Flat White Ideology

Starbucks recently introduced a new variation on the classic Latte to American and Canadian Audiences. The “flat white” was advertised in an article for the New York times the week before it was released. It was advertised as “new,” “without description,” and “simple.” In truth, the flat white was invented no later than the 1980s in Australia. Like many cultural products, it condenses all of the cultural and political contradictions of the time.

The “flat white” is the ideology of our time.


The flat white offers the emerging intelligentsia (largely hipsters) a sense of humility: the ‘flat white’ is a “latte for everybody.” It has the sense of being depthless, flat, and lacking in complexity. The new American Joe is not “black,” it is “flat” and it is “white.” Those who really know such things are quick to point out that the “flat white” is difficult to make: it requires differing temperatures for milk steaming, different stretching techniques, and a consequent smooth, velvety micro-foam.

The “flat white” is for everybody and yet those who claim that it is for everybody are the first to demonstrate that they are the only ones who truly know how difficult it is to produce. One rarely visits a cafe these days without hearing one coffee snob inform another about the significance of the flat white. Those who truly know are capable of explaining to the lay person the full complexity of the new drink.

This is the profound irony of the drink. The flat white, like belief today, feigns simplicity all the more to renew a sense of urgent entitlement, complexity, and knowledge. In reality, there is nothing simple or depthless about the “flat white.” It is false surface. Today’s “post-modern” ideology is also false surface.

Preliminary Schematics for an Exhibit on the Corporeal Voice

(1) What is the relationship amongst the voice and the body or the image? On the one hand, there seems to be a disjuncture between voice and body, or voice and image. The anxiety that pious people often feel by this voice without image can be found in Exodus 19:16-19:

16. And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.

17. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.

18. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

19. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.

We know this in our personal experience as well. When we speak on the phone, we can not help but wonder what the person at the other end of the line looks like – and, truth be told, we may very well be surprised to find out that he or she is not how we expected. This is a lesson learned by those who have obtain sexual pleasure through telephone sex – is the person at the other end of the line really a “Sexy Woman”? No doubt, some people can only “get off” when the voice is isolated from the image of the body by means of a telephone or by simply closing the lids of the eyes.

The first exhibit shall present images of people speaking. And their voice will be recorded and played back, looped. It will be separated from the image to accelerate the disjunction.

(2) Anxiety can also be provoked simply by demonstrating that the voice is an organ of the body – the voice is an image. Those who “get off” on this are no doubt sound engineers who, to manipulate the voice, must visualize it as a wave-form. What if the voice is retained by the body? What if it has a function just like the balloon-like organs (e.g., the lungs or the bladder)? The second exhibit shall fix a balloon (filled with air) to the mouth of a speaking being.

On Prophets and Messengers

One of the defining characteristics of traditional Lacanian psychoanalysis has been its emphasis on speech and language. In other words, within an analysis – and this is also an ontological position – nothing is of interest outside of the speech. The best we can do is claim that there is something deep within speech that concerns analysis. This is why Lacanian psychoanalysis has kicked off in cultural studies and literature departments across the world. If anything binds the three fields of thought together it is an emphasis on the centrality of semiotics – the scientific study of the particles of language and speech and of their mutual relationship.

Everybody knows that the referent was bracketed.

However, recent concerns in philosophy – concerns which have most likely sprung about through the influence of psychoanalysis on philosophy – have placed primacy once again on factors and agencies existing outside of speech and language. Freud and Lacan were very suspicious of philosophy, even though they did not reject its insights. It was the enterprise or motive of philosophy that concerned them. For both thinkers, philosophy is always metaphysics and metaphysics is always an imaginative attempt to patch up holes in the universe of meaning.

Dialectics wasn’t taken serious enough.

We have returned to metaphysics but this time with the intention of demonstrating that metaphysics is itself an investigation into that which produces holes and gaps in speech and language. The crucial feature of the investigation is therefore to point out that this is an active intervention on the part of the real. We can derive logics, topographical figures, and formulae to assist us in our exploration of the real. And that is precisely what the new philosophy gives to psychoanalysts. And how does psychoanalysis respond except to indicate that these are great ideas – but they ought to be limited to basic principles. These speculations ought not be taken too far.

Philosophy ceases to offer insights to psychoanalysis when it gives up its supplemental or Borromean approach. That is, philosophy begins to patch up holes in meaning again when it refuses to accept that speech and language are still important avenues of research and intervention.

