My last post was not meant to show that Kierkegaard was directly influenced by the Mesmerists, or by the use of hypnosis, when he uses the term psychological experiment – although in fact, as he had taken psychology, he undoubtedly had read something about animal magnetism. But rather I wanted to show links here, chains, connections, intersignes, in which an eighteenth century scene of experiment/seduction is played out on a woman - Puysegur’s patient - who resists him, in the end, allowing him the fetish objects - shoe or bonnet - but nothing more. And I wanted the odd commonality of the fly swatter to stand out - passed from the patient's hand to C.C.'s, chasing after the revolutionary flies of Berlin.
Under the pressure of the observer's gaze, we watch the experiment as a situation under the control of the pseudonym slip out of his hands, and see it appear in Kierkegaard’s hands, where instead of an experiment applied by C.C. to his 'subjects', it is applied to the text itself - the text is an experiment about experiments. And so we have outlined the first problem, the problem of the first page, the problem of the title.
The problem – psychological? Textual? Scientific? then – such is the way of this slippery signifier – seems to slip at this moment, while we are adjusting our glasses, looking at the screen - where we read the text - out of Kierkegaard’s hands too - or out of his control. For what kind of control does our author behind the author have? Why is it that experiment and seduction, experiment and the female, keep finding each other? And not according to the protocols of the manipulated chance in which the experimenter excels, but according to the protocols of nemesis, of fate, of obsession, of luck, it seems. And the experimenter – who is he, and what are his standards? What are his ‘controls”? What is his institutional background?
The institutional background – science, art, religion – is not just a matter of existential stages. Constantine Constantinus, after all, appears so unattached to economic activity, and so, consequently, at leisure to collect cases, a situation that – perhaps – is the reason the young man in Repetition finds him odd – and later on, decides that he is mad. Until, of course, C.C. decides the young man is inexistent. If madness is lack of labor – or if madness is labor that is not socially recognized… And if madness creates situations that are, to the madman’s gaze, experiments, although not so recognized by any others in the social order...
Of course, it is true that this has also happened, in the twentieth century, within institutional psychology. The famous Milgram experiment, for instance, about which one can also ask about its double form – for the participants thought they were in one experiment when they were really in another. They thought they were seeing how much pain a subject could take, when they were really subjects testing how much they would obey an order.
Thus, C.C. is not entirely out of the range of experimenters, eccentric and fictional as he is, eccentric and fictional as they represent themselves. But surely we have seen this psychological experimenter/seducer before, and not as a premonition of our own actuality, but as a figure from the eighteenth century past – for the adventurer develops just such a cold aesthetic objectivity in order to be able to travel between classes and principalities. There is a transformation of types, here, a transubstatantiation – from Don Giovanni to Dupin. C.C. is, in fact, one of those figures that hover around the idea of the detective – that amateur of crime.
How a word will creep into a text. How a word will creep into my ear and down into my heart. All this creeping about.
In the Concept of Anxiety, the psychological observer is described as a sort of actor – or rope dancer. I’ll translate from the German text I have:
“Whoever is concerned in high style with psychology and psychological observation has to take on himself a general human suppleness that puts him in the position to shape his examples right away, and these then have a whole other power of proof, although they don’t possess the appearance of facticity. As the psychological observer must possess a more than rope dancerish nimbleness in order to throw himself imaginatively into people and be able to mimic their attitudes; as his silence in confidential moments must have something seductive and pleasant, so that the disclosed matter can find comfort in this fact, under this artfully brought about inconspicuousness and stillness, and creep out and to unburden itself as in a soliloquy: he must in his soul possess a poetic originality, in order to be able to form all at once, out of that which always presents itself all in pieces and irregularly to the individual, a totality and regularity.”
Two shadows seem to appear to us on the edge of this text. One is Freud – notice how this sketch, which seems to reach out to the psychoanalytic technique of Uebertragen, even denies personhood to the discloser, but instead speaks as though the disclosed were an Es, a thing within the person. The other shadow is given to us by a story that appeared in 1841 on the other side of the Atlantic:
“A certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his designs. But he perpetually errs by being too deep or too shallow, for the matter in hand; and many a schoolboy is a better reasoner than he. I knew one about eight years of age, whose success at guessing in the game of 'even and odd' attracted universal admiration. This game is simple, and is played with marbles. One player holds in his hand a number of these toys, and demands of another whether that number is even or odd. If the guess is right, the guesser wins one; if wrong, he loses one. The boy to whom I allude won all the marbles of the school. Of course he had some principle of guessing; and this lay in mere observation and admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents. For example, an arrant simpleton is his opponent, and, holding up his closed hand, asks, 'are they even or odd?' Our schoolboy replies, 'odd,' and loses; but upon the second trial he wins, for he then says to himself, 'the simpleton had them even upon the first trial, and his amount of cunning is just sufficient to make him have them odd upon the second; I will therefore guess odd;'—he guesses odd, and wins. Now, with a simpleton a degree above the first, he would have reasoned thus: 'This fellow finds that in the first instance I guessed odd, and, in the second, he will propose to himself, upon the first impulse, a simple variation from even to odd, as did the first simpleton; but then a second thought will suggest that this is too simple a variation, and finally he will decide upon putting it even as before. I will therefore guess even;'—he guesses even, and wins. Now this mode of reasoning in the schoolboy, whom his fellows termed 'lucky,'—what, in its last analysis, is it?"
"It is merely," I said, "an identification of the reasoner's intellect with that of his opponent."
"It is," said Dupin; "and, upon inquiring, of the boy by what means he effected the thorough identification in which his success consisted, I received answer as follows: 'When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.' This response of the schoolboy lies at the bottom of all the spurious profundity which has been attributed to Rochefoucault, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to Campanella."
Carte de la retourne.
The Best to Come - *James Crossley is a bookseller at Island Books. He writes regularly for the store’s Message in a Bottle blog and for the website of the Pacific Northwes...
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