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Archive for April 2008

Obscene Supplement: A Reaction

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At Salon.com, Cary Tenis, in his advice column of sorts, he responds to a letter by a woman complaining that her and her boyfriend, while they both make good money, have radically different relationships with money. She spends what she implies is a “normal” amount, while he lives “frugally” and in something of a vow of miserly poverty. Miserly, because he “earns a decent income as a teacher and has investment income.”

In other words, he takes the oldest and most central rules of the Capitalist game so seriously—above all, save and work hard—to the detriment of the Superego injunction to enjoy (i.e. consume). What’s more is he, in a certain sense, wins the game according to the given rules, but not according to the unspoken ones of late Capitalist ideology. More amazingly is the way he gets criticized for being a miser, when what really bothers everyone complaining on the Letter Writer’s behalf is that he himself takes on the poverty that they need someone else to take on for them. It also doesn’t help that the guy seems to be satisfied with his way of life. In other words, there is an other way to experience jouissance.

Here it seems to be an Otherly jouissance, because the discipline with which he lives his life is focused on holding back the pleasure of consuming. It is this holding back, but especially in the dimension that he can tap into this comparatively (though not actually) infinite source of pleasure (i.e. consumption), that he has mastered in order to enjoy bearably. In other words, his enjoyment is not genital at all, but in a certain sense psychotically grounded in an anal pre-genital phase of development. To this end, inasmuch as he always risks being consumed by the Other’s jouissance should he partake in it as others do, he probably doesn’t know how to consume without being over-whelmed, which is why his life depends as much on not spending as it does making money. Money being the fiat of all commodities, which is to say obscured social relations of stolen surplus labor/jouissance, in a Capitalist society money (qua capital) is a libidinal and economic intensification. Only through the Symbolic mediation of the consuming practices of ideological identities are members of Capitalist society normally able to handle the intensity of social labour/desire. For the boyfriend, he doesn’t ascribe to the ideological identity of the age, the all-enjoying consumer, and therefore don’t know the first thing about what to do with money.

This identity is only commanded from off-the-scenes, as it were, while the official line of the Capitalist subject is: save and work hard. The guy is successful not because he hears the obscene superego injunction to consume, which creates an ambiguous meaning to money, commodities and things of consumer enjoyment; he’s successful because in the absence of such an external injunction telling him what to do with his money, and in the world of an otherwise operating Symbolic order, he knows how to take literally what others take metaphorically.

His impulse to save is really an impulse to hold off the unbearable pleasure he risks in consuming it should he let it invade him the way Cary Tenis and his commenters seem to endorse. The difference between him and the CEO or the more traditional miser, is that he has no ideological supplement to make his practices coherent to him, which directs a mode of consumption. Not having been installed in the Symbolic order properly, so it seems, which makes itself clear here in the absence of a (capitalist) subjectivity, his lack of a consumer-identity means he lacks the ability to consume except directly through work.

What’s also interesting is vis-a-vis this psychotic relationship to money, there is a certain kind of feminization insofar as the female sexuation has been reproduced as a literal character of poverty as well as having access to the Other’s jouissance, normally under the care of a male’s endorsement. The LW is more typical of the sort of masculine subject that enjoys her much jouissance in this mediated way, and feels threatened by not only the Other’s jouissance, but the one who knows how to deal with it directly. If her enjoyment is, as it were, achieved through a certain kind of will to Nothingness, then the boyfriend enjoys by not-willing. If only the LW talked more about what was so great about the actual sex!

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Written by Joe

April 28, 2008 at 10:36 pm

Losing Reality

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When someone goes through some kind of acute psychosis, like schizophrenia or some species of delusion or paranoia, we often say “they’ve lost touch with reality.” How do we speak for them in this way when it implies we are certain of our being “in touch with” reality just as much as they are even when we tell them what they see or hear or anticipate is not real?

Often enough psychotics are treated enough or are not so “lost” that they can talk about their experience as unreal, but acting that way still seems beyond them. Below this threshold, psychotics will often act and talk about their experience as real, despite protestations and even physical intervention. What is our epistemic model in science and liberal democracy more than the consensus of empirical facts?

Such a model seems to function in a way that by definition exclude the psychotic’s gesture to being “in touch with reality,” which means the consensus model of knowledge functions by virtue of its lack of consensus, since it lacks the psychotic’s agreement with their interpretation of reality. Lacan will say that the psychotic break occurs when they encounter the name-of-the-father in the real, which in practical terms is when they receive an interpretation that they hear as outside their own from someone occupying or otherwise speaking from the place of the Symbolic Father. In their attempt to patch over this hole they poked in their world, they resist what is in more Heidegerrian terms a revelation of Being offered from an Other. We experience that as the psychotic losing reality, while they also talk as if its precisely reality that they are saving. However, we agree that this is an example of “losing touch with reality” only on the basis of agreement, which is always already impossible so long as the psychotic refuses to agree with the revelation of Being we offer them.

