21 May 2006

Lacan and Deleuze: A Pet Peeve

One of the constants of the Deleuzian secondary literature is the opposition between the work of Deleuze and Guattari and the work of Lacan. For anyone who's carefully followed Deleuze's arguments about the logic of representation it's clear that this should immediately make one's ears perk up as it suggests an opposition. Yet as Deleuze remarks, "there is a crucial experience of difference and a corresponding experiment: every time we find ourselves confronted or bound by a limitation or an opposition, we should ask what such a situation presupposes. It presupposes a swarm of differences, a pluralism of free, wild or untamed differences; a properly differential and original space and time; all of which persist alongside the simplification of limitation and opposition" (DR 50). That is, do we not, in the opposition of Deleuze to psychoanalysis, encounter a difference between the subject of the statement and the subject of enunciation?

It is clear that Deleuze's later work with Guattari often receives disproportionate attention. A glance at earlier works such as Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense, and Coldness and Cruelty reveals Deleuze in close dialogue with Lacan's work. Indeed, Lacan himself noted this, referring to Coldness and Cruelty as the finest study of masochism yet produced in Seminar 14, and devoting part of his seminar to the study of DR and LS in Seminar XVI. Throughout these earlier works, Deleuze endlessly elucidates the concept of the dark precursor through reference to objet a, and draws on Lacan's account of structure in "The Seminar on the Purloined Letter", to elucidate his conception of dual serialization. Nor is the issue straightforwardly one of Lacan making use of lack as central to his account of the subject. In an astonishing remark in chapter 2 of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze writes that, "Although it is deducted from the present real object, the virtual object differs from it in kind: not only does it lack something in relation to the real object from which it is subtracted, it lacks something in itself, since it is always half of itself, the other half being different as well as absent. This absence, as we shall see, is the opposite of a negative. Eternal half of itself, it is where it is only on condition that it is not where it should be. It is where we find it only on the condition that we search for it where it is not. It is at once not possessed by those who have it and had by those who do not possess it. It is alwayss a 'was'. In this sense, Lacan's pages assimilating the virtual object to Edgar Allen Poe's purloined letter seem to us exemplary" (DR 102, italics mine). Here we see that Deleuze draws a distinction between lack on the one hand (which, as he argues in his important essay "How Do We Recognize Structuralism?" is rendered possible through the symbolic), and negativity on the other hand. Deleuze's concern is not with lack, but rather with any ontology that would treat the negative as ontologically primitive such as can be discerned in the opening movement of Hegel's Science of Logic.

During this period, when Deleuze critiques psychoanalysis, it is generally directed at Freud's early tendency to treat one series as original (the series pertaining to infantile experiences) and one series as derived (the series pertaining to adult relations and experiences). This is an extension of his critique of Plato's distribution of models and copies, where early Freud sees the infantile series as original and all adult amorous relations as being copies of these early series. Deleuze praises Freud's later account of phantasy and the deferred effect (already present in the early Project essay) for completely overturning this primacy of one series over another, and sees something similar at work in Lacan's account of how objet a functions to upset the primacy of one series over another.

One might concede these points and nonetheless argue that while this is true of Deleuze's earlier work, his work with Guattari departs from this praise of Lacan and finally dispenses with psychoanalysis altogether in favor of schizoanalysis. Admittedly I am not much interested in Deleuze's later work with Guattari, apart from What is Philosophy?, but the question nonetheless persists of whether this is the case. A close reading of Anti-Oedipus reveals that the issue is far from being straightforward. Thus, for instance, references to Lacan are generally positive throughout the text and criticisms tend to be directed at his followers for precisely the reason noted above: treating one series as primary over another. Similarly, in a footnote early in the text, Deleuze and Guattari write, "Lacan's admirable theory of desire appears to us to have two poles: one related to "the object small a" as a desiring-machine, which defines desire in terms of a real production, thus going beyond both any idea of need and any idea of fantasy; and the other related to the 'great Other' as a signifier, which reintroduces certain notions of lack" (AO 27). From the perspective of those who treat Deleuze and Guattari as rejecting Lacan and psychoanalysis tout court, this comparison of objet a to desiring-machines and reference to Lacan's account of desire as "admirable" cannot but appear surprising, and suggest that readings of this issue are not nuanced enough.

