Fuzzy Thoughts on Outside Logics

During the feudal period all work was confined within the home (farm) and entertainment, if it occurred at all, was strictly within certain buildings outside of the home. And then there was a transition during and after industrialization which led to the separation of work from home. Work occurred outside of the home and entertainment gradually became confined to the living room. We can see here an inverse operation: if, at one time, entertainment was extrinsic to the outside area of the home (e.g., it was outside the home but still exclusive to a particular building and largely hidden away), then, at another time, entertainment was intrinsic to the home and was placed at the center (e.g., typically around the television set). We have today an entirely new situation: everything today, work and entertainment, is brought together in the potency of the pure outside. Thus, we have moved from a world where set theory made sense (e.g., the focus on intrinsic functions and objects: the home had within it an excessive part which we named the living room, and so on) to a world where category theory makes sense (e.g., the focus on extrinsic relationships where objects are nothing more than identity relations: the home is a machine-assemblage which is connected absolutely to everything else, including, for example, the cafe.) To visualize this latest development you can simply point to social media: I can check the cafe hours and who has ‘checked in’ from any location.

What the feudal and industrial capitalist logic required was a theory of the empty set (“there exists a set such that no set is a member of it”). Thus, Zermelo set theory was decades ahead of its time and posed a serious challenge to capitalist society, the consequences of which are still to be understood. What contemporary society requires however is not category theory which simply provides us with the syntax of neoliberalism but rather a syntax of our fidelity to the Zermelo axiom of the empty set. I’m not sure what this means precisely but I know that it means that we can not return simply to set theory to solve all of the problems of category theory, or the recent push toward the outside. We need something different if we are going to understand why cloud computing, airbnb, uber, social media, and so on, are today a part of the basic paradigm of communicative capitalism.

To Build At the Limit of Theory

Some philosophers who have opened up the path toward the discovery of a new modality of the real (speculative realism, new materialisms, and so on) have recently claimed that thinking ought to be a doing, that is, a praxis. Thus, there are privileged zones of thinking such as architecture, and so on. Philosophy must therefore today be about building and not only about critical thinking. My response to this is to claim that this is only a repositioning of the great debate concerning the relationship between action of structure, between theory and activism, and so on.

To begin with, I would claim that an action must always be derived from within the confines of structure and not the other way around. This was the great lesson of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, against the phenomenological tradition and the metaphysics of presence. Thus, we must ask ourselves: given the discourse of the master, what permutations of the real, of objet petit a, and of das Ding, might be possible? Lacan’s answer was that there are several possible revolutions of discourses from the master; minimally, these includes the university discourse, the hysterical discourse, the analyst discourse and, of course, the capitalist discourse.

What is thinking, then, but the necessary mediation of theory, of being the recipient of an analysis, so that one might discover the action inherent to the structure? This is what we call an act. An act is that moment when an individual rediscovers a possibility from within the real of his clinical structure.

Psychoanalysis teaches us that everything we’ve been doing has been based on certain ingrained and determinative narratives concerning our gender, our birth, and so on. In other words, our actions, our doing, or our building, has always been inauthentic and subject to the laws of repetition. Very rarely in our lives have we acted.

It is through this realization that the possibility of a new rupture occurs. We act precisely when theory reaches its limit, when it reaches the utopic point concealing the primordial and fundamental lack, namely, our fundamental fantasy.

Thus, building occurs only when theory reaches its utopic point.

I have long been familiar with a certain type of individual. We might call him the local builder. He exists in every small community. My grandfather was a local builder. The local builder is the individual who gives everything to the community: he creates new possibilities within the community by managing local businesses. He constructs new monuments. And the community establishes a sense of pride through the local builder. The local builder is always on the move and forever establishing business relationships.

What might we say about the local builder who has given up on the expectation that a good life involves establishing himself as the beacon of his moral community precisely by increasing his own riches. The local might reply that he has increased his riches only by increasing ours, and he would be correct. However, the local builder inadequately makes up for his lack of self-reflection and lack of lack through his good works. Kierkegaard says of this type: “the petty bourgeois is spiritless […] devoid of imagination, as the petty bourgeois always is, he lives within a certain orbit of trivial experiences as to how things come about, what is possible, what usually happens, no matter whether he is a tapster or a prime minister.” As Lacanians, we might say that Kierkegaard was correct but only because he has too much imagination and not enough act.

