June 23, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Blogroll
Perhaps the conception of community I’m trying to think about– without much success –can aptly be summed up in the idea of a community without One, where the One might be thought as the master-signifier unifying the identity of difference, or the logic of masculine sexuation.
Communities premised on the One, by contrast, would necessarily fall into the logic of the imaginary and be pervaded by an intrinsic real conflict that would be unresolvable. Hegel seems to sum this logic up well in the dialectic of being-there (Dasein) and being-for-itself. It might seem odd to evoke Hegel, given my attachments to Deleuze. However, we must bear in mind that when we’re speaking of group identities we’re also speaking at the level of representation. Deleuze does not deny that there is representation, but rather argues that it is premised on non-representational forms of difference that aren’t organized around contradiction and opposition. However, insofar as a group strives to represent itself to itself, it will contain these elements of representation and Hegel can assist us in thinking through the knots that emerge from this self-representation in the imaginary, even if we do not accept his totalizing logic. In paragraph 92 of the Lesser Logic, Hegel writes,
“The being that is kept firmly distinct from the determinancy, *being-in-itself*, would be only the empty abstraction of being. In being-there the determinancy is one with being and is at the same time posited as negation; this determinancy is *limit*, *restriction*. Thus, otherness is not something-indifferent outside it, but its own moment. In virtue of its quality, *something* is first *finite and secondly *alterable*, so that the finitude and alterability belong to its being” (Geraets trans., 148).
I am not interested in advocating Hegel’s system, or presenting the “true meaning” of Hegel. What interests me here is a logic he presents in very formal terms. When Hegel describes something as being an “empty abstraction” he can be understood as claiming that it lacks determinancy. To say that something lacks determinancy is to say that there is a lack or absence of distinction. For instance, Peirce’s category of firstness is without distinction, and thus without informative difference. Consequently, in striving to think being-in-itself, says Hegel, we are inevitably led to think distinction or limit or to think the limit in terms of its other. In defining a boundary or a limit, we define both sides of the boundary, such that the inside (the One) is dependent on its outside and the two must be thought together. This entails that Identity, the One, is dependent on its other. The more sharply we define the Identity, the more sharply the Other comes into relief and the more intrinsically it is tied to this other in defining its limit. This other might be thought as being akin to a bit of gum stuck to the heel of one’s shoe that you are unable to rid yourself of.
So far so good. We can clearly see that in order to define an inside we must construct a limit and that this limit defines an outside. The consequences of this aren’t encountered until a few paragraphs later, when Hegel develops the logic of being-for-itself, which could be thought as the One representing itself as One. In the locution of the imaginary, this would amount to striving to represent our identity or our imaginary ego or the moi. There Hegel writes,
“As relation to itself, being-for-itself is *immediacy*, and as relation of the negative to itself it is what-is-for-itself, the *One*– that which lacks inward distinction, thereby *excluding* the *Other* from itself” (ibid, para 96, 153).
Let us treat the domain of the imaginary as the domain of reflexivity where we strive to reflect or represent ourselves or to say what we are. In doing so, we strive for unity or to be One (the vector of Lacan’s graph of desire running from A –> i(a) —> m —> S(A)). Hegel’s point here seems to be that there is an inverse ratio between “what-is-for-itself” (all those predicates we use to pin ourselves down: handsome, witty, temperamental, continental, etc), and the exclusion of the Other. The greater the degree of self-unification or “being-for-itself”, the greater the degree of desparate attempts to exclude the Other (which was a defining feature of the boundary or limit) as a threat to this unity of identity or the boundary. Here we would have a basic schema for comprehending the highly antagonistic and rivalrous nature of highly identified and self-representing groups and individuals such as fundamentalist religious sects, certain political movements, nationalisms, party affiliations, etc.
The paradox is expressed a few paragraphs later. Hegel notes that the many Ones exist in a negative relation to one another in the form of repulsion and exclusion. To maintain the boundary or limit, there must be repulsion. Yet, insofar as these Ones are interdependent, they exist in a relation of attraction as well:
“But the *many* are each one what the other is, each of them is one or also one of the many; they are therefore one and the same. Or, when the repulsion is considered in itself then, as the negative behaviour of the many ones against each other, is just as essentially their *relation* to each other; and since those to which the One relates itself in its repelling are ones, in relating to them it relates to itself. Thus, repulsion is just as essentially *attraction*; and the excluding One or being-for-itself sublates itself. Qualitative determinancy, which in the One has reached its determinateness-in-and-for-itself, has thus passed over into determinacy *as sublated*, i.e., into being as *quantity*” (ibid., para 98, 155).
