Oct 082016
 

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
Yiannis Gabriel has written a paper on psychoanalysis and organisation studies.[1] He usefully distinguishes two epochs:

  • A first epoch, defined by the practice of clinicians ‘psychoanalysing organisations’ through the metaphor of an organization or group being like and individual.
  • A second epoch, defined by the application of psychoanalytic understanding to the study of organisations through critical and interpretive approaches to the effects of language.

In distinguishing these epochs, Yiannis raises questions concerning the way we understand the practices of science itself, given that science constrains the ways in which we may understand the subject’s relation to the unconscious. In concluding, Yiannis expresses the hope that new developments in neuroscience may provide further possibilities for understanding and points out the growing interest in Lacanian approaches.[2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] A closer look at some of these readings of Lacan suggests how they might also be constrained in this way.

The first and second epochs sustains a criticism of each other. The second epoch lacks the underpinning of clinical experience, thus not addressing the problematics of the relation to the unconscious per se. The first epoch applies the metaphor of the sovereign/autonomous ego to the way it thinks of the enterprise, not addressing organisations themselves as a distinct kind of entity supporting the subject’s relation to the unconscious. Both critiques are valid.  In taking up the challenge of these criticisms, I ask if we are entering a third epoch.

Why should we care about tackling a third epoch?
The first and second epochs address the ways in which the individual takes up a role within the life of an organization. A third epoch, however, has to be able to address the ways in which organizations can be enabled to take up a role in the lives of its citizen-clients.

Both the first and second epochs are predicated upon the prior existence of a sovereign/autonomous entity, analogous to the ego defending itself against anxiety in seeking to sustain its sovereign autonomy. The issue raised by highly-networked turbulent environments, however, is that no such sovereignty is possible, the enterprise needing to innovate continuously to sustain its dynamic alignment with the demands arising within the larger ecosystem in which it is embedded.[8] The consequences of this need for one-by-one dynamic alignment of the enterprise’s behaviors in relation to its citizen-clients are that it must define itself not in terms of its boundaries but in terms of each relationship.[9] A third epoch has to address how individuals are to sustain their identifications with such organizations that are themselves innovating continuously ‘under their feet’.

Distinguishing the (small-s) symbolic domain of language from the radically unconscious (big-S) Symbolic of Lacan
A closer examination of the papers referred to by Yiannis help us to see how they might still be sitting within the second epoch.  The common thread running through them is that they meet the criticisms of the first epoch, but, in order to do so, they rely on using the Foucauldian notions of discourse that provide the currency for critical management studies within the academic domain.  The result is a glossing of the distinction between the (small-s) symbolic domain of language and the structural notions of the subject’s relation to a radically unconscious in Freud’s and Lacan’s work, referred to in the latter’s work as the relation to the (big-S) Symbolic.

It is interesting to read a paper in which there is no need to make the distinction between (small-s) symbolic and (big-S) Symbolic in order to make its point, for example  Vidaillet’s paper on envy.[7] It is nevertheless useful to add these distinctions that are implicit in the text but easily misread. For example the distinctions between an Imaginary Other versus a radically unconscious Other, or a Symbolic lack (aka absence of an anticipated presence) versus a Real lack (aka presence of an absence).  Some of the difficulties arising from the effects of these implicit distinctions are noted below.[3, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14]

The small-s/big-S structural distinction is also not apparent in the paper by Driver[4] concerning “organisational identity discourse”. The paper references Lacanian discourses, but without the double subjection of being subject to social constructions of reality AND to the radically unconscious. As a consequence, the subject appears subjected only to the power/knowledge formations of a Foucauldian understanding of discourse. There is no structural notion of the Real lack (aka the lack of the big-S Symbolic Other) most apparent in the last topological phase of Lacan’s oeuvre. It is not that the issue of the nature of the Real lack is not taken up in the paper, but that it is taken up as a “lack or loss due to the existence of the Real i.e. the physical, bodily, undifferentiated primal subject prior to language”. This reading of Lacan does not address this structural notion of the Real lack.

Requirements for a third epoch
A third epoch would require that we work with a structural notion of the Real lack.  With this it becomes possible to make sense of identifications of the third kind arising in the form of an alliance to a ‘social object’ and thereby to make sense of the organisation as itself an extimate symptom of the subjects whose identifications it supports. It is these social objects that are the Imaginary form of the objet petit a, cause of Arnaud’s big-D Desire,[10] and cause, therefore, of a new way of approaching the ethics of organisation.

The challenge, then, is to find ways of making this structural thinking apparent, with its topological corollaries.[15]

Notes
[1] Gabriel, Y. (2016). Psychoanalysis and the study of organization. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy in Organization Studies. R. Mir, H. Willmott and M. Greenwood. London, Routledge: 212-225.
[2] Arnaud, G. (2002). “The organisation and the symbolic: Organisational dynamics viewed from a Lacanian perspective.” Human Relations 55(6): 691-715.
[3] Arnaud, G. and S. Vanheule (2007). “The division of the subject and the organization: a Lacanian approach to subjectivity at work.” Journal of Organizational Change Management 20(3): 359-369.
The absence of the small-s/big-S distinction is apparent in this paper. The argument for fundamentally different HR practices is a good one, but the difficulties of distinguishing the (small-s) symbolic characteristics of language from the effects of a radically uncosncious (big-S) Symbolic (structured like a language is structured) create a difficulty in taking the argument further.
[4] Driver, M. (2009). “Struggling with Lack: A Lacanian Perspective on Organizational Identity.” Organization Studies 30(1): 55-72.
[5] Fay, E. (2008). “Derision and Management.” Organization 15(6): 831-850.
[6] Harding, N. (2007). “On Lacan and the ‘Becoming-ness’ of organizations/selves.” Organization Studies 28(11): 1761-1773.
The absence of a clear distinction between the different forms of ‘Other’ is apparent in this paper: between the Imaginary Other as embodied by (for example) ‘the system’, as distinct from the Real lack of the (radically unconscious) big-S Symbolic Other.
[7] Vidaillet, B. (2007). “Lacanian theory’s contribution to the study of workplace envy.” Human Relations 60(11): 1669-1700.
[8] Boxer, P. J. (2014). Defences against innovation: the conservation of vagueness. Defences Against Anxiety: Explorations in a Paradigm. D. Armstrong and M. Rustin. London, Karnac.
[9] Boxer, P. J. (2014b). “Leading Organisations Without Boundaries: ‘Quantum’ Organisation and the Work of Making Meaning.” Organizational and Social Dynamics 14(1): 130-153.
[10] Arnaud, G. (2013). “Is there desire for work?” Research in Management Economics and Finance, 2015.
The small-s/big-S distinction is not apparent in this paper, even though the issue it is addressing at the end is the subject’s relation to the Real. Thus the paper nicely positions the issue of the relation to the drive, but, in speaking of “the unconscious and structural Desire brought about by language”, it loses the small-s/big-S structural distinction necessary to an understanding of (big-D) Desire per se as arising in relation to the lack of the big-S Symbolic.
[11] Guinchard, R. (1998). “Absenteeism and phantasy.” Journal of Managerial Psychology 13(7): 485-497.
The absence of a distinction between small-s symbolic and big-S Symbolic is apparent in this paper, but the paper very usefully opens up the whole issue of the subject’s relation to phantasy supported by the structurings of the enterprise. Its argument ultimately relies, however, on the absence of this distinction when it states: “desire is an effect of language. We are but attributes ‘of desire’, of the desire that is manifested in language.”
[12] Vanheule, S. (2002). “Caring and its Impossibilities.” Organisational & Social Dynamics 2(2): 264-284.
This paper is an excellent account of the ways in which Imaginary and Symbolic identifications (identifications of the first and second kinds) lead to impossibilities in caring processes. By relying on only two kinds of identification, however, an opportunity is lost for raising the ethical challenge of addressing another kind of impossibility, namely the relation to the Real lack, apparent implicitly if not explicitly in identifications of the third kind.
[13] Vanheule, S., A. Lievrouw and P. Verhaeghe (2003). “Burnout and Intersubjectivity: A psychoanalytical study from a Lacanian perspective.” Human Relations 56(3): 321-334.
This is a very interesting paper that works with the imaginary-symbolic-real distinction, albeit in a way that is organized around the subject’s relation to a Foucauldian understanding of discourse. The difficulty with this is that no distinction is made between the social/inter-subjective small-s symbolic, and the radically unconscious relation to the big-S Symbolic. In a sense, burnout is a consequence of the alienating effects of subjection solely to the intersubjective.
[14] Van Roy, K., A. Marché-Paillé, F. Geerardyn and S. Vanheule (2016). “Reading Balint group work through Lacan’s theory of the four discourses.” Health (London): 1-8.
The absence of the small-s/big-S structural distinction presents very particular difficulties in this paper on the four discourses. These discourses use the Lacanian understanding of discourse, which addresses the double subjection of the subject. Thus while the account of the individual discourses is okay, a difficulty emerges when the paper addresses the relations between the discourses, these being described only in terms of rotations rather than in terms of the transformations these rotations reflect in the subject’s relation to the partial drives. This, in turn, makes it impossible to account for the 4 perverse forms of the discourses (capitalism, science, movement, politics) and their relation to the discourses of the hysteric, master, university, and analyst.  This makes it difficult to account for the circulation of discourses (described in Radiophonie by Lacan), and for the ways in which this circulation can become blocked.
[15] These are issues being taken up by Robert Groome, founding member of PLACE in Santa Monica,CA. This blog begins to clarify the nature of the challenges raised in the future work of the ISPSO in the psychoanalytic study of organisations.

Aug 092016
 

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

A colleague of mine, Larry Hirschhorn, had the following to say about his experience of the difficulties of ISPSO members speaking to each other about their differing readings of psychoanalytic doctrine: “The additional piece that continues to fascinate me is the burden imposed emotionally by the requirements for abstract thought...”

My commentary below is on an extract from The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (pp203-205 from Bruce Fink’s translation of Lacan’s Écrits) that speaks directly to the nature of this burden.  It considers what might be at stake in engaging in abstract thought, which involves being prepared to understand the concepts on which our understanding of psychoanalytic technique is based.[1] In this extract, Lacan formulates what might be at stake in terms of difficulties for how we take up speech.  He does this in terms of the speaker’s relationship to the symbolic, imaginary and real:

In order to home in on the causes of this deterioration of analytic discourse, one may legitimately apply psychoanalytic method to the collectivity that sustains it.

