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.