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entre loup et chien


This paper attempts to examine the workings of the unconscious, specifically in the sense in which it was defined by Sigmund Freud as the dream-work, the joke-work and the image-work. Freud’s findings and theories related to the unconscious image-work were put into practice by the surrealist artists of the early 20th century and may also come into play in contemporary computer based image creation, not only through the associative processes which are inherently embedded into the medium of hypertextuality, but also through the non-linear nature of the digital work environment itself, which provides the ability to traverse the creative journey backwards and forwards through commands such as undo, redo, copy, cut and paste which are brought about by the seeming indestructibility embedded into the very essence of its building blocks, the bits.

entre loup et chien

Words were originally magic, and the word retains much of its old magical power even to-day. With words one man can make another blessed, or drive him to despair; by words the teacher transfers his knowledge to the pupil; by words the speaker sweeps his audience with him and determines its judgments and decisions. Words call forth effects and are the universal means of influencing human beings. Therefore let us not underestimate the use of words… [1]
Sigmund Freud

1.1 Flashback: entre loup et chien

… Within clouds reminiscent of ancient seas

floated rocks, gnawed down with your blood.
What a pity! You vanished in great numbers as if coexistent with a time that never was. I bent and picked up the sky from the ground, the sky you had carelessly dropped.
Oktay Rifat [2]

He is my ageing uncle. We are sitting in the garden of his house by the Aegean sea. I am 19 years old, and as ever mesmerised by him. It is twilight hour in late August. We are surrounded by wide open, darkening summer skies, the blurring outlines of trees and shrubs and the far off sounds of encroaching night. And then he says: entre loup et chien… That is all he says and in that one sentence I know what I must do. I have just been given a mission: I must seek that creature, the one that stands between the day and night; neither wolf nor dog. I must seek it with images and not words, although maybe words as well, or words that transform into images, narrative condensed into image: The transformation of the dream thought by way of the dream work into the image work.

I am, of course, referring to the realm of the unconscious which, Freud tells us … must be accepted as the general basis of the psychic life. The unconscious is the larger circle which includes the smaller circle of the conscious; everything conscious has a preliminary unconscious stage, whereas the unconscious can stop at this stage, and yet be considered a full psychic function. The unconscious is the true psychic reality; in its inner nature it is just as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is just as imperfectly communicated to us by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the reports of our sense-organs. [3]

2.1 Free association as a creative strategy

The technique employed in the interpretation of dreams which Freud practiced came to be known as free association and it is its possible employment as a tool of realization toward the enablement of the image-work [4] that forms the pivot of my thoughts. This is, of course, well trodden ground: The surrealists were there before me and initially I shall be following their footsteps. However, as I progress towards my assertion, which bases itself on my observation that that the beast of twilght has indeed found a habitat in the stark daylight of 0′s and 1′s, I shall have to forge my own path. As Christopher Bollas describes in The Mystery of Things, this is not a journey to be undertaken lightheartedly: The deconstruction and fragmentation of the dream text is the joint work of the death instinct and the life instinct, breaking up existent links and creating new combinations of thought. If the thrill of consciousness is to create fresh unities and bind the unconscious in narrative, then the breaking of the texts of consciousness by endless displacements defeats that pleasure by fragmentation. The dissemination of thought is destructive and after all, how far can consciousness go in its effort to comprehend the unconscious? [5]

I intend to take this route that Freud perscribed whilst interpreting the dreams of his patients. But is there any sense to this, can a correlation between the dream-work, the joke-work and the image-work even be contemplated? Freud asserts that he has have shown that myths and fairy tales can be interpreted like dreams, and also traced the paths that lead from the unconscious wish to its realization in a work of art… [6]