This leaves me with a question. Can human beings have a “real” power too, or, if you like, a “thing power” ? If they do then it ought to be conceived of outside of the coordinates of the master’s discourse. Thing power, emanating as it does from the human, implies that the human be situated outside of speech. Yet we know for certain that no neurotic human beings are situated outside of speech.

Do we now admit the existence prophets? The Greeks taught us that prophets (etymologically) are situated “before speech.” Yet, today’s prophets (I count Alain Badiou as one of them: he describes himself as “the prophet for the possibility of a new philosophical tradition”) are not without speech. This raises a problem. If, before, I reinterpreted the formulae of feminine sexuation to account for things – now I must reinterpret the formulae of mastery in favor of prophets.

There are prophets, except that they are also messengers.

Muhammed had to open his mouth to speak before 48 scribes passed his doctrine into the world. It is no different for today’s prophets.

There exists a prophet who is not submitted to speech, and all messengers, all human animals, are submitted to speech.

This opens up many avenues for future thought.

On the Question of Mastery: Is a Lacanian / Anarchist Intervention Possible?

I would like to offer two stories from my personal life.

First, while attending the European Graduate School in Switzerland I was honored to have met some of the other students of Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou. I quickly came to realize that these individuals took Lacan seriously. They established reading cartels that operated according to very precise principles and met regularly to engage thoroughly with the written word. I met two of these students for coffee. They asked me to articulate the relationship, as I saw it, between anarchist political philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis. This is a fair question. However, it occurs to me that this question was derived from an insistence that Lacan was – if anything at all – at heart a bit of a communist. Well, that’s how students of Zizek and Badiou would put it. It is simply a matter for them of demonstrating that this is the case. (To be fair, one doesn’t get the sense that Lacan is a communist in clinical circles.) The obscure relation between Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxian theory has already been settled by students of Zizek and Badiou. It is the answer. The problem is simply to discover the proper question.

I struggled to find the connection between anarchism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. I always have struggled to find the connection. Anarchism in some way led me to Lacan’s work. However, this precisely is the value of Lacanian psychoanalysis for anarchist political philosophy: the question is not yet settled, there are no answers – there are only possibilities and impossibilities. In other words, there are still plenty of points of intervention and points of discovery. The field has not yet been overcoded. In any case, all of the valuable insights that Badiou has provided for political analyses seemed to me to be already present in a less articulated form within anarchist political philosophy – if only anarchists would see these seeds beneath their snow instead of harping on about their own moral autonomy.

Second: while attending Trent University, I was briefly under the supervision of an anarchist. In one way or another, I was also surrounded by anarchists. What passed for conversation in the class-room (some days) was: “Why is ‘X’ not included within ‘X’ theory? (where ‘X’ was a placeholder for any number of social, cultural, and political identifications). The supervisor, in front of this crowd, asked me: “How is Lacan an anarchist?” As is often the case, the question had its own answer: he wasn’t … but surely he needed to be! There is an imperative not only that Lacan be easily understandable but that his moral considerations should be worn on his sleeve.

I learned very quick that it was better to leave the question unsettled. There is no need to respond to the demand to be understood and to be a moral agent. For his part, Saul Newman (in From Bakunin to Lacan) attempted to provide an answer: he insisted that Lacan, unlike Bakunin and other anarchists, provided a privileged point of departure for political intervention through his notion of subjectivity. Without an ‘uncontaminated’ point of departure outside of power (or, if you like, outside of the symbolic chain of signifiers) politics is pointless. Of course, Newman’s reading of Lacan was not deep and faithful to Lacan. For example, the subject is not an uncontaminated point of departure – quite the reverse! The subject is absolutely contaminated; so much so that it is split between one signifier and another… the signifier is what represents a subject for another signifier. It seemed to me that Newman wanted so much a place of subjective mastery over the political field that he discovered it in the most master-less place: a place where the subject is nothing but an empty place within the system of signifiers. Newman discovered an ‘outside’ to political power that was paradoxically inherent to political power itself.

The matter was not settled. Zizek noted the problem of the desire for an uncontaminated point of departure for politics: it is as if before the political subject is capable of acting he needs some security that he is acting from the right agency, from the correct place and at the correct time. Who could secure this agency for him but the big Other, that is, a master? This is why it is important to demonstrate, as I have in my recent book, that there are all kinds of places from which one is capable of acting – and the real is not privileged here.

