Symbolic fiction elected Trump!

For Marx the abstract liberal subject was correlated with the commodity form:

In what conditions do individuals experience themselves as subjects of universal human rights..? in a society in which commodity exchange predominates, individuals themselves, in their daily lives, relate to themselves, as well as to the objects they encounter, as to contingent embodiments of abstract-universal notions. 

The classical Marxist gesture is to ‘uncover’ the gap between the two, universal rights are unmasked as Trump (universal rights masks the privilege of white rich men), the value of a commodities appears to be a function of the interaction of supply and demand (“I will make a new trade deal with China/Mexico) when really it is class relations (Trump is a millionaire who is going to give unprecedented tax cuts to the rich) etc…

Zizek’s departure is to suggest that this fiction – “universal rights” – has a certain efficiency independent of that which it conceals:

the “appearance” of egaliberte, precisely, is NOT a “mere appearance,” but evinces an effectivity of its own, which allows it to set in motion the process of the rearticulation of actual socio-economic relations by way of their progressive “politicization” (Why shouldn’t women also vote? Why shouldn’t conditions at the working place also be of public political concern? etc.)

Which renders his recent intervention on the Presidential Election more perplexing when he seemed to suggest that second order effects of the election of Trump, may have progressive potential. Adam Kotsko highlights Zizek’s folly best here.

But whatever one can accuse liberal multiculturalism of, one should at least admit that it is profoundly anti-“essentialist”: it is its barbarian Other which is perceived as “essentialist” and thereby “false,” i.e., fundamentalism “naturalizes” or “essentializes” historically conditioned contingent traits

Trumps election victory seems to be the victory of this ‘barbarian Other’ at the expense of liberal multiculturalism. Here, using a form of argument familiar to any readers of Zizek, is it not that the universal ‘symbolic fiction’ is not really all that independent from the particular content? The symbolic fiction, elected Trump as a staging of our collective cynicism?


Early Lacan: ego psychology as méconnaissance

Early Lacan: ego psychology as méconnaissance

Freud posted the ego as a kind of mediator between the external world and the instincts of the individual. Ego psychology which began with Adler (but got second wind in postwar United States) posited an area in the ego free from conflict of the drives. The ego ceases to be a piggy in the middle between competing demands from the reality and the pleasure principle, between the external demands and the internal demands of the drives. 

Normality is achieved when this conflict between inner and outer is defanged, and there is good nature, harmony between the two. The unconscious is kept in its box, under wraps, and pathology occurs when it break free and invades the sovereign reign of the ego. The Marxist critique of this revisionism, is that the Analysist’s couch as the accident and emergency department of capitalism, pathology is individualised. The failure of keeping the unconscious underwraps stems from the patients weak ego, not due to the intolerable effects of capitalistic society (one should have in mind the importance of family in the reproduction of labour in capitalism).Ego psychology,  understanding of the ego as being relatively independent of the unconscious, saw it fit to introduce a new concept of the ‘self’, so as to account for the relative independence of the ego.

It is in this context that one should situate Lacan’s early contribution. Ego psychology, along with it’s notion of the relative independence of the ego, is put under the guillotine. Lacan’s cutting edge is Hegal’s dialectics. The touchstone attributed to early Lacan is his take on narcissism, the mirror stage, and for good reason as it is a tour de force of Hegelian dialectics. 

One critique of Freud’s conception of childhood development, made by those from the object relations camp, is that the infant is initially considered to be a monad, with object relations coming at a later stage of development. The object relation camp believes that object relationships start earlier in the timeline. Freud would counter argue that object relations depend on a minimum level of ego development that isn’t achieved until later stage of development. Lacan intervenes in this debate by agreeing with the critique, object relations do start at the beginning, but he also agrees with Freud in thinking that the ego is  something which is developed over time.

He squares the circle by positing that object relationships are not secondary – agreeing with Klein, but argues that object relations errs by assuming a level of ego development that goes unexplained. He therefore maintains along with Freud, the importance of primary narcissism. He marries the two positions through recourse to Hegel.

Lacan buys into primary narcissism, but dodges the critique of monadism by arguing that the unity of the infant, which is conferred by primary narcissism, is found outside of the infant in pre-Opedipal object relations. The unity of self is first discovered in an external mirror, but more broadly construed, in the care and recognition provided by the mother. Only then is this external source of unity is introjected. Primary narcissism is founded on a primary identification, in the form of an alienation (self as other).

This alienation of primary identity structures an aggression and rivalry with others, due to the form of primary identification being structured by an external dependency. Paranoia at this stage is ‘normal’, as the external dependency creates the conditions necessary for the confusion of self and other. Another consequence of this external dependency is that the relationship between self and other is not one of equivalence. The other, insofar as she founds primary narcissism, is privileged. The ego’s hidden history of external dependency means that we continue to find more perfect examples of ourselves, outside of ourself. Freud calls the examples of perfection that we find outside of ourselves as the the ideal-ego. Our failed attempts to introject this outer perfection lead to sedimentary layers of failed identifications. Lacan calls the form of these layers, ego-ideal, a concept he picks up from Freud but reworks according to dialectical geometry he inherent from Hegel. The desire to close this gap between ego-ideal and ideal- ego is what drives aggression, and Lacan, referring to it as a correlate of narcissism, calls it aggressivity.

