Laurence A. Rickels

  • True Blood, 2008–, still from a television show on HBO. From left: Pam (Kristin Bauer), Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), Chow (Patrick Gallagher).

    True Blood

    AROUND TEN YEARS AGO, I noticed that the vampires were changing. Whereas bloodsucking had been routinely interpreted in the earlier era as a metaphor for genital sexuality (which I always felt missed the points of the encounter), the vampire fictions themselves now began to flesh or flush out the pre-Oedipal blood bond with the fully sexual bodies of our undead neighbors—for example, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and Blade (1998). This normativization of the vampire was attended by narratives of race and class, whether as the total war between pureblood and merely “turned” vampires


    GREGORY ULMER WAS ONE of the first in his generation of theorists to focus on the technological moment in Derrida’s rereadings, at the same time noting the compatibility between his own rereading and what Freud called “the underworld of psychoanalysis.” Professor of English and media studies at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and the author of Applied Grammatology, 1985, and most recently Heuretics: The Logic of Invention, 1994, Ulmer kept his reception tuned to Derrida’s intervention at a time when decon entered university contexts and contests. But despite Ulmer’s overseas connection,


    SINCE THE LATE ’50s Michel Serres has been attending to the latest in systems of communication, and to their repetition and rehearsal of problems that still spill out of the archives or lexica of philosophy, literature, and myth. Technology isn’t only about machines; it’s built out of discursive building blocks that are also blockages, aporia that just won’t go away. Such is the problem of murder, which Serres sees as the initiating event and advent of representation. Is there anything new about the rep or rap given murder in our most current, media contexts of serial repetition? Or are we still


    IN THE ACADEMIC FAMILY romance, many studies and movements can claim the authorship of Klaus Theweleit. His Male Fantasies—a two-volume German bestseller from the ’70s, published in English by the University of Minnesota Press in 1987 and 1989—was the first in the corridors of scholarship to apply the tools of high literary criticism to all the cultural artifacts in the archive of a given era or concern, right down to the pulp of cheap soldier novels. In Male Fantasies, Theweleit read National Socialism’s sex appeal between and behind the lines of the fantasy construction of gender difference


    ACCORDING TO DONALD Kuspit’s owner’s manual to acting out in the arts, it’s possible to control the on/off switch to acting out’s motor or mechanism, the “splitting” Freud first tested in his essay on fetishism. Splitting psychs out loss or separation through split-level transmissions (now you see it and now you don’t) that “oscillate” (this is how Freud put it) “between neurosis and psychosis.” This splitting image of how, then, the trauma of loss “goes” (what’s absent is both identified and not seen) is what’s along for the drive in acting out, which since World War II has been the overriding


    Kathy Acker was on tour this summer and fall promoting her new book, My Mother: Demonology, a Novel. She interrupted the California portion for this interview break. What I’ve always found so strong and futural about Acker’s work is its close with adolescence, not as the phase or phrase everyone has to get beyond rather than stuck on, but as a channel that is always there, ready to be tuned or turned into, for example whenever you’re in groups. The force field she works is what Freud called group psychology. Acker’s work shows how the problems of adolescence or group psychology are always there, even or especially in one-on-one relationships. I’m thinking of her great dialogues (examples from Blood and Guts in High School come to mind), which are completely organized around the adolescent metabolism or perpetual ambivalence machine, in which making up takes turns with breaking up. It reminds me how over and over again we try to form couples, we try to be in individual therapy, we try to stay with the transference, and all the while we’re pulled back into the group, with all the problems we face being in groups. Adolescence is a blender: the teen rebounds between extremes and short attention spans (for example, between asceticism and sexual or self-destructive excess) because the two sides of parental guidance or identification—the mother, the father—need to be mixed into the assimilated identity of ego or group member. The building blocks of development—early identification, sublimation, superegoic sadism—get libidinally mixed up between couplification and group processes. It’s the group that permits teens to get around their parents, who are too out of it or off-limits to give them their sexual license, which they receive instead from the group. But even as their sex comes groupie-fied, teens receive another set of orders from the group—to form couples and reproduce (or reduce) themselves. Yet the group, reserves mega-ambivalence for the couples, which are the genitals of the group but which the group is ever dissolving back into itself. Group psychology isn’t just a symptom; it’s not a problem of masses that are already a measure or mass of psychopathology. We are in groups. In Acker’s work, language stays tuned to the ambivalence between groups and couples. It is a language that asserts identity, communication, then automatically group-formats the one-on-one.
    Art that makes contact with the adolescent turbulence inside us risks having outer work experiences with midlife criticism. That’s why the critical rep or rap always given works of ambivalence is that they’re adolescent. They’re then further name-called “perpetual,” “pathological,” you name it. Journalistic critics (I mean the pseudo types, like Camille Paglia, at the top of the best-sell-out list) forget the adolescent origin of their otherwise happy medium (which lies in the keeping of journals or diaries) while at the same time acting it out in the decontextualized, empty run of a short attention span. The deferred adolescents among us (who are at the one remove from perpetual adolescence that’s only a heartbeat away from crisis coming soon) interpret the Teen Age only one-way. But the always foreclosed other way is what adds the stereo context (that of ambivalence, transference, or reading) to our understanding of cultural—that is, cathected—phenomena. The mono turn-on that shuts down the stereo describes from the inside out the one readily identifiable form of adolescent acting out that is around, along for the writing, in open hiding inside midlife criticism. —LR

