Memorials In The Real

When we think about memorials, to be specific let us limit ourselves to war memorials at first, we usually think of them as symbols of patriotism. They are recognitions by the Other to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the Nation or some other cause looked favorably upon by the Other.

Traditionally, then, memorials are usually linked to some form of often competing symbolic memorializations. This is because they are usually performing a public ritual. They are taking some cause working on the ego at the imaginary level of semblances – of mourning, some loss or trauma – and reinscribing it in the public signifying chain supporting the phallic signifier of castration.

Even in the modernist tradition that critiques Nationalism, the aim remains to protect or purge the Other of the abject object that has stained it’s reputation. Thus, a favorite film of mine, Stanley Kubrick’s Paths to Glory, which is an indictment of the stupidity and loss of war, does not escape this desire to save Other from the filth of abject leaders. Especially in the film’s conclusion we see that the signifiers of the Other are not the general Broulad’s who botch everything but Colonel Dax and his fine brave boys who march on despite seeing the horror of the war. It is in this sense that we can see the film, despite being an anti-war film, as also being a memorial for the Other.

Alongside these kinds of memorials that seek to react to some loss or trauma by rewriting or reinscribing loss and suffering in the Symbolic, we also can draw attention to a different form of memorialization. Here the aim is not to rewrite imaginary loss as symbolic castration in the public and psychic space of the Symbolic. Instead something else is at stake.

What is at stake is not creating a new signifier to locate Imaginary suffering in the Symbolic but a fusion, or near fusion, of Imaginary and Real because the Symbolic is weak.

When the Symbolic cannot titrate the jouissance of the Real for the subject, egos tend to run amuck in their private and their public rituals. When the Symbolic is weak the subject will likely experience anxiety and delirium because the ‘object a’ is too near to the ego.

There is literally not enough Symbolic to buffer the ego from the object, the subject will tend to be overwhelmed by feelings that he or she is coming undone- feelings that they must defend against by designating some other as the source of anxiety to be gotten rid of.

Such confusion occurred recently at a memorial commemorating the victims of anti-Semitism during Kristallnacht that excluded Jews. One can only imagine such as thing happening where the subjects who organized the memorial were under extraordinary psychic pressure from the ‘object a’ in the Real which for them could only be the Jew. We thus have a situation where the image of the Jew occurring in the Imaginary had to be erased because that semblant Jew was really representing the devouring oral ‘object a’ for them.

We live in a world where the Symbolic is in crisis. Where the name of the father is weakened. And where anxiety and juissance are therefore more inclined to dominate the phantasms of the ego. And we see this structure here in the decision to commemorate the fight against anti-Semitism while excluding Jews.

Resistance to anti-Semitism which historically and structurally means resistance to hatred for Jews is literally turned into a word signifying ‘No Jews here!’. All this remains tied to the fate of History in the post-Holocaust era where we see a tendency for neurotic hatred of Jews to be replaced by psychotic ones. For, there is a decidedly psychotic structure here supporting a fantasm to erase the Jew from their own history; to erase their place in a signifying chain and place them completely in the real.

Kojeve and Lacan

A note of the continuing role of Kojeve in Lacan’s thought.

During the thirties and forties Lacan studied Hegel with the crypto-Marxist Alexander Kojeve and Alexandre  Koyre. While conventional wisdom is that Lacan puts Kojeve aside by the middle fifties (much as he does Heidegger a little later) Lacan’s insistence on the inequality of the analyst’s and analysand’s relationship bears the sign of Kojeve on it. In this blog I will, very briefly, explain how:


A young Kojeve

After 1959, Lacan no longer says that an analysis is concerned with intersubjectivity. Rather he stresses that the analyst and the analysand occupy positions that are structurally different and broadly analogous to the relation of Master and Slave in Kojeve’s reading of Hegel’s “Master-Slave dialectic in The Phenomenology of the Spirit, provided we recall that for Lacan the position of the Master is that of the dupe and the idiot.

More specifically, when the analysand requests an analysis, it is he or she who speaks; that is, it is the analysand who does the work and produces the signifiers while the analyst, who as I said is something of an idiot, can do nothing but wait for the analysand to speak. But just as it is the Master’s willingness to go all the way to the death that situates him as the Master who sets the slave’s desire in motion (via his having to labor for Other), so it is the analyst’s listening, made possible by his or her own analysis, that will set in motion the transference of the analysand.

Obviously one shouldn’t take this analogy too far. The key difference is that the Master in Kojeve’s dialectic refuses to see the other as a subject whereas the analyst always supposes a subject is there and listens for the signifiers. Also, where Kojeve’s slave, who does the work, works towards their freedom (and towards the death of desire), in an analysis, the analysand drops their imaginary identifications, comes to a position where the Subject supposed to Know or Master does not exist so that the analysand no longer positions himself vis a vis the Other’s desire but can position himself in relation to his own desire.

Frankenstein, you poor deluded man

  While on my way to see the film version of the National Theater’s performance of Frankenstein I had the following stream of consciousness.
My thoughts began- innocently enough – with a thought on second thought I would have disavowed but since this was only a stream of consciousness I didn’t wait for my judgement to intervene but just plowed on.
While crossing Broadway and 10 street I mused that many interpretations of Frankenstein fall somewhere between two positions. In the first, Frankenstein recoils in horror at the site of the monster and refuses to give the creature a name thus dooming it to walk through the world outside of the Symbolic order a half-thing and a monster. This is a position I thought that stems from Mary Shelley’s horror story itself.
The second position nearly reverses things. It is the solution found in many ‘popular’ Hollywood remakes of the Frankenstein story where the creature is given a name: Frankenstein so that if you ask the average Joe who Frankenstein was they will say it was the creature. But Hollywood only gives the creature a name so that it can be hounded out of the Symbolic by peasants with pitchforks!
A psychoanalytic way to think this is the following: when Frankenstein the scientist refuses to name the creature, he refuses to ‘suppose a subject’ is there in the pre symbolic grunts of the baby-monster. The monster is the object of Frankenstein’s wild jouissance which he disavows because he cannot see a subject there he only see the inverse image of his own death drive which then goes off into the world to do mischief and become Frankenstein’s obsessions.
In this reading the monster is Frankenstein’s symptom and in particular his failure to be able to separate from his own fusional object. Alain Vanier describes how the child at first functions as the mother’s phallus and a fusional object and how difficult it is to give up and replace this fusional object relations with a transitional object capable of being ‘lost’. What is lost being precisely the fantasy of that fusion is possible.
But for this to happen, the mother or caregivers must be able to suppose a subject is there even before one exists. By the same token, Frankenstein, as the monster’s creator, has a fusional object relation to his creation, albeit one that overwhelming negative and deadly, and he never is able to really suppose a subject there; thus, his relation to the creature remains plagued by an inability to oppose this fusional object relation with one that supposes a separation.
When the creature speaks and forces Frankenstein to relate to him as a proto-subject Frankenstein retreats in horror back to the position of the fusional object. And it is in this way that we can say the creature is the symptom of Frankenstein’s obsessions, suggesting Frankenstein himself was the product of a family who could not suppose him to be a subject or allow him to separate; and, as a consequence, Frankenstein’s mad fantasies of conquering the ‘secrets of nature’ was itself nothing more than this fusional fantasies in all its mad and deadly forms transposed onto an object of science.

The Analytic Act, the Object a, and anti-Fascism

The Analytic Act, the Object a, and anti-Fascism
In this paper I plan to consider the analytic act as an anti-fascist act. I hope to show in fact how the analytic act subverts the ideal of fascism, which, while secretly exposing the master, or the One, to be an idiot and the ideals of fascism itself to be nothing but pure shit, officially seeks to promote a mirror image of purity and wholeness.
The analytic act
Uttering the letters of the unconscious can be shocking and unexpected because it seems to come from nowhere, from the outside that Freud called the other scene. Unplanned and unprepared for, it emerges unexpectedly like a cut, a gash, a mistake, a slip, a lie.
It is something totally unproductive from the ego’s and its planning committee’s point of view.
In this sense, too, the enunciation during the analytic act is a species of ‘free association.’ Tyche –surprise – is one of its defining aspects. And this aspect of it is tied with automaton- because there is a compulsive repetition and automatic aspect to it as well. Tyche and automaton therefore are linked aspects of the same movement of the unconscious as it seeks to bring the subject of enunciation to light and let it speak ephemeral letters, linked in the manner of automatic writing, to the rhythms of unconscious; thus combining in a single movement surprise and compulsion – it is both free and zugzwang, all of it turning around a point where something surprising appears, unexpectedly-a new meaning, a new way for the subject to position itself, etc – a moment of startlement for the I just before the unconscious closes again around an old or a new meaning.
But to say this is already to stress the moment when a new meaning is given and the subject of unconscious closes down again. What I want to stress here is the earlier moment when in fact we remain in contact with the opening of the unconscious and to the ephemeral enunciation, when the subject falls out of the picture frame and jouissance returns in the form of the object a.
Let us take some illustrations. The Wolf Man dreams a primal scene. But this primal scene is not just what it appears to be on the surface. On the surface we have this image, call it a projection, of the Wolf Man watching. Watching watch? Lacan tells us it is an image of the Wolf Man watching a phallus object disappearing over and over again during coitus.
That is, the Wolf Man dreams he is watching a phallic object disappearing. However the object disappearing in this dream is really not a phallus but an object a; and therefore what the Wolf Man dreams is the moment when subject qua object literally falls out of the frame of the picture, and while still being there as an image, is only a stain or mark of something gone.
The Wolf Man dreams is precisely what occurs in an analytic act. Some subject qua object has escaped into the other scene, into the field of the real that remains outside the area covered by the imaginary-symbolic field. There is still a dreamer there. He dreams from the position of voyeur. But the subject is elsewhere. Another example is when Freud watches his grandson playing the game of strings. In the fort-da game, his grandson repeatedly is tossing the bobbin attached to a string over the curtained crib and watching it disappear, thus illustrating the movements of the unconscious, which are movements of repetition, of the return of jouissance as he avidly watches the object disappearing. Here too, as in the example of the Wolf Man, the individual watches as a repetition (automaton) is happening to it –and it reacts with surprise at what is produced. But voyeurism is not the point as much as the structure is (common to dreams, play, and symptoms) in which jouissance returns at the same time as the subject qua object is disappearing from the fields of the symbolic-imaginary – to disappear and to return being two sides of a single process. Fort-da! (object, gone-jouissance there!) being strictly analogous to the Wolf-Man’s excitement while watching the phallic object a disappearing –where it was, there I must come to, as Lacan said.
In Lacan’s reading of the Greek tragedy ‘Antigone’ Oedipus’ only female child, in seminar VII, a return of deadly jouissance replaces the excitement of the return of jouissance in a game and the more hidden enjoyments of the dream. In this context the subject-object that is disappearing is also going to be put to death by Creon and the State – deadly serious stuff for a little jouissance! But we see here the same unconscious structure of desire as in the other two cases whereby, now turned into a political act, we, the audience, watches the subject-object disappearing into the real.
A more distant example, but one sharing the same structure appears in the analysis of little Anna Freud and her beating fantasies. In Freud’s ‘A child is being beaten’ (1919) we see the repetition of an experience of jouissance during a moment of the fading of the subject from the frame in three beating fantasies. ‘1. A child of an unspecified gender is being beaten by its father 2. I am being beaten by my father 3. Some authority figure is beating many children.’ The difference here is that the primal fantasy of watching the subject qua object disappear, which includes voyeurism (watching), exhibitionism (being seen by an Other), and sado-masochism is being replaced by beatings. But we see the same basic movement of the unconscious we saw in the other examples, whereby meaning is temporarily suspended and, in a state of startlement or shock, the subject falls out of the frame (or someone is beaten) as jouissance returns via the body. And, not to beat a dead horse but to sight a final example, is this not also the stakes in Lacan’s desire to found a school where there is a transmission of these desires with others sharing the same engagement with the movements of the unconscious?
What these examples all share then is a compulsion to represent the return of jouissance in the moment when the subject-object disappears, which both Freud and Lacan show is the primary action of the unconscious, its singular movement. Something we see in tyche and automaton, which reveals the same rhythmic openings and closings of the unconscious.
Automatic repetition
Let me next say a few things about these movements of the unconscious between the speaking I and the closing of the psyche around new meaning because it is very apt for our discussion. The unconscious constantly is creating new meaning out of the I speaking via repetition. Moreover this repeating has a binary structure befitting the communication of the I of the unconscious and speech. The basic structure is: a new signifier appears in the act of speaking but it does not acquire a set meaning at first. It requires a second go round.
Thus, a duplication of a first signifier by a second signifier has everything to do with the role the gap, the lack of relation, plays in the unconscious. Meanings are always displaced and being assigned apres coup. In this sense, meanings remain provisional. They are made apres coup, to explain some movement of the unconscious that has already happened.
Moreover, this repetition whereby an unconscious movement that already has happened is given a meaning on the second go round is the same movement whereby the infinite desire that remains outside in the real is named, and tied up in a nice finite package for the subject to work with retroactively. The unsettled gaps and traumatic character of the questions asked in the unconscious look differently from the position of meaning – from a place where the subject supposes it or someone knows because, again from the position of meaning, the desire and the gap in the unconscious appears other and reappears only in the uncanny form of symptoms, gaps in memory, slips, etc. It is because of our relation to this infinite outside, which is just another dimension of unconscious desire, always looks out of place to us, like a sea serpent or an uncanny one-eyed cannibal, that our world appears like a kind of negative symptomatic space sometimes.

923569_2973641915866_1473976433_nHere is a medieval picture of the cosmos representing the world described by Dante. As in most (except the Classic scientific) worlds, we are supposed to see that the finite is folded within the infinite, as a sort of after-thought to it. After Descartes the infinite becomes folded into the subject ‘I’ of self-consciousness (see German idealism). But then after Freud and Lacan, the infinite again is folded into the subject of the unconscious (see the moebius strip) placing the object a, this stain on the symbolic representing jouissance and the subject, in the outside.
Freud gives us an elegant representation of this infinite unconscious outside and how it communicates with meaning as signifiers of lack or meaning or as a symptom. In Civilization and its Discontents Freud likens the psychic apparatus, which I am comparing to an infinite communication vessel linking an outside where the subject of the unconscious is and a world of supposed meanings, to the city of Rome.

