Slavoj Žižek: Can One Exit from The Capitalist Discourse Without Becoming a Saint?

As pub­lished in Crisis & Cri­tique, Novem­ber 2016.


What is the cap­it­al­ist dis­course? What is the libid­in­al eco­nomy of con­tem­por­ary cap­it­al­ism? The art­icle raises these ques­tions and seeks to determ­ine in what way cap­it­al­ism pro­duces and thrives on the spe­cific types enjoy­ment and relies on the sub­ject pos­i­tions cor­res­pond­ing to them. Through a dis­cus­sion of Len­in and Noval­is and Lacan’s schema of the four dis­courses the art­icle raises the pro­voc­at­ive ques­tion: What if the cap­it­al­ist dis­course can­not be pinned down to one type of dis­course, but rather to a per­verse con­glom­er­ate of all of the Master’s, the university’s, the analyst’s and the hysteric’s dis­course?

Can One Exit from The Capitalist Discourse Without Becoming a Saint?

In his Tele­vi­sion, Lacan evokes the “exit from the cap­it­al­ist dis­course,” but the con­text in which he does it is cru­cial: he pos­its the psy­cho­ana­lyst “in rela­tion to what was in the past called: being a saint”[1], and, after some qual­i­fic­a­tions of the excre­ment­al sub­ject­ive pos­i­tion of a saint, he con­cludes: “The more one is a saint, the more one laughs; that’s my prin­ciple, to wit, the way out of cap­it­al­ist dis­course — which will not con­sti­tute pro­gress, if it hap­pens only for some ”[2] What char­ac­ter­izes a saint is thus not his high mor­al stance (Lacan expli­citly men­tions his rejec­tion of dis­tributive justice) but his dis­tance from every sym­bol­ic iden­tity, his with­drawal from the domain of exchange, of reci­pro­city, of word’s bond. What this means is that one shouldn’t make too much out of Lacan’s “anti-cap­it­al­ism”: exit from cap­it­al­ist dis­course is clearly reserved “only for some”, it’s the excep­tion which seems to con­firm the uni­ver­sal rule… But is this all, or can we use Lacan’s the­ory to draw more rad­ic­al con­clu­sions for the eman­cip­at­ory struggle? Let’s begin with a brief account of what one might clum­sily call the “libid­in­al eco­nomy” of today’s glob­al cap­it­al­ism.

With­in the coordin­ates of the hege­mon­ic ideo­logy, glob­al cap­it­al­ism appears as a lim­it­less cycle of expan­ded self-repro­duc­tion that threatens to swal­low everything in its crazy dance, under­min­ing all tra­di­tion­al fixed forms of social life, in psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic terms: as a libid­in­al regime which sus­pends the reign of law/castration. A mul­ti­pli­city of ideo­lo­gic­al forms then impose them­selves which prom­ise to con­strain the socially destruct­ive effects of this dynam­ics, i.e., to enable us to have the cake (of cap­it­al­ist dynam­ics) and eat it, from tra­di­tion­al reli­gious and mor­al sys­tems (“Asi­an val­ues,” etc.) to eco­logy. This oppos­i­tion – lim­it­less cap­it­al­ist expan­sion versus its extern­al lim­its – is, how­ever, a false one: it ignores the lim­it (ant­ag­on­ism) that is imman­ent to the cap­it­al­ist sys­tem, and that pro­pels its very lim­it­less expan­sion. From the libid­in­al stand­point, cap­it­al­ism is a regime of per­ver­sion, not psy­chos­is: it dis­avows cas­tra­tion, it does not exclude or sus­pend it:

“cap­it­al­ism entails a gen­er­al­iz­a­tion of the per­verse jouis­sance at the level of the social link, an insur­mount­able hori­zon, in which a thou­sand per­ver­sions may blos­som, while the gen­er­al social frame­work remains unchange­able: the closed world of com­mod­ity form, whose poly­morph­ous nature enables the pro­cessing, integ­ra­tion and neut­ral­iz­a­tion of all forms of ant­ag­on­ism. The cap­it­al­ist sub­ject mocks cas­tra­tion, declares it an ana­chron­ism and a remainder of the phal­lo­centric uni­verse that the post­mod­ern has over­come once and for all. Cas­tra­tion, and con­sequently psy­cho­ana­lys­is, is con­sidered to be merely one of those fam­ous grand nar­rat­ives, whose end needs to be acknow­ledged. In the end, this pos­i­tion con­ceives cap­it­al­ism as a vicious circle, from which it is impossible to break out.”[3]

One has to make a choice here – gen­er­al­ized per­ver­sion or psy­chos­is? A per­vert is not psychot­ic, it does not rely on the aut­ism of jouis­sance: in per­ver­sion, cas­tra­tion is dis­avowed, not excluded/suspended, it remains oper­at­ive as the absent point of ref­er­ence – the more the sub­ject dis­avows it the more its weight is felt. Unfor­tu­nately, Lacan him­self seems to oscil­late here, some­times he talks about cap­it­al­ism as per­ver­sion, some­times as a psychot­ic “fore­clos­ure,” as in the fol­low­ing Deleuze-sound­ing lines:

“What dis­tin­guishes the cap­it­al­ist dis­course is this – Ver­wer­fung, rejec­tion from all the fields of sym­bol­ic, with all the con­sequences that I have already men­tioned. Rejec­tion of what? Of cas­tra­tion. Every order, every dis­course that aligns itself with cap­it­al­ism leaves aside what we will simply call the mat­ters of love.”[4]

This is why glob­al con­sumer­ist cap­it­al­ism is in its basic struc­ture Spinozean, not Kan­tian: it effect­ively appears as a flow of abso­lute imman­ence in which mul­tiple effects pro­lif­er­ate, with no cuts of negativity/castration inter­rupt­ing this flow: “Cap­it­al­ism rejects the paradigm of neg­at­iv­ity, cas­tra­tion: the sym­bol­ic oper­a­tion that con­sti­tutes the sub­ject as split and decent­ral­ized.”[5] It is in this sense that con­tem­por­ary cap­it­al­ism is “post-polit­ic­al,” and, con­sequently, the “return of neg­at­iv­ity, in the guise of cas­tra­tion, can serve as a min­im­al loc­al­iz­a­tion of the polit­ic­al dimen­sion of psy­cho­ana­lys­is.”[56]

