November 24, 2006
During the semester I dream of the happy days of Winter and Summer break, where finally I’ll have the time to sit down and do some sustained reading, writing, and blogging. Yet strangely, when some vacation comes along– right now it’s Thanksgiving break in the States –I find it very difficult to motivate myself to do anything, and generally fall into a dark malaise. I’ll wake up late in the morning, have my coffee, and surf about the various blogs to see what’s being discussed. Perhaps someone will have responded to me, yet I won’t respond back as I’ll worry about disappointing them (I suppose I’m still a bit glum about the article, even though another article was recently published and I have another journal breathing down my neck for an article on Zizek and Badiou), feeling as if my brain has fallen out of my ear. Suspiciously I’ll look at the books sitting on the table next to me, unable to bring myself to pick them up. “I’m still waking up, I’m hungry, I should cut back the foilage in my yard, I don’t feel up to concentrating.” So then I’ll make myself something to eat with the intention of giving myself the intention to concentrate. Yet having eaten, I then need to digest, so I’ll either find myself before the television searching cable for a bad movie that perhaps I’ll be able to overinterpret so as to justify my poor taste, or before the computer playing Civilization III as per the suggestion of the scary and wicked N.Pepperell, feeling stupid because I don’t have the patience to evolve my kingdom much beyond the stage of monarchy. Inevitably these activities lead me to take a nap, losing yet more time with respect to doing the things I would genuinely like to be doing.
In a very nice passage from The Fragile Absolute, Zizek gives a lucid account of the objet a. Speaking in the context of Marx’s account of capitalism being propelled by its own internal antagonisms, Zizek writes,
So where, precisely, did Marx go wrong with regard to surplus-value? One is tempted to search for an answer in the key Lacanian distinction between the object of desire and surplus-enjoyment as its cause. Henry Krips evokes the lovely example of the chaperone in seduction: the chaperone is an ugly elderly lady who is officially the obstacle to the direct goal– object (the woman the suitor is courting); but precisely as such, she is the key intermediary moment that effectively makes the beloved woman desirable– without her the whole economy of seduction would collapse. Or, take another example from a different level: the lock of curly blond hair, that fatal detail of Madeleine in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. When, in the love scene in the barn towards the end of the film, Scottie passionately embraces Judy refashioned into the dead Madeleine, during their famous 360-degree kiss, he stops kissing her and withdraws just long enough to steal a look at her newly blonde hair, as if to reassure himself that the particular feature which transforms her into the object of desire is still there… Crucial here is the opposition between the vortex that threatens to engulf Scottie (the ‘vertigo’ of the film’s title, the deadly Thing) and the blonde curl that imitates the vertigo of the Thing, but in a miniaturized, gentrified form.
This curl is the objet petit a which condenses the impossible-deadly Thing, serving as its stand-in and thus enabling us to entertain a livable relationship with it, wihtout being swallowed up by it. As Jewish children put it when they play gently aggressive games: ‘Please, bite me, but not too hard…’ [? I must be Jewish as I enjoy these games]. This is the difference between ‘normal’ sexual repression and fetishism: in ‘normal’ sexuality, we think that the detail-feature that serves as the cause of desire is just a secondary obstacle that prevents our direct access to the Thing– that is, we overlook its key role; while in fetishism we simply make the cause of desire directly into our object of desire: a fetishist in Vertigo would not care about Madeleine, but simply focus his desire directly on the lock of hair; a fetishist suitor would engage directly with the chaperone and forget about the lady herself, the official goal of his endeavours.
So there is always a gap between the object of desire itself and its cause, the mediating feature or element that makes this object desirable. What happens in melancholy is that we get the object of desire deprived of its cause. For the melancholic, the object is there but what is missing is the specific intermediary feature that makes it desirable. For that reason there is always at least a trace of melancholy in every true love: in love, the object is not deprived of its cause; it is, rather, that the very distance between object and cause collapses. This, precisely, is what distinguishes love from desire: in desire, as we have just seen, cause is distinct from object; while in love, the two inexplicably coincide– I magically love the beloved one for itself, finding in it the very point from which I find it worthy of love. (20-21)
So I suppose that I’m experiencing a bit of melancholy, having been deprived of the cause of my desire by not having teaching, grading, and committee work interfere with my writing and research. Why can’t I simply enjoy these activities of research and writing without these obstacles? Why am I unable to go directly to the enjoyment? Why must my enjoyment take the form of a theft from my symbolically sanctioned duties and obligations? I shudder to think of what would happen were I ever to get a nice academic position with a 2/2 or 3/3 load.
