Unconscious


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joseph Kugelmass has written an interesting post (and here) criticizing N.Pepperell’s focus on self-reflexivity over at Rough Theory. I would like to offer a few remarks as to how I understand these issues, without, hopefully mutilating N.Pepperell’s own views too much (i.e., my views are creative appropriations and translations into my own theoretical universe). Hopefully I’ll be forgiven the lack of grace with which I develop these themes as I’m really falling over from exhaustion today.

Joseph writes:

The production of knowledge without any specific expectation of change also happens intersubjectively. N. Pepperell takes a strong stand against theories that emphasize intersubjectivity. In a comment to this post, she writes:

I am specifically critical of attempts to centre critical theory on analyses of intersubjectivity – and of the tendency to equate “the social” with “the intersubjective”. Realising that this won’t mean much at this point, my position would be that central dimensions of contemporary society – dimensions that are important for understanding shapes of consciousness, patterns of social reproduction, and potentials for transformations – simply won’t be captured adequately by the attempt to transcend the limitations of theories of the “subject” via theories of the intersubjective constitution of meaning.

If I had to venture a guess, I would guess that NP’s problem with theories of intersubjectivity, that they don’t provide a consistent methodological framework, and don’t take into account the phenomenology (and relevant ideological structures) of our encounters with objects. I can’t be sure because I don’t know exactly what she means by the “central dimensions of contemporary society.”

In the sciences, the scientific method is certainly intersubjective, but also consistent: it is an agreed-upon method for producing uniform and objective results. It is true that scientists do not always peer closely into the motivating forces behind the scientific method, and it is also true that psychological and historical analyses of the scientific method have not altered it. If a scientist were to write not only a description of her method, but also a full account of the historical, cultural, and personal factors condensed in an experiment, the analytic question would still not disappear. It would merely become different: “Why these details? Why this confession?” Anthropologists who live amongst their subjects, rather than surveilling or interviewing them, are not necessarily more knowledgeable anthropologists. They are simply creating a different, and possibly less hostile, “clearing” (Martin Heidegger’s term, from the Greek aletheia) in the name of knowledge.

I cannot speak for N.Pepperell, but if I had to hazard a guess as to what she’s getting at in her concerns about intersubjectivity, it is not their lack of objectivity (she’s worked diligently to critique the role such ahistorical notions play in a good deal of sociology and the social science), nor that these accounts fail to give us a consistent methodology, but rather I would say that talk of intersubjectivity is still talk of a subject to subject relation, and as such fails to get properly at the domain of the social embodied in social structures, forces, history, etc., which can’t properly be uncovered in the phenomenological experience of the subjects involved. It was a similar line of reasoning that led Lacan to systematically abjure any and all talk of “intersubjectivity” following Seminar V. In Seminar V and prior to this, Lacan had often used the term “intersubjectivity” to describe what he was up to with his graphs and so-on. Lacan very quickly found that his students took this to be referring to an ego-to-ego relation or a relation between dual subjects constituting meaning with one another (i.e., a primacy of phenomenological subjects of lived experience and their reciprocal impressions). As a result of this assimilation of intersubjectivity to a relation between two phenomenological subjects, the domain of the social or the symbolic and its autonomous functioning was effectively lost (something like Levi-Strauss’s autonomous functioning of structures). Thus, when Lacan writes the summary of Seminars 4 – 6 in the Ecrits article, “Subversion of the Subject”, all references to “intersubjectivity” disappear so as to emphasize that the Other is not another subject, but the functioning of the signifying chain according to its own immanent principles. This should have been clear already in Seminar V. As Lacan there says at one point, “the subject is cuckold by language”. This should be taken to mean that the subject is enmeshed in a logic of language that exceeds his phenomenological intentions, his direct social experience of other persons, and that functions as a determinant of his relation to self, world, and others. As Lacan will say in Seminar 20, “the universe is the flower of rhetoric”. Certainly this is not something one grasps or discerns in their phenomenological experience.

