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.

Very quick response to a friend: on non-monogamy and love

There are three positions that I am interested in exploring.

First, there is the position which claims that love is something to be shared, something which must forever be open to an encounter, and which is something that can never be pinned down to One decision. I name this position the love of the market.

It is the love of the market because we are dealing with encounters which are never made significant through the exclusion of temptation. To forever open oneself to an encounter, without recognizing that encounters are provocations, is to partake in the love one has for the products one might encounter at the supermarket. Against this, I claim that Love is not something one seeks, it is not something one can be prepared for, it is rather something that radically provokes a world already made complete. Thus, the love of the market, love which encounters any possibility as a pure possibility, is the love of anything, and thus, of everything.

Multiplicity is not enough to escape the logic of the One. Rather, it is, more than anything, the security of the logic of the One. Multiplicity, like the infinity of potential partners which one may make oneself available to (if only in the hope that this, unlike the others, might be the One), is forever put in the service of the One. We see this very clearly in the logic of number. It is infinity, the n+1, which secures the continuation of the system of numbers – it is always possible to count One more number, and to thereby extend finitude.

Love is not something that one seeks as if in a supermarket. Love is a provocation, and perhaps an unhappy one. It is a twisting of the lover’s world into a new decision and a new truth. Love by necessity is a decisive response to a provocation. One must choose to go through love, and, to the great exclusion of temptation to be in love others. Or else one rejects love. Without struggle, love is nothing. The marketplace is not a place of struggle, it is a place of many false choices. The only struggle within the marketplace is the struggle against the choices of the marketplace. And so the marketplace invites you to fall in love with one more product, and the marketplace of love invites you to fall in love with one more partner.

Love is a decision against the market, a decision to move away from temptation, and to redefine history.

Love is always the love of two.

The love of multiplicity is always also the love of One.

I should be clear. I see nothing inherently wrong with the love of One. The number one can also be thought of as a point, a new foundation for a new history between lovers. It ought not always be thought of as a contract. It can also be thought of as the coming into existence of a new way of viewing the world and oneself in it. This may very well be secured by one new idea. But the number of love is not itself one – it is always two.

The love of two does not have to mean that there are only two people involved. To be sure, two people cannot be thought of as simply two ones (eg., 1+1). The love of two is the love of the movement of the new world, the new love, inside and against the old world, which is the marketplace of love (eg., 1+0). So long as the minimal conditions are met it seems to me that the love of two could occur among any number of people. We could have a love of various scales and intensities. However, this is a love which responds to a provocation which has already happened, and not, as it were, something which could happen.

The love of a love to come, of deferred love, is the love of impossible love. Lacan was fond of claiming that the obsessional neurotic harbors an impossible desire, and so, because it is impossible, nothing can ever compare to it. And so it goes with impossible love. Impossible love may be an endless encounter with failure, one which, to be certain, sustains a certain enjoyment for all of those involved.

It seems to me that the more appropriate point of departure is unsatisfied love. Unsatisfied love is love which can always be better, can always be reorganized and reignited. Unsatisfied love is love without limits, love which desires more than anything else an entirely new meaning to come into the world.

And so the second position is the love of two.

The third position is the love of one, the marriage of love or the love of marriage. Whereas genuine love is the construction of a new possibility in the world of the sexual market, the love of marriage can only be a perverse love which forbids temptation – but in the name of a higher power. This is the great love of slaves.

Anarchism: Real Politics or Politics of the Act?

This is a bit of a response to a post made earlier this evening on Levi Bryant’s blog about anarchism. Apologies for the scattered ideas and the poor writing.