How­ever, “aut­ism of jouis­sance” is def­in­itely not the norm in con­tem­por­ary per­missive-hedon­ist cap­it­al­ism, but rather its excess, a sur­render to uncon­strained con­sum­ma­tion whose exem­plary cases are drug addic­tion and alco­hol­ism. The impasses of today’s con­sumer­ism provide a clear case of the Lacani­an dis­tinc­tion between pleas­ure and enjoy­ment: what Lacan calls “enjoy­ment (jouis­sance)” is a deadly excess over pleas­ure, i.e., its place is bey­ond the pleas­ure-prin­ciple. In oth­er words, the term plus-de-jouir (sur­plus- or excess-enjoy­ment) is a ple­onasm, since enjoy­ment is in itself excess­ive, in con­trast to pleas­ure which is by defin­i­tion mod­er­ate, reg­u­lated by a prop­er meas­ure. We thus have two extremes: on the one hand the enlightened hedon­ist who care­fully cal­cu­lates his pleas­ures to pro­long his fun and avoid get­ting hurt, on the oth­er hand the jouis­seur prop­er, ready to con­sum­mate his very exist­ence in the deadly excess of enjoy­ment – or, in the terms of our soci­ety, on the one hand the con­sumer­ist cal­cu­lat­ing his pleas­ures, well-pro­tec­ted from all kinds of har­ass­ments and oth­er health threats, on the oth­er hand the drug addict (or smoker or…) bent on self-destruc­tion. Enjoy­ment is what serves noth­ing, and the great effort of the con­tem­por­ary hedon­ist-util­it­ari­an “per­missive” soci­ety is to incor­por­ate this un(ac)countable excess into the field of (ac)counting. One should thus reject the com­mon sense opin­ion accord­ing to which in a hedon­ist-con­sumer­ist soci­ety we all enjoy: the basic strategy of enlightened con­sumer­ist hedon­ism is on the con­trary to deprive enjoy­ment of its excess­ive dimen­sion, of its dis­turb­ing sur­plus, of the fact that it serves noth­ing. Enjoy­ment is tol­er­ated, soli­cited even, but on con­di­tion that it is healthy, that it doesn’t threaten our psych­ic or bio­lo­gic­al sta­bil­ity: chocol­ate yes, but fat free, coke yes, but diet, cof­fee yes, but without caf­feine, beer yes, but without alco­hol, may­on­naise yes, but without cho­les­ter­ol, sex yes, but safe sex…

We are here in the domain of what Lacan calls the dis­course of Uni­ver­sity, as opposed to the dis­course of the Mas­ter: a Mas­ter goes to the end in his con­sum­ma­tion, he is not con­strained by petty util­it­ari­an con­sid­er­a­tions (which is why there is a cer­tain form­al homo­logy between the tra­di­tion­al aris­to­crat­ic mas­ter and a drug-addict focused on his deadly enjoy­ment), while the consumerist’s pleas­ures are reg­u­lated by sci­en­ti­fic know­ledge propag­ated by the uni­ver­sity dis­course. The decaf­fein­ated enjoy­ment we thus obtain is a semb­lance of enjoy­ment, not its Real, and it is in this sense that Lacan talks about the imit­a­tion of enjoy­ment in the dis­course of Uni­ver­sity. The pro­to­type of this dis­course is the mul­ti­pli­city of reports in pop­ular magazines which advoc­ate sex as good for health: sexu­al act works like jog­ging, strengthens the heart, relaxes our ten­sions, even kiss­ing is good for our health.

Gaze and voice are inscribed into the field of norm­at­ive social rela­tions in the guise of shame and guilt. Shame is obvi­ously linked to the Other’s gaze: I am ashamed when the (pub­lic) Oth­er sees me in my nud­ity, when my dirty intim­ate fea­tures are pub­licly dis­closed, etc. Guilt, on the con­trary, is inde­pend­ent of how oth­ers see me, what they talk about me: I am guilty in myself, the pres­sure of guilt comes from with­in, eman­at­ing from a voice that addresses me from the core of my being and makes me guiIty. The oppos­i­tion gaze/voice is thus to be linked to the oppos­i­tion shame/guilt as well as to the oppos­i­tion Ego Ideal/superego: super­ego is the inner voice which haunts me and culp­ab­il­izes me, while Ego Ideal is the gaze in view of which I feel ashamed. These couples of oppos­i­tions enable us to grasp the pas­sage from tra­di­tion­al cap­it­al­ism to its hedon­ist-per­missive ver­sion that pre­dom­in­ates today: the hege­mon­ic ideo­logy no longer func­tions as Ego Ideal whose gaze makes me ashamed when I am exposed to it, the Other’s gaze loses its cas­trat­ive power; it func­tions as an obscene super­ego injunc­tion which makes me guilty (not when I viol­ate sym­bol­ic pro­hib­i­tions but) for NOT fully enjoy­ing, for nev­er enjoy­ing enough.

When, exactly, does the objet a func­tion as the super­ego injunc­tion to enjoy? When it occu­pies the place of the Mas­ter-Sig­nifler, i.e., as Lacan for­mu­lated it in the last pages of his Sem­in­ar XI, when the short-cir­cuit between S1 and a occurs.[7] The key move to be accom­plished in order to break the vicious cycle of the super­ego injunc­tion is thus to enact the sep­ar­a­tion between S1 and a. Con­sequently, would it not be more pro­duct­ive to fol­low a dif­fer­ent path: to start with the dif­fer­ent mod­us operandi of the objet awhich in psy­cho­ana­lys­is no longer func­tions as the agent of the super­ego injunc­tion – as it does in the dis­course of per­ver­sion? This is how Jac­ques-Alain Miller’s claim of the iden­tity of the analyst’s dis­course and the dis­course of today’s civil­iz­a­tion should be read: as an indic­a­tion that this lat­ter dis­course (social link) is that of per­ver­sion. That is to say, the fact that the upper level of Lacan’s for­mu­la of the dis­course of the ana­lyst is the same as his for­mu­la of per­ver­sion (a – $) opens up a pos­sib­il­ity of read­ing the entire for­mu­la of the dis­course of the ana­lyst also as a for­mu­la of the per­verse social link: its agent, the mas­ochist per­vert (the per­vert par excel­lence), occu­pies the pos­i­tion of the object-instru­ment of the other’s desire, and, in this way, through serving his (fem­in­ine) vic­tim, he pos­its her as the hystericized/divided sub­ject who “doesn’t know what she wants” – the per­vert knows it for her, i.e., he pre­tends to speak from the pos­i­tion of know­ledge (about the other’s desire) which enables him to serve the oth­er; and, finally, the pro­duct of this social link is the Mas­ter-sig­ni­fi­er, i.e., the hys­ter­ic­al sub­ject elev­ated into the role of the mas­ter (dom­in­atrix) whom the per­vert mas­ochist serves.

In con­trast to hys­teria, the per­vert knows per­fectly what he is for the Oth­er: a know­ledge sup­ports his pos­i­tion as the object of his Other’s (divided subject’s) jouis­sance. For that reas­on, the for­mu­la of the dis­course of per­ver­sion is the same as that of the analyst’s dis­course: Lacan defines per­ver­sion as the inver­ted fantasy, i.e. his for­mu­la of per­ver­sion is a – $, which is pre­cisely the upper level of the analyst’s dis­course. The dif­fer­ence between the social link of per­ver­sion and that of ana­lys­is is groun­ded in the rad­ic­al ambi­gu­ity of objet petit a in Lacan, which stands sim­ul­tan­eously for the ima­gin­ary fant­as­mat­ic lure/screen and for that which this lure is obfus­cat­ing, for the void behind the lure. Con­sequently, when we pass from per­ver­sion to the ana­lyt­ic social link, the agent (ana­lyst) reduces him­self to the void which pro­vokes the sub­ject into con­front­ing the truth of his desire. Know­ledge in the pos­i­tion of “truth” below the bar under the “agent”, of course, refers to the sup­posed know­ledge of the ana­lyst, and, sim­ul­tan­eously, sig­nals that the know­ledge gained here will not be the neut­ral “object­ive” know­ledge of sci­en­ti­fic adequacy, but the know­ledge which con­cerns the sub­ject (ana­lysant) in the truth of his sub­ject­ive pos­i­tion. Recall Lacan’s out­rageous state­ments that, even if what a jeal­ous hus­band claims about his wife (that she sleeps around with oth­er men) is all true, his jeal­ousy is still patho­lo­gic­al; along the same lines, one could say that, even if most of the Nazi claims about the Jews were true (they exploit Ger­mans, they seduce Ger­man girls…), their anti-Semit­ism would still be (and was) patho­lo­gic­al – because it represses the true reas­on WHY the Nazis NEEDED anti-Semit­ism in order to sus­tain their ideo­lo­gic­al pos­i­tion. So, in the case of anti-Semit­ism, know­ledge about what the Jews “really are” is a fake, irrel­ev­ant, while the only know­ledge at the place of truth is the know­ledge about why does a Nazi NEED a fig­ure of the Jew to sus­tain his ideo­lo­gic­al edi­fice.

