Symposium-Eternal Recurrence and the Unconscious: The Question of Fate in Psychoanalysis

Can psychoanalysis create a potential space against the domination of fate?

The Eternal Recurrence is Nietzsche’s myth of the eternal return, the return of the same. In psychoanalysis we encounter a similar fate. The analysand brings his symptom again and again, unaware of the deceit that sustains his suffering. The return of the repressed, the return of the drive, the return of desire, all feature in the landscape of the psychoanalytic mythos. In this symposium we will be considering the fateful crossing of the psychoanalytic project with Nietzsche’s demon. Can psychoanalysis create a potential space against the domination of fate?

This symposium brings together eminent scholars and practitioners from philosophy, cultural studies, film theory and psychoanalysis to discuss these intricate questions. Reflecting on mythological, philosophical, cultural and metaphysical versions of what returns over and over again, the speakers will offer provocative insights on the topic with important implications for psychoanalytic theory and practice.

Sebastian Gardner-Figures of Thought and Unconscious Configurations in Nietzsche and Freud

Abstract: I begin by rehearsing briefly the interpretative difficulties familiarly posed by Nietzsche’s conception of eternal recurrence. Is eternal recurrence a cosmological or metaphysical hypothesis? Is it a metaphorical formulation of some doctrine of Nietzsche’s? Or a thought-experiment with diagnostic value? Or a fiction with ethical and therapeutic import? I suggest that, although the idea of eternal recurrence makes sense as a piece of metaphysics, the indeterminacy of its status – its resistance to classification ¬– is integral to its meaning, as Nietzsche conceives it. In order to address the further question, concerning how eternal recurrence may be related to psychoanalytic theory, I take up the suggestion, found in hermeneutical construals of Freud, that the unconscious exhibits a ”causality of fate”. This allows us, I suggest, to join Nietzsche and Freud on a single conceptual plane without confusing their fundamentally distinct projects.

Sebastian Gardner is Professor of Philosophy at University College London. His interests are in Kant, post-Kantian idealism, C19 German philosophy, aesthetics, and the philosophy of psychoanalysis. He is the author of Irrationality and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (CUP, 1993), Kant and the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ (Routledge, 1999), and Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’ (Continuum, 2009). The Transcendental Turn (OUP), a collection of papers co-edited with Matthew Grist, appeared in 2015.

Dany Nobus-Freud’s Nietzsche: Eternal Recurrence, Symptomatic Acts and the Practice of Gift-Giving

Abstract: For his seventieth birthday on 6 May 1926, Otto Rank sent Freud a precious gift from Paris: the special edition of the Musarionausgabe of Nietzsche’s complete works. To Rank’s wife, Freud expressed how pleased he was with the unexpected present. He conceded to Ernest Jones that it had clearly been a symptomatic act on Rank’s part. Nonetheless, when time came for Freud to pack his belongings in 1938, he could not leave the volumes behind. They currently occupy a central place in his library at Maresfield Gardens. Over the years, Rank’s gift has been interpreted in different ways, yet little has been said about Freud’s acceptance of this Nietzsche, and even less about whether he actually read any of the books. And what happened to the Nietzsche Freud had bought in 1900, and of which he said to Fließ that he would hope to find words in it for much that had remained mute in him?

Dany Nobus is Professor of Psychoanalytic Psychology at Brunel University London, where he also convenes the MA Programme in Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Society. In addition, he is the Chair of the Freud Museum London, and the author of numerous publications on the history, theory and practice of psychoanalysis. In April 2017, he was presented with the Sarton medal of the University of Ghent for his contributions to the history and theory of psychoanalysis, which coincided with the publication of a new book entitled The Law of Desire: On Lacan’s “Kant with Sade”.

Gwion Jones-Eternal Recurrence: An obsessional nightmare?

Abstract: If we interrogate Nietsche’s notion of eternal recurrence in the light of Lacan’s pronouncements on repetition from Seminar 11, of a failed attempt at mastery over desire, we arrive at a very different appreciation of its dialectic. Using this question as my starting point I propose to apply Lacan’s thesis to the psychical operation of magical notions of time in particular, as manifest in obsessional neurosis, thereby extrapolating its implications for the wider themes of the symposium; namely the operation of mythic narratives in human subjectivity more generally, and of the abiding lure of spiritual ideas of fate and destiny. The aim of this argument is to follow a path originally laid down by Jacques Derrida in reconceptualising the influence of Nietzsche on the development of Freud’s metapsychology, through this pathologisation of Nietsche’s seminal thesis.

Gwion Jones is a psychoanalyst working in private practice as well as lecturer in psychology at Coventry University.



Mary Wild-Cinematic Repetition in The Duke of Burgundy and Paterson

Abstract: Mary Wild’s contribution to the Symposium will be to locate and analyse repetition compulsion, uncanny excess of life, and the Nietzschean eternal return in two recent cinema releases: Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy (2014), about a woman who tests the limits of her relationship with her lesbian lover, and Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (2016), a quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life along with the poetry evident in its smallest details. The Freudian death drive will be shown to have very little to do with the desire for self-destruction, or for the return to an inorganic state; it is rather, as Slavoj Zizek says in The Parallax View, “the very opposite of dying – a name for the ‘undead’ eternal life itself, for the horrible fate of being caught in the endless repetitive cycle of wandering around in guilt and pain.”

Mary Wild is the creator of the popular PROJECTIONS lecture series (psychoanalysis for film interpretation), which has been running regularly at Freud Museum London since 2012. She teaches in the Humanities department at City Lit and is featured in the Shoreditch House cinema events programme. She has produced similar events at ICA, BFI, NYU and Central Saint Martins. Her interests include cinematic representations of identity, the unconscious, hysteria, neoliberal economics, mental illness and love





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