But can self-analysis be successfully employed, can we free associate without any form of outside control, can we be let the ideas and associations flow no matter where they choose to take us. Freud assures us that this can be accomplished, however hastens to add that this is in fact, easier said than done, cautioning us against tendencies such as choosing and testing the free flow. As an idea occurs, we say to ourselves No, that does not fit, that does not belong here; of a second that is too senseless; of a third, this is entirely beside the point thus censoring ourselves and impeding the process, which must necessarily be one that is free of selections and choices. [7]

Dreams are visual: Freud likens dreams to a form of figurative writing whose signs must be transferred into the language of the dream thoughts, rather like an archaic language such as hieroglyphics. But unlike these languages which …are fundamentally intended for communication, that is to say, they are always meant to be understood, a dream does not want to say anything to anyone. It is not a vehicle for communication; on the contrary, it is meant to remain ununderstood… [8]

2.2 dream-work, joke-work and image-work

The making of images, discovering a visual language: What are the mental processes under which I assemble my visual terminology, why do I even choose to use images rather than words? Freud’s thoughts on art seem to tell me that my quest itself is the search for a narration for which the spoken word is not the appropriate medium: Accordingly works of art occupy a position between dreams and archaic writing, residing between concealment, as do dreams, and communication, as does writing; hence forced to invent their own system of expressiveness to produce the signifiance of their signifiers.

The plastic arts of painting and sculpture labour under a limitation compared with poetry, which can make use of speech. Before painting became acquainted with the laws of expression, small labels were hung from the mouths of the persons represented, containing in written characters the speeches which the artist despaired of representing pictorially. [9]

Since I do not wish to hang labels out of the mouths of my creatures at this time, I find myself back in the hour between the dog and the wolf, between communication and concealment, the conscious and the unconscious, the dream-work and the image-work: The third process of the dream-work is the most interesting from a psychological point of view. It consists of the translation of thoughts into visual images, i.e. plastic word representation. [10]

Freud continues to illustrate the difficulties of the task of developing a purely visual language:

… you have suffered an atavistic return from the use of the alphabet to ideographic writing. Whatever persons or concrete events occur in this [text] you will be able to replace easily by pictures, perhaps to your advantage, but you will meet with difficulties in the representation of all abstract words and all parts of speech denoting thought relationships, such as particles, conjunctions, etc. With the abstract words you could use all sorts of artifices. You will, for instance, try to change the text into different words which may sound unusual, but whose components will be more concrete and more adapted to representation. You will then recall that most abstract words were concrete before their meaning paled, and will therefore go back to the original concrete significance of these words as often as possible…

… In the representation of parts of speech that denote thought relations, such as because, therefore, but, etc., you have no such aids; these constituent parts of the text will therefore be lost in your translation into images…

…You may be satisfied if the possibility is vouchsafed you to suggest certain relations in a more detailed elaboration of the image. In quite the same way the dream-work succeeds in expressing much of the content of the latent dream thought in the formal peculiarities of the manifest dream, in its clearness or vagueness, in its division into several parts, etc. [11]

It is however, looking at the joke-work that I really begin to feel validated for pursuing the paths of the unconscious because in the relationship of jokes to dreams the attributes of plastic word representation are truly revealed. This in itself is ironic since my task is to analyse the image-work, however Freud’s insights into the usage and manipulation of words and language as material to the joke-work gives me a startlingly accurate description of the convoluted processes that my mind employs when creating images: Bewilderment and illumination, although used by Freud to describe the mental state of the recipient of a joke; when viewed from a point of view that confronts the artist with his inner self is an extremely accurate description of the image-work. This state is brought about by the coupling of distant ideas and concepts, i.e. …the more alien the two ‘circles of ideas’, the greater the pleasure the joke delivers… [12]

Jokes have the ability to discover similarities in dissimilarities. Jean Paul has expressed this by saying that “wit is the disguised priest who unites every couple”. Vischer adds the postscript: “He likes best to unite those couples whose marriage the relatives refuse to sanction”…. [13]

