I apologize to those of you who are now reading this blog with the expectation of receiving another update on the Simon Critchley saga. I shall reserve further interest on such topics for the date on which I have been again provoked or questioned. For the moment, I want to let it rest so that I might return to a subject that concerns me ever more. Paradoxically, it concerns me ever more because it is related to the attitude with which many of us have approached the Simon Critchley saga. It refers to my place within the whole ordeal; in other words, I want to discuss the hysterical subject.
I would like to begin merely by stating that I have accidentally given many of my friends and colleagues the impression that I have some fidelity to speculative realism and, more precisely, object oriented ontology. In point of fact, I’ve always approached it from the side, certainly never directly. From the moment of my coming to know the philosophy of the speculative realists, I’ve been suspicious of it. I can not bring to memory my first encounter with the ideas of Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost, or others. Nor can I recall what precisely prompted my interest. However, there is one recent memory which is probably worth sharing.
I should preface this discussion by stating up front that this is a story about a friend. I hope that I can assume that the individual whom I am speaking about will understand that I do not bring this incident up in order to embarrass him or to belittle him. In fact, I think very highly of this person and have considered him my teacher sans université. He deserves the rank of a teacher – much more than many of those who fill the role formally today – precisely because his pedagogical method takes seriously, in my humble estimation, the properly Lacanian model. For Lacan, teaching was never entirely about the pure transmission of knowledge, at least not at its root. Lacan’s teaching was about effecting the proper relationship to knowledge, the master, and desire. Lacan opened up his teaching by stating that he would not transmit it in the form of a pill. Understand that a pill is something that you digest, typically willfully, so as to produce the desired effect. All of this is simply to preface any discussion of my memory of this incident involving my soon-to-be friend with a point that should be stated openly and directly: the person I am discussing here is a friend and a teacher, and I mean that sincerely.
It was more than one year ago when another friend and colleague at my university took it upon himself to organize a supplemental seminar on the Frankfurt School of Marxism. However, this seminar was to be held outside of the university as a public event. As such, a few people from outside of the university arrived. The seminar was led by a learned professor of Cultural Studies and Political Philosophy. It is customary, one presumes, to allow the professor to speak and to only allow attendees to speak when the time is properly afforded. However – these are the customs of the university and they are seldom upheld in the presumably profane non-academic world. My soon-to-be friend and teacher kept interjecting when the professor discoursed. The friend’s interruptions signaled a labyrinth of thought and so I thought to myself that if this gentleman was truly sane then perhaps philosophy wasn’t as clean and cut as we had thought it to be within the university. Or, perhaps, there was an ugly underside to philosophy, one which philosophy itself had to ignore if it was to secure its transcendental claims to knowledge. In fact, perhaps this radical non-philosophy would allow philosophers to go in many, many, new directions.
A joust ensued between the clean and concise world of academia and the messy world of non-academia. It was within this battle that I had my first real taste of the intellectual darkness that some people refer to as speculative realism. I knew that it was time to begin to take the questions that it asks seriously. There were discoveries to be made from all of this masturbatory speculation. The war horn of my friend’s questions pierced through the fog of philosophical discussion and challenged the Kantian coupling that had grounded much of our thinking in that room. I believe to this day that few in that crowded room understood the significance of what had happened. To be sure, I probably did not until I had the luxury of reflection. Truth be told, the challenge was less than direct, less than concise: it was methodical. It’s style was its weapon. And it was quite fashionable – or so I had been taught to believe. In any event, this introduction to speculative realism lingers in my memory because it presented me with the attractiveness of combativeness within and against philosophy, and more particularly academic philosophy, itself.
Upon reflection – I believe I was within the presence of the new hysterical form. To be sure, the sort of combativeness that one typically associates with hysteria was not quite the same in this instance. The new hysterical question was not interrogating a symbolic other but rather a real other. The challenge was not directed to symbolic masters but to things and objects as autonomous and self-mastered. The hysterical question was not “What am I for the Symbolic Other?” but “What am I for the Thing?” Moreover, the hysterical question was not “Am I a Man or am I a Woman?” but “Am I a Subject or am I a Thing?” Moreover, as in the most well known versions of anorexia hysterica one is interested in thinness-to-the-bone which the new hysterics seemed to be achieving via mathematical ontology, formulae, and calls for tiny ontology.
In any case, I couldn’t help but feel as though there was something immensely hysterical about all of these new questions that were emerging. Recall that Lacan’s intervention on the question of hysteria, which occurs in various forms throughout the entirety of his work, can be reduced to three claims about the importance of Freud’s hysterical patients for the discovery of psychoanalysis: first, Lacan claimed that the hysterical patients allowed Freud to discover the true nature of the transference; second, he claimed that they allowed Freud to discover the unconscious, and; third, he claimed that they allowed Freud to discover signifiers. These three discoveries are not at all unrelated. They all relate to a shared psychoanalytical topology that undergoes various adjustments throughout Lacan’s decades long teaching (from schema l, to schema r, etc).
The point of the matter is that Freud’s discoveries – which were really Lacan’s discoveries through Freud – were made possible precisely through the hysterical patients. In the three aforementioned discoveries, among others to be sure, one can find the most foundational teachings of psychoanalysis. The goal of analysis after Lacan has therefore been to hystericize the analysand by allowing her to articulate her own truth in the form of the structuring question of her desire. The hysteric is the one responsible for opening up new discoveries for the analyst. Had Freud not been open to these hysterical discoveries, we would not have psychoanalysis.