On the Question of Mastery: Is a Lacanian / Anarchist Intervention Possible?

I would like to offer two stories from my personal life.

First, while attending the European Graduate School in Switzerland I was honored to have met some of the other students of Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou. I quickly came to realize that these individuals took Lacan seriously. They established reading cartels that operated according to very precise principles and met regularly to engage thoroughly with the written word. I met two of these students for coffee. They asked me to articulate the relationship, as I saw it, between anarchist political philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis. This is a fair question. However, it occurs to me that this question was derived from an insistence that Lacan was – if anything at all – at heart a bit of a communist. Well, that’s how students of Zizek and Badiou would put it. It is simply a matter for them of demonstrating that this is the case. (To be fair, one doesn’t get the sense that Lacan is a communist in clinical circles.) The obscure relation between Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxian theory has already been settled by students of Zizek and Badiou. It is the answer. The problem is simply to discover the proper question.

I struggled to find the connection between anarchism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. I always have struggled to find the connection. Anarchism in some way led me to Lacan’s work. However, this precisely is the value of Lacanian psychoanalysis for anarchist political philosophy: the question is not yet settled, there are no answers – there are only possibilities and impossibilities. In other words, there are still plenty of points of intervention and points of discovery. The field has not yet been overcoded. In any case, all of the valuable insights that Badiou has provided for political analyses seemed to me to be already present in a less articulated form within anarchist political philosophy – if only anarchists would see these seeds beneath their snow instead of harping on about their own moral autonomy.

Second: while attending Trent University, I was briefly under the supervision of an anarchist. In one way or another, I was also surrounded by anarchists. What passed for conversation in the class-room (some days) was: “Why is ‘X’ not included within ‘X’ theory? (where ‘X’ was a placeholder for any number of social, cultural, and political identifications). The supervisor, in front of this crowd, asked me: “How is Lacan an anarchist?” As is often the case, the question had its own answer: he wasn’t … but surely he needed to be! There is an imperative not only that Lacan be easily understandable but that his moral considerations should be worn on his sleeve.

I learned very quick that it was better to leave the question unsettled. There is no need to respond to the demand to be understood and to be a moral agent. For his part, Saul Newman (in From Bakunin to Lacan) attempted to provide an answer: he insisted that Lacan, unlike Bakunin and other anarchists, provided a privileged point of departure for political intervention through his notion of subjectivity. Without an ‘uncontaminated’ point of departure outside of power (or, if you like, outside of the symbolic chain of signifiers) politics is pointless. Of course, Newman’s reading of Lacan was not deep and faithful to Lacan. For example, the subject is not an uncontaminated point of departure – quite the reverse! The subject is absolutely contaminated; so much so that it is split between one signifier and another… the signifier is what represents a subject for another signifier. It seemed to me that Newman wanted so much a place of subjective mastery over the political field that he discovered it in the most master-less place: a place where the subject is nothing but an empty place within the system of signifiers. Newman discovered an ‘outside’ to political power that was paradoxically inherent to political power itself.

The matter was not settled. Zizek noted the problem of the desire for an uncontaminated point of departure for politics: it is as if before the political subject is capable of acting he needs some security that he is acting from the right agency, from the correct place and at the correct time. Who could secure this agency for him but the big Other, that is, a master? This is why it is important to demonstrate, as I have in my recent book, that there are all kinds of places from which one is capable of acting – and the real is not privileged here.

So, I held onto Lacan. There was more to be said. It became increasingly clear that Lacan’s value was precisely to create this disjuncture between politics and theory. Lacan never fails to interrupt interpretive or diagnostical political interventions. Lacan will not respond to the demand to be understood and to be put to political purposes. To paraphrase the punchline to a joke told to me recently from a psychoanalyst: Lacan fell asleep during our political theorization of the place of pure political agency and then woke up and said “Please . . . continue . . . ”

We must continue. With or without Lacan. For many anarchists, this will always mean without Lacan. In fact, most anarchists will fail to read an article on Lacan and anarchism except to confirm or develop an already established critical response. The anarchist needs this opposition to what they detect as a master – all the more to establish their own passive mastery. Lacan teaches us that passive mastery is an all the more cruel form of mastery. Recall the analogy of the ‘postmodern father’ developed by Zizek: the traditional father will tell you ‘go to see your grandmother!’ and if you don’t like it, you can transfer all your anger onto your father: ‘He is MAKING me go!’ The postmodern father says: ‘do you want to see your grandmother?’ Here, the ruthless authoritarian father is forcing you to be responsible for your failure to want to see your grandmother. You have failed in your moral obligation to be a good grandson.

Anarchists are the postmodern fathers of theory and practice.

There is one avenue through which we can approach the question of anarchism and Lacanian psychoanalysis — through the question of ‘mastery.’ Not so long ago the anarchist journal I manage (ADCS) started receiving articles that dealt with the question of ‘voluntary in-servitude.’ The idea put forward was that the political task was to voluntarily withdraw from oppressive and exploitative relations. Recall Gustav Landaeur’s famous suggestion that the state is a relationship and that the best way to destroy the state is therefore to change our close social relationships, to reroute them, etc. Many anarchists in Canada took this to mean that they had to disengage from the militant confrontational political work of revolution and partake in autonomous community-based organizing. The key principles were ‘groundless solidarity’ and ‘mutual aid.’ I call this the ‘long revolution’ to invoke the spirit of Raymond Williams.