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Dr. X over at Dr. X’s Free Associations has an interesting post up on recent research into why people enjoy horror films despite the fact that they cause unpleasant affects.

Last week, Laura Freberg offered an interesting discussion of why some people like to watch horror movies. She cited the research done by Eduardo Andrade and Joel Cohen who ask “How can the hedonistic assumption (i.e., people’s willingness to pursue pleasure and avoid pain) be reconciled with people choosing to expose themselves to experiences known to elicit negative feelings?” Although the authors are not clinicians, their research is germane to appreciating that clinical framework management is required if the patient is to go forward with a thorough exploration of highly disturbing unconscious perceptions and meanings of his or her internal experience.

Andrade and Cohen argued that a growing body of evidence indicates that people can experience both positive and negative feelings simultaneously. To lay persons, this might seem like an assumption that should have never been in doubt, but many psychologists, biologists and economists have assumed that positive and negative feelings cannot coexist simultaneously. Moreover, it was long assumed by many that we always seek pleasurable experiences while avoiding painful ones.

To explain behaviors that appear to contradict the hedonistic hypothesis, its defenders often argued that when we accept painful experiences, we do so in a rational manner, deferring present reward for some greater future reward. For example, people might attend a horror movie because they so enjoy the relief subsequent to the fear. With a few exceptions outside of psychoanalysis, the idea that pain and pleasure, fear and exhilaration could simultaneously coexist as part of a more complex inner experience was not widely accepted by experts who assumed we operate as relatively rational hedonists.

In a series of studies involving viewers of horror movies, Andrade and Cohen found strong evidence that negative and positive feelings can be co-activated. They also note that some individuals are attracted to watching horror movies while others consistently avoid them. They argued that the latter group avoids horror movies because they are unable to co-activate positive and negative feelings within the context of viewing these movies.

This is a fascinating post and a topic dear to my own heart as I both enjoy horror films myself and often wonder about the role that monsters and horror play in the social space as cultural artifacts that potential speak to antagonisms haunting the social field. As Unemployed Negativity has recently so beautifully put it in a post on the sudden profusion of zombie films, “each period in history gets the monsters it deserves.” I’m heartened to see empirical research done on this topic. However, I wonder if the researchers aren’t unduly limiting the question by looking at feelings or affects alone. Those of us coming from clinical psychoanalytic background are intimately familiar with the phenomenon of nightmares that simultaneously punish a person for a particular desire while also allowing that person to gratify a particular desire. That is, the nightmare scenario can function as an alibi allowing the person to gratify a forbidden desire. By focusing on the affects that accompany watching a horror film– it’s “material cause” –it seems to me that we risk ignoring the signifying structure of horror films– it’s “formal cause” –and therefore risk missing all sorts of questions pertaining to the mixed variety of identifications at work in the film (the viewer can simultaneously identify with the villains and the protagonists) as well as the desires and antagonisms the film might be striving to navigate. As Lacan puts it in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, “…what the uconscious does is… show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real– a real that may well not be determined” (22). This is true of symptoms and the various other formations of the unconscious such as jokes, slips of the tongue, dreams, and bungled actions. In all cases these formations can be thought as the work of the symbolic striving to symbolize the real.

