Freudian Masochism, a Metaphysical Reasoning. Thought of the Day 74.0


As he was outlining his theory of libido motivation, Freud developed his earliest views on masochism. In this theory, sexual drives were invoked as basic motivators of all kinds of behaviors. He proposed that masochism, as a sexual perversion, results from a fixation on or regression to a form of infantile sexuality. One pays the price for pleasure, accepting pain as an appeasement for castration, stressing one’s helplessness, or denying sadistic impulses.

However, as he later propounded his theory of the interaction of the ego and the superego, the concept of masochism came to be broadened to include nonsexual forms of masochism. Freud analyzes three forms of masochism in this later elaboration. They are erotogenic, feminine, and moral. Primary (erotogenic) masochism is the root of the other two, which are properly variants upon it. In defining primary masochism he returns to the notion from the 1905 work, (Three essays on the theory of sexuality) to suggest that the polymorphous perverse character of infantile sexuality, within which any intense stimulus may be erotically stimulating, is the foundation of erotogenic masochism. This is insufficient, however, and he later adds the concept of instinctual fusing, which is the merging of the erotic and death-oriented interests into a single instinctual expression. “Masochism subjugates the death drive: it is thus, however idiosyncratically, life affirming.” The critical step here, for later developments in literature and culture at large, is the formulation of the category of “moral masochism.” Moral masochism is a more generalized realm of behavior and is missing the explicitly sexual character of erotogenic masochism. In moral masochism humiliation and failure replace physical pain and punishment. The individual providing the punishment is no longer immediately present in the environment of the individual. Rather, it comes to be felt as “Fate, destiny, or God” who wields the cudgels of failure and frustration. However, while the awareness is withdrawn from consciousness by these displacements, Freud still thought that infantile sexual motivations remained at their core. This stylization of masochism, absent of its sexual and erotic components, has passed readily into the popular imagination and lexicon.

However, not content with these theories, and still troubled by masochism, Freud finally proposed a radical explanation for masochism that was one of  his most controversial ideas. He awarded self-destructive impulses the status of instinct, ultimately more powerful than the life instincts. He proposed that “beyond the pleasure principle” there was an even more basic “death instinct”. This very speculative theory is not generally held within psychoanalysis today, and is based on some of Freud’s most metaphysical reasoning.

Paradox of Phallocentrism. Thought of the Day 34.0


The paradox of phallocentrism in aIl its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world. An idea of woman stands as lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies. The function of woman in forming the patriarchal unconscious is two-fold. She first symbolises the castration threat by her real absence of a penis, and second thereby raises her child into the symbolic. Once this has been achieved, her meaning in the process is at an end, it does not last into the world of law and language except as a memory which oscillates between memory of maternal plenitude and memory of lack. Both are posited on nature (or on anatomy in Freud’s famous phrase). Woman’s desire is subjected to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound, she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it. She turns her child into the signifier of her own desire to possess a penis (the condition, she imagines, of entry into the symbolic). Either she must gracefully give way to the word, the Name of the Father and the Law, or else struggle to keep her child down with her in the half-light of the imaginary. Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.

Mania of the Revisionary Narratives. Note Quote.


For if Lacan is either symptom or agent of a theoretical turn, it is far from the “care of the self” imagined by this proposition because the French return to Freud explodes any ready notion of self-care. It also removes the props for identity politics. Poststructural psychoanalysis has been the key provocation of a turn to the identity-destabilizing work of the unconscious that, along with an unlikely ally in historicism, has galvanized the transition from transparent to unstable, internally divided, and overdetermined identity categories. The tense debates of the 1980s and 1990s between feminism and poststructuralism have without much fanfare yielded to a tacit consensus that, rather than invalidating politically engaged analysis, psychologically and historically mobile conceptualizations of gender make intellectual and political alliances possible across previously hostile discursive terrains. As self-difference opens the door to other differences, theorizations that emanate from one racial or sexual or class turf are more likely to provoke new questions than old accusations from competing grounds. We are just at the beginning of a generative process that encompasses not only the particularization that results from historical refinement and nuancing but also the elaboration of revisionary narratives: what happens when the dark plantation son retells the story of the primal horde, or when the racial shadow falls across the mirror stage, or the queer encounters and reforms the melancholic? Fracturing the subject has also poked holes in the walls that have divided psychoanalysis and history, launching a potentially interminable analysis.



One of the ways in which Freud was able to reveal repressed unconscious representations in discourse was through a technique popularly known as “the talking cure”. Coined by “Anna O” – a patient of Josef Breuer, Freud’s family doctor – the talking cure was considered by Freud to be effective in the treatment of hysteria. The technique, not unlike the notion of “free association”, requires the patient to say out loud whatever comes to her/his mind no matter how insignificant or superficial it may seem. By encouraging the patient to concentrate on putting neurotic or psychotic experiences into words, the uninterrupted narrative flow allows the psychoanalyst to reconstruct the patient’s unconscious mind. Focusing on unconscious representations revealed during discourse, the psychoanalyst is able to perceive lapsus or other manifestations of the unconscious which may escape the patient’s field of perception. At the discretion of the psychoanalyst, these unconscious representations are in turn brought to the patient’s attention who will ideally be able to understand the root of an undesired behavior. According to Freud, becoming familiar with the exact nature of these neurotic and psychotic behaviors makes it possible for the patient to suppress them.

