November 2007

I am heading to Newcastle University to hang with Spurious and Blah-Feme from December 6th to 9th, where I will be giving a talk at the 3rd Symposium in the Music,
Philosophy and Vernacular series. The folks there were kind enough to foot my ticket and lodgings, so hopefully I will have something of interest to say. I have to confess I’m a bit intimidated, as I am certainly not a musicologist and I have 90 minutes to speak (60 minutes for my talk and 30 minutes for discussion). Sadly this will be a whirlwind trip. I fly out Thursday afternoon, land early Friday morning, have fun with all the Newcastle folk on Saturday, and fly back to the States on Sunday. I wonder if I’ll be detained by customs? Why is it a fantasy that I’m “dangerous” enough to be stopped by customs?

The theme of the symposium this year is drawn from work Blah-Feme has been doing and is entitled “After Music”. As I understand it, Blah-feme has been toying with the idea that we live in a post-musical age precisely because music has become so ubiquitous. Of special interest in Blah-femes analysis is his discussions of “distributed subjectivity”, or the manner in which we have shifted from Cartesian models of subjectivity to models of subjectivity where individuals are nodes in a network, coordinated by various media, producing certain forms of life. Finding this idea interesting and provocative, my talk will thus attempt to put some meat on the bones of this concept of distributed subjectivity by drawing heavily on Deleuze and Guattari’s account of territorialization in “Of the Refrain” found in A Thousand Plateaus, and various moments in Marx. I am especially interested in how territories of subjectivity are formed, how forms of life are molded, through various musical refrains, and how this might be thought in terms of Marx’s thesis that “production is immediately consumption and consumption is immediately production” (i.e., not only the question of how to reproduce the conditions of production, but also how to reproduce the conditions of consumption… A problem that becomes pressing in a capitalist milieu when basic needs are met). In part, I would like to show that distributed subjectivity is not something new, but is in fact the “truth” of subjectivity (in the sense that democracy is, according to Marx, the truth of all social formations). This, I think, resituates the question somewhat and helps to ameliorate some of the doom and gloom surrounding the disappearance of agency. Of course, I, no more than anyone else, do not have questions as to what is to be done. At any rate, the title of the paper is “Territories of Music: Deleuze, Guattari, and the Formation of Territories of Subjectivity”… Or something like that.

I am told that the Newcastle folk are somewhat hostile to Deleuze and Guattari, seeing them as apologists for contemporary consumer capitalism and being better friends with Lacan, Zizek, and Badiou. Needless to say, in my view Deleuze gives us the ontology required by historical materialism. Hopefully I can compelling make this case in some form or other and I am not the recipient of rotten tomatoes or eggs!

At any rate, if I’m less than responsive on the blog or email in the next few days, this is because I am busily working… Editing the proofs of a book, giving two conference papers, working on an article, serving on three committees, and teaching a 5/5 load are not conducive to finishing things in a timely fashion. Wish me luck, or not as the case may be.

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.

For those who haven’t heard, American conservatives have decided to put together their own version of Wikipedia, Conservapedia, to counter its leftwing bias. Here’s a list of the most frequently viewed pages and their number of hits:

1. Homosexuality‎ [2,011,173]
2. Main Page‎ [1,974,521]
3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis‎ [518,847]
4. Homosexuality and Parasites‎ [479,807]
5. Gay Bowel Syndrome‎ [445,848]
6. Homosexuality and Promiscuity‎ [423,159]
7. Homosexual Couples and Domestic Violence‎ [374,753]
8. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea‎ [332,659]
9. Homosexuality and Anal Cancer‎ [295,222]
10. Homosexuality and Mental Health‎ [294,872]

I kid you not, really, go to the site. I make it a policy not to link to such sites, but you will find this list under site “statistics” on the left of the screen. This seems like an appropriate time to quote a passage from Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding on association:

IT is evident that there is a principle of connexion between the different thoughts or ideas of the mind, and that, in their appearance to the memory or imagination, they introduce each other with a certain degree of method and regularity. In our more serious thinking or discourse this is so observable that any particular thought, which breaks in upon the regular tract or chain of ideas, is immediately remarked and rejected. And even in our wildest and most wandering reveries, nay in our very dreams, we shall find, if we reflect, that the imagination ran not altogether at adventures, but that there was still a connexion upheld among the different ideas, which succeeded each other. Were the loosest and freest conversation to be transcribed, there would immediately be observed something which connected it in all its transitions. Or where this is wanting, the person who broke the thread of discourse might still inform you, that there had secretly revolved in his mind a succession of thought, which had gradually led him from the subject of conversation.

