And that things should change
But be equivalent.
— Rae Armantrout, Presents
Kafka’s parable, Leopards in the Temple
, begins with an act of what could be described as failed censorship, failed censorship that quite quickly escalates into something new and strange; something akin to an apparently peaceful, but violent, revolution. It is an extraordinary drama in which something that was initially forbidden — or rather, something so improbable and unpredictable that it didn’t even need to be forbidden — is gradually, over time, allowed for and accepted, and indeed celebrated. And it all happens in one sentence, showing us what language can do to time, and what art can do to morality:
Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally, it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.
If this is a progress myth it is not clear what counts as progress here, what the criteria for progress might be. And the authorities, that I am calling the censors — perhaps the most important people in the parable — are never named by Kafka (the anonymity, the uncanny impersonality of the authorities is, of course, one of Kafka’s abiding preoccupations, suggesting, as it does, that the authorities may be by definition difficult to know, but easy to know about). The ambiguities in the parable are, in other words, precise; what is omitted making us wonder, making us fill in the gaps, making us think. Something alien, something extrinsic, something wildly unpredictable and unpredicted invades the ceremony; and through repetition it simply becomes part of the ceremony (as though repetition was a kind of cure-all; as though through repetition we can adapt to anything; habit, or ritual as a great deadener, or a great teacher). The leopards are implacable and voracious — they can’t be kept out, they drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers — and those who attend the ceremony are reconciled to this bizarre violation once they can predict what the leopards do (when they can, in psychoanalytic language, bring the leopards within their omnipotence: as though to predict the leopards, to familiarize them, is to control them; omnipotence is when I take what happens to be all my doing, and so not a persecution but somehow a preference; masochism as a way of finding enjoyment in something foist- ed upon you). The leopards have been used, perhaps exploited, beyond what we take to be their intentions — their aim, we assume, was not to become part of a religious ceremony, but to drink. And the ceremony has been transformed — perhaps enhanced, but certainly not waylaid — by incorporating what might have threatened it. It’s a win-win situation. And it is a consequence, as I say, of a failed act of censorship; the authorities can’t or don’t want to get rid of the leopards. The leopards may be Jews or Christians or, more simply, whatever we feel endangers our customary routines (the contingent, the anomalous, the enigmatic, the foreign). It may be a Darwinian parable about adaptation, or a religious parable about assimilation, or a secular parable about colonization, or about the ironic absurdities of cultural change. But for this transformation to occur — and the teller of the parable notably doesn’t make any kind of value-judgement about what has happened — the censors (the judges, the protectors, the guardians of the status quo) have had to fail in their function or abrogate it.
This is one story about what happens when, for whatever reason, censorship apparently doesn’t work, or turns a blind eye, or colludes with something apparently problematic; about how we can use the idea of inevitability, or of necessity, or defenselessness, to contain our disturbance (imagine actually being one of the people who attended that ceremony the first time the leopards entered the temple, and on each of all the subsequent times: what stories would you be telling about the authorities, or about the leopards? What would the people attending the ceremony be saying to each other?). The way the parable is staged it just seems inevitable that within the one sentence that is the parable — whatever the length of time actually was: days, or weeks or months or years? — the leopards would become part of the ceremony; even though they would have seemed to be its saboteurs; as though ruin renovates, or the unexpected unexpectedly contributes to something, or enhances what it seems to invade; or just that it isn’t that big a deal, as one would anticipate that it might have been. As though violation can be used, rather than merely suffered. It is certainly not suggested in the parable that the ceremony has been compromised or spoiled by the leopards. It turns out to be a usable violation.
It is perhaps not surprising, given Kafka’s predicament — given Kafka’s severely rule- and judgement- bound world; a world in which he could write, “how can I have anything in common with other Jews when I have nothing in common with myself” — that he might wonder what his life would be like if the rules and the judgements didn’t work, if the regimes he lived and worked in were somehow transformed. And also wonder, of course, just how resilient the ceremonies (the regimes, the censors) were — how much they could include, and at what cost. But we must notice, I think, also, that nothing is said about what happens to the leopards, other than that they find a new source of refreshment. What they do is a testament to the ingenuity of their instinctual life; what the attendees of the ceremony do is a testimony to the robustness of their culture. If this is not a contemporary cliché — culture enhanced by instinct, culture having to accommodate to the savage, the elemental — what is it a parable about? How much the sacred is informed by the predatory? Or about how many of our taken for granted ceremonies have histories like this one? About what we gain through inadequate censorship?
