28 de febrero de 2015

Towards the NLS Congress "Moments of Crisis", Geneva May 2015. Crisis and the Fraudulent Theft of Jouissance*, by Miquel Bassols

“It’s not a crisis, it’s a fraud”. This phrase was one of the slogans coined by the 15-M movement in Spain when, on the 15th May 2011, crowds took to the streets of different cities echoing the growing discontent produced by the new policies of cuts and the elimination of social rights. The slogan was successful and has increasingly been accepted as an individual interpretation of what was imposed as a discontent in the social order as a product of the so-called crisis of the financial system. The slogan was in fact the index of a new subject of the collective; a subject that emerges from a reformulation of the symbolic coordinates that attempt to order the discontent of the contemporary symptom; a subject that today translates into the terms of crime, fraud and deception that which in other moments and from another place was diagnosed as a moment of transformation, of change, a change supposedly inherent to the processes of social reorganisation – and even argued as necessary from the perspective of political cynicism.

It is worth stressing what the interpretation of this slogan supposes as a change of discourse in order to respond to the inequality in the social distribution of goods and resources. We are no longer dealing with a moment of crisis of the system, but instead with its own perpetuation supported by the figure of an Other of jouissance that is finally revealed, in its most radical and traumatic dimension, as the imposition of a social order based on fraud and deception, on the systematic plundering of the goods of the many by the few. The ruling symbolic system, far from proposing “crisis management”, is revealed, then, as a system that feeds itself on its own crisis, leaving veiled behind a smokescreen the figure of an Other jouissance. It is a jouissance of goods and resources that, the more they are supposed in the Other, the more they are coveted, and that equally are less pronounceable by the discourse that imposes them as necessary for all, like a dream from which it would be better not to awake. It is the logic of the capitalist discourse as Lacan, in his moment,[1] was capable of formulating it when he spoke of the so-called “crisis” of the capitalist discourse that takes over from the discourse of the master. It is a crisis that is consumed in its own consumption, or also a crisis that is consumed in its own consummation. It is a crisis, finally, that feeds on itself in an asymptotic way, without ever appearing to arrive at the very limit that orders its logic and internal movement.

In the same way, the superego that Freud describes in “Civilisation and its Discontents” feeds on the sacrifices that it imposes on the libidinal satisfaction of the subject, fattening itself on the thinning well-being that the pleasure principle tries to maintain in the psychic apparatus. In this conjuncture, the figure of an Other jouissance – always Other, always a bit more – that the superego gladly imposes – and always, precisely, in the name of a Good – becomes ever more consistent the more it is supposed. It is this imperative of jouissance of the superego that is hidden beneath the best intentions – wolves in sheep’s clothing – enunciated in the name of the creation of wealth and social welfare.

Lacan’s logical analysis indicates that what is at stake in the structure of the four discourses is a simple but decisive mutation, a permutation of the terms of the subject ($) and the master signifier (S1) in the places that they occupy in the discourse of the master. In the very place where in the discourse of the master there is situated the agent-signifier that commands significations and orders jouissance, in the capitalist discourse there is situated the crisis of the subject divided by the imperative of that libidinal jouissance that inhabits it. To make this subject and its permanent discontent the agent and driving force of the discourse itself, the key that unlocks the machinery of production of a “surplus-jouissance” that comes to occupy the place of the famous “surplus-value”, and with all of this leaving veiled the signifier that orders this jouissance, is perhaps the subtlest invention of capitalism in its contemporary forms. Put in another way, it is to make of the crisis of the subject the fuel of the very machinery that determines it in its relationship with jouissance. And put still differently, it means: consume yourself…in order to consummate the crisis of consumption.

Clinical verification. Beneath the crisis, the superego – with its impossible to fulfil imperative of jouissance – lies hidden. To want to cure the crisis – of anxiety, of panic, of mourning, of dissatisfaction, but also the one that is eating up the current social order – can at times be the best way to feed this imperative and its devastating effects, especially if there is no prior analysis of the signifier that orders – in every sense of the word “order” – this jouissance imposed in the name of the Good. The psychoanalytic clinic, as Jacques-Alain Miller indicated some time ago, is in the first place a clinic of the superego and its paradoxes.[2]

Political verification. It is better not to confuse the distributive justice of goods and recourses – as defensible as that which is founded on human rights – with the distributive justice of jouissance, including that of the jouissance of these very same goods and recourses. The latter, inhuman and of an always dubious ancestry for Lacan, runs up against a real that is impossible to “manage” in a collective way when we are dealing with the individual economy of libidinal jouissance. In reality, to order the public thing will never tell us what the private jouissance of this thing consists of, or what it orders. And sometimes it is necessary to stretch out on the privacy of a couch in order to decipher what remains publically unsayable about this Thing that Freud called das Ding, the unsayable object of jouissance. On this point, crisis is always assured. 

