May 292015

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

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

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

Mike’s response assumes three layers as follows:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Figure 3: Lacan’s schema L

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The effect of this is twofold:

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

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

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

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

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.

Nov 202013

The previous blog on ‘the missing subject-ego relation’ described how a 3-term relation was used by Hanna Segal to describe symbol formation – a relation between ego, object and symbol – while her text[1] speaks of the relation between these three terms and a fourth term – the subject:

The capacity to experience loss and the wish to re-create the object within oneself gives the individual 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.[1],p56

The focus of ‘symbol formation’ was nevertheless clearly on describing the paranoid-schizoid and depressive relations in terms of object-relations, and the transition from symbolic equation to the subject’s use of fully formed symbols:

The development of the ego and the changes in the ego’s relation to its objects are gradual. Also gradual is the change from the early symbols, which I called symbolic equations, to the fully formed symbols during the depressive position. It is only for the sake of clarity that I make here a very sharp distinction between the ego’s relations in the paranoid-schizoid position and in the depressive position respectively, and an equally sharp distinction between the symbolic equations and the symbols which are formed during and after the depressive position.[1],p54

The 3-term relation fitted her purpose, therefore, even though it used as its authority a quote from a text by Morris about the Foundations of a Theory of Signs[2] that was itself inconsistent with the rest of Morris’ text. Morris was in fact using a 4-term relation between the symbol (the ‘sign-vehicle’ or ‘signifer’), an object (the ‘designatum’ or ‘signified’), the ego (‘behavior’ in relation to the object), and the subject (the ‘interpreter’), even though, as I show below, translating from a 3-term to a 4-term reading of the relations between subject, ego, object and symbol does not affect Segal’s argument . Why make this translation therefore?

The translation introduces a distinction between the-object-as-signifier (the ‘object-signifier’) and the-object-that-is-signified (the ‘signified-object’). This helps clarify how the word “object” slips between referring to signifiers and signifieds, and how the phrase “object-relation” slips between referring to a subject’s object-relating-behavior and organisations-of-object-signifiers.[3]  Making a 4-term relation explicit in this way therefore has consequences for how we understand both Bion’s concept of the ‘container’, and also the concepts of ‘individual mentality’ and ‘group mentality’ in ‘Experiences in Groups’.[4]

The Translation
We start with Segal’s introduction to the relation between the subject, the ego, the object and the symbol in which the ego translates as an organisation of signifier-signifier and signifier-signified relationships[2], equivalent to an organisation of object-relating (in what follows, my additions are in red and my deletions are marked with a strikethrough):

I find it helpful, following Morris (1938) [as amended by (Ducasse 1942)], to consider symbolizing as a threefour-term relation , i.e. a relation between the thing symbolizedto which meaning is attributed (the signified), the thing functioning as a symbol (the signifier by means of which meaning is attributed), and a personsubject for whom the one signifier represents the othersignified. In psychological terms, symbolism would be a relation between a subject (the interpreter), the ego (an organisation of signifier-signifier and signifier-signified relationships[3]), the object (the signified), and the symbol (the signifier).
Symbol formation (aka the attribution of meaning by a signifier to a signified) is a signifying activity of the ego attempting to deal with the anxieties stirred by its relation to the signified-object and is generated primarily by the fear of signified-objects experienced as bad object-signifiers and the fear of the loss or inaccessibility of good object-signifiers. Disturbances in the egosubject‘s relation to signified-objects mediated by the ego are reflected in disturbances of symbol formation (i.e. disturbances in the attribution of meaning by a signifier to a signified as mediated by the ego). In particular, disturbances in differentiation by the subject between ego and signified-object lead to disturbances in differentiation between the symbol (the object-signifier) and the object symbolized (the signified-object) and therefore to the concrete thinking characteristic of psychoses.

