September 5th 2012 Howard Jacobson, speaking in Dun Laoghaire yesterday about his new book Zoo Time, made it clear that what he hates most are people who respond to his writing by saying: yes, I liked the book, but I did not like the main character. I couldn't relate to her! Why he asks, should one want to like a character, or relate to, connect to, identify with a character? Why not be offended b a character? Should we like Lear or the Macbeths? This is how therapy culture has crept into to people's perception and reception of the world: The refusal to engage with otherness.
August 30th 2012 As we are tired of repeating, the break with the Symbolic is now commonplace. Consider the “criminal duties” of Martin Amis’s, Lional Asbo. Lionel, who has changed his name to identify himself with England’s notorious Anti-Social Behaviour Order - he wants to be antisocial – law, criminality and prison make up his ‘vocational trinity’. Lional with Joe and Jeff his psychopathic pitbulls: he is a man who has made stupidity into an art form; he is a kind of anti-dad, the counterfather, a man with a genius for disseminating tension. He does not give ground to his criminal desire! Although he wins £140m in the lottery while in prison and upon release hires a public relations firm and begins dating an attention craving topless model and “poet”, Lionel’s true nature and desire remain uncompromised. ‘Each thing is hostile / To every other thing: at every point / Hot fought cold, moist dry, soft hard, and the weightless resisted weight’. Dead while alive awaiting the second death? Perhaps.
August 27th 2012 Freud spoke of the malaise caused by civilisation, while Hanaghan spoke of the malaise that destroys civilisation. Without what he called “vision”, barbarism would eventually ensue.
August 25th 2012 The question of the sovereign good cannot be avoided. However, as regards psychoanalytic practice per se it is left to one side. No one can tell the other what to do. The analyst cannot propose themselves as some imaginary good person. This remains absolutely crucial. Nevertheless, with the good in the background, everything changes; a tension is introduced. And this tension must be there if psychoanalysis is to be anything but fraudulent. Otherwise, it seems that it really doesn’t matter how disruptive my pure unmitigated desire might be – i.e. my desiring for the sake of desiring - who might be hurt, whose life might be damaged by the ethical purity of my desire. My desire alone trumps everything. It might bring the world crashing down, but do not give ground (ne pas céder). Anything less is a betrayal, a self-betrayal, or a betrayal by the other, or by some supposed “good”, a betrayal of your categorical duty. Like Antigone, you have a subversive, anarchic duty to go to the end of without compromise, be it diabolical evil or the highest good.
August 14th 2012 If we stay just with Freud and refuse to invoke the sovereign Good or another ethics that would take us away from the hell of ourselves, then we would have to agree with Lacan when he says that, ‘the first thing that poor, defenceless man can do when he is tortured by need is to begin to hallucinate his satisfaction, and after that he can only monitor the situation’. After the Lacanian revolution, man is reduced more or less to the status of a Camp inmate hallucinating food in the desolate snow of the European winter, thinking that this is true ethics. Forgive those analysts who want to stop well before reaching those limits – the limit.
August 11th 2012 ‘Lend me the part of your body that will give me a moment of satisfaction and, if you care to, use for your own pleasure that part of my body which appeals to you’. Lacan quotes Sade. No longer a whole person, but the break into “partial objects”, recalling so much of today’s cool consensual recreational sex – go do it! Beyond Freud, Lacan explores the abyss to the nth degree, in the name of his anti-ethical ethics – should you care to use for your own pleasure. The contemporary signifiers are there – “caring”, “using” and “pleasuring”.
August 9th 2012 Kurt Anderson, in a piece in the New York Times (July 3rd), is worth quoting at length: This spring I was on a panel at the Woodstock Writers Festival. An audience member asked a question: why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts — women’s rights, gay rights, black president, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time? There was a long pause. People shrugged and sighed. I had an epiphany, which I offered, bumming out everybody in the room. What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for business people and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won. Consider America during the two decades after World War II. Stereotypically but also in fact, the conformist pressures of bourgeois social norms were powerful. To dress or speak or live life in unorthodox, extravagantly individualist ways required real gumption. Yet just as beatniks were rare and freakish, so were proudly money-mad millionaires. My conservative Republican father thought marginal income tax rates of 91 percent were unfairly high, but he and his friends never dreamed of suggesting they be reduced below, say, 50 percent. Sex outside marriage was shameful, beards and divorce were outré — but so were boasting of one’s wealth and blaming unfortunates for their hard luck. When I was growing up in Omaha, rich people who could afford to build palatial houses did not and wouldn’t dream of paying themselves 200 or 400 times what they paid their employees. Greed as well as homosexuality was a love that dared not speak its name. But then came the late 1960s, and over the next two decades American individualism was fully unleashed. A kind of tacit grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment, between the forever-young and the moneyed. “Do your own thing” is not so different than “every man for himself”. If it feels good, do it, whether that means smoking weed and watching porn and never wearing a necktie, retiring at 50 with a six-figure public pension and refusing modest gun regulation, or moving your factories overseas and letting commercial banks become financial speculators. The self-absorbed “Me” Decade, having expanded during the ’80s and ’90s from personal life to encompass the political economy, will soon be the “Me” Half-Century.
August 5th 2012 Does the circuit get inevitably tighter, smaller and smaller, closer and closer to das Ding? What is to stop this happening, save some centrifugal force, an ethical force no less? What is this lacanian thing which on the one hand protects jouissance and on the other agrees with Freud that jouissance is malignant, yet kicks away all the supports that might contain it?
August 4nd 2012 Rather churlishly perhaps, considering the amazing spectacle of the opening of the London Olympics, Peter Hitchens states that, ‘Enthusiasm is compulsory only in totalitarian dictatorships. Anywhere else, we are free to be keen if we want to, and bored if we want to’. He is right. One should feel a little uneasy about mass emotions fanned by the media. Recall the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last year, and the excess of compulsory mourning that followed.
July 29th 2012 January 19th 2012 the Troika held a press conference to conclude its latest review of the Irish economy and it compliance with the bail-out conditions set by the Troika. Troika official: I’m impressed by the depth of the discussion in Ireland and the understanding of complex, economic financial-sector issues. But also when I come from the airport with the taxi driver they are often very very informed I must say, very very informed. Journalist: did your taxi driver tell you how the Irish people are bewildered that we are required to pay unguaranteed bondholders billions of euros for debts that the Irish people have no relation to or no bearing with, primarily to bail out or to ensure the solvency of European banks? Troika official: I can understand that this is a difficult decision to be made by the government and there’s no doubt about it but there are different aspects of the problem to be, to be balanced against each other and I can understand that the government came to, came to the view that, all in all, the costs for the, for Irish people, for the, for the stability of the banking system, for the confidence in the banking system of taking a certain action in this respect which you are mentioning could likely have been much bigger than the benefits for the taxpayer which of course would have been there. So the financial sector would have been affected; the confidence of the financial sector would have been negatively affected, and I can understand that there were, that there was a difficult decision but that the decision was taken in this direction. Browne: No you haven’t addressed the question because you referred to the viability of the Irish financial institutions. This financial institution I’m talking about is defunct. It’s over. It’s finished. Now, why are the Irish people required, under threat from the ECB, why are the Irish people required to pay billions to unguaranteed bondholders under threat from the ECB? Now, could you explain why the Irish people are inflicted with this burden? Troika official: Well, I think I have addressed the question. Journalist: You’ve nothing to say. There’s no answer, is that right? Is that it? No answer? Troika official: I have given an answer. Journalist: You have given an answer that didn’t address the question. Chair: That’s your view. These last three words, That’s your view, illustrate the neutralising, tranquilising, marginalising effects of moral relativism. A fact, an objective truth, is turned into a view or a mere opinion of one person. The Irish people are treated grossly unfairly - That’s your view. The Irish people are forced to socialize the debts of gamblers in the Market - That’s your view. The Irish people are afflicted with this burden - That’s your view. The Irish people have a right to be outraged by this forced austerity - That’s your view. This could go on for years - That’s your view. The European leadership has let us down - That’s your view.
July 26th 2012 We need go no further than Socrates when considering the role of psychoanalysis. ‘I say again that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living’. (Plato. Apology, p37).
July 23rd 2012 The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made it clear that it will not honour the memory of the eleven Israeli athletes murdered by the PLO forty years ago at the Munich Olympics. In response to the request they wrote, ‘What happened in Munich in 1972 strengthened the determination of the Olympic Movement to contribute more than ever to building a peaceful and better world by educating young people through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit’. What this teaches young people is ‘without discrimination’ equals in-discrimination and abject cowering before terrorism.
July 18th 2012 Irish journalist, John Waters, described by some as a Catholic militant, writes about men, and specifically sons, ‘never allowed to come away from their mothers. They stand at the threshold of manhood but cannot enter...with their fathers cast into silence’ (italics added). By whom? Women? Maybe. But why do the fathers allow this marginalisation to happen? Young men, Waters continues, ‘lurch uncontrollably from, for example, a learned piety to intense rage...keeping the numbness at bay’. He goes on to quote Émile Durkheim and the condition of “anomie” – the absence of the normative regulation of societal relationships which leads to increased feelings of despair, isolation and meaninglessness. Durkheim believed this collective loss is the key to male suicides. Whereas, our modern individualist and materialist notions of suicide, thought to be associated with the breakdown of a key relationship, job loss and financial worries, conveniently ignore the larger collective responsibility. What should depress us also is that it takes a committed journalist, not an analyst, not a psychologist or a sociologist to point up these key themes.
July 15th 2012 ‘The rights of gay people can be secured without redefining marriage. Asking us to pretend that motherhood and fatherhood have no special value is an inherently unreasonable demand’. This was David Quinn of the Catholic Iona Institute, last week. It is quite amazing that it takes a Catholic journalist, more or less alone in Ireland, to make this very basic point. Where are the psychoanalysts, the clinical psychologists, the neuro-psychologists, sociologists, criminologists and so on, who have researched and studied the effects of “maternal deprivation”, not to mention life without a father? Where are the feminists who should have something to say about the specifics of motherhood and the feminine per se as opposed to mere “parenthood”?
July 12th 2012 John Millbank (Religious Orthodoxy movement), on The Moral Maze week, is asked whether or not corrupt bankers are just symptomatic of a wider malaise? Millbank replies: There is a vicious circle. The way we run the economy is responsible for a decline in our morality. The model of the “hidden hand” has been vastly over played. The notion that, if we all pursue our selfish interests it will all work out harmoniously. This is clearly not the case, because it means that we lack any sense of the common good, if the only thing we hold in common is money, an abstract principle, which reinforces the centrality of money, indeed finance capital, which is the supreme example of just that individualism. But are there not many cases of altruism to set against your argument? Yes there are, although such altruism may be “guilt money”. What we lack is reciprocity and teleology, a sense, as I say, of the common good. Altruism incidentally is a 19th century word not a Christian one. We need a much greater sense of mutualism, a sharing of risk and benefits, to recover the sense that banking has a social purpose. We have privatised morality. We have stopped thinking of morality as something that permeates your whole life. Kantian and Utilitarian moralities only happen sometimes. We need to get back to the classics. It is a question of how we shape our human flourishing. Since the fifties, there has been a decline in deference and that is good, but there has been an increase in inequality and that’s bad – people do not connect these two things. We used to defer to symbolic authority and the common good, justice for instance. Now, we have the false deference towards money, power and celebrity. The Christian faith, also the Islamic faith has a very good account as to how these things should be socially organised. And they do not expect that if you have a false set of structures and practices that everything will be fine if you just have some very good individuals. Part of our problem now is the lack of an honourable elite. We need to think relationally and in terms of practice. In relation to banking, we need to think about what money if for, what is its social purpose. Humans flourish on recognition. However, if we live in a society that values making a whole lot of money, that is what people will strive for. On the other hand, if making money with a social purpose is valued, only those bankers who make money in a socially responsible way will get recognition. If you do not in some sense believe in a transcendent Good and objective Good as a goal for human beings, then you are going to fall back on this individualism and abstraction. What Millbank is saying, in effect, is that the (psychoanalytic) privatisation of enjoyment and the venture capitalist’s pursuit of wealth is one and the same thing.
July 9th 2012 Children are the victims of social breakdown. Netmums and Kids Company are just the cosy sort of names given to children’s charities in Britain to mitigate the terrible reality that in one of the world’s wealthiest economies, ‘a lot of children have parents who are “so chaotic” with significant drug or alcohol abuse problems, that the children are turning up themselves to the centres. They’re literally undernourished, they don't know where their next meal is coming from’, according to Siobhan Freegard, the founder of Netmums. John Vincent, co-founder the Leon chain of restaurants in London, says that 2.2 million children in Britain live in poverty.
July 6th 2012 We should bear in mind the little parable of Kant’s dove, which, feeling the considerable resistance of the wind, imagines it would fly much faster in a vacuum! We, with our radical notions of liberation have gone so far as to remove the resistance of the air itself that enables flight and minimally supports our being. Surely we have gone too far, like the dove in a vacuum. Falling flat. Abject. Breathless.
July 2nd 2012 What never ceases to amaze is how the liberal classes will go out for a night to the theatre and pay good money to hear the crudest language, relentless in its sticcato repetition and intensity, that they would condemn and cross the street to avoid in real life. Such is the case with the salesmen in David Mamet’s 1984 drama, Glengarry Glen Ross. In the line of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, but without any of the tragic narrative, we understand that these salesmen are the product of a new aggressive form of capitalism, where conning, beating, corrupting, screaming is all there is, preparing the way for our great financial crisis a generation later. And this is entertainment providing that those who are watching don’t themselves have to struggle and can regard its depiction as a “masterpiece”, “hypnotic” with its “heroic swearing”.
