Lululemon Bags

You may have witnessed a new trend prevalent among young women on university campuses and in the densely populated areas of the city. Perhaps it is the case that this trend extends beyond those boundaries. I would be interested if you could let me know. In any case, these young women purchase at least one product from a fairly expensive active wear company named “Lululemon.” During the time of purchase the product is placed into a branded “Lululemon” clothe bag. These bags look similar to the reusable bags you might buy for 99 cents at any Canadian grocery store. The only difference, of course, is the branding. There are many cases of women purchasing these bags off of other people who have purchased the product (e.g., through Kijiji, etc).
After all of this, the bag is placed in public view. It is hoisted upon the library or cafe table, held in the hand rather than placed in the empty book-bag, and so on. It does not seem to ever touch the floor. It is elevated, we might say, to the status of THE ‘thing.’ Frequently, the bags are empty, or a small item is placed inside as a token. This indicates to me that the function of the bag is not important. Rather, the importance of the bag is in the way it is both elevated to the status of the ‘thing’ and used to entice the onlooker. The message that is being sent by those who carry the bag is the following: I am a part of the group of women who shop at this store, I am active, and, moreover, I am a certain type of woman. It is the association with femininity through the bag which seems important.
You may recall the dreams of Dora. Freud recounts one of the elements of one such dream in the following discussion:
“’[…] Does nothing else occur to you in connection with the jewel-case? So far you have only talked about jewellery and have said nothing about the case. […] Perhaps you do not know that ‘jewel-case’ is a favourite expression for the same thing that you alluded to not long ago by means of the reticule you were wearing – for the female genitals, I mean.’”
Dora’s dream indicated, among other things, that there was a neurotic question hidden in the depths of the dream: “What am I as a woman?” It is a question posed to the big Other, the more formulaic inscription being “what am I to the Other?”
Isn’t it the case that today we are witnessing the quick retreat of traditional gender roles. It is not puzzling to presume that with such speed of transition, such intensity of integration of the gender spectrum, and so on, there remains something difficult to grasp concerning, finally, the traditional question which remains unresolved. It is during a time of quick retreat from the traditional gender system that we discover fleeting resurgences of hyper-identification via the symptom. The hipster beard, flannel shirts, and thick moustaches, are the hipsters’ attempt to recreate the lost phallic signifier. And the Lululemon bag is perhaps an indication of a resurgence and ever more forceful and desperate attempt to return to and hence resolve the question of femininity. This is my claim. When we submerge the question it returns as a symptom. In this case, it is the imaginary object of the bag which provides a refuge for the missing symbolic function.

Excuse me! Would you watch my stuff?

Why is it that when we have to use the washroom or take a break at a crowded public place (such as a library or a cafe) we often ask a stranger to watch our belongings? On the one hand, we must realize that this only brings further attention to our absence, thereby indicating, if only to the stranger, that there is property all set up to be stolen. On the other hand, we believe that we have established a sense of trust with the stranger precisely because we have selected them, among all the others, to be put in charge of such an important task.
Experience demonstrates that the stranger almost never watches the belongings. I am witnessing such an event as I type this at the University of Guelph library. The stranger has not looked at the belongings once since she had been asked to do so 15 minutes ago.
So what, exactly, is going on in this interaction? Has it not occurred to us that by asking a stranger we are in effect signalling our absence, drawing attention to it – precisely to the stranger? The implicit logic played out here is no different from that of little Hans. It is by signalling the absence to a stranger, that is, by substituting a signifier for the absence, that some anxiety is alleviated. However, the underlying absence nonetheless remains the same; moreover, the possibility of killing the ‘thing’ (e.g., the belongings which may now be all the more stolen) becomes heightened.
Twenty minutes later, the girl returns to her belongings without checking with the stranger at all. The stranger for her part has still not turned around to check on the safety of those belongings.

