Ideology, Family and Hatred of Phallus: A Lacanian Analysis of Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong


This is an article I did almost ten years ago. Please give me some idea as I am going to do a major review on this. Your comments shall go to cyso(at)lacansociety.com. TKS ________

Psychoanalytic approach has entered into scene of cultural studies since Freud’s time. Although Freud never expected that he could have found that psychoanalytic study of cultural text could be contradictory to his project toward the so called “scientific psychology.”  Therefore it thus emerges two different tracks of psychoanalytic research, what we can distinguish as clinical track and its cultural counterpart. Research and practice which base on Freud’s texts could come to very different result and focuses in concern. One issue is the debate of how the study of cultural texts such as literature and film beneficial to clinical practice. The debate not only affects the possible dialogue between clinical psychoanalyst and cultural researchers but also is related to the very core discussion of training, the quality of being an analyst. Young training analyst always ask the question like, how does Lacan’s discussion on Edgar Allen Pop’s tales or Zizek’s discussion of Hitchcock enrich their technical knowledge on practicing the talking cure. Lacan has exposed the critical issue on training ever since his earlier career as a teacher to young analysts. He stressed vitality from all modern knowledge in truth rendering-anthropology, philosophy and other “fields in which psychoanalyst could well regain its health.” (Lacan 1977, 32) Transferential rejection to Lacan To Lacan, the real energetics to psychoanalyst is not biological science, but anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics because the end to analysis is not the elimination of symptoms but the speech act in the name of his own desire, jouissance, or what Lacan says as the full speech. I will try to highlight the use of cultural training in psychoanalysis so that we could correctly evaluate the status of language- analytic discourse as the core of psychoanalysis and the only mean to healing. This article will try to read a Hong Kong film production- Made in Hong Kong– in the light of Lacanian theory on fantasy, desire and family but the clinical concern is always on the background. Controversies between clinical and cultural psychoanalytic researchers are more or less related to how they take into consideration of contemporary philosophical issues or more specific “postmodernist” theories. In another words, the highly sensitive and transferential rejection (counter- transference) to Lacanian theories in psychoanalysis is not really on Lacan’s unorthodoxical interpretation of Freud (as examples of revisionism are not uncommon among subgroups like Jungian, Kleinian and American ego psychology). It is not illegitimate to revolve against the Father because most of the major psychoanalytic subgroups are more or less revision of Freud’s theory. The real dynamics behind the rejection of Lacan is what parallel to how modernist rejects the postmodernist questioning, a transferential reaction to the change of an new knowledge, or the shift of paradigm.
Lacan and Modern Film theories Jacques Lacan neither claimed himself a postmodernist nor accepted any attempt to contemplate his teaching in this category. However his profundity in knowledge and aristocratic conviction did affect his contemporaries from Lousie Althusser, Roland Barthes, Julian Kristeva, Michael Foucault and a whole generation of French theorists after him such as Jacques Derrida, Deleuze and Christain Metz. As what Lacan suggests as an act to approach the dependency of the mother in what he calls the Weaning Complex, film theorists in the 70s were more eager than any other groups to absorb psychoanalytic methods. This was even more obvious among the French groups and the British groups. They extensively adopted Lacanian theories and explored what now become known as the apparatus theory, questions of spectatorship and feminist film theory. The critics, under the influence of more formalist version of Lacan’s theory in the 60s, give up any attempt for psycho-biographical research of film-authors or heroes and concern more on what Cowie Elisabeth called the metapsychology of film which formulates a formalistic theory on the structure of pleasure in viewing and the subjectivity (the dialectics of gender) of audiences. However, they are not the only group that extensively adopted Lacan’s theory and their formalist view to the study of film and images has aroused criticism among leftist cultural theorists like Althusser and leftist critics were more concern of the ideological aspect of film as the cultural interface to mode the mainstream ideas and the formal of popular pleasure. Laura Mulvey in a groundbreaking article on visual pleasure states that mainstream movie “structures the way of seeing and pleasure of looking.” Pleasure and desire in mainstream movies is produced through a politically monolithic system reinforced by the Hollywood style that “restricted itself to a formal mise-en-scene reflecting the dominant ideological concept of the cinema.” (Mulvey 7) The highly sophisticated cinematic technique, the superstar casting consideration and marketing calculation constitutes the consistent flows of obscure pleasure and formalized desire. The fantasy of cinematic experience situates a meconnaissance parallel to infantile mirror reflexion. The child’s physical immobility is compensated by imaginative adherence to a premature subjectivity connected with erotic pleasure from maternal physical existence. The physical space between child and mother is a distance, an inconsistent break. The child thinks that he is the mother’s object of desire but indeed this is no more than meconnaissance – relationship based merely on imagination. The fantasy of movie is playing around the consistency and coherence of the audience’s desire. Its very foundation can trace back to human infantile experience. The dialectics of desire as posed by Lacan is its very impossibility of being satisfied, which can be understood with reference to Hegelian concept of desire (Begierde). Alexander Kojeve in his interpretation of Hegel says that desire is not the desire of any particular thing but the desire of the desire or better says “the desire of the desire of the other.” (Borch-Jacobsen 168) Lacan goes further to say that desire (desir) is the desire of no object, of nothing nameable, of nothing substantial and of lack being unspeakable. Desire is a relation of being to lack. This lack is the lack of being properly speaking. It isn’t the lack of this or that, but lack of being whereby the being exists. (Lacan Seminar Bk. II, 223) Inconsistency of desire The lack implies the inconsistency in subject’s experience with its Real – the mother or the spectator in a movie with the truth behind the cinematic images. The mainstream movies only play around the cinematic trick on the level of fantasy and undermine the inconsistency between image and truth. However, this philosophical argument is not enough to illustrate the adverse position between the mainstream and alternative movie production. Technical advancement makes it financially possible to support some politically and artistically unconventional movies. And the rise of educated middle class creates a new generation of audiences who make the alternative film a product in an alternative market. To analyze the their adverse position based on their financial and material aspects (base structure) as what was done in Marxist criticism is far from enough if not going into the political aspect of this issue. As I have mentioned before, fantasy in mainstream movies is supported by a consistent and coherent mechanism (highly sophisticated in handling visual pleasure) that “stitches up” the gap and inconsistency in the ideological system. Zizek modifies in his The Sublime Object of Ideology of what he quotes as Lacan’s thesis – “only in dream could we come close to the real awakening.” I could not find Lacan’s original reference to an idea like this, but this is an interesting interpretation of how mainstream movie is connected with and in turn, supported by dominant ideology. Zizekian interpretation suggests that the fantasy or the dream is the “hard kernel”, the “leftover” of the Real. This idea is paradoxical but it shows us a Freudian concept to reality. What is present and easily available in consciousness may not be the real stuff that tells the truth of psychic, for they have been modified by the ego. But the unconscious is always hidden behind the dream, which could tell the truth. In psychoanalytic viewpoint, cinematic experience is even more real than conscious experience. One could not get hold of the Real of desire if not through the dream, the fantasy. Zizek also says that the ideological control is not something easily detestable. In order to break the control of the ideological fantasy; one will have to open his eyes to see how reality as it is. A post-ideological, objective perspective is not to replace a dominant ideology with an alternative prejudices, but should be a position completely abandoning the ideological spectacles and “to confront the Real of our desire which announces itself in this dream.” (Zizek 1989, 48) This argument answers the issue on the value of cultural training in the process of making an analyst. The Real of psychoanalysis is radically different from that of any other medical therapeutic practices. The doctor’s Real is what behind the knowledge and understanding in pathophysiology, bacteriology – the reason behind a symptom. This involves the whole medical research institution based on knowledge and experience form empirical research. A relatively stable cause and effect (pathogenic and symptomatic) relations has been achieved, codified and institutionalized through which the problem of the Real is put into bracket and never being questioned by practitioners. Yet in psychoanalysis – the talking cure – the Real behind the symptom is highly reflectory; the truth in psychoanalytic discourse can only be validated on its own behalf. The relationship between analyst and analysand could not be completely codifies or normalized by some external otherness, because the otherness is trans-individual. Like what is happening in reflectory relationship, the answer to the problem of the mental patient is always already in the question he posts. Thus, the training to understand, as what is being trained in the humanities, is the major quality a training analyst should have, though this is also paradoxically the most enigmatic technique that Lacan says as impossible to teach. Zizekian or Lacanian Real Zizek tactfully reformulates the leftist concept of ideology with Lacan’s terms. The Real in Zizek’s wording is what Mathematician Michael Dummett called the “non-constructive proof” which is the mathematical procedure to prove (construct) the logical existence of a mathematical entity. One may never able to state what is the “real” substance of that entity, but it simple exists. (Zizek 1991, 91n) This is exactly Lacan’s topological answer to the impossible truth of unconscious. Zizek knows Lacanian meaning of the Real, but in his writings, he falls short of any concrete example for the idea even though he repeats Lacan’s motto – the Real is impossible – quite often. And indeed, his idea on the Real, though borrowed from Lacan, is not Lacanian. Being a leftist whom believes the ultimate end for political action is freedom. If Lacanian Real is the impossible existence, Zizek is unlikely to accept political freedom as impossible existence. Post-ideological society, for Zizek, would never be nihilistic logical construction. The Real is the original in the beginning or ultimate at the end. That is the unstained existence before civilization or barred subject $. In another word, it is the subject before the ideological spectacle, the subject exists as itself. The formulation of Freudian-Lacanian Real has never intended to offer an easily available political answer to any quest for human emancipation. On conscious level, the subject is always already bound to be structured, first by the formative position of infantile identity and then by the Oedipal relationship with phallic Language. Political freedom can only be something right back in the unconscious, paradoxically, the freedom never being aware of. It does not mean that ideological analysis of film cannot give a more realistic understanding of culture in general. On the contrary, Lacan suggests that our knowledge to phantasmatic construction opens up the impossible path to the unconscious. This is likewise to analytic experience, the termination of analysis is what Lacan defines as “going through the fantasy” – la traversee du fantasme. It defines the experience with fantasy or phantasmatic construction as filling the primitive gap of lack or a void in the Other. It is as Zizek says, “there is nothing behind the fantasy; the fantasy is a construction whose function is to hide this void, this “nothing” – that is the lack in the Other.” (Zizek 1989, 133) Fantasy as the gateway to impossible truth In the scope to work through the fantasy of Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong, we will use Lacanian-Zizekian model to read one of the most exciting alternative film in Hong Kong. Made in Hong Kong is the director Fruit Chan’s first film that achieves encouraging results from various international film awards. (See appendix) The film is basically a gangster story about four youngsters moving to their own decadent end because of drug, violence, money, murder, love and illness. The story does not sound very much a film of social critique or does not offer a strong ethical verdict to their seemingly delinquent behavior. Our hero, Autumn Moon (Sam Lee Tsan-sum) was born in a grassroots family and has been fooling around with the triads as a kid. He discovers that his father disloyalty to mother and lives with a mistress and a daughter. Autumn’s mother, in order to keep father’s financial support, accepts the father’s affair. Autumn is now working as debt collector for Big Brother Wing. The Big Brother Wing eventually recruits Autumn as killer. And in one occasion, he meets young girl Ping (Neiky Yim Hui-chi) as he collects debt from Ping’s family. Ping has been suffering from kidney illness and been waiting for kidney transplanting. Out of boring and being attracted by Autumn’s character as a righteous gangster, Ping makes Autumn and his friend Sylvester (Wenbers Li Tung-chuen) her best friends in her last journey before death. Everything seems normal and the movie is no more interesting than a young gangster movie until Sylvester picks up two bloodstained letters besides the body of a suicidal young girl, Susan (Amy Tam Ka-chuen). Autumn, also the narrator, says that everything has since turn out bad after Sylvester brings back the unlucky letters. The very existence of this ghastly mysterious letter, not the content of the letters, enables the spiritual liaison among Autumn, Sylvester and Ping. The trans-individual space formulates a preconscious support system that paths the way for non-analytic journey to work through the lack of the other attracts Autumn. Even since he gets the letters, the girl’s spirit comes to his flirting dream and indulges him in dreamlike erotic experience. In the meantime, Autumn, Sylvester and Ping are drawn together as if they are connected in a unity through Susan’s spirit. Autumn has never felt involved with anything, girls or jobs, just an aimlessly young people. Only after his mysterious attachment with Susan does he engages in romance with Ping and makes life different. In an occasion as triad creditor Fat Chan comes to Ping’s mother for debt, Autumn decides he has to do something, make himself helpful to his friends and family. He attempts to take an assassination job from the gangster Big Brother Wing but fails. He gets his shotgun in hand, the young “gusty” guy really imagines a cold killer is just like Leon. With drug in hand, heavy rock music rolling over his head, Autumn waits for his target under the hot sun. Sweat vaporizes and hot air steams the yellow sunglasses. The smell of drug makes him feel most fragile than any other time before. He could have succeeded if he adopts the adult’s code of conduct. Like Big Brother Wing says, “The world is approaching its end. No one care what is real or what is fake.” If Autumn takes this as a game with a harmless toy gun, he could have succeed. However, the point is he receives the job just because he is going to be good to Ping. The Real of his own desire is already being accessed through the unconscious guidance of Susan’s inspiration. He could no longer take life as a game, because game does not answer the myth of life as the Real does. He fails but someone from Fat Chan has already after him and tries to kill him. He is badly wounded by an attack from another young killer, but he never knows when he awakes from hospital two months later, all is change. Killer Big Brother Wing Killing Fat Chan Ping was dead for kidney deficiency and Sylvester was killed by big brother Wing in an unsuccessful drug trafficking action. Autumn loses all of his best friends in one time. As what he says, “The world is moving too fast. So fast that just when you want to adapt yourself to it, there is already another brand new world.” He knows what he can do is to revenge against Big Brother Wing for Sylvester’s death and the slaughter in a deadly violent scene. Our hero’s suicide is the closing scene of the movie. He lies besides Ping’s tomb with bullet in his head. In the cemetery, only several children playing around his dead body, guessing if that man is dead. As Autumn says in his narrator’s voice, Two days afterwards, I was discovered. There was no police, no journalists, and no sensational scene. My body laid among the smile and joke of the innocent children. Calm and relax. … But one thing I am sure: Ping, Sylvester and I are now in a realm of uncertain but no scare as we have been immune. End of the heroes In the meantime, the Susan’s letter is finally posted to his parents’ hand with two supplements added, one from Ping and one from Autumn, telling story that no one understands. At the end of the movie, the director gives us a surprise. In a panorama shoot of the cemetery, we hear from background a fabricated radio broadcast in stereotyped Communist China tone quoting Chairman Mao’s saying: World is yours and is ours, but fundamentally it is yours. You, young people out there, who are full of energy and at your prime! You’re just like the morning star. We have placed all our hopes on you. You are listening to the People Radio in Hong Kong. What we have just quoted was a speech given by Chairman Mao to the leaders of the youth. Let’s repeat And study the message in Putonghua (Mandarin). The irony has never tried to make the movie a social verdict. On the contrary, the movie always keeps being light-hearted to life. The young people know what they want regardless of what is prepared by the adult, although the world is always remote, selfish and indifferent. Under the mainstream ideology, these young people could not achieve the kind of recognition already formulated in a predetermined model. The meconnaissance could be their inadequacy to handle the master signifier or the logic of the jouissance that is allowed. To the young people whose jouissance is void. As Autumn writes in the supplement to Susan’s letter:
I have learned the lesson now. My staying alive could be nothing but annoying to the others. It might as well be dead. People of my kind might as well be dead. Piece (peace) will then be retained to the world. Ping, your mother was right. We died young, so we stay young forever. The youthful behavior could be a retreat from the mainstream normative. However, what seems to be the “real” meconnaissance is how inconsistency or more specific the abnormal behavior is taken by the mainstream ideology. Should the analyst of Ideology be on the conscious level (ethics) or unconscious (ethnicity)? In what Zizek suggests as post-ideological society, ethics is synchronic or structural rather than diachronic and historical. Family, the basic social unit that is also the constituent of ideology, offers the best intersection for ideology and unconscious. In the family, the ethical meaning of behavior could originate affectionate relationship. The parental teachings are ethical as well as affective, normative and compassionate. It is highly errorus to say that Freud’s Oedipal structure is only about repression and threat as reflected in castration and father’s jealousy. It’s basic constituent is also about dependency, affection and comfort over suffering. However, family does invoke struggle, conflict and shame. The reasons could be primary or Oedipal, but it could also be ideological. As our hero Autumn says the adult is much more evasive than the young people. “They know nothing but to escape whenever they get caught into big trouble. I really want to cut their breasts to see what is inside their hearts. I dare say, it is real shit.” What is the real problem in the familial structure? Does this structure invoke love or hate? Freud reformulates the political elements within family: oedipal tension among the tripartite relationship in mother-father-son system. And he expands the psychic drama to an even more universal and structural level to conclude the basic dynamics behind human motivation and progress of civilization. This is indeed, as Leonardo Rodriguez writes, Freud’s major contestation against anthropological and biological researches before him by giving the human’s social structure a psychological meaning. The prohibition of incestuous eroticism finds its support in psychical structure under the law and signification of the Oedipal Complex. (Rodriguez, 23) Yet the foundation of imagination. Oedipal structure is the introduction of a third element besides mother and son. The father, not the father as a person but the position of a father, is presented as the agent of the law, which unavoidably creates conflict and confrontation.
In the movie, we have the most violent scene of father-and-son conflict. There is a boy who chops his father’s forearm to revenge against father’s abuse to his younger sister. On the symbolic level of cinematic level the forearm is highly erotic object for father’s Phallus. Yet there is nothing more symptomatic than the boy saying “he was my father, but he is no longer now and forever.” This is the paradox of family structure as Rodriguez suggests: the disengagement with a family always precludes the attachment with a new one. Only after a son who recognizes his subjectivity through breaking up with his parents’ family could he create a world (family) for his own. The violent chop is a cut, an action to separate and so as the words. The words – “no longer my father” – suggests the breaking up of the obsolete familial tie and attachment to a new familial structure. Autumn is extremely envious to his father as he discovers his father has a mistress, another family, which he is not among one of the members. Autumn and his mother are put to the extreme otherness, being aliened by his father’s authority as the master signifier. The law of signification is the symbolic institution, which defines the symbolic locus and occupies an essential location in subjectivity. Throughout the whole movie, Autumn thinks of killing father and the mistress to revenge against his wrongdoing to mother, but he never does and never want to. The hatred of the Phallus is actualized in the rupture that language introduces in the dialectics of subjects symbolic order. Through the speech act that depends on the jouissance of the other, the subject mediates with the Law of the Other and accesses to his own desire. However, Phallus is the lost object to Autumn. Killing his physical father could not compensate the feeling of loss and inadequacy from a lack of the Phallus. All through the story, Autumn keeps looking for substantial compensation of the “lost” phallus. This is what one would categorize as “phantasy of phallus.”* Phallus signifies the law of signification. Autumn has tried to act out an example of agent of law: hatred of father’s disloyalty, rejecting Brother Wing’s recruitment, violent vengeance against Fat Chan and Brother Wing. He makes himself the law of righteousness and goodness just to pursuer his phantasy of being the Phallus. In Psychopathological deviations, such as Obsessional Neurosis case, the patient has strong tendency to portrait himself as being the Phallus (the law) rather than having the Phallus. The phantasy to righteousness of behavior or overvaluation of moral attitude is very obvious in Autumn’s behavior. The effect of lost phallus usually will direct the subject to seek for intellectual (linguistic) validity as compensation. I am not saying Autumn’s behavior is psychopathological, but the connection between law and the phallus is well support in clinic experience. (Dor 1997, 109)
Lacan’s Three Complexes on Family Familial structure in Freudian theory focuses on the Oedipal Structure, but to Lacan theory on the family is one of his major contributions to psychoanalytic theory. His first psychoanalytic writing on the family was published in 1938 edition of Encyclopedic francaise as an entry called Situation de la realite familiale. Freud major contribution to familial relationship is on Oedipus Complex but his scope is more on the point of how subject acts against his father to achieve autoerotic subjectivity through imaginary satisfaction from mother. In another words, Freud’s familial model tells the story of a man’s beginning, his struggle for identity, but not on the base of familial relationship. To Lacan, the familial structure relates to many aspects of human affections: dependency, jealousy, rivalry and aggressiveness. He distinguishes three fundamental complexes: the Weaning Complex, the Complex of Intrusion and the Oedipus Complex. The Weaning Complex represents the “primary form of maternal imago” which fixes the human feeding relationship between mother and son. This is the nostalgic imagination to the prenatal harmony, “the mystical abyss of affective fusion; the social utopia of totalitarian dependency; as well as all sorts of longings for a paradise lost before birth.” (Lacan 1938, 8.40, 8 translation Rodriguez 1996, 26) The Complex of Intrusion is related to rivalry between siblings and is the archetypal sentiment in competition in human society. This is a part of component for identification, as the object of the other is formulated in the process to achieve subjectivity through specular image of the body. The Oedipus Complex Lacan illustrates in the article basically agrees with Freud’s model; only that Lacan points out the Oedipal Complex as a sign of the decline of paternity. In the film the characters are tightly adhere to their paternal imago in familial structure. However, they all have one thing in common: throughout the movie all families does not have a strong father and the function of the father only reflects its decline. Ping’s father ran away to escape debt; Susan’s father is old and helpless; Autumn’s Father lives with a mistress and Sylvester’s abandon him. The fathers are either not in the position or unable to take the responsibility well. If Freud’s position for the father is the law and limitation governing the subject’s desire, the subject will have a good chance to desire what they supposed to have. They should enjoy the Oedipal position as replacing the father’s position. However, it does not seem to be the case. In certain aspects, Autumn has anticipated to replace his father. Yet, he never does. When he is going to kill Fat Chan and expects not coming back. His final place to go is his father’s house. His hatred of the Phallus is only on the imaginary level which keeps on driving him to act not like a real gangster. This obsession to being good, as a replacement to the lost phallus is symptomatic in clinical cases. As Autumn says that he is no longer the same person (no longer in his naivety), but indeed his intention to acquire the phallasmatic position does not give him real satisfaction. His position to be his mother’s object of desire soon contradicts with his desire to Ping. He involves himself in two families and engages in the myth of paternity. Throughout the movie, Autumn acts the big brother among a group of young people from Ping, Sylvester to Susan. However, it does not really satisfy him. At last, Autumn chooses to be Ping’s object of desire and steals money from mother. This is always true to contradictory or reflectory position between subjectivity and familial responsibility. The same is true to narcissistic omnipotence – the imaginary psychic structure from which a child feels itself omnipotence. Hereby Freud’s idea on narcissism has left the question of primary narcissism open and is up to discussion. Borch-Jacobsen writes that in the second part of Freud’s groundbreaking article “On Narcissism”, the question of primary narcissism is not well define. Freud’s remark makes it even more difficult to know his attitude of infantile narcissism and even on the question of beginning of the ego. Freud writes that “The primary narcissism of children that we have assumed and which from one of the postulates of our theories of the libido, is less easy to grasp by direct observation than to confirm by inference from elsewhere. If we look at the attitude of affectionate parents toward their children… “(“On Narcissism”90) It is because Freud could not offer narcissism a fundamental, absolute position; its validity could only be inferred from elsewhere. Hereby Freud calls the elsewhere parent that is also in Lacan’s wording as the mother reflected in the mirror. This elsewhere could be the point of initiation, the beginning and the origin of narcissistic but in the meantime this is not itself a substantial point. For the parental gaze and love is also supported by their own narcissistic structure. That’s why Borch-Jacobsen summarizes that no matter how far back we go in the generation chain, we shall always rediscover the parent-child couple and the parental “fictionalizing” of the child – unless of course we presuppose, back at the beginning of history, an absolute Father – that is, a Subject. (Borch-Jacobsen 1993, 67) This is actually a Lacanian explanation on the impossibility of absolute subjectivity. Autumn’s narcissistic omnipotence could not be the only energetics that supports his action for he knows nothing that his energy so far is only an imaginary, or a meconnaissance. The phallasmatic impulse does not answer his fantasy and that’s why Susan’s ghost keeps “harassing” him in his erotic dream. Susan’s image in his dream is nothing but her dead scene, when she fell on the ground in the white liquid or blood. Susan laid on the ground, faint and pale without a slightly trace of painfulness and suffering. The terror of her death remains alienated and remote; camera focuses on the face, which reminds us of the artistic death in Japanese traditional opera. The whiteness of a stainless young face metonymically signifies the staidness of death. In this scene, the director tries to contract the bustle and hustle of life with the peace of death. The exaggerated flowing bloodshed running on the ground from the corpus to the camera (spectator’s position) produces impressive spectacular effects. In his dream, Autumn experience a surrealist world that life and death is represented like a remote movie shot but whenever he dreams of this scene with Susan’s painless death, he ejaculates in dream: sexual ecstasy and death in interesting combination. Or we can better say, Autumn’s desire to Susan is not simply normal sexual affection but the desire to the unknown even though he keeps on facing bad luck after Sylvester taking the letter back. The letter is a Lacan’s Purloined Letter – the letter shifting among Autumn, Sylvester and Ping and connected them into a circular relation of desire. Each person has put in his/her words, his/her story of life and death. In Lacan’s terminology, there are three phrases for the meaning of phallus or phallasmatic imagination. Namely, they are “phallus” as “signifier of the effects of the signifier”; as “signifier of the lack” and finally as “signifier of the Other’s desire”. Lacan’s purloined letter is a signifier of power since whoever gets hold of the letter may have the power that determines or oversees the other’s desire. However, Susan’s letter does not have the same function to Autumn; the mysterious connection and circular relation actualized by the letter being transmitted from one party to another is likened to the ghastly calls from Susan. If Susan herself commits suicide for the reason of lack (e.g. lack of love), this lack is transmitted to the party who hold the letter. Autumn and Ping know so well that they are looking for certainty in life but paradoxically, it is that lack-in-being that satisfy them. Is it the spectral effect from Susan’s letter? The transmission of the lack, the lost narcissism, or the desire of being the desire of the Other. Ping who suffers from kidney deficiency finds life most valuable after she gets hold of the letter. Letter, the signification of sign, represents the meaning in trans-individual context. It facilitates the communication between people. In the movie, the letter is the words for the family, the last words to parent before Susan committed suicide, mom’s letter to Autumn before she escapes from the family’s misfortune; the words written by Ping and Autumn at the end of Susan’s letter. Letters can say something one never says to their family because letter itself stands for absence: physical body will be corrupted after death, but the letters stay forever and its meaning keeps being supplemented by those who participates. But letter (signifier) is not omnipotent and it does not cover the deficiency of subjectivity or the lack of desire. This idea repeats in the cemetery scene where Autumn, Ping and Sylvester seeking for Susan’s tomb. The forgiveness and irony of youthful death became one of the most them of this movie. A movie can be a substantial presentation of fantasy. From the image, we get in touch with the deeper realization of desire, or the logic of jouissance that is one of the most impressive scenes in the movie. Lacan has once claimed that the best quality of an analyst is training from the humanities, especially the arts of the letter. Although analysis in contemporary context cannot do without the pseudo-scientific masquerade, but its fundamental adherence to the tradition of talking cure would necessarily make cultural studies a major component in the training of analyst. The psychoanalytic reading of a film can never be exhaustive, just as the clinical experience with analysands could never reach an end or destination. Thus, we have only termination that is a strategic stop rather than final destination. From this standpoint, it is necessary to take a dialectic view or reflective view in understanding the practice of psychoanalysis as a healing technique to the impossible Real. Notes on Translation and Copyright The film Made in Hong Kong was produced by Team Work Production House Ltd. (Team Work Production below) Financed by Mr. Andy Lau, the independent film producer and famous pop song singer in Hong Kong. The screen shots in this article are copied from the original Video CD version of the film and all copyright is belonged to Team Work Production. In this article, I have not completely followed the original translation in order to present the atmosphere created by the script in its original Cantonese grassroots language. For further information of the movie, I have prepared an appendix at the end of the article. Those materials should not be treated as a part of the article and copyright should belong to the original material providers.

