argues Malabou, is basically about defining and redefining the concept of “l’événement psychique.” In neurological subordination of the sexual, the psychic event is no longer considered as the sexual event: “The hypothesis of an emotional brain dismisses the idea of an autonomous sexual drive.” (60) Malabou identifies this specific la ligne de rupture between contemporary neurology and psychoanalysis in a following way: “contemporary neurology fundamentally contests the concept and the very existence of what Freud referred to as ‘psychic energy’.” (61) Neurological stance does not requires a “detour” to libido to deal with neuronal events – Malabou points out that the reason for the present lack of cooperation between neurology and psychoanalysis is precisely this fundamental disagreement – if for neurology there is but one type of energy – l’énergie nerveuse – then there is no need for Freudian notions of drive and libido. (62) Malabou cites Joëlle Proust from Le livre noir de la psychoanalyse (the book I’ve mentioned in my first post on Les Nouveaux blessés):

La théorie freudienne des relations entre le psychique et le somatique dépend d’une conception selon laquelle les neurones doivent recervoir du dehors leur excitation. Il faut donc selon Freud une excitation somatique ‘périphérique’ pour que l’appareil nerveux soit stimulé; l’influx nerveux est censé être une forme d’énergie qui parcourt les neurones, mais qui n’est pas engendrée par eux. Cette énergie s’investit, c’est-à-dire s’attache à certaines représentations, qui deviennent les représentants de la pulsion correspondante. (Le livre noir, 652)

Basically, if Proust is to be read as a representative of neurological opposition to psychoanalysis, then it is precisely this denial of Freud’s (concept of) libido that, Malabou seems to suggests, prevents neurology from any kind of cooperation with psychoanalysis. Malabou intends to counter this particular tension between neurology and psychoanalysis in the following discussion of Part One. Her first strategy is to counter the misunderstanding of Freudian conception of “psychic energy” as somehow suggesting that the mental energy is extra-neuronal. Chapter 1 is then labeled Cerebral Autoaffection [L’autoaffection cérébrale] and is aimed at explaining how Freudian notion of “psychic energy” can be read as not contradicting major premises of neurology, i.e. as “endogenous excitation.” (65)

A bit of a digression, but here an interesting essay – Neurological Origins Of Psychoanalysis (by Raymond E. Fancher) – that summarizes the precise problem that Malabou is dealing with, i.e. Freud own refusal to submit his psychoanalytic concepts to any kind of neurological correlation:

In all his psychoanalytic works published during his lifetime, Sigmund Freud presented his theory in completely psychological terms. He explicitly disclaimed any intention of correlating his concepts with underlying neurological processes. “Every attempt . . . to discover a localization of mental processes, every endeavour to think of ideas as stored up in nerve cells, and of excitation as travelling along nerve-fibres, has miscarried completely,” he wrote in 1915. “Our psychical topography has for the present nothing to do with anatomy; it has reference not to anatomical localities, but to regions in the mental apparatus, wherever they may be situated in the body” (Freud, 1957/1915, pp. 174-175, emphasis in original).

While Freud’s statement is correct as far as it goes, it is also misleading. It is true that psychoanalytic theory can be understood, and psychoanalytic psychotherapy practiced, without resorting to neurological concepts. But the statement masks the fact that many important psychoanalytic hypotheses, especially those concerning the characteristics of unconscious mental processes, originated in a context of unpublished neurological speculation, and were only later freed of their neurological trappings.

Continuing with Malabou then. She attempts to solve the problem of the relationship between psychoanalysis and neurology by suggesting that it is neither “nervous energy” = “psychic energy” nor “nervous energy” ≠ “psychic energy” but a kind of differentiating, a kind of complexification of the nervous energy by the psychic energy. “There aren’t two types of energy but a differentiated organization of energy that deals with the problem of internal compatibility with itself.” (69) Where does the drive come from then? From the “inside” the system but not in a way as to constitute, according to Freud, an auto-affective scheme – it comes from “undecidable boundary” between “soul” and “body” – “La pulsion provient d’une certaine excitation de l’âme et du corps ensemble.” (71)

Skipping some detailed analysis of what Freud has to say about the type of energy that “psychic energy” is and what its relationship with “nervous energy” looks like – including an intriguing reference to Michel de Certeau – Malabou concludes: The difference between ‘sexuality’ and ‘cerebrality’ then is not aligned along the lines of the distinction between ‘nervous’ and ‘psychic’ energies, but along the lines of the distinction between ‘affects’ and ‘representations’. This distinction operates on the assumption that sexuality is not defined in terms of “sexual drive” or “sex life” as such, but in terms of a “certain regime of events controlled by a specific causality” – “Sexuality is the hermeneutic adventure of the psychic energy.” – “La sexualité est l’aventure herméneutique de l’énergie psychique.” (75) I take it to mean that ‘cerebrality’ deals with affects and ‘sexuality’ deals with their representation.

Next section (of Chapter 1) deals with so-called “emotional brain” – to be continued…


1 thought on “Neurological Subordination of Sexuality: Reading Malabou.

  1. Pingback: Reading Malabou « Perverse Egalitarianism

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