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.



Psychoanalysis & the “Great Commandment”

The ‘Great Commandment’ to love thy neighbour, as thyself is contingent upon another more essential commandment. This is what many biblical and philosophical commentators frequently neglect to mention. The second commandment depends essentially upon the first commandment, since the first commands total subjection (e.g., ‘all thy heart, soul, and mind’).

I will quote from the King James version:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Why is it important that we understand the injunction to love thy neighbour as thyself as secondary to the more primary and Great commandment to love the lord thy god with all thy heart, soul and mind?

Already you can see that the first commandment asks for total subjection while the second only asks for the particular subjection of “thyself.” The second does not include this total dimension of all thy heart, soul, and mind.

The first commandment depends radically upon the dimension of the Master, a word used explicitly in the English translation. This brings with it a dimension of servitude and unfreedom. It is within this dimension of servitude that one can establish the more ‘brotherly’ dimension of freedom and equality (e.g., love thy neighbour as thyself). Yet Freud, Lacan, and Lyotard, among others, remind us that the second commandment often fails. It fails because it is entirely possible to not be entirely subjected to it with all thy heart, soul, and mind. We can not say the same about the discourse of the Master. There is no counterpoint to the Master’s discourse, to unfreedom, to subjection.

This is Lacan’s lesson of the “Four Discourses.”

When the first commandment is abandoned so too is the second. Yet, as it happens, the second commandment can only be established within the general coordinates of unfreedom and subjection.

Let us presume a practical example. When two sides oppose one another freedom is only possible if both sides accept at some level the prior determination of the same Master. Yet, as we know, this is not the case with so-called “radical Islam” and secular Western Christianity. It is not the case when confrontations happen among antifascists and fascists.

Chomsky’s Meta-ethics

Noam Chomsky’s response to the recent antifa actions were prepared well in advance. They are ingrained within his latent meta-ethics, which he both takes for granted and explicitly invokes. Here is a snippet from a book I wrote more than ten years ago:

“By way of example, Noam Chomsky, a noted libertarian anarchist, has argued on more than one occasion, that ‘one of the, maybe the most, elementary of moral principles is that of universality, that is, if something is right for me, it’s right for you; if it’s wrong for you, it’s wrong for me. Any moral code that is even worth looking at has that at its core somehow’ (Chomsky, 2002). Chomsky’s adoption of the universalist ethical discourse is nowhere more apparent than in the response he has provided to his critics regarding his participation in what has come to be called the Faurisson Affair. Chomsky, who allegedly supported the ‘right’ of Robert Faurisson to publicize his questionable thoughts on the holocaust—as Chomsky (1981) has put it, ‘he denies the existence of gas chambers or of a systematic plan to massacre the Jews and questions the authenticity of the Anne Frank diary, among other things’ —had this to say in his defence:

[…] it is elementary that freedom of expression (including academic freedom) is not to be restricted to views of which one approves, and that it is precisely the case of views that are almost universally despised and condemned that this right must be most vigorously defended (ibid.).

Kant’s categorical imperative rests upon this axiom of generalizability and as a consequence it bounds the ethical subject to the shared duties illuminated through practical reason (cognitivism): ‘This harmonizing with humanity as an end in itself would, however, be merely negative and not positive, unless everyone also endeavours, as far as he can, to further the ends of others. For the ends of any person who is an end in himself must, if this idea is to have its full effect in me, be also, as far as possible, my ends’ (Kant, [1783] 2007: 181). Thus, for Kant, the universalizing principle takes the form of an imperative resulting from objective reason.

Adherents of the semantic theory associated with ethical universalism have typically presumed an objective place that is illuminated by the reasoning capacities of the mind as in deontological ethics, or empirical observations as in naturalist methodologies, etc. Overall, the popular criticism against ethical universalism has been that adherents have been insensitive to the unique cultural codes of diverse social groups and that they have therefore judged the ethical actions of these groups according to the standards of only one hegemonic social group. As Todd May has put it, ‘[t]he threat posed […] in articulating a universal conception of justice is that of allowing one linguistic genre (namely, the cognitive) to dominate others’ (May, 1994: 129). Mackie’s critique of utilitarianism has stood the test of time and has proved to be a useful critique in this respect:

People are simply not going to put the interests of all their ‘neighbours’ on an equal footing with their own interests […] Such universal concern will not be the actual motive of their choice, nor will they act as if it were (Mackie, 1977: 130-1).

