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A colleague of mine alerted me to this interview with Chris Hedges, author of American Fascism, which discusses the danger of far right extremist fundamentalist movements. Of particular interest, I think, is his focus on the relationship between economic woes and growing economic anxiety, and the emergence of these apocalyptic movements, which I find to be both an interesting and important observation:

In the beginning of the book, you write briefly about covering wars in Latin America, the Middle East and the Balkans. How did that shape the way you understand these social forces in America? What similarities do you see?

When I covered the war in the Balkans, there was always the canard that this was a war about ancient ethnic hatreds that was taken from Robert Kaplan’s “Balkan Ghosts.” That was not a war about ancient ethnic hatreds. It was a war that was fueled primarily by the economic collapse of Yugoslavia. Milosevic and Tudman, and to a lesser extent Izetbegovic, would not have been possible in a stable Yugoslavia.

When I first covered Hamas in 1988, it was a very marginal organization with very little power or reach. I watched Hamas grow. Although I came later to the Balkans, I had a good understanding of how Milosevic built his Serbian nationalist movement. These radical movements share a lot of ideological traits with the Christian right, including that cult of masculinity, that cult of power, rampant nationalism fused with religious chauvinism. I find a lot of parallels.

People have a very hard time believing the status quo of their existence, or the world around them, can ever change. There’s a kind of psychological inability to accept how fragile open societies are. When I was in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, at the start of the war, I would meet with incredibly well-educated, multilingual Kosovar Albanian friends in the cafes. I would tell them that in the countryside there were armed groups of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who I’d met, and they would insist that the Kosovo Liberation Army didn’t exist, that it was just a creation of the Serb police to justify repression.

You saw the same thing in the cafe society in Sarajevo on the eve of the war in Bosnia. Radovan Karadzic or even Milosevic were buffoonish figures to most Yugoslavs, and were therefore, especially among the educated elite, never taken seriously. There was a kind of blindness caused by their intellectual snobbery, their inability to understand what was happening. I think we have the same experience here. Those of us in New York, Boston, San Francisco or some of these urban pockets don’t understand how radically changed our country is, don’t understand the appeal of these buffoonish figures to tens of millions of Americans.

As I argue in the conclusion to my recent paper on apocalypticism, the central feature of apocalyptic narratives seems to be that they present the time of action as deferred, as if we are powerless in the present, unable to do anything now to transform our social conditions as the forces of capital are too strong to be resisted and fought against. The time of the now, of the present, has disappeared. Or, put otherwise, the present no longer appears as an actable space. The middle class worker working for the corporation encounters lay-offs every few years as a result of stockholder decisions, shifts in global economy that require downsizing, and changes in technology, making them much like the Stoic slave Epictetus who can only endure his fate and turn inward, rather than change life under empire. So too with lower class workers who increasingly find themselves in competition with outsourcing and technologies that render their jobs obselete. This echoes, Poetix’s, K-Punk’s, and Jodi Dean’s thesis that today it is impossible to imagine a beyond or alternative to life under contemporary global capitalism. Fundamentalist apocalyptic narratives become powerfully attractive under such conditions, as they promise the possibility of a post-apocalyptic world where these antagonisms are resolved and the disruption at the heart of the social is finally pacified. The problem, of course, is that in being seduced by these narratives, the followers are led to endorse a number of other downright frightening things at the level of policy… Policies that are often directly against their own self-interests.

It seems to me that an element commonly missing from these discussions is the role played by the contemporary hegemony of the “discourse of the victim”. One of the uncanny points of identity between both left and right is the primacy of victim discourses as the only authentic position from which to formulate an ethics and politics. Thus we have victimhood as minority status on the left, and the perceived persecution of Christians and white heterosexual males as the dominant trope on the right. One question worth asking is why politics must today take the form of a discourse of the victim. I haven’t come up with any answers to this question, yet it does seem that “being-a-victim” confers one a minimal ontologically substantiality or identity in a world where identity has progressively been virtualized and rendered precarious by the collapse of the big Other. The dangers of rightwing discourses of the victim are, I think, readily apparent in terms of the sorts of action they thereby authorize.

The entire interview can be read for free if you watch and advertisement.