    LAURENCE A. RICKELS: Did your latest book start out with a particular identification or demonization?

    KATHY ACKER: It started out as my fascination with Laure’s work and with Bataille, and with wondering what that generation, two generations ago, was thinking. I was amazed reading her work that the same preoccupations I have are there too.

    LR: It makes it an amazing time-travel book because, as you say, the ’30s are back, like on the trip to Berlin which is any time, that is, one of the two times, before or after the Nazi station break.

    KA: The work Bataille and Laure were doing in the ’30s was


    ROSA VON PRAUNHEIM’S NEW MOVIE, I Am My Own Woman, made the rounds last year in Europe, showing up in just about every international festival and winning the Rotterdam film critics’ award. Scheduled to open officially next month in New York, it’s a docudrama about the life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, whose bio von Praunheim narrates in the following interview. Let me highlight or anticipate two omissions. First off, von Mahlsdorf (born Lothar Berfelde), while still an adolescent son in Nazi Germany, murdered her “militaristic, choleric, insane” father. Second, the antiques she has collected since childhood are from the Gründerzeit, the period roughly analogous to the Victorian period. The word itself means “foundation time,” and refers to the countdown of the upward mobilization and establishment of the German Reich following unification in 1871.
    This life story is another von Praunheim discovery, another forced entry into history’s forward march, one that gives pause for lasting documentation and testimony of countless facts or fantasies otherwise scheduled to disappear. Her life is a wound-erful readymade—a distillate of camp—washing up out of the unconscious of German monumentalism. It’s an other history or a history of the other that resists the standard forgettogether that today is German history in the making. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s claim to being her own woman or true to herself addresses and dresses up a unity or unification that still plays a big part in this history-in-progress. It is precisely the past she claims for or as herself that exceeds the whole: it’s the near-miss reunification.
    Rosa von Praunheim and Sergei Eisénstein were both born in Riga on the same day (but 50 years apart). This bio-rhyme across time zones forces a rereading of both sides of its mix and match (no dialectics, please). But von Praunheim also shares with the subject of I Am My Own Woman all the numbers and dotted lines you need to paint “one” self-portrait. Both came out with their own monikers in adolescence: they replaced their first names with feminine ones and their patronymics with place names, and bound together the new names, family-romance style, with the particle of nobility.
    In the following interview, held in New York on October 4, 1993, a composite picture of von Praunheim’s film oeuvre and the double history it lets roll is sketched out. You two can witness his full output this spring during the major retrospective (cosponsored by the Goethe Institute) that will be traveling to a series of U.S. cities. But in the meantime New Yorkers have access to von Praunheim’s films through the Donnell Library, and through First Run Features.
    Laurence A. Rickels is professor of German and Film studies at the Univeristy of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of Aberrations of Mourning: Writing on German Crypts (Wayne State University Press, 1988) and The Case of California (John Hopkins University Press, 1991). He is currently completing a study of psychotherapy under the Third Reich.

    LAURENCE A. RICKELS: Could you fill us in on the history of your new film I Am My Own Woman—how you came to make it, and, in particular, the background story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s life?

    ROSA VON PRAUNHEIM: If there is such a thing as a unique individual, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is one. That’s why it is difficult to lay claim to her as representative of German history (East, West, or reunified). Perhaps she can be compared to Quentin Crisp: a queen, a transvestite, who fought for her identity with a great deal of charm, gentility, courage, and endurance. And it’s wonderful to see Charlotte


    If postmodernity is postmarked (like the repressed according to Freud) “made in Germany” (SE 19:236), then California is its address, and techno-future."
    Laurence A. Rickels, The Case of California, 1991

    Laurence A. Rickels is one of the few theorists today who is able to think technology through psychoanalysis and vice versa; this assignment is crucial, because both technology and psychoanalysis are everywhere. 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—cut short (