Analysis


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I sometimes feel as if I go through a sort of eternal return, where I repeat things I have said before yet experience myself as having just thought them for the very first time. Hopefully, despite these repetitive iterations, despite these re-loops of loops, each iteration is nonetheless somehow producing something new or allowing some other thought to emerge that, for whatever reason, could not before emerge. As Spinoza argues, ideas can only produce ideas. Yet why is it that ideas sometimes get fixed or repetitive like a skipping record? Why is it, I wonder, that we obsess over certain themes and ideas– almost as if our life is a musical variation –such that we perpetually return to these things without realizing that we’re doing so? The Bird and the Bee song: “Again and again and again and again… Do it again! Do it again!” In his preface to Meillassoux’s After Finitude, Badiou remarks that in a true work of philosophy,

…it is possible to detect the sense of something new– texts which respond to the question: “What wound was I seeking to heal, what thorn was I seeking to draw from the flesh of existence when I became what is called ‘a philosopher’?” It may be that, as Bergson maintained, a philosopher only ever develops one idea. In any case, there is no doubt that the philosopher is born of a single question, the question which arises at the intersection of thought and life at a given moment in the philosopher’s youth; the question which one must at all costs find a way to answer. (After Finitude, vi)

This is a surprisingly Deleuzian thought for Badiou; one that almost stands in contradiction with his charges of a Deleuzian “aristocratism” in The Clamor of Being. I do not know that I follow Badiou in the thesis that the wound is unique to the philosopher, but, as I argued in Difference and Givenness, I would certainly agree that the wound– what I there called “the encounter” –is constitutive of thought. To think is to be wounded. That is to say, to think is to be out of step with the world, to not be at home in the world, to experience the world as unheimlich. We think because we are not at home and perhaps the degree of our homelessness marks the degree of our thought’s intensity… Unless we are consumed by a homelessness so profound that it ends in catatonia or mute autism. Thought then would be a way of attempting to sublate or overcome that wound, that crack that prevents any adaptation to the world.

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It is this that is fundamentally missing from accounts of collective assemblages such as we find proposed in Spinoza. Conatus, the endeavor to persist in one’s being, lacks– at least on the surface –the dimension of death drive in speaking-being. While the Spinozist body is indeed excessive rather than homeostatic or adaptive in its active drive to promote its power to act, what seems to be missing is this dimension of repetition, of death drive, that is at odds with action premised on benefit or enlightened self-interest.

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This can be sensed above all in Spinoza’s conception of love, where the madness of love, the willingness to destroy everything else for the sake of love, is entirely absent. Despite the fact that Spinoza asserts love can be excessive, one gets the sense that for him, the difference between a good meal (which he also characterizes in terms of love) and mad love is a difference in degree rather than kind. If, as speaking beings, we are constitutively wounded, divided by language, and therefore subjects of an irrepressible question that we cannot escape, how must we understand collective assemblages and the perils that haunt them? Clearly these assemblages will perpetually be perturbed by the repetition, the eternal return, that haunts the subjects that inhabit these assemblages. On the one hand, this will be one of the prime sources of those lethal identifications with demagogues, tyrants, and dictators where the body of these figures is encountered as an answer to the repetitive question of the wound, as that which can sublate the wound and produce the “heimlich” in the world.

On the other hand, the wound, the death drive, will be the source of our most profound creativity, political struggles, thought, love, invention, etc., as we choose the wound over adaptation. Is there a way to channel the wound, the death drive, in one way rather than another? Certainly this is one of the aims of psychoanalytic practice– to transform painful, paralyzing, and intolerable incarnations of the death drive manifested in the symptom, into productive, liveable, creative symptoms or forms of repetitive jouissance. Witness Joyce.

Or is it, as I asked months ago in another post, that the death drive, the symptom, repetition, jouissance is simply psychoanalysis’ own myth of original sin: a reactionary ideological mystification that argues that lethal and mal-adaptive repetition is natural and necessary, rather than contingent? Spinoza argues that our collective irrationality arises not from original sin, but from a set of cognitive processes that take place at the level of how our emotions function. Death drive is something quite different than the simple confusion of two things that resemble one another as in the case of an object confused with love object or object of hate that shares a quality with these objects without possessing any of the same causal properties, e.g., Hating one’s student named Tom, because one was the victim of a childhood bully named Tom, and failing to realize this completely contingent connection. Death drive is not a confusion, but a sort of ever repeating glitch in a system, that causes the perpetual return of an insistent question that places the subject out of step with the world. One might think of the people obsessed with a certain image in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the image, ultimately, of the mountain), to such a degree that they completely neglected their bodies, families, jobs, and all the rest (viz., they were completely disjointed from the world) trying to figure out why this image would not leave their mind and what it might represent. The difference here, of course, is that for the characters in Close Encounters, they do get an answer. There is no answer to the death drive, only the repeated failure of any and all such answers– Which can be a source of a positive jouissance. “Do it again!”

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From roughly June until a few weeks ago I was in the midst of a deep and black depression. The strange thing was that I did not feel sad, but simply disengaged from everything. I wasn’t, as it were, even aware that anything had changed. I had lost all desire for everything. I no longer read. I felt no inclination to respond to emails. No books, shows, movies, or ideas interested me. Whenever I got a new paper published or received some sort of praise for my book, it left me feeling cold. I had no desire to be around other people. I slept a lot and just walked through the world like a sort of zombie. There was no malice in any of this. If I didn’t respond to an email, it wasn’t because I harbored animosity towards the person. I didn’t respond to anyone unless it was a professional matter I couldn’t ignore. I simply couldn’t bring myself to care.

