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The Force of Religion

Nations have never been civilized except by religion. No other force known has a hold on primitive man. Without recourse to antiquity, which is very decisive on this point, we see a striking proof of it in America. We have been there for three centuries with our laws, arts, sciences, culture, commerce, and wealth; how have we helped the indigenous population? In no way. We are destroying these unfortunate people with the sword and spirits; we are gradually pushing them back into the deserted interior, until in the end they will be wiped out completely, the victims of our vices as much as of our cruel superiority.

Joseph de Maistre, “The Generative Principle of Political Constitutions”

Miser-y

The idea that a miser would miss his treasure most if it were lost is indeed not that certain. In fact, he already misses it. This is precisely why he is a miser: he not only denies everyone else the enjoyment of his treasure, but also himself. No matter how attached to it he is, he leaves it untouched. And if deprived of it, even he himself would not be able to say what precisely he is missing. In this sense, the miser’s treasure strikingly illustrates what Lacan defines as the “object of phantasm.” The treasure makes up the center of a scenario to which, at the most fundamental level, the miser owes his identity as miser. It indicates the level at which he no longer seems able to maintain himself as the subject (the bearer) of his narrative. For as soon as he is confronted, either consciously or unconsciously, with the fact that he does not know who he is and precisely what he seeks in his riches, he slides away into his phantasm. He sinks down into a scenario of signifiers in which he (as subject) completely forgets himself and “merges” with his beloved treasure. However, he doesn’t “really” merge with his treasure; he only merges with the scenario crystallized around that object. He merges with a signifying scenario from which the treasure remains at distance. As object of desire, the treasure is not to be reduced to one of the signifiers that constitute the miser’s life. Rather, it is located where the signifiers always fall short and, in this way, maintain the miser’s desire (or, what amounts to the same thing, the object relation he “is”). The object is to be sought at the place of the “phallus,” that is, the place where that pure (phallic, symbolic) lack is covered up by the scenario of the phantasm. Keeping everyone (including himself) from his treasure, the only experience he has of it is that of a lack. In the final analysis, his treasure coincides with that very “lack,” which is the ultimate reason why he keeps it above all away from himself.

De Kesel, Marc. Eros and Ethics. Albany, US: SUNY Press, 2009, 32.

Silent Running

The analysand’s demand is in fact a means of getting rid of this desire. Unconsciously, she wants to stop being unsatisfied and turns to a therapist in the hope that he will be able to heal her pain and remove the lack that torments her. The problem, however, is that in the long term this solution will not work. The analyst will never be able to give the analysand what she desires; all he can give her is desire as such. In other words, the analyst will only be able to help her to the extent that he leaves the analysand’s demand painfully unanswered. . . .

This strange therapeutic starting point of psychoanalysis has far-reaching implications for ethics. The “good” the analysand demands henceforth means a satisfaction of her desire. But since we are nothing other than our desire, since desire is our very being, our demand in fact aims at extinguishing desire, which is to say that it aims at our death. This is what Freud’s concept of the “death drive” already had its sights on. What we desire, whether we call it “well-being,” “good,” or the “highest good” is in fact, in the final analysis, nothing other than death, Lacan concludes. What an age-old and still valid tradition names the “good”—that is, something humankind is made for and at which our desire naturally aims—would really, were it to be realized, kill us. It would be pure evil. What one unconsciously demands in the psychoanalytic cure is in fact an “evil” that would destroy us, Lacan says, and one lives only by grace of the fact that one’s demand never gets fully answered. It is just as well that the “good” the analysand demandingly and desiringly searches for is an illusion. Complete satisfaction would simply be fatal.

De Kesel, Marc. Eros and Ethics. Albany, US: SUNY Press, 2009, 3-4

The Tyranny of Enjoyment

DOLMANCE: . . . What is it one desires when taking one’s pleasure? that everything around us be occupied with nothing but ourselves, think of naught but of us, care for us only. If the objects we employ know pleasure too, you can be very sure they are less concerned for us than they are for themselves, and lo! our own pleasure consequently disturbed. There is not a living man who does not wish to play the despot when he is stiff: it seems to him his joy is less when others appear to have as much as he; by an impulse of pride, very natural at this juncture, he would like to be the only one in the world capable of experiencing what he feels: the idea of seeing another enjoy as he enjoys reduces him to a kind of equality with that other, which impairs the unspeakable charm despotism causes him to feel. ‘Tis false as well to say there is pleasure in affording pleasure to others; that is to serve them, and the man who is erect is far from desiring to be useful to anyone. On the contrary, by causing them hurt he experiences all the charms a nervous personality relishes in putting its strength to use; ’tis then he dominates, is a tyrant; and what a difference is there for the amour-propre! Think not that it is silent during such episodes.

