Michael Schmidt

I am reposting something I wrote on facebook on Sept. 25 2015, at the request of a friend.

The first reaction to the Michael Schmidt infiltration by most thinking anarchists has been: that’s not us! But lets not take this as an opportunity to reassert our moral purity. It is us – we were all reading Schmidt, debating it, and, truth be told, the least we can say is that we all enjoyed very much rejecting his work. Today more than ever there is a certain enjoyment, a self-satisfaction, that we get from his expulsion from the movement and indeed from his infiltration as well. We would be wise to recognize this instead of avoid it.

Moreover, the reaction has also been: lets not see in Michael Schmidt’s work any honest representation of anarcho-syndicalism or anarchism more generally. The problem is precisely that we did see in him a serious thinking in that regard. It is very safe to claim now that he has been outed as a fascist: he was never one of us! The proof: even ADCS, the journal I edit, published a debate about his book (Black Flame). So I was conned just as much as anybody else. I am not stating this to one-up anybody, but simply to take some responsibility – when he was practicing as an anarchist, when he was writing anarchist texts, he was, for all intents and purposes, an anarchist. His works survive as anarchist texts until we find what within them contain this retroactive fascism.

For now, and yesterday, there is and was no deeper truth hiding behind his works: they did not reveal a secret and powerful white nationalist fascist ideology. This shall be future task: to discover what within all of the work we once admired and debated was always already fascist without us detecting it. And why it was that we did not detect it sooner.

The responsibility is on us.

The next point I want to make concerns the nature of “sectarianism.” The most sectarian thing one can do here is to claim that one ought not be sectarian regarding this incident. When people claim that we ought to not find what within our readings of his work was fascist, when they claim that Schmidt is just somebody ‘outside’ of our tradition that we have now eradicated, they miss the whole point of infiltration. For example, some noted anarchist authors have already come out and claimed: “I secretly always believed that Schmidt was a fascist.” This provides a nice moral posturing through the third sense. Our response as thinking anarchists ought to be: “of course you always thought he was a fascist – you think EVERYBODY is a fascist!” Thus, when a real fascist is found, we validate our delusions.

Infiltration is something we can not control – it is something that happens to all of us. This, if anything at all, is what micro-fascism is all about. To be sectarian at a time like this is essential. We must be sectarian so as to rescue anarchism from self-defeat by puritanical fanaticism. Zizek once claimed, through T. S. Eliot, that there are “moments when the only choice is the one between sectarianism and non-belief, i.e., when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split from its main corpse. By means of this sectarian split, by cutting himself off the decaying corpose of the International Psychoanalytic association, Lacan kept the Freudian teaching alive — and it is upon us today to do the same with Lacan.”

The only way to rid ourselves of fascist infiltration is to cut ourselves off from the anarchism that we’ve always known – that is, the anti-fascist anarchism which survives only by attacking the exception, the fascist, instead of, truth be told, strategically finding means to overthrow neoliberalism. We can morally disgrace one or two fascist, we may even punch one in the head – but we still have to live as neoliberals.

We need to be sectarian for anarchism.

Lululemon Bags

You may have witnessed a new trend prevalent among young women on university campuses and in the densely populated areas of the city. Perhaps it is the case that this trend extends beyond those boundaries. I would be interested if you could let me know. In any case, these young women purchase at least one product from a fairly expensive active wear company named “Lululemon.” During the time of purchase the product is placed into a branded “Lululemon” clothe bag. These bags look similar to the reusable bags you might buy for 99 cents at any Canadian grocery store. The only difference, of course, is the branding. There are many cases of women purchasing these bags off of other people who have purchased the product (e.g., through Kijiji, etc).
After all of this, the bag is placed in public view. It is hoisted upon the library or cafe table, held in the hand rather than placed in the empty book-bag, and so on. It does not seem to ever touch the floor. It is elevated, we might say, to the status of THE ‘thing.’ Frequently, the bags are empty, or a small item is placed inside as a token. This indicates to me that the function of the bag is not important. Rather, the importance of the bag is in the way it is both elevated to the status of the ‘thing’ and used to entice the onlooker. The message that is being sent by those who carry the bag is the following: I am a part of the group of women who shop at this store, I am active, and, moreover, I am a certain type of woman. It is the association with femininity through the bag which seems important.
You may recall the dreams of Dora. Freud recounts one of the elements of one such dream in the following discussion:
“’[…] Does nothing else occur to you in connection with the jewel-case? So far you have only talked about jewellery and have said nothing about the case. […] Perhaps you do not know that ‘jewel-case’ is a favourite expression for the same thing that you alluded to not long ago by means of the reticule you were wearing – for the female genitals, I mean.’”
Dora’s dream indicated, among other things, that there was a neurotic question hidden in the depths of the dream: “What am I as a woman?” It is a question posed to the big Other, the more formulaic inscription being “what am I to the Other?”
Isn’t it the case that today we are witnessing the quick retreat of traditional gender roles. It is not puzzling to presume that with such speed of transition, such intensity of integration of the gender spectrum, and so on, there remains something difficult to grasp concerning, finally, the traditional question which remains unresolved. It is during a time of quick retreat from the traditional gender system that we discover fleeting resurgences of hyper-identification via the symptom. The hipster beard, flannel shirts, and thick moustaches, are the hipsters’ attempt to recreate the lost phallic signifier. And the Lululemon bag is perhaps an indication of a resurgence and ever more forceful and desperate attempt to return to and hence resolve the question of femininity. This is my claim. When we submerge the question it returns as a symptom. In this case, it is the imaginary object of the bag which provides a refuge for the missing symbolic function.

