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LaCapra on Anaesthetic Analysis

From “Introduction” in Representing the Holocaust: History, Theory, Trauma (1994):

LaCapra helps us understand what is at stake in the analysis of representations of trauma. When we study popular culture, we often want to know whether or not an object has socially “critical, transformative, or legitimately affirmative” potential, which here we consider to be good (7). We might see a picture and ask a question like, is this a subversive use of a stereotype?


We identify any potential pleasures offered by the object of our study - e.g. racial pleasure, sexual pleasure, national pleasure - in order to understand how potentials for certain critical readings may be recouped by morally illegitimate systems of power. For example even a subversive group may become identified as a new marketing demographic. Pessimistically, we might assume that all of popular culture is “entered fully into the commodity system... heavily capitalized and commodified” (6). When we say that all of popular culture is commodified culture, we are being “distortive and anachronistic with respect to other forms of popular culture, which existed and functioned under significantly different conditions and might at times have critical, transformative, or legitimately affirmative tendencies... even even with respect to more recent commodified popular and mass culture” (7). Even more pessimistically, we might assume that even non-popular culture (including, say, the contemporary avant-garde) lacks a potential for resistance that would not be appropriated by the ‘real subsumption’ of capitalism.1 Such distortive anachronism touches on “essentialization, elitism, and self-defeating cultural pessimism” (7). LaCapra immediately follows this condemnation by saying, “Instead, we should attempt to work out sustained and careful analyses of the way artifacts always to some extent affect social and cultural stereotypes and ideological processes, even when they insistently attempt to reproduce and reinforce banality” (7). Here “banality” seems to stand as a limit of “affect” and therefore as a point that shapes affect generally. Thus we can support LaCapra’s program with a call to analyze the affectibility of artifacts especially insofar as they reproduce and reinforce banality, regardless of intent.
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