01 September 2006

Systems, Environments, and Channels of Communication-- Zizek and Foucault... Yet Again

Yesterday, when revisiting Deleuze's account of habitus, I had proposed the disturbing possibility that perhaps a focus on discourse and identification such as we find in psychoanalysis is irrelevant to the manner in which the body comes to be formed (from a Foucaultian perspective), as these processes consist in the formation of subrepresentational syntheses that precede any sort of active synthesis or reflection. From a clinical standpoint, this prospect proves disturbing for psychoanalysis as it would largely undermine a good deal of talk therapy, pushing clinical practice in more of a cognitive-behavioral direction. Given such a thesis, clinical praxis would do better to focus on regimes of repetition directed at forming new patterns of desire, affect, and motility, than on the signifiers through which a body articulates its relations to this habitus.

However, in reflecting on these issues a bit more, I think that an overly exclusive focus on the first synthesis of repetition misses the important point that systems draw their own distinction between system and environment, indicating that they are only selectively open to their environment rather than simply thrown into an environment, which they then internalize. As Luhmann expresses this point,
Systems are oriented by their environment not just occasionally and adaptively, but structurally, and they cannot exist without an environment. They constitute and maintain themselves by creating and maintaining a difference from their environment, and they use their boundaries to regulate this difference. Without difference from an environment, there would not even be self-reference, because difference is the functional premise of self-referential operations. In this sense boundary maintenance is system maintenance. (Social Systems, 17)
The point to note here is that the relation between system and environment is not abstract or external, but is a difference drawn and maintained by the system itself. It is by drawing and maintaining this distinction that the system becomes capable of self-referential operations (as I discuss in relation to Hegel here, in the context of the relation between the One and the Other, or the manner in which identity can only constitute itself by distinguishing itself from the other). As such, an environment is not something that is simply there, present-at-hand, but is actively constituted by the system in queston.
In general, one cannot maintain that internal interdependencies are greater than system/environment interdependencies. The concept of boundaries means, however, that processes which cross boundaries (e.g., the exchange of energy or information) have different conditions for their continuance (e.g., different conditions of utilization or of consensus) after they cross the boundaries. This also means that contingencies in the course of a process, openness to other possibilities, vary depending on whether, for the system, the process occurs in the system or its environment...

The environment receives its unity through the system and only in relation to the system. It is delimited by open horizons, not by boundaries that can be crossed; thus it is not itself a system. It is different for every system, because every system excludes only itself from its environment. Accordingly, the environment has no self-reflection or capacity to act. Attribution to the environment (external attribution [Other-reference]) is a strategy of systems. But this does not mean that the environment depends on the system or that the system can command its environment as it pleases. (ibid.)
This is a point that can easily be seen in the case of organisms. I, for instance, do not encounter infrared light or sonar within my environment and therefore it does not exist within the frame of my environment. Or, put differently, my organism does not constitute these phenomena as sources of information. However, it is also a phenomenon that analysts perpetually encounter with regard to their analysands, and which proves to be essential to the nature of transference. An analyst will ask a perfectly neutral question with regard to the analysand's discourse, only to find that the analysand encounters that question as a sign of condemnation, encouragement, love, hatred, judgment, etc. The way in which the analysand receives the speech of the analyst provides a trace as to how the analysand has positioned the analyst in the space of the Other for the analysand, or as the addressee of his discourse. That is, these responses allow the analyst to progressively determine the person to whom the analysand is addressing his speech and how this locus of address functions in organizing the analysand's desire according to his fundamental fantasy. Put in "Luhmann-speak", these responses allow the analyst to discern the manner in which the analysand draws distinctions between system and environment, self-reference and Other[hetero]-reference. Jodi Dean expresses this point well in Zizek's Politics:
Whereas Foucault accounts for the unity of disciplinary practices by referring to the dispersion of specific logics of power (for example, logics around confession and speaking, observation and surveillance, examination and judgment as they take material form in architectures, urban planning, and designs for education and punishment), Zizek addresses a peculiar fact about the subject's performance of its practices: the gaze before which it imagines itself performing. This gaze constitutes 'the Other who registers my acts in the symbolic network.' (10-11)
The problem with Foucault's account, under this reading, is that it understands the mechanisms by which these "material forms" produce subjectivities too unilaterally, or as an abstract form of relation where environment and system are externally related to one another and the environment (the material forms) dominates the system and defines all of its operations (following Hegel's use of the term "abstract" to signify a failure to discern the manner in which categories are interdependent). There is no room here for system self-regulation of system/environment distinctions. While it is certainly true that there are passive syntheses that automatically tie certain repetitive occurances together, what this account misses is that a system must first be open to these occurances to begin the process of developing ties among these terms. In this regard, it is necessary to have some account of symbolic identification (the gaze of the Other through which we "see ourselves being seen", or fundamental fantasy) so as to define the environment to which we're open as subjects.

