by Steven Shaviro

©1995-1997 Steven Shaviro

The abuse started when you were very young, perhaps only two years old. At least that's what somebody locked deep inside you remembers. Confined spaces in which the (step)father imprisoned you, his sweaty, stinking bulk manhandling and penetrating your flesh. The memory is indubitable, vividly real, even if it isn't precisely your own. You bear the scars to this day. How inadequate to reduce it to some merely Symbolic process, the Law of the Father or whatever, when what the Republicans call family values are thus incised directly in female flesh. "Daddy taught me to live in pain, to know there's nothing else" (Kathy Acker). Incest and child molestation are as American as apple pie. Or should I rather say cherry pie, the dessert of choice in David Lynch's Twin Peaks? Leland Palmer is the all-American Dad if there ever was one, so it's more than appropriate that he is the one to be possessed by the evil spirit BOB, and to rape and murder his daughter Laura. This deed is necessarily something of a ritual, the founding gesture of the American nuclear family. "A ritual includes the letting of blood. Rituals which fail in this requirement are but mock rituals" (Cormac McCarthy). The American nuclear family is never secure, never in place once and for all; the patriarchal pact needs continually to be renewed with vampiric infusions of fresh blood. And so "it is happening again": lookalike Maddy Ferguson takes the place of her cousin Laura Palmer, to be murdered by Leland/BOB in her own turn. This eerie soap opera repetition is the postmodern equivalent of Freud's Primal Scene, or of Nietzsche's Eternal Return. We are all the products of such rituals, survivors of our own deaths. Every birth, every coming to awareness, occurs in excruciating pain. When Rabbit Howls, by The Troops for Truddi Chase, is the autobiography of an incest victim who is thus "born" all too many times: she develops multiple personalities, ninety-two distinct selves, in response to repeated parental violation. Patti Davis similarly recounts the traumatic abuse inflicted upon her by her kindly and universally revered parents, Ronald and Nancy Reagan. And let's not even think about what Dan Quayle might be doing out there on the golf course, alone with his 13-year-old daughter.

The "I" is always an other, as Rimbaud said long ago. We are continually being violated in the flesh, and possessed in the spirit, by voices or by demons. Multiple Personality Disorder was once a rare and ignored condition; it suddenly became prominent just around the time Reagan was elected President. Today, it is the best paradigm we have for postmodern consciousness. No wonder it is so prominent on Oprah and Geraldo. Identity is always a multiplicity; the true first person is the plural. In Truddi Chase, an extreme case, there are 92 of "us"; in Crazy Jane, the superhero in DOOM PATROL who is explicitly modeled upon Truddi Chase, there are 64. But every human body contains at least one--and therefore necessarily more than one--of these multiple, incomplete selves. In the Troops that constitute Truddi Chase, each person is a closed box, a unique entity, shut off from the others. Each self has its own typical bodily gestures and facial expressions, its own particular habits, preferences, and speech patterns, and even its own pulse rate. There's the workaholic businesswoman Ten-Four, the party girl Elvira, the Barbie-like Miss Wonderful, the catatonically calm Grace, the sophisticated Catherine, the violently obscene Sewer Mouth. There are also many selves defined more by their tasks than by their emotional characteristics: the Gatekeeper, the Buffer, the Weaver, the Interpreter. But even though each of these selves is well-bounded and distinct, none is able to subsist alone. Truddi Chase's subjectivity can't be located in any one place. It is the result of an immense collaborative effort; it involves the delegation of powers, and the coordination of numerous limited and largely autonomous functions. There are memory blanks and discontinuities, as each of the selves is conscious only part of the time, and none is ever directly aware of what happens to the others. Someone acts, someone else hides in terror, someone else stirs uneasily in her sleep, and yet someone else's rage or grief is a murmur indistinctly resounding. Truddi Chase hears arguments and conversations, as if a big cocktail party were continually going on in her brain. Opaque walls divide the selves from one another, and these walls are never broken down. But disturbing moans and shouts pass through the walls, a prisoners' code alerting the selves to one another. Signals, commands, and complaints circulate among them. The multiple selves cannot ever merge into one, but they also cannot escape each other's proximity. This relation-in-difference impels their frenetic activity. The traffic is intense. With so many persons continually coming and going, Truddi Chase's hyperactive neurons are always firing, and propagating a powerful electromagnetic field. Radio, TV, and telephone transmissions are jammed with static; electrical appliances tend to malfunction in her vicinity. But if Truddi Chase has more selves and generates more interference than do most of us, the difference is only one of degree, not of kind. I am only a self in relation to another self, in communication with another self; I can't be one, without first being at least two.