I’ve been an anarchist for more than half of my life. While I am often charged with being an “armchair anarchist,” the truth is that I spent the greater part of my life on the front lines tossing bricks, building autonomous spaces, and experimenting with different anarchist practices. I’ve been arrested, I’ve hiked the country, I’ve grown gardens, I’ve had dinner parties, I’ve worn black masks, I’ve fought with police officers, I’ve disrupted the meetings of members of the power elite, and I’ve participated in conspiracies against the government, and so on. I write this knowing very well that it marks me as a target. However, I also say it knowing very well that these are no longer practices that I find compelling as an anarchist. I suggest that these are reified forms of political activity which are every bit as recuperated as voting. As it happens, I’ve also spent a significant part of my life reading through the works of the great anarchists of our tradition. I write this so that it can be known that I am fully aware that many people will not recognize the anarchist tradition that I offer for them here. The point is that I recognize it, and, moreover, I am capable of defending it. Anarchism is a tradition, and a tradition which is well worth defending. Moreover, the point is that I see great value in thinking about our tradition, and in thinking itself as a form of direct action.

In a book I wrote many years ago now, namely After Post-Anarchism, I argued that most of anarchist thinking has centred around an influential text by Peter Kropotkin (his “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution”). Kropotkin went on to write an unfinished volumes on Ethics. The importance of Kropotkin’s work can not be overstated. He is at the centred of the popular tradition, and unavoidable for thinking anarchists. Moreover, his point of departure, that is, ethics, has defined a trajectory of thought. As a result, many anarchists in this continent, including Uri Gordon, Andrej Grubacic, Simon Critcley, Richard J. F. Day, etc, have argued, in each their own way, that anarchism has been to ethics what Marxism has been to strategy. The point that I am trying to make is that Levi Bryant is correct to suggest that ethics has been central to the anarchist tradition. And so as anarchists we can make a choice: we can accept the tradition as it has been popularly read through Kropotkin, we can reject that tradition (and, perhaps, build our own), or we can reread that tradition to discover entirely new ethical orientations. In After Post-Anarchism, I attempted to do all of the above. I rejected the anarchist tradition and found that at its base it was really a nihilist ethical tradition. But I also offered new readings of the tradition, through Kropotkin and Stirner.

I have argued that anarchism is not itself an ideal form of society, and that it does not necessarily teach us how to act in the world. It does not make prescriptions about action in the world. It does not suggest that building a commune or connecting the syndicates is the way to an ideal society. Anarchists have always tried to distance themselves from lofty ideals and normative abstractions. And so I attempt to demonstrate that anarchism does not necessarily signify “without law” or even “without masters.” Both of these conceptions share a similar utopian presumption about the anarchist tradition. Some of the most interesting and ignored contemporary texts in our continent have reread Kropotkin’s work to discover something similar to what I am outlining here. For example, Brian Morris and Allan Antliff have discovered that Kropotkin was, like Stirner, against these ideals. Allan Antliff has written that Kropotkin’s ethics offer a “refusal to model individuals according to an abstract idea.” This certainly sounds like something Stirner could have written. At base, then, the abstract ideal of freedom, of life without a master, would also be subject to intense anarchist scrutiny.

Some thinkers, notably Larry Gambone, have demonstrated that Proudhon and Kropotkin were against utopia because it was restrictive of personal liberty. Utopia was something that was too violent for the individual, and even for the collective. I think that a more interesting reading would argue that Kropotkin, being against abstract normative ideals, was against utopia precisely because it wasn’t violent enough. In this understanding, the problem is not that anarchism has been understood as an ethics of living without a master but that it suffers from ignoring the properly violent and traumatic dimension of the real. And this is what a politics of the real also suffers from – the real is traumatic, and we do not want to live within it. Moreover, there are times when the symbolic dimension of life collapses into the real, hides out there, and reemerges as the zone of freedom. I recall a painting by Ad Reinhardt named Abstract Painting which presents to us what immediate appears to be pure black. I maintain that this is the space of the real, of freedom, of thinking. I also note that if one remains in front of the appearance for long enough, one might discern the various shades of black that separate and give structure to the painting (see here). Reinhardt explained: “[In this painting,] there is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow.” Well, this is precisely what happens in the real. Sometimes when the distribution of the sensible gives rise to the real, the uncounted, there emerges, deep in the shadows, the hegemony of the straight line. We discover that nothing has really changed. And this is what I find so disconcerting about an anarchism which begins with the assumption that life without a master is possible.

