Sunday, April 08, 2007

Lacan warned against the desire to do good

The Beyond of Fantasy In a post responding to my remarks on fantasy earlier today, Anon writes: Levi, I know flattering leftist homologies have been made by Zizek and others between Lacan’s subject of drive and Badiou’s subject of the truth procedure,...8:32 AM
I think Anon here makes a very good observation pertaining to the difference between the practice of Lacanian psychoanalysis in the clinic and Zizek’s political project. Ideally (both Freud and Lacan talked about the impossibility of analysis as a profession), the analyst has no particular stance on the outcome of analysis. Traversing the fantasy in analysis does not entail that someone is going to become a revolutionary subject, that they’ll become leftist, or that they’ll accomplish anything in particular. An analyst is an advocate of the analysand’s desire, not of a preconceived agenda or conception of the good. Indeed, Lacan warned against the desire to do good as this desire inevitably smuggles in the analyst’s own imaginary and desires. Or as Lacan put it much earlier in the Rome Discourse, the analyst agrees to play dead. At most, traversing the fantasy entails that the analysand encounters the non-existence of the big Other and discovers the impossibility of complete or total jouissance which, in turn, opens the possibility of enjoying those bits and remainders of jouissance that are available.
I don’t know that I would describe this in the sort of pragmatic, bourgeois, and utilitarian terms Anon describes it in terms of (the Bourgeois strike me as very concerned with what the Other thinks, as can be discerned in Kierkegaard’s astute psychological descriptions in The Sickness unto Death), but he does have a point. Take Zizek’s description of drive as a sort of parallex shift in how we view desire. The subject experiences desire teleologically as aiming at some state of completeness that somehow we perpetually fail to acheive. I never get the right girl. I never write the right book. I never get the right job. Etc. However, if we anamorphically shift our perspective on desire, we discern drive, where the whole point of the activity is precisely its repetition without ever reaching the goal. The jouissance lies not in the goal, but in the repetition of the failure or the activity itself. Now if the outcome of analysis is a shift from being a subject of desire to a subject of drive, we can very well imagine post-analyzed subjects who draw their enjoyment precisely from some idiotic activity like Kinsey collecting his gall wasps or Husserl producing ever refined phenomenological descriptions of minutiae, without entertaining a belief that these activities are undertaken for the sake of some grand goal that might someday complete itself. The telos of such activity and its jouissance lies in the activity itself, and the subject feels no need to call on the approval of the Other to engage in this enjoyment, nor does he see this enjoyment as an act of transgression attempting to steal jouissance back from the Other.
Along these lines, Dermot Moran, in his Introduction to Phenomenology, relates an anecdote of a very young Husserl being given a pocket-knife one year as a gift. Believing the knife to be too dull, little Edmund sharpened and sharpened the blade until it disappeared entirely. Later in life he came to see his phenomenological descriptions in these terms, wehre the descriptions became ever more precise, drawing all sorts of nuanced scholastic distinctions, until the phenomenon itself often became lost. Now Husserl did entertain world-historical pretensions for the value of phenomenology, but in reading him– especially his lectures or works like Ideas –one gets the sense that the jouissance lies in the activity of drawing distinctions and describing itself, without these descriptions having any particular use or value. Indeed, Husserl sometimes spoke of something like an “epistemic drive” in his discussions of “Ideas” as a telos of knowledge. There’s hardly anything revolutionary in all of this, though Husserl’s jouissance was certainly revolutionary in birthing a thriving philosophical movement with entirely new questions.
By contrast, when Zizek speaks of traversing the social fantasy, something very different is at stake. That is, Zizek envisions a particular outcome of this traversal of the fantasy that produces a particular type of subjectivity. But to what degree can this be said within a Lacanian framework, which strives to suspend any normative criteria in approaching the analysands desire? I’m prepared to say that there are some things that are impossible to continue after traversing the fantasy: I find it very difficult to conceive of a Lacanian that believes in a standard “folk psychological” conception of God, for reasons that I set out in an earlier post on desire and fantasy. This does not entail that other relations to the divine might not be possible within a Lacanian framework. As Bobo once pointed out to me, Lacan, somewhere in seminar 20, names femine jouissance as opening on to the divine. This is a theme that deserves rich and careful exploration. Likewise, I find it difficult to imagine a post-analyzed subject that continues to be racist or sexist. Insofar as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., are imaginary stances towards the Other designed to account for the absence of jouissance through the theft of jouissance, it does not seem possible for a subject who has traversed the fantasy and encountered the non-existence of the Other and the impossibility of jouissance to continue in the belief that another group has stolen their jouissance. But it seems very difficult to say just why traversing the fantasy would necessarily have to produce a revolutionary subject. It’s suspicious that Zizek was only in analysis for a few weeks and is often downright hostile to Lacan’s clinical orientation. Could we be dealing here with Zizek’s desire writ large? Do others have thoughts on this?
CAUTIONARY NOTE (Since they seem necessary today when interacting with the disciples or true believers where questions are generally unwelcome and experimental larvae are generally disliked, i.e., those who must defend against the void as articulated by Badiou in BE 8): Raising these questions is not a dismissal of Zizek, but a challenge to be addressed, posing the question of just why psychoanalytic categories should produce a certain outcome or subjective position vis a vis the political. It’s well known that Lacan was fairly “conservative” in his own outlook, and, like Freud, suspicious of utopian, emancipatory movements due to his understanding of psychic structures. Is this cynicism unfounded? Why? Posing a question is a first step. ~ by larvalsubjects on November 16, 2006. 2 Responses to “The Beyond of Fantasy”
I’ve had a strangely parallel set of discussions this year over the role of university teaching - where I’ve maintained that it’s inappropriate (and, particularly in the long run, also likely to be counter-productive) to communicate to students that they must embrace specific political views, but where I also think that equipping students with the skills they require to determine their own views in a reasoned way has its own transformative dimension - perhaps not transformative in a specific political direction, but meaningful and important in enabling individuals to direct their own lives (and perhaps ultimately also politically significant in weighing against certain kinds of irrationalism in political life…) (If this posts successfully, it will confirm my firewall theory… ;-P) N. Pepperell said this on November 16th, 2006 at 10:24 am
Levi, the way I see it, the subject having traversed the fantasy recognizes that there is no a final destination to their desire - what if, then, performing acts that mark their own intrinsic failure like Kinsey’s idiotic collecting the incollectable is all there is to the subject of drive? But then, what about pottering or dedicating one’s life to studying NFL statistics? Drive or desire? Stavrakakis envisages the traversing of the fantasy in terms of identifying with objet a - something akin to proclaiming “we are all Jews!” in the Hitlerian Germany. What he does not address is why the subject having traversed their fantasy should have any intrinsic motivation to perform any such feats. Why not stick to collecting wasp galls instead? Anonymous said this on November 16th, 2006 at 12:36 pm

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