Lacan


illustration-map_largeNick Srnicek has posted his Goldsmith’s talk “Framing Militancy” (warning pdf) over at his academic webpage. Nick hints at certain thoughts he’s developing at the intersection of Laruelle’s non-philosophy and actor-network theory. From my perspective, the paper is of interest as it raises questions of how we are to think a networked subject, and also raises questions about how to strategize change within networks. Over at Speculative Heresy he remarks that the paper received mixed reactions. I wonder how much of this had to do with selecting the neoliberal subject to illustrate the formation of a networked subjectivity, coupled with his reformist stance.

These reservations aside, I think there’s a good deal of interest in the paper. In particular, the three ideas with which Nick opens his paper leap out at me. Nick writes:

-My interest right now is in reformatting the politics of continental philosophy, away from its tendency towards grand abstractions, and focusing it more towards grappling with the concrete contours of the world.

-I take it that this basic imperative follows from three ideas:

(1) Non-philosophy’s insistence that it is the real which determines its own objectification in thought. In other words, the reality of any particular political situation is what must be allowed and permitted to determine its own thought.

(2) Actor-network theory’s idea of ‘empirical metaphysics’ – the idea that we can’t predetermine what entities are operating in a particular situation, and who is responsible for what actions. This means, for instance, getting rid of the idea of a pre-established revolutionary actor.

(3) Lastly, the imperative to work within the networks we’re embedded in stems from the materialist belief that thought is not the medium through which objects appear, but rather thought is an object alongside other objects. Theory, in other words, cannot be independent of its physical and social conditioning.

When I read these three inspirations, I find it difficult not to see at base what OOO is advancing in the domain of political thought. A good deal of my shift to SR and OOO was motivated by the desire to escape these sorts of grand abstraction to get closer to what I referred to in another post as “the rustle of being“. In the domain of political ontology, this rustle of being would be concrete social assemblages of persons, institutions, technologies, geography, signs, and so on. It is difficult to present an abstract theoretical account of what assemblages such as this look like. You have to actually read analyses of this sort. Good examples would be Latour’s Pateurization of France, Braudel’s magnificent (and mind numbingly boring! but in oh so good a way) Capitalism & Civilization, Bogost’s analysis of the history of game engines in Unit Operations, or Luc Boltanski’s and Eve Chiapello’s analysis of network capitalism in The New Spirit of Capitalism.

The sense here is that concepts like “capitalism” and “neoliberalism” are, as Deleuze might say, far too baggy to do real work in political ontology. They don’t tell us anything specific about the organization of real situations, and thus leave the activist and theoretician feeling as if they are grasping after elusive dark matter or ghosts, producing a sense of impotence and tragedy. The point here is that you have to know how the actual situation you’re in is concretely structured to strategize engagement within that situation.

In this spirit, I fully endorse Nick’s Laruellian imperative, though it seems to me that this imperative is more Lacanian or Marxist, than Laruellian. All to often, I think, political thought begins from the standpoint of a pre-established set of normative postulates, creating an alienating rift between the multitude and the intellectual that claims to speak for the multitude. Within the Lacanian framework, the situation is entirely different. The analyst does not begin with a pre-defined set of norms defining what is good or bad for the analysand. She does not harbor a wish or desire for the analysand to accomplish some specific thing like career success, freedom from false consciousness, self-awareness, greater empathy towards others, etc. Rather, the analysand attempts to situate herself as an advocate of the analysand’s desire, functioning as a sort of midwife of that desire. Any norms or values that emerge over the course of analysis are not there at the outset, but are the analysand’s creation over the course of analysis. In this respect, it is the object that determines thought– in the case of the clinic, objet a –not the analyst that comes to the analytic setting with a set of formula as to what the analysand should be. Of course, as both Lacan and Freud liked to emphasize that analysis is an impossible art, but insofar as the real is the impossible, this is to say that analysis operates from the real.

