Self and Emotional Life

Self and Emotional Life: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience

ADRIAN JOHNSTON
CATHERINE MALABOU
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/john15830
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  • Book Info
    Self and Emotional Life
    Book Description:

    Adrian Johnston and Catherine Malabou defy theoretical humanities' deeply-entrenched resistance to engagements with the life sciences. Rather than treat biology and its branches as hopelessly reductive and politically suspect, they view recent advances in neurobiology and its adjacent scientific fields as providing crucial catalysts to a radical rethinking of subjectivity.

    Merging three distinct disciplines -- European philosophy from Descartes to the present, Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis, and affective neuroscience -- Johnston and Malabou triangulate the emotional life of affective subjects as conceptualized in philosophy and psychoanalysis with neuroscience. Their experiments yield different outcomes. Johnston finds psychoanalysis and neurobiology have the potential to enrich each other, though affective neuroscience demands a reconsideration of whether affects can be unconscious. Investigating this vexed issue has profound implications for theoretical and practical analysis, as well as philosophical understandings of the emotions.

    Malabou believes scientific explorations of the brain seriously problematize established notions of affective subjectivity in Continental philosophy and Freudian-Lacanian analysis. She confronts philosophy and psychoanalysis with something neither field has seriously considered: the concept of wonder and the cold, disturbing visage of those who have been affected by disease or injury, such that they are no longer affected emotionally. At stake in this exchange are some of philosophy's most important claims concerning the relationship between the subjective mind and the objective body, the structures and dynamics of the unconscious dimensions of mental life, the role emotion plays in making us human, and the functional differences between philosophy and science.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53518-2
    Subjects: Psychology, Philosophy, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
  3. PREFACE: FROM NONFEELING TO MISFEELING—AFFECTS BETWEEN TRAUMA AND THE UNCONSCIOUS
    (pp. IX-XVIII)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XIX-XXIV)
  5. PART I. GO WONDER:: SUBJECTIVITY AND AFFECTS IN NEUROBIOLOGICAL TIMES
    • INTRODUCTION: FROM THE PASSIONATE SOUL TO THE EMOTIONAL BRAIN
      (pp. 3-11)

      Current neurobiology is engaged in a deep redefinition of emotional life. The brain, far from being a nonsensuous organ, devoted solely to logical and cognitive processes, now appears, on the contrary, to be the center of a new libidinal economy. Such a vision is not only displacing the relationship between body, mind, and the psyche. It also disturbs disciplinary boundaries and induces secret networks between sciences (biology and neurobiology) and the humanities (philosophy and psychoanalysis). A new conception of affects is undoubtedly emerging.

      Many neurobiologists today insist upon the role of the “emotional brain.” This leads them to elaborate a...

    • 1. WHAT DOES “OF” MEAN IN DESCARTES’S EXPRESSION, “THE PASSIONS OF THE SOUL”?
      (pp. 12-18)

      The distinction drawn by Descartes between “passions in the soul” and “passions of the soul” indicates the ambiguity of The Passions of The Soul. If passions proper (affects that cannot be confused with the consequences, “in” and on the soul, of simple bodily movements and reactions) are passions rooted in the intimacy of the soul, does it mean that the structural definition of affect is the autoaffected structure? Or, are these passions that the soul “refers only to itself ” the paradoxical name of a specific mode of being of the unity between the body and the soul, in which...

    • 2. A “SELF-TOUCHING YOU”: DERRIDA AND DESCARTES
      (pp. 19-25)

      One may think that the very notion of passions of the soul implies a conception of the self-touching of subjectivity that confirms the very structure of autoaffection. We saw that passions of the soul appear to be disturbances of the soul that make it feel alive or existent. The passionate soul has a proper kind of emotion, raised by the most intimate and sensual dimension of the mind-body union. Is this sensuality reducible to a purely spiritual affectivity in which body and space are evacuated? This is the general orientation of Derrida’s interpretation of Descartes.

      Derrida’s thought may be regarded,...

    • 3. THE NEURAL SELF: DAMASIO MEETS DESCARTES
      (pp. 26-34)

      The questions raised by Derrida concerning the impossibility of a presentation of the self to itself, as well as those regarding affect as an accident modifying a given subjective autoaffected structure, seem strikingly to coincide with the problems that are currently addressed by the neurobiological redrawing of the self. If neurobiologists acknowledge the existence of autoaffection, they define it as a nonconscious structure.

