“Overly Interpretative” Translators/Editors

Rereading Freud’s essay on the transformation of puberty (Three Essays on Sexuality), translated and edited by Strachey, and it appears to me that, to a significant extent, Strachey has dramatized an aspect of Freud’s thoughts concerning ‘real’ objects being always ‘mental representations’ (Vorstellungen).
Here is one significant example, beginning with Freud’s words (translated by Strachey, but presuming them to be a fairly decent translation): “We thus reach the idea of a quantity of libido, to the mental representation of which we give the name ‘ego-libido,’ and whose production, increase or diminution, distribution and displacement should afford us possibilities for explaining the psychosexual phenomena observed.
This ego-libido is, however, only conveniently accessible to analytic study when it has been put to the use of cathecting sexual objects, that is, when it has become object-libido. We can then perceive it concentrating upon objects,[FOOTNOTE HERE], becoming fixed upon them or abandoning them, moving from one object to another, and, from these situations, directing the subject’s sexual activity, which leads to the satisfaction, that is, to the partial and temporary extinction, of the libido. The psychoanalysis of what are termed transference neuroses (hysteria and obsessional neurosis) affords us a clear insight at this point.”
Next, there is the following footnote, written entirely by Strachey. This is a clear case of over-interpretation:
“It is scarcely necessary to explain that here as elsewhere, in speaking of the libido concentrating on ‘objects,’ withdrawing from ‘objects,’ etc., Freud has in mind the mental presentations (Vorstellungen) of objects and not, of course, objects in the external world.”
However, is it necessarily the case – especially given this particular strange essay by Freud – that the “it” in question, namely the libido itself, in terms of its aim, fixes on a representation of the object? Or could it rather be said, to take the translation more faithfully, that the libido becomes “fixed upon” the [real] object? It is only when it becomes fixed that it becomes ego-libido, or object-libido, before such a time that it remains libido directed toward the real. 
The problem is that Strachey overemphasizes the importance of the mental object and underplays the importance of the external world. Whether or not this is true for Freud matters little. What matters is that in this case, Freud did not make that claim – and thus, it is more ambiguous and open on the matter. This raises a problem for any attempt to locate a moment of new realism within psychoanalytic thought.

Motor Stereotypies: Some Additional Variables of Treatment

I can not write everything that I’d like to write right now. I have been working on an article that I hope will summarize my studies on the topic of the Motor Stereotypies (Complex Primary Motor Stereotypy, Stereotypic Movement Disorder, etc) over the last few years. There have been some transitions in my life that I want to note. I am now a full-time sessional Assistant Professor at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, within the Department of Social Sciences.

This life change has brought with it some changes to my son’s situation. He is now under my care full-time. As such, I have been working with him on his stereotypies more closely. It is really too early to share this news because things could change drastically and there are so many variables up in the air. However, I want to at least make a provisional statement: under my care and through psychoanalytic inspired paradigm I can share that my son’s stereotypic behaviours have drastically been reduced.

This has come with new challenges. Again, I can not get into all of the details – and certainly not the technical details – right now, but I can say that the behaviour has transformed into hyperactivity, which, over the course of a few months, has been channelled into meaningful social activity.

I have given this analogy before. I like to think as if the behaviour is something like a bubble inside of filled bottle of water. The bubble can not be removed, but it can be moved around, displaced. In this case, the behaviour itself has changed but it brings with it new challenges that must be worked through and moved around into good outlets. I hope that others will pursue psychoanalytic inspired (I say “inspired” because pure psychoanalysis with a toddler, or younger, is almost impossible) treatment options – or at least treatment that aligns itself in some minimal way with psychoanalytic insights. I would also hope that this treatment is grounded in contemporary research on the topic of the Lacanian “sinthome,” the Lacanian emphasis on “language disturbances,” and on the “ordinary psychoses” or “new symptoms.”

I believe that the parental role is extremely important in treatment. Otherwise, in depth interaction with a psychoanalyst will be key – this implies many hours per week of treatment. Finally, I would say that my treatment has demonstrated some apparent (provisional) success perhaps only because of the age at which I made the intervention. My son is 6 years old, now approaching 7 years old. He has only recently begun to ask questions concerning sexuality (last night I caught him searching on his phone for ‘naked games’). He could not put into words why he was interested in ‘naked games,’ he felt only slight embarrassment, and, finally, he could not tell me anything about his interest in the naked body. This will be of interest to analysts and to analysts alone.