The case is similar with genuine Marxism. Marx was deeply hostile towards what he called “utopian socialism”. You will find remarks about utopian socialism, dripping with disdain and sarcasm, scattered throughout almost all of his work. Again the case is here similar to that of the Lacanian clinic. Marx’s “utopian socialism” is Lacan’s “ego psychologist”. Just as the ego psychologist begins with a set of normative assumptions as to what is good for the analysand, even further alienating the analysand from his desire, the “utopian socialist” begins with a model of society or a set of ahistorical, normative ideals of what the social should be, thereby rendering him deaf to the desire embodied in the socius or the voice of the socius itself. This is the major difference between materialist socialism and utopian socialism. Where utopian socialism begins from the position that it has a privileged knowledge of what the social order should be and arrives at this model either based on some religious inspiration, or some sort of a prioristic reasoning, the materialist socialist begins from the premise that norms and values arises from historical situations themselves and that the task of the political ontologist is to hear these tendencies or potentialities within the social order and assist in giving voice to these tendencies. Unlike the norm based theorist or the ahistorical deontologist, the materialist socialist allows thought to be determined by the real, not the reverse.

Lacan liked to say that the analyst plays dead with respect to the analysand. In saying this Lacan meant that the analyst sets aside his own desires so that the desire of the analysand might come to speech. In this respect, the analyst subordinates herself to her analysand. She consents to occupy the position of the object or objet a. Similarly, in genuine Marxist thought, the role of the theorist should be like that of an analyst, where the theorist agrees to play dead with respect to the social order. A theoretical work in political ontology, in this respect, should look more like a Freudian case study than Freud’s essays on metapsychology.

Perhaps thinkers and artists shouldn’t be evaluated by influences within their art or discipline, so much as by their idiosyncratic fetishes and obsessions that fall outside of their work. What are we to make, for example, of Graham’s obsession with Gibbon? As I read Harman’s daily posts about Gibbon, I can’t help but feel that I’m encountering something purely singular and inarticulable. As Graham himself would admit, I’m sure, there is something deeply libidinal in this obsession, a jouissance that falls outside of language, even though it seems to be all about language. If the suggestion of a jouissance outside of language that is all about language seems paradoxical, we need only think of Joyce’s final work. As Lacan observed, Finnegans Wake is a pure jouissance, a sinthome rather than a symptom.

Where a symptom is either a metaphorical substitution or a metonymical displacement susceptible to interpretation, a sinthome is a jouissance that admits of no interpretation. Lacan, perhaps influenced by Deleuze and Guattari, referred to the sinthome as a haecceity. When a woman continuously has fits in public where she falls down and where there’s no medical condition that accompanies this malady, we probably won’t be far off the mark in concluding that the signifier “fallen woman” is at work somewhere in her unconscious. This symptom is a message to the Other, indicating perhaps the manner in which she has betrayed her desire. The sinthome by contrast, does not function in this way. When Lacan says Joyce cannot be interpreted, he is not saying that he is so difficult that his work defies any analysis. Clearly this is not the case. What he is saying is that the relation to language in Joyce is that of the sinthome or a pure jouissance in language itself, without this language being organized around a series of metaphorical and metonymical substitutions that would allow for an interpretive master key. And indeed, to read the late Joyce you have to read him at this level. If you are looking for meaning in Joyce’s later work (i.e., the relation between the Imaginary and the Symbolic), you’re going to be tremendously frustrated and outraged. Joyce has to be enjoyed at the level of the rustle of his language itself, at the level of the texture of that language. While the later work of Joyce is capable of producing a great deal of meaning (it’s almost like hyper-text), it does not contain pre-delineated meaning that would lie beneath the shimmer of the text as its secret key.