November 22, 2006
My thought process has been very diffuse and disconnected lately as there’s been a lot going on between school and life. I feel as if I’m thinking very little that is new (for me) right now, that I’m treading water, but perhaps that’s when thinking on another scene is taking place. For me thought seems to occur in spurts and delays, almost as a cycle, where I fall into a period of exhaustion or depression, only to be suddenly filled with energy and enthusiasm. Yet even in those down periods when everything looks so dark and pointless, where I feel as if I’ve made nothing but wrong decisions leading to dead ends, I still find joy when I come across certain passages in whatever I’m reading. This joy is a bit like finding a magnificent shell or stone on the beach. In these moments I’m not quite sure of what to do with what I’ve found at the level of commentary and development. I just know that I experience an overwhelming urge to shout out what I’ve found, what I found provocative and productive, to the rest of the world so that it might exist for someone besides myself. Perhaps someone else will remember with me and in remembering with me will help to overcome the fragility and memory of my own mind and its tendency to so readily forget. Increasingly I’m coming to feel that remembering is a moral issue and that dead text must be re-activated or animated with new life in the present.
In a marvellous passage from his Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan remarks that,
One never goes beyond Descartes, Kant, Marx, Hegel and a few others because they mark a line of inquiry, a true orientation. One never goes beyond Freud either. Nor does one attempt to measure his contribution quantitatively, draw up a balance sheet– what’s the point of that? One uses him. One moves around within him. One takes one’s bearings from the direction he points in. What I am offering you here is an attempt to articulate the essence of an experience that has been guided by Freud. It is in no way an effort to measure the volume of his contribution or summarize him. (206)
One need only open any page of Lacan alongside Freud to see what Lacan has in mind by taking one’s orientation from a thinker, moving around in him, and using him. Lacan’s texts do not seek to represent Freud or reproduce him through a careful commentary, but rather have the effect of transforming the Freudian text and perhaps producing something that would have been unrecognizable to Freud himself. Nor does Lacan pause over this or that claim, striving to determine whether this or that Freudian claim is true, empirically supported, or well argued, as if measuring whether or not Freud still holds up today. Rather, Freud’s text is thoroughly transformed in and through Lacan’s engagement with that text, but in an uncanny way that produces the effect of feeling as if one never understood Freud until reading Lacan (of course, I contend that it is impossible to understand Lacan without reading Freud… Especially the case studies and texts on parapraxes).
I was led to think about this passage, about what it might mean to be oriented by a thinker, upon being reminded of a passage from Marx’s Communist Manifesto by Zizek’s Fragile Absolute. There Marx writes,
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everwhere, establish connections everwhere.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-establsihed national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world of literature.
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midsts, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image. (Signet Classics 1998, 55-5)
There is so much in highly condensed form in this brief little passage. Here can already be discerned the analysis globalization. The Lacanian will find rich fodder in the references to reactionaries as reacting to the erasure of national identities produced as a result of this movement of globalization, producing both leftist and rightist forms of identity politics– The former centering on racial and gender identities, the latter centering on religious and nationalistic identities, both orientations being red herrings ignoring the “real” of our contemporary situation. In the reference to the production of new wants, enthusiasts of Lacan, Zizek, Baudrillard, and Deleuze and Guattari will find rich ground for theorizing the manner in which desires are manufactured and produced. And it is impossible not to think of internet technologies in relation to Marx’s offhand remarks on the manner in which communication has been transformed.
November 20, 2006
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I came across this diary over at Dailykos. We’re a beastly lot, us humans. What is it that fills us with such sad and reactive passions?
