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 organisation, 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?
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.
The dilemma arises because of an oscillation over time between two or more of these formations.  The ‘impossibility’ then refers to whatever remains beyond any one formation. The dotted line formation represents a new formation that holds the underlying situation in some new way, making it possible to contain the impossibility in some way.  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 this situation, the ‘other’ side of the dilemma. The differences between the dominant and ‘other’ formations are gendered in the way they approach the underlying impossibility.[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):
Using Foucault’s formulation of a discursive practice, (1) is defined by the ‘objects’ implied by the ‘concepts’ forming the content of the narrative in (2).  (3) is then the ‘enunciative modality’ from which (2) makes sense, both (2) and (3) being subject to (4), the unifying theme guaranteeing that particular way of making sense. (4) thus defines the axiomatics under which the account of process and outcome are narrated in (2) in relation to a wigo in (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.  This is what is picked up by the consequence 2 flipping the narrative into ‘other’ practices. What is ‘Really’ going on (wiRgo), then, is what is glimpsed in the liminal spaces between these practices. 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.

Being in relation to the ‘impossible’ axis
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 intersubjectively 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 (the -system), including the effects of the lack of the unconscious on the subject’s relation to being (the []-complex). 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 relation to the plus-de-jouir.[6]

This relation to the []-complex is the relation to the objects of the drive.  Taking up a relation to whatever impossibility is experienced as being in this position is the basis for a network intervention…

[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, and the ‘structure’ implicit in the way the ‘actor’ is forming the ‘narrative’.
[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 way the ‘structure’ implicit in the narrative of the originating situation. In Lacanese, this ‘structure’ gives us some insight into the 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] The relation between the dominant and the ‘other’ side of a dilemma is gendered, the point about each frame being ‘non-discursive’ being that both framings have preconscious elements. The i(a) formulation of the underlying impossibility is where we meet the unconscious and its effects… 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, rather the libidinal organisation under ego management aka libidinal investment in the ego’s organisation, or if such counter-resistance is not ‘owned’ by the ego, then a super-egoic investment that has not yet been addressed/questioned. It is the relation to what lies behind the impossibility that is organised by this egoic/super-egoic investment that is the plus-de-jouir that is put into question by the plus-one process…
[5] It is the imaginarisation of this experienced impossibility that is an 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 non-discursive frame secures against the taking up of double subjection.

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:


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

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.  Bion tackled this in terms of the relation to ‘O’, but he did so within the context of Kleinian rading of ‘object’.


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’.


Figure 3: Lacan’s schema L

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

2. This combining of thing and word reduced that-about-experience which the subject could not repeat to the status of another object-relation, (aka the lost object, originally that about the (m)other that could not be repeated). With Lacan, this ‘lost object’ or relation to Das Ding becomes the much more particular 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 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:

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 Other being on the orthogonal ‘Other’ axis supported by the relation to the Symbolic[5]:

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 quantity and quality, 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]

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]


  • 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:
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:
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]

[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 unconscious in support of embodied being.

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 lost.
  • 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.

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!

[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, but rather that it becomes the 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?

[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

Jan 072014

The theory of the enterprise developed based on a largely static and ‘closed’ ontology. This meant that the top management of such an enterprise was assumed to be committed to a form of mental model aka Thirdness, reflecting founding assumptions and constraints established by them within the context of their communities of interest. This form of Thirdness authorised a particular way of composing asset structures appropriate to top management’s (top-down) definition of primary task, well described in terms of the boundaries associated with open systems thinking[1] and the dictates of pursuing sustainable competitive advantage.

Innovation involves enabling this ontology to give way to different ontologies rooted in different processes and values[2]. This means that the asset structures have to be decomposable and capable of re-composition within different mental models[3].  Innovation that does this is disruptive.  This blog considers the effects of such innovation on an individual’s double subjection when it takes them ‘outside’ their existing forms of Thirdness.

Going ‘outside’ existing forms of Thirdness
In the turbulent environments identified by Emery and Trist[4], the failure by an enterprise to accept disruptive innovation prevents it from engaging in the kinds of dynamic adaptation demanded of it by these environments – resisting the situational resistance of the client-customers demanding change, or counter-resisting.  Dynamic adaptation involves adopting new perspectives on the nature of competition as dynamic specialisation [5] and it involves innovation becoming part of the ‘normal’ way of doing business instead of being left to a separate world of ‘entrepreneurs’[3]. This means that the forms of existential anxiety precipitated by the going ‘outside’ existing forms of Thirdness – the underlying driver of counter-resistance – have to become the new  ‘normal’.  In turbulent environments, the effect of counter-resistance is to block dynamic adaptation.

