Drive


In response to my post “Deleuze and Guattari avec Lacan“, Reid asks “What is the Borromean Clinic?” I confess that I am working through this myself, so I do not have a completely adequate answer. In many respects, this is the most and dense and difficult period of Lacan’s teaching, but it is also a period where he completely exceeds what he had developed in prior years, developing both an entirely new diagnostic system and new possibilities for the end of analysis.

In his Borromean period, Lacan shifts to a topology of the subject based on the borromean knot:

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The first thing to notice with this curious knot is that no two of the rings are directly tied together as in the case of a Hopf chain:

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Consequently, in the borromean knot, if any one of the rings are severed the other two rings fall away as well. In short, the consistence of the borromean knot arises only from the knotting of the three and the manner in which the strings pass over and under one another in the proper way. Lacan equated each of the three rings with one of his three orders– the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary (RSI) –corresponding to the order of ex-sistence (the real) or that which exists outside the symbolic, the order of the hole or lack introduced into being (the symbolic), and the order of consistency (the imaginary). However, it will be noted that each of the rings overlaps with the others forming points of intersection with the other rings like a Venn diagram:

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Consequently, we can think the different orders together getting various combinations between the elements. Thus, for example, there can be a hole in the real, just as there is an ex-sistence in the symbolic (the letter as opposed to the signifier). Likewise, there can be a consistence in the symbolic (meaning), just as there can be a hole in the imaginary. And so on. As I said, I am still working through this myself, so I have not yet worked out the implications of all this.

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In what sense can Guattari’s thought be understood as a radicalization of Lacanian psychoanalysis? And what does it mean to say that Guattari’s thought is a radicalization of Lacanian psychoanalysis? First, to characterize Guattari’s relationship to Lacan as a radicalization of Lacanian thought is not to claim that Guattari was an orthodox Lacanian. Rather, Guattari’s schizoanalysis is a radicalization of psychoanalysis in the sense that Hegel is a radicalization of Kant or Spinoza is a radicalization of Descartes. Just as Hegel and Spinoza deeply transform the thought and projects of their most important predecessors, Guattari significantly transforms Lacanian thought. However, before such a question can even be posed it is first necessary to determine just where Deleuze and Guattari share common ground with Lacan.

While it is certainly true that Guattari transforms Lacan’s thought in radical ways, it is also true that this relationship between the two has been presented as being one that is deeply antagonistic and hostile. Nietzsche pointed out that we arrive at the perspective of substance ontology, that there are substantial things composed of predicates, due to a set of illusions produced through language where words create the belief that there are unchanging things corresponding to these words. In the secondary literature on Deleuze and Guattari, one gets the sense that something similar occurs with reference to psychoanalysis. Often psychoanalysis is treated as if it is a monolithic entity, as the arch-enemy, characterized by homogeneity, despite the fact that psychoanalysis is characterized by a heterogeneous diversity of different schools and orientations often at odds with one another.

This is extremely odd for two reasons: First, it is odd that followers of the champions of difference would require identity in their enemy. It is as if somehow the ontological claim of the ontological primacy of multiplicities gets entirely forgotten and the target gets reduced to a molar and simplified identity without heterogeneous vectors and tendencies of its own. Second, it is especially odd that American Deleuzians seem so intent on toppling psychoanalysis, as if it were the most pressing political struggle within the American situation. Psychoanalysis is hardly anywhere to be found in the United States at the level of practice or predominant theory. Indeed, what we instead get in the States is the complete exorcism of the subject from the clinical setting, treating diagnostic categories as if they were natural kinds and signs, the ignorance of anything like a symptom, and a therapy that tends to be premised on the normalization of its patients so that they might tolerate normal, married, heterosexual conjugal relations, go to work and produce, and be good little consumers. One would think that were Deleuzians looking for a worthy project along the lines of Anti-Oedipus, they would begin not with psychoanalysis– which at least provides the possibility of providing a space where all that resists the “normal” might at least be enunciated, where the treatment isn’t 8 meetings with a cognitive-behavioral psychologist with tried and trusted methods to get rid of the symptom, where the solution isn’t a chemical straight-jacket –but rather with a Foucault and Bourdieu style analysis of the evolution of the DSM-IV, the relationship between therapeutic practice and insurance companies, the relationship between therapeutic practice and the legal system and work, an analysis of the statistical methods through which certain diagnostic categories are produced and generalized, and an analysis of the discourses through which certain attitudes towards life, the body, and mental health are produced. This sort of critique would potentially reveal something about American life in general, something un-thought and at the level of the unconscious in the structural or systematic sense, and would have potential for generating more active struggles, transforming what appear to be individual problems into collective symptoms. But alas, apparently psychoanalysis is the arch-enemy.