The broader point to be made revolves around the avowed aim of Anti-Oedipus in responding to Reich's question of why people will their own repression. There is a tendency, I think, to treat the Oedipus as some sort of academic mystification or conspiracy on the part of analysts. While there are certainly ways of conducting analytic practice that reinforce the Oedipus, one wonders why these two authors would go to so much trouble critiquing the Oedipus if it were simply mistaken practice on the part of psychoanalysts and certain academics. As Deleuze and Guattari are careful to point out, "the Oedipus is not nothing". Arguably the case can be made that Lacan was the first "anti-Oedipus". This is evinced in his claim, beginning in the late fifties and persisting throughout his career that "the Other does not exist" (Seminar 5), "that there is no Other of the Other" (Seminar 6), that "there is no metalanguage" (Seminar 12), that the desire of the analyst is the desire for absolute difference (Seminar 11) and so on.

What is to be accounted for is the desire for Oedipus or Oedipalization. There is a certain cereal box version of Oedipus that reduces it to the relationship between parents and child. However, Lacan gives a far more nuanced account revolving around a certain relationship to the Other. Anyone who has practiced as an analyst is familiar with the early consultations where the analysand perpetually asks "what am I?", "tell me who I am!", "tell me the solution to my suffering!" and so on. That is, the analysand situates the analyst in the position of the subject supposed to know or the master who possesses knowledge. This is the Oedipus par excellence.
The Oedipal desire is evinced in the desire for a master, for an authority, to be identified and named. Lacan sometimes quipped that the analytic cure consists in being cured of the desire for a cure. If this means anything at all, it is in reference to overcoming this desire for an authority that would finally name us and serve as proxy for our desire. If there is a difference between Lacan and Deleuze and Guattari (and there are many), then it is perhaps that the former sees the Oedipus as something that must be worked through, as a phantasy to be traversed, while the latter often seem to suggest that we can immediately proceed to deterritorialization. Yet in reading the secondary literature do we not find that performatively Deleuze and Guattari often function as names of the master? It is odd to deny ourselves those tools that would allow us to conceptualize mass group submissions to despotic authority. Psychoanalysis provides us with these tools.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In chapters seven and eight in _Embodying Technesis_, Mark Hansen suggests that D&G would not have been able to develop what he calls their "new ontology" without Lacan's insight. While I generally do not approve of Hansen's readings of Deleuze in various places, I think a strong point can be made for Lacan's influence on Deleuze.

June 03, 2006 4:37 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

I haven't read Hansen's book, but I'll have to look into it. Thanks for the tip! It's curious that the term "psychoanalysis" has taken on an almost monolithic status as a master-signifier in the secondary literature on D&G.

June 04, 2006 6:13 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

To be fair, Deleuze does present a virulent criticism of psychoanalysis in his late essay "Four Propositions of Psychoanalysis" found in the newly released _Two Regimes of Madness_. There Deleuze focuses his criticisms on the actual practice of psychoanalysis (which strikes me as disingenious as he can then claim whatever he wishes), and discusses the manner in which psychoanalysis perpetually breaks up flows of desire and assemblages through its style of interpretation. Deleuze's criticisms are directed at the psychoanalyst as an Oedipalizing figure (an argument that can also be found in AO), which has always struck me as odd. My focus has generally been on Deleuze's early work (DR, LS), and I've tended to only be interested in the later works insofar as they shed light on these themes.

What I find odd in the thesis that the analyst is an Oedipalizing figure, is that it seems to attack the messenger, rather than addressing the manner in which analysands already approach the analyst in Oedipal frames. Why would we need such an extensive critique of the Oedipus if it weren't a real cultural phenomena and desire embodying subjects? Deleuze and Guattari seem to blame the analyst for allowing this sad desire to be addressed and worked through in the transference. Am I missing something?

June 05, 2006 7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think D&G would ever deny that "Oedipalization," isn't a cultural phenomena. I guess when you say "desire" in this context, you are speaking of desire-as-lack (that embodies subjects)?

