Tom Allen, "Black Orchids" oil on canvas, 30 x 27", 2015


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In Aberrations of Mourning, Laurence A. Rickels explores a phantasmic Geistesgeschichte not addressed within the traditional framework of theories and histories that tend to emphasize Oedipal structures. As such, this study involves a reconsideration of certain basic tenets which inform the reading of literature, philosophy, and, indeed, psychoanalysis itself. Its main focus, however, is to suggest an interpretation of both reading and writing that goes beyond notions of patricidal writing that have received so much currency in the past few years.

In nine chapters, Rickels investigates literary texts and their aesthetic and semiotic theories to determine the breakdown of mourning throughout each name-bearing corpus. Since psychoanalytic hermeneutics, which remains inseparable from Freud's works, is the only context available for consideration of the place of aberrant mourning in a corpus, Rickels invokes this critical perspective at crucial junctures in his study. He is thereby able to delineate the precise contours, implications, and exclusions that the concept of mourning seeks to attain in Freudian psychoanalysis and in more recent psychoanalytic theory.

The problem of aberrant mourning, which has only begun to assert itself, demands further explication and illustration, and it is to this end that Aberrations of Mourning is offered. The authors Rickels analyzes were either part of Nietzsche's own select reading list or were themselves readers and, in a sense, writers of "Nietzsche." Rickels thus recasts a particular tradition in German letters, and poses the problem of aberrant mourning as a Nietzschean challenge to and within the Freudian system.

Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988

More than anything else in society, mourning must be diluted and distilled; the corpse is beautiful and the 'hardened survivors' odor free. Alongside this disturbed relationship to the dead, mass media culture conducts that endless work of mourning Freud called melancholia. ... The cult of the dead in any given culture is coextensive with the media extensions of the senses current in that culture. Psychoanalysis, our culture's institution of mourning, keeps open lines of communication with the deceased which are precisely lines of telecommunication. Freud's disinterment of the phantom voices of the superego, for example, coincides with the advent of phonographic or radio recording... just as photography and film project and animate those phantoms which, in Totem and Taboo, haunt those who are unable to grant the dead proper burial. 
— Aberrations of Mourning

This book shatters the iron collar of German Studies in America. Brilliant and articulate, Professor Rickels exercises a rigorous erudition over works ranging from Lessing to Artaud. It is as if these works had fallen under a spell, responding willingly to the relentless demands of a master reader. Laurence Rickels’s work marks a moment in what I would call the New Wave sensibility in literary criticism. In the era following Vietnam, schizonomadic thought, and the technological incursions of the media, Aberrations of Mourning offers an urgently timed meditation on our cryptological era.
— Avital Ronell

Minneapolis University of Minnesota Press 2011

Examining our unresolved relationship with death:
Aberrations of Mourning, originally published in 1988, is the long unavailable first book in Laurence A. Rickels’s “unmourning” trilogy, followed by The Case of California and Nazi Psychoanalysis. Rickels studies mourning and melancholia within and around psychoanalysis, maintaining that we must shift the way we read literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis to go beyond traditional Oedipal structures.

For Rickels, the link between technology and mourning isn’t merely Freudian and speculative, but also solidly historically grounded. In his excellent book Aberrations of Mourning, he points to the advent in the west of recording devices such as phonographs and gramophones before in fact mortality rates had been reduced by mass inoculation, even among the better off. Many middle-class parents, following the fad for recording their children’s voices, found themselves bereaved, and the plate or roll on which little Augustus’ or Matilda’s voice outlived him or her thus became a tomb. ‘Dead children,’ Rickels writes, ‘inhabit vaults of the technical media which create them.’ Bereavement becomes the core of technologies; what communication technology inaugurates is, in effect, a cult of mourning—indeed, Rickels even suggests replacing the word ‘mourning’ with the phrase ‘the audio and video broadcasts of improper burial’ . . . Researching my own novel C, which takes place during precisely this period of emergence, I found evidence everywhere to support Rickels’ claim.
— Tom McCarthy

This book shatters the iron collar of German Studies in America. Brilliant and articulate, Professor Rickelsexercises a rigorous erudition over works ranging from Lessing to Artaud. It is as if these works had fallen under a spell, responding willingly to the relentless demands of a master reader. Laurence Rickels’s work marks a moment in what I would call the New Wave sensibility in literary criticism. In the era following Vietnam, schizonomadic thought, and the technological incursions of the media, Aberrations of Mourning offers an urgently timed meditation on our cryptological era.

Avital Ronell

Aberrations of Mourning contributes to the vanguards of critical thinking by establishing connections not only between generations and cultures, but between this world and that absolutely other world: it continues the search for and recovery of those missing in history’s natural disaster—the disaster of nature.

Akira Mizuta Lippit

For Rickels, the link between technology and mourning isn’t merely Freudian and speculative, but also solidly historically grounded…And the literature that emerges in the age of communications technologies—modernist literature—is this cult’s expression, its record, its holy script.

The Guardian

Rickels’s project is at once captivating and ambitious. Aberrations of Mourning takes an intricate look at significant figures in the disciplines of literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis.

Philip Roth Studies


Der "unbetrauerbare Tod": Der Verstorbene wird dem trauernden Körper einverleibt als unverdauter oder unbegrabener Leichnam, der wiederum das psychische Funktionieren des Überlebenden stört oder steuert. In Rickels kühner Herleitung finden die psychischen Störungen, die die fortdauernde Anwesenheit des Toten hervorruft, ihren Ausdruck als Schreiben auf den Krypten, welche gleichzeitig die Phantome übertragen. Damit entwickelt Rickels eine psychoanalytische Theorie des Spuks, die zugleich eine theoretische Abhandlung über Aufkommen und Wirkung der technischen Medien – von Druckerpresse und Photographie bis zu Telefon und Fernsehen – darstellt.
Rickels belegt seine Hypothese mit eindringlichen Interpretationen von Werken Kellers, Freuds, Shelleys, Stokers, Artauds und Kafkas. Obgleich er im Rahmen der Psychoanalyse bleibt, zeigt er doch, dass die mit der Beseitigung der Toten verbundenen Probleme sich nicht immer durch die Übersetzung in ödipale Ängste lösen lassen. In seinen Untersuchungen weist Rickels der Biographie erneuert ihren legitimen Platz in der Literaturwissenschaft, aus der Formalismus und Strukturalismus sie lange verbannt hatten.