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Between Drive and Signifier

The first post on sexuation and the logic of sexuation can be found here.

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Between The Interpretation of Dreams and the Three Essays on Sexuality there was a great tension within Freud’s thought, almost as if there were two entirely different psychoanalytic theories. On the one hand, the Three Essays developed the theory of the drives (trieb) and the various forms that they could take over the course of development and beyond. Freud’s early drive theory was a thoroughly embodied theory pertaining to the baroque displacements the drives can undergo in order to satisfy themselves. By contrast, The Interpretation of Dreams unfolded almost entirely in the order of the signifier, the semiotic, and its vicissitudes, with little that directly pertained to the drives. In certain respects, Freud’s work here was prescient. In his final essay, Analysis Finite and Infinite, Freud would wonder whether it was possible for analysis to come to an end. Despite the fact that interpretation would go as far as it could go over the course of analysis, despite the fact that the transference would have been thoroughly worked through, Freud would find that something in the analysand’s psychic system continued to repeat. In other words, there was something other at work in the analysand’s psychic system that could not be resolved through interpretation alone. No doubt it was observations such as these that led Freud to theorize a death drive in contrast to the pleasure principle and instincts.

Lacan’s thought underwent a very similar trajectory. Up through Seminar 6, Lacan focused primarily on the order of the signifier, ignoring almost entirely the order of drive or jouissance. During this period, Lacan optimistically argued that the symptom could be entirely resolved through analytic interpretation, even defining the symptom as a metaphoric condensation of signifiers. This is the period where Lacan believes that the big Other exists. During this period, as can be observed in the graph of desire, Lacan assimilates drive to the signifier, to the symbolic, rather than seeing it as belonging to the order of the real. It is not until Seminar 10, L’angoisse, that Lacan will begin to develop a rich account of drive as that which both accounts for signifying formations in the unconscious (an animating principle), and as a real and jouissance entirely other than the order of the signifier.

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I sometimes feel as if I go through a sort of eternal return, where I repeat things I have said before yet experience myself as having just thought them for the very first time. Hopefully, despite these repetitive iterations, despite these re-loops of loops, each iteration is nonetheless somehow producing something new or allowing some other thought to emerge that, for whatever reason, could not before emerge. As Spinoza argues, ideas can only produce ideas. Yet why is it that ideas sometimes get fixed or repetitive like a skipping record? Why is it, I wonder, that we obsess over certain themes and ideas– almost as if our life is a musical variation –such that we perpetually return to these things without realizing that we’re doing so? The Bird and the Bee song: “Again and again and again and again… Do it again! Do it again!” In his preface to Meillassoux’s After Finitude, Badiou remarks that in a true work of philosophy,

…it is possible to detect the sense of something new– texts which respond to the question: “What wound was I seeking to heal, what thorn was I seeking to draw from the flesh of existence when I became what is called ‘a philosopher’?” It may be that, as Bergson maintained, a philosopher only ever develops one idea. In any case, there is no doubt that the philosopher is born of a single question, the question which arises at the intersection of thought and life at a given moment in the philosopher’s youth; the question which one must at all costs find a way to answer. (After Finitude, vi)

This is a surprisingly Deleuzian thought for Badiou; one that almost stands in contradiction with his charges of a Deleuzian “aristocratism” in The Clamor of Being. I do not know that I follow Badiou in the thesis that the wound is unique to the philosopher, but, as I argued in Difference and Givenness, I would certainly agree that the wound– what I there called “the encounter” –is constitutive of thought. To think is to be wounded. That is to say, to think is to be out of step with the world, to not be at home in the world, to experience the world as unheimlich. We think because we are not at home and perhaps the degree of our homelessness marks the degree of our thought’s intensity… Unless we are consumed by a homelessness so profound that it ends in catatonia or mute autism. Thought then would be a way of attempting to sublate or overcome that wound, that crack that prevents any adaptation to the world.