Or, for my purposes here, if this is a parable about censorship, among other things, what does it suggest that the censors want? How does it make us think about the work of censorship, the work of forbidding or foreclosing certain things, certain acts? Are we supposed to think merely that, say, censorship stifles inventiveness? That censorship is the enemy of innovation, that it wants to pre-empt the new; that it stops us from getting used to and enjoying novelty and fascinating compromise; enjoying say, the beautiful ruthless ferocity of the leopards? That censors essentially inhibit; so they want, for example, to organize our interpretation of parables, among much else; that they always calculate in advance? After all, this incisive parable by Kafka has now entered our ceremonies, ceremonies that are by definition about, so to speak, inclusion and exclusion; about what (and who) we want to include, and why? And what (and who) we want to exclude, and why? What Kafka calls “the ceremony” here can refer to the ceremony that we might call our identity; or the ceremony that we call education (or our reading practices), or our relationships; though ceremony, in this translation of Kafka’s text, we tend to associate with religious ritual, or political investiture, or marriage (clearly this is an ostensibly religious parable, given its setting and sacred paraphernalia). Ceremony, though, as any way in which we organize ourselves, ritualize our lives, strive to get the lives we want. It is, as befits a parable, a word hospitable to association and interpretation (as is the word “temple,” or the phrase “calculated in advance”: though not, significantly, the title Leopards in the Temple
). Words and phrases that are hospitable to association and interpretation are exactly what censorship guards against (one wonders whether censors write parables, or what the preferred literary genre of any given censor would be: tragedy more than comedy, one might think).
Censorship, that is to say, bespeaks a world calculated in advance (it is wishfulness and willfulness disguised as prophecy); a world in which we recognize what is a temple and what is not, what is a sacrificial pitcher and what is not. A world in which there could not possibly be leopards in the temple. The censor tells us what the sacrifices are that are worth making, and what needs to be calculated in advance; censorship, whatever else it is, is always calculation in advance, always needing to keep ahead of itself. And once the censors fail, something opens up; if the leopards had been kept out of the temple, we would have had no parable nor the myriad interpretations it seems to invite. We would have had the same-old apparently good-enough ceremony. And yet, of course, incorporating the leopards in the ceremony may itself have been itself an ingenious piece of censorship. The ceremony, after all, is still in place. Censorship is, after all, supposed to be conservative, to be conserving something. Rebels, Sartre remarked, are people who keep things the same so that they can go on rebelling against them; revolutionaries change the world. The anonymous guardians of the ceremony — the censors guarding the temple — are certainly more like rebels than revolutionaries. They find ways of making change look like more of the same while apparently allowing for dramatic innovation, as though the best way to keep things the same is to violently change them. The censors, in other words, can be extremely accommodating, accommodating in the service of something that they take to be of supreme importance. Even if whatever is of supreme importance is never declared (or perhaps even known by the censors themselves). The censors, that is to say, have their fantasies of catastrophe, and their ideas about what must be protected at all costs. They do their work for a reason.
Perhaps we should ask of the censors what Iris Murdoch suggested we should ask of philosophers: not merely what do they fear but what do they love? This is the question that Freud — for whom the whole idea of censorship was the precondition for psychoanalysis; indeed, without the idea of censorship psychoanalysis would be unintelligible — didn’t quite realize he was asking. If we are, right from the beginning, censored and self-censoring creatures, what do our formative and apparently informed censors want for us? If censorship is a form of love — and sometimes a perverse form of love, even though our first censors are ostensibly our parents — what is it that our censors love, in censoring us? What does their world look like uncensored by them?II
“…for a culture to exclude a possibility, and to have to change if that possibility is to be admitted, implies that it has depended on that exclusion in order to sustain its existence.”