June 29th 2012 Heidegger accords with our viewpoint. ‘Saying tears nature...This word for truth in antiquity is a primal word precisely on account of its “negativity”...[it] has nothing to do with harmlessness and indifference and proven propositions’. Rather, we should echo H.L. Mencken's line, ‘for every nugget of truth, some wretch lies dead on the scrapheap’. From this persepective, Positive Thinking is part of this killing process, part of a lethal deception, while analysis reveals the truth, which is held in confinement and concealment.
June 26th 2012 December 2016: Ireland is about to have its eighth consecutive austerity budget, brought in now by its most popular party Sinn Fein, who over recent years have decimated the traditional political elites in Ireland. On budget day, they release a secret policy to confiscate money from the deposit accounts of the “middle and rich classes” with immediate effect. The protests from the latter are loud – outrageous theft! Unconstitutional! Communists! But there is overwhelming “public support” for the policy, relayed by RTE and other media outlets – a stroke of genius, one liberal commentator said. This will ease our debt problems at a stroke and remove austerity from the people. Striking a blow for equality, says another.
June 23rd 2012 Psychoanalysis is about taking responsibility for our own enjoyment (Jouissance). But this takes place in a social context for which we are also responsible. I am my brother's keeper (Levinas). This should create an unavoidable tension between psychoanalysis and the other.
June 14th 2012 In patriarchy you did something because your father told you to. It was tough but you took it because you had to or maybe you rebelled and became stronger. There was a small margin of freedom. Now under matriarchy, you have to do it because you want to. You should want the good and enjoy it. Rebellion gives way to abjection.
June 11th 2012 ‘No pathos’, precisely summarises the Millerian-Lacanian psychoanalytic position today. Pure surgery done on the materiality of language of the analysand. Cut and go. No “path-” of any kind: no feeling; no pity; no em-pathy; no compassion, nothing path-etic; no path-ology only responsibility. Just surgery, following Freud’s controversial instruction to the analyst, ‘to put aside all his feelings, even his human sympathy, and concentrate his mental forces on the single aim of performing the operation as skilfully as possible’. He concludes his remarks by reference to the French surgeon, Ambroise Paré, ‘I dressed his wounds, God cured him’ (SE 12:115). This is the best refutation of the therapeutic you could imagine. Analysis not therapy.
June 8th 2012 As Eliot has it: The desert is not remote in the southern tropics, The desert is not only around the corner, The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you, The desert is in the heart of your brother. (The Rock)
June 4th 2012 Children suffer the fall-out, the “emotional shrapnel”, from marriage breakdown and sexual freedom. Rarely is this acknowledged in the media, but today on BBC Radio Four’s Start the Week, Grayson Perry and others were talking about the 18th century as the origin of our modern attitudes to sex, long before the bohemian Bloomsbury group in 1920s and then second wave feminism in the 1960s. Men were often the so-called “liberators” and women were often the victims, worn out by housework and child rearing. Perry wonders what children would say if they were in charge of sexual mores. There were the Foundling Hospitals, where a baby could be left at the door and the door could be turned and if the baby survived long enough someone might look after it. The mortality rate was one in four. Remember Rousseau, his children were sent off to a family hospital. Revolutions tend to be pitched as some sort of moral good, but in fact, ‘they throw a bomb into normal family life’ and it is the children who suffer, which is the hidden side of modern sexual mores. In Ireland, we had the “Monkstown Group” which created its own version of sexual liberation.
June 1st 2012 Damian Thompson. The Fix. How Addiction Is Invading Our Lives and Taking Over Your World. London: Collins. The author says that what worries him is the way addicted behaviour is ‘spreading around society’. ‘Impulsivity’, he said, ‘is becoming the default style of the cognitive elite’. Globally, he claims, ‘there is an acceleration of addictiveness’ (BBC Today programme). ‘The amount of time we spend attached to our devices these days is not just an irritating twenty-first century habit, it is a sign that compulsive behaviours of all kinds are exploding in the modern world’. His thesis suggests that there is a cross-pollination between the social gaming companies of Silicon Valley and the gambling emporia of Las Vegas. Advances made in digital technology are hijacked by the gaming industry. ‘With every passing day, technology finds new ways of distilling pleasure’, producing sharper and smarter hits that create new cravings - for food, shopping, sex, gaming, pornography, phones, gadgets and so on. In particular, the goal is to create the “feel good” substances and actions that cause the brain to overproduce dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and desire. Digital technology has created an unprecedented demand for pornography. There is already plenty of evidence to suggest that men’s growing fascination with rough porn is affecting their relationships. Food, drink, drugs and consumer appliances have all been very strategically modified to make them ever more engaging. As a result, we’ve gotten into the habit of liking things too much. As Baudrillard suggested we are creating a world that is dangerously seductive. Countries such as Brazil are moving from hunger to obesity in less than a generation. Also, places that previously never had much of a problem with alcoholism, such as northern China, are witnessing epic displays of drunkenness among young people. Increasingly, by being able to manipulate brain chemistry to produce intense bursts of short-term pleasure, cravings are sliding dangerously out of control. Thompson suggest that the primary purpose of government in the future will be the management and treatment of its citizens’ addictions. Literally, billions of people are beginning to have more fun and enjoyment than their minds and bodies can handle, thus developing life-sapping addictions. Nothing is new. In the mid-18th century, parts of inner London suffered the world’s first epidemic of alcoholism. The means to distil liquor from grain was developed in industrial quantities. The gin craze was eventually stamped out by legislation banning home distilling. Once cheap gin ceased to be available, addicted drinkers kicked the habit. A century later, in the late 1960s, new techniques for manufacturing heroin coincided with the arrival of troops in the Vietnam. By 1970, 15 per cent of soldiers were addicted to heroin. President Nixon panicked at the thought of thousands of helpless junkies arriving back home after their tours of duty. However, as Thompson points out, the near impossibility of scoring high-grade heroin in Middle America meant that the vast majority of GI heroin users became almost instantly un-addicted. Therefore, Thompson suggests that addiction is not an illness, not an “irreversible” brain disease, but supply-driven behaviour. Kill the supply and the addiction stops. The fundamental shift demonstrated here is the progressive replacement of people by things, the inexorable drift towards narcissism and isolation. Not only do we obsess over the things we buy, but many of our “friendships” are mediated via systems bought with a debit card. And when we meet, it is in an environment so meticulously engineered and styled so as to create an entirely artificial mood.
May 28th 2012 Next month, we will be celebrating the centenary of the birth of Mary Lavin, noted Irish short story writer and novelist. In a recorded interview, she spoke of her freedom as a child, being able to walk anywhere and speak to anyone in her home town of Athenry and later in Dublin, without fear or danger. Now this would be impossible; surely a measure of how much less civilised we have become.
May 23rd 2012 Heraclitus said, ‘One can never walk through the same river twice’. But his student added, ‘One cannot do it even once’. Now, the postmodern student might even doubt whether or not the river exists at all.
May 21st 2012 With the totalising ideology of the perfectibility of human nature now so widely promulgated under the sign of the feminine and ancient wisdom, you really want to do the right and good thing. You want to do the right thing for yourself, for the environment, for the world. What you want to do and what you should do coincide. There is no room for any negativity. It is a smooth unstriated space, where everything should come to rest at last.
May 17th 2012 Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau) has echoes of Être et Avoir (Nicolas Philibert), as a educational story about an inspirational teacher which deepens into a study of how grief is expressed in a community, in spite of the wish to ‘draw a line’. In Montreal, an elementary school teacher has committed suicide by hanging herself in her classroom. Having learned of the incident in the newspaper, Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), an Algerian immigrant, offers his services as a substitute teacher. He is hired rapidly to replace the deceased, and finds himself in a crisis, while going through his own personal tragedy. The story makes its own critique of so-called child protection measures, the use of expert psychologists and the general treatment of children ‘as if they were radioactive’, as one other male teacher complains.
May 14th 2012 Breathing (Karl Markovics). Kogler, an Austrian teenager (Thomas Schubert), prepares for release from juvenile detention by applying for a job in a mortuary while waiting for his parole hearing. He grew up in an orphanage and is now a convicted criminal, imprisoned in a bleak detention centre. He is pursuing parole applications, which depend very much on his being able to hold down a job. After a freak-out on a previous welding job, he must now succeed. He is signed out each day to take the train to his work before dawn and returns in the evening having to undergo a full body inspection. He has to handle corpses, rolling them into and off gurnies, with his workmates. By contrast to the unremitting greyness of the movie, we are shown the tender ministrations by the team who have to dress the body of a naked old woman in her bedroom, while her traumatised daughter-in-law waits outside. The chance discovery of a clue to the identity of Kogler’s mother eventually result in a meeting in which she tells him that giving him up was the best decision of her life.
May 11th 2012 ‘My real concern is for child welfare’. We hear this spin from every politician. Our current “concern” with child-abuse and child sexual abuse has come several decades too late. It was common anecdotal knowledge during the ‘60s and ‘70s that some clerics and brothers were uncontrollably physically abusing children in schools, often with the encouragement of parents – How many slaps did you get today? – the implication being that you should have got more. The children were then, and are still, referred to as “bold”, indicating that if they show any courage at all, they deserve punishment. Apparently, we wanted and still want a cowed populace. Back then, it seemed that very few were concerned, except for some brave parents who went to the schools and confronted and threatened the offending priests or brothers head-on. And now, consider the blind-eye that we turn to the suffering of children, by one or both parents, in marriage and relationship breakdown. These children have no voice. Instead, they are expected to “adapt” and “adjust”, even maybe to “enjoy” the changed circumstances of their lives with their parent’s new “partner”, even though their faith and trust in life has been shaken to the core in virtually every case.
May 8th 2012 Living alone is the new norm. No 1 on the list of “10 ideas that are changing your life”, published recently in Time. Today, more than 50 percent of American adults are single, and 31 million, roughly one out of every seven adults, lives alone. In 1950, 4 million Americans lived alone, 9% of all households. Back the, this was often a temporary life stage for migrant workers in sprawling Western states, before marriage. Now, 33 million Americans, more than a quarter of all households live alone, the majority being middle-aged women, but the fastest growing segment of what are joyously called “singletons” are the young adults. Constrained to be absolutely positive about this demographic shift and talk down fears of social crisis as a direct result of liberal reforms, we are told, ‘living alone helps us pursue sacred modern values – individual freedom, personal control and self-realisation’. You can hear the language of therapy culture and its sacred values. ‘There’s nothing lonelier than living with the wrong person. Living alone allows us to do what we want, when we want, on our own terms...liberates us from the constraints of a domestic partner’s needs...permits us to focus on ourselves’. (see. Klinenberg, E. 2012. Going Solo: the Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Penguin Press).
May 4th 2012 3.8 million children are now caught up in the so-called family justice system in Britain, with as many as 320,000 new children each year being sucked in. One family court judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, has likened his profession to that of ‘cynical arms dealers making a living from weapons of family destruction’. This family injustice system, with no-fault divorce, destroys the basic security of these children’s lives, in the name of adult freedom of choice, part of the greater psycho-spiritual debt overhang (April 23rd).
May 1st 2012 For anyone who doubts the perverse superego commandment to enjoy (active verb). The Atheist campaign on London buses in 2009 (supported by Richard Dawkins): 'There probably is no God, so stop worrying and enjoy life'. A holiday ad: ‘Each day the sun rises and the sun sets; in between it’s all up for grabs’. The ice-cream ad: ‘Pleasure hunt 2. Run in New York. Fly in Paris. Surf in Rio. Pleasure hunt across the globe. The New Magnum Infinity for pleasure seekers. The commandment to enjoy is the severest of them all, as there is no end.
April 27th 2012 Causing offence is much easier these days as people confine themselves to their chosen segmented view of culture. The very broad segment designated as the liberal-Left, which is neither liberal nor Left in the true former sense, is very easily offended. To stay within your defined segment means that you no longer have to think; everything is assumed and has been settled by expert authority and opinion, in advance. Of course, you will be anti-American, pro-choice, pro all Rights issues without question, generally anti-war, but pro-Palestinian and even the wider Muslim asymmetric "warfare" against the West, which is entirely understandable. You will only read broad-sheet newspapers. You will be anti-Israel believing that the State is illegal and should be disbanded, even though 50% of the world’s Jews now live there, and some of those who want to get rid of it are violently anti-Semitic and approve of the killing of Jews. But you will not march against or boycott any other Middle-Eastern countries. You would not march against Syrian repression, for instance, even the rape of women there. Not a single march. You will be atheistic and anti-Christian automatically because you regard religion as out-dated, but will have nothing disapproving to say about Islam. You might even claim a weak belief in God and spirituality in general. You will be pro-feminist, but will not support women in Muslim countries who must modernise ‘in their own way if that is their choice’. You might have glanced over a headline that indicated that 100,000 children will be genitally mutilated this year in Britain. But you will blame the police for doing too little (because you know they are racist), or you will blame them for intervening too much and “insensitively” because you know they are racist. You will finally be done with party politics as each party generally supports the liberal Left view. Your view just makes sense! Any question about it is likely to cause you great offense and is therefore regarded as bigoted in advance. The index of offence is measured by volume of outcry, a measure of how “inappropriate” the criticism was deemed to automatically be. You will use words like “appropriate” and “inappropriate” when you really mean “right” and “wrong” or even “evil”, because you cannot use those old-fashioned words because they are too judgemental and will cause offense. In the same way, you can hear only one type of language that is termed “politically correct” because you believe quite rightly that language shapes people’s actions and thinking. However, you will allow yourself and your thinking – yes even your private thinking - to be censored twice, by the State and then by yourself. Even in private you cannot say a negative thing. You will believe strongly in Equality, because you more than likely belong to an elite even though you do not believe in elites or any elitism. You will despise mention of the Market, because it signifies competition and inevitable inequality, yet you have little to say about the Market in sexuality and the “triple-A” ratings for male and female bodies and contraceptives for young girls and the “morning-after” pill. In fact, the very mention of abortion causes you offence, because it sounds like you might be about to question it. And so it goes on. You are right and it is all settled. Any mention of anything too negative, unless it’s about America, Israel and so on, and you will turn away.