The worst part is that you blame yourself for this state and experience it as a moral failing. You tell yourself that perhaps your brain has hardened and you simply can’t think fluidly in the way you once did. You tell yourself that you’ve become lazy, ceased caring, etc. Somehow it is something that you’re doing that’s led to this malaise. But just as anger in the midst of a nicotine fit seems absolutely convincing and like a matter of your will, the depression is not experienced as depression, but as some set of choices you are making. Of course, from a psychoanalytic perspective this is because somehow, at some level, you have betrayed your desire and repudiated yourself as a subject. The question is how?

Perhaps now I am in a manic period– I’ve certainly been writing a lot –but something seemed to break a few weeks ago. And even if it is manic, it feels good. It feels good to care. It feels good to write. It feels good to draw connections, to find images to represent things, to read, to dance with others in thought. I began exercising and this seemed to produce significant changes. Who knew? But what was it that brought this on? Why did I fall into this pit? In her beautiful essay, Why Psychoanalysis?, Elizabeth Roudinesco argues that depression, melancholia, is the unique malady of our time, produced by our contemporary ideological conditions and conditions of production.

If neurosis– a loud, noisy, antagonistic symptom in protest of the reigning social order — is the symptom of the late nineteenth and twentieth century, argues Roudinesco, depression is the reigning symptom of an era where great causes have collapsed, where alternatives to the social organization of this world have disappeared, where there is nothing to protest as all norms have collapsed, and where all that is left is the pursuit of happiness, the improvement of one’s body and health, and the endless pursuit of ever new and novel forms of exotic enjoyment. The depressive age is an age where the Soviet Union has collapsed and China has become capitalistic, such that the only [once] credible alternatives to the world of liberal democratic capitalism and the promise of “happiness” and a life without risk, have disappeared. Likewise, with the death of God we get a world closed to transcendent possibilities, to ideals higher than those of appetite.

Insofar as all symptoms are a protest, of sorts, against the Other– a trace of the lack in the Other or the fact that the Other is a sham, a semblance, an impostor, that the Other does not provide the answer or jouissance promised –depression, the disappearance of desire, the fading of desire, is a protest against such a closure where all alternatives have disappeared. But, like so many symptoms, what a painful symptom! Perhaps depression is what occurs in the absence of being able to even articulate what is missing, what is absent. Depression would be a sort of silent speech, a mute speech, that speaks the absence of signifiers worthy of desire. Or better yet, depression would be a marker of that which falls outside of language or that for which there are no signifiers. As such, in the borromean clinic, depression would be located at the intersection between the circles of the imaginary and the real: A mute witness of the imaginary body in response to a certain real that haunts the symbolic.

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Is there a way in which depression can be made active? Is there a way in which this mute withdrawal of the subject from the empty world of “bodies and pleasures”, this existence as undead, as zombie, that capitulates to the closure of possibilities, the absence of alternative, can make this silent and passive resistance an active resistance? Such a resistance would no longer be one that assaults the body of the depressive, such as in the case of the depressive subject that blames himself, but would be a subject that might find a way to reject the idea that happiness, exotic enjoyments, and bodies and pleasures are the only alternatives, the only things, we can hope and live for… Or rather, that we can hope and be dead for.

Jodi Dean has a short post up on critics who interrogate how much Zizek writes:

This is an old topic, much trodden in these parts. But, I’m finally getting around to writing a review that was due 18 months ago (it has now become a review essay) and so I’m returning to old themes. Why, why, why do ‘critics’ attack Zizek for writing too much? An essay in one book I’m reviewing treats the amount of his writing as a symptom. What amount is symptomatic?

Even the title of this post is interesting, for it speaks to the difference between pleasure (which is homeostatic in nature) and jouissance, which always walks the line between pleasure and pain. In our discussions of style we’ve so far discussed the manner in which certain forms of style can produce attachments and identification, the institutional apparatus in academia and how style can function to reinforce certain class distributions, and a number of issues pertaining to the relationship between style and content. I wonder if Jodi doesn’t implicitly raise another issue here. What is interesting in these critiques of Zizek– regardless of what one thinks about Zizek theoretically or politically –is the way in which they seem to treat the symptom in perjorative terms. A symptom, these critiques imply, is something deviant, something that we’re supposed to escape, something we’re supposed to overcome. A symptom is conceived here, in short, as a sickness.

Nothing could be further from the Freudo-Lacanian position. Within the Freudian framework, a symptom is not a sickness, a cancerous tumor to be excised, but is rather a solution or a cure on the part of the subject. Lacan will go one step further and claim that there is no subject without a symptom. The aim of analysis is thus not to excise the symptom– which would lead to a collapse of the subject as the symptom is the subject’s ontological support in being –but to redirect this site of jouissance elsewhere so that the subject might find less painful forms of jouissance. For Lacan, then, the symptom is not something that disappears in analysis. The symptom, for Lacan, is thus the singularity of the subject.

Nonetheless, there is something to this critique of Zizek. Here I am not referring to it’s moralistic tone, but rather to the jouissance and relation to jouissance that underlies this response to Zizek. In Seminar 23, The Sinthome, Lacan, in his discussion of Joyce, states that we are never interested in another subject’s symptom. Indeed, when confronted with the symptom of another, there’s often a sense of horror. In part this has to do with neurotic structurations of desire (the tale would be very different for a perverse subject), which functions as a strategy for evading jouissance through maintaining desire (the hysteric subject striving to keep the desire of the Other unsatisfied so as to escape jouissance, the obsessional subject striving to negate all desire by satisfying every demand, thereby deflating or undermining all jouissance). Neurosis is a defense against jouissance. The neurotic lives in a terror of being the object of jouissance.

Does this not add another dimension to discussions of certain forms of style. Is not, in part, the visceral reaction to certain forms of style in figures like Hegel, Lacan, Levinas, late Heidegger, Deleuze, Derrida, etc., a horror at the jouissance of the writer, and a terror that one’s status as a subject will fade and disappear in this encounter with style? That is, these texts drip jouissance in the sense that they seem to enjoy the signifier themselves. In this way, desire seems to evaporate and there seems to be nothing save disappearance in this jouissance. This would account for the experience so many have that a game is being played with them by these authors. Of course, this would speak to the common fantasy of being a masochistic puppet of enjoyment in many neurotics. The question, of course, would not be one of condemning these styles, but one of how we might devise strategies to overcome these neurotic responses.