This is what I have in mind when I refer to analyzing a thinker in terms of his or her obsessions and fetishes rather than their intellectual influences. While I am sure Graham gets all sorts of things from his forays into Gibbon, there’s something else going on here. What are we to make of this jouissance? What does it say about Graham’s jouissance? Graham has often remarked on my unusually high tolerance for dealing with assholes, for my tendency to get into ridiculous discussions and debates that are of little or no worth. What does this say of my jouissance? What are we to make of Zizek’s obsession with film or Bogost’s love of video games? Or how about Shaviro’s delight with science fiction and Harold & Kumar? We all find ways to integrate our jouissance with our work, yet jouissance is always strangely outside of that work. If someone some day writes a biography of Harman there will be endless perplexity and debate about the place of Gibbon in his thought. And that’s exactly how it is with jouissance. Beyond what is transmissible about a person, it is the haecceity of a person, never summarizable in a single feature or obsession, but fractally present throughout all acts of that person, functioning as a sort of ghostly mark of that which withdraws from all relation and interpretation.

In my last post I proposed “Ø” as the matheme of the object. In fact, this, I think, is not quite accurate. The complete matheme of the object would be O1/Ø, where O1 refers to the manner in which an object is actualized in terms of properties at any given point in time, and where Ø refers to the divided, split, abyssal, or withdrawn object, beyond any of its actualizations. I have referred to Ø as the hidden, “interior world” of the object. This reference to “interiority” risks being misleading insofar as it has spatial connotations suggesting that Ø can be found by “opening up” an object. However, no matter how thoroughly we look into an object, now matter how carefully we dissect an object, the interior of an object is never found. This is because the interiority of an object is not any of its properties or qualities.

Already, in this formulation of the objectness of objects, I believe it becomes clear just how radically different this conception of objects is from that of representational realism. For representational realism, there is no doubt that the object consists of its properties. The whole issue is whether we are able to represent those properties, or whether our representations transform those properties such that we can never reach the “real” properties of the object. For onticological realism, by contrast, the object is never its properties. The object is not barred or split for us, but in itself.

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The Onticological Dialectic

Like Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, onticology has its onticological analytic and its onticological dialectic. However, where Kant’s transcendental analytic and dialectic deals with structures of cognition so as to answer the question “how are synthetic a priori propositions possible?”, the onticological analytic and dialectic is concerned with the being of objects. The onticological analytic is concerned with the internal structure of objects independent of their relation to anything else. It is objects as they exist from the “inside”. Unlike Kant’s Transcendental Doctrine of Elements where a distinction is drawn between the transcendental aesthetic and the transcendental analytic, or where intuition/sensibility and understanding/concepts are distinguished, the onticological analytic collapses this distinction. Much of the arguments for this thesis are already developed in my Difference and Givenness. The content of the onticological analytic will not become entirely clear until The Democracy of Objects is published. However, forerunners of the endo-relational structure of objects would be Leibniz’s notion of “monads”, Alfred North Whitehead’s notion of “actual occasions”, Latour’s understanding of objects as “entelechies” in Irreductions, DeLanda’s understanding of multiplicities and attractors in Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, Deleuze’s account of virtual multiplicities, and Harman’s account of withdrawn or vacuum packed objects.

Where the onticological analytic deals with the interior world or endo-consistency of objects, with their being as processes or organisms, the onticological dialectic is concerned with relations between objects or what happens when one object relates to another object. The onticological dialectic is thus interested in processes of translation. Translation refers to what happens when an object receives a difference from another object. Plants, for example, translate photons of sunlight into sugar through photosynthesis. One of the central theses of onticology is that no object receives the difference or act of another object without translating that difference. In other words, every object transforms the differences that it receives from other objects in the world.

Latour expresses this point beautifully in a rather Leibnizian moment of Irreductions in the second half of The Pasteurization of France. There Latour writes,

1.2.8 Every entelechy makes a whole world for itself. It locates itself and all the others; it decides which forces it is composed of; it generates its own time; it designates those who will be its principle of reality. It translates all the other forces on its own behalf, and it seeks to make them accept the version of itself that it would like them to translate.