Perhaps a bit surprisingly, Deleuze makes a similar point in Difference and Repetition. One of the curious features of the chapter on repetition is that Deleuze actually repeats his account of repetition twice. The first 26 pages of this chapter are devoted to a general account of the three passive syntheses of repetition, which are then followed by a second 26 page account devoted to how these syntheses function in biophysical life and fields of individuation that is deeply indebted to Freud, Lacan, and Melanie Klein. In this connection, Deleuze gives an account of subject-development that points to the necessity of "virtual objects" (which Deleuze equates with objet a, in the formation of body and world). As Deleuze puts it,
...the real objects, the objects proposed as reality or as a support for the connection, are not the only objects of the ego, any more than they exhaust the totality of so-called objectal relations... Moreover, it seems that active syntheses would never be erected on the basis of passive syntheses unless these persisted simultaneously, unless they did not develop on their own account at the same time, finding new formulae at once both dissymmetrical and complementary with the activity. A child who begins to walk does not only bind excitations in a passive syntheses, even supposing that these were endogenous excitations born of its own movements... On the one hand, the child goes beyond the bound excitations towards the supposition or the intentionality of an object, such as the mother, as the goal of an effort, the end to be actively reached 'in reality' and in relation to which success and failure may be measured. But on the other hand at the same time, the child constructs for itself another object, a quite different kind of object which is a virtual object or centre and which then governs and compensates for the progresses and failures of its real activity: it puts several figures in its mouth, wraps the other arm around this virtual centre, and appraises the whole situation from the point of view of this virtual mother... The child who begins to handle a book by imitation, without being able to read, invariably holds it back to front... Widely diverse phenomena, such as left-handedness [as in my case], mirror-writing, certain forms of stuttering, certain stereotypes, may be explained on the basis of this duality of centres in the infant world. What is important, is that neither one of these two centres is the ego... For this reason, Henri Maldiney is correct to say, in analysing children's movement, that the infantile world is in no way circular or egocentric but elliptical; that it has two centres and that these differ in kind, both nevertheless being objective or objectal. (DR, 99-100)
I apologize for the length of this quotation. It is difficult to present short passages pertaining to anything in Difference and Repetition, and I often feel that it is important to present Deleuze as actually claiming certain things when discussing his relationship to psychoanalysis, due to the manner in which a sort of false binary has been set up between psychoanalysis and schizoanalysis. Somewhere Lacan remarks that the true revolution of Galileo consisted not in the heliocentric hypothesis, but in the claim that "it falls", undermining the paradigm of center and periphery altogether. Something similar could be said about the ellipse where the center disappears. Deleuze's point here is that in order for the first passive synthesis of repetition to unfold at all, it is necessary for there first to be virtual objects or objets a present as mechanisms of selection presiding over what matter [flows of intuition/sensibility] will be selected and what will be ignored. Put a bit differently, the objets a function as a principle distinguishing noise from information. In short, the elliptical structure with two centers Deleuze here describes very precisely mirrors Lacan's schema L or the gaze described by Dean surrounding symbolic identification. As a result, the syntheses of habitus cannot even get off the ground without there first being some role played by symbolic identification. As a result, Lacan's dictum that desire is the desire of the Other goes straight to the heart of the morphogenesis involved in body-formation, as it is through my identification with the desire of the Other that I first begin to form my own desires, affects, and structures of motility.

One problem with Foucault's subjectivization is that he is unable to explain differences among subjects, for where two or more subjects are subjectivized within the same social and historical medium, we would expect them to have the same structures of desire, affect, and motility. Deleuze-Lacan's account of the role that "virtual objects" play in this process responds to this difficulty by drawing attention to the role played by attachment to the singular desire of the Other in the subject's genesis.


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