Attraction and repulsion are perhaps poorly chosen words, and should be understood not as forces, but as logical moments or dialectical structures. Insofar as the One can only define its identity or being-for-itself through distinction or the drawing of a boundary or limit, its repulsion of the Other is necessarily an attraction of the Other insofar as it is dependent on this Other to establish its identity. This would account for why Lacan claims that murder of the other premised on the imaginary is also murder of the moi, as the moi is dependent on this inverted and reflected other to constitute itself. This would also account for why there is often an uncanny resemblance between the One and the other to which the One stands in an antagonistic resemblance, like a mirror in which one does not recognize one’s own reflection. Thus, for example, in a disturbing discussion I had with a conservative today about the Enlightenment and religion, I was informed that there would be no morality until the one true religion was established throughout the world. This discussion, of course, revolved around affairs in the Middle East. What is uncanny about this remark is that this is the very thing his antagonist, the terrorist, says as well. Apart from the disturbing prospect that such an aim could only be accomplished through the annihilation of one’s opposition, I wonder whether he would cease to exist or experience a collapse of identity should he be successful in his endeavor. Would his imaginary “being-for-self” become unstable in the collapse of the boundary or the limit defining the distinction between self and other?
Here also I think we can discern why highly identified groups and individuals so often experience themselves as persecuted or as victims, even when holding a good deal of power relative to other groups. If the formation of being-for-self is intrinsically tied to repulsion, and if this repulsion always maintains a negative relation of attraction, the more those boundaries strive to define themselves the more they encounter the other against which they’re defined as rendering these boundaries precarious and unstable, as the task of becoming pure, abstract, being-for-self ties us ever tighter to this other against which we define ourselves. Hence Zizek’s observation that the closer the Nazis came to succeeding in eradicating the Jews, the more paranoid they became that there were Jews lurking behind every tree and the more they saw themselves as victims of a Jewish conspiracy. Similarly, haven’t we seen a similar logic in the Unitied States, where the more mainstream fundamentalist variants of Christianity have become, the more these groups experience themselves as persecuted and under assault? This paranoia of the ego or the imaginary could thus be seen as a desparate attempt to *maintain* the existence of the other, so as to maintain being-for-self.
If, then, this logic is to be avoided, it becomes necessary to conceive a form of community that is without One or where the One is not. Yet how do you form a community without a name? The Jews seemed to be on to something in prohibiting the naming of G-d, as this seems to absent or void the place of the One. Yet a plurality didn’t emerge from such a gesture.
June 23, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized
The observation that my friend Jane makes about contentious relations in psychoanalytic organizations dovetails with some issues that I’ve been thinking about for a long time as well. Since the very beginning of psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic organizations have been riddled with bitter and acrimonious conflicts and turbulent splits (Freud-Jung-Adler, Klein, Anna Freud, Lacan, etc). Lacanian organizations have been no different in this regard. There are bitter disputes and conflicts among the various Lacanian organizations as well.
So what is going on here? Are these bitter struggles a symptom of the failure of psychoanalysis? That is, do they indicate a failure to liquidate the imaginary? Are they representative of an unresolved transference or analysis? Is conflict intrinsically imaginary, territorial, and an attempt to maintain borders and distinctions as in the case of Hegel’s logic of the One in the doctrine of being portion of the Science of Logic, where the One must exclude the Other in order to constitute itself as One? Or are there non-imaginary forms of conflict such as Deleuze’s affirmation produced not out of a negation, but rather that produces negation as a consequence… An affirmative negation.
Or, quite the contrary, can we see these bitter struggles as indications of the triumph of psychoanalysis? This latter suggestion might be seen as surprising, but if we take seriously Lacan’s ethical injunction “don’t give way on your desire!” does it come as any surprise that free speech and desire produce such conflict. A friend of mine told me that Ellie Ragland used to say that analysis does not make you a better person. There seems to be something very true in this, if by “better” we’re thinking according to the standard ethics of the good advocated by Creon in Antigone. Indeed, Antigone’s actions and affirmation of desire bring a good deal of conflict and tears in their wake.
During his psychoanalytic period, Deleuze seems to express this point well with regard to the philosophy of difference. Deleuze writes: “…does the philosophy of difference not risk appearing as a new version of the beautiful soul? The beautiful soul is in effect the one who sees difference everywhere and appeals to them only as respectable, reconcilable or federative differences, while history continues to be made through bloody contradictions. The beautiful soul behaves like a justice of the peace thrown on to a field of battle, one who sees in inexpiable struggles only simple ‘differends’ or perhaps misunderstandings” (Difference and Repetition, 52). Many today seem to think difference as a synonym of tolerance. Yet tolerance seems to amount to a deferral of desire insofar as it calls for the levelling of all genuine differences or the suspension of all these differences, forbidding the pursuit of a difference that would make a difference.