The success of the talking cure, also known as the cathartic method, depends on the patient’s ability to put thoughts into words through the free assembly of signifiers. Through extensive research on the connection between the spoken word and the idea it represented, Freud argued that the organization of words, as well as their subsequent verbalization, have a direct link not only with cognition, but also with kinesthetics. In their analysis of the case of “Anna O.” – a patient of Breuer suffering from acute hysteria – both Freud and Breuer recognized the therapeutic benefits of the cathartic method. During the course of her hysteria, the patient essentially repressed the anguish of her father’s death into the unconscious mind, the cathexis of which resurfaced as a series of somatic manifestations. The patient’s symptoms, ranging from partial paralysis to severe coughing, completely disappeared toward the final phases of her treatment, much to the surprise of Freud and Breuer. They later attributed the patient’s cure to her verbalized reenactment of emotionally charged scenes associated with her father’s death, in the same manner as Aristotle remarked on the soothing effects of catharsis.

Further elaborating on Freud’s relationship between thoughts and words, Lacan perceived the unconscious mind. as being comprised of individual signifiers. Combining Saussurian linguistics and Freudian psychoanalysis, Lacan’s perception of the unconscious mind expounded on the ‘word-presentations’ mentioned by Freud in The Ego and the Id. Whereas Freud conceived the unconscious mind as containing “thing-presentations” that could be verbalized in the conscious mind, only by their subsequent passage through the pre-conscious, Lacan demonstrated that these “thing-presentations” already behave like signifiers without first having to filter through the pre-conscious. Lacan points out that the unconscious is manifested not only in speech through unconscious lapsus, but also in dreams, qualified by Freud as “the via regia to the unconscious”.

Because dreams both contain verbal cues and take on characteristics of linguistic tropes such as metaphor and metonymy, Lacan reasons that the unconscious must be structured like a language. To support this theory, he likens metaphor and metonymy to two functions of Freud’s dream-work: condensation and displacement, respectively. According to Lacan, metaphor behaves like condensation in that a signifier belonging to a particular signifying chain can be substituted with a new signifier from a different signifying chain in order to be reassigned a new meaning. Thus, metaphor appears both in narration and in dreams when a signifier-word is attributed a meaning other than that which is normally associated with it. In this way, condensation acts as a censoring agent to protect the ego from images, drives or impulses that it has repressed. Closely related to metonymy, dreams can also be censored through displacement. Instead of compressing images, drives or impulses into a metaphor as is the case with condensation, displacement disguises unconscious representations by replacing a repressed signifier in a signifying chain with another signifier from the same chain. This implies that the signifier that has been replaced in the signifying chain is related to the new signifier, as is the case of metonymy which uses only one part of a thing to describe the whole thing.

It would appear that, like language, the unconscious is governed by the relationship between individual units, in much the same way that words are governed by the rules of grammar and tropes to create meaning. In this respect, not only are unconscious and conscious signifiers similar to one another, but Freud’s cathartic method further corroborates their equivalence. With the assistance of a psychoanalyst, the “talking cure” brings unconscious drives, impulses and the images they create to the conscious realm through psychic discharge, which in the context of psychoanalysis, takes on the form of verbalized discourse. Instead of remaining confined to the unconscious and surfacing in unexpected or undesired ways through psychotic or neurotic behaviors, unconscious cathexes are channeled into language which, as Freud pointed out in “Words and Things”, is closely related to somatic activity. If unconscious cathexes can be converted into speech instead of into debilitating behaviors, then the connection between elements of the unconscious and those of the conscious can be clearly established.

But, for Freud, art is (as is love) an attenuated and inhibited form of sexuality that has a “mildly intoxicating quality of feeling.” The full power of human affects is exhausted and satisfied only in sexuality, “the prototype of all happiness.” For Lacan, the deepest passions are not localized or limited to genital sexuality, but engage the entire corporeal being in many, unpredictable forms of jouissance. Art is a way into jouissance. By doing violence to its own structural and meaning-making properties, art bewilders, perplexes, shocks, or enraptures, causing a “resonating of the body” that the speaking being (‘parlêtre’) wants and enjoys, even at the price of pain or anxiety. It has techniques and ways of making interventions that psychoanalysis can perhaps adapt for producing an encounter in the analysand with his or her own wordless real. By contrast, though Freud praised art for preceding psychoanalysis in understanding our psychic constitution, he did not see it as having any kind of direct application or usefulness for analytic practice. For the late Lacan, psychoanalysis is no longer the Freudian “talking cure” but a search for new paths to accomplish a kind of tuning of the jouissance that underlies all thought and discourse.

Lyotard and Disruption at the Limits of Reason


Delegitimation shook the centric stronghold of authority and legitimacy, while dedifferentiation sought out to shake the foundations of hitherto known differences between centers and margins by erosive action within these differences themselves.

Initially, Lyotard made an attempt to fuse the Freudian libido, the fictional/theoretical energy with philosophy, through which he understated the transformations wrought out in the social-political realm, that he managed to free himself of the totalizing aspect of Marxism. His commitment to ontology of events that mingles with the multiplicities of forces and desires at work in any social, political and economic scenarios.

Lyotard’s main thesis revolves around the fact that representations always lag behind events, and this is where he tries to establish the relationship between reason and representation. He has always doubted reason’s efficacy for it operates within the confines of structures, wherein sensual perceptions and psychological factors like emotions and sentiments are always ostracized. The fact of the matter is that one could never work with reasons with such factors stringently kept aside. What is discursive is reason and representation, and what is figural is rational representation. The figural is what encompasses sensual perceptions and psychological factors like emotions and sentiments. Furthermore, he gets metaphorical with flatness and depth mapping onto discourse and the figural respectively. Subsequently, what is aimed at is the deconstruction of the two categories of discourse and figural that happen to be opposites, since, doing this would break the shackles of logic of discourse and strip the status of prerogativeness from discourse. With difference corresponding to the figural, the difference between discourse and figural is measured in difference rather than in opposition. What distinguishes difference from opposition is that in the former, the binary is characterized by strict opposites, whereas in the latter, two terms in the binary are mutually implicated, but ultimately irreconcilable. Disruption at the limits of reason is what characterizes difference implying that no rational system of representation can ever enjoy the status of being closed or complete, and cannot escape the impacts of the figural that it tries so hard to keep out.