Lacan’s concern in this text was with a deterioration of analytic discourse – a concern that has been voiced from time to time by some ISPSO members about other members’ psychoanalytic understanding![2]

Indeed, to speak of a loss of the meaning of psychoanalytic action is as true and futile as it is to explain a symptom by its meaning as long as the latter is not recognized. But we know that, in the absence of such recognition, analytic action can only be experienced as aggressive at the level at which it is situated;

We have all experienced the aggressivity inherent in having our words ‘interpreted’. The effects of the aggressivity depend on our accepting the weight of the other’s standing within the community to which we belong …

and that, in the absence of the social “resistances” which the psychoanalytic group used to find reassuring, the limits of its tolerance toward its own activity – now “accepted,” if not actually approved of – no longer depend upon anything but the numerical percentage by which its presence in society is measured.

… while we have all, from time to time, drawn comfort from our numbers in the face of the difficulties we experience in taking our practices into the world around us.

These principles suffice to separate out the symbolic, imaginary, and real conditions that determine the defenses we can recognize in the doctrine – isolation, undoing what has been done, denial, and, in general, misrecognition.

Lacan uses the three orders of the symbolic, imaginary and real to think further about these difficulties – symbolic isolation, imaginary denial/undoing what has been done, and misrecognition of the real.

Thus, if the importance of the American group to the psychoanalytic movement is measured by its mass, we can evaluate the conditions one finds there by their weight.

Lacan is speaking about the impact of the American group on the wider (worldwide) psychoanalytic movement.

In the symbolic order, first of all, one cannot neglect the importance of the c factor which, as I noted at the Congress of Psychiatry in 1950, is a constant that is characteristic of a given cultural milieu: the condition, in this case, of ahistoricism, which is widely recognized as the major feature of “communication” in the United States, and which in my view is diametrically opposed to analytic experience. To this must be added a native mindset, known as behaviorism, which so dominates psychological notions in America that it clearly has now altogether topped Freud’s inspiration in psychoanalysis.

The symbolic isolation arises from the influence of the wider American culture, characterized by Lacan in terms of an ahistoricism and a behaviorism, that appears to that wider culture as being so much better and more impressive than Freud’s inspiration.

As for the other two orders, I leave to those concerned the task of assessing what the mechanisms that manifest themselves in the life of the psychoanalytic associations owe to relations of standing within the group and to the effects of their free enterprise felt by the whole of the social body, respectively.

Lacan links the imaginary denial/undoing to the relations of standing within the various psychoanalytic associations making up the American group; and links the misrecognition of the real to the associations’ various readings of the effects of their free enterprise on the world around them.

I also leave to them the task of determining the credence to be lent to a notion emphasized by one of our most lucid representatives— namely, the convergence that occurs between the alien status of a group dominated by immigrants and the distance it is lured into taking from its roots by the function called for by the aforementioned cultural conditions.

He also observes that the alien status of the immigrant majority within the American group makes that majority vulnerable to the need to submit to the influence of the wider American culture in the interests of economic survival… a vulnerability that every diaspora has to deal with.

In any case, it seems indisputable that the conception of psychoanalysis in the United States has been inflected toward the adaptation of the individual to the social environment, the search for behavior patterns, and all the objectification implied in the notion of “human relations”. And the indigenous term “human engineering” strongly implies a privileged position of exclusion with respect to the human object.

Lacan concludes that these influences have resulted in an emphasis on the objectification of human being in the interests of its adaptation to the social environment – the effects of which we might now refer to in terms of neo-liberal ideology…

Indeed, the eclipse in psychoanalysis of the liveliest terms of its experience – the unconscious and sexuality, which will apparently cease before long to be even mentioned – may be attributed to the distance necessary to sustain such a position.

… with its attendant occluding of the subject’s relation to the unconscious and to sexuality.

We need not take sides concerning the formalism and small-time shop mentality, both of which have been noted and decried in the analytic group’s own official documents.

Referring back, now, to the imaginary denial/undoing associated with the maintenance of ‘standing’, and to the misrecognition of the real in the effects of associations’ free enterprise…

Pharisees and shopkeepers interest us only because of their common essence, which is the source of the difficulties both have with speech, particularly when it comes to “talking shop”.

… Lacan invokes the imagery of Pharisees (“an ancient Jewish sect distinguished by their strict observance of the traditional and written law, and by their pretensions to superior sanctity”) and shopkeepers (“those who carry on business in a shop”) to convey something of the difficulties arising from the imaginary and the real orders for the way we take up speech.

The fact is that while incommunicability of motives may sustain a “grand master,” it does not go hand in hand with true mastery – at least not with the mastery teaching requires. This was realized in the past when, in order to sustain one’s preeminence, it was necessary, for form’s sake, to give at least one class.

Referring back, then, to difficulties arising from the symbolic order and the difference between ‘having’ the standing of a master and ‘being’ a master…

This is why the attachment to traditional technique – which is unfailingly reaffirmed by the same camp – after a consideration of the results of the tests carried out in the frontier fields enumerated above, is not unequivocal; the equivocation can be gauged on the basis of the substitution of the term “classic” for “orthodox” that is used to qualify it. One remains true to propriety because one has nothing to say about the doctrine itself.

… Lacan observes that substituting ‘classic’ for ‘orthodox’ in the focus on technique conceals in a past origin the difficulty of speaking in the present about doctrine itself, thus concealing the difficulty in the present of true mastery. Here, then, is the heart of the burden we take up in speaking to each other about our differences of doctrine, the burden of (repeatedly losing) mastery.[3]

For my part, I would assert that the technique cannot be understood, nor therefore correctly applied, if one misunderstands the concepts on which it is based. My task shall be to demonstrate that these concepts take on their full meaning only when oriented in a field of language and ordered in relation to the function of speech.

Difficult though such speaking is, however, Lacan’s point is that no understanding of technique is possible without an understanding of the concepts on which it is based – an understanding that requires of us that we take up the burden.

Notes
[1] It is worth bearing in mind that in this text, written in 1953, Lacan is speaking about the relation to the standard treatment, still under discussion at the London Congress in 1953, at which Glover asked the question of what modifications in technique can take place “without forfeiting the right to use the term psycho-analysis”.  See the paper by Darian Leader: Strategy, Tactics and Standard Treatment.
[2] For some background on the interests of ISPSO members, see this blog on The future work of ISPSO.
[3] The problematic nature of the doctrine of science per se is elaborated on by Jacques-Alain Miller in his seminal ‘Action of the Structure‘, in particular its vested interest in covering over the place of the subject in the conduct of science through its very claim to ‘objectivity’. Such a covering over is, of course, inimical to the analytic discourse.

Jul 132016
 

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
The plus-one process starts with the narrating of an originating situation[1], taken by the speaker to present some kind of challenge. The process generates three metaphors that point towards gaps, not only about working with the difference between espoused theory and theory-in-use, but beyond that at the difference between ‘wigo’ and ‘wiRgo’ – not only reflecting what is symptomatic of the interests invested in wigo, but also what is symptomatic about what is being discluded of wiRgo. The plus-one process concludes with the participants “discussing what questions the metaphors raise about originating situation in terms of ‘gaps’ and the risks they imply are present”.[2]  The next step, in order to follow through on these questions, is to put them into the form of a dilemma, as in dilemmas as drivers of change. This blog aims to join up the thinking between these and the blog on stratification, in which networks (of intervention) are described as being formed by interacting actants allied by a relation to a social object that operates as the (final) cause of the network.

Narration and Structure
The narration of the originating situation is made by an ‘actor’ (the speaker in the plus-one process), and indirectly by other ‘actors’.  The point of the plus-one’s metaphor is to come up with a metaphor that, in its structure, says something about the ‘structure’ within which the actor has formed the narrative, while at the same time pointing towards might have been left out (‘killed’ in the diagram below). What is meant by ‘structure’ here?
diamond5
Non-discursive formations and underlying impossibilities
Dilemmas emerge because of the way non-discursive formations ‘structure’ the way we narrate. Thus implicit in our narrative is some kind of process that takes place over time, and that leads to an outcome.[3]  This relation between process and outcome is based on framing assumptions (‘axiomatics’) that are reinforced by consequence 1. Thus consequence 1 following the outcome enables the narrative to remain within its framing assumptions.  Consequence 2, however, flips the narrative out into some ‘other’ set of framing assumptions. What ‘flipping’ means here is the disrupting of the ability of the actors to remain subject to the framing assumptions, requiring them to adopt some ‘other’ set of framing assumptions.
dilemm1
A dilemma manifests itself as an oscillation over time between two or more of these formations. The ‘impossibility’ then refers to whatever it is around which this oscillation is taking place (This oscillation has the characteristics of some oscillating pattern of behaviors that repeats).   In practice, one of the formations will be dominant, the ‘otherness’ of the other formations reflecting the nature of the underlying impossibility.

The three metaphors emerging from the plus-one process provide a means of identifying a somewhere else – an ‘other’ framing – that is, in relation to the originating situation, the ‘other’ side of a dilemma. The differences between the dominant and ‘other’ formations are ‘gendered’ in the sense that holding both sides of the dilemma, in order to approach the underlying impossibility, is engendering of innovation.[4] Only when we have both sides of the dilemma and the oscillation-inducing ‘flipping consequences’, can we THEN ask: what is the underlying impossibility around which this oscillation is taking place?[5]

Distinguishing wigo and wiRgo
The following diagram is used by the blog on the plus-one process to distinguish two axes, the speaking-and-listening axis (2-3) and the ‘impossible’ axis (1-4):
Plus-one
Using Foucault’s formulation of a discursive/non-discursive practices, (1) are the ontically defined (i.e. pre-existing) ‘objects’ implied by the ‘concepts’ forming the content of the narrative in (2). This narrative is formed through the use of ‘concepts’, which are ways of operating on ‘objects’.  (3) are then the ‘enunciative modalities’ from which (2) can be made sense of, with its implicit relation to 1). The way in which both (2) and (3) are taken up is subject to (4), the unifying theme guaranteeing two things: that way of making sense between (2) and (3); and that way of being in relation to ‘objects’. (4) thus defines the framing axiomatics under which the account of process and outcome are narrated to (3) from (2) in relation to a wigo in a (1) ontically defined by its ‘objects’.