“Entelechy” is Latour’s all purpose word for “object”. Persons are entelechies. Societies are entelechies. Rocks are entelechies. The particles composing rocks are entelechies. Each, claims Leibniz is an object that defines a boundary between itself and the world (sound like an autopoietic system?), and each transforms the differences it receives from the world in its own particular way. Once again, sunlight becomes sugar for the plant. Latour goes on to ask,

1.2.9. Is it a force of which we speak? Is it a force that speaks? Is it an actor made to speak by another? Is it an interpretation or the object itself? Is it a text or a world? We cannot tell, because this is what we struggle about, the building of a whole word.

* What those who use hermeneutics, exegesis, or semiotics say of texts can be said of all weakness. For a long time it has been agreed that the relationship between one text and another is always a matter for interpretation. Why not accept that this is also true between so-called texts and so-called objects, and that even between so-called objects themselves?

If one does not like the term “translation” to describe the manner in which objects relate to the differences of other objects, then the word “interpretation” will do as well. Each monad, entelechy, actual occasion, objectile, or object interprets the world about it. There is no difference that does not make a difference. Not only does a difference received make a difference to the internal organization of the object or entelechy by selecting a system state within that organization, but additionally a difference is made in the sense that the difference received is received not as identical, but as transformed, interpreted, or translated by the internal organization of the object receiving the difference. There is no such thing as a docile body.

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image004Responding to Paul Ennis’ Blogpost on Humanism, Asher Kay of Spoonerized Alliteration remarks that,

My first reaction was, “Well, we *caused* the technological debasement and ecological catastrophe! We could use a little slapdown as far as our importance in the universe is concerned.”

But I think that OOO doesn’t really amount to a slapdown. It’s more of a change in perspective.

If we accept that our thoughts, concepts, drives, etc. are inextricably embedded and embodied in the world; if we accept that our mathematics and formal systems are based on how the body and mind work, and have no separate existence or special, “pure” access to the way things really are; then we start to develop a perspective that lets us solve problems like technological debasement and ecological catastrophe.

Quite right. While all of those working within the framework of speculative realist thought would certain argue that they are not simply attempting to shift perspectives but are making genuine ontological claims, it is nonetheless the case that speculative realism will have done a service to philosophy if it manages to draw attention to dimensions of the world largely ignored by contemporary philosophy. Speculative realism can be usefully articulated in terms of Lacanian discourse theory. Depending on what it is engaging, speculative realist thought occupies each of Lacan’s four discourses. When speculative realism critiques correlationism or philosophies of access, it occupies the discourse of the hysteric, occupying the position of a split subject declaring that the emperor has no clothes. When it formulates an ontology it occupies the discourse of the master, introducing new signifiers that organize the buzzing confusion of the world. When research is undertaken employing these concepts, it occupies the discourse of the university, situating the unknown in terms of these categories and concepts.

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Red Leaves on the Mountain, Modern Painting by Singapore artistA recent discussion over at Another Heidegger Blog with Ghost has gotten me thinking about what, precisely, it is that I hope to preserve through onticology. The discussion did not start out in these terms. Rather, Ghost had asked why the clinician should be interested in object-oriented ontology. By this, I take it, Ghost was asking what relevance object-oriented ontology might have to the clinic. This discussion morphed into the question of what relevance the clinic might have to philosophy.

The interesting thing about the Lacanian clinic is the absence of theory in that setting. One might imagine that, upon entering analysis, talk would be punctuated by references to objet a, transference, the diagnostic categories and so on. After all, Lacan’s work is among the most elaborate and intricate psychoanalytic theories about. The surprise is that all of this disappears, at least in my experience. There is no talk of “the symptom”, transference, objet a, the diagnostic categories, the Other, the imaginary, symbolic, and real, castration, the name-of-the-father or any of the other categories that make up the bestiary of Lacanian theory. No. Instead the clinical setting completely revolves about the speech of the analysand. In my own analysis, for instance, I was never once situated in one of the three diagnostic categories. And why would such a subsumption be relevant anyway. The entire experience consisted of babble.

