29 November 2006

More Rough and Tumble Theory

N. Pepperell over at Rough Theory has written a terrific and challenging diary in response to my recent post on Enlightenment and diacritics (here and here). N.P. writes,
In the post on “The Diacritical Production of Identity”, Sinthome tackles several elements of Lacan’s thought that are often cited as particularly controversial - the use of mathematical metaphors, the concept of the woman as the symptom of the man, etc. Sinthome traverses these elements of Lacan’s thought lightly, bracketing problematic readings, while teasing out a reading productive for critique. My question - and the reason I won’t write at length on this topic here - is whether these elements of Lacan’s thought, even read for their highest critical potential, ever move beyond being a very elaborate theoretical justification for what, at base, I suspect is a fairly noncontroversial ontological claim: that no form of domination (or, for that matter, freedom) ever fully succeeds in subsuming all aspects of consciousness or practice.

I’ve never found this claim controversial and - I confess this may be a fundamental conceptual failure on my part - I haven’t yet understood how any of the various theoretical elaborations of this claim contribute more to critical practice than the simple empirical experience of nonsubsumption ever could? I’m not so much critical of the theoretical framework, as I am uncertain whether this is really a battle that needs to be fought… Does theoretical reflection on this kind of abstract contingency give us any greater insight into the potentials for specific kinds of political action, in the particular contexts in which we must now act?
Unfortunately exingencies of time (things are a madhouse here right now) prevent me from responding at length right now, but I thought I'd cross post her diary here for anyone who might be interested. I think N.P. is right in suggesting that I need to develop these claims and their critical potential in more explicit detail. As a prelude, when advancing the thesis that no form of domination ever completely subsumes the dominated, I am specifically thinking of historicism and Foucaultian power structures. With regard to historicism, I am objecting to the common thesis that everything is determined by its historical context, such that nothing new can appear that isn't already saturated by this context. With regard to Foucault (perhaps one could add Butler), I have in mind the thesis that all social relations are determined by structures of power. Foucault, of course, complicates this with his thesis that all structures of power produce their own resistence; yet these structures of resistance are nonetheless part and parcel of the field of power. Consequently I suppose I am asking whether an outside is possible. This question is relevant in a [Lacanian] psychoanalytic context as well. Middle Lacan-- Lacan during his high symbolic period --often argued in such a way as to suggest that there is no outside to the language. However, as his work developed he increasingly discovered an outside in the form of either the real, drive, objet a, or an exemplary signifier subtracted from the network of signifiers such as the "sinthome".

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