A central aim of Bhaskar’s A Realist Theory of Science is to diagnose what he refers to as the “epistemic fallacy”. In a nutshell, the epistemic fallacy consists in the thesis, often implicit, that ontological questions can be reduced to epistemological questions. The idea here is that ontology can be entirely resolved or evaporated into an inquiry into our access to beings, such that there are no independent questions of ontology. As an example of such a maneuver, take Humean empiricism. As good Humean empiricists, we “bracket” all questions of the world independent of our mind and simply attend to our atomistic impressions (what we would today call “sensations”), and how the mind links or associates these punctiform impression in the course of its experience to generate lawlike statements about cause and effect relations.

Note the nature of Hume’s gesture: Here we restrict ourselves entirely to our atomistic sensations and what can be derived from our sensations. Questions about whether or not our sensations are produced by entities independent of our mind are entirely abandoned as “dogmatic” because we do not have access to the entities that might cause or produce these sensations, but only the sensations themselves. Consequently, the order of knowledge must be restricted to what is given in sensation. Hume’s epistemology is thus based on a thesis about immanence or immediacy. Insofar as our minds possess and immediate relation to our sensations, we are epistemically warranted in appealing to sensations as grounds for our claims to knowledge. We are not however, warranted in appealing to objects, powers, selves, or causes because we do not have sensations of these things. Consequently, all of these ontological claims must be reformulated in epistemological terms premised on our access to being. If we wish to talk of objects, then we must show how the mind “builds up” objects out of atomistic impressions and associations. If we wish to speak of powers, then we must show how the mind builds up powers out of atomistic impressions and associations. If we wish to speak of causality we must show how the mind builds up an idea of cause and effect relations through impressions and associations. If we wish to speak of selves and other minds we have to show how mind builds up our sense of self and other minds out of impressions and cause and effect associations.

At the level of the form of the argument, not the content, nearly every philosophical orientation since the 18th century has made the Humean move. While the content of these positions differ, the form of the argument remains roughly the same. That is, we perpetually see a strategy of attempting to dissolve ontological questions through epistemological questions. This move always proceeds in two steps: First, one aspect of our experience is claimed to be immanent or immediate. Second, the furniture of our ontology is then dissolved through an analysis of those entities with reference to this plane of immanence or immediacy. The immediate can be impressions as in the case of Hume, the transcendental structure of mind as in the case of Kant, the intentions of pure consciousness as in the case of Husserl, or language as in the case of late Wittgenstein or the thought of Derrida. Other examples could be evoked. In each case, the gesture consists in showing how the being of beings can be thoroughly accounted for in terms of our access through this immanence or immediacy. The point is that we no longer treat the entities in our ontology as existing independently of this field of immanence or immediacy, but now see them as products of these modes of access. Whether the world is really like this independent of our chosen regime of construction is a question that is abandoned as dogmatic.

read on!

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:


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:


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:


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.

Read on

Jodi Dean has a short post up on critics who interrogate how much Zizek writes:

This is an old topic, much trodden in these parts. But, I’m finally getting around to writing a review that was due 18 months ago (it has now become a review essay) and so I’m returning to old themes. Why, why, why do ‘critics’ attack Zizek for writing too much? An essay in one book I’m reviewing treats the amount of his writing as a symptom. What amount is symptomatic?

Even the title of this post is interesting, for it speaks to the difference between pleasure (which is homeostatic in nature) and jouissance, which always walks the line between pleasure and pain. In our discussions of style we’ve so far discussed the manner in which certain forms of style can produce attachments and identification, the institutional apparatus in academia and how style can function to reinforce certain class distributions, and a number of issues pertaining to the relationship between style and content. I wonder if Jodi doesn’t implicitly raise another issue here. What is interesting in these critiques of Zizek– regardless of what one thinks about Zizek theoretically or politically –is the way in which they seem to treat the symptom in perjorative terms. A symptom, these critiques imply, is something deviant, something that we’re supposed to escape, something we’re supposed to overcome. A symptom is conceived here, in short, as a sickness.

Nothing could be further from the Freudo-Lacanian position. Within the Freudian framework, a symptom is not a sickness, a cancerous tumor to be excised, but is rather a solution or a cure on the part of the subject. Lacan will go one step further and claim that there is no subject without a symptom. The aim of analysis is thus not to excise the symptom– which would lead to a collapse of the subject as the symptom is the subject’s ontological support in being –but to redirect this site of jouissance elsewhere so that the subject might find less painful forms of jouissance. For Lacan, then, the symptom is not something that disappears in analysis. The symptom, for Lacan, is thus the singularity of the subject.