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It is this that is fundamentally missing from accounts of collective assemblages such as we find proposed in Spinoza. Conatus, the endeavor to persist in one’s being, lacks– at least on the surface –the dimension of death drive in speaking-being. While the Spinozist body is indeed excessive rather than homeostatic or adaptive in its active drive to promote its power to act, what seems to be missing is this dimension of repetition, of death drive, that is at odds with action premised on benefit or enlightened self-interest.

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This can be sensed above all in Spinoza’s conception of love, where the madness of love, the willingness to destroy everything else for the sake of love, is entirely absent. Despite the fact that Spinoza asserts love can be excessive, one gets the sense that for him, the difference between a good meal (which he also characterizes in terms of love) and mad love is a difference in degree rather than kind. If, as speaking beings, we are constitutively wounded, divided by language, and therefore subjects of an irrepressible question that we cannot escape, how must we understand collective assemblages and the perils that haunt them? Clearly these assemblages will perpetually be perturbed by the repetition, the eternal return, that haunts the subjects that inhabit these assemblages. On the one hand, this will be one of the prime sources of those lethal identifications with demagogues, tyrants, and dictators where the body of these figures is encountered as an answer to the repetitive question of the wound, as that which can sublate the wound and produce the “heimlich” in the world.

On the other hand, the wound, the death drive, will be the source of our most profound creativity, political struggles, thought, love, invention, etc., as we choose the wound over adaptation. Is there a way to channel the wound, the death drive, in one way rather than another? Certainly this is one of the aims of psychoanalytic practice– to transform painful, paralyzing, and intolerable incarnations of the death drive manifested in the symptom, into productive, liveable, creative symptoms or forms of repetitive jouissance. Witness Joyce.

Or is it, as I asked months ago in another post, that the death drive, the symptom, repetition, jouissance is simply psychoanalysis’ own myth of original sin: a reactionary ideological mystification that argues that lethal and mal-adaptive repetition is natural and necessary, rather than contingent? Spinoza argues that our collective irrationality arises not from original sin, but from a set of cognitive processes that take place at the level of how our emotions function. Death drive is something quite different than the simple confusion of two things that resemble one another as in the case of an object confused with love object or object of hate that shares a quality with these objects without possessing any of the same causal properties, e.g., Hating one’s student named Tom, because one was the victim of a childhood bully named Tom, and failing to realize this completely contingent connection. Death drive is not a confusion, but a sort of ever repeating glitch in a system, that causes the perpetual return of an insistent question that places the subject out of step with the world. One might think of the people obsessed with a certain image in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the image, ultimately, of the mountain), to such a degree that they completely neglected their bodies, families, jobs, and all the rest (viz., they were completely disjointed from the world) trying to figure out why this image would not leave their mind and what it might represent. The difference here, of course, is that for the characters in Close Encounters, they do get an answer. There is no answer to the death drive, only the repeated failure of any and all such answers– Which can be a source of a positive jouissance. “Do it again!”

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From roughly June until a few weeks ago I was in the midst of a deep and black depression. The strange thing was that I did not feel sad, but simply disengaged from everything. I wasn’t, as it were, even aware that anything had changed. I had lost all desire for everything. I no longer read. I felt no inclination to respond to emails. No books, shows, movies, or ideas interested me. Whenever I got a new paper published or received some sort of praise for my book, it left me feeling cold. I had no desire to be around other people. I slept a lot and just walked through the world like a sort of zombie. There was no malice in any of this. If I didn’t respond to an email, it wasn’t because I harbored animosity towards the person. I didn’t respond to anyone unless it was a professional matter I couldn’t ignore. I simply couldn’t bring myself to care.

The worst part is that you blame yourself for this state and experience it as a moral failing. You tell yourself that perhaps your brain has hardened and you simply can’t think fluidly in the way you once did. You tell yourself that you’ve become lazy, ceased caring, etc. Somehow it is something that you’re doing that’s led to this malaise. But just as anger in the midst of a nicotine fit seems absolutely convincing and like a matter of your will, the depression is not experienced as depression, but as some set of choices you are making. Of course, from a psychoanalytic perspective this is because somehow, at some level, you have betrayed your desire and repudiated yourself as a subject. The question is how?

Perhaps now I am in a manic period– I’ve certainly been writing a lot –but something seemed to break a few weeks ago. And even if it is manic, it feels good. It feels good to care. It feels good to write. It feels good to draw connections, to find images to represent things, to read, to dance with others in thought. I began exercising and this seemed to produce significant changes. Who knew? But what was it that brought this on? Why did I fall into this pit? In her beautiful essay, Why Psychoanalysis?, Elizabeth Roudinesco argues that depression, melancholia, is the unique malady of our time, produced by our contemporary ideological conditions and conditions of production.

