If I Have to Dance, I Don’t Want Your Revolution

Has anybody noticed that the Childish Gambino video (now passe within popular culture) demonstrates precisely how enjoyment and suffering are merged within American culture?

I think also about Ellen Degeneres (“Ellen The-Generous”) who must suffer from problems of enjoyment more than any other television personality. To dance before an audience every working day must for her have become one of life’s most severe burdens; it is a burden shared by almost all television personalities today: the burden to perform our happiness and enjoyment every day without fail.

When Emma Goldman, the anarchist and feminist, supposedly once claimed “If I can’t Dance I don’t want to be a part of your revolution” she couldn’t have imagined how oppressive dancing would become in America. Today we should reimagine this expression: “If I HAVE to dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution!”

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#NewBeginnings

All this talk of “new beginnings” in America — what does it mean?

When a person plans to partake in a new beginning she is admitting only that what she truly wants is to know nothing at all about her past. Moreover, she wants to know nothing about the way the past tends without fail to repeat itself. The paradox is that it is precisely through innovation, through ‘pure breaks’ from what already happened and what has already been decided, that the past returns all the more forcefully.

Those who seek new beginnings, those who seek to innovate in their lives and in their religion, want to know nothing about their symptoms. The symptom is what repeats, and it is chained to an unconscious determination. Those who wish to subtract themselves from their symptom find out very quickly that they have in fact lost themselves.

And why?

It is because the symptom is what is most true about us. We find our truth in the decisions that we have already made and in the contracts we have already signed.

The lesson from psychoanalysis is this: a symptom expresses what is most true about us, what is most us about us, and, therefore, when we deny our symptoms we in effect deny ourselves. We can not break out of past traumas, past suffering, past contracts, simply by stepping out of them. In this way they will only determine us without our knowing it. We become all the more trapped by them.

Liberation consists of returning to the past — to the pure past, the formative years — and to recognize that the contracts we signed, the sufferings we endured, determine us completely. This is what #NewBeginnings mean to a psychoanalyst. This is also what #NewBeginnings mean to a truly religious person: there is a refusal to innovate and an insistence that we return to the past (salafiyyah): The person who innovates will, by definition, suffer even more. 

Lower Case Proper Names

When I was a student at Queen’s University (around 12 years ago), I noticed a common practice among anarchist intellectuals which consisted of always writing one’s name in lower case letters. I sought out a response from my anarchist and activist friends for this practice and never received a sufficient response. It seemed to me — and probably to them — that it was a sign of humility.

The practice is all the more revealing today when viewed under the ‘decoder glasses’ of Lacanian theory. The proper name, which for Lacanian discourse theory is what anchors the subject, is that signifier around which all of the subject’s discourse revolves. The proper name is similar to what Lacan called the “name of the father.”

Since my time at Queen’s University I learned about the literary practices of bell hooks. hooks is an an intersectional feminist scholar who for decades has insisted upon using her pen-name as her real name (thereby rejecting the ‘name of the father,’ while, simultaneously, refusing to capitalize the first letters. hooks explained once that her name was actually taken from her mother, and she internalized that rather than be subjected to the father’s name. I also became aware, recently, of the long lineage of thinkers who refuse the name of the father because it anchors them to an oppressive tradition (e.g., “Malcolm X”).

Similarly, in America, at Grand Valley State University, one can now select one’s own proper name (within an overlay system, which does not at all impact the legal proper name which remains on file) and professors/administration are required to use the invented name rather than the injected name. Incidentally, in this case, does it not demonstrate that there is a fundamental perversity: one remains, in legal matters within the university, under the discourse of the name of the father, even while, in cultural matters one is permitted to feel liberated from this oppressive tradition.

All of this no doubt demonstrates why one can do without the name of the father, provided it is put to use as a semblant.

