Over at Critical Animal the always honorable and insightful Scu has an excellent round-up of the controversies about blogging that circulate around the web. I really don’t have much to add to these debates (beyond largely agreeing with the positions taken by Scu, Alex Reid, and Morton), but I did want to zero in on a refrain I hear popping up again and again. It is not unusual to hear others accuse certain bloggers of being careerists, self-aggrandizers, of cynically trying to foment movies, and the rest. As per Lacan’s theory of fantasy which I discuss here, I believe this reflects more of the motives of the people making the interpretations, than those being interpreted. To see the world and others in this way is only possible based on what “makes sense” to the person making the interpretation, and this, in turn, is reflective of what motivates them. Such is the Mobius strip of interpretation. Indeed, if you’re looking to get ahead in academia, blogging is probably not the smartest strategy for doing so. On the one hand, many stupid things are said on blogs so you end up having a paper trail following you about that every job committee potentially says. On the other hand, if you wish to advance your academic career, you’d probably do better to publish in top journals, attend the most important professional conferences, etc.
I’ve participated heavily on the internet now since about 1998. This began first with the email discussion lists (the Deleuze and Guattari Spoon list, and later the Yahoo Lacan list) and then shifted to blogging around 2006. So why do I do it and why at such volume? There are a number of reasons. First, at the risk of sounding pathetic, I’m lonely. I find that I seldom have others to with whom to discuss the ideas and texts I’m working through. Even graduate school and academic conferences are seldom populated by these sorts of discussions. People would prefer to discuss anything than ideas or texts (and it’s very hard to do well in speech). Blogging and email lists are, I find, a way of surmounting this. For me this is especially important because I have a very difficult time thinking at all without an audience and conversations with others. For whatever reason, I have difficulty thinking in privacy or alone. Rather, I think best in dialogue with others. My best thinking takes place not during long Summers when, on occasion, I take time off teaching (usually I become very depressed during breaks), but rather when I’m teaching and am in conversation with others. I need difference in order to think, which is why I often deeply value those who differ from me so long as they don’t enact the sneering and contentious tone characteristic of so much of male dominated philosophy (what’s up with that? when did everything become an argument and insult? on some days I wonder whether philosophy shouldn’t instead be call “phallosophy”.). Everything I write is a part of a conversation, even if I don’t always mark the conversations which might have occasioned whatever I happened to write. Since the heights of my jouissance arise from writing and thinking, and since writing and thinking seem to only take place within me when I am in dialogue with others or have an audience, I thus find it necessary to seek out others. This is, for me, an issue of mental health. If I can’t get my writing and thinking machines going, I literally fall into a gloomy dark depression.
Second, I find that I have deep difficulties publishing. It’s sad to say and is probably part of my reason for being a failure as an academic (junior college professor that I am), but I almost never submit anything for publication. Although my CV has grown considerably in the last few years, this has been largely despite my intentions and occupations than because of my intentions and occupations. People ask me for something and I give it to them. That said, I would prefer to write a blog post or participate on a discussion on an email discussion list than publish an article. Publishing articles, viewed from the perspective of flourishing social relations, strikes me as largely a waste of time because all too often they disappear down the memory hole, never to be heard from again. They seldom generate any further communication or dialogue. Thus, for example, I have heard barely a peep regarding my article entitled “Zizek’s New Universe of Discourse” written a couple years ago. Now I think this article has some pretty good ideas in it. It develops Lacan’s elusive “discourse of the capitalist” and develops 20 additional Lacanian discourses (in addition to the four Lacan developed). Coming in at 48 pages, I put tremendous time and effort into the article, but ultimately, what did this accomplish? It got me another line on my CV. Great, but was all that time and effort really worth another line on my CV? Perhaps. Maybe someday I’ll get a better position where I can work with more advanced students and will have more time for research. That’s not possible unless I publish. However, this article did not accomplish what I believe should be the primary aim of academic work: the genesis of dialogue and further ideas and arguments. That is what motivates me, and that is why I blog. Had I published this article in a series of blog posts, I suspect that the case would have been very different. Discussions would have taken place. Ideas would have evolved. Criticisms would have occurred. Positions would have been revised. Applications would begin to emerge (we’d see people putting these little machines of discourse to analytic work in the world), etc. That’s something that seldom happens in the world of publications. Indeed, increasingly it seems that publications are more a form of balance keeping like one’s stock portfolio, rather than anything having to do with dialogue.
There’s no blame here. With the sheer volume of information that’s being produced, no one can read it all. It’s necessary to be selective. Moreover, journals are increasingly rendering themselves irrelevant by locking themselves away in the libraries of institutions that have the money to afford them, and, where rendered available online, by hiding themselves behind walls where one has to pay to have access to the article. This strikes me as deeply perplexing. One thing I passionately believe in is the free circulation of texts. Books should be free. Articles should be free. They should be readily available to all. Why? Following the work of Negri and Hardt, as well as Virno, it is never individual authors that produce these things along in isolation, but rather they are always products of the “common”. Texts are always and only possible as a result of the collective work of thousands of anonymous contributors that have built the common and that allows for these specific individuations to take place in authors. Let them circulate so that they can contribute back to the common as well! Now I’m rambling. I suppose my point is that in academia we need to devise new strategies for writing and publishing that aren’t simply a matter of bringing about a rise in our stock portfolio, but where real possibilities of discussion are created. We must not forget the Salons or the Agora.
