16 November 2006

Fantasy and Subjective Destitution

Continuing with our discussion started a couple days ago and regarding concerns about Zizek's suggestion that traversing the fantasy entails a certain politics as articulated in my post The Beyond of Fantasy, Anon goes on to remark,
Levi, the way I see it, the subject having traversed the fantasy recognizes that there is no a final destination to their desire - what if, then, performing acts that mark their own intrinsic failure like Kinsey's idiotic collecting the incollectable is all there is to the subject of drive? But then, what about pottering or dedicating one's life to studying NFL statistics? Drive or desire? Stavrakakis envisages the traversing of the fantasy in terms of identifying with objet a - something akin to proclaiming "we are all Jews!" in the Hitlerian Germany. What he does not address is why the subject having traversed their fantasy should have any intrinsic motivation to perform any such feats. Why not stick to collecting wasp galls instead?
While I agree with Anon's claim that post-fantasy desire has no final destination, I'm a bit more hesitant regarding his remarks about identification with objet a. Admittedly my thoughts are vague here, so I'll try simply to formulate a way in which this question might begin to be addressed. As I tried to emphasize in a previous post, traversing the fantasy is not simply the recognition that desire has no final destination, but also involves what Lacan refers to as a "subjective destitution". If this is so, then it is because the identity of the subject is dependent on the Other in a sort of topological projective space, such that if the Other falls (when we come to recognize the Other does not exist), the identifications of the subject fall as well, as these identifications require the gaze of the Other in order to sustain itself. It is this relationship between ideal ego and ego ideal that Lacan represents in the second cell of his graph of desire, in the vector running from O to i(o) to e and s(O). As Lacan will remark in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analaysis,

...the identification in question is not specular, immediate identification. It is its support. It supports the perspective chosen by the subject in the field of the Other, from which specular identification may be seen in a satisfactory light. The point of the ego ideal is that from which the subject will see himself, as one says, as others see him --which will enable him to support himself in a dual situation that is satisfactory for him from the point of view of love.

As a specular mirage, love is essentially deception. It is situated in the field established at the level of the pleasure reference, of that sole signifier necessary to introduce a perspective centered on the Ideal point, capital I, placed somewhere in the Other, from which the Other sees me, in the form I liked to be seen. (268)

In short, identification is never a dyadic relation in which I identify with another person and begin to imitate them. Rather, identification is first and foremost an identification with a particular gaze from which I see myself being seen, and which then leads me to embody particular signifiers that would render me lovable to the Other from the standpoint of this gaze. If traversing the fantasy is often so painful, then this is because the collapse of the Other, the discovery that the Other does not exist, also undermines that locus around which the analysand constructs his ideal ego. There is no longer a guarantee of those signifiers that define the subject's being, and the analysand is forced to confront both the void of the Other and the void of himself with regard to the symbolic. Here I think it's worthwhile to carefully think through the function that God serves for Descartes in the third meditation, in securing the trustworthiness of clear and distinct ideas and guaranteeing the very being of the subject. The third meditation is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand both the function of fantasy as it relates to the Other and guaranteeing one's identity.

The identifications of the analysand are, at one level, symbolic identifications or identifications with particularly charged signifiers... The so-called "master-signifiers". In an amusing passage earlier in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, Lacan remarks that,
Before any experience, before any individual deduction, even before those collective experiences that may be related only to social needs are inscribed in it, something organizes this field, inscribes its initial lines of force. This is the function that Claude Levi-Strauss shows us to be the truth of the totem function, and which reduces its appearance-- the primary classificatory function.

Before strictly human relations are established, certain relations have already been determined. They are taken from whatever nature may offer as supports, supports that are arranged in themes of opposition. Nature provides-- I must use the word --signifiers, and these signifiers organize human relations in a creative way, providing them with structures and shaping them.