— Derek Attridge, The Work of Literature
Clearly, there can be no politics or religion — no form of social organization — without a category of the unacceptable, and so without censorship. So when we are saying that Freud’s psychoanalysis depends upon censorship we may not be saying very much. We may be saying no more than that what Freud called ‘psychic life’ was selective and punitive; that what we could let ourselves know about ourselves was always under surveillance, and tended to be, as it were, heavily policed. If the modern question, as Michel Serres has said, informed partly by Freud, is, “what is it I don’t want to know about myself?”, then we need to acknowledge how much work, how much discipline and diligence and obedience is required to sustain this project of not-knowing, of informed ignorance. You need to know a lot to know what you shouldn’t know. And if you know you don’t want to know something, you must have some sense of what that something is (to repress or deny something you have to have recognized it first). So it is not accidental that it was the figure Freud called “the censor” — originally the name of the magistrate who kept accounts of the property of Roman citizens, imposed taxes, and watched over their morals — who appeared to know both what was worth saying and to whom; what to admit into the social realm, into the shared world, and what to forbid; what was dangerous, and why (who knows a leopard when he sees one). It is the censor who calls to account, and keeps account of, the citizen. And the citizen, one way and another — in order to be a citizen — has to be always accompanied by the censor (censorship means you are never alone which, of course, cuts both ways). For Freud the censor — precursor of what he will call the super-ego — combined the severe moralism of the aesthete and the over-attentive dutifulness of the customs official, to discriminate between pleasure and pain, good and bad, truth and lies.
The psychoanalyst Charles Rycroft refers to the censor as the ancestor of the super-ego, while in Freud, the more cruel and intimidating, the more obscene (to use Lacan’s term) figure of the super-ego is what we inherit from the censor. And this tells us the difference, in no uncertain terms, between the acceptable and the unacceptable. Why are we so dogmatic about morality? Because, Freud would say, we are possessed by a daemonic figure who seems to know, in absolute terms, what we should be thinking and feeling and doing (and the consequences of not doing so). Somebody somewhere must know the difference between right or wrong; either we are convinced moralists, or we have to bear the complexity of our own minds. Like all thoroughly acculturated people — all people who take leopards in the temple for granted — our lives can seem ‘natural,’ more or less normal, i.e. beyond dramatic redescription. We know when the censor and his progeny, the super-ego, have done their work when we know what we are doing; when we know where we are; when we know who we want to be judged by. So Leopards in the Temple
, we can say, is a parable about normalization. The censor tells us what it is to be normal, and what the penalties are for deviance. The censor tells us what good reasons are, and what they are for. Normality becomes second nature, a nature invented by the censors.
Clearly there can be no non-normative life — no life without asserted norms, and acceptable forms of justification; it becomes, rather, a question of which norms one prefers, and why; a question of criteria. It becomes a question of the good reasons we can give for the norms we admire and value, and the articulating of our criteria for what counts as a good reason. Censorship, as Freud will both show and tell, is always more complicated than it wants to be. Clearly, for censorship to succeed it has to be unassailable, it has to be sufficiently impressive and intimidating. All judgement, Freud implies, is punishing. All truth-claims are triumphalist.
In rather a stark sense, then, psychoanalysis depends upon the censor; without the notion of censorship — as I say — the theoretical system is incoherent (the necessity, the inevitability of censorship — our inability to describe life without it — is itself of some significance). But without the possibility that the censorship itself can be censored — that it is subject to modification, that it can recognize an authority other than its own, that it might itself desire change — psychoanalytic treatment, not to mention political life, is futile. From a psychoanalytic point of view, censorship is the paradigmatic speech-act — the need to render something acceptable, the need to loosen the grip, the force of the unacceptable. But if, as John Forrester wrote in his appropriately entitled book Truth Games
, “psychoanalysis always subordinates the discourse of blame to the discourse of discovery,” how does it do something that is so against the grain of the moral imagination as traditionally conceived? What else can we do with the unacceptable but blame it, scapegoat it, evacuate it, abolish it? Could there be a gentle, a sympathetic, a differently imaginative super-ego? A super-ego not committed to purity and danger? Was that what Kafka was imagining in Leopards in the Temple
? Hospitality for the leopards, not violent and destructive outrage. Leopards in the Temple not as a scandal, but as a comedy. Kafka, Philip Roth remarked, was a great sit-down comedian.
So what would the censors have to love — other than change itself — to be interested in change? What might make the censor give ground? How does our taste change, and why would we want it to? What Freud is saying — what Freud adds to this fundamental cultural conversation — is that we are obedient, unconsciously, to internal authorities. But we don’t call them that, we call them our preferences, our prejudices, our beliefs and convictions, what we take for granted, what goes without saying. We are unconscious, Freud suggests, of what we have consented to, and that we are consenting (I might say, this is just who I am rather than giving an account of what my masters want from me and for me). In the Freudian story, censorship is where we start from. We begin with, and in relation to, our censors (so development could be described as the history of our relationship to censorship, censorship by others, and self-censorship).