The act of enjoyment is a passion which, I confess, subordinates all others to it, but which simultaneously unites them. This desire to dominate at this moment is so powerful in Nature that one notices it even in animals. See whether those in captivity procreate as do those others that are free and wild; the camel carries the matter further still: he will engender no more if he does not suppose himself alone: surprise him and, consequently, show him a master, and he will fly, will instantly separate himself from his companion. Had it not been Nature’s intent that man possess this feeling of superiority, she would not have created him stronger than the beings she destines to belong to him at those moments. The debility to which Nature condemned woman incontestably proves that her design is for man, who then more than ever enjoys. his strength, to exercise it in all the violent forms that suit him best, by means of tortures, if he be so inclined, or worse. Would pleasure’s climax be a kind of fury were it not the intention of this mother of humankind that behavior during copulation be the same as behavior in anger? What well-made man, in a word, what man endowed with vigorous organs does not desire, in one fashion or in another, to molest his partner during his enjoyment of her? I know perfectly well that whole armies of idiots, who are never conscious of their sensations, will have much trouble understanding the systems I am establishing; but what do I care for these fools? ‘Tis not to them I am speaking; soft-headed women-worshipers, I leave them prostrate at their insolent Dulcineas’ feet, there let them wait for the sighs that will make them happy and, basely the slaves of the sex they ought to dominate, I abandon them to the vile delights of wearing the chains wherewith Nature has given them the right to overwhelm others!

Dialogue the Fifth, Philosophy in the Bedroom in Sade, Richard Seaver, and Austryn Wainhouse. Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. 1st paperback ed. New York: Grove Press, 1966, 344-45.

Decomposition

It’s likely that much of the western left—infected by liberalism and obsessed with identity politics and political correctness—will mark the centenary of the October revolution this year with a smirk and say “nothing to do with us, mate” and get on with writing their love letters to Hillary Clinton. But there are, I believe, important lessons to be learnt from the strategy employed by Lenin in 1917—and the left dismisses them at its peril.

As was the case one hundred years ago, a corrupt, arrogant, and hideously out-of-touch establishment lies teetering on the brink. As was the case one hundred years ago, the gap between rich and poor is truly staggering. Only last January, Oxfam revealed that half of the world’s wealth is owned by just 62 people. Yes, that‘s right—62.

But unlike 100 years ago, it’s the populist right—and not the left—that’s making all the headway. Instead of embracing working-class populism and positioning themselves at the forefront of anti-establishment protests as Lenin and the Bolsheviks did in 1917, the liberal-dominated Western left of today seems scared of proletarian rebelliousness, and has instead sided on issue after issue with the neo-liberal militarist establishment.

We see this in the liberal-left’s attachment to parliamentarianism, and the failure to promote more democratic ways of organizing society e.g. the greater use of referenda, the introduction of workers’ councils and peoples’ assemblies and elected people’s courts (interestingly the attachment to Parliamentarianism didn’t seem to apply to Ukraine in 2014 when many “liberal-leftists” in the West supported the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected government).

We also see it in the way that “bread-and-butter issues” which affect the everyday lives of ordinary people are largely ignored with the focus instead on fighting culture wars and promoting wars of “liberal intervention” in the Middle East, which only benefit elite interests.

Clark, Neil. “1917 and its lessons for 2017: Learning from Lenin

Pretensions of a System

The secondary revision of the product of dream-activity is an admirable example of the nature and pretensions of a system. There is an intellectual function in us which demands unity, connection and intelligibility from any material, whether of perception or thought, that comes within its grasp; and if, as a result of special circumstances, it is unable to establish a true connection, it does not hesitate to fabricate a false one. Systems constructed in this way are known to us not only from dreams, but also from phobias, from obsessive thinking and from delusions. The construction of systems is seen most strikingly in delusional disorders (in paranoia), where it dominates the symptomatic picture; but its occurrence in other forms of neuro-psychosis must not be overlooked. In all these cases it can be shown that a rearrangement of the psychical material has been made with a fresh aim in view; and the rearrangement may often have to be a drastic one if the outcome is to be made to appear intelligible from the point of view of the system. Thus a system is best characterized by the fact that at least two reasons can be discovered for each of its products: a reason based upon the premises of the system (a reason, then, which may be delusional) and a concealed reason, which we must judge to be the truly operative and the real one.

Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989, 119.

Sade’s Masochism

Whether Sade was a sadist or not I don’t know: the trial records shed little light upon the question. In the case we are best acquainted with—the Marseilles affair—Sade figures as a masochist, which is the very opposite. I see that at least once he flatly refused to be sadistic in spite of all sorts of encouragement: his past grievances, his feelings of the moment, and the chorus of the Section of Piques. But it could be argued that the true sadist is the one who declines to practice sadism on easy terms, who will not stand to be told when and where to give expression to his idiosyncrasy. Each of us is proud in his own way. . . .

When pain experienced by others gives me pleasure, this pleasure I feel is obviously an unusual feeling; and doubtless a reprehensible one. In any case it is a clear and comprehensible feeling, and an article upon it can be included in the Encyclopedia. But that my own pain be pleasure to me, that my humiliation be to me a dignification—this is no longer reprehensible or unusual, it is simply obscure, and it is only too easy for me to reply that if it is pain, it isn’t pleasure, if it’s dignification, then it’s not humiliation. If it’s . . .  And so on and so forth. Yet, however that may be, there does indeed exist, nobody will deny it, something which can be rightly termed masochism. To be more precise, there do indeed exist men, and women also, whom we must call masochists.

For there are some who seek nothing so eagerly as mockery and ridicule, and who thrive better on shame than on bread and wine: Philip of Neri, who used to caper in the streets and shaved only one side of his face, preferred to pass for a madman than for a saint; the sheik Abu Yazid al Bisthami would give urchins a couple of walnuts in exchange for a slap. There is no lack of persons who to their friends—and to those foremost among all their friends, themselves—fondly wish “suffering, abandon, infirmity, ill-treatment and dishonor and profound self-contempt and the martyrdom of self-distrust.” And others too who say with the Portuguese nun: “Increase the number of my afflictions.” To anyone contending that behind whatever it may appear to be this amounts to a clever attempt to assure oneself of the weal which follows after woe, and the honor which follows dishonor, and the triumph of esteem which follows after the ordeal of disdain, in keeping with some natural law of compensation, the reply would have to be that he had not very well grasped the question. But let me continue.

We see other persons who steer a steady course toward vexations and abuse, who, no matter where they happen to be, are extraordinarily alert and, through the workings of some unerring instinct, as if sensitized to the presence of a possible source of mistreatment and as if fascinated in advance, attracted, summoned by the cruel potentialities they have somehow detected in a man everybody else sees as a decent and unexceptional man. (Thus Justine . . .) Or else, of their own accord, with peculiar willfulness march straight to where prison, trials, and death await them. (Thus Sade . . . )

Paulhan, Jean. “The Marquis de Sade and His Accomplice” in Sade, Richard Seaver, and Austryn Wainhouse. Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. 1st paperback ed. New York: Grove Press, 1966, 32-34.

Feelings

Neither man nor woman, though for different reasons, has meaning without each other. Yet these two hopeless contraptions, taken together, provide meaning for each other and through that have created the world in which we all live. Without that, there would be nothing; take it away and nothing will remain. It is almost as if men and women, like penis and vagina, were made for each other.

She was full and lacked nothing. But lacking nothing, she was nothing. Being full, she was empty. He was nothing and needed her fullness to have the idea of becoming something. His attempts to do so created everything, for the purpose of filling her, as they both needed her to be. The world created in this way was and will remain imperfect; but world it is, and is there for all of us to enjoy.

We have not yet gotten to the discourse of the hysteric. We will get there, but first we must go farther in our reflections on this arrangement.

The woman’s desire for the man turns out to be her desire for herself, as mediated by the man. It is based on her recognition of the emptiness implied in her fullness. In the absence of an agenda, she cannot simply be herself because that would simply be psychotic explosion. Yet she cannot provide signification for herself because the entire signification that is available takes her as its purpose. It is all directed toward her pursuit and always contains the limitations of the man’s lack. Yet how can she be limited at all, since the whole premise of her need is her fullness?

She can resolve this dilemma by using her power as object of desire to influence the man. He may have an answer to who she is, but for the reasons we have just seen, this can never be a really good answer. His signifiers, after all, can only be his signifiers. They can never suffice to tell her who she is, since they will never fit. There will always be something left over, which is precisely her, or at least her as they both fantasize her to be — the object of desire in the first place. He must therefore renew his pursuit of her, refashioning its terms in the hope of success, and each time trying to refashion those terms to better represent her. In this way, she gains meaning by being the object of his attempt to make meaning, ever renewed through the relationship of this pair and the tension between them. End that tension and they both disappear.