Friedrich Kittler, Vorwort

A cult classic that explores the concept of "California"

Focusing on the changing image of the West Coast through such varied social and cultural artifacts as bodybuilding, group therapy, suicide cults, milk-carton images of missing children, teenage slang, and surf music, Laurence Rickels offers a dizzying psychohistory of the twentieth century as crystallized in the symbolic configuration called California and considered in relation to German modernism, national socialism, and Freudian psychoanalysis.
In "cultural clips" that fast-forward and rewind through a variety of images, disciplines, and time zones, Laurence Rickels explores "California" as both an empirical place and a symbolic configuration. Focusing on the changing image of the West Coast to study politics, sexuality, and the effects of mass media in modern culture, The Case of California is Rickels' dizzying psychohistory of postmodernity.
In California, Rickels locates 'the intersection between technology and the unconscious' and thus reconstructs the political front of pshoanalysis which arose to combat National Socialism. California and Germany, he contends, are two coasts of an era that 'lets roll' in the Enlightenment and continues to this day. Kafka is the 'ultimate Kalifornian'. The fall of the Berlin wall and the San Francisco Earthquake appear 'symptomatically in sync'. And the invention of the California teenager - the archetypical adolescent - begins with 'a certain central European refusal of death'.
As he addresses an array of popcultural phenomena, Rickels situates the Frankfurt School of Adorno Benjamin, Horkheimer, and Marcuse within the Freudian system - and within the critical boundaries of deconstruction. Along the way he explores music and sound, mourning and the charge of sexual abuse, group and adolescent psychology, female sexuality, the convergence of religious and hysterical conversion, and the shifting status of writing and literature brought about through the rise of 'reproductive' media such as photography, film, and television.

California is where unending mourning achieves its society-wide manifestation (or massification) as sado-masochism, where the death wish yields to death drive (which takes a detour via suicide), and where the femininity of mourning constitutes the group's secret agenda, gender, and desire. The psychohistory that documents the intellectual migrations to the most modern of frontiers cannot but unfold or fold out a psychology of the ultimate idol of Freud's second system: the adolescent or Californian. But the two anchorpersons for this special report on California - Kafka and Thomas Mann - have been selected, according to the bicoastal logic of this case, from among Germanicity's teenagers at heart. In between: television covers the ins and outs of this psychoanalytic investigation of a global conspiracy - the Californian (and German) invention of adolescence.
— The Case of California

The Case of California is one of the most powerful attempts we have so far to establish connections between contemporary culture and certain German texts that are inseparable from modernity.
— Samuel Weber

Rickels has written an important book reading psychoanalyis at the end of our century. His intent is to complete Adorno's refiguring of Mickey Mouse into his own Rickelsian refiguration of Freud's project.
— Sander L. Gilman

Laurence Rickels is one of the few theorists today who is able to think technology through psychoanalysis and vice versa . . . .With California as the site of this encounter, Rickels takes Freud to the beach and California to the couch, picking up, in many ways, where the Frankfurt School left off.
— Artforum

Provocative (and often hilarious), The Case of California explores the 'bi-coastal logic of modernity,' with California as one coast and Germany as the other. . . . Startling and brilliant.
— San Francisco Bay Guardian

Reading from an array of psychoanalysts, theorists, techno-cultists, psychic disturbances and juvenile converts, Rickels frames the dynamic transference of episteme, ectoplasm from Germany to California and its subsequent impact on the survivors of this endopsychic re-location . . . In California, Rickels observes an entire population of unmourned dead (from splatter films’ zombies to neo-Christian vegetarians and ‘impostor’ adolescents) building bodies to house and preserve the perennial youth (unyouth) of their post-paternal and trans-psychoanalytic culture.
— Akira Mizuta Lippit

(The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991)(University of Minnesota Press 2001)

Metropolis, California, artUS

Bela Lugosi may-as the eighties gothic rock band Bauhaus sang-be dead, but the vampire lives on. A nightmarish figure dwelling somewhere between genuine terror and high camp, a morbid repository for the psychic projections of diverse cultures, an endlessly recyclable mass-media icon, the vampire is an enduring object of fascination, fear, ridicule, and reverence. In The Vampire Lectures, Laurence A. Rickels sifts through the rich mythology of vampirism, from medieval folklore to Marilyn Manson, to explore the profound and unconscious appeal of the undead.


What is a historical fact? It is after the fact. With vampirism, in any event, history comes after to give definition to an unformed body of symptoms. If one could scan, on rewind, the facts and rumors circulating as vampirism, at any given time or over time – in real time – what we would find before us is the polymorphous confusion of activities and desires that go down and out and under the name of vampirism. There are many, many ways in which one can become a vampire, many ways in which one can exercise one’s vampirism. And there are many different parts of the body where the blood can be sucked.
— The Vampire Lectures

It’s the ultimate book to give to anyone who makes fun of you for liking vampire
novels or films.
— Anne Rice

Rickels mines the study of cult phenomena, including vampire attacks, burial rituals, and sexual taboos that are recounted in legends, literature, and folklore. This vigorous contribution to literary and paranormal theory collections will enhance the pursuit of often remote scholarship into mythology and sorcery.
— Library Journal

In the vampire’s attempt to come to terms with his own need to kill, he becomes a proto-Übermensch, a material/maternal disrupter of the paternal line of reproduction, a subverter of the Law whose only law is incest. Now, this may not be your cup of tea, philosophically or otherwise, but it’s a genuinely intense brew. In fact, it’s almost creepy.
— Erik Davis

By Mourning's Light, ArtForum
Portrait of the Vampire Professor

The International Psychoanalytic Congress gathered in 1967 to define the clinical concept of "acting out." Thirty years later, our society, which once labeled those who exhibited excessive aggression as delinquent, celebrates outrageous public behavior. In Acting Out in Groups, writers, literary theorists, and cultural critics explore therapeutic descriptions of acting out in relation to the conduct condoned, even encouraged, on daytime TV talk shows, at political rallies, and in performance. Through a deconstruction of "acting out, " this collection seeks a new; performative style of critical discourse that incorporates the exuberance and intensity of acting out for analytical ends. Topics include the Jenny Jones murder trial; the response of psychoanalysts to the acclaimed documentary Crumb; the place of the Berlin Wall and other national symbols in German life; and the roles of aggression and discipline in childhood development.

The Jargon of Inauthenticity by John Mowitt PDF

Psychoanalysis was a symptom of everything the Nazis reviled: an intellectual assault on Kultur largely perpetrated by Jews. It was also, as this remarkable revisionary work shows, an inescapable symptom of modernity, practiced, transformed, and perpetuated by and within the Nazi regime. A sweeping, magisterial work by one of the most incisive and interesting scholars of modern philosophy, theory, and culture, Nazi Psychoanalysis studies the breadth of this phenomenon in order to clarify and deepen our understanding not only of psychoanalysis but of the twentieth century itself.

Tracing the intersections of psychoanalysis and Nazism, Laurence A. Rickels discovers startling conjunctions and continuities in writers as diverse as Adler and Adorno, Kafka and Goethe, Lacan, H. Rider Haggard, and Heidegger; and in works as different as Der Golem, Civilization and Its Discontents, Frankenstein, Faust, and Brave New World. In a richly allusive style, he writes of psychoanalysis in multifarious incarnations, of the concept and actual history of "insurance," of propaganda in theory and practice, of psychological warfare, Walt Disney, and the Frankfurt School debates-a dizzying tour of the twentieth century that helps us see how the "corridor wars" that arise in the course of theoretical, clinical, social, political, and cultural attempts to describe the human psyche are related to the world wars of the century in an intimate and infinitely complicated manner.