Going ‘outside’ existing forms of Thirdness is not just a matter of working across boundaries under conditions in which the dominance of the vertical over the horizontal can no longer be assumed [6]. For relations across such boundaries to be effective, shared mental models have to emerge in the inter-subjective spaces ultimately able to sustain social institutions[7]. From the perspective of the subject of the enterprise, these will involve subjection to new forms of Thirdness[8].

Spanning Disjunction
Both hierarchical and community systems may be characterised by the ‘Thirdness’ implicit in the way they cohere, even though the source of the mental models in each case may be different. Thus with hierarchically-defined roles, the source of Thirdness will ultimately be the founding assumptions and constraints of the enterprise to which those working for it are subjected ‘vertically’ through their employment.  With community organisations, however, the shared mental model is more likely to have emerged from individuals engaging with a situation in which two-way co-creating is taking place ‘horizontally’, so that the shaping assumptions and constraints emerge from the situation itself. A potential disjunction arises between these, therefore, derived from the disjoint nature of their respective sources (i.e. founding origin versus present situation)[9].

One perspective on this potential disjunction is to be found in the inter-subjective approach used by Susan Long, which argues that these disjoint forms of subjection ultimately reflect gendered forms of identification[10]. Another perspective is to be found in writing about ‘treatment resistance’.  This form of resistance arises, for example, as a consequence of a therapist rigidly holding to procedure, as though the basis of staff authority was synonymous with the form of Thirdness appropriate to a therapeutic session, instead of working with the patient to build a shared Thirdness emerging from their working alliance in the patient’s situation[11].  The patient’s resistance is situational resistance, and it evidences this disjunction in which the therapist’s rigid holding-to-procedure constitutes counter-resistance.

Within the context of an enterprise, a similar potential disjunction may be found in the study of disruptive innovation in which values and processes are introduced that disrupt those of the existing enterprise[12]. An existing enterprise will conserve its established ways of doing things in the same way that the therapist might conserve existing ways of engaging in a therapeutic process: in conserving its own forms of Thirdness, the enterprise excludes other forms, restricting the possible forms of relationship it can sustain with potential customers. The enterprise is conserving the vertical relation to its founding assumptions and constraints (‘counter-resistance’), while ‘situational resistance’ appears on the side of the customer-client as demands for change.  The disjunction corresponds to two forms of resistance, therefore, the employees insisting on their roles and the client-customers insisting on their needs.

Counter-resistance is always on the side of the supplier-provider

Ontological assumptions are made every time a signifier-signified relation is asserted within the context of some form of Thirdness. Double subjection means that in addition to the socially recognisable forms of metonymy and metaphor through which these signifier-signified relations are organised, there are also the ontological assumptions and constraints imposed by an unconscious lexicon[13].  We can therefore approach disruptive innovation in terms of three kinds of disruption to an existing form of Thirdness that are cumulative in their effects:

  • First comes a breakdown in a signifying relation, so that what was previously felt to be a ‘true’ signifying statement about what-is-being-experienced is no longer experienced as true.
  • Second comes inter-subjective disruption, in which what was previously felt to be a shared organisation of relationships between signifiers defining an inter-subjective space is no longer experienced as shared, thus changing what is felt to be true.

From the supply-side perspective of an existing form of Thirdness, to avoid such disruptions would be to avoid errors of  ‘correspondence’ and ‘coherence/consistency’ respectively[14], which would constitute the ‘conscious’ errors in unintentional errors and unconscious valency.  The third kind of disruption is the one that leads to existential anxiety, the avoidance of which would be to avoid the third kind of ‘decidability’ error, corresponding to ‘unintentional’ error, in which the subject is no longer clear what-to-do in response to a demand:

  • Third comes ontological disruption, in which the unconscious lexicon of object-relating behaviours is invalidated in some way. This third form of disruption is to the kinds of entity that constitute the underlying world itself, to the kinds of interaction these entities have among themselves and to how the entities and their interaction modes change as a result of these interactions[2]. It is this form of disruption that is most associated with existential anxiety because it leads to the feeling of ‘not knowing where to start’.[15]

What happens when disruptive innovation challenges an individual’s double subjection by taking them ‘outside’ their existing forms of Thirdness?  Errors of this third kind, through staying within what is consciously known, constitute unintentional errors. Such errors, in defending the subject against anxiety, resist aka conserve the subject’s identifications. While the first two of these errors may be consciously resisted through holding on to existing forms of Thirdness, resisting the third ontological disruption is most problematic because it is unconscious, disrupting the very forms of Thirdness that currently give meaning. Defenses against anxiety thus constitute counter-resistance, and the forms they take include repression, exclusion, expulsion and attacks against other forms of Thirdness on the basis of their political in-correctness![16]