By the time we’ve constructed our revolutionary communities, the master won’t even know that we cut his balls off! Ironically, this principle was first put forward by the Lacanian anarchist Richard J.F. Day in his book Gramsci is Dead. The idea was that it broke the loop-back circuit of demand. (But did it replace the loop-back circuit of the drive?)

What we soon discover is that we can only run away from the problem of mastery precisely by returning to it as a question. What anarchist studies rightfully convinces Lacanians about is that the desire to live without a master is itself an important desire. It is important because it highlights the essential question through which some knowledge might be had. Lacanian psychoanalysis teaches us that the effort to run away from the master is itself a form of passive mastery. Recall, for example, Freud’s discussion of “Little Hans” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Was it not the case that this little boy mastered his mother’s absence precisely by making his own little toy disappear from view? The problem of mastery is here much more pronounced because it has entered into the symbolic apparatus – one controls through the symbolic what one couldn’t control in the real.

We must become aware of the fact that mastery is not always exercised actively. More often, and this is especially the case for anarchists, mastery is exercised passively. Who reading this who calls himself an anarchist has not witnessed the attempt by other anarchists to control a situation by acting passively? We see it in consensus decision making, through calm and quiet speech, and so on. For example, I once co-owned an anarchist cafe. There was a proposal to add non-vegan muffins to the stock. It was blocked by a person during consensus decision making. At the next meeting, the proposition was raised as a negative proposal: “can we NOT include non-vegan muffins?” The proposer’s friend blocked the motion and the non-vegan muffins were added to the stock.

This attitude toward passive mastery is particularly prominent among inexperienced therapists who, like many Yoga instructors in this country, believe to be rid of the problem of mastery simply by lowering the tone and cadence of the voice. This is nothing but a pretense at liberation. During my own personal analysis I blurted out, unexpectedly: “I could be the master by pretending not to be!” Is this not my life story as an anarchist? It was a condition made particularly noticeable by an American Lacanian named Bruce Fink, who wrote: “[O]ne might have to watch out for a tendency to present oneself as a master at non-mastery like that found in certain spiritual practices, and akin to the tendency to promote oneself as the most humble of the humble in certain religious groups.” Anarchists are among the best in the political world of presenting themselves in this way.

How to avoid the problem of mastery? Confront it! Anarchists have at least this correct: they must raise the question of mastery overtly. For those who suffer from involuntary servitude it is not even a question: the difficulty is always to make these slaves aware that they are voluntarily serving a master. What, then, about the possibility of voluntary servitude? This is certainly what many Lacanians present themselves as, voluntary slaves: they choose to be ‘unfree’ and to follow the master, Lacan.

We are not yet rid of the question of mastery. In some sense, we have only avoided it by retreating into passive mastery. We must think through the end of the question of mastery, and of our implication in the situation of slavery. In addition to active and passive slavery, we must also be attentive to: (1) the mastery of death as a real intervention which can not be imagined but from which we derive some excitement, (2) the mastery of ‘figures’ and ‘bodies’ which are often incarnated in the figure of the state, in political masters, in corporations — these are the fake masters which are given more power than they in fact have, and; (3) the mastery which must be present in order for thinking and political action to occur at all (without which there is no possibility for the question of mastery to occur).

Newman was wrong, then. It is not that we need an uncontaminated point of departure for politics – the subject – for there to be any political intervention worthwhile. Rather, it is precisely the opposite: without a master, that is, without the third type of master, there is no possibility for subjectivity.

Roman Logic

The Roman tradition of Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“Proof is incumbent upon him who asserts, not on him who denies”) must be deconstructed. We’ve relied on this model since at least the 6th century. It has been the basis for the “presumption of innocence” or “innocent until proven guilty” model that is currently in question by the mainstream.

I think it is proper that we question it.

However, it is not enough to simply question it. If all we do is question it then we leave it to somebody else to provide the answer. So, lets deconstruct it a little bit. The first clause states that it is the one who affirms something who bears the responsibility of defending that proposition, and the second clause states that it is not him who denies the allegation.

Thus, it is improper to begin with the assumption that those who are charged with something are guilty. It is much rather proper to assert that those who are making a claim against somebody hold the burden of proof. No doubt, this produces all kinds of injustices in the world. Yet, it has been our model for centuries.

I was once in an anarchist collective that relied on consensus decision making. We explicitly did not make use of Roman logic. As a consequence, we found collective decision-making quite arbitrary – or, at least, some of us noticed that there were some people in the collective who discovered how to abuse the system. The following occurred regularly:

Meeting #1:

Proposal: George proposes that we add non-vegan muffins to stock.
Rejections: 7 collective members.
Decision: We do not serve non-vegan muffins. Decision was blocked.