Our Carl gives a nice analysis of the mechanisms of textual identification with respect to the issues I raised on style over at Dead Voles. There Carl writes:

At one level there’s absolutely nothing remarkable about this dynamic of text identification except the fact that all these smart people seem to think it’s remarkable. Every text from Dr. Seuss on up, difficult or not, has the charismatic potential to generate reverent reading communities that might be described as ‘priesthoods’. My own experience is with Antonio Gramsci, an Italian theorist who wrote about complex things quite clearly, all in all. There are a lot of pages of Gramsci, most of them in prison notebooks that he never had a chance to edit into a linear text, many of them on topics that very few people could care less about. This of course creates the opportunity for a mystery cult for those few who have virtuously read through all of it, sort of like the Kabbalah or the Hadith. Here are instances where the reading community in effect ADDS difficulty to the sacred text by digging out and canonizing every little detail, aside, and tangent. The characteristic assertion is that the plainish meanings of the core writings must be supplemented or even amended in light of these exclusive arcana. (Translation fetishists from the Qur’an to Weber and Foucault work the same way. Translations are not just workably second-best but unacceptable in comparison to the sacred revelation of the original.)

People choose these texts and these reading strategies for all the usual reasons they choose religions (and reject other religions). They may be born into them, or disposed toward them by cultural marking of the text. They may be seeking identity and collective effervescence in a community. The text may be culturally marked as normative or transgressive, enabling the effervescence of dominant or rebellious subculture identification. There may accordingly be a component of acceptance and/or rejection of authority, be it the father’s or the group’s. These are choices within structured fields of options and decision strategies. All of this falls under the sociology of what Weber called elective affinity and Bourdieu elaborated as the schemes of the habitus.

For some reason this makes me think of Virno’s discussion of fear in A Grammar of the Multitude. In the third chapter of A Grammar of the Multitude Virno argues that anguish/anxiety is one of the predominant affects of our time. I hope to write more on this later when I am not inundated with grading at the end of the semester and thoroughly exhausted. At any rate, as Marx and Deleuze and Guattari argued, one of the marks of capitalism is the manner in which it decodes all social relations and codes through processes of deterritorialization. By “decoding” Deleuze and Guattari do not mean the activity of finding the meaning behind some coded fragment of speech as intelligence officers and cryptographers do. Rather decoding is the process by which social codes are undone and destroyed.

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There is perhaps a tendency to think the symptom as a sort of tick. You are before your symptom whenever you have a repetitive twitch, perpetually fail in some repeated endeavor, can’t help saying a particular word, and so on. Yet perhaps a better way of thinking the symptom is as a way of receiving or even welcoming the Other. As Lacan liked to emphasize, the words of the Other always carry a certain surplus. “You’re telling me this, but what is it that you really mean?” Were there words an act of seduction, an act of aggression, an act of rejection, an act of indifference? This person here is talking to me, but what is the desire behind their talk. To say the symptom is a way of receiving the Other is to say that the symptom fills out this anxiety provoking void. A friend recently pointed out to me that I often take comments addressed to me in a hostile manner, interpreting them as criticisms or attacks, rather than as elaborations of what I’ve said building on that thought and exploring it. This would be a sort of symptom, a way of welcoming the Other. Of course, in welcoming the Other in this way the Other doesn’t feel very welcome. Indeed, the symptom drives the Other off, beats them down.

The aim of analysis is a sort of fundamental re-orientation of the symptom; a transfiguration of the co-ordinates within which you experience the symptom. The symptom allows for infinite variation, but it produces the monotony of the same. Like an algebraic function– F(x) = 2x –we plug in the values of x (all the Others we encounter), and we get an infinite series, but they are all variations of the same pattern: for 2 we get 4, for 3 we get 6, for 4 we get eight. Always the same welcome of the Other fit into the function without the Other ever arriving.

What would it really mean to welcome the Other? Lacan says that the analyst’s desire is an impure desire: that it desires absolute difference… That difference that composes the analysand. Of course, judging by the case studies we hear at Clinical Days and psychoanalytic interpretations in the world of theory, this is seldom achieved. But all the same… What would it mean to truly welcome the Other? What would it mean to hear beyond the symptom or the frame? I think of all the voices that have fallen silent in the last two years. Bloggers that grew quiet. Conversations that fell off. Blogs that went cold. All of these encounters gone. Did I not welcome beyond my symptom? Did I murder the difference of alterity? What would it mean to encounter in such a way that your difference is not effaced or absorbed, while truly welcoming the stranger, the Nebensmensch? What would it mean to escape the logic of Territory.

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The book or article stands before me as an object. It is something there in the world like a chair, rock, or tree. As I regard the book, I intend it as something containing arguments, concepts, claims, and so on. That is, just as I attribute a certain mass to the rock, just as I treat this mass as a property of the rock, so too do I treat the book or article as possessing these arguments, claims, and concepts. Yet strangely, unlike the rock (though this is arguably true of the rock as well), the book cannot be encountered all at once. Where are these concepts, claims, and arguments? The book can only be read in time. It can only unfold in time. Even if I were to lay out all the pages side by side, I still could not encounter the book as a simultaneity. For the reader, the book can only be encountered as a process, as something that must unfold. And also, for the writer, the text must be produced. Neither the reader or writer can encounter the text all at once.

Perhaps there is a differential between the existence of the text and the process or erlebnis of the text. We might say that as an ex-istence, the text is a simultaneity that is all there at once, wrapped up within itself, complete. It is only in the lived time of presentation, the argument would run, in the lived time of reading, that the book would present itself under the aegis of being a fragment of the whole:

Husserl’s paradox: We intend the object as a unified whole but only ever encounter the object in partial profiles. From whence is the unity of the object constituted as a unified whole? How is it possible for the object to be “counted-as-one”, when it is nowhere presented as one?

