Thursday, March 19, 2015

God is Unconscious: A Review

Psychoanalysis is structured like a religion. It is a coffee-table book about coffee tables, and turns itself into a coffee table if one is needed. Christianity is structured like a cup of coffee.

A man approaches an analyst asking if there's anything he can do to help his brother who thinks he's a chicken. The analyst responds, 'why don't you bring him in?' The man replies, 'because we really need the eggs.' No, not that Marx.

What that anecdote excludes is the jealousy of the analyst, who would like a brother like that, because he really needs the eggs, too. The analyst's desire is for eggs in perpetuity.
The analyst is the subject-who's-supposed-to-know. He just doesn't know Foucault. The original Ovaltine (or better yet, 'Roundtine') determines just what knowledge is. That's right: that Marx. Seinfeld, Groucho, Allen--I get them all confused, but not so confused as to miss out on my secret decoder ring, which, when it comes to Lacan...

We can add up Lacan, Zizek, and perhaps Delay, then divide by Lyotard, and you're left with a religion without a metanarrative. But what is psychoanalysis without its metanarrative of power, its hegemony over real, symbolic and imaginary registers poking its nose through the unconscious into consciousness? While it allows the analysand to dig deeper, psychoanalysis will not discover its own difficulty with things that don't work in the image of the discoveries of the analysand. It is blind to see that the reflection of the knave is the fool, and the fool's reflection is the knave. "And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind..."

When psychoanalyts leave the bedside (couch-side? In any event the traditional clinical setting) to become culture critics, yet bring the same tools (bag of tricks?) to the game, we should expect some electricity. Cultures must undergo a reduction to organism whose narrative is not told in the first person, but always in the 3rd. The relationship between the critic and the subject is dramatically transformed. Against Lacan's protestations, the analyst, far from interrupting too soon, tells the whole story (at least when they give seminars or write books); but, of course, the master has endorsed the creative shift away from the altar, away from ritual, to the vox populi.

Tad DeLay's wonderfully written book on the interface of theology/religion and psychoanalysis, God is Unconscious: Psychoanalysis & Theology (Wipf and Stock, 2015) is a fascinating recollection and meditation of the discipline's unfolding into the intellectual worlds of the 20th and 21st centuries. I identify the work as a 'book' because I have not decided just what genre the book should be received into; and that could be a good thing. I recall that Michel Foucault once said his major works were more like novels than philosophy. I'll therefore stick with 'book,' though genealogy, novel or rhapsody would work just as well.

The book opens with an anecdote recalling a conversation between Jung and Freud, who upon sailing into NY Harbor and viewing a statue guarding an impressive city, recognized that they were delivering a 'plague,' not unlike the way the USS Indianapolis delivered the 'bomb.' Either way, an explosion can't be far off, or at least something that goes 'bang.' DeLay writes about an invasion, a cathectic advance of an occupying force that electrified the world with currents buzzing to this very day. Freud and Jung were no lads from Liverpool, but they were bigger than Jesus Christ.

Or so the story goes. Cathexis is the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of the king. In his introduction, DeLay promises a dose of rage with a sense of irony (xxiv) that will result in a "materialist protest against theologies that do no work" (xxii). He offers an anti-cathexis on nearly every page, allowing the book to breathe, enfold, unfold, then fold together. No doubt this is why religion emerges triumphant: the registers of subjectivity are charged and discharged in rhythmic but unregulated apophatic space, in the movements across the unguarded frontiers of the real, symbolic and imaginary by disembodied spirits of the hysteric, the obsessive, the psychotic and the neurotic, searching horizons of anxiety, resistance and repression. It's a religion of a mystic.

Still, if psychoanalysis is to 'unsettle theology,' it must relinquish the analyst-as-subject-supposed-to-know and rely on differance. Intepretation must be deferred and differentiated from imagination, for the truth must be reloaded in manageable aliquots (27). The process is very tenuous, of course, because repetition is irresistible in its thirst for the 'new' (39). "Wherever there is theology, there is anxiety...[T]he relation of theology is fluid and produces a back and forth experience of the negative and the positive" (43). Apparently, theology is unsettled by exposing its undulations of apophatic and cataphatic moods, its claim that anything gets done, that something is working in the bipolarity of mood swings.

Even an unsettled, perhaps haunted, "[t]heology is at its best when it acknowledges itself as a nexus around a void" (47). And here is where DeLay discovers but does not annouce the incestuous relations between psychoanalysis and its cognate siblings. Cathexis masquerades as a drive encircling a void that must momentarily be filled by any of the cognates (47). Here is a great irony with no little rage: all the cognates love to build fences, and that these fences spin and oscillate around the objects taking turns in the center: the cognates are the objects of their own desire, and results in an excess of jouissance for its own sake. The more things change the more they stay the same: that's the trick of any cognate dreaming of hegemony.

The problem of desire is foundational for Lacan, and DeLay's exposition of it in his Chapter 4, "Psychopathology" positions his critique of "American Evangelical," "fundamentalist," Christianity, especially his exposition of perversion (122 ff.) He remains faithful to the axiom that 'one's desire is the desire of the Other.' "[T]he pervert is primarily defined by the mechanism of fetish disavowel and his fantasy that he is the object of the Big Other's desire" (77). Simplified to its basic term, perversion is delusion (78). Here is DeLay at his most meticulous, and he must be read cautiously and deliberately. Let him hold his reader's hand very closely, through his articulation of 'transference' to his disclosure of an essential "pattern: perversion pressures neurosis to reorient specifically as obsessionalism, often through hysteric or psychotic language," which is, like any other language, conventional, "exchangeable" and "irrelevant" (123). The only thing that matters is "that things work smoothly."

And things work smoothly until they don't work smoothly. And then we must begin again. Not in Zizek's nightmare Hegel where 'again' is more of the same, but in a hope that repetition has a rebirth, and something actually changes, something psychoanalysis might call a cure, but in its religious version would call a cura pastoralis. And this is why I predict that the authorial intelligence at work in the synthesis of God is Unconscious cannot rest until it rests in the heart of Keller's Cloud.

DeLay's book deserves a 2nd printing, and not just to rid the book of its distracting and escalating typographical errors and frank word omissions. God is Unconscious deserves a second hearing. DeLay writes pleasantly, with clarity and controlled enthusiasm as he takes his reader on a search where he himself searches. We must allow him to steer us on the never-intersecting edges of the rope of the Borromean knot, through subjectivity and into his enthralling subject, which he admits is not deconstruction, but certainly not indeconstructible.


  1. I suppose I happened to search for reviews at just the right time this morning. I'm very pleased to see this, so thanks Joe for giving it a read! -Tad

    1. I greatly appreciate the honor of your presence here on my blog. I'm glad you enjoyed my various levels of misreading you. Congratulations on your book.

      Joe C.