So it is that we understand what the tension is all about. It is a contestation about the source of meaning. His meaning is the masculine meaning of the symbolic, which ultimately gains its meaning from its attempt to encompass her perfection, which it can never accomplish. Her meaning is derived from her identification with the primordial mother, which validates and even deifies the spontaneity of her imaginary, but which goes nowhere without the symbolic that only he can provide. It is through the conflict of this tension that the imaginary and the symbolic interpenetrate each other and create the relationship without which both of them are nothing.

And so the tension is and has to be absolute. There is, as Lacan again puts it, no such thing as sexual rapport. And it’s a good thing, too. There can, however, be rapport between human beings, who understand the meaning of this tension and recognize their individual dependence on this tension and therefore their mutual dependence on each other. This does not make the tension go away; it simply has its function understood. In effect, what has developed is a relationship between split subjects who know themselves to be split subjects, a form of relationship that we may call existential.

But where is the hysteric in all of this? What I have described here is the tension between the sexes. Hysteria may fit into that, but it is not the whole thing.Where do we draw the line between the hysteric and the feminine?

I think we draw it at the point where the meaning of the tension is not yet comprehended, where the dynamic is not yet seen as the eternal game that men and women play with each other, but is seen as being one-sided, as an invasion of the perfect female by the inferior male. We may therefore recognize it a developmental stage, occurring at the point where sexuality is gaining its ascendancy in the female, but where the place of sexuality in adult relationships is not yet understood. It is therefore the characteristic dynamic of the teenaged girl, which we knew all along.

Now if the place of sexuality within human relationships is not understood, its meaning must be represented with imagery that gains its power from the girl’s specific self-reference, both as a sexual being and as a plenum. Inevitably, then, the imagery will be that of penetration or invasion, and specifically sexual penetration by an alien entity that seeks to corrupt and dominate the girl’s perfection and self-sufficiency. Her attitude toward it will be disgust and the rage to expel it. There we have hysteria.

Hysteria therefore represents, on one or another level of abstraction, the attempt to expel the masculine, with all of its desire and all of the symbolic order that it has given rise to, and its place within the relationship between men and women. Within the dynamic of hysteria, the masculine is experienced as a threat to her perfection and self-sufficiency, indeed to her very existence, by an inferior agency, which seeks to limit her through terms that do not represent her. The attempt to expel, therefore, comes with a feeling of righteousness and the assertion of the absolute self-sufficiency of her spontaneity—in other words, of her imaginary. But consider that the whole framework of the symbolic, of shared meaning, is a product and representation of that masculinity and you can see that we have gotten to what we were trying to show. Hysteria is the motivating force through which the imaginary attempts to subordinate and even destroy the symbolic.

This analysis helps to explain one of the more peculiar, but characteristic, features of the hysteric. It enables us to answer the question of whether the hysteric is lying when she makes charges that are patently untrue. The answer is that she is not lying. She is telling the truth as she sees it, but her idea of the truth is not the one that is characteristic of the symbolic. Truth is not, as it is in the symbolic, a correspondence between a statement and an objective fact. Her whole project, after all, is to deny and undermine the symbolic, and therefore to deny the validity of that form of truth.

Her criterion for truth is essentially aesthetic. For her, truth means the vividness of the imagery she is using to represent her experience of invasion. This imagery, at the time, is all she is about. There is nothing outside of it.

Schwartz, Howard S. “Organization in the Age of Hysteria”

Omnipotence of Thought

Still from the movie San Andreas, 2015.

In only a single field of our civilization has the omnipotence of thought been retained, and that is the field of art. Only in art does it still happen that a man who is consumed by desires performs something resembling the accomplishment of those desires and that what he does in play produces emotional effects—thanks to artistic illusion—just as though it were something real. People speak with justice of the “magic of art” and compare artists to magicians. But the comparison is perhaps more significant than it claims to be. There can be no doubt that art did not begin as art for art’s sake. It worked originally in the service of impulses which are for the most part extinct today.

Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989, 113.

Heavenly Father

Carl Milles, God, our Father, on the Rainbow (1949 – 1995)

The derivation of religious needs from the infant’s helplessness and the longing for the father aroused by it seems to me incontrovertible, especially since the feeking is not simply prolonged from childhood days, but is permanently sustained by fear of the superior power of Fate. I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection. Thus the part played by the oceanic feeling, which might seek something like the restoration of limitless narcissism, is ousted from a place in the foreground. The origin of the religious attitude can be traced back in clear outlines as far as the feeling of infantile helplessness.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. 1st American ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1962, 19.