Not the city as we know it today, but a city where every age and each structure, from the beginning of the first habitation up to the present and beyond are all there simultaneously at the same time and in the same psychic space. This infinite point (for we are clearly being shown an infinite space) where all the times past and present are there together, this representation of the psychic apparatus that Freud imagines for us as the city of Rome, of course, only exists in a sort of fourth dimension we can only barely intuit by its effects in language.
Lacan discusses this infinite outside on which the subject and signifier run around as being a moebius strip where speech and desire do not meet a border or cut, where the edge folds into itself. The infinite is that which even when it has folds and cuts in it has no border or outer edge but is still infinite. It therefore can be stretched, cut, twisted and remains infinite. Lacan’s name for this infinite point where there is no outer cut or edge is the subject –precisely even though it is divided.
Lacan shows in his essay on Kant and Sade published in Ecrits this borderless infinite also is discussed in Kant’s book on the critique of practical reason and Sade’s novels. So, for example, when Kant talks of the impossible universal demands that practical reason places on each subject, how we are duty bound to act based on impossible demands, he is not only bringing the noumena into phenomena as its ethical dimension, he is arguing that reality consists in these spaces or dimension created by what Lacan will call the object a where it is not sufficient to say to oneself this is how things are, this is the ways of the world, because there are these other dimension of negativity in reality itself.
This subject of the unconscious used to also exist in the picture of the world people had before the disenchanting of the world by science. Kant’s genius was to re-enchant the world in a fashion acceptable to the rational, scientific era. That partially explains why Kant’s ethics and Sade’s boudoir, however much the one seems absurd and the impossibly perverse, are the answers given at the end of the eighteenth century to the effort to totally positivize reality. That is, just as Revolution revealed to some people that the Other is less totalizing than people believed, Kant and Sade make these strange barely readable enunciations. On the cusp of the dual explosions of Revolution and Romanticism both embrace this subject that can’t be found inside the desire of the Other and the pathological world of phenomenology but must necessarily exist outside in some negative dimension that Sade will realize better than Kant is the dimension of jouissance beyond the pleasure principle, in that outside of impossible sexuality.
Therefore both Kant and Sade (and Schelling and Hegel as well, according to Zizek) are the real precursors of Freud and Lacan’s belief that reality is not pure and not whole but broken into by an outside, so that we are in one sense free to change ourselves and the world by gaining access to this other dimension of desire proving that we are not totally trapped, we are not totally alienated subjects, within the Other’s gaze. But neither are we able to leave the world. There is no ‘it,’ no ‘authentic pre-mediated reality that we lost when we were introduced to signifiers. Even the real, in the sense of RSI, is already not ‘it’, but is only a representation of an ‘it’ (traumatizing enough!) that appears as gaps in the world where an impossible subject exists. Yet this does not make the real any less the real– it is just that it is a real of the letter. In this sense, when we experience the letter (subject) we experience the real which though not ‘it’- is still outside the Other’s demands for love which as Freud says in it pure form always is a demand to be All for the other, for there to be no other but the beloved, therefore no outside of love. Or, to Plato’s idea that in the context of philosophy: ‘Love is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be completed,’ we by a sort of fusion state with the beloved.
Drives and the ego ideal
I will return later to love. Let me talk about the drive and the ego ideal first. At one point in the later 1910s, Freud considers how the drives, which he equates with the infinite outside, get all knotted up while creating meanings via language at the level of the ego ideal and death drive (and then in the 1920s between Eros and Thanatos) so that at this level everything ends up more or less in knots and impasse; this is why we have an ego ideal- to allow us to pretend that we live in a world – or could if fate were different- of ideals rather than of shitty impurity and impasses. And this is even more the point for Lacan who pursues these knotted communications of the unconscious and the ideals, showing us is that the subject is like the Minotaur, who only exists in those other places – where the drive and the letters, especially the letter object a, exist – and not in the ideal which has the quality of a mirror image fantasy.

971918_2984002774881_429299046_nA map of Finnegan’s Wake done by Maholy-Nagy. It suggests the text (and life) is a labyrinth of signifiers with JJ at the center signifying the sexual-murderous Minotaur- subject. A labyrinth of course is notoriously opposed to the light of positive reason, it is full of wrong turns, dark corridors, slips, jokes, mystery, letters, objects a such that only a hero like Theseus (or James Joyce) can dream of navigating it safely.]
That is partially why the ego’s ideal always has an obscene shitty supplement. Gold always turns into shit and shit into gold in the unconscious, and Theseus the hero of cunning (of meaning) always becomes a Minotaur. The infinite is too big a place to be ordered about by anyone but a dupe or imbecile, that is, by a master who quite possibly is an obscene idiot who is simply surrounded by signifiers of authority. What we are about to see is that the ideal of fascism always combines ideals with comical and obscene flourishes that are so exaggerated that only a fool would take them to be what they claim to be.
Since the world has gaps, and we impose meaning that suppose an ideal onto it, there must always be at least one exception or impasse whenever we attempt to order reality. Castration therefore is the only universal principle, the only true master. Every ideal has its obscenity, its stretch marks, wears a greasy overcoat, and has garlic breadth. Hence, the real joke occurs when masters or those who love them take themselves too seriously as ideals.
This brings us to the ideal of fascism. Fascism, like any ideal, is an afterthought of the unconscious, and apres coup second movement of an unconscious movement that already has occurred. To review a basic point: You recall the movements of the unconscious have two parts to them. Something happens (is spoken) in the unconscious, caused by some impasse or question that is knotting up the subject- what does the Other want; what is it to be a women; what is a father, etc. Then, in a second movement, we become conscious of it (it we do become conscious of it) and give it a meaning.
Fascism is a meaning of this type that we arrive at to stabilize and button down (as in button down the hatch!)in the domain of language these inchoate desires and questions troubling the unconscious. Fascism creates a meaning via an ideal. It answers questions raised in the unconscious and in the real by substituting mirror images of purity, coordination, strength in unity, and, above all, a demand to erase (in an apres coup manner) the impasses and questions stemming from the unconscious and the real that are disturbing the fascist body (this often assuming a concrete form of some other or others who are alien to the body and must be eliminated).
As an ideal, fascism screens these impasses in the real and in the unconscious, closing them off and excluding them from a place in the fascist mirror image in the same way transference love does – that is, by closing the unconscious and disavowing the unconscious and its desire to speak. Ideally, this coordination should hystericize subjects – making them question and challenge the Other’s desire. Asking, for example, what does this Other expect of me? And this would be what happens when people experience the analytic act. But more and more coordination leads to de-hystericizing the subject so that the subject asks fewer and fewer questions.
In place of these desires to speak and to place the real in the picture of the world, fascism imposes its own meaning that the world should be pure and whole. This suggests that the desire for a master that Freud notes in Group psychology and the analysis of the ego (1921) may have morphed, but is stronger than ever. The morphing of the desire for a master into a university discourse describes perfectly the doubling that defines a repetition. In this case, the doubling follows the diachronic structure: ‘master, university discourse’ but this does not alter the basic desire for masters. For in the movement from master to university discourse the master’s gaze remains at the center of things, as does the subject’s desire to identify with a fantasy that the master escapes castration (or that the master possesses in a Wagnerian sense the magical phallus that heals the wound). John Steinbeck expressed this desire in an American context when he wrote that Americans during the Depression would never embrace Socialism because ‘the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.’ That is, the poor feel identified with the rich and believe their exclusion is only temporary.
This fascist fantasy is ground on a demand that the master or the One be able to transform the shit of existence into pure gold. The impasse of class division is a particular target of the fascist fantasy of wholeness. Fascism polices the boundary between peoples and unpeoples who were seen as divisive or unfit. As a revolutionary political ideology it restructures politic and society by fusing corporate and State power, usually during periods of economic and social impasse, often around a surge in militarism and the turning of aggression against those who are not part of the whole. In Germany this involved an attempt at Gleichschaltung of all sectors by the Party, but the collapse of separation can occur in other ways too such as happened in Spain (where the Church retains independence) and Italy (where business is less controlled but nevertheless is linked into the fascist State).
Fascism, therefore, like love effects a closing of the unconscious. And as meaning, as ideal, it is just a cover for the fact that the fascist knows, the emperor has no cloth, is not whole, that the master is an idiot and the ideal is nothing but pure shit – something moreover that is readily apparent to anyone who takes a moment to reflect on the sort of leaders who run fascist States and corporations; and, to the extent that the impasse and questions in the unconscious remain unanswered and so continue to bother people, fascism itself is nothing but a sham.
On the other hand, we can see the analytic act that Freud and Lacan built functioning as a kind of vessel to carry us beyond these of purity and the ideal of Empire. The gamble of psychoanalysis, the very antithesis of fascism – is to keep the communication with the unconscious open is an ethical act and therefore good in itself and good for everyone even if few or no one affords themselves of it anymore. It is good in and of itself in that it allows the movements of the unconscious (the first act in the repetition) to come to term in the second moment by producing a new meaning, in the sense of Zola’s ‘J’accuse’ or Rimbaud’s ‘I am Other’, the real meaning being that the lines between the unconscious and language (meaning) remain open so that the subject has not shut down and become mute and blind in the sense of being unable to read the letters of his unconscious. Such an act is literally unthinkable for the fascist whose whole being is turned not to their own unconscious as a communicating vessel but to a fantasy of purity, strength through unity, and coordination. And, we can perhaps take some comfort in the thought that every fascist desire has a Trojan horse in the form of a signifier of lack, and so the ideal of building a world where the outside is more and more hidden by the enjoyments of the semblant of the mirror images, only goes so far.
Now allow me to return to the topic of love. Lacan showed the illusion of identifying with a powerful fantasmatic Other. ‘The Master is unconscious,’ according to Zizek’s paraphrase, ‘hidden in the infernal world, and he is an obscene impostor – the ‘version of the father’ is always a pere-version.’ That is, any ideal is pere-version- a substitute of an ideal for what is not there –namely, the subject. The appeal of fascism is precisely in this faith that real masters exist somewhere, even if it is only via a pere-version of the real.
That is, what binds the subject to the fascist master is always love and the demand to see the Other as an ideal whose purity can heal the wounds caused by the real and the gaps in the subject. But the ideal, which is the thing loved, is what closes the unconscious and produces a symptom in its place similar to transference love. As Lacan implies in the transference seminar, the lover loves because he believes the beloved can close the gap, that he or she is the antidote to the object a because the lover supposes something about the beloved, namely that the beloved has the phallus.

[MISSING IMAGE OF CHARLIE CHAPLIN COMICALLY SERENADING A WASHER WOMAN WITH A VIOLIN. THE CAPTION SAYS:The world of love holds together when we suppose. Here a washer woman supposes Charlie Chaplin knows how to play the violin.]
Fascism, therefore, seeks to strangle the unconscious in the cradle and replace it’s rhythms by the fascist gaze of the total absorption of the subject. On the other hand, in the analytic act, a subject does want to have the phallus. Instead the subject falls out of the frame so that the jouissance can appear in place of it.
I am Other; I am Commodities
Let me take Lacan’s idea of a semblant to get into some of these problems a little more, especially as they relate to the commodity fetish because the commodity is a semblant object linked to the appearance of a (fascist) ideal.
The semblant is a term from Lacan’s later work. It allows Lacan more latitude to talk about objects in a special way. A semblant resembles a phallus or a fetish object. Thus, almost any object can be a semblant in the way a thumb is a semblant for the lost object and then a sweet is a semblant for the thumb. In this sense, the semblant is very adaptive and can draw on almost any image or signifier to carry out its goal of replacing the primary object with a secondary one.
In terms of drives, the semblant replaces the representation of missing jouissance represented by the object a with a secondary pleasure. When we speak of semblants then we are dealing with an object functioning inside the logic of the pleasure principle – the the logic of jouissance qua death drive. It’s pleasure are less but more available, and they tend to be the kind that the subject can satisfy, often with the support of the Other, and so the subject tends to opt ‘for them over the real thing.’ Russell Grigg has stressed that it is an object ‘that fills the void left by the loss of the primary object’ with its more traumatic and crazy dimensions of enjoying.
Read Marx, especially the first volume of Capital, and you will see how Marx pictures commodities. Commodities have a magical capacity to represent anything, everything, and nothing. He is amazed at how interchangeable and universally without value they are, saying that it is this that makes them perfect objects of desire. They can be made to represent anything, any desire, and lack, and this plasticity – its ability to substitute the object a -allows people to participate in a sort of masquerade, a kind of dance around the maypole, carried out beneath the gaze of the Capitalist Other.
Marx understood in his own fashion commodities are fetishes, not precisely in the Freudian sense, but in the sense of a false idol, ‘theological whimsy,’ something that replaces money and commodities for nothing. And this is the sense in which Marx says Capitalism mixes things up, making them constantly transform into each other, so that nothing remains stable, everything solid melts into thin air, as Marx writes, precisely because the commodity’s universality.
With the universal commodity, Marx writes, money becomes the new religion, and the economy our new Church. But psychoanalytically speaking, the commodity is just a semblant or fetish taking the place of the object a.
The ideal of the commodity, therefore, means that life becomes more and more a matter of being inside the Other’s desire. Commodities continue to turn into shit – a supremely unconscious trick! It is just that the turd left over when the object is consumed is not the object a which implies a whole outside world of lost desire – it merely is shit – refuse. Capitalism will more and more disguise the biggest turd (Capitalism itself) in an endless flow of semblants that are used and tossed away as shit. Unlike Dora and her enraptured fantasies of the Madonna; the fantasy is now that there is no outside of the Other’s desire, except the jouissance of Capitalism because of the faith that Capitalism is supposed to turn shit into god (think of the American poor!) and make something out of nothing in and endless cycle of progress. If one supposes that there really is nowhere else for the subject to be (not outside) than Other’s desire, than even when Capitalism turns everything into shit there is nowhere to go.
But let us not see things that are not there. With Marx’s commodity fetishes we have not yet left the unconscious subject behind. Freud hasn’t even come on the scene! Instead let us compare this rejected, because valueless, remainder with what Dora is still able to produce for Freud. In Dora’s hysterical incestuous relations with the K.s and her father, where the phallus functions as a shitty- gift , both pure gold and crap, to be passed around (or withheld as the case may be), and which the hysteric Dora wants to both give her father (but first she must learn how from Frau K. ) and expose as a hypocritical, shitty, sham.
Female sexuality
So, to get to the point, we are in the problem of the One and the not-All in regards to object a. As the graph of sexuation shows, on the male side of the graph, the a stands as the projection of the male fantasy of women as their lost phallus and as a part objects to be enjoyed. But by situating the object a on the feminine side of the graph Lacan suggests that the letter also, indeed primarily, can function as the mystic Vx), as the letter that has both a place within and no place in the One (on the feminine Not-All side).
Now this mystic like the subject in an analytic act clearly is engaged in a divided existence. Simultaneously expressing a longing for the All (masculine sexuality) and something less than zero (the mystical loss of self) and more than nothing which combines this (masculine) fantasy for putting the subject inside the One, with an exception AND an ethical drive towards keeping the road to the outside the One open.
In sum, in the world today the logic and ethic of the unconscious is threatened by fascism. In this context, psychoanalysis and the analytic act in particular assumes new significance because to write that the Other does not exist places the subject back in the outside, to the question that Little Hans asked when he worried about the horses falling down- what am I to do with jouissance, with this outside that seems to escape from the Other’s control so that I don’t fall (into the dark night of fascism , if by fascism we mean a world where signifiers are not kept separate, where the distance between subjects and the Other disappears to a point approaching zero?