It would, of course, make sense that the most effective censorship is to all intents and purposes invisible, or silent; it doesn’t in any way present itself as censorship, it presents itself as upbringing, or nurture (I might say ‘I love you’ when I mean I want to censor you). We may or may not need to be paranoid about this — paranoia is acute censorship anxiety — but it may be instructive to acknowledge that censorship is our medium and our project. No description of ourselves and our lives, Freud suggests, is either intelligible or useful, without censorship having, as it were, pride of place. Psychoanalysis, or, getting to know your censors.III
“It is hardly surprising that the breakdown of censorship and the establishment of effective religious toleration let loose a flood of speculation that hitherto had only been muttered in secret.”
—Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down
Freud’s first use of the concept of censorship was in a letter of 1897 to his early collaborator Fleiss: “Have you ever seen,” Freud writes, “a foreign newspaper after it has passed the censorship at the Russian frontier? Words, sentences, and whole paragraphs are blacked out, with the result that the remainder is unintelligible. A Russian censorship occurs in the psychoses, and results in the apparently meaningless deliria.”
Here the censorship is entirely visible, drawing attention to itself in the blacked-out passages, showing you, effectively, if you could find out, exactly what it was that the censors didn’t want foreigners to know. In this version of censorship, the censored material makes the uncensored material unintelligible. And this, Freud suggests, is akin to the apparently meaningless deliria that occur in psychosis. As though the project in psychosis, as in this version of censorship, was to create something meaningless (or what a later analyst Wilfred Bion will call “an attack on meaning”). There is a refuge, a protection-racket, a safety in meaninglessness. Censorship as an attack on an already existing coherence or intelligibility that is felt by the censors to be dangerous. And it is of course worth noticing that Freud sees the severest form of mental illness, psychosis, as the cause or the consequence or both of censorship. So censorship both protects the state and the individual, and leaves them both at a loss. What Laplanche and Pontalis call “the apparently absurd character of certain delusions” is an effect of censorship; censorship, then, as a way of making something (if the censor was an artist rather than an ideologue he would be asking, ‘what would this look like and sound like if I black out this bit, or this bit’). We can say that the Russian censors, like the psychotic, are creating something only, as Freud puts it, “apparently meaningless.” At its most minimal, the Russian censors are indicating that there are things they don’t want people to know, words and sentences they want to exclude people from.
So, right from the beginning, Freud associates so-called mental illness with censorship; and he associates censorship with the kind of meaning that is made by an attack on meaning. And of course he is using political analogies to describe the so-called internal world. If you want to understand something about psychosis, you have to know how Russian news censorship works. And, we might add, the internal censorship is there to monitor the news (about himself) that the individual keeps on presenting him with. As though the internal world is a source of news; things keep happening inside us all the time; and we must not become too receptive, too intelligible to ourselves.
But then, of course, Freud knows about the censorship of everyday life; how it is that sociability depends upon censorship, as do dreams and symptoms. In fact, the more Freud thinks about censorship the more he begins to intimate that it explains rather too much. “In social life,” Freud writes in The Interpretation of Dreams
, which has provided us with our familiar analogy with the dream-censorship, we also make use of the suppression and reversal of affect, principally for purposes of dissimulation. If I am talking to someone whom I am obliged to treat with consideration while wishing to say something hostile to him, it is almost more important that I should conceal any expression of my affect from him than that I should mitigate the verbal form of my thoughts. If I were to address him in words that were not impolite, but accompanied them with a look or gesture of hatred and contempt, the effect which I should produce on him would not be very different from what it would have been if I had thrown my contempt openly in his face. Accordingly, the censorship bids me, above all, to suppress my affects; and if I am a master of dissimulation, I shall assume the opposite affect — smile when I am angry and seem affectionate when I wish to destroy.
It is not difficult to see this as the predicament of an uneasily assimilated Jew in an anti-Semitic culture; it is a story of the cost and the inventiveness required of the unwelcome immigrant. His most useful weapon, which is also a shield, is his capacity for self-censorship, for dis- simulation. Immigrants need, whatever else they need, to be good actors. And actors, one might say, are master censors. They have to censor all the words their part does not require. And yet, of course, we don’t think of actors as censoring themselves, or engaged in dramatic acts of self-censor- ship. The capacity for survival, Freud intimates, depends upon a capacity for cunning self-censorship. But presumably, over time, like the leopards in the temple, we can become so habituated to our own dissimulations that we become them; they become integral to the ceremony of being oneself. Such violence, Freud suggests, requires violent suppression; “if I am a master of dissimulation,” Freud writes, “I shall assume the opposite affect — smile when I am angry and seem affectionate when I wish to destroy.”