The local builder acts without passing through the necessary mediation of theory and thus acts only in the interests of structure and not by affirming the lack beneath the structure itself.

There are many ways to build authentically. I envision three. First, one might build by traversing the fantasy of the symbolic structure. For example, the local builder might give up on the expectation that the good life necessarily implies succumbing to the petty-bourgeois strategy of striving toward the future and hoping that the good works will satisfy the protestant big Other. Second, one might build by adopting a certain style, that is, by passing as an analyst. This is the style of interaction which serves the desires of the community, reflecting them back and demonstrating, through various interventions, that what they desire is not what they think they desire. Third, one might build by responding to an event from the real. For example, the local builder might have been shaken by a calling, of sorts. The calling may have been to solve the problem of homelessness and to do so by unorthodox means. In this case the local builder constructs a new possibility that attacks directly the coordinations of the old world.

The Distributed Panic of Lack

I just read a fantastic piece by Patrice Maniglier titled “Acting Out the Structure” in the second volume of Concept & Form. There are many wonderful theses in this short essay but one really sticks out for me. Within the obsessional structure of the signifying system he finds that trauma is an event which ripples and perhaps never ends. I am putting the matter in a fairly simple way here because I want to develop it to my own end.

Consider this: when a trauma event occurs, according to Maniglier, it distributes throughout the whole signifying system. For example, we see all those spaces where the zero gets passed along throughout Frege’s numeric system (in Miller’s article on “Suture,” this was very important). So, my own version is to claim something like this: when my panic attack sets in it attempts to distribute the jouissance across the whole network of zeros within the signifying system of the symbolic order. In my experience, this makes a lot of sense. I’ve often described my panic attacks as operating across various intensities, thresholds, and increasing in intensity precisely in every attempt to move outside of it.

I am tempted to claim, with Maniglier in some respects, that the jouissance aims to take all of language, to move through the entire, vast, network of signifiers. But, with hope, it does, at least in my case, inevitably – up until this point anyhow – reach a barrier. What is this barrier?

My initial thesis is that the barrier is some uninhabited level of abstraction. I can not yet figure out how to describe this but I think I am moving toward something. I think perhaps there might be a “upward” level of lack which is different in scope from the middle and lower levels of lack within the symbolic order. And I do not think that these lacks are the same. We know at least from Maniglier that the lack is distributed across the whole symbolic system – but what I am tempted to add, thanks to my own experience with the trauma of panic disorder, is that there are various registers of lack that are not distributed according to the same symbolic grammar. Of course, this higher level of lack exists only for the neurotic.

Except, if this is true then what about borderline, or untriggered psychosis, the new psychosis, autism, etc? Perhaps we can make a case that these fuzzier versions of psychosis are in fact lacks which are only lacking in one of the two or three (lower, middle, or higher) lacks of the symbolic order. Thus, perhaps I am afforded a certain level of protection from a pure psychotic break due to my panic disorder because I retain a higher level lack while another may not have any of the lower, middle, or higher levels of lack.

It is a very risky thesis – and I am moved to reject it. However, I must say, it makes a great deal of sense and explains in a way I hitherto could not explain my own panic disorder.

I would very much appreciate your comments.

As Alone As He Never Was…

The position which claims that Lacan’s founding act – the first line of “The Founding Act” – was itself an anti-philosophical gesture, inasmuch as it draws from the personal unsayable misses a crucial point.

Recall the line as follows: “I found – as alone as I have always been in my relation to the psychoanalytic cause – L’Ecole Française de Psychanalyse, of which, for the four coming years in which nothing in the present forbids me to answer for, I will personally assure the direction” (C.G’s translation). You see that even here, at the moment of the act, there is an anticipation of a direction into the various organs and offices of the symbolic.

Thus, the act, though it is a break from the torture of the symbolic in the form of the big Other’s authority, it is at the same time not a fantasy of freedom. It is, precisely, the making-do with the big Other, the symbolic – in other words, it is when the personal life of the analysand is self-directed. In other words, the unsayable of the analysand founds itself, finally, a new place within language. Thus, it seems to me that Lacan does not claim that he is somehow in absolute proximity to the real and without truth. At worst, he presumes the direction toward truth. At best, he assumes the position of truth. In other words, he moves from “a” to “S2,” from the truth of the hysteric to the truth of the analyst.

