Ktismatics

10 October 2008

The Return of the Socioeconomically Repressed

Filed under: Culture, Psychology — ktismatics @ 11:18 am

Recently k-punk wrote a post entitled Be Positive… Or Else, in which he points out the association between the positive-thinking ethos of cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, and neoliberal capitalism. In his post k-punk links to this article by Lacanian psychoanalyst Darian Leader. Since k-punk’s blog doesn’t support comments, I’m simultaneously emailing him my response and posting it here…

There’s empirical evidence supporting CBT’s effectiveness in reducing symptoms, but in most cases the results aren’t any better than for other therapeutic praxes. The same holds true for psychoanalysis: it achieves neither better nor worse symptom reduction on average than other therapies. Therapists with more training and experience don’t get any better results than novices. In fact, just having a sympathetic person to talk with on a regular basis is nearly as effective as going to a professional in achieving symptom relief. On the other hand, any treatment is better than no treatment: symptomatic individuals who are left on waiting lists typically show no improvement, whereas any treatment modality yields significant and fairly sizable symptom reduction. (See e.g. Creating Mental Illness by Horwitz for summaries of effectiveness studies.)

Darian Leader wants to listen to symptoms instead of just treating them, and that’s fine. But he expects the symptoms to tell him to look inside the self for clues about their causes and their possible resolution. In this respect psychoanalysis and CBT are allies: both modalities regard the self as the source of his or her own misery. So too does neoliberalism: if you suffer from economic symptoms like unemployment or poverty or alienation it’s your own fault. The cause may be a shallow one correctable by quality improvement techniques or coaching, or the individual may be hamstrung by deeply rooted flaws that will take a long time and a lot of money to correct through retraining or serious attitude adjustment. But make no mistake: it’s your individual problem.

That establishing a relationship with an untrained but sympathetic listener can help alleviate psychological symptoms provides evidence compatible with Leader’s observation about how therapy works:

[T]herapy is not like a plaster that can be applied to a wound, but is a property of a human relationship. Therapy is about the encounter of two people.

If establishing this sort of interpersonal relationship can be curative, might not the lack of relationship be causative? I believe it is. Individuals are the basic economic unit of neoliberal capitalism. While individuation seems to promise unfettered freedom to pursue one’s own version of the American dream (even if you’re not American), people find themselves increasingly isolated from one another. This of course offers a strategic advantage to capital: isolated workers don’t organize themselves; isolated consumers can exert no leverage in driving down costs or improving quality.

The economic threat posed by letting psychological symptoms speak is that the symptoms will direct people’s attention not deep inside themselves but outside, to socioeconomic conditions that provoke depression, anxiety, rage and alienation as natural reactions to sick situations. It turns out that the same psychotherapeutic techniques work equally for all these conditions. It also turns out that the same mood-enhancing medications are prescribed for all of them. Leader regards this convergence as evidence that diagnosis isn’t all that important, that the same underlying intrapsychic condition can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms. But couldn’t the same conclusion be drawn if you listen outside the self for causes? Workplace stress, alienation from coworkers and customers, exploitation by management and capital; the pressure to compete as worker and consumer; the nearly universal demand for presenting a facade of relentless optimism, as k-punk cogently observes; the expectation that you can buy your way into happiness; isolation from others in the community and even from one’s most intimate friends — aren’t these ongoing external sources of unhappiness at least as likely to cause symptoms as are traumata experienced long ago in infancy? If we let socioeconomic symptoms speak, if we experience a collective return of the repressed, what sorts of interventions are liable to suggest themselves?

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43 Comments »

  1. Ktismatics: “While individuation seems to promise unfettered freedom to pursue one’s own version of the American dream (even if you’re not American), people find themselves increasingly isolated from one another. This of course offers a strategic advantage to capital: isolated workers don’t organize themselves; isolated consumers can exert no leverage in driving down costs or improving quality.”

    One wonders just how “isolating” this constantly assumed isolation is, and at the irony of a writer on the internet whom I would in all likelihood never have met or even heard of, arguing for its cure. The problem perhaps is assuming the individualist standard of those one seeks to criticize, the Humanist essentialism that allows our pleas to stick.

    Is it that the isolated are isolated, failing to organize, or it is that they are between stages or forms of organization. Communicability breeds connection. The urge for a present dystopia is often the excuse for prologue (or worse…epilogue) of an imagined u-topia.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 16 October 2008 @ 5:10 pm

  2. Hello, Kvond. Certainly most workers are organized on the job by management, and participating with the “team” in pursuit of a shared objective does provide a sense of collegiality for many workers. But many feel alienated, oppressed, stressed and angered by the organizations in which they’re embedded. Are these people cynics, failing to take psychological advantage of the solidarity their corporations are offering them, or are they attuned to a form of institutionalized cynicism that provides the illusion of solidarity in pursuit of owner profitability? The point of the post is that oftentimes the CBT world will find this person high on a cynicism scale, and perhaps a psychoanalyst will trace this cynicism to an ambivalent infant attachment with a mother who sent mixed signals. But maybe the cynic really is attuned to something in the workplace, and that an increase in the prevalence of cynicism in a workforce reflects some change in the working conditions.

    I’m not sure how much connection the blogs can establish between people. But if you and I do bridge the isolation, I’m not sure irony is the right diagnosis. There’s a series of conscious acts of personal agency involved here: Darian Leader wrote the article; k-punk commented on it and linked to it; I commented on the article and k-punk’s post and linked to both; k-punk commented on my commented an linked to me; now you’ve commented and I’m replying. It’s a sequence of individual actions performed at least in part with the conscious intent of forging substantive interpersonal connections among relative people who wouldn’t otherwise talk with one another. I.e., it didn’t just happen by self-energized emergent rhizomes shooting through the world. By commenting, you initiated another link.

    You mention the “urge for a present dystopia” — is this a symptom you identify as being at least somewhat widespread, Kvond? Are you referring to certain Christian fundamentalists, Marxists, and probably also Islamic fundamentalists who see the current economic meltdown as the crisis that will bring on the millennium? I don’t know about you, but in my experience bad times seems to bring on a conservative urge to get back to basics, to retrench. On the other hand, good times bring on a conservative urge not to rock the boat. It’s kind of like smoking: good for getting revved up, good for relaxing afterward. Habits generate their own rationales for self-perpetuation.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 October 2008 @ 7:50 pm

  3. Ktismatics: “But many feel alienated, oppressed, stressed and angered by the organizations in which they’re embedded. Are these people cynics, failing to take psychological advantage of the solidarity their corporations are offering them, or are they attuned to a form of institutionalized cynicism that provides the illusion of solidarity in pursuit of owner profitability?”

    kvond: My question would be, is not their alienation a symptom of the very essentialist “individualist” conception that drives their reorganization in the first place? That is, the lack, the wedge of nothingness that is pressed between the supposed and secularized “soul” and the proper fitting-in that critics of society may aim for, already insures the displacement in the first place (reified in Lacanian analysis as a near ontological fact). Yes, there is the experience of alienation, (or more commonly called “stress” or “depression”) but this is often a self-diagnosis accomplished using the dominant ideology’s handbook. These individuals just can’t get enough “stuff” (variously defined) to make themselves whole.

    Ktismatics: “I’m not sure how much connection the blogs can establish between people. But if you and I do bridge the isolation, I’m not sure irony is the right diagnosis.”

    kvond: It would be ironic if the processes that lead to our bridging are essentialized as alienating. I find this ironic that you, I (and/or k-punk) are connecting over the issue of alienation. It requires I think at the very least another order of analysis. Part of this analysis would be that the “lack” which supposedly is symptomatically expressed in alienating structures, is best understood as a constructed idea, one which legitimates the structures it was designed to describe. I am less a fan of personal agency than you may be, and take as my advisement the Spinozist adage that the idea of freedom of the will is but an occasion of an ignorance of causes. I am unsure even of the personal agency or individual action kernel of my writing on your blog, or even reading k-punks. These categories, by my understanding, are either epistemic constellations for the comfortable critique of beliefs, or lead to essentialized notions of personal freedom. Perhaps you mean something more than this by individual agency, but this is my personal and theoretical experience with the idea.

    Ktismatics: “You mention the “urge for a present dystopia” — is this a symptom you identify as being at least somewhat widespread, Kvond?”

    kvond: Yes, very much I find there to be a dystopian urge. I was not thinking of Christian Fundamentalists, but I could see something there. It was mostly of the Left, Marxists of every stripe (and I have great affection for the impulses of Marxist thinking). There is a very strong sense that oppositional thinking often habitually invests itself in the maintenance of the enemy. For those concerned with salvation, there is a strong need, a perceptual need, to preserve the facts of resistance. Part of this tendency reveals itself in failure to see where the loci of power shift. Yes there is pain, suffering, “alienation”, depression, victimization, but the essentialization of this, the sure, unrelenting cognitive grip of it, prevents one from actually seeing the texture of its affects, the modulations of its change, the way that every prison wall is connected to a mode of power which flows TWO ways (at least). Those who are committed to the wounds of the world, as wounds, often unconsciously work to ingrain that state (I say this of myself as well).

    I asked a very vigorous political activist who I respect quite a bit if there was more injustice in the world today than there was perhaps in the year 1600. She/he struggled with the question for the impulse seemed to be that “yes” had to be the answer. I believe the correct answer is that the question disqualifies itself. I think many of our diagnostic essentializations of others, or of society can be self-disqualified in a related way.

    Comment by kvond — 16 October 2008 @ 8:55 pm

  4. “this is often a self-diagnosis accomplished using the dominant ideology’s handbook.”

    Well I don’t know what to say on this score: alienation is produced by a dominant ideology characterized how? If it’s an ideology that valorizes communalism then yes, everything is blamed on individual isolation. But if the ideology is individualism and the handbook’s diagnosis is isolation, then what’s the individualist’s cure? Deeper isolation? I’d think that an individualistic ideology would regard alienation as an artifact of working in an organization, that the person should jump off that boat and swim with the sharks. The general position I agree with, that diagnosis is always culturally bound. If a given sociohistorical era seems to produce an unexpectedly large bump in a given symptom, then the culture is likely to be at the source either of the problem leading to the symptom or to the conceptual scheme by which the diagnosis is assigned. Either way I’d look to the culture as a likely source of widespread individual phenomena.

    Certainly individuals can consume others, as you suggest, in a persistently futile effort to make themselves whole. Is this an endemic obsession with le petit objet a as per Lacan, or is it characteristic of a particular kind of culture in which others are regarded not as subjects but as objects? I suspect we’re in agreement that culture shapes interpersonal experience to a significant degree, such that if interpersonal relations seem consistently distorted the cause is liable to reside somewhere outside the self. Becoming aware of the unconscious influences of the culture on one’s interpersonal relations would be a worthy project for analysis.

    “I am unsure even of the personal agency or individual action kernel of my writing on your blog, or even reading k-punks.”