This makes the censor the genius of our own survival. The implication, once again, is that without censorship there would be intractable violence. If you let children do what they want, Anna Freud once remarked, they become violent. If you let adults say what they want, they talk about sex. Without censorship, there can be no viable sociability. And yet, as Freud makes abundantly clear, it is only the violence of the censors that makes censorship possible. As though the best use of our own violence and sexuality is the violent censorship of violence and sexuality: smile when I am angry and seem affectionate when I wish to destroy. What Freud leaves out of the story here is what happens to sociability once we have all learned these tricks of the trade. Once I assume affection might be a cover story for murderousness, how do I then relate to other people? When Freud writes, “the censorship bids me above all to suppress my affects,” the censorship becomes an agent within my own agency, bidding me to do certain things and not others, a kind of acting coach. And yet one thing is clear: affects may be suppressed, or displaced, or turned into their opposite, but they don’t disappear. The censor, in Freud’s account, can only help us to manage who we happen to be, who we essentially are. The censor trains us, educates us, intimidates us into acceptable forms of sociability; it tells us what we should be doing together and how we should be doing it. The psychotic, just like the ordinarily sociable neurotic, needs his censor. But then, of course, by a process of infinite regress we have to ask, what does the censor want? We clearly want, and sometimes need, apparently, to be censored, but what does the censor need?
“It lies in the very nature of every censorship,” Freud writes in The Interpretation of Dreams
, “that of forbidden things it allows those that are untrue to be said, rather than those which are true.” Or rather, it uses the untrue to reveal the truth. So, given that dreams, in Freud’s view, are disguised representations of forbidden (infantile) desires, the dream is made possible, is made, by the censor. So the censor, in Freud’s account, has to be a good liar, and a good dream-maker (or a good artist — “every man is an artist in his dreams,” Nietzsche wrote). But above all, the censor, for Freud, is the guardian of forbidden desire, the protector and the sustainer of our pleasures. The Russian censor is repressive in our familiar sense, but Freud’s figure of the censor here is the opposite; or rather Freud’s censor represses — disguises, dissimulates, lies — with a view to the liberation of desire. In our dreams, because of the artfulness of our censor, we can represent to ourselves — we can let ourselves know about — our forbidden desires. The censor paradoxically, in Freud, wants us to enjoy ourselves; wants to find ways of making forbidden desires knowable and even viable. The censor is an ironist — a master of disguise — because he believes in communication; he believes, as Freud does, that we can find ways of making ourselves known to ourselves and others. And by the same token, as it were, he is the guardian of our sociability because the censor is the guardian of our real enjoyment. We can rewrite Nietzsche’s famous aphorism — that we have art that we may not perish of the truth — as, we have censorship that we may not perish of the true (or of art). What the censor knows — rather as Freud himself seems to — is that we are endangered by our desire, but our desire is the only thing that really matters to us (and Freud will go on to suggest, however absurd it may sound, that our desire can be more important to us than our survival).
In his figure of the censor, Freud was inventing a new kind of double agent. “On the frontier” — another frontier — the censorship, Freud writes in The Interpretation of Dreams
, “only allows what is agreeable to it to pass through [into consciousness] and holds back everything else. According to our definition, then, what is rejected by the censorship is in a state of repression. Under certain conditions, in which the state of sleep is one…what is repressed can no longer be held back…Since, however, the censorship is never completely eliminated but merely reduced, the repressed material must submit to certain alterations which mitigate its offensive features…Repression — relaxation of the censorship — the formation of a compromise; this is the fundamental pattern for the generation not only of dreams, but of many other psychopathological structures.”
