I have been reading Sherry Turkle’s Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud’s French Revolution and it has come to my attention that this quote was not said during the “May days” but in their aftermath at the newly-founded Department of Psychoanalysis at the University of Paris at Vincennes. This program (and further, this branch of the university itself) was created as an experiment in education, and was held by many – including analysts who taught there and students who attended classes – to be a mere trap for Marxists and other radicals in order to keep them out of trouble by focusing their energies on other things. Turkle describes how this campus was vandalized and disrespected by its students to the extent that desks and chairs were maimed and twisted in such a way that they could be neither used nor removed, floors were used as ashtrays and graffiti covered its classroom’s walls.

This program was also the ground for a further melee around the fundamental contradictions of analysis – i.e. arguments that had developed in the Lacanian and psychoanalytic movement over the preceding decade or two around the relationship of theory to practice, as well as the question of self-authorization of analysts and their certification/organization by/in psychoanalytic institutes. That is, many students attending this program expected to become, or told themselves that they already were, practicing analysts although they were not receiving analysis as part of their academic program, nor were they told that such an end was in their future. It was these students and these expectations that were on display in Lacan’s seminar of 3 December, 1969 which prompted the above remark and the premature end of a planned 4-seminar series (174-188).

Turkle provides the ground to compare all this to Lacan’s position during the May events. In addition to stressing the strongly anti-authoritarian bend of Lacanian theory that made it so attractive to the radicals of ’68, she adds the following on Lacan’s support for the actions of May:

There is the Lacan who signed manifestos in support of the striking students in May 1968, and the Lacan who sided with jailed student leaders. There is the Lacan who warned the students not to be seduced by the government’s attempts to cool them out with the promises of dialogue and participation: “There is no such thing as dialogue, it is a swindle.” And of course, there is the story, so much a part of the folklore that it even made its way across the Atlantic to be reported in The New Yorker magazine, of Lacan putting student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the back of his own Jaguar and successfully smuggling him across the border into Germany (86).

Turkle is ambivalent on this point, however, using this list of examples as part of a myth that helped cover the gap between the relevance of the clinical for the political.

The idea that this comment was meant for the students of May ’68 in general has been perpetuated by the image that was chosen for the cover of the French publication of The Other Side of Psychoanalysis: Cohn-Bendit confronting a police officer (the first image that currently appears on the ‘next-meeting’ page). Looking at the inside cover of the English edition it becomes clear that the French edition wasn’t published until 1991. This is to say that it is unlikely that this image was chosen by Lacan. Given that this comment was made under very specific circumstances, the question becomes one of whether or not there is evidence to suggest that it was the opinion Lacan held of ’68 in general.


One of the central tenets of Wood’s book is that capitalism is different from feudalism is several respects – most importantly that under capitalism the market acts a compulsive force, while under feudalism it is and opportunity to be taken; that under feudalism property is “politically constituted” and surplus is extracted via extra-economic means (law, force custom), whereas under capitalism the property relations legitimized by the state constitute it such that the economy becomes its own means of surplus extraction. The consequences of this thesis are felt in regards to the state as well as ‘modernity’.

In the case of the former, one must first take into account the contradictions that are part and parcel of capitalism. Wood mentions at least two: first, proletarianization created a market of people that needed to buy the basic means of survival (where the would previously have made these necessities themselves), but were too poor to pay much for these necessities. Capitalists then had to produce their commodities in large numbers to make these goods cheap enough for these people to afford (i.e. rely on economies of scale). This created the need to increase labour productivity. Based on this Wood concludes that “This was, in other words, the first economic system in history in which the limitations of the market impelled instead of inhibiting the forces of production” (140). Or as Marx describes the significance of capital’s internal contradictions in the 3rd volume of Capital, “the limit of capital is capital itself.” This logic is proven to be that of the other contradiction Wood presents.

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I just read the Apollon paper that I suggested for our next meeting.