Appendix 1: Copyright © 1990-1999 The Internet Movie Database Ltd http://uk.imdb.com/Details?Xianggang+zhizao+(1997) Combined details for Xianggang zhizao (1997) Directed by Fruit Chan Writing credits: Fruit Chan Genre: Crime/ Drama/ Romance Cast: Sam Lee (Autumn Moon) / Neiky Yam (Ping) /Wenbers Li (Sylvester) /Amy Tam (Susan) Directed by Fruit Chan Writing credits: Fruit Chan Produced by: Andy Lau/ Kei Shu (I)/ Doris Yang Original music by Wah-Chuen Lam Cinematography by Wah-Chuen Lam/ Sing-pui O Film Editing by Sam-fat Tin Production Companies: Nicetop Independent Ltd. Distributors: Shu Kei’s Creative Workshop Ltd. Also Known As: Made in Hong Kong (1997) Runtime: Canada: 107/ 100 Country: Hong Kong Color: Color Sound Mix: Mono Certification: Hong Kong: IIB

Two Psychoanalytic Positions


“Two opposing passages characterize the analytic process: the one from possibility to necessity, and the one from impossibility to contingency. At the level of transference, the analyst operates as the “subject supposed to know,” this is the illusory Other place at which everything is always-already written, at which the (unconscious) meaning of all symptoms is always-already fixed. This figure of the analyst stands for the Unconscious in the atemporal dimension, for the Unconscious which, as Freud put it, knows of no time …..  This aspect of the figure of the analyst, however, has to be supplemented by its opposite: the analyst’s interpretive intervention also stand for the element of surprise, of the intrusion of the Real; the passage here is from impossibility to contingency, that is, what appeared impossible, what did not belong to the domain of possibilities, all of the sudden — contingently — takes place, and thus transforms the coordinates of the entire field.” (Zizek, Parallax View 77)

Psychoanalytic transference is the process from migration but that is more a structural shift which movement is more significant than geopolitical relocation, a kind of shift that may be more than the shift in the “parallax view”. The shift in position is a relocation that the subject may suddenly encounter oneself as an inversion of the person of the analyst. This shift is from possibility to necessity in Zizekan language, but it seems better say as the shift from  immanence to transcendence. The immanence is more the status of inclusivity being embodied within itself. The inclusivity is illusory (imaginary)  and it is also the subjective position of the taking the analyst as the subject supposed to know”.  The position is like a kind of excursion toward the inwardness.

Until the intervention of the analyst, the subject ventures into the realm of representation. Within the linguistic world of symbolic, the divinity of logo has made its possible to go beyond the embodiment of the imaginary. This is how we go into a process of in-between, an atemporal situation that time is not the conceptual framework for one to understand his own subjectivity. While time is not conceptualized, subject’s decision to get back to his own primal scene become possible.  This decision is a kind of non conceptual mind directivity (i.e. the kind of unconsciousness impulse) that keeps drives the subject back to the original scene of his own subjectivity.  It repeats and returns to the same situation as it happened before. This is the passage from possibility to necessity (also an obessional tendency) – what at first looks like a mere possibility, an accidental occurrence which also may not have happened, is retroactively transformed into something that was predestined to happen from all eternity… (This position, of course, is based on a retroactive illusion, on misrecognizing its own performative dimension: the “eternal” meaning discovered by the patient is constructed in the very process of its discovery.)


Cyril Su (cyso@lacansociety.com)

MA Psychoanalysis, Sheffield

Founding Member, Lacan Society in China and Hong Kong

Founding Member, Hong Kong Society of Psychoanalysis

 

Presented to Cartel Encounter, Lacan Society in China and Hong Kong

July, 2013

 

 

The world exposes itself as the Real (suture) of a socio-political paradox. The conflict and splitting among countries, in the aspect of their economical and social interest, have never been that serious before. In the last century, people saw themselves the first time in their history as a “Subject of the Cause” in the universe – the only reasoning agent that is believed to have the power to master their own existence without suffering from the threat of the nature, regardless of natural disaster or illness.  That is what we described as the first ever modernization in human history.  We develop new technology in production, formulate a financial and economical system that relies on how we allocate capital on earth through trading of natural resources. And besides we master the medical skill to keep life longer. This is the first time in history that people struggle for ideological differences and end up in mass military movement and warfare.  This is also the first time in history that people becomes one in a global community to raise our concern about our environment.

 

The last 100 years is a period of changes and conflicts: we built and destroyed; we defined our sociality through ideological concepts, which were basically an artificial rendering of pseudo theoretical discourse of reflexive knowledge.

 

In my presentation today, my intention is to discuss the functioning of psychotic structure as a social symptom in the post-ideological society of which we are constitutive unconsciously. Psychotic structure is a Lacanian theory of clinical experience. Lacan thinks that psychotic structure is characterized by foreclosure in parental relations. It is the erasure of the position of the Father – the premier signifier not only could stabilize the signification but also act as the primal mark in social practice. The Name-of-the-Father is the only signifier that pre-defined the subject’s position in a community, also the phallo-phantasy being embedded in the text (shot) of the subjectivity.  I would like to propose that it is because of the lost of the father as a premier signifier or the death of the father in our post-ideological society that psychotic structure as presented in various levels of symptomatic way of living, including Populism, carnivalesque, financial individualism and various ways of political identification the post-ideological subjectivity.

 

The position of the father has been Freud’s least developed concept among the post Freudian writers. Freud conceptualized the fatherhood in Moses and Monotheism. François Sauvagnat[1] writes that Freud describes the subject’s motherly experience as “oceanic feeling” while the fatherly one as “Fatersehnsucht” – the longing of the father which has been expressed in Judeo-Christianity.  The father being portrayed by Freud in Totem and taboo is an omnipotent father that overrules all primitive taboos to access to woman; he also castrates the young male in exchange for the balance of the power in the tribe. Freud’s portray of the Father comes from his metaphor of the Jewish and Christian God, the father of the righteous, of rule and norm and of creation.

 

The longing for the return of the father – the authoritative power of righteous, judgment, the father of the primal horde – provides the subject a temporary access to motherly desire while the father’s position is put into an imaginative untying – when father is not there.  The father will eventually return to exercise his power (signifying power or law and order), but before the father is back, the subject will still be able to access the mother as the desiring object.  However, the idea of the fatherhood has not been fully developed among the second generation of Freudian writers.  This may because of the empirical psychology research on infants that shows more emphasis on the role of the mother, either as a reflexive object of subjectivity or as transferential agent.

 

One may think it is interesting that Anna Freud who was analyzed by Freud himself as both her real father and the imaginative father of psychoanalysis.  The super father is here presented as the only example of omnipotent father that is equivalent to the position of a God. While a God is both the Real as well as the symbolic, Anna Freud cannot resist but endorse the necessity of a superego position that will be ever and forever there, as a transcendental reference. For Anna Freud was so close to the core of the Desire of the Father, what she needs personally and academically is more than a symbolic father (or even a primal father in anthropological sense) to cut her from the imaginary existence of her phallo-phantasy to her father.  She posits a superego to present a cut to the Real.