Though some have used its appropriation by the Nazis to brand psychoanalysis with the political odium of fascism, Rickels instead finds an uncanny convergence-one that suggests far-reaching possibilities for both psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic criticism.

3 Volumes: Only Psychoanalysis Won the War, Crypto-Fetishim, Psy-Fi

Nazi Psych Vol 1sm.pdf
Nazi Psych Vol 2sm.pdf
Nazi Psych Vol 3sm.pdf

Nazi Psychoanalysis, which marks the final installment of my trilogy on 'Unmourning', is committed, over and again, to the excavation of a missing era in all its materiality. In the course of the dig, as they all rose to consciousness, the materials kept on putting in uncanny connections between so many of the split-off, discontinuous segments of our standard tradition or reception of good modernism, good psychoanalysis. The influence we now see come out in the wash of materials overflowing from the nonstop productions of the military psychological complex relies on a sense of audience that puts on Freudian ears to listen behind the lines: out of the noisy wear and tear of resistance there emerges one genuine line of influence, the kind that represents real change. A clean tranferential cutting in of 'the father', say, into the place of the analyst or therapist can promote the immediate cause of healing; but in matters of influence, a matter psychoanalysis alone made an issue of its science, also in the sense that there was no influence until we learned how to interpret for the transference, the resistance, the defense, the intactness of a foreign corpus inside another's identity or identification indeed symptomatizes a host or ghost of issues, but does not, finally, give the measure of any influence. The least likely place to look, therefore, which was where previous studies of the Nazi history of psychoanalysis and the psychodynamic therapies tended to start and stop, is that small band of certified analysts who stayed on in Germany after 1933 [...]
— Nazi Psychoanalysis

He brilliantly traces discourses on the relationship between pilots and their aircraft, spinning out all kinds of associations around men and machines, treating psychoanalysis as a kind of privileged discourse on the ‘ongoing technologization of our bodies’ that ran through the twentieth century.
— Paul Lerner

The author’s knowledge of his own writing seems to produce a form of textuality that is forever sliding into the category of materiality . . . The author of Nazi Psychoanalysis has sought to develop a style that holds the line between a concern for content and a preoccupation with form in order to fight the restrictive nature of the modern symbolic order . . . Rickels’ liminal textuality combines the normal position of the analyst and the dislocated situation of the patient in a mode of writing that is always-already becoming coherent/incoherent. This is the mark of what I want to call his post-modern schizo-style . . . Rickels’ schizo-style allows us to see how psycho-pathologies emerge from the same hyper-reflexive modern moment that gave birth to psychoanalysis itself.
— Mark Featherstone

Mark Featherstone in Ctheory Review
Michael Dorland in Culture Machine

Untote und Wiederbelebte, wohin man blickt: Der Literaturwissenschaftler Laurence A. Rickels führt in seinen "Vampirismus-Vorlesungen" Bram Stokers Vampirroman "Dracula", Sigmund Freuds Psychoanalyse und den zeitgleich entstehenden Kinoapparat zusammen - und wird dabei selbst zum Vampir

Bram Stokers Vampirroman "Dracula" erschien im Jahr 1897. Zur selben Zeit entwickelte Sigmund Freud seine Psychoanalyse als Wissenschaft vom Unbewussten, und es entstand als Illusion des bewegten Bildes die technologische Aufnahme- und Projektionsapparatur des Kinos. In seinen "Vampirismus-Vorlesungen" unternimmt der Literaturwissenschaftler Laurence A. Rickels den Versuch, diese drei Phänomene zusammenzudenken. Mehr noch, Vampirismus-Diskurs und Psychoanalyse sind für ihn eins, genauer gesagt: "Psychoanalyse und Vampirismus sind die miteinander konkurrierenden Wissenschaften des Untoten". Dazu kommt das Kino: "Zerschneiden, sezieren und zusammensetzen ergeben im Prozess des Filmschnitts einen Corpus, der durch Projektion belebt oder wiederbelebt wird." Untote, Wiederbelebte, wohin man blickt. Der Vampir ist das, was tot schien, aber nicht ist. Er ist das, was wiederkehrt unter die Lebenden, ohne selbst lebendig zu sein. Er ist, mit Rickels gesprochen, die Verkörperung unserer Unfähigkeit, zu trauern. Freud sagt: Um zu trauern, müssen wir von dem, was gestorben ist, radikal Abschied nehmen, sonst bleiben wir ihm unglücklich verhaftet. Der Name für dieses Verhaftetbleiben ist eben "Melancholie" und der Vampir führt vor Augen, welche Anstrengung es kostet, die Melancholie zu überwinden. Man muss, anders gesagt, um trauern zu können, das töten, was tot ist, oder, mit der dem Thema angemessenen Drastik: dem, von dem man nicht los kommt, mit eigener Hand den Pfahl durchs Herz treiben. Erst einmal ist jeder Tote aber Vampir, geht um, in uns und auf der Leinwand. Das ist die Grundkonstellation, von der Laurence Rickels ausgeht. In 18 Vorlesungen - im Original waren es 26 - montiert er den Vampirismus, das Kino, die Psychoanalyse gegeneinander: in wilden Schnitten und Überblendungen. Er zieht aus seinem Material steile Thesen ("Bei Rache geht es vor allem um die Unfähigkeit, sein lassen zu können, dass die Dinge passieren und sich als andere ausgeben"), schroffe Behauptungen ("Vergessen Sie nicht, dass Lust alles ist") und erläutert beziehungsweise suggeriert Zusammenhänge zwischen Post und Spionage, Medientechnik und Emanzipation, Bram Stoker und Ödipus. Es gehen dabei Lektüren von Büchern und Filmen, Rekapitulationen der Psychoanalyse, Andeutungen, Umdeutungen und mehr oder minder gewaltsame Assoziationen in-, wenn nicht durcheinander. Das Buch ist sich dessen bewusst, es unterstützt und unterstreicht in seiner grafischen Gestaltung nachdrücklich diese Unordnung: mit einer Vielzahl unterschiedlicher Schrifttypen, mit grafischen Pointen (die Anführungs- und Abführungszeichen verstehen sich ausdrücklich als Vampirzahnsymbole) und der buchstäblichen Überlagerung von Texten. Die Stärke, die Schwäche dieser Vorlesungen, die eine einzige Gedankenflut und Gedankenflucht sind: Rickels lässt nichts aus. Er argumentiert nicht, sondern behauptet. Er nimmt sich, was er braucht an Thesen, von Freud und Lacan (später auch Friedrich Nietzsche), um die fiktionalen Filme und Texte zu erläutern. Da wird kannibalisiert, inkorporiert und projiziert, dass es eine Lust ist. Und wahrlich: Nichts Vampirisches ist Rickels fremd. Von Stoker - Vorgeschichte des Vampirismus inklusive - bis Anne Rice, von Ed Wood bis Andy Warhol, von Tod Browning bis Ken Russell. Und nichts liebt der in Santa Barbara lehrende Rickels, dessen aufs Akademischste antiakademischer Habitus manchmal etwas geradezu penetrant Kalifornisches hat, so sehr wie die flotte Formulierung, das kalauernde Wortspiel. Manchmal kapituliert der von seiner Vorlage mitunter arg ins Rudern gebrachte Übersetzer Egbert Hörmann, dann wird in anderer Schrifttype das Original zwischen die Zeilen gestreut: "All this, by the way, can be and has been taken clitorally." Post-Punk-Freudianismus nennt Rickels das in der Einleitung selbst. Mal reißt es hin, mal nervt es kolossal. Kalt lassen einen diese "Vampirismus-Vorlesungen" keinesfalls.



