Symptom


Today finds me teaching once again, back in the classroom, in an endlessly surprising dialogue with students. It seems that I persistently find myself trapped in paradox, yearning for time off when I am teaching, yet despondant and depressed when I have time off. I suppose I should just accept that I need some sort of minimal conflict, some sort of obstacle to complete satisfaction, in order to maintain my desire.

In response to my post on attractors and vectors, a friend angrily said that she does not believe that change takes place at the level of the human and that I am utopian. I was quite taken aback by this criticism as I couldn’t see where I had suggested that change takes place at the level of the human (presuming this to mean the human individual) or how I was being utopian. If anything, I worry that there might be a pessimistic undercurrent to these thoughts. I think this issue is brought out with relative clarity in my reference to the friend and the alcoholic:

I am not simply a friend, but rather I am made a friend and make myself a friend through my interactions with the other. The organization and identity is emergent and ongoing. This is one of the reasons why social change is often so difficult or why social systems are often so resistant to change. An agent might have made an internal transformation, yet the other agents composing the social system continue to relate to the agent in the same way. Thus, an alcoholic might have made an internal resolution to no longer drink, yet the alcoholic’s relations continue to relate to him as an alcoholic, steering him back into this activity.

What is at issue here is that the attractors defining subject-positions are never simply a matter of the individual occupying these positions, but are rather the result of ongoing processes of individuals in relation to one another, such that a change in subject position is not simply a matter of the individual decision, but of the ongoing processes by which the subject is produced as a subject in relation to other subjects. What I am trying to think through in this connection is the issue of the ontological status of social structures or systems. It is all well and good to study social structures after the fashion of Saussure or Levi-Strauss as a structure, but what, ontologically, are these structures? A language, for instance, is not in any particular individual. Language, as it were, is not up to me. Yet language nonetheless could not exist without individuals. It only exists in and through the individuals that use the language. As such, language only exists through the ongoing operations of language in its use by speakers. Ontologically there is nothing but individuals, nothing but bodies, yet certain relations of feeback emerge among these individuals such that language takes on an emergent reality.

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I came across this article by Eugene Holland when looking for examples of schizoanalysis in practice for the reading group I participate in. As always, Holland’s writing is exceptionally clear and illuminating. The article is of special interest for the productive and congenial relations it draws between Lacanian psychoanalysis and Deleuze and Guattari’s work with Marx and historical modes of analysis. Well worth the read. It is also published in Paul Patton’s Deleuze: A Critical Reader. In my view there is often an unproductive opposition drawn between the work of Deleuze and Guattari and Lacan, where one is placed in the position of advocating one or the other. As can be observed from Zizek’s Organs Without Bodies, this is something that occurs among both Deleuzians and Lacanians. It seems to me that this opposition is mostly the result of the publication of Lacan’s seminar in the English speaking world. Anti-Oedipus was published in English in 1977. For many years we only had Lacan’s eleventh seminar (1977) and Ecrits: A Selection (1977). Work done in a “Lacanian” orientation tended to focus on the imaginary and the mirror-stage article, ignoring the real altogether, and espousing a high classical structuralism when discussing the symbolic. Very little was known about Lacan’s post-Seminar 11 work and how it undermined the claims of high structuralism with its claims that the big Other does not exist, that there is no Other of the Other, that there is no universe of discourse, and that the woman does not exist (indeed, Deleuze and Guattari’s assertion of “n-sexes” can be understood as falling squarely on the feminine side of the graphs of sexuation). The watershed moment that changed everything in “Lacanian studies” was the publication of Bruce Fink’s The Lacanian Subject (followed by the equally brilliant Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis and the forthcoming Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique: A Lacanian Approach), Zizek’s Sublime Object of Ideology, and most importantly Lacan’s 20th seminar, Encore (1998). In addition to this, we now have seminar 17, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, which Guattari attended during the writing of Anti-Oedipus and references throughout. Prior to this the image of Lacan was that of a somewhat reactionary apologist of the phallic order who had one concept: the imaginary. It comes as little surprise that English-speaking readers, given the choice between the rich conceptual universe of Deleuze and Guattari that draws tools from Marx, Nietzsche, psychoanalysis, Freud, Lacan, Klein, Foucault, linguistic, the natural sciences, etc., etc., would have tended to look down their nose at what was then Lacanianism. As access to the unpublished seminars has become available– nearly all of them are translated at this point –and we’ve begun to learn more about Lacan’s work from the 60s on, it becomes possible to tell a very different story and perhaps undermine some of the reigning sterile oppositions haunting the world of theory.

