On a seemingly daily basis, we see attacks against the intellectual culture of the academic humanities, which, since the 1960s, have opened up spaces for leftists to develop critical theories of all kinds. Attacks from supposedly liberal professors and centrist op-ed columnists, from well-funded conservative think tanks and white supremacists on college campus tours. All rail against the evils of feminism, post-modernism, and something called “neo-Marxism” with outsized agitation.
For students and professors, the onslaughts are exhausting, and not only because they have very real, often dangerous, consequences, but because they all attack the same straw men (or “straw people”) and refuse to engage with academic thought on its own terms. Rarely, in the exasperating proliferation of cranky, cherry-picked anti-academia op-eds do we encounter people actually reading and grappling with the ideas of their supposed ideological nemeses….
i have been thinking over the last few weeks about the nature of hope and its role in my life or rather essential/existential life. the more i reflect on the nature of hope, the more so, the concept seems to be erasing itself from my existence. but, ultimately, what counts is the liquid nature of reflection based on passion. passion, per se, is the emotion par excellence and is indispensable to move towards either the positive or the negative axis of the concept of the question. it is like the arrest between the man born posthumously or the man who has lived without being born. in both cases, the strangeness is displaced or rather deliberately misplaced and placed marginally for the hope to take the center stage. hoping is clinging on to the position of hypothetical, placing oneself in an attempt, a never-say-die one at that, to keep the invasion of the strange-ness talked about a sentence before this. the real is the strange-ness that is brutally kept at a distant, for us to enjoin the virtual realm. but aren’t we all victims of the real at some point in time and space? we fail terminologically to ascribe real to it and at the same time masking the virtual with the virtually real/really virtual. this is the space we live in and could be called the schizosphere. we are an agent who act not on the world stage, but in our own schizoid lives. the radiation of the result herein is two-fold. one is the transcendental i.e. a passionate longing for the escape from the predicament and other is the immanental, a silent erasure of the acceptance of the fact. the latter is buried and made dormant as the repressive tendencies that we call hopelessness and that does strike all of us, however hard we call our transcendentalism a success. this just calls for the non-fixity of our hope in time, a process that is always happening, a process that knows no ends. in short, a procedural aporia. now, isn’t it clear, that procedural aporia would always entail a fight of hope on hopelessness, in order to gain this static role it has always been bent on acheiving. QED, isn’t this journey substitutability by hope, which would imply that hoping on hope is a ‘hope into hopelessness’ as slight fracturing of the subject. the old subject is cut by the new one, but the wounds to disappear as fast they are created, a suturing takes place to take us back from this impediment to the un-cut stage….
One has the Eric Fromm angle of consciousness as linear and directly proportional to exploitation as one of the strands of Marxian thinking, the non-linearity creeps up from epistemology on the technological side, with, something like, say Moore’s Law, where ascension of conscious thought is or could be likened to exponentials. Now, these exponentials are potent in ridding of the pronouns, as in the “I” having a compossibility with the “We”, for if these aren’t gotten rid of, there is asphyxiation in continuing with them, an effort, an energy expendable into the vestiges of waste, before Capitalism comes sweeping in over such deliberately pronounced islands of pronouns. This is where the sweep is of the “IT”. And this is emancipation of the highest order, where teleology would be replaced by Eschatology. Alienation would be replaced with emancipation. Teleology is alienating, whereas eschatology is emancipating. Agency would become un-agency. An emancipation from alienation, from being, into the arms of becoming, for the former is a mere snapshot of the illusory order, whereas the latter is a continuum of fluidity, the fluid dynamics of the deracinated from the illusory order. The “IT” is pure and brute materialism, the cosmic unfoldings beyond our understanding and importantly mirrored in on the terrestrial. “IT” is not to be realized. “It” is what engulfs us, kills us, and in the process emancipates us from alienation. “IT” is “Realism”, a philosophy without “we”, Capitalism’s excessive power. “IT” enslaves “us” to the point of us losing any identification. In a nutshell, theory of capital is a catalogue of heresies to be welcomed to set free from the vantage of an intention to emancipate economic thought from the etherealized spheres of choice and behaviors or from the paradigm of the disembodied minds.