    Hmm. So far you’re the only person who’s commented on this post. Either you’ve exercised personal agency, or some constellation of forces has differentially affected your will and no one else’s. Maybe those two statements are indistinguishable. One of the critical features enabling human language usage is the ability of the listener to infer the speaker’s intentionality. Likewise with imitation: the observer infers the other’s intentionality in, say, tool use and imitates the tool-using behavior when he wishes to exercise that same intentionality. I don’t think agency has to constitute some sort of transcendent magic of the human soul, but it is almost uniquely characteristic of how humans interact with the rhizomatic forces traversing them. I’m not sure how important this issue is for the current discussion, but it is interesting.

    “Those who are committed to the wounds of the world, as wounds, often unconsciously work to ingrain that state (I say this of myself as well).”

    Yes I think this is the case. Becoming aware of this tendency would be an object of analysis. And then, to continue the idea, it would be useful to explore how the culture itself might want people to remain committed to perpetuating the wounds, as if they were unalterable by individual or collective activity, or as if they could never be disregarded as unimportant. So in other words, is this repetitive sense of victimization something like a death instinct, or a transference of early childhood castration anxiety, or a means by which those who benefit most from the cultural status quo inhibit resistance among those who really are victimized thereby? Probably the constellation of causes differs by individual, but I think any individual could benefit by doing the exploratory work.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 October 2008 @ 9:55 pm

  5. Another thought regarding agency respecting the original context of this post. Arguably Lacan’s main interest in listening to the symptom is to bring the analysand to a place of becoming-subject. Positioned between the inaccessible Real, the deterministic structuralism of the Symbolic, and the illusory Imaginary there is a void from which a subject might emerge. A subject is someone who IS, but is also someone who DOES — becoming-subject means also becoming-agent. Bruce Fink begins his Lacanian Subject (1995) thusly:

    Lacan presents us with a radically new theory of subjectivity. Unlike most poststructuralists, who seek to deconstruct and dispel the very notion of the human subject, Lacan the psychoanalyst finds the concept of subjectivity indispensible and explores what it means to be a subject, how one comes to be a subject, the conditions responsible for the failure to become a subject…, and the tools at the analyst’s disposal to induce a “precipitation of subjectivity.”

    This is one reason why symptom reduction isn’t a good measure of the effectiveness of Lacanian analysis, or Freudian for that matter. The symptom presents a window to understanding that may open up the possibility of becoming-subject. Freud said it was important to keep the patient symptomatic, since if they got “well” too quickly they’d quit coming and achieve no further gains. It turns out that people undergoing pyschoanalysis experience symptom relief despite the best efforts of the analyst (lol), because the analyst offers a committed attentive conversational partner, which is the common denominator of every form of “talking cure.” Arguably it’s the interpersonal connection more than the expertise or technique that accounts for measurable symptom reduction, as mentioned in the post. So if you’re a committed analyst, establishing this connection with the analysand might actually be counterproductive — it’s partly why the analyst purposely maintains emotional distance from the analysand.

    As a side observation, one could argue that Freud was just selling a product here, creating perpetual demand without ever providing satisfaction. He also said it was important that the patient pay because people regard expensive services as more valuable.

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 October 2008 @ 7:49 am

  6. Ktismatics: “A subject is someone who IS, but is also someone who DOES — becoming-subject means also becoming-agent. Bruce Fink begins his Lacanian Subject.”

    The “problem” with the Lacanian approach is that ever and continually the eruption is understood only against the background of a primary reterritorialization (to use a Deleuzian-Guattarian term)of the human Subject. In such view, the subject becomes a fetishized material, an immune sheet of blankness which is forever suspended, just like a Medieval Soul, in a purgatory of symptomatic keeping. Dante the Lacanian would tell those with eternal wounds to just pick at their scab, and learn how to enjoy it: Soak in the ontological “fact” of perpetual alienation. The result of such a preposited alienation is that the world itself is forced to manifest, perceptually, the continuous and ubiquitous hard edges upon which no one can take a stand, in principle. Just take a look at the world-view of the quixotic and brilliant Zizek. Symptoms abound everywhere, erupting from every surface, Being itself (Being, capital “B”) diseased with scripting sores. A most interesting reading, and surely of value as a mode of criticism, but is this the path to empowered action? It is just for this reason that I agree, reading the symptom (that is literally interpreting it) is not a good measure of the effectiveness of Lacanian analysis. Instead it is the eruption of the world itself as symptomatic, polyglot, omniglot. And it is this proliferation of the symptom, projected upon the capacities of the world, that I believe is a product of the evacuation of the Subject in the first place, the cleared away ground of “becoming” as you say, ever reterritorialized as the Subject, and nothing else.

    Instead, if one is to have a constructive, full-spectrum project of freedom, the eruption upon the field of the subject is to be read as something more than something symptomatic or pathological. Instead it is the very manifest capacities for feeling, the autonomy of conjoined expression that exceeds the subject, and gives key to kinds of bodily union (powers) which are not necessarily in the service of the Subject itself. There is a sense, if one is to grant to Lacanian-Subject-ambitions something of the becoming of Whitehead’s “Superject”, I don’t think it productive to see this becoming solely in terms of an overdetermined (biological, political, legal, gendered, etc.) Subjectivity. If we are to be true to our historical understanding and conceptions of freedom (freedom is something we make), the “Subject” too must be understood as a constructed category, and not an eternal category of transcendent (or Transcendental) Logic. The overcoding of the Subject occludes virtual and real, tidal modes of power expression, for instance the way that affects traverse across bodies and genealogies.

    When k-punk writes [at first quoting Ehrenreich]: “‘The alternative to both is realism — seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news, and being prepared for famine as well as plenty.’ The problem is that this has no purchase on the inherently hyperstitional dynamics of capitalism…”Realism” isn’t an available orientation. Moreover, the loop works both ways: as Robert Shiller pointed out in Irrational Exuberance, booms produce the euphoric psychological states necessary for their own maintenance.”, he is only partly right (insofar as I understand him). The Realism that is available is the realism of affect effects, across bodies. And Antonio Negri asserts in his study of Spinoza “Savage Anomaly”, imaginary relations are both imaginary and yet still constitutive of history. What is available is the kind of realism that embraces the constructive reality of imaginary identifications, the ability to trace affects down across bodies. These autonomous movements of the capacity to feel and act just are not best captured in the primary grid of Subject status. They are often molecular, rather than molar, one might say again in a D&G vein. As such, off-grid affects are not merely eruptions of the repressed, but vehicles of expressive freedom, potentialities of new modes of bodily union. The inflations of belief that “positive thinking” often harness are really full-blown affective try-outs of the capacity to feel, be and do. If these are subject to bubble-bursting, these collapses must be read in a large sense of body reading. If we want to understand this in terms of markets and beliefs, these affective processes of interuption are good to be seen as part of the affect-rich West’s role (organ), as a feeding ground for the emerging markets of China and India. It was not that the West simply was too “unrealistic”, but rather they did not, and do not see how there has been a transfer of power and mechanism (already undergone), where by the West has become an affect pool, a dream people, for the products of an emerging East. (Follow the money, look where the capital has passed to, look at the panic of 1873, not to the crash of 1929). The “positive thinking” of the West is the threshold measure of its dream ethic, the way it has been (self)cultivated to feel (affectate) its way into its future. It is for this reason, I think, that the real determinations, the concrete linkings between bodies accomplished between bodies, need to be traced in this Age.

    When you write, “If establishing this sort of interpersonal relationship can be curative, might not the lack of relationship be causative?”, I think the fullness of what a “relationship” can be considered to be, in terms of the sub- and super- personal, needs to also be thought of as both curative and causative.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 17 October 2008 @ 2:15 pm

  7. Kvond, you’ve got some big thinking going on here, some of which is beyond my ken. I’ll do what I can based on my own train of thought.

    “the subject becomes a fetishized material, an immune sheet of blankness which is forever suspended, just like a Medieval Soul, in a purgatory of symptomatic keeping.”

    To me the reified ego of post-Freudian pop psychology has this fetishistic quality, like some kind of tumescence excreted by the self. Lacan can barely glimpse the subject, which has to arise from the lack or hole at the center and which is constantly occluded or under assault by various false consciousnesses. That’s the main difficulty I have with Lacan, and with structuralism generally: the subject never quite seems to exist. Maybe that’s what your complaint is as well: the impossibility of ever saying I am this or I do that.

    The Deleuze and Guattari version seems to abandon this perpetual quest, encouraging people to get on with it, to let the rhizomatic flows course through them on their creative and destructive paths. But then in D&G’s molecularity I lose the sense of subjective agents, as individuals and in consort, actively shaping or resisting these flows through intentionality and according to standards of excellence. I’m for molecularity in the sense that not every decision or action requires full alignment of the unified subject, that subjectivity constitutes a kind of assembly of tools, each of which is appropriate for performing certain kinds of actions on certain kinds of rhizomes. But the effective agent wields these tools with intent and precision, even if this intentionality isn’t assigned to a central-processing homunculus called the Subject. And there is conscious collaboration among skilled subjects who in common can exert leverage on the flows. This is how organized corporate capitalism earns profits for the owners; it’s not necessary to abandon this sort of collective intentional agency when pursuing more humanistic or socialistic ends.

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 October 2008 @ 3:57 pm

  8. Ktismatics: “To me the reified ego of post-Freudian pop psychology has this fetishistic quality, like some kind of tumescence excreted by the self. Lacan can barely glimpse the subject, which has to arise from the lack or hole at the center and which is constantly occluded or under assault by various false consciousnesses.”

    kvond: And is that not the condition of the “Sublime Body” anywhere that we find it? It can always only be “barely glimpsed”, fleeting out of the corner of the eye. But Lacan has captured it! (I see one of those fantastic Ghost Busters machines, that sucks the ghost into suspension, wedged in a permanent hiatus of surrounding “lack”.) My complaint, I suspect is the opposite side of the coin as the one that you seem to have (though your Fink quotation regarding the Lacanian Subject did not betray your complaint); it is that the “becoming” is conceptually essentialized, the product of which is a world proliferate with symptoms.

    Ktismatics: “But then in D&G’s molecularity I lose the sense of subjective agents, as individuals and in consort, actively shaping or resisting these flows through intentionality and according to standards of excellence.”

    This is the thing. The entire agentized apparatus of the Subject, the very thing that you find very significant, is certainly not refused by D&G analysis. These are molarities, with very really consequences. To regard the Subject as non-existent would be like arguing that Species no longer are effective descriptions just because some biological phenomena are better understood in terms of gene populations, stochastics and feedbacks between species and environment. The Subject indeed exists, (just as Deleuze and Guattari argued that Oedipal complexes historically exist), and it is important to deal with it. What D&G are sensitive to, and what their rhetorical style draws attention to, are the kinds of changes and freedoms that express themselves under-the-radar, so to speak, of Subjectivity. These are not read largely as hidden internal structures or beliefs, but as affective expressions, the capacities for the Subject to feel (which I think makes a very good definition of the soul). Sometimes what the Subject feels disassociates and dissolves the Subject, for the better.