Pierre Klossowski suggests that Tertullian's demonology offers a better model than does Freudian metapsychology for explaining such communication, and for conceiving multiple selves. For Freud's self-proclaimed "Copernican revolution" in psychology doesn't reject Cartesian dualism, so much as it reinscribes it by (re-)locating the ego in what still remains an exclusively interior and representational space. The ego/earth is no longer the center, Freud says, since it is now understood to rotate around the unconscious/sun. Yet Descartes himself had already said as much, when he made the truth of the cogito contingent upon the ontologically prior idea of infinity or of God. For Descartes as much as for Freud, the conscious ego isn't really the center; for Freud as much as for Descartes, the integrity of self-consciousness and the privacy of mental space are paradoxically preserved by this very decentering. Freud's unconscious and Descartes' God are both structures whose infinitude escapes the ego's grasp. I can never encounter God or the unconscious directly; but the effects of their actions are so patent that I cannot doubt their existence. God and the unconscious alike absolutely exceed my powers of representation; but this very transcendence grounds and guarantees the order of mental representations. In Freud as in Descartes, then, I remain trapped within a closed circle of solipsistic self-reference; I never make the leap from mind to brain, and I never encounter anything like a body. Any surplus, any radical difference, any remainder irreducible to representation, is easily neutralized by being referred to that mythical grand Other that is God or the unconscious. Despite everything, Freud still subscribes to the relentless project, of privatizing the inner self and objectifying the outside world, that has obsessed Western culture at least since Descartes.

Klossowski, to the contrary, affirms the radical exteriority of psychic forces. Demonology, far better than metapsychology, recognizes that the mind is not its own place, with its own laws and its own order of representations. The mind is rather a sort of no man's land, a vessel for spirits, a space continually being invaded and contested by alien powers. "The woman" who is Truddi Chase, the self who appears continuously to others and who serves as her legal representative in the world, is just such an empty space. She is merely a puppet or a robot, a "facade," manipulated and ventriloquized by the other selves. She remembers nothing, and she speaks only from dictation, like the narrators of Beckett's fiction: as the other selves say repeatedly, "the woman can talk, but she can't think." Her identity consists only of one redundant, incessantly repeated phrase: "for you, there is nothing more." This self is entirely vacuous, yet it is necessary, for it provides the physical location that all the other selves strive to occupy. Thought is thus radically corporeal: I think when demons take hold of my body, just as BOB acts by manifesting himself in Leland's body, just as many selves inhabit the body designated as Truddi Chase. My body is alarmingly porous; it is always being penetrated, violated, and possessed. I am endowed with consciousness only to the extent that others are conscious through me.

In such circumstances, Tertullian's credo quia absurdum is a salutary antidote to Descartes' cogito ergo sum. The real is the impossible, as Lacan says. The secret of self-consciousness is that of Lewis Carroll's White Queen, who taught herself to "believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast." To affirm the reality of demonic possession is to reject the mentalist cliché (stated in its most extreme form by Bishop Berkeley, but substantially subscribed to by Freud and Lacan as well) that I can never encounter the real, because I only experience my own representations of things, and not the things themselves. The mistake of Western metaphysics since Descartes is to conceive perception and affectivity as cognitive states, and therefore to subject them to canons of representation. But sensation and emotion are visceral processes before they are intellectual ones; they are not fixed attainments of knowledge and understanding, but ongoing movements of vulnerability and arousal. Affliction precedes and exceeds awareness. When I am invested by a demon, or when I am bombarded by sensation, I am affected directly: I am seized and agitated by something that yet remains apart from me and is not accessible to my powers of representation. My very being is altered; the "I" of the previous sentence is already someone else. The conditions of possibility or forms of representation that philosophers traditionally invoke to describe my experience of, and inherence in, the world have always already been radically breached.

