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Simon Morgan Wortham – Auto-immune Narcissism

Event Date: 7 March 2013

Lecture Theatre E002, Granary Building,
Central Saint Martins,
London N1C 4AA

The Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) and the London Graduate School in collaboration with Art and Philosophy at Central Saint Martins present:

Professor Simon Morgan Wortham (LGS) –  Auto-immune Narcissism

For Plato, excessive sleep offends against citizenship and the polis. Kant, meanwhile, suggests that an undue propensity to sleep may give rise to premature death. Where sleepwalking is concerned, moreover, Kant finds it impossible to propose the ‘rules of conduct’ required by pragmatic anthropology. Hegel, meanwhile, considers sleepwalking an illness; and indeed an implied menace lurks deep in the heart of sleep. For if the retreat into itself of the ‘soul’ in deepest slumber seems inescapable, at the same time such a withdrawal establishes the grounds for the disorder that is somnambulism. Hegel’s own argument suggests, then, a profound sickness rooted in the inherent imbalance of sleep. Sleep is radically double-facing in Freud’s work. It serves the conscious wish to sleep and the workings of the unconscious at once, since the ability to hold down repressed material is reduced by a certain, unavoidable relaxation of energy during sleep, while at the same time dreaming expends unused energy or ‘interest’ in a way that is innocuous in terms of the wish to sleep. The difficulty of knowing in which or in whose interests one sleeps is therefore perhaps at its strongest in Freud. In ‘A Metaphysical Supplement to the Theory of Dreams’, dreaming is not just a means of wallowing in the deep narcissism shared by the ego and the libido alike; it is also a matter of tackling those unresolved psychic residues that threaten to break into and disturb the narcissistic dream. Crucially, this threat to the narcissistic indulgence of dreaming which comes from day-time remainders isn’t just a matter of external menace, because for Freud such residues acquire significance precisely to the extent that they retain a certain degree of libidinal ‘interest’. Thus, I argue, the dream sees narcissism defending itself against what are basically its own interests. For Freud, in fact, this may be what a dream is.

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