I hate people who use the term “kafkaesque”, but I simply don’t know how else to describe the sort of jouissance embodied in this little nugget in a post entitled “Liberals ARE Patriotic” that I came across over at R*dst*te (I would link to the original article, but having witnessed the moderators of this blog go after academics and those with whom they disagree by posting personal information and contacting employers, I simply don’t want any attention from them). Trying to be “reasonable” by explaining how liberals conceptualize patriotism (rather than dismissing them outright as being unpatriotic… why this should be a criteria for involvement in political discourse is beyond me), the author presents the following list of democratic beliefs:

  • Liberal Ideals…

    * It is the job of the Federal Government to bring both order and fairness to society.
    Every demographic group has a right to an equal outcome.
    * Every person has the right to a living wage, to quality healthcare and to a comfortable retirement.
    * It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to take the measures it deems necessary to insure equality of outcomes.
    * Every individual has the right to live their lives without interference from other groups within the society, except where the Federal Government determines such interference is necessary in order to assure equal outcomes.
    * We must respect the right of every other nation to order their society in a way that seems right to them and we have no right, and certainly no obligation, to impose any set of “values” on another group of people.
    * The sole purpose of “diplomacy” is to understand the motivation and values of other societies and to find ways to accommodate them in order to live peacefully.
    We are just one member of the Community of Nations that make up the World.
    * All conflicts between nations must be decided by an independent third party who can rule on the issues between the various States in a manner that will best serve all States. The appropriate channels for resolution of disputes would be the United Nations and/or the World Court.
    * No nation has the right to act in their own “national interest” when such action does perceived harm to another nation’s “national interest”. In such cases, the dispute must be resolved by the UN or WC.

  • Conservative Ideals…

    * The fundamental job of the Federal Government is to protect national security.
    * Every individual should have equal opportunity based on their individual abilities.
    The Federal Government has no responsibility or inherent right to equalize outcomes or to economically provide for individuals.
    * The Federal Government should seek to implement policies which promote and reward the values of individualism and entrepreneurship.
    * It is the responsibility of individuals within the society to order their own lives and to determine how society shall be ordered.
    * In all dealings with other nations, the Federal Government must first consider the national interest of the people of this country.
    * The Federal Government must never submit to an independent third party in dispute resolution where such resolution is not in the national interest of this country.
    * A strong and effective military, and the willingness to use it, are critical to our national interest and our national survival.

Having read this author for a few years now, he’s genuinely trying to understand the liberal perspective in this post and is trying to give an accurate representation of what those on the left believe. This comparison is not intended as a parody, nor is it an intentional distortion of leftist positions.

If I’m led to describe his portrayal of liberal ideals as “kafkaesque”, then this is because the literature of Kafka always represents bureaucracy in a distorted and larger than life form, where the faces of the various functionaries are elongated and twisted in different ways, where the ledgers of the law contain pornographic pictures, where speech is incomprehensible, etc. What Kafka manages to capture is the phantasmatic dimension unconsciously underlying the subject’s relationship to bureaucratic mechanisms, where institutions are experienced as all powerful, impersonal, machines relating to the subject as objects of its jouissance. Here the bureaucracy doesn’t have the subject fill out this or that form that must then be taken to this or that office, only to be faced with filling out another form, for some pragmatic reason, but precisely because this machine draws jouissance from relating to me in this way, from making me jump through these hurdles. Similarly, when I go to the department of motor vehicles to renew my license, I am not made to wait in a long line because the process is technically slow, but rather just because the institution enjoys making me wait in long lines and exerting its control over me.

This is the dimension of fantasy as it relates to bureaucracy. I might very well know that forms take a long time to process and that the department of motor vehicles lacks the funding to upgrade its computers to speed up the process, but at the level of my unconscious experience of the institution, I cannot help but believe that the institution draws sadistic enjoyment from making me wait in this way, that the forms are purposefully designed to be confusing and misleading, that I am purposefully being made to feel that I am nothing, that I am a mere subject of the instutition’s power, with no power of my own. Try as I might to rationalize why the line is moving so slow, when I finally get before the civil servant I can’t help but be short and irritable, unable to shake myself of the belief that somehow he’s enjoying the time I lost standing in line for hours and my confused anxiety over whether or not I filled out the paperwork correctly. Unconsciously I feel like Schreber in relation to God… A subject of God’s sadistic jouissance, where God himself is completely unaware that I am a subject or have thoughts.

