Jul 022014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philip: Another difficult question. So here goes…!
On the point de capiton, yes – the diagram above “articulates the point de capiton by which the signifier stops the otherwise indefinite sliding of signification….”[6]
On the question of the relation between the subject’s way of making sense and the libidinal economy, the relationship is less direct than the one you imply in asking “how a libidinal economy is reduced to being a subject’s interpretation of a ‘treasury of signifiers’”.
The function of the first intersection, labeled A, “is the locus of the treasure trove of signifiers, which does not mean of the code, for the one-to-one correspondence between a sign and a thing is not preserved here, the signifier being constituted on the basis of a synchronic and countable collection in which none of the elements is sustained except through its opposition to each of the others.” This treasure trove is a trove of distinctions that may be made.
The second, labeled s(A), is what may be called the punctuation, in which signification ends up as a finished product.” Here is where sense is made, but also where something is covered over. “Observe the dissymmetry between the one, which is a locus (a place, rather than a space), and the other, which is a moment (a scansion, rather than a duration). Both are related to the offer to the signifier that is constituted by the hole in the real, the one as a hollow for concealment, the other as drilling toward a way out.” The ‘holes in the real’ are the gaps that the signifiers offer to cover over, the particular way they are used to cover over being the ‘drilling toward a way out’. The sense-making is subject to the modes of social construction, but is also subject to the unconscious in the particular ways in which it covers over – like decking covers over what lies underneath.
The relation to this ‘underneath’ is like the outline of a question mark planted in the capital A, with two parts to the question:

My response to your question starts, then, from how that-which-is-covered-over is structured, and how the subject keeps this aligned with their social sense-making. The unconscious leaves gaps, being structured like a language is structured, and jouissance comes with the particular ways the subject has of being in relation to these gaps (aka phantasy, understood as what covers over the impossibility in the relation between the two parts to the question). The alignment of that-which-is-covered-over to the subject’s sense-making is therefore particular to the subject, as in ‘wo Es war, soll Ich werden’.
The pursuit of (ego) sovereignty by the subject, however, leads to adopting ideologies (aka social constructions) that only appear to align things, sort of. (It is the ‘vagueness’ in these ideologies that conceals the ways in which they fail.[7]) Hence the struggle for emancipation is always a struggle between ready-baked ways-of-aligning and a subject’s gradually-built alignment emerging from an ongoing process of ‘minding the gap’.
The economy of the network is a particular form of social organization that is emerging from the internal contradictions of 20th century capitalism (one that is more ‘horizontally’ linked than ‘vertically’ accountable, pursuing economies of alignment more than economies of scale and/or scope). It becomes a libidinal economy of a network only to the extent that this social organization supports forms of emancipation that promise not a ‘full jouissance’ but rather offers ways-of-being in which gaps may be minded, sort of!
It is thus not that the libidinal economy of a healthcare network is reduced to the subject’s phantasy. Rather it is that there are particular forms of emancipatory (gap-minding) phantasy that receive good-enough support from the economy of the healthcare network.[8]

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

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

Jan 052014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This whole  system therefore acted as a substrate to consciousness. In order to consider the unconscious basis of ‘formation’ aka Thirdness, we therefore need a secondary stratification (the W-Wz-Ub-Vb stratification described by Freud being primary) by introducing as a particular organisation aka ‘formation’ of the subject’s relation to the unconscious object-signifiers. This relation to represents a secondary stratification that is an organisation of word-presentations,[13] producing the following:
The dotted line is there because the -system only affects the -complex in ways that are mediated by and the -system, there being no direct relationship between  and . The secondary stratification is that through which the organisation of relationships between word-presentations takes place on the axis of  to .[14] Symbolic equation aka unconscious valency is thus a restricting of the relationship between the -complex and the -system, to which we can now add a second kind of unconscious valency as restricting the relationship between the -complex and .

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

Our double subjection is now in terms of both the container-contained constructions of the social, and also the -complex unconscious valencies through which these constructions are also constrained (the dotted blue arrow). In this, the indirect effects of symbolic equation are represented by the mediating effects of the solid blue arrow, through which the inter-subjective experience of Thirdness is also made subject to the unconscious organisation of object-relating.[16]


It is this double subjection that is constitutive of the double challenge, the ethics of which may be understood in terms of  a diasporic way associated with journeying at the edge.[17] Why care?  Because by failing to take up this challenge, an organisation stops learning about how to maintain a dynamic alignment with its environments…  many organisations acting in this way creating an impact on their environments that is the corollary to global climate change – vortical environments.

