Death Drive


the_fallIn an interesting response to my post on A-Theology, Nikki over at Prosthetics writes:

levi, hello…
I am interested in what you wrote here:

In this connection, we are reminded of another gloss on the father where Lacan remarks that the only father is a dead father. Clearly fathers are not always dead, so we must understand Lacan as referring to the father not as a living body, but in his function as a signifier, as a symbolic function, in the Oedipus, naming the enigmatic desire of the mother and enacting the prohibition against incest. In this respect, to say that God is unconscious would be to say that God is the dead signifier that establishes prohibition.

First i would like to propose that, in light of what you and Lacan are working in this vicinity ‘dead signifier’ is a redundant phrase – but at the same time, perhaps redundancy is where living takes place, or more precisely, where living shows up on the radar? This is the case for Badiou, and also for Jean-Luc Marion… Yet as Derrida points out in limited. inc signification, signing, the desire to underwrite what cannot be insured, is always a hollow(ing) enterprise. I am thinking redundancy, repetition and ritual.

Nikki makes an interesting point about the nature of the signifier, death, and life that had not occurred to me in quite these terms. For the sake of those not very familiar with Lacan’s work, early Lacan– the Lacan of the first two seminars and of Function and Field of Speech –often emphasized that the signifier “kills the thing”. I read this in somewhat Derridean terms. With the advent of the signifier in our subjective economy absence is introduced into the world. It becomes possible to refer to the thing in its absence, but every relation between word and thing necessarily requires the institution of this sort of a priori absence. Moreover, where the thing is perpetually changing and becoming over the adventure of its existence, there is a way in which the signifier freezes the thing, turning it into a fixed statue.

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Surplus-jouissance, Desire, and Fantasy

In Seminar 6: Desire and its Interpretation, Lacan articulates fantasy as the frame of desire. The fundamental fantasy does not imagine a particular satisfaction, but is rather the frame through which our desire is structured. In this respect, fantasy answers the question of what the Other desires.

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As I remarked in my previous post, the desire of the Other is enigmatic and opaque. Fantasy is what fills out this enigma, articulating it, giving it form, such that it embodies a determinate demand. Lacan persistently claimed that “desire is the desire of the Other”. This polysemous aphorism can be taken in four ways. First, at the most obvious level, it can be taken to signify that we desire the Other. Second, and more importantly, it can be taken to entail that we desire to be desired by the Other. Third, it can be taken to signify that we desire what the Other desires. For example, a petite bourgeois might desire a particular car not because of the intrinsic features of the car, but because it will generate envy in his neighbor. Likewise, someone might mow their lawn not because they see an intrinsic virtue in doing so, but because they fear that their neighbor will become angry if they don’t. Finally, fourth, insofar as the unconscious is the “discourse of the Other”, the thesis that desire is the desire of the Other indicates the manner in which desire is articulated through the network of signifiers that haunt our unconscious, producing all sorts of symptomatic formations based on the signifier.

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Special thanks to N.Pepperell for spurring these thoughts, as misguided and inadequate as they are, in our discussion of agency over at Rough Theory.

Recently I’ve been thinking a good deal about the relationship between scene, agency, and act within the field of social theory and political questions. In many respects, these questions have been motivated by worries that have emerged around questions of individuation that I have focused on for the last year or two. The strategic value of Deleuze’s account of individuation is that it overcomes the peril of thinking about entities abstractly by underlining both how entities emerge or come to be in relation to a milieu and how they are characterized by ongoing processual relations to that milieu. However, the danger here is that we end up with a sort of determinism or social and political “physics” where no agency is possible because the agent is simply the actualization of a pre-personal field not of its own making. For Deleuze Ideas or Multiplicities are problems. An Idea is not something that an agent thinkers or conceives, but is rather an ontological category characterized as a field of differential relations and singularities (potentials) that are solved over the course of an actualization. Thus, for example, any particular tree is the result of an Idea or Problem in the sense that it revolves a set of potentials characteristic of both its own genetic constitution in larval state and its unique environment. Similar, for Deleuze, agents are not the agents of their Ideas (multiplicities), but are the patients of our Ideas. We are results of these problematic fields, not the ones directing the course of events.

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One of the standard arguments conservative political theorists often level against radical leftist political theories and engagements is that humans, by nature, are corrupt and characterized by a sort of originary “fallenness” or “original sin”. For example, it never ceases to astonish me that my students seem to know a whole host of commonplaces, almost as if these commonplaces were innate or a priori. I suppose they wouldn’t be “commonplaces” if they weren’t, well, commonplace. Nonetheless, it is still astonishing that these things so readily come out of the tip of a young mind’s pen, or float off the lips of the fledgling philosopher. After all, I don’t know that these commonplaces are ever explicitly taught or discussed, rather they seem to float about of their own accord. Perhaps we receive them by osmosis. Or maybe they’re transmitted to us through radio waves. Maybe we pick them up from the antennas of our cell phones. Or perhaps, again, there’s some sort of obscure medical procedure conducted at birth that injects them into the brain. I don’t know. What I do know is that my students all seem to know that “everyone is entitled to their opinion”, that “it is always wrong to be intolerant”, that “all opinions are equal to one another”, that “religion is a private matter without social consequences”, that “nothing can be proven”, and above all that…

Drum roll please

Communism is good in theory but not in practice.