Replacing “the ego’s relation to objects” by “the subject’s relation to signified-objects mediated by the ego” unpacks the 3-term reading to a 4-term reading while preserving the original relations between the signifiers. These relations continue to be preserved in the next paragraph:

Symbol formation starts very early, probably as early as object relations, but changes its character and functions with the changes in the character of the ego and object relations. Not only the actual content of the symbol but the very way in which symbols are formed and used seems to reflect precisely the ego’s state of development and its way of dealing with its signified-objects. If symbolism is seen as a threefour-term relation, problems of symbol formation must always be examined in the context of the subject’s relation to the ego’s way of putting signifiers in relation with its signified-objects.[1],p52

Applying a 4-term reading of object-relations
The effect of this 4-term reading is to clarify what was previously an ambiguity in the use of the word ‘object’ in understanding ‘splitting’:

The chief characteristics of the infant’s first object relations are the following. The signifer of the signified-object is seen as split into an ideally good and a wholly bad one. The aim of the ego is total union with the ideal object-signifier and total annihilation of the bad one, as well as of the signifiers of bad parts of the self-as-subject. Omnipotent thinking is paramount and reality sense intermittent and precarious. The concept of absence hardly exists. Whenever the state of union with the ideal object-signifier is not fulfilled, what is experienced is not absence; the ego feels assailed by the counterpart of the good object-signifier—the bad object-signifier, or objects. It is the time of the hallucinatory wish-fulfillment, described by Freud, when the mind creates object-signifiers which are then felt to be available as signified-objects. According to Melanie Klein, it is also the time of the bad hallucinosis when, if the ideal conditions are not fulfilled, the bad signified-object is equally hallucinated and felt as real.[1],p53

It expands on the nature of projective identification:

A leading defense mechanism in this phase is projective identification. In projective identification, the subject in phantasy projects large parts of himself into the signified-object, and the signified-object becomes identified with the parts of the self-as-subject that it is felt to contain. Similarly, internal signified-objects are projected outside and identified with parts of the external world which come to represent them. These first projections and identifications are the beginning of the process of symbol formation.[1],p53

It opens up the question of the subject’s relation to the depressive position:

When the depressive position has been reached, the main characteristic of object relations is that the signified-object is felt as a whole object. In connection with this there is a greater degree of awareness of differentiation and of the separateness between the signifier as mediated by the ego and the signified-object. At the same time, since the signified-object is recognized as a whole, ambivalence is more fully experienced. The ego in this phase is struggling with its (i.e. presenting the subject with the experience of) ambivalence. Its relation to the signified-object is characterized by guilt, fear of loss or actual experience of loss and mourning, and a striving to re-create the relation to the signified-object. At the same time, processes of introjection become more pronounced than those of projection, in keeping with the striving to retain the signified-object inside as well as to repair, restore and re-create it.[1],p55

And from here it is a short step to a consideration of the subject’s relation to the ego’s aggression and possessiveness:

In normal development, after repeated experiences of loss, recovery, and re-creation, a good object-signifier is securely established in the ego. As the ego develops and integrates, these changes in relation to the object-signifier affect fundamentally the ego’s reality sense. With an increased awareness of ambivalence, the lessening of the intensity of projection, and the growing differentiation between the self-as-subject and the signified-object, there is a growing sense of reality both internal and external. The internal world becomes differentiated from the external world. Omnipotent thinking, characteristic of the earlier phase, gradually gives way to more realistic thinking. Simultaneously, and as part of the same process, there is a certain modification of the primary instinctual aims. Earlier on, the aim was to possess the signified-object totally if it was felt as good or to annihilate it totally if it was felt as bad. With the recognition that the good and the bad signified-objects are one (i.e. object-signifiers both identified with the whole signified-object), both these instinctual aims are gradually modified. The ego is increasingly concerned with saving the signified-object from its aggression and possessiveness. And this implies a certain degree of inhibition of the direct instinctual aims, both aggressive and libidinal.[1],p55

And consideration of the subject’s capacity for creating symbols:

This situation is a powerful stimulus for the creation of symbols, and symbols acquire new functions which change their character. The symbol is needed to displace aggression by the ego from the original signified-object and, in that way, to lessen the subject’s guilt and the fear of loss. The aim of the displacement is to save the object-signifier, and the guilt experienced in relation to it is far less than that due to an attack on the original signified-object. Thus, the symbol here is not equivalent to the original signified-object. The symbols are also created in the internal world as object-signifiers, providing the means of restoring, re-creating, recapturing and owning again the original signified-object. But in keeping with the increased reality sense, they are now felt as created by the ego and therefore never completely equated with the original signified-object.[1],p55

From ‘subject of the unconscious’ to ‘double subjection’
In conclusion, this translation works in the way it leads into Segal’s own reference to the subject, but raises the question of how Wilfred Bion, in his ‘Experiences in Groups’[4], understands a “sophisticated” relation between individual and group mentality.   In Bion’s terms, the transition by either a group or an individual mentality from a paranoid-schizoid to a depressive position in its relation to the unconscious is always also partial.  How does this partial transition therefore affect the subject’s relation to these mentalities and to Bion’s ‘container’, and where does this take us in how we understand the subject’s double subjection both to the unconscious and to the social?

[1] Segal, H. (1986[1957]). Notes on Symbol Formation. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association Books.
[2] 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. I.
[3] As in the previous blog on the missing subject-ego relation, this ‘organisation of relationships between signifiers’ gets taken up by Lacan as metaphor. See pp218-220 and pp222-230 in Lacan, J. (1993[1981]). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book III 1955-1956: The Psychoses. London, Routledge.
[4] Bion, W. R. (1959). Experiences in Groups. London, Tavistock Publications.

Nov 192013

I recently participated in a research colloquium organized by the Independent Social Research Foundation and Tavistock Consulting, which revisited Isabel Menzies-Lyth’s  thesis on the ‘Unconscious Defences against Anxiety’. My own contribution to this was a paper on anxiety and innovation, which tried to pick up and elaborate on issues raised previously in my earlier blog on ‘what is happening to boundaries, authority and containment’ and subsequently developed in ‘leading organizations without boundaries’ and ‘THE environment does not ex-sist’. It was an interesting experience.

I was struck by the difficulty we faced in addressing the effects of our respective libidinal investments in the way we ‘were’ in language. Borrowing from the work of Kuhn and Lakatos, it was as if the colloquium was itself caught up within the mental models of Menzies’ thesis, only able to discuss what was going on ‘elsewhere’ in its own terms.  Even though there was a feeling of crisis in the room, this was related to individuals’ own experiences rather than to a crisis facing the ability of these mental models to get traction on the phenomenon and effects of neoliberal managerialism.

This difficulty had echos of Emery and Trist’s experience with the top management of a newly-merged enterprise in the aerospace industry, in which there was a flight to the personal and interpersonal:

we found that what they needed most was time in a supporting environment to share their common anxieties, and through doing this intensively to become able to make a collective re-appreciation of their entire situation. There were no deep incompatibilities; nor was there stubborn adherence to previous loyalties. T group procedures intended to facilitate the disclosure of hidden agendas and eyeball to eyeball leveling became rather marginal. The anxieties were existential rather than interpersonal. For the issue was survival. In a turbulent environment the issue is survival. The need is to stop the flight into personal paralysis and interpersonal discord and to replace these by participation in a process of group innovation. In systems of organizational ecology the locus of innovation is in the set of the partners involved.[1]

When trying to speak about the unconscious valencies we might have had for particular mental models over others, whether individually or in groups, we had no shared language for this beyond there being a multiplicity of organization-in-the-mind introjects. How could we speak of the organization of these introjects, and of our apparent subjection to them?  How could we understand psychoanalytically the “flight to the personal” so beloved by those invested in (what Barry Palmer called) the Tavistock Paradigm?

