I’m always suspicious of theory that doesn’t make use of a rich reservoir of examples; not because this is a mark of good writing in that examples assist readers in understanding the concepts, but because I worry that the theory is unmoored from anything in the world, that it bears no responsibility for explaining anything in the world (which might also function as a ground from which to contest the theory), and that the theory might instead just be a castle in the air.  What is an epistemology, for example(!), that gives no concrete examples of knowledge production?  We are told all about knowledge without ever being given a single example of what the author sees as an instance of knowledge.  How are we to know, in these instances, of whether or not this epistemology maps on to anything that takes place in the world of knowledge production among scientists, doctors, lawyers, craftsmen, psychoanalysts, etc?  A theory that sought to conceptualize literature without speaking of any instances of literature would be strange indeed.

An example is not a simple ornament, but is that to which the theorist bears responsibility in their theorizing.  In this regard, I think that it’s noteworthy that prior to the twentieth century, so many philosophers were not first and foremost philosophers.  Descartes, for example, was a mathematician, scientist, and soldier.  Leibniz was a mathematician, diplomat, engineer, and many other things besides.  Spinoza was a lens grinder.  Locke was a physician.  For all of these thinkers there was something else, a sort of “matter”, that introduced a little bit of the real, a little bit of alterity, and which constrained their speculation.  Would the postmodern (I hate that term) idea of a universe composed entirely of flowing signifiers that construct reality however one likes have ever been possible prior to the age of the professional theorist, the professional academic, that isn’t attached to any matter like the body as in the case of Locke or the obstinance of the matheme as in the case of Leibniz?

However, the example is also important for another reason.  The example says a great deal about just how a theorist thinks about a certain type of thing.  Speaking of mathematics, Kant continuously evokes the example of 7 + 5 = 12.  Is this a good or representative example of mathematics?  I think both Badiou and Deleuze rightfully chastise this choice for the conception of mathematics it reflects.  How about Harman?  His favorite examples are fire, cotton, and hammers.  How might these archetypal examples inform his entire conception of objects?  Would that theory be different if one chose a flower or waves or a factory?  When a theorist wishes to write about architecture and uses the home as their go to example, how does that example come to inform their entire theory of architecture?  Examples express intuitions about the nature of broader categories like “being”, “knowledge”, “truth”, “normativity”, etc.  They are not secondary, but are at the core of theoretical work.

Over the last week I’ve been intensively reading case studies on psychosis, obsession, and hysteria and it occurs to me that Freud really does change everything.  After Freud, it is no longer possible to be an Epicurean or a Spinozist because of the dimension of the unconscious, desire, and jouissance.  Epicurus and Spinoza are essentially ethicists of the pleasure principle, of need, of homeostasis for the sake of the organism continuing in its being.  Appropriate object choice as in the case of Epicurus with his “natural” desires and “adequate knowledge” are sufficient to set the person on the right path and achieve satisfaction.  With Freud, by contrast, we get jouissance which is a sort of ineradicable excess within the speaking being that it is condemned to pursue and that is often experienced as deeply painful and which also is often bad for the speaking being.

The symptom from which the subject suffers, the repetition that marks and punctuates the subject’s life, is also a form of enjoyment.  Lacan will later say in Seminar 22, there is no subject without a symptom.  It is the symptom that gives the subject ontological consistency.  To make matters worse, there is a knowledge within the subject– “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other” –but it is an acephalous knowledge, an unconscious knowledge, that repeats itself like a glitch throughout the life of the subject.  All of this is right there on the surface, right there in plain view, yet the conscious subject isn’t even aware they’re doing it, that these repeated actions are an apparatus of jouissance, a repetition of that primordial fault.

To be sure, symptoms shift over the course of analysis, some of them disappear, and often the pain of jouissance is eased.  The talking cure does change something, speech has effects, and our relationship to jouissance shifts.  Yet the symptom as a function and apparatus of jouissance does not itself disappear, for it is the being of the subject in its non-being.  All of this begs the question of what the good life, what eudaemonia, might look like in a psychoanalytic universe where we are not masters in our own home.   Freud was not optimistic.  He said that psychoanalysis seeks to transform unbearable neurotic misery into ordinary human misery.