One of the things that I found interesting in the case history he describes is that a major turning point in the analysis included the analysand taking control of their therapy, becoming more involved in making change happen. This in part took the form of gaining ‘knowledge’ about the deadlocks of their ‘enjoyment’ (i.e. “jouissance“). For me this resonates with Hegel’s comments on the relation of the rational to feeling in the preface to The Philosophy of Right: one should not make assertions based solely on one’s feelings as if they had some special purchase on truth. Hegel holds that it possible, however, for feelings to become rational. Zizek makes a comment about the ‘moral development’ of feelings that I think illustrates this logic: the instantaneous feelings of revolt and rage that come to many of us when hearing of rape are not ‘natural’ but a modern development that need be defended. The resonance that I see here is the dialectical reversal of feeling and rational knowledge: they are not opposed, but one half of the dialectic dominates in the final ‘sublated’ relationship: rational conclusions should not be made from feelings, but feelings can be made rational. The resonance becomes clearer when considering Lacan’s assertion in Seminar XX (On Feminine Sexuality) that knowledge, too, is a form of jouissance. At the end of analysis, then, it is not that enjoyment goes away, but that it takes on a new form – one that is separated from the big Other.

Another point of interest in this paper is that Apollon seems to acknowledge the historical specificity of femininity: “This fact of the father, the phallic fact par excellence, is to a certain extent a problem for us in North America, as a required passage for feminine jouissance” (134). He acknowledges that certain things are particular to North America, but doesn’t do much to explain what these are. The problem is that it is unclear to what extent this is a problem. Is it a problem that need be changed, or merely one that need be taken into account? Further still, does this mean that the analysand need be made to fit this model just because it is in North America that we find ourselves? Apparently it does, as suggested in final words of the paper. Here Apollon rails against ‘conformist’ ego psychology, but ends on a telling note:

In time, after the subject’s encounters with whatever is the anguishing knot of the real in the unconscious, the desire to be cured yields to the ethical requirement of a truth that is incommensurable with the knowledge of science or psychology.The false need of belonging within which the stakes of ego identifications justify themselves, disappears with the return and recognition of a desire bearing its own markers with no other regard for the demands of the Other than the symbolic limits of social or citizen coexistence (140).

Opposed to the sense of belonging (i.e. conformity) that Apollon sees ego-psychology aiming for, he suggests that the end of analysis produces a liberal subject (or at least Apollon makes it sound like it does), which is of course the dominant political framework of North America. Which is to say that the ends of analysis are political and in no way neutral, which will of course have effects on how the analyst directs the analysis and the self-direction of the analysand.

It also, of course, opens up the possibility of alternatives. Where the end of analysis is ‘knowledge’ and the death of the big Other, this need not simply imply Liberalism. It could well include political outcomes that include these two elements but go further than the liberal subject.

Reference: Willy Apollon. (2002) “From Symptom to Fantasy” in After Lacan: Clinical Practice and the Subject of the Unconscious by Apollon, Bergeron and Cantin. Hughs and Malone, eds. New York: State University of New York Press



Psychoanalysis and wealth

August 23, 2009

Psychoanalysis and wealth

Psychoanalysis and wealth

Lacan; Zizek; Links

July 24, 2009

2 Seminars…

Zizek in the NYTimes on Religion and the law:

THE Western liberal media had a laugh in August when China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs announced Order No. 5, a law covering “the management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism.” This “important move to institutionalize management on reincarnation” basically prohibits Buddhist monks from returning from the dead without government permission: no one outside China can influence the reincarnation process; only monasteries in China can apply for permission.

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God the Postulate

March 13, 2009

Okay, so I looked at the paper that I wrote for Vernon the other day and can now report back on the 2 forms of freedom that Kant talks about. The first is negative freedom. This freedom is attached to the letter-writing example, i.e. even if you do write a letter to condemn someone to save your own life, you very well could not right that letter. That is, you could go against your natural inclination to save your skin and refuse to right the letter. This is freedom from the noumenal as the realm of causality. The second, positive,freedom is the positing of a universal maxim – i.e. the ability to come up with a moral law that (attempts to) conform to the categorical imperative. Positively defined freedom is the ability of any rational will “to determine their causality by the representation of rules” and to act upon them (CoPrR, 29).

So, as SB was saying, this second freedom is probably linked to the supposed freedom of one who has acted. I.e. at some point there must have been a ‘primal choice’ made which can be read into your present actions.