 

Until Lacan’s return to Freud, one is able to retrieve the original position of the father as the owner of the language, one of the master signifiers.  In the traditional Oedipal relations, the subject comes face to face with the desire of the mother, which will create a strong anxiety for incest emotion. The desire of mother as well as the desire of being the mother’s desiring object (phallo-phantasy) drive the subject to a situation of excitement and anxiety. The Name-of-the-Father is what Lacan conceptualizes the position of the Father as a signifier, which acts as the symbolic cut to separate the subject’s real from invading into the imaginary order of primal fantasy.   The cut is first understood as a linguistic order (speech act) of saying “no” to incest imagination. It eventually becomes the language (structure) itself, which establishes the position of the father as the judgment about sociality, the norm in understanding the subject’s social life as an individual. The social interaction establishes a “proximity-to-jouissance” between mother and son in avoiding the direct access to the jouissance of incest excitement. The incest fantasy is the imaginary relations, which may directly invade into the Real.  Coming too close to the Real, which is the original reservoir of incest excitement, will arouse strong anxiety and excitement (death drive) in the subject.  The anxiety in psychotic patient is not about the non-satisfaction of the want (as in hysteria), but about getting too close to core of joussiance, the excess of excitement.  What he needs is some kind of restriction, monitor, control that can stop him from continuous invasion of the Real from the imaginary (phantasy). The Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed in this situation that its signifying status is erased well before the Father says the first order of “no” (le non du père) or “the name of the father” (le nom du père). This may because of a weak father as in the case of Hans or because of a devouring mother who has complaint toward the uselessness of a father.  If the real father is not able to satisfy the mother, the imaginary father (phallo-phantasy) of the subject will come to replace the real father. In his 1963 seminar, Lacan conceptualized the names-of-the father as a universal notion of omnipotent judgment. From the Almighty God El Shadday to Abraham who is requested to kill his son Issac, Lacan planned to return to biblical literature in order to find the way the Name-of-the-Father functions. The Almighty Father is experienced as someone who gives order.  “Abraham, kill your son”. Lacan says that the moment when the Almighty Father giving his order, the order itself does not cover the quality of justice and righteousness (which is traditionally be regarded as the quality of the Almighty God in Old Testament world). The patriarchic order is all about power, is the discourse of the Master. The product created in this relation between Almighty God and Abraham is the Name-of-the-Father as the Master Signifier, which is itself a signifier without signified, as an empty signifier.  It is exactly because it processes no internal content, it does not refer to any other external (differance) signification.  It always returns to itself. The Almighty God names himself as El Shadday, which is translated as I am who I am.  This is exactly a tautological return that always goes back to the position where it is.  The Name-of-the-Father is this empty situation where its authoritative status is achieved through its paradoxical essence as a void.  Besides, it is due to the very voidness of the Name-of-the-Father that the Master Signifier is able to quilt the other signifiers in a relatively stable of flow.  In what Lacan stated as Point de Capiton (or the quilting point), certain signifiers are fixed (Freudian fixation) to provide a sense of security and stability to the subject.  Without those fixations, the subject is not able to maintain a reasonable performance in his language as well as psychical realm.

 

In the second half of my presentation, I would like to propose that the psychotic structure is a symptom in sociality that is so phenomenal in post-ideological society.

 

Ideology is the Master Signifier in Lacan’s sense. It functions as the premier signifier that the subject deeply identifies with, which accordingly frames the self knowledge and give the subject the basic meaning to his world and surroundings.  Lacan focuses less on the meaning of the signifier itself than how it helps fix the position of the other signifiers in a scheme. (This is because of his structuralist concept of continuous flowing of the signifying chain.) This is the fixation pin down as the Point de Capiton in discourse. These quilting points are what organize the make-believe system no matter if it is only illusion – “the necessary illusion of fixed meaning.”[2] What quilting points create are the structural block that can never be regarded as permanent fixation, as Lacan does not accept any fixation in the chain of signification. It is the semblance of meaning created by metaphor and actualized by the imaginary identification (such as the oedipal complex) of symbolic order itself. The Master Signifier is what in the chain of signification a signifier creates an even stronger block in knowledge. This block rejects or absorbs critique and reflective questioning as an empty signifier. It is created as a major concept to support the phallo-phantasy of illusion. The Master Signifier as ideology links up as constituents the imaginary (fantasmatic), symbolic (desire) and the Real (knowledge) to form the strongest signification thread. However, its efficacy in reorienting the meaning of other signifiers with related to the subject’s meaning to the world formulates a Master Signifier that Lacan says is an empty signifier in itself, a signifier without a signified or a signifier that rejects to enter into the signifying thread. It is the key structural concept in the political propaganda that it is presented without questioning. “Democracy”, “freedom”, “collectivism” “hegemony”, “capitalism” or “communism” is all example of the Master Signifier of the time.

 

Louis Althusser’s Ideology borrowed from Freud and Lacan about the unconscious and language, in which he modified and elaborated the production relations (base structure) in reaction against the signifying matrix of a make-belief system, or the Althusserian “ideological state apparatuses”. Adopted from Lacan’s theory of subjectivity, Althusser assumes a human individual formulates his subjectivity in unconscious mediation with himself through a highly sophisticated matrix of signification that is consistent to his daily experience of reality (of course reality is already a product of the dominant ideology). The ISA is constitutive of family, school, media and religious group, which Althusser regards as the agents to formulate the way in which a human individual shall believe, act and adopt his own self positioning as a subject being modified to fit into the apparatus. An individual, even though they may not aware (ISA as the unconscious artifact) of how they are being molded in order to be acceptable in the ISA (elimination of differance in Derridean sense or the selection process in Darwin method).

 

Ideology in marxist and althusserian sense is the superstructure while Althusser assumes it as pre-existent frame of reference that is dominant of (also as the artifact in Lacanian Symbolic order) class structure relations. Slavoj Zizek, the most popular intellectual star in Europe and the US, uses Lacanian concept to read the ideological matrix in contemporary socio-political spectrum. Zizek inherits the tradition from Marxist critique of commodity fetishism to Althusser’s theory of ideology. In what he regards as post-ideology, Zizek says ideology in contemporary society has extended to a new level of sophistication.  Not only are the people fully aware of the ideologies in existence as an illusive conception in fantasy. It shares among the popular masses that have dominated their way of living and self-understanding, but the “faith” toward the ideology is also being propagated and reinforced.

 

“This is indeed how ideology functions today: nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware of their corrupted nature, but we participate in them, we display our belief in them, because we assume that they work even if we do not believe in them”.[3]

 

In contemporary discussion about post-ideological symptom, one cannot avoid the debate between Zizek and Ernesto Laclau on Populism, a political intervention that erases the position of the Master Signifier. In the political interview, I propose that Populism as a post-ideological symptom of psychosis. It is the foreclosure of the Master Ideology of the dominant political scene, that the political subject will formulate a disseminating claim of different interests or ideological causes. From the recent populist demonstrations in Hong Kong every July 1st since the century-old British colony return to China since 1997, one may not neglect the rise of populist politics as a reversal again the dominant political consciousness.

 

In his discussion of Populism, On Populist Reason, Ernesto Laclau attempts to redefine the highly overused political term “Populism” which is getting meaningless as having been used to describe different and conflicting types of political grouping.  Laclau defined Populist not as a particular kind of politics, but politics itself”[4] He does not try to analyze particular populist group, but to discuss the structure that is shared among all populist interventions.  His central concern is to endorse a new type of populism that will envision the rise of new opportunity for leftist movement. The new wave of populist politics has increasingly become a symptom in post ideological society that would arouse multiplicity in political desire and deconstructive tendency in financial individualism.  Both trends, although running in two extremes, may determine the future of the political-Real and its direct access to the excess excitement of jouissance.

 

The July First Demonstration (JFD) shall be a prototype of populist movement in post-ideologies Hong Kong.  Comparing with another example, the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS), the JFD has a lesser political claim that links to the interest of the masses who seek political expression. The Hong Kong Democrates, even though they are believed to be a major political opposition, is but a smaller component among the annual demonstration. There are different levels of claims which some of them are less usual such as the demonstration for animal rights, education right to less favorable new immigrants or even holiday claim for certain subgroup workers in some industries. There are also groups who voice out their local vested interests being regulated because of the intervention of the public interest. There are also serious political requests to release political prisoners, freedom of speech and religion. The JFD is apolitical for it has undermined the edge of a political movement to the level of a carnival of claims. It is already a catalogue to include all phallo-phantasy in a showcase.  There is always a joke about the JFD.  One can really demonstrate his very personal claim to restore the monarchy of the late Qing Empire which was brought to an end a hundred year ago. The JFD is not about social justice as it claims; it is a demonstration of individualism expressed in political discourse. The discourse does not direct to subsequent political action and it only put the fantasy into symbolic order, a Lacanian cut that is to avoid the triggering of psychosis.

 

In another extreme left is the OWS movement, which spread from Middle East, Greece, Spain and then UK, from the outer to the center.  It claims to protest the capitalism as an institutionalized realization of greedy and decadence. Comparing with JFD, this is an expression with a strong and unique moral mission and political standpoint. Even though there are subordinate political effects related to each location that the movement happens, but the target aims at the final revision of the capitalism as a system of allocation of global resources. Zizek is right to say that

 

…. the Western left has come full circle: after abandoning so-called “class-struggle essentialism” for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist, and other struggles, “capitalism” is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.[5]

 

In the psychoanalytic sense, the protestors are indeed hysterical actors, provoking the master, undermining his authority……But the art of politics is also to insist on a particular demand that…..disturbs the very core of the hegemonic ideology, that is , which, while in principle feasible and legitimate, is de facto impossible.[6]

 

As Zizek states, the OWS is always aiming at the otherness, the non-existence of the political dream. No matter what kind of slogan being proposed, the content (signified) is not correspondent to the signifier.  The emptiness of the Master Signifier (capitalism) is deconstructed not by criticism against the content (signified) – what he called “class-struggle essentialism”, but an overall question of the structural hegemony of the Master Signifier itself.  Capitalism is the name of the problem, but Zizek should have discovered the discourse itself is psychotic rather than hysterical. Hysterics is barred from jouissance (universal justice) because of oppressive Master ideology.  However, the protestors in OWS are more in the style of 1960s hippies who call for fun rather than fighting against oppression.[7]  Their discourse is psychotic in the sense that they are really afraid their demand (the end of capitalism) will be realized. The carnival is intended to create some kind of claim that is “de facto impossible.”

 

As stated in both prototypes in populism, I would propose that the psychotic structure as a social symptom is exemplary in a way the signifiers keep moving swiftly from one quilting point to another.  In order to avoid the invasion of the Real (political jouissance of death and destruction) to the imaginary order (phallo-phantasy), the subject cannot but keep generating new ideologies (disseminating interests in the JFD or carnival in OWS) to fill in the hollow space of the psychotic structure.

 

Lacan has tried to downplay the concept of psychotic structure in his later years not because he rejected this theoretical construction.  Rather as J-A Miller stated later ordinary psychosis itself is actually a sinthome without evident of a serious trigger. This is a semblant, and it echoes Lacan’s claim that “all the world is mad” as well as Miller’s elaboration of “universal foreclosure.” Language itself becomes a delusion that is shared among all human beings as ontological openness to psychotic happiness in the time of post-ideologies.[8]


[1] Sauvagnat François. “Fatherhood and naming in J. Lacan’s works” Lacan.com, www.lacan.com/fathername.htm as presented on 30 June, 2013

[2] Evans, Dylan. “An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1996.

[3] Zizek, Slavoj. “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce” London: Verso, 2009.

[4] Levinson, Brett. “In Theory, Politics does not Exist”

[5] Zizek, Slavoj. The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. P.77 London: Verso, 2012.

[6] Ibid., P.84

[7] ibid., P.77

[8] Svolos, Thomas. “Ordinary Psychosis in the era of Sinthome and semblant” The Symptom 10, http://www.lacan.com/thesymptom/?p=81 as presented on 30 June, 2013

The World Exposes itself as the Real (Suture) of a Socio-political Paradox


Cyril Su (cyso@lacansociety.com)

MA Psychoanalysis, Sheffield

Founding Member, Lacan Society in China and Hong Kong

Founding Member, Hong Kong Society of Psychoanalysis

 

Presented to Cartel Encounter, Lacan Society in China and Hong Kong

July, 2013

 

 

The world exposes itself as the Real (suture) of a socio-political paradox. The conflict and splitting among countries, in the aspect of their economical and social interest, have never been that serious before. In the last century, people saw themselves the first time in their history as a “Subject of the Cause” in the universe – the only reasoning agent that is believed to have the power to master their own existence without suffering from the threat of the nature, regardless of natural disaster or illness.  That is what we described as the first ever modernization in human history.  We develop new technology in production, formulate a financial and economical system that relies on how we allocate capital on earth through trading of natural resources. And besides we master the medical skill to keep life longer. This is the first time in history that people struggle for ideological differences and end up in mass military movement and warfare.  This is also the first time in history that people becomes one in a global community to raise our concern about our environment.

 

The last 100 years is a period of changes and conflicts: we built and destroyed; we defined our sociality through ideological concepts, which were basically an artificial rendering of pseudo theoretical discourse of reflexive knowledge.  