The reasoning behind this commonplace is always the same: Humans are greedy, lazy, and selfish by nature, so communism can never work. The premise of this argument, of course, is that communism is premised on altruism (Marx 101 suggests to me that class struggle is a struggle of interests, so I’m not sure how altruism fits in here, but oh well). All of this, of course, is a variant of the theory of original sin. There are certainly secular and theological variants of such a position. Social conservatives will often remind us that man fell as a result of pesky woman (personally I like it when women try to get me to do things I’m not supposed to do, but that’s me), and that for this reason it is sheer arrogance or pride (sin of sins!) to imagine that we could improve this world. Tend your garden, be devout, and wait for the next. Secular variants might make some appeal to human nature or innate biology as that which renders us intrinsically inimical to such arrangements. Nevermind what ethnography might show about alternative economies and social arrangements. “Nonsense!” screams the self-assured biosociologist. Of course, those bio- psychologists and sociologists never bother much with ethnography or anthropology– After all, humans are biologically identical regardless of when and where they live, demonstrating that human nature is the same in all possible universes.

The rhetorical dimension of these arguments are clear enough. By appealing to a fundamentally flawed nature, we bar any attempt to transform society a priori. All social transformation is necessarily doomed to failure and horror because humans are necessarily flawed and horrible. Often I’m inclined to agree. Between what I’ve heard from my patients– you do learn a thing or two about people in analysis –and what I’ve observed, we’re a pretty vile lot. Nonetheless, I am not convinced by claims that such social transformations are doomed to horror. I do, however, find myself wondering whether psychoanalytic political theory does not end up unwittingly repeating this narrative of human nature. Is not the psychoanalyst saying precisely the same thing when he claims that there’s an irreducible real, that there’s always the swerve of drive, that we’re always duped by the unconscious? As a result, is not psychoanalysis an inherently conservative ideology? The question isn’t rhetorical.

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Dr. X over at Dr. X’s Free Associations has an interesting post up on recent research into why people enjoy horror films despite the fact that they cause unpleasant affects.

Last week, Laura Freberg offered an interesting discussion of why some people like to watch horror movies. She cited the research done by Eduardo Andrade and Joel Cohen who ask “How can the hedonistic assumption (i.e., people’s willingness to pursue pleasure and avoid pain) be reconciled with people choosing to expose themselves to experiences known to elicit negative feelings?” Although the authors are not clinicians, their research is germane to appreciating that clinical framework management is required if the patient is to go forward with a thorough exploration of highly disturbing unconscious perceptions and meanings of his or her internal experience.

Andrade and Cohen argued that a growing body of evidence indicates that people can experience both positive and negative feelings simultaneously. To lay persons, this might seem like an assumption that should have never been in doubt, but many psychologists, biologists and economists have assumed that positive and negative feelings cannot coexist simultaneously. Moreover, it was long assumed by many that we always seek pleasurable experiences while avoiding painful ones.

To explain behaviors that appear to contradict the hedonistic hypothesis, its defenders often argued that when we accept painful experiences, we do so in a rational manner, deferring present reward for some greater future reward. For example, people might attend a horror movie because they so enjoy the relief subsequent to the fear. With a few exceptions outside of psychoanalysis, the idea that pain and pleasure, fear and exhilaration could simultaneously coexist as part of a more complex inner experience was not widely accepted by experts who assumed we operate as relatively rational hedonists.

In a series of studies involving viewers of horror movies, Andrade and Cohen found strong evidence that negative and positive feelings can be co-activated. They also note that some individuals are attracted to watching horror movies while others consistently avoid them. They argued that the latter group avoids horror movies because they are unable to co-activate positive and negative feelings within the context of viewing these movies.

This is a fascinating post and a topic dear to my own heart as I both enjoy horror films myself and often wonder about the role that monsters and horror play in the social space as cultural artifacts that potential speak to antagonisms haunting the social field. As Unemployed Negativity has recently so beautifully put it in a post on the sudden profusion of zombie films, “each period in history gets the monsters it deserves.” I’m heartened to see empirical research done on this topic. However, I wonder if the researchers aren’t unduly limiting the question by looking at feelings or affects alone. Those of us coming from clinical psychoanalytic background are intimately familiar with the phenomenon of nightmares that simultaneously punish a person for a particular desire while also allowing that person to gratify a particular desire. That is, the nightmare scenario can function as an alibi allowing the person to gratify a forbidden desire. By focusing on the affects that accompany watching a horror film– it’s “material cause” –it seems to me that we risk ignoring the signifying structure of horror films– it’s “formal cause” –and therefore risk missing all sorts of questions pertaining to the mixed variety of identifications at work in the film (the viewer can simultaneously identify with the villains and the protagonists) as well as the desires and antagonisms the film might be striving to navigate. As Lacan puts it in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, “…what the uconscious does is… show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real– a real that may well not be determined” (22). This is true of symptoms and the various other formations of the unconscious such as jokes, slips of the tongue, dreams, and bungled actions. In all cases these formations can be thought as the work of the symbolic striving to symbolize the real.