This decision is based on the logic that if just one person negates, then the decision is blocked. All is well at this point, and justice seems to be served. However:

Meeting #2:

Proposal: George proposes that we DO NOT add non-vegan muffins to our product list.
Rejections: 1 collective member rejects, the proposer.
Decision: We DO serve non-vegan muffins.

You can see the logical problem. In both cases, a proposal can be made to pass if constructed either negatively or positively. As the size of the group grows, the probability of situation #2 happening increases.

However, if our collective had made a decision to not allow NEGATIVE proposals then we would have constructed a logic that could defend itself against this sort of abuse. The same happens when we favor an inverted version of Roman logic: “Proof is NOT incumbent upon him who asserts, but on him who denies.”)

This leaves open the question of what constitutes a proof. Certainly, I am of the opinion that a proof does not need to be sanctioned by the state, police, or judicial system for it to be a proof. Many things can count as proofs. The debate about what constitutes a proof is an important one. But before we can have the more important discussion we need to be sure we are not defenders of a logic which places the burden of proof on those against whom a charge has been brought.

Anarchism, Logic, Revolution

We can learn a lot about the relationship between logic and revolution by engaging with the mainstream. Take for example Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for best female video at the 2009 MTV music video awards. Taylor begins her speech and then Kanye West grabs the microphone and says: “Yo, Taylor Imma Let you finish but Beyonce had the best video of all time!”

Is this not the logic that anarchists have adopted in the contemporary period? It often seems that the best we can hope for is a temporary interruption of capitalist rituals, a quick shout out to communism, all the while intending to let capitalism continue functioning as it always has been.

In effect, we are saying: “Yo, capitalism, imma let you finish, but communism is the best political system of all time.”

We need to stop being the Kanye Wests of the revolution.

See: “The Three Logics of Negation”

What is a Change?

What follows is a presentation that I gave two years ago at Trent University. It provoked some incredible hostility in the audience – notably among older professors – and I was forced to abandon the project. 

I want to begin by posing five crucial questions to you; crucial, because they are pertinent to our situation here today.

First, what is an Audience?

Key: A for Audience


We take this for granted in our experience here today, that there is an audience, but what are you as an audience? Can you be collectively defined by any precise property that will indicate, for me, a shared point of reference? Of course, if there is a shared point of reference then it will be easier for me to transmit something meaningful to all of you because we will have a foundation upon which we can rely. In this case, are you all, collectively, something like a unified object, uniquely situated in space and defined by some precise property of your being here together?

Key: A for Audience, (a) for the audience as a unified object

(a) ——- A

This is the first group of questions.

Second, what is a Presentation? I presume that it is something that I give to you. Is the presentation then something that comes from me and moves toward you?

Key: A for Audience, (a) for the audience as a unified object, (a’) for myself as a unified object, // for diagonal line connecting (a) and (a’)



(a) ——- A

Is it a relation, emanating as if from another uniquely situated object in space; an object which for the moment goes by the name “Duane”? If a presentation is a relation then can I draw a line from my mouth to all of your ears; a line, such that, if we can visualize it, an image is produced?  

Third, what is a Speaker?

Key: A for Audience, (a) for the audience as a unified object, (a’) for myself as a unified object, // for diagonal line connecting (a) and (a’), S for Speaker

S  ——-  (a’)


(a) ——- A


 In other words, what am I in all of this besides the point that begins the line segment from mouth to ears? Am I also a unified object, uniquely situated in space, armed with particular knowledge acquired through careful study? Am I a supposed subject of knowledge? A subject supposed to demonstrate certain competencies for the university and for all of you here today?

Fourth, what is a Place? Is it the room within which we sit? Or is it the University, conditioned as it is by the rules that govern our original contribution to knowledge? We know that a Speaker always Presents something toward an Audience from within a particular Place. Is a Place the sum total of tacit symbolic rules that furnish the materials that make a presentation possible?

S  ——-  (a’)

        \\  //

(a) ——- A

Finally, what is the Effect of a Presentation? In other words, what sort of Encounter is there when these words hit those ears of yours? Will you feel moved by what I have to say? Will you fall in love with what I have to say? Will your prior research be affirmed by what I have to say such that you will achieve a more perfect consistency in your own thinking. Will you feel provoked by an Encounter of change?

In fact, these five groups of questions are not entirely divorced from my research. I do not address them in this particular way, but it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to argue that I’ve constructed, in my paper, the following formula for analyzing a change: I am here as a Speaker, giving a Presentation, to an Audience, in a Place, with the intention of provoking an Encounter.

So, I will admit something to you. I came here today with four different presentations. I wasn’t at all certain which one I would give. I was interested in understanding what kind of Relation would provoke the possibility for a change in the Audience. At one point I simply resolved that I would entertain you. I jotted down several obscene jokes and hoped for the best. If I couldn’t change you then I would at least entertain you. You should know that the sort of entertainment I had in mind was perfectly within the Relation that I originally asked you about – the presentation. To entertain is to keep up appearances, to maintain consistency in thought. Moreover, if we hyphenate the word we find that it is the tain, stretched across the hard surface of the wood, that produces a mirror. I would have entered the tain and perhaps I would have felt quite satisfied with myself. And maybe you would have been satisfied too.