The structure of how this conservative experiences liberals is akin to the sort of phantasmatic universe described by Kafka. Moreover, this experience of liberals isn’t confined to the author of the post, but is echoed by a number of other conservatives that frequent the site. On the one hand, all of the ideals listed under conservatives are ideals of autonomy, where the agent retains his own freedoms and ability to determine his life, while others aren’t given advantages that they do not deserve and have not earned. On the other hand, all the ideals listed under liberals are premised on relinquishing others of their autonomy, outrightly humiliating Americans (the attitude of liberals towards the United States is portrayed as one of inherent guilt), and on unjustly giving others benefits and advantages they don’t deserve. Note, for instance, how equality is somehow shifted to equality of outcome such that liberals are saddled with the belief that no one can achieve more than others, and how they are portrayed as advocating the view that everyone should be comfortable without any work. Liberals are thus portrayed as stealing the enjoyment of those who have worked hard and of enjoying the manner in which they humiliate hard workers and the United States (as can be seen in the discussion of the role to be played by the United Nations).

What’s interesting here is that a number of self-identified liberals spoke up, criticizing this list, and pointing out the many ways in which it is inaccurate, but even when confronted with evidence to the contrary, the conservative defenders of the list said “This list is not about you, but those you support. The description is true even if it doesn’t fit you.” Thus, like Sade’s heroines, liberal jouissance is understood to remain identical and eternal in all possible universes, even when faced with counter-examples. Just as Sade’s heroines can endure the most abusive tortures and retain all their beauty– thereby marking a distinction between the sublime object of desire and its material embodiment –there’s a sublime figure of the liberal that all liberals contain even when they say otherwise.

Like Kafka’s universe, it must be horrible to live in a universe where one experiences oneself as perpetually having to defend against this theft of enjoyment. Two questions jump out to me: First, what kind of rhetorical gesture, what sort of dialogue, can target this sort of phantasmatic jouissance? It is clear that ordinary rational means of communication are impotent when faced with such fantasies as protestations to the contrary always fall on deaf ears. Second, what is it that produces such a phantasmatic experience? What unconscious deadlocks, what social antagonisms, lead one to believe something like what is stated above? What defensive function does this fantasy serve and how does it function to prolong and sustain desire?

N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has written a very nice response to my musings on the ubiquity of apocalyptic fantasies in contemporary culture, drawing on Adorno. Expressing hesitation over certain elements of my claims, N.P. writes:

Sinthome thus expresses the hope that apocalyptic fantasies manifest a desire for something other than their explicit content – something more than the desire for destruction and death. I raise this point, not to hold up Freud’s text against Sinthome’s appropriation – for we have no obligation for interpretive fidelity to Freud’s work and, in any event, even Freud’s “typical” examples contain permutations that might be amenable to Sinthome’s appropriation (Freud suggests that “typical” dreams can manifest historical content, for example – ephemeral wishes once felt, but long since rejected, etc.) – but because I think it provides a good frame for understanding Adorno’s very different attempt to merge psychoanalytic theory with sociology in the service of critique. If Freud offers two interpretive paths, one of which Sinthome has followed in the hopes that apocalyptic fantasy might signify a nonmanifest content – a longing for transcendence – we can understand Adorno’s work as an attempt to reflect seriously on the second path – on the possibility that certain mass movements might genuinely desire to achieve what their fantasies express: destruction and death.

I do not have much to add to N.P.’s excellent analysis, except to point out that I do not believe there’s any substantial disagreement here between my claims and what she’s drawing from Adorno. This point comes into greater clarity with regard to other fantasmatic structures. An acquaintance of mine suffers from an overwhelming sense of guilt that pervades nearly every aspect of his daily life. For instance, his wife will ask him to do something innocuous and straightforward and he’ll be paralyzed by anxiety feelings of guilt, encountering her request not as a simple request, but as an accusation claiming that he failed to do something that he should have done. Similarly, whenever faced with some form that he must fill out for the government or his job, he encounters this form as implying that he’s done something wrong in much the same way that Joseph K’s engagements with the castle and the court all imply some ambiguous and unfathomable guilt in The Castle and The Trial. Finally, his dream life is pervaded by dreams where he commits some horrible act of crime and is to be punished.