Hands Behind the Back

I have noticed a popular trend in Canada which consists of placing one’s hands behind the back while gazing upon an esteemed painting. The gesture indicates that one believes oneself to be in the presence of something truly valuable. The same individual will not think to place his hands behind the back while viewing a commercial billboard display or a plaque mounted to the wall, which, to him, are only minor pieces of art. So unwilling to touch, he forbids the temptation by placing the hands at a distance while bringing his forehead in absolute proximity to the object of his veneration; maintaining a humble distance enough only to sustain his passion.

It is enough to remind me of a runner whose attempt to win the race is so ambitious that he does the same: as if, during the final step of the race, he could win by the length of his nose. Hands behind the back signal an attempt to dislodge oneself from the filth of the body while pushing forward the seat of his intellect. The man, like detective Clouseau, is in search of something and only wishes to be seen precisely in his search. He wishes to be witnessed as the epitome of inquisitive intelligence. It is here, only, that the man loses his desire to achieve or become the object by transforming himself into the subject of a search: he allows himself to be recognized only for what he admits to not having.

It is for this reason that it is always a bit comical to witness a man in front of a profound piece of art. During these moments, the man is in the process of what Gilles Deleuze named “becoming woman.” This is quite different from the case of a young boy, who, I was told just moments ago, once reached out to grab a painting. Suffice to say, the child was a normal and healthy young boy of 11 years. The boy demonstrates the traditional masculine position when faced with profound beauty: aggressiveness against the object, snottiness against the object, an attempt to have the object for oneself.

In other words, the man with his hands behind his back is a man always in a state of love. Jacques-Alain Miller said of this man who is in love:

Lacan used to say, ‘To love is to give what you haven’t got.’ Which means: to love is to recognize your lack and give it to the other, place it in the other. It’s not giving what you possess, goods and presents, it’s giving something else that you don’t possess, which goes beyond you. To do that you have to assume your lack, your ‘castration’ as Freud used to say. And that is essentially feminine. One only really loves from a feminine position. Loving feminises. That’s why love is always a bit comical in a man.

[…] A man in love has flashes of pride, bursts of aggressiveness against the object of his love, because this love puts him in a position of incompleteness, of dependence.

 

American Ideology in Eminem, Kendrick Lamar & 6ix9ine

Eminem recently came out with a new album titled “Lucky You.” Some critics welcomed Eminem back to the hip hop scene. Others are skeptical that Eminem can achieve the same level of popularity and fame that he once had. Immediately, Eminem revived an older tradition of ‘shit talking’ other rappers. Not long after the album dropped, 6ix9ine, another popular rapper, responded with his own attack on Eminem.

What is 6ix9ine really saying in these videos? He is critiquing Eminem and Kendrick Lamar for being too intellectual, which means, in other words, too fixated on the transmission of meaning. And he is right: this is the major thing that differentiates 6ix9ine from Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Eminem and Kendrick Lamar want to tell stories, narratives, make points — preach even, in their own way.

On the other hand, 6ix9ine enjoys the sounds of various words when they are combined, regardless of their meaning. He has nothing to say, no shared meaning with his audience, except: “what me as I enjoy myself.” He doesn’t want to think or to tell stories. He enjoys trolling, being provocative, flashing playful images (rainbow grills on his teeth, dyed hair, flashy clothing, and so on).

Eminem and Kendrick Lamar are upset that enjoyment has been lost or limited (by the business of hip hop, by capitalism, by western society, by America). Kendrick Lamar critiques the shopping mall (“mothafucka you can live at the mall!,” or, for example, in his third untitled song he critiques everybody for telling him to sell out and give up his freedom as an artist, etc).

With 6ix9ine you have pure enjoyment.

You know, if any of you watched that film about Eminem 8 mile (2001 or 2002), that Eminem’s basic life story is that he had a lot of obstacles in his life. He was always up against something or someone. He was up against the music industry, he was up against something in his monogamous relationship, in his family life, and so on. In a word, he was always trying to get access to enjoyments that were prohibited to him for various reasons. For example, he was [is] a white rapper, he had a young child named Hailie and had to work 60+ hours a week to support her, and so on. So he was always trying to get something that was difficult for him to get.