Foucault also speaks of unifying themes (4) as covering over ‘points of diffraction’ – places where the efficacy of the unifying theme breaks down.  The effects of these ‘points of diffraction’ are what is picked up by the ‘consequence 2’ flipping the narrative into ‘other’ frames. What is ‘Really’ going on (wiRgo), then, is what is glimpsed in the liminal spaces between these frames. To understand this, we need to look more closely at the two triangles in the diagram above – 2-3-4 and 1-4-2 – in order to understand what is meant by the ‘impossible’ axis and by the ‘impossibilities’ underlying dilemmas.

Being in relation to the ‘impossible’ axis and to the ‘impossibilities’ underlying dilemmas
It is worth re-examining the diagram above through a Lacanese understanding of discourse.  In this understanding, shown in the diagram below, the subject is doubly subjected to two kinds of structuration:

  1. the structuring imposed in order to create inter-subjectively shared meaning – the kind of structuring described by Foucault.  In the above diagram, this is the 2-3-4 triangle, corresponding in the diagram below to the work-truth-agency triangle, the wigo ‘objects’ being implied.
  2. the structuring imposed by the structure of the unconscious, including the effects of the lack of the unconscious on the subject’s relation to being. This is the 1-4-2 triangle above, corresponding to the production-agency-work triangle below, except this time the ‘production’ position is wiRgo, the lack of the wigo ‘objects’ with their relation to the plus-de-jouir.[6]

quadripod01
This relation to the plus-de-jouir is the relation to the repetition of the drive.  It is on the basis of questioning the form taken by this repetition that the engendering of a network intervention becomes possible…  this is where the personal becomes political.

Notes
[1] The originating situation is a narrative of a situation that is problematic… that is ‘narrative’ (as in footnote 4 of leadership qualities and the north-south bias) as distinct from the ‘actors’, one of whom is speaking, the other listening.  The ‘structure’ is what is implicit in the way the ‘actor’ is forming the ‘narrative’. This is a discursive/non-discursive structure i.e. some mix of espoused theory and theory-in-use.
[2] The combined effects of the listening-to-the-speaking (figure 4 in what might make translation difficult from a lacanian to a kleinian reading of Freud), experienced counter-transferentially by the person in the plus-one role, are articulated in a metaphor – an organisation of significations that has its own structure. The structure of this metaphor, then, tells us something about the ‘structure’ implicit in the narrative of the originating situation. In Lacanese, this ‘structure’ gives us some insight into the structure of phantasy ($◊a) underpinning the actor’s structuring of the narrative.
The frame of a dilemma is, at its roots, a non-discursive formation.
[3] For more on dilemmas, see dilemmas as drivers of change – a way of being in relation to what-is-going-on (wigo)… the narrative formation is best approached by first elaborating the ‘process’, then saying what is the ‘outcome’ of this process as made apparent by the narrative formation, then asking what are the framing assumptions built into this relation between process and outcome. So far, then, we have the dominant framing of the originating situation as framed by the speaking-and-listening.
[4] Holding the relation between the dominant and the ‘other’ side of a dilemma is engendering, the point about each frame being ‘non-discursive’ being that both framings have preconscious/non-discursive elements. The i(a) formulation of the underlying impossibility is where we meet the unconscious and its effects – the relation to the discluded that, in being taken up, asks of us that we pay with our being…
Counter-resistance to such ‘paying with being’ is the ego’s insistence, or rather a libidinal organisation under ego management aka libidinal investment in the ego’s organisation.  Alternatively, if such counter-resistance is not ‘owned’ by the ego, then it remains a super-egoic investment that has not yet been worked through. It is the relation to what lies behind the relation to an impossibility that is organised by this egoic or super-egoic investment, and which is the plus-de-jouir put into question by the plus-one process…
[5] It is the imaginarisation of this experienced impossibility that is the i(a) of an underlying (drive) structure of repetition that gives us some clue as to what is Really going on (wiRgo). Making common cause around this i(a) is how a network intervention can begin to be formulated.
[6] Any giving up of jouissance is always of a partial jouissance. What is being defended though, leading to the disclusion dynamic, is the plus-de-jouir. This is the relation to wiRgo. Note in the plus-one diagram that the 2-3-4 relation is the discursive practice with its implied ‘objects’, while the relation to wiRgo is organised by the 1-4-2 relation. These two triangles are both present in the Lacanian discourse that describes the subject’s double subjection… the dominance of the discursive/non-discursive frame secures a particular way of taking up double subjection.

Apr 182016
 

by Philip Boxer

Lacan returns to Freud’s 4-part structure of the drive: a gap[1] – an experienced edge or limit to being able to give meaning; an object[2] – some structuring of behavior that is related to as if it can bridge the gap; an aim[3] – an objective through which the individual is able to provide some conscious account of what s/he intends to achieve through that structuring of behavior; and a pressure[4] – the questing trajectory towards a unity constituting a pushing towards a recovery of a lost state of being, Freud’s das Ding. In this sense, Lacan relates the Freudian drive to an experienced relation to an unconscious gap, a gap in relation to which something always remains unrealized, escaping every attempted aim with its object relating. It’s not that this gap is something that is or is not there, that exists or doesn’t exist. Rather, the relation to this gap insists. It makes itself felt as the presence of an (unconscious) absence that exerts a pressure.

The effects of the transference in analysis arise through the individual’s acting in relation to the analyst other as if s/he knows how the individual’s failure-to-realize may be resolved. Through the transference, the unconscious absence becomes manifest through the analyst other being related to as if the unconscious Other. The transference registers the effects of the individual’s subjection to the lack of an unconscious Other as a way of taking up the effects of being in relation to the drive. The analytic relation is not reducible to the social interaction between the analyst and analysand, but rather constitutes a site at which appears aspects of the individual’s relation to the lack of an unconscious Other.

In considering working with organisations within the context of their ecosystems, therefore, the question becomes: how are we to understand the organisation as constituting a site at which it is possible to work with aspects of the individual’s relation to the lack of an unconscious Other?

Notes
[1] Quelle
[2] Objekt
[3] Ziel
[4] Drang

May 292015
 

The following exchange between Simon and Mike shows us something of the difficulty of translating between Kleinian and Lacanian readings:

Simon: Thanks Mike for thought provoking quotes about the Czech Pavilion Quote on illusions.[1] Freeing ourselves from situations which demand illusions, sounds a bit utopian, even totalitarian to me; interesting that this comes from Kafka’s land. Illusions are like power, in that they cannot be banished or overcome; nor the situations that create them, these will always exist, but they can be understood in a specific context and worked with. As Zizek writes, the greatest illusion is that we are free from ideology and illusion. His example is that today, illusion becomes the reality we enact, (even when we know it’s an illusion we continue as if it’s real). The task is not to unmask the false illusory world, to find the pure real, as this doesn’t exist. The task is to understand the libidinal economy that sustains the illusion, and then work with this.

Mike: I think you miss the point. I have not read Zizek and having explored what he may have written I think I disagree. For me there are illusions plus assumed realities that trigger illusions (that I think Jiri David is pointing out, for me they include everyday work, family, ie when you get up in the morning, cooking breakfast, I’m Australian, or not etc) and what I think you and Philip Boxer might be exploring, the cathexis of energy from, let’s call it libido, that I unconsciously invest into an object that might exist that I have illusions about also. These are only three layers that may exist which are fun to explore. I do not think we can get away from any of them. I am attracted by Jiri David’s idea[1], let’s explore the middle one too, the situation that some call reality.

Mike’s response assumes three layers as follows:

  1. Illusions
  2. assumed realities that trigger illusions
  3. unconsciously-invested-in objects that might exist, and about which the subject also has illusions.

This layering is apparent in Bion’s reading of Klein in terms of the relation to ‘the-thing-in-itself’ through an (unconscious) crossing-over of the of the alpha- and beta-contact barriers by quantity on its way to becoming quality in the form of dream thoughts, pre-conceptions and beyond:

Bion1

Figure 1: The relation to ‘below-the-surface’ as understood by Bion

The read-across from Mike’s three layers to Bion’s layers is shown in the table below (the colored boxes). Implicit in Mike’s reading are:

  • A fourth layer reflecting the possibility of many different vertices, each vertex representing a different way of organizing the ontic assumptions built into an illusion. (In Bion, the ‘scientific deductive system’ reflects the modernist assumption that a ‘true’ understanding would emerge from scientific processes of inquiry that eschewed memory and desire.) Each vertex constitutes a particular form of ‘Thirdness’, C.S. Peirce’s term for the way in which meaning is rendered performative.[2]
  • A ‘zero’ layer – Bion’s ‘thing-in-itself’, to-be-in-relation-to-which was an emergent effect of working in relation to what-is-going-on (wigo) without memory or desire.

Table 1: The read-across of Mike’s three layers to Bion’s, Freud’s and Lacan’s layering

Bion2
Difficulties in translation
Two particular difficulties emerge, therefore, in relation to Lacan’s reading of Freud and translating from a Kleinian reading:
1. In making the thinking in his ‘Project’ more accessible, Freud combined his distinction between thing-presentation and word-presentation as ‘object’ , which formed the foundation of the Kleinian object-relations. In Lacanese, it becomes crucial to preserve this structural distinction between the ‘open’ -complex of quantity and the ‘closed’ -system of quality.  They are nevertheless entangled in the sense that every -pattern of distribution of quantity in the -complex has an -signature in the -system of quality.  Bion tackled the relation to this radically unconscious  in terms of the relation to ‘O’, but he did so within the context of Kleinian reading of ‘object’.

Bion3

Figure 2: The relation between word-presentation and thing-presentation in Freud’s first model

The main effect of recovering this distinction is to introduce a structural distinction supporting (and orthogonal relation between) two kinds of relation[3]:

  • The relation between the subject’s presumption of a ‘true Self’ and an unconscious ‘Other’ of the -complex aka the Symbolic, the latter being structured like a language is structured by difference; and
  • The relation between the ego and the Imaginary ‘other’ supported by the way exogenous experience  is further entangled with the -complex in the formation of the ego, shown here as a  -system.

Bion4

Figure 3: Lacan’s schema L

We see the effects of this orthogonal relation in Figure 5 below.