The point not to be missed here is that the manifest content of this frame with respect to how he organizes his intersubjective relations and relations to the world– the frame through which he views and interprets the address of others to him –is taken as a genuine and true reading of what is actually going on. He genuinely, for instance, experiences his wife as accusing him, and this leads him to act in response to these accusations, demonstrating that he is in fact innocent, that she is the guilty one (for not telling him before), etc., thereby generating conflict between himself and his spouse.

Over the course of our discussions– which have largely been of a theoretical and impersonal nature, often about the structure of the moebius strip and rhetoric –he has increasingly come to believe that, in fact, these guilt affects have little or nothing to do with anything unfolding in the present. Rather, when he was very young his mother died of cancer and underwent a long and very painful treatment. During this there were times when he would wish for her to die. At present, then, his working hypothesis is that this ubiquitous guilt is a sort of return of the repressed wherein he seeks punishment for these wishes. Indeed, for Freud one of the central marks of obessessional neurosis, the mechanism of repression operative in repression, is a splitting that occurs between affect and signifier, such that the affect is displaced and appears elsewhere in our intersubjective relations. Freud points out that the obsessional, unlike the hysteric, is often quite aware of particular events, but recollects these events without their proper affective content. Instead, the affect becomes connected to signifiers that appear completely unrelated to the originary signifying content. My friend’s repetition of this guilt in relation to events unrelated to his wish for his mother’s death can thus be seen as serving two functions: On the one hand, it provides him with the punishment he believes himself to deserve. On the other hand, it gives him the opportunity to prove, again and again, his innocence by acting in the present with regard to whatever manifest content happens his way, demonstrating that he has been unjustly accused.

The point, then, that I am trying to make is that the manifest content can very well be treated as the “real McCoy”, as the real problem, and we perpetually take up action in relation to this manifest content. The case is similar with regard to apocalyptic fantasies. It is both possible for apocalyptic fantasies to be expressive of frustration with social relations, yearnings for a different type of social order, and repressed wishes for all of society to collapse so that this social order might become possible, and for the subjects inhabited by these fantasies to misrecognize their desire and treat the manifest content as something to be promoted or fought against exactly as Adorno suggests. Zizek makes a similar point apropos the Jew and anti-Semitism. For Zizek, the anti-Semite’s animosity towards the Jew is expressive of a series of social antagonisms that have nothing to do with Jews themselves. They are representative of the anti-Semite’s own disavowed desire (for a more detailed discussion of Zizek’s analysis of anti-semitism see here). However, none of this prevents the anti-Semite from targeting the Jew as a source of violence and unjust legislation, by treating the manifest content of the symptom as a genuine reality. For me, then, the question is that of how fetishistic fascination with the manifest content can be shifted so as to focus on both these disavowed desires and latent content pertaining to social antagonisms.

As a final caveat I would like to add that my basic position is that psychoanalysis is not a psychology but a theory of intersubjectivity. As Freud puts it in the very first paragraph of Group Psychology and the Analysis of Ego,

The contrast between individual psychology and social or group psychology, which at a first glance may seem to be full of significance, loses a great deal of its sharpness when it is examined more closely. It is true that individual psychology is concerned with the individual man and explores the paths by which he seeks to find satisfaction for his instictual impulses; but only rarely and under certain exceptional conditions is individual psychology in a position to disregard the relations of this individual to others. In the individual’s mental life someone else is invariably involved, as a model, as an object, as a helper, as an opponenet; and so from the very first individual psychology, in the extended by entirely justifiable sense of the words, is at the same time social psychology as well. (SE 18, 69)

Lacan pushes this thesis to its logical conclusion, treating psychoanalysis not as a psychology, but rather as a transcendental theory of the analytic setting… Or more properly, transference. As such, all questions of psychoanalysis are already questions of the social field, not of individual minds. This is one reason that Lacan was led to investigate topology for forms of relation not premised on outside/inside binaries, but rather continuous relations between self, Other, and world.

In an interesting post over at I Cite, Jodi Dean makes reference to a pessimistic discussion about the future unfolding over at K-Punk and Poetix. In the context of this discussion, the question revolves around the issue of whether or not the damage to the world is irrevocable and whether another world is possible (i.e., whether there’s a limit to capitalism or an alternative to capitalism). Rather than directly taking a stand on these questions, I would instead like to approach the issue psychoanalytically from the standpoint of collective fantasies.