After the colloquium, this led me to examine what assumptions had been built into the Bionic notion of “flight”, which in turn led to the assumptions built into the dynamics of symbol formation and Segal.  In both cases, what was being addressed was the impact of unconscious processes on the emergence of symbol formation in the individual and group, not on the impact of unconscious processes on the subsequent organization of (i.e. relationships between) symbols themselves. Why?  Was this structural, or just a matter of further elaboration?  I have come to the view that it was structural, a view that I want to explore in this and subsequent blogs. In effect, I think it is structural because of a limitation in the theorization of the ‘subjection’ of the subject.

Hanna Segal on Symbol Formation
I start by asking why did Hanna Segal, in seeking to give an account of symbol formation in terms of object-relations[2], used a reading of Peirce’s work by Morris that was later criticised as being behaviorist[3,4], and from which reading the relation of the subject to the ego had been excised by Morris in a way that was inconsistent with the rest of Morris’s text? Why the apparent valency to a behaviorist account?

Segal, in her ‘Notes on Symbol Formation’ wanted to build on Jones’s concept of ‘True Symbolism’ in his ‘Theory of Symbolism’[5] to give an account of the Kleinian Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive positions and their relation to symbol formation. Jones argued that ‘true symbolism’ arose when there was an absence of sublimation. Segal described this ‘true symbolism’ as ‘symbolic equation’ in terms of projective identification:

In projective identification, the subject in phantasy projects large parts of himself into the object, and the object becomes identified with the parts of the self that it is felt to contain. Similarly, internal objects are projected outside and identified with parts of the external world which come to represent them. These first projections and identifications are the beginning of the process of symbol formation. The early symbols, however, are not felt by the ego to be symbols or substitutes but to be the original object itself. They are so different from symbols formed later that I think they deserve a name of their own… symbolic equation…[2],p53

The excision of the relation of the subject to the ego in the text is noteworthy, given that in the text Segal was describing the process by which the subject was able to engage in the creative use of symbols:

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.[2],p56

The excision
Segal started her “new and more careful study” of the processes of symbolization as follows:

I find it helpful, following Morris[6], to consider symbolizing as a three-term relation, i.e. a relation between the thing symbolized, the thing functioning as a symbol, and a person for whom the one represents the other. In psychological terms, symbolism would be a relation between the ego, the object, and the symbol.[2],p52

This was taken directly from Morris, in whose text this construction appeared as:

a dog (the ‘interpreter’) responds by the type of behavior I (the ‘interpretant’) involved in the hunting of chipmunks D (the ‘designatum’) to a certain sound S (the ‘sign-vehicle’).[6],p4

Using this example, Morris characterized a sign as follows:

S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) is a sign of D (the ‘designatum’) for I (the ‘interpretant’) to the degree that I takes account of D in virtue of the presence of S.[6],p4

In Segal’s text, this became the “three-term relation” in which the behavior (i.e. the object-relation) and the interpreter (i.e. the subject) were conflated, excising an explicit relation between the subject-interpreter and the organisation of symbols within the context of which the object-relation was formed:

S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) becomes the symbol, D (the ‘designatum’) becomes the object, and I (the ‘interpretant’) becomes the ego.[2],p52

Ducasse, in his critique of Morris’s reading of Peirce’s work[3], pointed out the inconsistency in Morris’s own characterization of a sign S:

Morris’s example and his characterization of a sign do not match. Whereas Morris states that ‘I’ stands for the interpretant, i.e. the hunting behavior, in the characterization he makes ‘I’ stand for the interpreter, namely, the dog. That it stands for the dog becomes evident if the example is expanded as follows: The sound S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) is a sign of chipmunks D (the ‘designatum’) for I (that is, for a dog – the ‘interpreter’ – and not for the hunting behavior) to the degree that I (viz., the dog) takes account of chipmunks D (that is, behaves in the manner B called chipmunk-hunting) in virtue of the presence of S.[3],p43