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Well folks, I’m back from Las Vegas and am overwhelmingly pleased to be home. This was my first trip to Vegas and I have to confess that it simply is not my sort of city– Too many people, too much noise, and too many lights. Give me a nice secluded beach, a mountain path, or a desert vista any day! To make matters worse, I was deathly ill when I returned from some bug the details of which I’ll spare you, and spent all of today hovering somewhere between a state of coma and a state of cold sweats. The upside of this is that I got to practice my moaning and fetal position. On the other hand, there’s something brilliant about this city. One night I had dinner in “Paris” under the “Eiffel Tower” (which probably made me sick). What could be the premise of this if not the American idea that anything can be commodified, that place and geography make no difference and contain nothing singular? The architects behind Las Vegas had a brilliant idea: Get in cahoots with the airlines so cheap flights are always available, keep hotel prices down, prevent any restrictions on where you can smoke and drink, and have cheap buffets with halfway decent food… As a result you get a city filled with drunken midwesterners and Southerners walking back and forth down the strip having a delightful time.

The paper went well, though the turnout was small. I get the sense that this conference is a sort of pretext pop-culture people use to go enjoy the city. I’ve toyed with the idea of mythologizing the paper in the way Lacan mythologized his mirror stage essay. You might recall that Lacan first presented this article in Zurich at the same time Ernst Jones was speaking, such that no one attended the talk. Lacan later spoke of this article as nonetheless being an event. Of course, my paper is certainly not the mirror stage, but I do think it gets at something of the real defining our contemporary situation.

I’ve posted the unedited version below for those who are interested. I’m pleased to see that discussion of these themes is proliferating throughout the blogosphere. I’m always excited when I see this occur, as it’s beautiful to see the way in which certain themes, fractalize and proliferate throughout this sphere, generating all sorts of interesting variations such that the topic takes on a life of its own. I believe this concept of “theme”, as opposed to “concept”, is important as themes can be widely displaced and developed heterogeneously among different authors, and we also know from music that themes can develop themselves immanently, almost as if they have a life of their own. The blogosphere is a world of themes in this sense.

Of special note are Joseph Kugelmass’s recent posts (here and here) on both his own blog and over at Valve (here and here). Both links are worth reading for the posts themselves and the dialogue that’s ensued. Adam Kotsko has recently written a tongue and cheek piece on how the blogosphere will eventually replace the academic manuscript and journal article. While I’m not sure I would go this far, I nonetheless think he’s alluding to something important with regard to the generative power of this medium, and how all this playfulness is also extremely productive. There’s still a lot of work to do on this particular paper– which I hope to submit for publication in a pop-culture journal somewhere –especially with regard to the concept of the real that N.Pepperell and I have been exploring in our own specific vocabularies. In particular, I’m pleased to take from her, her reading of Hegel pertaining to the immanent positing of standards and the contradictions and antagonisms that emerge in the unfolding of these standards. But that’s another discussion (see here in particular, but all the links on Hegel are excellent and well worth exploring). Some of this will be familiar, some will be new, and some will contain typos. Without further ado… Be kind!

Enjoy Your Apocalypse! Apocalyptic Fantasies, Jouissance, and Social Symptoms in Life Under Post-Industrial Capitalism

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, the Terminator trilogy, the Matrix trilogy, I, Robot, War of the Worlds, 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.

In the world of Theory, analyses of apocalyptic politics have become very common as well. In Towards a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism, Sharon Crowley gives a marvelous and eye-opening analysis of our contemporary rhetorical situation in the United States– a sort of “meta-kairos” or kairotic situation –where she treats the conflict between rhetorical practices emerging from fundamentalist apocalyptic discourses and classical Enlightenment discourses as the defining political conflict of our time. In the academic blogosphere, luminaries such as Jodi Dean of I Cite (author of Zizek’s Politics, Aliens in America, The Solidarity of Strangers: Feminism After Identity Politics, and other works), K-Punk, and Rough Theory, have had ongoing discussions surrounding the dangers of apocalyptic religious discourses within both American politics and world politics (for an excellent summary of this discussion, see High, Low, & In Between here, here, here, and here… Thank you, HLIB!).

However, while these discussions of religious apocalyptic narratives are of intrinsic interest, they tend to suffer from three major shortcomings. First, in focusing on religious apocalyptic narratives, other pervasive forms of apocalyptic narrative are ignored, leaving unasked the question of just why these fantasies are so pervasive. It is remarkable that there are a wide variety of secular apocalyptic narratives, which suggests, from a psychoanalytic perspective, that apocalyptic narratives are something of a social symptom. Second, in focusing on religious apocalyptic narratives as a threat against which liberal democracy must defend, we foreclose questions of how apocalyptic narratives might function as a fantasy and a symptom responding to some fundamental conflict or antagonism characterizing contemporary social existence. Finally, third, the focus on the political impact of apocalyptic narratives tends to cover over questions of why these narratives have become so pervasive at this particular juncture of history.