And this, ultimately, is, I think, the greatness of Lacanian practice. Rather than subsuming analysand’s under the technology of a category– categories too are technologies even if they seem to contain no machines –instead the clinic attends to the rustle of the analysand in the analysand’s singularity. If there is any word to characterize this experience, whether from the side of the analyst or the analysand, it is that of surprise. Not only is the clinical setting in which the analysand is surprised by her own speech, it is a setting in which the analyst is surprised by her speech and by the speech of the analysand. It is a lumpy, knotty space, where language no longer has univocal sense, but instead practices the art, as Lacan puts it in Seminar 22, RSI, of the equivoce, where certain moments in speech, whether on the side of the analytic act or where the analysand manages a moment of full speech, spiral out in a plurality of different directions without the ability to pin down sense and where, like Borges’ famous garden of forking paths, different destinies are present without being actualized. Above all it is a space where the subject can never be subsumed under a category or type. As I argued over at Paul’s blog, analysis is a “working through” of correlationism, where the analysand begins as a correlationist without knowing it, and ends up as an object-oriented subject that respects the rustle of subjects.

If onticology seeks to preserve anything, it is this rustle of being, its excess over all categorizations, language, history, social forces, power, mind, and all the rest. It wants to attune the ear to this rustle, its singularity, and the capacity for surprise. Far from wishing to capture being in a grand metaphysical system that puts everything in its place (here the homonym should be observed), it instead wishes to know nothing and stay stupid in the sense described by Dany Nobus and Malcom Quinn as described in the book by the same title. It is not by mistake that the central chapters of Difference and Givenness are punctuated by a discussion of the encounter or that which shatters the coordinates of correlation and which functions as the true “transcendental epoche”. It is often said, following Aristotle, that there can be no science of the individual. Alternatively, this statement could be translated as the statement that there can be no science of existence. If being and existence are opposed to one another, then this is because the former is the domain of the category, of what is knowable through reason as Meillassoux puts it in describing his own project contra Harman, whereas existence is always singular and therefore subsumable under any category or concept. Granted. But while existence may not be knowable, there is nothing to prevent it being thinkable. And all too often those that would seek to preserve the singularity of existence against the tyranny of the concept end up forgetting that very singularity. It is this rustle of existence, however, that is to be preserved.

If I am indebted to Lacan, then this is with respect to the incompleteness of every system, the objet a as that object that cannot be integrated or swallowed, the distrust of totalizing systems, but above all the analytic stance that respects this singularity of the analysand’s speech. It is an ontology that strives to keep its ear close to this rustle of being, maintaining the space of uncertainty and surprise, rejecting the pacifying or dominating tendencies of correlationisms that always strive to make us at home, to render the world heimlich, by subordinating it under something human.

David1-744682.gifPaul Ennis has a terrific post up on his experience reading psychoanalytic thought, the dis-ease it generates in him, and how he encounters something similar when reading the speculative realists:

Reading psychoanalysis generates a sense of uneasiness in me. To borrow Zizek’s voice for a moment ‘I mean it quite literally’. When I’m sitting there reading about gaps and Others and Fathers I feel anxious. What is Metaphysics style anxiety.

There seems to be a direct psychological impulse behind what speculative realism wants to do. If my more informed readers will allow me to make a crude analysis: speculative realism wants to ‘allow’ the real in. It wants to collapse some symbolic order that we are not supposed to collapse.

Read the rest of the post here. Paul hits on something fascinating with his observation about collapsing something in the symbolic order that is not supposed to be collapsed. In the subsequent discussion in the comments revolving around the “heimlich” or “being-at-home”, I think the point of the unheimlich is somewhat missed in the discussions that somehow it is constitutively impossible for us to not be at home.