Nonetheless, there is something to this critique of Zizek. Here I am not referring to it’s moralistic tone, but rather to the jouissance and relation to jouissance that underlies this response to Zizek. In Seminar 23, The Sinthome, Lacan, in his discussion of Joyce, states that we are never interested in another subject’s symptom. Indeed, when confronted with the symptom of another, there’s often a sense of horror. In part this has to do with neurotic structurations of desire (the tale would be very different for a perverse subject), which functions as a strategy for evading jouissance through maintaining desire (the hysteric subject striving to keep the desire of the Other unsatisfied so as to escape jouissance, the obsessional subject striving to negate all desire by satisfying every demand, thereby deflating or undermining all jouissance). Neurosis is a defense against jouissance. The neurotic lives in a terror of being the object of jouissance.

Does this not add another dimension to discussions of certain forms of style. Is not, in part, the visceral reaction to certain forms of style in figures like Hegel, Lacan, Levinas, late Heidegger, Deleuze, Derrida, etc., a horror at the jouissance of the writer, and a terror that one’s status as a subject will fade and disappear in this encounter with style? That is, these texts drip jouissance in the sense that they seem to enjoy the signifier themselves. In this way, desire seems to evaporate and there seems to be nothing save disappearance in this jouissance. This would account for the experience so many have that a game is being played with them by these authors. Of course, this would speak to the common fantasy of being a masochistic puppet of enjoyment in many neurotics. The question, of course, would not be one of condemning these styles, but one of how we might devise strategies to overcome these neurotic responses.


Periodically, or not so periodically, I go through a crisis, wondering what it is that I do and why it is that I do it. On the one hand, I perpetually feel as if my thought is haunted by chaos or an inability to think. Where to begin? What questions to ask? For what purpose or end? I feel as if my thought proceeds by sudden bursts of insights, perpetual new beginnings, but lacks in systematic elaboration, a guiding question, or even a sense of what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. I am able to try on philosophies in much the same way that one might try on different outfits. The equivalent would consist in dressing now like a chef, now like a doctor, now like a police officer, now like a judge, now like a hippie, now like a punk, where each of these garbs implies a particular code and grammar pertaining to a social identity. On this day I am a phenomenologist, the next a rationalist, the next an empiricist, the next a pragmatist, the next a semiotician, the next a Hegelian, etc. The only constant is an abiding love of Lucretius, Spinoza, Whitehead, and Deleuze, coupled with an abiding distrust of those philosophical approaches which make the subject, language, or various cultural formations the lens through which everything else is filtered.

On the other hand, I perpetually feel crushed by the impotence of philosophy. I confess that I should know better. I confess that I should know that reason and persuasion are impotent. Yet I can’t help but yearn for these things. I can’t help but entertain the dark Platonic desire that philosophy have the power to transform the world and society through the power of persuasion and discourse. I wonder why it is that discourse is so fraught, why it seems to be perpetually so hostile and contentious. I have answers or hypotheses to these questions. I think I know why based on what I understand about the human passions, desire as elaborated by psychoanalysis and Deleuze and Guattari, and ideology. Yet I can’t quite accept my own answers. I still yearn for it not to be this way. I think of the earnest and beautiful Spinoza, that prince of philosophers who only lived for forty five years yet still managed to say so much and with such elegance and brevity. I think about the Theologico-Politico Treatise and what he was trying to accomplish with that magnificent text. I marvel at how he managed to be so naive in his ambitions with that text despite his account of the human emotions in Book III of the Ethics.

Whether in heated philosophical discussions or political discussions, the same principles can be observed everywhere. In the Ethics, Spinoza writes, “Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being” (3p6). From this, it follows by implication that “The mind as far as it can, strives to imagine those things that increase or aid the body’s power of acting” (3p12). As a consequence, “When the mind imagines those things that diminish or restrain the body’s power of acting, it strives, as far as it can, to recollect things which exclude their existence” (3p13). Within these three propositions is really contained the entire comedy of “communicative reason” or its perpetual failure. Just as massive stellar objects bend and distort movement in their vicinity, intense love (Spinoza’s name for our attachment to those things we believe enhance our body’s power of acting) functions like a gravitational singularity that bends and twists thought with respect to everything in the vicinity of the beloved object. As Freud puts it, we overestimate the worth of the love object such that thought swerves in the vicinity of the beloved object, endeavoring to ignore or miss any negative features attached to that object. This would be the root principle of the criticism of those who support Obama, arguing that they are hypnotized or have fallen into a cult in their idealized love of him. Likewise, when confronted with one who does not share our love, thought endeavors to imagine those things that exclude the existence of the thing threatening the beloved object. “From the mere fact that we imagine a thing to have some likeness to an object which usually affects the mind with joy or sadness, we love it or hate it, even though that in which the thing is like the object is not the efficient cause of these affects” (3p16).