Yet the question is inevitably raised: why do ethical actors utter these statements, love thy neighbour, and so on, if they do not believe them to be true? Mackie’s response has alluded to the psychoanalytical understanding of the role of fantasy in everyday life:

It encourages the treatment of moral principles not as guides to action but as a fantasy which accompanies actions with which it is quite incompatible […] To identify morality with something that certainly will not be followed is a sure way of bringing it into contempt—practical contempt, which combines all too readily with theoretical respect (Mackie, 1977: 131-2).

This logic has close affinities with that of the superego in Lacanian thought, which succeeds in garnering control of the id by way of the subject’s encouraged transgressions: Enjoy! Moreover, the Lacanian interpretation of Mackie’s statement would be that fantasized ethics are the very stuff of the imaginary order—an order of presumed wholeness, synthesis, similarity, and autonomy.


Adherents of ethical universalism have posited that there is a shared objective essence that grounds all normative principles irrespective of the stated values of independently situated subjects or social groups. Many times, this essence has arrived as a consequence of the a priori assumption of a static and/or natural human nature. It should not go unnoticed that Todd May’s post-structuralist anarchist critique of classical anarchism constitutes a gross reduction of the classical anarchist response to the question of place. However, his critique does serve as a useful example of a strong tendency within traditional anarchist discourse toward humanist naturalism:

we can recognize that anarchism’s naturalist view of human beings plays an ethical role in its political theory […] Moreover, the naturalist justification allows anarchists to assume their ethics rather than having to argue for them. If the human essence is already benign, then there is no need to articulate what kinds of human activity are good and what kinds are bad (May, 1994: 64).


Read the whole book/argument here:

Jeffrey Alexander’s “Cultural Sociology”

Jeffrey Alexander’s wonderful book The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology (2003) argued that “cultural sociology is a kind of social psychoanalysis.” He continued, “[f]or Freud, the goal of psychoanalysis was to replace the unconscious with the conscious: ‘Where Id was, Ego shall be.’ [Wos es War..] […] Its goal is to bring the social unconscious up for view. To reveal to men and women the myths that think them so that they can make new myths in turn.”

We should return to Lacan by rereading Freud’s dictum on the Wos es War… Recall that Strachey’s translation was inadequate, perhaps even incorrect. It is not that it should be translated as “where it was, ego shall be” or “where id was, there we should become conscious.” The difference: it is not that one should increase the sphere of consciousness, the sphere of human knowledge regarding social reality. Rather, more essentially, one must be prepared to confront the truth and let it speak as an intervention through the domain of consciousness and truth. It is not that the ego should capture and confine truth but that it should release it and let it pass through itself.

Slavoj Zizek once put it like this:

Therein resides Lacan’s version of Freud’s motto wo es war, soll ich werden (where it was, I shall become): not “the ego should conquer the id”, the site of the unconscious drives, but “I should dare to approach the site of my truth”. What awaits me “there” is not a deep Truth I have to identify with, but an unbearable truth I have to learn to live with.

Cultural Sociology ought to be about making cuts or interventions precisely within the field of thinking known as sociology.

If we return to some of the first perspectives on sociology we shall see the extent to which this was their important function. For example, there is the “sociological imagination” of C. Wright Mills, the “sociological perspective” of Peter L. Berger, the feminist perspectives (“the personal is political,” or “from margin to centre,” etc), and so on. These were interventions into taken-for-granted ideological meanings regarding social reality. To provide another convenient example: Durkheim’s widely influential work on suicide was to demonstrate that suicide was not simply the result of personal troubles. He opened up another reality and let it speak. This other reality intervened dramatically into the taken-for-granted meanings pervading social intercourse. This explains why so many sociologists want to encourage a certain type of thinking, rather than a certain methodology.