While I am certainly not dismissing the danger that a politics based on apocalyptic narrative can pose, the psychoanalytic approach suggests that we ask how our desire is imbricated with these particular representations or scenarios and enjoins us to analyze how our thought collectively arrives at these visions of the present rather than others. As Lacan somewhere quips, “just because your wife is cheating on you, it doesn’t mean that you’re not paranoid.” That is, some of these narratives could possibly be true in the non-analytic sense, but we must nonetheless account for how they have come to so pervasively occupy the contemporary mind. How is it that we are to account for the ubiquity of these scenarios 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. Indeed, in an earlier discussion of the same dream, Freud speaks of how the woman had a desire to suppress her wish to see this man, though he gives no indication as to why this is so. Could not a similar phenomenon be at work in apocalyptic scenarios? 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 scenario or fantasy 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 scenario 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).

According to Lacan, the primary function of fantasy is a defense against castration. By castration, we should not understand anything having to do with the penis. Rather, the castration that Lacan has in mind is the constitutive incompleteness of the Other, the fact that the Other is lacking and does not have the answer to the analysand’s problems or the solution that would finally yield satisfaction to the subject. Each of the subject-positions– neurosis, psychosis, and perversion –are different ways of negating this castration. Thus in the case of neurosis we have negation as repression of the Other’s castration or lack. The fundamental fantasy of the neurotic functions as a response to the traumatic enigma of the Other’s desire, giving him an answer to the question of what the Other wants of him. In the case of perversion, the castration of the Other is negated through disavowal, such that the pervert situates himself as having a knowledge of enjoyment and transforms himself into the object of the Other’s enjoyment. And finally, in the case of the psychotic, the castration of the Other is disavowed. This castration or constitutive incompleteness of the Other is what Lacan would later refer to as the “impossible-real”, and is the motor around which both symptom formation and fantasy are organized. As Lacan will say in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis with respect to neurosis, “…what the unconscious does is to show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real– a real that may well not be determined” (22). The symptom is what results from this gap and is an attempt on the part of the unconscious to recreate a harmony between the real and the symbolic through a symbolization of this real. The fantasy is the framework defining the manner in which the subject relates to the Other and the lack in the Other, modulating both his own jouissance and the jouissance of the Other.

Bearing the Lacanian theory of fantasy in mind, we can hypothesize that apocalyptic fantasies are a symptomatic response to the specific form of castration characterizing the social field– Namely, the fact that “society does not exist.” When thinkers such as Slavoj Zizek and Ernesto Laclau claim that “society does not exist”, their point is that the social field is riddled with antagonisms and conflicts in such a way that a harmoniously functioning society cannot be represented. The fact that we have various and conflicting theories of the social is itself a symptom of the antagonistic nature of the social or the way in which the social is organized around what Lacan calls an “impossible-real”. In this regard, apocalyptic fantasies can be seen as theories of both why society is failed and fantasies as to how this failure, this antagonism, might be surmounted once and for all. 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? These visions simultaneously allow us to satisfy our aggressive animosity towards existing social relations, while imagining an alternative (inevitably we always triumph in these scenarios, even if reduced to fundamentally primitive 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.

What is perhaps most interesting here is that these fantasies are organized precisely so as to preclude any engagement with directly transforming dissatisfying social conditions. Apocalypse always comes about through some sort of foreign, divine-like agency and instigates the collapse of the social field calling for people to rise up and heroically respond to these new social conditions and transform their social relations so as to produce a new people. The transformation of the social field is not to be undertaken by social subjects themselves. Perhaps here we encounter a bit of mourning with regard to the failure of previous revolutionary attempts that led to horror and unimaginable human suffering. Apocalypse could then be seen as the fantasy of revolution without revolution, of a foreign element that disrupts social life and creates ripe conditions for a reconfiguration of the social world, while allowing us to keep our hands clean of a violent revolutionary upheaval of society. At the level of logical syntax, apocalypse is experienced as the “if”, such that were it to occur, “then” society could be transformed and righted, freed of the antagonism that haunts it and perpetually upsets social relations. If apocalypse is simultaneously something that is both resisted and invited, then this is because on the one hand apocalypse promises the possibility of satisfaction, of a new society free of antagonism, while on the other hand it is threatening in that the actual occurrence of apocalypse might reveal castration in the sense that the old antagonisms would continue to persist. In describing the real, one of the aphorisms Lacan employs is that “the real is that which always returns to its place.” What must be defended against at the level of fantasy is the possibility that the real of social antagonism, the impossibility of a harmonious and satisfying fantasy, might return to its place in the post-apocalyptic order. The revolutionaries traversed their fantasy by bringing about the revolution, only to discover that post-revolutionary society continued to be pervaded by antagonism. By contrast, apocalyptic fantasy functions as an effective defense against this traumatic encounter with the real by perpetually holding open the possibility that apocalypse might occur, that it is right around the corner, while also rendering social transformation the result of an aleatory event sans intentional human engagement, that might never occur. It thus renders social life bearable by holding out the ever present possibility of another social organization, while perpetually deferring the disappointment that might come from fulfilling that desire.