At the end of Seminar 11, given a few years before the writing of Difference and Repetition, Lacan remarks that “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). Is the absolute difference sought in analysis– the analysand’s difference –a difference that would also be that of the beautiful soul seeing only simple misunderstandings among all those in conflict? Or, rather, do all the conflicts we witness in the psychoanalytic field testify to a real love of difference and not a levelling of difference based on “tolerance” or being beyond the imaginary? If one thing takes place in analysis, it seems to be the analysand taking a stand on behalf of his/her desire.
Yet if this is the case, and if such stand-taking emerges on a bloody field of conflict– Badiou-Mao’s aphorism that “When one has an idea the One become Two” –what are we to think of psychoanalysis in the field of the political? And can we imagine a strange form of community where the community hangs together in its conflict or as its conflicts, like Laclau’s real of society that is riddled by an irreducible real in antagonism. Can we paradoxically think a form of community premised on the very Lacanian thesis that “society doesn’t exist”?
June 12, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized
It’s intriguing to note that I significantly misquote Lacan in the epigraph to the previous post. In Seminar 10 Lacan remarks that “Only love allows jouissance to condescend to desire”, rather than “only love allows desire to condescend to jouissance”. What is the significance of such an inversion?
June 8, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized
Love is desire that condescends to jouissance
I’m not sure why I quote this line, but it comes to mind and is therefore worth preserving. I have to confess that I’m ashamed of yesterday’s blog entry. While I indeed take it to be the case that guilt is what occurs when we give way on our desire, the formulation that we must therefore avow our desire leaves us trapped within the constraints of the moral law. Within the field of the analytic setting, the uncovering of desire is a crucial step. The analysand must discover those determinants of her actions and avow them as her own. Yet the crucial question is that of whether there is a beyond of desire? In this regard, it is significant that Lacan does not include desire among the “four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis”, and that he there describes the end of analysis as the precipitation of of a subject of drive.
Everything revolves around the question of whether we are to be Freudians or whether we are to be Lacanians. By Freudians, of course, I am referring to Freudian determinism or the manner in which childhood is taken to determine adulthood. Lacan, in his development of the logic of apres coup, already seemed to move away from this position, for insofar as subsequent events can recode past events, it follows that there is no primacy of the past over the present. As Deleuze will put it in his articulation of Lacan, “We do not repeat because we repress, we repress because we repeat. Moreover– which amounts to the same thing –we do not disguise because we repress, we repress because we disguise, and we disguise by virtue of the determinant centre of repetition. Repetition is no more secondary in relation to a supposed ultimate or orginary fixed term than disguise is secondary in relation to repetition. For if the two presents, the former and the present one, form two series which coexist in the function of the virtual object which is displaced in them and in relation to itself, neither of these two series can any longer be designated as the original or the derived. They put a variety of terms and subjects into play in a complex intersubjectivity in which each subject owes its role and function in the series to the timeless position that it occupies in relation to the virtual object. As for this object itself, it can no longer be treated as an ultimate or original term: this would be to assign it a fixed place and an identiity repugnant to its whole nature. If it can be ‘identified’ with the phallus, this is only to the extent that the latter, in Lacan’s terms, is always missing from its place, from its own identity and from its representation. In short, there is no ultimate term– our loves do not refer back to the mother; it is simply that the mother occupies a certain place in relation to the virtual object in the series which constitutes our present, a place which is necessarily filled by another character in the series which constitutes the present of another subjectivity, always taking into account the displacements of that object = x” (DR, 105).
Deleuze here, of course, is referring to Lacan’s conception of objet a, which serves the function of the “dark precursor”, “empty square”, or “esoteric object” in Deleuze’s early work on subjectivity and social organizations. If objet a significantly transforms Lacan’s earlier work, then this is because we can no longer see psychoanalytic praxis in historicist terms, which amount to imaginary terms anyway. The concern surrounding Lacan’s conception of avowing one’s desire is that ultimately this submits us to the Law. As Lacan thematizes the production of desire in seminars 4-6, desire is produced through a metaphorical substitution that engenders the metonymical displacement of the object of desire. Everything ultimately refers back to the origins of the law and submitting to the law as the essence of desire. As Lacan will claim elsewhere, the Law and desire are one and the same thing.
Everything changes with the invention of objet a. For some time now I’ve found myself wondering how one accounts for the emergence of symptomatic phenomena in day to day life or in the clinical setting. How is it that at this particular time, at precisely this moment, this or that slip of the tongue appears? How is it that on this particular day I happened to leave my umbrella at the office? Why does such and such a dream occur on this particular night? Were there other possibilities? My thoughts are still murky on these issues, yet a suggestive passage in Lacan’s 11th seminar gives me pause. There Lacan writes that, “It is not enough that the analyst should support the function of Tiresias. He must also, as Apollinaire tells us, have breasts. I mean that the operation and the manipulation of the transference are to be regulated in a way that maintains a distance between the point at which the subject sees himself as lovable– and that other point where the subject sees himself caused as a lack by a, and where a fills the gap constituted by the inaugural division of the subject. The petit a never crosses this gap. Recollect what we learned about the gaze, the most characteristic term for apprehending the proper function of the objet a. This a is presented precisely, in the field of the mirage of the narcissistic function of desire, as the object that cannot be swallowed, as it were, which remains stuck in the gullet of the signifier. It is at this point of lack that the subject has to recognize himself” (S11, 270).
