Saturday, 31 May 2008

Déjà vu: 'uncanny recognition' or 'perpetual return'?

Sigmund Freud first attempted an explanation of déjà vu in the Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), where he described it as a "perceptual judgement" which relates to the recollection of an unconscious fantasy and represents a wish to improve the current situation. Related notions of ewige Wiederkunft, or perpetual (physical or perceptual) return were already quite prominent in German and European thought by the time Freud was exploring his psychoanalytic understanding of these concepts. Consider the following quotation from Nietzsche's The Gay Science:

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.

And, also, see the beautiful poem, below, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, written in 1853/4, which inspired Jorge Luis Borges in the prologue to his friend Adolfo Bioy Casares's 1940 novella La invención de Morel/The Invention of Morel, which, in turn, has inspired numerous films, including Eliseo Subiela's magical 1986 movie Hombre mirando al sudeste/Man Facing Southeast.

Sudden Light

I HAVE been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turn’d so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.

[Then, now,--perchance again!...
O round mine eyes your tresses shake!
Shall we not lie as we have lain
Thus for Love's sake,
And sleep, and wake, yet never break the chain?]

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

If you would like to read more about Hombre mirando al sudeste, click HERE to access a pdf of the following article of mine: Catherine Grant, 'Giving up Ghosts: Eliseo Subiela's Hombre mirando al sudeste and No te mueras sin decirme a dónde vas', Changing Reels: Latin American Cinema against the Odds, eds. Rob Rix and Roberto Rodríguez-Saona [Leeds: Leeds Iberian Papers - Trinity and All Saints/University of Leeds, 1997], pp. 89-120.