The Trump phenomenon is argued to depart from current populist rise in Europe. According to a model of opinion dynamics from sociophysics the machinery of Trump’s amazing success obeys well-defined counter-intuitive rules. Therefore, his success was in principle predictable from the start. The model uses local majority rule arguments and obeys a threshold dynamics. The associated tipping points are found to depend on the leading collective beliefs, cognitive biases and prejudices of the social group which undertakes the public debate. And here comes the open sesame of the Trump campaign, which develops along two successive steps. During a first moment, Trump’s statement produces a majority of voters against him. But at the same time, according to the model the shocking character of the statement modifies the prejudice balance. In case the prejudice is present even being frozen among voters, the tipping point is lowered at Trump’s benefit. Nevertheless, although the tipping point has been lowered by the activation of frozen prejudices it is instrumental to preserve enough support from openly prejudiced people to be above the threshold.
The feminine position towards jouissance also moves beyond the phallic signifier. The woman does not come under the auspice of the paternal constraint of the phallic word, going as far as to sacrifice herself to unlimited jouissance suggesting a thorny ostracism of the paternal despot in his barbarous Will-to-Jouissance. Confronting the risk of turning these two parallel positions into a hazardous equation is locating the difference in the woman’s efforts to deviate from the function of the phallic signifier, where the woman still tries to relate her jouissance to the signifier as she tries to talk about it. This means that she does not disavow the phallic signifier as the pervert does, which explains why she is not placed completely outside the phallic function, on the side of unlimited fatal jouissance, something that would turn her into a callous figure.
Sade occupies the perverse frame in terms of jouissance, which is different from feminine jouissance. Although the woman slips away from the phallic function, she still tries to discover channels for relating her jouissance to the symbolic and manage to speak about it. The woman is not fully inscribed in the symbolic, for their structures are marked by a nucleus that persists and goes beyond symbolic boundaries: this is the object a, the remainder of lost jouissance. The pervert situates himself in the position of the object of the drive, whereas the woman tries to pertain not to this object, but its lack, namely the phallus, without fully succeeding in this. There is a surplus enjoyment in both positions pointing towards the new possibilities that the feminine position opens for ethics.
However, even if the woman tries to fasten her jouissance to the phallic function, unlike the pervert, it is precisely this surplus of jouissance that frames both the feminine and the perverse position. Moreover, given that lack and excess are tautological notions for Lacan, in what way did a pervert embody the lack in the drive and how is it different from embodying the excess of the feminine? Despite efforts to separate the two, one thing remains: both the pervert and the woman bear upon a jouissance beyond the limits of the symbolic, where common moral designations become impaired.
In its essence, utopia has nothing to do with imagining an impossible ideal society; what characterizes utopia is literally the construction of a u-topic space, a space outside the existing parameters, the parameters of what appears to be “possible” in the existing social universe. The “utopian” gesture is the gesture that changes the coordinates of the possible. — (Slavoj Žižek- Iraq The Borrowed Kettle)
Here, Žižek discusses Leninist utopia, juxtaposing it with the current utopia of the end of utopia, the end of history. How propitious is the current anti-utopian aura for future political action? If society lies in impossibility, as Laclau and Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics) argued, the field of politics is also marked by the impossible. Failing to fabricate an ideological discourse and incapable of historicizing, psychoanalysis appears as “politically impotent” and unable to encumber the way for other ideological narratives to breed the expectation of making the impossible possible, by promising to cover the fissure of the real in socio-political relations. This means that psychoanalysis can interminably unveil the impossible, only for a recycling of ideologies (outside the psychoanalytic discourse) to attempt to veil it.