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A heated discussion has begun to emerge surrounding the validity of arguments from experience. The entire tussle began with an interesting post by K-Punk on the relationship between class-relations and intersubjective attitudes. In the course of this post, K-punk made reference to his own experience, which prompted Daniel from Antigram to present a critique of arguments from experience based on the Lacanian theory of fantasy. In my view, K-Punk was not basing his position on his own personal experience, but rather illustrating his point through a representative example. In many respects, K-Punk’s thesis reminds me of Bourdieu’s discussions of taste, where Badiou, in Distinction, shows how the milieu of individuation in which an agent emerges within a particular social field gives form to the affects and percepts that populate the agent. That is, it seemed to me that K-Punk was raising questions of individuation. Unless we are to treat affects as innate or as fictions, it is necessary to raise questions such as those of why one agent is filled with rage when seeing an American flag burn, another joy, and yet another indifference. If this point is conceded, if this variability is acknowledged, then there must be some process of individuation agents undergo that produces a system of affects, a system of how the world is affectively encountered, that gives form to ones affective space. It seems to me that this is what K-Punk was getting at, what he was trying to draw attention to. Is one’s affective and perceptual space simply a private affair, an individual and impersonal idiosyncracy, or does it point towards a more collective affectivity produced as a result of processes of morphogenesis, speaking to all sorts of things ranging from economic structures, to class relations, to gender relations, etc? A similar point could be made in relation to Lacan’s theory of affect as presented in Seminar 10: L’angoisse, where Lacan outlines the manner in which affect is structured around the signifier. Nonetheless, Antigram makes an interesting point in drawing attention to the way in which experience is imbricated in fantasy. In Seminar 6: Desire and Its Interpretation, Lacan argues that fantasy is the frame of reality. Reality, for Lacan, is not on the other side of fantasy, but rather the two form a mobius loop, such that fantasy provides the window through which reality is encountered. As Lacan will say in Television, “reality is the grimace of the real.” Fantasy is that which renders the real tolerable, allowing the subject to encounter it. It seems that Antigram treats the term “fantasy” in pejorative terms in a way that is foreign to the psychoanalytic clinic.

In response to Antigram’s analysis, both Jodi Dean and Shaviro jump in, the former surprisingly drawing attention to the way in which fantasy and arguments from experience has played a disturbing role in certain forms of identity politics (this is surprising given the predominence of arguments from experience on I Cite… Recall the discussions about pedestrian traffic in London), the latter offering a critique of Antigram’s position. Of particular importance is Shaviro’s reminder that for Lacan “there is no metalanguage”. This is one of the key features of the Lacanian understanding of transference as it operates in the clinic and is of central importance in differentiating the Lacanian clinic from other psychotherapeutic clinics. Apart from the impossibility of imagining any psychoanalytic clinic that doesn’t focus on the analysand’s experiences, one of the central features of the Lacanian clinic is that the analyst abdicates the position of master or the master’s discourse. To say there is no metalanguage is to say that the analyst too is caught up in the relations of transference, that he or she is not immune from the effects of the unconscious. I suspect that appropriations of psychoanalysis outside the clinic often function not as instances of the discourse of the analyst, but rather as discourses of the master, where the theorist deploying psychoanalytic discourse occupies a position of mastery with regard to the cultural artifacts they analyze and comment on. In this connection, Shaviro’s comments strike me as valuable. It does not seem to me that Shaviro is so much rejecting Antigram’s point as problematizing it. The point seems to be that while experience may indeed be perpetually bound up with fantasy, we are nonetheless unable to escape experience. Consequently, it cannot be a question of escaping or rejecting experience altogether– as Shaviro makes clear in relation to his comments about Althusser’s theses about the inescapability of ideology and the nature of science –but of encountering the problematic status of experience (in the Kantian sense of a regulative ideal or a problem that persists in its solution). To this Antigram responds in a rather heated manner.

In connection to Antigram’s response, I will only say that one of the crucial features of “taking responsibility for one’s subjective position” consists in the affirmation of one’s experience without searching for authorization from the big Other. An analysand who has traversed the fantasy is also an analysand that no longer looks to the Other– as embodied in the analyst but also in the social world as well –as a norm that would tell the analysand what he ought to be or whether or not he is living up to some set of standards. The post-analyzed subject no longer believes that there is a master that contains knowledge of “how to get ahead in the world”, “how to have a successful romantic or sexual life”, “how to make it in academia”, etc. This is because such an analysand has come to recognize that the Other does not exist, or that the Other itself is lacking, incomplete, riven by desire and does not itself know what it desires. It becomes clear that there is no one road to Rome, and that, in any event, perhaps Rome doesn’t even exist. This would include how that analysand understands the sense of their experiences, their meaning, their signification. More fundamental than the discovery of ones own status as a split subject, is the discovery of the Other as split, as not-existing. In this regard, an analysis does not so much divest an analysand of experience, so much as affirm the experience of that analysand. If the analyst respects and honors anything, it is the speech of the analysand for that speech is the site of truth. To be sure, the analyst is always listening for that “Other discourse” in the analysand’s speech– in slips of the tongue, double entendres, dreams, jokes, omissions, contradictions, etc –but the analyst certainly is not in the business of discounting the analysand’s experience or disregarding it. How could he? Not only would the analyst here set himself up as an authority, thereby inviting various conflictual relations, but he would also be adopting the position of the ego-therapist, presuming to be capable of arbitrating between truth and falsity.