As for movements, I’ve never been a joiner and find groups or talking about belonging to a group largely repellent. For me, the first thing that always comes to mind whenever I hear talks about groups is Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “micro-fascisms”. Suddenly, with the emergence of groups and movements, you get all those micro-fascisms where things are policed in terms of whether or not they are following the orthodoxy. Next thing you know you have tribunals. Additionally, since groups are molar by nature, based on fixed identities, you not only get the transcendence of an essentialist identity over and above the multiplicity that constitutes the group (Lacan’s logic of the masculine which I detail in The Democracy of Objects and which Michael O’Roark brilliantly explores in his forthcoming Speculations article), but you also get the emergence of oppositional logic between the friend and the enemy, us and them. A couple years back Ken Reinhard castigated me for my virulent critique of the logic of masculine sexuation and the friend/enemy logic that arises from it (and let there be no mistake, I believe it is masculinity, not femininity, that is always masquerade), but I can’t help but experience the most profound nausea whenever encountering this friend/enemy logic and this particular form of politics. I suppose I’m a good hysteric this way. It’s sometimes said that the left always fails because it’s composed of “purists” (that’s the latest line among Obama supporters). I prefer to belief that the difficulty of the left is that it’s composed of hysterics that are everywhere and always suspicious of master-signifiers, molar identities, and group formations. The hysteric, of course, points out the hidden contradictions, inconsistencies, and incompleteness of all master terms. Or, as one of my female Lacano-Deleuzian friends likes to put it, “we girls like to get inside of power and fuck shit up, we challenge all masters and all those that would claim to be uncastrated patriarchs.” I aspire to be a girl in that sense.
For my part, what I want is not groups or movements, but concepts and ideas that create work for others. Somewhere or other Deleuze dreamt of concepts and affects that directly affect the nervous system. The problem with groups and movements is that you get transcendent models (like the Oedipus as a paradigm for any and all interpretation, for example) that are then supposed to be repeated or replicated as self-identical among all those that participate in the movement. You get orthodoxy. This is what Lacan vigorously struggled with. Everywhere and always Lacan attempted to undermine his position as Father or model. If the big Other does not exist, and if the desire of the analyst is truly the desire for absolute difference (closing section of Seminar XI), then there can be no question of a transcendent model that is replicated as self-identical again and again among analysands and analysts. Every analysis, in principle, is to both challenge all psychoanalysis and recreate all psychoanalysis (responsibility). If there are to be conversion experiences, let them be conversions not to orthodoxy, but to “mutadoxy”. It was this that would lead Lacan to describe the practice of psychoanalysis as controlled suicide (the analyst crushes his desire to model the patient), and that would also lead to Lacan to perpetually dissolve his schools and form new schools. Did his students not understand that they were placing him and Freud in the position of primal father, as “knowledge”, or truth? Had they not seen how he perpetually underlined the pathetic and fraught nature, in a way worthy of Derrida, of every master-signifier, every final interpretant, every father, every phallus, up to and including the symbolic father? Hadn’t they noticed that he had taught that every father, whether it be Dora’s or Freud and Lacan, was ultimately a pathetic sham? Lacan’s teaching from one end to the other was that there is no transcendental signified or final interpretant. This is why, in Seminar 22, RSI, he would describe the end of analysis as identification with the symptom (the dreamwork or the unconscious as factory) rather than belief in the symptom (the belief in a transcendental signified that would stitch it all together and halt the sliding of the signifier).
Consequently, when I say that I want concepts that are factories, that work, I am not talking about logical consistency or referential truth, but rather concepts that produce. I want not orthodoxies but mutadoxies. I want not conversions, but people that put things to work. I want to see concepts that create new projects for ethnographers, social and political theorists, geographers, artists, novelists, poets, activists, economists, housewives, malcontents, feminists, etc., etc., etc. The measure of success for a theory is not whether it creates an orthodoxy (a repetition of the same inviting inquisitions), but whether or not it contributes to creation through the creation of work for others. And if this is a mutadoxy rather than an orthodoxy, then it is because in undergoing these adventures, concepts, propositions, theoretical claims undergo mutation and transformation, departing substantially from their origins as a consequence of the discoveries that those explorers make in the course of their journeys when adapting things to their projects. In a social system, repetition of the same is the death knell of the social relation as information repeated twice is no longer information or the difference that makes a difference. This is why mutadoxy must dream of a form of the production of differences that create differences for it is there that social production takes place.