Juxtaposing the possibility of a “post-fantasmatic” or “less fantasmatic” politics accepts the irreducible ambiguity of democracy and thus fosters the prospect of a radical democratic project. Yet, such a conception is not uncomplicated, given that one cannot totally go beyond fantasy and still maintain one’s subjectivity (even when one traverses it, another fantasy eventually grows), precisely because fantasy is required for the coherence of the subject and the upholding of her desire. Furthermore, fantasy is either there or not; we cannot have “more” or “less” fantasy. Fantasy, in itself, is absolute and totalizing par excellence. It is the real and the symbolic that always make it “less fantasmatic”, as they impose a limit in its operation.
So, where does “perversion” fit within this frame? The encounter with the extra-ordinary is an encounter with the real that reveals the contradiction that lies at the heart of the political. Extra-ordinariness suggests the embodiment of the real within the socio-political milieu; this is where the extra-ordinary subject incarnates the impossible object. Nonetheless, it suggests a fantasmatic strategy of incorporating the real in the symbolic, as an alternative to the encircling of the real through sublimation. In sublimation we still have an (artistic) object standing for the object a, so the lack in the subject is still there, whereas in extra-ordinariness the subject occupies the locus of the object a, in an ephemeral eradication of his/her lack. Extra-ordinariness may not be a condition that subverts or transforms socio-political relations, yet it can have a certain political significance. Rather than a direct confrontation with the impossible, it suggests a fantasmatic embracing of the impossible in its inexpressible totality, which can be perceived as a utopian aspiration.
Following Žižek or Badiou’s contemporary views, the extra-ordinary gesture is not qualified as an authentic utopian act, because it does not traverse fantasy, it does not rewrite social conditions. It is well known that Žižek prioritizes the negativeness of the real in his rhetoric, something that outstrips any positive imaginary or symbolic reflection in his work. But this entails the risk of neglecting the equal importance of all three registers for subjectivity. The imaginary constitutes an essential motive force for any drastic action to take place, as long as the symbolic limit is not thwarted. It is also what keeps us humane and sustains our relation to the other.
It is possible to touch the real, through imaginary means, without becoming a post-human figure (such as Antigone, who remains the figurative conception of Žižek’s traversing of the fantasy). Fantasy (and, therefore, ideology) can be a source of optimism and motivation and it should not be bound exclusively to the static character of compensatory utopia, according to Bloch’s distinction. In as much as fantasy infuses the subject’s effort to grasp the impossible, recognizing it as such and not breeding the futile expectation of turning the impossible into possible (regaining the object, meeting happiness), the imaginary can form the pedestal for an anticipatory utopia.
The imaginary does not operate only as a force that disavows difference for the sake of an impossible unity and completeness. It also suggests an apparatus that soothes the realization of the symbolic fissure, breeding hope and fascination, that is to say, it stirs up emotional states that encircle the lack of the subject. Moreover, it must be noted that the object a, apart from real properties, also has an imaginary hypostasis, as it is screened in fantasies that cover lack. If our image’s coherence is an illusion, it is this illusion that motivates us as individual and social subjects and help us relate to each other.
The anti-imaginary undercurrent in psychoanalysis is also what accounts for renunciation of idealism in the democratic discourse. The point de capiton is not just a common point of reference; it is a master signifier, which means it constitutes an ideal par excellence. The master signifier relies on fantasy and imaginary certainty about its supreme status. The ideal embodied by the master is what motivates action, not only in politics, but also in sciences, and arts. Is there a democratic prospect for the prevalence of an ideal that does not promise impossible jouissance, but possible jouissance, without confining it to the phallus? Since it is possible to touch jouissance, but not to represent it, the encounter with jouissance could endorse an ideal of incompleteness, an ideal of confronting the limits of human experience vis-à-vis unutterable enjoyment.