Furthermore, the joke must unearth something hidden and concealed, and to this end can incorporate unifications, represent its subject through opposites and substitutions, modifications, double entendres, allusions, omissions, ambiguous and repetitive usage of its material, i.e. words. One of the most dramatic similarities to the workings of the tools of the image-work in of all these tools used upon the material that constitutes jokes however is the … representation through a minute or minutest element, and solves the problem by bringing the entire character to full expression through a minute detail… [14]

All the techniques and tools of the joke-work that are listed above; according to Freud, find their counterparts in the tools of the dream-work: The process of condensation with substitute formation, displacement, faulty thinking, absurdity, indirect expression/representation as well as representation through the opposite are all found to an equal degree in dreams as well as jokes. In fact, according to Freud, representation through the opposite is so common in dreams that even the popular books on dream interpretation usually put it to good account.

Indirect expression, the substitution for the dream-thought by an allusion, by a trifle or by a symbolism analogous to comparison, is just exactly what distinguishes the manner of expression of the dream from our waking thoughts. Such a far-reaching agreement as found between the means of the joke-work and those of dream-work can scarcely be accidental. [15]

3.1 The Liberation of Words [16]

Since Surrealism is founded on Freud’s propositions it is of little surprise that in an essay in Profils perdus (1963), Soupault says:

… In the course of our inquiry we had discovered indeed that the mind released from all critical pressures and from academic habits offered images and not logical propositions…

The first sentence of Les Champs magnetiques says it all: Prisoners of the drops of water, we are but perpetual animals. The imagery of surrealism, its image-work is not amenable to rational control or explanation. [17] Andre Breton recalls how he used Freud’s methods of investigation, as he experimented in written monologue by throwing out ideas on paper, followed by a critical examination. Breton noted that the writings were strange, invested with a very high degree of immediate absurdity. It was out of this experiment with Freud’s method that Breton founded surrealism and when he asked himself to define it he wrote that it was

… pure psychic automatism, which through the spoken or written word, or some other means of expression, would reveal the real process of thought. [18]

3.2 The Liberation of Objects [19]

Collage consists in reassembling preexisting images in such a way as to form a new image answering a poetic need.

Max Ernst defined it as the chance encounter of two distant realities on an unsuitable level, a formula which is the happy codification of Lautreamont’s famous proposition: Beautiful as the encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table. It gives us a remarkable method of triangulation that does not provide measures, but brings to the surface unrevealed mental images. Aragon states that collage is more reminiscent of the operations of magic than of those of painting. Everything hinges on the artist’s success in persuading us to recognize as accurate the relationship now established between normally distant realities as well as in making us recognize their connection on the plane of poetry. Asked, Do you think your collages are visible poetry? Jean Arp replied Yes, this is poetry made with plastic means. [20] And Jacques Brunius comments:

… but if it is feathers that make plumage, remarks Max Ernst, it isn’t paste [la colle] that makes collage. And indeed, it is quite possible to stick the elements of a collage together without paste. It is even possible to imagine work the elements of which would be left loose in a box with a transparent lid, and which would make up, as in certain games of patience or skill, a different picture each time they are shaken. [21]

4.1 The desktop as alembic

The decisive property of a digital organ or mechanism, then, is that it is almost always in one or another of its two extreme discrete states, i.e., that the dynamic probability of its standing in the intermediate state which forms the connecting continuum is very small. One treats such, by ignoring the transition states–that is, by assuming that information is being conveyed in a binary code. [22]

It is with no little bewilderment that I have gradually come to realise over the course of the past 10 years that the computer, with its structured desktop, itís neatly aligned icons and application toolboxes, arranged with the precision of surgical instruments; and above all in the workings of itís irrefutable binary logic of 0′s and 1′s, translated into simple yes and no commands; has become for me the ultimate alembic of the image-work. On the surface this does indeed seem like a contradiction: How can a machine that is so based in logic in its mode of functioning, so organised and incapable of impulse, be conducive to the free flow of ideas, the generation of images and sequences of images, of associations, combinations and permutations that translate the hour between the wolf and the dog, the twilight zone of our consciousness, into the image-work?