As I read the book, I am perpetually conscious that there is a whole that lurks just over the horizon of the word, the sentence, the horizon. Each fragment somehow fits into that whole or is a part of that whole. Yet where is this whole? Between two covers? Perhaps. Yet even when I complete the book, the whole has evaded me and slips between my fingers even as I hold the book in my hands. I intend the book as being in the book, but I look in vain to find the book.

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Like Carroll’s snark that never appears where you look for it, the book never seems to appear where it appears. Where is the book? Between the covers? In the authors mind? In the act of reading? There are occasions, upon returning to a beloved book, where I wonder whether the book hasn’t rewritten itself in the interval of my absence. How can this be? How does the book change so markedly?

Perhaps there is something about the sheer physicality of the book that generates the impression that the book is something. After all, we encounter the book as a thing or an object. It is there, right before us, between those two covers. And the book must therefore be in that physical object? What academic postures, attitudes, temperaments, might this paradox of the book produce? In the famous section on commodity fetishism in Capital, Marx writes:

The mysterious character of the commodity-form consists therefore simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men’s own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labor themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things. Hence it also reflects the social relations of the producers to the sum total of labour as a social relation between objects, a relation which exists apart from and outside the producers. Through this substitution, the products of labour become commodities, sensious things which are at the same time supra-sensible or social… In the act of seeing, of course, light is really transmitted from one thing, the external object, to another thing, the eye. It is a physical relation between physical things. As against this, the commodity-form, and the value relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relations between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. (vol. 1, Fowkes trans., 164-5)

Marx remarks that we must mobilizes all the subtlety of theology and metaphysics to uncover the mystery of the commodity. The commodity presents itself as a physical object, as a thing, such that it is the object that we relate to, not other human beings. But in fact the commodity is a masked or clothed set of social relations. Is it not the same with the book? The book is there, between its covers, and the meaning is in it. Or this is how the book or article is intended anyway. The meaning is treated as something floating about, out there in the world, contained in the text… Belonging to it. But where could it possibly be? The book only unfolds in time, even if the pages are simultaneous in space. The space between the covers contain only ink. The text must actualize itself in a reading. Text is event. Not simply the event of inscription, but the necessary event of decryption, of a reading, that makes the text be again.

I encounter books as artifacts. They are things that populate the world, like tables and rocks. Do I therefore approach or intend books and articles in the way I intend tables and rocks? Do I encounter them as substances? When I look at the academic postures of those that traffic only in books and articles, who only communicate with other academics through the medium of the book, I sometimes get this sense. The text is treated as a thing, possessing a meaning. This can readily be seen at conferences. Someone in the audience asks a question. A look of disdain crosses the face of the author. Obviously this fellow must be a dolt. He missed the entire point of the paper. He missed the substance of the paper! Since sense or meaning is taken as being a property of the text, as being thing-like, a difference can only indicate a failure to understand or a misinterpretation on the part of the reader. For here the text is not a process or an event, but a substance that underlies the script.

In blogging a different relation to text seems to emerge. Following the arguments of Walter Ong and Friedrich Kittler, the medium of the blogosphere is not simply an alternative space in which to convey ideas, but also has an impact on how thought unfolds and the nature of social relations. In the case of books and articles, the author is generally absent. The author is on the horizon, but as a shadowy, generally idealized, operator of the text. The text has a thing-like character and is treated as a substance. Yet in blog writing, the text is encountered far more as process, in its unfolding, in all its hesitations, false trails, divergences and so on. On those blogs where comments are open, readers post responses. The author very quickly discovers that the reader is not a dolt, but rather that, as Lacan said, all communication is miscommunication. There is a powerless or inability to master the word, such that the sentence is like a floating blog, pervaded by all sorts of relations, which is plugged into all sorts of assemblages quite different from that where it first exploded into the world. Here it becomes clear that meaning is not a substance beneath the graphe, but a perpetually displaced entering-into-relation, event, or encounter. At the conference, the academic individuated in an ecology of books and articles, encounters the rude and belligerent questioner as a jerk who is just being difficult and who has failed to behave reasonably. Yet in the blogosphere one discovers that the reasonable is a sort of transcendental illusion or fetish, borne of those who spend their time silently with the non-responsive book or article, seldom encountering the passions that haunt real and regular encounters with others. Does not this space of the encounter call for a rethinking of meaning, text, and above all reason? Does it not call for a new model of what it is to think?

Notebookeleven– whose blog, I’m embarrassed to say, I just recently discovered –has written an interesting response to my post Where’s Marx?

Larvalsubjects has an interesting post on Marx in the academy over here which has generated a lively discussion in which, perhaps unsurprisingly, the question of agency has risen to the fore again. This is still something I find disturbing, something I’m not really able to get a grip on fully, since I tend to understand the problem of agency as responding to something like a desire to answer the question ‘what difference can I make?’. “Where’s the agency”, someone might ask, “in these economic analyses of desire (D&G) or capital (Marx)? Isn’t it all just a huge machine in which I am nothing? And if it is a big machine, how did this machine produce it’s own auto-critique? Isn’t it really the break, the rupture (of the subject), that we need to theorise? Isn’t consciousness really the most important fact in reality since it is inexplicable by reality? Me, I’m important, surely – doesn’t my analysis do anything, offer anything – don’t I have the answers, or at least the right to produce answers or the possibility of finding them?” I’m inclined to dismiss these questions out of hand as the whining desire of a resentiment-filled petit-bourgeois who thinks they’re ‘in charge of their life’ in the first place but have to recognise that at least some of the charge invested in this response is disproportionate and perhaps related to the other peculiar investments I find myself bound to (revolution, majik, sex).