Excuse me! Would you watch my stuff?

Why is it that when we have to use the washroom or take a break at a crowded public place (such as a library or a cafe) we often ask a stranger to watch our belongings? On the one hand, we must realize that this only brings further attention to our absence, thereby indicating, if only to the stranger, that there is property all set up to be stolen. On the other hand, we believe that we have established a sense of trust with the stranger precisely because we have selected them, among all the others, to be put in charge of such an important task.
Experience demonstrates that the stranger almost never watches the belongings. I am witnessing such an event as I type this at the University of Guelph library. The stranger has not looked at the belongings once since she had been asked to do so 15 minutes ago.
So what, exactly, is going on in this interaction? Has it not occurred to us that by asking a stranger we are in effect signalling our absence, drawing attention to it – precisely to the stranger? The implicit logic played out here is no different from that of little Hans. It is by signalling the absence to a stranger, that is, by substituting a signifier for the absence, that some anxiety is alleviated. However, the underlying absence nonetheless remains the same; moreover, the possibility of killing the ‘thing’ (e.g., the belongings which may now be all the more stolen) becomes heightened.
Twenty minutes later, the girl returns to her belongings without checking with the stranger at all. The stranger for her part has still not turned around to check on the safety of those belongings.

Baudelaire, The Man of the World, and the Sinthome

In the age of “ordinary psychosis,” there is not only the Joycean method of stabilization (whereby the imaginary ego compensates for the symbolic name-of-the-father or the rupture of the Borromean trinity). There is also, exemplified remarkably by Charles Baudelaire, the efforts made by the so-called “Man of the World.”
The “Man of the World” presents many of the characteristics of an ordinary psychosis. I believe that it presents, minimally, all three of those listed in Jacques-Alain Miller’s 2008 paper “Ordinary Psychosis Revisted.” But there is a difference: the “Man of the World” does not compensate for a missing name-of-the-father by way of the imaginary ego (i.e., making a name for oneself). For example, the “Man of the World” does not affix a signature to his works, does not wish to be seen – indeed he wishes to remain anonymous! He remains modest, and so on.
So, what is going on here?
The “Man of the World” compensates for the missing name-of-the-father by “creating a personal form of originality” (Baudelaire). This can be found at play in the aesthetic work itself, but also the style of the man himself; the style of the man as he wanders the street in search of the crowd. I think perhaps it is more fitting, in this context, to discuss the Saint-Homme or Saint-Thom rather than the Sinthome. The “Man of the World” is cultivated, in search of a name for eternity, in search of an Other there within the crowd who might fleetingly compensate for eternity.
In the end he [the Man of the World] rushes out into the crowd in search of a man unknown to him whose face, which he had caught sight of, had in a flash fascinated him. Curiosity had become a compelling, irresistible passion (Baudelaire)
Here, finally, we can see, not as we might suspect (a simple demonstration of the earlier Lacanian teachings about the unary trait) but rather what came later through Jacques-Alain Miller’s teachings. There is a relationship of the unary trait to later teachings about symbolic identification through the so-called “compensatory make-believe” function. For example, Ellie Ragland, describing a particular case in her book Topologically Speaking wrote that “[t]he real trauma of loss valorizes certain traits of the lost objects – unary traits – positivizing them as identifications by which to fill in concrete places of lack.” Or, if you like, you might take this idea from Voruz, who wrote that “Lacan’s teaching […] reverses a number of the previous conclusions of psychoanalysis: […] [for example] the instance of a heterogeneous continuity oeprating on the trace of the unary trait, with the latter orienting the punctuation of enunciation in its progressive making sense of the Real.”

