A heated discussion has begun to emerge surrounding the validity of arguments from experience. The entire tussle began with an interesting post by K-Punk on the relationship between class-relations and intersubjective attitudes. In the course of this post, K-punk made reference to his own experience, which prompted Daniel from Antigram to present a critique of arguments from experience based on the Lacanian theory of fantasy. In my view, K-Punk was not basing his position on his own personal experience, but rather illustrating his point through a representative example. In many respects, K-Punk’s thesis reminds me of Bourdieu’s discussions of taste, where Badiou, in Distinction, shows how the milieu of individuation in which an agent emerges within a particular social field gives form to the affects and percepts that populate the agent. That is, it seemed to me that K-Punk was raising questions of individuation. Unless we are to treat affects as innate or as fictions, it is necessary to raise questions such as those of why one agent is filled with rage when seeing an American flag burn, another joy, and yet another indifference. If this point is conceded, if this variability is acknowledged, then there must be some process of individuation agents undergo that produces a system of affects, a system of how the world is affectively encountered, that gives form to ones affective space. It seems to me that this is what K-Punk was getting at, what he was trying to draw attention to. Is one’s affective and perceptual space simply a private affair, an individual and impersonal idiosyncracy, or does it point towards a more collective affectivity produced as a result of processes of morphogenesis, speaking to all sorts of things ranging from economic structures, to class relations, to gender relations, etc? A similar point could be made in relation to Lacan’s theory of affect as presented in Seminar 10: L’angoisse, where Lacan outlines the manner in which affect is structured around the signifier. Nonetheless, Antigram makes an interesting point in drawing attention to the way in which experience is imbricated in fantasy. In Seminar 6: Desire and Its Interpretation, Lacan argues that fantasy is the frame of reality. Reality, for Lacan, is not on the other side of fantasy, but rather the two form a mobius loop, such that fantasy provides the window through which reality is encountered. As Lacan will say in Television, “reality is the grimace of the real.” Fantasy is that which renders the real tolerable, allowing the subject to encounter it. It seems that Antigram treats the term “fantasy” in pejorative terms in a way that is foreign to the psychoanalytic clinic.

In response to Antigram’s analysis, both Jodi Dean and Shaviro jump in, the former surprisingly drawing attention to the way in which fantasy and arguments from experience has played a disturbing role in certain forms of identity politics (this is surprising given the predominence of arguments from experience on I Cite… Recall the discussions about pedestrian traffic in London), the latter offering a critique of Antigram’s position. Of particular importance is Shaviro’s reminder that for Lacan “there is no metalanguage”. This is one of the key features of the Lacanian understanding of transference as it operates in the clinic and is of central importance in differentiating the Lacanian clinic from other psychotherapeutic clinics. Apart from the impossibility of imagining any psychoanalytic clinic that doesn’t focus on the analysand’s experiences, one of the central features of the Lacanian clinic is that the analyst abdicates the position of master or the master’s discourse. To say there is no metalanguage is to say that the analyst too is caught up in the relations of transference, that he or she is not immune from the effects of the unconscious. I suspect that appropriations of psychoanalysis outside the clinic often function not as instances of the discourse of the analyst, but rather as discourses of the master, where the theorist deploying psychoanalytic discourse occupies a position of mastery with regard to the cultural artifacts they analyze and comment on. In this connection, Shaviro’s comments strike me as valuable. It does not seem to me that Shaviro is so much rejecting Antigram’s point as problematizing it. The point seems to be that while experience may indeed be perpetually bound up with fantasy, we are nonetheless unable to escape experience. Consequently, it cannot be a question of escaping or rejecting experience altogether– as Shaviro makes clear in relation to his comments about Althusser’s theses about the inescapability of ideology and the nature of science –but of encountering the problematic status of experience (in the Kantian sense of a regulative ideal or a problem that persists in its solution). To this Antigram responds in a rather heated manner.