One of the things I began noticing a few years ago is that I was encountering patients whose sexual and amorous fantasy life was deeply bound up with visions of apocalypse or the destruction of civilization. For instance, I would encounter patients who had all sorts of fantasies about post-apocalyptic settings such as life after an eco-catastrophe, nuclear war, a massive plague, or a fundamental economic and technological collapse, where, at long last, they would be able to be with the true objects of their desire and their life would finally be meaningful (struggling to survive, to rebuild the world, etc). As I reflected on this phenomenon a bit, I began to notice that these sorts of fantasies populate the social space everywhere. In cinema there is an entire genre of apocalyptic films from both rightwing and leftwing perspectives such as Independence Day, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, Dante’s Peak, Volcano, Deep Impact, and many more I cannot remember. In the world of “literature” the Left Behind novels have been a stunning success, selling millions of copies and leading to popular television shows and made for television movies. In news media, of course, we are perpetually inundated with apocalyptic threats from eco-catastrophe, to the bird flu, to the threat of massive meteors hitting the earth or supervolcanos exploding or even a star going supernova and evaporating our atmosphere, to terrorist attacks employing nuclear or bio-weaponry. The Discovery and Science Channel regularly devote shows to these themes.

While I am certainly not dismissing the possibility of these threats, the psychoanalytic approach suggests that we ask how our desire is imbricated with these particular representations or scenerios and enjoins us to analyze how our thought collectively arrives at these visions of the present rather than others. How is it that we are to account for the the ubiquity of these scenerios in popular imagination… An omnipresence so great that it even filters down into the most intimate recesses of erotic fantasy as presented in the consulting room? In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud presents an interesting take on how we’re to understand anxiety dreams such as the death of a loved one. There Freud writes that,

Another group of dreams which may be described as typical are those containing the death of some loved relative– for instance, of a parent, of a brother or sister, or of a child. Two classes of such dreams must at once be distinguished: those in which the dreamer is unaffected by grief, so that on awakening he is astonished at his lack of feeling, and those in which the dreamer feels deeply pained by the death and may even weep bitterly in his sleep.

We need not consider dreams of the first of these classes, for they have no claim to be regarded as ‘typical’. If we analyse them, we find that they have some meaning other than their apparent one, and that they are intended to conceal some other wish. Such was the dream of the aunt who saw her sister’s only son lying in his coffin. (p. 152) It did not mean that she wished her little nephew dead; as we have seen, it merely concealed a wish to see a particular person of whom she was fond and whom she had not met for a long time– a person whom she had once before met after a similarly long interval beside the coffin of another nephew. This wish, which was the true content of the dream, gave no occasion for grief, and no grief, therefore, was felt in the dream. (SE 4, 248)

No doubt this woman experienced some guilt for her desire for this man and therefore preferred to dream her nephew dead as an alibi of seeing him once again, rather than directly facing her desire. Could not a similar phenomenon be at work in apocalyptic scenerios? In all of these films there is some conflict at work at the social and romantic level. For instance, in The Day After Tomorrow, the husband is estranged from his wife and the boy lacks the courage to announce his love for the young woman. Society is also presented as having run amock in its pursuit of capital, as can be seen in the deleted scenes involving the Japanese business man and the shady deal prior to his death. In short, Freud’s point is that we should look at horrifying manifest content such as this as enabling the fulfillment of some wish. My thesis here would be that whenever confronted with some horrifying scenerio that troubles the analysand’s minds or dreams, the analyst should treat it like a material conditional or “if/then” statement, seeking to determine what repressed wish or desire might become possible for the analysand were the scenerio to occur (e.g., being fired would allow the analysand to pursue his true desire, the loss of a limb would allow the analysand to finally escape her father’s desire for her to play violin, etc).

Here, perhaps, would be the key to apocalyptic fantasies: They represent clothed or disguised utopian longings for a different order of social relations, such that this alternative order would only become possible were all of society to collapse. That is, could not the omnipresence of apocalyptic fantasies in American culture be read as an indication that somehow we have “given way on our desire” or betrayed our desire at a fundamental social level? That is, these visions simultaneously allow us to satisfy our aggressive animosity towards existing social relations, while imagining an alternative (inevitably we always triumph in these scenerios, even if reduced to fundamentally primative living conditions… a fantasy in itself), while also not directly acknowledging our discontent with the conditions of capital (it is almost always some outside that destroys the system, not direct militant engagement).