Desire for D&G has more to do with drive in Lacan than desire, and I think reading desire this way is better than trying to compare these phenomena. D&G complain about lack incessentluty and separate themselves from psychoanalysis in so doing. Their work seems to be a matter of subtraction, however, in so far as they subtract the imaginary and the symbolic from the three orders. Of course, there are at times even strong resonances (such as the symbolic with stratification, etc.), but the emphasis especially in _AO_ is really about the virtual, to use a term that doesn't quite fit.

I don't have a hard time reading D&G with Lacan because I think their systems should be imposed on one another askew. Desire in one system takes on a different term in the other's system. So when the question about the analyst is posed, I agree that it is odd that the analyst should be thought of as an Oedipalizing figure. I read an interview recently (I don't think it's one of the ones you mention) online, and Deleuze's complaint about lack in Lacan is directed primarily towards the Freud.

June 05, 2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

I think you're right on the mark in claiming that D&G's concept of desire is closer to the Lacanian concept of drive. As I mention in the body of the post, there's a footnote early in AO where D&G give high praise to objet a and compare it to desiring-machines. There's a terrific passage in Seminar 11 where Lacan discusses drive as montage and presents a sort of surrealist version of a drive montage involving a gas tap, womans belly, and a peacock feather, that looks a lot like the assemblages of a desiring-machine and which is distinctive in its lack of signification or signifying dimension.

The question does indeed emerge around the notion of desire as lack. At the unconscious level (in Lacan) we just have differential relations forming a sort of apparatus, which Lacan would later come to refer to as writing and lalange (I've always found this to be close of D&G's asemiotic systems). I think Lacan's reading of Joyce in seminar 23 is especially important in this connection. The question is then what to do with the dimension of lack in Lacan. A couple of points here:

1) First, in his response to Hyppolite, Lacan is careful to argue that affirmation precedes negation at the level of the unconscious. That is, for Lacan negation isn't ontologically primative (as in, for example, Hegel), but is an effect. For instance, in the late 60's Lacan spends a good deal of time theorizing how the empty set comes to be produced (especially in seminar 9, L'identification) as an effect. Consequently, in Lacan lack is an emergent effect or result that occurs when two systems are coupled with one another (the biological system and the cultural system). What we then get is a mobile void that displaces itself through the psychic system as the subject attempts to fill it (this is what interested Lacan in the torus, as the hole in the middle of the donut was a point of which the subject is unaware but which desire (in the Lacanian sense) perpetually aims at.

2) In early Deleuze, at least, it is not quite accurate to say that there is no lack. Deleuze is clear enough in claiming that there is lack or negation. His point is that lack and negation are not ontologically primitive but are effects of prior affirmations. This comes out especially in Deleuze's long discussion of the negative in chapter 4 of DR, but also in the chapter on repetition where he discusses Freud.

Consequently, it does seem that there's a way of thinking D&G with Lacan. For Lacan, like D&G, the trajectory of an analysis consists in a shift from the subject of desire (organized around lack and addressing a demand to the Other to fill that lack) to the acephalous subject of drive. However, there is perhaps a more significant problem with regard to psychoanalytic interpretation. When D&G complain that psychoanalytic interpretaton flows up flows of desire (in the sense of drive) there point seems to be that psychoanalytic interpretation reterritorializes deterritorializations on the territory of the Oedipal situation. Taking the example of a hand as a deterritorialized paw that shifts from the earth to the branch, the criticism seems to be that Oedipalizing interpretations are the equivalent to trying to interpret the hand in terms of the earth, rather than seeing the hand as a new organization that can no longer be understood in terms of the earth. The parallel would thus be that the psychoanalytic symptom is a deterritorialization that shifts desire elsewhere and which can't simply be understood in terms of the Oedipal territory. Yes, it might be drawn from the milieu, but it's been territorialized elsewhere.

Thus, for example, if an imaginary rivalry appears in analysis where the analysand is talking about his relationship to the boss and emitting all sorts of signifiers that he's often used in previous sessions pertaining to his father, D&G would be critical of the analyst that pointed out this homology, as a way of halting a deterritorialization. This, I think, is the more significant criticism and I'm unsure of how to take it. Clinically I have seen these sorts of interventions produce relief at the level of imaginary, causing the dissipation of such rivalrous antagonisms like so much fog. Yet there is also a truth to the notion of symptom as deterritorialization (as Lacan brings out so well in seminar 23).

