Some Quick Thoughts on Anarchist Theory After the Decline of Symbolic Efficiency

It has become a common argument among a certain school of political theorists to claim that there has been a decline in symbolic efficiency within recent political and social history. These scholars go on to argue that this period of decline is marked historically and it presents itself as a movement inward toward the political ontology of drive and away from the political logic of desire. Moreover, it represents the disappearance of the subject-supposed-to-know, that is, the subject who, because of his place within the structure of ruling, knows the answer or the deep secrets of our lives as political agents. However, what has been less highlighted by these scholars is the role that Lacan’s later work played in the formation of this theory. For example, these scholars seldom acknowledge that Lacan’s later work – which provided the foundation for this theory of the decline of symbolic efficiency – also offered a solution.

So, rather quickly, here is the problem: symbolic efficiency, for the early and middle periods of Lacan’s teaching, was an essential ingredient for the constitution of the speaking being. The subject cannot exist except as a consequence of the paternal function, a function which was expressed also in the French homophone: non-du-pere (nom-du-pere). First, for example, there was one non-du-pere which structured the subject, and then, there were perhaps many names of the father, until, finally, one could do without the names of the father. For the early Lacan the foreclosure of the name of the father results always in psychosis, madness – a fundamental impossibility at the level of speaking and language. But for the later Lacan the name-of-the-father could very well be foreclosed but only if the subject makes up for that missing father through a particular know-how (savior-faire), a know-how to make use of the semblance of paternal authority.

It is this theory of ‘know-how’ and of ‘semblant’ with which recent political theorists have seemed to avoid. This brings me, finally, to my point: anarchist theorists today stand to benefit from this missing “affirmative” component of “know-how” within the theory of the decline of symbolic efficiency. However, before addressing this possibility I want to highlight the movement of anarchist theory in the last few decades. What I am offering here is a truncated version of that history. First, during the time of ‘classical theory’ anarchists believed that there was one place of power, it was the State. This was a unitary place of power, and it was the place from which one might trace a line, a line moving in one direction, toward the great mass of people who were robbed from their freedom and autonomy by this place of power. Consequently, the political task was only to remove the place of power so that freedom and autonomy may be restored. Let us refer to this as the first moment.

I want to be clear: during the first moment the concept of “autonomy” was not at all present within the classical texts of Bakunin or Kropotkin or others. This word, and indeed this reading of classical theory, was only made available in the second period, retroactively, as it were. The modern anarchists wished to highlight the concept of autonomy and inject it into the classical texts. They wanted to present a critique of the classical concept of power, a conception of power which was no doubt present within the classical texts but which was buried, or latent. The second moment, then, was precisely this critique of the logic of “autonomy,” the logic of spontaneous self-organization, the logic of a battle against the State. However, it also became clear that there were many places of power during the classical period; it was not just the State, but also the Church, and so on. However, one thing is most certainly clear: there was a finite amount of enemies, a finite array of places of power, and, nonetheless, power was thought to move unidirectionally and only to repress. The second period was the ‘third wave’ or the period of ‘modern’ and ‘post-anarchism.’ It was the period of critique.

The period of critique found its way toward a secondary internal moment: affirmation. After the critique – and, this is essential, it was only after the critique was made that it became possible – there was a moment of rereading the tradition. The second moment took hold of the classical tradition and transformed it into a modern moment: new theorists were introduced, new readings of Bakunin and Kropotkin (and others) were introduced so as to highlight the way in which they subverted classical theory. Stirner became central, and so too did Landauer. What is most interesting is that even those who critiqued the critique of the post-anarchists, that is, even those who critiqued the reading of classical theory for having an essentialist understanding of power and human nature, joined in the spirit of the time. It was important then for all anarchist theorists to demonstrate that power is productive as well as destructive (e.g., Bakunin’s infamous claim in his political letter that destruction is also a creative passion), and that there are infinite and ever-changing zones of political contestation.

And so, the concept of ‘autonomy’ was abandoned. In the current moment, when, finally, anarchists are beginning to offer affirmative ontologies of multiplicity (fractal ontology, anarchic metaphysics, etc), we have retained a concept of political contestation that subtracts from itself any notion of a central revolution and that embraces, against any logic of spontaneous and autonomy action, only a revolution of dinner parties, friendship networks, diverse cultural production, and so on. The world is complex and the only thing that will save us is to make it even more complex, networked, fractal, and, finally, inclusive. Finally, we return to the wider frame with which I opened these notes: the decline of symbolic efficiency.