It would thus appear that thought is haunted by a two-fold unreason that perpetually undermines the possibility of dialogue from within. On the one hand, in its love it idealizes what it loves, seeking to exclude in thought those things that detract from the action enhancing qualities of the beloved object, such that it is unable to properly evaluate the beloved object. On the other hand, in its hate, thought is unable to attend to the claims of the hated, seeking instead to imagine what would exclude their existence. Often the situation is a bit like that depicted in The Sixth Sense. The boy can see the ghosts, but everyone else is blind to them. Likewise, in our love (and why would we pursue anything without loving it?) or in our hate, entire segments of the world become downright invisible, as if they don’t even exist, such that their effects is only discernible by the neutral observer, watching in perplexity at the odd behavior of those involved. One could write an entire theory of the various rhetorical techniques and informal fallacies, a physics of sorts, showing not how they are the products of the malicious and dishonest manipulator of language, but are rather effects, similar to gravitational effects on motion produced by mass, that arise from various distributions of love and hate in the Spinozist sense. It turns out that one cannot trust one’s own thought (as it is always love and hate that spur thought) nor the thought of the other, nor trust in the possibility of consensus, as thought is always plagued by its passionate (dis)attachments.

Yet if this is the case, if truth is an infinitely receding horizon by virtue of the swerves produced by the love and hate that haunt thought, what possibly can be the aim of philosophy? What is it that philosophy ought to do?

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”.

Read on

The brilliant Foucaultisdead and I have been having an interesting conversation surrounding asperger’s syndrom and my recent remarks on the symptom that reminded me of this piece I wrote a number of years ago surrounding concerns about how diagnosis functions in contemporary American clinical contexts. In response to his call take opportunities to make Lacanian psychoanalysis more available to the mainstream media and lay public, I wrote a rant worthy of my recent mood, that reminded me of this piece:

I tend to be a bit more pessimistic about what is easy from the standpoint of the mainstream media and lay people, as it seems to me that a good deal of the contemporary constellation in the United States where therapy is concerned is premised on the complete eradication of the subject from discourse. From the side of the various therapeutic orientations, not only do we have the vested economic interests of insurance companies that would like to see the minimization of lengthy costly treatment through medication and a set number of consultations (usually around twelve, sometimes more though at a frequency of every two weeks to every month), but also the rise of the predominance of the discourse of the university where every patient must be neatly subsumable in a diagnostic category in advance such that there are no surprises (hence the DSM-IV, which is largely for the benefit of insurance companies, not practitioners).

On the side of those seeking treatment, the growing collapse of various identities due to globalization in economics and media technologies and the continued crumbling of the big Other, has led to a corresponding increase in symptoms of hysteria such as anxiety disorders, as well as omnipresent depression (what’s being mourned here?). As a result, rather than a discovery of oneself as a subject as in analysis, therapy– which I always distinguish from analysis –has precipitated the search for a master capable of naming the subject, thereby guaranteeing a minimal ontological substantiality. The new names of the subject are strange indeed: Borderline, depressive, schizoid, dissociative, panic, etc. In being given these names– the name of the symptom here always comes from the guru therapist, and is not an act of self-naming with respect to the symptom as in the case of analysis… One wonders why the therapist feels compelled to diagnose at all –the patient assumes a minimal identity.

Or to put it a bit differently, one wonders why it isn’t more widely recognized and thought about that nomination or diagnosis is not simply descriptive of a pathology, but also is performatively formative of identity for the patient that then identifies with the nomination and takes it as a descriptor of his being. Addiction becomes all the more powerful in *nominating* myself as an addict, for instance; and, of course, we can recognize the performative and ritual aspects of this performativity in 12 Step programs where the first step is “admitting you have a problem”, i.e., agreeing to nominate yourself and bring a certain identity into being, thereby positing the Other or making it exist at one and the same time (it’s not a mistake that one of the steps consists in placing oneself in the hands of a higher power).

Although they have no idea what they are in their day to day interpersonal relations (how could they in a world where there are layoffs every couple of years, where family relations continously crumble, where relationships are virtual, and where ethnic and national identities progressively recede) their new name as “depressive”, “anxious”, “dissociative”, “borderline”, etc gives them an identity, a *knowledge* (in the imaginary), of who they are that then serves both as a self-reinforcing feedback loop (the patient must enact the identity and begins to read up on their “disorder” in the self-help section to play the role and disover who they are), and a new set of rights and protocols surrounding victimhood in their interpersonal relations. These are unheard of nominations that have come to replace the older and failing nominations like family names, national names (American, German, French, English, etc), and ethnic names (Jew, Catholic, and so on…), and therefore provide the new ideal ego (for the ego ideal of the therapist’s gaze) of a very peculiar sort.

All of this functions as a massive defense formation against the void and singularity of their unconscious and the way in which life in contemporary capital calls for us to give way on our desire. The focus on the subject has always been what has guaranteed psychoanalysis the status of a “ghetto science” and has always invited a sense of defensive horror. “What, no master to name me or university to categorize me? What, an auto-elective nomination? Gasp!” As Kurtz says at the end of Apocalypse Now, “The Horror! The Horror!”