You can see how the “man of the world” is compelled to seek out from the crowd a point of identification in the unary trait. It is “irresistible.”

Crossing the hot sands

We often ask why analysands conduct their work, that is, why they enter into an analysis and why they eventually remain there for some time. We know that it typically has something to do with a sudden desire for change, which reveals, after some time and beneath all that they say, that there actually a commitment to remaining the same.

We also know that analysands typically enter into an analysis because they have it in their minds that somebody out there can help them, and that, moreover, somebody else has the technical knowledge which they do not have. These analysands will spend a great deal of their time challenging that very notion. It is precisely by challenging the notion that there is a subject-supposed-to-know that they reveal themselves as analysands all the more committed to the idea that there is one out there.

In any case, they also sometimes want a cure. Today more than ever there are two broad types of analysands: those who want to cure a particular symptom or cluster or symptoms (and in short order), and those who don’t know what they want but seem to want more than a cure. Perhaps what they really want is a transformative experience from somebody else who can tell them what must want for that to happen.

I do not want to dwell on this question any further for today. Instead I want to open up the following question: why do psychoanalysts take on analysands? It is an altogether different question. It is a bit like asking what God wants from his people, except that in asking this question we are already presuming the existence of the one who wants something. A good analysis is one where such a question is not asked by the analyst. The psychoanalyst is the one who brings out the hidden questions that motivated all that the analysand says within the clinic. In other words, a good analysis is one where the analyst becomes cast-off from the analysand, where the analyst effectively ceases to exist to some degree.

But we can not deny that there is something of the analyst, though the analyst is not as real as he or she would like to position himself. The analyst can not possibly be in the real, hard as he or she might try. We all know the story about the discovery of the counter transferences, and so on. But this does not go far enough: the analyst is not in the real, he merely makes a semblance at being in the real.

However, what we can say, unlike the analysand, is that the analyst has been in the real, has touched the real, has hit the truth, and, therefore, has had the experience of the real carried through into the analysis with him. The analyst makes a semblance at being in the real, and this, precisely, is the symbolic power of his name.

We can not say this about the analysand. The analysand, with the analyst as his guide, goes in search of the real, and, when the analyst effectively intervenes the analysand confronts the hole of clinical reality. The cause of the clinical reality is the place where the analyst has been, his passage through the real (in such a way that the analyst has become one precisely by stepping with bare feet over the hot sands of the desert and making it to the other side).

This is what it means to cross the floor from the couch to the chair.

The obverse side of the clinic, that is, of the discourse which once compelled them, is the one where the real becomes the agent of the discourse. This is why Lacan said that the discourse of the master has only one counterpoint. That counterpoint is not found in variations on the capitalist’s discourse, and it is not found in the hysterical or obsessional discourses. It is found in the analyst’s discourse alone.

It is only at this moment that a new name might be invent, the name of the psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst is the name for the pass from the imaginary of the couch, across the hot sands of the real clinical floor, to the symbolic seat of the analyst’s chair.

That’s a hypothesis, anyway.

The White House Must…

There is a popular witticism which expresses that we are all naked …under our clothes. Isn’t it much the same for our other various dwelling places, such as the home? For example, we are all homeless …under our homes.
This is the ontology of homelessness that Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, in their war against metaphysics, refuse to accept. For them the solution is much the same as the one that James Strachey made when he translated the popular Freudian expression as “there where the id was, the ego should come to be.” In other words, for them the solution is to bring the homes to the homeless, to enlarge the sphere of the dwelling place – a room of the ego’s own.
Lacan read the Freudian expression in a different way: “the ego must come to the place where the id was.” This shift of perspective indicates a notion of radical decentering of the prevailing dwelling place by the real of the drives. Thus, the prevailing dwelling place, such as, for example, the white house, or the Canadian house of commons, etc, must be disrupted by the homelessness of the real.

Leaves and Religion

I have this hypothesis that theological thought – which, in some sense, is at the base of a lot of our logical mental operations – has been conditioned by the gods of the real, but not in the sense of the animals of the real. Rather, if we look, for example, at the leaves of plants prevalent in a particular geographic region we see there unfolding before our very eyes the trinities of Christianity (clovers, maple leaves, the common fig leaf, etc), the dangerous multiplicities (which are to be avoided), and the holy monotheism of the one (greek strawberry tree, acacia leaf, etc).

Perhaps one day I will pursue this investigation further.