But is per­ver­sion for this very reas­on not closer to the Uni­ver­sity dis­course? For Lacan, a per­vert is not defined by the con­tent of what he is doing (his weird sexu­al prac­tices). Per­ver­sion, at its most fun­da­ment­al, resides in the form­al struc­ture of how the per­vert relates to truth and speech: the per­vert claims dir­ect access to some fig­ure of the big Oth­er (from God or his­tory to the desire of his part­ner), so that, dis­pelling all the ambi­gu­ity of lan­guage, he is able to act dir­ectly as the instru­ment of the big Other’s will. In this sense, both Osama bin Laden and Pres­id­ent Bush, although polit­ic­al oppon­ents, share the struc­tures of a per­vert. They both act upon the pre­sup­pos­i­tion that their acts are dir­ectly ordered and guided by divine will. And Stal­in is to be added to this series: a Bolshev­ik is not a sub­ject but an object-instru­ment of his­tor­ic­al neces­sity. It is the sad­ist per­vert him­self who occu­pies the place of the object, i.e. who assumes the pos­i­tion of the pure object-instru­ment of the Other’s jouis­sance, dis­pla­cing the divi­sion con­stitutive of sub­jectiv­ity onto the oth­er, onto his vic­tim. (In this respect, the sad­ist per­ver­sion is very close to obses­sion­al neur­os­is, with the only (yet cru­cial) dif­fer­ence that the sad­ist per­vert is act­ive in order to gen­er­ate the Other’s jouis­sance, while the obses­sion­al neur­ot­ic is act­ive for pre­cisely the oppos­ite reas­on, i.e. in order to pre­vent the Other’s enjoy­ment – pour que ca ne bouge pas dans I’autre, as they put it in French.) Such a pos­i­tion of the know­ledge of the agent is what defines the Uni­ver­sity dis­course, so if we are to under­stand the libid­in­al eco­nomy of cap­it­al­ism, it is cru­cial to raise the ques­tion of the link between cap­it­al­ism and the Uni­ver­sity dis­course.

The thes­is on “inher­ent trans­gres­sion” does not amount to a sim­ple com­mon­sense point that a set of val­ues, laws, etc., in order to sur­vive, must accom­mod­ate itself to the com­plex­ity of real life, tol­er­ate com­prom­ises, etc. What dis­tin­guishes super­ego shad­owy rules from this kind of worldly “wis­dom” is that (1) the super­ego paralegal net­work is exper­i­enced as obscene, per­meated with enjoy­ment, and (2) for that reas­on, it must remain pub­licly non-acknow­ledged, i.e. its pub­lic rev­el­a­tion dis­in­teg­rates the sys­tem. Or, to put it in yet another way, super­ego shad­owy unwrit­ten rules are the remainder of the ori­gin­al law­less viol­ence which foun­ded the rule of Law itself – this viol­ence is not some­thing present only at the begin­ning, it must be here all the time in order for the rule of law to main­tain itself. Super­ego unwrit­ten rules are the syn­chron­ous aspect of the dia­chron­ous pro­cess of the impos­i­tion of law through the law­less act of viol­ence – or, rather, this dia­chron­ous pro­cess, the story of the “ori­gin­al crime”, is the nar­ra­tiv­iz­a­tion of the neces­sary, struc­tur­al, syn­chron­ous inco­her­ence of the law.

The unique impact of The Mat­rix (movie) resides not so much in its cent­ral thes­is (what we exper­i­ence as real­ity is an arti­fi­cial vir­tu­al real­ity gen­er­ated by the “Mat­rix,” the mega-com­puter dir­ectly attached to all our minds), but in its cent­ral image of the mil­lions of human beings lead­ing a claus­tro­phobic life in water-filled cradles, kept alive in order to gen­er­ate the energy (elec­tri­city) for the Mat­rix. So when (some of the) people “awaken” from their immer­sion into the Mat­rix-con­trolled vir­tu­al real­ity, this awaken­ing is not the open­ing into the wide space of the extern­al real­ity, but first the hor­rible real­iz­a­tion of this enclos­ure, where each of us is effect­ively just a foetus-like organ­ism, immersed in the pre-nat­al flu­id… This utter passiv­ity is the fore­closed fantasy that sus­tains our con­scious exper­i­ence as act­ive, self-pos­it­ing sub­jects – it is the ulti­mate per­verse fantasy, the notion that we are ulti­mately instru­ments of the Other’s (Matrix’s) jouis­sance, sucked out of our life-sub­stance like bat­ter­ies. There­in resides the true libid­in­al enig­ma of this dis­pos­i­tif: WHY does the Mat­rix need human energy? The purely ener­get­ic solu­tion is, of course, mean­ing­less: the Mat­rix could have eas­ily found another, more reli­able, source of energy which would have not deman­ded the extremely com­plex arrange­ment of the vir­tu­al real­ity coordin­ated for mil­lions of human units. The only con­sist­ent answer is: the Mat­rix feeds on the human’s jouis­sance – so we are here back at the fun­da­ment­al Lacani­an thes­is that the big Oth­er itself, far from being an anonym­ous machine, needs the con­stant influx of jouis­sance. This is how we should turn around the state of things presen­ted by the film: what the film renders as the scene of our awaken­ing into our true situ­ation, is effect­ively its exact oppos­i­tion, the very fun­da­ment­al fantasy that sus­tains our being.

The intim­ate con­nec­tion between per­ver­sion and cyber­space is today a com­mon­place. Accord­ing to the stand­ard view, the per­verse scen­ario stages the “dis­avowal of cas­tra­tion,” and isn’t cyber­space also a uni­verse unen­cumbered by the iner­tia of the Real, con­strained only by its self-imposed rules? And is not the same with Vir­tu­al Real­ity in The Mat­rix? The “real­ity” in which we live loses its inex­or­able char­ac­ter, it becomes a domain of arbit­rary rules (imposed by the Mat­rix) that one can viol­ate if one’s Will is strong enough… How­ever, accord­ing to Lacan, what this stand­ard notion leaves out of con­sid­er­a­tion is the unique rela­tion­ship between the Oth­er and the jouis­sance in per­ver­sion. What, exactly, does this mean? Recall Pier­re Flourens’s claims that the anaes­thet­ic works only on our memory’s neur­on­al net­work: unknow­ingly, we are our own greatest vic­tims, but­cher­ing ourselves alive… Isn’t it also pos­sible to read this as the per­fect fantasy scen­ario of inter-passiv­ity, of the Oth­er Scene in which we pay the price for our act­ive inter­ven­tion into the world?