When describing psychic fantasies, Freud argues that these fantasies are infantile theories concerning fundamental questions that admit of no ready answer for the infant. These questions are questions such as the question of origins (where did I come from?), the question of sexual difference, and the question of the sexual relation. Similarly, social fantasies and symptoms can be seen as implicit theories as to why the social has failed. Not surprisingly, there are both rightwing and leftwing variants of apocalyptic fantasy. This distinction is important as it gives insight into two competing theories as to just why the social has failed.

Rightwing variants of the social present the social world as a world that should be an organic and harmonious, but which is failed due to the invasion of some foreign force that disturbs this organic order. That is, as Carl Schmitt notes, it is the friend/enemy distinction that functions at the heart of the social relation and consolidates the community. The antagonisms the pervade society would be overcome were the enemy defeated. The film Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, presents an excellent example of this vision of social antagonism. Armageddon, of course, stages a scenario in which a planet-killing asteroid is hurdling towards earth. However, the real focus of the story should not be sought in the heroic acts of the crew saving the planet from the asteroid, but rather in the vision of the social world that it presents as the backdrop to the story. The film opens with Bruce Willis’ character hitting golf balls at a Greenpeace ship, protesting his ocean oil drilling operation (Joseph nicely brings this plot point to its point of explicit dialectical articulation, pointing out the irony of how it’s oil men who save the world, thereby indicating that the film implicitly suggests that environmentalists are pursuing a red herring like Don Quixote. Interestingly, The Day After Tomorrow was filmed by the same director). Willis mocks these activists for their hypocrisy, pointing out that their ship uses a tremendous amount of polluting diesel each hour that it’s at sea. There is a conflict between Affleck and Willis over his romantic involvement with his daughter. Willis had vowed that a “roughneck” would never marry his daughter, thus there is a paternal conflict between Affleck and Willis (Willis is symbolically Affleck’s father), and a conflict in the sexual relation, upsetting Affleck’s and Liv Tyler’s possibilities of getting together, thereby echoing Lacan’s thesis that “there is no sexual relation.” Willis’ crew consists of men who all violate the law in some way, who all have been in and out of trouble throughout their lives, but who nonetheless are competent and work hard. When Willis is summoned to the Whitehouse for advice on how to drill on the asteroid, he discovers that the government has both stolen his patent for the drilling device, and that they could not put it together correctly.

Recognizing that the government cannot do the job correctly, Willis and his crew agree to accompany the astronauts on their mission, but only on the condition that they never have to pay any taxes again, ever. Finally, when the crew successfully complete their mission, all nations of the world are united (behind America, of course), Affleck gets to be with Tyler, another crew member reunites with his wife and son, and yet another, a philanderer, marries a stripper, the woman of his dreams, and decides to have lots of children. Although apocalypse doesn’t occur in Armageddon (a very similar film where it does occur would be Independence Day or War of the Worlds), the threat of apocalypse and subsequent triumph over the alien invader renders the sexual relation possible, overcomes alienation with respect to the government, and unites all nations of the world. At the end of the film, for instance, there are moving scenes depicting people throughout the world cheering, children playing, the American flag, and so on as the asteroid explodes over the earth creating an awe-inspiring firework show, all depicting the newfound unity of all nations, and, certainly, the infinite debt of all other nations to the United States. Through the apocalyptic threat, the fundamental antagonisms of society are surmounted.

By contrast, leftwing apocalyptic fantasies inevitably represent the antagonism that disrupts society as being self-reflexive, which is to say, as a result of the actions of that society itself rather than a marauding outsider threatening the organic fabric from the outside. This would be the theme of films such as the Terminator and Matrix films, where we become victims of our own technology, or The Day After Tomorrow, where capitalism and industrialism conspire to destroy the planet. In the case of leftwing, apocalyptic narratives, it is not the outsider that upsets the organic, harmonious balance of society, but rather there is an internal excess at the heart of the social system itself, not unlike Lacan’s plus-de-jouier or surplus-jouissance, that perpetually drives the social to exceed its own limits as in the case of the drive of capital to perpetually produce new markets and profits, transforming even transgressions into forms of profit, or the drive of technology to perpetually develop itself. This surplus thus comes to be seen as a danger to the very continuance of the system itself as it threatens to explode it from within, destroying the identity of that social system.

