Psycho-Anarchist

I think that I am inventing and developing my own political position, and with it a title that I have just invented (and will probably change)- A Psychoanalytic Anarchist. That could easily fall into Psycho-Anarchist!

In other words, I’ve become aware of how I respond to information that comes into my consciousness and become aware of my instinctive responses. As a result of becoming aware of these responses, I’ve started to analyse whether the response is triggered by a tribal attachment or whether it is of on an intellectual grounding.

Because most of my responses are of little or no intellectual engagement. In fact there is a huge part of me that doesn’t want to engage intellectually AT ALL with the stimulus. I just want the pleasure of knowing whether I am right/they are wrong or whether I am better/they are worse than me.

For instance there are certain key words that I respond to like; anti-immigration, sovereignty and national pride etc that trigger an instantaneous and visceral response.

Although anarchism sounds very nihilistic, it could also be very positive. The word actually originates from the Greek word anarkhos which literally means without leader, and although I don’t believe that a society can function without a leader, I think that the notion and function of leader must always be challenged.

And by leader I mean in all areas. Political, intellectual, artistic, cultural, psychoanalytical and philosophical.

Our need to be part of a tribe and led by a particular kind of leader is not just something that we’ve picked up along the way. It is a part of our psychic structure that has it’s origins before even our acquisition of language – going back in the mythology of our ancestors, and I believe that in order to develop and progress we need to understand what they are and not just react.

 

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King Lear for TV

We live in a society obsessed by the “black and white” – that you either love someone or you hate them, you’re either right or wrong, in or out, left or right … King Lear is about the murky ambiguous area of love and the demand and need for love – and it is Lear’s incestuous need for love that leads him into paranoia and madness.

The decline of the name-of-the-father signifier and the King’s fall into madness as a dramatisation of our current political climate could seem like a somewhat obvious and banal reason for adapting King Lear for TV, if that is what it is. Nevertheless society fetishises both the signifier of the father, and the concept of removing the primal father – and it’s both of these unconscious psychic phenomena that Shakespeare transforms into an ambiguous language which both destabilises and enslaves the characters of the play.

King Lear’s relationship with his three daughters creates a familiar topology between three psychic spaces (Imaginary, Symbolic and Real) – and the three women could also be seen as representing the three mythological women of a man’s life. The woman that gives birth to him, the lover and the woman that carries him to his death.

The play begins with Lear retiring as King and dividing his land between his three daughters and Lear demands that the women tell him how much they love him. Both Goneril and Regan lie to him, Goneril in fulsome terms. However the youngest Cordelia speaks honestly and bluntly, saying that she loves him “according to her bond, no more and no less”.

Freud, in his 1919 paper “The Three Caskets”, refers to Cordelia as the dumb or silent one, “The Goddess of Death”. She says it ‘how it is’ and Lear feels compelled to reject her, what in psychoanalysis you would call a disavowal. Infuriated, by Cordelia’s refusal to flatter him, Lear disowns her and divides her share between the elder sisters. Cordelia ends up marrying the King of France who is shocked by Lear’s decision to disown her and then later in the play France invades England.

[That which has been expelled or disavowed, returns in the Real]

The drama concludes with Lear carrying the corpse of Cordelia [The Goddess of Death] on stage before dying himself from his own [words] wounds.

Jokes and the unconscious

It is often said that humour has an important function in society, that satire plays a significant role in politics, that humour helps in transmitting thoughts that in other ways would be difficult or impossible to say. That there is always an element of truth in a joke. Even that comedy plays a moral role in society …

Ken Dodd would say that jokes are simply about pleasure. But what was interesting to Freud was the idea that there is something in the structure of jokes that reflect the structure of language and the unconscious.

Duck goes into the chemist’s shop.
‘A tube of lipsol please.’
‘Certainly, that will be fifty pence.’
‘Put it on my bill, please.’ – (Les Dawson)

A semiotician would say that the pleasure comes from the play of signifiers themselves, the process by which they attach and become detached from the signified, that there is a pleasure we enjoy from language itself.

Displacement; replacing one meaning of a word with another meaning of the same word is one of the main functions of jokes, because words, according to psychoanalysis, are overdetermined, i.e. that one word can mean many different things, and both jokes and the unconscious allow signifiers to slide.