There is no act­ive free agent without this fant­as­mat­ic sup­port, without this Oth­er Scene in which he is totally manip­u­lated by the Oth­er. A sado-mas­ochist will­ingly assumes this suf­fer­ing as the access to Being. There­in resides the cor­rect insight of The Mat­rix: in its jux­ta­pos­i­tion of the two aspects of per­ver­sion – on the one hand, reduc­tion of real­ity to a vir­tu­al domain reg­u­lated by arbit­rary rules that can be sus­pen­ded; on the oth­er hand, the con­cealed truth of this freedom, the reduc­tion of the sub­ject to an utter instru­ment­al­ized passiv­ity.[8] It is only again­st this back­ground that we can prop­erly under­stand how the late-cap­it­al­ist per­missive-hedon­ist dis­course motiv­ates sub­jects with the

“demand for jouis­sance without cas­tra­tion – vivre sans temps mort, jouir sans entraves, to recall the fam­ous graf­fiti from 1968 – is the pro­duct­ive ground for the jouis­sance of the sys­tem. Life without bore­dom (dead time) and enjoy­ment without restric­tion (or without cas­tra­tion) inaug­ur­ate a new, more rad­ic­al and invis­ible form of exploit­a­tion. Of course, the inev­it­able truth of cre­ativ­ity, mobil­ity and flex­ib­il­ity of labour is the cre­ativ­ity, mobil­ity and flex­ib­il­ity of the cap­it­al­ist forms of dom­in­a­tion.”[9]

One should note how this stance of con­stant “cre­ativ­ity, mobil­ity and flex­ib­il­ity,” in which work and enjoy­ment coin­cide is shared by late cap­it­al­ist sub­jectiv­ity as well as by the Deleuzi­an and oth­er grass roots dir­ect demo­cracy move­ments. You­tube is lately full of sites in which ordin­ary people present a record­ing (usu­ally one hour long) of them­selves accom­plish­ing some ordin­ary chore like bak­ing a cake, clean­ing a bath­room, or paint­ing their car – noth­ing extraordin­ary, just a reg­u­lar activ­ity whose pre­dict­able rhythm engenders a sooth­ing effect of peace in the view­er. It is easy to under­stand the attrac­tion of watch­ing such record­ings: they enable us to escape the vicious cycle of the oscil­la­tion between nervous hyper-activ­ity and bouts of depres­sion. Their extraordin­ary nature resides in their very ordin­ar­i­ness: the totally pre­dict­able every­day chores are more and more rare in our frantic daily rhythm.

One has to make a step fur­ther here and raise a more spe­cific ques­tion: if “the inev­it­able truth of cre­ativ­ity, mobil­ity and flex­ib­il­ity of labor is the cre­ativ­ity, mobil­ity and flex­ib­il­ity of the cap­it­al­ist forms of dom­in­a­tion,” how, pre­cisely, are the two iden­ti­fied (or, rather, medi­ated)? We are deal­ing with per­missive cap­it­al­ism focused on intense untrammeled enjoy­ment, a cap­it­al­ism whose libid­in­al eco­nomy dis­avows cas­tra­tion, i.e., a cap­it­al­ism which no longer relies on the paternal Law and is cel­eb­rated by its apo­lo­gists as the reign of gen­er­al­ized per­ver­sion. Con­sequently, since the core of per­ver­sion is defined by the couple of sad­ism and mas­ochism, the ques­tion to be raised is: how does the libid­in­al eco­nomy of per­missive hedon­ist cap­it­al­ism relate to this couple? In gen­er­al terms, the dif­fer­ence between sad­ism and mas­ochism con­cerns the status of shame: the goal of sadist’s activ­ity is not just to make the vic­tim suf­fer but to cause shame in the vic­tim, to make him/her ashamed of what is hap­pen­ing to him/her. In mas­ochism, on the con­trary, the vic­tim no longer exper­i­ences shame, it openly dis­plays its jouis­sance. So even if in a mas­ochist per­form­ance the same thing goes on as in a sad­ist exercise—say, a mas­ter beat­ing its vic­tim—, the line sep­ar­at­ing the two gets blurred since

“behind its con­tract a sub­ver­sion of dom­in­a­tion took place. The sub­ject, who can enjoy in the pos­i­tion of the object, is the only true mas­ter, while the appar­ent execut­or is merely a prop, a sub­ject for whom the con­tract pre­sup­poses not to enjoy. The con­tract demands a cas­trated mas­ter, deprived of the power to cause shame.”[10]

In short, the gaze of the Mas­ter (big Oth­er) no longer gives birth to shame and is no longer cas­trat­ive but gets itself cas­trated: impot­ent, unable to con­trol or pre­vent the servant/victim’s jouis­sance. How­ever, this impot­ence is decept­ive:

“sub­jects offer them­selves to the regime’s gaze and shame­lessly exhib­it jouis­sance, not know­ing that the regime in the pos­i­tion they assume estab­lishes the con­tinu­ity between jouis­sance and labor. Once in the pos­i­tion of sur­plus-object, the stu­dents are them­selves stud­ied by the regime’s gaze.”[11]

Is it then true that “the mas­ochist would indeed be the per­fect sub­ject of cap­it­al­ism, someone who would enjoy being a com­mod­ity among oth­ers, while assum­ing the role of sur­plus labor, the pos­i­tion of the object that will­ingly sat­is­fies the sys­tem­ic demands”[12]? Is it true that “the cap­it­al­ist regime demands from every­one to become ideal mas­ochists and the actu­al mes­sage of the superego’s injunc­tion is: ‘enjoy your suf­fer­ing, enjoy cap­it­al­ism’”[13]? The prob­lem here is: can the con­tract between cap­it­al­ist and work­er really be com­pared with the mas­ochist con­tract? The first and obvi­ous big dif­fer­ence is that in the labor con­tract, cap­it­al­ist pays the work­er (in order to extract from him sur­plus-value), while in the mas­ochist con­tract, the vic­tim pays the “mas­ter” to do the work, i.e., to stage the mas­ochist per­form­ance which pro­duces sur­plus-enjoy­ment in the vic­tim. Is then the pro­let­ari­an mas­ochist the secret mas­ter who binds the Mas­ter-cap­it­al­ist by a con­tract to tor­ture him in order to gain his own sur­plus-enjoy­ment? While this ver­sion has to be rejec­ted, one should non­ethe­less assert its under­ly­ing prin­ciple: jouis­sance IS suf­fer­ing, a pain­ful excess of pleas­ure (pleas­ure in pain), and, in this sense, jouis­sance effect­ively IS mas­ochist. (Recall that one of Lacan’s defin­i­tions of jouis­sance is pre­cisely “pleas­ure-in-pain”: the sur­plus that trans­forms pleas­ure into jouis­sance is that of pain.) How­ever, one should also recall that the mas­ochist con­tract sets a lim­it to the excess, thereby redu­cing the mas­ochist spec­tacle to a sterile the­at­ric­al per­form­ance (in an end­less cir­cu­lar move­ment of post­pone­ment, the spec­tacle nev­er reaches a cli­max) – in this sense, the mas­ochist spec­tacle is rather a kind of “pleas­ur­isa­tion” of jouis­sance, in con­trast to sad­ism which goes to the end in bru­tal­ity (although, again, there are also mas­ochists who go to the end in tor­tur­ing…).