So, I held onto Lacan. There was more to be said. It became increasingly clear that Lacan’s value was precisely to create this disjuncture between politics and theory. Lacan never fails to interrupt interpretive or diagnostical political interventions. Lacan will not respond to the demand to be understood and to be put to political purposes. To paraphrase the punchline to a joke told to me recently from a psychoanalyst: Lacan fell asleep during our political theorization of the place of pure political agency and then woke up and said “Please . . . continue . . . ”

We must continue. With or without Lacan. For many anarchists, this will always mean without Lacan. In fact, most anarchists will fail to read an article on Lacan and anarchism except to confirm or develop an already established critical response. The anarchist needs this opposition to what they detect as a master – all the more to establish their own passive mastery. Lacan teaches us that passive mastery is an all the more cruel form of mastery. Recall the analogy of the ‘postmodern father’ developed by Zizek: the traditional father will tell you ‘go to see your grandmother!’ and if you don’t like it, you can transfer all your anger onto your father: ‘He is MAKING me go!’ The postmodern father says: ‘do you want to see your grandmother?’ Here, the ruthless authoritarian father is forcing you to be responsible for your failure to want to see your grandmother. You have failed in your moral obligation to be a good grandson.

Anarchists are the postmodern fathers of theory and practice.

There is one avenue through which we can approach the question of anarchism and Lacanian psychoanalysis — through the question of ‘mastery.’ Not so long ago the anarchist journal I manage (ADCS) started receiving articles that dealt with the question of ‘voluntary in-servitude.’ The idea put forward was that the political task was to voluntarily withdraw from oppressive and exploitative relations. Recall Gustav Landaeur’s famous suggestion that the state is a relationship and that the best way to destroy the state is therefore to change our close social relationships, to reroute them, etc. Many anarchists in Canada took this to mean that they had to disengage from the militant confrontational political work of revolution and partake in autonomous community-based organizing. The key principles were ‘groundless solidarity’ and ‘mutual aid.’ I call this the ‘long revolution’ to invoke the spirit of Raymond Williams.

By the time we’ve constructed our revolutionary communities, the master won’t even know that we cut his balls off! Ironically, this principle was first put forward by the Lacanian anarchist Richard J.F. Day in his book Gramsci is Dead. The idea was that it broke the loop-back circuit of demand. (But did it replace the loop-back circuit of the drive?)

What we soon discover is that we can only run away from the problem of mastery precisely by returning to it as a question. What anarchist studies rightfully convinces Lacanians about is that the desire to live without a master is itself an important desire. It is important because it highlights the essential question through which some knowledge might be had. Lacanian psychoanalysis teaches us that the effort to run away from the master is itself a form of passive mastery. Recall, for example, Freud’s discussion of “Little Hans” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Was it not the case that this little boy mastered his mother’s absence precisely by making his own little toy disappear from view? The problem of mastery is here much more pronounced because it has entered into the symbolic apparatus – one controls through the symbolic what one couldn’t control in the real.

We must become aware of the fact that mastery is not always exercised actively. More often, and this is especially the case for anarchists, mastery is exercised passively. Who reading this who calls himself an anarchist has not witnessed the attempt by other anarchists to control a situation by acting passively? We see it in consensus decision making, through calm and quiet speech, and so on. For example, I once co-owned an anarchist cafe. There was a proposal to add non-vegan muffins to the stock. It was blocked by a person during consensus decision making. At the next meeting, the proposition was raised as a negative proposal: “can we NOT include non-vegan muffins?” The proposer’s friend blocked the motion and the non-vegan muffins were added to the stock.

This attitude toward passive mastery is particularly prominent among inexperienced therapists who, like many Yoga instructors in this country, believe to be rid of the problem of mastery simply by lowering the tone and cadence of the voice. This is nothing but a pretense at liberation. During my own personal analysis I blurted out, unexpectedly: “I could be the master by pretending not to be!” Is this not my life story as an anarchist? It was a condition made particularly noticeable by an American Lacanian named Bruce Fink, who wrote: “[O]ne might have to watch out for a tendency to present oneself as a master at non-mastery like that found in certain spiritual practices, and akin to the tendency to promote oneself as the most humble of the humble in certain religious groups.” Anarchists are among the best in the political world of presenting themselves in this way.

How to avoid the problem of mastery? Confront it! Anarchists have at least this correct: they must raise the question of mastery overtly. For those who suffer from involuntary servitude it is not even a question: the difficulty is always to make these slaves aware that they are voluntarily serving a master. What, then, about the possibility of voluntary servitude? This is certainly what many Lacanians present themselves as, voluntary slaves: they choose to be ‘unfree’ and to follow the master, Lacan.

