Dec 132016

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

I am writing this blog to clarify the implications of the distinction between the small-s symbolic and the big-S Symbolic which is present in a number of previous blogs:

This small-s/big-S distinction relates to the issue of the perverse discourses and what they imply about their underlying Borromean structuring. This elaboration of the nature of the perverse discourses allows us to speak about the way individuals use organisations’ structuring of their roles (i.e. support to their identifications) as a way of stabilising the otherwise inherently unstable structure of a perverse discourse. Crucial here is the ethical challenge that the perverse discourses present for the subject, given Lacan’s reminder that a neurosis is a failed père-version (Lacan’s Seminar XXII – RSI, 18th February 1975)… i.e. “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it” aka “if it works for me, why should I change it?”.

The small-s/Big-S distinction
The issue of the small-s/big-S distinction only arises when we stop considering speech in the moment in which it is spoken. This relates to the objectification of a social big Other as a way of organizing meaning, usually reflecting Power/Knowledge practices of meaning [1] that seek to secure others’ obedience to those practices. The effect is to reduce signifiers (representing a subject for another signifier) to signs (representing something for someone).
Here is Lacan in Radiophonie responding to Question 1 (1970, “Radiophonie.” Scilicet 2(3)):

Saussure and the Prague Circle founded a new linguistics, and they founded it on a cut. This cut is the bar placed between the signifier and the signified. Its purpose is to bring into prominence the difference that constitutes the signifier absolutely …. There are some who have wanted to extend this success to the entire symbolic network. They will admit a meaning only where the network guarantees it; they recognize effects but not contents. This was the promise created by the cut that inaugurated the new linguistics.
The question was whether or not the signified could be studied scientifically. This was thought to depend on whether the field of the signifier was, by its very material, distinct from any physical field as defined by science. This necessitated a metaphysical exclusion — this being understood as a désêtre, a de-being. No signification could henceforth be taken to be self-evident …
At the risk of being offensive I shall get right to the point. The term semiotics has undergone several redefinitions; notwithstanding, it refers to any discipline which begins with the sign taken as an object. My own definition of the sign (as representing something for someone) shows it to be an obstacle to the grasp of the signifier (defined as representing a subject for another signifier).
The sign presupposes the someone to whom one makes a sign of something. The shadow of this someone obscured the entry into linguistics. Whatever you call this someone, there is no way around the silliness implicit in this notion. The sign of itself, taken as object, permits the someone to appropriate language as though it were a simple tool. The sign makes language the basis of abstraction and the means of discussion. This leads to the “progress” of thought in which the goal is criticism.

The following extract from Driver’s paper on the lack (Driver 2009, “Struggling with Lack: A Lacanian Perspective on Organizational Identity.” Organization Studies 30(1): 55-72) shows an example of the difficulty that follows from not sustaining Lacan’s distinction in relation to his oeuvre. Language and discourse become objectified as a (small-s) symbolic order, the structure of which is spoken of as having been imposed on every individual prior to birth. This objectification separates this symbolic order from the subject of an enunciation:

Language and discourse in turn constitute the symbolic order, the structure imposed on every individual prior to birth through social conventions handed down for generations. What remains of the primal subject is only the act of submersion in the symbolic order, the unconscious trauma of the loss of primal fulfillment. As such, that which truly and uniquely marks the person is a loss or lack. This lack cannot be filled in the symbolic order because it is marked by lack or loss due to the existence of the real, i.e. the physical, bodily, undifferentiated primal subject prior to language.

The founding assumption about the nature of lack thus becomes that which an objectified (small-s) symbolic order leaves out about the subject per se… it is more about lack as arising from structural ‘holes’ in the (small-s) symbolic structurings of difference and certainly not about the subject’s originating relation to the lack of the (big-S) Symbolic Other aka the S(barred-A) of the upper level of the graph of desire[2]. Not surprisingly therefore in this example, Driver goes on to speak of alienation by this (small-s) symbolic order, an alienation arising from this symbolic order existing independently of the subject:

As we engage in conscious discourse, articulating the self, trying to express our desires, we are alienated by a symbolic order in which we can articulate who we are and what we want only in the words of others. Yet we are unable to jettison or move beyond this order. Therefore, we continue to experience alienation and otherness in our self-constructions and are unable to satisfy our desires. Put differently, the immediate experience of the world and the return to the original state of wholeness and fulfillment we long for is always missing in how we articulate the self and its desires. So all we are left with are articulations that are not us, somehow removed and importantly continuously lacking.

The sinthome
This objectification is inherently unstable as an attempt by the subject to make ‘truth’ the agent of the true. These are the perverse forms of the discourses – capitalism, science, politics and movement[3]. The Borromean link to these perverse discourses comes in Lacan’s Seminar XXIII, 18th November 1975, with reference to an untied RSI:

Ιt is indeed here, it is indeed here that there lies the following: that it is an error to think that it is a norm for the relationship of three functions which only exist from one another in their exercise in the being who, by this fact, believes himself to be man. It is not the fact that the Symbolic, the Imaginary, and the Real are broken that defines perversion. It is that they are already distinct, and that one must suppose a fourth which is the symptom on this occasion. That what constitutes the Borromean link must be supposed tο be tetradic, perversion only means turning towards the father, (version vers le père) and that in short the father is a symptom or a sinthome, as you wish. The ex-sistence of the symptom is what is implied by the very position, the one that supposes this enigmatic link of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real.
lf you find somewhere, l already drew it, something which schematises the relationship of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real, qua separated from one another. you have already, in my previous figurations, with their relationship flattened out, the possibility of linking them by what? By the sinthome.

Here is an example of the 4th sinthomatic link rendering the previous 3 separate rings into a Borromean chain (taken from Lacan’s Seminar XXIV, 15th February 1977):
What is interesting to me about Lacan’s reference to the “ex-sistence of the symptom” is that these may be taken as the structuring/over-determining effects of the structures referred to earlier, structures that are themselves constituted by the practices of the objectified social big Other.[4] These effects are what can stabilize what would otherwise be an unstable form of the quadripod.