What is the alternative response to ontological disruption?  By adopting an ethic that we can see modeled in the pursuit of extreme sports: to engage in the work of mastering a medium through mastering fear. What is at stake in situational resistance is courage.[17]

[1] Social defenses against anxiety emphasise the use of such Thirdness as a container. The emerging difficulties with this understanding of the organisation of an enterprise are described in what is happening to boundaries, authority and containment?. An account of how these defenses arise is given in Getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency. This understanding of organisation considers resistance on the side of the supplier-provider through its conservation of identity, contrasting this supply-side resistance with demand-side situational resistance. See Situational Resistance: challenges to the supply-side conservation of identity. Identifying ‘true’ resistance with the demand-side in this way renders supply-side resistance as counter-resistance.
[2] Lane, D. A. and R. R. Maxfield (2005). “Ontological uncertainty and innovation.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 15.
[3] Foss, N. J. and P. G. Klein (2012). Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgement: A New Approach to the Firm, Cambridge University Press.
[4] Emery, F. E. and E. Trist (1965). “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments.” Human Relations 18: 21-32.
[5] Hagel III, J. and J. Seely Brown (2005). The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press.
[6] Boxer, P. J. (2013a). Leading organisations without boundaries: ‘quantum’ organisation and the work of making meaning. ISPSO Conference. Oxford, UK.
[7] Long, S. (2006). “Organizational Defenses Against Anxiety: What Has Happened Since the 1995 Jaques Paper?” International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 3(4): 279-295. p285
[8] Described further in Thirdness, also see Murphey, M. G. (1993). The Development of Peirce’s Philosophy, Hackett Publishing Company. and Benjamin, J. (2009). “A relational psychoanalysis perspective on the necessity of acknowledging failure in order to restore the facilitating and containing features of the intersubjective relationship (the shared third).” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 90: 441-450.
[9] This is the third dilemma of affiliation versus alliance – see the diasporic way.
[10] Benjamin, J. (1988). The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and the Problem of Domination. New York, Pantheon Books.  I take up this issue of gender in THE environment does not ex-sist.
[11] Muller, J. (2011). Why the pair needs the third. Treatment Resistance and Patient Authority: The Austen Riggs Reader. New York, Norton Press: 97-120.p98.
[12] Christensen, C. M. and M. Overdorf (2000). “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change.” Harvard Business Review(March-April).
[13] This unconscious lexicon is the . -complex of unconscious valencies through which conscious constructions are constrained by processes of unconscious symbolic equation. See getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency
[14] Judging errors from within a particular form of Thirdness, like conducting science from within a particular paradigm, is to define ‘error’ from within an existing form of discursive practice – see what is happening to ‘boundaries, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’? –   but not from the place of the disruptor.
[15] It is this kind of disruption that is associated with paradigm change, resistance to which is through the pursuit of degenerative research programmes. See also Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago. and Lakatos, I. (1970). Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 91-196.
[16] See footnotes [1] and [2] in getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency. The success of these forms of counter-resistance transform turbulent environments into vortical environments – see must we fall into the vortex?
[17] An insight into what this is about in the context of climbing is to be found in ‘Extreme Alpinism: climbing light, fast and high’. By Mark F. Twight and James Martin. The Mountaineers: Seattle 1999 “Mark has climbed with many of the world’s best alpinists. 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.” and “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. Try to keep sight of the long view. Any time your mind can accept a bigger bite, go for the top in one big gulp. Preserve your drive. Don’t sketch around or get psyched out or consider lowering off to relinquish the lead. Trust in your skill, and give yourself up to the action.

Jan 052014

This series of blogs started with a difficulty faced at a research colloquium in addressing the effects of libidinal investment on the way the participants ‘were’ in language.  We were getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of ‘Thirdness’ associated with ‘unconscious defences against anxiety’.  The effects of libidinal investment were to be observed in the way it excluded thoughts and expelled thinking that was in some way inconsistent or problematic for its continuing hegemony, preserving a particular form of relation to an ex-sistent ‘more’ that was valued as much as its ability to include and subsume.[1] Viewed through its expression as political correctness, libidinal investment therefore serves to maintain particular constructions of meaning in the face of potentially contradictory experiences. [2]

The work at understanding the nature of this difficulty started with identifying the missing subject-ego relation in Hanna Segal’s ‘three-term relation’ and continued to consider how Bion’s formulation of sophistication and mentality lost something by narrowing his focus to the work group.  This difficulty was most apparent in the way these formulations were able to address the problematic relation between ‘containing’ and ‘otherness’.  Formulating the missing relation in terms of a relation to ‘Thirdness‘, this blog considers how we might understand getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of ‘Thirdness’ as symptomatic of unconscious valency.

