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Cavell, M. (1997). Commentaries. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 45:721-726.

(1997). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45:721-726


Marcia Cavell

Consciousness, unconsciousness, the mental: triangulating concepts, each one of which figures the others. Freud's figuring is not always consistent. “In psychoanalysis,” he wrote, “there is no choice for us but to assert that mental processes are in themselves unconscious, and to liken the perception of them by means of consciousness to the perception of the external world by means of the sense-organs” (1915p. 171). This idea of Freud's makes for a fundamental epistemological difficulty that I turn to first. But, more important, it loses touch with what we mean by mind; and it ruts us in a Cartesian, solipsistic conception of subjectivity.

Citing the passage just quoted, Solms makes an argument the premises of which are, first, the Kantian claim that reality, inner or outer, is “in itself” unknowable, and second, that consciousness is, literally, an organ for the perception of “inner” reality (i.e., the mind), as our senses are organs for the perception of external reality. In short, the mental is both unknowable and unconscious.

What Solms should have concluded from these premises, however, is not that mental processes are in themselves unconscious, but that we can say nothing about them at all; in particular, what we had taken as evidence for the unconscious—parapraxes, dreams, and so on—is not; for there can be no evidence of any particular sort that allows us to describe the Kantian thing-in-itself.

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