The Time of Post-Anarchism

The question with which I find myself preoccupied today concerns the proper function of the prefix. There are two logics that I want to address. First, there is an inner and essential logic: the prefix inwardly functions to anticipate meaning. Second, there is an outward logic which almost always contradicts the inner logic: the prefix outwardly functions to feign a meaning which exists independent of the word stem. In fact, despite the outward appearance, the prefix is always suspended inside of this moment of anticipation. This is what guarantees its future certainty. Future certainty can only be guaranteed by the suspended moment of anticipation. The Latin root anticipare means to take care of the problem beforehand, and certainty is always a problem for the prefix. Behind the masquerade, then, the prefix postpones meaning. It does so because it is itself morphologically destitute.

What is the word stem from the standpoint of the prefix? We know that the word stem approaches the prefix from the outside and offers it a sense of morphological completion. It does this by offering itself as a vital organ – the one with the stem. The stem pushes from one side into that hole opened up by the prefix. And then, from the perspective of the prefix, there is the possibility of a harmonious relationship: the bound morphemeIn reality, the relationship is interrupted by the prefix’s initial pretension. Yet this pretension or masquerade is increasingly a product of the movement of the English language (which attempts to be everything for the prefix by way of meaning): we are living during a period of history in which the English language finds itself with a very low morpheme-to-word ratio. The trend is such that the English word stem increasingly strives to stand on its own as a single morphological unit.

It can not be purely accidental that the English language – English is the international language of business – secures meaning from left to right. I happen to know (because I am a father) that there is a concept currently in vogue within the public education system used to describe a certain method of early reading comprehension: directional tracking. For the love of our students, for the love of our children, we must teach them while they are young to process phonemes and morphemes immediately as they appear on the page from left to right. The language of international business requires this sort of prefixation by way of the love and trust that occurs between business partners. As you know, the prevailing business procedure consists of purchasing a product before the funds have been properly acquired; and so there is the one without the funds who make-believes that she has the funds, and there is the one who has the funds but can only spend them on a fantasy.

As analysts know without certain prefixations, namely the transference, the efficacy of the clinical situation is often severely challenged. Lacan claimed: “In analysis, we deal with nothing but [love-transference], and analysis doesn’t operate by any other pathway.” It is therefore not the worst situation to begin from the left and to move toward the right. But the problem has been: how, within this strange world of directional tracking, is it possible to move beyond the prefixations of our analysands? Our job involves figuring out the elaborate system of left turns or rotations that bring us from the university or hysterical discourse toward the analyst’s discourse. When we are first confronted by the four Lacanian discourses we no doubt begin by reading them from left to right. For example, the university discourse begins at the top left with S2 and points toward objet petit aBut we should not forget that there are also these strange arrows that are often added after the traditional reading. This alerts us to a new possibility within the world of directional tracking.

A new logic in computational mathematics surfaced during the early part of the 20th century: Reverse Polish Notation, or, simply, post-fix logic. The fact that this logic emerged during the time of Freud’s discoveries should be an interesting afterthought. We are probably all familiar with machine language, an elaborate series of zeroes and ones. We could read the numbers from left to right – for example, 1,1,1,0 – and presume that their proper combination always refers to a particular letter of the alphabet (and, with more a larger string, perhaps a word). All of this makes the exchange of information very reliable. Lacan taught us that the new computational model – post-fix logic – permits another understanding of the way in which any three consecutive digits anticipate certain exclusive possibilities. From the string 1110 there are in fact two strings of three digits each: 111 and 110. Assume that by the name “identical string” we are referring to the consecutive series of 111 or else 000. Further assume that by the name “alternating string” we are referring to the consecutive series of 101 or else 010. Finally, assume that by “odd string” we are referring to the consecutive series of 110, 011, 100, or else 001. Under these conditions it is impossible for an identical string to follow an alternating string. Yet, it is entirely possible for an odd string to follow an identical string. For example, 1110 is an identical string of 111 followed by an alternating string of 110. Post-fix logic, then, permits us to recognize that there is an alternative logic – an alternative reading, if you like – within any signifying chain.

Identical String: 111, 000

Alternating String: 101, 010

Odd String: 110, 001, 100, 001

The prefix logician always operates too hastily and without a sustained time for thinking. As a result, the prefix logician overlooks the rules of anticipation which structure the signifying chain. If, for example, I claim that woman ought to be put in her place […] immediately, before concluding, I must have aroused anxiety in some readers. Admittedly, I may have even aroused some anxiety in myself. There is a temptation toward prefixation. It is the temptation to prematurely conclude, punctuate, or otherwise arrive at meaning. Teenagers in the United States during the 1990s were acutely aware of the tendency of the adult population to be tempted toward prefixation; the teenagers found it humorous to attach a moment of hesitation to their positive propositions, and then, after arousing some anxiety in their interlocutors, they added a single word which changed the anticipated meaning: “Not!” or “Psyche!” In this way, we can see clearly how the prefix logician wants a bound morpheme just as much as she wants a harmonious sexual relationship with the word stem – because the word stem is already supposed to be in possession of meaning.

The post-fix logician does not operate before he has all of his operands. Recall also that the proper role of the psychoanalyst is not to analyze before there are analysands. In the English world, the post-fix logician must occupy the place of the analyst whose function it is to unblock the analysand’s pre-fixations. This is accomplished by allowing for a sustained time for thinking and hesitating. And this, finally, is what we accomplish when we use the prefix post-. The post-fix logician avoids the great sophism of the prefix which claims that it is possible to operate before there are operands. The time for the post- is the time for intervention, the time for raising anxiety, suspending conclusions, and challenging the prefixations of theory. It is a time of separating the moment of haste from the moment for concluding.