Lacanian discourse theory defines a discourse not by the content of, for example, a discipline, but in terms of a formal structure defining a relationship between an agent and an other.  Here I’m following Paul Verhaeghe closely.  It is not what a discourse is about that defines it, but the structure of the relation.  This is part of the importance of Lacan’s use of mathemes.  In his discourses– 24 in all, as I’ve argued elsewhere –Lacan deploys four mathemes:  S1, S2, $, and a.  It’s all quite abstract, but that’s its advantage.  Just as an “x” in algebra can be any number, we can place any number of things in the place of the matheme.  As a consequence, the abstraction of the matheme allows us to discern common structure behind a variety of things that initially seem quite different.  Thus, for example, S1 or the master-signifier could be any number of things:  the key term of a philosophy that organizes all the other concepts such as “Being” in Heidegger or “power” in Foucault, the father in the Oedipal structure, the king or queen in a monarchy, the boss in the workplace, God in theistic theologies, the leader of a gang, and so on.  What the abstraction of the matheme allows us to discern is that things that initially seem quite different and unrelated can share a common structure.

hysteric2As is always the case with structures, however, it is not the term alone that is important, but its relation to other terms.  In a discourse, we have an agent addressing an other.  In addressing the other, something is produced, an effect, and there is a truth that drives the discourse.  Perhaps the agent wishes to articulate their desire to the other.  The agent addresses that other and in doing so, something is produced, there is an effect.  The other responds or acts in response to the agents words.  In the Lacanian framework– and this is where things begin to get interesting –it’s important to note that while the truth of the discourse drives the discourse it is veiled from the discourse.  This doesn’t simply mean that the other doesn’t discern the truth of the discourse, but that the agent itself is unconscious of the truth that animates her discourse.  As Verhaeghe reminds us, for Lacan the truth can only ever be half-said.  “Speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!”  Sadly it’s impossible and it’s impossible for structural, rather than accidental reasons.  The moment we enter the order of language we are condemned to the half-saying of truth for every signifier, S1, requires a second signifier, S2, in order to produce an effect of sense; and that signifier, in its turn, requires yet another.  The whole truth endlessly recedes.

read on!

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300px-CuiVil3_2p204Whenever I search for Introduction to Philosophy textbooks I find myself distressed by what I find.  The norm– though there are exceptions –is anthologies where selections by various philosophers are two to four page texts, divorced from the broader work in which they occur.  Meno gets reduced to the sequence of argument where Plato attempts to demonstrate that knowledge is recollection.  Hume gets reduced to section II of the Enquiry, where he presents his arguments for the thesis that all knowledge arises from impressions, or to a brief portion of section IV where he critiques the concept of causality.  The thesis seems to be that the rest is unimportant, that why these arguments are deployed in a broader work is unimportant.  At this point I’m so frustrated with these anthologies– both their price and their content –that I don’t even assign textbooks in my Intro courses but instead find works online for my students.

I can’t escape the feeling that this practice reflects a deeply disturbing, wrong-headed, and destructive “philosophy of philosophy”; though I have difficulty articulating just what’s wrong here.  Works of philosophy, I think, form organic wholes.  Arguments about ethics refer back to metaphysical commitments.  We can’t really understand Aristotle’s conception of the good life without understanding his physics.  We can’t really understand Plato’s conception of the good life, without understanding his metaphysics and conception of human nature.  Metaphysical and epistemological reflections are often political interventions in the time.  It’s difficult to understand Descartes’s Meditations and why they’re important without understanding Post-Reformation Europe, the scientific revolution, and the wars waging during that time.  Similarly for Spinoza’s Ethics.  We speak as if we can set Kant and Aristotle side by side and decide between their ethical claims without knowing anything of how they conceived the being of rational beings; as if philosophy is a menu to be chosen from.  A great philosophical work is like a musical score where various notes are layered upon one another, creating the piece.  This practice of subtracting the isolated argument from the broader context of the work and its social setting is akin to drawing a single note out of Mozart and saying that that’s what his music really is.  Every argument is abstracted from its project, from the problems that animate the thought, and treated as if they can abstractly be set alongside one another.  “Here’s what Hume has to say about sense-data and here’s what Quine has to say!  Now decide between them!  Never mind all of that other stuff going on in the Treatise, it’s just chaff!”  It would never occur to people who conceive philosophy in this way to wonder whether or not Leibniz’s theory of compossibility, perspective, and truth was related to his work as a diplomat.  I have heard colleagues say that what defines philosophy is the presence of arguments.  A great weariness and sadness overtakes me with this; not because argument isn’t important in philosophy, but because this is such a reductive thesis that erases so much and that creates such tiresome types.

