“Freud surrounded himself with visual sources of inspiration that made their way into his manuscript pages, confining the thousands of objects he stockpiled to the consultation room and study that constituted his workspace. The rest of his home was conventionally bourgeois, decorated with family photographs and fin-de-siecle furnishings. The Wolf Man later recalled that Freud’s study didn’t have the look of ‘a doctor’s office but rather of an archaeologist’s study.'”
Jeffrey R. Di Leo on a new essay collection that explores the legacy of critical theory since the deaths of some of its leading figures
How did you come to put together Dead Theory?
I was writing a review of Vincent Leitch’s Living with Theory (2008) several years ago and could not help thinking that the opposite might also be the case, namely, that we are “dying with theory.” At the time, it was nothing more than a passing thought, but one that stuck in my head. A few years later, when I was reading about “critical climate change” and the proposal that the time scale and size of climate change calls for an entirely new critical language the thought came back.
It was a volume edited by Tom Cohen on the topic of critical climate change published by Open Humanities Press (Telemorphosis: Theory in the Area of Climate Change, Vol. 1, 2012). I wrote an essay for symplokē on the subject entitled “Can Theory Save the Planet” (2013). The subject of whether the work of philosophers like Derrida, who were now deceased, could have any bearing on current discussions in critical climate change intrigued me. As I started to discuss this issue with some of my colleagues as well as the topic of “dying with theory,” the idea of a collection of essays on dead theory began to take shape. (more…)
Rachele Dini discusses how the work of J.G. Ballard, Don DeLillo, and Samuel Beckett engages with one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time
What motivated you to write Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction?
Well, I’ve been attracted to remnants of different kinds since I was very little, and was obsessed with cutting up magazines as a teenager—but intellectually, the turning point for me was during my MA at King’s College London. I noticed almost immediately that the texts on the modules I was taking were unusually concerned with fragments and fragmentation. Dickens, Zola, Eliot, Elizabeth Bowen, Fernando Pessoa, Virginia Woolf, Ballard, Calvino, and of course Walter Benjamin and Adorno: physical and metaphorical waste proliferates in all of these authors’ work. In hindsight, this was to be expected since the course focused on the seismic effects of capitalist modernity, and waste is certainly one of these. But that focus on residual matter reproaching you for throwing it away, or on things not working and stuff falling apart, especially compelled me at the time, since it was the opposite in every way from the focus of my day job in market research. Market research is an industry essentially devoted to promoting the very things that leftist theory denounces: its modus operandi is to find ways of selling more. So the first spark for the PhD project that ultimately turned into this book was the conflict between the rhetoric of ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ (to quote Daft Punk) I was accustomed to in my working life, and all of the countercultural—or simply denunciatory—writing I discovered through my studies, which called that rhetoric into question. (more…)
A new historical novel watches the rise of Nazism through the eyes of Sigmund Freud and a boy from the country
Can you imagine getting dating advice from Freud? This is one of the conceits of Robert Seethaler’s The Tobacconist, recently published by Picador in a translation by Charlotte Collins. The novel is a coming-of-age story about Franz, a seventeen-year-old boy who leaves his rural town to become a tobacconist’s apprentice in Vienna in the 1930s. As the naïve young Franz is dazzled by the lights and stimulations of the modern city, Dr Freud appears as a customer in the small tobacco shop where he works. They strike up cigars and conversation, and speculate on love, life, and a rapidly-changing world.
Seethaler rose to prominence with A Whole Life (2014), a novel shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. Praised by Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan, the text explored the influence of modernity and the Second World War on traditional ways of life. Seethaler’s interest in this theme persists in The Tobacconist, where what begins as a whimsical tale shifts gear into a novel exploring the rise of fascism in Austria. The forces of history push Franz towards maturity, and he transitions from a wide-eyed witness to tragic commentator on antisemitism, political violence, and populist rhetoric. (more…)
From Tom McCarthy’s essay, ‘Against Psychology — in Praise of Freud’
Literature, in short, is not made up of ‘characters’: it understands that existence, whether individual or collective, is formed and unformed within networks of language and ceremony, spread across topographies whose axes, or gravitational force-fields, are law, pleasure and mortality, subject to the exigencies of topography itself. As such, it offers, at its deepest, neither commentary nor entertainment; rather, it is the very source-code of our being, index of its contingencies. Freud understands this too, of course, and directly articulates it more brilliantly and systematically than anyone before or since. Which is why psychoanalysis, and not psychology, can lay claim to an intense, perhaps even an incestuous, relationship with literature. [Read More]
From Ted Gioia’s article on Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist novel, Nausea
In general, Sartre is more committed to philosophy than to fiction, even here in the pages of his greatest novel. But when the story lags, the intensity of the intellectual debate flares up to compensate—so much so, that Nausea is essential reading not just for students of literature, but also for anyone interested in the evolution of Sartre’s views on a range of philosophical issues.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this book is Sartre’s decision to supply a happy ending. His horror story ends with a way out of the nausea. I am less than convinced by this turnabout in our suffering Mr. Roquentin, but as a longtime jazz lover, I am secretly pleased at the cure for the existential nausea. A jazz record featuring a singer and saxophonist does the trick—to be specific an old recording of “Some of These Days.” I only wish Sartre had been more specific about the names of the musicians on the date (he doesn’t identify any of them). I would love to hear the jazz record that trumps Freud, cures the ill, and solves existential angst. (more…)
Alberto Comparini (LARB) reviews a new study of the novel-essay and its place in modernity
“Hybrid genres,” and the questionable orthodoxy of traditional genres, are subjects that continue to vex literary theory. Consider Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Against Nature, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, or Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities: What do these novels share? What kind of novels are they? Are these books truly novels, or are they another form altogether?
“Becoming Freud,” by the British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, is short for a biography—less than two hundred pages—and it contains no startling revelations. But, in its own way, it’s an audacious book. It’s a revisionist history of Freud and his enterprise; its implicit goal, never stated but always clear, is to help us salvage the best parts of Freud’s work while leaving behind the rest—the outmoded theories and unwieldy jargon that make Freud a caricature rather than an intriguing thinker. (Whether that’s a worthy goal is an open question.) (more…)