Conjectures of Capitalism and Organic Necrocracy, RN


Following a reading of Freud and Deleuze in their use of death drive, Reza Negarestani tells us that capitalism forges an inhuman model that “weds the concrete economy of human life to a cosmos where neither being nor thinking enjoys any privilege.” Taking his trajectory from the investigation of Nick Land in his “The Thirst for Annihilation“, he tells us that “what brings about this weird marriage between human praxis and inhuman emancipation is the tortuous economy of dissipation inherent to capitalism as its partially repressed desire for meltdown.” According to a quote from Land, “What appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificially intelligent space that must assemble itself from an enemy’s resources.” Negarestani compares this emancipatory capitalism with HP Lovecraft‘s fantastic concept of ‘holocaust of freedom’, which celebrates the consummation of human doom with human emancipation.

Complexity Theory and Philosophy: A Peace Accord


Complexity has impacted fields diverse from the one it originated in, i.e. science. It has touched the sociological domains, and organizational sciences, but sadly, it has not had much of a say in mainstream academic philosophy. In sociology, John Urry (2003) examines the ideas of chaos and complexity in carrying out analyses of global processes. He does this, because he believes that systems are balanced between order and chaos, and that, there is no teleological move towards any state of equilibrium, as the events that pilot the system are not only unpredictable, but also irreversible at the same time. Such events rupture the space-time regularity with their dimension of unpredictability that was thought of as characterizing hitherto known sociological discursive practices. A highly significant contribution that comes along with such an analyses is the distinguishing between what Urry aptly calls “global networks” and “global fluids”. Global fluids are a topographical space used to describe the de-territorialized movement of people, information, objects, finances in an undirected, nonlinear mode, and in a way are characteristic of emergentism and hybridization. The topographies of global networks and global fluids interact in complex manner to give rise to emergent properties that define systems as always on the edge of chaos, pregnant with unpredictability.


Cognitive science and evolutionary theory have been inspirational for a lot of philosophical investigations and have also benefited largely from complexity theory. If such is the case, the perplexing thing is complexity theory’s impact in philosophy, which has not had major inroads to make. Why could this be so? Let us ponder this over.

Analytical philosophy has always been concerned with analysis, and logical constructs that are to be stringently followed. These rules and regulations take the domain of philosophical investigations falling under the rubric of analytical tradition away from holism, uncertainty, unpredictability and subjectivity that are characteristics of complexity. The reason why this could be case is attributable to complexity theory as developed on the base of mathematics and computational theories, which, somehow is not the domain of academic philosophy dealing with social sciences and cultural studies in present days, but is confined to discussions and debates amongst philosophers of science (biology is an important branch here), mathematics and technology. Moreover, the debates and deliberations have concerned themselves with the unpredictable and uncertain implications as derived from the vestiges of chaos theory and not complexity theory per se. This is symptomatic of the fact that a lot of confusion rests upon viewing these two path-breaking theories as synonymous, which, incidentally is a mistake, as the former happens at best to be a mere subset of the latter. An ironical fate encountered philosophy, since it dealt with complex notions of language, without actually admitting to the jargon, and technical parlance of complexity theory. If philosophy lets complexity make a meaningful intercourse into its discursive practices, then it could be beneficial to the alliance. And the branch of philosophy that is making use of this intervention and alliance at present is post-modern philosophy ++++

The works of Freud and Saussure as furthered by Lacan and Derrida, not only accorded fecundity for a critique of modernity, but, also opened up avenues for a meaningful interaction with complexity. French theory at large was quite antagonistic to modernist claims of reducing the diverse world to essential features for better comprehensibility, and this essentially lent for its affinity to complexity. Even if Derrida never explicitly used the complexity parlance in his corpus, there appears to be a strong sympathy towards the phenomenon via his take on post-structuralism. On the other hand, Lyotard, in setting his arguments for post-modern conditions of knowledge was ecstatic about paralogy as a defining feature, which is no different from the way complexity, connectionism and distributed systems would harbor.


Even Deleuze and Guattari are closer to the complex approach through their notions of rhizomes, which are non-reductive, non-hierarchical, and multiplicities oriented connections in data representations and interpretations, and are characterized by horizontal connectivities, as contrasted with arborescent models that find their characterizations in vertical and linear determinations. The ideas are further developed by De Landa (2006), where the attempt is to define a new ontology that could be utilized by social scientists. Components that make up the assemblages are characterized along two axes viz, material, explicating on the variable roles components might undergo, and territorializng/deterritorializing, explicating on processes components might be involved with.


Relations of exteriority define components, implying that components are self-subsistent, or that there is never a loss of identity for them, during the process of being unplugged from one assemblage to be plugged into another. This relationship between the assemblages and components is nonlinearly and complexly defined, since assemblages are affected by lower level ones, but could also potentially act on to these components affecting adaptations in them. This is so similar to the way distributed systems are principally modeled. Then why has philosophy at large not shown much impact from complexity despite the French theoretical affinities with the latter?

