21 November 2006

More Thoughts Worth Preserving and Repeating

My thought process has been very diffuse and disconnected lately as there's been a lot going on between school and life. I feel as if I'm thinking very little that is new (for me) right now, that I'm treading water, but perhaps that's when thinking on another scene is taking place. For me thought seems to occur in spurts and delays, almost as a cycle, where I fall into a period of exhaustion or depression, only to be suddenly filled with energy and enthusiasm. Yet even in those down periods when everything looks so dark and pointless, where I feel as if I've made nothing but wrong decisions leading to dead ends, I still find joy when I come across certain passages in whatever I'm reading. This joy is a bit like finding a magnificent shell or stone on the beach. In these moments I'm not quite sure of what to do with what I've found at the level of commentary and development. I just know that I experience an overwhelming urge to shout out what I've found, what I found provocative and productive, to the rest of the world so that it might exist for someone besides myself. Perhaps someone else will remember with me and in remembering with me will help to overcome the fragility and memory of my own mind and its tendency to so readily forget. Increasingly I'm coming to feel that remembering is a moral issue and that dead text must be re-activated or animated with new life in the present.

In a marvellous passage from his Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan remarks that,
One never goes beyond Descartes, Kant, Marx, Hegel and a few others because they mark a line of inquiry, a true orientation. One never goes beyond Freud either. Nor does one attempt to measure his contribution quantitatively, draw up a balance sheet-- what's the point of that? One uses him. One moves around within him. One takes one's bearings from the direction he points in. What I am offering you here is an attempt to articulate the essence of an experience that has been guided by Freud. It is in no way an effort to measure the volume of his contribution or summarize him. (206)
One need only open any page of Lacan alongside Freud to see what Lacan has in mind by taking one's orientation from a thinker, moving around in him, and using him. Lacan's texts do not seek to represent Freud or reproduce him through a careful commentary, but rather have the effect of transforming the Freudian text and perhaps producing something that would have been unrecognizable to Freud himself. Nor does Lacan pause over this or that claim, striving to determine whether this or that Freudian claim is true, empirically supported, or well argued, as if measuring whether or not Freud still holds up today. Rather, Freud's text is thoroughly transformed in and through Lacan's engagement with that text, but in an uncanny way that produces the effect of feeling as if one never understood Freud until reading Lacan (of course, I contend that it is impossible to understand Lacan without reading Freud... Especially the case studies and texts on parapraxes).

I was led to think about this passage, about what it might mean to be oriented by a thinker, upon being reminded of a passage from Marx's Communist Manifesto by Zizek's Fragile Absolute. There Marx writes,
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everwhere, establish connections everwhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-establsihed national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world of literature.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midsts, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image. (Signet Classics 1998, 55-5)
There is so much in highly condensed form in this brief little passage. Here can already be discerned the analysis globalization. The Lacanian will find rich fodder in the references to reactionaries as reacting to the erasure of national identities produced as a result of this movement of globalization, producing both leftist and rightist forms of identity politics-- The former centering on racial and gender identities, the latter centering on religious and nationalistic identities, both orientations being red herrings ignoring the "real" of our contemporary situation. In the reference to the production of new wants, enthusiasts of Lacan, Zizek, Baudrillard, and Deleuze and Guattari will find rich ground for theorizing the manner in which desires are manufactured and produced. And it is impossible not to think of internet technologies in relation to Marx's offhand remarks on the manner in which communication has been transformed.

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Anonymous pebird said...


As it is Thanksgiving I would like to thank you for recommending Fink's A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis : Theory and Technique.

This book is absolute genius. I feel I have been handed an atomic device with a big red button. I am certainly going to be dangerous. Please continue to correct me when I misuse these tools.

Also, thank you for this blog. The thinking is superb - I am still reading posts from months ago.


P.E. Bird

November 23, 2006 11:08 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Thanks P.E. Bird! Fink's work is uniformly good and he's an excellent analyst as well. Right now he's working on a book on clinical technique. From what I've read of it so far, it will be excellent.

November 23, 2006 11:23 AM  
Anonymous N Pepperell said...