Seit 1974 macht Ulrike Ottinger Filme, die sich zwischen fiktionalem Kunstfilm und postmoderner Dokumentation bewegen.  Ihre Arbeit umfasst zudem Fotografie und Theaterproduktionen, die international rezipiert wurden.  Laurence A. Rickels Buch untersucht vor allem Ottingers Filme vor dem Hintergrund der Geschichte des Kunstfilms, der, seitdem  Hollywood seine eigene Alternative produziert, in der Kunst und dem Dokumentarfilm weiterhin existiert. Die Studie verfolgt zudem das Ende des alten Europas und die euphorische Substitution dieses Verlustes in einer Welt der Differenz,  dem Aufeinandertreffen mit dem Anderen am Rande der Großleinwandkultur.  Rickels analysiert scharf Ottingers von Metamorphose und Allegorie gekennzeichnete Bildsprache und verknüpft ihre Arbeit mit einer psychoanalytische geprägten Medientheorie. Übersetzt v. Michaela Wünsch und Marietta Kesting. 

Nie hat sie sich davon dazu verleiten lassen, allein denen zuliebe zu arbeiten, die das lieben, was sie sehen lässt – und darüber neue Sprachen finden, wie etwa Laurence A. Rickels in seiner taghell seherischen Monographie -- Dietmar Dath

Laurence A. Rickels offers analyses of Ulrike Ottinger’s films, as well as her photographic artworks, situated within a dazzling thought experiment centered on the history of art cinema. In addition to commemorating the death of a once-vital art form, this book also affirms Ottinger’s defiantly optimistic turn toward the documentary film as a means of mediating present clashes between tradition and modernity, between the local and the global.

If the veil of journalism that automatically drops between the writer and the contemporary artist cannot be peeled away, then “peal” the veil, let its press of opinion, belief, appreciation, rejection ring out, up, in a “first contact” with the other that it displaces, conceals, but by which it must also be impressed, however ephemeral and mumbling the traces.
— Ulrike Ottinger. The Autobiography of Art Cinema

Ottinger’s filmic subjects—the marginal, the freak, the exile, or the nomad—find their way into the fabric of Rickels’ text; detours into tangential literary evaluations, psychological musings, lengthy quotations, and even interviews with Ottinger herself work together to form a word-montage augmented by Ottinger’s own photographic work. For instead of choosing stills from those films being discussed, Rickels intersperses Ottinger’s photographs taken before and during filming to underscore his thoughts on the films in each chapter. Paired with his textual journeys into numerous arenas from journalistic history to Freudian psychology to Thomas Edison, these photos remain not static, but instead take on a nomadic quality as they wander among the words. The passion for collecting identified as central to Ottinger’s work here has been virally contracted. Additionally, Rickels’ language—playful, impish, and at times even joyfully impudent—celebrates the natural artifice present in Ottinger’s approach to difference and the marginal.
— Carrie Smith-Prei

Angela McRobbie in Screen

Ottinger Updates:
Rest in Pieces, Texte zur Kunst
Magni-Fire Essay, artUS
The Untied, artUS

Milton’s Paradise Lost. Goethe’s Faust. Aaron Spelling’s Satan’s School for Girls? Laurence A. Rickels scours the canon and pop culture in this all-encompassing study on the Devil. Continuing the work he began in his influential book The Vampire Lectures, Rickels returns with his trademark wit and encyclopedic knowledge to go mano a mano with the Prince of Darkness himself.

Revealing our astonishing obsession with Satan in his many forms, Rickels guides us on an entertaining and enlightening journey down the darkest corridors that film, music, folklore, theater, and literature have ever offered. “The Devil represents the father,” Rickels writes in the opening pages, setting the stage to challenge foundational interpretations of Freudian psychology. The Devil presents not the usual fantasy of immortality, he explains, but instead provides victims with a paternal origin. Until their preordained deadline is reached, the Devil’s pitch goes, people will enjoy the pleasure of uninterrupted “quality time” without the threat of random death. Rickels terms it “Dad certainty”: you know where you came from and you know where you are going. Despite the grim outlook, Rickels keeps the proceedings amusing, with extravagant wordplay and buoyant prose.

A stunning cultural and psychological analysis, The Devil Notebooks shows how the prince of occult has been used—throughout history and across cultures—to represent people’s primal fear of authority and humanity’s universal suffering. Sharing this cultural moment with the idea of evil being bandied about in our political discourse, the supposed satanic influence of pop music on our children, and a wildly popular book series on the end of the world, The Devil Notebooks is a sweeping and timely work that sheds light on the source of human fear and dread in the world.

The Devil does not grant the fulfillment of the get-well or be-dead wishes of immortality neurotics. The Devil doesn’t give immortality – while every other occult figure extends life to the point of unsettling boundaries between life and death. The Devil gives a certain amount of time and the deadline. Artists, thinkers, even professors (like Dr. Faust) are given to appreciate the Devil’s grants of quality time, of a span of time uninterrupted by the randomness of death or by any other suddenly pressing inhibition.
— The Devil Notebooks

Cultural criminologists are likely to be attracted to Rickels’ attention to the expressive, aesthetic and emotional qualities of the Devil fictions he examines. Most importantly, his focus on the Devil as a figure of certainty is provocative precisely because it allows for the examination of a subject that has been marginalized in cultural criminology and criminology in general: the law-abiding citizen. As neither criminal nor victim but potentially both, the law-abiding citizen is the taken-for-granted background entity in the imagination of criminologists, particularly if criminology is defined as the study of crime, criminal and the criminal justice system.
— Anita Lam

The Devil Notebooks establishes the astonishing extent to which contemporary pop culture has been preoccupied with demons, succubi, possession, aliens, >sexuality of all kinds, and the end of the world. The Devil, then, offers up a counter-history of humankind—a history from below as it were—that Rickels deploys with verve in a truly fascinating and important study of how and why the world as we know it has gone to Hell.
— Michael Dorland

Encounters with the Devil: Devil Fictions and Demonic Writing, Anita Lam

For years, noted writer Laurence A. Rickels often found himself compared to novelist Philip K. Dick—though in fact Rickels had never read any of the science fiction writer’s work. When he finally read his first Philip K. Dick novel, while researching for his recent book The Devil Notebooks, it prompted a prolonged immersion in Dick’s writing as well as a recognition of Rickels’s own long-documented intellectual pursuits. The result of this engagement is I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick, a profound thought experiment that charts the wide relevance of the pulp sci-fi author and paranoid visionary.