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kochOne of the things that absolutely fascinates me about discourse, and, in particular, Lacan’s theory of discourse is that it has a fractal nature that seems to iterate itself at all levels. Thus, to the same degree that you can have interpersonal or speaker to speaker relations that have the same formal structure outlined by Lacan with many different contents, you can have entire social structures that are organized around these formal relationships. And indeed, there’s a strange way in which the appearance of one discourse structure somehow generates the appearance of all the other discourse structures. For those interested in a brief introduction to Lacan’s theory of discourse you can consult my article on discourse theory here, beginning with page 40. Formally we can see why the other three discourses emerge “a priori” wherever there is the appearance of one discourse. If this is the case, then it is by virtue of the fact that discourses form what mathematicians call a group. That is, through a simple clockwise permutation, you are able to generate the other three discourses simply by rotating the symbols in each position one position forward. 180px-MadisThus, if you begin with the discourse of the master, you are able to generate the discourse of the hysteric, the analyst, and the university through a simple clockwise rotation of the terms in each of your initial positions:

180px-Hysdis
Anadis
Unidis For those unacquainted with Lacan’s discourse theory, look carefully at the succession of these four discourses, you will note that beginning with the discourse of the master and then shifting to the discourse of the hysteric, then moving to the discourse of the analyst, and finishing with the discourse of the university, the relations among the terms remains invariant. The terms change their position in each of the four positions they can occupy, but with respect to one another they always maintain a constant position. In this particular universe of discourse (again, see my article for the concept of a “universe of discourse”, which you won’t find in Lacan, but which is a logical extension of his own thought regarding discourse), for example, a can never appear, to put it metaphorically, before the term S2. Consequently, given one discourse, you already have the other three.

As Deleuze put it speaking in the context of Levi-Strauss, “In whatever manner language is acquired, the elements of language must have been given all together, all at once, since they do not exist independently of their possible differential relations” (Logic of Sense, Handsome Continuum Edition, 58). So too with Lacan’s discourse structures. Even if each discourse were to appear diachronically in the order of history in such a way that the others were absent or not present in the social order, nonetheless these other discourses would be virtually there or would exist virtually, simply “awaiting” their opportunity to manifest themselves. What is remarkable, however, is that the discourses don’t seem to arise sequentially with the establishment of a single discourse. Rather, the moment one discourse is instituted you get the sudden actualization of the other three discourses within that universe of discourse.

Take the discourse of the master. What is it that the discourse of the master does? Does it master, dominate, control? No, not really. If you refer back to the discourse of the master you note that on the upper portion of the discourse there is a relation between S1 and S2. S2 refers to the battery of signifiers. We might think of this as a disorganized, chaotic mass of signifiers that float about willy nilly, almost at random. What the discourse of the master does is provide a master-signifier, loosely something like what Derrida referred to as a “transcendental signifier”, that organizes this chaotic mass of signifiers into a unified structure. Thus, for example, when Kant formulated the position of “transcendental idealism” he was situated in the position of the discourse of the master insofar as he provided a signifier that unified philosophy in a particular way, generating a coherent structure or organization. Similarly, when an activist characterizes a series of conflicts as a revolution, he is occupying the position of the discourse of the master insofar as he is unifying a mass of disconnected acts and events under a single signifier that render them capable of generating a sense or an organization.

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Somewhere or other Lacan speaks of a fundamental choice of subjective-structure that precedes any actualized form that subjective-structure might take. Thus you get the choice of hysteria that protests the legitimacy of any particular master, figure of authority, or father, leader, or expert, the choice of obsessional neurosis that constantly licks the heels of every master while secretly stealing pathetic bits of enjoyment behind his back by pissing in his lemonade, the pervert that shows the neurotic what his desire is really about, and finally the psychotic that bucks the whole damned system, refusing it altogether. Zizek, in his writings on Schelling, speaks of this as a choice that precedes choice or a sort of transcendental choice to choose. In other words, you get your average obsessional sort of neurosis that chooses not to choose, saying that the game is set, that this is the way things are, and that our only option is to steal little bits of jouissance while maintaining the system.

