Sunday, February 11, 2018

Durcharbeiten by Samo Tomsic

This is  a discussion of the equivalencies and differences in the epistemology and politics  of Marx and Freud as mediated by Jacques Lacan; the analytic ‘working out’ of what  it is about Capitalism that’s unconscious, or how capitalism has colonized our mental apparatus. The author detects homology in the works of these three ‘giants’ in the critical tradition.  I cannot elaborate the full intricacies  of Tomsic’s arguments here, but will proceed with those matters which I have most easily been able to grasp.

Although Tomsic makes no mention of Adorno or the Frankfurt School of criticism, his main assertion is that Marx, Freud and Lacan practiced negative dialectics, in a surprisingly well- developed way.

“ The entire work of Marx and Lacan,” Tomsic remarks, “ could be considered an immense footnote and precision on Hegel’s statement that ‘Speech and work are outer expressions in which the individual no longer keeps or possesses himself within himself, but lets the inner get completely outside of him, leaving it to the mercy of something other than himself (Phenomenology of Spirit, 1977 Oxford edition page 187).” To the general reader the position of ‘The Other” in these discussions might seem ambiguous, both existing or not-existing depending on the context in which the term is deployed. We may say ‘The Other’ exists in  reality but it is not real. “In reality,” Tomsic writes. ‘the process of montage or construction is at stake ( the creation of a world view or ideology), while the real demands decomposition and dissolution of appearances.”

Perhaps it would be best  to clarify this complex matter by quoting Tomsic’s  more or less summary explanation of the Feud/Marx method near the end of his book. First, however, it is necessary to pin down what  the terms ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ in the passage refer to, beside the influence Saussure. The world (the signified) is out there, but descriptions of the world (signifiers) are not.  Truth cannot be out the- cannot exist independently of the human mind – because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there.

The intertwining of the epistemological and the political problem becomes evident here. The symptom ( class conflict, the fetish, the commodity) is the return of the truth as such in the gap of certain knowledge, pointing beyond the field of positive science which supports, for instance the medical notion of symptom. The truth of cognition remains factual but comes in pair with error. Speaking truth, by contrast, disrupts the regime of knowledge by introducing an enunciation that goes beyond the enunciated and uncovers the detachment of the signifier from its seemingly adequate relation to the signified. Consequently, the autonomy of the signifiers implies another regime of truth, and this is what Lacan describes as the ‘truth as such’ – the conflictual rather than the factual  truth. This conflictual truth (detached from the ‘out there’ by its very autonomy) corrupts a specific type of knowledge, which strives to constitute the ‘beautiful order’, an ordering knowledge of science, but also certain philosophies, religion and political economy. This regime of knowledge necessarily excludes the conflictual dimension of the truth and affirms the doctrine of truth-value, adequacy, facticity or convention. In this epistemological conflict, we could envision a particular expression of what Althusser called “class struggle theory,” which manifests here through the struggle for a doctrine of truth and knowledge that does not subscribe to the positivistic ideal of scientificity . Herein lies the epistemological and political novelty of psychoanalysis ( and Marx’s dialectical materialism): ‘ Analysis came to announce to us that there is a knowledge  that does not know itself, supported by the signifier as such. . . .rooted in the signifier’s pure  and autonomous difference (labor-power in Marx’s formulation).

There is no cultural metaposition from which to analyze  the structural features of individual psyche, social relations or political economy. Structure (which is always discursive) itself only provides a minimum of consistency by constituting the subjective ( grounding social relations in biological differences, for example) and social reality ( on the abstraction of ‘The Economy” with its autonomous, hidden providences) while simultaneously introducing into this reality a maximum of instability that manifests through the formation of symptoms, crisis or revolution. Herein lies the hope for transformation and progress though we can hardly say  a priori of what that transformation and progress will consist.

Tomsic’s argument is theoretically dense though with many flashes of insight into the ‘concrete” of everyday struggle. Towards the end he gets to the main polemical intent of the whole book which is an attack of “Identity Politics’ so called:

. . .identitarian politics pursued the proliferation of minoritarian identities and moved towards the problematic of representation (e.g. gender quota) which successfully neutralized the language of revolutionary politics. The subject of identitarian politics no less rejects the actual subject of revolutionary politics, which is constitutively pre-identitarian, non-individual and non-psychological, hence irreducible to particular identities or identifications. In the end, identity politics proposes its own version of the (capitalist) narcissistic subject.

For the non-identical subject of the unconscious, Freud and Lacan argued that it could be discovered only under the conditions and within the horizon of the modern scientific revolution (
with its provisional hypothesis rather than ‘command’ performances). This means that the subject of modern politics is the subject of modern science, and while politics grounded on the economic and legal abstractions repeats the capitalist rejection of this negative subjectivity, communist politics would have to start from the practical mobilization and organization that Marx isolated in his science of value (the autonomy of labor power, now a commodity defined by its exchange value). Lacan’s reading of Marx insists that his critique comes down to a theoretical isolation, a materialist theory of the subject, which provides a new orientation of political practice. While capitalism considers the subject to be nothing more than a narcissistic animal. Marxism and psychoanalysis reveal that the subject of revolutionary politics is an alienated animal, which, in its most intimate interior, includes its other. His inclusion is the main feature of a non-narcissistic love and consequently of a social link that is not rooted in self-love.

Marx argues in Grundisse that greed itself is the product of a definite social development, not natural, as opposed to historical. Desire is not the producer – it is itself produced, while the producer is situated elsewhere.  How Freud exactly approaches the relation between desire and productive unconscious labor will be examined below; what matters now is that for Freud no reality is consistently objective and every worldview, every ideological construction, contains ‘wish-fulfillment’ . . . The task of psychoanalysis is thus in clear opposition to world views, It does not interpret reality by feeding it with more meaning – it creates (or attempts to create) the conditions under which the subject will be able to produce a transformative act (homologous to Marxian praxis).

An opposition exists in these writings between need and demand, pleasure (the object of desire) and jouissance, (the insatiable productions of the drive), between the useful and the useless. So, as the joke goes, capitalism commands :  “Enjoy yourselves, be miserable.” tethered to a political economy where incessant production is an end in itself and the intensification of work is virtually infinite, only the effects of war and global warming holding it back, and the colonizing of bodies by the sovereign discourse of abstractions like “the Economy” knows no limit. The only thing Americans own collectively is the national debt whose creditors are the banks and the ‘wizards of finance’, a fetish-figure analogous, or should I say homologous, to the ‘princes, nobles and prelates’ of medieval  times.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a better articulation of the matter