Perversion and Sacrifice

Perversion and Sacrifice (for Mark’s Workshop)

The Wikipedia article on “Perversion” says:
“Perversion is a concept describing those types of human behavior that deviate from that which is understood to be orthodox or normal. Although it can refer to a variety of forms of deviation, it is most often used to describe sexual behaviors that are considered particularly abnormal, repulsive or obsessive. ”

This is a commonly held opinion, and it is flatly wrong. It presupposes a normativity – either based in a sexual norm, a biological one, or a moral one – against which we compare the pervert, as if he were someone who occupies some ‘defective state of being’ or whose thinking is in some state of profound error, even sin, vis a vis some norm or ideal.

But, contra this view, in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud concludes that perversion, taken broadly, is a universal characteristic of infantile sexuality: ‘all humans are innately perverse,’ writes Freud. [7]

So, if Freud is right, we begin in perversion, but do we stay there? The commonly held view is that, except for a few, we do not. Against this view, however,some people like the ‘Millerian’ philosopher Slavoj Zizek maintain that the logos of modern Capitalism, the discourse that structures how we are as subjects today, is a perverse one, or, as the American Sociologist Christopher Lasch suggested in the seventies, a primitive Narcissistic one. Accordingly, even as adults, we cannot escape some relation to perversion in our everyday imaginary existence.

Another indication that we all are susceptible to perversion comes from the important French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan who differentiated perversion as a structure (a discourse)common to some and the sort of perverse fantasies which anyone can generate no matter whether their unconscious has a perverse, neurotic, or psychotic structure. This distinction is clinically important since it suggests that perverse fantasies can occur at any time in an analysis without having to deduce that that person has a perverse structure. Fantasies of beating and being beaten, or of sexually abusing the analyst, for example, occur during an analysis as a normal part of the transference dynamic. We can’t assume that because someone has a perverse fantasy, s/he is a pervert in the structural sense anymore than Freud believed reporting beating fantasies indicated a pervert in the structural sense.

We also should be aware of the changing connotation of the term perversion in the work of analysts which is connected in some way with the trauma of the war and Holocaust, a cultural decline of paternalism which had already begun in Freud’s lifetime, and the rise of a culture of narcissism (Christopher Lasch) and perversion (Joel Whitebook), often associated with the rise of American hegemony in the world after WWII.

To schematize these post-war changes in the theory of perversion, there is, first of all, the rise to dominance of the American, and in some cases British (Anna Freudian), ego psychologists in the IPA with their focus on perversion as a fixation of the drive (sexual) and on the regression of the ego – a failure to achieve gentility. Like the American ego psychologists grouped around Heinz Hartmann, Michael Balint, a leading figure of Ferenczi’s Hungarian school, who lived in England after the war and who was an important dissident figure in the IPA in the fifties and sixties and the exponent of the idea of the therapeutic alliance between the analysand’s healthy ego and the analyst’s ego – an idea which has had a lasting influence on the self, relational, and interpersonal schools emerging in American in the seventies and eighties – also believed that perversion occurs as a result of a fixation on pregenital sexuality

This discourse on perversion among the ego psychologists however was a victim of the mania for maturational models — and of full genitality -that dominated ego psychology after the war and well into the sixties. This model was unassailable in the IPA after the war. It was, as a rule, a way of thinking that labeled whatever was looked down upon in society as perverse (as due to a sexual fixation and unfinished ego development) and, as such, was a deeply conservative ideology bound to an ideal that a person was healthy when they were well-adjusted to modern life. The untenability of this became increasingly apparent in the seventies and eighties when social attitudes about sexuality began changing, and especially as a result of the influence of the gay rights movement among younger analysts in the IPA. Indeed, there is at this moment (the 1970s) a widespread desire by many to drop the drive fixation issue (especially as it concerns homosexuality).

One can verily call this rejection of the heterosexual ideal as an open court rebellion by a new generation of analyst; it was played out in conference meetings and in articles, and in the turning away from ego psychology by younger IPA analysts for a relational and self psychology – especially in America. In one article after another, either the temporal model of ego development is dropped altogether and replaced by models of relational self development etc or the ‘ego development and fixation’ frame is retained, but linked to the flourishing of pregenital narcissism and aggression a la the neo-Kleinians rather than to the ideal of complete genitality.

Thus, the French IPA psychoanalyst Chasseguet-Smirgel, who we can use as a representative of this cadre rebelling against the ego psychologists, postulates that perversion is a distortion of a basic human impulse to return to primitive states of fusion (The Ego Ideal p. 43). Moreover, writing in the early 1970s, she connected this basic human impulse to perverse pregenital fusion with states of confusion, metamorphosis, the mixing together of things, and the dissolution of difference, before going on and linking these to generational confusion and cultural revolution.

In the same period an American-trained IPA psychoanalyst living in France, Joyce McDougal, also highlighted the pregenital states of confusion and mixing up in perversion, writing that perverts defend themselves against affective states of primary depression and psychosis by disavowing the primal scene and denying that intercourse involves ‘two people or different genders.’ While in America, the IPA psychoanalyst Robert Stoller focused on how accidental pregenital traumas produce an unconscious ego script that gets set and repeated for an entire life (without treatment), and this includes a hefty number of perverse sadomasochist fantasies. And, finally, the object relational psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, who was raised in South America but practiced in White Plains for awhile and who built his developmental model of personality disorders on a distinction between pregenital narcissistic and borderline object relations, also worked on how perversion expressed pregenital aggression and object relations rather than oedipal ones.

Thus we can track how the normative developmental model which placed so much emphasis on sexual deviancy in its view of perversion and health was attacked on all sides – although much of this was already begun in the fifties, particularly by the French psychoanalyst Lacan and, for very different reasons, Kleinians and object relations theorists in England.

What is most compelling and interesting in all these shifts in the discourse of perversion after WWII, and especially after 1970, is how this shift seems to mark the effects of a retreat in the Symbolic order of the Law and the paternal signifier, and its replacement after WWII by a perverse, narcissist, one in which the mother-child relation seems to be paramount, and the fusional quality of experiences are highlighted.

Chasseguet-Smirgel puts her finger on what these changes amount to when she argues that:’the pervert is trying to free himself from the paternal universe and the constraints of the law’( 12, 1985). All of this suggests that, post WWII, the subject, qua perverse subjects, is trapped in a pregenital stage, believing that he does not have to identify any further with the paternal figure, stuck within his anal-stage idea that everything can be convertible (into a commodity), every object is available to his enjoyment, provided he can pay for it.

All this may suggest that, like Hegel’s owl who flies too late, post WWII psychoanalytic discourses on perversion merely records changes in the Symbolic that have already happened. But however compelling (and even self-congratulatory) this narrative may be, this is not the correct story. The replacement of the Law by a pregenital world of narcissism and perversion is just the illusion of the retreat of the Other (the Law). In fact, the Other is still there, hidden behind the pregenital mother, always present in language, since it cannot be totally erased; it is just that the pervert knows how to disavow what he knows – and so he can disavow the Other’s presence even as he submits to its command to enjoy!Indeed, this perverse mise en scene is precisely what Freud warns about already in the preface of Civilization and its Discontents in 1930.

Consider how Freud conceives of the fetishist, who we can take as a model pervert.1 Our fetishist is a person who is caught between times – in particular, he is a subject who remains caught between a time of trauma and castration and a time of satisfaction based on a disavowal of the said trauma. That is to say, he is a subject caught between an initial time of knowing and a later time of not knowing.

Thus, in a first moment, our poor fetishist is confronted by something of the real – a trauma. In that instance, he knows about castration, first in an alienated form as the other’s castration and then in the dawning realization of his own lack. Then, in a second instance, he recovers himself and denies that knowledge, he denies his own truth and lets himself be captured by an object that appears in the imaginary.

The mechanism at work here is identical with how the subject comes to relate to death. Our first traumatic awareness of death, says Freud, first occurs as an awareness of the lack (death) of the other. It is the other whom we love whose death first catches our breath. Then, secondarily, our ego forms an identification between this loss and ourselves, and we apprehend our own non-being.

Like in death, the fetishist’s reaction to lack first occurs as an ego distortion – as a knowledge of lack in the other. Then, secondarily, as an awareness of our own innate lack. Moreover, Freud says, the first object choice to replace the trauma is usually the first thing the child sees after the trauma. But, what is at first a purely accidental, even incidental, object choice is later replaced by other objects that are culturally selected, or can be put within a preexisting symbolic chain as a culturally important object of desire.

In fact, the scopic mechanism of seeing and the cognitive mechanism of knowing have both come under the domination of an object of desire whose primary purpose is to distort or cover up knowledge and the truth of what the subject saw, and all for a quota of pleasure. The very logic behind this logos (or structure) is the lie – or, better yet, it is a logos based on the screening off of the truth (which is unconscious) by a specious reality that we prefer because it allows subjects to have use of the object for their pleasure, at least to have use of it on the imaginary level. This is how the perverse subject maintains a tenuous link to truth: through the displacement of the real thing by the object of desire.

Thus, Freud says, a typical future fetishist is a young oedipal boy who, curiosity getting the better of him, sees the girl’s lack of a penis and, after drawing the right conclusion, draws back in horror. Make no mistake: the fact that the girl is missing an ‘organ’ possessed by the boy is not what matters. What matters is that this missing thing acquires a new meaning by being linked to the jouissance we all have lost (the object a), and so it reminds our young Oedipus of his own lack.

Where the hole or lack was before, an object of desire is now.

Thus, we can say that for Freud the association of perversion with abnormality is dubious because perversion is really one of any number of possible effects of language, especially the gap between truth and knowledge that the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan emphasized as a central structural element in the what makes us speaking beings (we already have touched on this above when we discussed how the pervert relies on not knowing what he knows to be true, at least in the unconscious system). And, rather than being some form of deviancy, some fall, perversion is an expression of the human’s experience of himself caught in the snares of language.

Perversion is a sort of pere-version, en français: comment s’acommoder du ‘non’ du nom-du-père.

Interestingly, the etymology of the word perversion is associated to religious signifiers before anything else. That is, the pere in question is at first the pere in the sky and, secondarily, the pere of the Christian soul.

Thus, perversion appears in the middle 14c., where it conveys something like an: “action of turning aside from truth, corruption, distortion” (originally of religious beliefs), from Latin perversionem (nominative perversio) “a turning about,” noun of action from past participle stem of pervertere (see pervert (v.)).2

In the chaos of the 15th century, perversion assumes a more general meaning of the ups and downs of Lady fortune, such as in: “This lady [Fortune] willfull and rechles As she that is froward and perusers. It carries a meaning:”Of things or events: adverse or unpropitious” 1440. By the middle 1440s, social referents about a fall from accepted behavior and norms become more common such as when perverse means:  “untoward, froward [sic]; disposed to go counter to what is reasonable or required; hence, wayward, petulant, cross-grained, ill-tempered, peevish” 1412-20.

By the later 16th century, perverse refers to the newly emerging sense of self taking on meanings like:”obstinate, stubborn” in the 1570s. 3

Thus, we see a gradual shifting from religious meanings to meanings of deviations from social rules, especially rules of proper behavior (of people stepping out of their station). 4 And, with the religious wars, these two registers unite as in Norton’s translation of Calvin’s “Institutes,” 1561: “Our owne ignorance … weakness, perversenesse, and corruption.” Second use, Milton, “Judgem. Bucer” 1644 iv 388 “To enforce the innocent and faulties to endure the pain and miseries of anothers perversenes.”

Finally, to jump way ahead, by the 19th century the focus of the breaking of a rule (not respecting social station or authority) appears in the use of perversion to mean “a verdict: against the weight of the evidence or the direction of a judge 1854″. Sexual and scientific usage have clearly also appeared by then.

Given the etymological associations to religious deviation, apostasy, we can draw out some of the links between the fetish object and the totem, especially as it relates to the gap inscribed in language between truth (repressed and singular) and knowledge, and reach rather different place vis a vis the subject of the Law and castration.

Freud mentions in Totem and Taboo (1913) that the totem and the taboo are both signifiers that link to different but overlapping chains, the totem marking the link (always contradictory and full of gaps) between members and a god, an Other. The totem is the signifier of an ambivalent bond to something transcendent and outside that cements the social bonds by allowing group members (within reason) to put aside their murderous imaginary; by forming a common identification, the totem creates a space for a separation between the desires of the group and their god – a god who signifies their own Real jouissance (excessive jouissance beyond the law).

The totem signifier then is analogous to the ideal ego behind which lies the devouring force of real jouissance, something that we find expressed in other signifiers like manna associated with the totem. Manna of the totem, or someone or thing associated with it, will normally kill when touched. Totem animal for example can only be devoured and eaten on certain occasions, otherwise their manna kills. This is where the other signifier, the taboo, enters the picture — the taboos are the development or articulations of commandments associated with the superego of the group. They are the rules that maintain the barrier between the group and real jouissance erected by the totem-signifier.

What gives all of this coherence is that we are really speaking about the rules of language and the effect displacement and condensation plays in regulating and cementing group cohesion. Thus even if the exact nature of totemism is not what Freud said it was (what his contemporaries believed it was) something like this does occur in the structure we know of as perversion.