Baudelaire, The Man of the World, and the Sinthome

In the age of “ordinary psychosis,” there is not only the Joycean method of stabilization (whereby the imaginary ego compensates for the symbolic name-of-the-father or the rupture of the Borromean trinity). There is also, exemplified remarkably by Charles Baudelaire, the efforts made by the so-called “Man of the World.”
The “Man of the World” presents many of the characteristics of an ordinary psychosis. I believe that it presents, minimally, all three of those listed in Jacques-Alain Miller’s 2008 paper “Ordinary Psychosis Revisted.” But there is a difference: the “Man of the World” does not compensate for a missing name-of-the-father by way of the imaginary ego (i.e., making a name for oneself). For example, the “Man of the World” does not affix a signature to his works, does not wish to be seen – indeed he wishes to remain anonymous! He remains modest, and so on.
So, what is going on here?
The “Man of the World” compensates for the missing name-of-the-father by “creating a personal form of originality” (Baudelaire). This can be found at play in the aesthetic work itself, but also the style of the man himself; the style of the man as he wanders the street in search of the crowd. I think perhaps it is more fitting, in this context, to discuss the Saint-Homme or Saint-Thom rather than the Sinthome. The “Man of the World” is cultivated, in search of a name for eternity, in search of an Other there within the crowd who might fleetingly compensate for eternity.
In the end he [the Man of the World] rushes out into the crowd in search of a man unknown to him whose face, which he had caught sight of, had in a flash fascinated him. Curiosity had become a compelling, irresistible passion (Baudelaire)
Here, finally, we can see, not as we might suspect (a simple demonstration of the earlier Lacanian teachings about the unary trait) but rather what came later through Jacques-Alain Miller’s teachings. There is a relationship of the unary trait to later teachings about symbolic identification through the so-called “compensatory make-believe” function. For example, Ellie Ragland, describing a particular case in her book Topologically Speaking wrote that “[t]he real trauma of loss valorizes certain traits of the lost objects – unary traits – positivizing them as identifications by which to fill in concrete places of lack.” Or, if you like, you might take this idea from Voruz, who wrote that “Lacan’s teaching […] reverses a number of the previous conclusions of psychoanalysis: […] [for example] the instance of a heterogeneous continuity oeprating on the trace of the unary trait, with the latter orienting the punctuation of enunciation in its progressive making sense of the Real.”

You can see how the “man of the world” is compelled to seek out from the crowd a point of identification in the unary trait. It is “irresistible.”

Crossing the hot sands

We often ask why analysands conduct their work, that is, why they enter into an analysis and why they eventually remain there for some time. We know that it typically has something to do with a sudden desire for change, which reveals, after some time and beneath all that they say, that there actually a commitment to remaining the same.

We also know that analysands typically enter into an analysis because they have it in their minds that somebody out there can help them, and that, moreover, somebody else has the technical knowledge which they do not have. These analysands will spend a great deal of their time challenging that very notion. It is precisely by challenging the notion that there is a subject-supposed-to-know that they reveal themselves as analysands all the more committed to the idea that there is one out there.

In any case, they also sometimes want a cure. Today more than ever there are two broad types of analysands: those who want to cure a particular symptom or cluster or symptoms (and in short order), and those who don’t know what they want but seem to want more than a cure. Perhaps what they really want is a transformative experience from somebody else who can tell them what must want for that to happen.

I do not want to dwell on this question any further for today. Instead I want to open up the following question: why do psychoanalysts take on analysands? It is an altogether different question. It is a bit like asking what God wants from his people, except that in asking this question we are already presuming the existence of the one who wants something. A good analysis is one where such a question is not asked by the analyst. The psychoanalyst is the one who brings out the hidden questions that motivated all that the analysand says within the clinic. In other words, a good analysis is one where the analyst becomes cast-off from the analysand, where the analyst effectively ceases to exist to some degree.

But we can not deny that there is something of the analyst, though the analyst is not as real as he or she would like to position himself. The analyst can not possibly be in the real, hard as he or she might try. We all know the story about the discovery of the counter transferences, and so on. But this does not go far enough: the analyst is not in the real, he merely makes a semblance at being in the real.

However, what we can say, unlike the analysand, is that the analyst has been in the real, has touched the real, has hit the truth, and, therefore, has had the experience of the real carried through into the analysis with him. The analyst makes a semblance at being in the real, and this, precisely, is the symbolic power of his name.

We can not say this about the analysand. The analysand, with the analyst as his guide, goes in search of the real, and, when the analyst effectively intervenes the analysand confronts the hole of clinical reality. The cause of the clinical reality is the place where the analyst has been, his passage through the real (in such a way that the analyst has become one precisely by stepping with bare feet over the hot sands of the desert and making it to the other side).

This is what it means to cross the floor from the couch to the chair.

The obverse side of the clinic, that is, of the discourse which once compelled them, is the one where the real becomes the agent of the discourse. This is why Lacan said that the discourse of the master has only one counterpoint. That counterpoint is not found in variations on the capitalist’s discourse, and it is not found in the hysterical or obsessional discourses. It is found in the analyst’s discourse alone.