April 23rd 2012 Two world wars devastated the male populations of Europe. The cultural psyche was reset in the 50s by conservative retrenchment, before the cultural revolution of the later 60s which brought the new Left into prominence culminating in the events of May 68. This revolution was a cultural revolution bringing freedom in life-style choice; the freedom to live how you liked without shame. It paralleled the Maoist cultural revolution in China. By the 80s, the Thatcher-Regan link brought the new Right into prominence and a second cultural revolution that freed up the Market, creating neo-liberal economics; the freedom this time to make money without shame. In parallel with the new Right, 1979 saw the rise of Islamic fundamentalism with the Iranian Revolution. With the end of Communism as a system in 1989 that same year there was the Rushdie book burning. These Islamist events will be important for 21st Century. The European debt crisis of the last 5 years is the legacy of these two cultural revolutions of the new Left and new Right. Unfettered borrowing has led to the massive financial debt overhangs of many Western countries and we are collectively still in denial, while suffering austerity. Not spoken about is the massive psycho-spiritual debt overhang which has paralleled its financial counterpart, with which it is inextricably linked, leading to a massive social crisis. The fall-out from both the debt crises has seen the growth in social inequality, which has and will have the greatest impact on the young and the poor. While the middle classes and the professional elites have been able to largely profit from both these revolutions and the freedoms they have brought, buying their way out of trouble, including being able to finance their children’s education, the less well off young and the poor are exposed to two kinds of poverty – financial and the psycho-spiritual poverty of violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, family breakdown, unwanted pregnancy and so on.
April 20th 2012 The first sperm banks were opened in the 1960s marking the beginning of the virtual sexual revolution coinciding with the development of the contraceptive pill. Sexual pleasure can be safely divorced from reproduction. And with sperm and egg banks, reproduction can be safely divorced from sexual pleasure. A double separation, a double disconnection, a double loss of the Real.
April 17th 2012 When Lacan said in Seminar 17, ‘There is only one real father which is the spermatozoon’, he had already moved well beyond any substantial concept of the father. Indeed, Lacan had long since departed from Freud’s insistence on the father and his love. Lacan, the strategist, was moving with the times. According to an article in this week’s Time, America is currently the largest exporter of sperm, with up to 80m infertile couples worldwide, and up to 60% of the U.S. market being single parents and lesbians. The market is clearly expanding rapidly and remains relatively uncontrolled. The industry is worth over $100m annually. A donor of the right height and intelligence (those with PhDs favoured most) can make up to $60K over 2 years. One man in Britain has sired more than 1,000 children, although now donors are restricted to 10 children. There is also a boom in “egg banking”. Whatever, the eugenic and bioethical problems involved, anonymity is guaranteed. The psychoanalytic assertion that a child needs a real father has moved towards the Lacanian position where the “real” father is reduced to a haploid gamete of DNA and no one, it appears bar Freud, thinks of the immense loss to the child.
April 14th 2012 Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born religious scholar who is based in Qatar and is considered a spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, has now been banned from visiting France, as well as being banned from Britain in 2008 - for, ‘justify[ing] acts of terrorist violence’. In the late 1990s, Mr Qaradawi established the so-called European Council for Fatwa and Research – a group of scholars that issues religious opinions, or fatwas. A fatwa is a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious law specialist on a specific issue. The council is based at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Clonskeagh and the imam there, Egyptian-born Hussein Halawa, is the council’s secretary. Mr Qaradawi has visited Ireland several times because of his links with the council, and was due to attend a conference of Islamic scholars in Dublin last June before he cancelled due to ill-health.
April 7th 2012 Pascal refers to ‘the order of charity’. It is powerless to change the course of events, even though it makes it possible to understand them. This order of charity is clearly linked to St Paul’s, Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), and, Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40). The order of charity is linked to space for reflection beyond the inexorable mimetic law, creating a critical distance from the latter. Pascal talked about the precise distance you need to be from a painting in order to see it properly. You must be neither too near nor too far from the work. It is the same with the analyst. If you are too close to the analysand, you will empathise too much, you will be too attracted/repulsed and therefore in danger of what René Girard calls “violent reciprocity”. And if you are too far away you are likely to become indifferent to the other. The solution lies in identification: I am the other, I become the other through a non-possessive, non-totalising, non-mimetic openness for-the-other. This critical distance of the right proportion creates the necessary space or clearing in which the other can speak and be heard via identification.
April 5th 2012 Forgetting Freud? Maybe, we should add that Freud and psychoanalysis are themselves scapegoats in the Girardian sense, sacrificial offerings to appease the gods of scientific psychological approaches to the psyche. Much has to be sacrificed in the name of scientific reason – the subject, the Real, the tragic, values, etc. - around which there is ranged the expected but unacknowledged “violent unanimity” characteristic of our contemporary (religious) atheism. The only difference from the primitive scapegoat is that Freud and psychoanalysis having been sacrificed do not then become sacred. They do not have a ritualised afterlife. They just fade from the scene.
April 2nd 2012 So many people are trying to destroy psychoanalysis! Consider Lacan, for instance, and his so-called return to Freud. Firstly, he affirms Freud with the whole question of the radical importance of language in its metaphorical dimension and then with the insistence on the Father. Only to turn later on, as the times themselves were turning, against the Father, toward this culture of enjoyment, which seems to put into question the whole project.
March 29th 2012 Or does Bracha Ettinger’s theory bring about a reconciliation between the separated subject of the Symbolic, on the one hand, and the Real of his “matrixial” connectedness, on the other, which continues on in the unrepressed unconscious? Does this theory merely “fill in” the absolute void of non-Being and lessen the existential dramatic tension between Being and non-Being? It says, after all, there is or there was love: be reconciled! Or, maybe we should brace ourselves for the radical possibility that this maternal intrauterine “intimacy” between say the placenta and the endometrium that went on for nine months, which gave us life, is nothing - nothing but cellular interactions and molecular exchanges that leave no traces, no maternal strings.
March 25th 2012 Bracha Ettinger, who spoke in Dublin this weekend, wants to make a contribution to modernising and actualising psychoanalysis theoretically and clinically in the new century, so that psychoanalysis will not disappear but continue to become the historical adventure from the 20th century in the areas having to do with the feminine, motherhood, maternal subjectivity, queer subjectivity, trans-subjectivity, connectedness, and so on. The “matrixial” is the symbol Ettinger uses to propose another mode of human subjectivity linked to the archaic traces of intrauterine life in which the maternal and the unknown other coexist. ‘The totally separate subject is a fiction. We are matrixially transconnected in trans-sensitive psychic affective hidden levels in the Real, with those with whom we traversed a pregnant duration’. Claiming to be coming from the late Lacan, the drift towards the feminine continues inexorably. Where does it leave the Father? Where does it leave men? Male suicides are up to four times higher than for women.
March 23rd 2012 Paradoxical power of silence. Silence (like suicide) is complete in itself; it lacks nothing; it is total, whereas speech is partial and broken, hesitant. We can never say all. Silence is the opposite of phallic-visible-communicational power. Silence is totally subversive. Having said that, Žižek adds a twist, referring maybe to the total uninterrupted noise, babbling, twittering of contemporary society. He refers to, ‘the confused murmur of the Real. The first creative act therefore is to create silence – it is not that silence is broken, but that silence itself breaks, interrupts the continuous murmur of the Real, thus opening up a space in which words can be spoken. There is no speech proper without this background [irruption] of silence’. The analogy he uses is that of the vase which encircles a central void (cited in Kenny, p69). Heidegger called it a “clearing”. Similarly, the psychoanalytic session creates a central void in which the “talking cure” can get going. Likewise, one might enter a Church or the sacred space of the Other.
March 20th 2012 George Steiner states that the ur-nature of language is silence. Firstly, the silence that which predates speech itself - the long silence of the universe, the prelapsarian silence. Secondly, the circumambient silence that surrounds and limits all language, and, thirdly the Holocaustal silence, the silence of the Night, or, the post-apocalyptic silence of radical evil. Colum Kenny’s The Power of Silence: Silent Communication in Daily Life. (Karnac 2011) concerns itself mainly with the second category. He looks at silence from every possible angle, with many interesting quotes and all too brief examples from writers, dramatists, philosophers, composers, religious figures, the prophets, and so on. The overall effect is sometimes a little overwhelming and sometimes banal. For instance, ‘Falling silent can be a means of learning about the world around us, or a powerful way of letting someone know how we feel’. There is thus no mention of Dostoyevsky, Kafka, no mention of no poetry after Auschwitz, instead we get this terribly glib point: ‘That they [the victims] took comfort from their scriptures is evident in the fact that, even as they were being gassed, some sang the psalms. A people who had composed the psalms knew very well that God does not respond instantly to our cries for help...’ We are told that, ‘There is nothing neat or final about the psalms, yet they are wonderfully reassuring at some deep human level’. Ultimately, this indicates a lack in the author himself, of “being gripped”, “being seized” (ergriffen) via “attunement” (stimmung) in the strong Heideggerian sense. No personal sense here of silence being the ground of things, of being driven out of everydayness, of an awakening. ‘Silence slips away from description; to talk of it is to lose it’. The author should have taken this advice from one of the writers he cites.
March 17th 2012 Here is Anne Marie Waters’ take on the resurgence of religion and the confusion it brings. ‘Having described how sharia family law in Britain allows men to beat their wives – as the testimony of women who have been through it confirms – the “feminists” weren’t quite sure whether or not they disapproved. I was met with highly accusatory questions such as How can we be multicultural if we don’t allow sharia’? So for close on 100m women worldwide to suffer genital mutilation is their business.
March 14th 2012 But Atheists should be warned that they do not have the cultural field all to themselves if they ever did. Religion is becoming resurgent globally (see for instance, God's Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics. M.D. Toft, D. Philpot, T.S. Shah. W.W. Norton, 2011). If the formula for Atheism is, ‘God is not dead but unconscious’, then this phenomenon is clearly a return of the repressed. Soon we will be turning the formula around, which does not bode well for Human Rights. There are more people today with traditional religious beliefs than ever before. 1979 and the Iranian Revolution is a key moment and the Rushdie book burning ten years later. The dominant secular response was denial then and is still denial.
March 12th 2012 And are not Atheists rather disingenuous when it comes to the non-existence of God? As Lacan observed, ‘The true formula of atheism is not God is dead - even by basing the origin of the function of the father upon his murder, Freud protects the father - the true formula of atheism is God is unconscious’ (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Penguin. 1964, p59). Atheists cannot help relying unconsciously on having God in the background as a safety net, complete with prohibitions, while asserting, as Freud does, their superior scientific rationality. They, the chosen ones, know that God is dead, but God does not know that he is dead. Similarly, we know that the father is dead, but the father doesn’t know it. Likewise, we must add, psychoanalysis is dead, but do the analysts know it?
March 10th 2012 Lloyd Newson, director of DV8 physical theatre, who’s new work, Can We Talk About This? is based on real voices and interviews, with leading figures from across the religious, political, cultural and social spectrum. It focuses on questions of freedom of speech in a multicultural society. In one clip, his dinner party guests (he says they are typically liberal-left) are asked to guess the results of a random survey of British Muslims who were asked whether or not they approved of homosexuality. One hundred percent of the Muslim respondents replied in the negative. However, none of his dinner friends wanted to discuss this (maybe) surprising result, preferring instead to continue their criticism of the Pope and the Catholic Church’s objections to gay marriage, and so on.
March 6th 2012 It is nearly twenty years since Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen made this observation in a discussion with Todd Dufresne: ‘People who had come to Lacan because of his critique of the “subject-supposed-to-know” would turn into the most rigid, dogmatic, intolerant disciples; left radicals who had been attracted by Lacan’s subversive aspects would become ultra-conformist bureaucrats of the Lacanian school; free spirits would start reading the Écrits as if it was the Bible’ (cited in Tales from the Freudian Crypt. Todd Defresne. 2000. Stanford University Press, pp11-12).
March 3rd 2012 Why did Freud need Moses? Freud made Moses the substance of his final message. For our purposes, this is a most interesting question that complexifies Freud and his oeuvre beyond the radicals, the progressives and the later Lacan. With this final message, Freud is implicitly aligning and reorienting psychoanalysis towards Judeo-Christian civilisation, just in time as it were, just as that same civilisation was imploding for the second time.
February 29th 2012 ‘Beware Israel’, says Jenny Tonge (British Lib-Dem), ‘Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America's aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough’. She added. ‘Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown’. Lady Tonge was sacked as the Lib Dem children's spokeswoman in the Commons in 2004 when she suggested she could consider becoming a suicide bomber. The softening up process for the elimination of Israel is proceeding. Many ordinary middle class people in Ireland agree with her remarks.
February 26th 2012 A former medical director of Britain’s largest abortion provider said it was well known that women were terminating pregnancies because of the gender of the child and that he had been asked by women to arrange the procedure for this reason. Dr Vincent Argent said there were ‘an awful lot of covert abortions for sex selection going on’ where women would have a scan or blood test to find out the sex, then ask for a termination without telling the doctor the real reason. Alva Smith (Irish Feminist Forum) when asked if the foetus has any rights at all in the debate over abortion, while acknowledging that this was a difficult area, reiterated that ‘we are not vehicles and containers’ and that what such questions really come down to are covert attempts to gain power over women and women’s bodies.
February 23rd 2012 It now emerges, via Germany’s minister for European Affairs that European Union negotiators sought to design the euro zone fiscal compact in such a way to avoid a referendum in Ireland. This must be the way that democratic accountability can vanish at the behest of an economic emergency. If you do not vote for this compact, there will be no fiscal union, no euro bonds to save the ailing economies, the euro will collapse and your economy with it. This is how fascism becomes explicit.