 

In my presentation today, my intention is to discuss the functioning of psychotic structure as a social symptom in the post-ideological society of which we are constitutive unconsciously. Psychotic structure is a Lacanian theory of clinical experience. Lacan thinks that psychotic structure is characterized by foreclosure in parental relations. It is the erasure of the position of the Father – the premier signifier not only could stabilize the signification but also act as the primal mark in social practice. The Name-of-the-Father is the only signifier that pre-defined the subject’s position in a community, also the phallo-phantasy being embedded in the text (shot) of the subjectivity.  I would like to propose that it is because of the lost of the father as a premier signifier or the death of the father in our post-ideological society that psychotic structure as presented in various levels of symptomatic way of living, including Populism, carnivalesque, financial individualism and various ways of political identification the post-ideological subjectivity.

 

The position of the father has been Freud’s least developed concept among the post Freudian writers. Freud conceptualized the fatherhood in Moses and Monotheism. François Sauvagnat[1] writes that Freud describes the subject’s motherly experience as “oceanic feeling” while the fatherly one as “Fatersehnsucht” – the longing of the father which has been expressed in Judeo-Christianity.  The father being portrayed by Freud in Totem and taboo is an omnipotent father that overrules all primitive taboos to access to woman; he also castrates the young male in exchange for the balance of the power in the tribe. Freud’s portray of the Father comes from his metaphor of the Jewish and Christian God, the father of the righteous, of rule and norm and of creation.

 

The longing for the return of the father – the authoritative power of righteous, judgment, the father of the primal horde – provides the subject a temporary access to motherly desire while the father’s position is put into an imaginative untying – when father is not there.  The father will eventually return to exercise his power (signifying power or law and order), but before the father is back, the subject will still be able to access the mother as the desiring object.  However, the idea of the fatherhood has not been fully developed among the second generation of Freudian writers.  This may because of the empirical psychology research on infants that shows more emphasis on the role of the mother, either as a reflexive object of subjectivity or as transferential agent.

 

One may think it is interesting that Anna Freud who was analyzed by Freud himself as both her real father and the imaginative father of psychoanalysis.  The super father is here presented as the only example of omnipotent father that is equivalent to the position of a God. While a God is both the Real as well as the symbolic, Anna Freud cannot resist but endorse the necessity of a superego position that will be ever and forever there, as a transcendental reference. For Anna Freud was so close to the core of the Desire of the Father, what she needs personally and academically is more than a symbolic father (or even a primal father in anthropological sense) to cut her from the imaginary existence of her phallo-phantasy to her father.  She posits a superego to present a cut to the Real.

 

Until Lacan’s return to Freud, one is able to retrieve the original position of the father as the owner of the language, one of the master signifiers.  In the traditional Oedipal relations, the subject comes face to face with the desire of the mother, which will create a strong anxiety for incest emotion. The desire of mother as well as the desire of being the mother’s desiring object (phallo-phantasy) drive the subject to a situation of excitement and anxiety. The Name-of-the-Father is what Lacan conceptualizes the position of the Father as a signifier, which acts as the symbolic cut to separate the subject’s real from invading into the imaginary order of primal fantasy.   The cut is first understood as a linguistic order (speech act) of saying “no” to incest imagination. It eventually becomes the language (structure) itself, which establishes the position of the father as the judgment about sociality, the norm in understanding the subject’s social life as an individual. The social interaction establishes a “proximity-to-jouissance” between mother and son in avoiding the direct access to the jouissance of incest excitement. The incest fantasy is the imaginary relations, which may directly invade into the Real.  Coming too close to the Real, which is the original reservoir of incest excitement, will arouse strong anxiety and excitement (death drive) in the subject.  The anxiety in psychotic patient is not about the non-satisfaction of the want (as in hysteria), but about getting too close to core of joussiance, the excess of excitement.  What he needs is some kind of restriction, monitor, control that can stop him from continuous invasion of the Real from the imaginary (phantasy). The Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed in this situation that its signifying status is erased well before the Father says the first order of “no” (le non du père) or “the name of the father” (le nom du père). This may because of a weak father as in the case of Hans or because of a devouring mother who has complaint toward the uselessness of a father.  If the real father is not able to satisfy the mother, the imaginary father (phallo-phantasy) of the subject will come to replace the real father. In his 1963 seminar, Lacan conceptualized the names-of-the father as a universal notion of omnipotent judgment. From the Almighty God El Shadday to Abraham who is requested to kill his son Issac, Lacan planned to return to biblical literature in order to find the way the Name-of-the-Father functions. The Almighty Father is experienced as someone who gives order.  “Abraham, kill your son”. Lacan says that the moment when the Almighty Father giving his order, the order itself does not cover the quality of justice and righteousness (which is traditionally be regarded as the quality of the Almighty God in Old Testament world). The patriarchic order is all about power, is the discourse of the Master. The product created in this relation between Almighty God and Abraham is the Name-of-the-Father as the Master Signifier, which is itself a signifier without signified, as an empty signifier.  It is exactly because it processes no internal content, it does not refer to any other external (differance) signification.  It always returns to itself. The Almighty God names himself as El Shadday, which is translated as I am who I am.  This is exactly a tautological return that always goes back to the position where it is.  The Name-of-the-Father is this empty situation where its authoritative status is achieved through its paradoxical essence as a void.  Besides, it is due to the very voidness of the Name-of-the-Father that the Master Signifier is able to quilt the other signifiers in a relatively stable of flow.  In what Lacan stated as Point de Capiton (or the quilting point), certain signifiers are fixed (Freudian fixation) to provide a sense of security and stability to the subject.  Without those fixations, the subject is not able to maintain a reasonable performance in his language as well as psychical realm.

 

In the second half of my presentation, I would like to propose that the psychotic structure is a symptom in sociality that is so phenomenal in post-ideological society.

 

Ideology is the Master Signifier in Lacan’s sense. It functions as the premier signifier that the subject deeply identifies with, which accordingly frames the self knowledge and give the subject the basic meaning to his world and surroundings.  Lacan focuses less on the meaning of the signifier itself than how it helps fix the position of the other signifiers in a scheme. (This is because of his structuralist concept of continuous flowing of the signifying chain.) This is the fixation pin down as the Point de Capiton in discourse. These quilting points are what organize the make-believe system no matter if it is only illusion – “the necessary illusion of fixed meaning.”[2] What quilting points create are the structural block that can never be regarded as permanent fixation, as Lacan does not accept any fixation in the chain of signification. It is the semblance of meaning created by metaphor and actualized by the imaginary identification (such as the oedipal complex) of symbolic order itself. The Master Signifier is what in the chain of signification a signifier creates an even stronger block in knowledge. This block rejects or absorbs critique and reflective questioning as an empty signifier. It is created as a major concept to support the phallo-phantasy of illusion. The Master Signifier as ideology links up as constituents the imaginary (fantasmatic), symbolic (desire) and the Real (knowledge) to form the strongest signification thread. However, its efficacy in reorienting the meaning of other signifiers with related to the subject’s meaning to the world formulates a Master Signifier that Lacan says is an empty signifier in itself, a signifier without a signified or a signifier that rejects to enter into the signifying thread. It is the key structural concept in the political propaganda that it is presented without questioning. “Democracy”, “freedom”, “collectivism” “hegemony”, “capitalism” or “communism” is all example of the Master Signifier of the time.

 

Louis Althusser’s Ideology borrowed from Freud and Lacan about the unconscious and language, in which he modified and elaborated the production relations (base structure) in reaction against the signifying matrix of a make-belief system, or the Althusserian “ideological state apparatuses”. Adopted from Lacan’s theory of subjectivity, Althusser assumes a human individual formulates his subjectivity in unconscious mediation with himself through a highly sophisticated matrix of signification that is consistent to his daily experience of reality (of course reality is already a product of the dominant ideology). The ISA is constitutive of family, school, media and religious group, which Althusser regards as the agents to formulate the way in which a human individual shall believe, act and adopt his own self positioning as a subject being modified to fit into the apparatus. An individual, even though they may not aware (ISA as the unconscious artifact) of how they are being molded in order to be acceptable in the ISA (elimination of differance in Derridean sense or the selection process in Darwin method).

 

Ideology in marxist and althusserian sense is the superstructure while Althusser assumes it as pre-existent frame of reference that is dominant of (also as the artifact in Lacanian Symbolic order) class structure relations. Slavoj Zizek, the most popular intellectual star in Europe and the US, uses Lacanian concept to read the ideological matrix in contemporary socio-political spectrum. Zizek inherits the tradition from Marxist critique of commodity fetishism to Althusser’s theory of ideology. In what he regards as post-ideology, Zizek says ideology in contemporary society has extended to a new level of sophistication.  Not only are the people fully aware of the ideologies in existence as an illusive conception in fantasy. It shares among the popular masses that have dominated their way of living and self-understanding, but the “faith” toward the ideology is also being propagated and reinforced.

 

“This is indeed how ideology functions today: nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware of their corrupted nature, but we participate in them, we display our belief in them, because we assume that they work even if we do not believe in them”.[3]

 

In contemporary discussion about post-ideological symptom, one cannot avoid the debate between Zizek and Ernesto Laclau on Populism, a political intervention that erases the position of the Master Signifier. In the political interview, I propose that Populism as a post-ideological symptom of psychosis. It is the foreclosure of the Master Ideology of the dominant political scene, that the political subject will formulate a disseminating claim of different interests or ideological causes. From the recent populist demonstrations in Hong Kong every July 1st since the century-old British colony return to China since 1997, one may not neglect the rise of populist politics as a reversal again the dominant political consciousness.

 

In his discussion of Populism, On Populist Reason, Ernesto Laclau attempts to redefine the highly overused political term “Populism” which is getting meaningless as having been used to describe different and conflicting types of political grouping.  Laclau defined Populist not as a particular kind of politics, but politics itself”[4] He does not try to analyze particular populist group, but to discuss the structure that is shared among all populist interventions.  His central concern is to endorse a new type of populism that will envision the rise of new opportunity for leftist movement. The new wave of populist politics has increasingly become a symptom in post ideological society that would arouse multiplicity in political desire and deconstructive tendency in financial individualism.  Both trends, although running in two extremes, may determine the future of the political-Real and its direct access to the excess excitement of jouissance.

 

The July First Demonstration (JFD) shall be a prototype of populist movement in post-ideologies Hong Kong.  Comparing with another example, the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS), the JFD has a lesser political claim that links to the interest of the masses who seek political expression. The Hong Kong Democrates, even though they are believed to be a major political opposition, is but a smaller component among the annual demonstration. There are different levels of claims which some of them are less usual such as the demonstration for animal rights, education right to less favorable new immigrants or even holiday claim for certain subgroup workers in some industries. There are also groups who voice out their local vested interests being regulated because of the intervention of the public interest. There are also serious political requests to release political prisoners, freedom of speech and religion. The JFD is apolitical for it has undermined the edge of a political movement to the level of a carnival of claims. It is already a catalogue to include all phallo-phantasy in a showcase.  There is always a joke about the JFD.  One can really demonstrate his very personal claim to restore the monarchy of the late Qing Empire which was brought to an end a hundred year ago. The JFD is not about social justice as it claims; it is a demonstration of individualism expressed in political discourse. The discourse does not direct to subsequent political action and it only put the fantasy into symbolic order, a Lacanian cut that is to avoid the triggering of psychosis.

 

In another extreme left is the OWS movement, which spread from Middle East, Greece, Spain and then UK, from the outer to the center.  It claims to protest the capitalism as an institutionalized realization of greedy and decadence. Comparing with JFD, this is an expression with a strong and unique moral mission and political standpoint. Even though there are subordinate political effects related to each location that the movement happens, but the target aims at the final revision of the capitalism as a system of allocation of global resources. Zizek is right to say that

 

…. the Western left has come full circle: after abandoning so-called “class-struggle essentialism” for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist, and other struggles, “capitalism” is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.[5]

 

In the psychoanalytic sense, the protestors are indeed hysterical actors, provoking the master, undermining his authority……But the art of politics is also to insist on a particular demand that…..disturbs the very core of the hegemonic ideology, that is , which, while in principle feasible and legitimate, is de facto impossible.[6]

 

As Zizek states, the OWS is always aiming at the otherness, the non-existence of the political dream. No matter what kind of slogan being proposed, the content (signified) is not correspondent to the signifier.  The emptiness of the Master Signifier (capitalism) is deconstructed not by criticism against the content (signified) – what he called “class-struggle essentialism”, but an overall question of the structural hegemony of the Master Signifier itself.  Capitalism is the name of the problem, but Zizek should have discovered the discourse itself is psychotic rather than hysterical. Hysterics is barred from jouissance (universal justice) because of oppressive Master ideology.  However, the protestors in OWS are more in the style of 1960s hippies who call for fun rather than fighting against oppression.[7]  Their discourse is psychotic in the sense that they are really afraid their demand (the end of capitalism) will be realized. The carnival is intended to create some kind of claim that is “de facto impossible.”