It is only at this moment that a new name might be invent, the name of the psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst is the name for the pass from the imaginary of the couch, across the hot sands of the real clinical floor, to the symbolic seat of the analyst’s chair.

That’s a hypothesis, anyway.

The White House Must…

There is a popular witticism which expresses that we are all naked …under our clothes. Isn’t it much the same for our other various dwelling places, such as the home? For example, we are all homeless …under our homes.
This is the ontology of homelessness that Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, in their war against metaphysics, refuse to accept. For them the solution is much the same as the one that James Strachey made when he translated the popular Freudian expression as “there where the id was, the ego should come to be.” In other words, for them the solution is to bring the homes to the homeless, to enlarge the sphere of the dwelling place – a room of the ego’s own.
Lacan read the Freudian expression in a different way: “the ego must come to the place where the id was.” This shift of perspective indicates a notion of radical decentering of the prevailing dwelling place by the real of the drives. Thus, the prevailing dwelling place, such as, for example, the white house, or the Canadian house of commons, etc, must be disrupted by the homelessness of the real.

Leaves and Religion

I have this hypothesis that theological thought – which, in some sense, is at the base of a lot of our logical mental operations – has been conditioned by the gods of the real, but not in the sense of the animals of the real. Rather, if we look, for example, at the leaves of plants prevalent in a particular geographic region we see there unfolding before our very eyes the trinities of Christianity (clovers, maple leaves, the common fig leaf, etc), the dangerous multiplicities (which are to be avoided), and the holy monotheism of the one (greek strawberry tree, acacia leaf, etc).

Perhaps one day I will pursue this investigation further.

Some Quick Thoughts on Anarchist Theory After the Decline of Symbolic Efficiency

It has become a common argument among a certain school of political theorists to claim that there has been a decline in symbolic efficiency within recent political and social history. These scholars go on to argue that this period of decline is marked historically and it presents itself as a movement inward toward the political ontology of drive and away from the political logic of desire. Moreover, it represents the disappearance of the subject-supposed-to-know, that is, the subject who, because of his place within the structure of ruling, knows the answer or the deep secrets of our lives as political agents. However, what has been less highlighted by these scholars is the role that Lacan’s later work played in the formation of this theory. For example, these scholars seldom acknowledge that Lacan’s later work – which provided the foundation for this theory of the decline of symbolic efficiency – also offered a solution.

So, rather quickly, here is the problem: symbolic efficiency, for the early and middle periods of Lacan’s teaching, was an essential ingredient for the constitution of the speaking being. The subject cannot exist except as a consequence of the paternal function, a function which was expressed also in the French homophone: non-du-pere (nom-du-pere). First, for example, there was one non-du-pere which structured the subject, and then, there were perhaps many names of the father, until, finally, one could do without the names of the father. For the early Lacan the foreclosure of the name of the father results always in psychosis, madness – a fundamental impossibility at the level of speaking and language. But for the later Lacan the name-of-the-father could very well be foreclosed but only if the subject makes up for that missing father through a particular know-how (savior-faire), a know-how to make use of the semblance of paternal authority.

It is this theory of ‘know-how’ and of ‘semblant’ with which recent political theorists have seemed to avoid. This brings me, finally, to my point: anarchist theorists today stand to benefit from this missing “affirmative” component of “know-how” within the theory of the decline of symbolic efficiency. However, before addressing this possibility I want to highlight the movement of anarchist theory in the last few decades. What I am offering here is a truncated version of that history. First, during the time of ‘classical theory’ anarchists believed that there was one place of power, it was the State. This was a unitary place of power, and it was the place from which one might trace a line, a line moving in one direction, toward the great mass of people who were robbed from their freedom and autonomy by this place of power. Consequently, the political task was only to remove the place of power so that freedom and autonomy may be restored. Let us refer to this as the first moment.

I want to be clear: during the first moment the concept of “autonomy” was not at all present within the classical texts of Bakunin or Kropotkin or others. This word, and indeed this reading of classical theory, was only made available in the second period, retroactively, as it were. The modern anarchists wished to highlight the concept of autonomy and inject it into the classical texts. They wanted to present a critique of the classical concept of power, a conception of power which was no doubt present within the classical texts but which was buried, or latent. The second moment, then, was precisely this critique of the logic of “autonomy,” the logic of spontaneous self-organization, the logic of a battle against the State. However, it also became clear that there were many places of power during the classical period; it was not just the State, but also the Church, and so on. However, one thing is most certainly clear: there was a finite amount of enemies, a finite array of places of power, and, nonetheless, power was thought to move unidirectionally and only to repress. The second period was the ‘third wave’ or the period of ‘modern’ and ‘post-anarchism.’ It was the period of critique.