Adam Kotsko has written an interesting post over at An und fur sich on God, the big Other, and Calvinism. There is much that is commendable and of value in this post, however I disagree with Adam’s claim that the big Other cannot be treated as God. God is one way in which the symbolic manifests itself in the thought of human subjects. Yet, since he has banned me from the site I will instead outline my reasons here as this point is important from the standpoint of how psychoanalysis conceives structuration of the subject. Adam writes:

A common misconception in the early stages of learning Lacanian theory is to assume that “the big Other” is God. In point of fact, this is not the case. The big Other refers to the realm of officiality and quasi-officiality, and the use of the word “big” rather than, say, “grand” in translating this concept testifies to a fundamental silliness. We all know objectively that the social order is impersonal, but we act like there’s a person out there — not like all the other others, but a really big Other — whose recognition we need and who, in some cases, must be kept in the dark.

This is not quite accurate. Adam is right to argue that the symbolic refers to the realm of officiality and the impersonal world of the social. However, there are social and individual instances where God is experienced as serving this function as an element in a structure. God can be one instance of the big Other. The most compelling proof of this comes from the masculine side of the graphs of sexuation. This side of the graphs of sexuation represent symbolic castration or the manner in which subjects are subordinated to the symbolic. You’ll note that the lower portion of the graph reads “all subjects are subject to symbolic castration” whereas the upper portion reads “there is at least one subject that is not subject to the law of symbolic castration”.

It is this upper portion of the graph of sexuation that is here of interest. Lacan’s analysis of masculine sexuation closely follows the logic of Freud’s Totem and Taboo. Many of you will recall that there myth tells the story of the primal father who had exclusive rights to the enjoyment of all women (i.e., he’s bound by no symbolic law and therefore there’s no limit to his enjoyment). Frustrated, the brothers band together and kill the primal father so that they might regain their enjoyment. However, out of a combination of guilt towards what they have done (they also admired the primal father) and practical necessity (they don’t want a repeat of this situation), they agree to institute a limitation to their jouissance, such that it is forbidden for each of the members to enjoy his own mother or sister.

Here then we have a myth of how the symbolic is born or how these prohibitions come to emerge. Lacan’s point is that the symbolic always has a supplement or a fantasmatic shadow that grounds the symbolic and prevents it from sliding all over the place. This limit point is the idea of a being– a fantasmatic idea –that is not castrated or limited or bound by the symbolic. The point, then, is that we have a structure here that can be filled out in many different ways. To understand the concept of structure, we have to think in terms of functionalist mathematics. In a mathematical function you have something of the form F(x), such that for any value of the variable x you get an output. The point is that the function remains the same regardless of whatever is put in the place of the variable. Identity is thus not detemined by the variable or entity in the x position, but rather by the function. The function remains the same across variations.