But there are also condensations of signifiers to form metaphors, and displacements and condensations of ideas such as habitat, economy, language, social etiquette all play a part in jokes, which reveal structures of language itself.

Jokes can also erupt from a repressed part of the unconscious and Freud devotes a sizeable section of his book ‘Jokes and their relation to the unconscious’ to smutty jokes and sexual innuendo to show how repression functions as a release within language, speech and the unconscious.

Jewish jokes also feature in Freud’s book and one that he and Lacan refer back to a number of times is this one:

A couple of men are talking to each other and one of them says “I am going to Cracow”. And the other replies – “Why are you telling me you are going to Cracow? You are telling me that to make me believe that you are going somewhere else”.

This joke plays on a certain structure of our speech, where we never directly send the message, but conceal it within a decoy. A bit like when someone says to you, I’m going to be completely honest with you … you can be sure that they will be concealing the main point!

“What the subject tells me is always fundamentally related to a possible feint, in which he sends me, and I receive, the message in an inverted form.” Lacan Seminar III

Until our last breath

This morning I was reading in the Guardian an interview with the writer, journalist and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich on her latest book Natural Causes, which appears to be a critique (with ‘a very keen bullshit detector’) of the ‘scrambling for new things that might prolong’ our lives.

There was something refreshing about her dismissal of the ‘wellness’ industry (what she calls a ‘middle-class signifier). Ehrenreich’s [politics of the body] came with her insight that our cells didn’t respond as if in a communist dictatorship but that there are rebels, that cancer was a cellular rebellion. That in nature, even the cell has agency. It seems that at the age of 76, the idea that a cell has it’s own mind made the idea of death fine for her.

The problem with the idea of a dying from natural causes is that it relies on the idea of nature as a concept outside of the human experience, and when you start to think about it, nature is a human construct. Ehrenreich’s concept of the body as a political organisation in itself shows how culture and politics colonise our body and the unconscious. The dilemma that faces us, is that there are policies that we can adopt to direct our cells, get off a stop early and walk a little bit further, eat less sugar etc, but then there will always be that unknown pocket of rebellion.

We don’t talk about death very much, perhaps because in essence it is impossible to talk about. Why did Freud talk about the death drive? It is in fact the other side of the life drive and my experience about being around people who are dying is that they are as full of drive and desire as others who are, not knowingly at least, so close to death. In a way the death drive is the need/demand we feel for controlling death. And this was the thought that I was left with from reading the interview with Ehrenreich. Perhaps the fear is not the moment of death itself, but the fear that we will always be be captured between drive and desire until our last breath.

The Semiotics of the Crucifixion

One of the frustrations faced by an atheist – is that in the act of negating the existence of God, one somehow acknowledges in a certain kind of way the existence of God. Somehow atheism seems to end up as a Christian argument which is why a book like the God Delusion can end up reading like a biblical treaties.

The crucifixion of Christ is seen by some as the idea that God killed off a part of himself, his son, in order to free his followers from the idea of an all powerful creator in the sky – the staging of his own death on the cross so that the Holy Spirit is left as a kind of remainder to act as a social bond amongst his believers. An intervention or cut into the Real, leaving the existence of God in the form of language in the registers of the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary.

This symbolic/real staging can easily be overlooked by atheists/pragmatists who often fail to recognise their own attachment to the discourse of science where science, like any discourse, relies on the assumption that both it and nature are constructs of language and semiotics, an assumption that is rarely put in question by the pragmatist.

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Lying and Truth

The difference between the language of humans and animals, is that humans have the capacity to lie. In fact our whole communication is based on lies. We give a good face, edit our images, speak our beliefs knowing that they can only, by the very nature of truth function, be partially true, and knowing that the Other is also lying to us. The machines and apps and algorithms will never be really effective until they find the capacity of language based on the function of lying. But lying is very complex, involving truth.

Fatbergs

Will Self came to talk in our psychoanalytic seminar last Saturday. The subject was Trump and the media. Self started by reading from a piece that he wrote in 2014 about ‘Fatbergs’ – those huge balls weighing tons that role around in the sewers under our feet, consisting of fat, shit and wet wipes. Alongside Fatbergs, Self elaborated on the theme of his self-named ‘Bidirectional Digital Media’, the idea that the internet allows a two way flow of self expression. The pipeline between the two ideas flowed freely throughout the talk.

