Core Concepts Series: XI. The Basic Libidinal Conflict: Instinct vs. Outer World – Part 2

Elaboration and Foray into Desiring-production

In the absence of external prohibitions or internal narcissistic inhibition, the organism will discharge inner tension through expression. If our formulation equating libido with potential energy in bodily tissue is correct, the organism can potentially experience an infinite variety of pulsions, each one corresponding to an optimal expression that affords the greatest possible catharsis. The expression that completely discharges one cathexis would be useless for another. Though more potential energy is probably consumed in a set of pull-ups than in the orgasm reflex, for instance, the former is inferior when it comes to sexual catharsis. We are also familiar with expressions that require very little movement but subjectively seem to relieve intense psychic burdens. On top of all this, we find that inner tensions can be resolved by ceasing to dispense with our energies (rest) and adding more energy to our bodies (eating). What can we make of these apparent contradictions? Investigating how a pulsion becomes disconnected from the expression it would optimally manifest as may be useful in solving this riddle.

But what does this mean, without inhibition? Previously we gave the example of the amoeba and its aquatic habitat, claiming that external water functions as narcissistic inhibition because it offers resistance to the object-libidinal expression of reaching. But by this logic, the amoeba’s membrane and organelles are co-conspirators in repression, for our protozoan would have the lowest potential energy if it was shredded into the smallest possible pieces and diffused evenly in the water. Not even the free-flowing amoeba is comfortable with that kind of catharsis! Now we are entering the realm of – I’ve always wanted to use this word – Deleuzoguattarian desiring-production. The organism’s morphology has intrinsic inhibitory properties that obstruct immediate dissipation of potential energy, energy we claim is libidinal (1).

The animation of the organism in expression, to wit, the conversion of this energy into work, is itself mediated by these inhibitory, structural properties. For instance, the same chemical energy from food inspires different functions in different tissues because of structural differences. Compare the high energy food metabolite ATP’s role in the contraction of skeletal muscle with its role in the establishment of electric potential across a neuron’s membrane. Here, different types of fixed structures operating mechanically mediate the dissipation of potential energy according to their mechanical and chemical properties. This results in the performance of specific, characteristic functions (contraction, membrane charging &c.), energy-dissipative (א) processes which we consider to be expressive. Any one of these processes is characterized by countervailing forces whose dynamics recapitulate the psychic currents governing the organism’s total expression. Complementarily, an unfathomable number of these microcosmic events contribute to the organism’s total expression, be it predominantly object oriented or narcissistic, wherein the common theme, structural modification of energy dissipation, is preserved and recapitulated on a large scale by the organs. This is analogous to an engine, whose mechanical structure gradually extracts work from burning gas in a controlled way rather than letting it all explode in one ecstatic fireball.

Now that we have filed Nothung down to splinters, so to speak, we are better equipped to speculate about which expressions are optimal when it comes to relieving a libidinal cathexis, that is, which are sex-economically preferable to the organism, affording the most complete catharsis. Since we have become labyrinthine and hideous enough to understand – and, God forbid, produce – the above paragraphs, it would behoove us to observe infants. We are justified in doing so because, experience has shown, experiences further convolute the pathways of object-libido and inspire chronic narcissistic inhibition or libidinal investment. It is also useful at this point to distinguish between the morphological components of narcissistic inhibition and the narcissistic gestures we intuitively make or understand without reference to the sciences. As a side-benefit, we will be able to assess what the sum of scientific knowledge actually represents.

Initially, infants act in an uninhibited way according to what are commonly called the instincts, behaviors that aren’t “learned.” Over the course of their development, however, we find children adopt chronic inhibitions which obstruct the more direct manifestations of object-libido as outward expression. Analysis of neurotics’ repressed complexes has shown that this is accomplished by converting a quantity of object-libido into narcissistic libido. The conversion is concomitant with renouncing the original goal of the drive, viz. the expression which would completely discharge the inspiring energy cathexis and, not to mention, require the entire cathexis in order to manifest. A portion of the energy that would otherwise animate the organism in the optimal expression is employed to resist that same expression, preserving some fraction of the cathexis. Again, this only occurs when endeavors to contact the outside world are met with sufficient unpleasure, unpleasure which creates subjective tension (excitation) exceeding that due to the cathexis which initially inspired the pulsion to make contact with the world.

These learned inhibitions, resolutions to the conflicts between instinct and outer world, eventually crystallize into a kind of parasitic homunculus foreign to the organism. Freud called this the ego (das Ich, the I) a word borrowed from Nietzsche through the physician Georg Groddeck (2). This psychic structure can be said to contain a set of narcissistic libido investments that, like the steel cylinders of an engine, conscript the explosive forces of expression to its own end: self-preservation (or more correctly, relief from the tension arising from intolerable perceptions). Its somatic manifestation is a system of chronically held muscle contractions. We also see a subjective identification with the processes of inhibition and ignorance of the repressed object-libidinal strivings. In orgonomy, these investments are considered pathological insofar as they prevent authentic emotional expressions such as the orgasm reflex. In the next two articles, we will discuss in detail how a pulsion’s function is changed under the influence of an external pressure and how the organism internalizes this change through libidinal investment, a concept Wilhelm Reich calls change of function of the impulse.

(א) Though these may dissipate energy in one respect, they are certainly capable of creating potential energy in other areas.

(1) Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix – Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia – 1. The Desiring Machines – 4. A Materialist Psychiatry pg. 26-27

(2) Nietzsche, Friedrich – Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Translator’s (Kaufmann) notes for Part 1, Discourse 4, On the Despisers of the Body pg. 5

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