February 20th 2012 The cold logical outcome, that we have reached in recent years with the European debt crisis, of the type of spiritualised hedonistic unfettered lifestyle that has been in play for the last four decades (where every transgression is advocated, every border is to be crossed, no pleasure to be sacrificed), is excessive wealth of a small minority on the one hand and paedophilia (the extreme end of sexual freedom) on the other. These are entirely predictable outcomes for the super-ego command to enjoy: enjoy at all costs. And in the resulting social Darwinian struggle, sanctioned by progressives both on the Right and the Left, we should not be surprised that the rich – the bankers, the developers, etc. – want to ring-fence their excessive gains, creating widespread structural impoverishment and the demand that the poor bail-out the rich, and similarly that the paedophiles and any other perverts will go underground and pursue their enjoyments in even greater secrecy.
February 18th 2012 It is surely quite bizarre that there are no large scale anti-war marches in the big cities of Europe and beyond as there were a decade ago in the lead up to the Iraq war. There are no marches in support of the Greek poor and the demonization of a whole country. The battle lines are clear for all to see: the socialisation of the debt created by a financial elite, which hits the poorest section of the communities across the EU, while the very rich largely escape. What is as depressing is the democratic deficit: there is not one politician who can morally support such a situation whereby the poor bail-out the rich, yet every politician seems to acquiesce. Where are the youth who are worst hit by unemployment and rising educational costs? Why are they not coming out in force as previous generations would have done and are still doing across the Middle East?
February 12th 2012 This is like a new form of castration. Instead of a rupture that opens onto a void, a nothing, a lack, á la Lacan et al, we now have an equally profound rupture, one that opens onto an equally impossible scenario: not a void, but an excess, an irruption of multiple singularities without any reserve or differentiation that flows out in all directions, rhizomicly, fractally. An excess that does much more than divides the subject, but blows the subject away altogether. A divided subject still has some responsibility for his actions. Desiring machines like any machines have no capacity for responsibility. As Baudrillard would claim, the human “subject” has become fully machinic, moving from the old radical illusion of our tragic humanity all the way to the total realisation of our mechanism, from the genetic to the digital code and beyond. This is where Lacanian psychoanalysis has come to and it is very dangerous.
February 7th 2012 To speak of a “Psychoanalytical film festival”, as we did this last weekend in Dublin, is something of a contradiction in terms. To run a film up against a discourse - psychoanalytic theory, gender theory, feminist, film, etc., is to run a structuralist grid over the film, that slices it up, segments it, differentiates, compares, contrasts, hierarchises, and generally divides and conquers what after all is a singularity, no less. A singularity, on the other hand, is perfection itself, incomparable, unclassifiable, inexchangeable, with no past, no future and above all, no negation. A film has no point to make. Anything else is reductionist – a “gay film”, a “lesbian film”, and so on with all those ideological overtones, as the film moves from radical illusion to its own banal forced realisation to mean or to illustrate something. And you miss all the music while concentrating too much on the notes themselves. Of course, it becomes more complex than this because films themselves inevitably reflect and play to the various discourses in which they are situated thereby losing their inexchangeable status, becoming more or less simulations and clichés themselves with ideological intent. Then, they have lost their nomadic quality too and their uncommon intensity. But if you start from ideology, you will see nothing bar what the theory tells you to see and you will quite literally, to quote Terry Eagleton, eff the ineffable. And the real film itself (work of art) will continue its life in concealment.
February 5th 2012 It is quite impossible to talk about psychoanalysis in the modern media. Viggo Mortensen, who is playing Freud in A Dangerous Method, is talking to John Murray, our daily morning chat show host on Irish Radio. Mortensen does however describe psychoanalysis honestly and not just in its consoling soft version. He comments that Freud warned, ‘when everyone thought we had tamed the beast, Freud says we will always have destructive impulses, we’ll always be irreparably flawed in some way, each and every one of us, and we need to look that in the face, understand it and find a way to live with it. And he was right’. But with Murray, we cannot but slip into music hall farce psychoanalysis. Do you ever dream, what’s your favourite dream? Tell us your dreams. Unfortunately, Mortensen succumbs to the temptation to disclose a dream. Then Murray predictably asks the listeners to text in their interpretations – any ideas what his dream means! Then, our quite famous newscaster comes on, who is also a psychoanalyst, and gives an interpretation which is really very sophisticated in terms of symbolism interpreted from Greek and Irish mythology, Shakespeare, rounding it off with an Oedipal twist. Should we cringe or should we be pleased that psychoanalysis has its moment in the jaded media universe of the chat show? Have we forgotten Heidegger’s notion that it is the mark of a significant truth to stay hidden?
February 1st 2012 It is a solar flare which creates the spectacular Aurora Borealis. First comes electromagnetic radiation, followed by radiation in the form of protons travelling from the sun towards the earth at 150mkph. Then, finally, the coronal mass ejection – that’s the plasma from the sun itself. Usually that travels at about 2 or 3mkph, but this time it was nearer 5 or 6mkph. The atmosphere shields us from the worst mutagenic effects. Wilfred Bion understood the atmosphere’s benign effect as being analogous to the mother in relation to her child. The mother protects the child (or not) from too much Real(ity), by deploying her detoxifying alpha-function. Our mental health depends upon this maternal atmospheric protection.
January 29th 2012 As Deleuze and Guattari say, psychoanalysis disingenuously spans a mixed semiotic. On the one hand, ‘a despotic regime of significance and interpretation’, and on the other, ‘an authoritarian regime of subjectification and prophetism’. Firstly, freedom, rational thinking and sense-giving, while the analyst herself is surrounded by an almost mystical authority and control. And they conclude: ‘Two absolutely different regimes of signs in a mix. But the worst, most underhanded of powers are founded on it’ (A Thousand Plateaus, p138). This implies that psychoanalysis has not lost its strange aura of magic.
January 27th 2012 They weren’t called the baby-boomers for nothing. Born into an unprecedented age of prosperity after WW2, protected by the welfare state, educated beyond any former generation could ever have hoped for, pampered with consumer goods, they should be the ones to complain! And they are the ones who feel guilty, terribly guilty, about war anywhere in the world, about wealth, about living itself. Therefore, they were ripe for ideological conversion. That conversion is almost complete. It is a perfect example on a mass scale of Nietzsche’s well known concept of ressentiment where an active force or desire is turned around against itself, ‘pushed back and repressed, incarcerated within and finally able to discharge and vent itself only on itself’. (Nietzsche cited in Anti-Oedipus, p234)
January 23rd 2012 Vada a bordo, cazzo! Or, “Get back on board, for fuck's sake!” Giovanni de Falco, a member of the Italian Coast Guard, yelled at the captain of the Costa Concordia, who had abandoned ship after it capsized. An Italian newspaper (Il Libero) has taken the now popular catch-phrase and applied it to a caricature of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a large front-page cartoon, seen rowing swiftly away from the “MS Europa Discordia”. And by extension every kind of “captain” is rowing away from responsibility as authority becomes indifferent and therapeutic.
January 22nd 2012 As Peter Sloterdijk underlines, ‘In its pretension to co-form a revolutionary subject, politicised psychoanalysis failed miserably’. So, as a half-way house to revolution, ‘to shore up a minimal terrain – indeed the terrain of allegedly pure analysis, the new purists [Lacanians] mark themselves off from everything to do with sense-giving, interpretation, construction, life-projects, because this would once again put into play the need to explain people normatively, to develop positive ideas of culture [civilisation], and introduce creative processes’ (Neither Sun Nor Death, p277). Yet by retaining notions such as castration, the Law, the Symbolic, they are still part of the kill-joy process so derided by our authors (Deleuze and Guattari), while pretending to be otherwise, mysteriously Other. For instance, you still hear Lacanians telling “erring” colleagues, who apparently misinterpret the doctrine, that they should get more analysis. Just as erring Christians were told to pray harder. Nothing really changes.
January 19th 2012 Last weekend, The Sunday Times carried a report by Christopher Goodwin about Berlin, the so-called club capital of Europe, where each weekend and estimated 20,000 clubbers arrive from Britain and other European countries. Every extreme sexual, narcotic and musical preference is catered for in the myriad of venues. The scene is disturbingly reminiscent of the Weirmar Berlin during the inter-war years, depicted in films like The Blue Angel (1930) with Marlene Dietrich and Cabaret (1972) with Lisa Minnelli. The Kitkat, named after the club in Cabaret, is the most flamboyant while Insomnia offers, ‘erotic games in an atmosphere of Babylonian diversity’. In Weimar times, there were 16 different types of prostitutes in the city including child prostitutes. After 1989, and the fall of the Wall, huge empty factory spaces became available in the East Berlin, which enterprising hippies and anarchists turned into industrial sized clubs. The basement of one club (Berghain) is referred to as ‘the laboratory, the dungeon, the torture chamber’. It has all the neceessary instruments of jouissance - machines, chains and bars, more than even Deleuze and Guattari (Anti-Oedipus) could have asked for in their imagined “machanosphere”, full as it is with desiring machines, nonhuman sex and the orphan-unconscious. Even the reporter becomes ‘deeply unnerved’ by what he has seen, with ‘insistent images of writhing naked bodies playing through my head. I watched thousands of drugged-up clubbers dancing in their own dreamscapes and saw hundreds of anonymous bodies desperately clutching for flesh in dark sex rooms’. All this in the capital that should, but currently refuses, to hold the key to the European crisis. ‘A profound depression washed over me as I took a taxi home’. He glimpses the morning newspapers about a neo-Nazi cell that has been murdering Turks for the last 10 years with impunity.
January 16th 2012 The Daily Mail reporting on the Costa-Concordia disaster: ‘Incredibly, crew members told passengers there was “nothing to worry about … nothing dangerous…” and that everything would soon be back to normal. Captain Francesco Schettino announced there was “a technical problem”. Many on board were told to go back to their cabins – even though the ship was rapidly taking on water and its crew was battling to steer it to safety’. Sounds like the Euro crisis.
January 13th 2012 Freud’s complexity includes loosening and tightening, freedom and constraint, deconstruction and reconstruction, Father and beyond Father, civilisation and discontent, self and other. This dialectical movement must retain both poles, stopping at neither. Nor is there ever closure or resolution; the gap, the “not-all” must remain. There is the question that Levinas poses which haunts the psychoanalytic project: being-for-the-other; the accusatory proximity of the other; human solidarity which precedes fraternity; ethics as first philosophy.
January 11th 2012 Not only has psychoanalysis retreated into academia where its Lacanian incarnation is popular on Cultural Studies courses, but it has also been side-lined in culture and popular culture generally while its ideas and concepts have infused general discourse in a diluted form as clichés purloined by a host of new psychotherapies loosely known as “dynamic”. In a sense then it has been marginalised by two rather predictable extremes: on the one hand a Lacanian version of Freudo-Marxism averse to any normalising tendencies preaching ‘not giving ground to desire’. On the other, "therapist as mommy" and the “fragile child”, á la Object Relations where the therapeutic aim is healthy functioning. It should be argued that both these extremes avoid the complexity of Freud himself.
January 8th 2012 The Irish Times is slowly coming round to the idea that cannabis might be a dangerous substance. The new home grown varieties (skunk) are twice as strong in their THC content than imported varieties. As Carl O’Brien said yesterday, ‘The anxiety over cannabis may seem hysterical to anyone whose rite of passage included smoking a joint at some hazy point in the past. The image of cannabis, the most commonly used illegal drug in Ireland, remains mostly benign. It doesn’t have the scary connotations of heroin’. This is the default liberal position. It’s even hailed by some as a drug which will play a key role in medicine into the future. Such complacent attitudes have led to cannabis becoming the ‘most common problem drug’ among new cases on treatment programmes. Last week RTE News had a report from the Netherlands where they are restricting the use of cannabis in coffee shops, effectively re-criminalising the drug, but carried no explanation as to why the Dutch felt this to be necessary. The main concern was that it would harm their tourist industry. Notwithstanding skunk causing psychosis and paranoid effects, sometimes with long tern consequences, Luke “Ming” Flanaghan, Ireland’s most famous legalise cannabis campaigner, cautions users and concludes, ‘Of course, some people run into problems using cannabis. But at the end of the day, it’s likely they’d run into problems using other things. And criminalising them doesn’t help the situation’.
January 3rd 2012 In his recent essay, “The Future of History”, Francis Fukyama considers the fate of the default politico-economic system in the world today, namely liberal democracy. Based on a property owning middle class, he sees significant changes occurring that will erode this democratic base. The middle classes are declining. While the number of electoral democracies around the world has increased from around 45 in 1970 to more than 120 by the late 1990s, this progress is currently under threat. Countries that have reached a good level of material prosperity with a majority of their citizens belonging to the middle class have enjoyed high levels of development and stable democracy. In other words, there is a broad correlation between economic growth, social change, and dominance of liberal democratic ideology in the world today. He quotes, sociologist Barrington Moore: ‘No bourgeois, no democracy’. However, Fukyama warns, ‘the benefits of the most recent waves of technological innovation have accrued disproportionately to the most talented and well-educated members of society. This phenomenon helped cause the massive growth of inequality in the United States over the past generation’. We are today living in what the scholar Shoshana Zuboff has labelled, ‘the age of the smart machine’, in which technology is increasingly able to substitute for more and higher human functions. The other factor undermining middle-class incomes in developed countries is globalization leading to “outsourcing”. With the lowering of transportation and communications costs and the entry into the global work force of hundreds of millions of new workers in developing countries, the kind of work done by the old middle class in the developed world can now be performed much more cheaply elsewhere. Therefore, the benefits of the new de-industrialised order benefit disproportionately a very small number of people in finance and high technology.