If neurosis– a loud, noisy, antagonistic symptom in protest of the reigning social order — is the symptom of the late nineteenth and twentieth century, argues Roudinesco, depression is the reigning symptom of an era where great causes have collapsed, where alternatives to the social organization of this world have disappeared, where there is nothing to protest as all norms have collapsed, and where all that is left is the pursuit of happiness, the improvement of one’s body and health, and the endless pursuit of ever new and novel forms of exotic enjoyment. The depressive age is an age where the Soviet Union has collapsed and China has become capitalistic, such that the only [once] credible alternatives to the world of liberal democratic capitalism and the promise of “happiness” and a life without risk, have disappeared. Likewise, with the death of God we get a world closed to transcendent possibilities, to ideals higher than those of appetite.

Insofar as all symptoms are a protest, of sorts, against the Other– a trace of the lack in the Other or the fact that the Other is a sham, a semblance, an impostor, that the Other does not provide the answer or jouissance promised –depression, the disappearance of desire, the fading of desire, is a protest against such a closure where all alternatives have disappeared. But, like so many symptoms, what a painful symptom! Perhaps depression is what occurs in the absence of being able to even articulate what is missing, what is absent. Depression would be a sort of silent speech, a mute speech, that speaks the absence of signifiers worthy of desire. Or better yet, depression would be a marker of that which falls outside of language or that for which there are no signifiers. As such, in the borromean clinic, depression would be located at the intersection between the circles of the imaginary and the real: A mute witness of the imaginary body in response to a certain real that haunts the symbolic.

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Is there a way in which depression can be made active? Is there a way in which this mute withdrawal of the subject from the empty world of “bodies and pleasures”, this existence as undead, as zombie, that capitulates to the closure of possibilities, the absence of alternative, can make this silent and passive resistance an active resistance? Such a resistance would no longer be one that assaults the body of the depressive, such as in the case of the depressive subject that blames himself, but would be a subject that might find a way to reject the idea that happiness, exotic enjoyments, and bodies and pleasures are the only alternatives, the only things, we can hope and live for… Or rather, that we can hope and be dead for.

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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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Returning to the debate surrounding Zizek’s analysis of 300, it seems that this passage from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is highly relevant. Towards the end of Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari write that,

The most general principle of schizoanalysis is that desire is always constitutive of a social field. In any case desire belongs to the infrastructure, not to ideology: desire is in production as social production, just as production is in desire as desiring-production. But these forms can be understood in two ways, depending on whether desire is enslaved to a structured molar aggregate that it constitutes under a given form of power and gregariousness, or whether it subjugates the large aggregate to the function multiplicities that it itself forms on the molecular scale (it is no more a case of persons or individuals in this instance than in the other). If the preconscious revolutionary break appears at the first level, and is defined by the characteristics of a new aggregate, the unconscious or libidinal break belongs to the second level and is defined by the driving role of desiring-production and the position of its multiplicity. It is understandable, therefore, that a group can be revolutionary from the standpoint of class interest and its preconscious investments, but not be so –and even remain fascist and police-like –from the standpoint of its libidinal investments. Truly revolutionary preconscious interests do not necessarily imply unconscious investments of the same nature; an apparatus of interest never takes the place of a machine of desire.

A revolutionary group at the preconscious level remains a subjugated group, even in seizing power, as long as this power itself refers to a form of force that continues to enslave and crush desiring-production. The moment it is preconsciously revolutionary, such a group already presents all the unconscious characteristics of a subjugated group: the subordination to a socius as a fixed support that attributes to itself the productive forces, extracting and absorbing the surplus value therefrom; the effusion of antiproduction and death-carrying elements within the system, which feels and pretends to be all the more immortal; the phenomena of group ‘superegoization,’ narcissism, and heirarchy– the mechanisms for the repression of desire. A subject-group, on the contrary, is a group whose libidinal investments are themselves revolutionary; it causes desire to penetrate into the social field, and subordinates the socius or the form of power to desiring-production; productive of desire and a desire that produces, the subject-group invents always mortal formations that exorcise the effusion in it of a death instinct; it opposes real coefficients of transversality to the symbolic determination of subjugation, coefficients without a heirarchy or a group super-ego. (348-349)