We are not yet rid of the question of mastery. In some sense, we have only avoided it by retreating into passive mastery. We must think through the end of the question of mastery, and of our implication in the situation of slavery. In addition to active and passive slavery, we must also be attentive to: (1) the mastery of death as a real intervention which can not be imagined but from which we derive some excitement, (2) the mastery of ‘figures’ and ‘bodies’ which are often incarnated in the figure of the state, in political masters, in corporations — these are the fake masters which are given more power than they in fact have, and; (3) the mastery which must be present in order for thinking and political action to occur at all (without which there is no possibility for the question of mastery to occur).

Newman was wrong, then. It is not that we need an uncontaminated point of departure for politics – the subject – for there to be any political intervention worthwhile. Rather, it is precisely the opposite: without a master, that is, without the third type of master, there is no possibility for subjectivity.

The Artwork of Myoung Ho Lee


The real is often said to be that which hollows out the symbolic and imaginary coordinates of mental life. Recent attempts to think from the real have often produced an ironic displacement: the symbolic and imaginary coordinates are thus made to appear as though they have emerged from within the real! Myoung Ho Lee’s exhibit demonstrates effectively this profound reversal of contemporary thought which has so fascinated recent artists, theorists, and philosophers. For example, the question is now: what are symbolic processes to the tree? The tree stands against a white backdrop, a canvas. This background negates, effectively, the rest of the real, thus producing a part of the real, an object of the real: the tree stands alone in front of that canvas, highlighted for us. Is this tree not precisely the mysterious object which is peculiar to the human species, namely, the objet petit a — desire itself?


As I walked through the stunning environment of Brookfield Place in the heart of Downtown Toronto, and as I looked at the exhibit, each tree catches my eye, draws me to it, seducing me; I stand there, overwhelmed by the size. And who couldn’t be overwhelmed by these giant trees? The artist’s genius was to introduce, perhaps for the first time in photography, the paternal function. And, precisely without realizing it! The artist hollows out the real, all the more to introduce, at the other end of his aesthetic function, a real which comes into view as fantasy. Another complexity arises while viewing each piece against the backdrop of the Metropolis: the piece itself functions precisely to negate or obscure full vision of the urban environment – all the more to bring it into sight! And is this not the precise function of the recent fascination with urban gardens, small parks, and those large blocks of nature tucked away in the centre of the city? This introduces perfectly the point that any return to metaphysics, that is, any return to the real (and not simply the real as a return) serves also to displace the symbolic and imaginary coordinates, or, rather, to all the more permit them to encapsulate the real.11216433_10152858237951161_32773114_n

This is the first artwork to display the paternal function and the emergence of the objet petit a, that is, it is the first piece to isolate the aesthetic object and display it on on its own terms.

Toward a Love Which Endures

If a colleague, friend, or family member should be pushed to sincerely address my movement through life, he or she would without a doubt refute the charge that I, if for only an instant, turned my back on the question of love. The question of love is at the heart of my work, and, because it is at the heart of my work, it is the work of my life. Finally, the work of my life has always been the work of my heart. The etymologist knows well that with heart comes spirit, will, courage, intellect, and desire. For if in the heart there is courage then let it always be courage in the face of the anxieties of our desire. The etymologist further knows that desire arises after the falling of the greatest star – that is, the loss of the guiding star that leads the wisest of men toward their savior. For with love, there is no savior, there is only courage in the face of what comes to be lacking in wisdom.

Some resolve that love is a private affair. By this account, it is possible for the anonymous man to fall in love with another, and without any awareness by the partner. Yet, it has been said that the love is nonetheless genuine. Mystical love is always a type of anonymous love. Very often, when two people proclaim their love for one another they decide to withhold any narrative of their encounter. The mystical lover refuses to allow language to torture the purity of the experience of his love. Consequently, the love remains only a vague collection of emotions, and directed toward an obscure object of affection. The mystic retreats into language if only to torture words enough to defend the indefensible: “I can not tell you how much I love you!, Words can not convey the love I feel for you!” The reader would be wrong to conclude from this that mystical love is false love, or that mystical love is somehow an obstacle to mature love. Rather, it is possible that mystical love is the foundation of love itself, for, if love is to have any value whatsoever, it will be from the support of a position which maintains that love is a rupture with language, and with the old world. Love will force the most confident of men to stutter and stammer, and it will reduce the most graceful woman to shakes and sweats. Love is an interruption into language, into speech, into the body, and, finally, into the world.