This can be seen clearly in the case of The Day After Tomorrow, starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal, where unbridled pursuit of capital and exploitation of nature reach a tipping point that plunges the globe into new ice age, destroying civilization as we now know it. Indeed, when towards the beginning of the film, Quaid’s character, a passionate and self-sacrificing climate scientist, presents his thesis at a United Nations climate conference arguing that the emission of greenhouse gasses could lead to a new ice age, the vice president of the United States responds by pointing out that the global economy is every bit as fragile as the climate and that Quaid would do well to avoid making sensationalist claims that might adversely affect that economy. What we have here is a conflict between, on the one hand, knowledge as wisdom- I say “wisdom” as environmental knowledge is pitched as generating harmonious living with the planet –and the unbridled, vociferous pursuit of profit. This theme is confirmed in the director’s cut of the film, for as it turns out, the original version of the film contained a sub-plot in which the wealthy businessman who bribes the bus driver to escape the New York, right before the massive tidal flow that kills thousands (who, incidentally, is presented as a stereotypical Jew), is engaged in insider trading with the Japanese businessman who is killed by the softball sized bits of hail. In the original cut of the film, the Japanese business man was not talking to his worried wife on his cell phone, but rather to the American businessman, and was expressing fears that stock market watchdogs were suspicious of their activities. Further confirmation of this point is found in the fact that Gyllenhaal’s character finds refuge in the New York City library, where one of the librarians seeks to “save civilization” by rescuing a copy of the Gutenberg Bible that represents the birth of the Age of Reason as it was the first book printed by the printing press. What the film thus stages is the conflict between the unbridled pursuit of wealth, destructive of the environment, and wise, self-limiting reason, capable of living with the environment. As Quaid quips in response the Vice President’s incredulousness at the thought of evacuating everyone south of the Mason Dixon line, this would not have been necessary had the administration been willing to listen to his knowledge and council prior to the onset of the tipping point.

However, once again, we should not look to the central plot of survival during a major climate change, but rather to the background plots as a means of determining what the film is about. On the one hand, throughout the film there are themes of class division or class antagonisms. One of the central characters in the film is an African American homeless man and his dog, who are excluded from society to such an extent that he is even prevented from standing in doorways to keep out of the rain and is forbidden from standing with the other refugees in the New York library. This man eventually plays in important role in allowing the students and library staff to survive by teaching them how to protect themselves in cold weather conditions and identifying dangerous forms of sickness. The theme of class antagonism is repeated in the romantic conflict between Gyllenhaal and Nichols’ character over the young woman played by Rossum. Nichols attends classes at an elite private school and is born into wealth. It is clear that early in the film he captures Rossum’s eye, as she is impressed with his school and wealth. Gyllenhaal’s character is a shy young man that comes from an ordinary middle class background. However, it is also clear that he is the better of the two men. Not only is Gyllenhaal’s character exceedingly intelligent- he’s able to solve differential equations in his head without doing the work on paper –but later he becomes the leader of the group, engaging in all sorts of heroic acts. The global storm gives Gyllenhaal’s character the opportunity to rise to the occasion, revealing his true essence as a confident and heroic man, thereby earning the love of Rossum’s character and surmounting the false value system of class and economics. Additionally, Gyllenhaal earns the respect and admiration of Nichols’ character, and the black homeless man becomes a part of the group. Finally, the divide between the third world and the first world is erased, as the third world countries house the displaced refugees of the world. In addition to these themes of class antagonism, Quaid’s character’s relationship to his wife is in shambles due to his passionate commitment to environmental science, that takes him far away from home for long stretches of time on research expeditions to save the world. It is not that he does not love his wife, but rather that he has a higher moral duty to saving the world. This estrangement is reflected elsewhere in the film by a strained relationship with his son as well. At one point in the film, his son tells Rossum’s character that his happiest vacation was a research trip where it rained the whole time, preventing his father from doing his work and allowing the two of them to spend time together. At another point in the film, his wife chastises him for believing it more important to save the world than be a father to his son. Indeed, he arrives late to take his son to the airport for his trip to New York, reflecting the manner in which his son comes second. However, when the storms come, Quaid is finally freed from his obsessive commitment to saving the world, and treks from Washington to New York, mostly on foot, in extremely poor weather conditions to save his son. This act has the effect of healing his relationship with both his wife and son. Apocalypse is thus seen in this instance as rendering the sexual relationship possible, healing the wound of kinship relations upset by Oedipal antagonisms, and abolishing class antagonism.