A bit earlier Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between unconscious libidinal investments pertaining to social investments and preconscious investment of class or interest (343). The central problem that Anti-Oedipus sets out to tackle is that of why we will our own repression:

why do many of those who have or should have an objective revolutionary interest maintain a preconscious investment of a reactionary type? And more rarely, how do certain people whose interest is objectively reactionary come to effect a preconscious revolutionary investment? Must we invoke in the one case a thirst for justice, a just ideological position, as well as a correct and just view; and in the other case a blindness, the result of an ideological deception or mystification? Revolutionaries often forget, or do not like to recognize, that one wants and makes revolutions out of desire, not duty. Here as elsewhere, the concept of ideology is an execrable concept that hides the real problems, which are always of an organizational nature. (344)

One of the central theses of Deleuze and Guattari’s social thought is that the people are not duped, but at a certain level desire fascism and their own repression. What is at issue here is that we can have social movements that are revolutionary at the level of their preconscious class investments, yet nonetheless reactionary at the level of their unconscious libidinal investments. The situation is analogous to issues surrounding the death of God as described by Nietzsche; which is to say, the issue is structural. As Nietzsche somewhere puts it, it is not enough to kill God, but the place itself of God must be abolished. Nietzsche here distinguishes between a certain theological concept of God as a transcendent being presiding over being, and a God-function as a certain structural placeholder in thought, social organization, and practice that other things can come to fill without apparently having anything to do with the divine or supernatural. In short, there is a sort of structural theology of transcendence, a “theology before theology”, that is a form of thought, not an adherence to any particular popular religion. This structural theology, this structural transcendence, is what Lacan represents with the masculine side of the graphs of sexuation, where masculine desire is premised on the phantasm that there is at least one entity that is not subject to the phallic function or castration.

This idea of a structural transcendence without a folk religious conception of God that nonetheless haunts atheism can be elucidated with reference to Laplace. Laplace was, of course, famous for pushing the Newtonian laws to their limit, arguing that we live in a perfectly deterministic universe, such that if we knew the position of all particles at any particular moment along with their velocities, we could perfectly predict all past states of the universe and all future states. When asked about the place of God in his system by Napoleon, he famously replied “Je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse: I have no need of that hypothesis. One of the revolutions effected by the early Enlightenment thinkers was the thesis of movement immanent to the universe, requiring no transcendent intervention in order for it to occur. Laplace here echoes that thesis, and thus endorses an atheistic position. However, we should not be so quick to come to this conclusion. In putting forward his deterministic thesis, Laplace makes an appeal to what is referred to as “Laplace’s Demon“, which is the idea of an entity capable of observing and calculating all the states of the universe. There is thus a theology that continues to haunt Laplace’s thought, a structure of thinking, which posits a transcendence capable of surmounting castration. Although Laplace’s being is not a creator, does not intervene in the world, does not judge or condemn, does not define a set of moral laws, it is nonetheless a transcendence that, in principle, surmounts our embeddedness in the world.

Deleuze and Guattari appear to be drawing a similar distinction between concrete actual social formations and movements and whether these are reactionary or revolutionary, the structure of social movements that remain reactionary even when undertaken through revolutionary pre-conscious investments. This concern emerges in response to the history of the Soviet Union, where we had a revolutionary movement at the level of preconscious class investments and interests, but nonetheless ended up with a social system organized around highly reactionary unconscious libidinal investments pertaining to power and the party. No doubt Deleuze and Guattari are thinking of the highly disappointing role that the French communist party played in the events of the student revolutions during Spring of 68. The question then becomes that of how it is possible to form a revolutionary movement that does not fall prey to these sorts of unconscious reactionary investments that simply reproduce oppressive systems. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” That is, how do we avoid simply re-instituting one and the same structure with differing decorations?