 

As stated in both prototypes in populism, I would propose that the psychotic structure as a social symptom is exemplary in a way the signifiers keep moving swiftly from one quilting point to another.  In order to avoid the invasion of the Real (political jouissance of death and destruction) to the imaginary order (phallo-phantasy), the subject cannot but keep generating new ideologies (disseminating interests in the JFD or carnival in OWS) to fill in the hollow space of the psychotic structure.

 

Lacan has tried to downplay the concept of psychotic structure in his later years not because he rejected this theoretical construction.  Rather as J-A Miller stated later ordinary psychosis itself is actually a sinthome without evident of a serious trigger. This is a semblant, and it echoes Lacan’s claim that “all the world is mad” as well as Miller’s elaboration of “universal foreclosure.” Language itself becomes a delusion that is shared among all human beings as ontological openness to psychotic happiness in the time of post-ideologies.[8]


[1] Sauvagnat François. “Fatherhood and naming in J. Lacan’s works” Lacan.com, www.lacan.com/fathername.htm as presented on 30 June, 2013

[2] Evans, Dylan. “An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1996.

[3] Zizek, Slavoj. “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce” London: Verso, 2009.

[4] Levinson, Brett. “In Theory, Politics does not Exist”

[5] Zizek, Slavoj. The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. P.77 London: Verso, 2012.

[6] Ibid., P.84

[7] ibid., P.77

[8] Svolos, Thomas. “Ordinary Psychosis in the era of Sinthome and semblant” The Symptom 10, http://www.lacan.com/thesymptom/?p=81 as presented on 30 June, 2013

The World Exposes itself as the Real (Suture) of a Socio-political Paradox


Cyril Su (cyso@lacansociety.com)

MA Psychoanalysis, Sheffield

Founding Member, Lacan Society in China and Hong Kong

Founding Member, Hong Kong Society of Psychoanalysis

 

Presented to Cartel Encounter, Lacan Society in China and Hong Kong

July, 2013

 

 

The world exposes itself as the Real (suture) of a socio-political paradox. The conflict and splitting among countries, in the aspect of their economical and social interest, have never been that serious before. In the last century, people saw themselves the first time in their history as a “Subject of the Cause” in the universe – the only reasoning agent that is believed to have the power to master their own existence without suffering from the threat of the nature, regardless of natural disaster or illness.  That is what we described as the first ever modernization in human history.  We develop new technology in production, formulate a financial and economical system that relies on how we allocate capital on earth through trading of natural resources. And besides we master the medical skill to keep life longer. This is the first time in history that people struggle for ideological differences and end up in mass military movement and warfare.  This is also the first time in history that people becomes one in a global community to raise our concern about our environment.

 

The last 100 years is a period of changes and conflicts: we built and destroyed; we defined our sociality through ideological concepts, which were basically an artificial rendering of pseudo theoretical discourse of reflexive knowledge.

 

In my presentation today, my intention is to discuss the functioning of psychotic structure as a social symptom in the post-ideological society of which we are constitutive unconsciously. Psychotic structure is a Lacanian theory of clinical experience. Lacan thinks that psychotic structure is characterized by foreclosure in parental relations. It is the erasure of the position of the Father – the premier signifier not only could stabilize the signification but also act as the primal mark in social practice. The Name-of-the-Father is the only signifier that pre-defined the subject’s position in a community, also the phallo-phantasy being embedded in the text (shot) of the subjectivity.  I would like to propose that it is because of the lost of the father as a premier signifier or the death of the father in our post-ideological society that psychotic structure as presented in various levels of symptomatic way of living, including Populism, carnivalesque, financial individualism and various ways of political identification the post-ideological subjectivity.

 

The position of the father has been Freud’s least developed concept among the post Freudian writers. Freud conceptualized the fatherhood in Moses and Monotheism. François Sauvagnat[1] writes that Freud describes the subject’s motherly experience as “oceanic feeling” while the fatherly one as “Fatersehnsucht” – the longing of the father which has been expressed in Judeo-Christianity.  The father being portrayed by Freud in Totem and taboo is an omnipotent father that overrules all primitive taboos to access to woman; he also castrates the young male in exchange for the balance of the power in the tribe. Freud’s portray of the Father comes from his metaphor of the Jewish and Christian God, the father of the righteous, of rule and norm and of creation.

 

The longing for the return of the father – the authoritative power of righteous, judgment, the father of the primal horde – provides the subject a temporary access to motherly desire while the father’s position is put into an imaginative untying – when father is not there.  The father will eventually return to exercise his power (signifying power or law and order), but before the father is back, the subject will still be able to access the mother as the desiring object.  However, the idea of the fatherhood has not been fully developed among the second generation of Freudian writers.  This may because of the empirical psychology research on infants that shows more emphasis on the role of the mother, either as a reflexive object of subjectivity or as transferential agent.

 

One may think it is interesting that Anna Freud who was analyzed by Freud himself as both her real father and the imaginative father of psychoanalysis.  The super father is here presented as the only example of omnipotent father that is equivalent to the position of a God. While a God is both the Real as well as the symbolic, Anna Freud cannot resist but endorse the necessity of a superego position that will be ever and forever there, as a transcendental reference. For Anna Freud was so close to the core of the Desire of the Father, what she needs personally and academically is more than a symbolic father (or even a primal father in anthropological sense) to cut her from the imaginary existence of her phallo-phantasy to her father.  She posits a superego to present a cut to the Real.

 

Until Lacan’s return to Freud, one is able to retrieve the original position of the father as the owner of the language, one of the master signifiers.  In the traditional Oedipal relations, the subject comes face to face with the desire of the mother, which will create a strong anxiety for incest emotion. The desire of mother as well as the desire of being the mother’s desiring object (phallo-phantasy) drive the subject to a situation of excitement and anxiety. The Name-of-the-Father is what Lacan conceptualizes the position of the Father as a signifier, which acts as the symbolic cut to separate the subject’s real from invading into the imaginary order of primal fantasy.   The cut is first understood as a linguistic order (speech act) of saying “no” to incest imagination. It eventually becomes the language (structure) itself, which establishes the position of the father as the judgment about sociality, the norm in understanding the subject’s social life as an individual. The social interaction establishes a “proximity-to-jouissance” between mother and son in avoiding the direct access to the jouissance of incest excitement. The incest fantasy is the imaginary relations, which may directly invade into the Real.  Coming too close to the Real, which is the original reservoir of incest excitement, will arouse strong anxiety and excitement (death drive) in the subject.  The anxiety in psychotic patient is not about the non-satisfaction of the want (as in hysteria), but about getting too close to core of joussiance, the excess of excitement.  What he needs is some kind of restriction, monitor, control that can stop him from continuous invasion of the Real from the imaginary (phantasy). The Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed in this situation that its signifying status is erased well before the Father says the first order of “no” (le non du père) or “the name of the father” (le nom du père). This may because of a weak father as in the case of Hans or because of a devouring mother who has complaint toward the uselessness of a father.  If the real father is not able to satisfy the mother, the imaginary father (phallo-phantasy) of the subject will come to replace the real father. In his 1963 seminar, Lacan conceptualized the names-of-the father as a universal notion of omnipotent judgment. From the Almighty God El Shadday to Abraham who is requested to kill his son Issac, Lacan planned to return to biblical literature in order to find the way the Name-of-the-Father functions. The Almighty Father is experienced as someone who gives order.  “Abraham, kill your son”. Lacan says that the moment when the Almighty Father giving his order, the order itself does not cover the quality of justice and righteousness (which is traditionally be regarded as the quality of the Almighty God in Old Testament world). The patriarchic order is all about power, is the discourse of the Master. The product created in this relation between Almighty God and Abraham is the Name-of-the-Father as the Master Signifier, which is itself a signifier without signified, as an empty signifier.  It is exactly because it processes no internal content, it does not refer to any other external (differance) signification.  It always returns to itself. The Almighty God names himself as El Shadday, which is translated as I am who I am.  This is exactly a tautological return that always goes back to the position where it is.  The Name-of-the-Father is this empty situation where its authoritative status is achieved through its paradoxical essence as a void.  Besides, it is due to the very voidness of the Name-of-the-Father that the Master Signifier is able to quilt the other signifiers in a relatively stable of flow.  In what Lacan stated as Point de Capiton (or the quilting point), certain signifiers are fixed (Freudian fixation) to provide a sense of security and stability to the subject.  Without those fixations, the subject is not able to maintain a reasonable performance in his language as well as psychical realm.

 

In the second half of my presentation, I would like to propose that the psychotic structure is a symptom in sociality that is so phenomenal in post-ideological society.

 

Ideology is the Master Signifier in Lacan’s sense. It functions as the premier signifier that the subject deeply identifies with, which accordingly frames the self knowledge and give the subject the basic meaning to his world and surroundings.  Lacan focuses less on the meaning of the signifier itself than how it helps fix the position of the other signifiers in a scheme. (This is because of his structuralist concept of continuous flowing of the signifying chain.) This is the fixation pin down as the Point de Capiton in discourse. These quilting points are what organize the make-believe system no matter if it is only illusion – “the necessary illusion of fixed meaning.”[2] What quilting points create are the structural block that can never be regarded as permanent fixation, as Lacan does not accept any fixation in the chain of signification. It is the semblance of meaning created by metaphor and actualized by the imaginary identification (such as the oedipal complex) of symbolic order itself. The Master Signifier is what in the chain of signification a signifier creates an even stronger block in knowledge. This block rejects or absorbs critique and reflective questioning as an empty signifier. It is created as a major concept to support the phallo-phantasy of illusion. The Master Signifier as ideology links up as constituents the imaginary (fantasmatic), symbolic (desire) and the Real (knowledge) to form the strongest signification thread. However, its efficacy in reorienting the meaning of other signifiers with related to the subject’s meaning to the world formulates a Master Signifier that Lacan says is an empty signifier in itself, a signifier without a signified or a signifier that rejects to enter into the signifying thread. It is the key structural concept in the political propaganda that it is presented without questioning. “Democracy”, “freedom”, “collectivism” “hegemony”, “capitalism” or “communism” is all example of the Master Signifier of the time.

 

Louis Althusser’s Ideology borrowed from Freud and Lacan about the unconscious and language, in which he modified and elaborated the production relations (base structure) in reaction against the signifying matrix of a make-belief system, or the Althusserian “ideological state apparatuses”. Adopted from Lacan’s theory of subjectivity, Althusser assumes a human individual formulates his subjectivity in unconscious mediation with himself through a highly sophisticated matrix of signification that is consistent to his daily experience of reality (of course reality is already a product of the dominant ideology). The ISA is constitutive of family, school, media and religious group, which Althusser regards as the agents to formulate the way in which a human individual shall believe, act and adopt his own self positioning as a subject being modified to fit into the apparatus. An individual, even though they may not aware (ISA as the unconscious artifact) of how they are being molded in order to be acceptable in the ISA (elimination of differance in Derridean sense or the selection process in Darwin method).

 

Ideology in marxist and althusserian sense is the superstructure while Althusser assumes it as pre-existent frame of reference that is dominant of (also as the artifact in Lacanian Symbolic order) class structure relations. Slavoj Zizek, the most popular intellectual star in Europe and the US, uses Lacanian concept to read the ideological matrix in contemporary socio-political spectrum. Zizek inherits the tradition from Marxist critique of commodity fetishism to Althusser’s theory of ideology. In what he regards as post-ideology, Zizek says ideology in contemporary society has extended to a new level of sophistication.  Not only are the people fully aware of the ideologies in existence as an illusive conception in fantasy. It shares among the popular masses that have dominated their way of living and self-understanding, but the “faith” toward the ideology is also being propagated and reinforced.

