Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lacan & political economy

  1. The distinction between the pleasure principle and the death drive in Freud is not homologous to the opposition interior/exterior. The drive occupies a "formally untenable" place, its locality has a "mythical prevalence" irreducible to a body. Temporally, the drive operates "prior to the economic negotiations of inside/outside".
  2. The work of the drive is to be found in the circuit it forms. For example, Freud demonstrated that "to see" and "to be seen" are terms in such a circuit, and are related in such a way that they cannot be completely isolated or unified with each other. Freud emphasizes the importance of the circuit itself and not the terms when it comes to understanding the drive.
  3. Subjectivity is the place implicated by the completion of this circuit, which is also the disappearance of the drive itself from the formally tenable place. Since this work is done prior to, and in another place from, the emergence of the pleasure principle, subjectivity and homeostasis are not opposed.
  4. However, though the drive cannot ever be localized except in mythic terms, Zizek's project of Lacanian Marxism lies precisely in connecting the excesses disrupting homeostasis to this disappearing drive.  The implication of such a project is nothing less than the re-politicization of the economy, since it demonstrates that subjectivization is always-already in play in the desubjectivized circulation of commodities.
  5. To do this, Zizek mobilizes the work of Sohn-Rethel, whose thesis is that the Kantian transcendental subject shares, in its "formal genesis", the same "pathological process" that Marx identified in the act of commodity exchange. This process is named "real abstraction". Zizek, from his earliest works, has articulated the homology between real abstraction and the Freudian unconscious – in his words quoted in the text:  "the 'real abstraction' is the unconscious of the transcendental subject, the support of objective-universal scientific knowledge." (SOI, p. 10-11)
  6. Therefore, the many theoretical differences between Zizek and Badiou can be condensed, in a way productive to furthering the Idea of Communism, into the question of the status of negativity in economy. Eurydice points out two major implications of this opposition:
    1. To dismiss political economy as embedded in the law of the situation is ultimately to dismiss psychoanalysis.
    2. Inversely, the Zizekian position is a dismissal of the possibility for a non-economic theory of the subject.

The second section asks the question: what is the object of the critique of political economy? We offer another condensation of its arguments:

  1. The opposition between concrete and abstract changes with the advent of modern science. Previously, the abstract was formal relations within a process and the concrete the particularity which "colored" these relations, giving them their specific twist. Afterwards, the abstract is what marks the diversity of the world, whereas the concrete is the contraction-reduction of this diversity into something scientifically thinkable.
  2. The work of Althusser takes from this reversal of terms as a starting point for his theory of generalities, which sought to extract a "science of history" for political purposes – that is, to move from economy to political "concrete-in-thought". However, Althusser still relied on the distinction between the object and knowledge of this object (history, for example).
  3. However, Sohn-Rethel's approach problematizes this very move by questioning the nature of abstractions as such. Simply put, what is an abstraction which is neither immediate (obfuscated in nature) nor concrete (scientifically thinkable)?
  4. This third abstraction is what is at play in Marx's conception of the form of value. It is the "problem of the form" which concerns the aspect of value that is "non-dimensional" or eternal.
  5. This "eternity-in-the-world" is the object of the critique of political economy. We note that this is what justifies Marx's claim to scientific validity, in the sense of Hegel's science of logic.[1]
  6. Hegel states that science itself is not pre-given but must be constructed – and is in fact its final result. In this way, the method and the object are indistinguishable in the same way that – for real abstraction – thought and its object are indistinguishable.
  7. Therefore, we cannot oppose science (qua method) to ideology (qua object), since real abstraction traverses both. Zizek states that this "form of thought" is the very definition of the unconscious, which is the symbolic order.

The next section of the text endeavors to grasp this homology further and to return to the question of negation. The following is a summary:

  1. The symbol of negation in Freud's text on Denegation (1925) brings into consideration the "positivity" of the negative, something which allows it to relate to other elements. Specifically, this symbol functions in allowing the pleasure principle to affirm or deny elements of reality.
  2. To understand this function, we can look to different ideas about the origin of language: if language is based on the concept of the sign, that is, of signifiers corresponding to signifieds, then there cannot be a symbol of negation, since a signified is a positive element of reality. The symbol of negation literally introduces something new to the world by adding something which is not of the world. It is a signifier without a signified, or what Lacan calls the unary trait.
  3. Eurydice examines negativity in three aspects, corresponding to the Lacanian RSI:
    1. Imaginary negativity, which appears in the principle of excluded middle. That is, to assert p is to also assert not-not-P.
    2. Symbolic negativity, which is the aforementioned unary trait, signaling the appearance of something new.
    3. Real negativity, when a lack comes to lack, or anguish.
  4. Negativity as such is only articulated in the opposition between imaginary and symbolic – but when "we advance in our understanding of the effects of S in the economical principle of the psychic structure – the constitutive place of negativity regarding the pleasure principle – we see that R is also always at play."
  5. Elaborating on this, Eurydice quotes Freud when he says that thoughts can grasp things that are absent. Again, this is the functioning of the symbol of negation which evokes the "presence of absence".  But Freud also theorized that this symbol itself only works if the "real object of satisfaction" is lost. In other words, for the distinction between inside and outside to be effective, there must be a lack of object.
  6. Eurydice briefly alludes to this third type of negation as being the place of real abstraction. Namely, real abstraction is the lack which enables the passage from material to ideal coin, or imaginary to symbolic coin. However, the difficulty and originality of such an approach lies in the fact that such a process can never appear in consciousness or the material world.
  7. Nevertheless, the process itself can come to lack, which is depicted by Sohn-Rethel as the anguish of the individual who for a moment doubts the validity of his currency, only to grasp it again, via pure thought in the Kantian sense.

After these determinations, Eurydice finally moves to the relations between negativity and the Aristotelian causes. As we have seen, negativity is at play in the very constitution of thinking – but in what sense is there a subject? The last section focuses on this question in the following set of arguments:

  1. We review first the last pages of Science and Truth. There is a link between the four Aristotelian causes – formal, final, material, efficient – and the four Freudian negations – foreclosure, denegation, disavowal, repression. This link constitutes Lacan's first attempt at a theory of discourses. For each pair, there exists a field of knowledge which is generated in the way truth-as-cause is negated – science, religion, magic, and psychoanalysis.
  2. The division between truth and knowledge should not be conceived as that between known and unknown, but rather between "what can be enunciated and what must vanish in order to make enunciation possible." The matrix is constituted precisely because there are different modes of this vanishing.
  3. To analyze Lacan's statements linking foreclosure and Science, we need to look at two aspects:
    1. Scientific knowledge is postulated on the disappearance of the position of enunciation – the hole in the Other is never made into a cause of the signifying chain. Recall that the symbol of negation only functions upon the loss of the real object.
    2. There is a difference between the consequences of mathematical letters and the Real which answers to mathematical letters – the latter is a paranoiac position regardless of the former, due to the structure of the fantasy which it sustains.
  4. However, Science is not a "successful paranoia" – there is a productive dimension in its failure to completely efface the position of enunciation.
  5. What prevents Science from a full "suturing" is precisely the object a. It is produced by the very division which is generated by the letter's determination of the subject.
  6. Interestingly, psychoanalysis is both what allows us to elucidate this object, and what must, as one of the specific discourses, disavow it.
  7. Marxism, on the other hand, is not one of the four discursive knowledge-formations, but is instead evoked as being parallel to psychoanalysis.
  8. Eurydice returns to the Althusserian conception of economy to point out that it conceives of abstractions as having no consequences in themselves. However, it also conceives of Science as being able to use these abstractions to generate concrete knowledge untainted by ideology. Likewise, Badiou's position that the economy cannot be a truth procedure is coupled with his thesis that mathematics is ontology itself. The homology here seems fruitful for further study.
  9. Real abstraction is the "material cause" (in Aristotle's sense) of exchange – "it is what the commodity form is made of."

We pose the following questions to Eurydice:

  1. What can real abstraction tell us about the relation between proletarianization, defined by Zizek as the reduction to the cogito, and the way the letter "thins out" the subject? Can we say that every proletarianization is failed in the same sense that Science is not a "successful paranoia"?
  2. To what extent is the "double role" of psychoanalysis in regards to the object reflected in its current institutional problems?
  3. Does "introducing the name of the father into scientific consideration" produce a consequence in the same way that mathematical letters have consequences, or is it a different type of consequence?
  4. Could we say that the matheme could be defined as a formalization which, unlike mathematics, includes the object?


[1] Thus re-affirming Zizek's thesis that it was not Marx who "grounded" Hegel's abstract project, but Hegel, in his science of thinking itself, which can finally concretize Marxist theory.

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