The Lacanian thesis is thus that any symbolic structure necessarily has an element that fills the place of the upper portion of the graph of sexuation. One example of this is the primal father. Another example of this– from Hegel –is the sovereign king that occupies by his position by nature, thereby functioning as an exception to all other law that is determined by convention. Yet another example of this is how students think of definitions. Some students, when writing papers, begin with something like “According to Webster’s” and then cite a definition. The underlying, unconscious thought process is that language is based on the authority of a grand dictionaire that knows the true meaning of all terms. The point here is that at the level of the lived experience of language we’re all a bit confused about meaning and uncertain of what words mean, and meaning is a product of our collective activities that is always in flux. Nonetheless, we project a figure that does know, a figure that is not “castrated” by this uncertainty, as a fiction of someone that knows the true meaning. This, for instance, is the underlying fantasy of the anti-gay marriage movement that perpetually brays “marriage, by definition is between a man and a woman”. When they claim this they are implicitly claiming that there is an eternal dictionary floating about in Platonic heaven somewhere that isn’t the product of how collectivities or assemblages define terms. Another example would be those social formations that make reference to God as what founds or establishes the law. Thus, for instance, you have Mosaic law as articulated in Leviticus and Deuteronomy on the one hand, and then the supplement that grounds this senseless set of stipulations. Descartes’ third meditation also follows this logic, where God serves the function of grounding the realm of natural law, thereby allowing us to posit an order behind the apparent chaos of our experience. In short, a masculine subject is a subject that believes in God, transcendence, or some functional equivalent.

Yet another example of this structure would be Freud’s analysis of church and military in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. There Freud examines group formations where the leader functions as a necessary principle. It is interesting that for Freud an ideal can serve a similar role, thereby underlining that what is being talked about is a structural function, not a concrete thing (Lacan will make much of this in his account of the unary trait and master-signifier, starting with Seminar 9: L’identification. It could be said that a good deal of psychoanalysis has consisted in the exploration of how alternative social formations without this structure might be possible. Thus, when Lacan denounces the Oedipus in Seminar 17, he is denouncing this structure. Similarly, Lacan’s various attempts to form a psychoanalytic school revolved around the question of how it’s possible to form a social organization that isn’t organized around a master or belief in the big Other, but which squarely recognizes the “hole” in the Other, it’s non-existence.

Finally, it’s important to note the close tie that both Lacan and Freud observe between obsessional neurosis and religious belief. For Lacan, obsessional neurosis is closely connectioned to masculine sexuation (subjects that are biologically male or biologically female can nonetheless be sexuated in a masculine way). This close tie has to do with how obsessionals relate to the symbolic and the fantasmatic supplement they project into the symbolic in the form of a “god-function”.

All of this casts light on Lacan’s claim that psychoanalysis is the only true atheistic discourse (I’m not sure I agree) and what he means when he claims that psychoanalysis is an “atheology”. Lacan defines the end of analysis as traversing the fantasy and overcoming belief in the big Other. No longer believing in the big Other does not mean giving up the symbolic, but relating to the symbolic in a new way. Lacan develops this theme beginning with Seminar 22: RSI, where he distinguishes between believing in the symptom and identifying with the symptom. A subject that believes in the symptom is one that believes there’s a final interpretant out there that would finally unlock the secret of the unconscious process. That is, it presupposes a God function or that the Other is complete. In this regard, many theologies are symptomatic. A subject that identifies with the symptom is a subject that identifies with the unconscious process– not unlike Deleuze and Guattari’s schizophrenic as a process –and draws jouissance from the endless play of the symptom. More needs to be said about this, but I am here merely pointing to it. Rather than supplementing the big Other with the fiction of an uncastrated figure that floats behind it and guarantees order behind the apparent chaos of our social interactions, one no longer believes that there is a true order behind this chaos. In short, one moves to the feminine side of the graphs where encounters with others are evaluated on a subject by subject basis. Joyce, for Lacan, is an instance of a relation to the symbolic that is no longer premised on the belief in the big Other. This is why psychoanalysis is, for both Freud and Lacan, contrary to most monotheistic forms of religiosity… At least as commonly understood. In a nutshell, these formations are, for Lacan, fetishes (recall that a fetish is designed to hide or disavow castration). For Lacan fantasy is designed to cover over castration, and the first of these fantasies is the belief that the big Other exists… That somewhere, somehow, there is an Other that both enjoys and that knows its own desire. God can be one example of this fantasy (I allow that there might be sophisticated theologies that avoid this criticism). I suspect that this is the reason that Adam was compelled to argue that God is not an instance of the symbolic, as Adam’s religious commitments certainly disallow the claim that God is a fetish. Moreover, I find Adam’s rhetoric in the paragraph cited below very interesting. He refers to the “beginning student of Lacan” which has perjorative connotations and functions as an unsupported enthymeme, correcting the wayward and unexperienced student. The problem is that there are numerous places in the seminar where Lacan actually treats God in this way. It is fine that Adam rejects the thesis that God is a fetish or a symptom. There are arguments to be made. But one cannot simultaneously be a Lacanian and advocate a position where God is conceived as transcendent, unlimited, all knowing, outside the flux and bustle of the world, etc. Zizek goes some of the way towards developing a theology that wouldn’t be subject to these criticisms by staunchly treating Jesus as a man and by arguing that Christianity is premised on the impotence of God the father. I suspect that this understanding of Christianity where Christianity becomes a materialism and God is understood as impotent wouldn’t be endorsed by many Christians but would in fact be a heresy. I cannot, however, say this with certainty.