      Following Damasio’s reading of Descartes, the present chapter will bring to light the deconstructive aspects of the neurobiological (or “neuro-psychoanalytic”) redefinition of the subject. It will also show the irretrievable differences and distances between these approaches. The...

    • 4. AFFECTS ARE ALWAYS AFFECTS OF ESSENCE: BOOK 3 OF SPINOZA’S ETHICS
      (pp. 35-42)

      We will now introduce, after Descartes, Derrida, and Damasio, the fourth participant in our discussion: Spinoza. Why this order? What is striking when we read book 3 of the Ethics is that no individual subject properly speaking ever appears to be the locus of affects. It is not a subject—the word is not used by Spinoza—who is affected. The processes of affections and emotions take place at an entirely ontological level that does not require the power or the autonomy of human subjectivity.

      In his preface, Spinoza precisely develops a critique of Descartes’s conception of passions considered as...

    • 5. THE FACE AND THE CLOSE-UP: DELEUZE’S SPINOZIST APPROACH TO DESCARTES
      (pp. 43-49)

      Surprisingly enough, Deleuze will bring to light this ontological kind of autoaffection both in Spinoza and Descartes. Instead of opposing the two philosophers, Deleuze—as is obvious in his reading of Descartes presented in The Movement Image and in What Is Philosophy?¹—intends to show that the same move leads them both to discover a mapping activity in the economy of affects. Therefore, Deleuze’s interpretation of Descartes leads to a conclusion quite different than Derrida’s. The Cartesian subject is not autoaffected in the usual way, that is, self-touched. Autoaffection is, of course, present in Descartes’s thought as it is in...

    • 6. DAMASIO AS A READER OF SPINOZA
      (pp. 50-55)

      Following up the topics of the plane of immanence, the surface, and the map, we can now turn to Damasio’s reading of Spinoza, developed in Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.¹ The general purpose of the book is to show that Spinoza, as the “first neurobiologist,” insists upon the importance of emotions and feelings in the very process of reasoning. Spinoza’s nondualistic conception of the relationship between mind and body implies a definition of the conatus in which the ontological and the biological are intertwined. According to Damasio, Spinoza anticipates the brain’s importance as the meeting point...

    • 7. ON NEURAL PLASTICITY, TRAUMA, AND THE LOSS OF AFFECTS
      (pp. 56-62)

      The brain’s exposure to accidents directly involves its plasticity. Under the term neural plasticity hides, in fact, two plasticities. One is positive: It characterizes the formation process of neural connections and the fact that these connections may be transformed during our lifetimes under the influence of experience and of the kind of life we are leading. Every brain has its own form and there is no such thing as two identical brains. So, in the case of the healthy plastic brain, every kind of event is integrated into the general form or pattern of the connections, and the series of...

    • CONCLUSION
      (pp. 63-72)

      The main issue of this study was the following: Is it possible to develop a philosophical or theoretical approach to affects that does not determine them to be simple consequences of an originary autoaffection? Is the way in which the subject affects itself the definitive foundation of all affects?

      We saw that autoaffection, which coincides, according to Derrida, with the inner voice and the possibility of hearing and feeling oneself, is defined as a kind of self-touching. For this autoaffective structure of the subject, Derrida substitutes several types of heteroaffection, or auto-heteroaffection, stating that there is no pure, properly pure,...

  6. PART II. MISFELT FEELINGS:: UNCONSCIOUS AFFECT BETWEEN PSYCHOANALYSIS, NEUROSCIENCE, AND PHILOSOPHY
    • 8. GUILT AND THE FEEL OF FEELING: TOWARD A NEW CONCEPTION OF AFFECTS
      (pp. 75-87)

      Psychoanalysis is organized around its distinctive conception of the unconscious. Moreover, analysis is, of course, not only a set of philosophical and metapsychological theories regarding this peculiar object of its inquiries; it’s also an arsenal of therapeutic techniques for treating specific forms of mental suffering and anguish. Particularly as regards the phenomena confronting working analysts in their clinical consulting rooms day in and day out, the powerful and moving manifestations of affective life, manifestations spanning the full spectrum from the pleasurable to the painful, seem to be of a degree of significance and weight to analysis comparable to that enjoyed...