It is my claim that we are in a unique historical moment which permits us to return to the concept of anarchist autonomy and revolution with a new focus. When the nom-du-pere is no longer functioning it is possible to introduce a theory of the know-how of the anarchist: auto-nom-me. Recall that for Lacan, in his famous seminar on James Joyce, asked the question: was James Joyce mad? In other words, was he what today Jacques-Alain Miller might label an “ordinary psychotic” (or what others refer to as an ‘untriggered’ psychotic)? There is significant evidence that points in this direction, however, instead of reviewing it I will only ask my readers to consult Lacan’s seminar on Joyce, a seminar which included a prominent Joyce scholar who spoke at length about “A Portrait of THE artist as a Young Man.” For my part, I presume the thesis to be correct – Joyce stabilized his psychosis and kept it in check precisely through the production of a certain know-how, a certain know-how to make use of the semblant of a name of the father.

The anarchist knows how to make use of auto-nom-me, that is, a spontaneous affirmation of the self, which, precisely through contestation, also presents itself as an auto-non-me, demonstrated most effectively during times of contestation with police. Moreover, the anarchist, who, like the ordinary psychotic, is alert on matters concerning fashion, also knows-how to make use of the au-ton-numbre. The logic of autonomy, in any case, may be unearthed, once again, in the work of Max Stirner. Recall that Stirner invented a name for himself, a name, in fact, given to him by those around him – and he internalized it. His real name, as well as the extent of his authorship, is an enigma. Johann Schmitt did not sign his name to his major political works. Instead, he invented a name for himself, a name, as well as a figure – a figure which marks his body there on the brow. Names name me not, claimed Stirner, and, what we learn from this, is that the proper names – the names of the law – are inadequate to the task – the only adequacy results, finally, from the self-naming, which, we might suggest, is a self-naming completed very early in the life of the man.

In any case, I do not wish to partake in a detailed examination of Stirner’s project. This would no doubt be a fruitful task (e.g., take, for example, the fact that the German word for “name” appears in the most unlikely places through the text, for things that have, in many cases, nothing to do with names at all). In any case, Stirner’s entire work consists of an attempt to create a sense of self for himself, to defend, in a sense, an Ego worthy of the name, that is, a “unique” Ego which may find a place for itself in the world and which may be the supreme Ego, that is, the Ego which Neitzsche may have stolen from him. I want only to begin to mark out the new moment within which the anarchist project may be renewed, and renewed precisely by rereading the concept of autonomy. It is no longer fashionable to merely critique the concept, as we did in the second period of our scholarship, but we must rather know-how to make use of it during a period of symbolic decline.

Stirner is to Anarchism what Joyce is to Psychoanalysis

There stills seems to be a consensus by scholars of modern aesthetics that the artist should be removed to the greatest extent possible from the work so that the material conditions which determined the work may be emphasized. At the same time, there is a real movement toward “anarchist aesthetics” within these circles (e.g., network aesthetics, aesthetics of everyday life and simple things, etc). There is a fear that in adopting anarchist aesthetics one slips in through the back door some notion of autonomy, self-organization, etc, which, returns us to the problem of determination.

The problem is that today there has been increasing evidence that the paternal function has fallen. There are a number of ways to state this, of course, and every school of thought has their own label for what Zizek calls the decline of symbolic efficiency.

Psychoanalysis proves itself to be ahead of the curve here. It is precisely today that we can, finally, return to the question of autonomy, self-management, etc., which are precisely the terms that the anarchists are starting to finally give up on after the postmodern turn. The difference is that by self-organization, psychoanalysts mean, literally, the production of a self – whereby the semblant serves as a replacement for the missing non-du-pere. This is how an object is made when there is no prohibitive symbolic function.

When the non-du-pere falls, we should begin to think about the notion of auto-non-mie / auto-nom-mie (a French homophone I invented two years ago, spontaneously, while speaking at an anarchist conference).

auto-nom-mie, not in the essentialist characterization of the egoist whose conscious mind controls his destiny, etc. But of the unconscious, as in, the parletre (speaking being) who *does not know* that he has been afforded a certain type of order precisely through self-nomination. Thus, we might return to Stirner – a mysterious figure who without even realizing it, needed, desperately, to keep trying new names for himself.

Stirner is to anarchism what Joyce is to psychoanalysis.

Muslims in Space

The Qibla is the direction Muslims face when praying salat. For some time during the prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) time, the direction was toward Jerusalem. Then, once, while leading the prayer, during which he received instruction from God, he turned to face the Kabaa in Mecca. Those behind him turned with him. Now all Muslims face the Kabaa.