Although I’m not entirely sure that my argument fully holds up in terms of more recent developments in my thinking about psychoanalysis, I think much of it remains solid. I believe this post also converges with some of N.Pepperell’s thoughts on self-reflexivity and critique. Hopefully others will find it of some interest. I’m really rather shocked that no one has written a Foucaultian style analysis of the history of the DSM-IV and how it’s used in Anglo-American clinical contexts. Without further ado:

Social Sciences and Apres Coup

There can be little doubt that the division between hard and soft sciences functions as an unbridgeable chasm defining the division between objectivity and subjectivity for conventional wisdom. The standard rap seems to be that hard sciences are able to present an impartial view of the phenomena they seek to describe, whereas soft sciences (the human sciences) are unable to objectively represent their phenomena due to the inherent complexity of what they seek to describe. In other words, the human science are thought to contain too many variables, to be too complex, to be properly described.

No doubt there is a measure of truth in this evaluation, but, as is so often the case with conventional wisdom, this point is true for the wrong reasons. The standard fantasy underlying the opposition between hard and soft sciences is the thesis that these sciences (psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, history, etc.) are themselves ultimately reducible to the principles of the hard sciences, but have not yet been reduced by virtue of our inability to pierce the complex set of variables involved in these phenomena. Thus we look to fields like neuroscience and the field of genetics as possibly offering us the bridge through which social phenomena will finally be reducible to physical phenomena.

The dream is that someday all psychic phenomena will be reducible to brain events and interpretable in terms of electro-chemical reactions. This has already had a tremendous impact on both psychological theory and practice, where mental disorders are regularly reduced to certain electro-chemical profiles in the brain and treated through various chemical cocktails. This approach is regularly supported through observations of the brains of people suffering from these disorders, coupled with studies of families in which these disorders appear.

Two points should be made at this juncture: First, patients suffering from disorders such as obsessional neurosis, psychosis, depression and whatever other illness we might like to cite will show certain electro-chemical profiles in their brain. The person influenced by psychoanalysis should not be ashamed of admitting this point. Though, as we shall see, it should be admitted with reservations. Second, it is likely that in many of these cases certain mental disorders will appear consistently in the families of those suffering from these disorders. Psychoanalysis should unabashedly admit both of these points.

However, as is so often the case, the problems with the physicalist approach to the study of human phenomena are to be found at the level of certain fundamental theoretical assumptions that are not philosophically or theoretically sound. In short, physicalist psychology and the therapeutic practice that accompanies it is based on a fundamental confusion surrounding the notion of causality and how it functions in the field of social phenomena.

Here– deviating a bit from Lacan’s analysis of causality as it functions in psychoanalysis (“Science and Truth”), though not disagreeing with him –we might say that physicalist psychology confuses what Aristotle called “material causality” with what he called “efficient causality”. For Aristotle, the material cause of something consists of the substance that thing is made of. Thus, for instance, the material cause of a statue might be the bronze of which it is fashioned. By contrast, the efficient cause of something is that by which the thing comes to be. In the case of the statue, the efficient cause would be the artist who fashioned the statue.

The problem with physicalist psychology is that it treats the material cause (the brain, genetics) as if it were the efficient cause of mental disorders and then proceeds to treat the material cause rather than the psychic structure itself. If this approach is mistaken, it is mistaken first because the simple presence of an electro-chemical profile in the brain is not enough to establish that the brain is the cause of the mental disorder. All we have established here is that all psychic phenomena require an inscription of some sort. This does not establish the origin of the inscription. Assuming that we adopt some sort of materialist ontology (in other words, that we reject any mind/body dualism), it should come as no surprise that any psychic phenomena will express itself as a trace in the brain. But this is not enough to establish that the brain is the cause of the mental disorder, only that the mental disorder is inscribed, as it were, in the brain.

The case is similar with respect to genetics. The fact that a certain mental disorder can be found to repeat in a family is not sufficient to establish that the disorder is genetically grounded or caused. The very mark of the social is to be located at the level of language or the transmission of “codes” that, like DNA, replicate themselves and proliferate through the field of those upon whom they supervene. In fact, such structures are a necessary condition for something being a family at all. As Lacan has shown us, these symbolic structures inform the nature of self-identity and interpersonal relationships in a way that cannot be underestimated, and thus can produce the repetition of disorders (in much the same way that a curse repeats throughout the family of Oedipus) through a family. This is true even in the case of adoptive children that display mental disorders found in their biological parents. The simple fact of being the adopted child, of being the child without a parent or the abandoned child, can produce far reaching effects in the psychic economy of the child. There is no reason to suppose that these mental disorders could just as easily be explained from a social or environmental perspective (a symbolic, rather than genetic perspective).