You can read the rest here. While I am not yet willing to draw a hard and fast distinction between academic theory and the field of practice, I do think these are questions worth raising. Rather than asking the question what is to be done?, perhaps the question should be where are things being done? That is, where are the tendencies of change and transformation in the world today. The virtue of this question is that it takes the onus of change off the shoulders of the theorist– a rather narcissistic and self-congratulatory perspective to begin with, that lends itself easily to hierarchical, top-down models –and directs attention to the social field and those tendencies or potentialities where social structurations are shifting and changing. This accords well with Marx’s own attentiveness to questions of where the real motor of history is to be found. Regardless of how problematic they are, this is one of the things I find appealing about Negri and Hardt. Negri and Hardt do not propose a program– as far as I know –nor give a set of prescriptions as to what is to be done. Rather, they look to those places in the social field where existing social structures are undergoing transformation and change as a result of the productions of various, heterogeneous, multitudes. That is, it is these divergent, heterogeneous, multitudes that are the motor of change, not the theorist remaking society in his imagination from his armchair. If anything, the theorist perhaps brings a little more clarity to these struggles and points of deterritorialization. In his defense, Badiou is very clear that it is not philosophers that create truths or engage in truth-procedures (qua philosophers). For Badiou it is always artists, scientists, those engaged in political struggles, and lovers that engage in truth-procedures. The philosopher names truths, articulates them as truths (one need not be aware that they are engaged in a truth-procedure to be engaged in a truth-procedure) and strives to think the compossibility of the four conditions of truth.

This evening, while grading piles of essay quizzes and logic exams– with many more yet to go –I happened to catch a documentary on spree killers. Spree killers, of course, are people that go on killing sprees, killing a large number of people. As the show attempted to explain this phenomenon, it made reference to a psychological study done at a university (sadly the name and researcher escapes me), on this very phenomenon. The thesis– not a particularly elaborate or well developed one –is that people who have suffered continuous and constant rejection are especially prone to spree killing. In order to test this hypothesis (without producing the same result!), the psychologists called for groups of students to participate in an experiment. As usual, the students were not told what the experiment was for or were given a different account of what the experiment was about. First they would tell the students that they were going to work in groups to do a particular task. They then spoke to each of the participants in private, telling them either 1) that everyone else in the group had requested to work with them, or 2) no one wanted to work with them.

In order to determine the effects of this rejection, they had the students do word games on a computer, filling in the missing letters of words that would appear on screen. Thus, for example, a word such as “m r” or “s b” would appear on the screen and the student would be asked to fill in the first letters that came to mind. Not surprisingly, those students who had been rejected were more likely to turn the words into violent words like “murder” or “stab”, rather than say “slab”. As an additional level of this experiment, groups of two students would then do sound testing together, where they had the ability to raise the volume of their partner’s earphones to painful levels. Again, not surprisingly, those students who had been told they were rejected by everyone often raised the volume to the highest possible levels. The conclusion of the experiment, of course, is the rather obvious point that rejection generates violent and murderous thoughts that actively seek to negate the supposed “rejecters”.

What I find interesting in this experiment is not the light it sheds on spree killers, but on certain rhetorical encounters. Those familiar with Lacan will readily recognize the conflictual nature of the dimension of the Imaginary at work in this experiment, where two people enter into a struggle for recognition that can spiral out of control. Of course, Lacan’s imaginary is more sophisticated than what the experiment assumes, as the Lacanian would point out that in order for rejection to produce this sort of effect there must be a prior identification with the rejecter. That is, I must already recognize myself as either being like the person rejecting me or as desiring the recognition of the person rejecting me for these results to ensue. I do not, for instance, find myself upset if I’m rejected by members of the Ku Klux Klan or members of the Hal Bop cult. It is only those I already identify with who instill these violent impulses in me. Perhaps this is what Freud had in mind when referring to the “narcissism of minor differences” in Civilization and its Discontents, where the two groups are very much alike (Simpsons fans will think of the rivalry between Shelbyville and Springfield), yet find some minor difference to fight over that seems blown out of all proportions.

When I am rejected by those with whom I consciously or unconsciously identify at some level, my ego or specular identity is itself cut to the core, as like an onion I have constructed this identity or ego from out of my identification, thereby rendering it dependent on those who reflect me, such that my very being is endangered when it is rejected. I seek to strike back to destroy the gaze from which I see myself as myself, thereby hoping to re-establish or re-ground my identity. However, as Lacan points out, this dialectic is doomed to failure for if I am successful in destroying the other through whom I reflect myself I am not longer reflected and thereby cease to exist as well. It is a catch-22. In being rejected I cease to exist. In destroying my rejector, I cease to exist. Yet, I am dependent on my other in order to exist. (Here I am making a highly condensed allusion to Lacan’s dialectic of the forced choice between being and thinking in his account of alienation and separation. This, of course, would only refer to the alienation portion of that dialectic).

It seems that we encounter these rhetorical situations primarily in discussions about politics, academic debates about theoretical positions, interpretations, ownership of master-theoreticians, etc., and religion. In these cases, both groups involved seem to experience themselves as being marginalized and rejected, and then strike out to destroy their opponents. It is at this point that we get the cascade of rhetorical effects, where the opponent’s being is severely simplified and they are reduced to a malignant, evil other without any other possible merit, where ad hominems come into play, and where we strike out to completely obliterate the person we’re engaged in debate with. For the most part, I do not think the abusive rhetorical fallacies result from a conscious desire to willfully deceive, but rather they are almost like computer programs that are activated when certain conditions in the imaginary are ripe. Just as a strong gravitational field around a massive celestial object like the sun will produce an aberration in [Newtonian] bodies for closely orbiting planets (the famous shift in the planet Mercury), so too will these distortions of thought ineluctably emerge under certain ripe conditions in the imaginary. Similarly, a number of the other psychological fallacies will emerge when dealing with issues around which our libido, our desire, is tightly bound, leading us to either ignore certain things, turn other things into strawmen, be overly optimistic, etc.