In 2006, the Malaysian National Space Agency sponsored a conference to discuss the following two problems which occur for a Muslim astronaut travelling in space: (1) the direction of the Qibla (a problem of space), and (2) the times of salat (a problem of time).

The conclusion was that a Muslim must imagine, in some sense, that he is still on Earth. For example, to determine the time of salat: “[t]he daily five prayer times is defined in a 24 hour duration (equals to 1 Earth day) following the time zone at which port the astronaut is launched (in this case, Baikonur, Kazakhstan).” Thus, it is as if the astronaut did not leave earth at all and that he is still at that precise point on earth where the times for salat may be calculated properly by following the relationship of that point to the movement of the sun, etc. To determine the Qibla: “Qibla direction is based on what is possible, prioritizing as below: i. The Ka’aba ii. The projection of Ka’aba iii. The Earth iv. Wherever.”

In both cases, the Muslim in space runs up against a problem. The only way to orient the Muslim within the Ummah (community of Muslims) is to do some imagination work.

What is particularly interesting is the way in which the body becomes the site from which orientation is made possible. For example, it was concluded that “the performance of the physical postures (such as standing, bowing and prostrating) is […] as follows: […] using the eye lid as an indicator of the changing of postures in prayer, [and] imagining the sequence of prayer.” In this case, the eye lid becomes the centrepiece – the ground – which is missing for the astronaut, and the imagination stands in place of earth time.

Is this not, then, the manner of prayer which, in some way, finds, there within and through the body, certain truths which hitherto remained too difficult to grasp for those trapped in the taken-for-granted routine of salat?

Splitting a surface, and a question on the Klein Bottle

A few nights ago I met a young man who teaches glass blowing workshops at an arts centre. I asked him if he has ever made a Klein Bottle. He admitted that he hadn’t heard of the thing, and then googled it. His answer to me was that it would undoubtedly require what is referred to in the industry as a “scientific lathe.”
I looked into the technique today and found that the only way that people seem to be capable of making the Klein Bottle, using the “scientific lathe,” is to produce it in parts. The process begins with a sealed tube, and then two pieces are inserted inside of that tube (which constitute the pieces which will later be joined to produce the ‘extimate’ surface), and worked with in that way. The process is outlined in the following website:
This is curious. If, at one time, it was thought that a Borromean Knot could only be produced by taking three pieces of string (or more) and tying them together, or, in a strange way, of taking a single piece of string and producing a trefoil knot, then, in recent years, a simple technique was invented by sculpture artists which demonstrates that a single torus may be split from within to produce the Borromean surface. More on this can be found here:
In the latter case, I have extended the Lacanian concept of “splitting” or “split subject” and rejected any discussion of the “barred subject.” In the age of the sinthome, of ordinary psychosis, etc, all that makes sense is “splitting” of subjectivity.
I am seeking any information on alternative processes to make a Klein Bottle which does not consist of piecing it together in the way outlined above. If you have such information, please share it with me.
Thank you.

A (slightly edited) Conversation With a Friend On the Subject of “Gas Lighting”

He: What about this psychological colloquialism called “gas lighting” ?

Me: Why, if somebody is manipulating me and causing me to question my sanity, did I let myself be lured into this trap while others did not? By claiming that there is gas lighting happening isn’t it the case that it renews the initial problem, that is, it displaces the subject? So, I might witness the following inner dialogue: “I must have been insane to fall for gas lighting!”

He: And the person gas lighting the other?

Me: He doesn’t exist. Those who use the phrase “gas lighting” are never the people who supposedly “gas light,” unless, of course, they are the ones gas lighting the gas lighters. So, the person accused of gas lighting might witness the following inner dialogue: “I must have been insane to not have realized that I was gas lighting!” How unfortunate for him that somebody else had to invent the word to describe his condition. In any case, the point is that it is always the person gas lighting who is reduced to an object of the claim.

He: I’m asking what your diagnosis is for somebody who is supposedly gas lighting… or I guess you’re saying they don’t actually exist.

Me: Yes, that’s what I am saying. Only the subject of gas lighting exists. I don’t doubt that people try to manipulate other people and make them feel insane, etc., but I see no reason to call it “gas lighting” as if that is a clinical condition. Those who “gas light” will not tell us anything about the human condition precisely because they never assert themselves as “gas lighters.” Instead, it is the accuser, the subject of the claim, who asserts the concept upon, for example, his or her psychoanalyst! This is important, no doubt, because it is always a supposition, a supposition of the subjet suppose savoir who is, in this case, supposed to know that he is gas lighting his patients.