We need an extra-ordinary utopianism to the extent that it provokes pre-fixed phallic and normative access to enjoyment. The extra-ordinary himself does not go so far as to demand another master signifier, but his act is sufficiently provocative in divulging the futility of the master’s imaginary superiority. However, the limits of the extra-ordinary utopian logic is that its fantasy of embodying the impossible never stops in its embodiment (precisely because it is still a fantasy), and instead it continues to make attempts to grasp it, without accepting that the impossible remains impossible.
An alternative utopia could probably maintain the fantasy of embodying the impossible, acknowledging it as such. So, any time fantasy collapses, violence does not emerge as a response, but we continue the effort to symbolically speculate and represent the impossible, precisely because in this effort resides hope that sustains our reason to live and desire. As some historians say, myths distort “truth”, yet we cannot live without them; myths can form the only tolerable approximation of “truth”. One should see them as “colourful” disguises of the achromous core of his/her existence, and the truth is we need more “colour”.
Thus perverts’ desire does not have the opportunity to be organized around finding a fantasmatic solution to the real of sexual difference. The classical scenario of Oedipal dynamics, with its share of lies, make believe, and sexual theories, is not accessible to them. This is why they will search desperately to access symbolic castration that could bring solace to their misery. — Judith Feher-Gurewich (Jean-Michel Rabaté – The Cambridge Companion to Lacan)
Nonetheless, it is contradictory to see the extra-ordinary’s goal as the reinsertion of castration, when in fact there is nothing in his perverse scenarios that incarcerates him in misery. It is more a fantasmatic solution to the deciphering of the enigma of sexual difference, precisely by veiling difference. The extra-ordinary wishes to maintain this veiling, in as much as his jouissance is derived this way. Even if the extra-ordinary efforts to infinitize jouissance are eventually sealed by castration, this is more a side effect of the “perverse” act. At the end, desire always reinscribes itself. Symbolic guilt is inserted in the extra-ordinary’s world through castration, not because the latter relieves him, but because his fantasy has failed. This failure is what creates the misery of the pervert, as in any other subject.
His main target is centred in filling the Other with jouissance. However, it is not something he produces, but more something he unlocks. The pervert unleashes a jouissance, already present in the Other, by eradicating the primacy of the phallic signifier and revealing the Other’s jouissance (the emptiness, the feminine). The neurotic’s anxiety concerns the preservation of desire through the duplication of castration, whereas the pervert’s anxiety emerges from the reverse condition. This is the question of how to extract jouissance from the object without it falling. He does not want to let the object fall, not for fear of castration, but because of the wish to retain jouissance. Inexorably, the nagging question of how to obstruct desire from returning to its initial place grips the pervert because, together with desire, the lack in the Other returns, restoring and maintaining his desiring status, instead of his enjoying status. Without doubt, these are fantasmatic relations that sustain “perverse” desire for jouissance and, at the same time, impose a safe distance from the horror of the Thing’s return.
Anxiety intervenes as the mediating term between desire and jouissance. The desiring subject seeks jouissance, but not in its pure form. Jouissance has to be related to the Other, to occupy a space within the Other of signification, to be put into words. This is what phallic jouissance, the jouissance of the idiot, aims at. The idiocy of it lies in its vain and limited character, since jouissance always fails signification and only a residue is left behind. The remainder is the object a, which perpetuates the desire of the subject. But the object is desired as absent. Coming too close to it, one finds this absence occupied by a real presence. In that case, the object has to fall, like the phallus in its exhausted stage, in order to maintain the desiring status of the subject. The moment desire returns, the object falls, or, better, the moment the object falls, desire returns.
While the subject is engaged in an impossible task (that of inscribing jouissance in the place of the Other) she draws closer to the object. The closer she gets, the more anxiety surfaces, alerting the subject about the presence of a real Other, a primitive pre- symbolic being. In the case of the pervert, things are somehow different. It is not so much the inscription of jouissance in the Other that troubles him, but more the erasure of desire from the field of the Other and its return to a state of unconstrained enjoyment. So, for the pervert, it is essential that the object maintains its potency, not in the service of desire but in the service of jouissance. The anxiety of the extra-ordinary becomes an erotic signal that calls the Other to abandon the locus of desire and indulge in jouissance. But, eventually, desire puts an end to it.