December 30th 2011 Nick Cohen has it precisely right when he says of Hitch: ‘I cannot overemphasise how much he loathed people who stuck to a party line and tried to tell me, you or especially him what we must think; how every kind of bureaucrat, archbishop, rabbi, ayatollah, commissar and inquisitor roused in him the urge to fight’. He said himself that he was against all totalitarianisms, both of the Left and the Right. Of the former, he paraphrased Wilde, whom he adored, ‘on an occasion of this [totalitarian] kind it becomes more than a moral duty to betray the Left. It becomes a pleasure’.
December 28th 2011 Christopher Hitchens, who died on 16th December, spoke of his struggle with cancer. He said that before he got the diagnosis of incurable cancer, ‘I knew I was in a race, but suddenly I was faced with the fact that this now was the final lap’. He said that the bad news reminded him of crossing the border into a repressive State. One moment you are free and then you arrive at the border and you present your documents, and after a time you enter into an entirely different country where you will never be free again and you are watched over all the time. In relation to the pitiless nature of cancer, ‘I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient… I feel a sense of waste about it, a sense of betrayal – betrayal of my family and friends. It makes me sober; it makes me objective’. Maintaining his atheism, he says, ‘No evidence or argument has yet been presented which would change my mind. But I like surprises’.
December 23rd 2011 Julia Kristeva speaks, as a humanist and psychoanalyst, at the Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world, that Benedict XVI convoked in Assisi on 27.10.11. Pondering our capacity for creativity or destruction, Kristeva asserts that, ‘The diversity of our meeting here in Assisi, shows that this hypothesis of destruction is not the only possible one. After the Shoah and the Gulags, humanism has a duty to remind men and women that if, on the one hand, we retain ourselves to be the only legislators, it is uniquely through the continuing questioning of our personal, historical and social situation that we can decide for society and history. Humanism is a process of permanent re-foundation, that develops through the ruptures that are innovations. Memory does not regard the past: the Bible, the Gospels, the Koran, the Rig Veda, the Tao, live in the present. In order for humanism to develop and re-found itself, the moment has come to take up again the moral codes built throughout history: without weakening them, in order to problematize them, to renew them in the face of new singularities. We must dare to bet on the continuous renewal of the capacity of men and women to listen and learn together. So that, in the “multiverse” surrounded by a void, mankind can continue to pursue his creative destiny for a long time to come’. However, we might ask Kristeva, how the soft values, the weak forces of humanism, continuously changing, can ever be a match for the coming re-founded sacrificial intolerances of, let us say, radical Islam and pure Environmentalism (the Dark Greens)? How can rational humanism, with its “continuous questioning” and rule by discussion, consensus and democratic agreement create ruptures in, or even the tiniest ripples in, or be the slightest match for, the hard relentless religious ways of life forged, beaten into child subjects, over centuries and generations?
December 19th 2011 A Higgs-Boson walks into a church, the priest says: ‘We don't allow Higgs-Bosons in here’. The Higgs-Boson says, ‘But without me how can you have mass?’ It has been believed that as the Universe cooled after the Big Bang, an invisible force known as the Higgs field formed together with its associated boson particle. It is this field that imparts mass to the fundamental particles that make up atoms, without which, these particles would zip through the cosmos at the speed of light. It is precisely the same for the cultural world as for the atomic world. What will bring back the Real? The virtual particles of the social zip through the world at the speed of light with nothing to slow them down and there is so much now that appears not to exist, or only “exists” in its artificial-phoney form – the subject-identity, the sexual relation, the big Other, the Father, Male and Female, evil, and so on. Quite simply there is Nothing that does exist.
December 16th 2011 ‘There is no woman [person], no blood, no war, no enemy. Other crises had a name; this thing is nameless; this thing is algorithms’. This evocation of the debt crisis by a Greek poet describes accurately the radically impersonal nature of the crisis threatening us. It is not about people as such, although there are many who will profit excessively from the melt-down, but about the indifference of the operating system itself, the market mechanism, the grinding out of automated logic, the calculated execution of formulae that has remained beautifully veiled (in the First World) until recently.
December 12th 2011 Greece: Broken Marble, Broken Future. Maria Margaronis revisits her country. (Radio 4. 11.12.11). ‘I am a vulture come to pick the bones of my poor miserable country’. It is a very old story - that woman with the blood-stained clothes going begging aboard. Only, there is no woman, no blood, no war, no enemy. Other crises had a name; this thing is nameless; this thing is algorithms. With a feeling of utter chaos, the country has turned en masse against its politicians because of the utter failure to develop a liberal democracy after the fall of the Junta in 1974. There is graffiti on the metal shutters of all the shops. Like the city is a slate, people are writing rage now. They are all thieves and burglars! Reality is fragmenting in front of us. Well off neighbourhoods have turned into ghettoes full of destitute migrants, old shops closed, replaced by gambling dens, brothels and fronts for money laundering. The older women are the most vulnerable, with the men unemployed and the younger people with no jobs either. The women are the glue of Greek society. The numbers of immigrants and jobless are getting bigger and bigger. Golden Dawn is the far-Right organisation gaining strength vowing to cleanse Greece of immigrants. There is real psychological depression. It is like the collapse of a building. The people are inside but they are not told where the emergency exit is. The building was built in a very fast and chaotic way. And the people are too tired to look for the exit. Balkan and European, Greece is on the fault line between East and West. 400 years as a province of the Ottoman Empire, its 19th Century birth as a small weak nation meant it was always dependent on loans, with inadequate institutions and a deep suspicion of government. People will do everything to be part of Europe, because outside it they will be swallowed in the global system. Rather as Greece used to say to immigrants, what are you doing here, Europe is now saying to Greece: what are you doing here? Greece has always resisted. We are not blameless, we have cooked the books, we now we have been occupied economically by the Troika, EU, ECB and the IMF. There is literally no one in the country who supports this. We can be proud how Greeks resisted the German Occupation, but the wounds caused by the 5 year civil war between Communists and Royalists afterwards have never really healed. All parties have used patronage to buy peace. Nowadays, the fight is between those who see the crisis creating the conditions for much needed reforms and those who see it as ruse to create a neo-liberal agenda to roll back welfare and workers rights. Everyone agrees that reform is needed, but who will pay for it and what will the country look like at the end? It is as if there has been a death in Greece; we all feel it like a death. Who are the black masked men throwing stones at all the demonstrations? Is it an anarchist collective? Or are they State provocateurs? White marble stones flying through the air. Communists against the Anarchists. The police are often unpaid and there is not enough money to fill-up the patrol cars. Police go on demonstrations and families are split. The daughter protests about education and her father goes out to enforce the Law. What moral authority do I have? Even the politicians who vote for these laws admit they are unjust. You can’t enforce an unjust law. How does a father or a mother feel when faced with that situation? Everything is being degraded; every value levelled. The police are being used as a repressive force against other struggling working people. Euripides said: when the people are roused and surrender to their anger they become an unquenchable force. There piles of rubbish burning, heroin addicts in the streets. In the city, some talk about going back to the mountains to farm their grandparents’ land. But that might be just a romantic illusion. One grandmother in a village says: ‘I’m going to lose my mind; I am telling you the truth’. They are now being asked to pay three-quarters of their pension in property tax for these very old houses that they are barely able to maintain. The Priest in the village says, ‘we lived through war and famine in ’41 and ’42, war and famine together. In the old days, we didn’t have money, we just exchanged things. Now with the “haircut”, bit by bit they will shave us bald. They want Greece to go bankrupt, so that they can come back in afterwards with the black money they withdrew and buy up everything and use us as slave cheap labour. With yet more cuts next year and doubt about the Eurozone, people are saying we still haven’t hit rock bottom yet.
December 9th 2011 At a time when Capitalism is showing its Real face the conservative German newspaper Die Welt ran an editorial last week arguing that Germany had become as isolated as the US was during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Former Social Democrat (SPD) chancellor Helmut Schmidt (92) said recently that Germany could not be a normal country in the foreseeable future due to its ‘terrible and unique historic burden’. He called for further European integration if the continent were to avoid being sidelined. He acknowledged growing fears of renewed German dominance in Europe and urged Germany to come to the rescue of debt-stricken eurozone partners. Merkel’s party ally Volker Kauder has said rather ominously that, these days ‘German is being spoken in Europe’. That comment unleashed a wave of headlines about jackboots and a “Fourth Reich”.
December 8th 2011 Bernard-Henri Lévy cites Oscar Wilde as maybe the best example of a celebrated writer who was vilified and finished up in jail. He continues, ‘When a writer tries to make step outside the rank of the mob of the murderers, when a writer does that, it is unforgivable because the community wants the writer just to praise the values of the community. Or, as Stalin said, writers should be “engineers of the soul”. When a writer comes and says I am just going to say my small personal truth and to try to make a bridge with that to common sense, then he is shot down. There is also hatred amongst the mob against the image of jouissance: the image the enjoyment of writing and sexuality’. Lévy acknowledges that this phenomenon of vilification represents René Girard’s very important theory of mimetic violence of the community that is only “resolved” through the slaughter of the sacrificial victim. Writers can part of this sacrificial process. He cites Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Michel Houellebecq, with whom he has written a book, Public Enemies.
December 5th 2011 Bernard-Henri Lévy, on Start the Week (BBC), refers to the two greatest evils of our time. Firstly, the notion of purity – the nostalgia for the ideal, the beautiful, the good, the elimination of evil, which breeds totalitarianism of the Fascist, Communist, Islamist or Ecological variety. Secondly, the medicalisation of evil, where the notion of illness replaces ethical responsibility.
December 2nd 2011 The High Court in Britain is to decide whether a town council in Devon should be allowed to say prayers before meetings, after a complaint from an atheist member of Bideford Town Council, no less, who claimed that saying prayers was a breach of human rights legislation even though a majority voted to retain this Christian practice and meetings do not start until after the prayers are said. One should wonder why these atheists, who believe themselves to be models of tolerance and inclusion, don’t just say openly that they hate Christians? We hate Christians. Period! Maybe others should come out of the closet too.
November 29th 2011 A second Lacanian conference has been arranged here in Dublin this autumn in conjunction with Irish psychiatry. Why would (radical) psychoanalysts want to hang out with their old enemies, biological, or maybe even cognitively oriented psychiatrists? Is it respectability and power, after all, that brings this strange alliance of elite analysts with conservative psychiatry, which tends to end up with the psychiatrists being taught more than a thing or two about an unknown subjectivity dominated by language codes, rather a brain mechanism dominated by chemical codes?
November 26th 2011 Frozen Planet (BBC1) captures the sublime moment when two wolves bring down an enormous bison in the bleak frozen Arctic winter where nothing much survives. The two small animals and the large one fight to the death until the bison eventually succumbs through exhaustion. The cameraman is close enough to hear the animals breathing and yelping as the female wolf turns pink in the snow with its coat covered in the blood of both animals. It is a moment where, as Nietzsche would say, the universe sheds not one tear.
November 23rd 2011 Globally, things are shaping up very well for the Islamist movement. Jordan’s King Abdullah II refers to the “Shia crescent”, stretching from Iran, through its ally Syria, on to the newly empowered Shia majority in Iraq, and up to the shores of the eastern Mediterranean where it would reach Hezbollah in Lebanon. Now also, courtesy of the so-called “Arab-Spring”, according to historian Martin Kramer we have the beginnings of a “Muslim Brotherhood crescent”. In the recent Tunisian elections, the Islamist al-Nahda Party, once outlawed, won nearly half the seats. In Libya, several Islamist figures, some of them reportedly aligned with al-Qaida, seem likely to fill the vacuum left by Qaddafi. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s oldest Islamist movement, is prepared to compete for 50 percent of the country’s parliamentary seats in elections later this month. The exact strength of the Islamist element in the ongoing Syrian uprising remains to be seen, but the contours of this new crescent are already becoming clear.
November 20th 2011 The Lacanians have established and promoted the most asymmetric relation between analyst and analysand, with the analyst reduced to the so-called “object-a”, the non-subject, so that, quite ironically and quite deliberately, s/he can become the most powerful, mysterious and seductive figure via the transference – a transference that will never end, because there is no question of resolving it. From this toxic arrangement proceeds all the revolutionary zeal of Lacanian adherents that dismisses all opposition. So, when one raises the question of Freud’s recommendation to analysts: ‘he must turn his own unconscious like a receptive organ towards the transmitting unconscious of the patient’ (SE. 12:115), and Freud refers to his recommendations as the “counterpart” to the free-association rule for the analysand, this will be dismissed derisively – the analyst’s unconscious is for his own analysis! All the analyst’s personal and analytic experience must be sacrificed, emptied out, brought to zero, in order to up the transference stakes. At the ideologically opposite pole, there is Bion, whose analyst is so receptive to the analysand’s emerging unconscious, that he suffers from the potential for paranoid/schizoid (PS) fragmentation. But not completely, ‘any attempt to cling to what he knows must be resisted for the sake of achieving a state of mind analogous to the paranoid-schizoid position’ (Bion, W. 1970. Attention and Interpretation, p124). Bion calls this mental state in the analyst “patience” to distinguish it from the PS position proper, because the analyst must not entirely succumb to this state, but contain it. However, what “use” the analyst can make of such phenomena is an open question and carries risks.
November 16th 2011 If you do away with the ego and only rely on the fading subject what chance have you against Jouissance? In Seminar 17, Lacan notes with his usual sarcasm, that the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis is celebrating the so-called “autonomous ego” in its current issue. ‘They congratulate themselves’, he says, ‘that the mainspring of analysis is goodness’ (p73). This emphasis on the ego, Lacan always insists, is a departure from Freud. Quite wrong. For Freud understood that without the ego in its later subtle complexity and important agency, so many capacities become lost. This is why he spoke of the three impossible professions, education, governance and lastly analysis. Without the ego you cannot make judgements; you have no reason and no defence. Without its imperilled mastery, there can be no differentiation. The subject is quite literally too sub-ject, too cast-down, to make any choices worth the name, and therefore Lacan’s joke about analytic goodness is well made, because, without the ego, there is quite simply indifference between “good” and “bad”.