I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick explores the science fiction author’s meditations on psychic reality and psychosis, Christian mysticism, Eastern religion, and modern spiritualism. Covering all of Dick’s science fiction, Rickels corrects the lack of scholarly interest in the legendary Californian author and, ultimately, makes a compelling case for the philosophical and psychoanalytic significance of Philip K. Dick’s popular and influential science fiction.

If the andy is our close-to-home tendency to repress mourning in the course of building up the in-group bonds of rebellion and denial, then the Und of mourning, we must admit, doesn’t come easy; it comes toward us – for example via mutation across species – as the other, the answering other.
— I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick



A Deleuzoguattarian rhizome that deterritorializes a wide array of psychic, anthropological and literary assemblages, I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick is the most compelling and philosophically creative book in the growing library of PKD Studies.
D. Harlan Wilson

Rickels does not force the fictions into the mold of his mostly psychoanalytic concepts, but rather bounces the concepts off the texts and leaves the reader to work out what they have dislodged.
— Science Fiction Studies

Rickels does not merely invite readers to see Dick’s work the way he does; instead, the theoretical framework invites a broader vision that includes and projects outward from science fiction and fantasy.
— Studies in Popular Culture

Aside from its perfect fit of critic and subject, Laurence A. Rickels’ book provides the most thorough and exhaustive reading of Philip K. Dick’s literary work that exists. He goes through all the novels literally, both the science fiction works and the so-called mainstream novels Dick did not publish in his lifetime. The reader of science fiction should welcome a book like this, which is both knowledgeable of the SF tradition and creatively analytical. I could not put this book down once I began to read it.
— George Slusser

If the purpose of any interpretation is to build a case, then on some level Rickels – though obviously creating a ‘corpus’ of work whose sole trajectory is to breach the realm of the dead – does the opposite; he unravels, unearths (note the prefix) those universes that lie entombed, inside us. What emerges above all are the terrible introjections that are shared across Dick’s novels, the I that is abyssal, death that ‘indwells’ (p. 340) organisms and systems, our ‘inevitable grounding – our being ground up – inside the tomb world’ (p.343). Looking at ‘y(our)’ work, Dick, Rickels, the cracks that open up dispel whatever border lines there might be between the living and the (un)dead, or, as it may be, reality and hallucination; writing is urged toward or ‘over and über’ death, the tomb worlds with which contact is established.
– parallax

Gerry Canavan in Novel


Lässt sich aus der Figur der Seelenprüfung, die Daniel Paul Schreber in seinen Denkwürdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken entwickelte, in den Werken von Philip K. Dick, Aby Warburg, Ludwig Binswanger, Ian Fleming und Melanie Klein ein gemeinsames Gedankenexperiment ableiten? Ja.Mit Hilfe symptomatischer Metabolisierungen dessen, was Freud als Realitätsprüfung bezeichnete, führt Rickels die Androiden-Bilder der Pop-Kultur, den Empathie-Test für Menschlichkei und Ian Flemings James Bond gekonnt zusammen. Die Konfrontation mit der Wirklichkeit des Verlusts erweist sich hierbei als signifikant. Im Kontext von Dicks Werk legt Rickels die Ruinen der Realitätsprüfungen frei, die im Leid animalischer und psychotischer Subjekte erkennbar sind und Verlust implizieren. Er verweist dabei auf einen Ansatz zur Überwindung eines zerstörerischen Bestandteils der jüdisch-christlichen Traditionen des Speziesismus. Ian Flemings James Bond-Erzählungen stellen im Kampf von Autor und Protagonist um die inne15re Welt einen Versuch zur Abgrenzung gegen den Verlust dar. Auch in Melanie Kleins Auseinandersetzung mit Hamlet muss die innere Welt , als Kernpunkt psychischer Realität, mittels Realitätsprüfung durch Trauer gegen Angriffe des Verlusts in der äußeren Welt verteidigt werden.


Ian Fleming whittled the effigy of James Bond out of his experiences with the British naval intelligence during World War II. After the publication of his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1952, 007 quickly became a cultural icon in the Cold War and a fixture in our collective consciousness. In SPECTRE, Laurence A. Rickels examines Fleming’s novels and film adaptations like never before, looking awry at Bond through the sieve of psychoanalytic theory, history, and Kulturindustrie. Within the Bond universe, SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) is the global terrorist organization run by supervillain Ernst Stavro Bloefeld. Fleming added SPECTRE late in the game for the crossover into the film medium. The ghostly amalgam of perpetrators and victims of the Nazi era, SPECTRE deconstructs and manipulates the opposition of the Cold War, its repression of the recent past, in order to promote the welfare of an organization that is in every sense an underworld. For Rickels, SPECTRE is a theoretical apparatus whereby he monitors and measures the flows, intensities and codings of the Bond universe while using it to read other texts, ranging from the writings of Goethe, Shakespeare and Derrida to the post-Freudian theories of Melanie Klein. This visionary, richly allusive study breaks new ground while extending ideas developed in such works as Aberrations of Mourning and Nazi Psychoanalysis. Rickels’ approach is at once playful and pointed as he looms over Bond and lays him bare on the chaise.

Contemporaneity is the signature of every Bond film, although each time engineered “anew.” This commemorates Fleming’s own hard-won ability (asserted in time for the transfer to film) to mix it up with the uninvited leftovers of the recent past. It is by the mourning work of integration that history itself becomes contemporary.


Laurence A. Rickels schreibt in diesem Buch die deutsche Literaturgeschichte anhand der Erkenntnisse und Inhalte dessen, was Sigmund Freud die "Unterwelt der Psychoanalyse" nannte, um.

In seinem Artikel "Zur Geschichte der psychoanalytischen Bewegung" aus dem Jahr 1914 identifizierte Freud diesen Ort als das Objekt des Widerstands zu seiner Theorie schlechthin. Die Studie verfolgt die gespenstische Unterwelt – als Theorie der "Untrauer", die sich an Freuds Interpretation des Unheimlichen orientiert – in den Werken Goethes, Lessings, Luthers und Nietzsches sowie in Freuds Gesamtkorpus selbst. Dieser Band ist eine Wiedereinführung der deutschsprachigen Leserschaft in den von Rickels mit seinem maßgebenden ersten Buch Aberrations of Mourning herbeigeführten theoretischen Paradigmenwechsel. Es ist eine Interpretationsart, die zwischenzeitlich neue Pfade des Einflusses und der Unterstützung beschritten hat. Tom McCarthy beispielsweise nannte Aberrations of Mourning als Inspiration für seinen 2012 auf Deutsch erschienenen Roman K.