In connection to Antigram’s response, I will only say that one of the crucial features of “taking responsibility for one’s subjective position” consists in the affirmation of one’s experience without searching for authorization from the big Other. An analysand who has traversed the fantasy is also an analysand that no longer looks to the Other– as embodied in the analyst but also in the social world as well –as a norm that would tell the analysand what he ought to be or whether or not he is living up to some set of standards. The post-analyzed subject no longer believes that there is a master that contains knowledge of “how to get ahead in the world”, “how to have a successful romantic or sexual life”, “how to make it in academia”, etc. This is because such an analysand has come to recognize that the Other does not exist, or that the Other itself is lacking, incomplete, riven by desire and does not itself know what it desires. It becomes clear that there is no one road to Rome, and that, in any event, perhaps Rome doesn’t even exist. This would include how that analysand understands the sense of their experiences, their meaning, their signification. More fundamental than the discovery of ones own status as a split subject, is the discovery of the Other as split, as not-existing. In this regard, an analysis does not so much divest an analysand of experience, so much as affirm the experience of that analysand. If the analyst respects and honors anything, it is the speech of the analysand for that speech is the site of truth. To be sure, the analyst is always listening for that “Other discourse” in the analysand’s speech– in slips of the tongue, double entendres, dreams, jokes, omissions, contradictions, etc –but the analyst certainly is not in the business of discounting the analysand’s experience or disregarding it. How could he? Not only would the analyst here set himself up as an authority, thereby inviting various conflictual relations, but he would also be adopting the position of the ego-therapist, presuming to be capable of arbitrating between truth and falsity.

Here it is important to recall that for Lacan, fantasy is not so much fantasy pertaining to the subject and the subject’s wants, as it is fantasy of what the Other desires, what the Other wants, with regard to the subject. In this connection, it could be said that the analysand’s entire life, prior to traversing the fantasy, has been structured as a lure for the Other, striving to satisfy or thwart what it believes the Other’s desire to be. The analysand has lived his entire life as the equivalent of fishing tackle, organizing his actions and desires as lures for the Other’s desire so that he might capture that desire. It is in this regard that the analysand is often led to betray his own desire, to renounce it, so as to be the object of the Other’s desire, thereby generating the symptom as the mute witness of that betrayed desire, as the trace that persists and continues to insist. This is precisely why traversing the fantasy can have an effect on the real of the symptom, as the symptom is always addressed to the Other as framed by the fantasy of the Other’s desire. Returning to K-Punk’s original post, it could be said that here traversing the fantasy would not so much entail the worker recognizing that his position is his own subjective responsibility (i.e., blaming the victim), so much as it would consist in the worker being able to posit himself as his own value, as his own condition, rather than measuring himself relative to those who enjoy a position of privilege. That is, it would be a surrender of differentially defined, oppositionally defined, identity. This, for instance, seems to be what Badiou is getting at with his subjects of a truth procedure. In a manner that sometimes echoes Nietzsche’s conception of master-morality, the subject of a truth procedure, as subtracted from the situation, no longer defines itself oppositionally in relation to a set of social and class identities, but is, rather, engaged in the project of producing its own values and truth.

UPDATE Infinite Thought weighs in on the discussion:

Anecdote and reflections upon one’s upbringing in the light of the revelation that not everybody had the same experience as me are frequently of great value: how else do we get to an understanding of class than by comparing the gap between how class is experienced (falsely or otherwise) and the economic and social structures that perpetuate this division? A Year Zero approach to class in which one should simultaneously possess a strict Marxist conception of class combined with an acceptance of responsibility for one’s own position as a subject seems unnecessarily punitive and not necessarily useful for attempting to change entrenched (but crucially not unshakeable) class divisions. (Incidentally, the odd ahistoricism of psychoanalytic categories frequently seems to me to be a major problem for any historical materialist analysis – as does the absence of any notion of a collective subject. But this is rather old-fashioned quibbling, perhaps.)

Why education, then? Education seems to me to be a good way of analysing some of the more concrete elements of class division, the way in which class perpetuates itself ideologically. Here we have a structure (schooling), legally imposed, which creates different kinds of social groups. It is neither based on academic capacity (although it sometimes claims to be via the entrance exam), nor equality at the level of the teaching, curriculum or opportunities provided. It is based on economic differentiation, and the perpetuation of that difference by any means necessary – convincing otherwise not-very-bright children that they are the best thing since primitive accumulation is one of the products that Private schools sell, along with a system of social networks, increased cultural expectation that you will go to university, etc.