Also, recall that when Lacan says “as alone as I ever have been” he is not insisting on his solitude or isolation from the symbolic order. Rather, he is cleverly claiming that he was never alone. We know this: he had access to the most brilliant minds of his time and they often joined him in his seminar room.

Locating the Anti-Philosophical Core of Philosophy

If it is true, as Badiou maintains, that one of the telltale signs of an anti-philosophy is the reliance upon an autobiographical account of one’s self (e.g., Kierkegaard’s true love, Nietzsche’s personal genius, etc) then what can we say about the forcing of an autobiography upon another as a way of dismissing the pretensions of a given philosophical system?

For example: Adrian Johnston critiques Alain Badiou for constructing his philosophy on the basis of a personal conviction that May 1968 was an event. His philosophy is thus grounded upon a personal involvement in radical struggle, for example.

So, the point is that on the one hand there are anti-philosophers who very clearly put their personal existence before their constructed essence, if I may put it like that, anti-philosophers who consistently ward of systematic conceptualization and who pit their personal life as war machine against the great Phallus of philosophy. On the other hand, there are those who attempt to conceal their anti-philosophical foundations.

So, what do we make of those who attempt to draw out the anti-philosophical and accentuate it in the work of the philosopher?

My own claim is that this is the properly philosophical exercise. This is the victory, in a sense, of Zizek’s account of anti-philosophy as the very dialectical movement of philosophy itself: “You are an anti-philosopher? Well then, welcome to the camp of philosophers!”

The philosopher has at least two (actually, more) ways to assault the great Phallus: first, he may counterpose his autobiographical life against the power of the phallus; second, he may destroy the philosophical basis of the phallus by exposing its anti-philosophical core.

What is a Concept?

For too long we believed that a concept is there where being isn’t, that, in other words, the concept is the ruthless dictator over being. But if we follow Hegel then a concept is the time of the Thing, that is, it is whats more than a point as a bit of the real which itself comes to be lacking; it is, more than that, a point in extension, that is, a line. Recall, then, Georges Canguilhem’s position that “[t]o work on a concept is to vary its extension and comprehension, to generalise it through the incorporation of exceptional traits, to export it beyond its region of origin, to take it as a model or inversely, to search for a model for it – in short, to progressively confer upon it, through regulated transformations, the function of a form.” In other words, to work a concept is to draw an image from the real. Thus, a concept, unlike a matheme, is the movement from a point of the real toward a line in the imaginary.

Finally, we can claim: concepts are man’s way of painting with the real -OR- concepts are the geometry of the real.

Trigger Warning!

I am reminded by a facebook friend and colleague that a trigger warning is often itself a trigger, and that a trigger, in the end, is the brutality of the signifier.

What is a trigger, ultimately? A trigger is what represents one traumatic subject for another trigger. It has become increasingly obvious to me that trigger warning culture attempts to fill the lack of a trigger through the demand for a trigger warning – and this, finally, functions as a means to represent trauma which anyway avoids ever being represented adequately.

What is a trigger warning? A trigger warning is a demand or else it is a response to a demand. The trigger warning is a signifier of the Other’s awareness, knowledge, or sensitivity, and it stands in place of the trauma of lack. Thus, a professor adequately demonstrates his profound awareness of the subject when he prefaces discussions with trigger warnings.

The trigger warning triggers inversely through the safeguarding of the authority of the Other. Consequently, the subject relapses against subjectivation precisely by renewing the contract between him or herself and the Other.

The problem is not with trigger warnings but with the demand. Is it any wonder that trigger warnings tend to be demanded toward those who are most often the closest allies: Marxist professors, gender studies professors, anarchists, activists, and so on. The demand is seldom waged to medical doctors, presidents, politicians, police officers, and so on. To put it in rather traditional Lacanian terms: the demand for a trigger warning is a demand to those from whom we desire to be loved.

This is not to suggest that we should or should not do away with trigger warnings. This is simply an analysis – and a limited one at that.