This poor state of affairs lasts until a third point of reference intervenes, the transition to this third point of reference is underdeveloped in early Lacan. Initially this third point of reference must appear to the child as a rival, this is the Opedipus complex, and what previously was the source of primary identification, mother,  becomes the object to be competed over. This jealous confrontation is the final end of aggressivity, and is resolved when the infant comes to identify with the father. What is lacking in early Lacan is an explanation as to what necessitates this concluding confrontation. 

In terms of Lacan’s response to ego psychology, who posited the relative independence of the ego, Lacan uses Hegel to rework primary narcissism in order to highlight the relative dependency of the ego on an unconcious processes. Whereas for ego psychology pathology is a atavistic throwback, for Lacan, the succession of developmental stages retains the mark of conflict from previous stages. This is where Lacan’s Hegelian import is most evident, and his reliance on a philosophical understanding of sublimation comes at the cost of a psychoanalytical insight of the Opedipal complex. We will have to wait until middle Lacan in order to flesh out his reworking of the Opedipal complex. 

What Lacan has achieved though his recourse to Hegel is a critique of ego psychology that mistakes process for result. This is what Lacan calls méssonnaissance, the strong ego whose independence from the unconscious actually testifies to its status as an unattainable ideal-ego. 

The fall of metaphysics

The fall of metaphysics

In his 1935-6 lecture ‘Basic questions of Metaphysics’, Heidegger does not seek to replace science, or indeed even to reform it. He wants science to avoid a metaphysical pitfall. He relates a story, via Plato, of a philosopher who is so fixated at looking at the heavens, that to the amusement of the watching maids , he falls down a well. It seems as if science has well and truly overcome this risk, it focuses on the ‘here-below’. Today’s scientist would have identified the well and steered clear of it. We moderns are defined by our aversion to metaphysics.

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Heidegger: Enframing determines a new type of causality

Heidegger: Enframing determines a new type of causality

Technology creates a fundamental anticipation which directs the activity of production itself, so that the actual thing produced, is merely a byproduct that is consistent with, but that which fails to fully discharge, a potential that is brought-forth in this act of creation. This truth of technology, exceeds truth as correspondence, and is expressed best in poetry.

This primordial Greek understanding of what is essential to technology, is perverted, initially by Plato whom distinguished the word play of poetry from that of science. We doubled down on this error through the use of modern technology, that penetrates nature, for ends which are not those of what is penetrated.

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Heidegger on causality: On the return of the Greek

Heidegger on causality: On the return of the Greek

Heidegger challenge to us is to think efficient causality as being derived from a more primary sense of cause considered as final cause,min which the effects of cause are considered internal to cause itself. A proper understanding of causality will go on to give us access to the truth of technology.

He does this through an almost Hegelian argument, but first let us examine his example of the silver chalice:

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Of brexit hospitality

Before my flight from Montreal to London the referendum didn’t to have enamoured the press this side of the pond, and I was thirsty to follow the proceedings from inside of the country that I had recently emigrated from.

Once arrived in London I stayed with a family member and talked about the impending referendum. He works in the NHS, university educated, well travelled and to my surprise he was going to vote leave. My arguments about workers rights rang hollow as he had witnessed employees being paid below the minimum wage whilst he was scratching a living in London before his days in the NHS. Concerns about the economy failed to land, lost in the sea of uncertainty of predicting the future.

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Zizek: Don Draper as a socially mandated lobster claw



Lacan freed Freud from ego psychology, but in doing so he failed to see how his captives had managed to identify a type of subjectivity spawned by late capitalism. The field of play was once defined by neurosis – perversion – psychosis, each representing a particular stance towards castration. But soon new types of subjectivity appeared at the beginnings of post-industrial capitalism which no longer needed castrated subjects for reproduction.

In this dystopia,  Daddy is dead and the Left has had a hand in his murder.  Two new subjectivities begin to appear on the analysts couch, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Pathological Narcissists (PN). In this dystopian vision, the old Oedipal pact is replaced by new, patriarchy substituted with a new regressive matriarchy.

Failing to undergo castration these subjects have an inner emptiness where the symbolic phallus should be. For the PN at least he is compensated through possessing a  grandiose ego, fed by the conflation of ego/ideal ego/ego ideal and external narcissistic  supplies. Don Draper is a pathological narcissist , a master who is a slave to the recognition of others due to the failure of secondary identification.

There is much to absorb in Zizek’s article, but I can also see the beginnings of a line of critique which focuses on phallocentricism and the problematic notion of regression in Zizek’s  new line of argument, which is baggage left over from using Kernberg as his initial starting point.