When our goal is to enter the tain we are really partaking in a simple exercise. You can imagine yourselves as objects uniquely situated in space. We can call these objects, collectively, point B. And then there is the other object, me, situated uniquely in space. We can all this object, point A. So now we have the tain – but we must enter it. How do you do this? You take out your favorite colored crayon and draw a line from point A to point B. [At this point I connected (a) to (a’) using a colored marker.] And then you give your image to your mother for her approval. She’ll tell you that you’ve painted the picture that you were supposed to paint and you will feel like the pink panther for having painted the world in your colors. It sounds geometrical, and it is – it is what I’ve called the geometrical relation. [I wrote the word tain and image across the colored line.]

Step outside of our world here tonight and you’ll find this sort of geometry everywhere. In conversations with friends and fellow students, in conversations between activists and governments, in discussions between you and your supervisor or professors, you and your partner, you and your parents, and, most importantly, between you and yourself. When we believe ourselves to be pink panthers of the change, that is, when we believe ourselves to be the masters of change, we begin to notice that change happens. Certainly, change happens but not for a moment will a change of the form of change happen. One hopes that we will stop playing the pink panther and begin to think more like black panthers. Revolutionaries. But we are not masters of the revolution. Too much blood has been spilled pretending that we have been. Yet this geometrical world is the only one that we know, it maintains the consistency of our thinking. It is who we believe ourselves to be: we are Lacanians, Spinozians, Nietzscheans, Marxists, Deleuzians, etc – nobody can break us, we’ll bend our theories to overcome their gaps, lapses, limitations, etc! A philosopher named Laurelle has even gone so far as to claim that Philosophy begins with this sort of primordial decision. To be sure, we are absolutely blind to this decision insofar as it maintains the consistency of our thought.

We have an Object in a Place that shines a Relation to Provoke an Encounter. We know that the transmission or relation that maintains consistency of thinking is the one that shines a relation from one object in space toward another object in space – in other words, it is the one that draws an image and produces a mirror. There are changes that are made within the geometry of our thinking that nonetheless validate our prior decisional structures. This is a transmission that changes the audience, but only to the extent that the audience is changed into a more rigorous validation of the deeper consistency of their thinking. It is always a validation of the primordial decisional structure that hides in our blindspot.

There is a change of the question of change itself – a change of the very consistency of thinking about change. My claim is that Things have a power for the change of the consistency of thinking change. Things can provoke a Revolutionary Encounter. Moreover, my claim is that there are more masters than we have been capable of dreaming about in our philosophies. Certainly, there is the father of the primal horde, there is god, and so on. These are the masters whom set into motion the contradiction of non-castration, which, in turn, gave us our castration. Lacan had a great way of formalizing this. He wrote: there exists an x which is not submitted to castration. On account of this non-castrated master, every x is submitted to castration. So, to summarize, it was because the master was not castrated that the rest of us were castrated. This was Lacan’s description of masculine sexuation.

There are also those who, according to Lacan’s reading of Freud, are not entirely castrated. These people are not entirely castrated because there are not those who are not submitted to castration. It is because not everybody is not submitted to castration that not every x is submitted to castration. This was Lacan’s description of feminine sexuation.

So here we have our basic understanding of the phallic function in the Lacanian field. It is important because it precisely outlines the basic way in which the objet petit a, the object cause of our desire, is situated in relation to human animals. It is only after passing through the phallic function, being castrated, that we can have language. It is a language that is always cut by a shadow, or a trace, that we call objet petit a. The most difficult question you can ask right now is: what is objet petit a? I can’t answer that question today – it is something you can jot down and research yourself later if you are at all interested. The objet petit a undergoes several mutations in Lacan’s work. Yet, I maintain that its place never changes and that is what truly matters. For our purposes what matters is the place that the objet petit a occupies in Lacan’s formulae of the phallic function. To summarize: it is only after passing through the phallic function that the human animal has language; but this language is always cut by objet petit a.

So, some of you are probably beginning to scratch your heads a bit right about now – asking yourself, what does the phallic function have to do with an audience, a presentation, and so on. It has everything to do with it! – without castration, without objet petit a, there could be no transmission of anything from me to you. Moreover, without castration, none of you could be fantasizing about the sex you are or are not going to have after these presentations are finished. This is the point – the phallic function produces the possibility of fantasy. And it is, strictly speaking, the fantasy that there is a geometrical relation from me onto you in the form of this presentation.

Under the phallic function, one of the more promising and yet also more troublesome fantasies always comes from hysterics (promising for the purposes of change). Hysterics are those who ask their Symbolic master [S1] to account for himself in the way of his knowledge. You can imagine a young activist on the street with a sign on hand that reads: “Why so much money for bombs and so little money for education?” Here, his question begs a response. And a response will certainly come from his master. Whether or not that response does come matters very little because in the end it is the relationship that the hysteric paints toward his master that matters – it is his truthful expectation of a knowledgeable response from his master, incarnated in the state, for example. Lacan claims that the hysteric’s real question is: “What am I for the Other?” This is because the hysteric actually desires to be the answer for the enigma of the master’s desire.