As such, these fantasies serve the function of rendering our dissatisfaction tolerable (a dissatisfaction that mostly consists of boredom and a sense of being cheated), while fantasizing about an alternative that might someday come to save us, giving us opportunity to be heroic leaders and people struggling to survive rather than meaningless businessmen, civil servants, teachers, etc. Perhaps the real question with regard to this pessimism, then, is that of how the utopian yearnings underlying these representations and the antagonisms to which they respond might directly be put to work.

Special props to N.Pepperell for drawing my attention to this discussion… Though N.P. has no responsibility for my lame and simplistic thesis.

In a couple of recent posts Spurious has playfully poked fun at some of my fantasmatic structures and used my persona (or lack thereof) as a foil against which to distinguish his own non-existent being (here and here). This, of course, is a pretty remarkable thing, for as Lucretius and others have argued, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish one void from another. As Lars writes in his usual beautiful fashion (unlike my “hammer-like” fashion, as Anthony Paul Smith so gorgeously described it in a recent post),

Where did they go, The Young Hegelian and No Cause For Concern? Many times I went back to wander through their corridors. But Invisible Adjunct is still there, one of the first blogs I read frequently. And will mine, too, disappear one day? No matter, when there are new blogs proliferating.

Perhaps it will crash down like a telegraph pole, carrying incoming links like cables down with it. But that, I think, is too violent an image. Now I see the links snapping like web filaments delicately breaking. Broken links wave like filaments in the air. Who notices they are broken? Who follows them? No one.

No one: and isn’t that beautiful? To disappear, drawing oneself from the corner: isn’t that what you want? In some way, I am the opposite of Sinthome, with what he tells us of his narcissism. I think by this blog I want to prepare a kind of sacrifice, but one no one will notice as it burns.

To be anyone at all: what kind of fantasy is that? No self-analysis here, however it might appear. A kind of drifting, just that. Don’t wake me up, that’s what I’m telling you. I don’t want to wake up, not here; I am too awake in the world. And isn’t that it: that one who has to speak too much, and with too much reason sets speech loose here instead?

Elsewhere Spurious goes on to say,

But Mars is not strong in my birthchart, and nor do I seek to make up for its lack; once again, unlike Sinthome, I have a marked dislike of discussion, being suspicious always of what I take to be its frame. Insinuation, quieter movement, and in the end, a writing that does not seek to deal blows or to parry them, but that lets continue the movement of others, though in another way, because it is itself only motion, like a river into which tributaries pour. Only I imagine this river running backward, and the distributaries that join it are like a river’s delta. How can a river leap back to its origin?

I have to confess that I was delighted when I read these passages and took them as a tremendous compliment. Of course, this is not because I believe that it would be horrible to be Lars. Quite the contrary. Then again, the talented psychoanalytic reader knows that it’s best to prick up one’s ears whenever an analysand suggests, in an unsolicited way, that he is not trying to do something. However, harrowing descriptions of Lars’ apartment aside, I was delighted and tickled because Lars had described me as his opposite, thereby placing me on a common plane with him as in the case of a dialectical identity or inverted image.

In a haunting and justly famous passage from his Prolegomena, Kant gives the example of enantiomorphic images to demonstrate the difference between conceptual differences and “aesthetic” differences that cannot be captured by the concept (Deleuze will not hesitate to pick up this example in developing his concept of difference in Difference and Repetition). There Kant writes,

If two things are quite equal in all respects as much as can be ascertained by all means possible, quantitatively and qualitatively, it must follow that the one can in all cases and under all circumstances replace the other, and this substitution would not occasion the least perceptible difference. This in fact is true of plane figures in geometry; but some spherical figures exhibit, notwithstanding a complete internal agreement, such a difference in their external relation that the one figure cannot possibly be put in the place of the other. For instance, two spherical triangles on opposite hemispheres, which have an arc of the equator as their common base, may be quite equal, both as regard sides and angles, so that nothing is to be found in either, if it be described for itself alone and completed, that would not equally be applicable to both; and yet the one cannot be put in the place of the other (that is, upon the opposite hemisphere). Here, then, is an internal difference between the two triangles, which difference our understanding cannot describe as internal and which only manifests itself by external relations in space. But I shall adduce examples, taken from common life, that are more obvious still.

