2-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​c​r​y​p​t​.​2​-​1.1 | Rick­els | Sper­ber PDF

Lau­rence A. Rick­els | Images: Pola Sperber

Crypt Studies | Preface


By “crypt study,” I mean to emplace each read­ing in this dossier in spe­cial­ized rela­tion­ship to the “case study” genre. While the metapsy­chol­o­gy or sys­tem that Nicholas Abra­ham and Maria Torok sought to con­vey with their read­ing of the “cryptonymy” of Freud’s case study of the Wolf­man has been lost or inte­grat­ed with­in the host of re-read­ings of psy­cho­analy­sis after Freud, dis­crete insights into and images of the melan­cholic con­di­tion sur­round­ing the “crypt” have con­tin­ued to open con­demned sites of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. With the con­clu­sion of the last sen­tence, we have already entered, by metaphor, the rad­i­cal­ly anti-metaphor­i­cal sta­tus of melancholia’s crypts.

From the start of his the­o­riza­tion of psy­chic real­i­ty, Freud set melan­cho­lia apart, first as nar­cis­sis­tic neu­ro­sis (in con­trast to the trans­fer­ence neu­roses), then as psy­chosis at the front of the line of the ever deep­en­ing dis­tance from trans­fer­en­tial under­stand­ing and treat­ment. In rela­tion to schiz­o­phre­nia, for exam­ple, melan­cho­lia is the orig­i­nal bor­der­line psy­chosis draw­ing the line of leg­i­bil­i­ty between neu­ro­sis and psy­chosis inside psy­chosis itself. In my 2010 study of Philip K. Dick’s oeu­vre and its inter­texts, I tried to explore and con­struct, on an endopsy­chic-genealog­i­cal basis, if not in fact, the way in which melan­cholic encrypt­ment leads, like a kind of spir­it guide, to the sta­bi­liza­tion, encap­su­la­tion, and leg­i­bil­i­ty of such extreme psy­chot­ic states as Daniel Paul Schreber’s para­noid schiz­o­phre­nia. It was in his study of Schre­ber that Freud advised that the details of delu­sion­al for­ma­tion do more than reflect or illus­trate an inside view of the ill­ness itself; they con­sti­tute, as endopsy­chic per­cep­tion, a dupli­ca­tion down to these details of the very the­o­ry that under­stands the ill­ness on the turf and terms of psy­chic real­i­ty. Some­times psy­cho­analy­sis is what it talks about. And that is how psy­cho­analy­sis relates to, inter­nal­izes, or syn­di­cates out­side influ­ences and ref­er­ences. No longer will geneal­o­gy be pos­si­ble with­out this endopsy­chic rela­tion­ship to mourn­ing and its aberrations.

What Freud accom­plished in the short hand of the­o­ry over the read body of Schreber’s Mem­oirs was reopened by Lud­wig Bin­swanger in the long hand of phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy via his case stud­ies of the sep­a­rate words and worlds of psy­chosis. Fol­low­ing Bin­swanger, we learned how to explore the out­er space of psy­chot­ic ill­ness with the open­ness to detail and impres­sion that the first map­ping of an unknown ter­ri­to­ry requires. The immer­sion in the object of study, rather than the appli­ca­tion of the­o­ry, lends to crypt study, too, the qual­i­ty of encounter with the oth­er that upholds those stan­dards of leg­i­bil­i­ty which can­not be sub­sumed by expla­na­tion. It fol­lows, there­fore, that crypt stu­dents not only read bet­ter, but they also take more risks with their writing.

Nan­na und Chrishan

While the shell shock vic­tims of WWI intro­duced into psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic the­o­ry the upward mobi­liza­tion of dou­bling, it was the vic­tims of Nazi per­se­cu­tion who brought home the dou­bling of trau­ma to a point of no return, no return on the invest­ment in loss’s deposit, the point beyond or before metaphor and sub­sti­tu­tion. It is out of the lex­i­con of Holo­caust sur­vival that Abra­ham and Torok car­ried for­ward the con­cept of the crypt. While philoso­phers dur­ing and after WWII turned to psy­cho­analy­sis for their mourn­ing address, psy­cho­analy­sis itself delved ever more deeply and com­plex­ly into the study of mourn­ing until the over­rid­ing the­o­riza­tion to which this study hence­forth belonged became more accu­rate­ly com­pre­hen­si­ble as that of unmourning.

I will not sum­ma­rize in advance the stud­ies com­pris­ing this dossier. But I will sketch the out­lines of their diver­si­ty as a group. I do so because the authors invit­ed to con­tribute were not exog­a­mous choic­es, but are all, albeit in vary­ing degrees, my for­mer stu­dents. While four worked close­ly with me in Cal­i­for­nia, anoth­er was attached to me briefly in per­son as post-doc at UC San­ta Bar­bara. Two more attend­ed sem­i­nars I offered while guest pro­fes­sor at New York Uni­ver­si­ty, where they were the stu­dents of the oth­er leader in the field of crypt study, Avi­tal Ronell. Dur­ing my stint as ghost-Arbeit­er in New York, some­where between my past life in Cal­i­for­nia and the new prospect of a career move to Ger­many, I decid­ed to com­pile this doc­u­ment of a teach­ing, which, as the con­trib­u­tors in their own writ­ing intro­duce and mod­el, can be rec­og­nized as a new praxis.


In four stud­ies, a spe­cif­ic encrypt­ment of loss inside a lit­er­ary cor­pus comes under scruti­ny. Of these four, two sup­ple­ment the track­ing of the crypt with con­sid­er­a­tions of endopsy­chic geneal­o­gy (like the his­to­ry of media of which psy­cho­analy­sis is as much a com­po­nent part as a reflec­tion upon it). A fifth study con­sid­ers how encrypt­ment impinges on process­es of under­stand­ing with­in his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tives that are prop­er­ly aca­d­e­m­ic. Crypt study insin­u­ates itself thus as a new kind of psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic con­tri­bu­tion to the col­lec­tion of dis­ci­plines known as cul­tur­al stud­ies. One more study could be char­ac­ter­ized as a failed crypt study: in address­ing the trans­mis­sion of cri­sis, this study uncov­ers a phan­tas­mat­ic instal­la­tion of suc­cess­ful mourn­ing in the trap­pings of encrypt­ment, but from which the crypts of attach­ment have been evac­u­at­ed as con­t­a­m­i­nants. Final­ly there is a study that, fol­low­ing the trans­mis­sion of the crypt of more gen­er­al­ized trau­ma presents its results in the domain of metapsy­chol­o­gy, there­by con­tribut­ing direct­ly to the re-read­ing of Freud’s sci­ence. Thus the selec­tion con­cludes with­in the full range of what I have tried to mod­el as endopsy­chic genealogy.

While I was con­clud­ing the edi­tion of these texts, I had already com­menced teach­ing at the Acad­e­my of Fine Arts in Karl­sruhe. I encoun­tered in the art work of sev­er­al of the stu­dents attend­ing my open­ing sem­i­nar, “Ger­many. A Sci­ence Fic­tion,” oth­er open­ings into crypt study, which, though I would rather not iden­ti­fy them as such as yet, I nev­er­the­less add in jux­ta­po­si­tion to the text por­tion. I do so more in my capac­i­ty as cura­tor of group exhi­bi­tions than as edi­tor seek­ing illus­tra­tions. At this bor­der of uniden­ti­fied see­ing or the­o­riz­ing, I sign my pref­ace with affirmation.