In relation to the formulae of the phallic function, the hysteric wants to know: “Am I entirely submitted to castration or am I not entirely submitted to castration?” Traditionally, this has been read as: “Am I a man or am I a woman [other]?” The hysteric is so caught up with trying to satisfy the master, the man, and so on, that he finds himself identifying with him. However, he identifies with the master only because he wants to be desired as his other, as his woman. He identifies with him, as a man, only so that he can remain the object of his desire, his woman.

These traditional hysterical questions are important. The whole point of analysis is to hystericize the analysand into asking, or recognizing that he asks, these types of questions.

Now – I will need to jump ahead to my real argument, which I can not develop at all for you today.

I want to return to my original group of questions. Today I don’t want to assume the position of a point or an object in the game of connect the dots. I want to be more like the analyst who hystericizes the audience into asking the fundamental questions. This is the properly Lacanian position. Rather than shining a geometrical relation I could shine an obscure relation. And I have done thus with my cohort in the seminar room. Numerous times. I’ve learned that this alone doesn’t guarantee a change of the consistency of change. Sometimes you just sound like a psychotic. The problem is that the real analyst doesn’t usually speak that much – he is not a Speaker, not an S. He occupies the place of objet petit a and lets the analysand speak – his biggest challenge is to get the analyst to work. The analyst is the A.

I will put all my cards on the table now.

The new hysterical question, which is not original by any means, but is nonetheless a new question that has been opened up by the revolutionary philosophers of our day, is: “What am I for the Thing?” Again, it is not: “What am I for the [Symbolic] Other?” but “What am I for the [Real] Thing?” This strikes me as being implicated in a mastery that has nothing at all to do with the phallic function or the father of the primal horde, god, etc. Moreover, it is a mastery that is actually quite strange because it is involves the mastery that a Thing has over itself rather than a mastery that we have over objet petit a.

Certainly, the phallic function pulls us into its spell – even those of us whom are not entirely submitted to it. It is on this condition that we can speak – that we can string a few words together and transmit them meaningfully to an audience. The problem is that once the phallic function is set into motion it can not be entirely refused. By foreclosing the pull of the phallic function we also lose the possibility of any meaningful transmission or relation. We become rambling psychotics. People don’t understand us – even if we sound awfully smart! I pass no judgment: a schizophrenic out for a walk is better than one sitting on the analyst’s couch.

But what about a Thing? A Thing is its own master – it withdraws from our mastery. A Thing doesn’t pull, like the object of our phallic function, it withdraws. The Thing is not psychotic because it has not yet been pulled into the phallic function. The Thing withdraws from the phallic function, leaves a trace in our language as objet petit a.

Now I will shine an obscure relation for you: There exists a Thing which is not submitted to the phallic function and yet every x is submitted to the phallic function. It is on this condition that we can speak of Things and Subjects. The Conjunction. Or, rather, Subjects as Things.

I’ll give you a childish example. We know that chairs are for sitting on. This is what they are for us. But what are we for the chair? This is a very different question than what the chair is for us. Moreover, what is a chair for the floor below it? You can imagine a chair, quite like the one I use in my seminar room, which forces me to arch my back and place my arms on the table (or else let them dangle beside me). The chairs in this room force us to sit at a certain distance from one another, and so on. So there are relationships that emanate from the Thing, to us, from the Thing to another Thing, and from the Thing to us as another Thing.

Finally, instead of “Am I a Man or a Woman [Other]?,” we ask: “Am I a Subject or a Thing?” “Am I a Subject with my own little objet petit a, or, am I a Thing with my own little Subject?”

The new hysterical question changes the priority of the phallic function, pushing it to a secondary operation. Do we live in a world where there is a subject whom is the master, who has objects that are like little holes in his being, like objet petit a‘s, that allow him to put language to productive use? Or, do we live in reality where subjects are just particular types of Things among other Things?

Then we must ask how a change is possible between Things and also from a Thing toward a Subject. What is their Encounter with one another?

Can revolutions be built this way?

I heard a rumor that the French Revolution began because there was a diamond necklace, worth several million dollars, that seduced Marie Antoinette so much that she had to have it (even while the people of France had to save up for a month just to afford a loaf of bread). Apparently, the American revolution started over a bunch of tea. A revolution in northeastern Italy began in 49BC because of a river named the Rubicon. According to some research, the path of the 1917 Oklahoma rebellion was entirely dictated by the geographical availability of green corn. Imagine that – the availability of green corn dictating the fate of your uprising? It was salt that provoked a change in Gandhi and the people of colonized India.

Without a doubt, all of these are examples of man’s valuation of Things – for example, we have turned salt, bread, and tea into lost object’s of desire through taxation – however, the Things themselves, outside of taxation, outside of their status as objet petit a, certainly must have moved us as well. They moved us without at all being a product of the phallic function of taxation.

Are we prepared to write the history of Thing Revolutions? Moreover, are we prepared to begin to answer the question about whether Things in the world exist independent of us? This is about more than just chairs, salt, bread, and rivers. It is about the possibility of Things provoking an obscure relation in an effort to produce the encounter of change that answers to no human master.