In I Think I Am. Philip K. Dick, Laurence A. Rickels investigated the renowned science fiction author’s collected work by way of its relationship to schizophrenia (as concept and condition). In his new book, Germany. A Science Fiction, he focuses on psychopathy as the undeclared diagnosis implied in flunking the empathy test. The switch from psychosis to psychopathy as an organizing limit opens up the prospect of a genealogy of the Cold War era, which Rickels begins with a reading of Dick’s The Simulacra and follows out with readings of Simulacron 3, Fahrenheit 451, The Day of the Triffids, This Island Earth, Gravity’s Rainbow, and many other genealogical stations.

Nazi Germany hosted the first season of realization of science fantasy with the rocket at the top of this arc. After WWII, the genre had to delete the recent past and begin again within the new Cold War opposition. Certainly the ancestral prehistory was still intact (as seen in the works of, for instance, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells). But at the bulk rate of its generic line of production, SF would henceforth become native to the Cold War habitat.

This study addresses the syndications of the missing era in the SF mainstream, the phantasmagoria of its returns, and the extent of the integration of all the above since some point in the 1980s. Rickels works through the preliminaries of repair that must be met in a world devastated by psychopathic violence before mourning can be even a need. While I Think I Am was the endopsychic allegory of Dick’s corpus, Germany takes the corpus as a point of context for the endopsychic genealogy of the post-WWII containment and integration of psychopathy.

"It is that literature of the purge that Rickels finds so complex and fascinating and that he works to explicate in this explosion of a book." —SFRA Review

"Combining the psychoanalytic vocabulary of Jacques Lacan with the deconstructive methods of Jacques Derrida, Rickels arrives at a deconstruction of psychoanalysis not unlike the 'schizoanalysis' of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. At its best, Rickels’ prose is a vehicle of pithy brilliance, but his skill as a close reader is what makes Germany: A Science Fiction most compelling." —Rain Taxi

"Germany is not necessarily a work of consolation so much as it experimentally aims to establish ways of thinking about the preliminaries of repair. Rickels formulates a methodology that constitutes and is constituted by a paradox of absence and loss. . . . [A] galvanizing critique, Germany is haunted by trajectories of doppelgängers that comprise 'the continuity shot of German science fiction'—from vampires and robots to the V-2 rocket, from Romanticism to Modernity, from Germany to California." —Extrapolation

"Germany: A Science Fiction is based on the idea that Nazi Germany was 'the first realized science fiction' and that all of the major themes in postwar sf—space travel, time travel, dystopias, alternate histories, etc. reflect the psychopathology of Nazism. In other words, Rickels argues that the history of sf cannot be properly understood without taking into account its inherent yet (until now) overlooked Nazi component." —Science Fiction Studies

"It could be said that each of the fictions in Rickels’ treatment present an allegorizing logic meant to contain the disaster of the failure to mourn. In two senses: of the 'disaster' in and as the repeated failure of mourning, and of the disastrous real of mourning as failure, a constitutively impossible obstacle to mourning’s ownmost possibility. Rickels is as univocal as Freud in this regard: because death is, for the unconscious, an impossibility, it is always in the context of the encounter of mourning that this impossibility is repeatedly staged . . . Rickels' work continues to seek where it cannot help but find, to our uncanny bewilderment and edification, the catastrophe in our midst." —theory@buffalo


The Psycho Records

The Psycho Records follows the influence of the primal shower scene within subsequent slasher and splatter films. American soldiers returning from World War II were called "psychos" if they exhibited mental illness. Robert Bloch and Alfred Hitchcock turned the term into a catch-all phrase for a range of psychotic and psychopathic symptoms or dispositions. They transferred a war disorder to the American heartland. Drawing on his experience with German film, Hitchcock packed inside his shower stall the essence of schauer, the German cognate meaning "horror." Later serial horror film production has post-traumatically flashed back to Hitchcock's shower scene. In the end, though, this book argues the effect is therapeutically finite. This extensive case study summons the genealogical readings of philosopher and psychoanalyst Laurence Rickels. The book opens not with another reading of Hitchcock's 1960 film but with an evaluation of various updates to vampirism over the years. It concludes with a close look at the rise of demonic and infernal tendencies in horror movies since the 1990s and the problem of the psycho as our most uncanny double in close quarters.


James Reich
Sensitive Skin Contributors 2016 Favorites – Books, Movies, TV, Art, Performance and Music – Reasons to Live

Laurence A. Rickels’ The Psycho Records, Wallflower Press
The most interesting, challenging, and eclectic psychoanalytic theorist of our time, Larry Rickels puts the serial killer, the voyeur, killer mascots, slashers and zombie fathers under his Freudian lamp. There is no writer who works the seams of between academia and B-culture with Rickels’ intelligence and connoisseurship.


Times Literary Supplement Review

Audio Interview_Laurence A. Rickels, "The Psycho Records" (Wallflower Press, 2016)

The Blot: A Supplement

In this supplement to Jonathan Lethem’s novel A Gambler’s Anatomy, the renowned novelist engages in a concerted transatlantic dialogue with cult theorist Laurence A. Rickels, exploring the vicissitudes of popular culture and the profound influence of Philip K. Dick on their respective lines of flight. Foregrounding the introjections between California and Germany, they address a range of ideas, subjects and figures, from B-movies, science fiction, Wile E. Coyote and the Devil to trauma theory, Freud, Hitchcock and German Expressionism. Animating their zone of interrogation is the “blot”—an algorithm of innuendo, an uncanny defamiliarization of reality and “truth” wherein the trajectories of meaning and desire fold into themselves like an origami in flames.

Introduction by Jonathan Lethem

Der integrierte Vampir (und was damit zusammenhängt)

Bereits mit dem Titel Geprüfte Seelen erweiterte der Autor den Begriff Integration im Rahmen der psychoanalytischen Theorie Melanie Kleins einer „inneren Welt“ aufgegebener Objektbeziehungen. Das Konzept einer integrierenden Trauer wird von Rickels in Der integrierte Vampir über D. W. Winnicotts Analyse asozialer Tendenzen konsequent weiter ausgeführt und auf das sozio-historische Problem der Eindämmung psychopathischer Gewalt angewandt. Rickels deutet die Aktualisierungen des Vampirmythos im 21. Jahrhundert als Figuren der Integration, deren Spuren er auch im Science-Fiction Genre der Nachkriegszeit ausmacht: in den Zukunftsvisionen „deutscher Science-Fiction“, die er als verschlüsselte Integrationsgeschichte Deutschlands nach dem Zusammenbruch des Dritten Reiches liest. Der Fokus liegt dabei auf jener der Fähigkeit zu trauern vorgelagerten Phase der Integration, die Klein als Wiedergutmachung bezeichnet. Im Wechseln zwischen Science-Fiction-Lektüren und Fallstudien zur modernen Kunst zeichnet die Untersuchung ein Portrait der Nachkriegswelt, das weder die Zerstörung noch die unhaltbaren Assoziationen außer Acht lässt, die auf den Spuren der Trauer entstehen und die eine Wiedergutmachung nachzeichnen muss. Im Schlusskapitel über die Kunstaustellung „Checkpoint California“ übernimmt „Kalifornien“ die Rolle der „Science-Fiction“ im Diskurs über die Integration Deutschlands.