Epistemic verification. Every symbolic system includes amongst its principles the logical impossibility of giving an account of the new real that it itself engenders; if it has not already been founded in it. The critical moments that are produced in every system are privileged moments for the giving of an account of this real. This theorem, which supposed in the history of science its own critical moment (cf. Kurt Gödel), possesses in the psychoanalysis of Lacanian orientation its logical transcription: S(/A), the signifier of the lack in the Other; and its concept, the real unconscious. 

Let us dwell a little more, then, on this current displacement of the discontent of the symptom and its discourse, which runs from the structural crisis towards the fraudulent theft of a jouissance that would be on its reverse side. It tries to give an account of a new real in which are founded both crisis and fraud. In fact, the slogan “it’s not a crisis, it’s a fraud” also wants to say that every crisis is something of a fraud, involves the loss of a jouissance that has been purloined in the sleight of hand of the machinery of discourse in the production of its “surplus-jouissance”. This is fraud, then, but the fraud of a jouissance that cannot be made equivalent or reduced to the goods that were supposed to be distributed. Every subject can have the experience of this difference, sometimes in an especially traumatic way, when it realises that the jouissance of the object was not in the object itself; perhaps it was only in the acquisition of the object, sometimes in its very loss, and almost always as a jouissance first of all supposed in the Other.

It is an experience of truth that only psychoanalysis has carried to its condition as an ethical experience. And it has decisive consequences for the status of truth itself.

Every crisis in a symbolic system of signifiers, of semblants, is thus, in the first place, a crisis of the truth that was supported by them. From this perspective, as Jacques-Alain Miller has shown by citing Gilles Deleuze,[3] time will always throw into crisis the truth of any system because the truth is a tributary of its internal temporality, relative to the flow of its significations. There are no eternal truths, as is often stated; but this is because – according to the saying of Baltasar Gracián, for whom the term “crisis” obtained its real measure with El Criticón – “truth always arrives last and late, limping with time”, always on the wrong foot and marking a moment of crisis of the system of signifiers that will require its new organisation. It is at this point that truth shows its kinship with jouissance, a kinship of fraternity that Lacan had pointed out very well in his Seminar XVII.[4] Truth is there the sister of jouissance. Every crisis of truth is, then, on its reverse side the irruption of a jouissance, of a libidinal satisfaction that the system of discourse could not foresee or represent, a jouissance that always appears marked by a loss, or even as a lost jouissance. This is why in the subjective experience that we apprehend in what is most particular in each analysis, the moments of crisis always involve, in one way or another, a loss of the libidinal value that some objects had for the subject, and a return of this libidinal value in another satisfaction that will not always fit nicely with pleasure. This can certainly be experienced as a fraud as soon as this loss is attributed to the Other that is in charge of the general accounting of distributive justice. The current relevance of the crisis shows us, however, that these moments can also be experienced as privileged moments of choice, or even of opportunity. This is what we are led to believe, since John F. Kennedy put it into circulation, by that false truth that gives this meaning of “opportunity” to the Chinese term “crisis”.

One way or another, moments of crisis are always moments of the loss of a jouissance that returns under the different forms of the symptom. They imply, each time, the irruption of a real that requires a response from the speaking being. It is the response that the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan first designated with the term “subject”, in order to indicate the place of responsibility concerning this jouissance that it is impossible for the Other to count; for this Other… if it existed. It is in this response, singular each time, that the word “crisis” recovers its genuine meaning, that which etymology also gives it when it translates it as an “I decide, I separate, I judge”.

Translated by Howard Rouse


[1] Especially in his intervention in Milan on the 12th of May, 1972, collected in Lacan in Italia 1953-1978, La Salamandra, 1978, pp. 32-55.
[2] Jacques-Alain Miller, “Clínica del superyó”, in Recorrido de Lacan, Caracas, 1984.
[3] Also cited by Gil Caroz in his text presenting the Congress of the NLS, “Moments of Crisis”: http://www.amp-nls.org/page/gb/170/the-congress
See Jacques-Alain Miller, “Introduction à l’érotique du temps”. La Cause freudienne, no. 56, Navarín éditeur, Paris, 2004, p. 69.
[4] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, trans. Russell Grigg, New York: Norton, 2006.

 * Preparatory text for the Congress of the NLS, Geneva, 9th and 10th of May, 2015, on the theme “Moments of Crisis”.