What fascinates me in this passage is Lacan’s reference to objet a as causing the subject ($). In Lacan, of course, the subject is not the ego or the sense of consciousness, but that which disappears the moment it appears, leaving only a trace of its passage in the parapraxis or symptom. When Lacan talks about objet a he is not talking about the object desired, but the cause of desire… That which functions as a lure of desire or an occasion for desire to take effect. Can we not discern something of Deleuze’s virtual at work in this conception of objet a? As Delanda theorizes it, the virtual is composed of both differential relations and singularities, yet these singularities serve the function of attractors presiding over the long term actualization of a particular material state. For instance, a pendulum is governed by a fixed point attractor that tends towards a single point of equalibrium. However, there are other attractors that aren’t attracted to a single point but which can be actualized in a variety of ways depending on the initial conditions presiding over the actualization.
As I said initially, my thoughts are still murky here, but couldn’t we think of objet a in terms of the relationship between fixed point attractors and “strange attractors”? Here I worry that my musings sound a bit trendy, but it is clear that change takes place over the course of analysis. In his work with dissapative structures, Prigogine discovered that some systems can shift from being governed by fixed point attractors that tend to be actualized in a single way– the monotonous repetition of everyday life, where we tragically experience ourselves as falling into the same folly over and over again without noticing it except retroactively… As in the case of the proverbial woman who always seems to find that one man who beats and abuses her –to actualizations that have multiple attractors when functioning far from equalibrium (as in the case of heating up a system where a new organization emerges). Indeed, we know that some systems can even be thrown out of their basis of attraction by a significant shock to the system (this seemed to occur in the U.S. with 9-11) that engenders a new set of attractors and organizations. Similarly, trauma as the “missed encounter” can signicantly transform the organization of a person’s life, generating a new set of repetitions differing qualitatively from the old. As I suggested in a previous post, something of the sort seems to take place in analysis as well. The analyst occupies the position of objet a in a purified state, absent the ordinary conventions that govern interpersonal relations. If change takes place in analysis, then could this not be due to the intensification of a basin of attraction transforming the analysand’s relation to objet a? For instance, what is it about an analytic intervention that might lead an analysand who constantly suffers from constipation when attending important business functions, meeting his lover, visiting family, etc., to suddenly experience a dissipation of this repetitive pattern (one that clearly relates to objet a as anal drive)?
What is suggested here is not simply a submission to the Law or desire as Lacan had it in Seminar 7, where all we can do is tragically accept our fate, but rather the possibility of the emergence of an entirely new order. As Harari (to whom I’m greatly indebted here) puts it in his brilliant essay “The sinthome: Turbulence and Dissipation”, “…the ‘disinvestment’ of the unconscious– there was an investment, a site fixed through repetition, but no longer –marks the limit of the dependence on metaphor, supporting with no regrets the ab-sence of the sexual relation. Instead of any regret, addressed to the Other as a demand for sense, resulting in the ‘moral cowardice’ known as sadness, the ab-sence of the sinthome embodies what Lacan terms a gay savoir. This last phrase, punning on savoir, could be read as ca a voir, ‘it/id to see.’ This, in contrast to sadness, constitutes a ‘virtue’ to the extent that it seeks not to understand or chew over meaning, but to ‘crush it as much as is possible.’ Thus, for the Lacan of the third period, there is no knowledge (savoir) but in non-sense, opening onto a space of the scopic and an undefined future, far from the closed circuits and anticipations of the Imaginary. For this reason, gay scavoir –the Nietzschean root of which is patent –is for the corollary of the stochastic, the unpredictable. Gay scavoir is the affect that authorizes the invention of the sinthome” (Re-Inventing the Symptom: Essays on the Final Lacan, Luke Thurston ed., 52-3). One must pass through the logic of not giving way to his desire, but there is a beyond to this alienation, a separation, that promises something very different.
June 7, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized
Lacan’s concept of ethics is among the most difficult to understand within his psychoanalysis. One of th central problems faced in the clinical setting is the issue of guilt. Guilt can manifest itself quite consciously in the persecutory voices we hear within our thoughts, but it can also manifest itself more subtly at an “unconscious” level, in the judgments we experience as issuing from others (“they hate me”, “they think I’m stupid”, “they think I’m incompetent”, etc) , or in actions that somehow produce painful consequences. For instance, I might steal a pack of gum from the store believing that I simply desire this gum and don’t have any cash on hand, but in pocketing the gum I do so in a reckless way as if the entire point were to get caught so as to create a situation in which I might finally bring about the punishment that would releive me of my guilt. Or perhaps I accidentally leave an internet link to pornography open in my office at the job I love, when leaving to attend to some other matter. What appears to be a simple act of innocent forgetfulness could here be understood as a manifestation of “unconscious guilt”, or the creation of a scenerio in which I lose my job so as to obtain the punishment I deserve (for unconscious issues quite unrelated to my job).