The key point for Hume (and Freud), of course, is that if one idea occurs to you in relation to another idea, it was your mind that drew that connection. I wonder if there’s any particular reason these conservatives are thinking of homosexuality so much, and in particular of these sex acts? On the one hand, there is the sad obsession with particular sex acts. On the other hand, there is the hair-raising association of these sexual orientations immediately with disease, insects, parasites, etc. Such metaphorics to describe another group turned out real well in Rwanda and Germany.

Guattari’s Molecular Revolution is now available online for free.

via Continental Philosophy.

At the risk of being humiliatingly dense, where’s Marx in contemporary discussions? In his Preface to the Contributions of a Critique of Political Economy, Marx writes:

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness… Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.

We have Zizek who describes himself as a militant Marxist, but who only makes rather vague hand gestures to modes of production and material conditions, focusing instead on the Act and ideology (this, I think, should make us suspicious of his proposals as to what constitutes materialism in The Parallax View). We have Badiou, who also describes himself as a Marxist, yet who focuses on the event, truth-procedures, and decisions. Ranciere talks of counting that which is not counted and the aesthetic. Laclau talks about battles for the hegemonization of empty or void universals. Foucault, of course, power. With the exception of Foucault, aren’t these, to adopt the rhetoric, bourgeois inversions of how change takes place? Don’t these positions postulate that change proceeds via consciousness, rather than consciousness, thought, emerging from modes of production? Deleuze and Guattari seem alone in focusing on production and modes of production. Their talk of “deterritorialization”, so annoying to many, can be seen as a fancy way of talking about the leading edge of history or the history making element of history, i.e., the proletariat (though with lots of bells and whistles added). I’m sure I’m missing something here and someone will come along and give me the history of the problematic nature of the base-superstructure thesis and how it’s been complicated. Sure. But what’s interesting is that modes of production seemed to have disappeared almost entirely from the discussion. So what am I missing? Please go easy on me.

I was interested to discover this review of Mullarkey’s Post-Continental Philosophy, courtesy of our friends at Perverse Egalitarianism. Welchman, the reviewer, writes,

This book has two aims. First, it provides readings of four French philosophers more or less outside of the main phenomenological stream of French (‘continental’) thought exemplified by Derrida. The philosophers are Gilles Deleuze, Michel Henry, Alain Badiou and François Laruelle. Collectively they constitute the beginning of what Mullarkey takes to be the post-continental philosophy of his book’s title. Mullarkey considers these thinkers to be united by a commitment to the idea of immanence. But he argues that each of these philosophers tacitly betrays the immanence they are officially committed to. And this leads to the second aim of the book: an original philosophy of immanence that avoids the pitfalls identified in the rest of book. Here Mullarkey’s central term is ‘diagram’, a word that he intends literally (among other ways).

The term ‘immanent’ is a slippery one, as Mullarkey himself acknowledges (7). But its basic sense emerges quickly from his analysis of Deleuze, an analysis that plays a coordinating role in relation to Badiou and Henry. According to Mullarkey, Deleuze’s claim to be a philosopher of immanence is vitiated by his commitment to a ‘two-world ontology’ (25) spanning both the virtual and the actual. Although Deleuze himself is at pains to distinguish the virtual from the possible, this nicety does not concern Mullarkey because for him any ontological category going beyond what actually exists (the actual) is ipso facto transcendent and therefore no longer immanent.

Seeking to surmount this residual transcendence, Mullarkey instead proposes the following:

Mullarkey’s immanent materialization of self-relation in the diagram derives from Henry’s conception and shares with it a principled rejection of explanation. In a way this is odd because Mullarkey describes his position as actualist. This doctrine is usually understood as the denial that possibilities exist and its chief intellectual challenge is how to account for modal statements without such a two-stage ontology. One might expect Mullarkey’s immanent actualism to stimulate an analogous explanatory challenge: how to account for the apparently non-actual on the basis of the actual. But Mullarkey repeatedly blocks this challenge by arguing for example that even the appearance of transcendence is already transcendence. Thus even to admit that there is something to explain is already to have made it impossible to explain it on the basis of immanence. So Mullarkey’s solution to the explanatory co-dependency between Badiou and Henry is to eschew explanation itself. Mullarkey’s radical value-neutrality, descriptivism and his ultimately mute conception of the philosophical diagram all follow once explanation has been blocked. Deleuze’s materialization of self-relation by contrast rises to the challenge, and so perhaps it is not surprising that it should have been occluded in Mullarkey’s account.