November 13th 2011 There is clarity in the term “Genocidal Caucus” (attributed to liberal Haaretz commentator, Bradley Burston), used to describe a movement that has gathered pace in the Western media amongst liberals and by no means confined to the radical Left, that confidently, proudly and righteously asserts the progressive de-legitimisation of Israel. This is barely disguised code for Holocaust Two. It should remind us of Hitler's Willing Executioners (Goldhagen, 1996), the mobilisation of ordinary folk to contemplate and finally carry-out extraordinary criminal violence en masse. For instance, it is quite commonplace to hear glib talk among ordinary liberal people to the effect that ‘Israel must go’. You will find hardly a mainstream commentator who takes a different view. And when you say, well this amounts to a genocide, the reply from the same ordinary decent folk is: so what? They had it coming to them! This is the Genocidal Caucus.
November 9th 2011 In We Need To Talk About Kevin, the film based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, Lynne Ramsay abandons the novel’s structure of an American wife, Eva, (Tilda Swinton) writing letters to her husband, Franklin (John C Reilly), in the wake of their son, Kevin (Ezra Miller) committing a terrible massacre. Instead, the film moves back and forth in time as we are led to fathom the plight of Eva and her great suffering, shunned by her community, her marriage destroyed, by the son she gave birth to. Although there are hints, there is no really defined reason that we can pinpoint for his crime. There is no meaning in it. Maybe, it is the dark punitive myth for our time; about adolescents, whom we fear can too easily be tipped over into being either suicidal or homicidal, on the one hand, and women as allegedly “bad mothers”, on the other, being blamed for this state of affairs.
November 6th 2011 Melancholia (Lars von Trier) is billed as a ‘beautiful film about the end of the world’. The film is set in a remote chateau where Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband arrive two hours late for their elegant wedding reception, hosted by Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her rich husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). Justine’s melancholy dreamy sadness indicates that she is not really present for the occasion. Her estranged parents played by Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt add to the Festen-like atmosphere of the party. The wedding is a fiasco, with family tensions mounting and relationships fraying. And all the while, the planet Melancholia is on track to collide with Earth. It is Claire, supposedly the calm sister, who succumbs to panic; for Justine, the apocalypse will be a relief – ‘the world is an evil place’. The film is haunted by the melancholy mood, symbolised by the slow moving hallucinatory montage of moonlit images set out at the beginning in the slow-motion characteristic of depression. We know from WHO that many in the world are indeed affected by what used to be called melancholia; this condition and the world have already collided! Maybe therefore, we should regard the film as an allegory for mankind’s silent extinction.
November 2nd 2011 The problem with Dasein, our “being-there” in the world, is that there is no road-map anymore. As Peter Sloterdijk says, there are ‘psychoses of format and symptoms of stress’. Surplus jouissance is increasingly complained of in terms of stress; everyone is stressed. Ultimately, it is a problem of belonging. He continues, ‘Detached individuals no longer know how and where they live, with whom they have to entertain relations, in which formats they are to communicate...’ (p187, Neither Sun nor Death). Sloterdijk wants to underline and, ‘eke out a surplus of language’ about the spherical forms or bubbles in which we ‘live, weave and are’ (Luther): ‘We live in a culture which is practically unable to speak about the most manifest, about the fundamental clearing, about the atmospheres in which we live’(p143). What is crucial for this philosopher is what he terms, “resonance”. We are all twins (of the placental “other”) without realising it. For Sloterdijk, the titanic struggle between the Soul and the Machine is being lost: ‘I am forced, along with the theory-and-disappointment avant-garde of our century, to admit that the world-soul project failed and that, in being able to cultivate small islands of ensoulment, we must nevertheless think ourselves fortunate’ (p217). We need to draw upon, ‘rare resources of meaning’. He accuses many critics and intellectuals of being unable and unwilling to imagine the contemporary, “monstrous cold” – isolation, desolation, depression, the withdrawal of meaning. Indeed, he suggests that most thinkers are as secure and complacent in their critical attitudes as ‘the summer guest in his full pension’ (p216). Instead, they should become ‘immunologists of culture’. He asks the key question: ‘on what basis are we able to immunise ourselves [today], given that the strong forms of solidarity, like those Plato called the Cosmos, and the Christian God, are no longer available to us’ (p219)?
October 27th 2011 While the Lacanian slogan for the long-haul-analysand could be: you are homeless; get used to it. At the other absolute extreme, New Age therapies, peddling forgiveness are allegedly, ‘silencing the ego for a life free from fear’. These are the “postmodern spiritualists” navigating their way – Eat. Pray. Love. ‘You have to be in touch these days spiritually to survive’. ‘Understanding yourself is the coolest thing in the world’. Purloin Buddism: ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear’. The keys to happiness, psychic protection, energy healing, tarot, reiki, integral Judaism, Gyrotonic kung fu, Chen school t’ai chi, The Tapping Solution, etc. Miracles are your birthright. All the foreclosed hypnotic effects belonging to the 19th century are right back with a vengeance in the 21st. Belief is everything. Recently, a psychic in Dublin was clearly shown to have been cheating by being fed information from scouts among the huge audience. People were dismissive, they prefer to believe that she really is in touch with the dead.
October 24rd 2011 Self-reflective consciousness – a contradiction in terms as consciousness is always consciousness of something – was the great “achievement” of (human) evolution, underlying everything that we formerly designated as human. Now in the new century comes the terrifying prospect of a reversal with the essential gap between consciousness and its object, be it self or other, closing into the light/darkness of total transparency and immediacy. There will come a time soon, we are told, when you won’t have to ask google a question; nanobotic type online devices within our body organs will have the answers before we ask the questions. Consciousness will then have become the epi-phenomenon - a useless by-product of brain functioning - that some cognitive scientists already maintain that it is. The gap between the materiality of language and the materiality of the world, between subject and object, between the Word and the Real closes gradually onto a thought-less world, a world of sterile, meaningless information.
October 20th 2011 The alleged isolation of the Lacanian analysand is bad enough; however, we have noted that it is a proofing exercise for the twenty-first century. What may yet prove worse is the operational nature of the Lacanian psychoanalytic process. By operational, we mean the emphasis on the signifier and later on jouissance. There is no encouragement to reflect, to become self-reflective about one’s life, because reflection implies mirroring, the ego and the register of the Imaginary. This Lacanian orientation also implies readiness for the new reduced times of the elemental and the digital, where human subjects are already obliged to be increasingly robotic, unreflective and gadget orientated. Prior to Lacan, all other variations on the analytic path involved some version of deconstructive analysis followed by reconstructions involving some increased self-knowledge and self-awareness, however provisional. However, for Lacanians any such “closures”, however provisional, imply mastery, identity, solidity, substance, being, individuality, meaning and so forth. Whereas for Lacan the subject is split, empty, fading, barely more than a contingent point of operations and the clinic of isolation reflects this. Therefore, analysis during modernity and its heyday was a primarily a self-reflecting system, a thought-provoking and thought-ful process. During postmodernity, Lacanian analysis has become more of an android operating system, a thought-less process, emptied and entirely suited once again for the voracious demands of hyper-capitalism and endless jouissance. Capitalism got there first; Lacanians are only following.
October 17th 2011 Left without help or care, the Lacanian analysand has only her text to offer; the language structures that have in-formed her being will emerge during her sessions. No one will take responsibility for her. No one will be present and in this way her transference need will be greatly augmented and frustrated so that she can see the extent of her alienation, which is her habitual and dependent being-for-the-other and indeed her fundamental lack-of-being that has become her sad condition. From this state of great austerity (if she can stand it) might emerge her desire, rather than the desire of the other. But you’d need to be quite strong in the first place to experience such controlled absence of the other. Analysts will vary, one presumes, in the level of austerity that they inflict. However, the isolation of the Lacanian analysand, represents some real preparation for life and autistic desire in the atomised twenty-first century. The pitiless message is clear.
October 15th 2011 A fatal turn for the subject. A fatal turn for psychoanalysis. The analyst becomes a mere operator. As Lacan says, ‘ultimately, it is the analyst’s desire that operates’ (Écrits, p724). All of his/her human capacities are severely minimalised to focus strictly and solely upon the text; s/he become the little “o” object, a nothing. This way, nearly everything is lost, everything to do with life and vitality. This is why analysts like Roustang, for example, became so opposed to Lacan. The fetishisation of the unconscious structured like a language to the exclusion of all else having to do with affect and the capacity to be moved by the other, represents a rigidity in the extreme. The analytic engagement, as such, with all its attendant problems, is barred, which amounts to the erection of a theoretical and permanent counter-transference – a veritable wall between the analyst and analysand, from which the latter is supposed to benefit. However, it is just this radical position that draws people in (seduction) and the whole mysterious silence, nonsense, around it.
October 12th 2011 André Green gives us this brief observation about Lacan: ‘He wanted people to come to him like a spider; he would analyse them, make them his pupils, attach them to his person, and finally turn them into apostles’ (The Dead Mother, p18). Each stage is specified by Green: seduction; analysis; indoctrination; unresolved transference love; propagator of the gospel of desire. This is not quite what Freud or indeed other analysts had in mind for their analysand-patients. The spider symbolises a certain fatal turn.
October 8th 2011 The unconscious is “another story, another scene”, as they say. Irish Presidential hopeful, Martin McGuinness, says that he has brought peace to the island of Ireland. This is his very credible story. The other scene is one of his proximity to terrorism until recently, involving more than 1,500 deaths.
October 5th 2011 We should refer properly to the degree zero of the Real in times of what Steiner calls the “after-Word”. ‘Today, we stand orphaned but free in the place of the a-Logos’. (Real Presences, p127). The loss of the Real, or the beginning of its loss occurs in Europe and Russia between the 1870s and 1930s. For Steiner, ‘it is this break of the covenant between word and world’ (p93), that is the key revolution that defines modernity itself. This is the beginning of the virtualisation of the world and the loss of the Real (de-realisation). This is where it starts. The covenant, the coming together, the engagement between God and man (O. Fr, con- together, and venir, to come), comes apart. Language opens onto a potential abyss – of meaning. The long process of de-meaning has begun. By the mid 1950s, cultural anthropologists were considering the developing theory of structural linguistics as providing an entirely non-biological but nevertheless scientific basis for the study of culture. In line with their emphasis on the distinction between culture and nature, between humans and animals, they were creating two distinct autonomous “worlds”. The natural sciences, including biology, could take their inspiration and formation ultimately from physics and chemistry, but socio-cultural studies would look instead to linguistics for their foundations and methods. Here, it is asserted that language overwrites everything. Language creates the world. This follows from Nietzsche’s assertion that there are no facts only interpretations. There is no Real only shifting meanings and constructions that continuously form and dissolve. The Real becomes an elusive “X” that haunts the omnipresent textual presence. One might wonder what happens to, for instance, the evolutionarily determined biological, neurological substrate real of the body that is entirely over-written? If women are men masquerading as women or men are women escaping femininity by becoming men and any other subversive performative virtual game you can think up or choose, where is the Real of sexual difference? Does not this silenced Real rise up in revenge? Is this what gender trouble really is?
October 2nd 2011 You know the Real is the one who is suffering in all this. Did you know that? The Real is the one who is trapped, who is a slave, as more and more is said, spoken, videoed, endlessly re-presented, packaged, touched-up, made to fit, tweaked here and there, and so on and on. Actually, in reality, the Real doesn’t get a look in; this is the fundamental point that is everywhere denied today. Nobody wants to recognise the Real. But again and again it insists. It is there, but to no avail. But people say, don’t upset what we have achieved just for the sake of the Real; it’s not worth it. Let the Real look after itself.
September 30th 2011 Look at how one emerging modern metropolis (like all others) has to advertise itself in 21st Century: ‘Shanghai's multicultural flair endows Shanghai with a unique glamour. Here, one finds the perfect blend of cultures, the modern and the traditional, and the western and the oriental. New skyscrapers and old Shikumen lanes together draw the skyline of Shanghai. Western customs and Chinese traditions intertwined, form Shanghai's culture, making a visitor's stay truly memorable’. Time and space contraction: all customs and eras are present together simultaneously. Neutralisation of otherness.
September 28th 2011 “Nothing is sacred”, follows the protest: “Is nothing sacred (anymore)?” Nothing is sacred implies, in the strong sense, that nothing is sacred; i.e. only the void-nothing is sacred in the Zen sense, providing an opening onto the sublime. Secondly, in our secular society, nothing is sacred implies great freedom, liberation at last from obeying any authority whatsoever, except possibly our own. More darkly, nothing is sacred implies or mandates great potential for revolutionary violence to people and things; nothing should be spared the great levelling. Nothing is sacred means that nothing is of value, or, everything is of equal value and if everything is of equal value, there is no discrimination, no difference, no separate distinctive thing as such. Nothing is sacred is the final achievement of the death drive, which Freud argued is the return to the peace of the inorganic world. Finally, there is one exception to the rule. There is one thing that is sacred after all: nothing!
September 25th 2011 Nothing is sacred. Not even Nature’s constant! Scientists at the CERN research institute near Geneva claim to have accelerated subatomic neutrino particles faster than the speed of light.