Bion’s Grid
Bion’s grid[3] places the subject’s contact-barrier between the subject’s experience of what-is-going-on (wigo) aka things-in-themselves and the subject’s capacity to give meaning to wigo. In this diagram, the dotted blue line represents the processes by which the subject’s embodied experience gets taken up and contained:
In this schema, the difference between alpha- and beta-elements concerns the way in which experience is taken up in consciousness (words in red referred to later in this blog):

Alpha-function operates on the sense impressions, whatever they are, and the emotions, whatever they are, of which the patient is aware. In so far as alpha-function is successful alpha elements are produced and these elements are suited to storage and the requirements of dream thoughts. If alpha-function is disturbed, and therefore inoperative, the sense impressions of which the patient is aware and the emotions which he is experiencing remain unchanged. I shall call them beta elements. In contrast with the alpha-elements the beta-elements are not felt to be phenomena, but things in themselves. The emotions likewise are objects of sense.[4]

Bion attributes his use of “contact-barrier” to Freud, identifying it with the functioning of a synapse:

I shall now transfer all that I have said about the establishment of conscious and unconscious and a barrier between them to a supposed entity, that I designate a “contact-barrier”; Freud used this term to describe the neuro-physiological entity subsequently known as a synapse. In conformity with this my statement that the man has to “dream” a current emotional experience whether it occurs in sleep or in waking life is re-formulated thus: The man’s alpha-function whether in sleeping or waking transforms the sense-impressions related to an emotional experience, into alpha-elements, which cohere as they proliferate to form the contact-barrier. This contact-barrier, thus continuously in process of formation, marks the point of contact and separation between conscious and unconscious elements and originates the distinction between them. The nature of the contact-barrier will depend on the nature of the supply of alpha-elements and on the manner of their relationships to each other. They may cohere. They may be agglomerated. They may be ordered sequentially to give the appearance of narrative (at least in the form in which the contact-barrier may reveal itself in a dream). They may be ordered logically. They may be ordered geometrically.[5]

Consciousness in these terms therefore rests on the foundations of alpha-elements that may then be progressively organised, leaving beta-elements that may not. These beta-elements and their associated beta-screen produced effects in the analyst that appeared coherent and purposive while outside the consciousness of the subject:

A small number of patients with whom I have had to deal have presented prominently symptoms of disordered capacity for thought… I tested the supposition that I contained the non-psychotic part of his personality, and then began to be aware that I was supposed to be conscious of what was going on while he was not. I was (contained) his “conscious”… Freud’s theory that consciousness is the sense-organ of psychic quality, allowed an assumption that a separation was being effected between consciousness and psychic quality… Now this situation does not correspond to the theoretical framework I have suggested, the theory, namely, of a contact barrier owing its existence to the proliferation of alpha-elements by alpha-function and serving the function of a membrane which by the nature of its composition and permeability separates mental phenomena into two groups one of which performs the functions of consciousness and the other the functions of unconsciousness… The difference in the two states derives from the differences between a contact barrier composed of alpha-elements and one composed, if that is the right word, of beta-elements. These last, it will be remembered, appear to lack a capacity for linkage to each other… comparison of the beta-element screen with the confused states resembling dream shows the beta-element screen to be coherent and purposive. An interpretation that the patient was pouring out a stream of material intended to destroy the analyst’s psych-analytic potency would not seem out of place. Equally apt would be the interpretation that the patient was concerned to withhold rather than to impart information.[6]

Differences to Freud’s Project
There are important differences with Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology[7] in how Bion formulated the relation of the subject’s consciousness to alpha- and beta-elements.  Freud made a fundamental distinction in his Project between the perceptual -system and an -system of word-presentations, and between word-presentation and thing-presentation.[8]  This latter distinction was between a closed -system organising differences in quality, and a -complex organising quantity (quotas of ‘affect’) distributed across different neuronal pathways as networks of complication.[9]