Fur­ther­more, how does class ant­ag­on­ism inscribe itself into the cap­it­al­ist dis­course? Inso­far as it func­tions as Uni­ver­sity dis­course, things are clear: the cap­it­al­ist is the agent of know­ledge who dom­in­ates work­ers, and the pro­duct of this dom­in­a­tion is $, the pro­let­ari­an pure sub­ject deprived of all sub­stan­tial con­tent. How­ever, what hap­pens inso­far as it func­tions as Hysteric’s dis­course? To put it bluntly, which is the class determ­in­a­tion of the hys­ter­ic as the agent of the cap­it­al­ist dis­course? Is the hys­ter­ic the pro­let­ari­an as the pro­duct of the uni­ver­sity dis­course? And is then the Mas­ter he (the hys­ter­ic) pro­vokes the cap­it­al­ist (who pre­tends to act as a bear­er of know­ledge, a ration­al man­ager organ­iz­ing the pro­duc­tion, but whose truth is being the Mas­ter who exerts dom­in­a­tion)? But what if the obverse also holds, i.e., what if the cap­it­al­ist is a hys­ter­ic caught in the infernal self-pro­pelling cycle of exten­ded repro­duc­tion, pro­vok­ing his own true Mas­ter, the Cap­it­al itself? And what if the true agent of know­ledge is the work­er who keeps run­ning the pro­duc­tion pro­cess through his know-how? In short, what if the ten­sion between the Uni­ver­sity dis­course and the Hysteric’s dis­course runs diag­on­ally across both poles of the class ant­ag­on­ism, divid­ing each of the two?

Con­sequently, when we talk about “cap­it­al­ist dis­course,” we should bear in mind that this dis­course (social link) is split from with­in, that it only func­tions if it con­stantly oscil­lates between two dis­courses, dis­course of Uni­ver­sity and dis­course of Hys­teria. There­in resides the par­al­lax of cap­it­al­ism which can also be des­ig­nated in the terms of the oppos­i­tion between desire and drive: hys­ter­ic­al desire and per­verse drive. The over­lap­ping ele­ment of the two is $ (sub­ject), the pro­duct of the Uni­ver­sity dis­course and the agent of the Hys­ter­ic­al dis­course, and, sim­ul­tan­eously, S2 (know­ledge), the pro­duct of the Hys­ter­ic­al dis­course and the agent of the Uni­ver­sity dis­course. Know­ledge works on its oth­er, object, and the pro­duct is the sub­ject, $; the axis of the impossible is the way this sub­ject relates to its Mas­ter-Sig­nifler that would define its iden­tity. In the reversal to the dis­course of hys­teria, the agent is now the sub­ject who addresses its oth­er as the Mas­ter-Sig­ni­fi­er, and the pro­duct is know­ledge about what the sub­ject is as an object; but since this know­ledge is again impossible, we get a reversal into the dis­course of Uni­ver­sity which addresses the object. It’s the twis­ted struc­ture of the Moebi­us band, of course: pro­gress­ing to the end on one side, we all of a sud­den find ourselves on the oth­er side. (And is the oth­er axis not the axis of Mas­ter and Ana­lyst, with objet a and as the over­lap­ping ele­ments? One should also note that each of these two couples com­bines a mas­cu­line and a fem­in­ine sexu­al logic: mas­cu­line uni­ver­sity versus fem­in­ine hys­teria, mas­cu­line mas­ter versus fem­in­ine ana­lyst.) Does this inter­twin­ing of two dis­courses not provide the under­ly­ing dis­curs­ive struc­ture of the double aspect of mod­ern­ity, the hys­ter­ic­al logic of incess­ant expan­ded sub­ject­ive pro­ductiv­ity and the uni­ver­sity logic of dom­in­a­tion through know­ledge? That is to say, what we per­ceive as “mod­ern­ity” is char­ac­ter­ized by two dif­fer­ent top­ics. First, it is the notion of sub­jectiv­ity as a destabil­iz­ing for­ce of incess­ant self-expan­sion and self-tran­scend­ing, as the agent pos­sessed by an insa­ti­able desire; then, there is the spe­cific­ally mod­ern form of con­trol and dom­in­a­tion whose first embod­i­ment is the baroque abso­lut­ist state, and which cul­min­ated in the XXth cen­tury “total­it­ari­an” state ana­lyzed by Fou­cault (dis­cip­line and pun­ish), Adorno and Florkheimer (instru­ment­al reas­on, admin­istered world), etc., the form which entered a new stage with the pro­spect of digit­al con­trol and bio­gen­et­ic manip­u­la­tion of human beings. In its ideo­lo­gic­al aspect, this dual­ity appears in the terms of the oppos­i­tion between indi­vidu­al­ist liber­tari­an­ism and state con­trol. It is cru­cial not to reduce the par­al­lax struc­ture by way of redu­cing one top­ic to the oth­er – say, by way of dis­miss­ing the self-expand­ing sub­jectiv­ity to an ideo­lo­gic­al illu­sion that obfus­cates the truth of total con­trol and dom­in­a­tion, or by way of simply identi­fy­ing the two top­ics (the self-expand­ing sub­ject asserts its power through con­trol and dom­in­a­tion).

One has to make a step fur­ther here. The par­al­lax split of the cap­it­al­ist dis­course is groun­ded in the fact that cap­it­al­ism remains a mas­ter dis­course, but a mas­ter dis­course in which the struc­ture of dom­in­a­tion is repressed, pushed beneath the bar (indi­vidu­als are form­ally free and equal, dom­in­a­tion is dis­placed onto rela­tions between things-com­mod­it­ies). In oth­er words, the under­ly­ing struc­ture is that of a cap­it­al­ist Mas­ter push­ing his oth­er (work­er) to pro­duce sur­plus-value that he (the cap­it­al­ist) appro­pri­ates. But since this struc­ture of dom­in­a­tion is repressed, its appear­ance can­not be a(nother) single dis­course: it can only appear split into two dis­courses. Both Uni­ver­sity dis­course and Hys­ter­ic­al dis­course are the out­come of the fail­ure of the Master’s dis­course: when the Mas­ter loses its author­ity and gets hys­ter­i­cized (which is another name for ques­tion­ing his author­ity, exper­i­en­cing it as a fake), author­ity reappears in a dis­placed way, de-sub­ject­iv­ized, in the guise of the author­ity of neut­ral expert-know­ledge (“it’s not ME who exerts power, I just state object­ive facts and/or know­ledge”).