Let us put it simply: he was trying to get some enjoyment that was prohibited to him.

What about 6ix9ine’s life story? His life narrative is the opposite. 6in9ine is famous for his sexual and aesthetic transgressions. He famously got in trouble for some sexual misconduct with an underage girl, his videos show him endlessly in sexually conducive situations, enjoying himself while he eats ice-cream, and so on, and so on. He has the enjoyment. That’s the problem! So, his is not a problem of obstacles to his enjoyment, like Eminem, but rather a problem of too-much enjoyment. It is all his enjoyments that are getting him into trouble and posing an obstacle to his career.

So these are two fundamentally different positions. The eminem position — the one where there are obstacles to our enjoyment, and we suffer from trying to achieve something we can’t get — seems to be fading in American society. Eminem was perhaps the shadow of early American social relationships: us 70s and 80s kids felt deprived of something. We fought to get it – like when I fought to get through university.

Eminem’s solution is to turn to language, to meaning, to story-telling, to rap music, to get ahead. Prohibition, in this case, instigates desire.

Yet, on the other hand, today, it seems, American society is characterized more and more by too much enjoyment. We are increasingly permitted to enjoy: enjoy social media, enjoy each other (on tinder, etc), enjoy your university experience, and so on. It is a sexually and morally permissive society, and this has caused us considerable suffering. We suffer from our enjoyment! If Eminem tried to heal himself with stories and language, 6ix9ine and most of American society today are probably trying to heal themselves with enjoyments that also make them suffer. We turn to Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, etc, for therapy and yet it also makes us suffer more.

Capitalism *is* the Alternative!

Many anti-capitalists refuse to admit that Capitalism is the best system available to us in the present moment. Even Marx made the claim that capitalism is necessary as the only system capable of pushing the Western world toward the next political-economic moment in history. Thus, within the West, we should not claim, as we so often do, that we are “anti-capitalist.” We need a new more nuanced position.

We should go further by being willing to admit the following: capitalism is not in need of an alternative! Quite the contrary, capitalism is the alternative. It is not therefore that our role as radicals is to develop and experiment with egalitarian alternatives to the capitalist order. We should not trap ourselves by the insistency of the question: “okay, you are anti-capitalist, but what system shall replace capitalism?’ This question amounts only to the following: ‘what is the alternative to capitalism?’

The question presumes an answer that is anchored to a fundamental systematic conviction. Capitalism is a discourse or social bond, and, as such, it is subject to certain structural properties or configurations. The mistake is to believe that capitalism is structured by an S1 (master signifier) which interrogates an S2 (knowledge) — in other words, the traditional “discourse of the master” — so that it would give rise to a class of slaves. The class of slaves have a dogmatic knowledge or belief which interrogates and incorporates the excess. Lacan named this the university discourse (S2 –> a).

This is not at all the discursive structure of capitalism.

Capitalism is not a system of fundamental belief. This is the real division that separates the so-called Western secular countries from the so-called fundamentalist. The global cultural battle today is fundamentally one of secularism and fundamentalism, opinion and dogma, and so on. Capitalism is not at all a system of belief. It is a perverse system which endlessly slides from belief to belief without any fundamental anchor.

Thus, capitalism is an alternative to fundamental political economic systems.

The task for the radical moving forward is therefore one of making a choice at the level of belief. It is not a question of alternatives to capitalism but rather a question of which fundamental conviction will bring us back into the world of fundamental belief.

 

A Note on Islam and Psychoanalysis

Last night I listened to a lecture by Dr. Tariq Abdelhaleem concerning the question of belief by negative proof. His position was that the existence of God can be discerned through negative proof.

He gave the following analogy, which I shall paraphrase:

A child is at home after his father has gone out of the house to get groceries. The child did not see his father return but nonetheless believes that he has clear proof of his father’s presence within the house: his father’s car is now in the drive way, his father’s coat is now on the hook, and his father’s shoes are now on the mat.

