Why Psychoanalysis?

When both scientism and the so-called “post-critical” movement are ascendent, what can possibly be the purchase of psychoanalysis?  Alenka Zupancic is going to tell us!  Join InterCcECT Tuesday 14 June for a reading group on her very short book “Why Psychoanalysis: Three Interventions.”  We’ll meet in the garden at Handlebar at the luxuriantly summery hour of 3pm.  Drop a note to interccect at gmail for the readings.

The Antinomies of Pure Trump

The iron-clad rule of all punditry and freelance social media opinionating: everything that happens must be construed such that it helps Trump.

Do people protest his events? The silent majority hates protestors, so it helps Trump. Do people not protest his events? That shows that he’s a legitimate, mainstream figure.

Does the economy get worse? That increases people’s desire to switch party control, hence helping Trump. Does the economy get better? That makes people feel more secure and willing to take a risk, hence helping Trump.

I leave further examples as an exercise for the reader. In fact, it’s good to practice “but this only helps Trump,” until it becomes second nature. That will help you to build up your social media brand as a sober realist (i.e., someone who always thinks the worst possible thing will happen), and greater attention to Trump leads to more passionate debate and therefore more pageviews and ad revenue for your favorite social media sites.

Were blogs better?

Was online discussion better when blogs were in their heyday? I don’t think I have rose-colored spectacles, but it seems to me there was at least more room for productive discussion. There was a greater chance that a commenter had been following your blog for a while and knew where you were coming from — and similarly, there was a tendency for a community of commenters to develop.

Now it seems like commenting culture is like guerilla warfare — people swoop in, take potshots with no context whatsoever, and don’t even stick around for the responses. No one responds directly to what a particular person is saying, but only to the kind of thing they think that kind of person says. Plus there’s the weaponization of comment through orchestrated harassment campaigns.

There are still people trying to have a genuine dialogue, but it’s hard to filter out the noise. It was never great, of course, but now it’s even worse.

Žižek Trouble

Further to Adam’s post, I want to briefly sketch why I think it is that Žižek so commonly and consistently fails to think well or carefully about the issues he dismisses as ‘identity politics’ – questions of racism, sexism, transphobia and so on and so on. I don’t think these failings can be lightly dismissed as incidental to his work; actually I think they’re deeply revealing of some major problems with his intellectual project as a whole.

Following what Adam refers to as Žižek’s ‘middle period’ (around 1993-1996), his work is consistently characterised by a trinitarian ontology in which three levels – the material, the individual, and the social – are each constituted around a central antagonism. For the material world, this central antagonism is that of quantum uncertainty; for the individual this central antagonism is sexuality and gender; and for society this antagonism is that of class. Žižek claims that at the heart of this materialism is the assertion that what emerges later retroactively changes that which precedes it – so that consciousness emerges, for example, from the material processes of the brain and yet come also to form those processes; and ideas emerge from the material practices of the community and yet subsequently reshape them. And yet, for all that, Žižek is consistently unable to articulate or engage with the possibility of intersections between these three fundamental levels of reality. I think this inability is at the core of his failures to think well about issues of gender and race, which emerge in the kinds of grim racism, sexism and transphobia which seem to have been increasingly on display in his public statements.

It’s not that Žižek doesn’t talk about gender – questions of gender and sexuality are persistently present throughout his work. For Žižek, gender and sexuality are the ways in which ontological inconsistency manifests itself at the level of the individual. The individual comes into being around a sense of incompleteness which is also the condition of their existence as such, and the desire for a return to completeness manifests in fantasy as the longing for the lost union with the mother figure or the belief that completeness may be attained by union with the beloved other who has the objet petit a, the missing piece which will make the individual complete. Human gender and sexuality play out, for Žižek, around this sexualised quest for completeness. And yet nowhere in Žižek’s work does he engage with, for example, the idea that social distinctions between men and women function not only to sustain or create sexualised fantasies of completion but also class distinctions and the distribution of wealth.

Likewise, I want to suggest that the lack of any significant engagement with questions of of racism, whiteness or colonialism in Žižek’s work is the result of the fact that, for him, race is a fundamental category neither of material being, individual subjectivity nor the social order. There simply is no place for thinking racialisation within Žižek’s dialectical materialist framework. The closest he gets to making space in his work for a discussion of issues of race is as an ideological displacement of class struggle. This is what happens, for example, in his discussion of European anti-Semitism: within the fantasy of Europe it is not the inherent antagonism of class struggle which holds back the dream of a properly harmonious society but the figure of the Jew which functions as a scapegoat.

These absences in Žižek’s work aren’t simply because he doesn’t care about racism, or about the work of Marxist feminists or black communists, though I don’t think I want to suggest that that isn’t the case. They arise from the basic structure of his thought which, divides the world into three fundamental levels – material, individual and social – and which understand each level as more or less discrete, constituted in part by their interactions with each other – though this affirmation of their mutual interdependence tends not to show itself in Žižek’s actual analysis of each – but much more fundamentally by their own internal antagonisms, their dialectical structure. For change to occur, on this account of things, it must arise from the materialist dialectics occurring within each level. Žižek constantly draws parallels between these three levels of reality, yet what he insists on is likeness, analogy, resemblance, rather than interaction, intersection or interdependence. All of which is to say that Žižek’s failures to think well or carefully about racism and sexism aren’t just incidental features of his work: they reflect some of the fundamental, ontological inadequacies of his project as a whole.