These are among the many new hysterical questions.

Anarchism’s Other Scene

What follows is a preliminary draft version of the editor’s preface for the next issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies. The final version will include some more paragraphs from Jason Adams, the co-editor of the issue. I expect this draft to change considerably within the next month. Perhaps I am a little over eager, I just want to share it early. I am quite excited about this issue.

In 2010, Lewis Call announced, in the inaugural issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies (ADCS), that post-anarchism is finally here to stay.i Post-anarchism, it appears, is finally on the scene. The 2011 publication of Post-Anarchism: A Readerii and The Politics of Post-Anarchismiii seem to validate Call’s claim. Post-anarchism is definitely on the scene, but which scene is it on? The question has long been asked: is post-anarchism a form of anarchism, or is it something else entirely (such as post-structuralism)? Isn’t this a variation of the topological question: is post-anarchism inside (the tradition) or is it outside?iv My claim is that post-anarchism discovered the other scene of anarchism.

Friends of the Freudian field will immediately note the distinction that I am making: the other scene, for Freud, was paradoxically outside the human animal but only to the extent that it was also intimately within the human animal. For Freud, as for Lacan, the other scene was the hidden realm of the unconscious. In this respect, post-anarchism examines anarchism’s unconscious suppositions. I would be remiss if I did not add that post-anarchism is also the movement toward an articulation of anarchism’s unconscious truth. There is thus, without a doubt, a negative as well as positive aspect to post-anarchist thinking. In any case, post-anarchism opened up a space within anarchist studies – and this continues to be the privileged function of post-anarchism – through which anarchism’s own latent epistemological and ontological assumptions could be analyzed. This, then, is my first point: post-anarchism is a space that opens up anarchism to its own unconscious productions.

My second point deals with the consequences of the opening up of the privileged space of post-anarchism: post-anarchism was an answer to a demand that was made onto us that things must be different. Post-anarchism emerged as a response to a demand that anarchist studies and anarchism itself must be different. It is because anarchist studies must be different that it must also be more (and not less) true. Post-anarchism is a consequence of a demand made in the direction of a more true understanding of our political and philosophical tradition. If, therefore, the first point is that post-anarchism opened up a space for the analysis of anarchism’s other scene, then the second point is that post-anarchism was an answer to a demand that things be different and therefore more true.

All of this leads to the third, and much more relevant, point: ADCS was inaugurated through a risk made by answering this demand for something different and more true. The sum of these three points leads me to state for the first time ever that ADCS was born so that we might not be overtaken by events. We must remain worthy of the revolutionary event. It was not without purpose, then, that Lewis Call wrote the following in his introduction to the first issue of ADCS:

Indeed, I feel that we must do this, or risk being overtaken by events. Post-anarchism waits for no one. When I speak of post-anarchism today, I also imply that there was post-anarchism yesterday (Call, 2010: 9).

ADCS was born so that anarchists might not be overtaken by events. Our journal is the answer that we give to the endless revolutionary imperative that dawns upon us: we must not only keep up with events, we must also respond to them and carry through their consequences. Since its inception, it has been more than obvious that our journal has been a little bit different. We answered the demand of post-anarchism early – perhaps before most philosophers and theorists were ready to deal with it – and today we find post-anarchism in the most unlikely places. We shall continue to answer the demand because it is our sole aim to become worthy of the event: we must do this.

So, the question that we are asking today is one that we feel we must ask. It is a question that demands to be asked if anarchism is not to be overtaken by the events that have transpired over the last decade. Lewis Call was right: post-anarchism waits for no one. The question that we are asking today, then, is different from the question that we were asking yesterday. Today’s question is: how do anarchists respond to the demand made upon them for a non-correlationist ontology? In other words, is it possible for anarchism to think with the new ontologies and materialisms, and is it possible to build a deeper anarchist philosophy which does not reduce the world to what it is for human animals within that world? Is it possible to approach an answer to the demand for a non-essentialist ontology? Perhaps, we might discover, anarchism is better suited to answer the demand than other political orientations.

Radical theory has been beset by ontological questions, albeit to varying degrees and under differing conditions. In recent years, in particular, political metaphysics has returned with force: the rise of Deleuze-influenced “new materialism,” along with post-/non-Deleuzean speculative realism and object-oriented ontology, all bear testament to this. In this same period, anarchism has returned as a major influence on social movements and critical scholarship alike. What, then, are some of the potential resonances between these currents, particularly given that anarchism has so often been understood/misunderstood as a fundamentally idealist philosophy?

Is it the case, as Marx famously held in The German Ideologyv and The Poverty of Philosophy,vi that anarchism fails to account for the full complexity of the ontological? Is there a lack of concern, for instance, with the actual circumstances that would make social transformation possible? Is anarchism a theory for which materiality is “distorted in the imagination of the egoist,” inevitably producing a subject “for whom everything occurs in the imagination?” Should “Sancho” (Max Stirner), for example, have “descended from the realm of speculation into the realm of reality”?

