blog trackingJodi Dean has a very interesting post over at I Cite on what holds discursive communities– especially academic communities –together, and what is required to critique these communities. There she writes,

The same holds when one talks about political theory. In American political science, theorists are a separate subfield and generally treated as separate by the rest of the discipline. We are sometimes considered a field among ourselves, perhaps because we read Aristotle and Hobbes while the others think that politics can be a science and try to find formal models that do something besides stating the obvious. Yet, political theorists disagree among ourselves. A big division is between those who do a kind of analytic political theory–or who are still oriented toward Rawls–and those who do continental. Yet, among continental theorists there are also huge debates and disagreements. The Habermasians don’t read Deleuze or Zizek (not to mention Ranciere, Laclau, Agamben, or Badiou). And, while I’m on a journal with a bunch of Deleuzians, they are generally non-sympathetic to Zizek (they think he is not immanent enough and that the notion of the lack is both dangerous and wrong).

Can it mean anything, then, to reject or criticize political theory as a whole? If one is a formal modeler, yes. One is saying that only with formal methods can anything significant be said about politics. But, this is not a critique. It is simply a rejection. I don’t critique formal modeling in my work. I simply reject it. I find it uninteresting and irrelevant. (I’ll add that I do think there is an important role for a lot of empirical political science although I don’t do that sort of work myself.)

Ray Davies makes an interesting point in a thread over at faucets and pipes:

Words aren’t solid tokens which can be extracted from one game and used in a different game while meaning the same thing. Precise definitions are important when rationally arguing against a supposedly rational argument, but can be toxic to community formation, as I’ve personally seen in attempts to establish the boundaries of “science fiction” or “poetry”. A social term is, finally, defined socially, and, in healthily varied communities, allows for unpredictable outliers.

I agree. Terms are markers of discursive communities.

So, can one criticize an entire discursive community by invoking one of their terms? Yes, if one is rejecting the community per se. Here one would be making an institutional argument, that is, an argument about the group existing as a group. But one would not be addressing any of the discursive content through which the group is constituted. Why–because it is precisely the contestation over the content that designates membership in the group. (This is why I never take a stand on alien abduction or 9/11 truth; that would constitute me as a member of the group/discursive community I’m trying to understand.)

I don’t have a whole lot to add to her post; however, in addition to these discursive factors of how a master-signifier is attached to a specific set of signifiers (S2’s) for this or that variant of feminism or variant of Lacanians or group of political theorists, it seems to me that we should also include a discussion of jouissance, or the particular form of enjoyment that bounds a community together. This would include not just the way the community itself enjoys, but also the manner in which the community perceives other groups enjoying and seeks to defend against this enjoyment… That is, the shared fantasy of the group pertaining to how the Other illegitimately enjoys.

For a good portion of my academic career I’ve been in the uncomfortable position of having my foot in the door of two very different and heterogeneous academic orientations– Lacanian thought and Deleuzian thought. From the standpoint of Deleuzian orientations, Lacanian and psychoanalytic thought is often situated in having the wrong orientation towards jouissance, by celebrating lack and castration, rather than joyous becoming, affirmation, and creativity. Psychoanalysis is treated as a dangerous “Oedipalizing” orientation of thought that needs to be demolished, and this attribution of a specific sort of jouissance to psychoanalysis helps to bind Deleuzians together in a community under the master-signifier “Deleuze and Guattari”, even where this master-signifier “Deleuze and Guattari” is attached to radically different S2’s or secondary signifiers. So long as the danger of psychoanalysis is recognized, differences in the “interpretants” of the master-signifier “Deleuze and Guattari” don’t matter all that much. A similar phenomenon can also often be detected among Lacanian orientations of thought, or more recently among criticisms of Badiou, where Badiou’s style and tone become objects of criticism– i.e., his specific mode of jouissance in writing, rather than his explicit claims.

For me the question then becomes less one of how we can fix a discursive universe which is always changing anyway, but rather how we might strategically respond to formations of jouissance inhabiting a discursive universe that function to solidify that universe even though this jouissance is seldom explicitly there in the text. What would a form of critical engagement look like that takes this jouissance factor into account. Such a position wouldn’t simply seek to locate the jouissance at work in other discourses, but also the jouissance in one’s own discourse as perceived by the Other, seeking to sacrifice this jouissance or demonstrate that we don’t have it. For instance, it is clear that right-wing conservative discourses are often premised on the belief that the Other somehow has this enjoyment and has stolen it. What might be a form of discourse that would challenge this assumption and the ressentiment that attends it?