It seems to me that these variables tend to go unexplored in the field of US psychology. No doubt this is for the reasons that Derrida has cited regarding the nature of the signifier… Namely, that the very fact that in speech I hear myself speak tends to produce the illusion of a relation of immediacy between the act of speaking and hearing myself speak such that I overlook the constitutive role the signifier plays in structuring my thought and self-identity. I efface my alienation in the act of speaking, but in such a way as to further alienate myself.

The problem with contemporary psychology is that it is founded on what might be called the medical gaze. This has profound consequences for how therapy is actually practiced in the United States. The medical gaze is that gaze in which the doctor treats himself as being independent of the illness from which is patient suffers. Thus, for instance, when a doctor diagnoses his patient with cancer it is clear that the doctor cannot be thought of as a part of the patients cancer or that his diagnosis has any causal effect on the patient’s cancer.

The medical gaze is uncritically extended to the practice of therapy in the US as well. Thus, for instance, when the therapist (not the analyst) diagnoses someone with a particular mental disorder they do so on the assumption that they are not a part of the disorder and that their diagnosis has no effect on the disorder. In other words, the therapist thinks of him or herself as being independent of the person that they diagnose… As being numerically or ontologically unrelated to that person. This is equivalent to saying that the relation between the suffering patient and the therapist is conceptualized as an external relation such that the patient would be what they are regardless of whether or not she entered the therapist’s office.

The therapist/psychologist is thus the one who subtracts herself from the equation. In doing so she adopts an observational view of the patient, in which the patient is conceived as being something simply looked upon such that the looking does not effect that which is looked at. While I am certainly simplifying things here, there can be little doubt that there’s more than a little truth in this evaluation of how therapy is today organized. This is immediately evident the moment you walk into a therapists office and are given a five hundred question test to take in which your disorder is neatly categorized according to the prevailing wisdom of the then current university discourse.

Here, then, in this final point, we at last reach Lacan. For it is with respect to 1) the material causation of psychic phenomena, and 2) the belief that diagnosis has no effect on the person diagnosed, that we find the difference between psychoanalysis and psychology. As the sociological theorist Niklas Luhmann has pointed out, social systems differ from classical physical systems in that they 1) have the ability to represent themselves, and 2) the manner in which they represent themselves can have an effect on how the system itself is organized. Zizek makes a similar point in his amusing discussion of what he calls “the subject supposed to believe.” From the perspective of the functioning of social systems, what is at issue is not what I myself believe, but what I believe my neighbor believes. Thus, for instance, at the beginning of Bush’s term I, being a savvy, intelligent person, might very well believe that Bush’s rhetoric about the waning economy is really a lot of hot air, but I think that my friend Larry and a lot of his friends are complete morons who will take this rhetoric seriously (i.e., believe it) and start selling their stocks madly. For this reason, if I am prudent, I too will sell my stocks lest I become the victim of the ignorant belief of my fellows. Here the description of the system (Bush’s description of the economy) comes to have an effect on the economy even if I think descriptively that it is nonsense.

The therapist, as opposed to the analyst, is someone who believes that the normative and descriptive use of concepts can be clearly kept apart. In other words, they fail to take account of the self-referentiality of social systems or the manner in which descriptions of social systems are themselves causal variables of these systems. In their use of diagnostic categories drawn from the DSM-IV, the therapist believes that their act of naming or diagnosing their patient is a purely descriptive act, with no normative dimension (Here U.S. psychological practices scream for a Foucault-style genealogical analysis that examines the relations of power implicit in these categorizations. An academia myopically fixated on the continent as if it were the only place where history takes place, has not yet taken on such an important task… At least, not to my knowledge). Why else would the therapist reveal her diagnosis to the patient? The only rationale for revealing a diagnosis is the belief that the diagnosis is a purely descriptive affair that has no effect on the patient and how the patient comports herself.

Unfortunately, social and psychic systems, unlike physical systems such as those found in two billiard balls hitting one another, are such that it is impossible to clearly separate the normative and descriptive functioning of categories. The minute that a descriptive category is applied to a patient, it already begins to function as a normative category.

For instance, when a patient is diagnosed as suffering from borderline bi polar depressive disorder, that diagnosis comes to function as a norm for the patient in which all actions are evaluated. Suddenly the patient finds a way to comprehend and understand all their past actions, as well as a way of determining their future actions. For instance, we can imagine a patient that begins to let herself run loose a little bit more simply because she is a borderline bi polar manic depressed person.

Moreover, these diagnoses have great importance in interpersonal relations as well, given that they allow the patient to change their social status, getting benefits for their disorder and sympathy for their suffering. In other words, diagnosis proves to be a path to jouissance or enjoyment. For this reason, mental illness might today be one of the real forms of protest against the system of capital and the way in which it shackles us to interminable labor. Through mental illness we are able to recoup some of our stolen jouissance by forcing business and state to afford us special privileges. Could the person suffering from mental illness be one example of the modern proletariat or subject of revolution? How might the plethora of multiplying symptoms be transformed from mute inscriptions of alienation to revolutionary subjectivity? In other words, how might this proletariat be brought to consciousness about the true meaning of their symptom… Or how might they move from “enjoying their symptom” in an unconscious way, to becoming the agent of their symptom?