The presence of the father is indicated here through the negative proof of his arrival: the father is present but precisely through his radical absence within the world of appearances. Thus, the father, and, analogously, God himself, exists not within the world of appearances, images, and so on, but rather within another dimension that Lacan names the symbolic.

Consider another example from Islam. There is within the culture of Islam the widespread belief that when one makes an act of supplication (referred to as a “dua”) the prayer is always answered. However, the catch is that the prayer is not always answered in the way that would fulfil the feeble desires of the person who prays. The individual might receive a response to his or her prayer through a negative proof. In other words, ‘no answer’ is itself still a clear ‘answer.’

Whereas the “object relations” school of psychoanalysis has tended toward a focus on the mother/child duality (therefore it remains trapped within the world of appearances), the Lacanian intervention, drawing with much more precision and attention to classical Freudian insights, introduces a third element: the father “function.”

For Lacan, the father is not present in the sense of being an object of affection. The father is not at all present within the duality of the object relation but is rather there as a symbolic function to separate the duality and institute the ‘lack of relation between child and mother.

The father’s symbolic function is to institute the law — the “no” of the father (in French nom-du-pere is a homophone which sounds like “no” and “name” of the father) — through a fundamental prohibition of the child’s exclusive enjoyment of the mother. Therefore, the father’s “no” separates the child from the unbearable pagan world of secular enjoyment.

The symbolic father is therefore absent except in his function. If you imagine a mathematical equation, you know that you often do not see the function: you see the arguments that are being passed through it. The father might not be “seen” but he is nonetheless present through his function. And he is a function which transforms the arguments that are introduced into the world of his function.

Where does that leave the atheist?

The secular atheist today is the one who consciously proclaims that he doesn’t believe in God, but then, when he sees his father’s car in the driveway he nonetheless runs to hide. And why? Because he nonetheless unconsciously still believes that the father exists.

My friend and former professor Slavoj Zizek wrote:

[T]he modern atheist thinks he knows that God is dead; what he doesn’t know is that, unconsciously, he continues to believe in God. What characterizes modernity is no longer the standard figure of the believer who secretly harbors intimate doubts about his belief and engages in transgressive fantasies; we have, on the contrary, a subject who presents himself as a tolerant hedonist dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, and whose unconscious is the site of prohibitions: what is repressed are not illicit desires or pleasures, but prohibitions themselves.

This explains why Max Stirner, the young Hegelian, once wrote: “our atheists are the most pious people.”

A Theory of Love: Revisited

A colleague wrote to me a few months ago (and I haven’t forgot it) that I supposedly “live” my teaching.

This means a lot to me because it implies that, despite my eating disorder, I have somehow been capable of digesting certain crucial theories, lessons, knowledges, discourses; moreover, in some sense, I have made them a part of my own body.

A significant part of my teaching has been about love. It has been a theory of love developed over the course of about a decade. It is a theory that presumes that love occurs in various dimensions or registers. So, it does not begin, necessarily, within the real (as Alain Badiou’s theory would have it). Yet, neither does it begin necessarily in the imaginary (e.g., psychoanalytic transference).

There are modalities of love, manifold contours of love.

For instance: there is the love of the psychoanalytic clinic. In this case, love is often understood as a form of transference. One should be wary of love, then. Love is a symptom.

There is also the love of philosophy — a love of knowledge — akin to symptomatic love. A love of knowledge has the same structure as the love of an image, ego love, and so on, because it is a love of the body. In other words, it is a love of consistency.

There is the love of anti-philosophers: love as an experience, deeply embedded within the existential cruelty of a singular encounter. In this way, anti-philosophy is close to mysticism. The two share a belief that love is an absolute connection within the real that either surpasses language or else should never be imprisoned by inadequacies of language.

This was the love of Derrida, who refused so often to articulate his love. It is the love of the mystics whose love for god was beyond words. It was a love that they believed forged a direct and unmediated connection to the divine.

There is the love of sociologists: love as a distinctive social bond. This is similar also to the psychoanalytic position of love except that there is an added insistence on love as a link or discourse.

