Tracing a tacit correspondence between Denis Theriault's Le facteur emotif and, through the work of Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, this essay considers how a speculative treatise published in 1920 and a Quebecois novel released in 2005 echo and elucidate one another in their lifedeath, prostheses, and epistolarity.
With its focus on dreams, doubles, and desire, and a protagonist with the sobriquet "Libido," the novel Le facteur emotif by Denis Theriault nods to the work of Sigmund Freud and lends itself to a psychoanalytic approach. This essay proposes a reading of Le facteur emotif with Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, but rather than espousing a purely psychoanalytic methodology, I propose a comparative literary interrogation of Theriault's and Freud's texts through and with Jacques Derrida's "Speculer--sur 'Freud'." Derrida's text (which constitutes part two of his three-part work La carte postale. De Socrate a Freud et au-dela and offers a close reading of Beyond the Pleasure Principle that deeply informs my own) will provide a deconstructionist theoretical apparatus for my reading, while Beyond the Pleasure Principle will serve as an object of comparative literary analysis as I chart the paths of pleasure, lifedeath, the epistolary, and the prosthetic in Le facteur emotif. Seizing upon a critical gesture of Derrida's in La carte postale, in which he proposes an anachronistic correspondence between the writings of Freud and Plato or Freud and Heidegger, I tease out a tacit correspondence between Freud and Theriault to consider how a speculative treatise published in 1920 and a Quebecois novel released in 2005 echo and elucidate one another through differance.
Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle has often been set apart from the rest of his oeuvre on account of its speculative nature and the ways in which it seemingly contradicts well-established tenets of psychoanalysis, Freud's own earlier writings, and even itself as it advances and retracts its stated hypotheses. (1) The brief essay seeks to explore tendencies that might be considered "independent of" and "more primitive than" the pleasure principle (Freud 17). At the time of its publication, in 1920, psychoanalysis held the pleasure principle to be the undisputed dominant tendency in mental life and its processes. Freud questions its status and authority by suggesting that the pleasure principle is "opposed by certain other forces" (6) such as the reality principle and repression, as well as the compulsion to repeat and a newly-thought death instinct.
However, Freud's notion of opposition quickly gives way to one of replacement as he details the operation of the reality principle in the opening chapter of his essay. Freud explains that external forces can incite the reality principle to temporarily replace the pleasure principle in the interest of self-preservation, postponing pleasure without "abandon [ing] the intention of ultimately obtaining pleasure." Working toward pleasure rather than against it, the reality principle becomes "a step on the long indirect road to pleasure" (7). The phrase in German, "auf dem langen Umwege zur Lust" (qtd. in Derrida, Carte 301), leads Derrida to dub...