Theory is real

One way that I’m inviting my students to think of the difference between a “paradigm” and a “theory” is to envision the former as a set of unconscious assumptions that structure the set of interrelated statements that are rendered more explicit within a particular theory. Theory is an attempt to ‘work through’ paradigmatic assumptions within consciousness (i.e., through ‘understanding’), or, more simply, it is speech that is meant to be understood, transmitted, and shared. Here, I am basically repurposing the Lacanian distinction of ‘enunciated statements’ and ‘statements of enunciation.’

A paradigm offers the guarantee of a social bond via theory.

I also invite my students to think of theory as “real.” This means, essentially, that theory is not some boogeyman that stands apart from and above the rest of reality (standing over it like a dictator). It is not that theory doesn’t exist, and that it is inconsequential. Rather, it is an integral and immanent part of reality – and it is both a consequence and a precipitating factor of reality. We forget that we are all already theorists of one sort or another.

Theory is one way that reality copes with itself. In other words, theory is a symptom of reality: it is an attempt to cope with reality, but it also presents its own problems with which we can not cope.

The task is not to figure out which particular theory is more real (e.g., that of Marx, or that of his adversaries), but rather to see theory as something real in of itself.

This psychoanalytic position will be difficult to accept within many social sciences departments. It claims that theory is a ‘social bond,’ like discourse, and, in that sense, it can be treated as a synonym of ‘discourse.’ It is the ‘social bond’ (as Lacan calls it) that makes it of interest for the sociologist.

The ideology of mattresses

I moved recently to Saint John, New Brunswick to take up a position as an assistant professor of social theory in the department of social sciences. Consequently, I had to go shopping for a new mattress. I turned around the corner of my neighbourhood to discover an old family owned furniture store. The owner of the store discussed the ideology of mattresses with me for about two hours. I was delighted by the conversation. Although the owner did not demonstrate an academic understanding of ideology, he did demonstrate that he had a practical understanding of the ideology of mattresses (which came from selling them for most of his life).

I learned the following:

  1. During the menopausal moment of a relationship (roughly 50+ years old) couples shift into a wider mattress.
  2. Younger couples tend to purchase narrower mattresses.
  3. The elderly, as they increase in age, move toward narrower mattresses (much like the youngest demographic, children).

This seemed to me counterintuitive. I would have believed that moments of sexual excitement in a relationship produced the necessity of a ‘gap’ between bodies. By this logic, the ‘gap’ would have introduced a barrier to the ‘too much’ of the sexual relationship. This would thereby facilitate a desire for wider mattresses.

However, the store owner informed me that it is often during moments of greater sexual abstinence (originating from the woman’s decreased sexual appetite) that a desire for wider mattresses heightens. This explains circumstance number 1. Circumstance number 3 is explained by practicalities: elderly women or men are now sleeping alone, and, as such, they require no gap, and wish to roll off of the mattress more easily. Circumstance number 2 is explained by way of increased sexual appetite in both younger men and women who wish to decrease the gap so that the sexual relationship may be more easily established.

What the store owner outlined, then, was that the mattress operates as a material embodiment of sexual desire itself. To put it in Slavoj Zizek’s language: ‘it is ideology at its purest!’ For example, in all cases the mattress provides us with an indication of the sexual desire of the individual: in case number 1 the individual does not wish to overcome the gap of a sexual relationship and so leaves it in place, (number 2:) the individual wishes to overcome the gap of a sexual relationship and so removes it, and (number 3:) the individual rolls off directly into an acceptance of the gap of the sexual relationship.

Here, my conclusion regarding number 3 may seem a bit complicated. We must presume that the gap of a sexual relationship is already always present. This is what Lacanian theory teaches us: the neurotic’s question is to avoid rather than come to terms with the gap of the sexual relationship, so, as Lacan put it, ‘there is no such thing as a sexual relationship.’

Thus, the mattress sets the scene for neurotic desire. The elderly, who have experienced a life-time of sexuality, have, one would think, come to terms with the lack of a sexual relationship. The mattress is not designed to overcome it but neither is it designed to produce it: it is rather designed to facilitate a ‘rolling back over into reality as such.’ This is why the elderly have, in one way or another, ‘matured’ sexually. They have pushed through the neurosis to arrive at the passage of accepting lack. They have come to terms with the lack of a sexual relationship.