Now we come to an inter­est­ing con­clu­sion: if cap­it­al­ism is char­ac­ter­ized by the par­al­lax of hys­teria and uni­ver­sity dis­courses, is then res­ist­ance to cap­it­al­ism char­ac­ter­ized by the oppos­ite axis of mas­ter and ana­lyst? The recourse to Mas­ter does not des­ig­nate the con­ser­vat­ive attempts to coun­ter­act cap­it­al­ist dynam­ics with a resus­cit­ated fig­ure of tra­di­tion­al author­ity; it rather points towards the new type of Com­mun­ist mas­ter (Lead­er) emphas­ized by Badi­ou who is not afraid to oppose the neces­sary role of the Mas­ter to our “demo­crat­ic” sens­it­iv­ity: “I am con­vinced that one has to rees­tab­lish the cap­it­al func­tion of lead­ers in the Com­mun­ist pro­cess, whichever its stage.”[14] A true Mas­ter is not an agent of dis­cip­line and pro­hib­i­tion, his mes­sage is not “You can­not!”, also not “You have to…!”, but a releas­ing “You can!” – what? Do the impossible, i.e., what appears impossible with­in the coordin­ates of the exist­ing con­stel­la­tion – and today, this means some­thing very pre­cise: you can think bey­ond cap­it­al­ism and lib­er­al demo­cracy as the ulti­mate frame­work of our lives. A Mas­ter is a van­ish­ing medi­at­or who gives you back to your­self, who deliv­ers you to the abyss of your freedom: when we listen to a true lead­er, we dis­cov­er what we want (or, rather, what we always-already wanted without know­ing it). A Mas­ter is needed because we can­not accede to our freedom dir­ectly – to gain this access we have to be pushed from out­side since our “nat­ur­al state” is one of inert hedon­ism, of what Badi­ou called “human anim­al.” The under­ly­ing para­dox is here that the more we live as “free indi­vidu­als with no Mas­ter,” the more we are effect­ively non-free, caught with­in the exist­ing frame of pos­sib­il­it­ies – we have to be pushed/disturbed into freedom by a Mas­ter.[15] Noval­is, usu­ally per­ceived as a rep­res­ent­at­ive of the con­ser­vat­ive turn of Roman­ti­cism, was well aware of this para­dox, and he pro­posed an extreme ver­sion of the infin­ite judg­ment: mon­archy is the highest form of repub­lic, “no king can exist without repub­lic and no repub­lic without a king”:

“the true meas­ure of a Repub­lic con­sists in the lived rela­tion of the cit­izens to the idea of the whole in which they live. The unity that a law cre­ates is merely coer­cive. […]The uni­fy­ing factor must be a sen­su­al one, a com­pre­hens­ive human embod­i­ment of the mor­als that make a com­mon iden­tity pos­sible. For Noval­is, the best such medi­at­ing factor for the idea of the repub­lic is a mon­arch. […] While the insti­tu­tion might sat­is­fy our intel­lect, it leaves our ima­gin­a­tion cold. A liv­ing, breath­ing human being […] provides us with a sym­bol that we can more intu­it­ively embrace as stand­ing in rela­tion to our own exist­ence. […]The con­cepts of the Repub­lic and mon­arch are not only recon­cil­able, but pre­sup­pose one another.”[16]

Is not Badi­ou mak­ing a sim­il­ar claim when he under­scores the neces­sity of a Lead­er? Novalis’s point is not just the banal­ity that iden­ti­fic­a­tion should not be merely intel­lec­tu­al (the point made also by Freud in his Mass Psy­cho­logy and Ego Ana­lys­is); the core of his argu­ment­a­tion con­cerns the “per­form­at­ive” dimen­sion of polit­ic­al rep­res­ent­a­tion: in an authen­tic act of rep­res­ent­a­tion, people do not simply rep­res­ent (assert through a rep­res­ent­at­ive) what they want, they only become aware of what they want through the act of rep­res­ent­a­tion: ‘‘Noval­is argues that the role of the king should not be to give people what they think they want, but to elev­ate and give meas­ure to their desires. […] The polit­ic­al, or the for­ce that binds people togeth­er, should be a for­ce that gives meas­ure to desires rather than merely appeal­ing to desires.”[17] How­ever, no mat­ter how eman­cip­at­ory this new Mas­ter is, it has to be sup­ple­men­ted by another dis­curs­ive form. As Moshe Lew­in noted in his Lenin’s Last Struggle,[18] at the end of his life, even Len­in intu­ited this neces­sity when he pro­posed a new rul­ing body, the Cent­ral Con­trol Com­mis­sion. While fully admit­ting the dic­tat­ori­al nature of the Sovi­et regime, he tried

‘‘to estab­lish at the sum­mit of the dic­tat­or­ship a bal­ance between dif­fer­ent ele­ments, a sys­tem of recip­roc­al con­trol that could serve the same func­tion – the com­par­is­on is no more than approx­im­ate – as the sep­ar­a­tion of powers in a demo­crat­ic regime. An import­ant Cent­ral Com­mit­tee, raised to the rank of Party Con­fer­ence, would lay down the broad lines of poli­cy and super­vise the whole Party appar­at­us, while itself par­ti­cip­at­ing in the exe­cu­tion of more import­ant tasks /…/. Part of this Cent­ral Com­mit­tee, the Cent­ral Con­trol Com­mis­sion, would, in addi­tion to its work with­in the Cent­ral Com­mit­tee, act as a con­trol of the Cent­ral Com­mit­tee and of its vari­ous off­shots – the Polit­ic­al Bur­eau, the Sec­ret­ari­at, the Orgburo. The Cent­ral Con­trol Com­mis­sion /…/ would occupy a spe­cial pos­i­tion with rela­tion to the oth­er insti­tu­tions ; its inde­pend­ence would be assured by its dir­ect link to the Party Con­gress, without the medi­ation of the Polit­buro and its admin­is­trat­ive organs or of the Cent­ral Com­mit­tee.”[19]

Checks and bal­ances, the divi­sion of powers, mutu­al con­trol… this was Lenin’s des­per­ate answer to the ques­tion: who con­trols the con­trol­ers. There is some­thing dream-like, prop­erly fant­as­mat­ic, in this idea of CCC: an inde­pend­ent, edu­ca­tion­al and con­trolling body with an “apolit­ic­al” edge, con­sist­ing of best teach­ers and tech­no­crat­ic spe­cial­ists keep­ing in check the “politi­cized” CC and its organs – in short, the neut­ral expert know­ledge keep­ing in check the party exec­ut­ives… How­ever, all hinges here on the true inde­pend­ency of Party Con­gress, de facto already under­mined by the pro­hib­i­tion of fac­tions which allowed the top party appar­at­us to con­trol the Con­gress, dis­miss­ing its crit­ics as “fac­tion­al­ists.” The naiv­ety of Lenin’s trust in tech­no­crat­ic experts is all the more strik­ing if we bear in mind that it comes from a polit­ic­al who was oth­er­wise fully aware of the all-per­vas­ive­ness of polit­ic­al struggle which allows for no neut­ral pos­i­tion. How­ever, Lenin’s pro­pos­al can­not be reduced to this dimen­sion; in “dream­ing” (his expres­sion) about the mode of work of the CCC, he describes how this body should resort

“to some semi-humor­ous trick, cun­ning device, piece of trick­ery or some­thing of that sort. I know that in the staid and earn­est states of West­ern European such an idea would hor­ri­fy people and that not a single decent offi­cial would even enter­tain it. I hope, how­ever, that we have not yet become as bur­eau­crat­ic as all that and that in our mid­st the dis­cus­sion of this idea will give rise to noth­ing more than amuse­ment. / Indeed, why not com­bine pleas­ure with util­ity? Why not resort to some humor­ous or semi-humor­ous trick to expose some­thing ridicu­lous, some­thing harm­ful, some­thing semi-ridicu­lous, semi-harm­ful, etc.?”[20]

Is this not an almost obscene double of the “ser­i­ous” exec­ut­ive power con­cen­trated in CC and Polit­buro, a kind of non-organ­ic intel­lec­tu­al of the move­ment – an agent resort­ing to humor, tricks, and cun­ning of reas­on, keep­ing itself at a dis­tance… a kind of ana­lyst.