Regardless of whether or not this is the case, the category thus begins to function as an imperative of how I act and behave and thus effects the psychic system that it originally set out merely to describe. This is an example of the strange logic of apres coup or the manner in which the signifier functions in terms of “what it will have been”. The odd thing about social and psychic systems as opposed to physical systems is that they do not obey the ordinary temporal logic of cause and effect. In physical systems (at least those at the Newtonian scale) we are accustomed to the notion that the effect follows the cause. However, strangely, in social and psychic systems what is taking place in the present can have effects on what is taking place in the past such that the manner in which the past functions with respect to the present is itself transformed. This, for instance, is what occurs when we arrive at a new picture of what happened in the past such that we transform how we behave in the present. Reinterpretations of the colonization as they’ve functioned in the struggles of American-Indians here come to mind. On the one hand we have pre-critical theories of colonization in which matters were framed in terms of the famed meeting of the Pilgrims and the Indians, on the other we have the pictures of brutal colonialist exploitation that have served as a catalyst for rethinking the status of existing American Indians today. The signifier thus does not simply describe past events– it is not merely descriptive or referential –but has an entirely different temporal structure than the sort of structure we find in ordinary physical phenomena such that it can actually PRESCRIBE certain phenomena. It is precisely this dimension that is overlooked in the contemporary field of therapy, where words are thought to function in a way that is only referential, for the sake of communication. The simple act of naming something, already transforms the way in which that thing behaves.

Closely connected with this phenomenon of apres coup, is that of imaginary transference. The issue here would be that the patient already approaches the therapist as the one who has knowledge of their symptom and, who’s favor, they would like to win. In other words, they look at the therapist as a potential friend or figure of authority who’s favour could be beneficial and serve as a source of pleasure. A failure to take account of this intersubjective dimension of the relationship between patient and analyst leads to further complications with diagnosis in that we can imagine all sorts of scenarios in which the patient imagines themselves into the symptomology of the disorder as a way of filling what she believes the therapist desires her to be. A great deal more should be said on this. What is here important is that the therapist subtracts herself from the therapeutic setting at both her and her patients peril.

It is very simple to see what follows from ignorance to the interrelated phenomena of apres coup and transference in the therapeutic setting: A failure to be aware of how these things function and effect psychic and social systems cannot but lead to alienation. The first alienation would be at the level of the university discourse, in which the patient is alienated in an abstract system of significations (S2, the system of medical knowledge) that prevents him from discovering the concrete way in which his own psychic system is structured or even discovering that his symptoms are in fact meaningful (physicalist psychology is distinct from psychoanalysis is that it is based on the premise that symptoms do not mean or signify anything, but are just accidents of electro-chemical and genetic malfunctions). Second, it is alienation incarnate in that the relation between therapist and patient is asymmetrical in that the therapist is held to have knowledge of the patients symptom while the patient is ignorant. In short, it does not lead the patient (now analysand) to that point in which they discover that the only real authority or subject supposed to know is the unconscious itself. For this reason, the patient never reaches that moment of separating from the big Other or discovering that the big Other does not exist. Their very attempts to heal themselves, thus further lead to alienation such that their actions themselves come to reinforce the power of the very forces against which they were originally fighting. This is what Judith Butler, following Foucault, has referred to as the danger that arises should it be true that subjects are themselves produced by the juridical systems of power in which they seek representation. This suggests that the very attempt to seek representation produces further subordination to power and domination in that the categories of psychological knowledge are themselves discursive constructions that produce particular subjectivities. The value of psychoanalysis, in this context, is that the silence of the analyst with regard to diagnosis and the emphasis on the speech of the analyst allows the analysand to separate from the big Other (as represented by analyst) and discover those hollows or spaces where the Other lacks as those places where it, the analysand, might come to be. Analysis provides the possibility of a leap out of these infantalizing power relations.

It is for these reasons that psychology can be nothing but alienation incarnated. So long as these things are not taken into account, psychology cannot but maintain us in an infantile state in which autonomy and singularity are never reached. No wonder that the only solution currently offered to us is that found in chemical cocktails, in which one is prescribed the life of a waking dream, rather than knowledge of the real of their desire and the separation from the big Other that comes with it… No wonder the only thing offered to us is further alienation in the big Other or the set of diagnostic categories prescribed by the DSM-IV in which our sole consolation is that our psychic structure comes to be normalized by being medicalized and thereby socially acceptable. This is not nothing, but it also cannot compare to discovering the real of one’s desire.

Dr. X’s Free Associations has an interesting post about debates over the war in Iraq and the common experience of being unable to persuade war supporters that resonates nicely with some of the issues I raised in my poorly written post Grounds and Sophists.