2. This entanglement of quantity and quality means that an anticipation (an -signature) may not be able to be supported by a repeated experience (-pattern).  We can represent this as the entanglement [], in which the [] represents the presence of an absence, an experience which the subject could not repeat.  The original version of this lost object is the loss Δ of the -state-of-being-prior-to-birth, arising from the separation at birth from the mother. With Lacan, this ‘lost object’ [] or relation to Das Ding is taken up in the form of the objet petit a, the imaginary form i(a) of which covers over the lack/gap. This lack/gap is very specific to the subject’s -complex, and in its relation to the Real lack is the cause of desire (desire qua presence of absence, not to be confused with demand qua absence of [an expected] presence). Furthermore, the ‘open’ nature of the -complex, as a complex of chaining relations distributing quantity across it, means that this notion of lack/gap is dimensional in nature i.e. is a structural ‘hole’ in the -system.[4]

In the après coup in which meaning is read into an-other’s speaking, therefore, this relation to lack/gap does not refer to some missing signifier so much as to something that is missed by signification itself, in the same way in which the subject escapes signification:
Bion5

Figure 4: The Lacanian Che vuoi? – what do I want/lack?

Hence ‘minding the gap’ aka the Lacanese manque à être is not an object-relation but rather a relation to something that remains beyond signification itself. In Lacanese, phantasy (aka Mike’s ‘illusion’) is a way in which the subject can live with these gaps in the impossible relation between $<>a.

The consequence of all this can be understood in terms of the Lacanese ‘quadripod’ that places the relation between consciousness and the thing-in-itself of Figure 1 on the axis of Figure 3 supported by the Imaginary, the relation between the ‘self’ and the lack of the unconscious Other being on the orthogonal ‘Other’ axis supported by the relation to the Symbolic[5]:
Bion6

Figure 5: Lacan’s Quadripod and its effect on the subject’s relation to ‘the-thing-in-itself’.

The effect of this is twofold:

  1. There is no direct relationship between consciousness and desire, the relation of consciousness to the unconscious being always mediated by the effects of the ‘closed’  -system.
  2. The relation to the Real – what-is-Really-going-on – is positioned as a ‘beyond’ of all this, a relation that is covered over by a libidinally-invested phantasy supported by jouissance (the $<>a). The implications of wiRgo here are that the effectiveness of the covering-over produces a supplementary or surplus jouissance (a plus-de-jouir) arising from the efficacy of this relation to that which is being discluded.[6]

In conclusion
Mike’s point that he feels was missed by Simon, therefore, was that he wanted to draw attention back to the “situation that some call reality” – in the middle of his three layers – and away from these other problematics raised by the relation to the unconscious. Jiri David’s experience of his work would appear to have led him in the opposite direction:

“I do not know what I am; I do not know what you mean, I do not know why and for whom I know the meaning or the reason, for the origin of my work is often recycled. Suspiciously less and less important for me is who understands the meaning of my work and how, including me myself; I’m my own stranger. After fifteen years of intense professional work in the field of art, somewhere in the middle of Europe, I lost any coherent identity. Slowly and uncertainly I conclude that it is not a negative for me, even though I do not know what to do.”[7]

Notes
[1]
The problem is not to free ourselves from illusions.
The problem is to free ourselves from situations which demand illusions.
Jiri David, Czech pavilion, 2015 Venice Biennale.
[2] For more on Thirdness, see To ‘contain’: signifiers, signifieds and Thirdness.
[3] “Thus, if man comes to think about the symbolic order, it is because he is first caught in it in his being. The illusion that he has formed this order through his consciousness stems from the fact that it is through the pathway of a specific gap in his imaginary relationship with his semblable that he has been able to enter into this order as a subject. But he has only been able to make this entrance by passing through the radical defile of speech…” Écrits p53
[4] For more on the relation to the Real, wigo/wiRgo, structural ‘holes’ and drive structure, see Structural ‘gaps’ – the wigo/wiRgo relation.
[5] This ‘quadripod’ forms the basis of the four positions in a Lacanian discourse: agent, truth, work and production. The quadripod is a way of understanding the structuring of a subject’s double subjection – Lacan’s reading of the implications of Freud’s Project. For more on this unconscious structuring of human being, see The Quadripod and Getting caught inside particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency. For more on the four positions of agent, truth, work and production, see The structure of a Lacanian discourse.
[6] When something is ‘discluded’, it is both dismissed and excluded. The word is introduced in Working forensically with toxic thinking: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, a paper presented at the 2015 ISPSO Symposium in Rome.
[7] Taken from a translation of http://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiří_David_(výtvarník)

Feb 052015
 

There has been a thread running on the ISPSO listserve, triggered originally by the recent tragic events at Charlie in Paris. I have found this ISPSO thread impossible to read as a dialogue, now with nearly 60 members making over 150 postings. Something that makes no sense has been stimulating us to find a way to speak about it, the continuing insistence of which I have been greatly appreciating.

The listserve thread
I have been struck by the different ways in which the issue of differences has come up, some examples are listed below [1]. These appear to me to be asking for a different kind of work from us. What might this be?

A psychoanalyst is used to listening to the speaking of an analysand and attending to the relation between what-is-being-said and the speaking-being of the analysand. This forms the basis of an interpretive relation to the unconscious. But on the listserve, there is no speaking-being, only a written trace of what-has-been-said. As I read a posting, I imagine the member speaking it, and am sometimes puzzled by the place from which the member appears (to me!) to be speaking. An impossibility then arises for me, because I only have the posting and the speaker’s relation to their posting is not accessible to me. In analytic work, this impossibility can be overcome by continuing sessions, but not with the listserve. So, assuming that what has appeared on the listserve is in some way relevant to ISPSO-as-an-organisation, how are we members to work with our different ways of reading what is important about difference?

Not working through differences as a defense against a real unconscious
This question leads me to consider how the relation between what-is-being-said and the speaker is like the relation between a ‘reading’ and all-that-has-been-written. Approached in this way, writing can include anything that has left a trace of its existence, and ‘to read’ is to make some sense of what is being read, to give it meaning. In Bion’s terms, the (m)other ‘contains’ by the way s/he ‘reads’ the child’s ‘writing’.

For me, the thread has raised the question of what happens when our ‘reading’ makes no sense. Do we say that there is something wrong with the writing, that it should be clearer; or do we question the way we are ‘reading’? The former leaves us unchallenged, or rather represses ‘other’ ways of reading. The latter challenges us to question the ways of reading to which we have become attached. By working through our attachment to particular ways of reading, however, we are eventually faced by what makes no sense. This relation to writing that makes no sense puts us in relation to a real unconscious.

My hypothesis is that not working through differences in our ways of ‘reading’ constitutes a defence against this real unconscious: don’t read what appears to make no sense and don’t speak to each other about what makes no sense! There is a lot happening in the world that suggests that our organisations are in real trouble. An interpretive approach may support the taking up of roles, but we need to work through our different ways of ‘reading’ in order to tackle what is making no sense of what is going on in our environments.

Why should we care?
The listserve thread has given us many instances of the de-subjectifying effects of discourses of (for example) science, capitalism and radicalising social movements. (‘De-subjectification’ is a process of diminishment and destruction of subjectivity). Psychoanalytic understanding runs counter to these effects through its focus on the subject. We need to understand these de-subjectifying effects not only on individuals within organisations, but on the very ways in which organisations themselves are able to sustain their existence.

We rightly ask what ISPSO may do for each of us as members, but we also need to ask what we might do for ISPSO in taking up this larger challenge, including that of how ISPSO sustains its own existence in relation to this real. Perhaps one place to start would be by getting serious about how we are to work through our attachments to different ways of reading.[2]

Notes
[1]

  • If we are all communicating with other ‘me’s’ we might collaborate to provide a container for thinking-into, despite significant differences of opinion. (Martin, Jan 13th)
  • Let us not turn the other of difference into the other of opposition. (Nina, Jan 14th)
  • We can´t look for an enemy inside us and the challenge will be to integrate all our feelings and thoughts and of course know about our differences and integrate them. (Manuel, Jan 14th)
  • My own feelings have given me insight into my own and others’ libidinal investment in these different narratives, I have felt these differences being respected or not, and I have felt afraid. (Philip, Jan 15th)
  • To quit in this case it makes me feel a strong difference that takes shape in these moments in between the ISPSO “owners” – in my mind – my association with owners is property, the proper members with many years of membership and the “new comers” that also hold – in my view – some kind of difference in who hugs the theory and who hugs the emotional side of the relationship with other organizations. (Gabriela, Jan 16th)
  • Another boundary is that between understanding and reflection and action, making a difference. As a socioanalyst, I struggle with that boundary. In our practice we each have these boundaries to negotiate and constantly work with. But as an organisation we need to study them. (Susan, Jan 18th)
  • We will, of course, not be able to avoid splitting. Our differences and humanity mean we are prone to it – if we believe in some psychoanalytic theory and the existence of an Unconscious (which I do) then we will be caught up by our defensive reactions and the challenge is to try and uncover and see if we can understand some of the (internal, intra and inter-psychic) conflicts. To do this we need to be able to free associate as well as to theorise. (Jo-anne, Jan 20th)
  • We can use the idea of splitting as a jumping off point for exploring the splits in our membership. We can then imagine how the differences in perceived power in our ISPSO reproduce the differences in power between for example people in the West and people in the developing world. The links between these associations are rooted in the connections between ideas and feelings in our mind, rather than in a search for evidence of causality in the objective world. […] If we persist in this way of thinking we are likely to miss some important causal connections, which we can only discover by searching empirically. (Larry, Jan 21st)
  • While social psychology makes tremendous contributions to the understanding of human behavior, it does not address individual differences. N=1 may not have much relevance outside of clinical analytic circles (unless you are the 1). However, I have found that it is the least de-humanizing and most respectful of the personhood of each human when engaged in direct clinical work and, ultimately, in understanding the human condition. (Diane, Jan 21st)
  • On the question of the listserve interactions specifically, I am reminded of two pieces of work by Eric Miller regarding the degree to which personal identity can be used in service of the work task; and the withdrawal of identity when organisations become too rigid around culture – essential repressing difference and potential for change. (Kevin, Jan 24th)
  • At these times I feel faced by something beyond me, that I can’t understand, usually embedded in cultural differences which confound me. The challenge for me is how I can then keep working, or find a way to sustain a rapport, with people who are using archetypal frameworks with which I can’t identify, nor sometimes able to morally accept. (Miranda, Jan 25th)
  • Differences attributed to gender may include cognition/intuition, maternal/paternal authority, vertical/lateral relations, competition/collaboration. There is much literature about the difficulties faced by women in leadership roles, as discussed on the listserve late last year. There is also an increasing amount of literature about flatter structures of organisation requiring leadership that is distributed, vulnerable, collaborative (i.e. feminine) …and yet it often implies we should embrace these feminine attributes at the expense of more masculine ones. In the dream, the brooms are together – side-by-side – and, for me, represent gender complementarity and reciprocity that is not only useful, but necessary. (Nuala, Feb 2nd)