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

Apr 162013

This is the abstract of a paper to be published in Socio-analysis this year:

Social media enable individuals to link together to form networks. These networks can cut across the boundaries of existing organisations to disrupt their existing ways of working. Three case examples are used to explore what is put at risk by these forms of social disruption. While existing ways of working may be disrupted, new possibilities may also be created. The paper uses Freud’s distinction between three kinds of identification to show how these disruptions may also evidence identifications of the third kind – identifications that give expression to new possibilities and new desires. The paper draws on a Lacanian understanding of how identification may be mediated by the effects of language. It argues that while identifications of the first two kinds may provide defences against anxiety, identifications of the third kind may provide support for creative responses to anxiety. The conclusion drawn is that in managing the risks of social disruption, individuals must work the relation between ‘above’ and ‘below’ the surface of their working relationships, but they must also work the relation between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the organisation with which they are identified.

The paper considers how the disruptive effects of social media can be understood in terms of Freud’s third identification and its articulation of the Lacanian what-do-I-want (Che Vuoi?).

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.

Dec 062011

I hope you will forgive the heretical direction of this blog (as well as its bias towards an English experience!), but I want to pick up on ‘by what authority are we to follow‘ by considering crises of delegation. These are crises in which people refuse to recognise truths offered by those in authority, forcing new forms of authority to emerge.  By considering changes that have been made in the way religious truths are authorised, we construct a rich source of metaphor for the ways in which the listener/follower may constitute performativity.

The rich source of metaphor

The diagram summarises this metaphor, the numbered balloons corresponding to the points made below.

  1. An ‘original’ authority for monotheistic Judaism was recognised in the story of a people’s origin emerging in Second Temple Judaism, the meaning of this authority of origin becoming the Mosaic Law through Rabbinic interpretation (Rabbinic Judaism).
  2. Very much later (in the 19th Century), Reform Judaism separated itself from this authority of origin on the basis of a crisis, in which local communities took issue with these received interpretations within the context of their lives together at that time. Authority became vested in the religious community.
  3. By the beginning of the 21st Century, the movement of Reform Judaism in the UK is reaching out to people and meeting them ‘where they are’, supporting them ‘thinking for themselves’ and ‘walking their own walk’, but within the context of the movement. Partly a response to the crisis of assimilation, an emphasis on ‘The Jew Within‘ gives authority to the individual’s acts of origination within the context of Tikkun Olam – the work of repairing the world for all humanity.
  4. A different authority for monotheism was recognised following the death of Jesus, with the emergence of early Christian communities.  The First Council of Nicaea established some agreement concerning the nature of Christ’s Divinity through the doctrine of the Trinity, in which authority was established through Apostolic succession.  This enabled the Eastern Orthodox Church to establish its authority through the relation it established between Communion and Otherness, the Russian Orthodox Church emerging subsequently as a slavic translation of this.  Authority was based on the religious community.
  5. The Roman Catholic Church differed in arguing that the Spirit came through the Son as well as the Father (the doctrine of the Filioque).  This enabled an original delegation to a person (St Peter), the meaning of which was interpreted as the Roman Catholic Church being the Body of Christ.  This established an authority of hierarchy based on the Roman Catholic Church being ‘directly’ authorised.
  6. The first crisis of delegation facing this hierarchy came with the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, enabling the kings of states to break with the authority of Rome to establish their own divine right (through the doctrine of the King’s Two Bodies), and their own authority of hierarchy.
  7. In England, the next crisis of delegation came in the 17th Century, separating the body politic from the King’s body and establishing the power of the people’s representatives over the State’s authority of hierarchy, further strengthening the break with Rome and the identification between Church and State.
  8. And so to the nonconformists who did not accept this identification and placed authority with their own dissenting communities, some of the effects of which are to be seen not least in the emergence of the United States of America! Here religious authority was vested in the religious community in which the Church is separated from the State.
  9. In the 21st Century, we see a further step in the refusal of religious authority at the same time as a greater reliance on the individual’s authority for good works, a position evident amongst the Quakers from their beginning, apparent in Peter Ochs’ reading of pragmaticism, but evident also in the emphasis placed even by Pope Benedict XVI on agape. Here again, authority is given to the individual’s acts of origination – the ethical response characterised as the diasporic way.

And so we see crises of delegation in two forms of monotheism, each crisis reducing the scale at which ‘the people’ authorise truths until it reaches the individual scale, presenting the individual with an ethical challenge in facing the dilemmas of ignorance.  So how does this “rich source of metaphor” bring us closer to understanding performativity in terms of the three asymmetries?