This limit-experience might seem to be a rare, extraordinary occurrence; but in fact it happens every day. I could only be a fixed self, with a unique, unchanging identity, if I were never to act, never to desire, never to experience anything new. The God of monotheism indeed sees souls in this way, sub specie aeternitatis. For he exists just to absorb and neutralize excess; as Schreber puts it, he only understands corpses, not living beings. But the god of this world is not the monotheistic one; he is rather the Baphomet, the "prince of modifications." As Klossowski explains, the Baphomet presides over an unstable and polycentric universe, an anarchy of metamorphosis and metempsychosis. William Burroughs maintains the regulative principle that we must regard every event as being willed by some agency, as being the expression of an intention. Klossowski proposes a complementary principle: he suggests that every intention is an external event, a modification of my being, and hence a sort of demonic possession. Each thought or desire is an alteration of my previous state; it is an intrusion of the outside, a whispering in my ear, a breath that I inhale and exhale, an alien spirit prompting me from offstage or insinuating itself within me. Of course, not all intentions are carried through to their conclusions; but any intention is already in itself a kind of action, a tribute paid to the Baphomet, the manifestation of some force in facial expressions and in gestures and postures of the body. Klossowski loves to depict the play of conflicting impulsions as they traverse the flesh: Roberte invites the attention of some young stud by languidly proffering one upturned palm, even as her other hand irritatedly pushes him away. Analogous bodily modifications betray the presence of BOB within Leland, as he at once tenderly cherishes and aggressively abuses his daughter; and also the phase transitions when Truddi Chase is handed over from one personality to another. Every physical comportment is the immanent product of a struggle or a pact among competing demonic forces: hence the violent, yet often surprisingly delicate, ambivalence with which the body expresses heterogeneous or conflicting intentions. There are many layers and levels of personality, but all of them are literally superficial: surfaces and coverings, with yet more layers underneath. No final interiority, but masks concealing and protecting other masks. Not Freud's unconscious or Lacan's big Other, but simply other consciousnesses, other voices and forces, each struggling with, pointing to, or further possessed by, still others.

It is because thought is so efficaciously corporeal, and not representational, that a single body is forced to contain so many selves. Every manifestation of subjectivity is a physical intrusion, a consequence of trauma, a wound: "it usually manifests itself as an unusual gash on a human body--on the chest, on the hands... It usually keeps getting bigger until the affected person is all wound" (DOOM PATROL). The wound is barely noticeable at first, a microscopic gap between neurons, an infinitesimal fracture of the skin. But it grows and grows--IT HURTS--until it can no longer be ignored. Sensibility begins in pain. And pain forces me to think, even as it forces me to scream. An alien overfullness of sensation paralyzes the nerves, suspends the autonomic processes, hollows out a blank between action and reaction. Consciousness then arises in the depths of the violated flesh; it emerges at the very point of this cut, this intrusion. I think when, and because, I am unable to act. So long as things proceed according to habit, my actions are automatic and I have no need to become aware. But I am forced to think when I am confronted with some absurdity, some pain, when things no longer fit together on their own. Deleuze (following Bergson) and Morse Peckham (following the American pragmatists) both suggest that subjectivity is located in the gap between stimulus and response: it is the indeterminacy, the space of randomization, the temporal delay in the sensorimotor apparatus by virtue of which the latter is no longer a linear function and predictable consequence of the former. Every "self" is a singularity or a wound: a bifurcation threshold in the language of chaos theory. Selfhood is a violent rent in the fabric of my being; every quirk of my personality is a point on the catastrophe curve, the trace of a discontinuity in the course of my life.

