Another one of my rambling response papers from my social theory class last year. For those of you who haven't read all of them that I've posted on my blog, I was working furiously hard to talk as little about the readings as possible and mention a Hindi movie at least once per response. This is particularly evident from this response which was supposed to cover the Mirror Stage from Lacan, ISA from Althusser, a chapter from the Gundrisse from Marx and chapter from The Interpretation of Dreams from Freud, and ending up being a rambling regurgitation of Zizek's last five books.
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Social Theory b
Professor Da Silva
Lacan, Freud, Althusser, Marx
I’d like to apologize first, I’m behind in all my stuff, so I haven’t gotten around to doing the Marx readings yet. So Marx shall only make an appearance here as the spectre which Derrida has advised me to not yet exorcise.
Lacan loved to pick on animals, as evident even in this reading, constantly using them as the limit break binary through which the human subject can be created. In addition to his statement from this article that humans are the only creatures who can lie by telling the truth, Lacan also once noted that the difference between humans and animals lies in their relationship to trauma. For an ant gathering food, the trauma of being knocked off a branch is exceptional it is rare. For humans on the other hand, despite how we may define our lives, trauma is the condition of existence.
Thus it should come as no surprise given the way Lacan constructs the subject and its relation to language and everything else. A signifier signifies the subject for another signifier clues us in to regular isolation the subject has in relation to the other and even his own speech. We are the client, our language, a lawyer which speaks to another lawyer. (Zizek uses imagery of a medical chart at the bed of the patient) Although we have an investment in speech, and are some part of it, our control over it and is meaning is debatable. But the moving backwards, the subject itself does not exist prior to this act necessarily. It is the speech act and more importantly the desire the act represents (in seeking desire) that constitutes the subject. The speaking represents the transformation of the child from a demanding thing to a desiring thing.
In Lacan the difference between demand and desire, is the different between impossible and possible (for example the difference between Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julia Roberts in American Sweethearts to John Cusack (oooh, what a terrible Lacanian example), the demand can never be fulfilled, it is always the demand for something which cannot be given. Desire on the other had, arises out of frustrated demands, which are not being met. As child it is this frustration which moves the child to speak, to identify a desire apart from its motherer, the object of desire on the other hand can be obtained, but once the object is obtained, it loses the aura of the object of desire and another object is sought.
Of course, a conversation such as this requires a mention of love. Lacan’s definition of which is “love is the giving of something which the subject doesn’t have, to someone who doesn’t want it.” Love, as such a timeless, seemingly inexhaustible theme seems to meet Lacan’s notions, in that the object of love can never be exhausted in its articulations, precisely because it is an object that can never be grasped.
Returning to the class and the bloody cogito, what we find in both Freud and Lacan is an attempt to articulate the obverse of the Cartesian cogito and incorporate it into their theoretical frameworks. Thus in Freud we find the death drive and the unconscious. In Lacan we see the presymbolic state of children where only need and demand exist. Passage from these states requires a moment of traumatic madness when the proto-ontological gap is encountered and the subject thus created. The subject, at least in Lacan’s formulations is made from presymbolic substance in an attempt to “heal the gap,” to cover it up. Thus, if we are to believe psychoanalysis, the “act” which creates the subject, paradoxically tries to cover up the gap, while actively maintaining it as well.
But Lacanian psychoanalysis is built upon an insane amount of such paradoxes. The subject exists in as much as it misrecognizes the gap (much like the way Itchy and Scratchy from The Simpsons continue to live, despite being decapitated or killed, so long as they do not look at the wound itself). (Cube, while being hilariously silly, is actually a film run on a psychoanalytical economy of misrecognition, furthermore one can see how it has its own dialectical process going with its sequels, Hypercube and Cube 3 as leading towards a possible symptomal (dis)solution). The subject has some inward agency so long as uses the Symbolic order to deceive the other (and himself) (Such is the promise of the recent film Dear Frankie, where the man hired by a boy’s mother to impersonate his dad (whom she has been writing on behalf of for years) has the potential to become the boy’s father.) (It is of course, the deception that makes this possible) (This is also the Symbolic process endlessly varied in Hindi films, such as Kyon…Ho Gaya Na, which creates love/attachments between couples arranged married.)