In both of these cases we are presented with a theory as to why society fails and how this failure might be surmounted, providing us, at last, with our lost jouissance. Both rightwing and leftwing apocalyptic scenarios, religious or secular, present us with a theory as to why jouissance is absent from the social field. However, what if this absence of jouissance, this antagonism at the heart of the society, is not a contingent feature of the social resulting from the alien that disrupts the polis or the excesses of the members of the polis who fail to heed the wisdom of those who know? What if this antagonism is constitutive of the social itself? In the Science of Logic discussion of the category of “something” in the Doctrine of Being, Hegel argues that something can only distinguish and define its identity against the other. In order for there to be a valley, there must be hills. According to Hegel, every identity relies on the logic of the boundary or limit, grenze, that is neither inside the something, nor outside the something. As such, from the Hegelian perspective, the outside is a constitutive feature of the inside and the inside is a constitutive feature of the outside as the limit or boundary is a necessary condition for both the identity of the outside and the inside. Put in the language of semiotics, identity is diacritical in the sense that it can only define itself as identical in terms of what it is not (for more on this, see here and here). The consequence of this diacritics of identity is that identity is inherently unstable and precarious, riddled by antagonism, as a result of the manner in which it must perpetually refer to an other to define itself. Insofar as a social system strives to define itself as an identity, it is thus necessarily subject to this dialectic, which would be one of the meanings of the real of the social or the aphorism “society does not exist”. If society does not exist then this is because it is subject to the logic of the boundary or limit, thereby perpetually encountering its own undoing and inner antagonism. Rightwing and leftwing apocalyptic fantasies are two ways of trying to heal this constitutive wound, or antagonism at the heart of the identical: The first by striving to destroy the other that would destroy itself (as the boundary would thus be erased), the second by seeing a fundamental disequilibrium inside the heart of the social itself and trying to surmount this antagonism which would, again, lead to its demise by leaving it without an identity to distinguish itself. Yet, as Hegel shows in demonstrating how this dialectic culminates in “bad infinity” or the endless repetition of an operation without reaching completion, this antagonism never resolves itself.

When discussing the shift from desire to drive that takes place when traversing the fantasy at the end of analysis, Lacan suggests that the subject of desire is embroiled in fantasy in the sense that he or she believes that a final end state will be reached where satisfaction will be achieved. The subject of desire believes that jouissance exists. Along these lines, Zizek relates the vulgar joke of a man learning how to have sex for the very first time. First the woman tells him to put it in, then she tells him to pull it out, then she tells him to put it in, and so on. At a certain point the man explodes in exasperation, demanding that the woman make up her mind. This is the subject of desire who believes that one or the other option is the true one. By contrast, the subject of drive is that subject that finds jouissance in the failed repetition of the act itself. Apocalyptic fantasies in both their secular and religious, leftwing and rightwing forms, indicate, in a profound way, that the space of the present has withdrawn where social action is concerned, such that the space of the living present is no longer seen as a space where action and change are possible. This is not such a surprise for today, more than ever, we seem subject to forces beyond our control such as global market forces that generate layoffs from corporate positions every few years and a sense that workers are entirely powerless in the face of the market. Is it any surprise that religious apocalyptic thought and Stoic peace of mind today seem to be the only feasible options? Change is here seen as something that resides only in the future, and as something that can only result from some alien force such as the invader or the unintended consequences of our own actions. In this regard, the subject of apocalyptic fantasies is the subject of desire. The question suggested by apocalyptic fantasies is that of how we might shift from being subjects of desire to subjects of drive, giving up on fantasies of total social transformation where antagonism might be eradicated once and for all, such that an actionable space of the present (to use a word drawn from the Administration) might be redeemed.

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.

On occasion I’ve been known to resemble myself, though instances of this are few and far between. This lack of resemblance started quite early in my life, as I did not know my true name until I was about nine years of age. Prior to nine I had always answered to the name of “Levi”, yet around the age of nine a teacher brutally informed me that my true name is “Paul”. As it turns out, I had been named after my father, “Paul Reginald Bryant”. Before I was born, my uncle had visited the family graveyard with my grandfather– this is not as pretentious as it sounds, as the family graveyard was a small plot of land in the woods on a small old farm in Virginia that they didn’t even own anymore –and had seen the name of my great uncle who had died of some nasty fever very early in his childhood.

Apparently he liked the name “Levi”, so before I was even born he began referring to me as such, and apparently it caught on with the entire family. There’s even a black and white photograph of my mother, while pregnant, standing in the front yard with my father’s ear pressed to her stomach. Both of them have enormous and silly smiles on their faces, and the caption that reads “Listening to Levi”. I grew up with this picture gazing at me in the house and these days I often wonder what impact it might have had on the structuration of my unconscious. Listening to Levi… Is it a mistake that I chose a career as an educator? Is it an accident that I detest loud places such as dance bars or concerts as I am unable to hear; or, better yet, be heard? Is it a mistake that my primary jouissance consists of talking and that I often find myself bored and discontent when attending outings where there is little talk or opportunity for me to talk? Does it come as a surprise that I would later choose “talk therapy” and become captivated by Lacanian psychoanalysis, where the analyst occupies such a passive role? Might this be why I find myself most infuriated when I experience myself as not being heard– I recall the rage I felt many months ago when Jodi Dean had not responded to a couple of my posts on her blog and the rage and dark fantasies that swirled about this silence –and that when I am heard I suddenly feel as if I lose my voice, unable to continue speaking, as if I must walk a fine line between being heard and not being heard so as to sustain my desire. There is also, of course, my obsessive participation on blogs and email lists, my inability to resist responding. On those occasions when I’ve contemplated having a child I’ve often said to myself that I would like him or her to have a name that “they could make for themselves”, like Elizabeth that could be “Beth”, “Liz”, “Lizzie”, “Ela”, etc, or “Finnegan” that could be “Fin”. It wasn’t until recently that I recognize that “making a name for oneself” also signifies something quite different, as if I willfully did not wish to hear what I was saying or recognize my own desire.