Fundamental to understanding the differences with Freud’s Project was the role of Q – energy – within the ‘psychic apparatus’. Between Q and Q in the external world were Q-screens, which were impermeable to Q. Two kinds of contact-barrier were then hypothesised: those which were permeable (), offering no resistance to the passage of Q; and those which had some degree of impermeability (), and were therefore capable of holding back the passage of Q. The -system was that which was reached by exogenous stimulation and through which the discharge of Q took place; and the -complex was that which was stimulated by Qas well as by endogenous excitation. Facilitation involved altering the thresholds of impermeability of the contact barriers within the -complex – a “-complex” because of its facilitated complexification of distributions of Q across () contact-barrier pathways. The Pleasure Principle was therefore the distribution of Q across this -complex following a principle of constancy, through the facilitation of distribution and discharge via 
project2The -system was that which conducted the periodicity of stimulation arising at the Q-screen back to the -complex as a path of facilitation, and forward to the Q-screen as attention which anticipated stimulation.  This periodicity of any given stimulation was to be thought of as a complex waveform with its own distinctive signature pattern. Thus, on the one hand there were memory traces – specific configurations of -complexification through distributions of quantity; and on the other there were patterns of quality which were the waveform correlates of these memory traces. This distinction between and became the distinction between thing-presentation and word-presentation, the latter being taken as an indication of quality and the two together becoming an object-presentation as per Appendix C of The Unconscious[10]
Three important differences are to be noted between Bion and Freud therefore:

  1. Bion’s sense-impressions (quality) and emotional experience (quantity) related to both exogenous (waking) and endogenous (sleeping) excitation, whether accessible to consciousness (alpha-elements) or not (beta-elements);
  2. Bion’s contact-barrier was specific to the relation between the conscious and the unconscious, corresponding to the relationship between word-presentation, where the word-presentation was accessible to consciousness, and thing-presentation.  Conscious word-presentations therefore appeared as alpha-elements, while word-presentations that remained unconscious remained as beta-elements; and
  3. Experience for Bion was reducible to its elements, whether alpha-elements or beta-elements.

In summary, whereas for Bion the irreducible elements were alpha- and beta-elements, in Freud’s Project these elements were themselves epiphenomena of synaptic patterns within the  -complex .

Structuring elements in the way that words are structured
In Freud’s Project, therefore, the relationships between contact-barriers in the  -complex could combine to form an open-ended variety of possible pathways between synaptic neurones, each pathway distributing quantity (quotas of affect) in a different way. The -system was a source of ‘downwards’ regulation of these distributions of affect through the way it facilitated the transmission of quantity through () contact-barriers in ways that regulated levels of pleasure/unpleasure.  Crucial here were the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ natures of thing-presentations and word-presentations respectively.[11]

This ‘open’ nature of thing-presentation implied that there was an open-ended number of possible pathways between synaptic neurones, the differences between which was a function of their differences as pathways with their associated affect. Using the metaphor of the relation between words and letters, there was an open-ended number of possible ‘words’ made up of combinations of ‘letters’ in the -complex. The relation of the -system to the -complex was then like the relation between recognised ‘words’ and combinations of ‘letters’.  Not all combinations of ‘letters’ in the -complex were recognised as ‘words’ in the -system, and combinations of ‘letters’ that were recognised in the -system were recognisable through their difference to other recognised combinations of ‘letters’. Thus while the potential number of combinations of ‘letters’ aka synaptic pathways was open, the number of ‘words’ aka word-presentations that were recognised was closed.

Approached in this way, while the word-presentation in the unconscious could equally be an ideogram or phoneme, it could also be complex patterns of relationship between word-presentations.  These recognised word-presentations and patterns of word-presentations acted as the lexicon of signification, while at the same being bathed in the affective medium through their associated synaptic pathways in the unconscious.[12] To be subject to the unconscious was therefore to be subject to this structuring of difference.  This reading of Freud’s Project does not detract from Bion’s rendering of alpha- and beta-elements.  Rather it takes it further by providing an unconscious basis for ‘formations’ in the 4-term relation in a way that Bion’s Grid did not – ‘formations’ being complex patterns of relationship between word-presentations.  In effect, libidinal investment in particular ‘formations’ can be subject to the equivalent of symbolic equation applied to these complex patterns. How can this be recognised in Freud’s structuring of the ‘psychic apparatus’?

Primary and Secondary Stratification
In his letter to Fleiss of the 6th December 1896, Freud postulated the above structural account in terms of a process of primary stratification:

  • W [Wahrnehmungen (perceptions)] were neurones in which perceptions originated , to which consciousness attached, but which in themselves retained no trace of what had happened.
  • Wz [Wahrnehmungszeichen (indications of perception)] were then the first registration of perceptions, arranged according to associations by simultaneity (,
  • Ub [Unbewusstsein (unconsciousness)] was the second registration arranged according to the process of complexification ), and
  • Vb [Vorbewusstsein (preconsciousness)] was the third transcription, attached to word-presentation (the -system).

In thinking about this third transcription in relation to the -system, the -system and the -complex, Freud commented that “the cathexes proceeding from this Vb become conscious according to certain rules; and this secondary thought consciousness is subsequent in time and is probably linked to the hallucinatory activation of word presentations, so that the neurones of consciousness would once again be perceptual neurones and in themselves without memory”. Just as perception led through indication of perception to produce facilitating effects on the -complex, so the “subsequent in time” indicated that the preconsciousness led back through the system to produce effects of attention – a kind of echo. The important point here was that whereas thing-presentations remain anchored in the -complex, the -system acted as a support for word-presentations, and ultimately for consciousness.

