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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