Note that this quadripod is the structure of the discourse itself – i.e. the four positions around which the S1, S2, a and $ rotate.[5] The perverse form that Lacan is referring to is its unstable form.[6] This 4-ring chain being able to be presented as itself being toric, consistent with the toric nature of the quadripod itself[7]:

A final point would be to emphasise the importance of not conflating the role of the fourth sinthomatic ring in neurotic or psychotic formations with the form it takes in a perverse formation, which depends on the prior establishment of a neurotic or psychotic form from which it is derived.[8]

[1] A reference to the ‘objects’, ‘concepts’, ‘themes’ and ‘enunciative modalities’ of discursive practices in Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Brighton, UK, The Narvester Press.
[2] Found at p817 in Lacan, J. (2006[1966]). 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.
[3] The discourse of the movement is referred to in Television (Lacan, J. (1990) Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment. London, W.W. Norton & Company) as PIPAAD (Professional Indemnity Plan Against Analytic Discourse) in English, and as SAMCDA (Societe d’Assurance Mutuelle Contre le Discours Analytique) in French.
[4] This social small-s symbolic big Other is best understood as an Althusserian big Other, to distinguish it from the radically unconscious big-S Symbolic Other which is lacking in a way that the Althusserian big Other is not (‘lack’ here not to be confused with undecidability).
[5]The quadripod, described in Lacan’s 3rd Feb 1972 unpublished seminar XIX: Le Savoir du Psychanalyste:

has the topology of the Klein bottle with a handle. This is related to the graph of desire (footnote [2] above) in the March 21st 1962 ‘Identification’ seminar (Lacan, J. (2002[1961-62]). Book IX: Identification. London, Karnac):

which itself articulates the subject’s double subjection in the relation between the two ‘levels’ of the graph. This is important because it is the distinguishing characteristic of the Lacanian understanding of discourse with its elaboration of the possible ways of taking up double subjection.
[6] The reason for 8 discourses (adding capitalism, science, movement, politics), rather than 4, is that there are two possible ways of arranging the quadripod, both conserving the 1-2-3 cycle, i.e. the agency-work-production triangle characterising the subject’s particular relation to Das Ding.  Thus the left-hand one below establishes the circular path of the “circle which is broken” around its outer edges, described by Lacan in his unpublished March 17th, 1971 seminar XVIII: On a discourse that might not be a semblance:

The importance of this “circle which is broken” appears in the May 16th 1962 Seminar IX: Identification (London, Karnac) as the importance of the hole in a surface, the ‘rim’ in the drive structure. The right-hand quadripod, however, corresponds to the form Lacan introduces in Lacan-in-Italy (Lacan, J. (1978) La Salmandra: 32-55), describing the relation between the discourses of the Master and of Capitalism, in which the quadripod’s left-hand red and green positions are switched. This second form, he says, is headed for a blowout (in the instance of the discourse of capitalism): “This is because it is untenable… a little inversion between the S1 and $… that consumes itself so that it is consumed.” See the structure of a Lacanian discourse.
[7] I mention this because of the parallel toric nature of the relation between the place of an organisation and its ecosystem in On being edge-driven: inside is outside. This too involves the sinthomatic linking of three toric surfaces – the relation to value deficit, ‘big data’ and possible behaviors.
[8] This distinction between neurotic and psychotic formations depends on whether the fourth sinthomatic ring is linking the untied RSI or an RSI in which the Real and the Symbolic are already directly linked to each other. See in the Nebohood of Joyce and Lacan.

Jul 132016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 182016

by Philip Boxer

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

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

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

[1] Quelle – a structural hole or gap in the -complex. See structural gaps in the wigo/wiRgo relation.
[2] Objekt – objet petit a and the social forms it assumes. See the social object – distinguishing Kleinian, ‘real’ and Lacanian objects.
[3] Ziel – a formulation in terms of the []-system.
[4] Drang – the effects of being in relation to the originating lack of the unconscious [], which is taken up by the non-psychotic as an affirmation of .

Feb 242014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 162013

The following is the abstract of a paper given at a Research Colloquium in Oxford on Unconscious Defences against Anxiety.

The internet, like the printing press, railways and the telephone, has changed the way economies work. We are in the middle of an unfolding story that is not only changing what we understand an ‘organisation’ to be, but also changing the ways in which we experience ourselves as subjects.[1] One theme that runs through these changes is that of the loss of sovereignty, whether at the level of the person, organisation or state. We are even less able to act as if we are ‘islands unto ourselves’ than ever before, as we encounter complex adaptive behaviours, emergence and quantum effects that challenge common sense itself.

Within these turbulent environments, the ability to sustain a primary task definition of the organisation with its boundaries breaks down along with the organisation’s sovereignty.[2] Under these circumstances, the object of psychoanalytic study ceases to remain focused on the structures of affiliation to the founding acts on which the identity of the organisation rest, extending to include the acts of innovation by which its clients are responded to one-by-one.[3] ‘Boundary’ becomes the particular relation to the other client-patient-citizen and an object of psychoanalytic study itself.[4]

This paper proposes a return to Freud’s first model – his Project for a Scientific Psychology[5] – as a way of considering how we are subjected to both the structure of our unconscious and to what-can-be-said that can make sense to the other. It further proposes that this double subjection has its parallel in the double subjection that follows from an affiliation to an organisation, through the valencies by which it lends support to our self-identification. This enables us to understand an organisation to be the social formation that rests ultimately on the structures with which it is identified and through which it interacts with the ‘others’ in its environment.

To those identified with such an organisation, anxiety comes not only to warn them of possible failures to perform, but also of the possible failure of the structures of affiliation themselves, giving rise to the potential annihilation of support to their self-identification. Freud’s first model provides us with a way of approaching these two dimensions of anxiety, the potential for annihilation presenting a gap, in relation to which come opportunities for innovation.[6]

The paper draws conclusions about the forms of governance that can balance the defences against anxiety with the opportunities for innovation, and about the demands the need for this balance places on leadership.