The censor is not omnipotent, it relaxes, and it is more than able to make sufficient alterations to the representations of forbidden desires, such that the dream and the desires it encodes cross the frontier into consciousness (it is human, it nods off: “when the state of sleep is over,” Freud writes, “the censorship quickly recovers its full strength”). Clearly, the censor is on the side of repression and on the side of the forbidden material (it is not militantly competent, it isn’t whole-hearted; that is, there is some complicity between the censor and the forbidden desire. We must take for granted the censor’s ambivalence about what he is censoring; he wants to be paid on both sides). By being good at making compromises, the individual’s desire is never compromised. “We have no reason to disguise the fact,” Freud continues, as he talks about disguise, “that in the hypothesis, which we have set up in order to explain the dream-work, a part is played by what may be described as a ‘daemonic’ element… the formation of obscure dreams occurs as though one person who was dependent upon a second person had to make a remark which was bound to be disagreeable in the ears of this second one; and it is on the basis of this simile that we have arrived at the concepts of dream-distortion and censorship….”
The dream says the difficult, daemonic, unacceptable things on behalf of the dreamer. Freud’s censor, we might say, is highly attuned — not unlike a mother — to the vulnerabilities of the dreamer; and the dreamer cannot easily cope with whatever seems daemonic about himself. The censor manages to make the most unacceptable things interesting, intriguing, available to be thought about. The Russian censor may care about the state as represented by the powers that be, but the Freudian censor cares about the well-being, the psychic survival of the individual. He works, again rather like a mother, to stop the dreamer’s dream, the dreamer’s life turning into a nightmare. He protects the dreamer’s sleep by rendering the daemonic material not too disturbing; he transforms a trauma into a surprise, something crudely and urgently immediate into something simply dreamable. By being a double agent — by being on the side of the individual’s forbidden desires and on the side of her safety — the censor almost literally makes the individual’s life livable. What the Freudian censor wants — very much like a good-enough mother, though Freud disguises this by never saying it — is that the individual’s life be livable by being sufficiently enjoyable. Freud, through the psychic alchemy of his descriptions, makes the censor freeing by being restrictive.
But we should also notice that Freud’s censor is a rather more tricky character than Winnicott’s fairly reassuring good-enough mother figure. Freud’s censor wants us to find ways of enjoying ourselves; indeed, we infer, there is a sense in which pleasure and safety are what matter most to Freud’s censor (it should be added that though Freud never genders the figure Freud calls the censor, it is presumed to be male). But also, as the passages from The Interpretation of Dreams
make clear, Freud’s censor is committed to the artfulness, the dissimulation required for successful pleasure-seeking. Freud, with a certain irony, I think, redescribes the censor as a facilitator of pleasure and knowledge, and not their saboteur. Freud, that is to say, gets the censor, the censorship to work for us (another trick an immigrant may need to learn). He turns the trauma of censorship into the ironic triumph of successful hedonism; hedonism that is very much against the odds. This, one could say, is an extraordinary cultural achievement, to make inhibition an instrument of freedom. It is a version of the famous Jewish joke — God says he is going to destroy the world with a flood in three weeks. The Christians say we must confess our sins, we must do more good works; the Jews say, we’ve got three weeks to learn to breathe under water.IV
Now the censor has my letter. He turns on his light. My words, alarmed, fly up like monkeys in a cage, Rattle the bars, hold still, and show their teeth.
—Tomas Transtromer, “To Friends Behind a Border”
So it is perhaps not surprising that in free-association — the key to the psychoanalytic method in which the patient is encouraged to say whatever comes into his head — Freud proposes what he calls “the suspension of the censorship”; the patient is encouraged to temporarily ignore his internal censorship and simply say what comes to mind, however unacceptable or apparently trivial it is. Freud’s conscious or unconscious assumption, that is to say, is that the censor is neither omniscient nor omnipotent; he or she can be suspended, given time off. The censor is someone we — the analyst and the patient, say — can work with, a collaborator of sorts. The censorship can be suspended and modified in the course of psychoanalytic treatment. Indeed, your internal censor, as Freud intimates, may be both your original and your ideal, most like-minded collaborator — both you and your internal censor, that is to say, are most interested in what you must not say, in what you must not know about yourself. You and your censor have in common a desire for silence, for inhibition, for ignorance, for turning so-called self-control into the predominating pleasure. You must notice, that is to say, what you and your censor enjoy doing together. As the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe writes in Causality and Determination
, “…if you want to say at least some true things about a man’s intentions, you will have a strong chance of success if you mention what he actually did or is doing.” What, then, are the censor and the censored actually doing? They are making desire, and therefore pleasure, plausible.
