One of the things that absolutely fascinates me about discourse, and, in particular, Lacan’s theory of discourse is that it has a fractal nature that seems to iterate itself at all levels. Thus, to the same degree that you can have interpersonal or speaker to speaker relations that have the same formal structure outlined by Lacan with many different contents, you can have entire social structures that are organized around these formal relationships. And indeed, there’s a strange way in which the appearance of one discourse structure somehow generates the appearance of all the other discourse structures. For those interested in a brief introduction to Lacan’s theory of discourse you can consult my article on discourse theory here, beginning with page 40. Formally we can see why the other three discourses emerge “a priori” wherever there is the appearance of one discourse. If this is the case, then it is by virtue of the fact that discourses form what mathematicians call a group. That is, through a simple clockwise permutation, you are able to generate the other three discourses simply by rotating the symbols in each position one position forward. Thus, if you begin with the discourse of the master, you are able to generate the discourse of the hysteric, the analyst, and the university through a simple clockwise rotation of the terms in each of your initial positions:
For those unacquainted with Lacan’s discourse theory, look carefully at the succession of these four discourses, you will note that beginning with the discourse of the master and then shifting to the discourse of the hysteric, then moving to the discourse of the analyst, and finishing with the discourse of the university, the relations among the terms remains invariant. The terms change their position in each of the four positions they can occupy, but with respect to one another they always maintain a constant position. In this particular universe of discourse (again, see my article for the concept of a “universe of discourse”, which you won’t find in Lacan, but which is a logical extension of his own thought regarding discourse), for example, a can never appear, to put it metaphorically, before the term S2. Consequently, given one discourse, you already have the other three.
As Deleuze put it speaking in the context of Levi-Strauss, “In whatever manner language is acquired, the elements of language must have been given all together, all at once, since they do not exist independently of their possible differential relations” (Logic of Sense, Handsome Continuum Edition, 58). So too with Lacan’s discourse structures. Even if each discourse were to appear diachronically in the order of history in such a way that the others were absent or not present in the social order, nonetheless these other discourses would be virtually there or would exist virtually, simply “awaiting” their opportunity to manifest themselves. What is remarkable, however, is that the discourses don’t seem to arise sequentially with the establishment of a single discourse. Rather, the moment one discourse is instituted you get the sudden actualization of the other three discourses within that universe of discourse.
Take the discourse of the master. What is it that the discourse of the master does? Does it master, dominate, control? No, not really. If you refer back to the discourse of the master you note that on the upper portion of the discourse there is a relation between S1 and S2. S2 refers to the battery of signifiers. We might think of this as a disorganized, chaotic mass of signifiers that float about willy nilly, almost at random. What the discourse of the master does is provide a master-signifier, loosely something like what Derrida referred to as a “transcendental signifier”, that organizes this chaotic mass of signifiers into a unified structure. Thus, for example, when Kant formulated the position of “transcendental idealism” he was situated in the position of the discourse of the master insofar as he provided a signifier that unified philosophy in a particular way, generating a coherent structure or organization. Similarly, when an activist characterizes a series of conflicts as a revolution, he is occupying the position of the discourse of the master insofar as he is unifying a mass of disconnected acts and events under a single signifier that render them capable of generating a sense or an organization.
What is of interest is that the moment you get the discourse of the master, you also seem to get the appearance of the hysteric or that subject position that contests the legitimacy of the master-signifier and its ability to unify the field of floating signifiers, the analyst or that subject position that occupies what is excluded from the field of floating signifiers and reads the split of the subject through this remainder or excresence that is excluded from the discourse of the master but which drives the discourse of the hysteric, and finally you get the discourse of the university which could either be read as discipleship with respect to the discourse of the master (continuing the work of the master by taking specific cases not addressed by the master and attempting to integrate them in the field inaugurated by the discourse of the master) or that attempts to police other discourses by integrated that which is excluded (objet a) and either denying its existence or showing how some prior discourse already contains that anomalous element.
We see all of this in the blogosphere. You have those occupying the discourse of the hysteric contesting the legitimacy of certain master-signifiers or other discourses. Thus, for example, when I criticize Kant or anti-realism I am, at that time, occupying the discourse of the hysteric by contesting a particular university discourse and discourse of the master. Likewise you get certain discourses of the master such as my discourse when I announce the existence of some strange form of philosophy known as “onticology”. Likewise, with the appearance of this discourse of the master you get certain university discourses where certain things not explored by my version of onticology are investigated using principles of onticology. I’ve been particularly startled to see a number of folks in theology interested in onticology, which was certainly nothing I anticipated but which is also something that I don’t object to in any way.
I find myself wondering, however, where we see the discourse of the analyst appear in the theory blogosphere. If there is one character in the theory blogosphere that occupies the position of the discourse of the analyst, I would have to say this prize goes to Dejan of Cultural Parody Center. In my view, Dejan is often unjustly characterized as a troll. This, however, is, I think, a deep confusion as to what exactly he is up to. Is Dejan vulgar, disgusting, crass and often irritating? Absolutely. He is everything, if Freud’s characterization is to be believed, a Slav is reputed to be. However, I think the crucial difference between a troll and Dejan is the difference between neurosis and perversion… And from my interactions with Dejan here online, I get the sense that he is perhaps the only truly Lacanian pervert I have ever encountered. By this I am not referring to the vulgarity of his comments (if you only saw a number of his comments I regularly delete), but rather to the uncanny proximity between the discourse of the analyst and the relationship to jouissance entertained by the pervert. Structurally the discourse structure of the analyst and the economy of perversion are indistinguishable. Where ordinary neurotics or organized around desire and a defense against jouissance (jouissance being experienced as the dissolution of the neurotic’s status as a subject), the pervert is instead a subject that relates to jouissance, situating himself as having a knowledge of jouissance.