[2] Related to this are the questions raised in an earlier blog on the future work of ISPSO

Jul 022014
 

The concept of ‘libidinal investment’ has come up before, for example in The Promoted Sibling as an expression of libidinal investment, or in Getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency.  The following is a dialogue primarily between Simon Western, Susan Long and myself that revolves around how we are to understand what is meant by a ‘libidinal economy’,  something that arises from emergent patterns in the forms of social organisation that attract libidinal investment:

Simon: Dear all, a few thoughts on the collective unconscious and group unconscious processes that take place in large group settings. This blog on The Collective Unconscious is written for coaches and leaders fairly new to psychoanalysis. However I am wondering where we go with this work which seems to have stalled quite a bit since Bion and Menzies-Lythe…yet is so important. Any thoughts welcome, and I am particularly interested in how collective unconscious processes operate within the libidinal economies of the network society – i.e. ISPSO list serves for example!

The Associative Unconscious
Susan: Maurita Harney and I have written on the associative unconscious as linked to socioanalysis and socioanalytic methods. There are links to Jung’s collective unconscious but differences. We link it to the work of Peirce – the American philosopher. I think this concept opens up the way to new thinking about the links between people in large groups. We say:
Here then is a formulation of the unconscious as a mental network of thoughts, signs, and symbols or signifiers, able to give rise to many feelings, impulses and images. The network is between people, but yet within each of them. The boundary of the unconscious does not co-incide with the boundary of the individual despite the necessity of the boundary of “individual” for other functions, including the functions described by Bion in his theory of thinking: the functions of the thinker, or as we shall discuss later, the functions of the interpretant in Peirce’s philosophy.
The associative unconscious might be conceptualised as a “pool of thoughts” – much as Darwin’s pool of genes, but that is too static. We have used the term “network” but that too readily gives an idea of a combination of “things” in physical space, whereas we conceptualise it as in psychic space. The associative unconscious might be seen as similar to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, but there are differences. Jung says:

My thesis then, is as follows: in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents (Jung 1969 p. 43).

Despite similarities, in contrast to the idea of the collective unconscious, the associative unconscious is not “identical in all individuals” because each individual holds only a part of the vaster whole. A metaphor here is that of a jigsaw puzzle where each individual part is shaped very differently, yet the picture as a whole has its own unique integrity. In this case the whole network is supra-individual with the system-as-a-whole capable of producing, for example, archetypes as system-wide symbols (the whole puzzle put together) that are then able to be introjected by individuals. Hence such symbols may appear in different parts of the system (for instance in individuals, groups or cultures) contemporaneously. The idea of an associative unconscious does refer to shared representations but not necessarily representations that are inherited and held identically in each individual, as with Jung’s collective unconscious. What is in common between individuals is the capacity to symbolise and to co-create meanings not the specific representations that as a result of co-creation are thus held within the culture.[1]

Simon: Thanks Susan, re-reading your chapter is very helpful, especially in differentiating the associative unconscious from Jung: As I understand it in your terms, the jigsaw puzzle is formed by individual unconscious – symbols and signs (pieces of the jigsaw) – coming together to make the whole….. then it is re-introjected by individuals…..
So taking for example Princess Diana’s funeral – individuals felt particular individual forms of sadness, conscious and unconscious, the unconscious aspects pooled to make a whole that created an unexpected collective energy, a jigsaw picture of national loss, that demanded different behaviour from the Royal Family and of the public e.g. public expressions of grief from the royals- and spontaneous applause – clapping the coffin as it was taken through the streets in contrast to the tradition of silence from the public. Each individual then introjected the impact of the outpouring of public grief- and reacted consciously and unconsciously – making meaning in their own way, and also making meaning collectively. (The film – The Queen – is fascinating in its depiction of this. )
In this formulation, how do we account for the unconscious in terms of Drive? And what happens to jigsaw puzzles that do not make whole pictures: either collectively or for individuals? Pooling of unconscious forces that don’t create wholes, or tangible meaning (except retrospectively perhaps)
The jigsaw analogy is very helpful, but is it not also problematic as it conjures up a finished picture, a completion, in Lacan terms full jouissance, that is not attainable? I am wondering how we account for the associative unconscious that creates powerful libidinal economies, stirring affects that are or are not translated into emotions or feelings that we can express in terms of conscious pictures or meanings? Do you or others have thoughts on this?

Sarah Sutton: How thought-provoking Simon – your ‘stirring affects that are not translated’ made me think of how we talk of stirring music… perhaps there is something about resonance here, in the moment of connection, that is both created and creative in the libidinal economy, in that it stirs towards joint expression.
Your idea Susan of the associative unconscious feels true to me. Maybe the jigsaw is interactively re-assembleable? I agree about the risk of misrepresenting it as static or potentially completable & like the idea of constellations: pulsing, radiant, shifting, pattern-forming networks of associative resonances, greater than the sum of their parts.

The ding is…
Philip: We know that associations can be false, as per Freud’s paper on Negation. But Freud also spoke about how we cover over the gaps in our unconscious associations – what remained lost to us – in terms of dingvorstellung. This ‘covering over’ was like the ‘covering over’ of the blind spot in our visual field, and these unconscious gaps were what Lacan referred to as the ‘objets petit a‘. In our pursuit of jouissance, we weave the imaginary form we give to these objets, i.e. i(a), into the realities supporting our libidinal economy.
These objets, however, are also the objects of the Freudian drive that constellate desire by never wholly covering over the gaps, thus also enabling us to be mindful of the gaps. And in being mindful of these gaps, they act like the attractors in complexity theory, around which swirl pulsing, radiant, shifting, pattern-forming networks of associative creativity.
For those of you who have not traveled underground in London, to “mind the gap” is also a repeated injunction at every stop!

Ruth Silver: An injunction so that ‘a fall’ on to the live wire is avoided…

Philip: Ruth, you are of course right that existential angst unavoidably accompanies ‘being true to desire’…!

Susan: Thanks to all for these comments. I agree that the “jigsaw puzzle” is not complete and Philip’s idea from Lacan of the gaps that are covered over and that are accompanied by existential angst are certainly part of the idea of the associative unconscious and its links to the repressed unconscious of psychoanalysis. Maybe the completed jigsaw is an ideal form – a potentiality for all thought across all time: a possibility to be yearned for at a more spiritual than psychological level. Any one community or organisation has only its incomplete pictures. The example from Diana’s death fits well. I love the idea of the resonances – it fits well with the social dreaming idea of amplification to reach the associative unconscious.

Philip: I like this hypothesis of ‘a yearned-for ideal form in that it supposes this ideal form to be infinitely incomprehensible, even though every hypothesis, as such, supposes its object to be truly conceived in relation to this ideal form’. But I also like Peirce’s concept of vagueness as providing a way of speaking about each individual’s particular way of being in relation to the associative unconscious. To quote from Peirce’s later pragmaticist reading of ‘pragmatism’, this leaves the yearned-for ideal form “as vague yet as true so far as it is definite, and as continually tending to define itself more and more, and without limit”.[2] I guess that means it’s a journey in which we each have to ‘mind the gap’!

Stan Gold: What a fascinating flow of associations. Thank you to all. The only issue that has not been canvassed regarding the “gap” is for me, and those who know me will know where I’m coming from, the gap between the yearned for and necessarily idealised maternal transference object and the reality of the relationship. We would indeed be wise to understand the later significance of that gap, our attempts to cover it over and the desire which emanates from it. Again thanks to you all….

Philip: Ah yes. But the ding is, the gap covered over/revealed by the objet is not the gap between the idealised maternal transference object and the reality of the relationship, but rather the uncanny Aristotelian tuchē that, while disrupting that reality, also creates an opening.

Sophia Ploumaki: Can I ask who is then “perceiving” the opening? Is this a subjective or an a-bjective process ?

Philip: a-bjective in the sense that the uncanny disrupts what the subjective/relational ‘I’ thinks is ‘going on’. The experience is of being subject to something ‘other’ going on, of being subject to the Otherness of being in relation to the unconscious… ‘subject’ as in “wo Es war, soll Ich werden“.

The gap as an encounter with the uncanny Aristotelian tuché
Susan: Philip your comments are usually most apt but often enigmatic. I understand the Aristotelian tuché as those things in human activity that occur by chance rather than by his fourth form of causality – ie the final cause or the cause occurring through our desires. Do you mean the gap is created through that uncanny chance occurrence? Which is really an unconscious desire – Aristotle not having the concept of the unconscious? Can you give us this thought in a less condensed manner?

Philip: Tuché is contrasted with automaton: the automaton is the deterministic, that which can be predicted by past conditions, in contrast to which tuché is an encounter with that which cannot be predicted, with that which appears to be by chance. This is the sense in which the uncanny, or unheimlich, is that about a situation that does not fit, shouldn’t be there, was not predicted. So a matrix of thought is implied here (aka relation to thirdness) within which the pre-diction is made, and the validity of which is put into question by the encounter with tuché. Understood in this way, the tuché presents the matrix of thought (aka mental model) with a ‘gap’ in its ability to pre-dict.
So yes, the ‘being by chance’ may be read as revealing some pre-destined state (aka subject to a final cause), like an omen might be read to fortell imminent good fortune, the experience of ‘being by chance’ excluding the material, formal or efficient causes. And yes, in such a situation, the person attributing the status of an omen to the encounter would certainly be engaging in wishful thinking, thus revealing something about his or her desire in the situation.
The attribution of final cause would, therefore, reveal something about the person’s desire, in the sense that the imaginary form i(a) given to an objet petit a would reveal something of a person’s relation to an unconscious lack. The gap is only “created through that uncanny chance occurrence”, however, in the sense that the tuché is the person’s experience of a gap in the way he or she anticipates what-is-going-on. In the case of attributing the status of an omen to the encounter, then, the person would be exhibiting a transference to the situation in the sense of relating to it as if ‘it’ knew what it was that he or she wanted.  An ISPSO question would then be concerned with how to work with this transference…

Examining the ‘networked’ or ‘associative’ unconscious from a Lacanian perspective
Simon: Philip, sometimes tuchē is translated simply as luck, but this is not what I understand you are saying is it? Can you also say something about the ‘collective unconscious or networked unconscious or associative unconscious in Lacan’s work? Did he work with this and how?