Here it is important to recall that for Lacan, fantasy is not so much fantasy pertaining to the subject and the subject’s wants, as it is fantasy of what the Other desires, what the Other wants, with regard to the subject. In this connection, it could be said that the analysand’s entire life, prior to traversing the fantasy, has been structured as a lure for the Other, striving to satisfy or thwart what it believes the Other’s desire to be. The analysand has lived his entire life as the equivalent of fishing tackle, organizing his actions and desires as lures for the Other’s desire so that he might capture that desire. It is in this regard that the analysand is often led to betray his own desire, to renounce it, so as to be the object of the Other’s desire, thereby generating the symptom as the mute witness of that betrayed desire, as the trace that persists and continues to insist. This is precisely why traversing the fantasy can have an effect on the real of the symptom, as the symptom is always addressed to the Other as framed by the fantasy of the Other’s desire. Returning to K-Punk’s original post, it could be said that here traversing the fantasy would not so much entail the worker recognizing that his position is his own subjective responsibility (i.e., blaming the victim), so much as it would consist in the worker being able to posit himself as his own value, as his own condition, rather than measuring himself relative to those who enjoy a position of privilege. That is, it would be a surrender of differentially defined, oppositionally defined, identity. This, for instance, seems to be what Badiou is getting at with his subjects of a truth procedure. In a manner that sometimes echoes Nietzsche’s conception of master-morality, the subject of a truth procedure, as subtracted from the situation, no longer defines itself oppositionally in relation to a set of social and class identities, but is, rather, engaged in the project of producing its own values and truth.

UPDATE Infinite Thought weighs in on the discussion:

Anecdote and reflections upon one’s upbringing in the light of the revelation that not everybody had the same experience as me are frequently of great value: how else do we get to an understanding of class than by comparing the gap between how class is experienced (falsely or otherwise) and the economic and social structures that perpetuate this division? A Year Zero approach to class in which one should simultaneously possess a strict Marxist conception of class combined with an acceptance of responsibility for one’s own position as a subject seems unnecessarily punitive and not necessarily useful for attempting to change entrenched (but crucially not unshakeable) class divisions. (Incidentally, the odd ahistoricism of psychoanalytic categories frequently seems to me to be a major problem for any historical materialist analysis – as does the absence of any notion of a collective subject. But this is rather old-fashioned quibbling, perhaps.)

Why education, then? Education seems to me to be a good way of analysing some of the more concrete elements of class division, the way in which class perpetuates itself ideologically. Here we have a structure (schooling), legally imposed, which creates different kinds of social groups. It is neither based on academic capacity (although it sometimes claims to be via the entrance exam), nor equality at the level of the teaching, curriculum or opportunities provided. It is based on economic differentiation, and the perpetuation of that difference by any means necessary – convincing otherwise not-very-bright children that they are the best thing since primitive accumulation is one of the products that Private schools sell, along with a system of social networks, increased cultural expectation that you will go to university, etc.

Read the rest here. It would be interesting to do a similar analysis of how different tiered universities function in the United States at the level of the sort of subjectivities they produce and the networks of opportunity they engender. Once again, in all of these discussions, Bourdieu– specifically Homo Academicus seems especially relevant. As IT points out, education is one of the ways in which ideological class divisions reproduce themselves. To put it differently, education is one of the conditions for the reproduction of the conditions of production. As I reflect on this discussion, I find myself wondering whether the tools of psychoanalysis are particularly relevant.