    Ktismatics: “But the effective agent wields these tools with intent and precision, even if this intentionality isn’t assigned to a central-processing homunculus called the Subject.”
    Well, this is the point. Sometimes the subject wields these tools, and sometimes these tools wield the subject. Is the transgender activist “wielding” the affective capacities of a “his” body to feel “woman”? Is the film director Kurasawa “wielding” the tools of depth of field and framing, the facializations, and habitual arm-pit scratches of his Mifune? Or is Kurasawa wielded by these parameters? Would we love Kurasawa if he were merely a weilder? Would the activist be so radical if she were merely a instrumentalist?

    The “agent” is a mode of analysis, a short-hand way for us to condense the imagined affects of someone so that they can identifiable, criticized, domesticated, organized. A very important mode of perception. But this very act of essentialzed perception opens the door of the molecular, for affects to transfer in tides that are not estimatable. Humanistic, or socialistic ends are in my mind a fantasy space designed to quell possibilities of the Body. It is a necessary space, but not the essential, reductive one. When people act as one body, that body is not solely an Idea, but as an idea, it is a complex force of dispositional powers: human, animal, mechanical, informational, topographic. The key to the Deleuze and Guattari approach (with which I don’t always find agreement), is to understand how it already subsumes the potential of Subject-oriented conceptions of agency. One does not want to abandon humanist ends, one only wants to flesh them out, giving them their dimension.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 17 October 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  9. “And is that not the condition of the “Sublime Body” anywhere that we find it? It can always only be “barely glimpsed””

    So your position is that any name applied to the inner human experience constitutes a form of mystification, whether that name is “ego” or “subject” or “self”? Certainly we learn in interpersonal linguistic exchanges what words to use in describing our own or others’ subjectivity, as Donaldson observes. But the fact that we can agree on what to name something also suggests that we agree that there is something there to be named. I absolutely agree that the analysts reify these words they use, as if ego or unconscious or the Imaginary or whatever refer to actual entities which the words represent. So sure, all the psychoanalytic thinkers share this idealistic mystification of the self, even if they divide up the territory very differently from one another.

    “What D&G are sensitive to, and what their rhetorical style draws attention to, are the kinds of changes and freedoms that express themselves under-the-radar, so to speak, of Subjectivity. These are not read largely as hidden internal structures or beliefs, but as affective expressions”

    Yes I too think this is important, that processes of subjectivation are at work beneath awareness. Brain scientists would agree, as would Spinoza and even Jonathan Edwards.A hard-liner like Daniel Dennett might deny any higher-order executive function altogether, regarding decisions and beliefs as just words we assign after the affects and neural firings have propagated their way through the brain. Someone exercising a hermeneutic of suspicion might say that this minimizing of subjective agency is an attempt to dodge responsibility for making a decision to resist the flows of, say, untrammeled capitalism or the exercise of coercive power by those who control the political system. D&G might get a bad rap from the Left in this regard, as do Hardt & Negri, and to a degree I agree with this critique. It’s as if the under-the-radar affects and force fields organize minds and social movements without the active consent or dissent of subjects, as if the multiplex Holy Spirit was shaping the world through the people who occupy it. I understand that D&G propose a “schizoanalysis” for actively de- and reterritorializing the schizzes and flows passing through the self and the socius, but it sounds as if the analysands of this operation are passive recipients of what amounts to a violent operation performed on them from outside by others.

    Don’t get me wrong: I like a lot of what D&G have to say, and I agree in principle with the work of schizoanalysis. But here is where subjectivation has to take shape if anywhere, doesn’t it? — to decide which mental structures to impose on experience, and to act accordingly as a subjective agent in the world. But I don’t propose that subjective agents can, like neocons, or perhaps like hyperstitionists, create material conditions by sheer force of imagination and will. Recognizing that a psychological symptom may be caused by social conditions rather than one’s own inner conflicts isn’t necessarily a more hopeful position, since changing social structures all by oneself or even with a lot of help is a pretty daunting, not to say hopeless, endeavor. This sort of subjectivation based on a clearer view outside the self might not reinforce the can-do optimism of CBT, but at least you might have a better idea of where to point the finger.

    “the “becoming” is conceptually essentialized, the product of which is a world proliferate with symptoms.”

    I’m not persuaded by Lacan’s world of voids and lacks and losses, so it’s not my intent to defend his position. Still, I don’t think Lacan really has much of a picture of what the subject looks like, since he addresses himself mostly to the ordinary human condition in which subjectivation is stunted or warped. Symptoms are what reveal the void from which the unformed subject might or might not emerge, so that the subject is a product of the symptoms rather than vice versa.

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 October 2008 @ 10:50 pm

  10. The discussion started with whether the cause and the cure for psychological symptoms might be found outside the self. I’ve been thinking lately about work symptoms: anxiety, depression, anger, boredom, etc. These symptoms make themselves known as bad affects to those who experience them. I agree with the psychoanalytic tradition in not just focusing on the symptom itself but looking beyond symptom at what the symptom points to or reveals. If we were to follow Deleuze & Guattari, or perhaps even Spinoza, how might the schizoanalyst interpret subjectively-experienced affective symptoms?

    I’d wait to hear your thoughts on this, Kvond, but a couple of ideas come to mind. One, the ego is getting in the way of the immanent flows rather than engaging them actively, or else the ego is too concerned with exerting will to overpower the flows rather than using finesse and leverage to deflect them. The other possibility is that the subject channels certain schizzes and flows which conflict with other schizzes/flows passing by and through the person’s life space. This results in a kind of friction or impasse experienced subjectively as bad affect. Then the subject either has to accede to these more powerful external forces, or he has to concentrate the counterforces more intensively. This intensification might require collective alliance with others who channel the same counterforce in order to achieve any results. I can accept both of these responses to symptoms, and am open to considering others.

    Comment by ktismatics — 18 October 2008 @ 6:05 am

  11. kvond:“And is that not the condition of the “Sublime Body” anywhere that we find it? It can always only be “barely glimpsed””

    ktismatics: So your position is that any name applied to the inner human experience constitutes a form of mystification, whether that name is “ego” or “subject” or “self”?

    kvon: My primary objection falls in two directions. Any essentialization of one’s experience, or of anothers, that is not part of a living actionable attempt to coordinate and feel (fundamentally, to express), is a reification which serves purposes, purposes which need to be studied and critqued. Secondly, in sofar as Lacan attempts to isolate a category of Subject through the imposition of an essential “lack”, he pre-posits in theory the very groundwork assumption that qualifies Desire as a negation, an emptiness, the very ideological framework upon which Capitalism orients its desiring, consuming subjects. By ontologizing lack (for instance Spinoza makes of lack nothing other than an illusion), one is legtimating the very engine of Capitalist, consumerist motivations. The kinds of escape possible become at the very, very most, what Zizek calls, Looking For A New Chicken. Instead, I imagined that here are modes and means of freedom which are not constituted fundamentally by changing “chickens”. [youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtByLzG5PsE ]

    ktismatics: But the fact that we can agree on what to name something also suggests that we agree that there is something there to be named. I absolutely agree that the analysts reify these words they use, as if ego or unconscious or the Imaginary or whatever refer to actual entities which the words represent. So sure, all the psychoanalytic thinkers share this idealistic mystification of the self, even if they divide up the territory very differently from one another.

    kvond: These reifications (if we are not abusing the word) are real. Rorty started his career with the inspired notion that indeed we have Cartesian minds, because historically we have treated the mind as Cartesian (just as Nietzsche claimed that indeed there was a God, because historically we have acted as if there was, only now he had died). The point is not that these reifications of the Self are only illusionary, but that the instutionalized organizations that surround them are concrete conclusions, which serve something more (that is, are caused by, or are immanent to) that simply their objective capacities to treat the subjectivities they create.

    ktismatics: Yes I too think this is important, that processes of subjectivation are at work beneath awareness. Brain scientists would agree, as would Spinoza and even Jonathan Edwards.A hard-liner like Daniel Dennett might deny any higher-order executive function altogether, regarding decisions and beliefs as just words we assign after the affects and neural firings have propagated their way through the brain.

    kvond: I like this list.

    ktismatics: Someone exercising a hermeneutic of suspicion might say that this minimizing of subjective agency is an attempt to dodge responsibility for making a decision to resist the flows of, say, untrammeled capitalism or the exercise of coercive power by those who control the political system.

    kvond: The problem with this suspicion is to look to what it is calling for. There seems to be a need for those that champion the Subject for the Subject to have an essentialized ontological primacy…what historically is an Essence which corresponded to the Christian Soul. Pantheists are glad to grant such an essence, for they then grant it to all other existing things, but this is not what Subjectivists are after. They want the Self to stand over and above all else. Now there are very good reasons to treat the category of the Self in this way, it leads to all sorts of equalizations, but equalizations have a way of generating their binary shadows [I write about this here: http://kvond.wordpress.com/category/patricia-collins/ ]. What I think is that, while keeping an eye upon subject status as an important molar category, if not the most important, one must also keep in mind the microscopic, transboundary flows that communicate in ways that are not Subjectivized, the partialities of subjectivity. When for instance African Americans appropriate the dresswear of rich White Americans through the artwork of Rap, this indeed can be analyzed in terms of subjectivity, fantasy, agentized resistance. But such an analysis would be incomplete if one did not also incorporate the facializations of P. Diddy, the affect transfers first of MTV, and then Youtube, the communications of bodies sub-linguistically.

    ktismatics: D&G might get a bad rap from the Left in this regard, as do Hardt & Negri, and to a degree I agree with this critique. It’s as if the under-the-radar affects and force fields organize minds and social movements without the active consent or dissent of subjects, as if the multiplex Holy Spirit was shaping the world through the people who occupy it. I understand that D&G propose a “schizoanalysis” for actively de- and reterritorializing the schizzes and flows passing through the self and the socius, but it sounds as if the analysands of this operation are passive recipients of what amounts to a violent operation performed on them from outside by others.

    kvond: If I leave off from D&G, and start from Spinoza, the fundamental assumption is that we are far more passive than we believe we are. Commonly we assume that we are acting, when fundamentally we are re-acting. It is really in the differential between these two, acting and re-acting, joy and sadness, that any freedom is negotiated. What establishes freedom of the self is a concrete as possible grasp of the possibilities of Joy, and for Spinoza-lead thinking, this is understanding the composite nature of the Self, internally, and externally. One begins to own one’s passivity. I feel strongly that our ability to essentialize others, as ourselves, plays a great role any salvation project, but such essentialization must be aware of both how essentializing creates shadow binaries, and also, bodily combinations cannot merely be seen as soul-to-soul combinations. They must involve the living incoperations of what is regarded as the material world as well. We assemble not only “souls” (under whatever theoretical, or legal garb), but material capacities.

    ktistmatics: Don’t get me wrong: I like a lot of what D&G have to say, and I agree in principle with the work of schizoanalysis. But here is where subjectivation has to take shape if anywhere, doesn’t it? — to decide which mental structures to impose on experience, and to act accordingly as a subjective agent in the world.

