Friday, July 24, 2009

Theories and concepts are not reality laid bare, but rather are more like instruments and lenses

anotherheideggerblog Thursday, July 23, 2009 Interview with Levi R. Bryant
Today we interview Levi R. Bryant, author of Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence and co-editor (along with Graham Harman and Nick Srnicek of the forthcoming The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. Many of you will also know Levi from his excellent blog Larval Subjects.

Freud, for example, gives all sorts of reasons pertaining to desire as to why people believe in God, but his analysis, in no way, undermines the existence of God. To do that you would need another sort of argument. In other words, it’s entirely possible that everything Freud says about why people are led to belief in God is true, and God nonetheless exists. I think those that practice psychoanalytic critical theory sometimes forget this.

Nonetheless, I do think that psychoanalysis can be of great value in helping philosophers to recognize blind spots in their discourse and philosophical practice. Indeed, Lacan argued that for any discourse to establish itself, it must repress or exclude some element so as to achieve internal consistency. With this repression, of course, there is always a return of the repressed that plagues the discourse in the form of a symptom. Lacan always claimed that philosophy is the discourse of the master, which is to say that it is a discourse that disavows the split in the subject and strives to achieve mastery by unifying the slaves knowledge under a master-signifier transforming it into a smooth conceptual system. We can certainly see this notion of a sovereign and transparent subject without split in Descartes and even Husserl, but I also think this conception of the subject is ubiquitous in the practice of many philosophers. Thus, while the contemporary thinker-- including the psychoanalytically inflected thinker --might give lip service to how the subject is split, going so far as to make it the center-point of their entire system of thought, they nonetheless proceed in practice as if they were sovereign masters. Really this is a variation of the famous Socratic thesis that the source of our tragedy lies in believing that we know when we do not.

Symptoms of this can be detected all over the place. Thus, those who have been influenced by Lacan often approach popular culture, political events, and various cultural artifacts as if they had the interpretive master-key that lays everything bare to the eye that wishes to know. In this way, texts no longer have the capacity to surprise them as readers as they’re already looking for mere exemplifications of their theory. I think, despite all its talk of free play, deconstruction has fallen into a similar cul-de-sac. Calls for a critical stance also strike me as suffering from a similar desire for mastery. They would like to know before they know, determining the conditions under which knowledge, for example, is possible, thereby saving themselves the trouble of going through the process of arriving at knowledge as a result. This can be seen as a defense against the aleatory nature of the world that resists our drive to represent it. Similarly, it is today seen as the height of naivete to actually advocate for a particular position. Rather, one is to be critical of all positions, showing how they are all secretly about something else. In many respects, this resembles the attitude of the obsessional that is perpetually preparing without ever doing anything. In this way, the obsessional is able to disguise his split or incompleteness by never engaging with the world. In my view, philosophical practice can be assisted by becoming more aware of these psychic structures and their role as defences. [...]

At any rate, psychoanalysis taught me that theories and concepts are not reality laid bare, but rather are more like instruments and lenses. In the clinic, psychoanalytic concepts draw your attention to certain things, make you cognizant of certain things that you might otherwise not notice, but they do not lay bare the truth of your patient. That is something that is only revealed-- if at all, it’s the patient that comes to know, not the analyst after all; the analyst is just a midwife --through long engagement. Often clinical experience contradicts these concepts and calls for the entire remaking of analysis. This lesson significantly transformed my attitude towards philosophy and what it is about... Posted by Paul Ennis. Labels: , , , ,

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