[1] This is the argument I made in The Twitter Revolution: how the internet has changed us. Just as the Printing Revolution precipitated the crisis in delegation associated with the Reformation, so too is the Information Revolution precipitating a crisis of delegation in our own time. The difference, however, is that whereas then the crisis heralded the emergence of the complicated as the dominant form of organisation (giving science its place in the world), the current crisis of delegation is heralding the emergence of the complex as the (coming-to-be) dominant form of organisation – see the drivers of organisational scope. With this emergence, of course, come the challenges of asymmetric leadership and asymmetric design.
[2] See Leading organisations without boundaries: ‘quantum’ organisation and the work of making meaning.
[3] These acts of innovation speak of a dilemma between an affiliation to an already-insistent authority and an alliance around some new situational challenge. ‘Affiliation’ is one way of determining by what authority we are to follow. This builds on the critique of boundaries, authority and containment.
[4] See THE environment does not ex-sist: engendering ‘boundary’ as the object of psychoanalytic study.
[5] 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: 283-397.
[6] A failure to pursue such opportunities for innovation derive from the unconscious valencies associated with making ‘unintentional’ errors – the opportunity is never ‘seen’!

Jan 052013

This is the abstract of the paper presented at the 2013 Paris Conference – Reworking Lacan at Work.  The term ‘ex-sist’ is used to emphasize the Latin derivation of ‘exist’ from ex-(s)istere, to stand outside (in contradistinction to ‘insist’).

Doing many different things at the same time
Psychoanalytic understanding is becoming essential to the study of work, management and organizations. The growing importance of ‘networks’ requires a concept of ‘boundary’ that points towards a different understanding of the psychoanalytic object in the study of organizations. A familiar example of a network organization is a clinic that must focus on the particular demands of its patients’ conditions. The tempo at which such a clinic operates determines the number of patients it is expected to have in treatment at the same time. If it is to be outcome-driven, the clinic must respond at this tempo by being able to synchronize and orchestrate different networks for each patient [1]. This ability to do many different things at the same time is not unique to healthcare organizations. It necessitates a shift in an organization’s locus of innovation from supply to demand [2]. In the place of markets comes a focus on the particular demands of customers within their contexts-of-use [3].

This focus means that the organization must place greater emphasis on its ability to create new forms of collaboration in order to create new propositions. It must adopt ‘shaping strategies’ that focus on ecosystems within which networks of organizations become the new economic ‘entities’ shaping competition [4]. With this comes ‘relationship economics’ organized around the particular context in which the demand arises [5]. Within these ecosystems, task systems become increasingly modular, aligned to customers’ demands through contractual networks [6]. These networks are increasingly independent of institutional boundaries, creating dynamic complementarities between them [7]. Horizontal task linkages become stronger than vertical ‘institutional’ linkages, producing the emergent models characteristic of complex adaptive systems [8]. These ecosystems are experienced by an organization as turbulent [9], the ‘effective complexity’ [10] of emergent models describing the extent of the complexity that an organization must take into consideration in choosing how to act.

Power is exercised differently in Networks
But not all organizations behave like outcome-focused clinics, using networks to do many different things at the same time in order to relate to their customers one-by-one. They more typically do one thing at a time for many different customers. They use hierarchy to impose a particular model on the way they capture value within chosen markets, this model defining the basis of their competitive advantage [11]. And while organizations may attempt to use hierarchies to consolidate positions while also using networks to address the challenges of complexity and change [12], this is difficult in practice because of the dynamic tension created between radically different approaches [13]. While the exercise of power by hierarchies is unipolar and defines what subordinates should do, the exercise of power within networks is multipolar, and enables different actors in the network to act from different understandings of what needs to be attended to. The radical difference is in how the models are authorized, that is whether authorization comes from a pre-existent model in hierarchies or from a particular chosen relation to a current local situation in networks.

With organised networks, the model that is read into the local situation is contingent upon the particular observer’s relation to what-is-going-on in that situation. But more than this, with a psychoanalytic understanding not all of what-is-going-on is observable even for those present. The observer experiences an absence or ‘lack’ in the situation. This presence of an absence ‘ex-sists’ in the sense of standing beyond or outside what can be said to be present, rendering the patient or customer subject of their demand [14]. The paper argues that the observer’s experience of what-is-going-on in the situation exhibits two different kinds of ontic distinction, homologous with Lacan’s sexuation formula [15].

Engendering ‘boundary’
The first of these distinctions is between behaviours that are singular, and behaviours that are symptomatic of some underlying model. ‘Primary task’ is a way of speaking about an underlying model that is necessary to an organization’s survival [16]. The second is between the singular and symptomatic behaviours in the particular situation, and the contexts in which those behaviours produce their effects. This second distinction defines a ‘boundary’ between behaviour and context, with context there always being that which ex-sists i.e. stands outside or beyond. Thus while the relation to each context constitutes a particular outside or beyond, these contexts do not add up collectively to an environment in general. It is in this sense that THE Environment does not ex-sist i.e. there is no universal environment, only particular environments. This second distinction therefore introduces an ‘engendering’ of the concept of ‘boundary’, establishing a difference between hierarchy and network.[17] A hierarchy acts unilaterally as if there is an environment in general, while a network acts multi-laterally in relation to particular environments.

Psychoanalytic understanding brings its own clinical concepts, practices and particular focus on what enables interventions to be effective [18]. Its focus is on the role of the individual within an organization, or on the organization as if it were itself an individual. Understanding the organization as hierarchical enables its ‘boundary’ to be used to constitute the organization as an object [19]. The paper describes the difficulties that arise in adopting this approach to making sense of the concept of ‘boundary’ within networks, and proposes the alternative engendering of ‘boundary’ as itself an object of psychoanalytic study.

On being, moved by the ex-sistent ‘more’
Psychoanalytic understanding also leads us to engage in a double reading of our relation to what we observe [18]. Implicit in the two distinctions is a third distinction concerning the ways in which what-is-going-on is or is not observable, constraining the ways in which it may be paid attention to [20]. The paper argues that to engender ‘boundary’ is to recognise that there is always an ex-sistent ‘more’ to be paid attention to, providing a basis for a critical approach to organization on the basis of its relation to ‘lack’ [21]. The paper concludes that the engendering of ‘boundary’ allows us to understand the radical difference between hierarchy and network in terms of a psychoanalytic object that is constitutive of the relation to desire.