The important thing, for us, is that we are seeking here-- before any formation of the subject, of a subject who thinks, who situates himself in it --the level at which there is counting, things are counted, and in this counting he who counts is already included. It is only later that the subject has to recognize himself as such, recognize himself as he who counts. Remember the naive failure of the simpleton's delighted attempt to grasp the little fellow who declares-- I have three brothers, Paul, Ernest and me. But it is quite natural-- first the three brothers, Paul, Ernest and I are counted, and then there is I at the level at which I am to reflect the first I, that is to say, the I who counts. (20)
Lacan's language here-- no doubt as a result of Jacques-Alain Miller's editing --is extremely precise (especially his set theoretical reference to counting and inclusion). This is actually a slip of the tongue I myself made in analysis once, when I referred to my "brothers", when, in fact, I only have one brother. I was counting myself as a brother or according to my position in the network of signifiers. The point here is that we must distinguish between the count and what is counted. As Badiou argues in Being and Event, the state does not count individuals, but rather classes of individuals:
Marxist thought relates the State directly to sub-multiples rather than to terms of the situation. It posits that the count-as-one insured by the State is not originally that of the multiple of individuals, but that of the multiple of classes, the formal idea that the State-- which is the state of the historico-social situation --deals with collective subsets and not with individuals remains essential. This idea must be understood: the essence of the State is that of not being obliged to recognize individuals-- when it is obliged to recognize them, in concrete cases, it is always according to a principle of counting which does not concern the individual as such. (105)
As a subject of language, I am not counted as the individual that I am, but according to the various symbolic positions embodied by the signifier. It is this difference between the count and the counted that the simpleton above brings about. This, in part, is what Lacan refers to by the "aphanisis of the subject", where the subject never appears, but perpetually "fades behind the signifier". Now, this feature of counting in the symbolic creates a number of challenges for the subject. On the one hand, it is impossible for me to coincide with the signifier. I am always non-identical to the signifiers in which I find myself enmeshed, as signifiers are general whereas I am always singular. Here it's worthwhile to recall Hegel's joke about the man at the market who tries to buy "fruit". You cannot buy "fruit" as such, only this or that type of fruit. At the level of the signifier I am exchangeable with any other person falling under that signifier (i.e., "the average voter"), but at the level of my own being I am singular and irreplaceable, without measure or equivalent. It is impossible to capture this with the signifier. This is one of the meanings of the discourse of the master:


For any signifier I adopt to signify myself ("male", "American", "professor", "white", etc), there is a remainder that escapes or eludes the articulation of the signifier, something that cannot be signified. And it is for this reason that I am a "barred subject". Between myself and my signifiers there will always be a minimal opacity, not just for the Other (i.e., the Other can't read my mind and I can't read the Other's mind), but for myself as well: "why do these particular characterize me? Am i really a professor? Don't I always fall short of these signifiers? Don't I perpetually fail to embody them (hence a priori guilt)?"

However, we also note that this discourse writes the signifier S1-->S2, which is to say that the signifier represents the subject for another signifier. This problem is perhaps more crucial, for as Lacan will say in Seminar 14, The Logic of Fantasy, "the signifier cannot signify itself". The logic of the signifier follows the logic of Russell's paradox, in that signifiers have the property of not being members of themselves. In order to articulate a signifier, there must immediately be another signifier, a second signifier. This entails that 1) there can be no first or last signifier as the law ~(S1 belongs to S1) holds for all signifiers, and 2) that there cannot be a totality or complete set of all signifiers. As Lacan will say in Seminar 14, "there is no universe of discourse", meaning that there cannot be a complete set of signifiers.

This property of the signifier creates an internal instability where identification is concerned, for insofar as no signifier can signify itself it follows that every signifier requires another signifier in order to articulate itself. But if this is the case, it follows that identification, based as it is on signifiers, perpetually finds itself in a state of instability, as each identification I might take on requires another signifier to establish itself, and so on ad infinitum. As Peirce would say, my identifications are doomed to infinite semiosis. It is this instability internal to the nature of the signifier that simultaneously 1) precipitates the mad dash to identify (I perpetually strive to identify as a way of trying to halt the sliding of the signifier), 2) renders every identification precarious or unstable, and 3) calls forth the necessity of the symptom as that which anchors the sliding of the signifier. As Lacan will remark much later in seminar 22, RSI, there is no subject without a symptom, indicating that the symptom is a formally necessary feature of the subject's topology, not an accident resulting from childhood trauma that Other subjects might escape. In short, the symptom is that which marks the excess of the signifier over the being of the subject, or that wards off the undoing of identity.