    kvond: I think what is key is to not make primary any one description as the real one. To see upon as many levels as possible. The subject is not an illusion. One must understand it as best as possible in its concrete form.

    ktismatics: But I don’t propose that subjective agents can, like neocons, or perhaps like hyperstitionists, create material conditions by sheer force of imagination and will. Recognizing that a psychological symptom may be caused by social conditions rather than one’s own inner conflicts isn’t necessarily a more hopeful position, since changing social structures all by oneself or even with a lot of help is a pretty daunting, not to say hopeless, endeavor.

    kvond: I don’t know why the analysis should fall either on to the “inside” or the “outside”, but rather it must be found in the nature of their combination (keeping in mind the perspective of one’s own theorizing). “Imagination and will” can surely create new conditions. It is just that those conditions are not usually those imagined to be created, and the failures of imagination, the collapses have to be tallied on the accounting books of Desiring (failure, stoppage, collapse, also has an erotic gain). Don’t think that all those Wallstreeters who “lost” everything did not get a thorough rush in the recent collapse. If you do not believe that, you have met very few gamblers. The incideration of dreams can be part of dreaming. What is foolish is to think that all we have to do is “really wake up”. It is a question of thresholds for me. Instead of looking for a new chicken, as Zizek might hope for, it is an aesthetic decision – what kind of stoppages, intensities, formations, wastes, hopes, are most beauitiful. People don’t really like that kind of answer, the asethetic answer, but it remains a historical pole in any solution that understands freedom to be a human endeavor. We are all painting with bodies.
    ktismatics: I’m not persuaded by Lacan’s world of voids and lacks and losses, so it’s not my intent to defend his position. Still, I don’t think Lacan really has much of a picture of what the subject looks like, since he addresses himself mostly to the ordinary human condition in which subjectivation is stunted or warped. Symptoms are what reveal the void from which the unformed subject might or might not emerge, so that the subject is a product of the symptoms rather than vice versa.

    kvond: okay. My difficulty is in the essentialization of lack, the idea that healthy living is only the proper distance taken from the walls of one’s cell. There is an entire constructive, affective process towards freedom which does not involve the subject at all. Have you ever written a poem, and the last thing on your mind was the “subject”? Have you ever dug a ditch with others and the last thing on your mind was “who” or “what” you were? Have you ever got on a train full of people, and not thought about “I”? Have you tried to repair a broken thing? Now, the interesting thing about these near-subjectless, daily experiences is that such unconsciousness can hide a host of causations which drive you to act how you do, causes to which we might want to awaken. But these causations alone do not constitute these actions. There is also a living expressiveness, a floating border of combined, creative effects that drive us forward, which moment to moment may collapse into subjectvity and reflection, but never are reducible to such. Key I think is to see not only how “who” we are is revelatory, but also how “what” we are is expressive and really in- or hetera- human.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. Your thinking helps me think. I believe this is always the case.

    Comment by kvond — 18 October 2008 @ 2:37 pm

  12. ktismatics: The discussion started with whether the cause and the cure for psychological symptoms might be found outside the self. I’ve been thinking lately about work symptoms: anxiety, depression, anger, boredom, etc. These symptoms make themselves known as bad affects to those who experience them. I agree with the psychoanalytic tradition in not just focusing on the symptom itself but looking beyond symptom at what the symptom points to or reveals. If we were to follow Deleuze & Guattari, or perhaps even Spinoza, how might the schizoanalyst interpret subjectively-experienced affective symptoms?

    kvond: I can speak for a Spinozist approach, and I mention this above. For Spinoza the location of freedom, the vector turn in human action is the kind of affirmations we make. The pursuit of Joy, in all of our imaginary relations, is always an affirmation of the body in relationship to the world. The problem is with the adequacy of our ideas. The fundamentally “passive” relation is that of thinking that one is feeling a certain way is due to, or caused by some object (or state of the world). This mode of inadequate thinking is essentially reactive. And these Sadnesses (and Joys) reflect real, ontological descreases or increases of power. Indeed, anxiety, depression, anger are very real power shifts. For Spinoza the increase in power comes from realizing that “activity” comes from identifying a moment to moment surrender of power which involves a certain kind of blaming (or praising) a certain part of the world, experienced as love and hate. As our mind passes from one thought to another it is being tossed back and forth between fluctuations of power and affect. The path up is to make a constructivized assemblage with your body and all other bodies with which you combine, one that embraces your fundamental passivity. For Spinoza this is a kind of pursuit of ultimate equinimty, for D & G, this process is a bit more charged, more like wave crest riding, where Joy becomes a generative, bodily oriented process.

    ktismatics: I’d wait to hear your thoughts on this, Kvond, but a couple of ideas come to mind. One, the ego is getting in the way of the immanent flows rather than engaging them actively, or else the ego is too concerned with exerting will to overpower the flows rather than using finesse and leverage to deflect them.

    kvond: I think that is a fair attribution to the D&G position. In Spinoza the “ego” is really just a mistaken thought of personal importance, which serves to hide the multiplicty of causes that drive one’s thoughts and actions. The “ego” is a thought of a thought, so to speak. Spinoza wants one to see that the proper “object” of a thought is the state of one’s body. But this is not all. One’s social perceptions in Spinoza are largely made up of the “imitation of affects” the way that we feel the world, and valuate the world through others. In this sense, the true, or concrete aspect of the “ego” is the constitutive affective experiences we share through others, the way that we orient ourselves in terms of power and joy or sadness. This imaginary relation both retards our freedom (it subjects us to passive states), but also helps ground rational combinations that free us from our sadnesses.
    As far as the thought you have about the ego as an overpowering agency, this seems like a productive metaphor. It is a question of thresholds though. I speak of something like this in this post:[ http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/wittgenstein-the-structuring-of-the-ego-and-autopoiesis/ ]. There autopoietic theory, which makes an interesting baseline for thinking about interior and exterior causation, closure and openness, is put to the kinds of distinctions you seem to be making above.

    ktismatics: The other possibility is that the subject channels certain schizzes and flows which conflict with other schizzes/flows passing by and through the person’s life space. This results in a kind of friction or impasse experienced subjectively as bad affect. Then the subject either has to accede to these more powerful external forces, or he has to concentrate the counterforces more intensively. This intensification might require collective alliance with others who channel the same counterforce in order to achieve any results. I can accept both of these responses to symptoms, and am open to considering others.

    kvond: Yes, I like this very much. In fact it turns into an aesthetic question, that is, finding just the right thresholds. Of value when thinking about freedoms in this way is the Theory of Evil put forth by Process Theologists Cobb and Griffin, which I touch on here: http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/a-non-moral-theory-of-evil/

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 18 October 2008 @ 3:06 pm

  13. In post #11 above I mentioned Zizek’s notion of “changing chickens”. This is his use of a joke to describe how ideology works:

    A patient comes to the doctor with a fear that he is a piece of corn, and will be eatten by a giant chicken. The doctor reassures him, “Just look at yourself, you are not a piece of corn at all.” The patient considers this fact for a minute, but then worried says, “Yes, doctor, I realize I’m not a piece of corn, but does the chicken know that!”

    The youtube link I posted above mistakenly did not include a reference to the idea. Here is Zizek’s recent answer to the question of the chicken: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBUoTukZR8w&feature=related (around the 9 minute mark), how we can only hope to just have a different chicken. The entire lecture is worth listening to, and the joke of the chicken is told somewhere within it.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 18 October 2008 @ 8:09 pm

  14. “in sofar as Lacan attempts to isolate a category of Subject through the imposition of an essential “lack”, he pre-posits in theory the very groundwork assumption that qualifies Desire as a negation, an emptiness, the very ideological framework upon which Capitalism orients its desiring, consuming subjects.”

    I agree, but couldn’t the argument be inverted? “Essential lack” is posited as part of the Christian message, and the church mystifies its projects in ways that offer a glimpse of He Who Fills All Lack, i.e., through sacraments, vestments, liturgies, icons, architecture. Capitalism exploits and secularizes this already-reified sense of lack and the medieval mystification circuitry, standardizing the production “and distribution in order to expand the customer base. I’ve long been obsessed with the Stations of the Cross, an iconic series of 14 representations of Jesus’ Via Dolorosa installed in most traditional Catholic churches. This seems like a medieval project, but in fact the Stations didn’t become standardized until something like the 16th century. It’s a bridge to modernity, with virtual pilgrimages to the Holy Land installed in each church. And the praxis of “walking the Stations,” even as it offers this glimpse of plenitude (and time off from Purgatory to boot!), celebrates vicariously the big Loss Event of the faith — so the circuit completes itself in endless cycles of partial abjection and partial fulfillment. This whole circuitry works great in the marketplace.

    Lacan follows Hegel in positing lack and loss at the center of the self, with death as the Ultimate Master. And Hegel is explicitly Christian in his theorization. Hegel is also Lutheran, and Luther’s version of Reformed thinking involved celebrating the “both/and” transcendence of the faith: both saint and sinner, both man and God, both bread/wine and body/blood, etc. So Luther paves the way for the dialectic as well.

    Anyhow, we’re in agreement that the Lacanian metapsychology and praxis of letting symptoms reveal the essential lack/void/loss at the center of the self might lose sight of how the structures and ongoing processes of the external world can induce a sense of psychological lack and loss.

    And Kvond, I watched 9.5 minutes of Zizek video and he never got to the chicken reference. At the end of the video there’s an instruction to go back to the 9 minute 23 second mark on the tape and it will continue, but this failed for me.

    Comment by ktismatics — 19 October 2008 @ 9:27 am

  15. “These reifications (if we are not abusing the word) are real.”

    The difficulty of talking about such things is that all the words are already spoken for, if you will, leaving us with the confusing project of deterritorializing the symbolic order in order carry on the conversation. So Lacan for instance distinguishes “the Real” from “reality,” by which he means roughly the primal raw phenomena versus the structured meaning systems generated within thought and language. So from a social constructionist standpoint the Cartesian self is part of our shared reality, but this reality has an indeterminate relationship to whatever we might regard as the primeval Real of the self before language kicks in. Of course these categories can’t be airtight, since humans are naturally language users. But I don’t think anyone would assert that the human essence “really” evolved into Cartesian dimensions in a biological sense as a consequence of the historical event of Descartes’ cogito formulation. I presume we’re in agreement on this. If, on the other hand, Nietzsche were to say that God isn’t just a socially constructed reality but is “Real” as a consequence of the historical tendency of humankind to regard him as such, then we’ve moved into some realm of idealism that I don’t think we can accurately attribute to him.

    On a related note, though, there’s some empirical evidence from the cognitive developmental literature suggesting that little children are natural dualists, having no difficulty in grasping the idea that someone’s mind can live on even if the body dies or that inanimate minds can achieve purposeful effects in the material world — e.g., that rock rolled down the hill because either the rock itself wanted to or some spirit being wanted it to.