Philip: Simon, here goes!
On the relation between the ‘collective’ and ‘networked’ or ‘associative’ unconscious, Susan and Maurita distinguish Jung’s collective unconscious from the associative unconscious, pointing out that the associative unconscious is not “identical in all individuals” as Jung holds is true for the collective unconscious. Rather, each individual holds only a part of the vaster whole, “like a jigsaw puzzle where each individual part is shaped very differently, yet the picture as a whole has its own unique integrity”, the whole network being ‘supra-individual’.
To relate the ‘networked’ or ‘associative’ unconscious to Lacan’s work we need to look more closely at the use made of Peirce by Susan and Maurita:

Their associative unconscious is formulated as “a mental network of thoughts, signs, and symbols or signifiers, able to give rise to many feelings, impulse and images”. This network is both between people and within each of them, the boundary of this network not coinciding with the boundary of the individual. The boundary of “individual” is nevertheless necessary for other functions, “including the functions described by Bion in his theory of thinking: the functions of the thinker, or the functions of the interpretant in Peirce’s philosophy”.

This equating of the interpretant with the functions of the thinker follows Hanna Segal’s three-term relation between the object, the sign-vehicle and the ego-as-interpretant in her ‘Notes on Symbol Formation’.[3] For Segal, the object is “the thing symbolized”, the sign-vehicle is “the thing functioning as a symbol”, and the interpretant is the ego for which “the one represents the other”. In these terms, symbolic equation arises when sign-vehicles “are not felt by the ego to be symbols or substitutes but to be the original object itself”. Freedom in the use of symbols arises through a fully articulated triadic relation being available to the subject: “The capacity to experience loss and the wish to re-create the object within oneself gives the individual the unconscious freedom in the use of symbols. And as the symbol is acknowledged as a creation of the subject, unlike the symbolic equation, it can be freely used by the subject”.
To relate this thinking to that of Lacan, we must return to Segal’s use of a 1938 text by C.W. Morris, ‘Foundations of the Theory of Signs’,[3] as the source of her three-term relation. In Morris’s text, the three term relation is actually a four-term relation. The example that Morris uses is of a dog (the interpreter) responding to a certain sound (the sign-vehicle) by the type of behavior (the interpretant) involved in the hunting of chipmunks (the object). The object-relating behavior (the interpretant) that puts the sign-vehicle in a particular relation to the object is Segal’s triadic relation, but one that is particular to the subject (the interpreter). This triadic relation is the relation of thirdness of which Peirce speaks. In Lacan, this triadic relation is in the way the signifying ‘bar’ (aka interpretant) puts the signifier ‘S’ (the sign-vehicle) in relation to the signified ‘s’ (the object), written as S/s but to be read differently to Saussure.
Understanding S/s in this way, when I am speaking, I am creating a forward-moving chain of ‘S’ signifiers that you, as a listener, may make some sense of (or not!) through the way you establish a triadic relation to those ‘S’ signifiers. To do this, you will have to take some part of this chain and, against the backcloth of all the possible signifiers ‘A’ that could have been said, make some particular sense s(A), i.e. through a triadic process of attributing meaning, you place the ‘S’ signifiers in some relation to ‘s’ signifieds for you:
sk01
Lacan refers to all the possible signifiers ‘A’ that could have been said as a “treasury of signifiers” (in ‘The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious’[5]). What gets produced by the retroactive attribution of meaning s(A) is produced in relation to the subject. The s(A) is therefore the sense that the subject makes, corresponding to a piece of a jigsaw…
Understood in this way, Lacan’s ‘treasury of signifiers’ corresponds to the “mental network of thoughts, signs, and symbols or signifiers, able to give rise to many feelings, impulse and images” of Susan and Maurita. The triadic relation taken up to this treasury of signifiers by a subject, in which particular associative constructions are placed on the chaining of signifiers, is the retroactive attribution of meaning s(A).
Lacan follows Freud in arguing that the subject is doubly subjected in the sense of being subject both to the reality principle and to the pleasure principle, i.e. the retroactive attribution of meaning is both subject to ‘social’ constructions of meaning, and also subject to unconscious attribution. To conclude, then:

  • To speak of the associative unconscious is to turn into a noun what is actually a process of unconscious attribution by the subject.
  • To speak of a libidinal economy is to speak of the ways in which s(A) is supported by unconscious attribution aka jouissance.
  • To speak of the libidinal economies of the network society, you must be speaking of some new ways in which s(A) is being produced…

Susan: Thanks Philip. I agree that the term associative unconscious makes it sound like a noun whereby we actually refer to a process – just as to speak of the unconscious at all is to make a noun out of a process (the system uncs as Freud put it). It makes me think though of the wave and particle difference in physics. The network of signs and signifiers or the ‘treasury of signifiers’ might be both noun and verb depending on how we approach it as interpreters and create our behaviour in relation to it (interpretant). By making a noun out of a process we are able to understand by ‘holding’ a moment of time or a ‘slice of the universe’ long enough for understanding to take place. Then once again we become lost in the flux of process and the not knowing that might allow a surprising fact to emerge.

The relation between a network economy and the libidinal economy of a network

Simon: Susan, “By making a noun out of a process we are able to understand by ‘holding’ a moment of time or a ‘slice of the universe’ long enough for understanding to take place”. This also sounds like Lacan’s idea of a point de caption or quilting point.. holding thoughts/knowledge together enough, in order to act…?
Philip, what I don’t understand is how a libidinal economy (by its very nature a collective or networked phenomena) is reduced to being a subject’s interpretation of a ‘treasury of signifiers’; albeit one that goes through ‘double subjection of social construction of meaning and unconscious attribution’. This accounts for the subject’s way of making sense of something but not of how wider phenomena I am trying to understand? For example, how does a subject’s retro attribution of meaning, s(A) become or address the libidinal economy of a network of healthcare for example?

Philip: Another difficult question. So here goes…!
On the point de capiton, yes – the diagram above “articulates the point de capiton by which the signifier stops the otherwise indefinite sliding of signification….”[6]
On the question of the relation between the subject’s way of making sense and the libidinal economy, the relationship is less direct than the one you imply in asking “how a libidinal economy is reduced to being a subject’s interpretation of a ‘treasury of signifiers’”.
The function of the first intersection, labeled A, “is the locus of the treasure trove of signifiers, which does not mean of the code, for the one-to-one correspondence between a sign and a thing is not preserved here, the signifier being constituted on the basis of a synchronic and countable collection in which none of the elements is sustained except through its opposition to each of the others.” This treasure trove is a trove of distinctions that may be made.
The second, labeled s(A), is what may be called the punctuation, in which signification ends up as a finished product.” Here is where sense is made, but also where something is covered over. “Observe the dissymmetry between the one, which is a locus (a place, rather than a space), and the other, which is a moment (a scansion, rather than a duration). Both are related to the offer to the signifier that is constituted by the hole in the real, the one as a hollow for concealment, the other as drilling toward a way out.” The ‘holes in the real’ are the gaps that the signifiers offer to cover over, the particular way they are used to cover over being the ‘drilling toward a way out’. The sense-making is subject to the modes of social construction, but is also subject to the unconscious in the particular ways in which it covers over – like decking covers over what lies underneath.
The relation to this ‘underneath’ is like the outline of a question mark planted in the capital A, with two parts to the question:
sk02
My response to your question starts, then, from how that-which-is-covered-over is structured, and how the subject keeps this aligned with their social sense-making. The unconscious leaves gaps, being structured like a language is structured, and jouissance comes with the particular ways the subject has of being in relation to these gaps (aka phantasy, understood as what covers over the impossibility in the relation between the two parts to the question). The alignment of that-which-is-covered-over to the subject’s sense-making is therefore particular to the subject, as in ‘wo Es war, soll Ich werden’.
The pursuit of (ego) sovereignty by the subject, however, leads to adopting ideologies (aka social constructions) that only appear to align things, sort of. (It is the ‘vagueness’ in these ideologies that conceals the ways in which they fail.[7]) Hence the struggle for emancipation is always a struggle between ready-baked ways-of-aligning and a subject’s gradually-built alignment emerging from an ongoing process of ‘minding the gap’.
The economy of the network is a particular form of social organization that is emerging from the internal contradictions of 20th century capitalism (one that is more ‘horizontally’ linked than ‘vertically’ accountable, pursuing economies of alignment more than economies of scale and/or scope). It becomes a libidinal economy of a network only to the extent that this social organization supports forms of emancipation that promise not a ‘full jouissance’ but rather offers ways-of-being in which gaps may be minded, sort of!
It is thus not that the libidinal economy of a healthcare network is reduced to the subject’s phantasy. Rather it is that there are particular forms of emancipatory (gap-minding) phantasy that receive good-enough support from the economy of the healthcare network.[8]

We are living during a period of transition from one dominant ideology in the West to another.  I would express this transition as something like a transition  from the neoliberal ideology born of the aesthetic critique of the social-democratic ideology, to the network ideology born of the gap-minding critique of the neoliberal ideology.[9]

Notes
[1] This is from their chapter in Long, S (ed) 2013 Socioanalytic Methods, Karnac.
[2] Peirce’s break with the pragmatics attributed to him came in Peirce, C. S. (1905). “Issues of Pragmaticism.” The Monist XV(4): 481-499. The text between single quotes here is a paraphrasing of his later development of the implications of vagueness in Peirce, C. S. (1908). “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God.” The Hibbert Journal 7(October): 90-112. “The hypothesis of God is a peculiar one, in that it supposes an infinitely incomprehensible object, although every hypothesis, as such, supposes its object to be truly conceived in the hypothesis. This leaves the hypothesis but one way of understanding itself; namely, as vague yet as true so far as it is definite, and as continually tending to define itself more and more, and without limit.” It is this understanding of vagueness that led Peter Ochs to write about irredeemable vagueness in Ochs, P. (1998). Peirce, pragmatism and the logic of scripture, Cambridge University Press.
[3] Segal, H. (1986[1957]). Notes on Symbol Formation. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association Books.
[4] Morris, C. W. (1955[1938]). Foundations of the Theory of Signs. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. O. Neurath and R. Carnap. University of Chicago Press.
[5] Lacan, J. (2006[1966]b). The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Company: 671-702.
[6] This and the subsequent quotes in italics are taken from Lacan, J. (2006[1966]b). The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Company: 671-702.
[7] See forthcoming paper, submitted for publication: ‘Defences against Innovation: the Conservation of Vagueness
[8] Juliet Mitchell, in her 2014 paper on ‘Siblings and the Psychosocial’ on Organisational & Social Dynamics 14(1) pp1-12, excellently outlines the ‘horizontal’ dimension of phantasy formation so necessary to understanding these forms of libidinal investment.
[9] Borrowing from Boltanski, L. and E. Chiapello (2005). The New Spirit of Capitalism. London, Verso.