So even though Hitler had died, there were those ho could not let go of him. Ancestor worship almost. Nazis killed themselves because they couldn’t imagine living without National Socialism. They kept networks alive and even killed a few Russians in my area. But mostly, they were dinosaurs and they knew it. All they had was fear. Fear of communists, fear of homosexuals, fear of the Americans. Fear of Jews. Fear fear fear. That’s how they fuel their power. From time to time one of those assholes comes back and tells us what will happen if Gays are allowed to teach schools or if Jews lend money. They rewrite history to justify their hatred. But deep inside, they know they are the last of the Mohicans.
November 20, 2006
In his introduction to Badiou’s Polemics, Steve Corcoran makes a couple of statements that strike me as very nicely capturing the spirit of Badiou’s political thought. First, Corcoran remarks,
In order to maintain this structure in dominance, certain elements must remain uncounted or excluded, elements that inhabit what Badiou calls the edge of the situations void. The void cannot, of course, be localed or presented in the sitaution, it is scattered throughout it (the capitalist situation, for example, is structurally incapable of recognizing the capcity for proletarian innovation which inhabits everyone). But those on the edge of the void, those with ‘nothing to lose but their chains’, are situated in it, but as a sort of negative magnitude, the living lack of positive qualities that define the way the situation is re-presented. In Badiou’s terms, then, they are presented in it, and hence belong to, the situation, but are not re-presented in it. So long as the elements of a situation do not radically deviate from their assigned places, or lack therof, this gap will normally not show. To the always total structure of knowledge, which knows neither void nor excess, this element will simply appear as a non-essential or contingent disturbance to the situation, not as a symptom of the structural ‘lie’ of the situation itself. From the standpoint of the state of the situation, this inconsistent multiplicity simply appears as nothing, as non-being.
Then, every so often, in a completely unpredictable fashion, a Truth-Event comes to peirce a hole in the totalizing, static structure of knowledge. An Event for Badiou is a properly contingent and unaccountable occurance, exceeding everything that can be known in the situation– its identity conflicts, ideological struggles, fluxes of people and money, etc. An event cannot, Badiou argues, be generated nor deduced from the situation; but that it exceeds the terms of the situation does not mean that it arrives from some beyond or outside. There is no transcendence here; the Event attaches itself precisely to the void of the situation, revealing its inherent inconsistency… But what can come to be counted, and what links each specific situation to this inconsistency, are those that inhabit the edge of the void. Politics, in so far as it is universal and democratic, is for Badiou a process that comes to count those who are uncounted. Stigmatizing the uncounted as backward, dangerous, etc., then, is the best way to ward off a more profound ‘evil’: the emergence of a popular subjective force that would be capable of opposing the sterility of comfortable self-perpetuation, capable of developing the latent possibilities for democratic action that are immanent to the situation; a subjective force that, as subtracted from all sociological categories and classifications (‘illegal immigrants’, ‘citizens’), is grounded in the simple norm of belonging to the situation. (xii-xiv
Badiou’s conception of politics as “counting those who are uncounted” is perfectly analogous to analysis (as opposed to therapy) and the shift from early consultations to “putting one on the couch”. Analysis counts what is uncounted, which is to say the desire embodied in the symptom and parapraxes, that embodies the fundamental lie of the analysand’s life (the betrayal of their desire). By contrast, therapy seeks to maintain the normality of the ego by treating the symptom as an “illness” from which the subject must be separated so as to return to normal family, marital, and work relations. I will refer to “politics” as that praxis that engages with the constitutive exception to social organizations, while I will refer to “governance” as that activity concerned with counting, power, how social institutions should be organized, identities, and so on. “Governance” is a wide term that denotes sociological phenomena such as social systems, power-structures, epistemes, apparati of state capture, the logic of the signifier, and any explicit systems of governance such as bureaucracies. However, governance need not be presided over by legislators or conscious intentions to count as governance.