Chaos theory is partly to blame here, for it has twisted the way a structure of a complex system is understood. The systems have a non-linear operational tendencies, and this has obfuscated the notion of meaning as lying squarely on relativism. The robustness of these systems, when looked at in an illuminating manner from the French theoretical perspective could be advantageous to get rid of ideas about complex systems as based on a knife’s edge, despite being nonlinearly determinable. If the structure of the system were a problematic, then defining limits and boundaries was no easy job. What is the boundary between the system and the environment? Is it rigorously drawn and followed, or is it a mere theoretical choice and construct? These are valid question, which philosophy found it difficult to come to terms with. These questions gained intensity with the introduction of self-organizational systems and/or autopoietic ones. Classical and modern philosophies either had to dismiss these ideas as chimerical, or it had to close off its own analyzing methods in dealing with these issues, and both of these approaches had a detrimental effect of isolating the discipline of philosophy from the cultural domains in which such notions were making positive interventions and inroads. It could safely be said that French theory, in a way tried its rescue mission, and picked up momentum in success. The major contribution from continental philosophy post-60s was framing solutions. Framing, as a schema of interpretation helped comprehending and responding to events and enabled systems and contexts to constitute one another, thus positing a resolution on the boundaries and limits issues that had plagued hitherto known philosophical doctrines.

The notion of difference, so central to modernism was a problematic that needed to be resolved. Such was never a problem within French theory, but was a tonic to be consumed along side complexity, to address socio-economic and political issues. Deleuze (1994), for example, in his metaphysical treatise, sought a critique of representation, and a systematic inversion of the traditional metaphysical notions of identity and difference. Identities were not metaphysically or logically prior to differences, and identities in whatever categories, are pronounced by their derivation from differences. In other words, forms, categories, apperception, and resemblances fail to attain their differences in themselves. And, as Deleuze (2003: 32) says,

If philosophy has a positive and direct relation to things, it is only insofar as philosophy claims to grasp the thing itself, according to what it is, in its difference from everything it is not, in other words, in its internal difference.

But Deleuzean thesis on metaphysics does make a political intervention, like when he says,

The more our daily life appears standardized, stereotyped, and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate — namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death. (Deleuze 1994: 293).(1)

Tackling the complexity within the social realm head-on does not lie in extrapolating convenient generalities, and thereafter trying to fathom how finely they fit together, but, rather in apprehending the relational schema of the network, within which, individuals emerge as subjects, objects and systems that are capable of grasping the real things.(2) 

One major criticism leveled against complexity is that it is sympathetic to relativism, just like most of the French theoretical thought is. Whether, this accusation has any substance to it could be measured by the likes of circular meaningless debates like the Sokal hoax. The hoax was platitudinous to say the least, and vague at best. And why would this be so? Sokal in his article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, incorporated the vocabulary of his specialized discipline to unearth the waywardness of usage by the French theorists. This, for Sokal was fashionable nonsense, or an act of making noise. He takes the French theorists to task for a liberal use of terms like chaos, complexity, quantum, relativity, gender, difference, topology, and deconstruction, without any proper insight. Who would be vague in the Sokal affair? The physicist, or the bunch of French theorists? Such an issue could be tackled on an intelligibility concern. Intelligibility is a result of differentiation and not a guarantee of truth-giving process (Cilliers 2005: 262).

Clearly communicated does not give any indisputable identity to a concept. The only way, (such a meaning can) be meaningful is through limitations being set on such communications, an ethical choice once again. These limitations enable knowledge to come into existence, and this must be accepted de facto. In a parallel metaphoric with complexity, these limitations or constraints are sine qua non for autopoiesis to make an entry. Cilliers (2005: 264) is quite on target, when he lays down the general schema for complexity, if it is, aligned with notions of chaos, randomness and noise, the accusations of relativism and vagueness will start to hold water. It is aligned with notions of structure as the result of contingent constraints, we can make claims about complex systems, which are clear and comprehensible, despite the fact that the claims themselves are historically contingent.

Undoubtedly, complexity rides on modesty. But, the accusations against this position only succeed to level complexity as weak, a gross mistake in itself. Let us take Derrida here, as read by Sweetman (1999). Sweetman cites Derrida as an ideal post-modernist, and thereafter launches an attack on his works as confusing aesthetics with metaphysics, as mistakenly siding with assertions over arguments in philosophy, as holding Derrida for moral and epistemological relativism and, self-contradictory with a tinge of intellectual arrogance. Such accusations, though addressed by Derrida and his scholars at various times, nevertheless find parallels in complexity, where, the split is between proponents of mathematical certainty in dealing with complexity on the one hand, and proponents of metaphorical proclivities in dealing with the phenomenon on the other. So, how would relativism make an entry here? Being a relativist is as good as swimming in paradoxical intellectual currents, and such a position is embraced due to a lack of foundational basis for knowledge, if nothing more. The counter-argument against the relativistic stance of complexity could be framed in a simplistic manner, by citing the case of limited knowledge as not relativistic knowledge. If these forms of knowledge were equated in any manner, it would only help close doors on investigations.