Jun 012014
 

Affordable healthcare is a right of each citizen, not a privilege for those who can afford it.

The quote refers to the intent behind President Obama’s 2010 signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The struggle by the US Congress in 2013, which included the temporary shutting down of Federal Government, was part of an attempt by some Republicans to de-fund the ACA. It came as a surprise, therefore, to see the Government’s launch of the ACA website fail spectacularly, for with such a failure to innovate by Government, the citizen still pays as a taxpayer for the failure, making such failures a betrayal of the citizen’s trust in Government.

Government departments, like competing enterprises, work in silos, each one trying to defend itself against competing silos in order to secure the best possible future for itself. The market assumption is that if one such silo goes bankrupt because of a failure to innovate, the impact on the wider environment may be ignored. This is not the case where there are systemic interdependencies between the silos, however, as with healthcare. How, then, can the government be expected not to betray the citizen’s trust when faced with such a complex innovation?

This paper, given at the 2014 ISPSO Annual Meeting in Santiago, uses the case to consider the difference between social defences against anxiety and social defences against innovation, proposing that it was the latter that led to the spectacular failure. The paper’s conclusions are on the implications of this difference for working with organisations needing to innovate to survive.

Feb 242014
 

In considering what we can learn from Lance Armstrong, I argued that aside from the moral outrage, we needed to consider if he has something to teach us about the nature of situational resistance – an insistence that goes beyond mere defences against anxiety in a relentless pursuit of innovation pointed towards overcoming a lack. I ended by asking how such courage was mobilised. What follows is a continuation of the dialogue with Simon on this point.

Simon Western: If the unconscious is ‘the knowledge that speaks for itself'(Lacan), then the question arises as to not only what makes us react to stressful situations, but what guides us to choose them in the first place? What is the lack that creates the desire to hurtle down a mountain with immense courage, and at the same time to risk all personal credibility and social capital by cheating? With Lance Armstrong there was a lack of a father in his life, which seemed to create a desire for him to overcome this lack in two ways: a) showing the world he could do it alone, he could beat the best and beat cancer too; b) to buck any form of paternalistic authority, from his coaches or from the governing body of cycling. For Lance, the rules didn’t apply to him – i.e. no father = no paternalist authority for me! The film showed this with great clarity.

Philip Boxer: ‘Hurtling down the mountain’ is the relation to an objet petit a that comes in the place of a lack[1]. The following sets out my understanding of this “lack” and how it relates to Armstrong ‘risking all’.

What is meant by the relation to ‘lack’
Lacan’s understanding of lack started from lack of being – manque à être. The Freudian insight of “Wo Es war, soll Ich warden” (where being was, there I shall be) was understood as asserting that in seeking to be where Being was, the ‘I’ was inevitably putting itself in relation to the lack of the drive structure[2]. Doing this, however, involved a double subjection: firstly to the relation to the other, mediated by the effects of a relation to the Imaginary space-time-bounded reality, itself subject to the effects of signifying structures. Secondly, to the relation to the unconscious, the drive being a necessary consequence of the structural characteristics of the lack of the unconscious in support of embodied being-in-relation-to-lack.

Lacan came to understand the subject’s relation to this support to their identification in terms of the sinthome, the consistence of a Borromean knotting together of the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic registers that was the subject’s particular way of being-in-relation-to-lack. There were three ways in which this lack was experienced, reflecting progressive transformations in the subject’s relation to his or her subjection (taken from Lacan’s Seminar IV – La relation d’objet):

  • Frustration, in which the subject seeks to bring a Real object into being in the place of an Imaginary lack experienced within the context of the containing maternal (big-S Symbolic) matrix – the child’s frustration is at not having what s/he wants when s/he wants it.
  • Privation, in which the subject puts a big-S Symbolic object in the place of a Real lack experienced within the context of an Imaginary reality of the family story – in response to what is actually lacking, the child develops his or her own signifiers and begins to search for his or her own signification of those signifiers, with all the problematics arising from there always being something not yet found.
  • Castration, in which the object that comes in the place of a structural lack of the big-S Symbolic is accepted as being Imaginary within the context of an acceptance of the subject’s relation to the Real – over the course of time, the subject accepts that no-one can ‘have’ what they want and that ‘being’ is always in relation to a lack aka the relation to the lost object/presence of an absence.

What is interesting here is that “death” is a way for the sovereign ego to talk about an encounter with a limit aka lack of being. This is why courage and the ‘pointing up’ with his fear were so important to the alpinist. “Death” is a way of rationalizing why fear exists, except much of the time it is not death per se, but just an encounter with a limit that frightens the sovereign ego. So perhaps it might be better to speak of the ego’s ‘fear of castration’ rather than the death instinct. In whatever way it is spoken of, however, these progressive transformations form a cycle, or course, in the sense that we are always learning about ‘lack’ in this structural sense[3].

Helpful in this is Lacan’s later naming of the ways in which we get stuck at different points in the cycle (taken from Seminar XXI – Les non-dupes errent). So refusal of privation involves getting stuck in the impossibility of trying to say everything; refusal of castration involves getting stuck in the impossibility of being able to write everything[4]; and refusal of frustration involves getting stuck in the nothing-to-be-said in the present moment – the Real that is ‘outside’ meaning – as a way of avoiding saying at least something![5]

Philip Boxer: So culling various biographical details from available sources, it appears that Lance’s mother, Linda, was 17 when she gave birth to him, having dropped out of high school. Soon after his parents divorced, his father abandoning Lance when he was two. Armstrong never saw his father after that, and Lance later referred to him as “the DNA donor”. In 1974, Lance’s mother married Terry Keith Armstrong, adopting Lance when he was 4. So we can say that there was an Imaginary lack – his father was not there – and that the Real object of the stepfather might at first appearances have limited the frustration Lance experienced.

Linda saw athletic potential in her son early on and encouraged him to participate in a variety of sports. Armstrong was running and swimming at 10 and taking up competitive cycling and triathlons at 13. At 16 he became a professional triathlete. So what of the place of the father in the family structure within which he grew up? We can hypothesise that there was a Real lack there, in the sense of the privation brought about by the abandonment that continued to occupy the place of the father in Linda’s relationship to her son. Here we can speculate that Lance developed particular ways of organizing signifiers that covered this Real lack which involved the place of competition in his life, but which also involved a refusal of castration.

From this speculation on his story therefore, the cheating sounds like a refusal of castration by getting stuck in trying to realise signifiers for what is impossible-to-say. In the following fragment from his history, we perhaps get a glimpse of his ego’s refusal of death coinciding with a superhuman effort, within the context of his friend’s death:

In the 1995 Tour de France, three days after teammate Fabio Casartelli died after a fall on a mountain descent, Armstrong vowed to win a stage race for his Italian friend. As the support staff pulled up alongside to give him a status report on the riders behind him, Armstrong waved them off. “I don’t need to know,” he said. “Nobody’s going to catch me.” No one did. Armstrong rode the last few hundred meters with his hands off the bars, index fingers pointing to the heavens. Armstrong recalls the eerie experience: “There’s no doubt there were four feet pushing those pedals that day.” (Racing the demons – inspired by fellow survivors, Lance Armstrong refuses to give in to cancer.)

Simon Western: I agree. He seemed to suffer from an unconscious-conscious dissonance between his great courage and the feelings of being a cheat, that he couldn’t acknowledge even when he consciously admitted cheating (i.e. there was no conscious acknowledgement of shame). ‘The unconscious spoke clearly for itself; when his unconscious took him back to racing after four years break, which reopened all the drugs questions and led to his being exposed, losing social capital and great wealth. When asked why, his conscious rationalisations for this did not answer the question fully, for him or for others, who proclaimed: but why did he do it!! I concluded that his unconscious vis a vis the death drive, took him back to die a public death in order to rid himself of the internal dissonance he felt, but could not rationally acknowledge. Even though he consciously rationalised the cheating, the feeling and emotions of being a cheat did not go away. For repression gets rid of the cognitive thoughts, but leaves a trail of emotions in the body.

Philip Boxer: Yes. On this reading, there is an unconscious refusal of castration, the corollary of which are the narcissistic and perverse defences of the ego trying to sustain its sovereignty. But is this refusal of castration what you are referring to as the death drive? I think so, and of course why shouldn’t you (along with many others, more often expressed in terms of the death instinct). But my point is that by not doing so, it fails to make room for understanding something else about what is going on, apparent when you say:

The knowledge that speaks for itself, that spoke loudly and exposed Lance in order to both kill him publicly but also perhaps to set him free.. this was where the film started. He spoke emotionally of getting his first bike as young child – “for the first time I was free – a bike sets you free!”

This something else is not so much Lance’s bike as the way of being that he takes up when bicycling. This is perhaps Lance’s sinthome. Even though his ego refuses, the Real insists, demanding that Lance pay with his being as he understands it to be in relation to bicycling. This liminal space that he finds himself in as a consequence is, in a sense, exactly where he needs to be to continue to work through (what we have speculated to be) his refusal of castration.