Adam might respond by pointing out that Lacan also says God(s) is the real. Yes he does, but the “also” is important here. On the one hand, Lacan formulates claims in a variety of ways throughout the seminar, so we can’t reduce his claims to just one. On the other hand, this statement entails that God(s) are the impossible or the constitutive deadlock and antagonism that inhabits the heart of any symbolic system. The point is that we place the Gods in the place of these antagonisms as a way of covering them over or hiding them, thereby giving the symbolic some minimal consistency. This aphorism thus returns us to the symbolic function of the God-fetish.

In his forward to Anti-Oedipus, Foucault points out that fighting fascism does not simply consist in fighting fascist social organizations, but rather it above all consists in fighting the fascism within: Our own fascist desires. In this vein, I’ve begun to notice that I think all of you are lunatics. That’s right, I think you’re all absolutely crazy, off the wall, and completely nuts. I’m not proud of this, and it certainly doesn’t make me a very good Lacanian. After all, as Lacan says at the end of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, the desire of the analyst is not a pure desire, but is rather a desire for absolute difference. The thought that makes me shudder, the thought that makes my stomach burn with acid, is the thought that I don’t desire difference.

Of course I can say abstractly that I desire difference, that I aim for difference, that I would like to promote difference. But the simple fact that I, for the most part, encounter each and every person that I talk to as being mad reveals, I think, the truth. I confuse the symptoms of others– or better yet, the sinthomes of others, their unique way of getting jouissance –with insanity. I am confusing difference with madness. What I am interpreting as madness– in my bones, in my gut, in the fibers of my being –is in fact difference. And, of course, if I think all of you are mad in your desires, your fixations, your obsessions, your persistant fears, themes, and anxieties, then this must mean that I believe myself to be sane. That’s right, I must believe myself to be normal and healthy. Yet in reflecting on my day to day life, with the way I obsess, the things that I fixate on, the dark fantasies that sometimes inhabit me, the way I don’t allow myself to sleep or enjoy, the varied forms of abuse I heap on my body, and so on, I can hardly say that I am a model of health. No, I don’t have a particularly nice sinthome. I don’t suppose that this is a sinthome that many would want or care to exchange with me. Of course, as Lacan says in Seminar 23: The Sinthome, we are only ever interested in our own symptoms… Which is another way of saying that we never hear the symptoms of others. The symptoms of others are always filtered through our own symptoms.

Perhaps this is “progress”. Perhaps the fact that it is dawning on me that what I so often consider a bit of madness in other persons is really difference or an encounter with otherness qua otherness, is in a way, a traversing of the fantasy, such that I’m recognizing that the frame through which I view the world is just that: a frame. Yet no matter how ashamed I am to admit it as it thoroughly undermines any “theory cred” I might posses (which is scant, to be sure), I wonder if I will ever be able to desire difference. It is one thing to recognize that what one takes as madness is an alternative organization of jouissance. It is quite another thing to find the other’s jouissance tolerable or desirable.