A look at Luhmann’s use of autopoiesis in social theory is obligated here. This is necessitated by the fact of autopoiesis getting directly imported from biological sciences, to which, even Varela had objections, though intellectually changing tracks. Luhmann considers the leaving out of self-referentiality as a problematic in the work of Chileans (Maturana + Varela), since for Luhmann systems are characterized by general patterns which can just be described as making a distinction and crossing the boundary of the distinction [which] enables us to ask questions about society as a self-observing systems[s] (Hayles, K., Luhmann, N., Rasch, W., Knodt, E. & Wolfe, C., 1995 Autumn). Such a reaction from Luhmann is in his response to a cautious undertaking of any import directly from biological and psychological sciences to describe society and social theory. Reality is always distorted through the lens of perception and, this blinds humans from seeing things-in-themselves (the Kantian noumenon). One could visualize this within the analytical tradition of language as a problematic, involving oppositional thinking within the binary structure of linguistic terms themselves. What is required is an evolutionary explanation of how systems survive to the extent that they can learn to handle the inside/outside difference within the system, and within the context of their own operations, since they can never operate outside the system (Hayles, K., Luhmann, N., Rasch, W., Knodt, E. & Wolfe, C., 1995 Autumn). For the social theory to be effective, what requires deconstruction is the deconstruction of the grand tautological claim of autopoiesis, or the unity of the system as produced by the system itself. Luhmann tells us that a methodology that undertakes such a task must do this empirically by identifying the operations which produce and reproduce the unity of the system (Luhmann 1992). This is a crucial point, since the classical/traditional questions as regards the problem of reference as conditioning meaning and truth, are the distinctions between the subject and the object. Luhmann thinks of these questions as quasi-questions, and admonishes a replacement by self-reference/external-reference for any meaningful transformation to take effect. In his communications theory(3), he states flatly that as a system, it depends upon “introducing the difference between system and environment into the system” as the internal split within the system itself that allows it to make the distinction to begin its operative procedures to begin with (Luhmann 1992: 1420). The self-reference/external-reference distinction is a contingent process, and is open to temporal forms of difference. How to define the operation that differentiates the system and organizes the difference between system and environment while maintaining reciprocity between dependence and independence is a question that demands a resolution. The breakthrough for autopoietic systems is provided by the notion of structural coupling, since a renunciation of the idea of overarching causality on the one hand, and the retention of the idea of highly selective connections between systems and environments is effected here. Structural coupling maintains this reciprocity between dependence and independence. Moreover, autopoietic systems are defined by the way they are, by their mode of being in the world, and by the way they overcome or encounter entropy in the world. In other words, a self-perpetuating system performing operational closure continuously are autopoietic systems that organize dynamic stability.


Even if the concepts of complexity have not traveled far and wide into the discipline of philosophy, the trends are on the positive side. Developments in cognitive sciences and consciousness studies have a far reaching implications on philosophy of mind, as does in research in science that helps redefine the very notion of life. These researches are carried out within the spectrum of complexity theory, and therefore, there is a lot of scope for optimism. Complexity theory is still in the embryonic stage, for it is a theory of the widest possible extent for our understanding the world that we inhabit. Though, there are roadblocks along the way, it should in no way mean that it is the end of the road for complexity, but only a beginning in a new and novel manner.

Complexity theory as imbibed within adaptive systems has a major role in evolutionary doctrines. To add to this, the phenomenon of French Theory has incited creative and innovative ways of looking at philosophy, where residues of dualism and reductionism still rest, and resist any challenges whatsoever. One of the ways through which complexity and philosophy could come closer is, when the latter starts withdrawing its investigations into the how- ness of something, and starts to seriously incorporate the why-ness of it. The how- ness still seems to be arrested within the walls of reductionism, mechanicism, modernism, and the pillars of Newtonian science. So, an ontological reduction of all phenomenon under the governance of deterministic laws is the indelible mark, even if epistemologically, a certain guideline of objectivity seems apparent. What really is missed out on in this process is the creativity, as world in particular and universe in general is describable as a mechanism following clockwork. Such a view held sway for most the modern era, but with the advent of scientific revolutions in the 20th century, things began to look awry. Relativity theory, quantum mechanics, chaos, complexity, and recently string/M-theory were powerful enough in their insights to clean off the hitherto promising and predictable scientific ventures. One view at quantum mechanics/uncertainty and chaos/non-linear dynamics was potent to dislodge predictability from science. This was followed in succession by systems theory and cybernetics, which were instrumental in highlighting the scientific basis for holism and emergence, and showing equally well that knowledge was intrinsically subjective. Not just that, autopoiesis clarified the picture of regularity and organization as not given, but, rather dependent on a dynamically emergent tangle of conflicting forces and random fluctuations, a process very rightly referred to by Prigogine and Stengers (1984) as “order out of chaos”. In very insightful language, Heylighen, Cilliers and Gershenson (2007) pin their hopes on these different approaches, which are now starting to become integrated under the heading of “complexity science”. It’s central paradigm is the multi-agent system: a collection of autonomous components whose local interactions give rise to a global order. Agents are intrinsically subjective and uncertain about the consequences of their actions, yet they generally manage to self-organize into an emergent, adaptive system. Thus uncertainty and subjectivity should no longer be viewed negatively, as the loss of the absolute order of mechanicism, but positively, as factors of creativity, adaptation and evolution….Although a number of (mostly post-modern) philosophers have expressed similar sentiments, the complexity paradigm still needs to be assimilated by academic philosophy.

Such a need is a requisite for complexity to become more aware about how modeling techniques could be made more robust, and for philosophy to understand and resolve some hitherto unaddressed, but perennial problems.


1  The political implications of such a thesis is rare, but forceful. To add to the quote above, there are other quotes as well, that deliberate on socio-political themes. Like,

“We claim that there are two ways to appeal to ‘necessary destructions’: that of the poet, who speaks in the name of a creative power, capable of overturning all orders and representations in order to affirm Difference in the state of permanent revolution which characterizes eternal return; and that of the politician, who is above all concerned to deny that which ‘differs,’ so as to conserve or prolong an established historical order.” (Deleuze 1994: 53).


“Real revolutions have the atmosphere of fétes. Contradiction is not the weapon of the proletariat but, rather, the manner in which the bourgeoisie defends and preserves itself, the shadow behind which it maintains its claim to decide what the problems are.” (Deleuze 1994: 268).