Thus, we can see both are efforts to describe ways of organizing via language the effects of trauma, of minimizing these effects, and of bringing the trauma, either individually or collectively, under the control of a law, a logos and a discourse, that disconceals and conceals this wild jouissance circulating within a group, lying in wait behind an ego ideal, a fetish object of desire, or a totem.

cropped-392121_1691364699737_1593962168_n.jpg Sacrifice-of-Isaac-(Sacrificio-di-Isacco)

Fast forward to the Bible and look at Caravaggio’s ‘Sacrifice of Issac’. This painting was the center-piece of a presentation given by Lacan called “On the Name of the Father” in 1968. What is most striking in the painting is the horror that Issac displays – a horror of his being sacrificed to the jouissance of the Real God – something that cannot but recall Totem and Taboo, except that this is not a God of that sort, but a God of the Word, one inhabiting and inhabited by language. Language functions here like a password (symbol, code) that affirms at some level that one is a part of a group: specifically, that one is a kind of subject who experiences loss (of the ‘object a’) as a mark or trace (a la circumcision) of a pact: that one has foresworn (by force of prohibition) the pleasure of “metaphysical/ sexual rites which, during festivals, unite the community with God’s jouissance.” (nb– we are speaking of murderous jouissance whose immediacy is such that it captures and blinds the subject!).

So as not to give into these murderous impulses, one foreswears to separate this (extreme) jouissance (the killing jouissance, that captures the subject and that Freud mythologically described as the jouissance of the Real Father) from desire. And, in this way, one becomes a member of a group – of a separate and stubborn race – who sustains the gap (difference) between jouissance and desire. And one affirms oneself as a sort of subject for whom the symbol and the gap – and not the image where desire and jouissance are liable to become mixed up again — is alive.

The image depicted by Caravaggio, therefore, records what we can only see as a revolution in cultural history (in the vicissitude of the Symbolic): the moment when the Word appears to sustain the gap (difference) between jouissance and desire. There are certainly many, many counter examples of sacrifices fusing a real jouissance and a symbol. But, as I said, this is not what is being depicted in the Caravaggio painting. Instead, we see a sacrifice of real jouissance to the Word. The covenant depicted is one in which the original time of the sacrifice is interrupted by a mark, or punctuation, which puts into place a new order: one based on a separation of the signifier and jouissance.

It is not insignificant that Lacan and his followers, like Eric Porge and Gerard Haddad, keep reminding us that among the Nazi’s first acts after 1933 was to burn books (even before). And, in a similar vein, the Nazi’s also initiated an official policy of gleichschaultung – a coordination of all private and public sectors with the Nazi party. The aim of the coordination was to build an organic Germany and to make this organic union and the Party One. No foreign elements would remain to spoil the ideal of a harmonious and whole Reich. In this way, Nazism tried to erode all difference and replace it with an organic ideal of wholeness where everyone would be fused or destroyed (difference would be destroyed or subordinated to the Whole). That is, in the ideology of fascism, there would be no distance between jouissance and the symbol — a new barbarism.

What we need to worry about today however is that this fascist ideal lives on in the perverse fantasm of Capitalism, having been grafted onto it by ideology.


1 Let us for the time being consider this pervert is someone who is not yet existing in relation with a perverted logos (we will get there, but not yet). For the time, all of that can be bracketed off.

1 The first uses of perversion are linked to corruption of religious beliefs, something we can see is not too far from apostasy or heresy. But for these reasons, it could also be turned on its head against orthodoxy that has lost its authenticity. Speaking out against the fat cats ecclesia, Wycliff could refer to clergy engaging in: “the act of perverting or condition of being perverted; turning the wrong way; turning aside from truth or right; diversion to an improper use; corruption, distortion; spec. change to error in religious belief (Opp. of conversion)–is Wycliff, 1388, “Prol.” 45: “If the speche of holi writ seeme to commaunde peruersion of soule… it is figuratijf speche.” In one set of meanings from the fourteenth century perverse becomes: “A figure or image in which the right or left directions of the original are reversed: such are the impression taken from any figured surface, and the image seen in any plane mirror.” And then 2d listing, 1st meaning: “turned the wrong way, awry, perverse.” And then to submeanings with first uses: “Turned away from the right way or from what is right or good; perverted; wicked” (Chaucer uses it in that sense; 1369);
Chaucer, 1369, “Dethe Blaunche” 813: “The false trayterousse peruerse [v.r. pervuers]. In the OED we find: perverse: mid-14c., “wicked,” from Old French pervers “unnatural, degenerate; perverse, contrary” (12c.) and directly from Latin perversus “turned away, contrary, askew,” figuratively, “turned away from what is right, wrong, malicious, spiteful,” past participle of pervertere “to corrupt” (seepervert (v.)). The Latin word is glossed in Old English by forcerred, from past participle of forcyrran “to avoid,” from cierran “to turn, return.
Lydg. “De Guil. Pilgr.” 19003 “An hunte [Satan] stoode with his horne Off chere and looke ryght perverse. For example, 1412-20 Lydg. “Chron. Troy” ii. x. [1555] “This lady [Fortune] willfull and rechles As she that is froward and perusers. “Of things or events: adverse or unpropitious” 1440. Or, again, Its meaning expands to refer to the newly emerging sense of self by the later 16th century when perversion acquires the sense of “obstinate, stubborn” in the 1570s. Perversion as something that is: “wrong, not in accord with what is accepted” in 1560s. “Not in accordance with the accepted standard or practice; incorrect; wrong” 1568;  “obstinate or persistent in what is wrong; self-willed or stubborn (in error)” 1579
3 “The quality of being perverse; the disposition or tendency to act in a manner contrary to what is right or reasonable; obstinate wrongheadedness; refractoriness; corruption, wickedness.” 1st use T.

Event and Ideology

Here is an article I wrote in 2011 on Zizek. Hope you enjoy it!

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Event and Ideology

Andrew Stein
Published online: 13 Sep 2012.


To cite this article: Andrew Stein (2012) Event and Ideology, Culture, Theory and Critique, 53:3, 287-303, DOI: 10.1080/14735784.2012.721627

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Culture, Theory and Critique, 2012, 53(3), 287–303

Event and Ideology

Andrew Stein

Abstract This paper explores how Zˇ izˇek uses the concepts of ideology and event to explain what the revolutionary desires and how the revolutionary might prepare for a revolutionary cut within Capitalism based on a Lacanian-Hegelian discourse.

In this article, I explore how Zˇizˇek breathes new life into an old dialogue between psychoanalysis and radical politics. Figures in this tradition have included the idiosyncratic Wilhelm Reich, classical Freudians such as Otto Fenichel, Marxist neo-Freudians like Erich Fromm, Frankfurt School figures such as Herbert Marcuse, the French structuralist and Marxist Louis Althusser, and more recently Alain Badiou and others. Zˇizˇek, of course, fits within this lineage; although in the past he was more associated with Badiou and J.-A. Miller. His particular expertise lies in Hegelian philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis. His politics, though on the Left, remains idiosyncratic, and he is difficult to place in any traditional political position. He is a radical whose radicalism is not steeped in a particular utopian ideology, but in a Hegelian- Lacanian discourse. An avowed Communist, he is an enemy of postmodern and liberal cultural politics, which he finds complicit with the ideology of global Capitalism, and he also is an enemy of the new East European Commu- nists who have embraced ultra-nationalism. Although having a worldwide following, Zˇizˇek has often been dismissed in academia as a showman lacking substance. I suggest why this is not the case. After an initial section exploring the link between Lacanian psychoanalysis and radical politics, I examine Zˇizˇek’s concepts of ideology and event. I discuss how ideology has a perverse structure for Zˇizˇek and why that structure maintains the consumer within a deadlocked dialectic that is only overcome by the formation of revo- lutionary desire during an event.

Look at them enjoy

In this article I suggest that Zˇizˇek borrowed Lacan’s question – what is the desire of the analyst? – and applied it to radical politics; in this way he arrived at the ques- tion of the desire of the revolutionary. His attempt to answer this question runs throughout his entire oeuvre and boils down to a very Lacanian paradox: What does the revolutionary desire? She desires to give to the world a signifier of universal social justice. But this signifier of universal social justice is only a possible reality that, like all possible past and future realities, has a symbolic fic- tional structure. It, therefore, is not equivalent to objective reality. Neverthe- less, the revolutionary works to bring such a universal fictional structure into the world even though she does not know where, when, and for how long it may next appear. To prepare for its next appearance, however, is the thing she desires more than life; it is her ethics and being.

Although this is a Lacanian position, Lacan actually said very little about the desire of the revolutionary (Lacan 1990: 117 – 28; Turkle 1990: 8; Roudinesco 1990: 341–42). What he did say about the desire of the May 68ers, however, closely foreshadowed things Zˇizˇek would later say to the Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011. In essence, while Lacan sympathised with the student and worker revolts against the institutions of power, work, and bour- geois morality, he also saw another side – one that turned revolt into an unconscious affirmation of the Other’s desire.

While rebelling against authority at the conscious level, Lacan suggested, the protesters unconsciously turned their revolt against authority on its head, so that it became a desire to go on affirming the Other’s desire. In this respect, the insistence by the May 68ers on self-actualisation and enjoyment, in fact, was a narcissistic and voyeuristic display, offered for the enjoyment of a sym- bolic-imaginary Other who perversely directed them – not to work, but to enjoy themselves in the act of transgressing the Law.

Thus, when the May 68ers proclaimed that the beach lay beneath the pave- ment, they often did so at the behest of a new symbolic Other (Capitalism) which turned the object of the Other into an object of perverse jouissance rather than an object of repression. The self-actualising playfulness of the May 68ers, therefore, did more than just break with the old Law; it also was a collective affirmation of the new face of the Law. Therefore, protesters who believed that they were transgressing the Law in any sort of straightforward way were fooling themselves. In fact, Lacan had shown that only psychotics successfully disavow the Other ’s symbolic function by foreclosing the symbolic dimensions of reality, whereas the neurotic and the pervert each make the Faus- tian bargain by accepting the Other’s symbolic role (Lacan 1993: 32). Students were presumably not all psychotics – but they were people whose subject pos- ition in the social symbolic chain of meanings was being (or already had been) radically rewritten, where the dilemma faced by the protesters was that their revolt against inauthenticity was structurally compatible with an unconscious desire to meet the new demands of the Other to produce (here by enjoying) surplus enjoyment (plus-de jouir) for the Other. This was the pound of flesh that the Other still demanded. Thus, Lacan saw the protestors as subjects standing at a crossroads, unaware of the stakes involved in deciding to go in one direction or another. And it was to convey some of the gravitas of the moment that Lacan said of the May 68ers: ‘Look at them enjoy!’ and, on another occasion, Lacan said ‘the aspirations to revolution has but one concei- vable issue, always, the discourse of the master. That is what experience has proved. What you, as revolutionaries, aspire to is a Master. You will have one’ (Lacan 1990: 111, 124, 126).

In a manner of speaking, Lacan gave back to the protesters their own message in an inverted form when he asked whether the protests would descend into narcissistic enjoyment carried on beneath the gaze of the Other or give rise to a new desire for an Other whose cuts and holes would not be veiled by an idealisation. The protester’s call for a holistic society beyond repression, warned Lacan, did not prefigure a new naturalism. Rather, it marked an ideological repositioning of the subject in the field of the Other – a point Zˇizˇek would later highlight by saying that the perverse structure does not rely on repression to guard the subject against abjection. Instead it safeguards against lack (which might carry the subject beyond the pleasure principle) by veiling it behind an idealisation acceptable to the ego – which in the case of the protesters took the form of an ideal fantasy of a desublima- tion capable of suspending alienation and guilt.

Lacan had been discussing a transformation in the fantasy of the Other since the 1950s. He had shown in numerous ways that modernity is marked by the fantasy that the place of master in the master discourses is occupied by dupes whose authority rests on the connivance and opposition of a series of hysteric, perverse, and obsessive characters (Lacan 2007). Moreover, Lacan had discussed how a socially disruptive desire – in this case the desire of the fictional house of Labdacus – can alter the subject’s relation to the Other when an ethical subject appears on the scene willingly to sacrifice her happiness and her life to her desire (in a sense, to take the fantasy of the master’s desire seriously again). But Lacan also showed how Antigone’s act lures the perverse gaze of the audience (I am referring to the gaze being drawn to the purity and dazzling beauty of her act while veiling the obscenity of a girl hanging from a rope with a broken neck). Similarly, Lacan warned the protesters against falling in love with the beautiful image of happiness beyond guilt, so near to the ‘American disease’ Freud condemned; and Zˇ izˇ ek will later warn against a subjective attitude at work whenever Capitalism draws people’s gaze away from its obscenities to an ideal imaginary happiness: One should simply not be dazzled by the beauty of the machinery of Capital- ism. Consequently, when Zˇizˇek states that the revolutionary’s desire lies ‘beyond the pleasure principle’ of perversion, he is adding his voice to a tradition reaching back to Freud and Lacan.

The Lacanian field and revolutionary desire

Just as Claude Levi-Strauss wrote that one comes upon a myth at the point where there is the effect of an irresolvable social conflict from the past that still divides and binds a society, Lacan believed that one comes upon a linguis- tic displacement (metonym) or condensation (metaphor), a place of repression, a gap, etc. at a point of a trauma or irresolvable psychic conflict. The psycho- analyst pays special attention to these linguistic and imaginary slips, mistakes, gafs and gaps that regularly befuddle and stymie the ego. It is only by being a dupe, said Lacan, that a subject can know something of its own unconscious desire. In other words, it is only by following the ways that the unconscious subject dupes the ego (the ego which asks itself ‘is this it?’ ‘is this how it is?’ ‘is this what the Other desires?’) that the subject reaches its own desire, starts accepting a lack exists in the Other, and the law of castration that it implies. Consequently, it is through the gaps that the subject eventually is ‘con- fronted with the primary signifier’, and the subject is, for the first time, in a position to subject himself to it’ (Lacan 1977: loc. 4792–94).

But how a Lacanian passes from the field of desire to the field of politics may seem baffling. For the political consequences of psychoanalysis are ones that are not normally considered to be part of the classical realm of politics (yet many analysts combine revolutionary desire with their analytic desire). A Lacanian politics begins with helping analysands read the signifiers emerging in their speech and dreams; doing so already places analysis beyond the con- ventional structures of modern science and Capitalism, which convert human relations into commodity relations and forms of university discourse. Beyond this, Lacan said that psychoanalysis safeguards the subject against its own desire to sacrifice itself to the ‘dark god’ of fascism (Lacan 1977) and other paranoid desires that destroy the subject’s ability to distinguish between sig- nifiers (that is, to read desire).