And what of the picture itself? My father’s ear is pressed against my mother’s stomach. In a way this is a sort of “primal scene”, a vision of myself being born through the ear of my father or of surmounting the impossibility of witnessing one’s emergence into the world, thoroughly demolishing Kant’s first antinomy which argues that both the claim that the world has a beginning in time and space and does not have a beginning in time and space are false. To be born of an ear and to see oneself born of an ear. And yet the fact that my name issued not from my father, but from my uncle perhaps allows me to sustain the unconscious fantasy that my father is not my father.

I am not sure whether the discovery that my name was not my name, that “Levi =/= Levi”, was traumatic or not. I argued with the teacher, yet she insisted. Later, on the way home, I told my younger sister on the bus, and she was furious, convinced that I was lying. She even declared that she would “tell on me”, ran into the house, and was shocked when my mother said that indeed it was true. I felt betrayed and immediately set about insisting that everyone call me “Paul”. Yet in making this decision, I effaced my own name– what’s in a legal name? –and underwent an aphanisis, a fading, behind the name of my father. Where the extension of a name is = to 1 in most cases, the extension of my legal name was = to 2. Yet since 1 = 1, perhaps I confused myself with the one who had bequeathed me my name, preventing me from discerning any of my own accomplishments as my own. For instance, prior to analysis, my completed dissertation sat on a shelf for many months gathering dust, despite the fact that after I’d written it by mistake– I originally intended it as my master’s thesis, but five hundred pages popped out and my director insisted that I use it as my dissertation and write another master’s thesis –and I was unable to complete the editing until I re-took my name “Levi”. In retrospect I must have looked quite mad to those around me, as once again I went about insisting that I be referred to as “Levi”, that I was no longer “Paul”. From that point on, my intellectual production increased massively, and I no longer felt the crushing anxiety that had before accompanied my engagement on discussion lists or the writing of articles and conference papers. In short, it seems that my psychic structuration precisely mirrored that of masculine sexuation. Even today I still feel the need to crush my name– my original name –and do things such as writing this post that humiliate that name; as if I must cede to my father that which is rightfully his and am committing an act of transgression by embracing my name.

In this regard, I wonder when work is. I phrase this question in this way purposefully. When is work? Last week I posted a diary entitled The Diacritical Production of Identity, that received a good deal of praise and interest both on this blog and in email. Rather than experiencing delight from this recognition, I instead felt rage, anger, and depression, for I had written this article for the Yahoo Lacan list in 2003, and was simply posting it here so as to get my work on Lacan in one easily locatable place. This is a rare thing for me to do. Only a handful of articles on this blog were written previously and many of my other posts receive similar recognition– such as a post a few months ago about Deleuze and individuation or another on Lacan and sexuation –yet strangely I fixate on this post. If I experienced melancholia at the reception of this article, then this was because this reception made me feel fallen, as if I was doing genuine work in the past and was no longer capable of this sort of work. Will I ever do work again that matches the sort of work I was doing in 2003 at the height of my engagement with Lacan or when further back yet when I was writing my book? Has my mind grown thick and slow from age or my nightly glass or two of wine? Are the exingencies of life too pressing, leaving me with no leisure to think? Am I finished?

For me, it seems that work is always something I once did or always something yet to come in the future after I have finally gained intellectual mastery of theory and philosophy. It is never what I am doing now. Peas porridge hot. Peas porridge cold. Peas porridge in my bowl, five days old. I have either already done work or am yet to do work. So in this experience of work that I have done, I experience a hatred of my semblable, of that person that I once was and would like to crush and best that person, exceeding their work… I would like to resemble myself, as perhaps I have done on occasion.

Yet in experiencing my work in this way, it seems that I sustain my desire. Lacan argues that we have a desire to desire, that the aim of desire is not to satisfy desire, but to continue desiring. In obsession, the obsessional has a desire for an impossible desire… A desire that is impossible to fulfill such as seeing oneself born or being alive while being dead. In hysteria the neurotic has the desire for an unsatisfied desire so that he might continue to desire. Occasionally I overcome the idea that work will finally commence at some point in the future, only to find myself in the opposite situation of feeling that work is past. When describing the difference between desire and drive, Zizek tells the joke of a man having sex for the first time. The woman instructing him first tells him to push it in, which he eagerly obeys. She then tells him to pull it out. Again he obeys. Then in again, and so on. Finally, in a moment of exasperation, he exclaims “Make up your mind, woman! Is it to be in or out?” This subject is a subject of desire insofar as he believes that there is a final state, one action he is supposed to engage in. By contrast, the subject of drive is that subject that finds his jouissance not in one or the other state, but rather in the repetition of the idiotic action itself. Why did I use the signifier “fallen” to describe my relation to my previous work. Bruce Fink pointed out that this term has connotations of sin.

Well I’m not sure if there’s any further I can go in the rhizosphere. I have now been referenced by K-Punk in an excellent post on death drive and Melville. Check it out here. What can I say, I feel a bit like Pip from Great Expectations. Apparently my narcissism and delight at being reflected knows no bounds.

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