In seminar 7 Lacan raises the question of how guilt should be dealt with in the clinical setting. Lacan is clear in emphasizing that guilt should neither be ignored, nor should the analyst seek to persuade the analysand that she is not really guilt. According to Lacan, if the analysand feels guilt, experiences guilt, or acts in such a way as to indicate unconscious guilt or designs to be punished and lose the very things that are precious to oneself, then this is because the analysand is guilty. The whole problem is to discover what, precisely, the analysand is guilty of. In point of fact, this guilt is not irrational at all from the Lacanian perspective, but refers to something real ethically. Part of analysis consists in determining what this infraction refers to. Of what is the analysand guilty?
The analysand herself is often perplexed by her guilt. She feels guilty all the time, yet cannot see that she’s done anything wrong. She experiences guilt even over her thoughts, without acting on these thoughts. An examination of the actual actions she’s doing in the present seem to do little good in alleviating the feelings of guilt and self-punishing actions, as these events and situations in the present are only occasions for satisfying one’s guilt, they are not the cause of one’s guilt.
The mental gymnastics occur in relation to Lacan’s answer to this question. A somewhat standard understanding of guilt assumes that we experience guilt precisely when we have desires or engage in acts that are contrary to the moral law. Thus, for instance, this view would suggest that the woman feels guilty because, perhaps, she has fantasies of killing her boss that are contrary to the moral teachings according to which she was raised. If she could simply get rid of these thoughts, then she would no longer experience guilt. Under a cereal box reading of Freud, the superego would be the moral agency irrationally commanding that we obey certain moral prohibitions, producing guilt even when we merely think thoughts contrary to the moral law. Analysis would then consist in progressively coming to recognize the irrationality of this superego, so as to escape its sadistically demanding nature.
Nothing could be more contrary to this cereal box version of psychoanalysis that Lacan’s conception of guilt and the superego. Where the cereal box version of psychoanalysis claims that we experience guilt through the real or imagined violation of the moral law, Lacan argues that, “From an analytic point of view, the only thing one can be guilty of is having given ground relative to one’s desire” (Seminar 7, 319). If the man leaves the webpage linked to pornography open in his workplace office where everyone and anyone can see it, then this is indicative of a desire for punishment signifying that somehow he has given way on his desire. If the woman experiences others as judging her and wanting to reject her, then this is a trace of guilt indicating that she has given way on her desire. If one constantly experiences persecutory thoughts informing one how awful he is, how horrible he is, how he’s doomed to failure, and so on, then these are indications that one has given ground on one’s desire. From the popular psychoanalytic perspective the solution might seem to be one simply of ignoring these irrational thoughts. However, as Freud taught, the repressed is always accompanied by a return of the repressed. If I ignore these thoughts, they return as experiences of others persecuting and judging me, or in self-destructive actions unconsciously designed to bring me the punishment called for by the betrayal of my desire. We can thus see how far Lacan is from the notion that guilt is a product of having desires contrary to the moral law. In point of fact, it is the moral law itself that produces guilt by leading us to give ground relative to our desire. Yet paradoxically, desire itself is the moral law. Thus, for instance, Antigone follows her desire in burying her brother and going to her own death, i.e., following the moral law.
Things become even more perplexing when we approach Lacan’s conception of the superego. According to Lacan, the superego is not an agent of prohibition, but is rather a command or imperative to enjoy. As Lacan puts it, the superego bellows Enjoy! From this perspective, if we are to look for the superego, we shouldn’t look in the voices of guilt that we experience or the self-punishing actions we unconsciously engage in; rather, the superego is to be found in our compulsion to enjoy. In our contemporary capitalistic society, the superego is present in the almost overwhelming compulsion we experience to go out and buy. It is to be experienced in the imperative to have new and ever more exotic sexual experiences, to fuck at least 3.5 times a week, and worry over whether we’re doing it the right way (think of all the articles in Cosmopolitan, instructing women on how to be perfect sex kittens). And this is where things get very strange. If I feel guilt in relation to these activities (sex, buying, consumption, vacationing, and so on), it is not because I just decadently spent $80,000 on a Land Rover SUV that I don’t need, thereby violating the imperative of my thrifty protestant superego. No, according to Lacan my obedience to the superegoic command to enjoy (to buy the Land Rover) is not the violation of a rule, but is rather a betrayal of my desire. In buying the SUV, in enjoying, I have somehow given way on my desire. The more I obey this imperative to enjoy, the more guilty I feel and the more ferocious and commanding my superego becomes. The conclusion is that there is nothing “libertine” about Lacan’s conception of psychoanalytic ethics.
