Force & Truth (was Re: litcritter bashing...)

kenneth.mackendrick at kenneth.mackendrick at
Wed Nov 3 08:20:14 PST 1999

Peter wrote:

Just a quick question of clarification: Is this 'jouissance' is in a way akin to the thing that Marx meant when he replied, in response to a question about 'what is human nature': 'struggle'? Like 'desire'?

I think so. Desire is a "stain" that cannot be removed, in other words it can be clarified only to a certain degree, in the same sense that if our lived reality is class struggle, then it cannot be completely transparent to us.

> And Lacan puts central to the subject this 'jouissance'?
(As opposed to say, Jung, who develops an language of mythology to put in the heart of the mind) Peter

Yes, as something that is traumatic and enjoyable. Jouissance is an experience without thought, in a way. But, since we are thinking creatures, our jouissance is delayed, or frustrated, or reflected upon... and this painful distance (too close, or too far, but never identical with) is rotary motion of desire.

Lacan equates "object a" (the object cause of desire) with Marx's concept of surplus value. For the subject, it is that value he or she is seeking in all of her or his activities and relations. Surplus value corresponds in quantity to what, in capitalism, is called "interest" or "profit" - it is that which the capitalist skims off the top for him or herself, instead of paying it to the employees: the "fruit" of the employees labour. The employee never enjoys that surplus product: she or he "loses" it. The work process produces her or him as an "alienated" subject (barred subjectivity), simultaneoously producing a loss, a. The capitalist, as Other, enjoys that excess product, and thus the subject finds herself or himself in the unenviable situation of working for the Others enjoyment, sacrificing him or herself for the Other's jouissance - precisely what the neurotic most abhors!

On Thu, 4 Nov 1999 01:57:36 +1100 Rob Schaap <rws at> wrote:

> G'day Ken,
> You quote someone saying the following:
> >Science relies on the designations "true" and "false," but
> >they take on meaning only witin a propositional or symbolic
> >logic: they are values understandable within the field
> >defined by that science and make no claims to independent
> >validity.

> I don't understand this. What does 'independently
validated' mean such that the scientist would not claim it for the proposition that Lacan is French? Would giving 'Frenchness' a number suddenly mean only scientists could understand it?

The figures of science, the technical definitions, are simply assumed to be valid (science works on the idea of argument by definition). So there is no independent validity for a technical / strategic / artificial language, it is, literally and voluntarily, arbitrary on its own terms. It wouldn't mean that only scientsts would understand this, but you have to be familiar with the artificial code.

> >Psychoanalysis, by contrast, gives precedence to
> >that which throws into question the self-confirming nature
> >of its own axioms: the real, the impossible, that which
> >does not work. That is the Truth taken responsibility for
> >in psychoanalysis.

> Does Lacan mean this proposition to constitute a claim to
independent validity, or not? And, if not, does that make it a scientific proposition?

Not. Psychoanalysis is hermeneutic, not artificial - it works with meaning, association, and deploys concepts that are dialectic instead of frozen and technical.

> >Existing sciences do not take into account the split
> >subject for whom "I am where I am not thinking" and "I
> >think where I am not."

> Does he imply a split between 'I' and 'me' here. Does he
mean by this that 'I' cannot ever know 'me' (in which case, why bother with psychoanalysis), or that 'I' can know 'me' (in which case, how does he know the scientist is a split subject). Boy, am I ever a long way from where he's thinking ...

The Lacanian subject is neither the individual nor the conscious subject (the consciously thinking subject). The consciously thinking subject is, by and large, indistinguishable from the ego. The ego, according to Lacan, arises as a crystallization or sedimentation of ideal images, tantamount to a fixed, reified object which which a child learns to identify. These ideal images consist of those the child sees of him or herself in a mirror - and is ideal in the sense of being seen as unified. Such images are invested, cathected, and internalized by a child because his or her parents make a great deal of them... "Yes, baby, that's you!" Other images appear too "Good boy" - "Bad girl."

It is the symbolic order that brings about the internalization of mirror and other images... which become charged with libidinal interest or value. Once internalized, these various images fuse into a vast global image which the child comes to take for her or himself: the self-image.

The ego, this image, is not an active agent (being an image) rather is the seat of fixation and narcissistic attachment. Moreover, it contains "false images."

The "I" designates the person who identifies her or his self with a specific ideal image. Thus the ego is what is represented by the subject of the statement.

Lacan then distinguishes between the statement (enunciated) and the speaking (enunciation). The splitting here can be found in signification: "I cannot deny *but* that it would be easy." The intrution of the word "but" here forces us to refer to a sort of interference between the enunciated and enunciation: between that which is stated and the very act of stating.

This "other" subject - this enunciating subject signified by "but" is not something which or someone who has some sort of permanent existence - it only appears when a propitious occasion presents itself. It is not some kind

of underlying substance or substratum. In effect - the subject has no other being than as a breach in discourse (the subject barred by language, as alienated within the other) - vanishes "beneath" or "behind" the signifier "but." Temporally speaking, the subject appears only as a pulsation, an occasional impulse or interruptions that immediately dies away or is extinguished.

What Lacan accomplishes here is an inversion of the Cartesian subject. For Lacan, the subject can have either thought or being, never both at the same time (thought and being are dialectically entwined and mutually exclusive). So, Lacan turns Descartes on his head: ego thinking is mere conscious rationalization (the ego's attempt to legitimate blunders and unintentional utterances by fabricating after-the-fact explanations which agree with the ideal self-image), and the being thus engendered can only be categorized as false or fake. Lacan holds to the idea that a subject with true or real being would be diametically opposed to the false being of the ego... although this is not ultimately the case.

This is the heart of Lacan's notion of the split subject.

Being (I am not thinking) (false being)

Being / Thinking (Either I am not thinking or I am not)

Thinking (I am not).

For Lacan, the subejct is nothing but this very split. The splitting of the I into ego and unconscious brings into being a surface, in a sense, with two sides: one that is exposed and one that is hidden.

The split, while traumatic for each new speaking being, is by no means an indication of madness. On the contrary, Lacan states that psychosis this split cannot be assumed to have occurred at all.

It is here that Lacan places Freud's "Wo Es war, soll Ich werden" as the letimotif of his work - I must come to be, must assume its place, that place where "it" was. Lacan's concept of the subject always has an ethical component - one is always responsible for one's position as subject. So, the split is, in a sense, the condition of the possibility of the existence of a subject, the pulsation-like shift seeming to be its realization. And this leads to two operations: separation and alientation.

> "If you can split subjects a priori, there's nothing you
can't get away with," - Schaap, November 4

"Who you think you are and who you are are not identical." - K.G. MacKendrick, November 4, on a snowy Toronto morning

> > ... the essence of all "communication" being "miscommunication"

> Oh, I see - so Lacan is actually making a lot of
sense, and saying some really important things, but, because his argument has to be read, and because the reading of it by another would consumate an act of miscommunication by definition, it would seem to that reader like a load of bollocks. Well, I'm in no position to falsify that one!

Which is why he never wanted his lectures published.

> >Science with a captial S does not exist: "it is but a fantasy."

> So Lacan is as happy with, or indifferent to, creationism
and phrenology as he is with/to evolution and neurology? After all, on his account, fantasy is that practice that got us from the former to the latter.

No. Fantasy is the ground of our reality for Lacan. And questions of the true or falsity of science have to do with the political economy of epistemology, the geography of which rules apply when and to whom.

> I TRULY-ROOLY don't get it, Ken.

It doesn't have to make sense. But here it is anyway.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list