Correcting this inconsistency to make Morris’s characterization of a sign fit Morris’s own example, Ducasse proposed the following amendment:

S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) is a sign of D (the ‘designatum’) for I (an ‘interpreter’) to the degree that, in virtue of the presence of S, I behaves in a manner B (the ‘behavior’) which would be appropriate to the presence of D.”[3],p43

With this correction, Segal’s ‘three-term relation’ becomes a four-term relation that includes the presence of a subject: S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) remains the symbol and D (the ‘designatum’) remains the object, but if B (the ‘behavior’ which would be appropriate in the presence of D) is to be the ego, then we have an additional term I (the ‘interpreter’) corresponding to the subject.

In these terms, the ego is an organisation of symbols aka object-relating[7] aka behaviors-in-relation-to-objects, and ‘true symbolism’ or symbolic equation is a particular form of relation between ‘S’ and ‘D’ associated with behaviors ‘B’ to which ‘I’ is subjected.

The hypothesis
Jones distinguished true symbolism from other forms of indirect representation[5],p132, which Segal followed in distinguishing symbolic equation from the wider concept of symbolism[2],p52. Segal was therefore very well aware of the subject of symbolisation, as evidenced in the first two quotes above. Why, then, did she use Morris’s 3-term behaviorist reading?

We can perhaps impute an unconscious valency for this particular 3-term reading by Morris, one that did not complicate Segal’s focus on understanding the early emergence of symbolic equation[8]. From this perspective, it was only later in a person’s life, as forms of indirect representation emerged, that the need for a 4-term reading became necessary. The adoption of a 3-term reading therefore fitted very well with a wish to explain how the relation to the interpreter ‘I’ might initially have been implicit in the processes of symbol formation in object-relations behavior.

Drawing on Morris’s reading might have also conferred the secondary gain of having been published in an International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, supporting the wish at that time of psychoanalysts to present their work as ‘scientific’ within the mores of the 1950’s, bypassing the need to address the problematics of the subject.

A more modern reading of the relation between the sign-vehicle ‘S’ and the designatum ‘D’ would be in terms of the relation between the signifier and the signified. Object-relations would then become relations between object-signifiers and signified-objects, and the ego, as an organisation of object-relating, would become a particular organisation of relationships between object-signifiers and between organisations of object-signifiers and signified-objects.[7]  Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive positions would, in these terms, become particular ways in which the subject experienced himself or herself as subjected to this ego.  Segal added a postscript in 1979 “under the influence of work on the relationship between the container and the contained”. Using the proposed terms above, this read (my additions in brackets):

I have come to think that it is not projective identification per se that leads to concretization. One has to take into account the particular relationship between the projected part (i.e. the signified in the subject’s experience of themselves) and the object projected into (i.e. the signified-object operating as a signifier): the container (signifier) and the contained (signified).[2],p60

A first question is, therefore, does the adoption of a 4-term reading detract from the argument presented by Segal in ‘Notes on Symbol Formation’?  I address this next in ‘reading symbol formation as a 4-term relation’, which then raises a further question concerning how we are to understand Bion’s “container” in terms of object-signifiers.

[1] Trist, E. (1977). “A Concept of Organizational Ecology.” Australian Journal of Management 2(2): 161-176.
[2] Segal, H. (1986[1957]). Notes on Symbol Formation. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association Books.
[3] Ducasse, C. J. (1942). “Some Comments on C.W. Morris’s ‘Foundations of the Theory of Signs’.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 3(1): 43-52.
[4] For example, Honrubia, T. and A. Herrera (1991). “Two ‘signs’: Peirce and Morris.” Culture and History of Design 05.
[5] Jones, E. (1916). The theory of symbolism. In E. Jones, Papers on Psycho-Analysis. 2nd ed. London: Balliere, Tindall and Cox, 1918.
[6] 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. I.
[7] It is this ‘organisation of relationships between signifiers’ that gets taken up by Lacan as metaphor. See pp218-220 and pp222-230 in Lacan, J. (1993[1981]). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book III 1955-1956: The Psychoses. London, Routledge.
[8] Referring to the use of Morris’s 3-term reading as evidencing an ‘unconscious valency’ carries with it the implication that it was an unintentional error on the part of Hanna Segal. This means that there was a ‘decidability error’ in the model of symbol formation presented that was unable to account for the relation of the subject to object-relations, an error in which the Segal acted ‘as if’ there was no undecidability because of her unconscious valency to that way of knowing.