I do not know what, if anything, can be done about this. It seems to me that there is a bit of an antinomy at work here at the place of sites of contestation. Politics, religion, and theory are all sites of struggle and conflict. They require taking positions and rejecting other positions. Yet by the same token, they are sites of dialogue. For me, the question is how these two things can be thought together in such a way as to minimize the antagonism that so commonly emerges around them. I suppose there’s a parallax here. I do not at all have the answers, though I continuously find this phenomenon frustrating, mystifying, and exceedingly painful.

Nick, over at The Accursed Share, has an interesting review of Taylor’s recent book The Secular Age. Nick writes:

What Taylor proposes, however, is an alternative view – one that focuses neither on the secularization of public institutions nor on the secularization of private practices. Rather, he takes a Kantian approach and focuses on ‘the conditions of belief’ and how they have changed over history. While in the other approaches, there may still be remnants of the past that have not changed over time (e.g. swearing on a Bible before testimony, or the various religious traditions that have been retained in private), from the perspective of the conditions of belief, nothing is the same, even for the believer. The reason for this, simply put, is that even for the believer, his/her belief in the transcendent is no longer capable of being the “naïve” and certain view point it once was; instead, one’s belief is self-consciously only one viewpoint amongst many. (Of course, there were dissenters from the naïve certainty in transcendence in the past – Taylor mentions Epicureanism as a philosophy that denied the relevance of gods to human life – but it is only in our secular age that such an option has become not only widespread, but in many ways the default position.) Even among devout believers, there are times and spaces in life where they must eschew their belief and take on the perspective of the non-believer; or they must acknowledge that other perspectives are perfectly valid in themselves.

From my perspective, the really interesting point of this work, however, is that Taylor explicitly sets up the argument to examine and answer the question of “how did the alternatives become thinkable?” (25). In other words, how did the conditions of belief shift over time such that new possibilities that were previously impossible become thinkable? Moreover, Taylor notes that it is not a matter of simply removing some sort of religious blinder (as people like Dawkins would have us believe) which would then open our eyes to possibilities which were there all along. Rather, “secularity is the fruit of new inventions, newly constructed self-understandings and related practices” (22). It is the construction of these new practices and self-understandings and the construction of new conditions of belief that produce an assemblage in which new possibilities become thinkable and, indeed, naturalized. In this sense, secularization can even be seen as a revolution in thought, insofar as revolution involves making what was previously deemed impossible into the possible (and even the necessary). Finally, Taylor’s work holds interest to me insofar as he defines religion in terms of a belief in transcendence. The history of secularization, therefore, is the story of the emergence of immanence over time.

Although I’ve had mixed feelings about Taylor– though always enjoying his books –this sounds like exactly the right way of posing the question. If we take seriously the standpoint of immanence, we cannot treat such cultural shifts as the work of sovereign individuals (like Freud, Nietzsche, Marx, and Darwin) who came up with ideas of genius, but must instead ask what were the conditions under which such thinkers could be individuated in the first place, or rather what had changed socially and culturally for such possibilities to become thinkable? As Deleuze and Guattari argue in “The Postulates of Linguistics” (A Thousand Plateaus) and Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature, all enunciations are collective enunciations. To speak, in other words, is to inflect and iterate the social field within which one speaks. Or as they dramatically put it, to speak is to repeat. Consequently, we cannot see such transformations coming from sovereign individuals, but must look at broader, systematic shifts taking place in the social field. We’re still learning how to engage in this sort of analysis, though Marx and others have taught us a lot as to just what such forms of analysis look like. Along these lines, early Marx, especially, places religion at the forefront of his analysis, arguing that it is failed politics, while paying great respect to it nonetheless. The infamous Jewish Question is especially important reading in this regard for those interested in how Marx was thinking about religious alienation, whatever else its other drawbacks might be. My thanks to Nick for bringing this to my attention. I look forward to reading it after things slow down a bit.

Nick has also posted a translation of the first half of Simondon’s dissertation. For those not in the know, this is vital reading for anyone interested in understanding Deleuze. Simondon is one of the central, if not the central, influences on Deleuze’s account of intensities and individuation. This is terrific. Now if someone would just translate all of L’individuation, so I don’t have to slog through reaching for the dictionary whenever confronted with the technical scientific language. It’s a real scandal that Simondon and Maimon have not yet been translated.

For those who have not yet come across it, I cannot recommend The Psychoanalytic Field enough. Fadi, the blog owner, is a psychoanalyst practicing in Toronto. What makes his work so interesting is the deft way in which he weaves together a number of psychoanalytic theorists with clinical practice; especially Lacan and Deleuze and Guattari. Fadi simultaneously subjects Lacan to a critique through the lens of Deleuze and Guattari and other psychoanalytic theorists, and subjects Deleuze and Guattari to critique through a clinical lens and the lens of other psychoanalysts. Although there is a wealth of interesting material on this blog, this post recently caught my attention:

My incursion into this bit of intellectual and institutional history helps me situate Anti-Oedipus not only within the psychoanalytic context but also within that of one of the most pressing concerns that have marked the twentieth century. Deleuze and Guattari were by no means impermeable to the pressures and pleasures to take sides in the experience versus abstraction debate: Einstein/Heisenberg, Freud/Lacan. One might even extend the scenario to the artistic domain and add, for instance, Picasso/Kandinsky to the list of couplets.

However, Deleuze and Guattari opted for the third possibility, the one that neither physics nor psychoanalysis had acknowledged. I am referring here to that possibility one finds in Nietzsche’s, or at least in Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche’s, works. Indeed, Deleuze had already argued that Nietzsche’s reversal of Platonism did not consist in the privileging of experience at the expense of abstraction since Plato himself never did dismiss experience in the first place. What the Greek philosopher had actually done was to prioritise amongst the various experiences in order to distinguish between the good copies of the ideal and universal Forms from their bad and cheap imitations.