    • 9. FEELING WITHOUT FEELING: FREUD AND THE UNRESOLVED PROBLEM OF UNCONSCIOUS GUILT
      (pp. 88-101)

      A cursory survey of Freud’s works seems to reveal two incompatible positions situated in two distinct periods of his theorizing apropos the issue of the overlap (or lack thereof) between the domains of the unconscious and affective life. On the one hand, prior to the second topography, he tends to dismiss the notion of unconscious affects as oxymoronic (the decisive articulation of this stance being located in the third section on “Unconscious Emotions” of the metapsychological paper on “The Unconscious,” published in 1915). On the other hand, starting with The Ego and the Id (1923), Freud insists upon the existence...

    • 10. AFFECTS, EMOTIONS, AND FEELINGS: FREUD’S METAPSYCHOLOGIES OF AFFECTIVE LIFE
      (pp. 102-117)

      The Freudian metapsychology of affects (or, more accurately, metapsychologies of affects) is complex in the strict Freudian sense,¹ namely, a dense, tangled knot of a plethora of axioms, concepts, theses, and so on that branch out in all directions and that are ramified from numerous angles in relation to the entire framework of psychoanalysis. In other words, Freud’s treatment of affects is far from being a “simple” account capable of being addressed as a self-sufficient whole independent of the rest of his evolving metapsychological apparatus. Insofar as Freud’s theories regarding affects are complex or nonsimple in this way, my handling...

    • 11. FROM SIGNIFIERS TO JOUIS-SENS: LACAN’S SENTI-MENTS AND AFFECTUATIONS
      (pp. 118-149)

      As the Lacanian analyst and scholar Bruce Fink correctly observes, Freud is far from consistent in his theorization of affect.¹ Yet another illustration of this Freudian inconsistency, apart from the shifts and vacillations already highlighted, is to be found in the metapsychological paper on “The Unconscious,” a mere two paragraphs after the invocations of affect (Affekt), emotion (Gefühl), feeling (Empfindung), and affective structure (Affektbildung) examined in chapter 10: the distinction between affect and feeling, in which the latter designates qualitative phenomena that must be felt consciously in order to be, looks to be revoked to the extent that Freud soon...

    • 12. EMOTIONAL LIFE AFTER LACAN: FROM PSYCHOANALYSIS TO THE NEUROSCIENCES
      (pp. 150-184)

      Among those readers of Lacan not inclined immediately to denounce his version of psychoanalysis as entirely devoid of any serious and sustained treatment of affective life—Lacanian psychoanalysis is all too frequently caricatured as a disembodied, formalist structuralism neglecting everything apart from static symbolic-linguistic systems—much attention has been paid to his tenth seminar. As noted, Lacan himself appeals to this particular seminar, with its focus on anxiety, as exculpatory evidence against accusations that he mishandles or ignores affects (accusations coming from a number of quarters: phenomenologies, poststructuralisms, deconstructionisms, feminisms, non-Lacanian psychoanalytic orientations, and so on). Various exegetes sympathetic to...

    • 13. AFFECTS ARE SIGNIFIERS: THE INFINITE JUDGMENT OF A LACANIAN AFFECTIVE NEUROSCIENCE
      (pp. 185-210)

      Before turning to the task of elaborating a Freudian-Lacanian approach to the science of the emotional brain, a few general, preliminary remarks are in order. An irony acutely painful to partisans of psychoanalysis is that, over the course of the past several decades, Freud repeatedly has been pronounced dead and buried right at the moment when the life sciences are coming to confirm many of his core discoveries and insights, a moment of scientific vindication he anticipates starting with his earliest (proto)psychoanalytic writings.¹ The time of Freud’s apparent defeat is precisely the time of his actual triumph. A little over...

  7. POSTFACE: THE PARADOXES OF THE PRINCIPLE OF CONSTANCY
    (pp. 211-224)

    I believe it possible to affirm more than ever that a confrontation between psychoanalysis, neurobiology, and Continental philosophy has not been attempted before. It is this confrontation that our work undertakes here, a work insisting on the importance of the new libidinal economy currently emerging at the intersection of these disciplines and revealing new definitions of affects.

    The most striking affirmations of contemporary neurobiologists like Damasio or LeDoux concern the importance of the emotional brain. All the cognitive operations closely depend on it. Affects function initially at a primitive biological and cerebral level that does not involve consciousness. There therefore...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 225-258)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 259-276)