Being a Lacanian and a revolutionary therefore only poses a problem for those who see clinical work as the alpha and omega of psychoanalysis. Lacan himself said as much in Television to Jacques Alain-Miller (Lacan 1990), so there is no reason one can’t derive both an analytic practice and a theory of revolu- tionary desire from his teachings, provided they do not confuse the one and the other. Lacanian politics even extends into the most remote areas of Laca- nian knots theory. Consider, for example, the uses of the Lacanian sinthome. Sinthome is a neologism condensing the symptom with the name of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The sinthome hooks or rings a broken Borromean knot, holding the three rings together and keeping the subject (symptom) from coming apart. By analogy, sinthomes hold the rings of the Borromean knot together like Saint Thomas held Christian and Pagan thought together. But there is a vital difference. Thomas could link Aristotle and Christianity because both exist sub species aeternitas in God’s Absolute gaze: because God knows how it all fits together. The sinthome, on the other hand, holds the indi- vidual subject (symptom) together in full knowledge that the gaze of the Other no longer is Absolute; that it is full of holes. A sinthome then operates within a structure where the Other lacks, where the Other’s gaze does not see and know all, and where the Absolute exists only as a fantasy in the imaginary register.

How ideology supports the desire of the Other and thwarts the desire of the revolutionary

Fast forward to Zˇizˇek’s speech on October 9, 2011 during an Occupy Wall Street rally where he sounded a very Lacanian note by saying to the protesters that he supported them but they should not love themselves too much – that is, that they should not get carried away by their imaginary, narcissistic fanta- sies of speaking truth to power and transgressing the Law, because to do so would be to betray the revolutionary moment by turning their rebellion against the egoism and greed of Wall Street and the financial institutions back onto themselves. Do not, he implied, simply give the message of the Other back to it in an inverted form. Instead, find your own desires and build new communal institutions that sustain them against the desire of the Other of global consumer Capitalism.

What lies behind this warning is Zˇ izˇ ek’s concern that a perverse ideology shapes these fantasies. This perverse ideology relies on a series of obscene con- tradictions, gaps, lapses, holes, and distortions of jouissance veiled by an idealisation so that the subject ‘is asked to assume with enjoyment the very injustice of which they are horrified’ (Zˇ izˇ ek 2005: 206). In fact, for Zˇ izˇ ek ideol- ogy resembles Kafka’s lower and higher courts in The Trial, which are also riddled by real and metaphorical holes, self-contradictions, and abject objects. In both cases, desires circulate around abject objects that are ‘papered over’ by pompous, irrational, and often comically distorted, obscene representatives of the superego Law, which can destroy anyone unlucky enough to get caught in its web. The whole apparatus is deadly despite its rather shoddy slapped-together appearance. Consequently, the per- verse structure of ideology incites anxiety in people: for both the pervert and ideology, anxiety is a necessary effect of the production of obscene superego fantasies, barely veiled behind idealised objects, of the perverse structure. Nothing works without it.

Ideology has the quality of being like the air we breathe. We both know about it and take it for granted (don’t think about it much). As such, it is like a social phantasm that contains the logic of our relation to the Other and the ‘object a’ (the source of anxiety). The semblant par excellence of this dialectic structure in the Western imagination is the Jew who, in the mind of the anti-Semite, possesses this double structure of being an idealised and abject other. For the Jew seems to have escaped castration and to have access to ‘some unfathomable je ne sais quoi’, to forbidden enjoyments ‘that makes them “not quite human” (“aliens” in the precise sense this term acquired in the science-fiction films of the 1950s)’ for the anti-Semite (Zˇizˇek 2005: 236). Because the Jew occupies the logical place of the object cause of desire, the Jew appears to the anti-Semite’s gaze as a stain disturbing their fantasm of an imaginary whole, harmonious world. The anti-Semite, therefore, resents the Jew for having access to secret jouissance that the anti-Semite wants for himself. As a result, the anti-Semite creates fantasies in which the Jew is eliminated and the world is no longer uncanny, which the anti-Semite blames on the proximity of the Jew. By erasing the stain caused by the Jew (qua place holder of an enjoyment that is denied to the anti-Semite), the anti- Semite also tries to satisfy its own Other and thereby gain access to a bit of the secret treasure, the surplus jouissance, that the Jew is believed to possess.

Logically, however, the hatred of the Jew – or any other group which occupies this place in the matheme of the fantasm ($ , .a) – ‘is not limited to the “actual properties” of the Jew “but targets its real kernel, objet a, what is in the object more than itself”’ (Zˇizˇek 2005: 236). What the anti-Semite ulti- mately longs for and hates is not the empirical Jew, but an empty place of inac- cessible surplus jouissance (death) that the Jew represents in the anti-Semite’s fantasy. That is, the anti-Semite does not react to the real Jew. He reacts to his own fantasms. Central to these fantasms is the subject’s fascination with abjec- tion (represented by the Jew). None of this makes much sense, however, unless people see that ideology – and here Zˇizˇek stretches the idea to include anti- Semitism – structurally depends on this dialectic combination of an ideal and abject object and that it works best when it puts people as close to the ‘object a’ as possible. The reverse side of the Other’s demand to enjoy, there- fore, is anxiety about jouissance, both a performance anxiety – am I enjoying enough? – and an anxiety that the other is enjoying more. Such anxiety breeds addiction and depression, as the subject increasingly wants more and increas- ingly resents other people as well. But it also generates a fear of getting too near the real.

This same fantasm, based on combining an ideal and abject (anxiety- provoking) object, also exists in the relation between the Law and crime. For the Law, Zˇizˇek argues, does not squelch crime so much as it allows people to satisfy partial drives (crimes and transgressions) in ways that have the sanc- tion of the symbolic order. The Law, in other words, succeeds best when it looks away and permits subjects – not homo sacers – to enjoy what is officially unlawful. For Zˇizˇek, the beauty of Kafka lies in the way that his stories reveal this obscene, superegoic side of the Law lurking behind the ‘made in Germany’ stamp of approval. Kafka lets the screen drop, Zˇizˇek writes, so that his readers see the fantasm working. That is, they are shown the Law operating as an obscene object of desire (much as Freud did when he con- structed the myth of the primal father). Literally, in Zˇizˇek’s words, where ‘God is too present, under the shape – of course, which is not at all comforting – of obscene, disgusting phenomena’ (2005: 138). This materialisation of God – this image that brings God down to the level of the obscene object cause of desire (A– .a), may be the necessary step in the transformation from a Chris- tian world, such as we had for two thousand years, into a more thoroughly Capitalist one compatible with the fetish and with the perversion of finance, as is seen, for example, in Capitalism’s idealisation of individual greed and acquisitiveness.

Similarly,Zˇizˇekdepictsthehistoric-figureBligh,the captain of the Bounty, as a character who does not know how the Law functions: Bligh, who occupies the place of Law, metes out the Law as if it is a Kantian universal that must be applied, without exception, to everyone in the same way (2005: 231–34, 269– 70). Bligh is so fair and upright that he runs afoul of all the unofficial rules that allow more senior sailors to abuse their juniors, etc., and as such he earns the universal hatred of everyone on board and is twice mutinied – once aboard the Bounty and again in the colonies. He thus repeats Joseph K.’s mistake in The Trial: standing before the court he cannot see that people can’t disentangle the Law from its obscene, erotic, farcical, and mean other side. In Zˇizˇek’s words (discussing Orson Well’s film “The Trial”): ‘The error of Joseph K. consists in overlooking the solidarity between this obscene perturbation and the court. He thinks that everybody would be anxious to have order restored and the offending couple at least ejected from the meeting, but when he tries to rush across the room the crowd obstructs him, someone seizes him from behind by the collar’ (Zˇizˇek 2005: 258). Thus, neither Joseph K. nor Bligh understands that what matters is not that the Law is followed to the letter, but that it fails ‘in a regulated way’ because it is only through failing that the Law affirms the exception (the ideal-abject ‘object a’) that defines the limits of legality (Zˇizˇek 2010: loc. 653, loc. 1897). In other words, they cannot understand that, in the perverse fantasm, eroticism and anxiety function as the glue that binds people to each other and that the Law demands a pound of flesh from the subject for society to function.

Structural deadlock and the ideological function

Ideology (without people noticing it) binds people to what Lacan called a forced choice – your money or your life. The point of such a choice, in part, is its speciousness: the terms present no choice at all since the subject must either acquiesce to the mugger’s demand or lose his life. But, if he accepts the mugger’s demand he also loses the money he needs to live. This sort of choice does not follow classical logic, which proposes that ‘if A is true than not-A is false’. Instead, it follows a logic where A and not-A are both true at the same time, as also can be true for an identification. Thus, a subject is free to choose. But that choice is not free.

Capitalism, writes Zˇizˇek, offers people a similar unfree choice. Subjects are presented with an excess of choice. A person can make a purchase after comparing cars; he can even buy the same car in a variety of different colors and so on; he can select from shelves of sodas, each one of which comes in its own flavors – just so long as he does not opt out of the system and so long as his desire does not become too revolutionary; freedom to choose, then, is freedom managed by an Other. According to Zˇ izˇ ek, this is how Capit- alism imposes its own forced choice on people and keeps them stuck in a dead- lock where Capitalism remains the impassable limit to everything.

There are other forced choices too. Zˇ izˇ ek also believes that a forced choice logic lies behind Liberalism’s appeal to free choice, be it freedom of the press, freedom to choose your own beliefs, etc. According to this definition, freedom to choose remains purely formal in Liberal society. Multiculturalism and other forms of postmodernism also rely on logics of forced choices: people can be as different as they like, provided that they are not free to opt out. Therein rests the forced choice for Zˇizˇek.

All these forced choices are effects of the alienating structure of language which, Lacan said, occurs each time the subject appears in the field of the Other as a signifier (in what Freud had called subject’s discontent within civi- lisation). The most basic structures of language necessitates that the subject pulses between states of meaning (when it appears through a signifier that represents it to other signifiers) and aphanisis (or fading). ‘Alienation’, said Lacan, ‘consists in this vel, which . . . condemns the subject to appearing in that division – which, it seems to me, if it appears on one side meaning, pro- duced by signifiers, it appears on the other as aphanisis (the fading of the subject)’ (Lacan 1977: loc. 3666 – 4944). This is the most basic structure support- ing the barred or divided subject. But Capitalism is alienating in another sense: on the level of ideology. Ideology, like any symptom, represents a second order type alienation that presupposes the alienation of the subject in language, but goes beyond it.

This means that while the subject must pass through the vel of alienation, it need not accept the terms offered by Capitalism. Capitalism, as ideology, shares the characteristics of a Freudian screen memory. It is a simplification we accept so that we do not have to face the real trauma of the barred and divided nature of the subject and the Other. In this sense, Capitalism is a bluff that the subject can refuse.

Another way to imagine this problem is to say that Capitalism diverts the subject’s gaze onto a fantasy of a perverse broken master (the Other); this Other requires the Capitalist to make it whole again by ‘fulfilling their natures as greedy acquisitive individuals’. But this ‘other version’ of the Tikun olam (repairing the world) is nothing but a perverse imaginary fantasy the subject posits to justify its own desires and whose main purpose is to screen lack so we can act as if the place of the master (the One) in our fantasy is occupied now by a totality of the greedy and acquisitive individuals competing to satisfy their desires.

According to Jean-Michel Vappereau, in one of his final (still unpub- lished) seminars Lacan discussed how modern children learn to separate the One and the many by observing their parents. Lacan thought, according to Vappereau, that this posed a real paradox for children who wonder: who is this being ‘the parental couple’, are they one or two? At times the parental couple appears as one to the child, as what Lacan referred to (alluding to Aris- tophanes) as a ‘double-backed being’. At other times, the being separated into two, especially during moments of passion (love making) and violence (arguing). Eventually, Lacan taught according to Vappereau that the child learns to decern a relation between One and the many – which often is symp- tomatic leading the subject to react to truama by repositing a fictional (lost) totality.

In these teachings by Lacan, the mystery of the One and the many begins in violence and passion – just like the image of a mugging in the example of the forced choice. Both examples suggest the importance fantasms of violence, terror, and being in a state of emergency (as well as enjoyment) play in the history of the subject. This intimate connection between security, a state of emergency, forced choices, lost jouissance, and global Consumer Capitalism was recently explained to us by George W. Bush, when he told Americans after 9/11 that it is their patriotic duty to go on consuming: to do otherwise, he said, would be to concede defeat to the terrorists. The overt message (go on enjoying like before while your government engages Terror for you), however, hid a more truthful one. Namely, the terrorists are our benefactors because consumerism works best when it is combined to an obscene state of emergency. The real message was: make Terror work for Capitalism.

A related perverse fantasm, Zˇizˇek writes, appears when communities par- tition people into groups of whole and not-whole people. This notion that the world can be partitioned into whole and partial beings broadens the class concept found in classical Marxism into a vision of society riven by multiple, competing apartheid communities in which each community maintains a safe distance between whole and partial damaged others. ‘The underlying injunc- tion of liberal tolerance is (not) monocultural – “Be like us! Become British!” On the contrary, . . . the injunction is one of cultural apartheid: others should not come too close to us, we should protect “our way of life”’ (Zˇizˇek 2010: loc. 1223–25). The State of Israel is one example Zˇizˇek often cites about a society that has adopted this apartheid logic in its policies towards the Pales- tinians on the West Bank and Gaza, not only by erecting the Wall but also by placing an untold number of rules and regulations between themselves and their Palestinian neighbors.

The fantasm operating here is not that the ideal object can veil obscenity but it is a related fantasm that dirty, obscene, abjection can be isolated and quarantined in the other. Sometimes this logic of separation becomes explicit (as in the Palestinian case). At other times, the logic of separation operates without its reasons being made explicit anymore. Zˇizˇek alludes to this later situation whenever he referred to Levi-Strauss’ discussion in Tristes Tropiques of a village where a gap separated the villagers into two groups. Each group had a different mental map of how the village was laid out because both com- munities processed in different ways a common historic trauma that occurred long ago (Zˇizˇek 2010: 242–43). This is not the same thing as the division of people into whole and partial or damaged people, but Zˇizˇek’s point is that these two communities were defined by a parallax logic, because all parallaxes (the gaps in a symbolic whole) are rooted in the way the libidinal economies of different communities respond to a shared trauma – ‘the site of an unbearable antagonism, self-contradiction’ (Zˇizˇek and Milibank 2009: 49) – and this includes the villagers discussed by Levi-Strauss, the Capitalist and the factory worker living under conditions of 19th century industrial Capitalism, and the Israeli and Palestinian communities in the 21st century.