If Lacan’s views are here counter-intuitive, then this is because we ordinarily think of enjoyment as precisely that which is prohibited by the superego. How, metapsychologically, are we to understand a superego that commands enjoyment? I suspect that this is a question that can only properly be answered through a careful and precise reading of Freud’s essays “On Narcissism”, “Mourning and Melancholia”, “The Ego and the Id”, “Group Psychology and the Analysis of Ego”, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, and “Civilization and Its Discontents”. As is suggested early in “On Narcissism”, the superego is a continuation of jouissance by other means through the introjection of the parental voice.
However, more importantly, if Lacan’s understanding of the superego, enjoyment, guilt, and desire hold up under scrutiny– and the practice of analysis seems to bear this out as guilt diminishes over the course of analysis when the analysis is moving forward –what is to be done? If enjoying is actually a way of fueling the superego and thereby promoting guilt, what is the alternative? Lacan argues that there is only one solution to this riddle: do not give way on your desire! Yet it is very easy to confuse desire with jouissance, as we see jouissance as the object of our desire. The only answer to this riddle is that desire must be unconscious desire, that it is something that we must discover within ourselves. It is this that leads to Lacan’s core ethical claim:
Wo Es war, soll Ich werden
Where the unconscious (desire) was, there I should come to be. Lacan’s claim is that the only way to escape the guilt that indicates the betrayal of our desire is to take responsibility for our desire, to avow our desire, to no longer put off our desire or to delay our desire, but to come to be the subject of our desire. It is only through the work of coming to know and enact our unconscious desire through free association, claims Lacan, that we can escape the crushing guilt that accompanies the command to enjoy, or the self-lacerating thoughts, persecutory experiences of others, and self-punishing actions that populate our day to day life. The paradox, then, is that it is precisely towards these bungled actions, self-lacerating thoughts, and persecutory interpretations of how others see me that I should look to discover my desire. And if this proves incredibly difficult, then this is because the psychic system is such that it does everything to push these things away and repress them. It is further complicated by the fact that while these things unfold in the present and appear to pertain to the present situation I inhabit (for instance, the man might think he leaves the pornography visible in his office because he hates his job), these thoughts are in fact clothed repetitions of things that belong to a very different scene. Four questions thus emerge:
1) What is this mysterious desire?
2) How do we discover this mysterious desire?
3) How is this mysterious desire to be distinguished from jouissance or enjoyment?
4) If jouissance is the guilt-producing command of the superego in which I give way on my desire, what does it mean to avow my desire (if not to enjoy)?
June 5, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized
My work with Deleuze has largely been organized around trying to make sense of a single claim he makes in chapter 5 of Difference and Repetition. There Deleuze writes, “Difference is not diversity. Diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given, that by which the given is given as diverse. Difference is not phenomenon but the noumenon closest to the phenomenon… Every phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned. Every diversity and every change refers to a difference which is its sufficient reason. Everything which happens and everything which appears is correlated with orders of differences: differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential, difference of intensity” (DR, 222). If I find these remarks so fascinating and enigmatic, then it is because they stand so squarely opposed to traditional empiricism, yet Deleuze describes his ontology as empiricist. That is, empiricist begins with the premise that all knowledge originates in experience. Yet experience is precisely the given, the phenomenon, diversity. And indeed, I do not think it would be mistaken to suggest that a good deal of the secondary literature on Deleuze has often taken him as a traditional sort of empiricist. Thus in Patrick Hayden’s book, we find Hayden emphasizing the first synthesis of repetition in chapter 2 of DR, despite the fact that there are two additional syntheses and that Deleuze refers to the synthesis of habit as the ground of good and common sense upon which the image of thought is based. Massumi fairs a bit better, but it’s clear that habitus also enjoys a privilege in his reading of Deleuze. Yet if we take Deleuze at his word, the qualitative world of impressions is an effect of this world of intensities. As Deleuze will argue throughout chapter five of DR, intensive difference is cancelled and covered over by extensive difference, such that we must distinguish between a brute repetition (found in extensity such as the ticks of a clock) and a clothed and hidden repetition found in intensity.
Deleuze’s understanding of the manner in which intensive difference generates extensities or actualized forms can be drawn from the examples he provides in the passage above. The difference between an extensive difference and an intensive difference is that where the former remains the same when divided, the latter changes in kind when divided. Thus, for instance, if I divide a piece of wood in two, I’m left with two pieces of wood. Moreover, if I combine two teaspoons of paprika together I’m given two teaspoons of paprika. However, I cannot divide or add to something like a temperature or pressure without producing an increase in kind. According to Deleuze, these intensive differences are generative of qualities, forms, and parts. Thus, for example, an increase in temperature with regard to water produces a phase transition generating steam. Similarly, a soap bubble forms itself by equalizing surface tension among the component elements of which it’s composed, so as to cancel the difference by reaching a minimal state of tension. In doing so it produces the form of the soap bubble. If we begin with the actualized entity (the soap bubble) we miss the intensive difference of which it is an effect insofar as these differences tend to minimize or cancel themselves.