Limitless Narcissism

… originally the ego includes everything, later it separates off an external world from itself. Out present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive—indeed, an all-embracing—feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world about it. If we may assume that there are many people in whose mental life this primary ego-feeling has persisted to a greater or less degree, it would exist in them side by side with the narrower and more sharply demarcated ego-feeling of maturity, like a kind of counterpart to it. In that case, the ideational contents appropriate to it would be precisely of limitlessness and of a bond with the universe—the same ideas with which my friend elucidated the ‘oceanic’ feeling.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. 1st American ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1962, 15.

Onanism

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913

In considering the question of abstinence, far too little distinction is made between two forms of it, namely, abstention from any kind of sexual activity at all, and abstention from heterosexual intercourse. Many who are proud of maintaining abstinence successfully have only been able to achieve it with the help of masturbation and other similar means of satisfaction, which are connected with the auto-erotic sexual activities of early childhood. But this very connection makes these substitutive measures of sexual satisfaction by no means harmless; they predispose to the numerous forms of neurosis and psychosis, which are conditional on a regression of the sexual life to its infantile form. Nor does masturbation at all correspond to the ideal demands of civilized sexual morality, and it therefore drives young people into the same conflicts with the ideals of education which they design to escape by abstinence. Further, the character is undermined in more ways than one by this indulgence; first, because it shows the way to attain important aims in an otiose manner, instead of by energetic effort, in line with the view that the attitude to sex is the prototype of the attitude to life; and secondly, because in the phantasies accompanying this gratification the sexual object is exalted to a degree which is seldom to be reproduced in reality. A witty writer, K. Kraus in the Vienna Fackel, has, as it were, expressed this truth paradoxically in the cynical saying: “Coitus is merely an unsatisfactory substitute for onanism!”

Freud, Sigmund. “‘Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness” (1908)

Scientific Fiction

I happened to come across a short article by Henri Poincaré regarding the evolution of laws. You surely haven’t read it as it is out of print, something only bibliophiles can find. Émile Boutroux, who was a philosopher, raised the question whether it was unthinkable that laws themselves evolve. Poincaré, who was a mathematician, got all up in arms at the idea of such evolution, since what a scientist is seeking is precisely a law insofar as it does not evolve. It is exceedingly rare for a philosopher to be more intelligent than a mathematician, but here a philosopher just so happened to raise an important question. Why, in fact, wouldn’t laws evolve when we conceive of the world as having evolved? Poincaré inflexibly maintains that the defining characteristic of a law is that, when it is Sunday, we can know not only what will happen on Monday and Tuesday, but in addition what happened on Saturday and Friday. But it is not at all clear to me why the real would not allow for a law that changes.

Lacan, Jacques, and Bruce Fink. The Triumph of Religion: Preceded by Discourse to Catholics. English edition. Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity, 2013, 81

The Epistemological Primacy of Projection

The projection outwards of internal perceptions is a primitive mechanism, to which, for instance, our sense perceptions are subject, and which therefore normally plays a very large part in determining the form taken by our external world. Under conditions whose nature has not yet been sufficiently established, internal perceptions of emotional and intellective processes can be projected outwards in the same way as sense perceptions; they are thus employed for building up the external world, though they should by rights remain part of the internal world. This may have some genetic connection with the fact that the function of attention was originally directed not towards the internal world but towards the stimuli that stream in from the external world, and that that function’s only information upon endo-psychic processes was received from feelings of pleasure and unpleasure. It was not until a language of abstract thought had been developed, that is to say, not until the sensory residues of verbal representation had been linked to the internal processes, that the latter themselves gradually became capable of being perceived.
  
Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989, 81

Chatter

People not only act in order to change something, they can also act in order to prevent something from happening, so that nothing will change. Therein resides the typical strategy of the obsessional neurotic: he is frantically active in order to prevent the real thing from happening. Say, in a group situation in which some tension threatens to explode, the obsessional talks all the time in order to prevent the awkward moment of silence which would compel the participants to openly confront the underlying tension. In psychoanalytic treatment, obsessional neurotics talk constantly, overflowing the analyst with anecdotes, dreams, insights: their incessant activity is sustained by the underlying fear that, if they stop talking for a moment, the analyst will ask them the question that truly matters – in other words, they talk in order to keep the analyst immobile.

Žižek, Slavoj. “The Interpassive Subject: Lacan Turns a Prayer Wheel