However, we should not be foolish: mystical love does not endure. The most passionate of lovers who lack conviction enough to torture language with their love will die. If at one time the lovers danced like Nietzsche’s dancing stars then soon enough the lovers fall, like all lesser stars do, into the darkness. When the mind can no longer think, and when the soul can no longer intervene among the living, love has lost its home. Kierkegaard, a higher order mystic, proclaimed, to his own fault, that love is possible only for the one who loves and not, as it were, for the one who is loved. He continued, “love discovers truths about individuals that others cannot see.” Kierkegaard’s absurdity was to believe that the star hasn’t fallen to earth and that, somehow, love can endure as pure spirit without desire, or as pure courage without heart. Kierkegaard stares up to the lesser star, to that star which conceals nothing, not even luminosity. As he looks up, he turns away from the darkness of his own heart. He has not courage enough to rip the heart out from its darkness and share it with the most beautiful and radiant Regine.

The mystical lover falsely believes that something hides behind pure light. It is as if behind the lesser light of the star of desire there is the greater light which guides one in all of one’s romantic undertakings. But before the mystical lover has discovered the great light he produces it within himself – Kierkegaard becomes his own shining light, and he shines his light on everything. The lover is finally endowed with the impossible ability to love without torture, without language, and this leaves him only with the ability to love in isolation: to love without another. It was Stirner’s genius to have discovered that lovers who love in isolation could gather together precisely in their solitude. No doubt, the truth is that all passionate sexual activity is a spectacular experience of mutual masturbation. Yet, the mystics great fault is that he believes not only that he is in love with another, but also that it is possible for this other person to understand his love for her. And so the mystic falls in love at first sight.

What the mystic experiences is an encounter with love, the only encounter that matters in love. Love is nothing but love at first sight. And, moreover, love is nothing but the lost encounter. Just as the star falls down at the moment when we need guidance most, so too does the encounter with love fall after its first sighting. The mystic precludes the possibility of moving from love at first sight toward a love which endures (opting instead for love without sight or love with sight itself) because a love which endures requires that one torture language, alter the basic coordinates of the world, and move through the anxiety of the initial encounter. To move through the anxiety of the encounter means also moving through the anxiety of the lack of a second encounter by permitting language to be put to the service of love rather than love to the service of language. A love which endures does so courageously precisely because the star has fallen from the sky. One requires the courage to invent a new language, a new world, around which the changed heart can be housed.

Roman Logic

The Roman tradition of Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“Proof is incumbent upon him who asserts, not on him who denies”) must be deconstructed. We’ve relied on this model since at least the 6th century. It has been the basis for the “presumption of innocence” or “innocent until proven guilty” model that is currently in question by the mainstream.

I think it is proper that we question it.

However, it is not enough to simply question it. If all we do is question it then we leave it to somebody else to provide the answer. So, lets deconstruct it a little bit. The first clause states that it is the one who affirms something who bears the responsibility of defending that proposition, and the second clause states that it is not him who denies the allegation.

Thus, it is improper to begin with the assumption that those who are charged with something are guilty. It is much rather proper to assert that those who are making a claim against somebody hold the burden of proof. No doubt, this produces all kinds of injustices in the world. Yet, it has been our model for centuries.

I was once in an anarchist collective that relied on consensus decision making. We explicitly did not make use of Roman logic. As a consequence, we found collective decision-making quite arbitrary – or, at least, some of us noticed that there were some people in the collective who discovered how to abuse the system. The following occurred regularly:

Meeting #1:

Proposal: George proposes that we add non-vegan muffins to stock.
Rejections: 7 collective members.
Decision: We do not serve non-vegan muffins. Decision was blocked.

This decision is based on the logic that if just one person negates, then the decision is blocked. All is well at this point, and justice seems to be served. However:

Meeting #2:

Proposal: George proposes that we DO NOT add non-vegan muffins to our product list.
Rejections: 1 collective member rejects, the proposer.
Decision: We DO serve non-vegan muffins.

You can see the logical problem. In both cases, a proposal can be made to pass if constructed either negatively or positively. As the size of the group grows, the probability of situation #2 happening increases.

However, if our collective had made a decision to not allow NEGATIVE proposals then we would have constructed a logic that could defend itself against this sort of abuse. The same happens when we favor an inverted version of Roman logic: “Proof is NOT incumbent upon him who asserts, but on him who denies.”)

This leaves open the question of what constitutes a proof. Certainly, I am of the opinion that a proof does not need to be sanctioned by the state, police, or judicial system for it to be a proof. Many things can count as proofs. The debate about what constitutes a proof is an important one. But before we can have the more important discussion we need to be sure we are not defenders of a logic which places the burden of proof on those against whom a charge has been brought.