Critique of the Subconscious

We have a hard time working without some notion of the subconscious, yet we are also prone to conventional assumptions. The model of the subconscious that we tend to develop is rather “Hollywood” despite our best intentions. Let’s here attempt to propose a better model of the subconscious.

First of all, there is no reason to assume that the subconscious is somehow a different portion of the brain. The Hollywood version we are often stuck with — well, everything is wrong about that — but, for one thing, it assumes that the subconscious constructs an alternate world via independent means. But our minds are not split into two parts, the subconscious operates in the very same region.

The whole “wish fullfilment” thing is wrong too, or rather, by extension of the above. The subconscious is not an attempt to “reprocess” the conscious experiences of the day, it does not “add onto” the conscious experience. There is the notion that the subconscious takes up and rearranges and adds to our conscious expereince, but this cannot be so.

The fact that this Hollywood subconscious is so pervasive definitely points to something. And this isn’t written from the perspective of someone who has, you know, always been above it all, always known — this is a recognition of my own error. I had unwittingly espoused such a model, not even realizing that it needed to be questioned. This moment feels like a “Eureka!” sort of moment because in retrospect, I ask myself, “Did I really believe in that??”

But — as we were saying, we need some concept of the subconscious because we often do not want to own up to all the things that we do. Well, there are other reasons t00 — as an explanation for certain behaviours, perhaps. Furthermore, we need the subconscious to explain that sense of unthinking naturalness with which we do things. But really, that’s simply just operating by memory. That is, we need not assume an a priori, natural doing, simply because we always do before we think, simply because everything we do is in fact. “natural”, by this observation. In other words, the vast majority of cases, when we say, “subconsciousness”, “memory” is enough, doing by memory.

The subconscious, as a concept, is so familiar to us that we readily look to it as an explanation of many of our experiences. But I want to suggest, instead, two alternative thinkings: (1) Rememberance &  (2) The liminal condition.

Rememberance — Rememberance is the experience of “remembering clearly”. We won’t call it a “flashback or anything”, but rather, I think this is what we called, earlier, “counternarratives”. Counternarratives seems to suggest some kind of leftist political agenda, but actually it is simply understanding itself. To understand something — that means, to cut into it, to, yes, read everything, but also to focus and to differentiate between things. Understanding is paradoxically comprehension (that is, to grasp, to comprehend everything) and focus — and this is because it understands certain things as unimportant even while interpreting precisely. I guess my point here is simply that understanding includes understanding something as unimportant.

So understanding is always “against” something, to the extent that any personal entering into the work reads “violently” in this way. This is differentiated from a kind of mere “processing”, where such a incisive differentiation (between the important and the unimportant, the focus of understanding) is not made. The point is that all understanding (in the strong sense) consists of counternarratives.

Thus, understanding is related to remembrance, a kind of vivid recollection, the image at the core of the counternarrative. This is a consequence of our above claim that, well, the subconscious doesn’t exist. Rememberance is always related to the remembering of the latent operation of a possibly repressed “counter-consciousness” — that is true, but it is itself also an event, and in fact the origin of the subconsciousness. This is actually a necessary consequence of the fact that the Hollywood subconscious doesn’t exist. That is, as a “proof”, consider: even though rememberance is the remembering of a latent counter-narrative, we are assuming that the subconscious does not in fact exist. Thus, that latent counternarrative was planted there, precisely by the moment of remembrance, which is a vision that comprehends or holds together these two conflicting moments.

Liminal condition — If the subconscious does not exist, than the liminal condition, where one holds a paradox together, is the origin, and of utmost importance. We will want to talk about that Keatsian line, “Fled is that music — do I wake or sleep?” — TBC


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