September 21st 2011 You could be forgiven for thinking that there is no such thing as mental “illness”; this is just some alleged pathology dreamt up by the psychiatric pharmacological establishment with a hang-up about what is normal. Just as after some discussions on “crime” you might believe there is no such thing as crime. Just as after debates about gender, you can believe there is such thing as sexual difference. And so it with the virtual, nothing really exists. Mad Pride Ireland welcomes you to our website. We hope you will come to realise how perfectly normal it is to be mad. The Icarus Project is more modest. It envisions, ‘a new culture and language that resonates with our actual experiences of “mental illness” rather than trying to fit our lives into a conventional framework. We are a network of people living with and/or affected by experiences that are often diagnosed and labelled as “psychiatric conditions”. We believe these experiences are mad gifts needing cultivation and care, rather than diseases or disorders. Yes, but where is the Real? Where has the Real gone?
September 18th 2011 This weekend Dublin City University was host to a large conference of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and others, meeting to discuss, “Treating Mental Health Today: Critical Perspectives from Psychoanalysis”. The tone was set by Dr Pat Bracken who argued for a “revolution” against the “technological” paradigm for mental health, where “social factors” are largely an after-thought, and the “patient” is stigmatised and reduced to their alleged pathology – the anorexic, the addict, etc. He was impressed by the rise of the “service user” movement where people increasingly define their own needs. He cited Mad Pride and the Icarus Project as examples. He was followed by series of papers from Lacanian analysts all of whom argued predictably: we are not the so-called experts, the subject-supposed-to-know; allow the other the space to speak and wait for the unconscious signifiers to emerge; people will find their own creative resolution of their symptoms. The imposition of “alienating normativity” by the psychiatric establishment was criticised and in particular the misuse and over-prescription of psychotropic drugs. Reference was made to the ever-expanding categories of mental distress, systematised in the DSM and in particular the “medicalisation of normality”. This sounds much like a softer version of the anti-psychiatry movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s. There are no war-like placards condemning psychiatrists as soul-murderers; no turning around of the signs pointing to the mad-house, so that they point in the direction of bourgeois culture. There are no more “prophets” like R.D. Laing to save us from the System. In fact, there was very little of the brutal Real in the discussion, all at. For instance, there was no acknowledgement that psychiatry does most of the heavy lifting as far as the treatment of severe, florid mental illness is concerned. No acknowledgement of the role of violence, and violence in childhood as causative. There was no acknowledgement that psychoanalysis has its own schizophrenia, with most of the key figures in the movement not even mentioned or referred too here, let alone discussed - Klein, Bion, Meltzer, Rosenfeld, etc. It was not until late in the day when psychiatrist and analyst, Dr Anthony McCarthy firstly criticised the title of the conference asking why you might want to treat mental health? Did the organisers secretly believe that mental “illness” does not exist? Dare we even use the term “illness”? Do analysts, Lacanian analysts, believe that they are the only ones, the ones with privileged access to the unconscious, who can really listen to patients and wait and wait? Is there something wrong with counsellors and other therapists who do not listen so well? Is the Lacanian orientation itself a “system” from which we might soon require liberation? Should people not ever expect a quick fix? Should they just expect a slow fix or no real fix at all?
September 14th 2011 Peter Sloterdijk, in Rage and Time, speaks about the politics of desire in popular capitalism. ‘Through this politics every individual is turned into a consumption citizen, who unless uplifted by family, cultural and cooperative counter-forces, is increasingly fixed to a poisoned loneliness with a doomed irritation of desire’ (p209). We are reliably told, there will be 15 computer “tablets” available for Christmas. And a new UNICEF report summarised in The Daily Mail today says, that guilty parents shower their children with designer gadgets as they have no time to spend with them or feel too tired when they get home even to talk. ‘In an alarming move towards “compulsive consumerism”, mothers and fathers desperately try to make up for not spending quality time with their offspring through materialism’.
September 11th 2011 Allah’s apostle said, ‘I have been made victorious with terror!’ Sahih Bukhari 52:220. There have been 17,720 deadly terror attacks since 9/11. ‘Mohammed is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another’ Quran 48:29. (thereligionofpeace.com)
September 10th 2011 Broadcaster, Melvyn Bragg, spoke in the Dun Laoghaire book festival on September 8th about his Book of Books on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, which he celebrates as nothing less than, ‘the prime educating force in the English-speaking world’. It is the Ur-text of the West. It is great literature in its own right, and has hugely influenced British and American writers. From Shakespeare to Toni Morrison, via Milton, Bunyan, Defoe, Blake, Melville, Faulkner, Eliot and Golding, the Bible ‘is still a source for such great imaginative writers today’. The text, surely the New Testament in particular, has played an important role in developing a language of liberation from the abolition of slavery to modern social attitudes to sex and feminism, as well as socialism. Above all, it helped form our modern notion of democracy, maybe its ‘greatest achievement’, Bragg suggests. It seems ironic therefore that, firstly, it is so little read today in the secular world, and secondly, that Bragg seems quite open to this negation hoping only ‘to persuade you to consider that the King James version of the Bible has driven the making of the world over the last 400 years, often in the most unexpected ways’ (italics added). Doubly ironic too, when many believe that the (Western) world that the Bible formed is now coming to an end.
September 7th 2011 The BBC Radio 4 Today programme held a special riots debate in Birmingham (September 5th). Once again just a glimpse of the Real. Shaun Bailey, a supporter of Cameron’s Big Society points out that, ‘Early intervention means before our young people become parents. We need to look at how our society has commercialised and sexualised our young people. When you have children having children, children make poor parents. And another thing is what do we do with our welfare? How do we help, who do we help and why? It started as a safety net, it turned into a hammock and now it’s become a noose'. Sheldon Thomas, a former gang member who works with young gang members in the East end of London, responding to people who repeat the platitude that, ‘the community must intervene’, makes it clear: ‘I’m just going to tell it like it is, because people up there on the stage [for the debate] want to avoid certain things. The young kids are sick and tired of seeing 40 or 50 young kids die in the last four years - kids that have died at the hands of other kids and nothing is done about it. I don’t know about the families you work with but the families I work with, their sons have beaten up their mums, they have seen their dads rape their mums. We’re dealing with hardened gang members out there. If you want to stop gang-culture, you need to employ people who they can relate to, who have got similar stories. We run a mentoring scheme. We are ex-gang members, but Local Authorities do not want to employ ex-gang members as they are too scared about what it says on the CRB. But we can go anywhere in London, North, South, East or West, and that’s a big difference to any local authority. And the real gangsters out there, well they are just waiting for the Olympics to come’.
September 5th 2011 The Tree of Life by Terrence Mallick, is prefaced by a quote from the Book of Job where God speaks to Job out of the tempest. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding’ (Job: 38,4). God has chided Job for, ‘cloud[ing] my design in darkness’. At the beginning of the film, we hear a woman’s voice say: ‘There are two ways of living, the Way of Nature and the Way of Grace. You have to choose which Way’. Set in Waco, Texas, in the 1950s, the film evokes the life of small-town parents (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) and their three sons. Their father wants them to be strong and competitive, challenging his boys to toughen up, demanding that they hit him in sparring sessions in the front yard. When one of the brothers dies at the age of 19 on military service the impossible grief is depicted mostly through silent wordless pain; the strongest part of the film. The rest of the film tries to evoke the sublime, from the origins of the universe, images of supernova, or the boiling chromosphere, through to the evolution of life, the foetus in the womb, and so on; ending in what appears to be a global scene of reconciliation between Nature and Grace, where difference and opposites are overcome and struggle is over. This is precisely the consoling imagery of New Age spirituality and this is the secret of the film’s success.
September 1st 2011 At least, the protesters of the Arab Spring do not lack thymotic-rage potential. According to Jane Kinninmont (a Senior Research Fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House), ‘their demands for both political and economic rights echo in the widely chanted protest slogan, “Bread and dignity”. Another recurring word in protest slogans across the region has been “justice”, encompassing concerns about corruption and wealth distribution as well as human rights and the rule of law’.
August 30th 2011 Peter Sloterdijk comments critically on psychoanalysis for its failure to emphasise Thymos (Spirit). In his book, Rage and Time. A Psycho-political Investigation. Columbia UP 2010, he points out a serious omission in psychoanalytic theory: ‘it did not sufficiently investigate pride, courage, stout-heartedness, craving for recognition, drive for justice, sense of dignity and honour, indignation, militant and vengeful energies’. Although there was the “death drive”, psychoanalysis remained ‘silent when it came to that form of rage that springs from a striving for success, prestige, self-respect, and their backlashes’. Although it aspired to transform narcissism into object love, there is no ‘analogous educational path for the production of a proud adult, of a fighter and bearer of ambitions’. He complains about a one-sided eroticism and the emphasis on what he calls the prototypes of human misery – Oedipus and Narcissus. Although he acknowledges that Lacan has reversed this trend somewhat with his Hegelian conception of desire (see pp24-25), he argues that psychoanalysis like religion has become ‘crazy about humility’, crazy about gaining ‘insight’ and ‘domesticating egotism’. Only Nietzsche, he suggests, has addressed the thymotic dimension. The failure to understand human beings engaged in struggle and tension reduces them to neurotic failures with “symptoms” of pride and rage and so on. They become what Sloterdijk calls, ‘partisans of the tearfully communicative eros’. All this in spite of God being dead! He acknowledges the prevalence of anti-authoritarianism today, but this does not carry any thymotic potential as we do not want to give up the advantages of dependence, governed as we are, he suggests, by a coalition of Christianity and psychoanalysis – ‘smart systems of bigotry’, characterised by a constitutive lack, that used to be called “sin” (see pp13-19).
August 27th 2011 It is worth considering just how “revolutionary” Lacanian psychoanalysis is. Is the Lacanian analyst a revolutionary? Žižek, by way of introducing his woe es war series for Verso, states very clearly the efficacy of, ‘the explosive combination of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxist tradition [which] detonates a dynamic freedom that enables us to question the very presuppositions of the circuit of capital’. Lenin is a key figure for Žižek. Philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, usefully outlines the elements of the new political style that Lenin introduced. 1) What he calls a “monological” conception of the leader-follower relationship is surely analogous to Lacan’s insistence on “my doctrine” (to the implicit exclusion of most others). 2) The mobilisation of a constant state of anxiety/terror in the society, just as in a personal Lacanian analysis where anxiety is raised because no demands are satisfied, even the desire to be understood by the other. And similarly, the wilful obscurity of the Lacanian texts generates a sense of helplessness in the reader. 3) The generalised militarisation of production and militancy as a way of life, which equates to the Lacanian hostility to other therapeutic approaches. 3) The rigorous centrism of the executive that issues “orders”, “dictats”, understood only by other comrades/analysands, has a similar hierarchical and chilly authoritarian tone that one finds in Lacanian organisations – the discourse of the master. 4) The requirement for an ascetic collectivism mirrors the (revolutionary) analyst’s silence and emphasis on lack, not least the readiness of adherents to travel abroad at some expense to be supervised or analysed by the masters. 5) The hatred for liberal bourgeois manners and civility matches the Lacanian hostility to “normativity” and “adaptation”. Whereas the Bolsheviks incite class struggle and antagonism and a succession of class enemies, the Lacanian equivalent is the constant attack on ego-psychology and cognitive-behavioural approaches, as “enemies” of the subject. 6) Camus noted in The Rebel, Hegel’s amoralizing influence on the early revolutionaries, where ‘all morality becomes provisional’, which the Lacanian anti-ethics entirely confirms. 7) The compulsory enthusiasm and militancy for La Cause form a central part of the Lacanian-Leninist orientation, as well as the tendency to split into smaller active groups. More precisely, the class struggle and the analytic process must proceed firstly and foremost by the lived experience of the worker on the one hand, and analysand on the other, though her own personal analysis. Secondly, education for the worker about human rights, the anthropology of labour, and so on, and for the analysand about radical freedom and human desire, is essential to ground and inform the lived experience. Thirdly, propaganda will fuel conviction, pride and militant action in worker and analysand alike. In the latter case the propaganda effect is achieved through recitation of Lacanian tropes, in books, papers, conferences and reading groups called Cartels, all carefully monitored to guard against “foreign” influences or any dilution, and the supervision of cases to correct any deviation in technique. However, Lacanian analysis is only the “soft” Left, the post-Marxist Left and so there are no show trials, no spying on the other, no executions, no one-in-ten rule, and so on. One could argue that Lacanian analysis it is a form of virtual militancy. No one really dies. The whole oeuvre has a performative tone to it: it is true because we say it is. Proof of this comes with the perpetual refusal to allow empirical assessment of the efficacy of this form of analysis. Psychoanalysis is now almost invisible. For instance, a call for papers for a conference next year in Shanghai on “Psychology and Social Harmony” lists over 30 sub-divisions of the science of psychology – no mention of Lacan.
August 24th 2011 There is a problem, a growing problem, with masculinity. Barack Obama, who grew up in a single-parent family, speaks up for the need for a father: ‘If we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that too many fathers ... are missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. We know the statistics -- that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioural problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it’. David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, warned that children, without male role models, turn to “hip-hop”, “gang culture” and peer groups for their masculinity. The African-American Democrat mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, speaking to the congregation of an African-American church, stressed that the black community in his city had a problem with fatherlessness. He was speaking after sporadic violence earlier this month. ‘A father has to provide a structure to a young boy, on how to become a good man. A father also has to be a good role model, and help a young girl be a strong woman. Now let me just say this, if you’re not doing those things, if you’re just hanging out there, maybe you’re sending a check or bringing some cash by, that’s not being a father. You’re just a human ATM. And if you’re not providing the guidance, and you’re not sending any money, you’re just a sperm donor. That’s not good enough. You can do better than that. That’s part of the problem in the black community and many other communities, but a particular problem in the black communities, we have too many men making too many babies that they don’t want to take care of and then we [the State] end up dealing with your children’.