I have not yet been able to read this book, but look forward to doing so. On the one hand, I find myself sympathetic to what might motivate Mullarkey to make this move. It seems to me that the target here is Platonism and Expressivism. On the one hand, I understand Platonic idealism to be any position that posits essences, forms, or substances, that condition beings without themselves being conditioned by these beings. The forms condition individuals without individuals conditioning forms. I will not here go into all the problems with this common thesis (a thesis so common that people often are not even aware they are advancing it), but simply earmark it for further discussion (much of Difference and Givenness targets precisely this idealism). On the other hand, by expressivism I understand a variant of this Platonic idealism where one asserts the primacy of an interpretative model that all phenomena then express as variations on that model. Thus, for example, Hegel is often read as an expressivist in that the meaning of any historical time period lies in a self-identical logos, such that all aspects of life are and society are expressions of this master-key. Similarly, Freud is an expressivist in the sense that all roads lead back to Oedipus. We always know what the answer will be, and all psychic phenomena are variations on this one motif. Finally, Levi-Strauss is an expressivist in that all mythology and social formations are treated as variations of the invariant structures of mind.

I think expressivism is a position well worth combating, especially given how common it can be in circles of those influenced by psychoanalytic theory (despite Lacan’s wide ranging critiques of such an understanding of the unconscious). However, I wonder if Mullarkey’s knife here doesn’t cut too deep. To explain is to trace a phenomenon back to something that serves as its ground. If this review fairly represents Mullarkey’s view, all grounds disappear and we’re left simply with scintillating impressions. Exit any ideological analysis, political analysis, textual interpretation, psychoanalysis, and so on. Rather, the problem does not strike me as being that of ground, but of how ground is conceived. In his Introduction to Sociology, Adorno makes a plea for preserving the notion of essence. If, says Adorno, capitalism is the essence of our time and of all cultural formations of our time, this isn’t because capitalism is an invariant form or logos that all phenomena express, but rather because capitalism is that system of relations and forces that allows us to comprehend why cultural formations take the form they take today. This in now way entails that these cultural formations do not themselves react back on to this system of relations… And that is the key point.

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:


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.

From Marx’s draft of a A Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

The ‘state formalism’ which bureaucracy is, is the ‘state as formalism’; and it is as a formalism of this kind that Hegel has described as bureaucracy. Since this ‘state formalism’ constitutes itself as an actual power and itself becomes its own material content, it goes without saying that the ‘bureaucracy’ is a web of practical illusions, or the ‘illusion of the state.’ The bureaucratic spirit is a jesuitical, theological spirit through and through. The bureaucrats are the jesuits and theologians of the state…

Since by its very nature the bureaucracy is the ‘state as formalism’, it is this also as regards its purpose. The actual purpose of the state therefore appears to bureaucracy as an objective hostile to the state. The spirit of the bureaucracy is the ‘formal state spirit.’ The bureaucracy therefore turns the ‘formal state spirit’ or the actual spiritlessness of the state into a categorical imperative. The bureaucracy takes itself to be the ultimate purpose of the state. Because the bureaucracy turns its “formal” objectives into its content, it comes into conflict everywhere with ‘real’ objectives. It is therefore obliged to pass off the form for the content and the content for the form… The bureaucracy is a circle from which no one can escape. Its hierarchy is a hierarchy of knowledge. The top entrusts the understanding of detail to the lower levels, whilst the lower levels credit the top with understanding of the general, and so all are mutually deceived.

The bureaucracy is the imaginary state alongside the real state– the spiritualism of the state. Each thing has therefore a double meaning, a real and bureaucratic meaning, just as knowledge (and also the will) is both real and bureaucratic… The bureaucracy has the state, the spiritual essence of society, in its possession, as its private property. The general spirit of the bureaucracy is the secret, the mystery, preserved within itself by the hierarchy and against the outside world by being a closed corporation. Avowed political spirit, as also political-mindedness, therefore appear to the bureaucracy as treason against its mystery. Hence, authority is the basis of its knowledge, and the deification of authority is its conviction. Within the bureaucracy itself, however, spiritualism becomes crass materialism, the materialism of passive obedience, of faith in authority, of the mechanism of fixed and formalistic behaviour, and of fixed principles, views, and traditions.

Kafka can be read as a cartogropher of these jesuitical or theological illusions. A couple more passages:

The fact is that the state issues from the multitude in their existence as members of families and as members of civil society. Speculative philosophy [Hegel’s system] expresses this fact as the idea’s deed, not as the idea of the multitude, but as the deed of a subjective idea different from the fact itself

Marx argues that the State is constituted from the multitudes, not the multitude from the State. Here there are strong resonances with Deleuze’s theory of individuation and Badiou’s ontology of multiplicities. Deleuze’s theory of individuation pertains to the process by which individuals are individuated or produced, not what allows us to distinguish one substantial individual from another. Like Badiou, identity, for Deleuze, is always a product come second, an effect, a product, a result. Identities must be constituted. Similarly, for Badiou, the Same is only ever constituted through the operation of the count-as-one. As such, these two accounts of entity provide fertile ground for an ontology of historical materialism, as historical materialism rejects any idealistic thesis of ahistorical essences– viz., an essential human nature, for instance –underlying being. We also encounter one of the major problems with Luhmann’s social systems theory here. Insofar as Luhmann places individuals outside social systems, he reproduces the optical illusion whereby the State is an entity in its own right over and above those that constitute the state. More on this in a moment. Marx makes a similar point regarding individuation a moment later in his Contribution, when he writes:

If Hegel had set out from real subjects as the bases of the state he would not have found it necessary to transform the state in a mystical fashion into a subject. “In truth, however,” says Hegel, “subjectivity exists only as subject, personality only as person.” This too is a piece of mystification. Subjectivity is a characteristic of the subject, personality a characteristic of the person. Instead of conceiving them as predicates of their subjects, Hegel gives the predicates an independent existence and subsequently transforms them in a mystical fashion into their subjects.

In short, Hegel fails to attend to the manner in which individuals are individuated or produced; or as Marx will much later put it in the Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness… Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.

The network of production, exchange, distribution, and consumption will each produce its own specific social organizations and forms of subjectivity. For instance, production is not just the production of goods, but also requires the production of subjectivities. For instance, there is a qualitative difference between a Greek or Roman slave, a Serf, and an Industrial Laborer, such that all these forms of subjectivity must be produced or individuated. To discern this it will be necessary to analyze the network within which these forms of embodiment and affect emerge. In Grundrisse, Marx will go so far as to say that production is immediately consumption and consumption is immediately production. In this connection, he is speaking of the manner in which the body and tools are consumed in producing. However, he also alludes to how forms of art must produce their audience so that they might be “consumed”. Here, already, Marx anticipates Baudrillard’s critique in For a Critique of the Political Economy of Signs.

Returning to Contributions to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx goes on to remark that,

Democracy is the truth of monarchy; monarchy is not the truth of democracy. Monarchy is necessarily democracy inconsistent with itself; the monarchial element is not an inconsistency in the democracy. Monarchy cannot be understood in its own terms; democracy can. In democracy none of the elements attains a significance other than what is proper to it. Each is in actual fact only an element of the whole demos [people]. In monarchy one part determines the character of the whole. The entire constitution has to adapt itself to this fixed point. Democracy is the genus Constitution. Monarchy is one species, and a poor one at that. Democracy is content and form. Monarchy is supposed to be only a form, but it falsifies the content.

In monarchy the whole, the people, is subsumed under one of its particular modes of being, the political constitution. In democracy the constitution itself appears only as one determination, that is, the self-determination of the people. In monarchy we have the people of the constitution; in democracy the constitution of the people. Democracy is the solved riddle of all constitutions. Here, not merely implicitly and in essence but existing in reality, the constitution is constantly brought back to its actual basis, the actual human being, the actual people, and established as the peoples own work. The constitution appreas as what it is, a free product of man.

In this passage Marx plays brilliantly on the two senses of the signifier “constitution”. On the one hand, constitution, of course, refers to a political document. Yet on the other hand, “constitution” is a verb signifying “to constitute”, “make”, or “produce”. In constitution we make, set up, or establish a structure. Marx is here drawing on Feuerbach’s critique of religion and applying it to Hegel’s political philosophy. If democracy is the “truth” of monarchy, then this is because that which is veiled in monarchy becomes clear in democracy. Monarchy is premised on an optical illusion in which the monarch rules by virtue of power that flows directly from his being. However, the monarch only has power as a monarch insofar as he is recognized as a monarch. It is the multitudes– in this case multitudes that have been counted or individuated as subjects –that recognize the monarch as a monarch. Yet these subjects experience themselves as subjected and do not recognize that the power of the monarch issues from them. By contrast, in democracy, this optical effect disappears and the multitudes constitute themselves through themselves or their own action.

I realize all of these thoughts are very scattered and disjointed, but I thought I would throw them up here anyway. It seems to me that Marx’s remarks here are an important reminder of the aims of any sort of revolutionary practice. Increasingly, in works of political theory and about the blogosphere, we have heard heroic flirtations with strong State forms as necessary for political intervention. This comes especially from the Zizek camp. We have also heard dismissals of certain forms of politics surrounding feminisms, queer movements, various minority movements, etc., as if the principles of historical materialism have been entirely forgotten, i.e., that while we should engage in ruthless critique we must nonetheless ask why these political forms are emerging in precisely these circumstances and what truly revolutionary potentials they might contain. The Marx of Contributions to a Critique of Hegel, of course, is the humanist Marx, well preceding the Marx of Grundrisse and Capital. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this conception of multitudes, of the demos, remains. The question is how it might be thought. I would cautiously suggest that we have never seen democracy.

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