1. Porter, M.E. and E.O. Teisberg, Redefiining Health Care: Creating Value-based Competition on Results. 2006, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
2. Prahalad, C.K. and V. Ramaswamy, The New Frontier of Experience Innovation. MIT-Sloan Management Review 44, 4, 2003: p. 12-18.
3. Anderson, C., The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. 2006, New York: Hyperion.
4. Iansiti, M. and R. Levien, The Keystone Advantage: What the New Dynamics of Business Ecosystems Mean for Strategy, Innovation, and Sustainability. 2004, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
5. Zuboff, S. and J. Maxmin, The Support Economy: Why Corporations are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism. 2002, New York: Viking.
6. Baldwin, C.Y., Where do Transactions come from? Modularity, transactions, and the boundaries of firms. Industrial and Corporate Change, 2007.
7. Aoki, M., Mechanisms of Endogenous Institutional Change, 2006, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research: Stanford.
8. Kurtz, C.F. and D.J. Snowden, The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world. IBM Systems Journal Vol 42 No 3, 2003: p.
9. Emery, F.E. and E. Trist, The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments. Human Relations, 1965. 18: p. 21-32.
10. Gell-Mann, M. and S. Lloyd, Effective Complexity, in Nonextensive Entropy – Interdusciplinary Applications, M. Gell-Mann and C. Tsallis, Editors. 2003, Oxford University Press. p. 387-397.
11. Porter, M.E., Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance. 1985, New York: Free Press.
12. Kotter, J.P., Accelerate! Harvard Business Review, 2012(November).
13. Boisot, M. and B. McKelvey, Integrating Modernist and Postmodernist Perspectives on Organizations: A Complexity Science Bridge. Academy of Management Review, 2010. 35(3): p. 415-433.
14. Fink, B., The Lacanian Subject: between language and jouissance. 1995: Princeton University Press.
15. Lacan, J., ed. On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge: Book XX Encore 1972-1973. Originally published by Editions du Seuil, Paris 1975 ed. The Seminar of Jaques Lacan, ed. J.-A. Miller. 1998, W.W. Norton.
16. Miller, E.J. and A.K. Rice, Systems of Organization: The Control of Task and Sentient Boundaries. 1967, London: Tavistock.
17. Using the word ‘engender’ invokes its male form ‘to beget’, its female form ‘to conceive or bear’, and in the form of male and female acting together ‘to give existence to’.
18. Arnaud, G., The Contribution of Psychoanalysis to Organization Studies and Management: An Overview. Organization Studes, 2012. 33(9): p. 1121-1135.
19. Armstrong, D., Organization in the Mind: Psychoanalysis, Group Relations, and Organizational Consultancy. The Tavistock Clinic Series, ed. R. French. 2005, London: Karnac.
20. Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: On a discourse that might not be a semblance 1971. 2003: Unpublished.
21. Stavrakakis, Y., The Lacanian Left: psychoanalysis, theory, politics. 2007, New York: SUNY Press

Jun 142012

Susan Long, in her chapter on trauma as cause and effect of perverse organizational process [1], refers to Lacan [2] in stating that “many psychoanalytic schools of thought consider perversion as a specific set of symptoms, primarily including sadism.” (p48) How does she make use of Lacan? Here is her account of the way an individual is divided from himself or herself through the effects of his or her relation to the Lacanian (big-S) Symbolic:

Lacan refers to socially required subjugation as “symbolic castration”. In being subject to culture, primarily through language, one is subject to the Symbolic field. This is what Lacan also terms the big “Other”. In this process of symbolic castration, much jouissance is given over to repression and the Other. The subjection (symbolic castration) that creates subjectivity, forever divides the human subject from his or her primal nature, because the world of symbols can only represent reality, not replicate it. [3]p93

This captures the division of the subject, but to refer to that which is ‘lost’ as the subject’s “primal nature” is to accord an essentialism to the subject that is not in Lacan. This difficulty continues in the following description of the subject’s experience of his or her own ‘Otherness’, my additions in square brackets indicating where I see this difficulty to lie:

Hence, the subject in the[ir] world of symbolisation, language and all that they imply [i.e. (small-s) symbolisation and language], will lack something. This is the part [of their own experience of being themselves] that cannot be represented; the part that can never become part of the[ir relation to the] symbolic world wherein we [all] mostly live. This part lies within [their experience of their relation to] the register of the Real. Experience registered in [relation to] the Real cannot be represented in our normal everyday world. It is ineffable [but only in the OED sense of not being able to be expressed or described in language – not as “transcending expression”]. [3]p93

For the subject, an encounter with the Real always has the quality of the unheimlich – an irruption of an impossibility defying the particular subject’s understanding of their ‘reality’. For the subject to render this experience transcendent is to try and ‘recapture’ the Real within their relation to the (big-S) Symbolic. The difficulty with this implied essentialism continues with reference to jouissance:

So, in one sense, for the civilised person, jouissance is [not] personally lost [but situated in their experience of their own Otherness. In this relation to their own Otherness] and [to jouissance] is [the experience of being] lacking. In another sense, it [i.e. their relation to lack] becomes [extimate, manifesting itself as] part of the psychodynamics of community – linked into [the relation to] language and culture as well as into our [individual] sense of the ineffable or unknown [understood as an immanent rather than transcendent ineffability], with all its awesome, wonder-full and terrifying characteristics. In the perverse position, symbolic castration has [not so much] failed [as the subject is trying to defend himself or herself against his or her experience of their own Otherness through replacing it by their relation to an object]. [3]p93

Understood in this way, perversity denies the other’s Otherness through a reduction of the other to being nothing but an object:

Pleasure is gained through, not with the other. This is the complex face of perversity, that while linked to the [relation to drive formulated as] death instincts in its [i.e. the drive’s] cyclical repetition, its destructivity [comes from this reduction of the other to being an object, which] is also linked to sexual excitation and built around what Lacan calls jouissance. Jouissance is that pleasure/pain derived through satisfaction of what one is unconsciously driven to do; that which is at the core of character [in the sense of ‘character’ being the particular individual’s way of structuring their relation to drive]. [3]p90

Perversity is thus a particular way of dealing with a relation to the other that the subject anticipates as being traumatic – trauma as not only the cause, but also as having a traumatising effect on the other. But this is the narcissistic defence that underlies envy – a defence that is not in itself the operation of the ‘death instinct’, but rather a defence against an unbearable relation to drive:

There is always attraction in destructivity and its place within and alongside the life forces [i.e. alongside the workings of the pleasure principle in the modulating of pleasure/unpleasure], if only the attraction of the hope that we might get a better grip on knowing its nature and understanding its insidious grasp; its jouissance as the Lacanians would say. [3]p150