On the contrary, we negotiate with the real. We want to work something out from it, to work through the anxiety that it produces. And we want to do so with courage and conviction. We must be prepared to do the long a difficult work of thinking, of staring at the real and discovering what within it has the structure of the old world. Finally, we must seek a new justice. We must recognize that utopian interpretations of the anarchist tradition go against a deeper and more interesting reading which argues that anarchism is about seeking out and uncovering the masters concealed from the world but which nonetheless subject us to their laws (even and especially when we believe ourselves to be free of them). But anarchism, if it is to be a political doctrine, must also forever find a way to renew a sense of the subject. As Saul Newman argued so many years ago, there is no genuine political philosophy without a point of departure, uncontaminated by power, outside. This outside could be something rather paradoxical: an outside that exists deeply on the inside. We can not lose this sense of the nothing which resists suture, which forces itself inside of the world.

Finally, Levi’s conception of anarchism is that it is always at odds with the vanguard party. On this point, I am in agreement. However, when he employs a particular reading of the Lacanian plus-one as the empty place, he seems to reintroduce the possibility for the reemergence of the vanguard party. As it happens, Jodi Dean and others have already described the vanguard party as the empty place or plus-one of politics. This is why we can not model anarchist politics on the plus-one in practice. We must instead rethink the plus-one from the standpoint of the Lacanian tradition. The first thing we notice is that the plus-one has the power of achieving a sort of direct action at the level of thought: it compels us to think of the master, of all masters, as castrated. But it does not compel us toward utopian presumptions that the master does not or can not in fact exist. The master is the minimal possibility of freedom. Without the master, nothing is permitted. Anarchists know this more than any other – they get off on interrogating the master, without whom they would have no proper existence, or identity. They require the master at the level of thought. The task of anarchism is, then, to castrate the master, and then, moreover, to discover new masters. Who are the masters today? Are they the same as yesterday? Anarchism is the process of thinking and castrating the master and not, as it were, the development of a fantasy about a world without masters.

Stirner’s Subject

For many decades the words “egoism,” “individualism,” and “nihilism,” have been used as synonyms by anarchists. This permits a fixing of the concept governing Max Stirner’s book „Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum“. These fixations determine in advance our reading of the text by accenting those words which have carried unfortunate connotations for so many decades, thus leading us to believe that there may be some unitary and transparent self at the foundation of Stirner’s Egoist thinking. This misreading is no different from the one which has cursed Cartesian philosophy for so many years, and which has permitted, quite paradoxically, a thinking which has nothing to say about existence. I state this without waiting another moment: these scholars do not think, and ought therefore not exist.

We must emphasize the nihilist moment in Stirner’s work so as to provide a counter-point to the Cartesian boogeyman erected by enemies of thought. Stirner’s self is not really the ego misleadingly translated from Freud’s work. Rather, it is the subject as we understand it in the Lacanian tradition. Stirner’s subject, his creative nothing, is grounded on something absent or missing from the normative abstractions governing daily life. It is a subject which forces its way into the appearances of the world – it makes room for itself in the world, by forcing itself as truth. It is a subject based on nothing which, at its creative moment, forces itself in opposition to the deceptive process of suturing. Stirner reminds us that we must not avoid acknowledging the subject as this creative element missing from symbolic life. Put differently, at the heart of all appearances, spooks, normative abstractions, and so on, there stands something which can not be contained or captured, something which exceeds all attempts to suture it, and something which is, from the standpoint of the world of comforting appearances, properly traumatic.

Stirner concludes his book with the radical forcing of the subject:

They say of God, “Names name thee not.” That holds good of me: no concept expresses me, nothing that is designated as my essence exhausts me; they are only names. […] In the unique one the owner himself returns into his creative nothing, of which he is born. Every higher essence above me, be it God, be it man, weakens the feeling of my uniqueness, and pales only before the sun of this consciousness. If I set my affair on myself, the unique one, then my concern rests on its transitory, mortal creator, who consumes himself, and I may say: All things are nothing to me.

