God Is A Subliminal Columbo

A typical charge aimed at psychoanalysis by Marxists can be found In Mackenzie Wark’s newest book The Beach Beneath the Street:

If there is one abiding purpose to psychoanalysis, it is to make bourgeois lives seem fascinating, at least to those who live them…

This is not a fair characterization of psychoanalysis as the purpose of analysis is precisely the opposite.  That is, rather than attempting to transform the banalities of bourgeois life into mystified objects of desire, the analyst aims at exposing how these object of desire are just projections onto banality. This objective is something psychoanalysts share with anti-capitalists of many stripes, and a preoccupation with reification or how we mystify ourselves can be found in Marx as well as Freud.

Consider:  In his book The Essence of Christianity Ludwig Feuerbach described the penultimate object, God himself, as nothing but a projection.  He argued that people aspired to goodness, to love, to truth, to beauty, and so on, and that when these qualities could not be achieved, when mankind’s aspirations were thwarted, they projected these qualities onto the heavens. Presto! God was born.

What man calls Absolute Being, his God, is his own being. The power of the object over him is therefore the power of his own being.

In order to illustrate let’s take a look at Peter Falk’s Detective Columbo.  This is the character who Slavoj Zizek points to as the “detective supposed to know.” What Zizek claims is that Falk’s detective has the same relationship with his suspect as an analyst has with his patients. This means that Detective Columbo, as the analyst, is the object of transference.

Take the episode entitled “Double Exposure.” Robert Culp plays the part of the patient who is projecting.  He’s the villain, a Dr. Bart Keppel.  Keppel is a motivational speaker and a psychologist.  He’s something like a 70s version of Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, only while Bernays took Freud’s ideas to American businessmen, Culp’s Keppel is more of Skinnerian behaviorist than a Freudian. Keppel can just assume that people are consumers from the start and where Bernays would aim at changing the mass of men by shaping them into individualist identities, Keppel manipulates people in regards to their specific and individual purchases

The other difference is that Keppel is a murderer.

Keppel uses psychological tricks to commit his crime.  Specifically he places subliminal messages into a motivational film and then shows the film to his victim.  When the subliminal messages succeed in urging the victim to the lobby for a cola drink Keppel is waiting there for him with a handgun.

After the murder Columbo works on Keppel.  His job is to get Keppel to recognize his guilt, but not by demonstrating what the murderer already knows, not by proving the murder happened, but by providing evidence of the murderer’s self-exposure.  The clues aren’t really mistakes but disavowed confessions. What Columbo has to prove to the murderer is that he has already confessed.

Now, let’s try this one more time, and reconsider the plot of “Double Exposure” from a Feuerbachian or Marxist perspective.  Instead of considering Columbo as an analyst or a detective, let’s put him in the position of God.  Recall that from a Feuerbach’s perspective God is an image or projection that we place over a gap.  We are split off from our best qualities and God steps in for us. Now, in Double Exposure there are two Gods, or two images that fill the gap that breaks up the motivational film.  First Dr. Keppel used subliminal images of Coca-Cola bottles and ice to fill the gap, and then, at the end of the episode, Columbo cut up this same film and inserted himself into the gaps. He used photographs of himself to create the impression, the subliminal fear, of exposure.

Feuerbach would argue that Columbo exists because we project our self-knowledge onto him. Marx would claim that Columbo is actually brought into being by the real crime that we’ve committed, and Freud would claim that Columbo is our way of committing the crime. According to Freud we could never had done it without him. TC mark


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  • http://www.facebook.com/iamahmad Ahmad Radheyyan

    Man, it’s really weird to see an intelligent article on here. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1183680010 Samuel Walker

      It didn’t used to be.

  • http://twitter.com/FLYamSAM Denden

    But I thought Columbo was already playing the role of Socrates?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704016484 Joe Ott

    I really like the impetus behind this article. Be wary of the intrinsic pretension of the psychoanalytic subject–a topic you at least off handedly discuss.  Name dropping is the only think separating Zizek from a Kant type career, but if you heed a similar warning, I think that this kind of thinking has excellent potential. What you could do is make it about sex. Heres a great article on psychoanalysis and love: http://www.lacan.com/symptom/?page_id=263 

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      I think I do need to watch out for pretentious writing when I approach this stuff, and if some of the writers on TC tend too much toward the confessional perhaps I’m ducking that mode too much.  
      The link you provided is spot on but I’m unsure about what you mean when you say “namedropping is the only thing separating Zizek from Kant.”  Could you clarify that?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704016484 Joe Ott

        Well, the quality of discourse, complexity of thought, intriguing simultaneous innovation and similarity–all the things we love in kant–are all there in zizek. But his language is so couched in ‘name dropping’–by which I refer to the usage of names and concepts, many exceptionally complex, assumed to be known by the reader–that his prose suffers. His talent is different only in expression, as one can see during his oral presentations. Yes, this site is confessional; i think its the psychoanalysts dream…articles about what girls desire in other girls even though their straight? Lacan would have a field day.

      • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

        I haven’t read Kant’s own writing in something like fifteen years, however I think Zizek’s strength is his use of pop references.  If there is anything (besides a leaning toward Lacan and a desire to understand Hegel) that I’ve picked up from Zizek it is this.  So while Zizek may name drop often, he just as often will drop a cultural reference in that he’ll use to explain the concept.  And that’s what I’m attempting to do here, of course.   I’m not interested in explaining Columbo but in using Columbo to explain these ideas.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeffreyjamesskatzka Je Sk

        i don’t know if the “prose suffers” and i think they both–Kant & Zizek–do (albeit one early than the other) what is commonly done today, which is provide context by use of the popular or unpopular (i.e. the understood vs.  the arcane) ideas and motifs to better illustrate. today this, especially, makes sense. the recombinant forms are all there, have been there, and should be used.  similarly to what Douglas said below about not explaining Columbo, but using Columbo to explain. either way, you both are spot on. this is bad ass, but i feel like this should be on HTML Giant…maybe not. perhaps TC is the perfect place to discuss this. idk.

      • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

        I’ll look into HTML Giant, but I’m pleased to be part of TC. After all, my goal is to corrupt the hip and the young.

  • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

    Don’t have time to now so I’m saving this for after dinner:  can’t wait!

  • http://twitter.com/nuclearcabbage Nive

    Finally, I Get What I Want Out Of Thought Catalog. Yay-!

  • http://twitter.com/nuclearcabbage Nive

    Finally, I Get What I Want Out Of Thought Catalog. Yay-!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1183680010 Samuel Walker

    A true Zizek disciple, making anti-capitalist sentiments consumer friendly.

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