Corcoran goes on to remark that,
In terms of Being and Event, what the Paris Commune succeeded in doing was making pure presentation, i.e. pure and simple belonging to a situation irrespective of all cultural predicates, the principle of its politics. It succeeded in rupturing with all relation and creating a new set that was subtracted from the existing classifications and nominations structuring the preceding situation. Badiou’s more recent work does not go back over this point, but sets out to grasp the way that an event comes to transform the logic of the situation, that is, the way that its elements appear in it or the intensity with which they are endowed. For not having any objective foothold in the situation, a truth will succeed in imposing itself on the situation only in so far as it manages to transvaluate the intensity of its elements– or come to impose a different regime for their appearing. So, a truth proceeds as a subtraction from the classifications and distributions of the state, but it does so by altering the appearing, or the intensity, of the elements composing the situation. As Peter Hallward says, ‘the key point of reference remains the anarchic disorder of inconsistent multiplicity’; but because the being of the situation must be made to be there (i.e. experienced as connected, related) it must be made subject to the logical constraints of a particular situation. As Badiou figures it, these logical constraints mean that there will always be, in any situation, elements that exist maximally (politically speaking, those whose voices are sanctioned, whose speech leads to action), elements that are less intense, and elements that, like those on the edge of the void, are effectively invisible (whose speech registers as pure noise, and who as such constitute the ‘non-existent’ element of this situation). (xvii-xviii)
By way of example, it could be said adjunct or part time professors (I’m not one) are a potential site of the political in the situation characterizing American universities. Adjuncts clearly belong to this situation, but are not re-presented within that situation. Rather, those who have the greatest degree of intensity in this situation would be professors and administrators, whereas adjuncts are almost non-existent in this situation, having little or no voice. Badiou’s point isn’t that we should find a way to include the voice of adjuncts, but rather that those elements of the situation that are on the edge of the void have the potential to transform all the elements of the situation by revealing the constitutive arbitrariness of the system of governance or organization of the particular question. The question of the political is that of how to shift something that has a very low degree of intensity with respect to appearing to having a high degree of intensity that transforms all elements of the situation (i.e., it’s not a question of identity politics).
November 19, 2006
In Seminar 23, The Sinthome, Lacan remarks that no one is interested in another person’s symptom. This moment marks a substantial transition from Lacan’s earlier work, a transition that he’d been approaching for a number of years. In earlier seminars, following on the wake of the famous Rome Discourse, Lacan had argued that the symptom could be entirely resolved at the level of the signifier through interpretation. This position was not unlike that of the early Freud, who believed that the neurotics symptom could be entirely eradicated through interpretation. However, just as Freud eventually encountered the death drive or the compulsion to repeat, so too would Lacan discover that there’s something that resists over the course of analysis, a remainder that can’t be eradicated. In some circumstances, the so-called “negative therapeutic reaction” would take place, and analysis would suddenly take a left-turn for the worse, characterized by extreme hostility towards the analyst. In other cases, the analysand would leave analysis only to have the symptom flare up once again with all the force and drama that it had possessed prior to analysis. Or, as Freud had worried in his late essay Analysis Terminable and Interminable, the work of analysis could go on infinitely, with analysand and analyst (it’s always the analysand that does the majority of interpreting in genuine analysis) endlessly interpreting new slips of the tongue, symptoms, dreams, etc.
Lacan would discover this as well– crushing the happy dream of analysis in confronting an analysis that goes on for years, even decades –leading him to rethink the end of analysis. In Seminar 22, RSI, Lacan will present two options: Either the analysand believes in the symptom (in which case analysis has failed), or the analysand identifies with the symptom. If the first option marks a failure of analysis, then this is because it marks a residue of transference that has not fallen away over the course of analysis. To believe in the symptom is to believe that there is a final signifier, a last interpretant. Yet this is equivalent to believing that the Other exists, that there is an answer to the symptom that could tell us what we are once and for all. On the other hand, identification with the symptom would consist, perhaps, of two things: 1) the subject that identifies with the symptom is the subject that says “I am that”, and 2) the subject that identifies with the symptom is the subject that identifies with the process by which symptoms are produced, with the nonsense and the activity of meaning making that is called for in this nonsense. In other words, the late Lacan has carried out a separation of the symptom from the field of meaning, from the field of the Other, which is what will lead him to create the new concept of “sinthome” as a sort of symptom purified of all meaning with respect to the Other, a pure process, such as what we find in the literature of Joyce. I identify with this nonsense at the heart of my being. This is the Lacan that will begin to focus on writing and the letter, in contrast to the signifier and the signified. It is the literality of the letter as opposed to the play of the signifier, and it is a literality that promises the subtraction of a mute jouissance of the letter, no longer caught up in the web of the Other. For more on this, I refer readers to the extraordinary collection of essays edited by Luke Thurston in Re-Inventing the Symptom.