The period of critique found its way toward a secondary internal moment: affirmation. After the critique – and, this is essential, it was only after the critique was made that it became possible – there was a moment of rereading the tradition. The second moment took hold of the classical tradition and transformed it into a modern moment: new theorists were introduced, new readings of Bakunin and Kropotkin (and others) were introduced so as to highlight the way in which they subverted classical theory. Stirner became central, and so too did Landauer. What is most interesting is that even those who critiqued the critique of the post-anarchists, that is, even those who critiqued the reading of classical theory for having an essentialist understanding of power and human nature, joined in the spirit of the time. It was important then for all anarchist theorists to demonstrate that power is productive as well as destructive (e.g., Bakunin’s infamous claim in his political letter that destruction is also a creative passion), and that there are infinite and ever-changing zones of political contestation.

And so, the concept of ‘autonomy’ was abandoned. In the current moment, when, finally, anarchists are beginning to offer affirmative ontologies of multiplicity (fractal ontology, anarchic metaphysics, etc), we have retained a concept of political contestation that subtracts from itself any notion of a central revolution and that embraces, against any logic of spontaneous and autonomy action, only a revolution of dinner parties, friendship networks, diverse cultural production, and so on. The world is complex and the only thing that will save us is to make it even more complex, networked, fractal, and, finally, inclusive. Finally, we return to the wider frame with which I opened these notes: the decline of symbolic efficiency.

It is my claim that we are in a unique historical moment which permits us to return to the concept of anarchist autonomy and revolution with a new focus. When the nom-du-pere is no longer functioning it is possible to introduce a theory of the know-how of the anarchist: auto-nom-me. Recall that for Lacan, in his famous seminar on James Joyce, asked the question: was James Joyce mad? In other words, was he what today Jacques-Alain Miller might label an “ordinary psychotic” (or what others refer to as an ‘untriggered’ psychotic)? There is significant evidence that points in this direction, however, instead of reviewing it I will only ask my readers to consult Lacan’s seminar on Joyce, a seminar which included a prominent Joyce scholar who spoke at length about “A Portrait of THE artist as a Young Man.” For my part, I presume the thesis to be correct – Joyce stabilized his psychosis and kept it in check precisely through the production of a certain know-how, a certain know-how to make use of the semblant of a name of the father.

The anarchist knows how to make use of auto-nom-me, that is, a spontaneous affirmation of the self, which, precisely through contestation, also presents itself as an auto-non-me, demonstrated most effectively during times of contestation with police. Moreover, the anarchist, who, like the ordinary psychotic, is alert on matters concerning fashion, also knows-how to make use of the au-ton-numbre. The logic of autonomy, in any case, may be unearthed, once again, in the work of Max Stirner. Recall that Stirner invented a name for himself, a name, in fact, given to him by those around him – and he internalized it. His real name, as well as the extent of his authorship, is an enigma. Johann Schmitt did not sign his name to his major political works. Instead, he invented a name for himself, a name, as well as a figure – a figure which marks his body there on the brow. Names name me not, claimed Stirner, and, what we learn from this, is that the proper names – the names of the law – are inadequate to the task – the only adequacy results, finally, from the self-naming, which, we might suggest, is a self-naming completed very early in the life of the man.

In any case, I do not wish to partake in a detailed examination of Stirner’s project. This would no doubt be a fruitful task (e.g., take, for example, the fact that the German word for “name” appears in the most unlikely places through the text, for things that have, in many cases, nothing to do with names at all). In any case, Stirner’s entire work consists of an attempt to create a sense of self for himself, to defend, in a sense, an Ego worthy of the name, that is, a “unique” Ego which may find a place for itself in the world and which may be the supreme Ego, that is, the Ego which Neitzsche may have stolen from him. I want only to begin to mark out the new moment within which the anarchist project may be renewed, and renewed precisely by rereading the concept of autonomy. It is no longer fashionable to merely critique the concept, as we did in the second period of our scholarship, but we must rather know-how to make use of it during a period of symbolic decline.