Critique of Fantasy, Vol. 1: Between a Crypt and a Datemark

Critique of Fantasy, Vol. 1: Between a Crypt and a Datemark addresses both the style or genre of fantasy and the mental faculty, long the hot property of philosophical ethics. Freud passed it along in his 1907 essay on the poetics of daydreaming when he addressed omnipotent wish fantasy as the source and resource of the aspirations and resolutions of art, which, however, the artwork can never look back at or acknowledge. By grounding his genre in the one fantasy that is true, the Gospel, J.R.R. Tolkien obviated and made obvious the ethical mandate of fantasy’s restraining order.

With George Lucas’s Star Wars we entered the borderlands of the fantasy and science fiction genres, a zone resulting from and staggering a contest, which Tolkien inaugurated in the 1930s. The history of this contested borderland marks changes that arose in expectation of what the new media held in store, changes realized (but outside the box of what had been projected) upon the arrival of the unanticipated digital relation, which at last seemed to award the fantasy genre the contest prize.

Freud’s notion of the Zeitmarke (datemark), the indelible impress of the present moment that triggered the daydream that denies it, already introduced the import of fantasy’s historicization. Science fiction won a second prize that keeps it in the running. No longer bound to projecting the future, the former calling which in light of digitization it flunked, science fiction becomes allegorical and reading in the ruins of its failed predictions illuminates all the date marks and crypts hiding out in the borderlands it traverses with fantasy. To motivate the import of an evolving science fiction genre, Critique of Fantasy makes Gotthard Günther’s reflections in the 1950s on American science fiction – as heralding a new metaphysics and a new planetary going on interstellar civilization – a mainstay of its cultural anthropology with B-genres.

Exerpt from "The Resistance of Friendship: Sigmund Freud, Laurence Rickels, and Sean Baker", Brian Willems

Volume One

For Freud, daydreams involve the past because they project an old, fulfilled wish out into the future. But when daydreams arise from the crypt, a different structure is involved. Initially developed by psychoanalysts Nicolas Abraham and Mária Török, the crypt is not a sanctuary for pleasant wishes fulfilled, but rather a vault for losses that are too traumatic to confront fully (1986, lv-lvi). Thus, when the daydreamer reaches back and pulls something out of the crypt to insert into their daydream, a different set of coordinates arises, a set of coordinates which is similar to Joan Scott's concept of fantasy echo, in which "Retrospective identifications, after all, are imagined repetitions and repetitions of imagined resemblances. The echo is a fantasy, the fantasy an echo; the two are inextricably intertwined" (Scott 2001, 287). Thus, rather than being about wish-fulfillment, the daydream is now retooled into a process for confronting often forgotten traumatic loss or, in other words, into a process for mourning. Thus, with the crypt, as Laurence Rickels (2020a) puts it in the first volume of his Critique of Fantasy, the temporality of the daydream gets turned into "the two times you get and the one time you forget"  (57).
            An example of the crypt from pop culture can be found in the movie Jurassic World (2015), the fourth installment of the Jurassic Park franchise. In the earlier films, attempts to create a theme park featuring genetically engineered dinosaurs are thwarted by the animals escaping their confines and causing havoc. Yet in the 2015 movie, which is set 22 years after the original, a fully functioning dino-theme park is in place, and the issues that plagued the first films have seemingly been overcome. Yet the original wish of a functioning theme park has actually not come true, which is seen in a moment of the film that features a crypt.
            Two brothers enter an out-of-bounds area and discover the ruins of the original park. They use the debris they find there to construct a Jeep and return to the main resort. Yet this scene is not one of wish-fulfillment in the sense that the 2015 park fulfills the wishes that business tycoon John Hammond had for opening a park in the original films. Instead, it functions as a crypt in that it is a storehouse for the trauma, death, and loss from the first films that have never been properly dealt with, hence the new park is not a complete success, but is ravaged by the same havoc as the original, as "The secret raptor provenance is the hot spot of betrayal and allegiance in the heroic saga waged among the creatures" (Rickels 2022a, 25).
            Although Jurassic World is usually considered a work of science fiction, this scene of the crypt is read as a moment where fantasy creeps in. The genres of science fiction and fantasy are not diametrically opposed to each other, as thinkers such as China Miéville (2009) and John Reider (2010; cf Willems 2017, 9) have pointed out, although in the case of Jurassic World the border crossing of the two genres is unique: it becomes a strategy for mourning.



Critique of Fantasy, Vol. 2: The Contest between B-Genres

In The Contest between B-Genres, the “Space Trilogy” by J.R.R. Tolkien’s friend and colleague C.S. Lewis and the roster of American science fictions that Gotthard Günther selected and glossed for the German readership in 1952 demarcate the ring in which the contestants face off. In carrying out in fiction the joust that Tolkien proclaimed in his manifesto essay “On Fairy-Stories,” Lewis challenged the visions of travel through time and space that were the mainstays of modern science fiction. In the facing corner, Günther recognized in American science fiction the first stirrings of a new mythic storytelling that would supplant the staple of an expiring metaphysics, the fairy-story basic to Tolkien and Lewis’s fantasy genre.

The B-genres science fiction and fantasy were contemporaries of cinema’s emergence out of the scientific and experimental study and recording of motion made visible. In an early work like H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, which Tolkien credited as work of fantasy, the transport through time – the ununderstood crux of this literary experiment – is conveyed through a cinematic–fantastic component in the narrative, reflecting optical innovations and forecasting the movies to come. Although the historical onset of the rivalry between the B-genres is packed with literary examples, adaptation (acknowledged or not) followed out the rebound of wish fantasy between literary descriptions of the ununderstood and their cinematic counterparts, visual and special effects.

The arrival of the digital relation out of the crucible of the unknown and the special effect seemed at last to award the fantasy genre the trophy in its contest with science fiction. An yet, although science fiction indeed failed to predict the digital future, fantasy did not so much succeed as draw benefit from the mere resemblance of fantasying to the new relation. While it follows that digitization is the fantasy that is true (and not, as Tolkien had hoped, the Christian Gospel), the newly renewed B-genre without borders found support in another revaluation that was underway in the other B-genre. Once its future orientation was “history,” science fiction began indwelling the ruins of its faulty forecasts. By its new allegorical momentum, science fiction supplied captions of legibility and history to the reconfigured borderlands it cohabited with fantasy. The second volume also attends, then, to the hybrids that owed their formation to these changes, both anticipated and realized. Extending through the topography of the borderlands, works by J.G. Ballard, Ursula Le Guin, and John Boorman, among others, occupy and cathect a context of speculative fiction that suspended and blended the strict contest requirements constitutive of the separate B-genres.