Trying to explain the exasperating phenomenon of people who continue to disagree with him on Iraq, despite his eloquent arguments and unassailable mastery of objective facts, Shrinkwrapped writes:

‘Those of us who have not been infected with the thought disorder known as post-modernism and believe that there exists an actual reality that we can reasonably and objectively approach; if that is the case, what is it that prevents people from recognizing facts that are right in front of their eyes?’

It sounds to me like the erudite Shrinkwrapped experienced a little thought glitch during the writing of those sentences, but never mind that.

I’ve been thinking about writing about this issue for a while now, but my thoughts are still a bit scattered. Many of us have experienced this frustrating phenomenon since 2001. We have found ourselves embroiled in discussions where facts were on our side, yet strangely we have not been able to persuade the other person. I think Shrinkwrapped misidentifies the problem when he blames postmodernism, as I do not believe that my interlocutors are willfully refusing to recognize arguments.

Increasingly I’ve come to believe that what is at issue here is transference as described by Lacan. Lacan has an unusual concept of transference which he relates to the “subject supposed to know”. When the analysand enters analysis, he supposes that the analyst has a certain knowledge of his symptom and suffering, when in fact that analyst does not have this knowledge. This projection functions as a motor for analysis as the analysand interprets each pronouncement of the analyst as coming from a place of knowledge and therefore interprets what the analyst says producing knowledge for the analyst. That is, it’s the analysand doing most of the work. A standard, vulgar, and overly simplified Enlightenment conception of discourse begins from the premise that it’s the syntactical and semantical structure of an argument that counts in persuading another person. So long as the argument is logically valid (synatx) and so long as the propositions that compose the argument are true (semantics), the interlocutor will assent to the argument on the premise that the interlocutor is not insane or mentally deficient. What this leaves out is the rhetorical and dialogical dimension of discourse, wherein who speaks is also a crucial factor in determining whether the other person will listen.

I confess that I have an extremely difficult time listening to anything George Bush says at this point in time, and therefore find it difficult to attend to his arguments. There are books I’ve tried to read in the past that I’ve found myself unable to follow simply because they don’t come from the right theoretical orientation. Thus, for example, years ago when I was first extremely hip to Deleuze and Guattari, it was almost impossible for me to read Hegel’s Science of Logic, as I had already branded Hegel an enemy on the basis of what Deleuze had argued in Nietzsche and Philosophy and Difference and Repetition. I would read Hegel’s texts and my eyes would glaze over or I would be overly dismissive of his claims, not following the development of his thought on its own term. This culminated in me taking an incomplete in a graduate course I was taking on Hegel’s system that I was unable to finish for two years. It wasn’t that I was intellectually incapable of reading Hegel, but that my transference towards Deleuze and the negative transference it wrought with regard to Hegel made it impossible for me to “hear” his work. Similarly, I suspect that part of the recent blog war with Anthony Paul Smith and Adam Kotsko had to do with these sorts of transferential issues. On the basis of offhand remarks I’d made in the past, Kotsko and Smith had branded me as a “knee-jerk secularist” and “doctrinaire atheist”, and perhaps I had similar prejudices towards them. Anthony Paul Smith, for instance, subsequently mentioned that his initial comments had been intended in a lighthearted way that presumed more friendliness between us than was there. Something other was intervening in our dialogue and preventing us from talking… Something that wasn’t strictly in the propositions making up the dialogue themselves.

What we thus get are universes of reference that are a function of our identification. Because I suppose that Lacan has a certain knowledge I come to dwell in a particular universe of reference populated by entities such as objet a, transference, the symptom, the sinthome, the Other, the unconscious structured as a language, etc. When I speak of psychic phenomena, I am speaking of something different than say my neuropsychological colleague. Indeed, I do not take psychoanalysis to be a psychology or neurology at all, as I begin from the stance that the subject is constituted in the field of the Other or that subjectivity is intersubjectivity and cannot be thought independent of the Other. Part of understanding a universe of reference will thus involve taking into account the field of identifications structuring a person’s subjectivity. The Iraq war supporter has different identifications than myself and thus relates to “actual reality” in a different way as he will only listen to certain people as authorities. Given the globalization of our culture, it is not surprising that identification would increasingly come to play such a key role in structuring our relation to the world as we must now all deal with absence, with what we cannot directly verify, as a part of our day to day life due to the omnipresence of media communications. Given that we all recognize that any media image or story is “framed” by the person writing and filming and that we cannot directly verify these things for ourselves we must have recourse to different standards of truth and these standards become the credibility of the speaker. This, I believe, is what Deleuze had in mind with his discussions of the role the “structure-Other” plays in grounding recognition and representation in Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense (reference could also be made to Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations and the role the Other plays in developing dimension and permanence for the cogito). I am not at all suggesting that this is a happy state of affairs or that the idea of multiple universes of reference is a marvellous thing, only that this seems to characterize our current “metaphysical” situation where talk of reality is concerned.