In a similar vein, Zˇizˇek refers to Confucius as the first ‘proto-ideologist’ who articulated ‘what one is tempted to call the elementary scene (one is reminded of the primal scene in “The Wolf Man”) of ideology, its zero-level, which consists in asserting the (nameless) authority of some substantial Tradition’ (2010: loc. 500) against abject hidden signifiers. Confucius, in other words, produced a set of rules and concepts that allowed subjects – be they peasants, mandarins, or Emperors – to feel that they were fulfilling the desire of the Other when they followed the Confucian obligations codified in a mythological past (Tradition). In this way, Confucius codified a belief that an imaginary Order, discernible as the order of the universe, could be the model for terrestrial relations, as well. For Zˇizˇek it is a small step from this proto-ideological world to the ‘Wild West’ of postmodern consumer Capital- ism where the goal is not to replace disharmony with harmony but to make disharmony pay. The ethic of responsibility and shame discernible in Confu- cianism is replaced in the structures of global Capitalism by an oral fantasy that guiltless consumption is possible: ‘even though the world may be full of corruption and alienation, and even if people are often disingenuous’, ideol- ogy whispers, ‘an idealized object, when purchased and consumed, can raise an abject object out of the muck of social reality’(Zˇizˇek 2010:loc.111). One sees this developed most fully, according to Zˇ izˇ ek, in the appeals of companies like Starbucks who sell ‘indulgences’ with a double espresso latte to people who feel guilty about their social privileges. What companies like Starbucks really sell is an identification with an ideal fantasy object which the subject consumes. But, no matter what one consumes, one never gets ‘it’; and, conse- quently, one never gets free of guilt or ‘dangerous’ jouissance no matter how hard one tries. The oral fantasy continues to function as a lure that keeps the subject hooked to a changing flux of faux satisfactions.

This displacement of guilt resembles the displacement of responsibility by Hegel’s beautiful soul (in whom the superego seems to be absent). The beautiful soul is the subject who raises himself up out of the corruption of the world, which he always attributes to others. Lacan famously called the beau- tiful soul the only truly mad person today because such a subject can’t read his own divided subject. In opposition to the beautiful soul, Lacan affirmed that we all are monsters – we are abject beings who, having been born prematurely, begin life defective. That makes everyone ‘damaged goods’. But like all defec- tive organisms, we still want to live. We are monsters, said Lacan, according to Vappereau in a recent seminar, not machines. Machines break down and do not work while humans seek to live, despite being defective. In this respect, we resemble the Monster in Frankenstein. We are monsters who speak – language being the iron lungs that surround us and keep us going. But these iron lungs are also a poultice of shit surrounding us, wrote Lacan: abjec- tion being what ultimately keeps us going.

To explain more about this deadlock requires an excursion into the logic of structures because Zˇ izˇ ek says that the ideologically-driven subject is caught in the logic of disavowal or verleugnung, or one of the logical forms of negation discussed by Freud and Lacan – the others being repression or unterdruckung and foreclosure or verwerfung (Lacan 2006: 318–33; Freud 1964, 1991). For Lacan, each of these three forms of negation also corresponds to a structure of the unconscious signifying chain: namely, repression appears with the neu- roses, foreclosure with the psychoses, and disavowal with the perversions. What Zˇizˇek adds is that, no matter which structure and logic of negation this or that subject may have, ideology today is structured like a perversion, and consequently the typical form of negation within it is disavowal: I myself do not believe but nevertheless I should act as if I do, so as not to offend someone who may believe; or, although it’s true that I do not believe, I will act as if I do on behalf of someone else.

Thus, in a Pascalian style, the subject disavows belief while continuing to act as if he believes. For example, while modern subjects claim to no longer believe in God, they still behave as if there is one (as if a master existed behind the master discourse). Zˇizˇek relates this to the old joke about a man who enters a hospital because he believes there is a big chicken who thinks he is bird seed and wants to consume him; after being cured of this delusion, the man returns in terror to the hospital because, although he knows he is not bird seed, he still is afraid the big chicken does not. Zˇizˇek’s point here is that today ideology takes up this position towards disavowal of the Other. Even though a person knows there is no Other, he still behaves as if there is an Other – or he still believes unconsciously because he is under the sway of his identification. The difference with Pascal is that he subverts disbelief: ‘if I do not believe, I still act as if I do (and soon I will start believing)’ while the deluded man in Zˇ izˇ ek’s joke uses a different logic: namely, ‘if I consciously profess to disbelieve that there is an Other, it is because I unconsciously go on believing sub rosa: thus, if I pretend not to believe, I can go believing just the same. Once again, “A” and “not-A” are the same – “disbelieve so that I can believe”’.

It is Kafka who exposes the nature of the deadlock in works like The Trial and Metamorphosis. For even as Kafka’s texts illuminate the fusion of abjection and ideal (and belief and disbelief) in the fantasm, he offers no way through its logic (at least not in these texts). At the end of The Trial, for instance, Joseph K. lets himself be killed by the Other – an act of paradoxical grace since he is already an existential non-person erased from the world, transformed into a homo sacer by the priest, the lawyers, the housekeeper, the painter, the judges of the higher and lower Courts – the comical dupes and frauds running a bureaucratic nightmare where the official story ‘does not work at all’. In Metamorphosis, too, Joseph K. finds no escape from the alienation he feels towards his family, the renters, and his employer. He is consigned to be a bug until his death, or as long as he goes on sacrificing himself and his health for the semblants of the Other (his family, employer, society); that is, so long as he behaves like a homo sacer or as a Hegelian slave who has forgotten his cunning or who has had it stolen from him (Weiss 2005). And yet Zˇizˇek’s point is not that Kafka’s stories reveal the malfunctioning of the Law, but that his stories show how the perverse structure of the Law sustains a state of dead- lock where ‘the Other is never more present then when it is absent and the Law (and Reason) is never more totalitarian and oppressive then when its rule is most arbitrary (unlawful)’ (Zˇizˇek 2006: 158–59).

This absence of change, or this dialectic deadlock, also can be connected with the pulsations of the unconscious and repetition. S1, S2, S3, S4 . . .: Each signifier is different but essentially repeats the same underlying structure. But, in another sense, structural deadlock doesn’t fully capture what is occur- ring, as desire follows a moebius-like structure linking subject and Other, anxiety and enjoyment, drive and signifier, screen and obscene object of desire, etc. In this way, we are taken back to the matheme of the pervert where the perverse subject exists on the side of the ‘object a’ ($ , .a), and so receives the surplus enjoyment from the other. To frame this as a Hegelian master and slave discourse, the pervert appropriates the enjoyment produced by the slave. And yet the pervert envies the slave who is the source of enjoy- ment (jouissance) that the perverse subject wants to have (or be) just as the anti-Semite wants the unspeakable enjoyment that he either thinks the Jew possesses or that he locates in the Jew’s being. This moebius passage between signifiers of death, anxiety, enjoyment, and the Law, as we have seen, allows ideology to keep the subject bound to the Other’s desire.

Change, the Paul/Jesus event, and the desire of the revolutionary Zˇizˇek proposes a possible way out of this deadlock if we supplant the struc- ture supporting the deadlock (that is integral to perversion and ideology) with a different structure that he finds in the works of Hegel, Lacan, and a few others. At the center of this Hegelian-Lacanian dialectic is an operation that Hegel called the ‘negation of the negation’ whereby the deadlock is over- come by the creation of a third term. This shift from deadlock (this or that but nothing else) to the Hegelian-Lacanian dialectic (that introduces a third term) also marks a shift from an ideologically-driven subject to a revolutionary subject who acts as the agent of the third term. Where ideology imposes a forced choice on people, according to Zˇ izˇ ek’s reading of Lenin, a revolutionary subject wishes ‘to BREAK this seductive power of the symbolic efficiency’ and, act ‘AS IF THE CHOICE IS NOT FORCED’. Zˇizˇek’s Leninist message then is to opt out: but not in the fashion of either 1960s style hippies or the withdrawing from the world practiced by someaesthetics.Zˇizˇek’s revolutionary opts out so as to be able to act like a Lacanian Leninist (Zˇizˇek 2011b: 7–8) and break with the seductiveness of the symbolic efficiency by no longer being satisfied by producing surplus jouissance for the Other. Rather, the revolutionary takes up a collective desire for social justice.

The desire of the revolutionary is also connected to a desire for an event. The event, Zˇizˇek says, occurs when a signifying chain no longer repeats the same signifiers in the same order as before. The event therefore is linked to the structures of human language and human history since ‘it is only into such a distorted animal that an Event can inscribe itself’ (Zˇizˇek and Milibank 2009: 93). It names the coming into the world of a new signifier (S1).

A subject in the midst of an event lives in a state of emergency, living in a kind of permanent ‘end times’ – such as occurred in 1789, 1848, 1871, 1917, May 68, and perhaps in the Occupy Wall Street movement when the old reality is suspended for some who are in the grip of a concrete universal desire for justice. Moments like these, Zˇizˇek insists, cannot be scientifically planned and prepared for. This is why Zˇizˇek insists that revolutionary change is never finished; nor is it inevitable; attempts to create a revolutionary society by fiat or rational planning like Stalinism are especially ill-conceived. As Goya understood already during the Napoleonic wars, imposing revolu- tionary justice through force and reason breeds monsters; it is, strictly speak- ing, a perversion of the ideal. Real eruptions of revolutionary desire aren’t rationally planned; they happen in unexpected places and times, when the deadlock is suspended and overturned without warning, or at least in a form no one quite anticipated (Zˇ izˇ ek 2005: 259). But while every event is sur- prising and unlike what existed before it, each event is also a new answer to the fundamental social antagonisms and self-contradictions upon which all societies rest. In this respect, it is similar to the moment of affirmation in an analysis when there is an upsurge of unconscious desire (more like a vast sociological slip or passage to the act) than a perfectly planned action. A subject captured by an event, then, is possessed by a ‘violent passion to intro- duce difference, a gap in the order of being, in order to elevate some “object a” at the expense of an other’ (Zˇizˇek 2010: loc. 2486).

But the really startling news is that Zˇizˇek thinks that today people in Western civilisation (whatever that is) are living out the consequences of an event associated with the teaching of Paul/Jesus.1 For Zˇ izˇ ek, Paul/Jesus marks a ‘world historical’ event in Western civilisation, such that after its inception the ‘owl of Minerva has flown’. People are now living in the after- math, in the end times, drawing out the (Hegelian and Lacanian) consequence of that event – it is just that ideology makes ‘difficult work of actualizing it’ (Zˇizˇek 2003: 137).

1 I refer to Paul/Jesus, rather than to Paul and Jesus, because we know little about the historic Jesus that is not filtered through the writings of the Gospels and the various interpretations and collations of the Gospels by the Church Fathers and by others. Zˇ izˇ ek, in any case, is interested in proclaiming, against the canonical readings of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, that Paul/Jesus announced a cut in the divine and, as a consequence, in messianic time.

This idea that the crucifixion of Jesus signals a revolutionary ontological cut in the life of the Spirit mirrors other pre-Christian, Christian, and post- Christian readings of the event. In each, a millennial-emancipatory event occurs in history that legitimates and unites people in emancipatory social justice movements. In the post-event era, these revolutionary movements, who do the hard work of actually changing reality and realising the event’s potential, usually posit their own justifications by building narratives of the emancipatory history of the Spirit, which (in its Christian and post-Christian forms) often start with the Hebrew prophets Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and the books of Acts and Revelations, reappear in the Jesus teachings, and then enter a post-event phase, marked by explosive revolutionary movements (such as peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages and Reformation, and the Digger revolt during Cromwell’s ill-fated Puritan-bourgeois Republic). We also have to consider the numerous materialist, atheist, theosophist, and deistic emancipatory movements of the modern era whose connections to Christian messianism were largely wiped out by the participants. For Zˇizˇek, the Paul/Jesus event fulfills the Judaic messianic tradition by revealing how a community of believers (revolutionary activists), bound to each other by a Holy Spirit (a libidinal drive), can turn the sort of justice that the world nor- mally only realises in an abstract or negative way into a concrete universal. Further, Zˇizˇek says that the desire of the revolutionary finds ontological support in the Paul/Jesus claim that ultimate reality sustains an irresolvable self-contradiction. He writes that Paul/Jesus have proclaimed an ontological cut in the Other; the message of Paul/Jesus being that the era of the undivided One is now over. Paul/Jesus, says Zˇ izˇ ek, brings the feminine principle into the world. This is not the feminine principle popularised by Otto Weininger, but the one that Lacan referred to as the feminine not-All principle on the graph of sexuation. For Zˇ izˇ ek, the crucifixion is the event that introduces the internal feminine ‘not-All’ cut in the One (Lacan 2002).

This means that, while comparing the Jewish messianic tradition with Paul/Jesus (something he often does), Zˇizˇek proposes in The Puppet and the Dwarf that the Jewish paradox – that the messiah is always on his way but is not yet here – has been replaced by a ‘far more uncanny’ Paul/Jesus messia- nic paradox, namely that ‘The Messiah is here, he has arrived, the final Event has already taken place, yet the gap remains’ (2003: 140–41). In effect, Zˇizˇek’s position is that Paul/Jesus told the Jews the event has already occurred. The Jews, however, should not be disappointed, because they were right – but not in the way they thought. The problem is a paradoxical gap in messianic (universal) time, but not the gap the Jews imagined. The real paradox is not that the Messiah tarries, but that a part of the universal is not-All and therefore that one part of the divine remains incomprehensible to itself.2 In this way, Paul/Jesus gives the messianic tradition back to the Jews in an inverted form, saying that if the Jews and a few others hope that a just world is possible,

2 This dialectical response of Paul/Jesus also reversed the proposition that the messiah by himself will heal the wound in the world and make it whole (One) again with the proposition that the coming of the messiah revealed that existence is not-All.

then they have to create it themselves, and only to uncertain and incomplete ends.

