The Blathering Superego

Managerial liberalism is doing what any superego must under severe stress: continue, against all hope, to assert control. Yet, faced with an ascendant global right and a resurgent global left, its correcting and corralling impulses have gone haywire.

— Emmett Rensin, “The Blathering Superego at the End of History


Annotated Bookshelf: The Mass Psychology of Fascism

Reich, Wilhelm. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.

Once again, we left-leaning people, left lying facedown in the worst political dirt, must ask ourselves: How did it come to this? Or, more specifically: Why has the worker’s revolution not come to pass, even not come up at all, despite how ripe the economic and technologic conditions have become? Why has the working electorate once more voted against their own material self-interest? Or, as Reich succinctly puts it (14): “what prevents the economic situation from coinciding with the psychic structure of the masses?” Long before Žižek first sniffed, writing as the Third Reich rode onto the scene, this Reich already proposed that ours was a question not for Marxist sociology but psychoanalysis, for “psychic structure…is forced to develop a contradiction corresponding to the contradiction between the influence exercised by [mankind’s] material position and the influence exercised by the ideological structure of society” (18). Said otherwise, the ideologically and materially subjugated masses vote against their interests not because they are fooled, but because their interests are repressed, silenced by a fascist super-ego. “Thus, the authoritarian state gains an enormous interest in the authoritarian family: It becomes the factory in which the state’s structure and ideology are molded,” Reich forwards in a key passage, naming the family as “the authoritarian state in miniature;” and as such, it is through the patriarchal family that “[m]an’s authoritarian structure…is basically produced by the embedding of sexual inhibitions and fear in the living substance of sexual impulses” (30), leading ultimately, in a return of the repressed, to the bigotry and brutality of the fascist masses. That is to say, because “[s]exual desires naturally urge a person to enter into all kinds of relations with the world, to enter into close contact with it in a variety of forms” (56), the repression of those desires leads to a xenophobic narrowing of the world, and ultimately, through identification with a singular führer-figure, a “childish need for protection” by the state and a defense of “national narcissism” that loudly proclaims the “greatness of the nation” (63). Sound familiar? Without going too deeply into Reich’s final solution for fascism—it has to do with what he calls “work-democracy,” the “natural process of love, work, and knowledge” that is immanent to rational social relations (311)—above all else, Reich asserts that to achieve freedom over fascism, the masses must become “burdened” by social and self responsibility, accepting of their biological and unconscious desires (334).

This post is one entry in an ongoing annotated bibliography of my bookshelf. If it’s useful to any person other than myself, all the better.

Annotated Bookshelf: Lacanian Affects

Soler, Colette. Lacanian Affects: The Function of Affect in Lacan’s Work. Translated by Bruce Fink. New York, NY: Routledge, 2016.

Strangely enough, psychoanalysis has had little to say regarding the recent emergence of critical affect studies (though such silence, the lack of saying, might profitably become the beginning of an answer). The accusation has typically been that the Freudo-Lacanian tradition relegates affect to the register of Imaginary deceit—though, as Soler contends in her uncommon intervention, that which is untrue still has much to teach us; and while affects might fall into the Imaginary, there is also something Real about them. A far cry, then, from the now more familiar Deleuzian accounts, Soler means by affect something closer to Ann Cvetkovich’s “intentionally imprecise” feelings than, say, Massumi’s intensity prior to symbolic capture in language as emotions. Rather than defining (presymbolic, bodily) affect and (Imaginary, narrativized) emotion as separate, Soler suggests that clinical practice reveals a relationship between corporeal the corporeal and the linguistic, arguing that “for both Freud and Lacan, affect is an effect” (3), which is to say that “signifiers affect us and affect is determined solely by signifiers” (5). This does not mean, however, that all affect is knowable or transmissible as a matter of signification; some affects, particularly anguish or anxiety, instead punch a hole in “the monopoly of the signifier as far as knowledge is concerned,” allowing analysts to “get a handle on reality (réel) via affect” (20f.).

“We cannot have any knowledge, strictly speaking, that is not linguistically structured,” Coler explains, “but that which goes beyond linguistic structure is rendered present to me by affects: by anguish when it is object a or the real lying outside of the symbolic that is at work, and by enigmatic affects when it is lalangue that is at work” (106). Such an enigmatic affect creates “a lived experience of imminence, a sort of epiphany experienced by an object-like being that is in abeyance” of comprehension (28), resisting epistemic closure as it is embodied in symptoms. Lacan’s hypothesis regarding affect is thus that “the signifier affects something other than itself: it affects the bodily individual that is thereby made into a subject…The first affecting party is thus language, and the affected party is not simply the imaginary body…but its capacity to enjoy,” real-ized via the symptom (53). Thus language operates as “the ‘apparatus’ of its jouissance, as we see in symptoms, in which the verbal elements of the unconscious and the enjoying substance of the body come together” in “a coalescence of the word and jouissance” that Coler calls moteriality (56). For Lacan, then, material intensity is not a priori to its linguistic capture—”Lacan stressed that there is no such thing as a preverbal stage, but there is a pre-discursive stage since lalangue is not language” (110)—but rather “it is always the body as affected by language that has repercussions that take the form of subjective affects,” at the same time transubjectively historical and radically individual (101).