For those of you who might be a bit uncomfortable with my characterization of Lacan as a Platonist, you might want to keep in mind the practices of selection and valuation that the schemas of the Platonic Form and the Lacanian Symbolic discharge through the couplets good copy/cheap imitation and full speech/empty speech respectively.

In any case, and to return to Deleuze’s Nietzsche, a reversal of Platonism is effected only when the distinction good copy/bad copy and the system of reference upon which it is based (the Form) have been dismantled. For Nietzsche, the antithesis of the duality true world (Form) and apparent world (copy) is ostensibly the duality world and nothing (The Will to Power #567).

Read the rest here.

This, I think, is critique in the best sense of the word. For me the suggestion that Lacan, or more properly Lacanianism suffers from Platonism is apropos. I describe as Platonist or Idealist any position that posits structures as timeless essences of which things are mere copies or reflections. There are tendencies in Lacan that move in both directions. That is, it is possible to give a reading of Lacan that accords with the principles of historical materialism (specifically the thesis that all beings have a genesis in time), and to give a reading that would be strictly Platonist (and not in Badiou’s positive sense of the term). This is no small metaphysical issue, but will have profound implications for both clinical practice and for the sorts of questions the social or “critical theorist” asks.

I’ve increasingly come to feel that a number of misguided questions emerge among Lacanians that relate to his thought Platonically. This Platonism can be discerned in those approaches that treat the four discourses as eternal and unchanging structures, and which treat the name-of-the-father as an invariant and necessary cross-cultural structure for any “normal” subjectivity. At root, the four discourses are made up of four terms: objet a, the barred subject ($), the master-signifier (S1), and the signifier of the Other (S2). Based on this observation alone, we can generate not just four discourses, but a variety of different matrices that would be organized in very different way. Lacan, for instances, introduces a fifth discourse, the Discourse of the Capitalist, that would consequently have three other permutations and which would be organized in very different ways. Lacan represents this discourse as follows:

$—>S2
–….–
S1….a

This is a markedly different discourse than any of the four discourses we’ve all come to know and love, and has three additional permutations which have gone almost completely undiscussed. By my reckoning, there are actually six different possible permutations of the four terms making up any discourse, thus allowing for not four but twenty-four possible discourses or combinatorials. The point here is that these structures are far more fluid and open than is often suggested. The fact that Lacan introduced a fifth discourse is highly suggestive of the possibility that he suspected we were moving to a new cultural organization. Lacan suggests this in a number of places with regard to the four discourses, when he talks about the passing of the master.

Talk of the passing of the master brings me to my next point. Today we hear a lot of hand-waving about the “decline of symbolic efficacy” and the faltering of the name-of-the-father. To my thinking, this sort of talk immediately reveals where one stands with respect to Lacan’s later work, for there Lacan directly says that “one can do without the name-of-the-father so long as one makes use of it”. That aside, the problem with this sort of talk is precisely its Platonism or essentialism. Because it treats these structures as invariant or timeless, it can only see such a faltering of the name(s)-of-the-father as a crisis, and is thereby led to talk about the “decline of symbolic efficacy” ™. However, quoting Zizek quoting Wagner– who himself engages in a lot of this sort of hand-waving… At least in The Ticklish Subject –we are cured by the spear that smote us. Arguing that the faltering of the name-of-the-father is accompanied by a decline of symbolic efficacy is to also claim that the symbolic must (essentially) be supported by the name-of-the-father. What it doesn’t allow is the possibility of alternative forms of organization that will create their own forms of subjectivity and their own sorts of symptoms. As a result of this essentialism or Platonism, we get a reactionary and pessimistic form of Lacanian psychoanalysis that even goes so far as to defend the traditional nuclear family, oppose queer lifestyles, etc., as it sees this as the only way of preserving symbolic efficacy. However, not only does Lacan historicize his claims in a number of places, but this is directly contrary to Lacan’s own theoretical praxis, which treats its concepts as fluid, open, and constantly developing in relation to case materials, shifting historical conditions, etc. What should be a dynamic thing that shifts and changes as a function of practice, instead becomes reified and crystalized, generating the wrong sorts of questions. This bleeds into the clinic as well, forcing certain forms of interpretation, and generating a lethal set of a prioris about what’s going on with the analysand that renders hearing the discourse of the analysand impossible (as the speech of the analysand becomes occluded by the theoretical anticipations of the analyst). Later Lacan, by contrast, develops a far more variagated clinic based on the Borromean Knots, that allows for a much more complex symptomology… A symptomology, incidentally, that no longer requires one to trace everything back to the Oedipus. This move was already announced, prior to the development of the Borromean Knots, when Lacan declares that the Oedipus is Freud’s myth. That is, that the Oedipus is a symptom of Freud’s in need of interpretation, not a universal structure of the unconscious. Somehow these points seem to be glossed again and again.

Structures and mathemes are wonderful things, but they lose their explanatory power when they become Platonic forms or Idealistic essences that prevent the phenomena from speaking from the phenomena. What is needed is a far more fluid, open, historicized development of psychoanalytic theory. Above all it would be worthwhile to approach the question of the matheme in terms of the anxiety experienced by the analyst, for all too often it seems that the matheme functions as a sort of defense, granting the analyst a sense of mastery that reduces the opacity of the phenomenon. Yet this reduction is also a distortion that prevents one from hearing. There can be no doubt that hearing is the most difficult thing an analyst can do. There are few things more anxiety provoking than trying to make your way about in the opaque maze of the analysand’s discourse. A yearning emerges for interpretative master-keys that would authorize one’s interpretations (given so many terrifying and distressing things can happen in an analysis as a result of one’s interpretative interventions), and that would cut through the confusing maze of the analysand’s unconscious. Yet as Lacan said, the discourse of the master is the other side of psychoanalysis.