What can be more similar in every respect and in every part more alike to my hand and to my ear than their images in a mirror? And yet I cannot put such a hand as is seen in the glass in place of the original; for if this is a right hand, that in the glass is a left one, and the image or reflection of the right ear is a left one, which never can take the place of the other. There are in this case no internal differences which our understanding could determine by thinking alone. Yet the differences are internal as the senses teach, for, notwithstanding their complete equality and similarity, the left hand cannot be enclosed in the same bounds as the right one (they are not congruent); the glove of one hand cannot be used for the other. (paragraph 13)

In certain respects, the logic of enantiomorphs follows the logic of the mobius strip. I know that the mobius strip has only one side, but in order to confirm this I must introduce the dimension of time, tracing a line on the surface of the strip to encounter them meeting. There is an identity here but also a difference. Similarly, when Hegel describes the relationship between the French Revolution and the terror, these things are on “one” side, but they can never quite appear together; just as the analysand discovers that the symptom is on the side of his desire, but perpetually encounters his symptom as the impediment to his desire.

When Lars kindly mocks my narcissism, asking “To be anyone at all: what kind of fantasy is that?”, I think he recognizes the principle behind my narcissism– That it is a technology designed to undermine my narcissism, to encounter myself differing from my own image, to progressively undo my own image. I do this in a variety of ways: By taking pleasure in humiliating forms of recognition, by putting together philosophers that don’t belong together so that I might not belong to any of them, by enthusiastically arguing against things I love and positions I’ve formerly endorsed so as to destroy them and then later on arguing for them, etc. It is in this regard that I can wistfully look upon Spurious’ blog, imagining myself to be on a mobius strip, a single surface, with his writing, and witnessing him enacting what I aim for. To be anyone at all is to be no one at all. Here the literary reference would be Klossoski’s Roberte novels, where one becomes other to herself in and through the relation to the other, ultimately becoming a void.

All of this, for some reason, makes me think of the film Kinsey. I don’t know if Kinsey’s life was anything like what is depicted in the film, and in certain respects that’s entirely appropriate for this post. However, it’s difficult for me not to think of the simulacrum depicted in that film as a saint. Now in suggesting that Kinsey was a saint, I am not suggesting this on the grounds of his compassion towards those who had suffered sexual oppression such as the homosexuals he interviewed, or his crusade to generate a knowledge of sex so that we might be free of superstition and crass moralism. Rather, what fascinates me about this simulacrum is the Kinsey who collected millions of gall wasps, tracing generation after generation, and discovering that all of them were different.

I think this is saintly. In a crucial scene early in the film, a party is being held for Kinsey, honoring him for his research and the publication of his most recent book on gall wasps. Kinsey is flattered, but points out that there are probably only six people in the world who have actually read his books and that he is well aware that his research will not change the world. Yet nonetheless, Kinsey found supreme value in this research and pursued it with passionate zeal. Later in the film we discover that Kinsey’s garden has the most complete collection of a particular type of flower; and, of course, Kinsey is driven to collect the most complete data set possible of human sexual activities. Kinsey, as depicted in the film, is a subject of drive, not of desire. He looks for no authorization from the Other for his pursuits and pursues these activities of collecting with a jouissance-filled zeal. He wears a whalers cap in the rain despite its lack of aesthetic appeal because it’s a sensible way of keeping oneself dry. When his future wife approaches him in the park and asks to sit with him, explaining that they are the only two unattached people of the opposite sex at the park and therefore it makes sense for them to sit together, he readily agrees with her reasoning. And whatever Kinsey does, he is collecting. It is the collecting that matters to Kinsey, not the possible world-shaking consequences that might follow from this research.

Lacan makes a similar point about collecting in Seminar 7, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. There Lacan relates that,

During the great period of penitence that our country went through under Petain, in the time of ‘Work, Family, Homeland’ and of belt-tightening, I once went to visit my friend Jacques Prevert in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. And I saw there a collection of match boxes. Why the image has suddenly rusurfaced in my memory, I cannot tell.

