Responding to a post I wrote on Lacan’s discourse of the capitalist a couple years ago, Robert asks:
How would you describe racism according to the discourse of the capitalist (vs. the discourse of the master)?
I’m grateful for Robert’s question and find that it comes at a timely moment, as it just so happens that I’ve been thinking a great deal about the discourse of the capitalist as a result of the seminar I’m currently teaching on Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and an on again off again I’ve been having with my friend Orpheus.
I don’t yet have a theoretically well defined answer to Robert’s question– and recently I’ve come to discover that my true love is not evaluating things, nor proposing how to solve them, but rather in understanding the why of things and how they function –however, I do have the beginnings of a hypothesis that might lead in the direction of an answer to such questions. My thoughts here are impressionistic, so be gentle!
My hypothesis is that today we are living in the age of schizophrenia, as opposed to neurosis. In fact, I’m inclined to argue that the very reason that Freud could recognize neurosis as a clinical entity at all was because the age of neurosis– the age of the discourse of the master –was in a state of decline or disappearance. Here I hasten to add that in referring to schizophrenia, I’m not referring to the clinical entity, but rather to a form that social structure and relations take. Following Nietzsche, Deleuze, and Guattari, other names for “schizophrenia” would be “the death of God” and “capitalism”. There’s a lot here that I need to say and develop, but I’ll save that for another occasion.
In the Lacanian framework, the different structures of subjectivity are distinguished by the operation that functions within them. Neurosis is structured around the operation of repression and the formation of a primordial metaphor that structurally functions to distinguish words and things and that creates effects of sense. Perversion is structured around disavowal. And psychosis, of which schizophrenia is a variant, is structured around foreclosure. The consequence of this foreclosure is that nothing is anchored in the universe of the subject; everything becomes unmoored and drifts about. In this regard, the delusion of the psychotic or schizophrenic is, according to the Freudo-Lacanian model, an attempt to repair this rift within the symbolic. The more the schizophrenic elaborates and develops their delusion, the more they’re able to achieve some degree of functionality and to tolerate the overwhelming and painful jouissance that invades their body.
This is one of those moments in thought that I love, as it shows why good theory is so important. If we begin from the theory that the problem with the psychotic is they have false or delusional beliefs, we will develop a practice in response to the psychotic accordingly: the aim of treatment will be to dislodge the delusion or the false beliefs of the psychotic. However, if Freud and Lacan are right to claim that the delusion is a symptom not a [structural] cause, and if they are right that this symptom is, in fact, an attempt at a cure or rectification of this absence in the symbolic universe of the psychotic, disabusing the psychotic of their delusion will amount to barring the psychotic her route to a tolerable existence and some degree of functionality. Just like surgeons that confused symptoms with causes and bled their patients to return them to a state of homeostasis, thereby making their patients worse, the physician that proceeded in this way in the case of psychosis would make their patient worse. Bad theory amounts to bad practice, and for this reason I think that the moment of comprehension is often far more revolutionary than many of the solutions revolutionaries propose.
What, then, does it mean to claim that capitalism is the age of psychosis or schizophrenia? Marx and Engels famously said that under capitalism “all that is solid melts into air”. This resembles the schizophrenic unconscious, the schizophrenic process, where everything is scrambled and where, as Freud put it, words and things can no longer be distinguished from one another. As Freud put it in his essay on the unconscious, the schizophrenic treats words like things. In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari gloss this by arguing that capitalism is characterized by a universal “decoding”. “Decoding” shouldn’t be thought in the semiotic and information-theoretical sense of “deciphering”, such as what we do when we translate morse code into English. Rather, decoding amounts to undermining codes and deterritorializing them. To understand this, consider the game of chess. Chess is a highly “coded” game. Each piece– rooks, bishops, pawns, etc. –has a highly coded or structured identity that not only defines what it is, but also what that sort of body can do. A decoding of chess would not consist in understanding the rules of the game, the identities of the pieces and how they can move, but would instead consist in undermining these codes by, for example, scrambling them with other games. Perhaps you would get a bricolage version of chess combining chess, go, poker, etc. Or maybe you would change how the game is played, making the goal one of capturing all the opponent’s pawns rather than capturing the queen. The game is deterritorialized. This is what capitalism does. All customs and identities are scrambled, deterritorialized, and undermined through a schizophrenic process. The “exceptional point” that distributes all identities and holds them in a rigid structure or set of structural places has been foreclosed and is a result, universal decoding and derritorialization comes into being.