Elsewhere, Zˇ izˇ ek asserts that the failure of the divine to only be One did appear in Jewish texts. For example, this failure appeared ‘in the strangest book of the Hebrew Bible’, the Book of Job, wherein Job realised that God (qua universal justice) did not know why he was suffering (Zˇizˇek 2008: 179– 80). In other words, Job stumbled against the paradox that God is a mystery to himself, and therefore that God, too, suffers from his own lack of self-com- pletion and self-understanding. Zˇizˇek locates other Hebrew stories that he claims allude to the same doctrine of God’s impotence, arguing for instance that the murder of Moses presented by Freud in Moses and Monotheism really repeats and distorts a traumatic recollection of the humiliation of the Pharaoh by Moses, thereby pushing back the rock to reveal that that the crypt is empty (Freud 1964). For Zˇizˇek, although Judaism prefigures the notion of a paradoxical impossible mystery, only ‘Christianity moves the enigma in God himself… That is to say: it is precisely because God is an enigma also in and for himself, because he has an unfathomable Otherness in himself, that Christ had to emerge’ (Zˇizˇek and Milibank 2009: 80–82). There- fore only ‘Christianity reveals the Other’s impotence’. It is in this spirit that Zˇizˇek claims that Christianity is ‘the first (and only) religion radically to leave behind the split between’ subject and the Other (Zˇizˇek and Milibank 2009: 80 – 82). And this, Zˇ izˇ ek concludes, has transformed the subject’s relation to knowledge (including self-knowledge and knowledge of the Other) and truth in ways that, at least potentially, liberates the subject from its depen- dency on the Other. After the Paul/Jesus event the subject has to accept ‘that there is no Other to believe for me, in my place’ (Zˇizˇek 2010: loc. 3190).

Hence, to still believe in an Other that is only One after the Paul/Jesus event is to remain the agent of the ego and ‘some Other, as it were, that speaks through you’ (Zˇizˇek 2005: 79). In essence, Zˇizˇek turns the Pauline message of the crucified Jesus codified by the early Church Fathers on its head to reveal that the ‘supreme triumph of the Cross’ in fact exposes a cut in the divine that forever makes God All and not-All. The good news pro- claimed by Paul/Jesus is a Lacanian message: that the (Name of the) Father, or the place where the master signifier God had appeared, is now empty. According to Zˇizˇek, ‘The symbolic is above all a place, a place that was orig- inally empty and subsequently filled with the bric-a-brac of the symbolic order. The crucial dimension of the Lacanian concept of the symbolic is this logical priority, the precedence of the (empty) place with respect to the elements that fill it’ (2005: 45). However, things are not so simple. Lacan also emphasized that the other side of the signifier is the drive and therefore that lack is only a phenomenological lack. On the other side of a signifier is a partial drive (jouissance), so that the signifier (be it S1 or S2) dialectically func- tions as the other side of enjoyment (jouissance and death). Not surprisingly, Zˇ izˇ ek’s description of Christian love or agape resembles the Lacanian formula that love is giving what you do not have, because there is no sexual relation. That is to say: there will be no harmonious rectification in the end of time, no possibility that universal justice will usher in a world of absolute harmony and fairness. All that exists is the little justice gained by the fruits of political struggle. There is no ideal Other that will be fulfilled in the course of time, merely a desire to respond to the unbearable self-contradictions in society (and in the divine) by bringing more social justice into existence. And with this message the whole messianic tradition is aufhebon – sustained, negated, and overturned.

Thus the Paul/Jesus event signals a historic blueprint for a new sort of subject position: one that moves from the ideological subject to a community of revolutionary subjects whose collective desire is for social justice based on the notion of there being a cut in the divine. But Zˇ izˇ ek’s dialectical gymnastics become problematic when he places both Judaism and Christianity on the masculine side of the graph of sexuation. But this must be a mistake because Zˇizˇek consistently says that Paul/Jesus modify the Concept so that it is thereafter both All (masculine) and not-All (feminine). His reasoning is that both Judaism and Christianity presuppose an exception, an ontological gap in being and time. But Judaism sustains the exception as a wound to be healed in messianic time, whereas Christianity argues that the messiah (the universal value) is already here in the dimension of time, in the message that the exception or gap exists in God. In Paul/Jesus, ‘God has to be impene- trable also to himself, he has to have a dark side, an otherness in himself, some- thing that is to himself more than himself’(Zˇizˇek2010).Thus,‘the secret of the substantial Other is also a secret for the Other – it is thus reduced precisely to the experience of a separation between the Other and its secret, objet petit a’ (Zˇizˇek and Milibank 2009: 38).

This may at first glance sound like the same tired line that Christianity has accomplished the Jewish messianic tradition: the New Testament superseded the Hebrew Bible, etc., so why are there still Jews around? And it is certainly valid to wonder why Zˇizˇek goes to so much trouble to locate the desire of the revolutionaryinChristianlove.What,forexample,doesZˇizˇekgainbylinking the spirit that binds activists together in a Party to a concept like the Holy Spirit? But, to be fair, what Zˇizˇek is proposing – in an apre`s coup manner – is a Hegelian negation of the negation which will turn the teaching of Paul/ Jesus of the theologians on its head until it reappears in the (secular) desire of the revolutionary, sustained by an anti-utopian dialectical materialist reading in which evil is an effect of the structure and the history of the signif- iers and the drive – of the cut in the divine that introduces the idea a Not-All dimension to the Other. ‘Only atheists can truly believe’, wrote Zˇ izˇ ek, ‘the only true belief is belief without any support in the authority of some presupposed figure of the “Other”’ (Zˇizˇek and Milibank 2009: 101).

BeforehecanmakesuchaclaimaboutChristianity,however,Zˇizˇekhasto perform a number of negations of negations to the entirety of world religions and philosophies. For Zˇ izˇ ek, the universal (justice) can assume different mean- ings and values at different points in time. This line of reasoning, of course, had also supported Freud’s assertion that meaning (of the signifier) differs at different periods in the life of a subject (Freud 2002). And by the same reasoning, Zˇizˇek proposes that the messianic-emancipatory teachings of Paul/Jesus look different in the wake of Hegel’s and Lacan’s teachings from the way they did, for instance, during the Trinitarian debates and the Arian heresy of the early Church. Therefore, even if Paul/Jesus were not Lacanian, Marxist, or Hegelian avant la lettre, the teachings of Paul/Jesus could become Lacanian, Marxist, and Hegelian apres coup. What this means is not that Paul/Jesus were waiting for someone to come along and unearth the hidden pre-Lacanian treasure buried in their teachings. ‘If in alienation, the subject is confronted with a full and substantial Other, supposedly hiding in its depths some “secret”, its inaccessible treasure,’ Zˇizˇek writes, ‘“de- alien- ation” has nothing to do with an attainment of this secret: far from managing to penetrate right into the Other’s hidden kernel, the subject simply experi- ences this “hidden treasure” (algama, the object- cause of desire) as already missing from the Other itself’ (2005: 40). Indeed, Zˇizˇek argues that there is no there to be unearthed, because strictly speaking ‘there is no hidden untold story in it’ (2003: 127). A signifier is only a subject for another signifier. Thus, you have universals that only acquire meaning for those who believe in the universal and who strive to live their life by it. But today, the Paul/ Jesus event heralds a revolutionary state of emergency: the other side of the state of emergency created by global consumer Capitalism and the new secur- ity-military complex. Today, a libidinal Holy Spirit calls for people with revo- lutionary subjectivities to come together, to unplug ‘from the community’ in the same way that the early Christians left their families in order to enter into a new community held together by a new desire (in the form of Christian love) and the impossible Cause of realising universal justice in a concrete uni- versal form, ‘that of a fighting collective grounded in the reference to an unconditional universalism’ (Zˇizˇek 2006: loc. 2615–17). Thus Zˇizˇek claims that Party activists today should do ‘what Christianity did with regard to the Roman Empire, that global multiculturalist polity’. Namely, they should create ‘a new collective held together not by a Master-Signifier, but by fidelity to a Cause’ no longer restrained by the logic of deadlock (Zˇizˇek 2011: 130; Zˇizˇek 2003: 3).

In sum, the revolutionary desires to serve the Cause totally: ‘The only thingthatreallyexistsaretheseindividualsandtheiractivity’(ZˇizˇekandMili- bank 2009: 60). Absolutely committed, the revolutionary is a subject living in a state of emergency, in the time of an event that opens her to new possibilities. She becomes the agent of the event, working and waiting for the return of the universal (the desire for justice) as a concrete, partial, historical moment of rupture and change. This longing to actualise a concrete universal desire for justice, in all its impossible, messianic, time-bound, and secular dimensions, calls Walter Benjamin to mind (someone surprisingly absent in Zˇizˇek’s rather subject-heavy writings). Both Zˇ izˇ ek and Benjamin are sensitive readers of the seductions of modernity (or postmodernity), be they the seduc- tions of 20th century films or the 19th century arcade and palaces of commerce. Both Zˇizˇek and Benjamin see how the aestheticisation of life in modernity (or postmodernity) binds the subject to a fascinating gaze of the Other. And both in their own way long for an event that will allow revolutionary subjects to pass beyond the deadlock structures of modernity (or postmodernity). Of the two, Zˇizˇek is more optimistic about the possibility of escape.

What of the Occupy Wall Street protesters? What hope do they have of realising something extimate to the current structures of global Capitalism? Zˇ izˇ ek’s bet is that they can be part of an event if they do not betray the revolu- tionary moment or their revolutionary desire. The possibility recalls other such revolutionaries, such as Leon Blum, who published his memoirs in the 1930s during another state of emergency in France. New social programs were being introduced by the Popular Front, during a time of great social unrest when the Third Republic was deeply unsettled by economic crisis, a resurgent Nazi Germany, and home grown French fascisms. Fascist and proto-fascist organis- ations, like the veterans group Croix de Feu and the PPF, were clashing in the streets of Paris with defenders of the Popular Front when Blum published his memories. The memoirs included these recollections of the Dreyfus Affair (1894–1906): ‘Life for me’, wrote Blum, ‘and for my friends, no longer counted. All that mattered was Justice’ (Rose 2011: 92).This simple sentiment, I believe, sums up Zˇ izˇ ek’s entire conception of the event and the desire of the revolutionary, a sentiment he finds expressed in the teachings of Paul/Jesus, Hegel, Marx, Lenin, Lacan, and a few others: a spirit he tried to summon when he spoke to the Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011.


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Lacan, J. 1990. Television. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Lacan, J. 1993. Seminar III. Translated by Russell Grigg. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Lacan, J. 2002. Seminar XX. Translated by Bruce Fink. Albany: State University of New York Press.
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Zˇizˇek, S. 2003. The Puppet and the Dwarf. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Zˇizˇek, S. 2005. Interrogating the Real. London: Continuum.
Zˇizˇek, S. 2006. The Parallax View. London: The MIT Press.
Zˇizˇek, S. 2008. Violence. London: Profile Books.
Zˇizˇek, S. 2010. Living in the End Times. London: Verso Press.
Zˇizˇek, S. 2011. ‘‘What Can Lenin Tell US About Freedom Today?’ Slavoj Zˇizˇek –

Bibliography’. Available online: (accessed 2011). Zˇizˇek, S., and Milibank, J. 2009. The Monstrosity of Christ. Edited and introduced by Creston Davis. London: The MIT Press.

Along with PhDs in Clinical Psychology and Modern European History, Andrew Stein trained in Modern Psychoanalysis before beginning formation as a Lacanian Psychoanalyst. He has written on elder care and the theme of the second death, on Freud and Lacan, on Bataille and Surrealism, on Foucault and History, and on Zˇizˇek.

Culture, Theory and Critique

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288 Andrew Stein

Lacan and Psychoanalysis: A Conversation between Andrew Stein and James Luchte

The following documents two conversations between psychoanalyst Andrew Stein and philosopher James Luchte on Lacan and psychoanalysis that took place on 22 May 2014 and 25 September 2014.
The initial conversation was prompted by an invitation by Luchte to Stein to comment on his article, ‘Fatal Repetition: Badiou and the Age of the Poets, with an Appendix: A Psychoanalysis of Alain Badiou.’

