notes from the ever-emerging field
Freud, of course, began the project of psychoanalysis with the study of hypnosis, a kind of interaction between subjects that has been dismissed by many as a parlour game of manipulation. Freud would later distance himself from hypnosis as the origin of psychoanalysis; he argued that hypnosis was tyrannical and did not lend itself to scientific explanation. Freud moved from suggestion to free association, attempting to “free” the patient from the tyranny of suggestion. Freud examined hypnosis as a form of communication that operates prior to the formation of meaning.
Hypnosis has been discussed as a kind of magic, an art of illusion. Some ancient Greeks felt language in general functioned this way, that even the everyday use of language was a kind of magical incantation that produced results by acting directly on the world, leading the soul,* inducing trance and movement, shaping reality. Verbal inspiration was seen by the Greeks as a kind of divine possession rather than as the conscious product of self-aware human genius. It’s useful to recall that the Greeks did not hold “magic” in contempt, or denigrate “belief” as superstition. And why should they? Schutzman points out that “This economy of ‘faith’ which we are so quick to devalue is really very much the same as the economy of evidence, which we are so quick to valorize.”
Chris Chesher has coined the phrase “invocational media” to describe computer technology. The computer functions as a kind of magical device; the human user does not “talk to the computer” but rather issues commands which change the nature of reality. While all technology is to a certain extent invocatory, computers invoke “programmed sequences of instructions, where the results of one invocation become inputs for others. They are open not only to inputs from outside through peripherals, but to distant events through networks and to records from the past on databases. This combination of components exponentially expands the range of invocations that become articulable.” The “associative indexing” available through the technology of hypertext allows us to navigate vast amounts of data with such strings of invocation. “There is no fundamental difference,” Chesher continues, “between a poet invoking the Muses for inspiration, and me invoking a search engine for material to use in this talk.”
The challenge to scholarship offered by works such as the exhibits before us is the challenge of the magic of language in the ancient world. These works don’t just operate at the level of meaning and signification (although of course they do that); they also operate at a level that is prior. All communication, of course, operates on this level, but not all communication attempts to interrupt the level of signification with this appeal to the multiple and interconnected nature of subjectivity. “[H]umanity is not constituted of isolated beings, but made up of communications among them; we are never given, even to ourselves, except in a network of communications with others: we bathe in communication, we can be reduced to this incessant communication, whose absence we feel in the very depths of our solitude” (Bataille, 250-2). There are no subjects; there is only the network, and it is us.