To prop­erly loc­ate this read­ing of Len­in, one should take note of the his­tor­icity inscribed into Lacan’s mat­rix of four dis­courses, the his­tor­icity of the mod­ern European devel­op­ment.[21] The Master’s dis­course stands – not for the pre-mod­ern mas­ter, but – for the abso­lute mon­archy, this first fig­ure of mod­ern­ity that effect­ively under­mined the artic­u­late net­work of feud­al rela­tions and inter­de­pend­ences, trans­form­ing fidel­ity to flat­tery, etc.: it is the “Sun-King” Louis XIV with his I’etat, c’est moi that is the Mas­ter par excel­lence. Hys­ter­ic­al dis­course and the dis­course of Uni­ver­sity then deploy two out­comes of the vacil­la­tion of the dir­ect reign of the Mas­ter: the expert-rule of bur­eau­cracy that cul­min­ates in con­tem­por­ary biopol­it­ics which ends up redu­cing the pop­u­la­tion to a col­lec­tion of homo sacer (what Heide­g­ger called “enfram­ing,” Adorno “the admin­istered world,” Fou­cault the soci­ety of “dis­cip­line and pun­ish”); the explo­sion of the hys­ter­ic­al cap­it­al­ist sub­jectiv­ity that repro­duces itself through per­man­ent self-revo­lu­tion­iz­ing, through the integ­ra­tion of the excess into the “nor­mal” func­tion­ing of the social link (the true “per­man­ent revolu­tion” is already cap­it­al­ism itself). Lacan’s for­mu­la of four dis­courses thus enables us to deploy the two faces of mod­ern­ity (total admin­is­tra­tion; cap­it­al­ist-indi­vidu­al­ist dynam­ics) as the two ways to under­mine the Master’s dis­course: the doubt into the effi­ciency of the Mas­ter-fig­ure (what Eric Sant­ner called the “crisis of invest­it­ure”[22]) can be sup­ple­men­ted by the dir­ect rule of the experts legit­im­ized by their know­ledge, or the excess of doubt, of per­man­ent ques­tion­ing, can be dir­ectly integ­rated into social repro­duc­tion as its inner­most driv­ing for­ce. And, finally, the analyst’s dis­course stands for the emer­gence of revolu­tion­ary-eman­cip­at­ory sub­jectiv­ity that resolves the split into uni­ver­sity and hys­teria: in it, the revolu­tion­ary agent (a) addresses the sub­ject from the pos­i­tion of know­ledge which occu­pies the place of truth (i.e., which inter­ve­nes at the “symp­tomal tor­sion” of the subject’s con­stel­la­tion), and the goal is to isol­ate, get rid of, the Mas­ter-Sig­ni­fi­er which struc­tured the subject’s (ideo­lo­gi­co-polit­ic­al) uncon­scious.

Or does it? Miller[23] has recently pro­posed that, today, the dis­course of Mas­ter is no longer the “obverse” of the dis­course of the Ana­lyst; today, on the con­trary, our “civil­iz­a­tion” itself (its hege­mon­ic sym­bol­ic mat­rix, as it were) fits the for­mu­la of the dis­course of the Ana­lyst: the “agent” of the social link is today a, sur­plus-enjoy­ment, the super­ego injunc­tion to enjoy; this injunc­tion addresses $ (the divided sub­ject) who is put to work in order to live up to this injunc­tion. If there ever was a super­ego injunc­tion, it is the fam­ous Ori­ent­al wis­dom: “Do not think, just DO IT!” The “truth” of this social link is S2, sci­en­ti­fic-expert know­ledge in its dif­fer­ent guises, and the goal is to gen­er­ate S1 the self-mas­tery of the sub­ject, i.e., to enable the sub­ject to “cope with” the stress of the call to enjoy­ment (through self-help manu­als, etc.)… Pro­voc­at­ive as this notion is, it raises a series of ques­tions. If it is true, in what, then, resides the dif­fer­ence in the dis­curs­ive func­tion­ing of the “civil­iz­a­tion” as such and of psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic social link? Miller resorts here to a sus­pi­cious solu­tion: in our “civil­iz­a­tion,” the four terms are kept apart, isol­ated, each oper­ates on its own, while only in psy­cho­ana­lys­is are they brought togeth­er into a coher­ent link: “in the civil­iz­a­tion, each of the four terms remains dis­joined […] it is only in psy­cho­ana­lys­is, in pure psy­cho­ana­lys­is, that these ele­ments are arranged into a dis­course.”[24]

How­ever, is it not that the fun­da­ment­al oper­a­tion of the psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic treat­ment is not syn­thes­is, bring­ing ele­ments into a link, but, pre­cisely, ana­lys­is, sep­ar­at­ing what in a social link appears to belong togeth­er? This path, opposed to that of Miller, is indic­ated by Gior­gio Agam­ben who, in the last pages of The State of Excep­tion,[25] ima­gines two uto­pi­an options of how to break out of the vicious cycle of law and viol­ence, of the rule of law sus­tained by viol­ence. One is the Ben­jamini­an vis­ion of “pure” revolu­tion­ary viol­ence with no rela­tion­ship to the law; the oth­er is the rela­tion­ship to the law without regard to its (viol­ent) enforce­ment – what Jew­ish schol­ars are doing in their end­less (re)interpretation of the Law. Agam­ben starts from the right insight that the task today is not syn­thes­is but sep­ar­a­tion, dis­tinc­tion: not bring­ing law and viol­ence togeth­er (so that right will have might and the exer­cise of might will be fully legit­im­ized), but thor­oughly sep­ar­at­ing them, unty­ing their knot. Although Agam­ben con­fers on this for­mu­la­tion an anti-Hegel­i­an twist, a more prop­er read­ing of Hegel makes it clear that such a ges­ture of sep­ar­a­tion is what the Hegel­i­an “syn­thes­is” effect­ively is about: in it, the oppos­ites are not recon­ciled in a “higher syn­thes­is” – it is rather that their dif­fer­ence is pos­ited “as such.” The example of Paul may help us to cla­ri­fy this logic of Hegel­i­an “recon­cili­ation”: the rad­ic­al gap that he pos­its between “life” and “death,” between life in Christ and life in sin, is in no need of a fur­ther “syn­thes­is”; it is itself the res­ol­u­tion of the “abso­lute con­tra­dic­tion” of Law and sin, of the vicious cycle of their mutu­al implic­a­tion. In oth­er words, once the dis­tinc­tion is drawn, once the sub­ject becomes aware of the very exist­ence of this oth­er dimen­sion bey­ond the vicious cycle of law and its trans­gres­sion, the battle is form­ally already won.