2 It should however be noted, that only immanent philosophies of the sort Deleuze propagates, the processes of individuation could be accounted for. Moreover, once such an aim is attained, regularities in the world are denied any eternal and universal validation.

3 He defines communication as “a kind of autopoetic network of operations which continually organizes what we seek, the coincidence of self-reference (utterance) and external reference (information)” (1992: 1424). He details this out saying,

“Communication comes about by splitting reality through a highly artificial distinction between utterance and information, both taken as contingent events within an ongoing process that recursively uses the results of previous steps and anticipates further ones”. (1992: 1424).


Ciliers, P. (2005) Complexity, Deconstruction and Relativism. In Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 22 (5). pp. 255 – 267.

De Landa, M. (2006) New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. London: Continuum.

Deleuze, G. (1994) Difference and Repetition. Translated by Patton, P. New York: Columbia University Press.

—————- (2003) Desert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974). Translated by Taormina, M. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

Hayles, K., Luhmann, N., Rasch, W., Knodt, E. & Wolfe, C. (1995 Autumn) Theory of a Different Order: A Conversation with Katherine Hayles and Niklas Luhmann. In Cultural Critique, No. 31, The Politics of Systems and Environments, Part II. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Heylighen, F., Cilliers, P., and Gershenson, C. (2007) The Philosophy of Complexity. In Bogg, J. & Geyer, R. (eds), Complexity, Science and Society. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing.

Luhmann, N (1992) Operational Closure and Structural Coupling: The Differentiation of the Legal System. Cardoza Law Review Vol. 13.

Lyotard, J-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Translated by Bennington, G. & Massumi, B. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Prigogine, I. and Stengers, I. (1984) Order out of Chaos. New York: Bantam Books.

Sweetman, B. (1999) Postmodernism, Derrida and Différance: A Critique. In International Philosophical Quarterly XXXIX (1)/153. pp. 5 – 18.

Urry, J. (2003) Global Complexity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Onwards to Badiou’s Subtraction

…about meta-narrativizing (sorry for this nonlinear/bottom-up approach to the mail), I could only quip on post-modernism as highly ineffectual, escapist laden movement in its reactionary gesture to modernism. Take for instance, Lyotard, and his turn from libidinal economy to post-modernism through paganism, before he culminates his journey in The Differend. He sure reached a road block in Libidinal Economy itself, when faced with his unflinching commitment to ontology of events, since that raised dire issue for his epistemological affiliations. The resultant: Freud and Marxian marriage was filed for divorce. The way out that he imagined was to sort out matters to even out differences with the incommensurable issues of justice, and thats why he took up paganism. Even here, to begin with, he was in a quandary, since he took recourse to admissibility in irreducible differences plaguing the prevalent order of things (Sorry for this Foucauldian noise!!), and paved the escape route by adhering to the principles of never trying one’s hand/mind or whatever one could use at reductionism. So far, so good. But, was this turn towards micro-narrativizing proving a difficult ordeal? And my reading of the thinker in question undoubtedly says YES. If one reads The Postmodern Condition or The Differend carefully, one notices his liberal borrowings from Wittgenstein’s language games, or what he prefers to call “phase-regimens”. These are used to negate his earlier commitments to ontology of events by stressing more upon his epistemological ones, and therefore are invoked only with the idea of political motivators. The crux of the matter is: to drive his point home forcefully, he negates critical theory, unitary Being of the society (both pillars of modernism, or meta-narratives in themselves), and substitutes it by a post-modern society that is built by compositions of fragmented “phase-regimens” open to alteration in their attempts to successfully pass the test of legitimate narratives. This debt to Wittgenstein is what I call, a movement riddled with escapism, an exegesis that begins, but has a real eschatological problem. I do not know, if I’ve been able to show with this example clearly the fault-lines within micro-narratives?

[addendum]: if Wittgenstein is said to have some resemblances with postmodernism or more importantly poststructuralism, human imagination has transcended its sleep state..

On to Badiou:


His truth is to be unearthed in mathematics. His mathematics = ontology becomes quite notorious to deal with, none the less has the key component to understanding his concept of truth. In Badiouian mathematics (Can I really use this term???), what constitutes a transition from an inconsistent set to a consistent and a definable one is only the subjective intervention to do so. This obviously is a regressive fall-back. Why can a subjective intervention not slide into inconsistency? In a situation like this, Deleuze and Guattari would NEVER encourage an outside-the-situation intervention on behalf of a subjective agent that can profess and confess allegiance to force consistency onto this inconsistency, and in the process problematizing the given situation for a successful transformation of it. This is advocated through CONNECTIONS, between elements and sets built up by the elements. And thats why their weight on IMMANENCE. And hereafter, getting back to my first reply on the post: Badiou insists on invoking the void for any such consistency to take shape. Badiou gets away from IMMANENCE to construct his version of void, the existence of which is NOT networked to the given situation in any way. Thereafter, he calls upon the subject to prove her allegiance by naturalizing these events to effectuate consistency. And that is the reason why I remarked that Badiou is accused by Deleuze and Guattari to invoke the ‘transcendent’. In any ways, for Badiou, the truth has to be an archaeological stratum within the site of the event, and hence his mathematizing it cannot be under any shadow of doubt.

Apart from this vision of truth in Badiou, I see no other, despite agreeing upon your last phrase of truth getting caught up in the wire-mesh of cold logics and rationality. Truth is an age-old problem with philosophy, that tries in vain to seek answers for thee questions asked pretty badly, and I even dare say in more Manichean manner.