The destructivity is a narcissistic defence against the other’s Otherness – the other experienced as symptom of their relation to the big Other. The big ‘O’ is about the other’s relation to the (big-S) Symbolic, with which comes the other’s unconscious relation to their own ‘lack’ and to jouissance. In the child, this rightly implicates the Otherness made present through the primary relation to the mother.
But this narcissistic defence is also a defence against desire – the relation to that which stands in the place of the relation to ‘lack’, or objet petit a. The desire of the Other is made present for the subject through the particular form taken for them by this objet petit a. The defence may therefore be against the other per se as much as against the other’s relation to its objects of desire:

Moreover, it is a moot point as to whether rivalry grows because the other has what we want, or, desire for a possession grows because it is a rival who holds it. [3]p95

In the following, the loss of this distinction between the small ‘o’ (objet petit a) or big ‘O’ introduces a confusion over the nature of desire:

Although, Lacan’s idea (namely, that desire is the desire of the [this should be big ‘O’] other) means that our very nature is determined by the powerful desire of the [again should be big ‘O’] other [i.e. by the way in which, as divided subjects, our relation to desire is constituted by our being situated within the defiles of the signifier – by the desire of the Other], it is argued here that what is at stake in envy is the growth of rivalry and malice towards the powerful and envied [Otherness of the] other. This rivalrous malice brings with it a destructive jouissance. [3]p95

So what is being lost here is the impact of the subject’s relation to the Other on his or her relation to the other. This elision of the Otherness of the other appears elsewhere. For example, the subject’s relation to the Other becomes in the following a subjective position within a system in relation to other subjectivities:

The intersubjective approach implicitly recognizes system and role. Subjectivity is not synonymous with individuality but a position within a system (Lacan, 1977) in relation to other subjectivities. [4]p286

This understanding of “position within a system” is not in Lacan. Rather, what is being spoken of here are the Imaginary relations between subjects – Schema L in the Ecrits [2]p193 – which is along an axis that is orthogonal to that of the subject’s relation to the Other. Certainly, we can ask what is the nature of the “system” within which these imaginary relations are taken up:

In everyday terms this means that for each role we take up in a system there are role counterparts. For a doctor there must be a patient (and perhaps a hospital administrator, or a government health provider, depending on the system); for a teacher, a student, educational bureaucrats, parents, and so on. [4]p286

But to the extent that we try to articulate the nature of this “system”, we are attempting to articulate a relation to a (small-s) symbolic order, and not to the (big-S) Symbolic order itself. To the extent that this articulation of a (small-s) symbolic ensemble, network or mental matrix is lacking, it will be constitutive of the desire of the Other that the subjects doing the articulating will encounter in the form of imaginarised forms of objets petit a. Thus unconsciousness will not be found in the (small-s) symbolic ensemble, network or mental matrix itself, but rather in the subject’s relation to the (big-S) Symbolic implicit in the place they assume within the ensemble, network or mental matrix.

And, if unconsciousness is found [by the subject] in the [course of their taking up a relation to the (small-s) symbolic] ensemble or the network – [to] the mental matrix or [ultimately to the (big-S)] Symbolic order – perverse organisational dynamics must be understood as operating through [the way the subject takes up their relation to] this unconsciousness. [3]p154

Lacan formulated the four discourses in order to think about the way the subject took up a relation to the other subject to their relation to the radically uncosncious[5]. What distinguishes this formulation was the way it situated the subject within a social formation in relation to the other that was also constituted in a particular relation to the big Other and its jouissance, and to the plus-de-jouir (through a ‘quadripod’ structure itself derived from a reading of Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology[6], the Project itself not being published until 1950).

The more we move from ideas of the personal [relation to the] unconscious toward ideas of a level of cultural[ly constituted relation to the] unconscious, such as formulated in the Lacanian ideas of [discourse making present the subject’s relation to the Imaginary, the Real and] the Symbolic, the more we require conceptions that understand social and cultural mores and “agreements” as serving actively defensive as well as simply tacit functions. For Lacan, the paradox of the individual[‘s] dynamic [relation to the] unconscious in Psychoanalysis is implicitly embedded in a broader [constituting of the relation to the imaginary other through particular ways of linking together the relation to the Imaginary, Real and] Symbolic field[s]. [The relation to] Unconscious process occurs not simply in a social context but forms the [very warp around which the] fabric of social [(small-s)] symbolic processes [are woven]. [4]p290

So what can I say in conclusion about the way Susan Long makes use of Lacan? The additions in square brackets are a symptom of what I see to be lacking in her reading, which I summarise as follows:

  1. Attributing to the subject a kind of essentialism (primal nature) not present in a Lacanian reading of Freud, and situating jouissance in the psychodynamics of the community itself as well as in that of the individual, in what appears to be an extension of this essentialism to the community per se. [Understanding the subject as a relationship to lack opens up a different understanding of ‘being’ that is the counterpoint to the perverse, in which the object defines the subject… the ‘perverse organisation’ thus becomes a way of referring to the use of organisation as a defence against experiencing being as lacking.]
  2. Conflating the imaginary relation to the ‘other’ with the ‘Otherness’ of the relation to the (big-S) Symbolic in speaking about desire, so that the objet petit a ‘cause of desire’ is conflated with the desire of the Other. [The Other is structurally lacking, but the particular other takes up a relation to the lack of this Other in a particular way as the object petit a. Separating these two out brings us to the Lacanian understanding of discourse as the way the formation of the subject emerges from this relation to the lack of the Other.]
  3. Conflating the relation to the drive (qua operation of the death instinct) with the narcissistic defences against that which is unbearable in the relation to the drive. This treatment of drive reduces the constituting of the subject’s relation to the other in (the Lacanian formulation of) discourse to a relation between subjectivities taking up roles within a system. [Including the relation to the drive in the formation of the subject per se creates a much richer way of understanding an ‘organisation’ as a particular complex of inter-related ways of supporting identification.  This allows us to see how some of these ways of supporting identification are repressed, if not foreclosed.  This leads us to understand the ‘perverse’ as a side-effect of this repression and/or foreclosure.]
  4. Attributing unconsciousness to the (small-s) symbolic field itself, as if there were an Other of the Other, which is again not present in Lacan. The essentialism is thus extended to the (small-s) symbolic field considered as a thing-in-itself. In Lacan, the relation to the unconscious is an effect of the subject’s relation to the (big-S) Symbolic, inextricably bound up with his or her relation to the Imaginary and to the Real (a binding spoken of in later Lacan in terms of the sinthome and of a Borromean linking). [The relation to the unconscious is thus particular to  the way the Imaginary, Symbolic and Real are bound together, a particular binding together being a particular way of being a subject. The relation to the unconscious thus becomes the particular site of generativity, of innovation as well as of angst!]

