Friday, March 27, 2009
Wo Es war, soll Ich werden.
One of Freud's most famous sentences is "Wo Es war, soll Ich werden." The German has been translated into English in various ways, among them: "Where Id was, there shall Ego be" and "Where it was, shall I be." The translation teaches us something about psychoanalysis as a textual practice involving spatial and temporal impossibilities. The German cannot be translated literally become a tense problem as well as a preposition problem. Consider the tense problem. "Sein" is the German verb for to be." "War" means "was," and "werden" means "to become." "Werden" is also a helping verb in German for the future tense, as in "Ich werde gehen" ("I will go"). But one can drop "werden" in German and use the same words for the present and future tenses. "I go to the store" could mean I go to the store or I will go to the store (later). So transliterated Freud's sentence would be "Where I was, shall I become." And that's an ungrammatical sentence. Moreover, the helping verb "soll" may also mean "should." Though "soll" clearly means "shall" here, it may also call up the sense of "should be," as in the tentative "well, he should be there (as far as I know)" or even the more urgent "he should be here by now" where "should" takes on moral urgency as in "I should do that." So "soll" does not predict the future of the Ego but gives a kind of qualified temporal trajectory--the Ego should be there, but maybe it isn't or won't be there; maybe it has taken a wrong turn, a (yo)uturn, a detour or been unavoidably delayed. There is another problem of translating Freud's sentence in terms of location: "Wo" means "where" the Id was but the Ego's future has no corresponding "there." Freud does not use the word "da" (German for "there"), though some translators supply the word. Freud, by the way, he did make a big deal about "da" in his discussion of "Fort Da" in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Moreover, the Id does not exist either. "Where Id was" means that the Id no longer is there, that it has expired and cannot be placed. So what does Freud's sentence mean about? Well, a number of things: 1. It's a theory about about learning, about self-understanding and self-misunderstanding. 2. The Ego is never itself, never unified, but always beside itself, split as it goes toward the place it will be eventually and driven there (nowhere) by the Id, or unconscious, which cannot be mapped or made present. 3. The place the Ego "shall be" at also does not exist. The ego has no destination. Something, namely, the ego always gets lost in translation, so to speak. (I still wonder the film Lost in translation has such a long opening take and close up of Scarlet Johansen's rear. Anybody?) the Ego has no destination, and will arrive at itself, where it should be, only in its annihilation; that is, it will "be" only in death. 4. There is no final destination. There is always a deja revu or redo, a sequel, Final destination 2, Final Desitnation 3. I hear there will be a Final Destination 4.I look forward to seeing it. 5. You cannot "be yourself" or "self-help yourself" as ego psychologists Fritz "this is the first day of the rest of your life" Perls and Dr Phil, or Dr. Swill as I like to call him,(you can improve yourself, find yourself) would have it. For Freud you just can't help yourself because you are never progressing or regressing but going in circles, compulsively repeating your past but never returning to where you started exactly. In Dr. Phil's self-help terms, you start in a bad or not so good place and go to a better or great place (sort of like heaven--these AA people are all alike when it comes to higher powers; personally, I am into the High 5 power). It's like you could take a plane from one place to another. Your narrative is progressive even if it involves repetition (if you fall off the [fill in the blank] wagon, get back on; if your flight is cancelled, rebook it). Put in terms of a cinematic analogy, Run, Lola, Run is like Dr. Phil and Blind Chance is like Freud. Both films have the same narrative structure: the same story is told three times, each time in a somewhat different way. In Run, Lola, Run, we move from an unhappy ending in the first version to a happy ending in the last one. This is pre-Freudian notion of will power. You can will your future. Just be yourself, and your gamble will pay pay off eventually; the third times a charm, and so on. By contrast, in Blind Chance, the story begins each time with a man trying to reach a train so he can leave Warsaw and get a plane to Paris. The first two times,he misses the train. The last time he gets it. The film ends with a shot of a plane in the air just after takeoff, as if the guy made it. But then the plane explodes. So the happy ending is exploded, as it were. For Freud, there is no happy ending. There are only unhappy endings. We all die. What a bummer. Here's what's wrong with ego psychology in a nutshell: The very fact that you have "be" yourself means that you are always already never yourself. If you were yourself, you would not have to be it. So you will always need S(h)elf-help.