More generally, and, more likely in the cities, larger mattresses have become more popular, and are continuing to become more popular, as individuals desire more personal space. Thus, we can see the discourse shifting to facilitate the need for a ‘gap.’ This, I think, demonstrates a desire to overcome the ‘too much’ of the sexual relationship. Lacan once said that ‘love is what makes up for the lack of a sexual relationship,’ but, as we can see here, cuddling or other forms of ‘love’ are not making up for the lack of a sexual relationship. The gap is being introduced precisely to stabilize the relationship. This is the direct opposite of the expectation that a sexual gap must be overcome.

Times are changing.


A Note on Motor Stereotypies

There is the ethical injunction ‘love your symptom as yourself’ put forward within some Lacanian circles. This works very well within classical cases of neurosis but does not seem to hold up as an effective intervention within contemporary capitalism. Today, rather, humanity increasingly loves their symptom *too much*; so much so that the symptom is no longer a symptom and does not in any way refer to the unconscious, to the split of subjectivity, that is, to castration.

For example, one of my pet research projects concerns the motor stereotypic behaviour of some (very few) toddlers. These toddlers begin with a radical indifference to their ‘symptom,’ and, as they grow up there seems to be a strong negative therapeutic reaction to ‘curing’ it. This is why so much of therapy has been about ‘awareness training.’ Awareness training is ultimately about the struggle with the signifier. The children do not care much about the oppressive signifier. They disavow the signifier or outright reject it as even a possibility.

They end up loving their symptom, radically, within the Real. This is what makes them unique. They generate profound energy from their symptom – the benefit from illness – during certain periods of the day. They push their symptom around both spatially and temporally, and this, admittedly, is the best form of control they have. It is a bit like pushing a bubble around in a bottle of water.

Moreover, parents, who once admit frustration when faced with their child’s stereotypic behavior, slowly come to accept it as an essential part of who their child is. In other words, they begin with the assumption that the behavior is Symbolic (at the level of language) and can be dislodged. But then they come to realize that it is Real, it is part of their very Being, and that it is effortless to dislodge it. The parent becomes practically aware of metaphysics.

The parents then regularly admit a sense of guilt for ever wanting to cure their child. It would be a bit like removing the child’s subjectivity. If the behavior disappeared, so too would the child. They eventually see any cure as an attempt to suppress or exorcise subjectivity itself — the child’s very soul is under attack! The psychoanalyst can no longer use his metaphorical surgical knife because the child’s psyche is too delicate, too precious, and the umbilical cord, of course, remains all the stronger.

Today: to love one’s symptom means to disavow or foreclose the radical cut of castration. There are no signifiers. There are only bubbles that can be pushed around. Moreover, to identify with one’s symptom becomes the symptom itself. Nobody is ever sick because nobody believes at all in the unconscious or in illness.

Once again, we need the late Lacan more than ever.

On Renaming and Removing Statues

This marks a clear shift in the political discourse of the ult-left. Whereas activism once functioned to provoke a master so that knowledge might be produced, the opposite is happening today. Today’s left increasingly provokes masters (e.g., names, authority figures, etc) precisely to *conceal* the oppressive meaning-effects of the signifier.

For example, the left once attacked President Bush to account (by way of meaning) for his war crimes. Today, the left pushes for statues to be hidden from public view, to be displaced, moved elsewhere, etc. For example, regarding a recent event in Canada, one activist reportedly stated: “It’s not erasing, it’s putting it in its proper place. […] I don’t see how we should be glorifying folks like this in such a public place as schools.”

The newest left wants to know nothing about the oppressive meaning-effect of the signifier. They want to know nothing about their subjection. An analogy would be the kitty cat who poops in the litter-box and then spends an inordinate amount of time enjoyably concealing his droppings with his paws. The droppings do not really go anywhere. They just end up smelling a little bit better.

This is why Lacan’s matheme of the Capitalist Discourse must be studied further.