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

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.

Jun 302011

Social objects, for example in social interaction design or in the enterprise, are those things around which collaborations and networks form – online they might be such things as blogs, photos, Facebook postings or web clippings. These are at least ‘real’ objects in the sense that Winnicott used to distinguish object-usage from object-relating[1]. Winnicott argued that in surviving its destruction by the subject as a basis for object-relating, the object is established as being ‘external’.  But what makes these external objects social is the way they are taken up as the basis of reciprocity or mutuality in the manner of Freud’s third identification i.e. an identification formed not with some one or some way of thinking, but rather with a situation engendering a particular affective relation – with a situation that is symptomatic.  The identification is with a way of being-in-relation-to-situation.

Jyri Engeström was at the epicentre of the use of this term, but he refers its meaning to the work of Karin D. Knorr Cetina, in particular her papers on “Sociality with Objects” and The Market as an Object of Attachment”. Karin argued that instrumental objects had to be distinguished from knowledge objects. Instrumental objects formed part of an increasingly mechanised and commoditised world that were experienced as complete in themselves, while knowledge objects were experienced as complex, question-generating, endlessly unfolding and incomplete. Unlike instrumental objects, which supported an action-oriented approach to the world of doing and accomplishing, knowledge objects supported a meaning-oriented approach of reflexive experiencing, feeling and remembering.  Knowledge objects supported an object-centered sociality referred to by Jyri as a world of social objects.

In explaining the basis of knowledge objects aka social objects, Karin argued that the ‘real’ object came to serve as a knowledge object aka social object to the extent that it supported a being-in-relation, mutuality or reciprocity between individuals on the basis of enabling temporal synchronisation or on the basis of establishing a shared temporal immediacy – individuals able to collaborate around a shared task, or individuals able to be present to each other in some situation (in contrast to the more familiar spatial synchronisation and immediacy of a face-to-face meeting).  Furthermore, to the extent that this mutuality was experienced, it was experienced as a ‘We’-ness embedding the individual in a larger context, but derived from the nature of the shared situation rather than from an institutional affiliation. And its efficacy in serving as a knowledge object aka social object depended on there being a fit between the nature of the object’s incompleteness and the individual’s own experience of lack – an identification between the individual’s lack and that of the object corresponding to the Lacanian i(a) – the imaginary form given to the subject’s relation to objet petit a aka lack.

The Kleinian object, then, is a way of speaking about the organisation of the individual’s primary process.  With symbol formation, the ‘real’ object becomes established as external, its symbolisation becoming a knowledge object to the extent that the individual’s unconscious experience of the symbolisation is as being incomplete. In the ‘real’ object becoming a knowledge object aka social object, it becomes a Lacanian signifier that signifies an i(a) for the subject qua symptom to the extent that it becomes identified with the individual’s unconscious experience of lack. [2]

[1] The quote is from Winnicott, D. W. (1969). “The use of an object.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 50: 711-716.
[2] Note the distinction here between symptom and sinthome. While ‘symptom’ is the Imaginary form given to a Symbolic lack made present by the subject’s relation to the Real i.e. Imagining the Real in the Symbolic, ‘sinthome’ is more akin to Symbolising the Real in the Imaginary – experiencing a limit to symbolisation itself as a way of ‘knowing’.