Another thing I found that I had forgotten about is that Kant talks about Freedom as an historical development, and he starts with the Greeks – more specifically, the stoics. Kant argues that the stoics were able to conceive of freedom, but they did so without being able to include happiness (read: pleasure). So, the stoics had to be free but not happy, and held themselves to be divinities beyond contentment. It’s Kant’s contention that the question of pleasure is only able to come into contact with the question of freedom with the advent of Christianity – i.e. the ability to posit a noumenal cause for the world in place of us (i.e. God) as well as an infinite soul and heaven. The Lacanian overtones here are clear: God, the soul and heaven are postulates (and not fundamental concepts) that support the will to be ethical (i.e. the freedom of positing a universal moral law) and enable us to both be ethical and have pleasure (read: enjoyment).

Here’s the summary I wrote in my paper:

There is in the end one categorical imperative and three postulates: immortality, freedom and God. The postulate of freedom is the necessary supposition of independence from the sensible world (negative freedom) as well as the capacity to determine the will through the moral law (positive freedom) (Kant, 110). The will and the moral law consequently imply each other. The postulates of God and the immortal soul are also necessary: Kant defines a postulate as “attached inseparably to an a priori unconditionally valid practical law“, and so those of God and the immortal soul cannot be left aside (Kant, 102).

I wish I could remember Hegel’s critique of this, but instead I’ll say this: It seems to me that the end of analysis would look like a dialectical return to the stoics – i.e. we don’t need a God/Other; the divine is returned to the human (Christ); we are then free to ‘not enjoy’…

Reading for next week…

February 15, 2009

Seeing as we’re reading the sections that actually deal with Antigone next week, I think it would be in order to actually read the play as well.

To put a little twist in it, however, I suggest that we read Brecht’s version of it, as well as his “Mother Courage and her Children” – the lead character of which he characterizes as “definitely not an Antigone”. However, from a “Lacanian” standpoint we might be able to argue that she is in a formal sense like Antigone, perhaps in the same way that Badiou characterizes some events as ‘simularcra’ …

Any Takers? The plays aren’t that long. Brecht’s Antigone is only about 60 pages of dialogue, and we could limit our reading of Ethics to the section entitled “The essence of Tragedy” (pages 243-287).

And it might help further open up the question of the relevance of the social to the ethical…


Time for a PANEL!

December 9, 2008

Call for Abstracts
Reason and Desire:
Second Annual Philosophy Graduate Student Conference.
University of Guelph

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Graeme Nicholson, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
Conference Date: March 27th and 28th, 2009
The University of Guelph Philosophy Graduate Student Association invites submissions from graduate students from any discipline to explore the concepts of reason and desire. We welcome all submissions that take up these concepts either individually or in relation to each other.

Reason and desire have had a permanent yet variable relationship throughout the history of Western Philosophy. Whether in the work of Plato, Medieval philosophy, Hegel or contemporary Continental and Analytic philosophy, reason and desire have not only fuelled the theoretical content of philosophy, but also the practice of philosophy. The conference will be structured so as to cultivate the space for a working discussion, where we can think through and critique the concepts reason and desire. Given the interdisciplinary climate of the modern university, theoretical exchange between the disciplines can open up new areas of fruitful discussion, pushing us to the threshold of our understanding and enabling us to return to the fundamental questions that concern us.

By embracing the challenge of exploring the complex relationship between reason and desire, it is our intent to provide a space for working through the central aims of philosophy, and the practice of philosophy itself.

Abstracts (600 words) will be accepted until January 23rd, 2009. Abstracts must be submitted electronically in blind-review format to: pgsaconf@uoguelph.ca. For more information please visit our website at: http://www.uoguelph.ca/philosophy or contact us at pgsaconf@uoguelph.ca.

Once an abstract is accepted we will request a final paper that must be suitable for a 20 minute presentation (approximately 2,500-3,000 words).

The Seminars of Jacques Lacan

September 19, 2008

Here’s a link to some summaries of Lacan’s Seminars, up to Seminar XVII:  L’Envers de la psychoanalyse (The Other Side of Psychoanalysis), from Lacan.com.