[1] Long, S., Trauma as cause and effect of perverse organizational process, in Trauma and Organizations, E. Hopper, Editor. 2012, Karnac: London. p. 45-64.
[2] Lacan, J., Ecrits. 1977 [1966], London: Tavistock Publications.
[3] Long, S., The Perverse Organisation and its Deadly Sins. 2008, London: Karnac.
[4] Long, S., Organizational Defenses Against Anxiety: What Has Happened SInce the 1995 Jaques Paper? International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 2006. 3(4): p. 279-295.
[5] Lacan, J., The Other Side of Psychoanalysis: Book XVII. The Seminar of Jacques lacan, ed. J.-A. Miller. 2007 [1969-70], New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
[6] Freud, S., Project for a Scientific Psychology, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. 1950 [1895], The Hogarth Press: London. p. 283-397.

Jan 112012

This Lacanticles blog aims to share the background thinking to the blogs on asymmetric design and asymmetric leadership.  Recently I was asked: “What additional benefit is to be derived from the formalisations in Lacanticles? What do these forms of analysis add beyond the use of the practices described in your other blogs? And when are even those practices of sense-making and interpretation a useful precursor informing action?”  Given that the Lacanticles already contain a presumption that a Lacanian reading of Freud is of some use – a presumption that is certainly not widely shared (!) – these are good questions that I try to address below.

The quick answer to the question in the title?  Because they need to be able to describe the conditions surrounding novel emergence as it is experienced in the behavior of a social entity exhibiting agency.

The observer and models
The critical realism of Roy Bhaskar[1] points out that the observer is implicated in the construction of any models s/he attributes to the behaviors s/he observes in the world.  Thus there is a domain of the ‘actual’ events happening in the world of the observer, an ’empirical’ domain of the observer’s experiences, and a ‘real’ domain of causal processes that may or may not manifest themselves in the ‘actual’ domain, whether or not these ‘actual’ events are experienced by the observer.[2]  So I may ‘really’ have carcinogenic chemicals in my body.  These chemicals may be giving rise to ‘actual’ events amongst my body’s behaviors.  And I may experience some of these events ’empirically’ as symptoms of something not being right with me.

A model is some formalisation.[3]  Its entailments within the formal domain are designed to commute with ’empirical’ events (i.e. the logical conclusions that can be drawn from the model are designed to correspond to the events).  If an experimental design can separate out ’empirical’ events against a backcloth of ‘actual’ events in such a way as to establish this relationship, then the model can be said to ‘explain’ causal processes in the ‘real’ domain.  So cancer research has shown that there is a correlation between the presence of chemical X in the body and the incidence of cancer Y, on the basis of which I should only microwave food in plastic containers designed for that purpose.[4]

A closed system is one for which all the ‘actual’ events causing its behavior can be included within the experimental design separating out its behaviors ’empirically’ i.e. it can be isolated from its environment. In practice, most systems are open because this is not possible, a difference having to be assumed between the ‘actual’ and ’empirical’ domains of the system. The behavior of an open system may nevertheless be deterministic if, for any given set of initial events, its subsequent behavior can be predicted.  Under these circumstances, we can say that we have a model of how the system ‘really’ behaves.  So the behavior of a car is predictable to its driver if the conditions in which it is being driven are known.

Open systems and emergence
A model of an open system-of-interest is defined in relation to some ’empirical’ behaviors defined by the observer to be of interest.  The 1st order model of that system-of-interest would combine all the causal processes attributed to generating those behaviors-of-interest in the ‘real’ domain.  The behavioral closure of this model is all the possible sequences of behavior predicted by the model.  This would be non-deterministic if the model predicted more than one possible outcome for any given initial set of conditions.

A 2nd order model of relationships constraining the behaviors of the 1st order model can be added to make this behavioral closure deterministic, i.e. some form of controlling system.  So to an understanding of internal combustion has to be added control systems that regulate the ways in which the engine burns fuel.   The relation of the 2nd order model to the 1st order model defines what components of the 1st order model are included ‘inside’ the system-of-interest, and what components are left ‘outside’ in its environment: the 2nd order model defines the ‘organisation’ of the  1st order model and the boundary around its 1st order components i.e. we can separate out the engine assembly as a working power unit.[5]

This ‘organisation’ of a system-of-interest is emergent if the ’empirical’ behaviors of the system-of-interest cannot be explained in terms of the components of its 1st order model.  This emergence is ‘weak’ if this failure to explain is because of a limitation in the knowledge of the observer about the behaviors of these components, and ‘novel’ if not.[6] Given that the components of an open system may themselves exhibit behaviors that can only be explained by assuming emergence, we may therefore stratify open systems on the basis of this relation of embedded ‘organisation’, for example the ‘organisation’ of the engine system is embedded in the components ‘organised’ by the powertrain system, etcetera.[7]

Systems that exhibit agency
The system-of-interest has been designed if, as in the example of the car’s engine system, the source of the ‘organisation’ of the system is external to it.