If no one is interested in the symptom of another, then this is because the sinthome is nonsensical, a silent jouissance, a jouissance that has been subtracted from the field of meaning and the Other. Sinthome is symptom that has become drive. I find it impossible to be interested in Joyce, for even when I’m interested in Joyce, I am interested in myself. The jouissance of the letter embodied in Joyce’s text functions as a rorschach for my own symptom, which is why interpretations of Joyce are always the pet projects of their authors. One might say something similar of Lacan’s reading of Freud or any reading of Lacan. The beauty of any reading of Lacan is that one is singularly responsible for what Lacan will have been. In this regard, Lacan’s writing performatively enacts his theory of “oracular interpretation”– interpretations that can be taken in a variety of different ways –making the reader, like the analysand, responsible for what they find in the text.
It is this inability to maintain interest in any other’s symptom that leads me to surprise when I read Spurious’ diary today. There, in an uncharacteristic vein, Lars writes,
Do you see – I’ve cursed myself now, and this will be a bad post, I will have confided too much and at too great a length and should lead it home now, like a horse by its nose. Home: you have been out, and now it’s time to come home; the Law opens to enclose you. The Law welcomes you back.
Such an astonishing thing to say! I suspect that there’s an element of seduction or challenge in such remarks, perhaps even a wish. These fragments that Spurious has been writing lately have less the feel of illumination, than walking into the room of someone you hardly know, a room filled with all sorts of random, yet ordinary things, and wondering what they are all about. In other words, in their very act of confiding, they seem to confide nothing, but only multiply questions. A few months ago, on a beautiful post written by Blah-feme, Lars had responded to some remarks I had made that were quite obviously attempting to display some intellectual muscle (as Blah-feme rightly pointed out over at his blog where I posted the same comment). There I wrote,
What I find myself wondering is how we can get at this materiality at all or how we can even speak of it. It always seems to escape. I believe I referenced Hegel’s account of sense-certainty over at your blog. As I’m sure you’re aware– and please forgive my obsessive spelling out of details or “tutorial style”, I have a tendency to go into too much detail in responding to anything, as my blog amply demonstrates, not out of any attribution of ignorance –the opening of the Phenomenology begins with sense-certainty or the sensuous-immediacy of the things itself as the ground of knowledge (and clearly you’re not talking of knowledge but the thing itself). However, the moment I attempt to *say* this sensuous-immediacy, I find it slips away in the universals of language. I say “this” thing here, but “this” can just as easily be used for something else. I try to fix it with “now”, “here”, “I”, etc., but I find myself in the same dilemma each time. I am thus unable to say sensuous immediacy but always feel to the formal and universal. The materiality thus seems to perpetually elude our attempt to indicate it, always slipping elsewhere. Doesn’t precisely the same thing happen in the case of voice? I agree that all of the features you describe (in this and your more recent post) are central to the uncanny phenomenon of voice, yet they slip away in one and the same moment I try to articulate them.
Returning to my pet example of the trauma of the paternal voice that shatters the calm and pleasant world of the young child, this same child, when an analysand years later, tries to articulate the materiality, the trauma, the uncanniness, of those ringing knocks at his bedroom door, or the muffled, stern voice behind the wood, yet encounters himself as frustrated and defeated, unable to quite explain it or convey it. The materiality perpetually eludes him yet it is also perpetually there. How do we escape this Hegelian deadlock?
Very interesting stuff and beautiful writing.
To which Lars responded,
How, as Sinthome puts it, to write about the singular, or (from the perspective of ‘Sense Certainity’ for Hegel) the immediate without losing the materiality of the voice? By allowing that materiality to carry through into writing – to emphasise, in language, its musical aspects – sonority, rhythm – as it repeats (in Kierkegaard’s sense) the thickness of the voice. Without this repetition, there is always the risk of an arid formalism, an endemic problem to philosophy and to philosophical discussions of the voice, of art etc.
I think Blah-Feme is right to suggest that engagement with specific voices is necessary. And I think Blah-Feme is also right to invoke the materiality of the voice in a language that thickens itself.