Exerpt from "The Resistance of Friendship: Sigmund Freud, Laurence Rickels, and Sean Baker", Brian Willems

Volume Two

…….One example that adds to the function of the crypt, while bringing us back to Freud, is The Mystery of Picasso, Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1956 documentary in which the artist creates his work on glass plates so that the camera can go "behind" the canvas to show the man at work. What makes this film science-fictional is Picasso's encounter with the technology of the production, including the whole set-up of the camera and glass plate, Clouzot counting down the remaining feet of film stock and pressuring Picasso to finish his painting in time, and the director at one point running the film in reverse "to redo or undo the painting process we just witnessed" (Rickels 2020b, 49). These inclusions of special effects within the film function as sites of fantasy, where unconscious wish fulfillment can take place,
In the words of Rickels (2020b) we find:

Pablo Picasso made no bones about the wish that he brought to his encounters with technical media, first photography, then film. It was to see conserved the successive changes going into a work, which are lost upon completion of the process. The mediatic prospect of simultaneity of visualization or remembrance was the place Freud marked in his book of analogues for unconscious thought. (47)

Yet the technology in the Picasso film has a slightly different function than how fantasy has been developed so far. Rather than acting merely as a crypt, these "special effects" also take on the role of Freud's mystic writing pad, since, as Rickels says, "Each station of the film is demarcated in the manner of the mystic writing pad lifting away one image from the screen to clear it for the next image in progress" (49). Freud's 1925 note on the "Mystic Writing-Pad" is based on a re-usable writing device, a wax slab covered with transparent sheets so that one can write something and then lift the sheet and the writing supposedly "disappears." However, the device is imperfect and traces of writing remain, prompting Freud to take it as "a concrete representation of the way in which I tried to picture the functioning of the perceptual apparatus of our mind" (Freud 1961, 232). The glass plate in the Picasso film has a similar role. The artist works and re-works his pictures over and over, for example starting with a rooster and then ending up with a human face, although with a rooster partially visible underneath. This represents a different approach to fantasy since it focuses on fantasy's simultaneity, overlap, and doubledness, as seen in the multiple versions of a drawing all appearing together at once.

Critique of Fantasy, Vol.3: The Block of Fame

In The Block of Fame, Edmund Bergler, like the thirteenth fairy in the “Sleeping Beauty,“ uninvited because there wasn’t an extra place setting, crashes the psychoanalytic poetics of daydreaming with a curse. He charges that the overview, according to which art making rarefies daydreaming and delivers omnipotence, overlooks the underlying defense contract. We are hooked to creativity, because it offers the best defense against acknowledging the ultimate and untenable masochistic wish to be refused. Bergler’s bleak view, which Gilles Deleuze alone acknowledged in his study of Sacher-Masoch, doesn’t make any overall contribution to the aesthetics of fantasying that this critique addresses. However, it is a good fit with the centerpiece of the final volume: the wish for fame or, rather, the recoil of the wish in the wreckage that success brings.

Following the opening season of mourning and the experience of phantoms, there is the second death, which is murder. In addition to the deadening end that can only be postponed – the killing off of the dead until dead dead – there is another second death that concludes the wish for fame with a ritual stripping of badges and insignia. Not only are the medals thrown to the ground and the sword broken, but a life’s work passes review. At the close of his career, Freud returned to the environs of the wish, the cornerstone of his science. While his disciples Otto Rank and Hanns Sachs carried out his 1907 insights regarding the poetics of daydreaming to illuminate, respectively, the mythic origin of the hero and the evolution of art out of the mutual daydream, Freud battened down for the end of his world by revisiting the so-called primal fantasy, the myth of the primal father, in Moses and Monotheism. The animal setting that was a given of its premier articulation in Totem and Taboo was a wrap this time around with Freud’s translation of Marie Bonaparte’s transference gift, a memoir recounting her premature mourning for her sick chow and the dog’s recovery from cancer of the jaw.

In Bergler’s unconscious system, plagiarism is the conscious variation on the block basic to authorship. Theodor Adorno interpreted the ascendancy of the culture industry leading to and through the Third Reich in terms of the theft of modernism’s critical strategies for promoting the transformation of wish fantasy into the social relation of art. In the course of writing his essay “Notes on Kafka” between 1942 and 1952, Adorno was able to reclaim for aesthetic theory after Auschwitz the “constellation” that he and Benjamin had originally developed to outlast the culture industry’s depravation of the hopefulness of wishing. Adorno gives the sense or direction of the constellation’s recovery when he argues that Kafka’s work stages the final round of the contest between fantasy and science fiction by extrapolating doubling and déjà vu as the portals to a collective future.

The wish for fame or to be refused it and the wish to steal this book or undo the delinquency demarcate the final movement of the third volume, which follows out, beginning with Susan Sontag and Gidget, a veritable Bildungsroman of the post-war era’s star, the teenager. Fantasying to make it big time means to be in training for big ideas and big feelings. The romance of fantasying was also reconfigured out of a station break. The Nazi elevation of youth to superego in the Heimat of the Teen Age neutralized adolescent innovation by forgoing the Hamletian stage of metabolization of the death wish. Switching to the other patient, the other teenager at heart, no longer the German but now the American or Californian, this study enters the termination phase of the analysis in the environs of a reach for the stars that is legend. It is the legend to the final volume’s mapping of our second nature as daydreamer believers.


Exerpt from "The Resistance of Friendship: Sigmund Freud, Laurence Rickels, and Sean Baker", Brian Willems

Volume Three

……….In 1949 a teenaged Susan Sontag visited Thomas Mann in Los Angeles. Just sixteen at the time (although she had graduated from high school a year earlier), Sontag had thought The Magic Mountain one of the great works of art, yet when she finally met the author, she was filled with shame at Mann's facileness. While this example might be taken as Sontag daydreaming about what Mann would be like based on a wish she had had when she was younger, Rickels' reading of the scene does not stop there: he intersperses this event with a totally different text, an analysis of the way the Gidget novels and films upend their expected beach-blanket banality with references to the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Keats, Shelley, and Vittorio de Sica. These two examples are mixed together to such a degree that we end up with passages such as the following, which represents the multilayers of the writing pad, or the transitional object that will not let one side let go of the other:

The Sontag who graduated from North Hollywood High School at age fifteen might be characterized, like the subtitle to Gidget, as the little girl with big ideas. Little, however, in the sense of young: Sontag was the tallest girl in her class. Just as Kathy Kohner a.k.a. Franzie Hofer a.k.a. Gidget was mediated as somewhat laughable, though charmingly so, through the midlife criticism of her father Frederick Kohner, who, as the author of the 1957 coming-of-age book, mimicked and ventriloquated her, so teen Susan, as recalled by Sontag from the other shore of fulfillment of the wish to be an important intellectual author, is a touch ridiculous for the purity of her aspiration to become the big-ideas version of herself. (Rickels 2021, 124)
This passage in Rickels is a key point in connecting the daydream, crypt, and transitional object with friendship. All of these concepts are about the work done in order not to let go. The text about Sontag is not just mixed with that about Gidget, but rather when one appears it does not displace the other; in fact, it demands that the other stay. Therefore, rather than becoming about replacement or subsumption, Rickels stylistically creates a text as transitional object, having properties of both one text and another.


New York Review of Books