 

“This is indeed how ideology functions today: nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware of their corrupted nature, but we participate in them, we display our belief in them, because we assume that they work even if we do not believe in them”.[3]

 

In contemporary discussion about post-ideological symptom, one cannot avoid the debate between Zizek and Ernesto Laclau on Populism, a political intervention that erases the position of the Master Signifier. In the political interview, I propose that Populism as a post-ideological symptom of psychosis. It is the foreclosure of the Master Ideology of the dominant political scene, that the political subject will formulate a disseminating claim of different interests or ideological causes. From the recent populist demonstrations in Hong Kong every July 1st since the century-old British colony return to China since 1997, one may not neglect the rise of populist politics as a reversal again the dominant political consciousness.

 

In his discussion of Populism, On Populist Reason, Ernesto Laclau attempts to redefine the highly overused political term “Populism” which is getting meaningless as having been used to describe different and conflicting types of political grouping.  Laclau defined Populist not as a particular kind of politics, but politics itself”[4] He does not try to analyze particular populist group, but to discuss the structure that is shared among all populist interventions.  His central concern is to endorse a new type of populism that will envision the rise of new opportunity for leftist movement. The new wave of populist politics has increasingly become a symptom in post ideological society that would arouse multiplicity in political desire and deconstructive tendency in financial individualism.  Both trends, although running in two extremes, may determine the future of the political-Real and its direct access to the excess excitement of jouissance.

 

The July First Demonstration (JFD) shall be a prototype of populist movement in post-ideologies Hong Kong.  Comparing with another example, the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS), the JFD has a lesser political claim that links to the interest of the masses who seek political expression. The Hong Kong Democrates, even though they are believed to be a major political opposition, is but a smaller component among the annual demonstration. There are different levels of claims which some of them are less usual such as the demonstration for animal rights, education right to less favorable new immigrants or even holiday claim for certain subgroup workers in some industries. There are also groups who voice out their local vested interests being regulated because of the intervention of the public interest. There are also serious political requests to release political prisoners, freedom of speech and religion. The JFD is apolitical for it has undermined the edge of a political movement to the level of a carnival of claims. It is already a catalogue to include all phallo-phantasy in a showcase.  There is always a joke about the JFD.  One can really demonstrate his very personal claim to restore the monarchy of the late Qing Empire which was brought to an end a hundred year ago. The JFD is not about social justice as it claims; it is a demonstration of individualism expressed in political discourse. The discourse does not direct to subsequent political action and it only put the fantasy into symbolic order, a Lacanian cut that is to avoid the triggering of psychosis.

 

In another extreme left is the OWS movement, which spread from Middle East, Greece, Spain and then UK, from the outer to the center.  It claims to protest the capitalism as an institutionalized realization of greedy and decadence. Comparing with JFD, this is an expression with a strong and unique moral mission and political standpoint. Even though there are subordinate political effects related to each location that the movement happens, but the target aims at the final revision of the capitalism as a system of allocation of global resources. Zizek is right to say that

 

…. the Western left has come full circle: after abandoning so-called “class-struggle essentialism” for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist, and other struggles, “capitalism” is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.[5]

 

In the psychoanalytic sense, the protestors are indeed hysterical actors, provoking the master, undermining his authority……But the art of politics is also to insist on a particular demand that…..disturbs the very core of the hegemonic ideology, that is , which, while in principle feasible and legitimate, is de facto impossible.[6]

 

As Zizek states, the OWS is always aiming at the otherness, the non-existence of the political dream. No matter what kind of slogan being proposed, the content (signified) is not correspondent to the signifier.  The emptiness of the Master Signifier (capitalism) is deconstructed not by criticism against the content (signified) – what he called “class-struggle essentialism”, but an overall question of the structural hegemony of the Master Signifier itself.  Capitalism is the name of the problem, but Zizek should have discovered the discourse itself is psychotic rather than hysterical. Hysterics is barred from jouissance (universal justice) because of oppressive Master ideology.  However, the protestors in OWS are more in the style of 1960s hippies who call for fun rather than fighting against oppression.[7]  Their discourse is psychotic in the sense that they are really afraid their demand (the end of capitalism) will be realized. The carnival is intended to create some kind of claim that is “de facto impossible.”

 

As stated in both prototypes in populism, I would propose that the psychotic structure as a social symptom is exemplary in a way the signifiers keep moving swiftly from one quilting point to another.  In order to avoid the invasion of the Real (political jouissance of death and destruction) to the imaginary order (phallo-phantasy), the subject cannot but keep generating new ideologies (disseminating interests in the JFD or carnival in OWS) to fill in the hollow space of the psychotic structure.

 

Lacan has tried to downplay the concept of psychotic structure in his later years not because he rejected this theoretical construction.  Rather as J-A Miller stated later ordinary psychosis itself is actually a sinthome without evident of a serious trigger. This is a semblant, and it echoes Lacan’s claim that “all the world is mad” as well as Miller’s elaboration of “universal foreclosure.” Language itself becomes a delusion that is shared among all human beings as ontological openness to psychotic happiness in the time of post-ideologies.[8]


[1] Sauvagnat François. “Fatherhood and naming in J. Lacan’s works” Lacan.com, www.lacan.com/fathername.htm as presented on 30 June, 2013

[2] Evans, Dylan. “An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1996.

[3] Zizek, Slavoj. “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce” London: Verso, 2009.

[4] Levinson, Brett. “In Theory, Politics does not Exist”

[5] Zizek, Slavoj. The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. P.77 London: Verso, 2012.

[6] Ibid., P.84

[7] ibid., P.77

[8] Svolos, Thomas. “Ordinary Psychosis in the era of Sinthome and semblant” The Symptom 10, http://www.lacan.com/thesymptom/?p=81 as presented on 30 June, 2013

The World Exposes itself as the Real (Suture) of a Socio-political Paradox


Presented to Cartel Encounter, Lacan Society in China and Hong Kong

July, 2013

 

Cyril Su (cyso@lacansociety.com)

MA Psychoanalysis, Sheffield

Founding Member, Lacan Society in China and Hong Kong

Founding Member, Hong Kong Society of Psychoanalysis

 

The world exposes itself as the Real (suture) of a socio-political paradox. The conflict and splitting among countries, in the aspect of their economical and social interest, have never been that serious before. In the last century, people saw themselves the first time in their history as a “Subject of the Cause” in the universe – the only reasoning agent that is believed to have the power to master their own existence without suffering from the threat of the nature, regardless of natural disaster or illness.  That is what we described as the first ever modernization in human history.  We develop new technology in production, formulate a financial and economical system that relies on how we allocate capital on earth through trading of natural resources. And besides we master the medical skill to keep life longer. This is the first time in history that people struggle for ideological differences and end up in mass military movement and warfare.  This is also the first time in history that people becomes one in a global community to raise our concern about our environment.

 

The last 100 years is a period of changes and conflicts: we built and destroyed; we defined our sociality through ideological concepts, which were basically an artificial rendering of pseudo theoretical discourse of reflexive knowledge.

 

In my presentation today, my intention is to discuss the functioning of psychotic structure as a social symptom in the post-ideological society of which we are constitutive unconsciously. Psychotic structure is a Lacanian theory of clinical experience. Lacan thinks that psychotic structure is characterized by foreclosure in parental relations. It is the erasure of the position of the Father – the premier signifier not only could stabilize the signification but also act as the primal mark in social practice. The Name-of-the-Father is the only signifier that pre-defined the subject’s position in a community, also the phallo-phantasy being embedded in the text (shot) of the subjectivity.  I would like to propose that it is because of the lost of the father as a premier signifier or the death of the father in our post-ideological society that psychotic structure as presented in various levels of symptomatic way of living, including Populism, carnivalesque, financial individualism and various ways of political identification the post-ideological subjectivity.

 

The position of the father has been Freud’s least developed concept among the post Freudian writers. Freud conceptualized the fatherhood in Moses and Monotheism. François Sauvagnat[1] writes that Freud describes the subject’s motherly experience as “oceanic feeling” while the fatherly one as “Fatersehnsucht” – the longing of the father which has been expressed in Judeo-Christianity.  The father being portrayed by Freud in Totem and taboo is an omnipotent father that overrules all primitive taboos to access to woman; he also castrates the young male in exchange for the balance of the power in the tribe. Freud’s portray of the Father comes from his metaphor of the Jewish and Christian God, the father of the righteous, of rule and norm and of creation.

 

The longing for the return of the father – the authoritative power of righteous, judgment, the father of the primal horde – provides the subject a temporary access to motherly desire while the father’s position is put into an imaginative untying – when father is not there.  The father will eventually return to exercise his power (signifying power or law and order), but before the father is back, the subject will still be able to access the mother as the desiring object.  However, the idea of the fatherhood has not been fully developed among the second generation of Freudian writers.  This may because of the empirical psychology research on infants that shows more emphasis on the role of the mother, either as a reflexive object of subjectivity or as transferential agent.

 

One may think it is interesting that Anna Freud who was analyzed by Freud himself as both her real father and the imaginative father of psychoanalysis.  The super father is here presented as the only example of omnipotent father that is equivalent to the position of a God. While a God is both the Real as well as the symbolic, Anna Freud cannot resist but endorse the necessity of a superego position that will be ever and forever there, as a transcendental reference. For Anna Freud was so close to the core of the Desire of the Father, what she needs personally and academically is more than a symbolic father (or even a primal father in anthropological sense) to cut her from the imaginary existence of her phallo-phantasy to her father.  She posits a superego to present a cut to the Real.

 

Until Lacan’s return to Freud, one is able to retrieve the original position of the father as the owner of the language, one of the master signifiers.  In the traditional Oedipal relations, the subject comes face to face with the desire of the mother, which will create a strong anxiety for incest emotion. The desire of mother as well as the desire of being the mother’s desiring object (phallo-phantasy) drive the subject to a situation of excitement and anxiety. The Name-of-the-Father is what Lacan conceptualizes the position of the Father as a signifier, which acts as the symbolic cut to separate the subject’s real from invading into the imaginary order of primal fantasy.   The cut is first understood as a linguistic order (speech act) of saying “no” to incest imagination. It eventually becomes the language (structure) itself, which establishes the position of the father as the judgment about sociality, the norm in understanding the subject’s social life as an individual. The social interaction establishes a “proximity-to-jouissance” between mother and son in avoiding the direct access to the jouissance of incest excitement. The incest fantasy is the imaginary relations, which may directly invade into the Real.  Coming too close to the Real, which is the original reservoir of incest excitement, will arouse strong anxiety and excitement (death drive) in the subject.  The anxiety in psychotic patient is not about the non-satisfaction of the want (as in hysteria), but about getting too close to core of joussiance, the excess of excitement.  What he needs is some kind of restriction, monitor, control that can stop him from continuous invasion of the Real from the imaginary (phantasy). The Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed in this situation that its signifying status is erased well before the Father says the first order of “no” (le non du père) or “the name of the father” (le nom du père). This may because of a weak father as in the case of Hans or because of a devouring mother who has complaint toward the uselessness of a father.  If the real father is not able to satisfy the mother, the imaginary father (phallo-phantasy) of the subject will come to replace the real father. In his 1963 seminar, Lacan conceptualized the names-of-the father as a universal notion of omnipotent judgment. From the Almighty God El Shadday to Abraham who is requested to kill his son Issac, Lacan planned to return to biblical literature in order to find the way the Name-of-the-Father functions. The Almighty Father is experienced as someone who gives order.  “Abraham, kill your son”. Lacan says that the moment when the Almighty Father giving his order, the order itself does not cover the quality of justice and righteousness (which is traditionally be regarded as the quality of the Almighty God in Old Testament world). The patriarchic order is all about power, is the discourse of the Master. The product created in this relation between Almighty God and Abraham is the Name-of-the-Father as the Master Signifier, which is itself a signifier without signified, as an empty signifier.  It is exactly because it processes no internal content, it does not refer to any other external (differance) signification.  It always returns to itself. The Almighty God names himself as El Shadday, which is translated as I am who I am.  This is exactly a tautological return that always goes back to the position where it is.  The Name-of-the-Father is this empty situation where its authoritative status is achieved through its paradoxical essence as a void.  Besides, it is due to the very voidness of the Name-of-the-Father that the Master Signifier is able to quilt the other signifiers in a relatively stable of flow.  In what Lacan stated as Point de Capiton (or the quilting point), certain signifiers are fixed (Freudian fixation) to provide a sense of security and stability to the subject.  Without those fixations, the subject is not able to maintain a reasonable performance in his language as well as psychical realm.

