Room

Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” (2015) is not a simple film about a mother and child who were held captive in a small room for 7 years.
 
It is much more profound than all of that.
 
We identify with the characters in the film because in some sense we are all already living inside of that small room. That small room is the prison house of our being. Plato called it a cave. Thus, recall the familiar dialogue between the mother and her son in the film:
 
“Your gonna love it,” says the mother.
“What?” responds the boy.
“The world.”
 
Recall that when the boy finally departs from the room he looks outside of his hospital window and becomes blinded by the light. This is precisely the moment when each one of us moves out of the prison house of being. In Plato’s allegory, the prisoner, freed from the cave, is similarly blinded by the light.
 
The boy longs to return to the room, to the prison house of being. And so too does the prisoner in Plato’s allegory. But the prisoner returns with the aim of releasing the rest of us from that prison. There are three moments of revolution: first, the mother, after many years, finally explains to the boy that there is a real world out there – and the boy finds it difficult to understand. second, the boy leaves the prison, returning back to it at the end of the movie only to demonstrate to all of us, the viewers, that there is truly something outside of the room.
 
Finally, in the third moment, we leave the theatre and go out into the world.

Darkness

I thought that writing a post about my current situation might be a bit cathartic.

My son is five years old. His mother and I separated more than a year ago. The breakup meant that I lost a wife but also a best friend – and, indeed, all of my local friends. I also finished my second PhD around that time.

I finished writing my dissertation two years early and defended it successfully a year early. I did this because I was told that finishing early would help alleviate my financial problems. I was under the impression that I would continue to receive my contractually agreed funds (scholarships, bursaries, employment, etc). I was wrong.

All institutional support (financial or otherwise) was halted. I met with the Vice Provost to address this miscommunication. She informed me that graduating early meant that I no longer qualified for any funds, including financial aid bursaries. I was shocked. I found the administration at Trent University to be very cold to me when I emailed them about the misunderstanding. Instead of remedying my financial crisis I had in fact only deepened it. I wrote to the President of Trent University, Dr. Leo Groarke, and he complied with the Vice Provost.

I was kicked out on my ass. Dr. Poverty.

I had done so much for this university and I had the feeling of being abruptly kicked out on my butt, without any negotiation or understanding. Instead of being rewarded for my widely regarded scholarship, for my impressive scholarly achievements, I had, in effect, been punished.

I plummeted into darkness.

I am currently in an interfaith relationship with a Muslim woman. Her parents do not approve of our relationship and have attempted to separate us in fairly dramatic ways. One of the ways they attempted to drive a wedge between us was to steal our car. Now, without an income and without a car, I had to devise a plan to get my son to and from school each day. This was emotional torture, and it continues to be emotional torture.

My son goes to a school at the other side of the city. A typical day goes like this: I wake up and have to feed him, dress him, and find enough change in loonies and quarters that adds up to about $20. This pays for the local transit. We stand outside in the cold winter and wait for the bus to come. We get a transfer on the bus. At the terminal we transfer onto another bus. The total trip lasts about an hour, after which time we get out about nine blocks away from my son’s school. At this point I am ten minutes late for drop-off time. I pick up my son – his bookbag and my own bag in one hand and my son in the other – and I run as fast as I can for several blocks. I run for about 20 minutes until I make it to his school after the national anthem is played.

After dropping off my son at school 20-30 minutes late each day, I walk back home. The trip takes about 2 hours, in the freezing cold. Soren often cries and asks why “the man took our car from us.” This beautiful boy, who has to come to terms with the breakup of his mother and father, also has to come to terms with the instability of transportation and housing.

By the time I arrive home, or at a coffee shop, I have about an hour and a half, or maybe two, to myself to work. I can never focus. I can not lie – I often hide and break into tears, trembling for the lack of security my son must feel from all of this.

And then I rewind the entire trip – except this time, after walking all the way back to his school and getting him, my son has to stand outside in the cold winter for an hour and wait for the local transit to come and pick us up. Some days my son has to use the washroom while waiting. I walk back nine blocks to the school, he uses the washroom, and we return to wait for another hour in the cold. On those days, we wait for more than two hours. A few days ago there was a frostbite warning.

We eventually get onto the bus and ask for a transfer. We transfer at the station and get home after an hour trip.

I am exhausted from this day to day traveling.

Last month our landlord informed us that he wants to move his daughter into our apartment. So, we have to move to a new apartment. An average apartment is $1100 a month – too much for me to afford since I have no income. I have been forced to cancel my cell phone and my internet. I am three months behind in hydro payments and have been sent several disconnection notices.

I can not afford to make these expensive bus trips each day. I can not afford much of anything. I have never been so poor, so powerless, so alone, so without hope. And it is all, truthfully, because I was an outstanding student who graduated early from a PhD. I should have waited longer – I should have pretended I had more research to do.

I have no help when I have my son. I do all of the local chores: laundry, lunch packing, homework, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. My partner doesn’t help, perhaps because she doesn’t know how to help. I am in this alone. I feel powerless. I have nobody in my life who can offer me any help. I can barely find 10 minutes in a day to work on an application for a university position. I have sent 400+ applications and have still not been short-listed for a job.

I feel like the darkness will never transform into light.

 

Amazon Dash

Are you at all familiar with Amazon Dash Buttons? They follow the precise logic of neoliberal expansion. It is a small button that you can stick onto your washing machine, refrigerator, etc., and, when you push it, it will automatically reorder product (e.g., Gatorade, Laundry Detergent, Dish Detergent, etc).

The Dash Button only works for ‘staple’ items. You can not image a button for something that effectively fills in for the fantasized object of desire (e.g., new products, technological advancements, etc). Rather, the button works at the level of drive. It removes the barrier that separates the Amazon shopping experience at the level of desire to the Amazon shopping experience at the level of drive.