It seems to me that it is precisely here that we find the support for Stavrakakis' thesis that in Nazi Germany, having traversed the fantasy, the only legitimate stance is identification with the figure of the Jew. Those principles that hold for the subject also hold for the social system, as there is no such thing as a subject that isn't already a social subject. The position of that the figure of the Jew occupies within Nazi Germany is that of the impossibility of a universe of discourse; which is to say that the figure of the Jew (not to be confused with actual Jews) is the suture that projects German identity from the precariousness of its identity. As Badiou will express a somewhat similar idea in Being and Event,

All multiple-presentation is exposed to the danger of the void: the void is its being. The consistency of the multiple amounts to the following: the void, which is the name of inconsistency in the situation (under the law of the count-as-one), cannot, in itself, be presented or fixed. What Heidegger names the care of being, which is the ecstasy of beings, could also be terms the situational anxiety of the void, or the necessity of warding off the void. The apparent solidity of the world of presentation is merely a result of the action of structure, even if nothing is outside such a result. It is necessary to prohibit that catastrophe of presentation which would be its encounter with its own void,, the presentational occurence of inconsistency as such, or the ruin of the One. (93)

The subject that has traversed the fantasy is the subject that faces this void or inconsistency at the heart of being; or, is effectively, the figure of the Jew (where the "Jew" is understood in functional terms as the supplement to the impossibility of forming a One out of the social system). Such a subject is a subject that has separated objet a, the endless metonymical displacement of desire embodied in drive, from all identifications, and thus effectively identifies with the position embodied by the excess signalled by the Jew. The Jew is precisely that figure that is not counted in the Nazi situation, that can only appear as excess or deficiency, and which thus marks the excess of inclusion over the symbolic's attempt to master inclusion. As such, the Jew is the figure of the symptom, the truth. Along these lines, Lacan will remark that "...the fundamental mainspring of the analytic operation is the maintainance of the distance between the I-- identification --and the a" (Seminar 11, 273). Yet this is just to say that over and above any identifications with master-signifiers, the analytic operation consists in identification with the symptom or the inability of these signifiers to totalize the social field. I'm not sure how much sense these remarks make, but they seem to be a stab in the right direction in understanding why Zizek and Stavrakakis make the claims they do about the social subject. Perhaps the question of "motive" isn't the right question to ask. It is not so much an issue of motives as a question of becoming an acephalous subject or undergoing subjective destitution.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Levi, is then the subject destitution just the knowledge of the Other's incompleteness? Let's take my neurosis, for example. As regards my belief in the consistency of the Other, I don't buy the Big-dady-in-the-heaven-up-there-stories (which is, as Freud suspected, what every religion really boils down to, no matter how many layers of abstract theological bullshit are
wrapped around the story). In this respect, I am an incorrigible atheist sympathizing with figures as Epicurus, Nietzsche, Marx and Freud for their disgust and contempt with religion. Still, I can trace what I hold to be my own obsessive symptoms regarding my belief in the consistency of the Other. I sort my own garbage, worry about climactic changes (I've watched "Inconvenient Truth" about 5 times, screening it to friends from work and anyone who's interested) and consistently vote for parties with green agenda. I am enraged by US stance on ecology. I even worry obsessively on my way to work about how many commuters stuck in traffic jams there are in the world right now and how much CO2 they pump out in the atmosphere (I only use mass transit). I don't do this out of some hysteric post-hippie "save the world!" attitude, I just can't imagining waking up one day and seeing that something has changed significantly in the landscape of the social - I drop by the supermarket and there's no food any more, the traffic has collapsed, ecoonomy has halted down, the current status quo where I can have my little piece of comfortable suburbian middle class jouissance gone. I can imagine that the naive religious idiots (if there are indeed any, apart from my fantasizing them) don't have these symptoms - as you pointed out in a post a few months ago, why the hell would they worry about ecology when the apocalypse is imminent and they count among the few elect anyone? They have other ways of arguing the consistency of the Other. My cynical suspicion is, however, that it's the neuroses like mine or theirs that really sustain the social bond and account for individual motives in terms of larger political projects. My
perennial question, then - is social bond dependent on neurosis as Freud claims? And is it possible for individuals having undergone subjective destitution to continue to feel responsibility in terms of their participation in (/identification with) larger social wholes and projects? I can't help but imagine a subject having undergone subjective destitution as a caricatural brainless desiring machine rather than as an engaged Sartrian (Badiouian, Zizekian) subject. The question's been posed on this blog several times in the past, but being a materialist atheist in need of concrete empirical examples, I am still coming back to the question of what the social bond beyond neurosis, perversion and all the other civilization's discontents would look like and if it's at all possible. This question haunted me with Sartre, Camus and Heidegger already and with Lacan's (Zizek's) theory, it's only got worse.