I notice just now, as I write the preceding sentence, that I have not capitalized “other”. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, of course, the typographical convention between “Other” and “other”, makes a vast difference, as “Other” refers to, among other things, the abyss of others or the inscrutability of their desire. The neurotic attempts to convert the desire of the Other into the demand of the Other so as to escape an anxiety producing encounter with the enigma of the Other’s desire. By contrast, “other” refers to the semblable in the imaginary, the logic of identity, or what I take as being the same as myself. The other is my sense that others are like me or the same as me. This failure to capitalize thus marks the work of repression in these ruminations, as it marks a disavowal of the Otherness of the other or the recoil I experience when confronted with the Other’s sinthome. Is it truly possible, I wonder, to ever desire the difference of the Other, or is this simply impressive sounding talk? Perhaps there are others that truly desire Otherness and I’m simply a fascist pig. Lacan liked to poke fun at philosophy, calling it a paranoid discourse striving to establish a regime of the same and identical: The hegemony of the imaginary, striving for the whole, completeness, and an eradication of difference. Perhaps my sickness has been produced by philosophy, or perhaps my sickness, my inability to desire difference, is what has drawn me to philosophy. I would like to stop thinking everyone is insane. Or perhaps it’s just my singular misfortune to attract the company of people who really are lunatics!

On a few occasions now, Anthony Paul Smith has poked fun at my celebration of the Enlightenment. For instance, in response to one of my posts today he writes,

Never have you whined about how “Christo-fascism” (and I can take that about as seriously as I take Islamo-fascism) is destroying your hope for a society perfectly ordered along purely rational lines, just like Iceland.

I take it that in this remark he is disparaging my occasional defense of rationalists and my assertion that Deleuze can be thought as a sort of hyper-rationalist. I think he comes by his misunderstandings in an honest way. Or, at least, I hope he does.

In friendship and gratitude for his patience in continuing to engage with me in dialogue which I do often find productive, I thus try to clarify my positions. In his preface to Difference and Repetition, Deleuze writes,

…we can now raise the question of the utilization of the history of philosophy. It seems to us that the history of philosophy should play a role roughly analogous to that of collage in painting. The history of philosophy is the reproduction of philosophy itself. In the history of philosophy, a commentary should act as a veritable double and bear the maximal modification appropriate to a double. (One imagines a philosophically bearded Hegel, a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, in the same way as a moustached Mona Lisa.) It should be possible to recount a real book of past philosophy as if it were an imaginary and feigned book. Borges, we know, excelled in recounting imaginary books. But he goes further when he considers a real book, such as Don Quixote, as though it were an imaginary book, itself reproduced by an imaginary author, Pierre Menard, who in turn he considers to be real. In this case, the most exact, the most strict repetition has as its correlate the maximum of difference (‘The text of Cervantes and that of Menard are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer…’). Commentaries in the history of philosophy should represent a kind of slow motion, a congelation or immobilisation of the text: not only of the text to which they relate, but also of the text in which they are inserted– so much so that they have a double existence and a corresponding ideal: the pure repetition of the former text and the present text in one another. (xxi-xxii)

Deleuze gives us little indication as to just why one would engage in this practice of reading and writing. Perhaps this is to maintain maximal openness, to avoid artificially limiting the reasons that one might engage in history. But perhaps the most interesting line in this passage comes at the end, when Deleuze alludes to the text in which these texts are inserted. This could be taken literally to refer to the commentary itself and the way the commentary comes to double the text it comments upon. But it also could be taken more broadly to refer to the field of discourses, of texts, we live in in the present as our ecospace. What does Rousseau, for instance, become when plugged into our time and space, our discourses?