But a system that exhibits agency is one for which the source of its ‘organisation’ is internal: the source of its ‘organisation’ is the conservation of its ‘organisation’ per se.  Such systems are self-organising, capable of adaptively regulating the way they are coupled to their environments according to the norms established by their own ‘organisation’ of viability conditions. For example, the elephant is able to survive in a wide range of conditions, and exhibits behaviors towards other elephants that are particular to each elephant. As observers of such systems, we observe them to be individually autonomous and goal-seeking with an asymmetric relation to their environment arising from their ability to adapt their behavior to changing conditions, i.e. we understand them to be autopoietic in their relation to their environment rather than allopoietic, as in the case above of the designed engine system.[8] These systems exhibiting agency are what Robert Rosen refers to as ‘living systems’.[2]

Social Agency and the Internal Conversation
Which brings us to social agency.  Bhaskar’s understanding of modeling means that even though I can ‘explain’ things, I-as-a-modeler am implicated in the construction of those models, regardless of whether or not we all end up agreeing that my models do in fact ‘explain’ causal processes in the ‘real’ domain: I exhibit agency[9] when I attribute my structural models to the ‘real’ domain. Thus as a manager for example, my sense-making, analysis and interpretations will all exhibit my agency informing the way I relate to my ‘real’. But how are we to understand the relationship between my agency and structures in the ‘real’ domain?

If we accept that  emergence is to be expected as much in how I understand ‘my agency’ as in how I understand the ‘real’, then we must include my being an observer of the ‘personal emergent properties’ through which I constitute myself.  This leads us to the reflexive conversations of Margaret Archer[10] and the expression of my understandings of myself through my use of language, taking the form of an ‘internal conversation’ that is the corollary of my conversations with others. Discourse is taken as a defining characteristic of social systems of agents, defining as it does the ways in which these agents share understandings both with themselves and with each other. Here discursive practice is not only a social formation, but also an emergent property of people-as-agents, whose embodiment as agents affects their ’empirical’ experience and the understanding which they draw from that experience (which may or may not become articulated in language).[11]

Agency and drive
As embodied agents, our 2nd order behavioral closures are non-deterministic – we experience undecideability and choices.   Put another way, we experience structural holes in the ways we understand ourselves and others – we experience not-knowing.[12] And in acting under such conditions of not-knowing, we reveal preferences that are particular to ourselves as embodied agents, whether or not these preferences are articulated in language. We can think of this embodied valuing as a 3rd order system (i.e. our relation to our embodiment) constraining the non-determinism of the 2nd order.[13]  ‘Drive’ then becomes a way of understanding what we are doing in acting as if we know while knowing that we do not in order to create 3rd order determinism in the face of 2nd order non-determinism.  For example, after extensive consultation with colleagues concerning a particular client’s case in which we agree that our current knowledge does not enable us to know what we must do to help the client, I realise that I must go beyond what I know in choosing what to do next… 

So how are we to understand social entities as exhibiting agency?
A social entity can itself act as an agent.  This is the focus of theories of competitive advantage and of business ecosystems.  And agency and drive apply as much to a social-entities-as-agents as they do to individuals-as-agents.  Thus, to the extent that the behavior of a social-entity-as-agent cannot be reduced to the agency of its constituent individuals (i.e. that there is an emergent ‘organisation’ beyond that of its constituent individuals), then we need formalisations enabling us to think about the determinants of its choices.  Such formalisations are necessary if we are to question its practices in ways that can go beyond the understandings of its constituent individuals i.e. to be able to engage meta-reflexively with those understandings.[14]

Why?  To the extent that the understanding of both demand and leadership can no longer be assumed to be symmetric with the social entity’s own understanding, the social entity needs to be able to engage in triple loop learning.  And to be able to support this level of learning in the behavior of the social entity, we need to be able to understand what resists that learning.[15] It is this that brings us to need to give an account of the effects of drive structure as it applies to social entities.

[1] Andrew Collier has written a useful Introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy. This distinguishes critical realism from reductionist, positivist and realist approaches in which the power/knowledge formations remain ‘hidden’ in the sense of being rendered invisible by virtue of the nature of the formation itself. In these terms, the human agent is a critical realist for whose agency the reflexive use of language is constitutive.
[2] This way of understanding the modeling relation is described in Robert Rosen’s book on Life Itself.  The self-organisation characteristic of living systems applies to all forms of agency, whether or not ‘human’.  A very good insight into the ways in which living systems are self-organising can be found in Kirschner and Gerhart’s book on The Plausibility of Life, in which different kinds of living system facilitate variation in different ways. A distinguishing characteristic of ‘human’ agency is in the way the use of language affects their self-organising capabilities.
[3] ‘Model’ is to be understood more widely here than mathematical models. Bertram F. Malle in How the Mind Explains Behavior describes how each of us develops models of our own and each others’ social behaviors within the wider context of the physical world.
[4] A correlation means that there is some probability that there is a causal connection in the ‘real’ domain, without knowing what form that connection might take.
[5] This 2nd order model of relations will constitute the conditions for the continuing viability of the behaviors of the 1st order system.  Naming it as ‘organising’ the 1st order system attributes it to the ‘real’ domain as being an emergent property of the system-of-interest in the ‘real’.  For example, we can say that the body’s immune system ‘organises’ its defences against infection.
[6] Thus ‘weak’ emergence can ultimately be explained in 1st order terms, while ‘novel’ emergence cannot.  This distinction between ‘weak’ and ‘novel’ emergence, together with the dependence of the scope of a system-of-interest on the prior definition of behaviors-of-interest, are in Alex Ryan’s paper on Emergence is coupled to scope, not level.  Ryan goes on to point out that weak emergence is epistemic since once understood, it is no longer emergence, being reducible to the properties of 1st order components.  This distinguishes ‘novel’ emergence as ontological because it is independent of the epistemic status of the observer.
[7] Bhaskar gives the example of the particular form of chemical interactions being explained in terms of atomic number and valency, which in turn are explained by a theory of electrons and atomic structure, etcetera. Knowledge of this stratified relation of embeddedness is thus a ‘deepening’ of knowledge. But the characteristics of novel emergence are such that this does not mean that a ‘higher’ layer can be explained away in terms of a lower layer.
[8] This formulation of agency is taken from Barandiaran, Di Paolo and Rohde’s work on defining agency. This work defines a system as exhibiting agency in terms of its exhibiting individuality through the particular way it is autonomously goal-seeking, sustaining an asymmetry in its interactions with its environment and conserving its identity over time (identity being defined by the sustaining of particular relations of viability).  ‘Human’ agency adds to this the effects of the agent’s being in language, within which (social) medium it must sustain its identification with its embodiment.
[9] The Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions for ‘agency’ are specific to social agency, and include: (i) The faculty of an agent or of acting; active working or operation; action, activity. (ii) Working as a means to an end; instrumentality, intermediation. (iii) Action or instrumentality embodied or personified as concrete existence. (iv) The office or function of an agent or factor. (v) An establishment for the purpose of doing business for another, usually at a distance.
[10] This approach to understanding agency are to be found in Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation, with ‘communicative’ reflexivity, autonomous reflexivity and meta-reflexivity being different relations to that internal conversation (This meta-reflexivity corresponds to the second loop in double loop learning).  In her book, Archer draws on Peirce’s notion of thirdness to give an account of the particular forms of ‘organisation’ that make the internal conversation performative for the subject of the conversation.  It is the nature of this thirdness that Peirce problematises in his later work with the concept of ‘irremediable vagueness’.  The blogs in Lacanticles speak of ‘thirdness’ in terms of the way ‘discourse’ works, problematising discourse in terms of the concept of ‘drive’.  (For more on irremediable vagueness, see Peter Ochs on Peirce, pragmatism and the logic of scripture).
[11] Embodied cognition is one line of research exploring the way our embodiment affects the ways in which we know. For our purposes, we can formulate  performativity for the agent by the way s/he takes up a relation to language in terms of Foucault’s discursive practices.  Particular to the agent are the enunciative modalities and unifying themes to which the agent subjects himself or herself, expressed in terms of their objects and the concepts that operate on those objects.  The resulting forms of social construction differ in the ways they allow variation, the special case being reflexive critical realism – the conjectural in which the individual agent takes personal responsibility for their radical constructivism.
[12] A ‘structural hole’ is a concept developed by Atkin in the 70’s in describing the properties of relational structures and taken up by Burt in the 90’s with reference to social networks.  We can think of a structural hole as confronting the observer-agent with a Lacanian Real beyond the ‘real’ of Bhaskar – something that is impossible to the observer-agent’s current understandings.
[13] When we situate ourselves in discourse in ways that are particular to the way we experience ourselves as situated, our use of language has to become explicitly triply articulated i.e. we vary its structure of substitution (paradigmatic structure) in ways that are situationally specific. This means a lot of ‘what I mean is…’ and ‘what I like to call…’ statements.  If we expand on the conjectural to examine the particular ways in which the speaking subject is present in the speech act, we get the following. The ‘deictic’ parts of speech are those that indicate the presence  and circumstances of the speaker or hearer as context to the communication itself, particularising the situated speech act. The ‘indexical’ parts of speech are those that  rely on particular modes of reference to situation to convey meaning, the deictic parts of speech being a special type of indexical.  And the ‘subject’ used here is the subject of the unconscious, i.e. a ‘de-centered ego’.  This is the domain of the unintentional, to be contrasted with the intentional actions of the sovereign ego.  It is on this ground that the effects of ‘drive’ structure become most apparent.