This whole  system therefore acted as a substrate to consciousness. In order to consider the unconscious basis of ‘formation’ aka Thirdness, we therefore need a secondary stratification (the W-Wz-Ub-Vb stratification described by Freud being primary) by introducing as a particular organisation aka ‘formation’ of the subject’s relation to the unconscious object-signifiers. This relation to represents a secondary stratification that is an organisation of word-presentations,[13] producing the following:

The dotted line is there because the -system only affects the -complex in ways that are mediated by and the -system, there being no direct relationship between  and . The secondary stratification is that through which the organisation of relationships between word-presentations takes place on the axis of to .[14] Symbolic equation aka unconscious valency is thus a restricting of the relationship between the -complex and the -system, to which we can now add a second kind of unconscious valency as restricting the relationship between the -complex and .

This now gives us a way to understand getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of ‘formation’ aka Thirdness as symptomatic of unconscious valency. Valency is now understood in terms of the relations between ‘truth’ and three other positions: ‘agent’, ‘work’ and ‘production’, so that Thirdness becomes understood as the effect of these three on the fourth. In the position of ‘truth’ are -system constructions.  The thick black line signifies the difference between the conscious nature of these constructions and the rest of the system.  This ‘truth’ is subject to a -organisation (‘agent’ in the figure below) of the relation between the -system and the -complex.  Symbolic equation is thus to be understood not only in the familiar sense of limiting the articulation of the relation between the -system (the ‘work’ of signifying meaning in the sense of an artist’s work) and the -complex, but also between  and the -complex (the ‘production’ of the relation to the radically unconscious -complex, this radicality also signified by a thick black line).   The effect of symbolic equation is therefore to limit the possible forms of construction of ‘truth’ in both ways.
Consider now how Bion’s Grid is affected by this more complex structuring in which an ‘Other’ axis is formed by the effects of the -complex on mediating the ways in which the -system acts as a support to consciousness. The two sides of the Grid, formulated in terms of the container(♀) and the contained(♂), can now be understood as sophisticated forms of Thirdness and signification respectively freed to some extent from the effects of symbolic equation on both organisations of object-relation and object-relations per se.  The unconscious valency remains there ‘under the surface’ as an ‘Other’ subjection alongside the social forms of subjection associated with inter-subjectively shared forms of Thirdness.[15] 

Our double subjection is now in terms of both the container-contained constructions of the social, and also the . -complex unconscious valencies through which these constructions are constrained by processes of symbolic equation.  We need to understand not only the dotted blue arrow indicating the direct effects of symbolic equation, but also the indirect effects of symbolic equation represented by the mediating effects of the solid blue arrow, through which the inter-subjective experience of Thirdness is also made subject to the unconscious organisation of object-relating.[16]
It is this double subjection that is constitutive of the double challenge, the ethics of which may be understood in terms of  a diasporic way associated with journeying at the edge.[17] Why care?  Because by failing to take up this challenge, an organisation stops learning about how to maintain a dynamic alignment with its environments…  many organisations acting in this way creating an impact on their environments that is the corollary to global climate change – vortical environments.