In light of these concepts, it can be said that transcendental empiricism unfolds the real conditions for the individuation of entities. These conditions (intensive difference, multiplicity, singularity), disappear in the actualized form, and in this regard Deleuze diverges from classical empiricism that begins and ends with the given. If such a position is transcendental, then this is because these intensive differences are the genetic conditions under which entities emerge. If this position is “empirical”, then this is because these intensive differences must be discovered, because they can’t be anticipated in advance, and because the effects that they produce are indeterminate and aleatory depending on the chance relations in which they’re brought together. As such, transcendental empiricism is not an epistemological position (as in the case of Hume or Locke, or Kant with respect to transcendental idealism), but an ontological thesis pertaining to how beings come to be. It is because the world is composed of inequalities (intensive differences) that diversity comes to be produced as an effect.
A good deal of excellent work has been done exploring the implications of this idea of intensive differences that cancel themselves in extensities in the secondary literature. Thus, in his brilliant Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, Delanda shows the relevance of this idea in the biosciences, chemistry, and physics. These points are followed up nicely by Beistegui in Truth and Genesis. Massumi’s Reader’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia is highly suggestive as to a number of directions in which these concepts might taken. However, just as each field of actualities has its corresponding virtual field in Ideas or multiplicities composed of differential relations and singularities, all of which have their own calculus, so too does each individuated being have its intensive differences drawn out in extensity through which it is actualized.
Somewhere Deleuze remarks that these intensive differences as differences presiding over individuation must be surveyed in every field. There has been a good deal of success in thematizing these differences in the biosciences, chemistry, and physics, but what are the intensive differences presiding over the genesis of extensities in other fields such as art, the clinical setting, social relations, economics, political transformations, and so on? For instance, does part of the efficacy of analysis lie precisely in the fact that in the manner in which the analyst conducts himself as dead or the “dummy hand”, certain intensive relations are subtracted from social interaction that are normally present in other social relations? Suppose, for instance, we have an individual who is convinced that others wish to denegrate and reject him because he is short, Jewish, and is doing graduate work at the wrong university. Whenever he encounters someone new he anticipates these rejections and therefore pre-emptively responds to their remarks in a mocking and combattive fashion, producing the very thing that he fears and justifying his belief about the Other; albeit without realizing it. In entering analysis the analyst doesn’t respond to any of these strategies. He doesn’t take offense at being mocked or prickled. He simply nods and punctuates speech. He doesn’t even ask that the analysand speak about anything in particular. Does not this subtraction of a certain field of interactions introduce a new set of intensities into the analysand’s social interaction that minimizes itself in a different way? Doesn’t the absence of response become generative of new emergent ways of thinking, feeling, and acting? That is, over and above any “interpretations” given, there is already an intensive field in analysis that differs markedly from those we find in ordinary day to day life. What light would the investigation of this field of intensities shed on how the unconscious comes to actualize itself in the speech of the analysand. What other intensive differences are operative in the analytic setting. What counts as an intensity with respect to social change? Are there intensities that are conducive to the rise of fascist passions? Are there intensive social differences conducive to revolution? What are the relevant extensities that compose these fields? How can these concepts be put to work in other domains of experience in a non-metaphorical way that would allow us to avoid the reductive tendency to analogize everything to biology, physics, or chemistry, and truly speak of the conditions of real being rather than reducing one order of being to another order of being from which it differs in kind?
June 4, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized
Care must be taken in treating Ideas or multiplicities as having a greater permanence than they actually possess. When Deleuze speaks of “horizontal varieties of Ideas”, it is easy to get the impression that these are eternal natural kinds that have an atemporal organization. This conclusion easily follows from the example of varieties such as mathematical, physical, and chemical varieties, which are often taken to be intrinsic features of the universe. However, Deleuze’s metaphor of the “throw of the dice” should be enough to dissuade us from this route. Ideas or multiplicities are perpetually being made or unmade in terms of series that are drawn together forming new ontological problems and accompanying solution. This comes out clearly in Deleuze’s discussions of learning as opposed to knowing. Where we exist in a world, a chaosmos, that is perpetually changing by virtue of multiplicities and series being brought into contact with one another, we can only speak of emergent orders and learning, for there is no longer an eternal world that we might represent. As Deleuze puts it, “the Idea is not the element of knowledge but that of an infinite ‘learning’, which is of a different nature to knowledge. For learning evolves entirely in the comprehension of problems as such, in the apprehension and condensation of singularities and in the composition of ideal events and bodies. Learning to swim or learning a foreign language means composing the singular points of one’s own body or one’s own language with those of another shape or element, which tears us apart but also propels us into a hitherto unknown and unheard-of world of problems. To what are we dedicated if not to those problems which demand the very transformation of our body and our language” (DR, 192). It is in this conceptualization of learning that we can speak of an early concept of “deterritorialization” at work in Deleuze’s thought. In the marvellous example of learning to swim, the singularities composing the virtual dimension of the body are territorialized upon the earth. In encountering the water two series come to resonate with one another, forming a new Idea that progressively differentiates itself such that the problem of the body-water Idea becomes increasingly determined, generating a new actuality in the form of a specific style of swimming as a solution or actualization of this differential field and the singularities that populate it.