The idea of a philosophy as a project is entirely lost, and we get something like a deeply superficial fast food philosophy.  I can just imagine what sort of students such a curriculum would produce:  students that only know how to argue and that believe that argument constitutes the core and essence of philosophy, that delight in picking apart and nothing more.  Spinoza becomes nothing more than a set of arguments to be critically scrutinized and any sense that his work is a sort of therapy and a politics is entirely lost.  Such a vision of philosophy becomes the commodification of philosophy.  What is lost is the sense of philosophy:  of why someone is occupied with these arguments and issues at all, of the problems that led to the mobilization of these arguments and concepts.  Instead we approach these works in the most superficial way possible– “Who’s right about innate ideas?  Hume or Descartes!” –when we should instead be wondering why people argued so ferociously over what appears to be such an arid topic.

Lacan and the Nonhuman (collection of essays) Jonathan Michael Dickstein and Gautam Basu Thakur (Editors)

In today’s global landscape, the category of the “human” has assumed a principal position not simply in terms of its ontological centrality but also in relation to surrounding nonhuman worlds. At stake are questions ranging from the impact of humans on the biosphere (the Anthropocene) to their involvement in the virtual world (Knowledge Commons and Ergodicity) to their experiences of the “inner life” of things (Object-oriented ontology and Affect Theory) to the ethical politics over the Other (the terrorist, the refugee, the queer). Coming together at the intersection of these recent turns toward new speculative considerations, and the various epistemological and communitarian questions they raise in the context of twenty-first- century scholarship, this collection asks: how can Lacanian theory contribute to the continuing discussions about the nonhuman?

Psychoanalysis (specifically, the Lacanian strain) has made various attempts to formalize the relationship between the human and its radical (nonhuman) Other. As early as the unpublished “Project for a Scientific Psychology” (1895), Freud offered considerations concerning the Nebenmensch (neighbor) in terms of a distinct division between the familiar and what inhabits the familiar as its unknowable traumatic core. This idea recurs throughout most of Freud’s subsequent writings and thereafter with critical innovations in the Seminars of Jacques Lacan and, more recently, in Slavoj Žižek’s writings on late-capitalist culture.

However, while providing these resources, psychoanalysis goes almost unmentioned in today’s scholarship on the “nonhuman.” Given this serious critical lacuna, the present collection has two related aims: firstly, to engage in active interpretative intervention of the terms human and nonhuman and thereby, secondly, to inaugurate dialogues between nonhuman/materialist turns and Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis. Contrasted with terms like inhuman, unhuman, and antihuman in existing scholarship, “nonhuman” entails a relationship to its stem word not in terms of inferiority, exclusive disjunction, or mere conflict, but rather according to its independence from, yet engagement with it. As the essays in this collection variously illustrate, a Lacanian approach to the nonhuman therefore affords us the ability to deem it, along with the human, normative (rather than normal) and while not fixed still representative, affective, and real.

We are interested in essays that explore questions and issues related to Lacan/psychoanalytic theory and the nonhuman (broadly defined), including:

  • Biological concepts in Freud’s writings
  • The object, the thing, the apparatus, the matheme in Lacan’s work
  • Freud, Lacan, Žižek and the primitive, subaltern, Third World (Lévi-Strauss,

    Descola, Spivak, Bhabha)

  • Freud,Lacan,Žižekandbiopolotics,affects,counterpublics,barelife,thequeer

    (Foucault, Agamben, Butler, Berlant, Ahmed, Leys)

  • Freud, Lacan, Žižek and constructivism, Actor-Network Theory, systems

    theory (Deleuze/Guattari, Latour, Luhmann)

  • Freud,Lacan,Žižekandfilm,newmedia,apparatustheory,narratology,genre

    studies, aesthetic politics, digital humanities, knowledge commons

  • Freud,Lacan,ŽižekandthelegacyofGermanIdealism
  • Freud,Lacan,Žižekandtheethics/politicsofSpeculativerealism(Meillassoux,

    Harman, Bryant, Brassier)

  • Post-psychoanalyticconceptionsoftheNeighbor,alien,Event,computation,

    monotheism/polytheism (Levinas, Althusser, Badiou)

  • Lacan and Ecocriticism and animal studies

Please submit short (250- to 350-word) abstracts to lacanandnonhuman@gmail.com by July 22, 2016. Questions concerning the project may be sent via email to this same address.