Today there is a sort of datapolitik at play within political reality. The sociology of Durkheim and others is now incorporated into the taken-for-granted infrastructure of politics and culture. Thus, cultural sociology needs to make new cuts, new interventions. It needs to return to the Freudian dictum with the seriousness of Lacan.

It must, more than ever, (if I may use the expression of the former conservative Prime Minister of Canada) be ready to “commit sociology.”

Trump’s “many sides”

A bit on Trump and number theory.

When Trump claims that there are “two” sides, or “many” sides, he invites us to understand multiplicity consistently (as if all multiples are equal to one another; i.e., 1 is not equal to 0). Radical and revolutionary thought invites us to understand that a multiplicity always has within itself an inconsistent multiple, where multiples are not all treated as if they are the same. Trump does not know the meaning of the phrase “many sides,” he knows only the meaning “1 equals 0.”


Recently, I have been in conversations with people who either have Complex Primary Motor Stereotypy (CPMS) or else have children who have it. I have noticed the following: those who have had CPMS for a significant period of time (e.g., twenty or more years) seem less likely to describe it as a problem that ought to be cured. I would not go so far as to describe this as ‘resistance,’ but it is striking how their discourse demonstrates a certain contempt for a cure. It seems rather that CPMS becomes increasingly a vehicle for self-identification, and, moreover, for their unique talents to be exhibited. CPMS becomes the place for poetic expression, for the invention of language to describe the phenomena, and so on. No doubt, it is beautiful. It seems to me that this is what Lacanians refer to as the synthome. I invite you, if you are so interested, to look into the way those who have CPMS express themselves about the experience and to investigate the way that they describe their sensations and excitations as well as their relations to the Other.

On the other hand, those who love somebody who has CPMS (e.g., parents) are much more likely to feel frustration as a result of it. Parents of those with CPMS are much more likely to indicate that this is something they want ‘fixed’ or ‘treated,’ while, at the same time, adding that it is what makes their little one unique and special. Parents constantly try to walk a confusing and challenging tight rope between acceptance and frustration. I have found increasing evidence of parents or relatives who have had similar conditions, or if it is not directly CPMS that they have had then they seem to show evidence of eating disorders or panic attacks or something similar.

Here, psychoanalysis demonstrates again a unique contribution to any understanding CPMS: the underlying structure is what is important. Children tend to inherit the unconscious baggage of their parents. (I have mentioned my own eating and panic disorders in relation to my son’s CPMS.) In other words, while the parental structure may appear to be relatively stable, the underlying structure, upon inspection, might actually reveal a similar structure to the child. This is why so many parents remark upon the apparent “genetic” aspect of CPMS. More research should be done in this area (e.g., more research should be done on parents of children with CPMS). This is a highly neglected area of research. Moreover, we should try to find out the role of the father in cases of CPMS. I can not speak to this question as well as I would like.

In any case, it strikes me that all of this is consistent with what Paul Verhaeghe has described as the ‘new symptoms’ (e.g., panic attacks, eating disorders, etc). I invite you to see his article in the book Madness, yes you can’t for more on this. CPMS is not a classical ‘conversion symptom’ in the strict sense because its underlying meaning can not be revealed. I have tried to see if the CPMS has anything to do with earlier trauma (e.g., divorce, etc) and I can not be sure that it does. Soren does clearly have some problems with the separation of his parents (often, at times, remarking that he wished his parents would still live together, and so on), but I can not link it to the CPMS symptoms. Soren often says: “my body just does it.” Those are his own words, and not mine. He can not find any further words, usually, to describe it. I have to introduce the words to him and then he accepts them.

Thus, there is at the root of CPMS (unlike conversion symptoms) a radical void of meaning. I can not be sure that this is the case for all people who have CPMS. So far, however, this seems fairly consistent.