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It seems lately that I’ve mostly been preserving things, finding scraps of paper here in there, rather than engaging in the synthetic activity of thought. I’m feeling as if my thoughts emerge only to trail off in a series of ellipses. I suppose I’ll go with that and see where it leads. In a beautiful passage from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume writes,

If it happen, from a defect of the organ, that a man is not susceptible of any species of sensation, we always find that he is as little susceptible of the correspondent ideas. A blind man can form no notion of colours; a deaf man of sounds. Restore either of them that sense in which he is deficient; by opening this new inlet for his sensations, you also open an inlet for the ideas; and he finds no difficulty in conceiving these objects. The case is the same, if the object, proper for exciting any sensation, has never been applied to the organ. A Laplander has no notion of the relish of wine. And though there are few or no instances of a like deficiency in the mind, where a person has never felt or is wholly incapable of a sentiment or passion that belongs to his species; yet we find the same observation to take place in a less degree. A man of mild manners can form no idea of inveterate revenge or cruelty; nor can a selfish heart easily conceive the heights of friendship and generosity. It is readily allowed, that other beings may possess many senses of which we can have no conception; because the ideas of them have never been introduced to us in the only manner by which an idea can have access to the mind, to wit, by the actual feeling and sensation.

This passage occurs early in the text when Hume is defending the thesis that all thoughts or ideas originate with impressions. What I find so fascinating about this passage is not so much Hume’s observations about those who suffer from a defect of one of their sense organs, but rather the astute observation about “a man of mild manners” and one who has a “selfish heart”.

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Now that I’ve been banned by the 1.3 billion citizens of China, I’ve finally come to realize that I have a problem and am in need of treatment. After all, when you manage to upset an entire country it is necessay to take a step back, reflect on your life and actions, and take a careful look at yourself in the mirror. Are there things, perhaps, that I do to provoke such rejections and responses. As I look at my life, I notice that there’s something of a pattern here. For instance, over the last couple of days I’ve been engaged in a discussion with Foucault is Dead over Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism. At a certain point, FiD simply terminated the discussion no longer wishing to talk to me about these issues. Perhaps I could dismiss this as a minor blip on the radar, but unfortunately something similar had happened yesterday with Anthony Paul Smith in another discussion about Deleuze.

Indeed, now that I think about it, I’m coming to see that just about anyone I interact with intimately in discussion has had to endure my periodic blow ups or tantrums when I get frustrated and don’t think dialogue is going my way. This too is how things went down with China. This is a serious problem that effects my personal relationships and the future of my career, so I think I need to do something about it. Hopefully just admitting I have a problem– Thank you China! –is a step in the right direction. Yet I’m now worried, as my years in analysis haven’t seemed to touch this symptom. Indeed, I wasn’t even aware of this symptom until the China affair. Consequently, I wonder if blog readers might have recommendations. Are there medications for this sort of thing? What about electro-shock therapy or a minor lobotomy? Is there some sort of 12 Step Program that I can attend? Is there some kind of program I can enter similar to that depicted in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange? Can anyone attest to the quality of new age therapies involving Shamens and acupuncture? I see that there’s a sea otter named The Big Calabaza that is offering free online cognitive therapy, but I’m really not sure how cognitive therapy with a sea otter would work or whether it’s effective.

I know that the best help comes from those who help themselves, but I really don’t think I can do this alone.