It is not the extra-ordinary that aims at castration, so that he lets loose some of his anxiety. As an integral part of sexual jouissance, the extra-ordinary does not want to give up anxiety, which is what the neurotic does with his symptom, in the reverse way. The Other’s anxiety, the exposition of its truth, requests the confinement of the jouissance operating in perversion. Castration has to be imposed because of the contaminating nature of the object’s jouissance. The more it maintains its omnipotent character, the more it threatens the Other’s consistency, as provided by desire. The extra-ordinary dramatizes the staging of castration. It is not an actual event, as the phallus does not belong to the order of the cosmic world. None the less, politics and power locate the phallus in the imaginary realm. Emblems of patriarchal power are handed from one authority figure to the next, propelling the replication of the same power mechanism and concealing the absence of the phallus.
The social and the political world needs the “pervert” in order to redefine and reinscribe the imaginary boundaries of its morality and, hence, since the patriarchal orientation of the majority is taken as a gnomon, enhance the existing moral code. This reflects the underlying imaginary dynamics of what social constructionism has long now described: the exception of the pervert makes the rule for the “normality” of the present moral, social, political, and cultural organization of the world. As long as the pervert remains outside of this world, the safety from the perilous obscenity and odiousness of real jouissance is ensured. Concomitantly, this is translated to further distance from desire and its permanent endurance, something that nourishes guilt, as was previously argued. As if guilt suggested a privileged moral state, power uses it as an essential demagogic tool, in order to secure its good and further vilify the “pervert”, who also experiences guilt for “betraying” desire, not in the sense of staying away from jouissance, but failing to fully consummate it.
The subject’s lack is the cynosure of the analytic process. The psychoanalytic discourse places the object a, the marker of lack, in the dominant position. The analyst embroiders the transferential relationship with the analysand by centralizing the constitutive lack of the object as a precondition for desire, which brings the subject to the locus of the Other. As well as lack, the specular image that takes over it and marks its boundaries, that is, the ego, is the other focal point of analysis. The image has its borders; this is the frame of the mirror. Around the limits of the image is where anxiety will make its appearance as what signals the momentary disruption of all points of identification. The limits of the mirror are symbolized by Lacan’s “little diamond” (<>), the sign which indicates the relation between the subject and the object in the matheme of fantasy ($<>a). This relation is mediated by desire. The role of the specular image, functioning as a sort of filter, is to protect the subject from anxiety by covering lack, but also marking it. The reflection in the mirror functions like a window frame that demarcates the illusory world of recognition (imaginary) from what Lacan calls “stage” (symbolic reality). In this stage, we find the desire of the masochist and the sadist. The extra-ordinary and the ordinary subject stage their desire in the same arena, playing the same part, with diametrically different techniques.
The scenarios of “perverse” desire do not just linger in a fantasmatic frame (as happens with neurosis); the extra-ordinary cross the window, taking fantasy on stage, that is, acting it out in the symbolic. The vacillation between desire and jouissance is absent from the extra-ordinary, because he is certain about what he wants. Contrary to the neurotic, whose desire always remains in doubt (this is the desire of the Other), the pervert does not have the doubt, but the knowledge of what he desires. The enduring question of “what the Other wants from me” is absent; the “pervert” takes the game in his hands, he knows and applies the rules. The desire of the “pervert” is to be passively enjoyed by the Other, as it is best manifested in masochism. Lacan notes that the masochist is supposed to know how to enjoy the Other. The masochist is the one who gives the orders, the commands, the knowledge, to the Other, who has to tackle its limits. The masochist is aiming at the jouissance of the Other . . . the final term he is aiming at is anxiety of the Other.