Read the rest here. It would be interesting to do a similar analysis of how different tiered universities function in the United States at the level of the sort of subjectivities they produce and the networks of opportunity they engender. Once again, in all of these discussions, Bourdieu– specifically Homo Academicus seems especially relevant. As IT points out, education is one of the ways in which ideological class divisions reproduce themselves. To put it differently, education is one of the conditions for the reproduction of the conditions of production. As I reflect on this discussion, I find myself wondering whether the tools of psychoanalysis are particularly relevant.

UPDATE II Antigram elaborates more.

Let me make myself clear: The social problem of class cannot be understood so long remains understood as a relation between identities. Between the Emperor and a beggar, one cannot see society. Class is nothing to do with individuals; rather, it is a problem contained in the relations persisting between structural forces. The task of critique, the task of argument in general, is to demonstrate the workings of those forces by pulverizing the integral experiences they conjure into their constituent aspects and parts. Arguments from experience are bad and reactionary because argument as such is pitted against experience.

I have to confess that I’m nervous about these claims about structure. A good deal of what I’ve been thinking about lately is the ontological status of structure. What, exactly, is a structure? It is not that I’m here opposing Daniel and siding with the individual. Rather, what I’m wondering if structure is something other than its enactment in and through individuals. Class has a good deal to do with individuals insofar as these structures couldn’t exist without individuals to enact them. Clearly the intuition underlying claims about structure is well founded in that everything is not up to the sovereign individual as the individual finds herself enmeshed in a web that exceeds her control, understanding, and intentions. However, wouldn’t it be more productive to think the relationship between individuals and structure as a feedback relation where structure is perpetually being (re)produced through the activities of individuals and where individuals are being individuated through the effects of structure? When we side with structure or the individual, we end up in a relation that could be described in Hegelian terms as abstract insofar as it fails to think the interdependence of relations in a system. The thesis of interdependence– or, more properly, inter-determination –allows for a much more fluid and dynamic conception of social relations, that might also open other spaces of structure-transforming political engagements. It also loosens, a bit, the iron grip of structure, it’s tendency to be treated as eternal and solid, by opening the possibility of collective relations introducing new forms of structuration in much the same way that Deleuze and Guattari describe the aberrant connections produced through the orchid and the wasp. My worry is that a number of difficulties emerge if structure is reified and treated as something existing in its own right. Perhaps a part of the meaning behind the thesis “the Other does not exist” is the thesis that structure does not exist, i.e., structure would here be an effect of the subject’s belief in Zizek’s sense of the term. Not only does such a thesis open alternatives of engagement, but it also explains the possibility of structural shifts and changes in a way that reified conceptions of structure seem to render impossible. As an added aside… Damn it Daniel, you messed up the link to my blog! :-)

UPDATE III Dominic weighs in:

This leads me to think that some additional mechanism is involved, that the moment of collapse is – again, reaching for the sniper rifle – triggered, and is caused less by the failure by schools to instill the proper level of self-belief and more by their success – or that of society at large – in installing something else. Here I must confront Daniel’s skepticism concerning the social production of affect, which he seems to regard as spontaneously and indifferently woven by the subject of fantasy out of whatever experiential material happens to come to hand. In the first instance, I wonder how it is that corporations ever get to see a return on the millions of dollars they put into advertising if it is literally absurd to suggest that the affective lives of individuals can be prompted, moulded, manipulated and operationalised by outside forces. (Clearly there is something a bit rum about fantasizing that my emotional life is constantly being manipulated by evil corporations, but that is because in the fantasy I am aware of the manipulation but can do nothing about it).

Let us consider the nature of insult. I insult you; you take offense. If I have insulted you effectively, you will take offense in spite of your determination to rise above my petty jibes: the insult is effective to the extent that it causes its target to feel offended in spite of himself. Later you will curse yourself for responding so hastily and angrily to what were, after all, only words. You will, if you are exceptionally disciplined, own that your response was unworthy, that you should not have allowed yourself to become besides yourself with fury. I will then insult you again, making artful use of the humiliation I have already inflicted, and if my aim is true you will again fly into a rage. I enjoy a power over you that you do not wish to grant me, and would withhold from me if you could.

Read the rest here.

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