Zizek’s tells a marvelous vulgar joke that perfectly exemplifies this logic. A peasant couple encounters a nobleman on a dirt road. Evoking the ancient law of prima nocta, the nobleman demands the right to sleep with the peasant’s wife. However, to add insult to injury he demands that the husband hold the nobleman’s testicles while he does the deed so they don’t get dirty from the road. After the dirty deed has taken place and the nobleman has trotted off, the husband laughs hysterically. Distraught by her husband’s response after this terrible encounter, his wife asks how he can possibly laugh. The husband responds, full of mirth, that he didn’t hold the master’s balls. Such is always the logic of those who want to be recognized by their master’s. Here the husband thinks he’s scored a major victory, but he’s kept everything important in place just as it was before. He steals his little bit of jouissance, but it only functions to sustain the unjust system within which this event took place. This, for example, is the universe of the Larry Craig’s, Sanford’s, etc., that keep the system in place while stealing bits of enjoyment behind the scene, but also the logic of all of those who identify with their oppressors, believing that they will get their eye and recognition. They strive to get recognition from their masters even as they despise them. On the other hand, there are those that prior to any choice they make recognize that the frame of decision is itself arbitrary and can be changed. The philosophical difference here might be characterized in terms of the difference between Badiou and Deleuze on the one hand, and Habermas and Rawls on the other. In the latter case we are constrained by a lifeworld and can only act and decide within the framework of those constraints. The constraints themselves cannot be questioned or interrogated. In the former case, by contrast, it is the frames themselves that are contested and the entire issue revolves around how those frames might be abolished or transformed. Of course, the latter position always wins out because you cannot show an alternative possibility, but only enact it. As a result, the latter position is always the “sensible” or “common sense” position.

Prior to where anyone stands on any particular issue, there seems to be a fundamental existential decision that precedes any “ontic” decision one might make regarding social and political issues. There are, basically, two types of people in the world, though this point can only be made through ontic examples. There are those who side with the insurance companies, holding that the reason prices are so high is that there are spurious lawsuits against doctors for malpractice. And then there are those that side with the people, seeing insurance companies as profit driven entities designed to inflate cost for their own benefit. There are those who side with corporations, believing that policy should be designed for their benefit because, after all, they’re the ones that give us jobs, and then there are those that side with the workers seeing little or no connection between the interests of corporations and the interest of workers. There are those that side with the protesters on May of ’68 against an oppressive academic and work regime, and then there are those who see May of ’68 as a youthful burst of naivete that had no meaning whatsoever. There are those that side with the raped woman and then those who said she shouldn’t have dressed so provocatively. Most recently there are those who side with Gates and those who think he was an uppity black man who should have been more respectful to the officer. And then there are those that claim that all intellectual work should be constrained by the tradition and strictly defined by that framework. Where one falls is always a fundamental existential decision that precedes any specific decision one might make. What is interesting is how those who have chosen not to choose somehow nonetheless end up talking endlessly about the pie in the sky naive ones who have chosen to choose, almost as if the former are aware of their own ephemeral and irrelevant place in the order of things.

Responding to my post about my own academic career, Ben writes:

I was struck but what you wrote as I am beginning the process of applying to phd programs here in the states and find myself constantly frustrated by the options (you mention two of ‘continental friendly’ programs and I would add New Mexico as well) and have been lately considered whether it is worth it to go into philosophy at all in the states.

Part of me wants to just flee across the ocean where the rest of me thinks it is long over due that continental philosophy have proper homes (or a proper home) in the states and that something like black mountain college/egs needs to be made here – a theory camp if not a real school.

Sorry I am mostly rambling – I guess my question is – is it even possible to get into well respected (but always analytic) programs in the US with continental credentials and, if so, like you partially suggest, is it impossible to teach what one likes in the high ivory towers?