    And now I see that there’s a second installment to the Zizek chicken story. My internet connection kept bogging down while I was trying to watch it so in frustration I shall leave it for later and attend to a few other matters.

    Comment by ktismatics — 19 October 2008 @ 10:43 am

  16. “and start from Spinoza, the fundamental assumption is that we are far more passive than we believe we are. Commonly we assume that we are acting, when fundamentally we are re-acting. It is really in the differential between these two, acting and re-acting, joy and sadness, that any freedom is negotiated. What establishes freedom of the self is a concrete as possible grasp of the possibilities of Joy, and for Spinoza-lead thinking, this is understanding the composite nature of the Self, internally, and externally. One begins to own one’s passivity.”

    I find that I both resonate with and resist this way of seeing the world and my place in it. I frequently find myself propelled on a trajectory in which the eminently possible turns out to be unrealizable, and I wonder if it’s me or the way of the world. It’s in these bivalent intervals that I find myself moving toward fiction, so that these impossible possibilities can at least be documented before they evaporate from experience and memory.

    Comment by ktismatics — 19 October 2008 @ 9:31 pm

  17. For me (and not Spinoza), fictions are repositories of the possibilities of affect, huge resources for future action (and reaction), a kind of prospective, though still real, capacity to act, should things turn otherwise. In a sense, they are what is immanent in a kind of mental DNA. Sometimes these fictions turn out to be too closed, recursive, conservative, some times too flighted. But they are adjunct to the body, mechanisms which give the body its organized polyvalence toward the future. I say this of our personal fictions, and of fiction as an aesthetic category.

    As for what I mean by “real” (as opposed to Lacan), every thought, every articulation of a difference is an actualization and an expression. Real means “has come constitutively come into Being”. Imaginary relations concretize, they determinatively come into being…they are “real”. In this sense, nothing is unreal.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 20 October 2008 @ 11:15 am

  18. I like very much your characterization of fiction, Kvond. A writer who opens up a fictional reality and a reader who enters into it — or even barely glimpses it — must be aware of the actually existing reality but at the same time be psychologically distanced from it. Fiction is iconic or portalic in the sense that it opens up an intersubjective imagined space — sort of like Mercerism in Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, if you’ve read that. To dismiss fictive space as “unreal” is overly dualistic — humans really can imagine, their brain chemistry and neural activations physically change while imagining, etc. Even if a fiction bears little relation with really existing material reality, if it’s analogous to abstract expressionism in painting, such a fictive manifestation can still set up affective and cognitive and imaginative resonances in the reader that are real. “In this sense, nothing is unreal” — very well said.

    Comment by ktismatics — 21 October 2008 @ 6:28 am

  19. Ktismatics,

    It seems that we are of one mind in regards to fiction, (and I like your Philip K. Dick reference, a favorite). It was actually a course on Narratology I recently took, the study of narrative forms, that opened my eyes to the full descriptive capactity of Davidson’s approach (not that the professor had much of a clue of what I was seeing in this). In narrative forms there is a constant toggling between the causal states that produce the expressions of the narration (or narrator), and the fictive world that bears a causal relationship to those expressions. Further, beside this fundamental differential, there is as well the causal interpretations of the author her/himself. How must a world be for a writer to be able to write like that! How must a writer be (what must they be experiencing!) for a writer to be able to write like that? (These same question repeated with the text itself.) These prospective imaginings hold a potentiating force, an real positioning in the world.

    There is an interesting, additional aspect to fictive representation, and it has to do with a primary Nietzschean concern…tempo. My wife the other day mentioned to me that emotion is a faster way of understanding (and communicating) things. This speed of communication (which occurs in representation and expression) plays a large part in the recipe for action, or activity. Timing, like in cooking, is fundamental to sense, I believe.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 21 October 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  20. I agree about this toggling back and forth. The writer is at the same time reading what s/he just wrote, seeing this fictive world from slightly more distance than while writing. The split subject of the author enables a parallax view. I don’t know about you, Kvond, but when writing fiction I often read aloud what I’ve just written, just to hear what it sounds like to my ears as well as seeing what it looks like to my eyes.

    Regarding the faster tempo of emotion, this is an advantage of movies over texts. Rapid sequences of images and sounds cannot be processed fast enough cognitively, but they do register affectively, immersing the viewer/hearer in this alternate reality playing out before them.

    Comment by ktismatics — 22 October 2008 @ 10:26 am

  21. Ktismatics: ” I don’t know about you, Kvond, but when writing fiction I often read aloud what I’ve just written, just to hear what it sounds like to my ears as well as seeing what it looks like to my eyes.”

    kvond: Entirely. It is a matter of music over sense, when reading it back aloud. In fact it is always being sung in round, in my head it seems, one voice over another, over another, as I work through the words.

    Ktismatics: “Regarding the faster tempo of emotion, this is an advantage of movies over texts. Rapid sequences of images and sounds cannot be processed fast enough cognitively, but they do register affectively, immersing the viewer/hearer in this alternate reality playing out before them.”

    kvond: I think this difference is over estimated sometimes. Granted the “cut” in film is an ineffable effect, one that can be accelerated to an incredible degree, but this effect is still spatio-temporal. I would want to tell people that words are musical, and their notes can be played with terrific nuance and rapidity. The kinds of cognitive effects that surpass consciousnes in visual display are I think paralleled by a number of multitudinous effects in the very sonic texture of words, let alone their sense-making connotations. The speed of these cross cuttings is more than one might suspect as the mind makes its own time-defying “cuts” in an adventure of interpretation. Just read John Donne’s “Valediction Forbidding Mourning” or the opening page of Nabokov’s Lolita. My feeling is that in interpreting poetry or prose, the “alternate reality” which is causing the words is continuously being fabricated, and playing itself out. This is not to say that there is no difference in these mediums, there is. Among important ones, a reader has, at this point in technology, much greater effect on the temporality of the medium, than does a film-goer. But the differences between them are not so much ones of advantage and disadvantage. I suppose it is much easier to produce a richer effect in film – even a running camera upon the most banal eroticizes – but at their heights, I see the two arts much closer than I think is regularly presumed.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 22 October 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  22. I find that many contemporary American novels read as if their authors hope Hollywood will pick up the screen rights — lots of action in physically depictable spaces, lots of dialogue. The invention of photography forced portrait painters either to get a regular job or create some other kind of art. I think fiction writers face the same fate or opportunity: write what can’t be done better by a movie.

    Comment by ktismatics — 23 October 2008 @ 7:19 am

  23. “I find that many contemporary American novels read as if their authors hope Hollywood will pick up the screen rights — lots of action in physically depictable spaces, lots of dialogue.”

    I wonder if that’s so much “hope” as it is a symptom of how we think. Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, while pretty sloppy, is a pretty decent example of this.

    Comment by Seyfried — 23 October 2008 @ 8:57 am

  24. Ktismatics,

    I think it cuts two ways. In the 19th century, perhaps the greatest century of the novel, there were tons of trash fiction being written, and almost none of the “best sellers” are remembered. It is very hard to assess the historical worth of a work of art in its day and age, even the majority the most critically acclaimed works of fiction from the past have been utterly forgotten.

    As far as Hollywood’s effect on fiction, I can see what you are saying, but cinema has also brought to the possibilities of fiction, the camera’d, floating form, which would not demand the more genre-bound organizations of plot. This frees up the language to do other things, different things. I have not read your fiction yet, but I suspect that your love of film (which cannot be separated out from the commercial products of the industry) has invaded your own fiction style, the way that you grasp and organize images, textures, narrations. I know this for myself, at the very least. I write cinematically, in sound and sense. This is only partly what can’t be done “better by a movie”.

    Seyfried,

    I have in mind Peter Matheson’s remarkable novel Far Tortuga, which is written almost exactly like a screenplay without any hope or intention to make it into a film. And there is Arthur C. Clarke’s experiences of writing BOTH the novel and the screenplay of 2001: A Space Odyssey, at the same time, in a kind of dialectical process, in which each form informed the other. And then we have Nabokov’s unshootable, but by Kubrick’s telling, greatest screenplay ever written, “Lolita”, where the novelistic form invades the format, as a kind of artifact. I think that there is cross-pollination between forms. I have not read McCarthy’s novel. I would not say “symptom” only because the word invokes the pathological, but an “expression”, yes. By and large, as I see art forms effect each other, I genuinely see possibilities. Is Gravity’s Rainbow the greatest load of crap, or the most brilliant exercise of fictive imagination in the later part of the century? In either case, it could not have been done without cinema.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 23 October 2008 @ 1:00 pm

  25. So, briefly, linking this discussion of fiction and the sort of post-humanistic concept of agency espoused by Spinoza and Deleuze & Guattari back to the original context of this post, k-punk said this:

    in the markets, it’s not possible to separate out beliefs from their objects. Beliefs don’t register the true or falsity of propositions; rather, in the classic hyperstitional self-fulfilling loop, beliefs themselves determine value (and its destruction, as this meta-warning in The Economist points out). “Realism” isn’t an available orientation. Moreover, the loop works both ways: as Robert Shiller pointed out in Irrational Exuberance, booms produce the euphoric psychological states necessary for their own maintenance.

    The imaginings of novelists, speculators in derivatives markets, political ideologues, marketeers, etc. — rather than presenting realities alternative to the really existing reality we all live in, do these fictionalists initialize these alternate realities’ material realization in the world? This is the basic premise of hyperstition, I think: that socially constructed ideas about reality actually create reality “on the ground.” This sort of blurring of mind and matter, especially with a disavowal of intentional human agency, introduces something strange and, to my mind, ominous onto the stage.

    Comment by ktismatics — 24 October 2008 @ 6:16 am

  26. Ktismatics: “This sort of blurring of mind and matter, especially with a disavowal of intentional human agency, introduces something strange and, to my mind, ominous onto the stage.”

    kvond: Yes, at first it appears a blurring I think, because we are so used to privledging mind over matter.Any adjustment of this often hidden Cartesian assumption suddenly confuses what was historically distinct. What Spinoza wants to do is affirm fully the status of the material, without dialectic. In a sense, he wanted to materialize spirit, and spiritualize matter. All thoughts, however abstracted, flighted or fanciful, are still material expressions. And all material acts, are mental. Key though is that one still needs a vector of discernment. For Spinoza this ultimately is the differential between Joy and Sadness. Deleuze and Guattari apply an Nietzschean love for the Body (among other things) to this general grammar of analysis, making the vitalism I think, out of our mental constructs.

    I like your emphasis upon the disavowel of human agency, because it is truly significant. So much is tied conceptually to the subject in philosophy and sociology, that to untie that “knot” enables a wealth of analytical capabilities.

    I remember reading Warren Montag on Spinoza, and he wanted to point out that if you really take Spinoza at his word, his work, the Ethics, as a text, as to be understood not only as a series of ideas, but also as a material thing (something like a potion, a pharmakon perhaps), with which the human body material interacts. Even a text is a body.