Finally, there is the revolutionary dimension of love. This is love as a strategy of dealing with the real: it is a courageous encounter against temptation, it is a difficult movement through the disruptive love event. It is fidelity, as such. Love is a disruption of the world as it currently exists, and it forces the militant of love to articulated its consequences, to develop and guard a new truth concerning the encounter.

These have been some of the coordinates for my foray into love.

If, at one time, these modalities seemed relatively mutually exclusive, today I see them as sharing certain structural properties.

At the centre of my teaching for a very long time was Alain Badiou’s conception of love. I wrote it into the centre of my teaching. It supported my love of a woman, it supported the love of my wife. So Badiou’s theory of love always secretly overruled the deeper and more nuanced psychoanalytic conception of love. No wonder my first gift to my ex-wife was a wrapped copy of “In Praise of Love” by Alain Badiou.

And where did I put that gift for her to find? I put it inside of the hole of a tree. Love here clearly filled the hole.

When my little theory of love was destroyed by experience — that is, when my love transformed into a lonely masochism — I held onto that theory still in desperation. I held onto the love-event. It felt it as a revolutionary decision or necessity, and if I let it go then I would have no intellectual life.

Indeed, I would just have a big hole in the tree trunk of my heart.

Alain Badiou’s account of love does not enough take into consideration all of the various folds of love. For Lacan, love is giving what you do not have (to somebody who does not want it). But, for Lacan, love is also what makes up for the lack. These were Lacan’s two fundamental convictions on the question of love.

If the one was a courageous position —

[giving what you do not have is truly courageous. If somebody gives what they do not have (instead of giving gifts, knowledge, support, and so on) then you can be sure of the love. It is a guarantee of love.

The anorexic knows this better than any other: the anorexic refuses the food and opts for the nothing itself. Why? As a demand for love. The anorexic sometimes thinks: “if I reject the food, perhaps my mother will be worried about me and provide me with the love that I so desire!”]

— then the other is a cowardly position: love makes up for the lack. This means that we run to love to fill the void of existence. This is the position of a person who would do anything, out of desperation, indeed out of despair, to fill the void with love. This is a love of temptation. It is love as a symptom. It is the love of a symptom.

What the psychoanalytic position therefore adds to Alain Badiou’s theory of love is the following: sometimes the love event can occur from the masculine position.

For example, I dedicated my last book to a woman who later became my ex-wife. I believed her to be my true love and I gave her everything I had. I had no idea that she was operating for me as an anchor, as a symptom. Woman is a symptom of man, claimed Lacan.

I held onto the love-event without realizing that it was from the masculine side of sexuation.

The epigraph of my book now reads: “For [myself], for remaining in fidelity to the love event (without realizing that you loved only from the masculine position.”

Recall that the masculine side of sexuation demonstrates that man loves (against his own castration) the objet petit a as phantasy. What I fell in love with for so many years was a phantasy. I could not see or come to admit the profound cruelty and sickness of the real woman, and so I produced the most elaborate and profound phantasy of our love.

This is why we need psychoanalysis.

The Refugee

“When they poured across the border, I was cautioned to surrender. This I would not do.” -Leonard Cohen

What is the border, if not that of the ego? The border is what sustains the separation of the sense of identity — national, self, or otherwise — and it is on the side of that which represses the forces that seek to pass beyond it.

It must, by necessity, repress something of the real.

Yet, there are times when the real surges forth and ruptures, indeed marks a hole, in the political system.

This time it is the real movement of people. It is not that the refugee is the new revolutionary militant. Not at all.

But: there is here something like an Event.

It is our responsibility to move through the anxiety of the new situation — not to respond in a reactionary way by reaffirming the laws of the European world — and to think about a way to organize a new world. It may very well be that the new world involves a fundamental restructuring of the context which has sustained it for so long.

The refugee is a mark of today’s real. And we must, from the real, seek refuge in a new truth. We should not at all be afraid to think about a new way to organize our society, one that does not seek modest accommodations nor reactionary repressions.

The refugee is the new mark of a truth.

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