Symptom


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.

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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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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.

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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Surplus-jouissance, Desire, and Fantasy

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

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

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This is the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in some time (click on the pic for full effect). Wish I’d been there.

Saturday May 26th the VNN Vanguard Nazi/KKK group attempted to host a hate rally to try to take advantage of the brutal murder of a white couple for media and recruitment purposes.

Unfortunately for them the 100th ARA (Anti Racist Action) clown block came and handed them their asses by making them appear like the asses they were.

Alex Linder the founder of VNN and the lead organizer of the rally kicked off events by rushing the clowns in a fit of rage, and was promptly arrested by 4 Knoxville police officers who dropped him to the ground when he resisted and dragged him off past the red shiny shoes of the clowns.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt “White Flour”.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s angrily shouted once more, “White flowers?” the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.

Read the rest of the story here.

In Seminar 23, Sinthome, Lacan remarks that the equivoke and homonym are the central tools of the analyst. In short, the analyst is the person who routinely practices what is commonly referred to as the lowest form of humor. The idea is to break up the illusory unity of the analysand’s speech (what Bruce Fink refers to as “ego-discourse”, or that form of discourse that assumes mastery of its own intention or that meaning and intention are one and the same thing) so that desire might be set back in motion. Somehow I never quite envisioned this particular deployment of that principle.

Jodi Dean has recently written an interesting post on sarcasm, irony, and parody.

I was thinking about forms of defense, particularly self defense. Irony, sarcasm, and citationality first came to mind.These seem to be mechanisms to establish distance. Zizek mentions something like this, “I love you,” as they say in the movies, or something like that. I defend myself by diffusing my feeling, making it less mine than ours. Everyone feels this way or, it’s hardly surprising that one would feel this way. I can always add–oh, I was joking or that was meant sarcastically.

What about humor, parody, cynicism? Do these require a lack of commitment, a distance and amorphousness, a denial, refusal, or foreclosure of ownership? I’m thinking of the Daily Show, a blog, and Peruvian presidents. Are the utterances, performances, predicated on a refusal of an underlying belief or conviction? Or, are they premised on its constitutive absence? On a smooth ability to drift and flow, catching on nothing and open to anything? Are these about distance or perhaps more properly about defense? If the latter, perhaps it is defense of nothing or of nothingness, defense against an underlying lack or foreclosure?

I’m too worn out from editing (hey, maybe I can get Anthony to do the indexing later… he seemed to enjoy it with the journal issue he put together recently. Kudos to Anthony)… To resume my thought, I’m too worn out to build on Jodi’s fascinating observations (why can’t I deploy theory with respect to the day to day like that?), but I wonder how this example of parody might fit with the model she suggests in her post. It seems to me that Jodi’s remarks revolve around the perspective of the speaker and the way in which they strive to defend against some desire. For instance, I might use sarcasm or irony as a way of managing uncomfortable desires with respect to the person I’m talking to. These desires might be something as simple as the desire to be recognized and the worry that I won’t, to more profound desires pertaining to love and friendship. Sarcasm can then function as a sort of defense by allowing me to diffuse the powerful jouissance that threatens the integrity of my being in relation to the person I’m speaking with. In the clinic, descriptions of such jouissance often come up when the analysand is describing their relation to certain privileged Others in their interpersonal relations. They might talk about feeling overwhelmed by these feelings, as if their bodily integrity has somehow been pierced or invaded. Certain rhetorical maneuvers then set in to diffuse this tension and re-establish equilibrium or a safe distance. All of this, of course, can be deeply paradoxical as the jouissance can be experienced as pleasurable yet overwhelming, like an intense feeling of love that is too much to bear. I once heard an analysand worry over whether his face might “blow off” (an interesting choice of words) during certain moments with his lover. He took tremendous pleasure from these encounters, but also felt that he must flee them.

At any rate, the parody and humor at work in this demonstration seems to be about something different. Here the clowns do not seem to be defending themselves, so much as they seem to be distancing the neo-nazis from their own signifiers, causing them to slide this way and that through a series of equivocations and pseudo-homonyms. Not only does a recoding of the hate speech take place, but something like the analytic discourse institutes itself by virtue of the clowns not receiving the neo-nazi’s messages (thereby underlining Lacan’s aphorism that “all communication is miscommunication” in a rather pointed way). What are we to make of the way the message strategically fails to be received in this particular protest? Lacan argues that all messages have their ideal receiver or Other– the person to whom that message is addressed. By undermining the reception of the message, do the clowns also undermine the Other for whom the neo-nazis stage their message? Finally, what role does a third observer– neither clowns nor neo-nazis but those witnessing the event –play in this encounter, and how does the clown’s strategy transform the neo-nazis relationship to this third? At any rate, I’m tickled to see such inventiveness in a protest.

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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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