I will not say that Lars is trying to write the specific, the singular, but rather that his writing is specific. It is for this reason that there can be little or no interest in Lars’ writing, though that writing might generate a good deal of interest (here I hope someone gets the double entendre, the homonym). It is a writing that has no small amount of “sinthome” in it.
All of this, I think, poses, in very vague form, a philosophical question I’ve been revolving about: How is it possible for an analyst to be a philosopher? Lacan, of course, is legendary for his critiques of philosophy. For Lacan philosophy is a discourse of the imaginary, an attempt to totalize the world, a discipline that disavows the constitutive split of the subject. Yet when Lars evokes “specific voices”– so many of which we find here: Spurious, Blah-feme, Jodi Dean, Yusef, Glen, the Yak, N.Pepperell, K-Punk, $, IT, and so on –there is already a challenge to thought, for a specific voice is precisely that which evades the determination of the conceptual. A few months ago I wrote a post asking whether or not Badiou could be called a materialist. There the argument was that something is added to a mathematical space when it is materially instantiated, and this seems lost in Badiou’s onto-logy. The issue is the same with philosophy in general. In the analytic setting you are concerned with the specific voice of the analysand, sans conceptuality… With it’s pure materiality, it’s saying, and its having been said. Lacanian concepts do not appear in the analytic setting, unless the analysand evokes them. Indeed, it’s not unusual to undergo an entire analysis without being told whether you’re obsessional, hysteric, psychotic, perverse, phobic, etc. All of this is irrelevant to the analysand’s act of saying and to what the analysand says. Yet philosophy, it seems, institutes the regime of the exchangable and the equivalent through its formation of the concept. It effaces the singularity of the event of saying so as to institute that which might be comparable in the said. It seems to me that this is one reason that philosophy must always be at odds with literature, for literature sings the psalm of the remainder, of the materiality of the voice and the event, or of that which cannot be exchanged under the umbrella of a concept. A literary event can only be a spur for thought. What is always lost in philosophy is the event. Is it possible for philosophy to preserve the event?
November 18, 2006
N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has written a truly terrific post musing on some of my recent attempts to work out Lacan’s logic of fantasy. Apart from the fact that it responds to things that I’ve recently written and therefore affords me narcissistic gratification and provides some evidence that I exist, I think what I like most about this post is the way that its both generous in its reading while also remaining critical in a productive way. Responding to some of my comments about objet a and the remainder, N.P. writes,
Sinthome then relates the persistence of this “remainder” to the possibility for critique, arguing, if I’m understanding correctly, that the remainder retains the residue of a presymbolic realm from which the symbolic realm is necessarily constructed. The symbolic realm – including fantasy as desire expressed in symbolic form – therefore necessarily drags along in its wake its own “outside”.
I’d like to suggest that there’s another way of understanding Lacan’s concept of the remainder that doesn’t resort to treating it as a sort of pre-symbolic residue. Rather than treating the remainder as a residue of the pre-symbolic that resists symbolic integration, remainder could be taken in a much more literal mathematical sense as the result of an operation. Suppose we take a simple act of division such as the division of 3 by 5. Our solution is 1.666666667. Here there’s something that escapes the operation, something that is left over when 3 is subjected to 5. Lacan often liked to liken objet a or the remainder to the golden ratio and irrational numbers. He develops this comparison or analogy in detail beginning with the unpublished Seminar 14, The Logic of Fantasy, and makes passing allusion to it in Seminar 20, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, when he remarks that,
If there is something in my Ecrits that shows that my fine orientation, since it is of that fine orientation that I try to convince you, is not such a recent development, it is the fact that right after the war, where nothing obviously seemed to promise a pretty future, I wrote “Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty.” One can quite easily read therein– if one writes and not only if one has a good ear –that it is already little a that thetisizes the function of hast. In that article, I highlighted the fact that something like intersubjectivity can lead to a salutary solution. But what warrants a closer look is what each of the subjects sustains, not insofar as he is one among others, but insofar as he is, in relation to the two others, what is at stake in their thinking. Each intervenes in this ternary only as the objet a that he is in the gaze of the others.