It should come as no surprise, then, that personalities multiply under what Walter Benjamin calls the "shocks" of commodity capitalism, and that the peculiarly American affliction of Multiple Personality Disorder reached epidemic proportions at the very moment when the Republicans escalated from merely abusing their own daughters in the privacy of their own homes to systematically and publicly abusing the entire nation. For personality is the commodified product of trauma, the 'surplus value' arising from repeated exposure to shock and stress. A personality trait is not a preexisting structure or an originary essence, but always an unpredictable alteration, the freshly crystallized outcome of a chaotic phase transition. This is the operating principle that guides the research of Niles Caulder, the Chief of the DOOM PATROL, as he deliberately provokes `accidents' that transform self-satisfied conformists into companionless, existentially tormented superheroes. But the experimentation can work in both directions. If this is the story of your suffering, it is also the story of how you were able to survive a long history of abuse, and continue to function in the world. You found yourself repeatedly trapped in a double bind: you couldn't stand the pain, but you also couldn't do anything to abolish it. So each time you nominated a representative, a self, to experience the pain in your place. Blanchot writes that the "I" is left behind in moments of extremity; it cannot register the shock that pushes it or alters it beyond a certain threshold. But somebody is always there to witness my pain, even if "I" am not. Whatever happens to Truddi Chase, there is always somebody to register and respond to it: "someone within the Troop formation screamed a thought." Each new outrage on the part of the stepfather impels the traumatized body of Truddi Chase to manifest and express itself through a new personality.

Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are alike, while each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way; only he forgot to add that all families are unhappy. Truddi Chase is simply the most extreme--and therefore the most typical--example. "I feel your pain," is what Oprah so frequently says. Well, every body has at some point nominated representatives to feel its pain and to be its selves; every self is to some extent the survivor and witness of a catastrophe. Child abuse is passed like a contagion from father to daughter, from Leland to Laura. We suffer, not from lack, but from vertiginous epistemological overload. Each of us has endured too great a plenitude of being: too much pain, too much sensation, too much consciousness, and finally too many personalities or selves. If we're existentially incoherent, this is not because (as Freud and Lacan would have it) identity is precariously poised over an abyss, suspended on the mystery of a grand Other, or grounded in primordial absence. It is rather because we have all too much identity. Every interruption of my being introduces new forces into my body, and generates new patterns of thought and behavior. The hysterical conversion of the flesh, which Freud interpreted as a rebus of repressed reminiscences, is better understood as a literal production of fresh sensibility. The more we suffer, the more we have identity thrust upon us, even to unwanted excess. We are each distinct selves, different from one another, precisely to the extent that we are all victims of family values like togetherness, quality time, and moral training, as well as of the relentless discipline of the marketplace. The very procedures that are employed to standardize and control us in fact drive us berserk, pushing us to a point of random and unpredictable metamorphosis. Every self is a mutant or a freak. Gabba gabba, we accept you, we accept you, one of us. No wonder the bizarre, 'differently endowed' beings in Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case 3 proudly affirm their self-esteem with a campy rendition of that old favorite song, "I've Got Personality."

So this is the history incised in your flesh, the story of "how one becomes what one is." The hardest thing to accept is that you actually got off on the abuse, that you were aroused by it, even as you felt crushed and violated. Your blood flowed, you shook with a panic attack from being trapped in the corner, your stomach felt like it was being torn apart, your bones ached from his weight, the stench of his breath made you want to retch; yet your genitals were convulsed with spasms of pleasure. That's the one thing you'll never be able to forgive. That he used you as an instrument for his own excitement is bad enough; but that he forced you to be complicit in the process is truly horrifying and unbearable. Unspeakably obscene that jouissance should have come from him. But the body has a terrifying logic of its own: "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger," as Nietzsche says. You thought that you were going to die, that it would be better to die; and instead you emerged from the torment with one personality the more. In the course of so much suffering, your sensibility was heightened and multiplied: so that you extracted--even in spite of yourself--a certain surplus value of enjoyment. This realization makes it impossible for you to play the martyr, to turn victimization into vicious self-righteousness in the manner of Andrea Dworkin. For this surplus value of enjoyment is the mark of a possession that can never be denied or exorcised: "the father in all of us" (Karen Finley), or the Republican who can never be voted out of office. And this is why the self will always remain more than one. The Troops for Truddi Chase reject the integration of the personality as a therapeutic goal, seeing it as a kind of soul murder. Better that the many learn to negotiate among themselves. For as DOOM PATROL's Crazy Jane puts it, "there is no `me.' To limit ourselves to one way of seeing and thinking would be to diminish our potential, you know? Everyone has a voice. It's like seeing the world from every angle at the same time."

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