The moment for concluding, arriving as it should only after a sustained time for thinking, allows us to accept the fact that there was an initial pretense: woman should be put in her place, claimed Lacan, within the formulae of sexuation. In Lacan’s formulae of sexuation, then, woman is a prefix postponed by the dash anticipating the phallus. The French La, which appears in the lower right side of the graph on sexuation, is also a prefix which means “go look over there.” And where are we told to look but to the vital organ, the stem? If you consult the graph you will see that La is not only crossed out – as if by the dash which accompanies every prefix – but it also points in the direction of the phallus, the latter of which is supposed to be the endowment of an other. The problem is that before the phallus ever arrives, the sexual relationship is interrupted by woman’s period. The post-fix logician, then, has invented a pill which, when consumed by woman, delays her period.

All of this is simply to state that the three moments of logical time are strategically necessary for the development of theory. It is impossible to move from the old theory toward the truly new theory without passing through the time for thinking. This is a lesson taught to me by the three decades transformation of anarchist political theory. Classical anarchist political theory decided too much in advance. For example, the prefix an- from an-archy decides in advance that arkhos is without power. The prefix an- is perfectly suited to the classical vision of anarchist political theory because it directly challenges the authority of the arkhos even while it depends upon the arkhos for its own conclusion. Outwardly the prefix indicates a lack of power by the arkhos – the ruler is naked – and yet inwardly the prefix indicates that the meaning of what is without or what is not is nonetheless to come from the arkhos. Afterall, the arkhos is the one with the stem. I find that there is really no difference between the hysterical anorexic’s “No!, I will not eat that!” and the anarchist’s “No!, I will not obey that!” In either case the refusal is itself a type of self-deprivation inflicted so as to reverse the dependency that previously existed between the Other and the subject, the mother’s breast and the hysterical anorexic, the State and the anarchist. The dangerous secret that classical anarchism outwardly conceals concerns the rejection of the State’s demands in favour of the State’s love.

Strategically speaking, then, the anarchist benefits from the post-. This is especially the case for the anarchist theorist. Slavoj Zizek outlined the proper movement of theory when he wrote:

“First the new theory is dismissed as nonsense; then, someone claims that the new theory, although not without its merits, ultimately just puts into new words things already said elsewhere; finally, the new theory is recognized in its novelty.”

We have, then, a certain logical framework for thinking through the stages involved in the movement toward the acceptance of a conviction for new theory. My point of departure for thinking the time of post-anarchism has been to outline the way in which traditional anarchist theory always has this retroactive and anticipatory element. Today it has become virtually impossible to conclude that the basic ontological structure of traditional anarchism is the following: there is a central, unitary, place of power, namely the State; power operates uni-directionally from the State, and; power functions only to repress an otherwise benign and creative human essence. Today, few serious scholars would agree that classical anarchism has had this conception – but it was nonetheless a serious charge waged against the anarchists during the 1990s (and even in the 1980s) by post-anarchism. Post-anarchism therefore introduced a hesitation in the prefixations of traditional anarchist theory.

First, post-anarchism was dismissed as obscurantism, non-sensical, jargon-laden, and so on; then, Jesse Cohn & Shawn Wilbur, among others, claimed that post-anarchism was not without merit but that it ultimately just put into new words what the classical anarchists already wrote; finally, post-anarchism was accepted – but not as a new theory. During the time of hesitation – the time of post-anarchism – the traditional anarchists, among others, began to debate the key issues surrounding their prefixations. They began to demonstrate an awareness of the key issues and themes that were at play in the new theory precisely by relating them back to what was already articulated in the old. The great changes in thinking that have happened in the last 30 years of anarchist political theory – the movement from classical anarchism to post-anarchism, which today gave way to non-anarchism or post-post-anarchism – were in fact the only way in which the prefixations of classical anarchism could be dislodged.

This brings us to the problem.

The problem is that traditional anarchism has always concluded too soon. Traditional anarchism is therefore a brilliant sophistry. As such, it has forever remained a prefix to revolutionary struggle. Post-anarchism, which has as its promise the injection of a moment of hesitation, has, in all actuality, found itself suspended indefinitely within the moment of hesitation. Post-anarchism, without a clear commitment to revolutionary struggle, has been unable to provide itself with a proper conclusion. Post-anarchism, which focuses on tactical zones of struggle over grand sites of struggle, ethics rather than morality, and enclaves of freedom rather than universal liberation, has not yet found itself a proper way toward the new world. Post-anarchism has, by suspending itself within the time for thinking, in fact fixed itself there. The marriage between classical anarchism and post-anarchism therefore implies that classical anarchism is now the same as post-anarchism. Today, for example, people argue that Bakunin was already a post-anarchist, that Stirner was a post-anarchist, Proudhon was a post-anarchist, and so on. And so we are once again fixed by a classical anarchism, but this time we have indefinitely abandoned the timeless ontological questions.

Post-anarchism harbors a dangerous a priori rejection of ontology. Non-an-archism, which, to me, is a synonym for ontological anarchism, deossifies post-anarchism by rejecting its a priori rejection of ontology. However, the reassertion of the ontological question only renews the sense of discovery which post-anarchism once enjoyed – inevitably it too will allow the prefix to swallow up its time for thinking. Indeed, I believe this stage is already happening. This time around we must be sure to find a way to conclude. And this time, perhaps, we will conclude amidst the anxiety of having no prefixations. Post-anarchism is now rediscovering ontology, and perhaps ontology must now rediscover its politics in anarchism. In either case – the point is to achieve some sort of revolutionary conclusion.

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One thought on “The Time of Post-Anarchism

  1. Pingback: The Time of Post-Anarchism | Research Material

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