Deleuze and Guattari contend that the response to everything solid turning into air is a desperate drive to recode and reterritorialize. In other words, the response to this universal undoing is paranoia. What is it that we witness in response to the schizophrenia of capitalism? We see the rise of narcissistic structures. On the one hand, there’s a fantastic, a desperate, construction of coded identities. Everyone sets about constructing a coded identity for their group and themselves that would give some semblance of stability or solidity. For example, we see the rise of fundamentalisms that claim to be returning to the true traditions, but which are really quite new and share little resemblance to practices and identities of the past. Perhaps this would be the meaning of the permutation of the universe of the capitalist that, in an article I wrote years ago, I represented as follows:
S2/$ –> a/S1
Here we have the system of signifiers (S2) addressing the anomalous unnamed (a) producing a master-signifier (S1), with the divided subject ($) in the position of “truth” or drive. The drive behind this discourse– what we might call “the discourse of identity” (I called it something different in my article) –is that everything must be named. And is this not what we see both in the social sciences where an anomalous population must be named, must be categorized (Soccer Moms, Nascar Dads, African-Americans, Values Voters, etc), must be given an identity or a master-signifier (S1), but also in popular movements where everyone must classify themselves or determine who they are? The drive behind this push to identity and identification would be the place of truth or drive in this discourse ($), where any sense of identity or self has been eroded or evacuated, where subject never knows what it is and above all what it is for the Other because in the age of schizophrenia or following the death of God, it has been symbolically, socially registered that the Other does not exit; that it has been foreclosed. These, then, are strange identities. There is a sort of precarity within them, a sort of inherent instability where even where we manage to identify, to form an identity, that identity seems strangely inauthentic, simulated, illusory. Sartre developed this point beautifully in Being and Nothingness, where he ultimately equated subject with a sort of nothingness or dizzying freedom, such that every “being-oneself” is haunted by a sense of bad faith because every semiotization of subject ultimately fails.
The response to this status of truth following the death of God as subject ($) is paranoia. There is an inverse relationship between identity and persecution. The more one forms a semiotized or coded self, the more one attempts to self-define, the more one experiences oneself as persecuted by a counter-self because any identity is unstable ($). Subject (S1/$) develops a persecuting other in a mad attempt to foreclose its own inherent instability ($) arising from the process of infinite semiosis (S1 –> S2) so as to paradoxically secure itself. As a consequence, we everywhere see the rise of things like racism the more multiplicities or populations attempt to form a stable identity for itself. This is not to say that this is the only structural causation of racisms. Different structures will form their own othering. This would just be the form that racism takes where foreclosure of the quilting point reigns supreme.
There’s a lot I still need to develop here (in particular the relationship between psychosis, the death of God, and capitalism), however there are a few things we can take away from this hypothesis if it’s defensible. First, if it’s true that as I argued in “Zizek’s New Universe of Discourse“, we have entered a new universe of discourse, that the universe of the master is in its twilight, this will have an impact on the sort of structures and symptoms that appear in the clinic. We can no longer take it for granted that the most common subject that appears before us is a neurotic because the structure of social relations is different. In other words, Lacan becomes historicized. This means that we need a transcendental aesthetic capable of both discerning these new symptoms, as well as new models of treatment. Second, I do think Lacan provides some hope here. In his later work on the borromean knot and Joyce in particular, Lacan says that “we can do without the name-of-the-father (what is foreclosed in psychosis), so long as we make use of it.” Joyce, Lacan contends, had a psychotic structure, yet still managed to prevent himself from fraying apart. He found a new way of knotting the borromean knot of the real, imaginary, and symbolic that did not lead him to be overwhelmed by painful and anxiety provoking jouissance and, that more importantly, did not lead to the elaboration of a persecutory delusion as the cure. What would this mean at the level of social practice and structure? What would a post-oedipal (post-neurotic) structure of the social relation look like that did not end up in persecution complexes such as those we discern in racisms? That’s the question that interests me and towards which I’m groping for an answer with my concept of an “atheology”. I don’t yet have those answers, but perhaps in the next couple of years I’ll offer a seminar at the New Centre on psychoanalysis and psychosis or Lacan’s later work on the borromean knot to work towards those answers.