[addendum 2:]: we need to break free from Kantian infused anthropocentric philosophy. The German Idealism turn has been detrimental to doing philosophy, unless it can be freed of the symptoms. One, one talks about human subjectivity, it is difficult to ignore the extra onerous package of ideological practices. Either ways, certain “isms” turn into spoilers…..

How would an event emerge? Because, unless we have an event that has made its existence known, what point is there at all to talk about his version of Truth. We have to discern this something called an event, this ‘new’ situation in a manner that does not hark back to any encyclopedic determinant under the rubric of inclusivity. Badiou makes this very clear in his mathematical treatment of sets while dealing with his take on constructivism in philosophy. Now, with the emergence of such an element, or a situation or what have you, with the sole criterion of it belonging only to itself, is event’s appearance stamped in reality, otherwise not. Badiou is declarative and not demonstrative as far as announcing the advent of such an “appearance” is concerned. This announcement is linguistic in nature. This announcement of the appearance is subtractive, for it never belongs to, as I said above, any known determinants.

Well, subtraction is not to be thought of as ‘stripping away’ (your response points in that direction though). For, if that were the case, the obvious implication would be truth as congruent with representation. Even if Badiou scorns post-theories, he still retains aversion for representation. Instead, truth is catalytic to the situation of the event, for it continuously transforms the structure of the situation upon playing the role of an interventionist, a mediator. Its like truth punching a hole in the fabric of knowledge for a progressive transformation from within which this punching effectuates that is subtractive in Badiou.

p.s. The mail in the first sentence cannot be produced for obvious reasons……but talks of conformist psuedoMarxists is trying to put human imagination to sleep……

other, another…..symbolically real or really symbolic: A Wounded Dialogue

This is an experimental post with a dialogue with the other and the other is simply nowhere or now-here, or whatever form it takes. A response to what is to be imagined, a collation of comments in argumentativeness with a piece that gets created with the answers coming prior to the questions. In short, a tryst with experiment.
Thanks for a brilliant piece (call it an x, a y or a z….). here is my observation and maybe a criticism in disguise (not to be taken harshly, but in full sincerity of seriousness, I guess). I’ll have many more occasions to polish my viewpoint(s) through this symbolically real or really symbolic space!

The analysis that is so a-Freudian is a turn-on, as for Freud, the symbols worked not in the clear and distinctive propositional language of law, judgment or the ego. They worked through the process of displacement and condensation in the unconscious. This is where Lacan differs with Freud, as for the former, (x, y, or z) the ‘symbolic’ embodies the normalized and the law, and the ‘real’ in turn embodies the powers of resistance.

But, when you say, the critique and escape from the ‘symbolic’ realm is not only difficult, as one might think, it is literally impossible, then I have a nuance here. If we take a closer look at the Žižek’s position, the ‘real’, unlike the ‘symbolic’ and the ‘imaginary’ escapes the order of representation altogether. Going by the above, I think, a non-conscious attempt at luring the ‘real’ (as critique and escape) with the ‘symbolic’ is made. This would send Žižek into a labyrinth.

As a reference to ‘Derrida’ (surprisingly, he comes to rescue Žižek), the mention of rewriting the laws is made and I take it to be the real ‘real’, the resistance to the existing norms, a way to circumvent the aporia. This then, is the space of the ‘real’, the space of frenzy, the space envisioned by not only Žižek, but also Bataille, the space of the death drive and not the sex drive (reproduction). This is the space of ‘meontology’, the pure nothingness of the void in the Other, the pure materialization of the void and the snapping with the symbolic order.

Therefore, what gets favoured is the prerogative-ness of the real over the symbolic, albeit un-[consciously]. QED….

If the triad of the Lacanian/[s] are not separate entities allowing for the escapades into the other, but instead are the overlapping ones, then, where is the need to escape into the other? One is already dwelling in multiplicities and herein, I would correlate one’s acceptance of, say, capitalism, or the Marxian notion of commodity fetishism. Here, one would resist the symbolic, by, allow me to say this, fetishizing the real, a concept that you mention by the name of paranoia. Now, the problem here is the aggrandising of the political, the praxis or the paranoia of the praxis, wherein the resistance to break away simply fails because one is basing oneself on the symbolic. A catch 22 or a catch between Scylla and Charybdis.

The creation of minor big others is a good way you have put it, but, then I feel this would relegate us to ever resisting, but ever elusive ‘real’. That is why I said the concept as aggrandizement of the political.

Do we have a choice?
What about Durkheimian idea of the symbolic as the conscience collective, to be dealt with deviance or the pathological through its exclusion.

wait once again…..
If only the assumption of their being trapped inside the blackhole could be true, they would not have reached the houeholds of cultural studies pundits so much so as they have. Your writing style is so post-colonial critique type and this is a challenging (read only challenging) read (whether you intend it or not).

Lastly, iam reminded of a saying by Malone:

Now, it is time for me to wait to figure out, what is this all about?
As I said in the beginning, only an experiment, where the piece that is being targeted or commented upon is not to be discovered anywhere within the text, but remains silently within the apparatus of comments. Why so Althusserian a term? Only so frustrating.
In all likelihood, I would want to polish this further and in all likelihood this would not materialize. Wanting to do it, but won’t be doing it: crazy dialetheism.

Excursus into disagreement over disagreement!!!!

For Laclau, all politics is basically reducible to ‘populism’. (On Populist Reason).

For Rancière, populism is the convenient name under which is dissimulated the difficulty of government: a kind of dissent is lumped together in relation to the prevailing consensus. (Hatred of Democracy: caution: pdf). This in short is a derogatory coating that results in the realization that people will not be governed properly.