It was the kind of collection that was easy to afford at the time; it was perhaps the only kind of collection possible. Only the match boxes appeared as follows: they were all the same and were laid out in an extremely agreeable way that involved each one being so close to the one next to it that the little drawer was slightly displaced. As a result, they were all threaded together so as to form a continuous ribbon that ran along the mantlepiece, climbed the wall, extended to the molding, and climbed down again next to a door. I don’t say that it went on to infinity, but it was extremely satisfying from an ornamental point of view.

Yet I don’t think that that was the be all and end all of what was surprising in this ‘collectionism,’ nor the source of the satisfaction that the collector himself found there. I believe that the shock of novelty of the effect realized by this collection of empty match boxes– and this is the essential point –was to reveal something that we do not perhaps pay enough attention to, namely, that a box of matches is not simply an object, but that, in the form of an Erscheinung, as it appeared in its truly imposing multiplicity, it may be a Thing.

In other words, this arrangement demonstrated that a match box isn’t simply something that has a certain utility, that it isn’t even a type in the Platonic sense, an abstract match box, that the match box all by itself is a thing with all its coherence of being. The wholly gratuitous, proliferating, superfluous, and quasi absurd character of this collection pointed to its thingness as match box. Thus the collector found his motive in this form of apprehension that concerns less the match box than the Thing that subsists in a match box. (113-114)

It seems to me that Lars is describing this sort of saintliness with regard to writing… A writing that would no longer be utilitarian, that would no longer be a matter of prestige, but that would operate according to its own principle without need of authorization or recognition. Saint Lars.

The latest issue of Reconstructions, put together by Thivai over at Dialogic and devoted to academic blogging and blog theory/practice, has now been released. There’s an especially good article by some flake who calls himself Sinthome, though there are many other excellent articles by beloved bloggers from around the blogosphere. It will be interesting to see how this blog phenomenon continues to develop and what changes it might bring in the world of theory. I tend to advocate the thesis that transformations in writing technologies also bring about transformations in thought. I have fantasies about Enlightenment thinkers furiously scribbling letters to one another (as, for example, in the case of Leibniz), leading to a powerful cross fertilization of ideas all over Europe. Is not something similar going on with the rhizosphere, where there’s a cross fertilization of ideas spanning the United States, Australia, Canada, England, and throughout Europe, all from very different disciplines and with very different sets of questions? What will become of all of this? What will it have been?

I find myself completely exhausted today after staying up late into the morning and watching in wonder as the results came in. For those who have been kind enough to comment in recent days, I promise to respond soon. I’m still in a bit of shock as to what happened last night. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not expecting momentous changes or for Democrats to suddenly begin acting like genuine progressives. Yet this still is a ray of hope. It is the hope that perhaps some of the more eggregious offenses of this imperial presidency can be slowed down. It is the hope that some of the abuses of the prior Congress can be reversed. It is the hope that the topics of discourse might be changed as a result of another party now controlling the message that gets disseminated throughout the various media channels. This, perhaps, is the most important, as simply turning something into a topic has the power to reconfigure lines of force and power. And finally, it is the hope produced in discerning that rhetoric alone does not win the day or create reality. That is, occurances like this remind me that things are possible… They rescue me from my Adorno-esque pessimism.

A few months ago I would not have believed this possible and I find that this experience of change significantly calls into question a number of my theoretical axioms (I’ve been working through these shifts in theory for a number of weeks on this blog). How is it that forms of social configuration that seem like iron can so quickly dissipate like so much morning mist? The Mayans had a thriving culture that suddenly disappeared. They didn’t disappear as a result of some natural catastrophe (as far as we know) or through depleting natural resources. No doubt the Mayans believed their culture and state to be eternal. Yet it disappeared. How does such surprising and sudden change take place? It seems to me that good social theory help us to see the contingency of the present state of things, that there are other possibilities, that other collectives, subjects, and ways of feeling are possible. Just as psychonalysis allows the analysand to overcome the closure of their universe of desiring, discovering new possibilities where they never before thought they were possible, good social theory creates possibilities where before only the iron laws of historical necessity and power were discerned. Good social theory reminds us of the essential fragility and finitude of the power relations holding together a particular type of collective.

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