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.

Teaser – Strike as Symptom

November 19, 2009

Here’s a few of the opening paragraphs from the Gorgon that I’ve been creating about the strike at York (carefull, you may return to stone, Freud styles):

What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one. – Lacan

What if democracy, in the second sense (the regulated procedure of registering the “people’s voice”) is ultimately a defense against itself, against democracy in the sense of the violent intrusion of the egalitarian logic that disturbs the hierarchical functioning of the social system, an attempt to re-functionalize this excess, to make it part of the normal running of things? – Žižek

Mid-way through our recent struggles a member of 3903 sent an email across a departmental list-serve pleading people to come to their senses and bring the strike to an end, and in so doing admonished people for getting-off “on this labour action stuff.” There were people who called this statement belittling, while another asserted that it needed to be acknowledged that there were in fact people who “got off” on striking. Rather than so quickly dismiss the possibility that “getting off” on political action is productive it is worthwhile considering in what way, in the context of the recent strike, “enjoyment is a political factor.”

Recognizing enjoyment in its political dimensions is, of course, the basis of the work of Slavoj Žižek. Rather than seeing it as an impediment to effective politics, as an obstacle to making rational decisions, he attempts to understand it in both its productive and destructive capacities – capacities that are not as contradictory as they may seem.

For Žižek the ethics of the political culminate in “enjoying one’s symptom.” At one point he evokes an episode from Rysard Kapuściński’s The Shadow of the Sun as an example of this logic. Driving to Onitsha, Nigeria to visit its market, Kapuściński encounters a traffic jam that stays his progress. Stepping out of his car to follow the line of vehicles that waits ahead of him Kapuściński finds the source of the problem: a gaping hole has opened in the road. The only way to continue is to wait to have someone drag each vehicle down into, and then up out of, the muddy crater. Along with the hole, however, he finds a bustle of activity: newly painted hotel signs, vendors and people gathered to simply socialize. Žižek writes that “the hole had become an institution. …a ridiculous contingent and meaningless obstacle triggered a swarm of social activity; people started to enjoy their symptom” (Žižek, 2002, 254).

It’s not hard to see parallels in the recent strike: around the gap that separated us from the administration (and ourselves) arose a social and administrative institution: a new office with new “staff” (i.e. rank-and-file members); large plywood shacks constructed at each of the university’s seven entrances; food and coffee service; pick-up and tear down crews; frequent internal and external communications; radio-banter (who stole the cookies?); collections of media-vans at the main gate; the York is Us collective and the Unit 2 communications group; musicians, actors and a mime that traveled from line to line; the writing and performing of two short plays about the strike; frequent and well attended General Membership- and Steward’s Council-meetings; members of the community delivering doughnuts and stopping to talk (or, it must be admitted, threatening us with knifes, bottles and cars); and last but not least, the creation of new friendships and the continued presence, post-strike, of red felt-squares on the coats and bags of strikers that identify people as members of a political community. As for the hole itself, it should be noted that the York campus was largely empty – the strike was coupled with a lockout, where all classes were cancelled.



Spontaneous Philosophy?

November 10, 2009

I found this in the front window of a newspaper-dispenser on University Ave. I’ve stuck to its caps and formatting.


What is it?

The answer you get to that question depends on who you ask. If you ask a capitalist, you get one answer. If you ask a Communist dictator you get almost the opposite answer. So which on of them are you going to believe?

Capitalists and Communists also have something in common. Both will tell you that: your happiness depends on having material things. It is also undeniable that we can’t be happy as long as we don’t know where out next meal or rent is coming from. These facts can’t be denied, but they can be distorted. Linda McQuaig in her ALL YOU CAN EAT tells us that money alone is not all there is to it. She says on page 104 that this “supposedly reality based concept… turns out to be a distortion.” And this “distortion” is what Capitalism and Communism have in common. The capitalists claim that the ideal government is the one of the capitalists in which the decisions are made by the capitalists and, therefore, they are for people (who are capitalists). Karl Marx has used Hegelian dialectics to show that Communism is the best government possible. Ideally it is the government of the people in which the decisions are made by the people and, therefore, they are for the people. This is the why the former East Zone of Germany was called DDR (Deutshe Demokratishe Republik), the German Democratic Republic. The idea has sold very well but the reality was not what Marx had in mind. But, even then, a real democracy can’t be based on the assumption that the belief in materialism is the only valid one.