[14] By ‘meta-reflexively’ I am using Archer’s concept of an internal conversation about the way internal conversations make sense.  The economy of leadership is a way of thinking about the form taken by this emergent ‘organisation’ at the level of the social-entity-as-agent.
[15] The particular form taken by this economy of leadership for any given social entity exhibits ‘novel’ emergence. Thus the social entity conserves particular asymmetries in the way it behaves – a metaphor would be to represent these asymmetries in the form of a particular coral reef. Individuals derive support for their identities by the way they take up a relationship to the way the social entity works – in the metaphor these are the various species colonising the coral reef and their relationships to both the reef and to each other. To change the social entity’s way of conserving its particular asymmetries, we therefore have to consider the ways these identifications constrain what changes are possible. The economy of leadership describes both the different ways in which identities are supported by the social entity, and also the ways in which the different forms of leadership are co-dependent on each other.

Mar 272007

Implicit in the Quadripod is a relationship between the what-is-going-on (wigo) of journeys across the railway network, and the what-is-Really-going-on (wiRgo) of the United Kingdom as a thing-in-itself.  This relationship between wigo and wiRgo is a relationship to a ‘more’ that is only indirectly knowable by the traveller through their experience of the journey across the railway network.  The the characteristics of this relationship is a metaphor for Freudian drive functioning [1], and is important because it gives us a different way of understanding what an ‘object’ is in psychoanalytic terms, enabling us to clarify the distinction between the Kleinian object and the Lacanian symptom.

Consider the following matrices, in which a traveller has chosen a particular itinerary to satisfy a demand of theirs for a particular journey, and this itinerary involves booking journeys along a number of train routes:

The matrix of all possible train routes describes each train route as a journey between stations.  The particular train routes relevant to the traveller’s journey are shown, for which some of the stations are unique, and some shared.  The shared stations are where it is possible for a traveller to change from one route to another.

The traveller’s drive for satisfaction[2] is expressed as a demand to see England, the aim[3] of this particular itinerary being to satisfy this drive by enabling the traveller to see England by train.  But reaching this aim is constrained by the available train routes, which can be understood as a structural ‘gap’ representing itineraries that are not possible, for example travelling directly from route F to route C.  The routes that cannot be taken represent a ‘hole’ in the set of all possible routes between stations, corresponding to ways of seeing England that are not possible. The ‘rim’[4] of this hole define a ‘gap’, and the itinerary constructed to bridge this gap in order to meet the traveller’s aim is an ‘object’[5] – an approximation to seeing England that supports the aim but that can never fully satisfy it.

The structural ‘gap’ is therefore a way of describing the particular way in which the experiencing of England itself is limited, the four terms describing how the particular relation to the object is constructed to approximate to an overcoming of this limitation [6], thus describing the way the traveller’s drive for satisfaction is structured. [7]

The particular formation of the ‘object’ in these terms is therefore symptomatic of the structural gaps in the underlying routes across the network, as well as saying something about what is satisfying for the traveller.

As a supplier of railway networks, I may therefore want to ensure that travellers stay on my network as long as possible by creating gaps.  As a regulator of railway networks interested in improving the quality of the traveller’s experience, I may want to minimise gaps in order to maximise the variety of travel experiences possible.

[1] The reference is to The Deconstruction of the Drive in Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis.
[2] Drang, thrust – the tendency to discharge
[3] Ziel, the aim
[4] Quelle, the source – the gap defined by a rim-like structure
[5] Objekt, the object
[6] i.e. sublimated
[7] We have already seen how three ‘asymmetries’ are implicit in this quadripod understanding of drive.