Category Archives: Psychoanalysis

Struck Dumb

One of the disconcerting effects of psychoanalysis is that over time you lose the ability to spin elaborate philosophical constructions out of neurotic fixations. The impulse to rationalize, to intellectualize, remains, but hobbled by a preemptive sense of its futility. Every time you take a position, you’re already on the way to abandoning it because you recognize it to be a cover for something else, something left unsaid. Where once you perceived principles and ideas, you now see only infatuations. You are aware that what speaks through you is always a desire for the desire of the Other but distorted by shabby disguises and feints. Discourses that you were once deeply invested are cast off; you develop an exquisite distaste for “cleverness,” yet you still fall into its traps.

I am losing the desire to say anything. I want to find a way to say nothing.

Posthuman?

Notions of the post- or transhuman strike me as quintessentially neurotic attempts to leap over and void the issues of sexuation, sexuality, and desire. Over and over,what is posited as posthuman is a desexualized entity, a cyborg-like figure that has miraculously overcome lack.

The cyborg is where hysteric and obsessional fantasies overlap. The cyborg is a figure who has been fantasmically emancipated from the questions that torture hysterics and obsessionals: Am I man or woman? Am I dead or alive?

In Blade Runner, this fantasy is shown for what it is. The cyborgs are superhuman, embodying everything a human might wish to be but, in a twist of irony, what they wish to be is human. Or, rather, what they wish to be is both human and superhuman, exactly the same as neurotic humans but from the opposite direction, thus demonstrating that the posthuman cyborg is another modality of the human.

Lamentable Identities

The Democratic Party has lost its ability to pose as the party of labor and the middle class. Firmly controlled by Wall Street and California billionaires, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) strategy of identity politics encourages any identity except that of wage earners. The candidates backed by the Donor Class have been Blue Dogs pledged to promote Wall Street and neocons urging a New Cold War with Russia.

They preferred to lose with Hillary than to win behind Bernie Sanders. So Trump’s electoral victory is their legacy as well as Obama’s. Instead of Trump’s victory dispelling that strategy, the Democrats are doubling down. It is as if identity politics is all they have.

Michael Hudson

Actually, there is no “as if.” Identity politics is all the Democrats have. The problem is that by now, it is readily apparent that the liberal notion of “inclusion” operates strictly in favor of the advancement of the already privileged: “underpaid” and “underrepresented” Hollywood actors, corporate execs held down by glass ceilings, administrators and bureaucrats eager to convert their “marginal” status into promotional entitlement. Identity politics plays well with hipsters and sentimentalists who vote with their “feelings.” But liberal identity politics have helped coalesce a counter, illiberal identity politics, a right-wing mirror image rooted in nativist ideology. This is hardly surprising. Nationalism begats nationalism and identity politics was merely liberal cover for various forms of tribal separatism used to obscure more fundamental divisions of class. The United States is now itself susceptible to the sort of tribal conflict it has fostered abroad, most notably in the Middle East. In 2008, the day of reckoning seemed to have arrived for capitalism, but it has been deferred in favor of a potentially more barbaric conflict between various deluded identity groups. At a press conference in 1974, Lacan predicted the future “triumph of religion” as a reversal of modernity. Some 50 years later, what seems to be coming to pass is the triumph of tribalism, which is perhaps the most fundamental form religion can assume.

Between Superegos

… men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus. Who in the face of his experience of life and of history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion? As a rule this cruel aggressiveness waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal might also have been reached by milder measures. In circumstances that are favorable to it, when the mental counter-forces which ordinarily inhibit it are out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien.
–Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, 1930

A rhetorical advantage that conservatives enjoy is that unlike liberals they are not required to indulge in the absurdity of attributing liberating agency to the superego. Liberalism always seems to impose a tighter knot of restrictions than the one it gets rid of. The liberal superego simultaneously goads toward enjoyment and makes enjoyment impossible–since enjoyment must never infringe on the rights of easily injured others. In practice, this means that liberalism installs the sensitivities of a vocal and sanctimonious elite as the margins of allowable discourse. In the name of freeing us from our hangups, this “countercultural” elite has instead surrounded us on all sides with an ever-encroaching minefield of impermissible thoughts and turns of phrase. In so doing, it has also created endless possibilities for the kind of transgression that fuels the careers of  “politically incorrect” charlatans.

By contrast, the old hangups now seem more tolerable because more “honest.” The old, pre-liberal superego seems less fiendishly paradoxical. It did not promise happiness and then restrict enjoyment to the insipid, latté-fied, dis-gendered (“gender neutral”) pleasures that liberals permit themselves. It did not promise us freedom from sexual inhibition and then deny us the pleasure of objectifying our sexual objects. It did not enjoin us to be nonconformists while prohibiting all but a few tepid idiosyncrasies.

The old superego was brazenly prohibitive and judgmental. It promised not happiness but respectability. But since it derived its authority from tradition, it could not survive the ancien regime. The contemporary superego derives its authority from a diffuse expertocracy whose prejudices and superstitions are rendered invisible through pseudo-scientific consensus.

A revolt against this expertocracy is currently under way. Liberalism has peaked. Disenchantment with it can only grow because at root the disenchantment with liberalism expresses a powerful sexual disenchantment.  Liberalism can be understood as an attempt to dephallicize enjoyment, to remove from sexuality every trace of aggression. But this is impossible to do without eradicating sexuality. The West prides itself with its permissiveness, and yet what it permits is actually quite meager: a joyless enjoyment enervated by endless considerations of mutuality that leave no room ultimately for anything but onanism, an enjoyment that in Zizek’s words, is the sexual equivalent of Diet Coke. Or worse: for liberalism typically demands that the sacrifice of enjoyment be itself experienced as enjoyment. It universalizes the hysteric mode of enjoyment as the only permissible one.

Populism is tainted with its own brand of hysteria and Freud himself was wary of it. In Civilization and its Discontents he noted that the social regulation of aggression aims at social harmony but produces a masochistic cult of the death drive. Current events do not augur a resolution of this impasse.