Thinking Anarchism

I have lived more than half of my life as an anarchist. The majority of that time was spent learning about anarchism as a type of activism. As a result, for many years of my life I believed quite strongly that anarchism was nothing more than a particular subset of activism. You can understand this as a statement about the orientation of anarchism toward practice. Activism, for me, was something that one did in the world, it was act-based and not, as it were, thought-based. It took me at least a decade to begin to disrupt this prevailing orientation. Now I believe that it is quite the opposite: activism is something like a subset of anarchism, or, to be more precise, something which can be partially united with anarchism. But it is explicitly not something that can be entirely reduced to it. Rather, thinking, it seems to me, already has within it the possibility of acting, of, to borrow a phrase from Alejandro de Acosta, “direct action at the level of thought.”
At this point I am willing to maintain that anarchism is *not* a practice. I realize that this goes against much of the tradition that we know and love, and that, more than that, it goes against the prevailing orientation of the pro-anarchist milieu. In fact, it goes against my own previous understanding. But the point must be made, and it must be made well: anarchism is primarily a type of thinking. Already I have two concepts which deserve to be interrogated by all anarchists: act and thinking. We shall find, I have no doubt, that in order to act, and to act authentically in the world such that our results are meaningful from the perspective of revolutionary strategy, one must begin to think what it means to act. To these two concepts I would like to add another: tradition. 


At the very beginning of this blog I used the word tradition in a fairly casual way. Tradition is something we take for granted. Naive anarchists often claim that if anarchists had a tradition it would be necessary that we destroy it. In this understanding, tradition is something which is an authority, and, moreover, which coerces us, and perhaps robs us of our freedom. However, tradition also authorizes our freedom. To Dostoevsky’s point that “if God is dead, everything is permitted,” Lacan reformulated: “If God is dead, then nothing is permitted.” Well, it is the same with tradition: if tradition is dead, if it has no authority, then freedom is not permitted. This means that we have no way to transmit our experiences as anarchists to future generations. As a result, anarchism dies at fairly young age, as it always has. And so we must locate within our tradition points which make anarchism relevant for the experiences of our time, and, moreover, to the people who make use of the tradition.

The question arises: how can we locate within tradition these points? Most of us tend to believe that traditions are hard knowledges, things which do not change, as if they are hard-coded into history. The task of thinking consists of disrupting this understanding of tradition. Previously, many anarchists have been content with this understanding of tradition as hard knowledge, and this is why on the one hand, we have dogmatists whose reading of the tradition is so fixed that it no longer speaks to our experience, or, on the other hand, we have nihilists (the bad kind) who reject tradition entirely. The latter group of people do not realize that by rejecting tradition for being authoritarian one also inadvertently presumes that tradition has more power than it actual does. And so we must think. Thinking is always a practice of reading tradition for new points of departure. And through this process we find the ability to act.

To act is never to repeat, unless that repetition disrupts the prevailing orientation of the world. Tradition, in some sense, is precisely a form of repetition. And so to act is to produce a new form of repetition into the world. We produce something that can be repeated through a language that can be understood. An act is not a repetition of an old tactic that has never worked within this world. It is the construction of a new tradition within and against the coordinates of the prevailing order. An act finds what from the very beginning disrupts the present and opens up a hole in the future. As an anarchist, this has been my experience. From the very beginning I have been thinking about the possibility for acting.

And so this leads me to a plea. If, on the one hand, there are more anarchists within the university than ever before, and if, on the other hand, anarchism, as a body of thought, no longer seems to have anything holding it together in the form of a tradition – or, dare I say it, in the form of a serious journal, then the only hope we have for the future is to renew the tradition. I once described this as fortifying the troops, but that is an unfortunate idiom – the point is that we need to act now to save our tradition precisely so that an authentic act – and make no mistake about it, anarchism is *the* thinking of authentic acts, what anarchism offers politics as a form of thinking – can remain possible. There may very well be other avenues for thinking the political act, I have no doubt about it. However, I believe, as I hope many of you do, that anarchism still offers the most fertile conceptual toolkit. Our tradition has always been a thinking of the act.