If the difference between the troll and the analyst is a difference between neurosis and perversion, then this is because the troll seeks to wound the other with which he engages, seeking to rescue that other from a terrifying jouissance that would destroy his status as a subject, thereby seeking to return his interlocutor to his status as a subject of lack or desire, whereas the analyst seeks not to wound, but to reveal the functioning of a jouissance within the economy of his interlocutor (this jouissance, of course, being what must be excluded in order for the discourse to maintain itself or perpetuate itself). In the case of perversion, the pervert unlike the neurotic is generally indifferent to the subjective desiring economy of the subjects with which he engages. Although Sade, for example, certainly wounds the bodies of his subjects, he never strikes at their status as subjects in his engagements with them. Likewise, Masoch is largely indifferent to the desiring structure of the women with which he engages in submitting himself to them. Rather, the pervert aims at the core of jouissance that both animates desire and against which desire seeks to defend itself. Deleuze articulates this pithily in Difference and Repetition:
If repetition is possible, it is as much opposed to the moral law as it is to natural law. There are two known ways to overturn moral law. One is by ascending towards the principles: challenging the law as secondary, derived, borrowed or ‘general’; denouncing it as involving a second-hand principle which diverts an orginal force or usurps an original power. The other way, by contrast, is to overturn the law by descending towards the consequences, to which one submits with a too-perfect attention to detail. By adopting the law, a falsely submissive soul manages to evade it and to taste pleasures it was supposed to forbid. We can see this in demonstration by absurdity and working to rule, but also in some forms of masochistic behavior which mock by submission. The first way of overturning the law is ironic, where irony appears as an art of principles, of ascent towards the principle of overturning principles. The second is humour, which is an art of consequences and descents, of suspensions and falls. (5)
The first way, the way of irony, might be said to be the way of neurosis. Here we might think of Freud’s three famous narcissistic wounds, where the neurotic gets his satisfaction, wins back his surplus-jouissance through wounding. The second is the way of perversion, evident in the literature of Sade and Sacher-Masoch. Sade subverts the moral law– which, for those familiar with Lacanian thought is what organizes the economy of desire –through rational-deductive demonstration. As one reads in Philosophy in the Bedroom, the horrifying acts with which Sade and his accomplices engage are the result of a priori rational deductions from the moral laws of reason. Through this he reveals the Sadistic jouissance operative behind the moral law at the level of the unconscious. There is often an element of humorous mirth behind Sade’s exercise of the Law that bleeds through every monotonous page of his writings. Sacher-Masoch, by contrast, adopts the route of complete submission to the Law organized around contractual agreements (Deleuze’s reading of Sacher-Masoch in Coldness and Cruelty is brilliant in comparing the relationship different attitudes to the Law and social organization in Sade and Sacher-Masoch). What is notably absent in both instances, however, is any sort of antagonism directed towards the status as subject of the people with which Sade and Sacher-Masoch engage. In other words, there’s a strange absence of the imaginary dimension in these interpersonal relations. Indeed, there is even a sort of pedagogy at work in the perversions of both of these subjects. The perverse subject seems to wish to teach of jouissance. Where the neurotic subject is characterized by perpetual doubt and the psychotic subject is characterized by certainty, the perverse subject presents himself as animated by a knowledge of jouissance or of that which must be excluded in order for desiring-economy to maintain itself.
And this is just it in the case of Dejan. Perhaps he has been particularly favorable to me over the years, but I have never sensed, in any of my engagements with him any sort of animosity or malice in his engagements. Rather, what he seems to bring to the table, without knowing it I think, is a knowledge of the excluded jouissance that animates desire. As my friend Mel often puts it after reading his posts, “he has an uncanny knowledge of your jouissance.” But it is not a mean spirited knowledge or performance. Where the troll, occupying either the position of the hysteric saving the other from their jouissance or the subject of the university discourse proclaiming, Borg-like that “you will be assimilated”, Dejan simply seems delighted in the presence of an unspoken jouissance in a manner not dissimilar to a squirrel chittering in delight at the find of a buried pile of nuts. In this respect, Dejan’s desire is not the trolls desire to destroy jouissance or save one from their jouissance, but, as Lacan puts it at the close of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, the
analyst’s desire is not a pure desire. It is a desire to obtain absolute difference, a desire which intervenes when, confronted with the primary signifier, the subject is, for the first time, in a position to subject himself to it. There only may the signification of a limitless love emerge, because it is outside the limits of the law, where alone it may live. (276)
And in this connection, I’m inclined to say that Dejan is among the only true Christians I’ve ever met in my life, practicing a love that wishes not to see the disappearance of this absolute difference, but which delights in it and wishes to preserve it. What would he do, after all, without these jouissance differentials to plumb and explore? Perhaps this form of agency occupying the position of jouissance or the analyst is something that only those who have practiced analysis can appreciate. John Doyle who is another I would categorize as not at all fitting the category of troll despite being irritating as hell in some of his analyses seems to share a similar fascination. And perhaps this is because the analyst, in occupying a strange social relation with respect to others, encounters an uncanny mirror image in the figure of the pervert.