Should I ever find the time to write another book, this is precisely the theme I’d like to work with. Far from being opponents of Lacan, I see Deleuze and Guattari as highly sympathetic to Lacan’s thought, but as providing a necessary corrective to his thought by introducing historical conditions of production into the unconscious, i.e., by “Marx-ifying” Lacan. Indeed, among all the French theorists today, I think they show the most fidelity to the letter of Marx (which makes it bizarre that they’re so often said to be anti-Marxist). It is indeed interesting that those that chirp the loudest about Marx seem to be the most remote from Marx in terms of Marx’s style of analysis. One could even go so far as to say that both Badiou and Zizek have inverted Marx, making consciousness determine the world rather than material conditions of production determining consciousness. On the other hand, Lacan introduces desire into Marx, giving us the means to account for ideological formations and the structuration of desire in and through the social field in a way that is woefully underdeveloped (though virtually present) in Marx himself. Hopefully such a work would be an intervention in both how Deleuzians tend to talk about Lacan and psychoanalysis and how Lacanians tend to talk about Deleuze and Marxism. Clearly I have a long way to go in developing all this.

At any rate, take a look at Fadi’s blog. It is well worth the time.

wife_power.jpg

This is the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in some time (click on the pic for full effect). Wish I’d been there.

Saturday May 26th the VNN Vanguard Nazi/KKK group attempted to host a hate rally to try to take advantage of the brutal murder of a white couple for media and recruitment purposes.

Unfortunately for them the 100th ARA (Anti Racist Action) clown block came and handed them their asses by making them appear like the asses they were.

Alex Linder the founder of VNN and the lead organizer of the rally kicked off events by rushing the clowns in a fit of rage, and was promptly arrested by 4 Knoxville police officers who dropped him to the ground when he resisted and dragged him off past the red shiny shoes of the clowns.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt “White Flour”.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s angrily shouted once more, “White flowers?” the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.

Read the rest of the story here.

In Seminar 23, Sinthome, Lacan remarks that the equivoke and homonym are the central tools of the analyst. In short, the analyst is the person who routinely practices what is commonly referred to as the lowest form of humor. The idea is to break up the illusory unity of the analysand’s speech (what Bruce Fink refers to as “ego-discourse”, or that form of discourse that assumes mastery of its own intention or that meaning and intention are one and the same thing) so that desire might be set back in motion. Somehow I never quite envisioned this particular deployment of that principle.

Jodi Dean has recently written an interesting post on sarcasm, irony, and parody.

I was thinking about forms of defense, particularly self defense. Irony, sarcasm, and citationality first came to mind.These seem to be mechanisms to establish distance. Zizek mentions something like this, “I love you,” as they say in the movies, or something like that. I defend myself by diffusing my feeling, making it less mine than ours. Everyone feels this way or, it’s hardly surprising that one would feel this way. I can always add–oh, I was joking or that was meant sarcastically.

What about humor, parody, cynicism? Do these require a lack of commitment, a distance and amorphousness, a denial, refusal, or foreclosure of ownership? I’m thinking of the Daily Show, a blog, and Peruvian presidents. Are the utterances, performances, predicated on a refusal of an underlying belief or conviction? Or, are they premised on its constitutive absence? On a smooth ability to drift and flow, catching on nothing and open to anything? Are these about distance or perhaps more properly about defense? If the latter, perhaps it is defense of nothing or of nothingness, defense against an underlying lack or foreclosure?

I’m too worn out from editing (hey, maybe I can get Anthony to do the indexing later… he seemed to enjoy it with the journal issue he put together recently. Kudos to Anthony)… To resume my thought, I’m too worn out to build on Jodi’s fascinating observations (why can’t I deploy theory with respect to the day to day like that?), but I wonder how this example of parody might fit with the model she suggests in her post. It seems to me that Jodi’s remarks revolve around the perspective of the speaker and the way in which they strive to defend against some desire. For instance, I might use sarcasm or irony as a way of managing uncomfortable desires with respect to the person I’m talking to. These desires might be something as simple as the desire to be recognized and the worry that I won’t, to more profound desires pertaining to love and friendship. Sarcasm can then function as a sort of defense by allowing me to diffuse the powerful jouissance that threatens the integrity of my being in relation to the person I’m speaking with. In the clinic, descriptions of such jouissance often come up when the analysand is describing their relation to certain privileged Others in their interpersonal relations. They might talk about feeling overwhelmed by these feelings, as if their bodily integrity has somehow been pierced or invaded. Certain rhetorical maneuvers then set in to diffuse this tension and re-establish equilibrium or a safe distance. All of this, of course, can be deeply paradoxical as the jouissance can be experienced as pleasurable yet overwhelming, like an intense feeling of love that is too much to bear. I once heard an analysand worry over whether his face might “blow off” (an interesting choice of words) during certain moments with his lover. He took tremendous pleasure from these encounters, but also felt that he must flee them.

At any rate, the parody and humor at work in this demonstration seems to be about something different. Here the clowns do not seem to be defending themselves, so much as they seem to be distancing the neo-nazis from their own signifiers, causing them to slide this way and that through a series of equivocations and pseudo-homonyms. Not only does a recoding of the hate speech take place, but something like the analytic discourse institutes itself by virtue of the clowns not receiving the neo-nazi’s messages (thereby underlining Lacan’s aphorism that “all communication is miscommunication” in a rather pointed way). What are we to make of the way the message strategically fails to be received in this particular protest? Lacan argues that all messages have their ideal receiver or Other– the person to whom that message is addressed. By undermining the reception of the message, do the clowns also undermine the Other for whom the neo-nazis stage their message? Finally, what role does a third observer– neither clowns nor neo-nazis but those witnessing the event –play in this encounter, and how does the clown’s strategy transform the neo-nazis relationship to this third? At any rate, I’m tickled to see such inventiveness in a protest.

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