Central as both the readings from Freud and Lacan note in all this, is the unconscious, however both have different beliefs and uses for it. For Freud, the unconscious is a repository for hidden desires and drives. It is part of the primary process which constantly conflicts with the secondary process of rationality, always threatening the façade of control and composure that we attempt. Jokes, slips and in particular dreams offer means to find out these hidden wishes. For Lacan, the unconscious is not so much a real place as Freud proposes, but is instead the place of the Real, of the unknowable desires. Thus we find, within the human psyche another form of the proto-ontological gap, the unconscious. It is the necessarily uncertain, unstable, potentially mad element, where the disavowed contents which push and prevent the dialectics of life are formed and hidden. The Real is the necessarily disavowed content of a subjects position. Like the object of desire, it can be known and unknown (it could be called an “unknown known” to dialogue with amateur Philosopher Donald Rumsfeld), meaning that the Real can intrude, and it can either be Symbolically rejected and remain disavowed, or it can be known, at which point the Real becomes something else. (by the way, Lacan talked very little about the Real as far as I can tell, and Zizek talks too much about it, making too many formulations, some of which contradict what I’ve just written). This of course explains the pragmatic difference between Freud and Lacan. For Freud, rational discourse is possible and thus people can get better. Lacan is of course more pessimistic (and actually according to rumors treated very few people). One can explain this difference in their relation to the symptom, in that Freud saw the symptom as something to be (dis)solved, while Lacan makes the symptom itself and the linguistic tenor of it, his fetish. (Thus, Lacan falls prey as we all seem to do, to the proliferation of desire, that, objects constantly create (generally perverse) supplemental desires (such as Sid’s menagerie of toys and toy torture from Toy Story) (Lacan’s fetishization of the symptom of course fits perfectly within his constellation of linguistic undeciability and alienation, which is why its probably not a big deal).
In terms of the goals for this course, the psychoanalytical subject, while obviously more complicated, in that the madness so often disavowed is admittedly necessary component, and the subject is more full of desire than reason, does not escape the Cartesian cogito or Hegelian theories, if anything it proudly uses them. (As Zizek notes, a dialogue between Lacan and Delueze is not only impossible, but unproductive, what would be more productive is instead an “encounter.” After all, Delueze was thought of to be the last philosopher of “the one,” whereas Lacan of course can’t let go of the cogito.)
But this doesn’t mean that psychoanalysis is useless and should be tossed out. As I’ve found, in particular with Zizek’s work, it has awesome potential, so long as one does not use it with “happiness” or an “outside” as the intended result.
For example, looking at the way the world is today one might assume especially within the global north that we live in some ego epoch. But of course, this is precisely the type of resistance to deception, which breeds deception. The wealth of freedom talk and freedom assertion if anything shows the very ways in which humans are hopelessly interpolated (my little Althusser moment, since I figure I’ll be way past 1,500 words by the time I reach the end of my Freud/Lacan ramblings, and therefore won’t feel like talking about Althusser). Rosa Luxemberg’s famous saying that “freedom is for those who think differently” thus becomes some sort of Ipod commercial, “freedom is for those who think.” The point being Kant’s similar famous Enlightenment saying, “this as much as you want, but just obey!” Thus, at the very structure the current global capitalistic framework, far from being that of the ego, is that of the superego.
What does this mean? Human life more and more becomes a trip to grandma’s house. The stereotypical visit to grandma’s house, with an aged matriarch, a rebellious disinterested child, and a authoritarian parent is usually summed up with this statement, “Even if you don’t want to go, you will go to grandma’s house and be good!” But of course, there is a hidden, forced choice to this law, and that is that in addition to going and behaving, “you will visit grandma and you will be glad to do it!” The superego injunction is thus, Do it, and ENJOY! But at the same time however, Zizek notes that as politics is becoming more and more about the distribution and regulation of jouissance, (for example, by politicizing gay marriages, abortion), psychoanalysis is an approach which might offer some revolutionary political potential. (this is especially true in terms of postmodern and liberal impasses, one of which fears the kernel (insert random KFC joke here), the other high fidelity.)