Or, is the opposition of materialism and idealism itself a barrier to a higher, more power, convergence, as recent anarchist/anarchistic thinkers from Hakim Bey to Reiner Schürmann have argued? This special issue of ADCS considers these questions in dialogue with new materialism, speculative realism, and object-oriented ontology, in order to seek new points of departure. It is in this sense that our journal strives to become worthy of recent discussions in the wider political, cultural, and philosophical milieu.

The special issue is split into two major sections: “Ontological Anarché” and “Anarchist Ontology.” If, on the one hand, there are ontologies that are radically anarchistic, then, on the other hand, there are anarchists that are striving to create new ontologies. In some sense, these two approaches are digging from opposite sides of the same mountain. It shall be our task to ensure that they jointly create a single passageway through the mountain. On one side of the mountain: the ontological anarchists seem to be more cautious about the political implications of their work. On the other side of the mountain: the anarchist ontologists seem to be more cautious about the ontological implications of their work.

We begin with an article from Levi Bryant. Many anarchists have suspected that the new ontologies harbor profoundly anarchistic orientations. However, very few of the pioneers of these new ontologies have described their work using the conceptual framework of anarchism. But Levi Bryant has used the conceptual framework of anarchism at times: Bryant has made use of post-anarchist philosophy (especially the work of Todd May).vii This is what makes Bryant’s work such an important point of departure for thinking about the convergence of anarchism and new materialism. In Bryant’s article for this issue of ADCS, he gives his readers a very concise introduction to his updated ontology. Readers familiar with his last (open-access) book, titled The Democracy of Objectsviii (however, he often notes that the book should have been titled The Anarchy of Objects),ix will notice that some of his conceptual framework has changed. Bryant’s new ontology is named: Machine-Oriented Ontology (MOO). Here we have a brilliant example of how we can think with rather than against Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Einstein offers us a profoundly anarchistic way in which to think about the relations that objects have within the world and Bryant’s brilliant writing offers us a passageway toward understanding Einstein’s often mis-interpreted and mis-applied theoretical physics.

John W. M. Krummel, a former student of Reiner Schürmann, argues, through the work of Schürmann and Cornelius Castoriadis, that every metaphysic involves an imaginary first principle which grounds it. There is thus a profound similarity between the two thinkers: both Schürmann and Castoriadis acknowledge that meaning and order are subjected to radical finitude. This implies that order is fleeting and temporary. A challenge is therefore posed to us: how is possible to move from such an imaginary ontology toward a materialist inspired practical political philosophy? This, it would seem, is the crucial question that most contributors to our volume are interested in exploring.

The new ontologies, inspired by the speculative turn, have raised profoundly new questions about the meaning of political practice and political philosophy. The crucial question is the following: is it possible or even desirable to move from ontological and speculative philosophy toward political philosophy (and vice versa)? Hilan Bensusan looks backwards to the Heraclitean tradition and toward the notion of polemos in order to develop a “fire ontology”. Bensusan makes a very powerful claim that “fire ontology” spreads and doesn’t ground. Fire, unlike ground, operates through contagion rather than foundation. This is how ontology and politics “meet on fire.” There is thus a re-negotiation that takes place between ontology and politics. Similarly, Ben Woodard, a veteran of the speculative turn, claims in his article that we need to rethink the assumption that ontology by necessity implies a form of politics. Woodard offers an analysis of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie as an ontological philosophy that is suited to thinking through the challenges of ecological politics today. In some sense, then, there is a secret solidarity that exists among all of the contributors to this volume. Each, in his or her own way, seeks to undermine any arché, any foundational ontology, which claims that some beings are more central to philosophy than others.

Jason Harman challenges our very initiative by claiming that the very notion of ontological anarché is bound up with some notion of an arché. The alternative, Harman claims, is to think through the co-originality of the two (anarché and arché) as a form of being-with. The work of Jean-Luc Nancy therefore provides us with a nice point of departure for this possibility. Harmon asks: is it possible, after the speculative turn, to develop a new philosophy of radical community?

The second group of contributors are digging from the other side of the mountain. They seem more interested in the question of what the new ontologies are in relation to the anarchist tradition. In this respect, we are honored to have an article from Salvo Vaccaro, which was carefully translated by our diligent colleague Jesse Cohn. Vaccaro raises the question: is anarchism a philosophy? Moreover, is anarchism, as a philosophy, foundationalist? Once again we seem to be dealing with an ontology which is multiple in its becomings rather than singular, statist, and essentialist. Jared McGeough explores a similar theme in his article. McGeough discusses the tension that occurred between Mikhail Bakunin’s philosophy and Schelling’s philosophy. For example, Bakunin dismissed Schelling’s ontology as idealist, and then found him to be a conservative stooge for the Prussian government. McGeough asks us to consider an alternative reading of the significance of Schelling’s philosophy for anarchists: Schelling’s philosophy is “unconditioned,” it is a “system of freedom,” and it “destroys origins.” This, it seems to McGeough, is profoundly anarchist.