    You may find my Spinoza-lead thoughts on Marx and feminist Patricia Collins of interest:
    http://kvond.wordpress.com/category/patricia-collins/

    I enjoy your thoughts and weblog.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 25 October 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  27. Thanks Kvond, I appreciate your engagement and insights, as well as your Spinozan knowledge.

    I believe I can regard the mind in material terms; it’s the inverse of that operation, the spiritualizing of matter, that weirds me out, but of course I’m not alone in my resistance to vitalism. I’m interested in the “vector of discernment” — presumably this discernment affects which other immanent vectors you cooperate with or resist as it passes by or through you. The joy/sadness dialectic is what Lacan collapses into jouissance, wouldn’t you say? His position is to reconcile yourself to the truth that no pure joy is attainable; that every affect carries with it its own repressed opposite, and allowing the opposite to speak is part of the “cure.” I’m not sure about this, but I’d guess that for Lacan the vector of discernment is a matter of intensity: how strong an affect do you experience in this particular encounter or situation? Again, I’m not embracing Lacan here — just trying to understand him vis-a-vis Spinoza.

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 October 2008 @ 9:06 am

  28. Returning also to the idea of socioeconomic symptoms, it sounds as though Spinoza would acknowledge the importance of the affective response induced by a material situation as a relevant guide in discerning whether it’s better to cooperate with that situation or to resist it. So if your job (or lack of it) makes you sad, that’s telling you something not just about your sadness but its source. If so then this seems more in line with how I view things: not that I LET the situation make me sad, and if I just exercise some mind over matter I can see things differently and feel differently, but rather that the situation itself is the source of my sadness. But then we get to the Spinozan passivity versus Western pragmatic interventionism: can I make a sad situation happy by exerting my/our will, or do I just have to learn to deal? This I suppose is where Lacan offers balm to the passive: even if you changed the situation you wouldn’t necessarily feel any better, because every circumstance is intrinsically bivalent, both joyous and sorrowful in its psychological affordances.

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 October 2008 @ 9:22 am

  29. Lots of interesting points here.

    Ktismatics: “I believe I can regard the mind in material terms; it’s the inverse of that operation, the spiritualizing of matter, that weirds me out, but of course I’m not alone in my resistance to vitalism.

    kvond: The love for the materialization of the mind is quite ubiquitous, but it has a conceptual shadow that follows it, and it seldom acknowledged as its cohort. As much as the materialism of science appears to have dispelled Christian dogma, the metaphysical acceptance of materialism it quite often inherits the “subject”, the ghostly kernel of the Self, the soul still traveling. This is certainly evident in Lacan, who organizes everything around the subject. This essentialization of the Self (even so displaced as Lacan tries to make it, even upon the Symbolic Level) weirds me out even more than vitalism. Vitalism for me is nothing more than taking hold of power as it is expressed in all of its dynamics, right on down the material line, from animals to molecules. It is my sense that resistance to vitalism is not so much a complaint about “putting the soul into everything” as it is decentralizing the Subject (in particular a European Christianized inheritance). Even Lacan’s decentered subject is central. Vitalism is simply following the affects where they lead, and I believe this is a primary epistemological process (leaving aside the question of ontology).

    Ktismatics: I’m interested in the “vector of discernment” — presumably this discernment affects which other immanent vectors you cooperate with or resist as it passes by or through you. The joy/sadness dialectic is what Lacan collapses into jouissance, wouldn’t you say?

    kvond: For Spinoza, Joy and Sadness are steering points of real ontological shifts in power. One discernibly turns towards Joy and away from Sadness with greater and greater efficacy as the adequacy of your ideas increases (the better you understand the causes of your own mental states and emotions). But there is no room for the Death Drive in Spinoza, and what Lacanians make of jouissance (the pleasure that is almost a pain) at first blush also seems to have no place in Spinoza. But this is tricky, for Deleuze (and Guattari) who many feel distort Spinoza recklessly, read Spinoza in terms of a jouissance, when they graft their concept of the Body Without Organs upon him. This is an interesting thing that they have done (at least in a thousand plateaus)

    Ktismatics: His position is to reconcile yourself to the truth that no pure joy is attainable; that every affect carries with it its own repressed opposite, and allowing the opposite to speak is part of the “cure.”

    kvond: The counterpart to this in Spinoza may be that ultimately moving to a fully active state (Joy), completely out of a passive-reactive state, is understood to be impossible. There is a necessary surrender to the fact that we are tossed about by both events in the world (which have causal effect on us we simply do not, and cannot understand), and the ideas, emotions, thoughts, that those events produce. We can only hope to continually be making transitions from lesser, passive states to greater more active states. But this is not the concession that Lacan asks for. He wants us to “bit the bullet” and enjoy our symptom, to feel the excess that traverses and manifests itself in whatever sore or lesion. One could say that Spinoza IS doing what Lacan suggests, only at an incredibly blown-out level. He occupies, ideally the position of the “mystic”, perversely the petit object a in the mouth of great overarching Subjectivity. I think that such a reduction is mistaken, for what marks Spinoza out from Lacan is not so much the analytical potential, as the constructive potential of the positions, what one does with the understanding. What Deleuze (and Guattari) were good at extracting from Spinoza were the ways that salvation can be seen as an assemblage process, one that fundamentally occurs by bringing bodies, biotic and seemingly abiotic, together. And what joins bodies are affects and ideas. The discernment of Spinoza is the way that the path to Joy (never reached, because the path itself is increase) can be articulately constructed, modularly…body by body.

    kvond: I’m not sure about this, but I’d guess that for Lacan the vector of discernment is a matter of intensity: how strong an affect do you experience in this particular encounter or situation? Again, I’m not embracing Lacan here — just trying to understand him vis-a-vis Spinoza.

    Ktismatics: An interesting thought, such a reading provides some parallel in the Deleuze version of Spinoza, because Deleuze wants to speak in terms of intensity. If “intensity” can be read in terms of body-in-relation, I can see a vectoral discernment. Such a thought has interesting parallels to Cobb and Griffin’s non-moral definition of Evil, the oscillation between discord and unnecessary triviality. [I talk about it some here : http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/a-non-moral-theory-of-evil/ ]. This specifically involves a definition of intensity which seems in keeping with Spinoza’s aims.

    It is well known that Spinoza influenced Lacan heavily. There is a battle in Lacan between Spinoza and Hegel, and the division really trades upon the reality of the Negation, and thus the centrality of the Subject. Lack is ontologically imposed, and the subject is selected out, starting from Hegel. Spinoza fundamentally reads this lack as an illusion [some thoughts on this here: http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/spinozas-letter-50-to-blyenbergh-negation-and-the-unseeing-stone/ ]. The blind man is ultimately no more deprived of seeing than a stone is. Now is this embrace of the blind man an imaginary construction, one that has repressed the ontology of the Subject, the fundamental necessity of Lack as an operational process? That may be one way of seeing. (In the fantasied union of the blind man and the stone, each unseeing, each are afforded a suspension in one Great Floating sea of Nature, a return to the ultimate (M)other.) But Spinoza’s position is something more than this. In making lack something of an illusion he is providing a constructivist program, one that reads both the blindman and the stone each in terms of their concrete capacities to combine with each other. This is not a fantasy space, that which joins them sightlessly, but the real possibilities of thinking and doing.

    For me Lacan fell on the wrong side of the Spinoza/Hegel divide, the side that privileges both the essentialized Subject, and isolates that subject in terms of the possibilities of freedom and Joy. There are in Freud only different ways to walk with a pebble in your shoe. Is this really the full prospect of material freedom?

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 27 October 2008 @ 11:20 am

  30. As an overview, it may be interesting to take a look at what Marx would look like without Hegel, (a good summary: http://eserver.org/clogic/2-1/holland.html ). Althusser, under the influence of Lacan, wanted to use Spinoza as the ultimate de-mystifier of Marx, and there is an entire school of thinkers than productively followed him in this (Macherey, Montag, Negri, Lloyd and Gatens, etc).

    Ktismatics: Returning also to the idea of socioeconomic symptoms, it sounds as though Spinoza would acknowledge the importance of the affective response induced by a material situation as a relevant guide in discerning whether it’s better to cooperate with that situation or to resist it. So if your job (or lack of it) makes you sad, that’s telling you something not just about your sadness but its source.

    kvond: The entire key to Spinoza is understanding the causes of an emotion. And there are two fundamental causes, those external, and those internal. The first step in unraveling sadness is understanding that even though there are events in the world that seem to make you sad (make you passive, unexpressive), the investments of hate or anger upon them (and even love and desire) are fundamentally passive reactions. At ground, it is not them that are disempowering you, but rather the ideas you hold about those events. Disentangling this essential victim mind-set (following the constellations of thought patterns, those that propel you from one thing to another) is the first stage of freedom in Spinoza. The second stage is getting a grasp on your material conditions, the real, concrete possibilities you have for action which are really the manner in which you can increase your material capacity to act. Spinoza wants us to concentrate on the body. Any increase in the number of ways the body can act upon or be acted upon by other bodies is an increase in the capacity to think and therefore do. Such a project requires heavy critique of dominant ideologies I would think because ideologies are structured around the mystification of material capacities, the organization of bodies. And lastly, the project begins (revolution begins, you could say) right now, this very moment in the critique of your own mind, and the increase in your own body’s relationship to other bodies. Build, ground-up, increases in the number of ways your body can be affected and can affect others. If you don’t like you job (in the contemporary, middle class sense), barring quite acute circumstances, probably the most elementary, radical advise would be to volunteer, that is build affective bodies of action without an essential notion of lack.

    Ktismatics: If so then this seems more in line with how I view things: not that I LET the situation make me sad, and if I just exercise some mind over matter I can see things differently and feel differently, but rather that the situation itself is the source of my sadness.

    kvond: Yes, it is first, mind over mind, then body over body.

    Ktismatics: But then we get to the Spinozan passivity versus Western pragmatic interventionism: can I make a sad situation happy by exerting my/our will, or do I just have to learn to deal?

    kvond: I find Spinoza’s approach incredibly pragmatic. In fact Deleuze’s short book on Spinoza is called “Spinoza: Practical Philosophy”. Spinoza’s thought is really about the pragmatism of sadness, how sadness practically limits us. There is an Eastern proverb, I believe Buddhist, something like, one can either cover the whole world with leather, or one can buy a pair of shoes. One supposes as well that one can build up the calluses of your feet. The interesting thing about Spinoza’s approach, it begins with the altering of your mind (wearing shoes, so to speak), but then it leads to a pragmatic engagement with the world. Once you can walk, walking takes you places, and the soles of your feet respond to the soles of the world.