As the agony of waiting continues, I continue rereading Anti-Oedipus. This waiting really is hell. Fortunately I’m caught up with grading at the moment. At any rate, I came across these passages today in Anti-Oedipus. At some point I think I’ll have to write a book on the relationship between Deleuze and Guattari and Lacan. Given my background, I think that I’m in perhaps a unique position to do this. In chapter 2, “Psychoanalysis and Familialism: The Holy Family”, Deleuze and Guattari write:

For us, however, the problem is one of knowing if, indeed, that is where the difference enters in [the difference between the symbolic and the imaginary]. Wouldn’t the real difference be between Oedipus, structural as well as imaginary, and something else that all the Oedipuses crush and repress: desiring-production– the machines of desire that no longer allow themselves to be reduced to the structure any more than to persons, and that constitute the Real in itself, beyond or beneath the Symbolic as well as the Imaginary? We in no way claim to be taking up an endeavor such as Malinowski’s, showing that the figures vary according to the social form under consideration. We even believe what we are told when Oedipus is presented as a kind of invariant. But the question is altogether different: is there an equivalence between the productions of the unconscious and this invariant– between the desiring-machines and the Oedipal structure? (AO, 52-53)

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I haven’t had much time to write lately as I’m inundated with grading and a host of other things. Basically I’ve been a nervous wreck waiting to find out about the job. I know, I know, it’s only been a week… After all, I just returned from Ohio on Friday 16th and the last candidate was interviewed on Monday the 19th, but nonetheless… The fun part of these things is that all my obsessional symptoms begin to come to the fore. In his case study on the Rat Man and elsewhere, Freud underlined the strong relationship between superstitious or magical thought and obsessional neurosis. For instance, the Rat Man would worry that thinking certain thoughts would lead to the death of his father, despite the fact that his father was already dead! I won’t trouble you with the sorts of connections playing about in my mind. They aren’t pretty.

At any rate, some of you might recall that one of my first posts here was about the relationship between Lacanian psychoanalysis and Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis. Indeed, it was the thoughts behind this post that motivated me to start this blog, on a whim one night, in the first place. My friend Melanie had been gushing about the whole blog phenomenon– in particular she had been lurking about on I Cite and Infinite Thought –so lest I lose my “hip factor” I decided, with bottle of wine in hand, to poke about one night while I was on vacation (it must have been Spring Break). I had participated for years on academic discussion lists– indeed I am even the moderator of a few such lists –but had never ventured forth into the daunting land of theory blogs. Was I hip enough to be a blogger, I wondered? Did I have what it takes to rant endlessly and in a self-absorbed fashion about the minor drama that is my life? Could I write freely and of my own accord, without having the instigation of other list members annoying the hell out of me with their particular thoughts and thus prompting me to respond? At any rate, as I poked about in my semi-drunken stupor, I came across a blog devoted to Deleuze and Guattari, and was enraged by the sort of standard claims you come across in these venues about psychoanalysis (this wasn’t, of course, on I Cite or Infinite Thought). When I tried to post my rejoinder, pointing out how heavily Deleuze and Guattari draw on Lacan and how Anti-Oedipus tends to except Lacan from the sorts of criticisms they level against folk like Melanie Klein and Freud, the computer froze and I lost the comment.

In that moment Larval Subjects was born. Basically I said screw it, quickly set up a blog with blogger, wrote a post on the death of god and then another on Deleuze, Guattari, and Lacan. Having gotten it out of my system, I didn’t give the blog another thought, yet to my great surprise someone posted: Orla. “Whoa, perhaps people actually read these things!” A few days later I got the courage to post on Jodi Dean’s I Cite with a link to something I’d written. She frontpaged me and then a few other blogs followed in kind, and voila! So I kept writing. It would be no exaggeration to say that Jodi Dean and Sujet-barre made me in more ways than one when they front paged me. The traffic that ensued and the comments that arose encouraged me to continue writing and to explore my ideas in ways that I never had before, pushing me to develop my own thoughts rather than simply engaging in commentary. While my style is still very citational, I nonetheless continue to develop thoughts of some sort, for good or ill. My interactions here have motivated me to submit far more papers and have made me more confident in my professional interactions. Blogging has been, for me, a life changing event. Such is the power of networks. At any rate, my rage about an offhand comment from an enthusiast of Deleuze and Guattari was the result of years of frustration borne out of my own interactions with Deleuzians on various online discussion lists and at conferences. As Deleuze and Guattari point out,