Within this context I am not so much intersted in the unique and novel output resulting from the implementation of digital technology, such as non-linear/interactive work, network/collaborative projects, random or code generated works, virtual environments and the like; as in the process involved in the creation of any work in the computer environment. When viewed from this point of view single frame images such as digital photographs, paintings and illustrations, that incorporate no interactivity, non-linearity or coding skills whatsoever are as integral to my interest as any of the above mentioned novel and sophisticated modes of expression.

Is the artist affected from the climate of virtually unlimited undoís and redos; not to mention utilities such as history palettes that enable him/her to traverse the entire journey involved in the image-work backwards and forwards, saving and thus recreating virtually unlimited versions and variations of the original on the way? Has the ability to copy and paste from our own work, and thus generate new output without the risk of destroying the original not affected our image-work in some fundamental way?

And finally: Can search engines and indeed the entirety of hypertext, be used as vehicles of free association harnessed for the benefit of the image-work? Cannot the huge collective database we call the internet, so akin to a virtual manifestation of the collective unconscious itself; aid us in the discovery of our inner selves? I cannot help but wonder at how the likes of Max Ernst, Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp would have approached google had they had a chance to do so. A diary entry of some 60 years ago may help provide the answer:

3/1/62 3:00 am
Morgan Library
Tina inspiration both strong
certain salient sharpness
the Raphael wash
the Shakespeare colours
bird & bough & raindrops
la feerie orange mist-covered towers illuminated

Joseph Cornell

[1] Freud, S. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Horace Liveright. New York. 1920. P: 3
[2] retrieved on: 13-10-2005
[3] Freud, S. Brill A. A. ed. The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud. Modern Library. New York. 1938. P: 542
[4] Matthews, J. H. The Imagery of Surrealism. Contributors: Syracuse University Press. Syracuse, NY. 1977. P: 4
[5] Bollas, C. The Mystery of Things. Routledge. London. 1999. P: 28
[6] Freud, S. A Short Account of Psycho-Analysis. 1923.
[7] Freud, S. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Horace Liveright. New York. 1920. P: 91
[8] Freud, S. Introductory Lectures. 15: 232
[9] Freud, S. The Interpretation of Dreams. P: 312
[10] Freud, S. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Horace Liveright. New York. 1920. P: 145
[11] Freud, S. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Horace Liveright. New York. 1920. P: 146
[12] Levine, M. P. The Analytic Freud: Philosophy and Psychoanalysis. Routledge. London. 2000. P: 294.
[13] Freud, S. Brill A. A. Ed. The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud. Modern Library. New York. 1938. P: 635
[14] Freud, S. Brill A. A. Ed. The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud.. Modern Library. New York. 1938. P: 680
[15] Freud, S. Brill A. A. Ed. The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud.. Modern Library. New York. 1938. P: 68
[16] Seitz, W. C. The Art of Assemblage. Museum of Modern Art. New York. 1961. P. 5
[17] Matthews, J. H. The Imagery of Surrealism. Contributors: Syracuse University Press. Syracuse, NY. 1977. Pp: 2
[18] Bollas, C. The Mystery of Things. Routledge. London. 1999. P: 167.
[19] Seitz, W. C. The Art of Assemblage. Museum of Modern Art. New York. 1961. P. 5
[20] Carrouges, M. Andre Breton and the Basic Concepts of Surrealism. University of Alabama Press. University, AL. 1974. P: 171, 66
[21] Brunius, J. Rencontres fortuites et concertees. Catalog E. L. T. Mesens, ì125 Collages et Objetsî. Knokke-Le-Zoute. 1963.
[22] Garvin, P.L. Natural Language and the Computer. McGraw-Hill. New York. 1963. P: 49

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