The product does not care about your desire, about your fantasies – except at the initial point of sale. What it cares for is the remedy of the drive to repetitively replace the same product over and over again. This is more proof that the level of desire is becoming less important in the world of virtual markets.

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Donald Trump is a Philosopher

The relationship among (or between) theory and practice can be nowhere more apparent within psychoanalysis than with the deployment of the Greek word “parapraxis.” The “doing” (praxis) of speech is literally “beside itself,” split open, and prone to error(s), limitation(s), and excess(es) of meaning.

In Lacanese: the split between the statement and the enunciation is rendered palpable.

It is when the doing is opened up in this most striking way, that is, when the ‘speech-doing’ is situated beside itself and without an alibi, that ‘another scene’ begins to play out. The drama that unfolds within that other scene makes possible something like a theory.

Theory does not here function as a cork, it does not give meaning to the split. Rather, theory is the forcing of a new knowledge of the parapraxes. In this way, it is nothing but analytical discourse. The analyst’s discourse is theoretical only to the extent that it puts knowledge in the place of truth.

Finally, we can see that theory can not exist without practice, but, more importantly, practice can not change without a sound theory.

What Alain Badiou names “philosophy” is nothing of the sort. It is theory. Philosophy is the name reserved for the practice of patching up holes in the parapraxis. If you would like an analogy then imagine this:

On the main stage there is Donald Trump. He speaks about refuges, about refuse, about the ideological suturing of objet petit a. There, off camera, another scene unfolds. A muslim woman stands silently, wearing a hijab. Trump announces: “there is nothing to see over there… the main scene is here, on this stage.”

Donald Trump practices philosophy.

On Shadows in the Night

Colette Soler once claimed that depression does not exist. By this she meant that depression is not one of the clinical structures. In a sense, the rise of cases of “depression” today are part of the problem of analysands knowing-too-much about their symptom. Today, I am going to make an equally radical claim: anorexia does not exist. By this I mean simply that anorexia, as a conceptual label, masks a more primordial discursive structure.

It is no secret that I have struggled with an eating disorder for the majority of my life. However, while in personal analysis I noticed that my eating disorder – my self-diagnosis of SED (a variant of anorexia nervosa) – was being used to conceal a much larger problem: my obsessive “no.” My anarchism had the same structure as my eating disorder (no to the State!). The walls of my apartment had the same structure as my eating disorder (no to Art!). My library had the same structure as my eating disorder (SRD, Selective Reading Disorder – too many books about Lacan).

The good analyst will not focus on the self-diagnosis. He will not focus on the eating disorder (e.g., anorexia) or on the mood disorder (e.g., depression). Rather, he will focus on the structure of discourse. And he will reveal, as it was revealed to me, that the symptom is worse than the self-diagnosis: it pervades the subject’s being, it splits the subject from the world of signifiers and the world of … nothing.

But how can nothing split the subject from nothing? I will share with you a eureka moment during my own personal analysis two years ago. I discovered that I was using my obsession with nothing (e.g., Stirner’s “Creative Nothing!,” the great nothing who creates everything out of the nothing!) to protect me from a much more abysmal nothing: the nothing of being. I was asked to provide an example, and, on whim, I provided this one: imagine a cow standing there in the field. The cow is white with black spots. Those black spots make up the fabric of the cow’s appearance. The darkness of night arrives, and the first black spot, the first nothing, drowns in the nothing of the second, of the night.

I was so very afraid to live in a night in which all cows are black.

On the Horrible Husband and The Angel of History

A Joke (Based on a Real Situation):

A husband kept his dirty clothes on the floor of his apartment. Knowing very well that this would make his wife angry, he looked around the apartment for a pen and a sheet of paper so that he might write an apology to her.

He found both, so wrote the note.

Quickly he realized that he was insulting his wife’s intelligence. She would probably ask herself: “why did he spend so much time writing an apology when he could have spent less time moving the clothing from the floor?”

The man quickly balled up the paper and tossed it in the garbage.

Is this not the basic lesson from Walter Benjamin’s notes about Angelus Novus?

Benjamin wrote:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress

You see the punchline, then? The boyfriend is satisfied with himself and believes he has made progress in his kindness to his wife when he tosses away the note. But behind him there is a pile of debris, his clothing, which he leaves time and again but refuses to clean up.

Phone Analysis

An aspect of phone analysis that Fink did not discuss was the difference of voice from sight. For example, although the analysand does not see the analyst on the couch, he no doubt sees himself, as an analysand, being seen by the analyst. In other words, he sits in view of the analyst, with his own eyes fixed against the wall, and imagines himself being seen (e.g., the analyst sits behind the couch). But we are led to think that we can not say this with respect to the telephone analysis (unless we are dealing with a psychotic). Lacan said: “[O]ne sees oneself being seen, but one does not hear oneself being heard. Namely, one does not hear oneself where one is heard, namely, in one’s head, or, more exactly, those who are in this situation – those who in effect hear themselves being heard – are psychotic (it is the structure of verbal hallucination).”

Do not be too quick to presume that this means that one can not see oneself being seen on the telephone (as if an analysis of ego-ideal and ideal-ego were made impossible). There are other ways of accessing the transference of seeing oneself being seen. For example, Fink notes that some analysands wonder if their breathing sounds too heavy. Is this necessarily a ‘hearing oneself being heard?’ Not at all – it is precisely because they can not hear themselves being heard that they are forced to imagine how the analyst sees them being heard (e.g., “do I sound out of shape?,” “am I not moral enough?”). Fink’s argument is precisely that telephone analysis may in fact bring out this transference better than in-room analysis – and it is because the analysand can not be seen that he wonders all the more how the analyst must ‘view’ him.