 

In the second half of my presentation, I would like to propose that the psychotic structure is a symptom in sociality that is so phenomenal in post-ideological society.

 

Ideology is the Master Signifier in Lacan’s sense. It functions as the premier signifier that the subject deeply identifies with, which accordingly frames the self knowledge and give the subject the basic meaning to his world and surroundings.  Lacan focuses less on the meaning of the signifier itself than how it helps fix the position of the other signifiers in a scheme. (This is because of his structuralist concept of continuous flowing of the signifying chain.) This is the fixation pin down as the Point de Capiton in discourse. These quilting points are what organize the make-believe system no matter if it is only illusion – “the necessary illusion of fixed meaning.”[2] What quilting points create are the structural block that can never be regarded as permanent fixation, as Lacan does not accept any fixation in the chain of signification. It is the semblance of meaning created by metaphor and actualized by the imaginary identification (such as the oedipal complex) of symbolic order itself. The Master Signifier is what in the chain of signification a signifier creates an even stronger block in knowledge. This block rejects or absorbs critique and reflective questioning as an empty signifier. It is created as a major concept to support the phallo-phantasy of illusion. The Master Signifier as ideology links up as constituents the imaginary (fantasmatic), symbolic (desire) and the Real (knowledge) to form the strongest signification thread. However, its efficacy in reorienting the meaning of other signifiers with related to the subject’s meaning to the world formulates a Master Signifier that Lacan says is an empty signifier in itself, a signifier without a signified or a signifier that rejects to enter into the signifying thread. It is the key structural concept in the political propaganda that it is presented without questioning. “Democracy”, “freedom”, “collectivism” “hegemony”, “capitalism” or “communism” is all example of the Master Signifier of the time.

 

Louis Althusser’s Ideology borrowed from Freud and Lacan about the unconscious and language, in which he modified and elaborated the production relations (base structure) in reaction against the signifying matrix of a make-belief system, or the Althusserian “ideological state apparatuses”. Adopted from Lacan’s theory of subjectivity, Althusser assumes a human individual formulates his subjectivity in unconscious mediation with himself through a highly sophisticated matrix of signification that is consistent to his daily experience of reality (of course reality is already a product of the dominant ideology). The ISA is constitutive of family, school, media and religious group, which Althusser regards as the agents to formulate the way in which a human individual shall believe, act and adopt his own self positioning as a subject being modified to fit into the apparatus. An individual, even though they may not aware (ISA as the unconscious artifact) of how they are being molded in order to be acceptable in the ISA (elimination of differance in Derridean sense or the selection process in Darwin method).

 

Ideology in marxist and althusserian sense is the superstructure while Althusser assumes it as pre-existent frame of reference that is dominant of (also as the artifact in Lacanian Symbolic order) class structure relations. Slavoj Zizek, the most popular intellectual star in Europe and the US, uses Lacanian concept to read the ideological matrix in contemporary socio-political spectrum. Zizek inherits the tradition from Marxist critique of commodity fetishism to Althusser’s theory of ideology. In what he regards as post-ideology, Zizek says ideology in contemporary society has extended to a new level of sophistication.  Not only are the people fully aware of the ideologies in existence as an illusive conception in fantasy. It shares among the popular masses that have dominated their way of living and self-understanding, but the “faith” toward the ideology is also being propagated and reinforced.

 

“This is indeed how ideology functions today: nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware of their corrupted nature, but we participate in them, we display our belief in them, because we assume that they work even if we do not believe in them”.[3]

 

In contemporary discussion about post-ideological symptom, one cannot avoid the debate between Zizek and Ernesto Laclau on Populism, a political intervention that erases the position of the Master Signifier. In the political interview, I propose that Populism as a post-ideological symptom of psychosis. It is the foreclosure of the Master Ideology of the dominant political scene, that the political subject will formulate a disseminating claim of different interests or ideological causes. From the recent populist demonstrations in Hong Kong every July 1st since the century-old British colony return to China since 1997, one may not neglect the rise of populist politics as a reversal again the dominant political consciousness.

 

In his discussion of Populism, On Populist Reason, Ernesto Laclau attempts to redefine the highly overused political term “Populism” which is getting meaningless as having been used to describe different and conflicting types of political grouping.  Laclau defined Populist not as a particular kind of politics, but politics itself”[4] He does not try to analyze particular populist group, but to discuss the structure that is shared among all populist interventions.  His central concern is to endorse a new type of populism that will envision the rise of new opportunity for leftist movement. The new wave of populist politics has increasingly become a symptom in post ideological society that would arouse multiplicity in political desire and deconstructive tendency in financial individualism.  Both trends, although running in two extremes, may determine the future of the political-Real and its direct access to the excess excitement of jouissance.

 

The July First Demonstration (JFD) shall be a prototype of populist movement in post-ideologies Hong Kong.  Comparing with another example, the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS), the JFD has a lesser political claim that links to the interest of the masses who seek political expression. The Hong Kong Democrates, even though they are believed to be a major political opposition, is but a smaller component among the annual demonstration. There are different levels of claims which some of them are less usual such as the demonstration for animal rights, education right to less favorable new immigrants or even holiday claim for certain subgroup workers in some industries. There are also groups who voice out their local vested interests being regulated because of the intervention of the public interest. There are also serious political requests to release political prisoners, freedom of speech and religion. The JFD is apolitical for it has undermined the edge of a political movement to the level of a carnival of claims. It is already a catalogue to include all phallo-phantasy in a showcase.  There is always a joke about the JFD.  One can really demonstrate his very personal claim to restore the monarchy of the late Qing Empire which was brought to an end a hundred year ago. The JFD is not about social justice as it claims; it is a demonstration of individualism expressed in political discourse. The discourse does not direct to subsequent political action and it only put the fantasy into symbolic order, a Lacanian cut that is to avoid the triggering of psychosis.

 

In another extreme left is the OWS movement, which spread from Middle East, Greece, Spain and then UK, from the outer to the center.  It claims to protest the capitalism as an institutionalized realization of greedy and decadence. Comparing with JFD, this is an expression with a strong and unique moral mission and political standpoint. Even though there are subordinate political effects related to each location that the movement happens, but the target aims at the final revision of the capitalism as a system of allocation of global resources. Zizek is right to say that

 

…. the Western left has come full circle: after abandoning so-called “class-struggle essentialism” for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist, and other struggles, “capitalism” is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.[5]

 

In the psychoanalytic sense, the protestors are indeed hysterical actors, provoking the master, undermining his authority……But the art of politics is also to insist on a particular demand that…..disturbs the very core of the hegemonic ideology, that is , which, while in principle feasible and legitimate, is de facto impossible.[6]

 

As Zizek states, the OWS is always aiming at the otherness, the non-existence of the political dream. No matter what kind of slogan being proposed, the content (signified) is not correspondent to the signifier.  The emptiness of the Master Signifier (capitalism) is deconstructed not by criticism against the content (signified) – what he called “class-struggle essentialism”, but an overall question of the structural hegemony of the Master Signifier itself.  Capitalism is the name of the problem, but Zizek should have discovered the discourse itself is psychotic rather than hysterical. Hysterics is barred from jouissance (universal justice) because of oppressive Master ideology.  However, the protestors in OWS are more in the style of 1960s hippies who call for fun rather than fighting against oppression.[7]  Their discourse is psychotic in the sense that they are really afraid their demand (the end of capitalism) will be realized. The carnival is intended to create some kind of claim that is “de facto impossible.”

 

As stated in both prototypes in populism, I would propose that the psychotic structure as a social symptom is exemplary in a way the signifiers keep moving swiftly from one quilting point to another.  In order to avoid the invasion of the Real (political jouissance of death and destruction) to the imaginary order (phallo-phantasy), the subject cannot but keep generating new ideologies (disseminating interests in the JFD or carnival in OWS) to fill in the hollow space of the psychotic structure.

 

Lacan has tried to downplay the concept of psychotic structure in his later years not because he rejected this theoretical construction.  Rather as J-A Miller stated later ordinary psychosis itself is actually a sinthome without evident of a serious trigger. This is a semblant, and it echoes Lacan’s claim that “all the world is mad” as well as Miller’s elaboration of “universal foreclosure.” Language itself becomes a delusion that is shared among all human beings as ontological openness to psychotic happiness in the time of post-ideologies.[8]


[1] Sauvagnat François. “Fatherhood and naming in J. Lacan’s works” Lacan.com, www.lacan.com/fathername.htm as presented on 30 June, 2013

[2] Evans, Dylan. “An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1996.

[3] Zizek, Slavoj. “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce” London: Verso, 2009.

[4] Levinson, Brett. “In Theory, Politics does not Exist”

[5] Zizek, Slavoj. The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. P.77 London: Verso, 2012.

[6] Ibid., P.84

[7] ibid., P.77

[8] Svolos, Thomas. “Ordinary Psychosis in the era of Sinthome and semblant” The Symptom 10, http://www.lacan.com/thesymptom/?p=81 as presented on 30 June, 2013

Lacan Society Hong Kong New website


Lacan Society Hong Kong has already moved to

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This site will still be a personal blog from Schara.

Universal Truth III


Even when it is not only a matter of ontic experience, but of ontological understanding, the interpretation of being initially orients itself toward the being of innerworldly beings. Here the being of things initially at hand is passed over and beings are first conceived as a context of things (res) objectively present. Being acquires the meaning of reality. Substantiality becomes the basic of characteristic of being…. like other beings, Da-sein is also objectively present as real. (Heidegger, Being and Time I.vi 43)

At the backend of human existence, there is always the haunting spirit of our own desire. Psychoanalysis tells us about desire – originated from primitive lack which is our memory of primitive love toward parental unity.  What is it? The parental unity is what exists before we are (being). The lack is what haunting us since the day we acquire the partial characteristic of being – materiality of being, the body, the sense, the Real. The haunting spirit constitutes our primitive fear; its basic is our drive to transpass the symbolic borderline and gain access to the unspeakable jouissance to the Real. In the Realm of the Real, there is nothing being “objectively presented” as the lack, desire, love and fear are the polemics posed to itself and have never been answered except we see our own death face to face.  That is the impossibility of being as object, for object is not a priori knowledge and it is an impossible agent.  For an object can never be an object without already being assigned the position of the Subject as a subject. But the argument is who authorizes the Subject as a subject while the position of being as being has to be worked through the background of the lack as the Real.  If at the end of our human existence, we see only lack and emptiness, what is the value of being if put into the framework of a universal truth.

Is philosophy the theoretical framework to access the Universal truth? Or rather is psychoanalysis the framework for the possible Universal truth?

Psychoanalysis has never tried to answer the philosophical question of being. Its knowledge about being is more from its interest in subjectivity as reflected in structure of paternality. There is no psychoanalytic truth without the structure of a family. The truth in psychoanalysis, if there is any, is a form of truth which we can achieve through dialectics between the love and loss in relation to parents.  But is this paternality a form of Universal truth? The love and loss in psychoanalysis create the first cause (desire) which formulates the structure of the Universe. Desire is the unfulfilled want for perfection. Perfection have never been a truth in psychoanalysis although it is what the Subject has been looking after. It is the impossibility in psychoanalysis, the zero degree in the subject’s relationship with the external world. But there is no dimension in psychoanalysis which could cover the position of achieving perfection.

Perfection is only a philosophical realm which at least logically we can have the conceptual capacity to describe it in philosophical understanding. It could be infinity in mathematics or it could be holistic experience in religion. Perfection is ultimate in philosophy but it is impossible in psychoanalysis.

However, philosophical understanding about perfection has never satisfied us as it have not fulfilled the logics of the lack. Desire has never been a philosophical problem, but it has created the neccessary constituent for our knowledge about perfection. Perfection comes out of desire, but desire has never been well explaint or simply it has denied its own validity.