[1] The implications of this ex-sistent ‘more’ are explored in THE environment does not ex-sist and written about in Stavrakakis, Y., The Lacanian Left: psychoanalysis, theory, politics. 2007, New York: SUNY Press, as well as in Zizek, S. (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. London, Verso.  The ways in which ideology is exercised as a form of Power/Knowledge is written about extensively by Foucault, see footnote [1] in what is happening to ‘boundaries’, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’ and Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Brighton, UK, The Harvester Press. What this analysis adds is the libidinal investment that underpins this way of exercising Power/Knowledge. In the case of the colloquium about ‘defences against anxiety’, it was as if we had more energy for complaining about the ‘management’ of organisations in, for example, the UK’s National Health Service, than we did by seeing such management as a symptom of current ways of understanding it as a given characteristic of organisations within which we took up roles as individuals. At the heart of this exclusion was the hegemony of (the libidinal investment in) ‘open systems’ thinking.  For more on this, see what is happening to ‘boundaries’, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’.
[2] This is the basic thrust of Howie Schwartz’s argument in (for example) Political Correctness and organizational nihilism, Human Relations 55(11) November 2002. In the terms of this blog, the nihilism comes from a passage à l’acte signaling the encounter with the ‘difficulty’ axis of anxiety – a signaling of what is experienced as an impossibility of there being any other way.  This (ab)use of ideology in the service of libidinal investment is also the thrust of Susan Long’s book on the Perverse organisation – Long, S., The Perverse Organisation and its Deadly Sins. 2008, London: Karnac – but see my critique of her use of Lacan in support of her argument.
[3] Bion’s ‘Elements of Psycho-Analysis’ 1963
[4] Chapter 3 from Bion’s ‘Learning from Experience’ 1962
[5] ibid Chapter 8
[6] ibid Chapter 9
[7] Freud, S. (1950[1895]). Project for a Scientific Psychology. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, The Hogarth Press. I (1886-1889): 283-397.
[8] He made a further distinction between two kinds of thing-presentation: sachvorstellung and dingvorstellung. These are crucial to understanding that about a libidinal investment in ideology that values particular forms of exclusion and expulsion, but is beyond the scope of this blog to pursue here.  See anxiety and innovation and an early framing of this issue in the relation to drive structure. Sachvorstellung is the thing-presentation that can act as support to word-presentation, potentially repressed by the ego through negation (Freud, S. (1961[1925]). Negation. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, The Hogarth Press. XIX (1923-1925): 233-239.).  But dingvorstellung is that about the thing that is lost: “the first and immediate aim, therefore, of reality-testing is, not to find an object in real perception which corresponds to the one presented, but to refind such an object, to convince oneself that it is still there… The reproduction of a perception as a presentation is not always a faithful one; it may be modified by omissions, or changed by the merging of various elements. In that case, reality-testing has to ascertain how far such distortions go. But it is evident that a precondition for the setting up of reality-testing is that objects shall have been lost which once brought real satisfaction” (ibid p235-236). Das Ding is that about the experience that is lost. In the Project, Freud speaks of this reality-testing as judging, and uses the neighbour (fellow human-being) to emphasise the coexistence of the neighbour-as-known with that-about-the-neighbour-that-is-lost: “the complex of the fellow human-being falls apart into two components, of which one makes an impression by its constant structure and stays together as a thing, while the other can be understood by the activity of memory – that is traced back to information from the subject’s own body” (Freud, S. (1950[1895]). Project for a Scientific Psychology. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, The Hogarth Press. I (1886-1889): p331.
[9] Freud, S. (1950[1895]). Project for a Scientific Psychology. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, The Hogarth Press. I (1886-1889): p315
[10] Freud, S. (1957[1915]a). The Unconscious. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, Hogarth Press. XIV (1914-1916).
[11] It was this difference that led Lacan to propose that the unconscious was structured like a language (was structured): “I say ‘like’ so as not to say that the unconscious is structured by a language. The unconscious is structured like the assemblages in question in set theory, which are like letters” Lacan, J., Ed. (1998 [1972-73]). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX, Encore: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge: Book XX Encore 1972-1973, W.W. Norton. p48.
[12] The unconscious was therefore structured like a language is structured in the sense that it was constituted through the articulation of different patterns of distribution of affect, derived from the person’s embodied (and as such affective) experiencing and subject to the particular forms of difference which that experiencing articulated.
[13] These organisations of word-presentation would be through the effects of metaphor and metonymy – condensation and displacement – the structural characteristics of which are taken up in To ‘contain’: signifiers, signified and thirdness.
[14] This is the structure of the ‘quadripod’ which Lacan describes in Savoir (p57-58 – Feb 3rd 1972 Seminar) and which determines the “fundamental topology from which any function of speech derives”.
[15] The curved line below represents the distinction between ‘sach’ and ‘ding’ in footnote [8] above. The curved line to the left represents the distinction between the conscious and the subconscious and/or unconscious, which in Bion is between alpha- and beta-elements.
[16] From here is is a short step to considering as implicit in the maternal containing introject, or  as explicit in the form of a paternal metaphor, the foreclosure of which characterises psychosis.
[17] From the perspective of this ethic, we see how ‘objectivity’ (inter-subjective agreement) and a ‘scientific’ empiricism made it easier to reduce this to a two-way stretch between an ‘above’ and ‘below’ the surface, hiding unconscious valencies to the paternal metaphors behind scientific progress through an ‘unconscious error‘ that invoked the materialism behind Morris’s 1938 International Encyclopedia of Unified Science – see the missing subject-ego relation in true symbolism, symbolic equation and object-relations.