Where is the courage in this?  I think it is in Armstrong’s continuing insistence on being true to his sinthome which, whether he liked it or not, brought him to face a beyond of his refusal of castration. Will he find that he still ‘is’ on the other side of this castration? We shall find out from the way he takes up competing again!

Notes
[1] In saying that objet petit a is the ’cause of desire’, what is meant is not that the objet petit a causes the desire (in the sense of a material, formal or efficient cause), but rather that it becomes the (final) cause of desire in the sense of a flag standing for a shared cause.
[2] Drive structure is a relation between four things in Freud: Drang, thrust – the tendency to discharge psychic energy; Ziel, the aim; Quelle, the source – the gap defined by a rim-like structure; and Objekt, the object. For more on this see Structural Gaps – the wigo/wiRgo relation
[3] In the same sense that there are always instances of small-s symbolic equation to be worked through. See How does ‘sophisticated’ group mentality relate to basic assumption behaviour?
[4] Godel’s theory of incompleteness (or undecidability) shows how any system of thinking can be presented with a statement, the truth of which is undecidable. This is the function of the paradoxical intervention… In this refusal of castration, this undecidability is not accepted.
[5] These two sets of three are the accommodative (centrifugal) and assimilative (centripetal) forms of the Borromean knotting of the three Registers (Imaginary, Symbolic and Real).

Feb 102014
 

I am particularly interested in organisations that must operate in turbulent environments, in which client-customers must be responded to one-by-one, each demanding a different response designed to address their particular situation. We see the need for this obviously in health and social care, and more generally in public services, but it is also a characteristic, increasingly, of the networked economy.

In such organisations, a person in a role is subject to their organisation as a social system, but to the extent that the organisation must go beyond what it knows in order to respond one-by-one to what ‘more’ its client-customers want, not only must someone be prepared to go beyond what they know. They must also do so in a way that enables the organisation to learn from their ‘going beyond’. A recent dialogue helps to see what we can learn about this from Lance Armstrong. Both the individual and the organisation must face fear in going beyond what they know. What enables an organisation to mobilise courage in the face of such fear and learn from it rather than engaging in a ‘flight to the personal’?

Simon Western: I recently watched a documentary/film about Lance Armstrong- the Armstrong Lie – and was left with three areas of questions:
1. where the boundaries of personal responsibility and collective responsibility lay: Armstrong claimed, ‘we didn’t start this, everybody was using illegal substances- you couldn’t compete unless you did too’ – and even at the end of the documentary, when he admitted everything, Armstrong wondered if history would vindicate him, and his 7 tour de france victories would be re-instated because it was a level playing field of deceit. The moral relativism seen in this movie, I have seen so often in workplaces. An immoral decision is taken that is devastating to an individual but the collective response from ‘good’ people, aligns with the perpetrators. From a psychoanalytic perspective, this raises questions of how ethics are distorted and disavowed, and how individuals and collective groups rationalise or disassociate from their actions
2. The question of how the conscious and unconscious merge and blur: where knowing and denial both operate together. This is key to understanding abuse in the caring professions/church whereby staff both know they do it/ witness it, and deny it at the same time…. This question is compounded in the film by the authorities knowing and not-knowing – thereby legitimising the cheating/abuse (as occurs in many institutions — that demonise abusers but only when caught).
3. The third question was around thanatos and eros: EROS the love of life (Armstrong fighting devastating cancer- making remarkable recovery- raising millions to help others survive-raising a loving family) and this contrasted with Thanatos: the death instinct- Armstrong made a comeback that sealed his fate- recklessly so, observers kept asking why did he do it? Many leaders/celebrities do something reckless like this that ends their career- Does a self-destructive death instinct drive this……?

Philip Boxer: My initial comment was that it was useful to distinguish the perverse narcissistic defence that Armstrong appeared to be using, which took the form of ‘Everyone else was cheating, so to win I had to cheat too, and I had to cheat better than anyone else’. Here indeed was moral relativism, in which those in authority were implicated to the extent that they sustained a position of “Do what you have to do to win, but I don’t want to hear about it” – a version of which appeared in the recent ‘U.N. Panel Criticizes the Vatican Over Sexual Abuse‘. But here too was self-destructiveness.

So I also proposed that the self-destructiveness of this perverse narcissistic defence needed to be distinguished from the nature of the underlying drive that enabled Armstrong to hurtle at break-neck and break-body speeds, exhibiting a courage in pushing the limits of what he felt able to do. This is not well-described as a pursuit of death over life. Manfred Kets de Vries reminds us in his paper on ‘Death and the Executive‘ of the maladaptive responses to ‘death’ in the sense of death anticipated by a sovereign ego-enterprise as the ultimate narcissistic injury – the manic defence, denial of succession and the ‘edifice complex’. But these are the ego’s narcissistic defences, and as Kahn and Liefooghe remind us in their excellent summary ‘Thanatos: Freudian manifestations of death at work’, for Freud there was no death in the unconscious mortal fear aka existential anxiety. Instead, we are looking at repetition and drive structure, through which this drivenness is understood not so much in terms of mortality as in terms of a response to that which remains ‘unassimilable’ about our fellow human being aka not like one of us.[1] Based on Freud, this repetition and drive structure was not so much a “self-destructive death instinct” as a being driven to get as close as possible to an absolute limit, a liminality[2], because it was there that Armstrong could (again?) get a glimpse of the sublime.

Simon Western: My response was to wonder whether the death drive was beyond our capacity to think about it. Your comments moved quickly to the sublime and limitations, but did Freud identify a death-drive that went beyond limitations, to embrace emptiness and self-destruction? Freud witnessed war and Nazi Germany – we witness Syria and multiple conflicts- nations imploding, and banks – financial and economic systems self-destructing whilst a blind eye is turned by both authorities/institutions and participating actors.

Do we, as psychoanalytic thinkers, turn a blind eye to the death-drive, rationalizing it and turning it into something we can symbolize and contain – like narcissistic defences, the sublime or aggressive impulses? Hanna Arendt raised the question of the banality of evil – and Zygmunt Beauman linked bureaucratic modernity to the evil of the holocaust – but is this enough to explain the destructive impulses. Isn’t there a lack here? Perhaps this lack is the death-drive lurking banally in each of us? I have witnessed so-called ‘good’ people self-destructing or externalizing their destructive impulses, trying to destroy others when they are at their most vulnerable. Institutions bureaucratize this ‘evil’ and protect the perpetrators, until exposed; then they absolve themselves and personalize the evil as if it only existed in selective bad individuals. As Freud identified, if we are to understand civilization we have to understand the discontents, and the destructive as well as creative forces. Maybe we need to re-visit the death drive?

Philip Boxer: I agree with you, but it is exactly the sovereign ego’s defences that rationalise, symbolise and attempt to contain – and always fall short. It is the sovereign ego that is the source of the “suppress and repress” referred to by Manfred Kets de Vries in his paper.  I intended my reference to the ‘sublime’ to be understood not as referring to some transcendent notion so much as to something very particular – in Armstrong’s case, feeling that he was right on the edge of what he could possibly do. Freud spoke of this as a relation to that in the particular which remained lost (dingvorstellung), distinguished from that in the particular that was experienced as being repeated (sachvorstellung).[3] Armstrong’s relation to the organisation of the sport served his narcissistic purposes, but his relation to the racing itself was also driven by this relation to what remained ‘lost’, the pursuit of which took him to the edge of what was humanly possible. In this sense, Armstrong was doubly subjected: both subject to the ways he could control how he was ‘known’ by others, and also subject to his unconscious in the particular way he faced the limits of his performance (in Freudian terms, subjection to both reality and to pleasure-pain). It is in relation to this second form of subjection that repetition and drive structure come into play, in which we observe something about the aim of the drive structure and how we might think further about the unconscious structuring of this being driven.[4]

Double subjection is apparent in the following description of an extreme alpinist:

During his apprenticeship he learned the open secret that at the edge of the possible, the rules and techniques of climbing become quite different from the nostrums aimed at beginners. Mark and his partners have tested the conventional wisdom and modified if when they found it wanting.[5]

Here there is both subjection to the ‘conventional wisdom’ and also subjection to the limits of what can be learnt in challenging ‘conventional wisdom’. In Armstrong’s case, the conventional wisdom included ‘having to cheat’, so that winning included having to cheat ‘better’, but this cheating also required him to push the limits of his own body ‘more’, which demanded courage. The value in thinking in terms of a double subjection is therefore that we can think both about the way the social system imposed certain constraints, but also about the way Armstrong had to overcome fear in reaching beyond his own personal limits.

To quote the alpinist again (in the following, a ‘pitch’ is a section of a climb):

To climb through fear, to point fear up instead of down, you need to maintain the desire and strength, the will and discipline, to go until the end of the pitch. If you are scared, reinforce your confidence by biting off what you know you can chew. Successfully swallowing it will encourage you to take another bite, another pitch. … Trust in your skill, and give yourself up to the action.[5]

We can share a moral outrage at Armstrong’s cheating, but surely there is no question that he also showed courage in the way he gave himself up to the action, ‘pointing’ his fear. Clearly there is the destructive impulse and the evil in the banal ‘following of orders’ characteristic of the perverse narcissistic defence by the sovereign ego and its associated envious attacks, but this is not enough to understand what was going on here. And to pick another example of a person showing similar courage in a different context by putting his being ‘on the line’, would we be outraged at Edward Snowden’s cheating too, or in his case call it whistleblowing? What would we say to those who want to award him the Nobel Peace Prize?

What Lance Armstrong has to teach us is something about the nature of situational resistance – an insistence that goes beyond mere defences against anxiety in a relentless pursuit of innovation pointed towards overcoming a lack. How is such courage mobilised?

Notes
[1] This is a reference to Freud’s Project and that which remains unassimilable in nebenmensch. See Reinhard, K. (2005). Toward a Political Theology of the Neighbor. The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology. S. Zizek, E. L. Santner and K. Reinhard, University of Chicago Press.
[2] In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
[3] For more on this, see getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency.
[4] This reading of Freud aims to build on the insights of the death instinct as understood by a Kleinian reading in terms of envy. (Stein, M. (2000). “After Eden: Envy and the defences against anxiety paradigm.” Human Relations 53(2): 193-211.)
[5] Taken from ‘Extreme Alpinism: climbing light, fast and high’. By Mark F. Twight and James Martin. The Mountaineers: Seattle 1999