How­ever, is this vis­ion not again a case of our late cap­it­al­ist real­ity going fur­ther than our dreams? Are we not already encoun­ter­ing in our social real­ity what Agam­ben envis­ages as a uto­pi­an vis­ion? Is the Hegel­i­an les­son of the glob­al reflex­iv­iz­a­tion-medi­at­iz­a­tion of our lives not that gen­er­ates its own bru­tal imme­di­acy which was best cap­tured by Étien­ne Balibar’s notion of excess­ive, non-func­tion­al cruelty as a fea­ture of con­tem­por­ary life, a cruelty whose fig­ures range from “fun­da­ment­al­ist” racist and/or reli­gious slaughter to the “sense­less” out­bursts of viol­ence per­formed by adoles­cents and the home­less in our mega­lo­pol­ises, a viol­ence one is temp­ted to call Id-Evil, a viol­ence groun­ded in no util­it­ari­an or ideo­lo­gic­al reas­ons? All the talk about for­eign­ers steal­ing work from us or about the threat they rep­res­ent to our West­ern val­ues should not deceive us: under closer exam­in­a­tion, it soon becomes clear that this talk provides a rather super­fi­cial sec­ond­ary ration­al­iz­a­tion. The answer we ulti­mately obtain from a skin­head is that it makes him feel good to beat for­eign­ers, that their pres­ence dis­turbs him… What we encoun­ter here is indeed Id-Evil, i.e., the Evil struc­tured and motiv­ated by the most ele­ment­ary imbal­ance in the rela­tion­ship between the Ego and jouis­sance, by the ten­sion between pleas­ure and the for­eign body of jouis­sance in the very heart of it. Id-Evil thus stages the most ele­ment­ary “short-cir­cuit” in the rela­tion­ship of the sub­ject to the prim­or­di­ally miss­ing object-cause of his desire: what “both­ers” us in the “oth­er” (Jew, Japan­ese, Afric­an, Turk) is that he appears to enter­tain a priv­ileged rela­tion­ship to the object – the oth­er either pos­sesses the object-treas­ure, hav­ing snatched it away from us (which is why we don’t have it), or he poses a threat to our pos­ses­sion of the object. What one should pro­pose here is the Hegel­i­an “infin­ite judg­ment” assert­ing the spec­u­lat­ive iden­tity of these “use­less” and “excess­ive” out­bursts of viol­ent imme­di­acy, which dis­play noth­ing but a pure and naked (“non-sub­lim­ated”) hatred of the Oth­er­ness, with the glob­al reflex­iv­iz­a­tion of soci­ety; per­haps the ulti­mate example of this coin­cid­ence is the fate of psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic inter­pret­a­tion. Today, the form­a­tions of the Uncon­scious (from dreams to hys­ter­ic­al symp­toms) have def­in­itely lost their inno­cence and are thor­oughly reflex­iv­ized: the “free asso­ci­ations” of a typ­ic­al edu­cated ana­lysand con­sist for the most part of attempts to provide a psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic explan­a­tion of their dis­turb­ances, so that one is quite jus­ti­fied in say­ing that we have not only Jungi­an, Klein­i­an, Lacani­an… inter­pret­a­tions of the symp­toms, but symp­toms them­selves which are Jungi­an, Klein­i­an, Lacani­an…, i.e. whose real­ity involves impli­cit ref­er­ence to some psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic the­ory. The unfor­tu­nate res­ult of this glob­al reflex­iv­iz­a­tion of the inter­pret­a­tion (everything becomes inter­pret­a­tion, the Uncon­scious inter­prets itself) is that the analyst’s inter­pret­a­tion itself loses its per­form­at­ive “sym­bol­ic effi­ciency” and leaves the symp­tom intact in the imme­di­acy of its idi­ot­ic jouis­sance.

Per­haps, this is how the cap­it­al­ist dis­course func­tions: a sub­ject enthralled by the super­ego call to excess­ive enjoy­ment, and in search for a Mas­ter-Sig­ni­fi­er that would con­strain his/her enjoy­ment, provide a prop­er meas­ure of it, pre­vent its explo­sion into a deadly excess (of a drug-addict, chain smoker, alco­holic and oth­er-holies or addicts). How, then, does this ver­sion of the analyst’s dis­course relate to the analyst’s dis­course prop­er? Per­haps, one reaches here the lim­it of Lacan’s form­al­iz­a­tion of dis­courses, so that one should intro­duce another set of dis­tinc­tions spe­cify­ing how the same dis­course can func­tion in dif­fer­ent mod­al­it­ies. What one should do here is dis­tin­guish between the two aspects of objet a clearly dis­cern­ible in Lacan’s the­ory: objet a as the void around which desire and/or drive cir­cu­late, and objet a as the fas­cin­at­ing ele­ment that fills in this void (since, as Lacan repeatedly emphas­izes, objet a has no sub­stan­tial con­sist­ency, it is just the pos­it­iv­iz­a­tion of a void. So in order to enact the shift from cap­it­al­ist to analyst’s dis­course, one has just to break the spell of objet a, to recog­nize beneath the fas­cin­at­ing agal­ma, the Grail of desire, the void that it cov­ers. (This shift is homo­log­ous to the fem­in­ine subject’s shift from Phi to the sig­ni­fi­er of the barred Oth­er in Lacan’s graph of sexuation.)

What, then, is our res­ult? Per­haps, it is wrong to search for a cap­it­al­ist dis­course, to lim­it it to one for­mu­la. What if we con­ceive cap­it­al­ist dis­course as a spe­cific com­bin­a­tion of all four dis­courses? First, cap­it­al­ism remains Master’s dis­course. Cap­it­al, the Mas­ter, appro­pri­ates know­ledge, the servant’s savoir-faire exten­ded by sci­ence, keep­ing under the bar the pro­let­ari­an $ which pro­duces a, sur­plus-enjoy­ment in the guise of sur­plus-value. How­ever, due to the dis­place­ment of the stand­ard of dom­in­a­tion in cap­it­al­ism (indi­vidu­als are form­ally free and equal), this start­ing point splits into two, hys­teria and uni­ver­sity. The final res­ult is the cap­it­al­ist ver­sion of the analyst’s dis­course, with surplus-enjoyment/value in the com­mand­ing post.

[1]Tomšič, 2015, p. 151.

[2]Lacan 2011, p. 74.

[3]Tomšič, 2015, p. 151 2.

[4]Ibid., p. 152.

[5]See Lacan 1979.

[6]For a more detailed read­ing of The Mat­rix, see Chapter VI of Žižek 2007

[7]Tomšič 2015, p. 228.


[9]Ibid., p. 227.

[10]Ibid., p. 228.

[11]Ibid., p. 229.

[12]Noval­is, Glauben und Liebe, quoted from Ross 2008, p. 27.

[13]Ibid., p. 27.

[14]See Lew­in 2005 (trans­la­tion of the French ori­gin­al pub­lished in 1968).

[15]Ibid., p. 132.

[16]Lacan deploys the mat­rix of four dis­courses in Lacan 1996


[18]See Agam­ben 2004..








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