In other words, there are three of them, but in reality, there are two plus a. This two plus a, from the standpoint of a, can be reduced, not to the two others, but to a One plus a. You know, moreover, that I have already used these functions to try to represent to you the inadequacy of the relationship between the One and teh Other, and that I have already provided as a basis for this little a, the irrational number known as the golden number. It is insofar as, starting from little a, the two others are taken as One plus a, that what can lead to an exit in haste functions. (48-9)
I cannot get into a careful analysis of this dense passage at present, as my mind is mush and it would require a close commentary on Plato’s various dialectics of the One and the Other in the Parmenides, along with a discussion of certain elements of set theory. Perhaps Bobo or Austin are up to this work. I do give an extremely simplified version of what Lacan is referring to with respect to logical time in a comment replying to Anon, where I discuss the intersubjectivity at stake in mowing my lawn. In addition to this, the Japanese analyst Shingu Kazushige has written a very nice book meditating on this enigmatic line entitled Being Irrational: Lacan, the Objet a, and the Golden Mean. What is interesting about this metaphor of objet a as an irrational number or the golden ratio is that it evokes the notion of a twist, distortion, or ripple in the symbolic that isn’t a hold-over from a mythological pre-symbolic past (how could such a past fail to be mythological, given that we can only approach the world through language?), and that results from operations in the symbolic itself. Perhaps the “cash value” of this concept would be that it offers the possibility of a form of resistance immanent to the symbolic itself… Which is to say, that it shows the manner in which the symbolic is unable to produce closure.
November 17, 2006
Glen, over at Event Mechanics has written a nice diary entitled Parallax of Nihilism, or Nihilism as a Pure Event, dealing with some of the themes I’ve been discussing with regard to fantasy lately. When Glen writes, “[n]ow the obvious point is that for a nihilist, or most of my generation, or pretty much every teenager, every activity is an idiotic activity”, in response to an earlier post where I describe fantasy as an idiotic activity that looks for no reason beyond itself, I confess that I’m a bit disturbed as I didn’t realize I had become a part of a generation or had become dated. I suppose this had to happen sometime.
Glen goes on to write,
The entire universe and especially human existence is singular idiotic activity (chaosmos). There is no essential cultural or discursive threshold that differentiates non-idiotic activity from idiotic activity. The question of idiocy is instead precisely one of enthusiasm or the affective associations and qualitative consistency of those associations that implicates us in various assemblages in action. I call idiocy stupidity. As I constantly rant on about here I try to have an intimate relationship with my stupidities.
Here I find myself wondering whether, in psychoanalytic terms, this too couldn’t be a certain sort of fantasy. That is, couldn’t conceiving the universe in terms of meaninglessness be a way of mastering the universe and all self-Other relations by knowing in advance what those relations are? Moreover, in a universe where everything is meaningless, haven’t I profoundly undermined any potential for anxiety by forestalling the possibility that there could be anything meaningful, and by having surrendered any reason to act or do? Or, to put it a bit differently, isn’t this the ultimate way of defending against the enigma of the Other’s desire, by negating any sort of belief in the Other altogether?
This, I think, can be situated in terms of religious belief. It is sometimes suggested that the religious are weak or soft of mind as they require the reassurance of God to make it through life. However, what if, following Kierkegaard, it is not belief that pacifies anxiety, but rather a lack of belief that pacifies anxiety. While it’s certainly true that there’s a kind of horror in recognizing that you simply drop out of existence altogether with death, isn’t it far more horrifying to imagine, in folk-theological terms, an all-seeing god that knows your every thought and deed, who’s will is inscrutable, and who desires for you to live a particular life without telling you precisely what that particular life should be? Isn’t this what Kierkegaard is getting at in Fear and Trembling, when he talks about being siezed in one’s singularity, knowing that God has called upon you for something, without knowing what that something is? There’s a way in which the absence of God is far more reassuring than the presence of God (we don’t defend against the Other for nothing), and there’s a way in which it’s far more reassuring to believe that it’s all meaningless, that nothing ultimately matters, that we can make no difference, than it is to believe that there is a bit of meaning, that some things do matter, and that what we do does make a difference. Perhaps the Lacanian prescription would be to be capable of affirming meaning or action, even when all meaning has collapsed. None of this, of course, is to chastise Glen, only to point out that fantasy can be a wily thing.
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