TWILIGHT OF AN IDOL (2): Fluidity vs Fidelity

Thanks to this book I renewed contact with the inspiration that Deleuze and Guattari’s ANTI-OEDIPUS transmitted to me a long time ago. I was working on pluralist epistemology in a philosophy department specialised in continental philosophy. The dominant paradigm was Althusserian Marxism, and the second most powerful paradigm and pressure group was Lacanian Freudism. I was an anomaly in such a context, but I felt more at home there than in the other analytical department. (Yes, we had 2 philosophy departments at Sydney University in those days!). As well, there were a few intellectually free lecturers, such as George Molnar, Alan Chalmers, and Denise Russell. I discovered a few articles by Deleuze and Guattari translated into English and then the translation of ANTI-OEDIPUS was published (in 1977). For me this signalled the end of the Lacanian paradigm and of the tyranny of Freudism, but the lacanians around me were not convinced. I taught myself French to read even more work by Deleuze, Guattari, Lyotard, and Serres and finally managed to get a scholarship to come and study in France, where I have stayed ever since. Imagine my disappointment at the entrenched intellectual power of Lacanian ideas in France. This is why I was glad when Onfray took up the argument and concentrated on the work of Freud, on its empirical and epistemological insufficiencies.

Onfray criticises pitilessly all claims to scientific status and all pretetions to universal truth that can be found in the work of Freud. In their place, he proposes a Nietzschean reading of Freud’s work as an unconscious autobiography (yes, Freud was unconscious of the real scope of his statements) and singular confession (Freud’s theoretical apparatus is constructed to describe and to heal his own psyche first and foremost, and applies to others only indirectly and partially, at the price of drastic procrustean manipulations).

This much is already said by Deleuze and Guattari in ANTI-OEDIPUS, in RHIZOME, and in two amazing texts by Deleuze published in 1977, and republished in TWO REGIMES OF MADNESS, called « Four Propositions on Psychoanalysis » and « The Interpretation of Utterances » (with Scala, Guattari, and Parnet). These are the texts I refer to when people say « Oh yes, but Deleuze and Guattari are still very close to psychoanalysis and to Lacan and only wished to criticise their dogmatic apostles ».Nonsense!

What Onfray adds is a complete review of the major cases, the arguments and the biographical context in the light of the nietzschean hypothesis that Freud’s work is involuntary autobiography and that the appearance of universality was achieved by means of errors, lies, propaganda, lobbying, manipulation, and falsification or suppression of contary evidence. Onfray’s book is full of arguments but his critiques try to reduce it to a heap of disconnected opinions., and then to denigrate the « opinions » and discount the book for their lack of political correctness. Badiou accuses Onfray of « obscurantism », while haughtily ignoring his arguments. One is reminded of his comment on ANTI-OEDIPUS that it « flows like pus ». It is true that intellectual fluidity is not a virtue practiced by Badiou, who prefers « fidelity ».

Of course, fluidity and fidelity are both necessary. Onfray in this book exemplifies fluidity. He recounts how his thought underwent a revolution when he read Freud’s critics, despite his negative presumptions and programmed prejudice against their work. He was surprised to discover a mass of arguments that Freud’s supporters had tried to occult (and this is the real operation of obscurantist denigration) behind invalidating epithets, stereotyped slogans, and smear-campaigns. Onfray saw the arguments (as opposed to Badiousian blindness) and found that they were mostly valid. One must read Onfray’s book with the same openness and fluidity of spirit

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