Andrew Stein: James, I read your article (‘Fatal Repetition: Badiou and the Age of the Poets with an Appendix: A Psychoanalysis of Alain Badiou’) and liked it a lot. Just a few points. As the article I sent shows Lacan is a critic of ‘the unity of opposites,’ as the notion that there is no sexual relation presents as a formula (Jean Allouch, “How Lacan Invented the Object A,” in Papers of the Freudian School of Melbourne, 19). I would say, again, (this is explicit in what I sent) that Lacan also is a materialist but not a positivist as his development of the varieties of object a’s attests. And finally, that for Lacan how such materialism squares with desire — with the infinite set and grammatical subject- it is here that Lacan becomes interested in Cantor’s Set theory — like topography it allows him to symbolically formalize what is a subjective encounter with the real. That, at any rate, is my opinion.
James Luchte: Hmmm… so it was Lacan who went to Set Theory… but what is the difference between Set Theory and Descartes’ mathematical grid – the grand mathesis that we project to control the world of flux? Moreover, I cannot see how Set Theory would allow for an encounter with the Real, as this would seem to be on its face impossible, and would be merely a projection which in fact covers over and hides the event. I have no reason to decide to embrace this idea, when I can think along with Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Bataille, together with the bits I think are helpful from Lacan – some of it is bullshit though, and I do not think that Lacan holds some kind of intellectual trump card which makes his thought mandatory. I could just as well read Schelling or Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy through Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein, allowing for surrealistic dimensions which Heidegger may have been forced to allow. I still do not know why Set Theory is necessary and why Badiou is so cultishly followed.
Andrew Stein: Everything you write is true. Set theory is not necessary for Lacan. It merely allows one to think (represent) something about infinite desire and the psychic apparatus (the rim) on which the object a moves. Alain Vanier says that while philosophy arguably is about Being, psychoanalysis is about Non-being –about what doesn’t/ can’t/ won’t fit in any knowledge. For this reason, Lacan is using Cantor in a very different, I would say contrary, way to Badiou whose thinking is, as you say, a slave to systems.
James Luchte: OK. That may make sense, especially if you think of the early Wittgenstein and the Mystical or Godel, or the other mathematicians who are open to questions of existence and nothingness. I have just been given an article on Set Theory by a scholar from Cambridge and he seems to think it is the cat’s meow. I will have to think more about this, but this different way you suggest Lacan uses Set Theory is unclear to me. I don’t believe in the Infinite.
Andrew Stein: Neither does Lacan, I suppose, if the infinite is something that does not have a gap in it, that isn’t sutured. There is no sexual relation for him, there always are these remainders and these strange objects signifying the grammatical subject (of the real).
James Luchte: You have said sexual relation twice, once in relation to the ‘unity of opposites’ – what do you mean by this and what is its significance, especially in relation to Heraclitus for instance? For instance, Andrew, what does this mean: ‘… Lacan is a critic of ‘the unity of opposites’ as the notion that there is not sexual relation presents as a formula.’? Indeed, ‘the notion that there is not sexual relation presents as a formula.’ Can you put this into other words?
Andrew Stein: This may be getting too complicated to handle here, but when Lacan says there is no sexual relation, in a simple way this means there is no Concept holding everything together or at least permitting us to dialectically come to the Concept after working through all of the contradictions. What psychoanalysis is interested in is non-Being; and it sees knowledge as ways to cover up and half-communicate an encounter with a remainder or excess to any meaning we arrive at. Being always is an effect of some meaning we place on experience to suture the gap.  I realize that this is inadequate. To explain it I would have to discuss how signifiers represent the [grammatical) subject for other signifiers and do not represent pre-existing signifieds.  That may sound strange but I assure you it is exactly what we find in analysis.
James Luchte: Is the gap death?
Andrew Stein: related to death drive –yes
James Luchte: It is Derrida’s critique of Saussure… which allows for transference to occur, since the signifier is not chained to some signified, but floats like a ghost amidst the play of signifiers… differance…Or, am I understanding you wrongly?
Andrew Stein: Not precisely. Among other things Derrida authorizes writing over speech – a big mistake. It is however linked to Lacan’s inversion of Saussure in that signifiers do not stand for some pre-existing concept (chair) but rather signifieds become like punctuations that come at the end and round out the meaning. What becomes critical is where a signifier is in the chain of signifiers; meaning is an after thought. We see this in analysis; when the analysand talks we do not know what he is saying; he is bringing up signifiers whose meaning is unknown or only partly known. The meaning only comes at the end when there is some kind of stop or punctuation. And the meaning is discerned apres coup, after the fact… if at all, and only provisionally — what finally matters is less the signified meaning but the encounter with the object a.
James Luchte: Yes, but Derrida’s criticism of speech in Saussure was precisely the move which liberated the signifiers from their Promethean captivity to the rock of the signified. Derrida, in Of Grammatology discusses the unconscious as a form of writing, which again liberates the signifier from a signified object. How would Lacan handle this problem?  Would the object a be his answer – phone, gramme, signifier, signified, none of these matter.  The real problem is the object a and our desire? What is the difference between speaking and writing in relation to the practice of psychoanalysis?  The surrealists, for instance, practiced automatic writing to reveal the unconscious.
Andrew Stein: I like Derrida but I think most of the good things he says were not his. For example, in the fifties Lacan already turns Saussure’s matheme on its head and so ‘liberates the signifiers’; also he already says the unconscious is structured like a language that is comprised of chains of signifiers and (by 1962 in the Seminar on Anxiety he already is adding) object a. But remember what Lacan is interested in are the significations of the unconscious ‘writings’ which he says is different for each one of us and that requires speech – and for the same reason that Freud insists we associate to a dream and not write it down. Writing it down is already a work of secondary revision/covering over, where as in speech we begin and do not know where we are and where we are going; it speaks, via our slips, stumblings, jokes, pauses, punctuations! etc in ways that we do not know — that is, speech more than writing (but writing too) allows for the transference – the opening of the unconscious signifiers to appear amidst what Lacan calls ‘blah blah speech!
James Luchte: I will agree with you on Derrida and his questionable originality. Nevertheless, I have one remaining question, since you seemed to have answered my many questions. I understand what you say about speech and how it is not only fraught with contingency but also only establishes meaning when it is completed with a pause. But, Derrida seeks to deconstruct this notion that speech is somehow closer to being, in terms of a metaphysics of presence, that it is the paraousia of the ousia – all of this is merely a prejudice that has not acknowledged either the closure of metaphysics or the fact that speech, historically, is mediated by writing, having lost any purity it may, if ever, had.  Answer this and I will be satisfied.
Andrew Stein: Psychoanalysis is chasing a different quarry. It’s not interested in Being, presence — In fact these concepts are meanings imposed apres coup. What is revealed via the gaps, ruptures, etc is the subjective desire of the unconscious — and this desire is not presence. Presence is only the form desire takes in the imaginary register — it has to do with the mirror stage, narcissism, and our image of our body as whole and seen as whole by the Other. But nonbeing involves this encounter with what is left out of this picture (of our positive experience, concepts, knowledge). Lacan writes this with the letter a; and all the various forms of object a (oral, anal, phallus, voice, gaze) — all of these are objects representing the drive (and desire).
James Luchte: Neither is Derrida, but he is saying that the emphasis on speech is at the end of the day a concern with presence. It is the criteria of truth and credibility that distinguishes it, in your own words, from writing. Or it uniquely reveals the nothing? Logos as breath, spoken words, the soul?
Andrew Stein: In analysis presence is a dream of the imaginary subject – it is not the aim of speech; speech is what allows the opening of the unconscious and desire (which is in the symbolic tied to non-being, lack, castration) not presence — presence is the screen only. Lacan tells a story in Seminar XI of two painters named Zeuxis and Parhessias who competed to see who could paint the most ‘truthful’ image. One painted a tree with fruit so realistic that birds tried to eat them. The other painted a screen and won when his competitor asked to see his painting behinds the screen — that is it Zeuxis and Parhessias– no presence except in our fantasy…but the fantasy is the basis of much of our social bonds.
James Luchte: The fantasy is the Apollonian image of redemption, the lie that becomes convention for a time, merely maya, illusion – the real world is a fable… presence is fantasy… I agree with you. Nevertheless, I guess my only reservation would be the uniqueness accorded to speech, which serves psychoanalysis in its current form quite well. But, I think writing, art, and even behaviour reveal the unconscious, and can imagine an analysis which would incorporate painting, dance, singing, automatic and non-automatic writing as well as the talking cure. You must agree with me. Sometimes talk is just bla-blah-blah…
Andrew Stein: They do as well.

Part 2: Conversation on Andrew Stein’s ‘Of the Difference between Freud-Lacan and Jung’
The goal then to overcome or heal an original break between subject and object, “I” and “Thou”, partial objects and an identification with a imago of the whole mother etc is the opposite of the goal set forth in psychoanalysis. It is a complete reverse (inversion) of the Freudian and Lacanian attitude (towards intersubjectivity and the cure). There the focus is neither on an original wholeness that has been lost (via alienation) or that is achieved in the first years via the integration of the child’s partial objects but on an original and impossible lack right from the beginning when the subject emerges via language in the (field of) the Other’s desire. Psychoanalysis as Freud and Lacan conceived it is not a return to an original or ideal Mitsein or a Tikkun. Rather, the subject of the unconscious has to separate itself and its own desire from the desire of the Other which at first defines its limits and subjugates it, because a subject is born in language and because it depends on the desires of a (mostly unknowable) Other.
Thus, Jung who views the aim of analysis not as being ‘separation’ but what he call ‘individuation’ (which is not individuation at all but the integration of the unconscious archetypes, a union of sexual (anima and animus) opposites), is in a long tradition that reduces the gap (of difference and desire) which psychoanalysis opens to either an original philosophic or religious ‘intersubjectivity’. This is a ‘secret’ knot binding such apparently dissimilar psychologies as Jung’s and Sartre’s to the same imaginary (ideal ego); for existential psychoanalysis, which will emerge at approximately the same moment as Jungian psychology, also postulates ‘the identity of the doctor-patient relation and an originary being-for-others, an originary Mit-sein, an originary intersubjectivity.’ (Warren Montag, ‘Althusser and His Contemporaries’, Philosophy’s Perpetual War, Duke University Press, 2013)
Andrew Stein
September 25, 2014
James Luchte: Is an identification with the imago of the mother not just the Oedipus Complex fulfilled?
Andrew Stein: No, the Oedipal complex is what allows a gap or space to open between an identification with the Mother; this gap is originally via a prohibition– a no, you must not desire this, etc. Psychosis happens when the Name of the Father (and the Oedipal complex) is foreclosed by the subject.
James Luchte: Sorry, that is what I meant by fulfilled – that the father is rejected and it is the mother which determines identification. Fulfilled in the sense that the desire for the mother is not prohibited.
Andrew Stein: Psychotics cannot tolerate gaps because any gap becomes totally overpowering; it is where the desire of the Other gets through and so when you speak to a psychotic they are certain about everything– everything is connected and has a meaning related to their delusion.
James Luchte: I wonder how this would relate to Levinas’ ethical notion that we must acquiesce to being held captive by the other?
Andrew Stein: Imaginary capture.
James Luchte: Is it psychosis though?
Andrew Stein: No.
James Luchte: Why?
Andrew Stein: Well, one can’t say without an analysis, but I would not say psychosis, but merely caught in the imaginary register (like much thought).
James Luchte: But, the imaginary register could lead to delusion, though, could it not? What is the difference?
Andrew Stein: Intersubjectivity is usually in the imaginary; although, since it depends on words, the imaginary is tied to a symbolic frame provided by language. Delusions are not proof of psychosis. We all have them. Delusions are a symptom. They can appear in any register. Psychosis is a structure.
James Luchte: Sure, but could thinking one is held captive by the other, especially on religious or ethical grounds, be a delusion, and symptomatic of a structure of psychosis? It seems to be a very specific interpretation of inter-subjectivity as with Jung. Freud and Lacan sound more like Heidegger.
Andrew Stein: Symptoms are not structures, they are symptoms– they are the way we have to be in the world; a delusion may be a symptom; it may appear in any structure, including psychosis, but it is not ipso facto a sign of anything. We need to hear the subject’s speech to settle on that. Concerning Heidegger, early Lacan is deeply influenced by Heidegger and Hegel, but more in the direction of influenced so as to critique. He is more directly critical of concepts like Sartre’s.
James Luchte: So, are you saying one of the goals of psychoanalysis is to transform a psychotic structure to a non-psychotic structure? What is the structure, of what is it composed? Or, is that the wrong question?
Andrew Stein: No, a psychotic will remain a psychotic, a neurotic a neurotic; one has one’s symptoms — it is how one has learnt to be in the world; the goal is to make your symptom work for you. One reduces suffering but does not change the structure. What one desires –what one wants from the Other and what one believes one lacks from the Other — is shaped by one’s structure.
James Luchte: Ah! Very interesting! So, is someone born psychotic or does the structure of psychosis coalesce through the (failed) stages of psycho-sexual development, etc.?
Andrew Stein: According to Lacan, Joyce is a psychotic who creates what he calls a sinthome to give himself a name (this is what the psychotic lack having foreclosed the Name of the Father, the one who makes the nomination) via his writing and literature.
James Luchte: Does the structure become, come into its configuration in time, or is it set from conception? In other words, why is Joyce a psychotic? Is it because of bad blood, as Rimbaud says about himself, or was it because he was raised the way he was, in the Church, etc.?
Andrew Stein: One ‘gets’ one’s structure from language and the desire of the Other—it is the opposite of something genetic or biological; if there is a pregiven to it, it is the pregiven that we emerge as subjects by being traumatized and confused by the Other’s desire when we are little ones. So what and how those Other’s desire — what their fantasies are about their own place in the symbolic and what they fantasize and desire about you form your structure; we emerge in language as subjects of the desire of Others. That is why family and social identifications are vital.
As for Joyce, in the simplest terms his father was unable to pass on his “Name” to Joyce–being an alcoholic and never-do-well. And, as a result Joyce foreclosed the Name of the Father–what saved him from madness is that he managed to give himself a name “Joyce” through literature.
James Luchte: OK, I see. So the structure is formed. Why can it not be un-formed and re-formed? Why does the structure remain fixed after it is formed? Alchemy ala Jung, ego dissolution, reconstitution through ‘activities’, Reichian work?
Andrew Stein: Not the psychoanalyst’s job; it is unethical (if it can be done); the goal, as I said above, is not to impose the analysts desire or the desire of Society or of some Ideal Good (this is what Ego psychology did). Rather, the goal is to help the subject separate his or her desire from subjugation to the Other’s desire so that one can speak for one’s self; the second goal is to reduce suffering so that the subject can make use of his or her symptom (link it to their juissance) in the least destructive way. But these goals seem to work together.
James Luchte: Why would the attempt to deconstruct and reconstruct the ‘structure’ be unethical if it were chosen by the analysand? I think this notion of structure, if there can be no further change, is de-temporalised, or as Heidegger indicates, un-worlded. My question relates to the temporality of the structure and if it is capable of fundational change after a certain period. Or is it fixed at 5 or 6?
Andrew Stein: When someone comes to an analyst, it is because their structure and their symptom are not working for them. What the analyst does is help the analysand create a new subjective position vis a vis their symptom and structure; so that it works for them better.
What happens when the transference happens is that the analysand consciously or unconsciously treats the analyst as the person who is supposed to know what they desire and how to give them what they want. This forms the conditions of the transference where the analysand starts to bring their unconscious desire into the session. But by the end, the analysand has shifted their relation to the object cause of their desire and no longer look for a Master subject who is supposed to know. If the subject simply identifies with the analyst’s desire he or she has changed nothing; the subject remains subjugated to the Other’s desire and the transference has not been worked through at all.
The cure is falsely linked to the presumption that the analyst knows what the analysand desires, or should want to desire. In reality, the analysst does not know any such thing. Each person’s subjective desire is unique and the belief in the analyst as some Svengali who knows is what has sustained the analysand desire in the position of suffering. The end of analysis instead is linked to the overcoming of this fantasy (that the analyst or ‘someone’ knows what you want and knows how to give it to you). Instead, the analysand has to come to some new attitude about their desire — such as that there are things that they or the Other will never know, that there is no one who knows your desire and can fulfill you, and so on.
James Luchte: Thank you for the conversation.
Andrew Stein: My pleasure.

Andrew Stein is a practicing analyst in New York City where he is attached to Apres Coup, an association of Lacanian analysts in formation and teaches psychoanalysis at The West Chester Institute. He also trained as a Modern (Spotnitz) analysis. On the academic side, he has a Ph.D in Modern European Intellectual History and another Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. His writing includes a book on psychotherapy in Nursing Homes, Longing for Nothingness: Resistance, Denial, and the Place of Death in the Nursing Home (2010), essays on Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Surrealism, Georges Bataille, and Michel Foucault.
James Luchte is an expatriate American philosopher, author and poet based in the United Kingdom. His books include Of the Feral Children: A Mayan Farce (2012), Early Greek Thought: Before the Dawn (2011), The Peacock and the Buffalo: The Poetry of Nietzsche (2010), Pythagoras and the Doctrine of Transmigration: Wandering Souls (2009), Heidegger’s Early Philosophy: The Phenomenology of Ecstatic Temporality (2008), Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Before Sunrise (2008), and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (2007) He has also written nearly two dozen articles on various topics in Continental Philosophy.