Arditi (Politics on the Edge of Liberalism: caution: pdf) takes issue with Laclau and uses the strong Rancierean perspective to dissect/determine what is meant by ‘populism’.

Rancière in his 1998 book, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (caution: pdf) defines the term disagreement as:

“A determined kind of speech situation: one in which one of the interlocutors at once understands and does not understand what the other is saying. Disagreement is not the conflict between one who says white and another who says black. It is the conflict between one who says white and another who also says white but does not understand the same thing by it or does not understand that the other is saying the same thing in the name of whiteness.”

These three theorists seem to be in disagreement and the analysis here is provided to throw some clarity on the topic.

Let me take Arditi to begin with: The book is oriented with Freud’s oxymoronic notion of ‘Foreign Internal Territory‘ (essentials of Psychoanalysis). The Freudian notion denotes the relation between the ‘repressed’ and the ‘ego’. Arditi uses this in his political analysis and calls it the ‘Internal Periphery’. Internal Peripheries are the paradoxical edges. For Arditi, the edges are not to be looked at as some distances from the center, but are the spaces, where the distinction between the inside and the outside is always in dispute and cannot be conceived without a polemic. This is so much a Derridean notion of ‘Deconstruction’. Arditi rethinks the ‘symptom’ to discern his ‘internal periphery’ of the political analysis and one of the ways to understand this is through the Rancièrean conception of ‘Disagreement’.

For Rancière, ‘Disagreement’ is a political concept par excellence. This has to be distinguished from ‘difference’ and the Lyotardian ‘differend’ (The Differend, 1988). For Lyotard, ‘differend’ stands for a conflict that cannot be resolved in that there there is no legitimate adjudication. Whereas, for Rancière, ‘difference’ is difference from itself plus the ‘differend’ and this goes on to to dictate the structure of the community. Therefore, ‘differend’ is always an ontic problem, what he calls the ‘police’ problem. His ‘politics’ is close to what others in the continental tradition would call ‘the political’.

To quote Chantal Mouffe:

“If we wanted to express such a distinction in a philosophical way, we could, borrowing
the vocabulary of Heidegger, say that politics refers to the ‘ontic’ level while ‘the
political’ has to do with the ‘ontological’ one. This means that the ontic has to do with
the manifold practices of conventional politics, while the ontological concerns the very
way in which society is instituted.”

Rancière dismisses this distinction and claims that politics is rare and what is common is police. Politics is local and occasional, but, admissible to conflicts revolving around the social convulsion. To quote Rancière (Disagreement):

“So nothing is political in itself. But anything may become political if it gives rise to a
meeting of these two logics [police logic, which is opposed to egalitarian/political logic]. The same thing – an election, a strike, a demonstration – can give rise to politics or not give rise to politics. A strike is not political when it calls for reforms rather than a better deal or when it attacks the relationships of authority rather than the inadequacy of wages. It is political when it reconfigures the relationships that determine the workplace in its relation to the community. The domestic household has been turned into a political space not through the simple fact that power relationships are at work in it but because it was the subject of an argument in a dispute over the capacity of women in the community.”

If Disagreement talked about the classical political philosophy, then Hatred of Democracy deals with the present context and here he tells about the ‘here and now’, the ‘you and me’. The undecidability of the ‘internal periphery’ is decided/redecided by what Arditi calls the ‘polemicization’. ‘Polemicization’ refers to the process by which political arguments, disputes lead to transformations that reconfigure, redistribute, reinstitute and redraw the ‘lines of the community. This again gets so close to the Derridean version of drawing lines to set up any order that are neither simply internal, nor simply external (The Truth in Painting: caution: pdf). Rancière’s notion of ‘disagreement’ and the ‘internal periphery’ are akin to one another and the Rancierean notion revolves around a word or a concept. And the word is ‘Equality’.

To quote Rancière:

“Nothing is political in itself for the political only happens by means of a principle that
does not belong to it: equality. The status of this ‘principle’ needs to be specified.
Equality is not a given that politics then presses into service, an essence embodied in the
law or a goal politics sets itself the task of attaining. It is a mere assumption that needs to
be discerned within the practices implementing it…”

Arditi and Laclau would both agree on this. For Laclau, the fundamental term in political ontology is the ‘demand’. Laclau has argued this since his seminal book co-authored with Chantal Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: caution: pdf) that politics should not be confused with ‘fetishized’ positions, such as the class and this laid the foundations of post-Marxism (caution: pdf). Politics could arise wherever antagonisms flare up and they could be from any area like sex, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenry, environment etc. In Laclau, the key notion is the ineradicability of antagonism. Furthermore, Laclau sees the birth of modern politics in the democratic revolutionary space, a Claude Lefortian position and argues that ‘power’ is an empty space anybody can fight for. This gets translated as Rancière’s ‘Equality’. But, the key is Laclau’s dismissing of Rancière’s ’empty-ness’ as placing too much of an optimistic hope on people’s democratic tendencies on the one hand and as reluctant enough to let go of ‘class’, as an undeconstructed Marxist, on the other. Laclau does nod Rancière, when he talks of the Gramscian movement from ‘classes’ to ‘collective wills’ to be completed in order for the latter’s project to be realized.

Laclauian theory suffers from ontological parochiality, a contingent description of a contingent state of affairs. Laclau arrogantly votes for his politics as hegemony as an ontological category. Since all politics is hegemonic in nature, all politics is reducibly populist. For Arditi, populism is still a spectre of democracy and an internal periphery of democratic politics. Rancière, on the other hand gets pessimistic about politics and takes the police as the handmaiden of those who enjoy power.