What we are thus arguing is not simply that ideology permeates also the alleged extra-ideological strata of everyday life, but that this materialization of ideology in the external materiality renders visible inherent antagonisms that the explicit formulation of ideology cannot afford to acknowledge. It is as if an ideological edifice, in order to function “normally,” must obey a kind of “imp of perversity” and articulate its inherent antagonism in the externality of its material existence.
In this fashion, Žižek recognizes an element of perversity in all ideologies, as a prerequisite for their “normal” functioning. This is because all ideologies disguise lack and thus desire through disavowal. They know that lack is there, but at the same time they believe it is eliminated. There is an object that takes over lack, that is to say the Good each ideology endorses, through imaginary means. If we generalize Žižek’s suggestion, we can either see all ideological relations mediated by a perverse liaison or perversion as a condition that simply helps the subjects relate to each other, when signification fails and they are confronted with the everlasting question of sexual difference, the non-representable dimension. Ideology, then, is just one solution that makes use of the perverse strategy when dealing with Difference. In any case, it is not pathological and cannot be determined mainly by relying on the role of disavowal. Instead of père-vers (this is a Lacanian neologism that denotes the meanings of “perversion” and “vers le père”, referring to the search for jouissance that does not abolish the division of the subject, her desire. In this respect, the père-vers is typical of both neurosis and perversion, where the Name-of-the-Father is not foreclosed and thereby complete jouissance remains unobtainable sexuality, that searches not for absolute jouissance, but jouissance related to desire, the political question is more pertinent to the père-versus, so to say, anything that goes against the recognition of the desire of the Other. Any attempt to disguise lack for instrumental purposes is a père-versus tactic.
To the extent that this external materialization of ideology is subjected to fantasmatic processes, it divulges nothing more than the perversity that organizes all social and political relations far from the sexual pathology associated with the pervert. The Other of power, this fictional Other that any ideology fabricates, is the One who disavows the discontinuities of the normative chain of society. Expressed through the signifiers used by leadership, this Other knows very well the cul-de-sac of the fictional view of society as a unified body, but still believes that unity is possible, substantiating this ideal.
The ideological Other disregards the impossibility of bridging Difference; therefore, it meets the perversion that it wants to associate with the extra-ordinary. Disengaging it from pathology, disavowal can be stated differently, as a prompt that says: “let’s pretend!” Pretend as if a universal harmony, good, and unity are feasible. Symbolic Difference is replaced with imaginary difference, which nourishes antagonism and hostility by fictionalizing an external threat that jeopardizes the unity of the social body. Thus, fantasy of the obscene extra-ordinary, who offends the conformist norm, is in itself a perverse fantasy. The Other knows very well that the pervert constitutes no threat, but still requires his punishment, moral reformation, or treatment.
Negation reveals more a neurotic attitude towards jouissance, denounced as a perverse desire, that dominates both political and social life. Negation presupposes the acquisition of the meaning of “No” and it suggests a vigorous and compromising attitude between an idea remaining unconscious (repressed) and conscious at the same time. Thus, to negate means to go against the law and succumb to jouissance in a concealed way. Negating castration releases a destructive force against the paternal function, a force fuelled with jouissance. It is not the symbolic reality, but the non-symbolic real as a threatening source that is being negated. This means that the real is actually expressed through symbolic means, but in a negative form. Disavowal, involves a sexualization of the object precluding the threat of castration as punishment. But the threat is still there in the unconscious, whereas negation means that castration is negated even in the unconscious. Negation does not suggest a compromise (in the form of a splitting of the ego) between the denial of something and its acceptance, as disavowal does. Rather, it maintains the repressed status of castration by allowing the latter to be unconsciously expressed in its negated status. So, negation has a more hostile and aggressive attitude (originating in the death drive) towards castration, whereas disavowal originates in Eros. Disavowal does not go against castration, but keeps it at bay by not acknowledging it, which is different from negating it. In this way, the sexualization of the object (the mother’s phallus) remains intact. Therefore, the responsibility for extracting jouissance is also negated.