In the beginning was the objet petit a…

Last night I was taught that Surah 96, from the Koran, is actually Surah 1, if taken chronologically. Somebody – probably one of the first scribes – rearranged the Koran for ease of reading (could somebody verify this for me?).
In any case, the Surah begins with an aleph, which is also the first letter of Allah, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and the first letter of this first Surah. It also makes up the first letter for the word “read,” which is the first letter of the first Surah. According to the narrative, the angel Gabriel was asked to “read” and his reply was: “I can not read!” But then, nonetheless, the first word written – by the pen – ends up being “read.” It has a curious fate similar, I think, to the word “Yod” in Hebrew scripture.
The name of the first Surah – I think it was named by Mohammed himself – is “the clot.” I asked for the best translation of this word “Al-Alaq” into English and I was told that it was a little piece of excess, a little piece of extra something, like a blood clot or a single sperm, or ‘attached and hanging off of something more congealed or with more mass.’ The bahaus, I guess, have an even more interesting reading of this, but I’ll leave that.
Little stories like that demonstrate that theology is not yet dead, and that, moreover, psychoanalysis has something interesting to say about theology. The aleph, like yod, is a dot that tapers off…
In the beginning was the objet petit a.

Metaphor formula during ordinary psychosis

Has anybody attempted to rewrite the formula of metaphoric substitution to account for psychotic substitution? How does the formula change for an “un-triggered” and/or “triggered” psychosis? In “On a Question…,” Lacan writes two versions. In the first, you have the generic version of metaphoric substitution which moves from the signifier, to the expression of the barred signifier through a signified. This formula is expressed in the following way:


S/$ * $’/x -> S(1/s)

The S’s, we are told, are signifiers. The $’ is the signifier after it has undergone a new meaning by way of the x, which is the unknown signification. The result is that the signifier expressed a new signified, s.

Okay, next, Lacan provides the formula for ordinary neurosis (I choose the title “ordinary” neurosis):


Ndp/Md * ~md/Sd(x) -> Ndp(1/Phi)

So, in this formula the name of the father stands in place of the mother’s desire (md), thereby effacing the desire to make way for an unknown new signifier for that desire, x. The result is that the name of the father is a function through which the phallus comes to dominate the mental life of the individual.

Okay, very well.

But next Lacan does something very interesting, and it still holds up for contemporary Lacanian thought – he insists that the formula is changed because the name of the father (ndp) becomes replaced by a hole.

Perhaps this formula would read as follows:


Zero/MD * MD/MD -> zero (Semblant)

The non-effacement of the mother’s desire [MD/MD rather than ~MD/s(x)] occurs which produces the possibility of a system of semblants. This, then, might be the formula for pure psychosis, if such a thing exists.

However, the ordinary psychotic – which is, only by degree, relatively stable whether problematically or not – may be written as follows:


Zero/MD * MD/MD * Semblant/MD * ~MD/Sinthome -> …

This implies that the name of the father does not efface the mother’s desire, because it is zero, so that, to compensate, a semblant provides the latter corrective. However, what it produces is not a signifier but rather an unknown symptom, a sinthome. I’m not sure what this would mean for the other side of the formula, and this is why I’ve left an ellipses.

The semblant represents the sinthome, which, anyway, is already negative (whereas the phallus requires an inversion of 1/Phi so that it becomes imaginary). Finally, then, it must be:

Zero/MD * MD/MD * Semblant/MD * ~MD/Sinthome -> Semblant(Sinthome)

I want to highlight a part of this formula, the part that I am now placing in square brackets is the compensatory function of the metaphor – what some have referred to as the delusional metaphor:


Zero/MD * MD/MD * [Semblant/MD * ~MD/Sinthome] -> Semblant(Sinthome)

You can see that I have really only redoubled the original metaphor formula. It is precisely the same, in the end. This means that the means by which a psychosis becomes ordinary is precisely the same means by which neurosis is grounded. The redoubling only serves to emphasize that the semblant(sinthome) bond is fragile whereas the bond of the signifier to the signified [S(1/s)] is more tightly bonded.

This demonstrates the inadequacy of the formula. What we require instead is a topology or a knotting. For example, if you demonstrate the way in which neurosis begins in much the same way as ordinary psychosis becomes stabilized then you end up missing something essential. The result is that an ordinary neurosis would be a variation on this formula (rather than psychosis being a variation on the falling of a neurosis) written as follows:


Zero/MD * MD/MD * NDP-as-semblant/MD * ~MD/Signifier(x) -> NDP-as-semblant(sinthome(1/Phi)).

What you miss is the topology of the zero as compared with the topology of the NDP. This is why the return to Frege that I’ve drawn in my paper (not included here) is essential.

Please feel free to interrogate and correct.

Anarchist Social Movements Do Not Exist

If I were to write a book about post-anarchist social movements it would be titled: “anarchist social movements do not exist.” This argument occurred to me during a conversation with a friend this afternoon. His claim, which is not at all an unfamiliar one for anarchist scholars, was that anarchist social movements do not follow the logic of the new social movement paradigm (e.g., a demand for recognition). I remembered Richard Day’s influential claim that anarchist social movements are not what sociologists would describe as social movements at all. Instead, he referred to them as the ‘newest social movements,’ and outlined their alternative logic.

I want to push further in this direction. It is not that the newest social movements – anarchist movements – have an alternative logic. Rather, it is that they simply do not exist. They are ‘not-all’ in the sense of not being entirely included within the symbolic system. Mine is an ontological claim, which positions anarchist social movements within the domain of standing a bit outside of the symbolic system of rule – they are, to borrow Ranciere’s expression, ‘not-part’ of it.

Put differently, anarchist social movements are collective formations of remainders. They feel themselves to be outside of the authority of the state and of all of the various apparatuses of ruling. This was a crucial distinction during the time of increasing state repression, and it may very well be important during the time of Trump. However, something new is going on these days within the world of symbolic authority. Lacanian pscyhoanalysts have described this as the age of ordinary psychosis, that is, as the time when the symbolic has a hole.

At this time, then, it is important to return to the modern anarchist notion of autonomy. Auto-nom-me indicates the self-authorization of the anarchist social movement, it is the anarchists’ means of recovery from the hole in the symbolic. This is a mode of ‘ontological repair’ that occurs not through recognition but through a return to identification. Thus, my guess is that the concept of ‘identification,’ which was so ferociously critiqued in the last few decades, will soon return to a central place within anarchist thinking.

Identification is one means of repairing the hole in the symbolic, and it occurs, perhaps, through auto-no-me, that is, through the self-naming exercises of marginalized populations. It provides a source of stabilization in ‘tough times’ for anarchist social movements, who struggle, due to a lack of hysterical identification with external authority, with simply being.

Contemporary anarchist social movements will have to return to the classical concepts and reclaim them. Autonomy is one such concept. After having passed through the critique of identity and essentialism, we can, finally, return to a notion of identification and autonomy stripped of its inherent multiplicities but also stripped of its quest for recognition by an authority of one kind or another.

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.”