June 05, 2006 10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do a nice job by framing the criticism in terms of territories, and I think that your discussion in another post about Deleuze as concerns serializations (or singularities) vs. worlds, helps to shine some light on this point. Your question seems to come from the premise, as expressed both here and the prior comment, if people really are Oedipalized then what is wrong with treating them as such? Or what is wrong with giving them the answer? Or what is wrong with desiring one's own oppression?

Sorry if I sound off the mark, here, but I think there's a degree of truth in this point. If the question is do you want bread or freedom, why do people choose bread?

June 05, 2006 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I looked back at the end of your post and noticed that your thinking about the difference between "fast" deterritorialization and "slow" fantasmatic construction suggests that the latter may be a better method for bringing about the former, but I'm wondering whether this is a productive division. For D&G, the plane of immanence, constancy, or composition (whatever term you choose) is no less a retroactive creation than is the construction of the fantasy that takes place in Lacanian psychoanalysis (or, more accurately, Freudian ["A Child is Being Beaten"]). Bogue points this out concerning the fantasmatic construction in _D&G_ chapter 4. In both cases, the fantasy has to be constructed retroactively (I don't remember my father ever beating _me_ exactly, but I did masturbate when he was beating my brother), which is to say that the imperative difference between the two is the practice of analysis.

And here, I wonder, especially in your comments concerning the acephalous knowledge pointing in the direction of final (and more effective, more lasting) deterritorialization, whether the question comes down to a matter of purity, of _pure_ immanence. IOW, if the ultimate goal is to arrive at an acephelous knowledge, how does this not introduce a paradox of the Other?

A statement that might say something like, "I know there is no Other who knows more than you and you should not seek an Other in me."

"We can accept this on faith, but I would like you to ignore that my ethos, my practice, my training, my degrees, my bills, my needs, and my demands, set up a false dichotomy. I pretend not to know more than you so you can discover your own truth. I say all of this despite the fact that I indeed DO know more than you. Nonetheless, I will ask that you pretend that I don't."

"In addition, I will ask that you pay me. You should not give me your money, however, so that I can find answers that will help you. Instead, you should give me money so that you can come to realize that the greatest thing worth spending your money on is that there are no answers to your

"You will learn this because I will TEACH YOU that I don't know anything more than you. I can teach you this, because I am the analyst and you are the analysand."

June 05, 2006 12:14 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

I don't think that I was so much suggesting that people ought to be treated as Oedipalized, so much as there needs to be a working through of the Oedipus. That is, the analysand seems to bring the Oedipus to the clinical setting and over the course of analysis this is resolved not through an acceptance of the Oedipus, but through overcoming belief in the big Other, traversing the phantasy, and identifying with the symptom/sinthome. Analysis begins with the analysand treating the analyst as a subject of demand and the one who knows, either seeking to thwart that demand or to satisfy that demand. Progressively s/he discovers that they situate the analyst in this position and the position itself is gradually subverted.

The paradox you outline is brilliant and very difficult to revolve. I'm not sure how to respond. If I'm following you correctly, you're referring to a variant of the thesis that there is no metalanguage... The analyst claims that there is no esoteric knowledge and occupies a certain position so that the analysand might come to discover this for himself (in the case of neurosis), but in the very act of making this claim the analyst is making a sort of claim to knowledge, even if only in a negative form... That is, he's claiming a special insight.

I wonder if this situation is modified at all by Lacan's remark, in "The Direction of Treatment and the Principles of its Power", that the analyst cures not so much by what he does but by what he is? That is, the analytic setting is such that it allows the analysand to stage a sort of purified relation to the Other without the intervening feedback from that Other that creates the illusion that certain responses are coming from the Other rather than being produced by the analysand. He does this by staunchly refusing the position of mastery or giving the answers which progressively allows the analysand to encounter the "intersubjective" dimension of their symptom. In this regard, interpretation is not something that represents the unconscious or reveals its "true meaning", as it is something that performs and acts, producing subsequent effects in speech and the transference.

Do you see a way of resolving this paradox, or do you see it as irreducible?

June 05, 2006 2:19 PM  
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