philosophy as not philosophy: para-ontology, hauntology, schizoanalysis

"Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was’. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to hold fast that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger. The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, Thesis VI

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."
- Karl Marx, Thesis III

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mladen Dolar on Psychoanalysis and Politics



In a recent lecture, Mladen Dolar offers an instructive meditation on the (non-)relation of psychoanalysis and politics. He claims that psychoanalysis institutes a social bond on the basis of the death drive, as that negativity inscribed in every positive social relation, ultimately the potential unbinding or untying of these relations, their precariousness. In this way, psychoanalysis prepares the site of politics, which amounts to the rejection or suspension of substantial, conventional sociality, the interruption of the positive order. Yet in doing so, psychoanalysis cannot go any further than a 'preparation' - it cannot engage in a political struggle, cannot prescribe political commitments, or in other words, it can promote the interruption of these bonds, but cannot offer anything positive to replace them.

By way of contrast, if psychoanalysis falls short of political intervention, by preparing the political site, only to leave the intervention up to an extra-psychoanalytic moment of decision, then politics (in the Badiouian sense) goes too far, covering over or erasing the moment of negativity of the political site through the institution of a new positive social order, qua evental fidelity. Dolar seems to offer a kind of solution to that great problematic core of Badiou's doctrine of the Event, as noted by, among others, Adrian Johnston (PDF) and Levi Bryant (PDF) - the question of a pre-evental preparation, or of the intra-situational conditions of an Event. Badiou seems stuck in fundamental ambiguity between the claim that Events are entirely incalculable and unaccountable in terms of the situation in which they arise, and the claim that Events don't 'come from nowhere', that they are grounded in and conditioned by the spectral traces of effaced events, inertly circulating within existing situations (what he calls 'evental recurrence').

Dolar seems to offer up psychoanalysis as precisely a praxis of preparation, of bringing about the Evental site qua condition. In this way, we can easily understand psychoanalytic symptoms as symptoms of failed, effaced, or missed Events (this is how, for example, Eric Santner understands symptoms); and the Lacanian subject positions can be read as 'compromise formations' resulting from the failure of Evental fidelity, the products of failed subjectivation. The twist here is that, for psychoanalysis, there can only be 'failed subjectivations', the subject as such is a failure of the symbolic mandate, it is a way of coping with the imposibility of fully 'becoming what one is'. So while Dolar seems to propose, albeit problematically, that psychoanalysis can fill the missing role in Badiou's theory of a 'pre-evental discipline of time', as Johnston puts it, there is nonetheless a fundamental incongruity. If psychoanalysis 'merely' prepared the site for a proper Evental/political subjectivation, then it would seemingly be complicit in betraying its own definitive insight - that subjectivation is inherently 'improper', and that the subject is ultimately the result of a failure; the subject is intrinsically symptomatic, and so the failure cannot be 'undone' without the subject also coming undone.

Dolar already offers the key to this deadlock, when he describes both psychoanalysis and Badiouian politics as circling around the political site of pure unbinding, the former falling short of it, the latter going too far beyond it. Can we envision a political praxis that seeks, like psychoanalysis, to open up this site, but rather than instrumentalizing this site as the means to some specific political end, makes the opening and holding-open of this site its explicit goal? This is something Zizek has been hinting at for quite some time, and the he, in his lecture following Dolar's, continues to foreshadow.

For anyone familiar with this blog, my answer should come as no surprise: the name of such a praxis is schizoanalysis. Dolar, in his lecture, does briefly touch upon Deleuze and Guattari, if only to implicitly suggest that Guattari's politicization of analytic practice, in subordinating the political site of 'unbinding' to explicit political goals, thereby misses the crucial dimension of analysis in the same way as Badiou. To put it in schizoanalytic terms, Dolar criticizes schizoanalysis as subordinating analytic deterritorialization to a corresponding political reterritorialization. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, by remaining an eternal 'prelude' to politics, seeks to attain 'absolute detteritorialization', in a desire for 'pure difference'.

Yet such a criticism misses the point. Wherein lies the 'political' dimension of schizoanalysis, the sense in which it 'politicizes' Lacan? Schizoanalysis does not make analysis a means of promoting this or that political agenda, but rather makes the multiplication, promulgation, and perpetuation of analytic instances itself the political agenda. Rather than making politics a secondary moment, derived from the opening of the political site, schizoanalysis makes the opening/unbinding analytic operation as the political instance par excellence. If schizoanalysis is militant, it is in the spreading of analytic practice, installing analytic units wherever possible, opening political sites in every amenable situation. Schizoanalytic practice, then, involves a missionary ethics of promulgation, of 'spreading the good news', in the tradition of St. Paul. Paradoxically, schizoanalysis reproaches Lacanian psychoanalysis, not because it is too 'church-like', but because it isn't church-like enough, it is content to practice analysis where it is already comfortably accepted, rather than attempting to spread its word everywhere.

Where Dolar does explicitly criticize Deleuze and Guattari, he claims that their denunciation of Oedipus in the name of an unconscious that is already social misses the point. Oedipus names the fact that the formation of the ego already depends on social relations (those of the family, et cetera). But moreover, Oedipus is not the name of a conservative familialism - the Oedipus complex is that which ceaselessly undermines traditional paternal authority, disturbing the consistency of the familial triangle from within. This internal moment of negativity or inconsistency, moreover, attests to the social - or rather, political - nature of the unconscious, which already undermines familial and all other form of authority, rather than assuming or reinforcing them.

Dolar's criticism, however, itself seems to miss the point. Deleuze and Guattari clearly accept that castration and Oedipus are given facts of our current predicament. Their reproach is not that psychoanalysis accepts these coordinates, but rather, that it limits analytic practice to these coordinates, rather than generalizing itself. What does this mean? Oedipus and familialism, for Deleuze and Guattari, amount in the last instance to figures of the linguistic structure of the signifier. Their criticism is that psychoanalysis restricts its structuralism to that of the signifier, rather than generalizing itself to differential structures of different orders. Practically speaking, psychoanalysis takes the subject (of the signifier) for granted, as given in the analysand, whereas schizoanalysis seeks to analyze, within collective social arrangements, the emergence of instances of subjectivation at the intersection of several structural orders - physical-mechanical, biological-genetic, cognitive, linguistic, politico-economic, artistic, digital-technological, et cetera. On the specificities of this praxis, I can for now only hint.

If schizoanalysis is a political radicalization of psychoanalysis, this is not because it seeks to enlist analysis in the service of some overt political end, but rather, because it makes analysis itself - its promulgation and promotion - the only political end, with all other political projects and goals as themselves experimental figures within a greater analytic movement.

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