He: My interest is in the idea that some people, the gas lighters, cannot accept that the other does not submit to their reality. I didn’t think gas lighting was a real thing …

Me: Ah, right. I think you write something interesting though, “submit to their clinical reality.”

He: I was hoping you’d catch that …

Me: The term already introduces a sense of an underlying reality which can be trusted, a foundation, something that organizes the experience. But the question being asked has nothing to do with reality – it has to do with the stories we tell ourselves. So, for example, it doesn’t matter whether or not somebody suffered a trauma, in reality. What matters is the way we experience ourselves vis-a-vis the reality or unreality of the situation. Freud abandoned the seduction theory for this reason: in the unconscious, reality, fact or fiction, doesn’t matter. So, why is the reality important, except, finally, that we can never grasp it and that when we do it is simply too much to bare?

He: True, … which leads to subjectivism…

Me: Here is a thought experiment. Let us suppose that there are two “realities,” two ways of seeing the world. I submit that the only way we can know if they are “two” and not “one” is to show that they are different from one another. If, they are, in fact different, then we can say that they are definitely two. But this raises a new question: how can we show that they are different? We must test them. The surest way to test them is to put them in a war with one another. If they fight to the death then they are on opposite sides in the war, different teams, if they do not fight to the death, then they are capable of sharing a reality, that is, they are, at some level, allies. Good so far?

He: I suppose. But I would contend that it is obvious that we have separate realities.

Me: okay. So, separate realities. Now: do we tolerate them as separate? The liberal answer is usually “yes.” Each should have their own reality, and should be entitled to it, without “gas lighting,” that is, without another person manipulating that other person into doubting their reality or into accepting another reality. Follow so far?

He: Yup.

Me: So I turn to the analogy of war. Let us give each reality its content. Reality #1 says: “Your reality doesn’t deserve to live, so I will kill it now.” Reality #2 says: “no, your reality doesn’t deserve to live, so I will kill it now.” We agreed above, I think, that this is how to properly distinguish between two realities, to ensure that they are not “one.”

So, here we return to the problem: both realities, to prove that they respect the reality of the other, must allow their own reality to die or else they must manipulate or kill the other reality.

He: “Love.”

What did Socrates say, one soul inhabiting two bodies or some shit? Without mutual submission, there is no love?

Me: Not necessarily. Love is giving what you don’t have to somebody who doesn’t want it. That’s what Lacan said. It means that love is embracing the lack of a shared reality, together. Which doesn’t mean embracing the other person’s reality, or one’s own reality. But the lack of reality itself.

I love you bro

He: I love you, man

Pandora Jewelry

This may not be a new trend. However, I am certain that it is one that is growing more popular, and that, moreover, is becoming more of a concern for practitioners. I am talking about “Pandora” jewellery. Pandora taps into an older market which has now become a thriving one: shoppers who collect, and who, moreover, collect decorations for their own body. Most of the jewels are purchased as gifts for others, and, usually, by others who are trying to strengthen a connection which is missing.
I walked into “Pandora” today to see what all the fuss was about and I was provided with a really interesting sales pitch. In view were $75 tiny jewels. The jewels are to be purchased one at a time and added to a collection alongside others on a bracelet. The jewels have no special inscriptions on them except that they have different qualities, shades, colours, and so on. However, some of them have written, in small letters, “Sister,” “Father,” “Mother,” etc. What makes the jewels particularly interesting is that they are sold to people because of the word that the store itself places alongside it: “Beautiful,” “Intelligent,” etc. However, once the jewels are removed from the store the words are no longer associated with the jewel, except in the imagination of the consumers.
How could we not see this as a demonstration of the way in which what Lacanians refer as a “semblant” comes to stand in place of the missing non-du-pere? A semblant is a make-believe authority, a make-believe name, which holds it all together for the individual – and there, precisely, where it matters most: on the body. I recall now also that Jacques-Alain Miller once claimed that the ordinary psychotic, whose body is neither hidden nor discoverable, is the one responsible for achievements in fashion.

Zizek on the Paradoxes of Rape

There is something erroneous about Zizek’s logic on the paradoxes of the rape fantasy. Here are the two steps in his argument: (1) he claims that the fantasy of rape meets a traumatic moment when it is performed in real life, and (2) he claims, with the help of a David Lynch clip, that there is a devastation when the man in the scene arouses the rape fantasy in the woman and then declines to perform that function.  