UPDATE II Antigram elaborates more.

Let me make myself clear: The social problem of class cannot be understood so long remains understood as a relation between identities. Between the Emperor and a beggar, one cannot see society. Class is nothing to do with individuals; rather, it is a problem contained in the relations persisting between structural forces. The task of critique, the task of argument in general, is to demonstrate the workings of those forces by pulverizing the integral experiences they conjure into their constituent aspects and parts. Arguments from experience are bad and reactionary because argument as such is pitted against experience.

I have to confess that I’m nervous about these claims about structure. A good deal of what I’ve been thinking about lately is the ontological status of structure. What, exactly, is a structure? It is not that I’m here opposing Daniel and siding with the individual. Rather, what I’m wondering if structure is something other than its enactment in and through individuals. Class has a good deal to do with individuals insofar as these structures couldn’t exist without individuals to enact them. Clearly the intuition underlying claims about structure is well founded in that everything is not up to the sovereign individual as the individual finds herself enmeshed in a web that exceeds her control, understanding, and intentions. However, wouldn’t it be more productive to think the relationship between individuals and structure as a feedback relation where structure is perpetually being (re)produced through the activities of individuals and where individuals are being individuated through the effects of structure? When we side with structure or the individual, we end up in a relation that could be described in Hegelian terms as abstract insofar as it fails to think the interdependence of relations in a system. The thesis of interdependence– or, more properly, inter-determination –allows for a much more fluid and dynamic conception of social relations, that might also open other spaces of structure-transforming political engagements. It also loosens, a bit, the iron grip of structure, it’s tendency to be treated as eternal and solid, by opening the possibility of collective relations introducing new forms of structuration in much the same way that Deleuze and Guattari describe the aberrant connections produced through the orchid and the wasp. My worry is that a number of difficulties emerge if structure is reified and treated as something existing in its own right. Perhaps a part of the meaning behind the thesis “the Other does not exist” is the thesis that structure does not exist, i.e., structure would here be an effect of the subject’s belief in Zizek’s sense of the term. Not only does such a thesis open alternatives of engagement, but it also explains the possibility of structural shifts and changes in a way that reified conceptions of structure seem to render impossible. As an added aside… Damn it Daniel, you messed up the link to my blog! :-)

UPDATE III Dominic weighs in:

This leads me to think that some additional mechanism is involved, that the moment of collapse is – again, reaching for the sniper rifle – triggered, and is caused less by the failure by schools to instill the proper level of self-belief and more by their success – or that of society at large – in installing something else. Here I must confront Daniel’s skepticism concerning the social production of affect, which he seems to regard as spontaneously and indifferently woven by the subject of fantasy out of whatever experiential material happens to come to hand. In the first instance, I wonder how it is that corporations ever get to see a return on the millions of dollars they put into advertising if it is literally absurd to suggest that the affective lives of individuals can be prompted, moulded, manipulated and operationalised by outside forces. (Clearly there is something a bit rum about fantasizing that my emotional life is constantly being manipulated by evil corporations, but that is because in the fantasy I am aware of the manipulation but can do nothing about it).

Let us consider the nature of insult. I insult you; you take offense. If I have insulted you effectively, you will take offense in spite of your determination to rise above my petty jibes: the insult is effective to the extent that it causes its target to feel offended in spite of himself. Later you will curse yourself for responding so hastily and angrily to what were, after all, only words. You will, if you are exceptionally disciplined, own that your response was unworthy, that you should not have allowed yourself to become besides yourself with fury. I will then insult you again, making artful use of the humiliation I have already inflicted, and if my aim is true you will again fly into a rage. I enjoy a power over you that you do not wish to grant me, and would withhold from me if you could.

Read the rest here.

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!

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