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.