In Hegelian dialectics, the thesis is: Power to the capitalist, its antithesis is: Power to the people and their synthesis is: Power to materialism and greed. In both systems, unlimited access of the natural resources of our planet is central.

Linda McQuaig shows us, among other things, that: To go where the capitalists are leading us is heading for disaster. This is why establishing a government, by means of which we can save our planet, has become a matter of life and death. Millions are already dying, partly because of capitalist policies.

Linda McQuaig and Michael Moore, in his movie on CAPITALISM, are right on, in revealing what is wrong with out government(s). But which one do we need, and HOW can we establish it?

See PetersTao.blogspot.com file#4

The Master’s Knave: S2 for the good of S1

In 1972 Istvan Meszaros was contracted to take a post at York University as a professor in the Social and Political Thought programme (i.e. my program), but was denied entry and permanent residence to Canada on the basis that his presence was not in the public interest. He was branded a security risk. Though in the end he did successfully take up his position at York, he shortly thereafter left because the Canadian Government made it nigh impossible for the rest of his family to follow him.

Meszaros was a student of Georg Lukács. While Lukács was both a theoretician and a member of a communist government, Meszaros was only the former – he held a position at Sussex University and had a reputation as a respected Marxist scholar. I bring up Meszaros’ case to point to a contrast with the way Marxist thought is treated today: whereas in 1972 left-wing thought was dangerous enough to merit keeping prominent Marxist scholars out of the country, today the Canadian government funds Marxist scholars to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. This contrast demands an answer as to why.

Meszaros and Chavez

Meszaros and Chavez

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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

Somewhere Zizek quips that Hollywood has an element of the soft left in it. I think two recent examples are The International with Clive Owen and Peter Jackson’s latest offering District 9. Both suffer from liberal individualism. In The International this translates into fatalism and in District 9 this translates into an escape into the “big Other.” In the former, Clive Owen confronts a once-idealistic East-German Communist about his aiding and abetting a global bank that directly invests in war mongering. (Another weakness of the film is that in it capital’s evils are reduced to its military investments and actions, rather than seeing that the system itself is exploitation and destruction.) The communist momentarily revives his past idealism and tells Owen that he will help him bring down the bank, but that he (Owen) will have to step outside legal limits in order to make real change.

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Here is a short critique on the ‘garbage strike’.  Enjoy!

Great punchline around 22 minutes into this video.

These are some quotes from myself and Greg from a few posts ago, when we were doing a Zizekian/Lacanian analysis of the York strike:

“Or you could “micro” it and say the admin of York is the “monarch” of the university, the stupid president at the top who makes capricious decisions, who embodies the ‘unity’ of all the faculties…” (Battleofthegiants)

“No! There is no micro-ing it. The admin. is S2, the university, the agent acting in the place of the master/monarch (the truth of S2 is S1, the truth of the university is that it is speaking for the master). The university is like the knave, an ‘unmitigated scoundrel’: “he doesn’t retreat from the consequences of what is called realism; that is, when required, he admits that he’s a crook” (Lacan, Ethics, p. 183)” (US).

I think that in light of recent events – namely, the government of Ontario introducing legislation to force CUPE 3903 members back to work – this position makes even more sense than before.

Perhaps another way to think through this is to consider the University discourse as the one of contemporary biopolitics or the administered world (this is how Zizek conceives it in Parallax and in Lost Causes).  But taken to its limit, the true colours of the administered world will begin to surface.  That is, with biopolitics and the University discourse, it appears as though there is such a thing as ‘permissive society’, without authoritarian rule; or, as Foucault might have put it:  power is everywhere and nowhere.  With the case of the new back to work legislation, we see that the state actually serves the interests of the ruling class, and when the biopolitical administration reaches its limits, it has to call in the big guns:  the violence of the state, who says its operating on behalf of the ‘people’, or the ‘middle class’ (a popular ‘speaking point’ used both at the federal and provincial levels).  The ‘middle class’ is like the contemporary big Other, the truth of which is the ruling class, in whose name the state functions.

I think that, more than anything, the Ontario government is demonstrating that class struggle is alive and well in Ontario!  The message that is being sent to employers is:  “dont’ worry, just wait it out a bit and we’ll (the state) take care of everything for you”.

This looks like an interesting conference…  wish I could actually go!

On the Idea of Communism

Judith Balso, Alain Badiou, Bruno Bosteels, Terry Eagleton, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Ranciere, Alessandro Russo, Alberto Toscano, Gianni Vattimo, Wang Hui, Slavoj Zizek