Re: [OPE-L] Overdetermination

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Wed Dec 21 2005 - 13:34:39 EST

Apologies to all for the multiple postings of the other day and also for not
getting the formatting right.

Thanks, Ian, for your elaboration of what I alluded to in my post of
12/13 -- I suggested there that Freud's use of overdeteremination was
completely compatible with the characterization of him as a depth realist.
You have amplified as I could not have done.

I take it from the qualification to your sentence on 'constitutive
causality' you would not have any difficulty reading that phrase also, as I
do, as compatible with depth realism.  Resnick and Wolff tend to treat any
appeal to depth as simply reductionist.  But this is no longer possible and
one way of saying so is to refer to the constitutive causality of emergent
structures at different levels.

Thanks very much also, Antonio, for your comments on Freud and
overdetermination.  They raised for me a couple of fundamental questions,
and, ultimately, they raise the point I made above.  The methodology of
overdetermination seems an important way to deal with events.  This is
completely compatible with exploring determinations of depth.  What seems
problematic is to see a methodology useful for illuminating conjunctural
effects as exclusive and as foreclosing different approaches to generative
structure, or, more dramatically, foreclosing consideration of generative
structure at all under the guise that every such consideration must be
essentialist and that every essentialism must reflect epistemological error.

I have a couple of questions.  You say that overdetermination does not mean
the following:  "there is no reality out there, only interpretations."
Instead reality is complexly constituted and humans have a part in it.  Now
it's pretty hard to find anyone anymore who says there's no reality out
there, so let me ask this:  is there any aspect of reality for you which is,
as realists say, 'mind independent'?  Is there any aspect of reality which
is what it is independent of our philosophical, conventional or linguistic

Second, in the excerpt on the commodity that I posted from the New School
journal, Resnick and Wolff refer to communist commodities and feudal
commodities  and slave commodities and self-employed labor commodities as
well as to capitalist commodities and emphasize the point that meanings can
change because the determinants change.

Okay.  But how do I know a communist commodity is actually a commodity at
all?   We need some form of definition here or we are in the position of
defending "anything goes."

For example, I happen to think that there can be and have been such things
as socialist commodities.  I think the idea of communist commodities is
nonsense; like phlogiston it's a concept that can't refer.

But this is because within the framework of a set of background theories I
do define the commodity, and definition means some things characterize the
commodity and some things don't.

A last point, and I'll abbreviate.  My point about events.  The dream is an
event.  Suppose I have an erotic energy which is manifested in a dream but
the object of the energy is forbidden or in some other way unwanted by me.
So the dream expresses the energy as displaced.  The interpretation realizes
that the energy is directed to say a forbidden object.  Now there are all
sorts of things that can happen.  I can try to come to terms with what I
can't change, I can decide the prohibition is nonsense, etc.   But the point
is that the observable event, my dream, and my interpretation of it allow me
access to an underlying structure of mind.  It does not follow because the
event is overdetermined that the structure is.

A distinction between manifestation and effect is useful here.  A cause
constitutes a dispositional power that gives rise to a manifestation.  It's
manifestations may be multiple, and depend on circumstance.  But the cause
has the dispositional power to generate the manifestations it does.  This is
asymmetrical -- the cause generates the manifestation, not the other way

An effect, on the other hand, which may be the result of multiple causes,
may look very different from what the manifestation would be if the effect
were not overdetermined.  Gravity, which I have no reason to think
overdetermined, pulls heavy things to earth, but birds fly in air.

None of this, of course, precludes effects from themselves becoming causes
or causal structures from ensuring their own reproduction.

My point can be put this way:  I think you can make a persuasive case,
consistent with Althusser and Freud, that events are overdetermined.  It
doesn't follow, and I don't think it's been shown, that the underlying
structure that brings about the event is overdetermined, or that, if it is
multiply determined, that it is overdetermined in the Resnick Wolff sense.
Moreover whether or not overdetermination explains things other than events
is something to be investigated.  It cannot be declared as a methodological
a priori.



----- Original Message -----
From: "antonio callari" <antonio.callari@FANDM.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2005 6:03 AM
Subject: [OPE-L] Overdetermination

> 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
> interpretation.
> 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
> socialism/communism).
> >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
> >phenomena.
> >
> >-Ian.
> --
> 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:
> phone: (717) 291-3947
> FAX:  (717) 291-4369

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