The Fre(a/u)d Complex

By Astrid Lorange

I am always misreading. Freud for Fraud, for one. And what a misreading, too; for not only is the proper name Freud hysterically entangled with the term ‘complex’, but it is the thinker Freud who invested so much in the meaningfulness of misreading (or misspeaking, forgetting, substituting one word or gesture for another by accident). He calls this ‘parapraxis’, a word wide enough to include almost any occasion in which the unconscious reveals itself through error: calling the wrong name; getting out housekeys when in front of a doorbell; speaking unusually to express something very simple. Parapraxis, whatever form its assumes, is the unconscious made evident by errors in habit, memory or structure. So when I read Freud for Fraud, as in the case of this exhibition, I am reminded (and what an embarrassing thing to both think and remember, let alone reveal!) that my own unconscious is never free from the labour of grappling with Freud and his capacity to be at once present and absent (that is, thoroughly repressed), in my thought.

To take Freud’s enthusiasm for misreadings seriously – to take his own seriousness enthusiastically – I read my misreading as part of what’s interesting about fraudulence and its tendency to be felt as a complex. If for psychoanalysis a complex refers to an intimate, dynamic cluster of affects and tendencies that articulates itself as a kind of constant psychic state, then the fraud complex can be understood as that general but persistent feeling that one’s efforts and achievements – if not one’s entire existence – are a sham. This feeling is intensified when one has internalised a sense that one’s very capacity to achieve is limited or absent; it’s also intensified when the work that one does (make art, for example) appears to exist almost entirely apart from intention or desire, yet remains no less connected to one’s name.

Art has a habit of making everyone feel like a fraud: artists for the simple fact that the work they produce is always in excess of what they have intended or what they can claim; and anyone else who, in the humiliating context of interpretation, finds themselves in a paranoid state (‘the meaning is hidden from me, and from me alone!’). For us today, the profundity (or not) of art presents itself as a secular version of Pascal’s wager: it is better to assume that art has a higher meaning than not, for to be revealed as fraudulent in the event of meaningfulness is worse than overdetermining the meangingless. But fear of fraudulence, in the context of art, relies on a wholly inadequate logic of meaning – in which it is assumed that meaningfulness is like a rare earth mineral: hidden, elemental, precious. 

Listening to Freud, momentarily, as he appears in thought in the moment of parapraxis, fraudulence takes a new shape; not as a precondition for participation in the humiliatingly inscrutable world of art, but as an instructive dimension to the kind of thought that makes participation in the inscrutable not only possible, but constructive, desirable, perhaps even important.


About Astrid Lorange

Astrid Lorange is a writer and teacher from Sydney. She lectures at UNSW Art & Design, focusing on contemporary writing’s relationship to art. How Reading is Written: A Brief Index to Gertrude Stein was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2014. She has a number of poetry chapbooks, most recently Ex (Stale Objects dePress). She has written for the MCA, The Commercial Gallery, un Magazine and Das Superpaper, and her work has shown at 55 Sydenham Rd, 107 Projects, Artspace, Firstdraft, and the Margaret Lawrence Gallery. She is one half of Snack Syndicate and convenes the talk series Conspiracy at Minerva.