THE MIND AS STORYTELLER: The Paranoiac Critical Essays

Josh Sonnier

In Freud’s treatment of the uncanny, a distinction is drawn between the uncanny as it is experience in fictional contexts as opposed to ‘real life.’ The uncanny is observed more in stories because it is a useful tool in story construction. What better way to trip up the reader than pester him with the “creeping dread,” described by Freud, during the telling of the story? If a character needs to be more interesting, simply reveal, through clever twist or explicit statement that the person is not who they were thought to be. “Dear lord man! Do you mean to tell me that your wife, that radiant creature seated quietly in the salon, is actually a man? And a German, to boot! The Admiral will hear of this!” The preceding events in the story must now be reexamined in light of this new development. Comments that might earlier have gone unnoticed now warrant deeper consideration. The reader, and probably the other characters in the story now wonder “What does those words mean, coming as they did from the mouth of a FrauwhoisnotaFrau?”

In real life, the uncanny event is relatively rare, or suspects it would instead be called ‘the everyday occurrence.’ However, Freud’s description of the storyteller’s role in the story is exactly that of a person exercising a personal system of symbols or library of archetypes:

“The story-teller has this license among many others, that he can select his world of representation so that it either coincides with the realities we are familiar with or departs from them in what particulars he pleases. We accept his ruling in every case.”

Freud is speaking of the willing suspension of disbelief, but the metaphor is clear. Each person is a story teller, expressing the daily narrative of personal experience in the language of his personal system of symbols. In this case, however, the teller is also the listener. Information enters through the senses, is translated and filtered by the array, and delivered in a shorthand form to the mind. The mind happily gathers the yarn being spun and only questions its veracity when forced to do so, by the uncanny response, for example. Like the library of archetypes, the story teller’s prerogative defines the underlying order of the tale. Dali, in his paranoiac critical essays, like Fish Pursued by a Grape, departs from the singular narrative. These pieces are referred to offhandedly as ‘stream of consciousness’ or, by the more negatively minded, “inexcusable and without merit, except as a deterrent for more of the same.”

The essays in this subset of Dali’s work are clearly Paranoiac Critical exercises. They are examinations of a specific scene and that scene’s mutation into myriad others, each less securely moored to reason than the last. In addition to the character of multiple imagery and the rest of the Paranoiac Critical Method's more obvious facets, these essays are an instruction manual. That is, they obey the letter of PC law—see only what is there, but see all that is there. The reader is given a bonus, however, as the spirit of the law is followed as well. Insofar as our daily perceptions are an internal, continuous narrative, they have the capacity to be PC narratives.

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