Would not the most radical political intervention for Zizek be precisely to STOP?!

Slavoj Zizek needs to stop writing political columns. He is not good at it. Some readers are still making heroic efforts to construe his political columns positively, but if you need a supporter to write a 2000+ word defense of your pithy political intervention — indeed, if most readers construe it as meaning the opposite of what is intended — then you are doing it wrong.

Those heroic defenses — a genre to which I have contributed in the recent past — generally ask that the reader situate Zizek’s political column or interview or whatever within his vast theoretical apparatus, which has been growing at a rate of at least 500 pages per year for the last couple decades. Demanding hundreds of hours of labor from your reader before you can extract a worthwhile point out of an opinion column is not how political interventions are supposed to work. If your point requires a certain theoretical context in order to make sense, then you should not publish your point without that context.

Leaving aside the question of whether Zizek’s opinions about the refugee crisis or whatever else are “correct,” we must also pay attention to the form of his interventions. How do they function politically, concretely speaking? Let’s look at their real-world effect rather than fantasizing about what it would be like if the powers that be somehow implemented his program or he were dictator. I don’t know how we can conclude that they are anything but an utter failure. They do not prompt discussion of the actual issues at hand, but instead turn all attention to how we are to assess Slavoj Zizek the individual — is he a Eurocentric Islamophobic racist? And even if we grant that he’s not, the very fact that the question is coming up constantly indicates that there is a failure of presentation.

Yet it appears that he takes every such accusation as an occasion to dig in his heels further on his stupid South Park-style contrarian “provocations.” So we’re dealing with political interventions that utterly fail to get their point across and instead prompt an increasingly negative referendum on Zizek — apparently causing a feedback loop where he insists all the more on his ineffective presentation (again, construing his intentions as charitably as possible).

The only way to stop this vicious cycle is to stop. He needs to stop writing these opinion columns, and his friends need to stop writing apologetics and start writing him e-mails begging him to just stop, before he completely destroys his reputation and legacy.

Reminder: The Figure of the Migrant Book Event

Dear friends,

Join us! In a few weeks, we will host a book event on Thomas Nail’s The Figure of The Migrant (Stanford University Press, 2015). Stanford University Press has all the relevant information as well as a few excerpts from the book. There are also two interviews about the book here and here that might be of interest. I encourage you all to pick up a copy of the book and participate with us in the comments section. The following have already agreed to post:

Robin Celikates (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Andrew Dilts (Loyola Marymount University, USA)

Todd May (Clemson University, USA)

Ladelle McWhorter (University of Richmond, USA)

Sandro Mezzadra (University of Bologna, Italy)

Adriana Novoa (University of South Florida, USA)

Daniella Trimboli (University of British Columbia, Canada/University of Melbourne, Australia)

The following is taken from the Introduction of The Figure of the Migrant.

The twenty-first century will be the century of the migrant. At the turn of the century, there were more regional and international migrants than ever before in recorded history. Today, there are over 1 billion migrants. Each decade, the percentage of migrants as a share of the total population continues to rise, and in the next twenty-five years, the rate of migration is predicted to be higher than during the last twenty-five years. It has become more necessary for people to migrate because of environmental, economic, and political instability. Climate change, in particular, may cause international migration to double over the next forty years. The percentage of total migrants who are non-status or undocumented is increasing, which poses a serious challenge to democracy and political representation.

Today, the figure of the migrant exposes an important truth: social expansion has always been predicated on the social expulsion of migrants. The twenty-first century will be the century of the migrant not only because of the record number of migrants today but also because this is the century in which all the previous forms of social expulsion and migratory resistance have reemerged and become more active than ever before. This contemporary situation allows us to render apparent what had previously been obscured: that the figure of the migrant has always been the true motive force of social history. Only now are we in a position to recognize this.

The argument of this book is developed in four parts. Part 1 defines and lays out the logical structure of social motion. Part 2 argues that the migrant is defined not only by movement in general but by several specific historical conditions and techniques of social expulsion. Part 3 shows how several major migrant figures propose an alternative to this logic, and Part 4 shows how the concepts developed in Parts 2 and 3 help us to better understand the complex dynamics of contemporary migration in US-Mexico politics.

Hopelessness; Or, the world is a prison for the believer

You can feel the anger in the voice. But the voice gives shape to the anger and you can see that this is anger of hatred. Not the anger of hope, not the anger that leaders can tap into to turn revolts or riots into revolutions, but the anger of disdain, of contempt. And what is more worthy of contempt than this world.

I often think in terms of biography. Biography can easily turn into sentimentality and avoiding that is certainly difficult. But I think in terms of biography because one cannot understand the world without that understanding being lived. Read the rest of this entry »

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