    Ktismatics: This I suppose is where Lacan offers balm to the passive: even if you changed the situation you wouldn’t necessarily feel any better, because every circumstance is intrinsically bivalent, both joyous and sorrowful in its psychological affordances.

    kvond: This is my greatest problem with Lacanian “hope”. A Spinozist too would embrace the continuous presence of joy and sorrow, but it is not a prisonhouse of the mind. Each and every moment offers a turn towards a slightly more joyful, slightly more free, slightly more perfect state. This is not Pollyanna. It is real differentials towards freedom.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 27 October 2008 @ 12:01 pm

  31. Eventually I’ll want to return to the issue of subjectively-experienced symptoms, what they “say” to the person experiencing them, and what might be done about them. But my sense is this conversation sort of expands and contracts as it goes along, consolidating on certain trajectories while at the same time opening new ones. So…

    “As much as the materialism of science appears to have dispelled Christian dogma, the metaphysical acceptance of materialism it quite often inherits the “subject”, the ghostly kernel of the Self, the soul still traveling.”

    If we’re strict structuralists we’d contend that “subject” is meaningful only within language, that the word has no necessary referent in the real world. It’s especially difficult to pin down the real of “subject” when information about it is, well, subjective — internally experienced by the subject him-/herself, and available for others’ inspection only through the subject’s self-referential speech. The Christians followed the Greeks in valorizing the inner witness, the sense that the self communes with the Ideal through the inner and most perfect spiritual self. Descartes followed in this tradition, as did the German idealists and the Romantics. Analytical psychology walked down this long and storied path, developing theories and techniques for probing and expanding the “soul.” Empiricism went more or less the other way, as has most of the history of academic psychology. Guys like Freud and Lacan hold no place at all in academic psychology; they’re studied by philosophers and cultural theorists and clinicians but not by researchers. This is my academic background, so my first encounter with the analysts was like talking with ambassadors from a distant and very foreign land. It wasn’t until about forty years ago that empirical psych research began investigating intersubjectively observable evidence related to subjectivity: personality, cognition, affect, beliefs, decision-making, etc. This work brings the traditionally sacrosanct and spiritualized essentialism of “subject” into the empirical mainstream. There’s not question that the language describing subjectivity retains its mystical baggage, but then all language is already “spoken for” before you or I get to use it. This is where we need to invoke a pragmatic hermeneutic rather than an representational one; e.g., the word “subject” is useful for talking about something together rather than capturing its essence.

    “Vitalism for me is nothing more than taking hold of power as it is expressed in all of its dynamics, right on down the material line, from animals to molecules. It is my sense that resistance to vitalism is not so much a complaint about “putting the soul into everything” as it is decentralizing the Subject”

    Here’s my problem with this idea, Kvond. A vitalist might assert that water and cold temperature exert mutual subjectivity on one another, as if the cold “wants” to make the water freeze and the water “wants” to freeze in the presence of the cold. Or the vitalist asserts that a sunflower plant exercises subjectivity by aiming its flower toward the sun, and maybe also that the sun is acting as subject by shining on all the sunflower plants on the planet, causing them to direct themselves toward the light. All the way up to humans it’s possible to decentralize subjectivity, even to dehumanize it by locating forces of subjectivation in the environment or the culture rather than in the self. I don’t doubt that evolutionarily acquired instincts, accumulated experiences, distributed neural firings, social structures like language and power, and environmental affordances all have influence on the individual human being, all function as subjects of which the individual is but an object. In this regard humans are like any other creature, or for that matter any other inanimate thing. But, individual humans can do things that other creatures and things cannot. Whether these unique features of our species make us better or more divine is beside the point. One could justify cultivating these uniquenesses on any number of grounds: pragmatic, ethical, epistemological, even aesthetic. I grant that the uniqueness of human subjectivity emerges from impersonal material forces and that it’s only a thin sliver of capability strapped onto an ordinary animal platform. But the distinctly human aspects of subjectivation are different; they have given humans a unique way of adapting to the world and of making the world adapt to them; they do make possible the individual and collective human projects related to truth, beauty and justice. There’s a tendency to get carried away, to think that the human subject can do anything, overcome all physics and biology, transcend to divine status. I’d rather move incrementally, advance the ball an inch at a time, try to keep it from rolling back again.

    End of sermon. And I’ve only gotten a short way through your last comments, so I’ll have to return later.

    Comment by ktismatics — 29 October 2008 @ 5:30 am

  32. “One discernibly turns towards Joy and away from Sadness with greater and greater efficacy as the adequacy of your ideas increases (the better you understand the causes of your own mental states and emotions).”

    Do you mean that the better your ideas the more joyful you become? Correlatively, are people with inadequate ideas less joyful as a consequence? The parenthetical clause suggests that Spinoza is a forerunner of insight therapy, where clearer thought itself produces better affect. CBT too attempts to cultivate more rational thought, which is efficacious in that it recommends more rational behaviors, which in turn transform the conditions causing the bad affect. Neither approach is patently ridiculous, and we often attempt to think our way out of bad situations and bad feelings. On the other hand there are those seemingly intractable situations where clearer thinking may transform sadness into a more profound despair.

    Curiously enough, old-fashioned behaviorism relies on a less centered subjectivity, where changes in behavior patterns and even neural association reticula can alter affect by bypassing conscious cognition altogether. Therapies that rely on transforming the unconscious for achieving emotional change are similar to behaviorism in this regard. Just thinking along with the ideas here…

    Comment by ktismatics — 29 October 2008 @ 10:51 am

  33. “There is a battle in Lacan between Spinoza and Hegel, and the division really trades upon the reality of the Negation, and thus the centrality of the Subject. Lack is ontologically imposed, and the subject is selected out, starting from Hegel. Spinoza fundamentally reads this lack as an illusion”

    Yes, Kvond, I read Lacan’s lack/loss/void via Hegel as well. Presumably Spinoza is operating in a world of plenitude, which characterizes the contemporary immanentists as well with their multitudes and their schizzes/flows. Lacan would center the subject, but its core or essence is always this lack. From an immanent standpoint subjectivation is always full but not centered. This becomes the challenge from my standpoint: to recognize that some intensification of subjectivity and agency accretes in the human, qualitatively different from its appearance anywhere else in our corner of the universe because it involves things like intentionality and reflexivity.

    What about Spinoza versus Hegel on the issue of subject/object? I guess Hegel starts from alienation of these two positions and moves toward unification via the movement of the spirit toward the end of history. But Spinoza… he starts from the unity of subject and object, with their alienation being a sort of false consciousness? And for Spinoza is there pragmatic value in separating subject from object in order to act in the world, or is it only the integral subject-object connection that makes efficacious action possible?

    Comment by ktismatics — 29 October 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  34. “The blind man is ultimately no more deprived of seeing than a stone is.”

    I read your post on Spinoza’s assertion, Kvond, and I find it problematic. There’s a contemporary empowerment ethos whereby many blind people renounce being labeled handicapped and assert their equality and their difference rather than their deprivation. I suppose this attitude keeps one from feeling either inferior or resentful of one’s fate, since there really is nothing to be done about it and one must live one’s life after all. It should be noted, however, that scientists are working on neural overrides that may offer an alternative mechanism by which the blind really might “see” in the sense of being able to detect edges, shapes, contours, etc. without having to touch them.

    There are also obvious politically-charged objections to Spinoza’s acquiescence to the status quo — slaves, the militarily subjugated, the desperately poor, etc. For these people to be sad would in (my limited understanding of) Spinoza’s philosophy be regarded as a symptom not of their bad circumstances but of their bad thinking. I’d think a better scheme would be to listen to the affective symptom, trace it to the situational symptom, then work with something like resolute joy to change the situation.

    Comment by ktismatics — 29 October 2008 @ 4:27 pm

  35. Ktismatics: “There are also obvious politically-charged objections to Spinoza’s acquiescence to the status quo”

    kvond: It saddens me that I have explained Spinoza’s position so poorly that this is what you have taken from it. Instead of any acquiescence, there is radical revolution available at any moment, turning upon every degree of possible freedom. Under Spinoza’s view, you have the right to act in anyway that you are capable of acting, by whatever means that avail you. Just because you are blind at moment does not mean that you should be blind in the NEXT. But to forever lament/resent your blindness is to fall into a difficult, and sadness-producing trap.

    Your example of possible cures for blindness that you imagine that Spinoza would somehow object to are ironic if read against Spinoza own very material, nearly daily practice in optics. Spinoza was a maker of both microscopes and telescopes, producing calculations and grinding lenses at really the cutting edge of technical sciences in his age. His discussions and friendship with Christiaan Huygens for instance reflects the utmost concern for methods on how to improve the capacities of the human eye. It is Spinoza’s point that we should to absolute everything to improve our capacities…but we need not be saddened in order to do so.

    As I have said, the FIRST movement is the criticism of one’s own states of mind, the SECOND is a pragmatic governance over the circumstances that determine your status, bringing to bear every means possible to effect those circumstances. There is in Spinoza a mutuality of determinations, both internal (the ideas we possess), and external (the effects of ideas and bodies outside of us).

    As far as symptom-reading as the primary path to both health and freedom to be honest I suppose that would put quite a bit of importance on the class of persons identified as “symptom readers”, often an ever mediating group of educated elite who cannot but help perpetuate the very schema that centralizes their importance (however well-intentioned)…I mean no offense, though I say this knowing that you to be a professional symptom-reader. Illnesses are theoretically hypostated which by definition have “no cure”…doctors, doctors everywhere, and not a drop to drink. That is a status-quo embrace far beyond any Spinoza would recommend, what you described as the “balm” of Lacan, writing with what seemed like approval: “even if you changed the situation you wouldn’t necessarily feel any better”. This is status-quo embrace par excellence.

    [at least that is my sense of symptom-reading as a PRIMARY path to mental health and political freedom; that is not to say that notions of the repressed, or jouissance investment are not valuable modes of analysis].

    Again, sorry that I have done such a poor job advocating Spinoza’s position, but I do find your thoughts and questions productive.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 30 October 2008 @ 4:36 pm

  36. Ktismatics: “What about Spinoza versus Hegel on the issue of subject/object?”

    Spinoza is privileged to have entered history a generation after the Cartesian split of the Mind and the Body (and with it, its analogous, Subject/Object), at the time having standing as one of the foremost experts on Descartes in Europe. And from this position offered a radical correction to this split that in my view undermines many if not all of the Mind/Body, Subject/Object preoccupations of philosophy since Descartes.

    Perhaps this brief description of the importance of Spinoza offers food for thought:

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/09/20/why-spinoza/

    Comment by kvond — 30 October 2008 @ 4:43 pm

  37. Ktismatics: “And for Spinoza is there pragmatic value in separating subject from object in order to act in the world, or is it only the integral subject-object connection that makes efficacious action possible?

    kvond: I think the answer to this is that only in the unity of the subject/object is one able to pragmatically measure ones position in the causes and effects in the world, and thereby plot out the paths to mental and physical freedom. These paths for Spinoza are invariably paths of material and mental assemblage, the unifying of groups of bodies and ideas in modes of action. All of this in my mind presents a cybernetic view of humanity, one that is entirely environmental.

    Comment by kvond — 30 October 2008 @ 4:50 pm

  38. “It saddens me that I have explained Spinoza’s position so poorly that this is what you have taken from it.”