Lacan & Renaming Statues, Schools, Parks

Re: “Ontario Elementary Teachers’ Union Calls for Renaming John A. Macdonald Schools”

This effort (above) was motivated by recent types of activism that have become popular within Canada and the United States. It touches on a difficult and perplexing problem related to the collapse of the paradigm of linguistic determinism within continental philosophy. I do not mean that the scholastic and conceptual field of continental philosophy has itself had this wide of an influence within society. Rather, I mean to suggest that post-continental philosophy has been instrumental in dealing with this rupture, in putting this rupture of thought to good use, and, put differently, in allowing the rupture the ability to speak its own absurd language. This is simply to suggest that ‘speculative realism,’ (or whatever you want to call it, since it, indeed, struggles with finding a proper name) was not producing the reality they described. Instead, they were allowing that reality to speak, or, to use a “new age” expression: they were channeling that reality.

This is what I take from the article posted above: whereas the hysterical left once provoked master signifiers (e.g., big names, authority figures, subjects of knowledge, etc) into producing dislodged meanings for them, this situation has begun to change. The left once asked their masters to account for themselves: ‘how could you own a slave?!,’ ‘what gives you the right to create laws?,’ and so on. They were anticipating a response which would come to them in the form of knowledge. Of course, they would remain forever unsatisfied with any answer provided to them by the master (if one came at all). The central political task was to facilitate the production of knowledge and meaning from within the hot-seat of morality. Political subjects positioned themselves as victimized by the signifier. And indeed they were.

The newest left increasingly provokes master signifiers (e.g., names, authority figures, etc) to conceal the oppressive meaning-effects of the signifier. This concealing never works. It is impossible. The clever activist knows this and accounts for it within his or her discourse by stating such things as:

“It’s not erasing, it’s putting it in its proper place,” said Cress. “I don’t see how we should be glorifying folks like this in such a public place as schools.”

Above, there is a clear confrontation with a master signifier. The master is glorified by others but he must be rightfully dethroned. The truth is therefore that the master is not a master at all. Meaning effects become displaced. The master must be put into his proper place, that is, within a proper context. Moreover, the master must be exposed for moral inferiority – this is, in the end, what is most proper. The proper name is revealed within discourse as something lacking. At the same time we can see that there really is no proper place for the master. This is because the proper place is buried beneath the discursive strategy itself. What the subject seeks, here, is a proper place for the master, but is s/he unable to find one.

The left does not want to encounter the meaning effect whatsoever. They want to know nothing of their subjection. An analogy would be the kitty cat who poops in the litter-box and then spends an inordinate amount of time enjoyable concealing his droppings. The droppings do not really go anywhere. They just end up smelling a little bit better.

Lacan, in his tenth seminar, described this as the process of “effacing the trace.” When the trace is effaced there is always a remainder. Here is something I wrote about Lacan’s seminar of June 26th, 1963:

Emotion has to do with not knowing, and not knowing when confronted with a task – when the subject does not know how to respond. Rather than impeding himself he lets himself go into emotion. And to go into the emotion response, claims Lacan, is to find the path toward the primal trace again. Recall that the obsessional means to efface the trace, and so emotion is a way of effacing the trace by reconstituting it. The obsessional aims to locate the authentic cause of everything, it is an impossible search, and so the search turns around and around without amounting to much. The trouble is that by reconstituting the trace, the object a, by making discovery impossible, the obsessional approaches the possibility of acting-out. He will find that anxiety keeps emerging, keeps poking its head, and, moreover, that is keeps escalating. One hopes that this doesn’t bring the obsessional to passage a l’acte or to embarrassment.

The obsessional sometimes prefers to not even look into any of this. Love for him is an exalted bond. He expects a certain image of himself to be loved, an image which he gives as a divine gift to the Other. The obsessional removes the distance from the cause of desire by chaining himself to the image of himself, to ego ideal. This is a distance between himself and himself, between himself and that kernel of the Other within himself.

We can see how the leftist today wants to find the trace in its proper place and context. But this context is impossible. In the end, there is no proper place for the master. This is what the leftist finds unbearable.

Therefore, when I claim that the leftist today wants to know nothing about his or her castration, I mean it in the sense of a certain disavowal: s/he knows very well that oppression has happened but she wants to see evidence of it erased, and this, precisely, is a part of the strategy of erasing the oppression itself. In 1972 Lacan said that “[w]hat distinguishes the capitalistic discourse is this: Verwerfung, rejection, rejection outside all fields of the symbolic […] of castration.”

We find here a stunning example, then, of what Lacan meant by his fifth discourse: the capitalist’s discourse.