This clinical feature (the void of meaning) is absolutely not accounted for in any current research on CPMS and it is the unique contribution of psychoanalysis. Verhaeghe’s work sheds light on CPMS in a way that all other so-called ‘evidence based’ approaches simply haven’t and can not. Contemporary psychoanalytic research is at the fore in this area but has not addressed the specificity of CPMS. Instead, it treats CPMS as if it were simply a part of the ‘ordinary psychosis,’ ‘borderline,’ and so on, structures. This might be the right way to think about it, after all.

I want to be clear that I am only provisionally accepting the label “Complex Primary Motor Stereotypy,” and that my usage of that phrase is only to facilitate a connection to those who as of yet find no other “name” to describe the experience. I also do not want to settle on whether or not this is something that needs to be cured or something that is a problem. I am trying to be indifferent about that. I simply want to better understand it. The point is that those who have CPMS seem to be indifferent to the Other (and his wishes to cure it, or whatever) or else radically opposed to the Other. In both cases, treatment, if it were possible, seems fairly difficult. Transference and the sujet-suppose-savoir can not be easily established.

I am writing in haste, but I do want to point out one more detail. I have become privy to a new aspect of CPMS that I had not hitherto been made aware. Many of those who have CPMS describe an intense ‘imaginary’ experience. Some even gave that the dignity of a concept (which I will not repeat here). The imaginary experience is intense and yet it is something that they willingly do and that they find a lot of benefits from doing. For example, some with CPMS will indicate that they feel more energy and awareness after an intense imaginary fixation. A lot of those with CPMS describe keeping it for ‘at home,’ or in the privacy of their bedrooms, etc. These are describe often in visual terms: ‘its like watching a movie,’ and so on. You can see here once again that we are dealing with surplus stimulation, something that pours out of the body. Witnessing the behaviour reveals also that it is as if the fingers are being stimulated intensely by electricity. It is a too much which is not necessarily problem for he or she who feels it. Typically the too much of the clinic leads to a demand for a ‘cut’: “stop all the extra excitation doctor!” In the case of CPMS, I can not say that I have found a single demand (except from the parents) for a ‘cut.’

Incidentally, when my son was younger I believe that he may have been watching a disproportionate amount of television during the time of his parents’ depression. It is still difficult at times to remove him from a television or video game.

Complex Primary Motor Stereotypy (2)

One of the most interesting things about Complex Primary Motor Stereotypy is that children find it difficult to explain, that is, to put into words, the experience. This is not necessarily a symptom. It is, rather, the crux of the problem. Behavioral psychology, which has been at the fore of treating (with some minimal relative success) Complex Primary Motor Stereotypy, remarks about the importance of creating an “awareness” of the excitation (“excitation” is my word for it). This is where Behavioral therapy falls short: it is not awareness at stake but rather signifiers, and the appearance of key signifiers which would inhibit some of the jouissance.

Soren was introduced to several signifiers: (1) the shakes, (2) flapping, and, moreover, (3) “Can I shake?,” and (4) “No Shaking now,” then the shaking subsided ever so slightly. When these signifiers are missing, his shaking emerged at an exponentially accelerated rate.

Behavioral psychology has only taken the surface level insight of psychoanalysis, ignoring the essential underlying insights. For example, recent research in the field of behavioral psychology (out of John’s Hopkin’s University) has found that variability in the “blocking” technique – which analysts know refers ultimately to the “blocking” of real jouissance, of the drives – increases the likelihood of treatment success. This is what a signifier does: it blocks jouissance.

The behavioral psychologists believe variability introduces some choice for the subject, and that subject’s prefer choice, prefer freedom. This is incorrect. Psychoanalytic research finds that variability on the part of the “blocker” (the paternal function) establishes the function precisely as an external agency, and, moreover, as a function that works. The only way that a subject can be sure that a father is independent and powerful is to test that out. Variability is a test of the limits of the subject’s freedom.

The behavioral psychologists are making progress treating complex primary motor stereotypy only because they have taken some of the insights of psychoanalysis without realizing it. However, they have done so in ways that will not move as far as they could if only they would turn to psychoanalysis. For example: they are incorrect on the nature of “awareness,” (which is really about “signifiers”), “blocking” (which is really about inhibiting jouissance), and “variability” (which is really about the quest toward establishing a limit to freedom).