    Just don’t STAY sad, Kvond. I too am sad for missing the Spinozan crux, of which I wouldn’t be so ignorant if I’d bother reading Spinoza or some of your own posts. But I’m heartened by your further elaborations that there is a convergence of trajectories. I had no idea that Spinoza was also a lens-grinder, which certainly adds another register of meaning to his position.

    “But to forever lament/resent your blindness is to fall into a difficult, and sadness-producing trap.”

    Righto. How does that Reinhold Niebuhr prayer go? — “God give me the serenity to accept things which cannot be changed; give me courage to change things which must be changed; and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.” I don’t think we’re descending into CBT here, in part because CBT focuses more on changing the affective symptom than on what the symptom is saying. So for CBT the success of an intervention is measured by reduction in sadness; in Spinozotherapy getting past the sadness gives you the renewed energy and joy to take on the hard task of what lies behind the sadness.

    “As I have said…”

    I mentioned to a Lacanian associate that part of the jouissance of knowing a lot about something is this frustration of repeatedly explaining things to people who don’t know it. Thanks for your patience though, Kvond: it’s starting to sink in. I’ll be back.

    Comment by ktismatics — 31 October 2008 @ 3:05 pm

  39. Ktismatics,

    The spirit of the Reinhold Niebuhr prayer is captured in part by a “prayer” of sorts Spinoza wrote in the Ethics:

    “But human power is extremely limited, and is infinitely surpassed by the power of external causes; we have not, therefore, an absolute power of shaping to our use those things which are without us. Nevertheless, we shall bear with an equal mind all that happens to us in contravention to the claims of our own advantage, so long as we are conscious, that we have done our duty, and that the power which we possess is not sufficient to enable us to protect ourselves completely; remembering that we are a part of universal nature, and that we follow her order. If we have a clear and distinct understanding of this, that part of our nature which is defined by intelligence, in other words the better part of ourselves, will assuredly acquiesce in what befalls us, and in such acquiescence will endeavor to persist. For, in so far as we are intelligent beings, we cannot desire anything save that which is necessary, nor yield absolute acquiescence to anything, save to that which is true: wherefore, in so far as we have a right understanding of these things, the endeavor of the better part of ourselves is in harmony with the order of nature as a whole. E4 Appendix 32

    This grasps the serenity of mind issue, that we must accept whatever condition that has already befallen us is determined. But to fully see the Niebuhr prayer one must see that Spinoza’s turn to the intellect is a turn toward the empowerment one has when one understands how things works. By understanding the causes of things, we become relatively free from them, less reactive to them. The equanimity of Mind is the path to freedom for him, not only because it allows us to embrace our limitations, but because in knowing our limitations we gain access to our strengths.

    As for Spinoza being a lens-grinder (and a maker of optical instruments), this has been the focus of my recent research, for it has be a dramatically under considered fact of his life. Almost no one has placed his philosophy in rigorous juxaposition to his optical endeavors. I actually plan an article for “Cabinet” magazine on this subject, hopefully one which would bring forth some of these vital connections.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 31 October 2008 @ 6:46 pm

  40. There’s a little segment in the first novel I wrote: “Most of us prefer to operate within that narrow channel where will and power prevail. There’s a strong current, so it’s impossible to make anything more than the slightest course adjustments once you’re pointed downstream.” This is the channel in which CBT or coaching can be effective, but there’s a whole ocean where these maneuvers just don’t do much good. Spinoza seems to be exploring those broader waters, but I have to confess I’m still not clear on his praxis. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

    There are immanent forces in the world, subjectivizing forces that have effects on people’s circumstances, decisions, beliefs, actions, emotions. The joy/sadness axis becomes the basis for discerning which forces to cooperate with or to resist. So… when you experience sadness, you should recognize consciously that this particular affect is locking you into a mindset of regret and resentment and futility, that the sadness is overwhelming your will and power. And then you say with respect to feelings of sadness:

    “the investments of hate or anger upon them (and even love and desire) are fundamentally passive reactions. At ground, it is not them that are disempowering you, but rather the ideas you hold about those events. Disentangling this essential victim mind-set (following the constellations of thought patterns, those that propel you from one thing to another) is the first stage of freedom in Spinoza.”

    So when you step back consciously from your sadness and interpret it as this sort of enervating impulse, you are then able to set the sadness aside and act resolutely? And in order to overcome this enervating affect, which after all is an immanent subjectivating force working through you, you have to think your way out of the affect, out of the immanence? Isn’t this like the guiding spirit of the Enlightenment? This spirit is reflected in your Spinoza quote: …that part of our nature which is defined by intelligence, in other words the better part of ourselves and …nor yield absolute acquiescence to anything, save to that which is true.

    Then you say:

    “The second stage is getting a grasp on your material conditions, the real, concrete possibilities you have for action which are really the manner in which you can increase your material capacity to act. Spinoza wants us to concentrate on the body. Any increase in the number of ways the body can act upon or be acted upon by other bodies is an increase in the capacity to think and therefore do.”

    In what way is this different from asking “what are your options?” Again, a very rational approach to getting yourself out of a bad situation, which sounds like the sort of advice most people you know would offer, don’t you think? Just recognizing there are other courses than continuation of the present unacceptable one helps free your mind and your body.

    I don’t mean to be dense or overly critical, Kvond. This is the place where immanentist logics throw me. It seems that the choices are either to accede to the flows, and I’m thinking here of Reich and Lyotard as exemplars of this libidinal surfing, or to interrupt and redirect the flows through the conscious exercise of subjective agency. The think is, I’m rather a fan of subjective agency. I too would like to regard emotions as symptoms to be listened to, understood, acted upon where possible, rather than as the source, means, and objective of human life.

    So maybe we’re in accord after all in terms of what must be done. The issue of psychological praxis remains, since the enervating emotions do tend to hang on and the scales are hard to peel off the eyes. But I think also that the therapeutic and the analytic should be regarded as precursors and adjuncts to a praxis that’s more energetic, creative, perhaps destructive, in subjectively engaging certain immanent strands while counteracting others.

    Comment by ktismatics — 1 November 2008 @ 4:37 pm

  41. “If you don’t like you job (in the contemporary, middle class sense), barring quite acute circumstances, probably the most elementary, radical advise would be to volunteer, that is build affective bodies of action without an essential notion of lack.”

    That’s one option for sure, Kvond, though I wouldn’t regard it as particularly radical. Lots of people already take this route out of their alienated-worker state: volunteer, cultivate a hobby, write a book, etc. on your time outside of work — or even on work time if you don’t get caught. The worker persists at his distasteful job while psychologically dissociating from the lack-driven affect it generates, choosing instead to shift his joy-laden energies into the volunteer sector. But the job persists, as does the person’s bodily and mental engagement in the work. If the psychological experience of lack is induced by the situation of the work in which one is engaged, then the source of lack persists but the worker just chooses to ignore it, to do the job and to take the money without allowing himself to experience the lack affectively. This seems like a pretty good description of the alienated worker in late capitalism — “Jack” in Fight Club.

    But what sort of action can the alienated middle-class worker pursue in the work itself? If the person sees through his sadness, his subjective experience of lack and helplessness, to the situational cause that induces this feeling, can’t the worker tap into some energy to do something about that toxic situation? If this toxic work situation isn’t just affecting him personally but is an affective tone within which an entire workforce operates on a continuing basis, isn’t it almost the worker’s responsibility to try his hand at remedying or dismantling the situation? And if others are similarly alienated by the work situation, isn’t part of the task to cultivate the immanent thread of proactive change and resistance that links the one worker to the multitude? I’m not necessarily talking about revolution here, but something more like a persistent insurgency within the workplace.

    Comment by ktismatics — 2 November 2008 @ 9:36 am

  42. Ktismatics: “That’s one option for sure, Kvond, though I wouldn’t regard it as particularly radical.”

    kvond: I actually meant “radical” in the sense of “to the root”, and not so much in the “politically radical” sense, though I believe these two senses of “radical” to be closely related.

    Ktismatics: “I’m not necessarily talking about revolution here, but something more like a persistent insurgency within the workplace.”

    kvond: I can never see a reason not to attempt to change one’s circumstances, but changing one’s perspective on those circumstances does seem a beneficial prerequisite. I think one of the most important thing though is to avoid “oppositional thinking”, thinking in terms of “us” and “them”.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/

    Comment by kvond — 2 November 2008 @ 11:38 am

  43. “I think one of the most important thing though is to avoid “oppositional thinking”, thinking in terms of “us” and “them”.”

    I lost track of this discussion, though it did seem to be winding down. I presume it’s important to Spinoza to avoid the us/them dichotomy, but I wonder what the implications are of that refusal. I read a provocative remark on Larval Subjects the other day, drawing implications from the Soviet experience of replacing Czarist tyrrany with that of the Party apparatus. Sinthome said:

    Conditions were changing. Yet revolution did not come. Why? The vulgar and simplistic model of Marxist thought, that superstructure is a function and distorted reflection of the base, had to be mistaken. At some level, as Deleuze and Guattari, following Reich, put it, people must desire their own oppression. It is not enough to say that these structures were simply imposed on agents from without. Rather, at some level agents must desire these formations…

    I’ve not read D&G closely enough to confirm Sinthome’s reading of D&G here, nor can I discern whether Sinthome agrees with it. The idea, presumably, is that, in desiring their own oppression, the oppressed identify with their oppressor. The idea follows a Nietzschean trajectory whereby people, in repressing their own (sexual) desires, render themselves good obedient subjects of oppressive regimes, willingly cooperating with militaristic discipline that fascism exerts over the populace. Presumably because oppressor and oppressed share the same desire for repression and subjection, they can readily change places in the hierarchy without altering the structure itself. I resist this argument, partly because it’s empiricaly unverifiable and tautological, but mostly because it blames the victim — as if, e.g., the Jews really desired to be slaughtered by the millions in the Holocaust. To say that the oppressor and the oppressed are all “us” seems like a self-justifying argument put forward by the oppressors.

    I’ve seen the Milgram and Zimbardo studies demonstrating that anyone can become a fascist if they’re put in the structural position of power. So what does this imply: that if we all have the desire both to oppress and to be oppressed, then everyone is really getting their desires fulfilled regardless of which role they wind up playing? And the poor desire their poverty, the slaves their slavery, the tortured their torture? So that if the poor, the slaves, the defeated, etc. learned to overcome their self-repression and truly identify with those on top they would become rich, free, victorious? I don’t buy it.

    Within the workplace, could the workers unite and overwhelm the capitalists by renouncing their desires to be subjected/disciplined and simultaneously identifying with the capitalists to such an extent that they seek to overthrow them and take their place? Maybe: this is revolutionary thinking. If the workers attempt to get out of the us/them binary in order to achieve a more communal and egalitarian state, they still have to rely on the capitalists to come to this same insight. Problem is, it doesn’t seem in the interests of the powerful and the wealthy to arrive at that particular insight.

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 November 2008 @ 7:47 pm


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