November 17, 2006 4:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, you write: "My cynical suspicion is, however, that it's the neuroses like mine or theirs that really sustain the social bond and account for individual motives in terms of larger political projects. My
perennial question, then - is social bond dependent on neurosis as Freud claims? And is it possible for individuals having undergone subjective destitution to continue to feel responsibility in terms of their participation in (/identification with) larger social wholes and projects?"

I think this is right. One of the points worth remembering is that for Lacan the various psychic structures are stances with respect to jouissance and the Other. Perversion takes itself to be the object of the Other's jouissance, neurosis is a stance with regard to the Others demand (and strives to defend against the Other's desire and jouissance), and the Other is absent, as it were, in psychosis. In this respect, the different psychic structures are ways in which social relations are sustained.

My favorite example of this has to do with mowing the lawn. I genuinely dislike mowing the lawn but experience tremendous pressure to do so. Insofar as I see my neighbors mow their lawns, I work on the premise that they have a demand for me to mow my lawn and are angry when I allow it to get overgrown. I have no evidence of this. It might be true, it might not be true. But I feel this tremendous pressure to mow my lawn one way or another. So I then get out there, finally, and mow my lawn so as to not anger the neighbors. Generally I could care less about whether the grass is long or short, but I do, for some bizarre reason, care about what my neighbors think. I say this is bizarre, as I really don't know my neighbors.

Now, the most humorous scenerio with regard to this would be if my neighbors saw me mowing my lawn, assumed that I believe lawn mowing to be important even though they don't care, and consequently mowed their lawn out of deference to their neighbors. That is, what if all of us were engaging in this activity that we really couldn't care less about because we all believed everyone else cared? Here an entire social link is maintained on the basis of miscommunication or misunderstanding, and I take it that my attitude towards my neighbors is an example of fantasy: If I can answer to their *demand* ("mow your lawn!"), then I can forestall an encounter with their enigmatic desire. What would traversing the fantasy be in such a situation? Would I still continue to have a regard for my neighbors? Might I discover that my thoughts that the neighbors would be angry with me are only a pretext enabling me to arrive at a certain jouissance that I feel I'm not supposed to have, i.e., that I have to think of my neighbors as angry to enjoy in a particular way, just as I might have a nightmare where I'm being attacked and beaten so as to make me an innocent victim and so as to allow myself to arrive at my aggressive jouissance without guilt when I fight back. Would I just fight back without making myself into a victim in a post-fantasy scenerio?

I think the question of what a community looks like after the collapse of the Other is the ten million dollar question.

November 17, 2006 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's not really a question of what a community looks like after the collapse of the Other but of how specifically the subject having traversed her fantasy relates to the Other - would she continue to mow the lawn knowing that the only thing at stake is the narcissistic pleasure of being held in high regard by one's neighbors?

November 18, 2006 1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This point, I think, is extremely important:

"I think the question of what a community looks like after the collapse of the Other is the ten million dollar question."

I've been in the process of trying to reflect critically on problems with the discourses surrounding "community" in the area where I'm doing my fieldwork, and while it's not difficult to point to problems in existing concepts, it's far, far more difficult to pin down the perspective from which I'm offering my critique...

November 18, 2006 1:41 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

N.P. I'd be interested in hearing more about that. The question for me has emerged in relation to questions of how to form psychoanalytic organizations cognizant of the non-existence of the big Other. I take it that this was one of Lacan's central questions later in life... How do you form an organization that doesn't fetishize the master as being the subject supposed to know? The history of the psychoanalytic movement doesn't bode well for this.

November 19, 2006 11:31 AM  
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