This was a problem Lacan encountered as well in the formation of his school. As Lacan remarks at the end of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, analysis aims at a beyond of identification with the master-signifier:

It is not enough that the analyst should support the function of Tiresias. He must also, as Apollinaire tells us, have breasts. I mean that the operation and manipulation of transference are to be regulated in a way that maintains a distances between the point at which the subject sees himself as lovable– and that other point where the subject sees himself caused as a lack by a, and where a fills the gap constituted by the inaugural division of the subject. (270)

That point from which the analysand sees himself as lovable is the master-signifier, or the place from which the analysand sees himself as being seen by the various authority figures with whom he identifies. In traversing the fantasy and discovering the Other does not exist, that the other is fissured, desiring, lacking, the analysand discovers a beyond of identification in drive. With regard to an organization like a psychoanalytic school or association, the obvious question is that of how it might be possible to form a collective or society premised on the non-existence of the Other. This is a difficult and paradoxical question to say the least. Clearly Lacan himself was a point of identification for the members of his school. He was treated as “the subject supposed to know”. Yet analysts of the school are supposed to have traversed the fantasy and thus worked through the transference, no longer positing a subject supposed to know or a master. This, incidentally, is why I’ve sometimes playfully suggested that Deleuze and Guattari are the real Lacanians: they do not slavishly repeat every word of the master, but work with the thought of Lacan and contribute to the development of a problem and set of concepts. At any rate, Lacan’s various declarations and letters in Television all revolve around this question of the production of a revolutionary collective. The history of Lacanianism since Lacan’s death suggests that the problem has never been completely resolved.

It would appear that we are still caught in this bottleneck. One of the difficulties with Deleuze and Guattari’s proposals– at least as they were taken up by the academy –is that they do not seem to generate any organized activist collectives, and therefore it’s worried that they provide no real tools for struggling with capitalism (I am not suggesting this is true). This would be the concern with a number of other post-structural theorists as well, where political theory is thick on critique and analysis, but provides very little in the way of workable praxis. Enter Badiou and Zizek. In a number of respects, I think Badiou, despite his fascination with figures such as Saint Paul, manages to skirt worries of re-instituting desires at the level of unconscious libidinal investments. Badiou is quite clear in his discussion of political events and in his thesis that a true politics is outside the “state” (Deleuze and Guattari’s preconscious class investments). However, with Zizek and his flirtations with figures such as Robespierre, Mao, and Stalin, the worry emerges that once again we’re moving down the path of a paradoxical “reactionary revolution”, where the new boss is the same as the old. The concerns that motivate Zizek are, I think, well founded: change requires organization, movement. Yet he seems to move in the opposite direction, turning questions of mobilization and organization in fascist directions. I have no answers to solution to these issues, but it does seem to be that one of the central questions is that of how revolutionary movements can avoid falling into reactionary traps.

I don’t do vacations well. For the last few weeks I’ve had a brief respite from the duties of teaching. During the academic year I dream of the summer when I’ll finally have the time to read what I wish to read and write what I wish to write, yet strangely, when vacation finally comes along, I find myself strangely disengaged, unable to think, concentrate, or do much writing. In a number of respects I think this relates to my “Symptom”. Here the Symptom should not be thought as a tick such as repeatedly washing ones hands, the inability to say a particular word (like Charlie’s inability to say anything pertaining to parents or fathers in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), or a moment of hysterical blindness. These too are symptoms, yet there are symptoms and then there’s the Symptom. Where symptoms are these various ticks and idiosyncracies that inexplicably trouble the life of a subject, the Symptom should instead be thought as the complex theme animating a subject’s life. In Seminar VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan writes that,

…analysis progresses by means of a return to the meaning of an action. That alone justifies the fact that we are interested in the moral dimension. Freud’s hypothesis relative to the unconscious presupposes that, whether it be healthy or sick, normal or morbid, human action has a hidden meaning that one can have access to. In such a context the notion of a catharsis that is a purification, a decantation or isolation of levels is immediately conceivable. (312)

This hidden meaning of ones action is desire. We find ourselves repeatedly doing something– repetitively washing our hands, unable to enjoy vacation –and analysis is that process by which this meaning is finally delivered to us, where we are finally able to understand the meaning of what it is that we’ve been doing all this time. As Lacan will put it a few pages later, this activity is a complex theme pervading our lives that has the status of being a sort of destiny.