Paul_SchreberResponding to a post I wrote on Lacan’s discourse of the capitalist a couple years ago, Robert asks:

How would you describe racism according to the discourse of the capitalist (vs. the discourse of the master)?

I’m grateful for Robert’s question and find that it comes at a timely moment, as it just so happens that I’ve been thinking a great deal about the discourse of the capitalist as a result of the seminar I’m currently teaching on Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and an on again off again I’ve been having with my friend Orpheus.

I don’t yet have a theoretically well defined answer to Robert’s question– and recently I’ve come to discover that my true love is not evaluating things, nor proposing how to solve them, but rather in understanding the why of things and how they function –however, I do have the beginnings of a hypothesis that might lead in the direction of an answer to such questions.  My thoughts here are impressionistic, so be gentle!

discourse-of-the-capitalistMy hypothesis is that today we are living in the age of schizophrenia, as opposed to neurosis.  In fact, I’m inclined to argue that the very reason that Freud could recognize neurosis as a clinical entity at all was because the age of neurosis– the age of the discourse of the master –was in a state of decline or disappearance.  Here I hasten to add that in referring to schizophrenia, I’m not referring to the clinical entity, but rather to a form that social structure and relations take.  Following Nietzsche, Deleuze, and Guattari, other names for “schizophrenia” would be “the death of God” and “capitalism”.  There’s a lot here that I need to say and develop, but I’ll save that for another occasion.

read on!

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vomitsThere was a time when philosophers used to write treatises on friendship.  One translation of the “philia” of “philosophy” is friendship.  Aristotle devotes two chapters of the Nichomachean Ethics to friendship.  Friendship is a key concept in Epicureanism; so much so that a life without friendship is not a life that’s not worth living.  Just imagine the loneliness of the protagonist in Cast Away.  It is not a lover that he imagines on the Island, but Wilson that allows him to go on.  I won’t write a treatise on friendship here– though I believe it is an essential concept in philosophy; both friendship to the concept and friendship to the other –but a few things do come to mind as to why friendship is so crucial.  There is, of course, the obvious dimension of friendship, especially in our alienated time where it seems that all relationships of sociality have collapsed:  The world is a little less lonely, a little less dark, in friendship.  In our alienated times, friendship is a space against the darkness and the nothingness; a space where there is a little bit of light.

00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000005558877875123We often speak of friendship as a certain sort of closeness or proximity, but it seems to me that the best friendships are those of distance or difference.  A friendship where one heard only what is the same as oneself would be rather stale.  “Malkovich!  Malkovich!  Malkovich!”  No.  A good friendship cracks your world, so that you discover the earth.  A good friendship is one in which you have an encounter with alterity, difference, distance…  That your world is not all that there is, that there is difference.  Around that sand of difference, something accretes or comes into being that was unanticipated.  A friendship is a repetition of difference, not the same.  It produces something that neither could have expected out of that difference.  It is an accretion-point where something else comes into being; a swirling vortex that generates an aleatory pattern.

And in friendship you find out who you yourself are.  Every subject is ex-centric, decentered, other to itself.  In the alterity of friendship, across that distance, you discover the values or teloi that animated you, that you didn’t even know were you, as a result of that difference or distance that somehow you surmount through dialogue and laughter and tears.  Who was I?  I never knew until I encountered the strangeness of my friends!  And in encountering that strangeness of my friends I encountered the strangeness of myself; that what I took as obvious and for granted was itself a distance or a new continent or extraterrestrial.  I came to myself through this encounter with alterity, through this distance, through this difference and could only know what it was across distance.

Of myself, this I know:  that without dialogue, which is another name for difference, I am unable to think and that my thought unfolds in the dimension of friendship or that difference with others with whom I talk.  I come to know that even in my soliloquies, I am talking with an-other in friendship or across a difference.

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