In a curious article from Christian Greer the post-anarchists are asked to question their indebtedness to Hakim Bey’s post-anarchism anarchy.x Post-anarchists must return to their place of origin in Hakim Bey’s ontological anarchism. His claim is that no post-anarchist commentator has sufficiently analyzed the occult aspect of Hakim Bey’s work. Greer highlights the various esoteric overtones of Hakim Bey’s ontological and post- anarchisms and encourages post-anarchists to begin to think through the relationship between esoteric philosophy (such as Chaos Magick) and anarchist political philosophy.

Tom Marling, in “Anarchism and the Question of Practice: Ontology in the Chinese Anarchist Movement, 1919-1927,” provides us with a very rich discussion of the place of ontology in the philosophies of the Chinese anarchist movement during the early part of the twentieth century. The argument is that post-anarchist and post-left anarchist ideas can (and should) be unearthed from the historical record. There was a shift in anarchist theory that took place within Chinese culture during these years toward a more subjective and localized theory which was epitomized in the debate between two anarchist factions: the old guard of leftist classicalists and the younger group of quasi-iconoclasts. The iconoclasts focused on pragmatism, locatedness, and de-centered analyses of power and revolution. What can we learn, in light of current changes in contemporary anarchist political philosophy, from this rich historical account?

Finally, Gregory Kalyniuk develops a Deleuzian inspired presentation of micropolitics in Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novels. His belief is that these themes allows us to rethink anarchist political philosophy in a way which seems very faithful to Daniel Colson’s post-anarchist neo-monadology. It is possible, Kalyniuk asks, to subvert the law through a humourous proliferation of successive contracts.

This issue of ADCS also includes a review of Mohammed A. Bamyeh’s popular book Anarchy as Order: The History and Future of Civic Humanity by Shannon Brincat, as well as a sharp response to Brincat from Bamyeh himself. Anthony T. Fiscella also reviews Alexandre Christoyannopoulos’s Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel.

Finally, we’ve also included an interview that was conducted with Levi Bryant by the Christos Stergiou.

iLewis Call. (2010) “Post-Anarchism Today,” Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies. 2010.1., As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013, from <http://anarchist-developments.org/index.php/adcs/article/view/20/1>

iiDuane Rousselle & Sureyyya Evren., Eds. (2011) Post-Anarchism: A Reader. London: Pluto Press.

iiiSaul Newman. (2011) The Politics of Post-Anarchism. Edinburgh University Press.

ivCf., Jesse Cohn. (2002) “What is Post-Anarchism ‘Post’?,” Postmodern Culture. Vol. 13., No. 1.

vKarl Marx. (1932) The German Ideology. As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/>

viKarl Marx. (1955) The Poverty of Philosophy: Answer to The Philosophy of Poverty by M. Proudhon. As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/poverty-philosophy/index.htm>

viiCf., Levi Bryant. (2012) “Musing on Onticology and Politics II,” [Blog] As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/musings-on-onticology-and-politics-ii/>

viiiLevi Bryant. (2011) The Democracy of Objects. Open Humanities Press. As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://openhumanitiespress.org/democracy-of-objects.html>

ixCf., Levi Bryant (2012) “Lacan, Anarchy, Masculinity, and Psychosis,” As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/lacan-anarchy-masculinity-and-psychosis/>

xCf., Hakim Bey. (1987) “Post-Anarchism Anarchy,” As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/Hakim_Bey__Post-Anarchism_Anarchy.html>

The Three Strategies of Police Officers

How does one become a Subject (note: not the Lacanian Subject)?

There are two popular examples within Althusserian thought, and one not-so-popular example.

The first example comes from Althusser himself. One becomes a subject merely by recognizing the police officer’s designation of the subject as such. As the story goes, the police officer interpellates the subject by yelling: “Hey, you there!” It is by the mere 180 degree turn of the individual that he becomes a Subject.

The second example comes from Jacques Ranciere. For Ranciere, the political act par excellence occurs when those whom are the part of no-part within the distribution of the sensible make themselves counted. There is a supposition here that is intensely problematic: that the no-part can engage in a political act without having already undergone radicalization. Radicalization – which I use roughly as an equivalent to “analysis” – implies that the analysand or individual come to know the master hidden deep within him or her self. Without proper analysis the analysand risks remaining stuck at the role of slave to this master, thereby endlessly repeating the political failures of yesteryear. Ranciere remodels Althusser’s classic example of interpellation – whereby a police officer hails an individual and thereby transforms that individual into a subject of power – and suggests that the image is one of a police officer informing the crowd to “move along, [because] there is nothing more to see here!”

This brings me to the third model: what Ranciere misses is the frequent use that police officers make of “planted evidence”: the police officer secretly places some hashesh into the individual’s pocket, which the individual carries around with him wherever he goes, so that the police officer can activate or use that evidence against him later.


Look at those socks

I discovered a poem that I wrote beneath the stars at 13,000 ft.

The pretense of purpose                         a purpose for whom only later latter day student toils      but the debt  is paid to a surface

a pure surface                  Fully rehearsed rhapsodies      because impressed dressed and rhythmically refined             Sing me praises so you may too secure yours              and I promise not    to     tell    anyone                     we were pretending

Imagination rich and pockets      too                          Look at those socks