The sorts of passages you quote are along the lines of what I had in mind the other day, when mentioning that my perception of the political situation wasn't necessarily grim - I'd rather we collectively make more conscious and humane decisions about our common history, but it can be important to recognise how the alienated consequences of the decisions we currently make do have mixed potentials - some of which, I think, have been very important in introducing us to new moral potentials and ideals...

No holiday here - I had forgotten about Thanksgiving in the US. Hope you are having a bit of a break?

November 23, 2006 5:56 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

N.P. I agree. One of the things I find interesting in the Manifesto in going back over it during the last few days is that Marx nonetheless underlines the need for an act or decision so as to direct those potentials. That is, the movement of capital is filled with emancipatory potentials, yet the proletariat are also pitted against one another in competition and do not recognize themselves as the revolutionary class. As such, the tendencies of the historical moment are not themselves sufficient, but the introduction of something additional is required. I hope to get to your most recent post in the next couple of days. The next few days promise to be hectic with family and marking.

November 24, 2006 10:57 AM  
Anonymous N. Pepperell said...

I'm sure, given what you write in general, that you'll eventually address what I asked in any event - I feel a bit like I keep barging in and interrupting you with questions, while you're trying to unfold what has otherwise been a fairly systematic exploration of key concepts. My posts are really just thinking out loud - I'm using them to put pressure on myself to think things through, not to make your days more hectic than they already are... (I had a student this term who, after every class, would hang around with this list of questions and who was really very difficult to dislodge - I don't want to become the equivalent personality for your blog... ;-P)

November 24, 2006 1:15 PM  
Blogger ae.beck said...

"One need only open any page of Lacan alongside Freud to see what Lacan has in mind by taking one's orientation from a thinker, moving around in him, and using him."

Your words make me think of Lacan as an alchemist, melting down his substance--the Freudian field, or what was left of it after Freud--to absolve it of various "impurities," and perhaps transforming it. But there must be a "Fixion, a settling thereof, so that it shall not evaporate into nothing," (Donne, Sermons). Badiou's image is localization (interview, Artforum, Nov '06).

"Lacan's texts do not seek to represent Freud or reproduce him through a careful commentary, but rather have the effect of transforming the Freudian text and perhaps producing something that would have been unrecognizable to Freud himself."

I agree completely. Lacan certainly does not give us pedagogical re-imaginings of Freud in the form of "careful" commentaries, but rather produces "incorporeal" effects--in the sense given to bodies and incorporeal truths by Sextus and the Stoic logics--from the traces of the remains of the Freudian field's pulverized ashes, or what was left after the death of its founder.


November 30, 2006 2:56 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Austin, I very much like your description of Lacan's approach to reading Freud in terms of incorporeal surface effects. I would say that Lacan reads Freud "Freudianly", in much the same way that an analyst engages with the speech of her analysand. One of the remarkable aspects of Lacan's return to Freud is the way he works with fleeting remarks in the Freudian corpus that themselves look like passing asides... For instance, the way in takes up the theme of the Nebenmensch in Freud's Project essay, or Freud's passing distinction between the ego ideal and ideal ego. Rather than simply glossing these fleeting moments, Lacan treats them as symptoms that provide the key to Freud's thought in much the same way that the apparently meaningless symptoms of an analysand provide the key to their desire.

November 30, 2006 7:12 AM  
Anonymous beck said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about the distinction between Freud's method of dream interpretation and the kind of "symptomal reading" you mention above. At least one of the keys to this distinction, i think, is the dialectic of manifest/latent content in dream analysis; namely, that it is absent from the symptomal approach to discursive fields, whether the "corpus" in question be an artificial thing (e.g., textual) or the human animal (e.g., the analysand).

What do you think?


November 30, 2006 8:08 AM  
Anonymous beck said...

With reference to my previous comment, I would like to add that in an essay translated in Flesh of Words Jacques Ranciere does an excellent job of explaining the symptomal technique of late 60s structuralist fame, in the form of Althusser's ill-fated "science" of Marx and its internal logic of revolution.

November 30, 2006 8:22 AM  

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