So, let us produce a table to illustrate the problem. Let “Fantasy” indicate where the rape fantasy is present, “Reality” indicate that the rape has been performed, and “Trauma” indicate that there is a trauma present.


Fantasy | (1) No   (2) No  (3) Yes   (4) Yes
Reality  | (1) Yes  (2) No  (3) Yes   (4) No
Trauma | (1) Yes  (2) No  (3) Yes   (4) Yes


In case (1) we can see that the fantasy is not present, the reality is present, and therefore, without much surprise, the trauma is inflicted. In other words, we know that if somebody is raped, without them secretly desiring the rape, that it may provoke a trauma. Let us describe this as the “common understanding.” This is not the understanding that Zizek is providing.


In case (2) we can see that there has been no rape fantasy, no actual rape, and no trauma. We can describe this as the “commonplace preference,” a description I am happy to change. Zizek is also not outlining this position.


The final two positions are Zizek’s. In case (3) we can see that the fantasy is present and it is precisely because the fantasy is present that the reality of the rape is all the more traumatic. We might describe this position as “the violence of achieving our fantasies.” This is summarized well by Zizek when we wrote:


The ultimate point of irreconciliable difference between psychoanalysis and feminism is that of rape (and/or the masochist fantasies that sustain it). For standard feminism, at least, it is an a priori axiom that rape is a violence imposed from without: even if a woman fantasizes about being raped, this only bears witness to the deplorable fact that she has internalized the male attitude. The reaction is here one of pure panic: the moment one mentions that a woman may fantasize about being raped or at least brutally mishandled, one hears the objections: ‘This is like saying that Jews fantasize about being gassed in the camps, or African-Americans fantasize about being lynched!’ From this perspective, the split hysterical position (that of complaining about being sexually misused and exploited, while simultaneously desiring it and provoking a man to seduce her) is secondary, while for Freud, it is primary, constitutive of subjectivity. Consequently, the problem with rape for Freud is that it has such a traumatic impact not simply because it is a case of such brutal external violence, but because it also touches on something disavowed in the victim herself. So when Freud writes, ‘If what [neurotics] long for the most intensely in their phantasies is presented them in reality, they none the less flee from it’, his point is not merely that this aversion occurs because of censorship, but, rather, that the core of our fantasy is unbearable to us. (Of course, this insight in no way justifies rape along the infamous lines ‘she just got what she fantasized about…’ – if anything, it makes it more violent: what could be more brutal than to impose on someone the traumatic core of his/her fantasy?)

It is the final, fourth, position which seems odd to me. If, in the third position, Zizek has claimed that rape is all the more traumatic if we fantasy it and then get it. Why is it that, in the fourth position, it is fantasizing about it and not getting it that is traumatic and brutal? In other words, Zizek claims that rejecting the fantasy results in psychological devastation. Within the clinic, psychoanalysts have long noted the prevalence of the rape fantasy – particularly among women. Unfortunately, the evidence on this is undeniable. Some people, many times these people are women, really do fantasy about being raped. However, these fantasies are not for them always traumatic or devastating. Why, then, does Zizek suggest that they are?

Here, I think Zizek may have made a slip.

There are times when simply having a rape fantasy is not troubling in of itself. Even after careful and prolonged analysis we might find that the rape fantasy was not at all the core of the problem, and neither did it contribute to any particular trauma. Indeed, many women who have rape fantasies are not at all victims of a trauma.

Yet, at the same time, if the rape fantasy has become dominant within the sexual life of a person then having that fantasy thwarted can indeed produce anxiety. For example, there is plenty of clinical evidence which suggests that some women who are in relationships with men who are do not ‘take charge’ in the bed room are unhappy sexually. On the other hand, there are plenty of women who do not want a man to ‘take charge’ in the bedroom and would not at all be put off if a man was more tender and humble while love making.

So, where does that leave us?

The man in the film may have imposed or triggered a rape fantasy within the woman but in his declining it we are supposed to or indeed permitted to understand that this was devastating for the woman. But was it more devastating than indeed achieving in reality the fantasy which was brought out in the woman? In other words, which is more traumatic: to achieve one’s fantasy in actual life or else to have it thwarted?

This is the question that was not addressed by Zizek.

This question is a much more difficult one to answer. Truthfully, there are cases when it is much more traumatic to achieve one’s fantasy than it is to have that fantasy thwarted, and yet there are also cases when it is much more traumatic to have a fantasy thwarted rather than to achieve it in reality. To answer this question we need to pay particular attention to the structure of the individual.

This is why we can say that trauma is a universal category of suffering even while the way in which this trauma is produced is not at all universal.