[OPE-L] Overdetermination

From: antonio callari (antonio.callari@FANDM.EDU)
Date: Tue Dec 20 2005 - 06:03:06 EST

Hi all:
Freud used the concept of overdetermination in his Interpretation of
Dreams. As I read that text, the operational content of
overdetermination is given by the processes of condensation and
displacement--and it is in that context that, I believe, it makes
sense to read Resnick and Wolff's usage of overdetermination (my
claim, not theirs). Freud's text was devoted to the interpretation of
dreams: there certainly is an ontology there, the biology of the
brain, in which is included the idea that dreams (most of them)
camouflage themselves. But, beyond that very general causal
iddentification, the point of the book--at least as I remember it, is
that it is IMPOSSIBLE to have a pre-given interpretation of a dream
(a model), that one cannot know the meaning of a dream except through
the process of reading it (free association), in which any
images/memories, even if they seem insignificant, may hold a key to
an interpretation. There is no one dream image that can be said, in a
priori manner, to be more important than others. That is because, if
anxiety about a relationship (X) attaches itself to a dream, the
dream process is one in which: characteristics of X will be
displaced unto some seemingly unrelated object; and  characteristics
from X will be condensed, together with characteristics from other
relationships (Y, Z ..) into yet other objects. There is no telling
what the dream means for a patient without teasing it out of the
process of open interpretation; there is no model for sorting out the
meaning of a dream.  Nor, since there is no underlying ontology to
the dream (only an underlying general process), can there be any
expectation that the dream is reducible to a (one) meaning: different
interpretations can end up producing different meanings.

This has all sorts of analogies to the use of overdetermination in
its appropriation in Marxist thought.
It means that, while there is a specification of general social
process (that there are various processes: cultural, political,
economic, etc.) in the constitution of a social body, when we
interpret that society, (if we are using the mode of
overdetermination) it is not possible to fix the meaning of a social
event/process in an a-priori way, according to any one fixed model of
social relationships. The meaning emerges only out of a particular
process of interpretation and pertains to that process of
interpretation (there can be no ontological proof/status to it beyond
the general social process). Of course, there can be different
processes of interpretation, and this is where Resnick and Wolff's
idea of an "Entry point" comes: for a Marxist interpretation of
society, "Class" is the entry point into the process of

I'll leave it at this: I will add a few notes.
1)  This approach is not reducible to "anything goes."  it is, if
anything, understandable more as implying that "anything may turn out
to be important." (a very important principle for the process of
scientific discovery, not less important than the process of already
known/seen regularities, even in the physical sciences).
2. This approach is not reducible to "there is no reality out there,
only interpretations." It is, if anything, understandable more as
implying that "reality is complexily constituted and that the human
part in it--interpreting, working, playing-- is part of that
constitution" (something with scientific pedigree: the uncertainty
principle; and Marxist pedigree as well: human beings make the world
under conditions larger than themselves: the creation of class
consciousness, the creation of a class in itself, the creation of

>Hi Howard,
>One small observation regarding overdetermination and Freud. Freud
>made enormous strides in ontology. He began as a kind of
>neuro-physicist, but rejected the idea that what we can see when we
>open up brains exhausts the ontology of the mind. His creative
>modelling efforts to identify an embryonic information processing
>level of description (id, ego, super-ego, libidinal energy etc.) that
>attempts to explain various clinical phenomena, such as repression,
>are not only quite brilliant, but also primarily about conjecturing
>the existence of underlying mechanisms to account for visible
>behaviour, the stream of events. Freud's methodology and work is not
>at all connected to the idea of "constituitive causality", if that
>means there is no depth, no levels, no enduring dispositions and
>essences. One of his great scientific achievements was precisely to
>posit a hitherto hidden depth and verticality -- the unconscious, a
>collection of hidden agencies responsible for various surface

Antonio Callari
Sigmund M. and Mary B. Hyman Professor of Economics
F&M Local Economy Center
P.O. Box 3003
713 College Avenue
Lancaster PA 17604-3003
e-mail: acallari@fandm.edu
phone: (717) 291-3947
FAX:  (717) 291-4369

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