For Self the Fatbergs are the big balls like Trump, Farage, Rees-Mogg and Corbyn but also “YOU!”, as he pointed to a room full of psychoanalysts. “What’s wrong with you, you weirdos, don’t you laugh!” … “I mean you’re all Freudians, you know all about the anal stage, wiping your bottom with wet wipes…. hahaha!”

Apparently Self’s mother was in psychoanalysis whilst she was pregnant with him and went ahead with the pregnancy because of her analysis – so he joked that maybe he owes his life to psychoanalysis … but that is where his belief in the psychoanalytic theory ends. He spent a short period in analysis with a ‘very famous analyst’ but complained that if he was to talk about his sex life, he wanted to know the sex life of his analyst … that he didn’t just want the shiny mirror held up to him. It was pointed out that the idea of the reflective mirror went out about 70 years ago, and someone else said that it sounds like he wanted an analyst a little like Trump himself. Another person pointed out that he knew a certain amount about psychoanalysis but he clearly didn’t understand some important points, but it seemed like he wasn’t interested in a bidirectional discourse.

His Bidirectional Digital Media had fired off in the middle of his reading his own piece from 2014 directly off the mobile device – “Oh … sorry … that’s my daughter …”

Self looked super suave as he swung his scarf around his neck and placed his hat on his head and left the room saying “goodbye … and I love you very much!” [despite your weirdness?]

On the tube this morning

I was on the tube this morning thinking about Stephen Hawking in heaven and (assuming that he was able to take his voice [as with everyone’s voice a partial object] with him) that he might be having a conversation with William Shakespeare. Would the language of black hole and string theory end up in iambic pentameter? Speech being the letter containing the message which always arrives at its destination, even though the message is only ever partially understood.

International Women’s Day : Orlando

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For International Women’s day today I’m thinking about gender and transgender and the extraordinary Virginia Woolf. Her romp of a novel “Orlando” explores time and gender. Her main protagonist, Orlando, starts off in Elizabethan England as a boy and transforms one night during the reign of Charles II in Constantinople into a woman and ends up in the following moment getting into a car in London in 1928. I think that for Woolf time was vertical as well as horizontal and she implies in this paragraph that somehow the more a person could embrace the whole of their lived time the more successful a “practitioner in the art of life” one could be (it’s all quite tongue in cheek):

“That Orlando had gone a little too far from the present moment will, perhaps, strike the reader who sees her now preparing to get into her motor-car with her eyes full of tears and visions of Persian mountains. And Indeed, it cannot be denied that the most successful practitioners of the art of life, often unknown people by the way, somehow contrive to synchronise the sixty or seventy different times which beat simultaneously in every normal human system so that when eleven strikes, all the rest chime in unison, and the present is neither a violent disruption nor completely forgotten in the past. Of these we can justly say that they live precisely the sixty-eight or seventy-two years allotted them on the tombstone. Of the rest some we know to be dead though they walk among us; some are not yet born though they go through the forms of life, others are hundreds of years old though they call themselves thirty six. The true length of a person’s life, whatever the Dictionary of National Biography may say, is always a matter of dispute. For it is a difficult business – this time-keeping; nothing more quickly disorders it than contact with any of the arts; and it may have been her love of poetry that was to blame for making Orlando lose her shopping list and start home without sardines, the bath salts, or the boots. Now as she stood with her hand on the door of her motor-car, the present again struck her on the head. Eleven times she was violently assaulted.”

The internal logic from beginning to end

ONE of the many things that I value about reading the complete works of Freud Standard Edition volumes 1 – 24, which I completed a couple of weeks ago, was the time I spent alone with the physical books, faithful to a line of thought, to the internal logic of an author, saved from the distractions of social media, news stories and gossip.

Yesterday I was reading Lacan’s Seminar on Freud’s Technical Papers and with a pencil in hand underlining significant words and phrases and writing notes in the margin – I find myself more engaged with the text in this way, but I was wondering how differently I might read it the next time around – perhaps in a few months or years I will be more interested by the words that I have left unmarked …

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