Doing things in the name of the good, and even more in the name of the good of the other, is something that is far from protecting us not only from guilt but also from all kinds of inner catastrophes. To be precise, it doesn’t protect us from neurosis and its consequences. If analysis has a meaning, desire is nothing other than that which supports an unconscious theme, the very articulation of that which roots us in a particular destiny, and that destiny demands insistently that the debt be paid, and desire keeps coming back, keeps returning, and situates us once again in a given track, the track of something is specifically our business. (319)

Lacan contends that the only thing we can ever be guilty of is having given way on our desire. If I experience guilt, then in some way, somehow, I have given ground relative to my desire or betrayed my desire. Guilt thus does not arise as a consequence of betraying some moral rule or principle– for instance, stealing something or having impure thoughts –but rather results from a betrayal of one’s desire. This simultaneously explains both why those who are truly wretched morally so often have such clean consciences and why those who are so upstanding morally have such ferocious and persecutory guilt. All of us are familiar with jokes about Catholic and Jewish guilt. If the phenomenon of ferocious guilt so often accompanies devoutly religious lifestyles that are free from moral infraction, then this is because these lives so often entail a betrayal of ones desire by virtue of their very structure. Moral consciousness, in its obedience to the moral law– what Lacan refers to as the “order of Creon” or the “service of goods” –leads to a renunciation of desire. “The morality of power, of the service of goods, is as follows: ‘As far as desires are concerned, come back later. Make them wait'” (315). Yet desire insists regardless of whether one wishes to renounce desire or not. And it returns one way or another in the form of either guilt or symptoms, which are themselves way of maintaining ones desire.

It would thus seem to be an easy matter to avoid the return of desire in the form of the symptom and guilt: Forget morality and pursue what one wants. The analysand reading Lacanian psychoanalytic literature concurrent to his analysis thus reasons that,

If the ‘service of goods’, established morality, modesty, and the system of consumption lead me to betray my desire and thereby produces symptoms and guilt, then I should simply pursue what I want, and live a deliciously hedonistic life, full of the most profound debaucheries and transgressions.

It would be nice were such a simple solution available, however no sooner does the analysand pursue such a course of action than does he find himself consumed by guilt and populated by symptoms far worse than those he knew before. “Why,” he wonders, “does he now feel more miserable than I did before? Why have these boils (I kid you not) break out all over my body, am I now impotent, and do I suddenly find myself beset by all sorts of unfortunate accidents such as the loss of my wallet, minor car accidents, leaving my computer open to porn at work, etc?” It sounds fantastic, but it happens in analysis.

The error that such an analysand has fallen into is the confusion of want with desire. The analysand believes that he knows the meaning of his action and thus knows the true nature of his desire. But analysis shows that the reason for our repetitions, the desire animating our action, is hidden from us. Our desire is embodied in our repetitions and symptoms, yet the whole problem is that we do not know why it is that we repeat. For this reason, the way out of the deadlock of guilt and symptoms cannot be a simple determinate negation of the service of goods or the established system of morality. Rather, we must come to that point where we are in a position to make a decision with regard to our desire. We must come to know our desire. In describing desire as a theme we should think of something like a complex theme in music or Jazz that repeats itself while varying itself. What we have here is the identity of difference, a pattern that plays again and again throughout a person’s life, functioning as the secret cipher, the meaning, the sense, the Sein-zu-Tode, animating a person’s life and imbuing it with meaning. Here I cannot agree with Zizek’s politicization of the ethics of psychoanalysis, for this politicization strikes me as one of the surest ways to give way on ones desire. There might indeed be unconsciousnesses that are political in the way Zizek describes, but we can just as easily imagine a woman named “Rose” who has betrayed her desire by becoming deeply involved in the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Chiapas– as would have been (dis)approved of by her parents and colleagues –when she should have been cultivating roses. Desire is often banal such that the outsider is unable to fathom why one pursues a particular activity with such zeal– think of how thoroughly Kinsey was obsessed with his research on dung-wasps… Do you understanding it or share this intense fascination? –but it is nonetheless singular and specific to that subject. As Lacan will later say in Seminar XXIII, The Sinthome, “we are never interested in another’s symptom.” It is in this connection that Lacan’s distinction between writing and sense is to be situated: Writing opens on to the real, to the senseless, and refers to a set of traces in the unconscious that take on a libidinal charge irregardless of any sense they might have.

In Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, Lacan draws an example from Serge Leclaire to illustrate this point:

One must interpret at the level of the s [signifier, not the signified], which is not open to all meanings, which cannot be just anything, which is a signification, though no doubt only an approximate one. What is there is rich and complex, when it is a question of the unconscious of the subject, and inteded to bring out irreducible, non-sensical— composed of non-meanings –signifying elements. In the same article, Leclaire’s work illustrates particularly well the crossing of significant interpretation towards signifying non-sense, when he proposes, on the subject of his obsessional neurotic patient, the so-called Poordjeli formula, which links the two syllables of the word licorne (unicorn), thus enabling him to introduce into his sequence a whole chain in which his desire is animated. (250)

The case Lacan is referring to can be found in Serge Leclaire’s Psychoanalyzing: On the Order of the Unconscious and the Practice of the Letter, and is well worth the read. If Lacan’s remarks here seem incomprehensible, then this is due to the fact that he is working at the level of writing, writing in the unconscious, rather than at the level of sense. To fully understand the claim made here with regard to Leclaire’s obsessional patient, we would have to follow the case notes and trace how a writing (note the indefinite article) unfolds in this analysand’s formations of the unconscious. Similarly, Rose should not be cultivating roses because this is what “rose” means, rather this is one possibility through which the desire animating the writing “r-o-s-e” might unfold itself in the life of a particular analysand. It is the homonym that matters here, not the sense. Moreover, the sense follows upon the senseless writing– as Deleuze argues in The Logic of Sense, sense arises from nonsense –not the reverse. Another trajectory might have had Rose obsessively researching the Knights of the Rose, or Gillian Rose, never noticing the proximity to her name, going on and on about the underappreciated socio-historical-political significance of the Knights of the Rose without drawing any connection between the unconscious desire, the unconscious writing, that animates her and this particular academic pursuit.

It is in this connection that Lacan’s reference to “destiny” ought to be situated. To speak of destiny in this context is not to speak of astrology or the gods defining one’s future. Rather, destiny here refers to the agency of the signifier in the unconscious. Among his many aphorisms describing the unconscious, is that where Lacan defines the unconscious as “the discourse of the Other”. Before being born, prior to being a subject, the infant is already surrounded by a discourse not of his own making. For Lacan, like Whitehead, the subject is a superject– A product rather than an underlying substance defining a trajectory. A writing weaves itself around the body of the young infant, laying the groundwork of nonsense that will function as the ground from which sense might be produced. As Whitehead will say, “No actual entity can rise beyond what the actual world as a datum from its standpoint– its actual world –allows it to be” (Process and Reality, 83). This too will hold for the writing woven around the infant, functioning as a constraint on the becoming of that subject. However, this should not be taken as a deterministic or grim statement, for the play of language embodied in puns, double entendres, homonyms, equivocations, etc., allows for indefinite variability emerging from this writing. Without constraint and limitation, without selection, there can be no creation. Consequently, the writing populating the unconscious, this discourse of the Other, should not be understood to be akin to a computer program that simply sets on its course once initiated. Nonetheless, this writing insists throughout all subsequent action in much the same way that Oedipus finds himself unable to escape Loxias’ prophecy despite every effort to escape it. Desire returns in the form of the symptom and one can either make a decision to follow ones desire– which requires coming to know ones desire– ultimately one enters analysis because they do not know what they want –or to strive to evade ones desire.

After causing all manner of turmoil with my reading group last week by shifting our meeting from Saturday to Tuesday, I noticed that I am often at the center of maelstorms such as this. Whether it be the various religion and theory wars here, the madness of the last academic year with administration, personal email disputes that emerge from time to time with those whom I love, and so on, I repeatedly find myself in the midsts of some sort of conflict. Indeed, I seek it out. The first thing I open to in the newspaper is the editorial page. I gravitate towards religious and political debates. I often continue engagement with persons I actively dislike or believe to have little that is genuinely interesting to say, despite the unpleasantness of conflictual discussion with such persons. And perhaps, above all, I chose to pursue philosophy, an agon seconded only by the political arena. There is a repetition here that has woven itself all throughout my life, and in suddenly discerning this repetition my desire to write or engage with anyone suddenly disappeared (hence my silence this last week). Strangely however, I felt no guilt in not engendering conflict for a week, indicating that this action, in being articulated, had found a different trajectory through which to unfold itself. In discerning this repetition, I do not thereby discern my desire. Indeed, the relationship between agon and desire might be quite oblique– like the relationship between the manifest- and laten-content of a dream in the dreamwork –and difficult to understand without extensive analysis. Falling into conflict is an action, yet the meaning of the action, the desire that animates it, is opaque to me. What obscure desire animates such an action? This is a question that cannot be answered generically such that someone on this list– a Jungian, no doubt –could say “oh, that means x”. Rather, like Leclaire’s analysis of his obsessional, it is something that can only be revealed in tracing the furrow of a signifier in symptoms, dreams, slips of the tongue, or a life.

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