To Build At the Limit of Theory

Some philosophers who have opened up the path toward the discovery of a new modality of the real (speculative realism, new materialisms, and so on) have recently claimed that thinking ought to be a doing, that is, a praxis. Thus, there are privileged zones of thinking such as architecture, and so on. Philosophy must therefore today be about building and not only about critical thinking. My response to this is to claim that this is only a repositioning of the great debate concerning the relationship between action of structure, between theory and activism, and so on.

To begin with, I would claim that an action must always be derived from within the confines of structure and not the other way around. This was the great lesson of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, against the phenomenological tradition and the metaphysics of presence. Thus, we must ask ourselves: given the discourse of the master, what permutations of the real, of objet petit a, and of das Ding, might be possible? Lacan’s answer was that there are several possible revolutions of discourses from the master; minimally, these includes the university discourse, the hysterical discourse, the analyst discourse and, of course, the capitalist discourse.

What is thinking, then, but the necessary mediation of theory, of being the recipient of an analysis, so that one might discover the action inherent to the structure? This is what we call an act. An act is that moment when an individual rediscovers a possibility from within the real of his clinical structure.

Psychoanalysis teaches us that everything we’ve been doing has been based on certain ingrained and determinative narratives concerning our gender, our birth, and so on. In other words, our actions, our doing, or our building, has always been inauthentic and subject to the laws of repetition. Very rarely in our lives have we acted.

It is through this realization that the possibility of a new rupture occurs. We act precisely when theory reaches its limit, when it reaches the utopic point concealing the primordial and fundamental lack, namely, our fundamental fantasy.

Thus, building occurs only when theory reaches its utopic point.

I have long been familiar with a certain type of individual. We might call him the local builder. He exists in every small community. My grandfather was a local builder. The local builder is the individual who gives everything to the community: he creates new possibilities within the community by managing local businesses. He constructs new monuments. And the community establishes a sense of pride through the local builder. The local builder is always on the move and forever establishing business relationships.

What might we say about the local builder who has given up on the expectation that a good life involves establishing himself as the beacon of his moral community precisely by increasing his own riches. The local might reply that he has increased his riches only by increasing ours, and he would be correct. However, the local builder inadequately makes up for his lack of self-reflection and lack of lack through his good works. Kierkegaard says of this type: “the petty bourgeois is spiritless […] devoid of imagination, as the petty bourgeois always is, he lives within a certain orbit of trivial experiences as to how things come about, what is possible, what usually happens, no matter whether he is a tapster or a prime minister.” As Lacanians, we might say that Kierkegaard was correct but only because he has too much imagination and not enough act.

The local builder acts without passing through the necessary mediation of theory and thus acts only in the interests of structure and not by affirming the lack beneath the structure itself.

There are many ways to build authentically. I envision three. First, one might build by traversing the fantasy of the symbolic structure. For example, the local builder might give up on the expectation that the good life necessarily implies succumbing to the petty-bourgeois strategy of striving toward the future and hoping that the good works will satisfy the protestant big Other. Second, one might build by adopting a certain style, that is, by passing as an analyst. This is the style of interaction which serves the desires of the community, reflecting them back and demonstrating, through various interventions, that what they desire is not what they think they desire. Third, one might build by responding to an event from the real. For example, the local builder might have been shaken by a calling, of sorts. The calling may have been to solve the problem of homelessness and to do so by unorthodox means. In this case the local builder constructs a new possibility that attacks directly the coordinations of the old world.

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