What does this have to do with Iraq? I’ve increasingly come to notice that intercommunicative settings seem to be organized around this phenomenon of the “subject supposed to know”. It seems that today a person begins from the premise that there are some who speak from the standpoint of knowledge and others that do not. For instance, when I watch FOX news I do not attribute knowledge to the newscasters, and am therefore largely deaf to the claims and arguments they make even if they are true. I begin from the standpoint that they are trying to dupe me ideologically. It seems to me that this phenomenon is even more potent among many rightwing supporters of Bush and the war, such that they simply filter out any negative news or information about Iraq as a “liberal conspiracy”. As the opening paragraphs of Plato’s Republic indicate, you cannot persuade someone who refuses to listen. The issue here is not one of postmodernism, but rather one of who we trust as a credible speaker. The moment shrinkwrapped opens his/her mouth, shutters have already fallen over the ears of his/her interlocutor. As we know from our practices, it’s impossible to do work with patients that attribute us no credibility or authority. For instance, it’s always more difficult to work with patients that have been forced into analysis by family or courts. The question then is one of how to overcome this credibility gap or crisis of legitimacy.

In a way I think Shrinkwrapped is right when s/he evokes a postmodernization of discourse, but for the wrong reasons. Expressed as Shrinkwrapped has expressed it, the premise seems to be that those who disagree do so because they adopt postmodernism as a philosophical position. However, I think the issue goes far deeper than this– It is not that someone has deviously adopted a philosophical position of postmodernism wherein there is no ultimate reality, but rather that we are living in a postmodern situation. When I argue with my friend that is a staunch supporter of the war, we literally live in different realities or “universes of reference” by virtue of how our subjectivities are structured transferentially. For this reason, we are unable to use “actual reality” to decide the truth or falsity of contested propositions. Rather, our universes of reference (hence the plural) have become self-referential by virtue of what we recognize as a credible authority. As Hegel puts it,

We may also remark at this point that to go no further than mere grounds, especially in the domain of law and ethics, is the general standpoint and principle of the Sophists. When people speak of ‘sophistry’ they frequently understand by it just a mode of consideration which aims to distort what is correct and true, and quite generally to present things in a false light. But this tendency is not what is immediately involved in sophistry, the standpoint of which is primarily nothing but that of abstract argumentation. The Sophists came on the scene among the Greeks at a time when they were no longer satisfied with mere authority and tradition in the domain of religion and ethics. They felt the need at that time to become conscious of what was to be valid for them as a content mediated by thought. This demand was met by the Sophists because they taught people how to seek out the various points of view from which things can be considered; and these points of view are, in the virst instance, simply nothing but grounds. As we remarked earlier, however, since a ground does not yet have a content that is determined in and for itself, and grounds can be found for what is unethical and contrary to law no less than for what is ethical and lawful, the decision as to what grounds are to count as valid falls to the subject. The ground of the subject’s decision becomes a matter of his individual disposition and aims. (Geraets, Suchting, Harris, pgs. 188-191)

Grounds become matters of individual preferences and the savvy consumer shops around for those grounds that most suit his taste. I get my news from NPR and dismiss FOX, while you get your news from FOX and dismiss NPR. This is one of the meanings of Lacan’s aphorism that the big Other does not exist. What seems different today is that where before this truth was largely unconscious and repressed such that we at least pretended that there was a consistent and shared Other, today we seem conscious of this. I am not at all sure what is to be done. I hardly find it to be something that should be celebrated or that is a happy thesis.

There’s a nice article on transference and the recently published Seminar 16 over at the World Association of Psychoanalysis by the analyst Lieve Billiet that’s well worth the read. The final paragraphs on objet a, capitalism and shifts in the structure of subjectivity are brilliant.

In the Seminar XVI Lacan puts a step in the conceptualisation of the object, and thus in the approach of the libidinal dimension. In his course Illuminations profanes Jacques-Alain Miller elucidates Lacans step in Seminar XVI. The object appears no longer as the object taken from the body but as a logical function. That explains why Lacan speaks now about the other (with determined article – cfr. The title of the seminar). Considered as a part of the body (the breast, the faeces, the voice, the gaze), the object was multiple. Considered as a logical function, the object is one. It is the object conceptualised without reference to the phantasm, out of the realm of the phantasm. What does this mean? The phantasm is the way the subject makes the Other exist via the object. It installs via the object the semblant of a relation as a veil over the non existence of the sexual relation. So it questions jouissance, satisfaction, in relation to the Other. As the phantasm makes the Other exist, the phantasm is linked to the demand of love. In Seminar XVI the object is no longer conceptualised as the object, part of the body but as the object plus-de-jouir. This implies an approach of the question of jouissance beyond the relation to the Other, beyond the phantasm, beyond the question of love.

Enjoy! (and no, that’s not a command)