Let us remember once again one of Marx’s caveats: we cannot tell from the mere taste of wheat who grew it; the product gives us no hint as to the system and the relations of production. The product appears to be all the more specific, incredibly specific and readily describable, the more closely the theoretician relates it to ideal forms of causation, comprehension, or expression, rather than to the real process of production on which it depends. (AO, 24)

Perhaps this is one of the quasi-transcendental sources of stupidity that I was lamenting in my recent post on learning: our tendency to think in terms of products and results, rather than processes of production. I always try to remind myself of this, that I do not know their field of individuation or from whence they have come, when I encounter someone who is responding to something in a particularly impassioned way, though I am seldom good at keeping this in mind. In a similar vein, if my irritation with the treatment of Lacan by American enthusiasts of Deleuze and Guattari is so impassioned, then this is due to years and years of hearing the same tired points trotted out again and again, when what is written there on the page in black and white says something completely different.

And, of course, there is my own sympathy towards psychoanalysis, having spent years in analysis myself, having struggled with Lacan’s own difficult and imposing theoretical edifice, and practicing as an analyst myself. Sometimes I cannot prevent myself from having dark and self-serving thoughts, smugly thinking of certain Deleuzians as academic dilettantes playing a game of letters, who have never sat before and been responsible to another genuinely suffering person and had to assume responsibility for the consequences of their own interventions. As Lacan remarks in his tenth seminar, L’angoisse, the analyst must learn, above all, how to use her own anxiety as a productive principle. And anxiety is certainly legion on the analyst’s end of things. It is my view that every thinker, every philosopher, should have a concrete practice so as to remind themselves of that little bit of the real, or so as to encounter a point of opacity and resistance within the otherwise “smooth” world of conceptual creation where we are all little gods. I know these are ugly thoughts and I try not to have them. Spinoza had his lenses to grind. Kant had his physics. Descartes had his mathematics. Leibniz all his inventions. And Lacan his patients. I do not like that I sometimes conceitedly think such things. Yet I get frustrated.
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In a seldom mentioned passage from his seventh seminar, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan remarks that,

We must see right away how crude it is to accept the idea that, in the ethical order itself, everything can be reduced to social constraint, as is so often the case in the theoretical writings of certain analysts– as if the fashion in which that constraint develops doesn’t in itself raise a question for people who live within the realms of our experience. In the name of what is social constraint exercised? Of a collective tendency? Why in all this time hasn’t such social constrained managed to focus on the most appropriate paths to the satisfaction of individuals’ desires? Do I need to say anymore to an audience of analysts to make clear the distance that exists between the organization of desires and the organization of needs? (225)

It is impossible to read this passage and not think of the first volume of Foucault’s History of Sexuality. That is, Lacan here alludes to a critique of the so-called repressive hypothesis on two axes: On the one hand, we have the question of what would ever lead the individual to tolerate such repression, constraint, or law in the first place. Certainly the individual would unilaterally rebuke such a repression in a mythological state of nature. What is it that leads the individual to tolerate, accept, and even will these repudiations of basic biological needs? On the other hand, we have the question of why the social order has not yet delivered satisfaction and what function this dissatisfaction might serve. This disconcerting experience of finding in Lacan what one takes to be a critique of psychoanalysis is common throughout the seminar. For instance, in Seminar 9, L’identification, we will find Lacan developing an elaborate account of the trace and writing. This is in 1961-62. Derrida’s magnificent Speech and Phenomena and Grammatology will be released in 1967.

Passages such as this underline just why there has been so much tension between Marxist orientations of thought and psychoanalysis. Indeed, it is in the context of a discussion of Marx that Lacan makes this remark. If this tension emerges, then this is because Lacan here suggests that there’s something constitutive at the heart of human experience that produces dissatisfaction. Where a vulgar reading of Marx sees our discontent as the result of alienated social relations, Lacan here sees something ineradicable at the heart of our experience.
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