The censorship is deemed to be self-protective and self-serving — self-protective by being self-serving; self-serving in the fullest and most restrictive sense. It is the assumption of the censorship that we prefer safety to danger, closedness to openness, the familiar to the strange. So Freud says, think of the censor as your most important conversational partner rather than the tyrant you are always managing. Where there was sovereignty, there can be mutual exchange, where there is tyranny, an experiment in living is being kept at bay. In psychoanalytic treatment the patient suspends self-censorship with a view to better self-censorship in the future. And this entails making conscious the censor’s criteria for censorship with a view to working out your own, more desired criteria — working out what you should not say when, and what you want to be able to say and when. And as an afterthought, it is not odd that as ambivalently assimilating Jews both Kafka and Freud were working out how you can make the censor work for your desire. And this, of course, is how we have come to read writers under communism and other totalitarian regimes. But Freud sometimes intimates that the internal regimes are as, if not more, difficult to contend with; or that how we can deal with internal regimes may be a clue to how we can deal with external ones (the personal as political, in a different sense). By wanting us to believe that censorship can be a dialogue — may, indeed, be the paradigm of dialogue; the fundamental double-act of the self and her censor — Freud adds to the stock of available liberal reality.
So in the heightened drama of censorship we call tragedy, we witness the consequence, the tyranny of the determination to be un-self-censoring; we see, to put it as blandly as possible, what the most disabling relationship to censorship is like. In Coriolanus
— a pertinent example here — we are told pointedly in the second act that Censorinus, “nobly named so,” Brutus says, “twice being by the people chosen censor, / was his [Coriolanus’s] great ancestor.” (It may be an unconscious allusion to this passage when Charles Rycroft in his Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis
defines the censor, as I said, as “the theoretical ancestor of the super-ego,” which makes Coriolanus a figure for the super-ego.) Coriolanus, who is tragically and characteristically un-self-censoring, has a great ancestor who was acceptable to the people as a consul (and censor) because he could and would do the very thing that Coriolanus refuses — both give an account of himself to the people and be sympathetically responsive to and responsible for their needs and wants. After his great martial victories, Coriolanus has to appeal to the people of Rome to confirm him as a consul, the very thing he will not do. “I would not buy,” Coriolanus says in Act III, “their [the people’s] mercy at the price of one fair word”; despite Menenius’s urgings — “come, come, you have been too rough, something too rough,” he says to Coriolanus, “Put not your worthy rage into your tongue” — and despite Menenius’s explanatory justifications of Coriolanus’s nobility — “His heart’s his mouth” — it is Coriolanus’s inflexible assertion that he will never censor himself that wins and loses the day. For Coriolanus self-censorship is demeaning servility; it is the compliance that compromises nobility. It is the foreclosure of other voices both within and outside the self. We could say that Coriolanus is addicted to an image of himself, which turns out to be his mother’s preferred image of him.
Coriolanus, Stanley Cavell writes in Disowning Knowledge
, “traces the costs of the absence of [the] tact of civility”; what Cavell calls “Coriolanus’s refusal to acknowledge his participation in finite human existence…a kind of denial of an existence shared with others,” we might call, after Freud, an inability to enjoy conversation with the censor. (The censor says, ‘this is not a conversation’ and that’s how the conversation starts). Coriolanus is so over-impressed, so intimidated by the censorship of the people that he will not and cannot exchange words with them. He cannot get pleasure from what limits him (or see limitation as exchange; it is reminiscent of John Crowe Ransom’s remark that we live by trading with the enemy). It is not, of course, incidental to Coriolanus’s tragedy that his mother’s complicity and his wife’s protest are integral to the drama. The play makes it very clear that who Coriolanus has become is, in part at least, an effect of his mothering. But we should note that, against the truism that the first censors are the mother and the child’s body, and then the father, we are led to believe that Coriolanus’s mother Volumnia has sponsored and supported Coriolanus’s lack of self-censorship, his pernicious lack of self-criticism. Coriolanus, that is to say — like all so-called tragic heroes — has been unable or unwilling to split himself into a narcissistic desiring self and a censoring self (what Cavell calls the absence of the tact of civility). He has never been able to see the benefits of censorship, as Freud urges us to do. What feels like sabotage can be, as it were, opportunity in disguise. So Freud wants us to ask — as does Kafka in a different way — what does whatever you want to prevent, and the ways in which you prevent it, make possible? There are always going to be leopards entering the temple. The question is, what service, if any, can they become part of? And who decides? How can we become cleverer animals at including the animals?