Acts of origination

An act of origination[1] follows wherever an individual actively holds open all three dilemmas of ignorance, assuming individual responsibility for the ways in which s/he holds them in relation to each other.  These three dilemmas are the experiencing of the triple articulation of human being according to a Lacanian reading of Freud’s Project, the individual’s way of binding them together forming the fourth ring of the Lacanian sinthome, corresponding to an identification with a particular form of inscription. This binding together constitutes performativity at the level of the individual.

This relation to the triple articulation corresponds to the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the individual’s relation to the Trinity (see for example Michael Grant on this), just as the construction of the sinthome can be read in relation to the Jewish Mystical Tradition.  But in both Lacan and Freud, the scale at which a truth is authorised is that of the individual.  But the progression in the structures of delegation above show how this identification at the scale of the individual is a relatively recent phenomenon. Thus if we read history backwards (as an après coup), we can see how larger scale institutions have been treated as if they were individual actors constituting performativity in how they support the identifications of individuals. We can read these histories from a psychoanalytic perspective by understanding the institutions as binding together these three asymmetries through the particular way they inscribe themselves in extension.

And why should we read history backwards in this way?  What might be moving the scale of performativity towards smaller and smaller scales or organisation? To answer this one, we need the next blog on the differences between the simple, the complicated, the complex and the chaotic.

[1] An origin is that which an observer identifies as the source of something.  In saying “that is the source”, the observer is speaking from a position that is exogenous to the act of sourcing itself.  Origination is the process of sourcing itself, and refers to the experience of the individual doing the sourcing – an articulation of experience that is endogenous to the being of the individual engaged in the sourcing. This origination/origin distinction is the endo-exo asymmetry spoken of in the previous blog. The Foucauldian version of this (third) asymmetry is “the retreat and return of the origin”, i.e.  in saying anything, there is always that about it which refers back in time, and that which is original to the present moment (written about as the control dilemma in Intent and The Future of Identity and The Dilemmas of Ignorance).

Aug 102005

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

The third form of identification distinguished by Freud in Group Psychology is formed not by identifying with some one or some way of thinking, but rather with a situation engendering a particular affective relation – with a situation that is symptomatic. Freud distinguished this third form as follows:

“Supposing, for instance, that one of the girls in a boarding school has had a letter from someone with whom she is secretly in love which arouses her jealousy, and that she reacts to with a fit of hysterics; then some of her friends who know about it will catch the fit, as we say, by mental infection. The mechanism is that of identification based upon the possibility or desire of putting oneself in the same situation.” [1]

Freud’s use of the word “desire” needs to be examined closely here. Lacan distinguished Freud’s first two forms of identification as imaginary and symbolic identifications. ‘Imaginary’ identification was identification in terms of the primary process in relation to which the individual encountered an image of himself or herself. And ‘Symbolic’ identification was identification mediated by the (secondary) effects of language. The single trait of which Freud spoke became the ‘unary signifier’ in Lacan: the symbolic identification that anchored  the organization of an individual’s particular way of being.

Taking up this symbolic identification involved subordinating primary process to a particular way of being, resulting in a loss arising from the repression of primary process involved. This organization of signifiers standing in the place of primary process enabled Lacan to speak of what was ‘left out’ by that organization – of what could not be said or of what was in some other way untranslatable in relation to the individual’s experience. This was the lack that gave rise to desire, forming the basis of the third identification to a symptom of that lack. Thus the situation with the letter constituted a symptom of what the girls lacked (i.e. of what the girls wanted or were wanting of).  Desire was the relation to that which was symptomatic of what remained left out, constituted by the lack which was structural to the symbolic identification.  And so the third identification was an identification with a symptom of the individual’s relation to the (Lacanian) ‘Real’.

The Lacanian ‘Real’ was that which could not be articulated within the symbolic, remaining radically unknowable/incomprehensible/impossible.  So in pursuing their desire in this Lacanian sense, the individual was pursuing a symptom of what was lacking in their way of being. In these terms, the desire of which Freud spoke became a relation to what the individual found wanting in his or her current way of being, leading the individual beyond their own psychic boundary.

To the extent therefore that institutions provide individuals with support for particular ways of (embodied) being, with the third identification comes the realisation of institutions as symptomatic.[2]

[1] Freud, S. (1921c). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Signmund Freud. J. Strachey. London, The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. 18: 65-143. p107
[2] The structures of an organisation support particular forms of identification. Who takes up what roles in support of what forms of identification depends on the individual’s valencies. The challenge, then, is to understand how these identifications support each other while at the same time being supported by the structures of the organisation… this is what leads to an economy of discourses.