This post is one entry in an ongoing annotated bibliography of my bookshelf. If it’s useful to any person other than myself, all the better.

Annotated Bookshelf: Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive

Dean, Jodi. Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010.

Although brief, Dean’s monograph is a conscious attempt to slow down contemporary communications media and think critically about the networked hegemony she calls communicative capitalism, “that economic-ideological form wherein reflexivity captures creativity and resistance so as to enrich the few as it placates and diverts the many” (4). Following Žižek, Dean contends that the modern media epoch is caught by “the decline of symbolic efficiency, the recursive loops of universalized reflexivity, the extreme inequalities that reflexive networks produce, and the operation of displaced mediators at points of critical transition” (29). To explain the reflexive circuit, Dean suggests that Lacan’s notion of the inhuman, undead, and disruptive drive — which posits pure loss as its object and “attains jouissance in the repetitive process of not reaching it” (40) — “expresses the reflexive structure of complex networks,” and that “[c]ommunicative capitalism thrives not because of unceasing or insatiable desires but in and as the repetitive intensity of drive” (30), a never ending loop within which media users are stuck. “Caught in reflexive networks” without being grounded by sufficient symbolic efficiency to make choices meaningful, “we lose the capacity for reflection. Our networks are reflexive so that we don’t have to be” (78) — a situation that produces what Dean, with a nod to Agamben, names a whatever being, a contemporary subjectivity that is “‘neither generic nor individual’” (80), both anxious and apathetic, “passive . . . because they are subjects of drive” (85). In effect, enjoined by the network itself, whatever beings communicate on the Internet, whether through a blog post or clicking ‘Like’, for the sheer fact of communicating, without a care for what is communicated: “Like a tweet, a Facebook update marks the mundane by expressing it, by breaking it out of one flow of experience and introducing it into another” again and again (98), producing a nugget of jouissance in the failure to land while simultaneously making it impossible to move beyond the loop. “In the reflexive doubling of communication, the enjoyment attached to communication for its own sake displaces intention, content, and meaning” so that ultimately the “something extra in repetition is enjoyment, the enjoyment that is capture in the drive and the enjoyment that communicative capitalism expropriates” (116).

This post is one entry in an ongoing annotated bibliography of my bookshelf. If it’s useful to any person other than myself, all the better.

Annotated Bookshelf: The Scandal of the Speaking Body

Felman, Shoshana. The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan with J.L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages. Translated by Catherine Porter. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2003.

Interrogating the intersection between psychoanalysis, speech act theory, and Molière’s Don Juan, Felman attempts to articulate “the scandal (which is at once theoretical and empirical, historical) of the incongruous but indissoluble relation between language and the body; the scandal of the seduction of the human body insofar as it speaks” (5). Such a seductive situation posits “a desire that desires itself and that desires its own language,” turning speech an sich into “the true realm of eroticism, and not simply a means of access to this realm” (15). Yet there is no alternative, for “the referent cannot be attained directly; it can only be approached or aimed at through the intermediary of language” (50)—so much so that “the referent is itself produced by language as its own effect” (51). Taking the instance of Don Juan’s promising without any intent to keep his word as “the performative utterance par excellence,” Felman perversely claims that “the seducer, strictly speaking [!], does not lie,” for a “trap of seduction [] consists in producing a referential illusion through an utterance that is by its very nature self-referential” (17). That is to say, the play stages a conflict between those who insist on the constative closure of language and those, like Don Juan, whose performative speech acts accomplish a (diabolical) reflexive force, a “referential residue of meaning” (52) which amounts to “a performative excess” (55). For Felman, “[t]he act, an enigmatic and problematic production of the speaking body, destroys from its inception the metaphysical dichotomy between the domain of the ‘mental’ and the domain of the ‘physical,’ breaks down the opposition between body and spirit, between matter and language” (65), just as it did “the alternative, the opposition, between referentiality and self-referentiality” (53). Insofar as this act of radical negativity, necessarily either comic or tragic—evoking laughter or imposing fate—“cannot know what it is doing” as it “subverts both consciousness and knowledge (of language),” one can say “[t]he speaking body is scandalous” (67). In that case, any “utterance of knowledge, no longer constative but performative, is no longer so much the object of contemplation, but of enjoyment” (72), becoming “an event—a ritual—of desire” (76); but “the scandal lies less in sex than in language…through which the body’s doing always fails to speak itself, whereas the speaking never fails to do” (78), so that “matter…without being reducible to language, is no longer entirely separable from it, either” (108). “This scandal of the outside of the alternative, of a negativity that is neither negative nor positive,” a Deleuzian nonpositive affirmation (104), names what is trivial and comical and so inassimilable by ideological history, yet it is “the things that have no history” that “make history” (106).