Chuang-Tzu was all over this 2000 years ago when he asked the brilliant question of how he know’s he’s not a butter-fly dreaming he’s Chuang-Tzu or the other way around

Written by Joe

April 24, 2008 at 8:25 pm

Beautiful Commenters with Beautiful Comments

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This is a comment, posted by “chlamor,” on an Alter Net article on a self-proclaimed “yuppie” who “goes green” by moving to a farm in New Mexico.

There is much pretending throughout the progressive and liberal community.

Success and the good life, credentials and status, position and privilege must be protected, at least for people like “us.” At the same time, our position and privilege is dependent upon playing a certain role. We must pretend that we are not defending privilege and position and must pretend that we are for the downtrodden. We must pretend that privilege and position is all earned, and that anyone could have anything that we have. We must defend the system of dog-eat-dog competition

When our bluff is called, there is no amount of time and energy we will spare in internecine warfare arguing fine points of what a liberal is, or what our position should be on each and every minute issue and sub-issue and variations on every issue. These arguments can never be resolved, because there is no basis of consensus. Actually there is a consensus, but an important component of the consensus is that we never talk about it and we must pretend that it isn’t there.

The consensus from which liberals-progressives-Democrats operate:

“We are the better people. We are smarter, we are humane, we are more compassionate, we are better informed. We are better citizens, we are more cooperative and realistic. We are winners, not losers, and we deserve everything we get. We are spiritually superior. We are centered and balanced, calm and insightful. We are on the right side of history. We are building a better world.

Most of the problems in the world are the result of stupid people running things. If we smart people were in charge, all of the problems could be solved with science and technology and rational social planning.

Class analysis, and the struggles of working class people against tyranny have no place in modern society. They are obsolete and passe, and only something that we read about or see in movies. Romantic as those stories are, they are no substitute for hard-headed practical reality, whether we like it or not. This is a matter of being a mentally healthy, modern, well-adjusted adult in society. None of the lessons from history apply, because things are different now. Only strange maladjusted people are attracted to obsolete political ideas. They are all obviously losers, and are a great danger, almost as much of a danger as the Republicans are.

Since politics and economics in the traditional sense are dead, we embrace a new paradigm of self improvement and self-actualization. Anything that interferes with our focus on ourselves and our pursuit of creating ourselves as an actualized being is to be rejected. The way to achieve the perfect society is first to create a perfect self. Meanwhile, so long as the authorities do not interfere with our self-actualization, we must comply in all ways with that authority. This allows us perfect self-expression within perfect social conformity. Anyone who attacks our personal choices is the enemy, and anyone who attacks the social system based on personal choice is also the enemy.

Others, however, who do not share our values are not to be given personal choice, when and as we can prove that their personal choices are wrong, often with convoluted claims that their choice impacts us somehow. We support the police state and massive incarceration of people, so long as they are being harassed and imprisoned for the right reasons. Any variance from our idea as to how people should be is the right reason, by definition.

We believe that we must ‘be the change we wish to see,’ and the change we wish to see is more people like us: polite, talented, beautiful, intelligent, calm, successful, clever, enlightened. So we merely need to be ourselves, focus on ourselves, and serve ourselves. Those who cannot or will not become like us need to back down and get out of the way.”

It’s so bizarrely true too. Some of the responses garnered self-cataloguing that chlamor brilliantly picks up on without even decending to the imaginary level of the self-indulgent liberal-progressives’ clash with the “pretenders.” Cathyc responds:

What do YOU mean by the ‘progressive and liberal community’? To whom are you referring, exactly? People who PRETEND they are progressive and/or liberal?

Believe it or not, there are people in this world who ARE actually making progress with their lives, usually painstakingly slow progress, but REAL as opposed to pretend progress. I’m one such person. I’m in no hurry; one can’t hurry nature….

BTW, I’m so involved and focused on my natural progress, I don’t pay much heed to my critics aka The Pretenders. As far as I’m concerned, I’m ALIVE, they’re not and Vive la Difference!

To which, chlamor replies without denying or affirming Cathyc’s demand of “What do YOU mean by the ‘progressive and liberal community’? To whom are you referring, exactly?”

Re-read my post.

Then re-read your response.

Take note of how many times you referred to yourself.

Proving the very point.

Amazing how deeply inculcated is the self-indulgence.

It’s just swell when people refuse to give up their desire.

Written by Joe

April 5, 2008 at 8:46 pm