I really like Ben’s idea about starting something like the equivalent of EGS here in the United States. This is something that theorists from a variety of disciplines should be talking about and something that should seriously be implemented. I have even been considering going after a second PhD at EGS not only for the opportunity to work with theorists and artists of such stature, but as a motivation to write another book. Although an outsider, I think I have enough background in media theory and technologies to have something of interest to say on these issues.

With respect to the academic job market, I think it’s worth emphasizing that a lot of what I wrote in my post is really my own personal symptoms and insecurities. I think there are a lot more possibilities out there than I suggest, and that in my own case I often create artificial barriers where they don’t exist. Lacan often observed that neurotics tend to manufacture barriers against jouissance as a way of sustaining their desire. Moreover, one of the ways in which neurosis functions is through the frustration of the Other’s desire. This is certainly the case in my own psychic economy. Throughout high school, undergrad, and graduate school, I had to do things in a very indirect fashion. Thus, in high school I skipped so much schooling that the state actually attempted to bring charges against me for truancy. What the state didn’t know was that I spent my days at the local coffee shop reading history, mathematics, literature, and philosophy. Fortunately, given that I had reached a point where I was performing very well in school, the teachers and administration came to my defense and said “leave him alone, this works for him.” Basically I had home schooled myself.

As an undergrad I had to read texts for my philosophy courses– I took 116 hours of philosophy at Ohio State –a quarter in advance because it was constitutively impossible for me to read assigned texts during the actual quarter. The situation was similar in graduate school. In other words, I had to trick myself into doing the work. The reason for this, I think, was that I simply cannot tolerate what I perceive as an order issuing from the Other. If I am told that I am required to do something, I simply shut down and dig in my heels. This tic is so pervasive for me that I even have difficulty filling out forms.

From a psychoanalytic point of view this would be a way of frustrating the desire of the Other, but also a refusal of the Other’s jouissance or a refusal to be enjoyed by the Other. However, while this is an unconscious strategy for frustrating the Other’s desire and refusing to be an object of jouissance, it’s also worthwhile to note that this is a way of stealing jouissance from the Other. To do one’s schoolwork at the local coffee shop or read texts other than the assigned text during the semester is a sort of theft of an illicit enjoyment. It’s a delight in doing what you believe you’re not supposed to be doing. In this regard, I wonder if the way in which I portray academia isn’t a variant of a fantasy structure organized around the theft of jouissance. If I tell myself that academia only recognizes commentary, that there’s no place for the sort of work that I would like to do, then I can gratify myself by stealing something from academia or believing that I am stealing something. In other words, there’s a way in which I need this sort of impediment to get off in the way that I do. I often wonder if the sort of depression I experienced after the publication of Difference and Givenness wasn’t precisely the result of the manner in which its publication and its warm reception challenged my unconscious fantasy structure and economy of jouissance. I experienced a sort of subjective destitution and sense of the surreal or uncanny after the book was finally released. No doubt this is part of the reason for my antipathy towards the book.

Here I think it’s important to note counter-examples. Adrian Johnston, for example, has found a way to do what he wants to do within the current framework of philosophy as practiced in the United States. Who would have thought it would be possible to do serious work on Zizek, Lacan, and German Idealism and land a position in a graduate program? DeLanda is really a total outsider, but has found a way to do what he wants to do. Harman has made himself a place as well. It’s also worth citing the example of Jameson. Who would have thought it would have been possible to do the sort of Marxist literary criticism in the milieu he was working in? Finally, I have been able to publish a good deal on the sorts of things that interest me despite the belief that there is no place for my work. My point is that we have to make a place for ourselves within the institutions that exist. We also get an opportunity in the long run to change those institutions through collaborative activity, the formation of alliances, the production of journals, conferences, etc. Get involved, get to know people, put yourself out there and publicly develop your thought and you have a good chance of getting somewhere. Each generation of thinkers remakes the institutions within which they were trained. It’s your job to do that.

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