This post is one entry in an ongoing annotated bibliography of my bookshelf. If it’s useful to any person other than myself, all the better.

Annotated Bookshelf: How James Joyce Made His Name

Harari, Roberto. How James Joyce Made His Name: A Reading of the Final Lacan. Translated by Luke Thurston. New York: Other Press, 2002.

Not for nothing, the final turn of Jacques Lacan’s teaching has been on the whole overlooked by all but the most devoted of his followers, its wake confined to a small group of practicing psychoanalysts with barely a word on the subject in other disciplines. That lack is understandable: Stretching roughly from his post-Écrits writings of the late ’60s until his death in 1981 and marked by a strange fascination with the Real, the seminars and related texts of this period pose any number of logistical complications for interested critics. Only a handful are currently translated, fewer still readily accessible, whether because those manuscripts remain unpublished or (or, perhaps, not or) due to the enormous challenge they present to the entire process of their uptake: In the muddled transcripts of his last seminars, Lacan’s already abstruse prose become practically illegible, littered with intricate topological diagrams and Joycesque wordplay that is stricto sensu untranslatable. Of the few commentaries to bravely approach this quagmire, none are so penetrating or approachable as Harari’s elucidation of Seminar XXIII and Lacan’s relationship to Joyceana. According to Harari’s intervention, with the introduction of the sinthome and the development of a “booboo-rromean” clinic (9), Lacan begins to describe his work as a psychoanalytic hérésie—which is also R.S.I.—a decisive break not only away from classical Freudianism (in order, of course, to once again re-turn to Freud), but also a break with/in his own structuralist discourse. Said otherwise, through his sustained engagement with topology and the “discovery” of the sinthome, Lacan’s “transition from the triple to the quadruple knot constitutes…a qualitative shift” wherein a fourth and singular ring will have always already been necessary for the R.S.I. knot to maintain its coherence (64)—lest the subject slip into a paranoia of equivalence, the R.S.I. knot must originally be untied, and so is only held together by the suppletion of a manifest, real-ized fourth order (95). The sinthome in this account is something like a “lived epiphany” that writes the inconsistent fragmentation of the Real (69); it is a singular praxis wherein metaphor and (therefore) meaning are foreclosed and language left unknotted (73). Yet unlike the disruptive symptom, which is experienced as unwanted by the analysand, the sinthome is characterized as a sort of “know-how” or artifice that is fundamentally necessary (116), something that the analysand could not do without, and which he or she comes to assume responsibility for through a resolute comportment (83): As originary to the knotting of the subject, the sinthome constitutes our response-ability.

This post is one entry in an ongoing annotated bibliography of my bookshelf. If it’s useful to any person other than myself, all the better.

Annotated Bibliography: Lacan and the Logic of Structure

Ragland, Ellie. Jacques Lacan and the Logic of Structure: Topology and Language in Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Trying to follow the twist and turns of Lacan’s ever-shifting thought can at first glance seem maddening, although Ragland contends that the topological dimension typically seen as part of his final period in fact informs his project as early as the mirror-stage (22). According to Ragland’s text, the structure of the barred subject, the subject of the signifier, was always “already topological, multidimensional, spatial” (19), insofar as it “is always open and changing because fading away into the primacy of the meanings that have already constituted it, always forms a part of it” (20). Thought of as a logic of places, Lacan’s topological account of unconscious points to “how body, language, and world co-exist, intertwined in contradictory ways” (45), constituting the intersubjective social discourses within which we occupy dynamic positions. Moreover, Lacan’s topology aims not only to trace the transformations of structure, but to actively imagine the impossible Real of jouissance that motivates the complex interaction of the drives, signifiers, the split subject, and the social Other. “Topology shows structure, then, the real of structure which cannot speak itself. Topology situates the subject in a place of the Other, toward which the subject is supposed to orient itself,” says Ragland, and hence “Lacan’s whole teaching concerns this place in the Other—a common site” that “might be thought of as a cultural dimension—a place where egos can collect and identify” (124). This can perhaps most clearly be seen in writing, since “Lacan described the lettre as a place where being (l’être) resides between the unconscious and language, calling the lettre a localized signifier that one can recognize as language converging with the unconscious,” where “the unsymbolized real finds a place within language” (136) whenever “a repressed part of jouissance…returns into the symbolic to disrupt the consistencies of language” through the play of lapsus and a nongrammatical jouis-sens (13).

This post is one entry in an ongoing annotated bibliography of my bookshelf. If it’s useful to any person other than myself, all the better.