Dec 262013

The previous four blogs on the missing subject-ego relation, symbol formation, sophisticated groups and matrices of thought raise a question of how we are to understand ‘container’ in a structural sense. This blog aims to clarify how this word ‘container’ is read in terms of ‘signifiers’, ‘signifieds’, ‘formation’ and the Peircean notion of ‘Thirdness’.[1]

The relationship between signifiers (S) and what is signified (s) by those signifiers[2] is written as S/s. The horizontal bar (shown here as a diagonal slash) is used to represent the particular relation of the signifier to that-which-is-signified, and Thirdness refers to the way in which this particular relation to that-which-is-signified is experienced as shared[3]. Thirdness is thus a way of referring to the experience of shared assumptions and constraints acting as the context within which there is an experience of shared meaning, and is therefore some function of S, written as f(S). This function has the effect of placing what-is-being-experienced under a signifying bar (the diagonal slash here) as that-which-is-signified. The effect of this function is to subject what-is-being-experienced to the signifier through a vertical relation to the signifier.[4]
Thus in the figure above, the signifier ‘Tree’ invokes an implicit difference between ‘this’ tree and others, whereas the ‘Ladies’ signifier invokes an explicit difference in the way two rooms are used. How many times have we had to check the images on two identical doors before being sure which one to enter? Finally the signifying chain ‘The cat lay on the mat’ is read as signifying a number of relations between signifiers, to which the experience itself is subjected.

Using this formalisation of S/s, two variations are possible, associated with metonymy and metaphor:

  • With metonymy horizontal linkages between signifiers are themselves taken to signify, for example “can I have a cup [of tea]”, so that there is an implicit signification (the contents of the square brackets in the example). Thirdness applied to this metonymy,  i.e. to the horizontally linked signifiers, results in a new signifier that, when related to as such, places some implicit experience under a signifying bar.[5] For example, the ‘slip of the tongue’ is taken as referring to something under the signifying bar, psychoanalytic work being interested in what this might be.
  • With metaphor, a vertical signifying relation is applied to signifiers that is itself taken to signify, for example, “my life is like a pancake” i.e. Thirdness applied to the vertically linked signifiers imposes a crossing of the signifying bar in a particular way.[6] In the figure above, ‘the cat sat on the mat’ signifying chain functions as a metaphor organising the particular relations between the individual signifiers of ‘cat’, ‘mat’ etc.

Thirdness therefore becomes a particular way of attributing signification to signifiers that have been put into horizontal (metonymic) and vertical (metaphoric) relations to each other, made manifest through speech acts.

Using these concepts, we can return to the notion of the introjected mother-container in the blog on sophisticated groups. This mother-container can now be understood as the child taking up a particular function of Thirdness through which the child establishes a capacity for mental space. The notion of a ‘space’ here is itself a metaphor for the way in which the Thirdness ‘contains’, which can be re-presented as a ‘formation’ of signifiers – a particular way of organising the relationships between object-signifiers and between organisations of object-signifiers and signified-objects.[7]

Armed with this understanding of ‘containment’ as ‘Thirdness’, we need to develop a structural understanding of the effects of meaning described by the function of Thirdness. To do this, we need to look more closely at Freud’s Project and see how Bion’s reading of it left out important structural characteristics. Adding these back in allows us to understand how there might be an unconscious valency for particular organisations of Thirdness aka ‘formation’ as well as for particular forms of symbolic equation.

[1] The subject’s experience of a ‘shared mental model’ may be expressed as a relation to ‘Thirdness’, a way of referring to a shared set of assumptions and constraints that structure relations, creating the experience of subjection through the way a role is taken up. See Murphey, M. G. (1993). The Development of Peirce’s Philosophy, Hackett Publishing Company on Thirdness, and Benjamin, J. (2009). “A relational psychoanalysis perspective on the necessity of acknowledging failure in order to restore the facilitating and containing features of the intersubjective relationship (the shared third).” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 90: 441-450 on a relational understanding of this relation to Thirdness.
In the understanding of Thirdness used in this blog, particular importance will be attached to Peirce’s later understanding of ‘irremediable vagueness’, elaborated in Ochs, P. (1998). Peirce, pragmatism and the logic of scripture, Cambridge University Press. This irremediable quality is crucial to understanding the effects of the unconscious on double subjection, underpinning the way in which a ‘formation’ is always lacking…
[2] A useful introduction to these concepts is to be found in Guirard, P. (1975[1971]). Semiology. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
[3] Lacan, J. (2006[1966]). The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Co. p414
[4] By expanding S/s, this effect of subjection can be written as f(S) 1/s ibid p428.
[5] This can be written as f(S…S’)S equivalent to S(-)s, ibid p428
[6] This can be written as f(S’/S)S, equivalent to S(+)s   ibid p429
[7] The significance of a spatial metaphor being its imaginary characteristics and easy ‘fit’ therefore with the notion of boundaries as used in Bion’s definition of the workgroup – see matrices, mattresses and the relation to the referent group.