Series and their singularities are distributed by chance, and new actualizations generate new series that other series must adapt to, generating forever new divergent actualizations moving in all directions. Territories are prepetually deterritorializing and reterritorializing as Ideas or multiplicities come in contact with one another and modify their environment. Here, for instance, we might think of the introduction of cane toads into Australia to fight pests, which had the effect of significantly transforming the eco-system.
On dark days I’ve often found myself attracted to Dewey because of the process orientation of his thought. However, a comparison and contrast of Dewey with Luhmann’s conception of the artist reveal the limitations of pragmatic thought, and illuminates Deleuze’s concept of emergent orders and processes. In Art as Experience, Dewey seeks to account for the relationship of artistic production to lived experience and engagement. This account of artistic production is of interest as it forms a sort of master-key of Dewey’s entire “experimentalism”, by underlining the manner in which patterns of life emerge through engaging with the world about us (rather than thematizing experience in terms of passive receptivity or spectatorship, Dewey thinks it in terms of feedback loops and interactivity with the environment). Along these lines, Dewey writes, “When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement” (Hofstadter and Kuhns ed, Philosophies of Art & Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger, pg. 579). From a Deleuzian perspective this thesis cannot but be appealing, as Dewey here seems to allude to the virtual field or problems in which the work of art emerges as a necessary condition for thinking the art. And indeed, a number of Deleuzians such as Massumi or Hayden have increasingly turned to pragmatists such as James, Peirce, and Dewey for more accessible thematizations of Deleuze’s thought.
However, very quickly problems begin to emerge. A few pages later Dewey writes, “Because of changes in industrial conditions the artist has been pushed to one side from the main streams of active interest. Industry has been mechanized and an artist cannot work mechanically for mass production. He is less integrated than formerly in the normal flow of social services. A peculiar esthetic ‘individualism’ results. Artists find it incumbent upon them to betake themselves to their work as an isolated means of ‘self-expression.’ In order not to cater to the trend of economic forces, they often feel obliged to exaggerate their separateness to the point of eccentricity. Consequently artistic products take on to a still greater degree the air of something independent and esoteric” (ibid., 584). In this passage it becomes clear that Dewey thinks all human productions territorialized on a static lifeworld not unlike the world described by Heidegger and the earth described by Husserl. Everything is to be traced back to this world and any deviation from this world (such as the artist’s “idiosyncratic self-expression” is seen as a deviation). What Dewey is unable to think here is the adaptation of world to adaptations. That is, Dewey is unable to think the manner in which new problems emerge generating new “speciations” or forms of life as a result of new technologies and relations that emerge among multiplicities. Dewey thinks of the lifeworld as permanent, and as a result he’s only able to see the new artist in terms of what is not (the old, integrated artists of organic communities), rather than in terms of what this new artist is as a new type of multiplicity or response to a new problem. Here Dewey’s thought is essentially conservative and nostalgic.
In contrast, the picture of the artist Luhmann gives us in Art as a Social System gives us a picture of the emergence of new identities as responses to ever changing problems. For instance, Luhmann speaks about how the emergence of the non-Aristocratic wealthy middle class also allowed for a deterritorialization of the artist as essentially tied to institutions such as the church and royalty. Insofar as this new middle class sought individualized works of art so as to compete with the aristocracy, this propelled artists to discover personal style which also led to what Luhmann calls “second-order obserserving” or observing how others observe, that led to a fragmentation of the world and eventually postmodern art. Here the artist is not conceived as deviating from an authentic and wholesome collective lifeworld, but as an identity in variation responding to new problems posed at the economic, social, and scientific level. That is, we are given an account of how encounters among multiplicities generate new Ideas or Ideas of Ideas precipitated through new syntheses of differential relations and singular points. On the other hand, Luhmann’s approach still suffers in that it conceives the work of art in terms of an order that is not its own (communicative or social systems) rather than unfolding the metric or organization internal to the work itself. What is important to emphasize here, however, is the manner in which new identities and local spaces are generated in relation to positive fields of problems, so as to guard against false nostalgia at a “world lost”.
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