August 22nd 2011 When Proudhon asserted in 1840, “Property is theft”, did he believe that slogan would reach down to the present as a kind of unofficial leftist injunction to today's youth that it is okay to loot what you can? Combined with the later Thatcherite “Greed is good” message to the older and well-off, there is a kind of informal assertion of entitlement; a “must have” egalitarianism, leading to gross inequalities. Steeling is okay; steal while you can. Hence most current political activity is directed towards consumer protection.
August 14th 2011 A glimpse of anarchy lasting just 4 days represents just a brief “showing through of evil” (see Baudrillard’s La Transparence du Mal). Made transparent by the media’s endless repetitive global imagery, as it ruthlessly hunts down every ugly thing with which we spectators are entirely complicit, just as we shamefully slow down to see a crash on the other side of the motorway. Something Real crashes through the virtual world; some real thing at last to relieve the tedium of the phoney sameness.
August 13th 2011 ‘These criminals should know that we will hunt them down, catch them and punish them with the full rigour of the Law’, comes the tough talking after the mayhem. In the absence of parents, adults, external authority, internal authority (the superego), we must now rely precisely and solely upon the Law itself to restore some kind of stability. Having removed all informal authority (and responsibility) we now expect the police and law-enforcement agencies, public and private, to do all the heavy work of impulse control. The courts and prisons are full to over-flowing because all the former means of control (internal and external) have largely gone and have been replaced by forms of excessively greedy and envious entitlement throughout society from top to bottom, from bankers to looters.
August 11th 2011 During the burning and looting in London and elsewhere, cries went up: where are the parents of these young children? Will you please find out where your children are? Please check your children for stolen goods. And so on. As one blogger put it, these children are not materially deprived, they are richer by far than 90% of the children on the planet, but they still want more! However, their “poverty” is a spiritual poverty brought about by the great unravelling, that has now affected two generations at least with anomie. The envious rage thus generated or released (symbolised by the burning properties) is a call to the policy forming elites.
August 8th 2011 Apropos the Breivik outrage, it should perhaps be “understood” as a violent enactment of a post-modern form of racism. Psychoanalysis has postulated three overlapping interpretations of racism based roughly on the three Lacanian registers. Firstly, the Symbolic form where the other of another race inhabits another language world radically different to our own and is hated for their difference from us. Secondly, the Imaginary form where we hate the other for that “badness” that is split off and disavowed within ourselves and projected into the other; the “beam is in our own eye” form of racism. Thirdly, the Real form of racism, where it is the excessive enjoyment of the other that irks us – his sexuality, greed, laziness, etc. The post-modern form of racism is brought about by the contemporary emphasis on multiculturalism, where because one’s own unique ethnicity is at stake in the generalised mix and cultural pluralism, a new kind of Apartheid seems to be “legitimised” as a spurious form of anti-racism as way out of the impasse. Do not Breivik and indeed other neo-fascist groups make common cause in this sense with Islamist Jihad?
August 2nd 2011 Without a strong ethical foundation, psychoanalysis will fade into just the multitude of degraded approaches, loosely called “alternative” which indeed are an alternative to nothing but merely purport to fill the structural void created globalisation and a culture of enjoyment. Also, its theorising has become so esoteric that it has quite simply lost credibility outside cultural and gender studies courses in the universities.
July 30th 2011 It is particularly handy for the Left at least, and the media, to describe Anders Behring Breivik as a “Christian fundamentalist”, as it conveniently and potentially associates those on the Right spectrum with Breivik's callous murder of innocents. The implication is that they might slightly approve of his crime against humanity. This has always been the fall-back equation made when Islamist crimes are criticised: well what about Christian fundamentalists? They are as bad! This has generally not been the case in recent times apart from the disgraceful murder of some doctors who perform abortions in the U.S. Most fascist terrorist violence has neo-pagan origins, not Christian, although it may be carried out in the name of saving our (Christian) European heritage, and so on. Breivik is NOT a Christian. Christians and conservatives have always opposed terrorism.
July 27th 2011 There is something monstrous, something excessive, that Freud termed the death drive, at the heart of the Real upon which mere ordinary reality, so to speak, rests. Enlightenment thought, in which we in the West in particular are caught, seems entirely incapable of going beyond this ideal humanist version of man. Cultural Collapse (1994) focussed our attention on the “splitting” effects of the death drive, noting the drift towards the radical changes wrought by the 1960s and the 1980s cultural revolutions of the new left and the new right respectively. Two books specifically elucidating the death drive followed: The Sovereignty of Death (1998) and The Death Drive. New Life for a Dead Subject (1999), in which the final drive formulation (Life versus Death) is explored, via Freud, Klein, Bion and Lacan, and defended against its many critics. Our Last Great Illusion (2004) is a critique of the soft ideology of therapy culture in which the Real of the death drive and all that it signifies is foreclosed. Most recently, in Forgetting Freud: Is Psychoanalysis in Retreat? (2011), the figure of the Night and the complex ethical issues around contemporary psychoanalysis are explored at a time when the discipline itself may be disappearing.
July 23rd 2011 A Separation, directed by Asghar Farhadi is about a divorce in Iran which reveals the underlying strains in Iranian society. The film opens with the couple airing their grievances to an off-screen lawyer. The wife Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave the country with the couple's 11-year-old daughter. The husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) will not grant her the divorce or permission she needs, nor will the judge, who considers their case to be trivial. Privately, they agree to separate, the daughter Termeh remaining with her father in their nice apartment in a middle-class part of Tehran. Nader’s father has Alzheimer’s and he will have to manage the old man on his own after the separation. So the family hire a carer, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a woman from a poorer part of the city, and who, we later discover, is pregnant. When an argument over the level of care seems to cause Razieh to miscarry, all parties become embroiled in the Law with the threat of violence coming from Razieh’s hot-headed husband. The film develops into a moral tangle in which truth-telling on the Koran becomes a matter of life and death, and tradition is represented by the men and freedom by Semin and maybe her daughter.
July 21st 2011 Enda Kenny yesterday accused the Vatican of downplaying or “managing” the rape and torture of children in order to uphold its own power and reputation. Speaking in the Dáil in a debate on the Cloyne report, he said it excavated the ‘dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism’, dominating the culture of the Vatican to this day. (The Irish Times) What is truly remarkable and shocking is that this is the first time the Taoiseach of Ireland has stood up to the absolute power and might of the Catholic Church – a power that has been wielded since the foundation of the State, often for good, but also with an underside of real erotised violence that went unrecorded and unchecked until recently. Kenny’s statement is welcome but at least half a century too late.
July 18th 2011 One of Baudrillard's last books, The Intelligence of Evil or The Lucidity of the Pact. (Trans. C. Turner. Berg, 2005), repeats many of his recent ideas on reversibility, the duality of good and evil, Integral Reality, it totalising effects and its catastrophic instability, the Virtual as against radical illusion, thought and its rupture by radical thought, Artificial Intelligence, automatic writing, and so on. Beyond, Western Idealism which has always sought to improve the world, Baudrillard asserts that, ‘The world lacks nothing as it is; it opposes any attempt to make it signify anything whatsoever. To inflict truth on it is like explaining a joke or a funny story’. (p211) The secret of the world is in the detail, the fragment, the aphorism (aphorizein meaning to isolate or cut-off) which stands in an agonistic relation to the totality. Now, everything is available like never before – the body, sex, space, money, pleasure – ‘everything is there; nothing has disappeared physically, but everything has disappeared metaphysically...Individuals become exactly what they are. Without transcendence and without image, they carry on their lives like a useless function...irrelevant even in their own eyes...’. (p149) As always, Baudrillard is at his best when he is at the event horizon: what he calls the “impossible exchange barrier”. At this point, ‘Nothing is definitive – or rather everything is. Every stage of evolution, every age of life, every animal or plant species, is perfect in itself. Every character in its singular imperfection, in its matchless finitude, is incomparable’. (p101) But in our Integral world everything is exchangeable: ‘Concretising, verifying, objectivising, demonstrating; “Objectivity” is this capture of the real that forces the world to face us, expurgating it of any secret complicity, of any illusion’. (p39) Thereafter, we are stuck with boring generalities rather than unavowable and absolutely strange singularities. What Baudrillard hopes for, it seems, is what he calls an ‘immense negative countertransference against this Integral Reality we have forged for ourselves’.(p33), because as he says in a note, ‘We are defenceless before the extreme reality of this world, before this virtual perfection’.(p9) This he regards as a new form of terror and the true Evil. However, when he talks or speaks of evil, he does so often enough in a typically postmodern way; it remains largely a playful, disruptive affair, from jokes and slips even as a far as viruses and terrorism. Evil is not a moral category but a structural one. Evil represents, for Baudrillard, precisely what has been excluded by the “Good” sanitised, virtual real. Therefore evil is potentially life-giving is its deliriously destructive effects. That is fine, but there is no place here for Evil per se, pure Evil, an Evil that does not speak, an Id-evil (Žižek) pertaining to the autonomy of the death drive itself. For Baudrillard, if there is an ethics, it would be, ‘To speak evil’, that is to speak against the integrity of the totality, even going as far as to say or to point out, ‘that in every process of domination and conflict is forged a secret complicity, and in every process of consensus and balance, a secret antagonism’. (p163) Complicity and connivance are words that Baudrillard frequently deploys: we are deeply complicit with evil. So much against the contemporary celebration of the pure victim, for instance, the recrimination and compensation culture, Baudrillard nearly becomes an analyst when he says: ‘Let us be worthy of our evil genius, let us measure up to our tragic involvement in what happens to us’.(p153) To impute misfortune to an objective cause ‘shows a very mediocre idea of oneself’, with so little pride and self-respect. Here as elsewhere, he breaks with postmodern mediocrity, decrying the loss of values, the loss of character and honesty.
July 15th 2011 A generation ago, art critic Robert Hughes gave us The Shock of the New (1980 BBC series). Now, in the new century, we could say that we have been left alone with just, “Shock”: everywhere the shock, as catastrophe, as the crash; the shock and the recycling of the new. On the level of the subject, the shock is expressed as stress. Everyone feels stress; everyone is stressed. The energy released by “liberation” is experienced as “free floating anxiety”, panic attacks, impulsive behaviour and so on.
July 14th 2011 ‘Remember Lara Logan, the CBS reporter who was subjected to a brutal and sustained sexual assault in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in February. That wasn’t by a lone predator in a dark alley, it was by a mob of 300 men screaming “Jew!”, “Jew!” “Jew!” at her in the very heart of the Arab world’s “democratic revolution”’ (Robin Shepherd). However, a colleague of Žižek’s, who spent time in Tahrir Square and whispered provocatively in people ears: surely this is caused by Zionists? Surely the Jews are behind this? And those students, without exception, shouted back to him that it had nothing to do with Israel, Zionism or the Jews. This is our revolution. So the revolution was a secular revolution demanding freedom and human rights and was not inspired by Zionist agents and the West's obsession with Israel is beside the point. However, the “Prague Spring” ended not in freedom but in the Soviet invasion. We should be warned.
July 6th 2011 In the introduction to her book, Philosophy in Turbulent Times (Columbia University Press, 2008), Roudinesco celebrates the freedom of the self fought for during the previous century. However, she is irked by the fact that, ‘Never has sexuality been so untrammelled, never has science progressed so far in the exploration of the body and the brain. Yet never has psychological suffering been more intense: solitude, the use of mind-altering drugs, boredom, fatigue, dieting, obesity, the medicalisation of every second of existence’. She says that the freedom so hard fought for has turned back into, ‘a demand for puritanical restraint’ (pxi). She apparently sees no structural, essential connection between these paradoxical phenomena of liberation.
July 4th 2011 It used to be a commonplace of the postmodern era that: ‘the Left won the culture war, the Right won the economic war and the Centre won the political war’. At first glance we still believe this to be true, until one introduces the Real itself, beyond ordinary reality. The Left won rights and freedoms for sexual and ethnic minorities, until they came up against the Real of Islamic violence that throws all these back into question. The Right won the economic war by instituting the freedom of Market, until it came up against the Real of greed and the devastation it has caused via economic meltdown. And the Centre won the political war as all modern parties converge at this point of the centre and become indistinguishable from each other. This is the Real end of leadership and strong ideas as has been manifest most recently in Europe.
June 30th 2011 You can hear senior figures in the psychoanalytic movement declare that, for instance, religion should have no place in analytic thinking; that the notion of male and female is a heterosexist myth – you choose your gender; that you authorise your own enjoyment (jouissance); that the father does not exist, and so on. Then you realise how futile and obscurantist psychoanalysis has become. It is only a generation ago that there were serious discussions on peak-hour television about psychoanalysis and modernity in, for instance, Voices: Psychoanalysis. (1987) Channel 4.
June 28th 2011 Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. Raymond Tallis. Acumen 2011. Biologism, the belief that human beings are animals and can be understood in biological terms alone, is now generally and widely accepted in contemporary thought. This trend has been legitimised by amazing advances in biology, genetics, evolutionary theory and neuroscience. Everyday behaviour is thus explained in Darwinian terms. Human consciousness is identified with the activity of the evolved brain. This is the materialist position. All that we do, think and feel is subordinated to the imperative of ensuring that we behave in such a way as to, individually or collectively, maximise the chances of replicating our genetic material. One of the consequences of this simplistic approach, according to Tallis, is that by seeing ourselves as animals we may find reasons for treating each other like animals. Tallis exposes the exaggerated claims made for the explanatory power of neuroscience and evolutionary theory to explain human consciousness, human behaviour, culture and society. Human beings, he suggests, are infinitely more interesting and complex than they appear in the mirror of biologism. Biologism is a sub-set of Scientism: the belief that everything will be explained via science.
June 23rd 2011 Simon Marsh is a consultant with 30 years experience in the NHS. It is no longer enough just to be a clinician in the NHS today. You have to be a manager, a team-player, a multi-disciplinary worker and a carer. Gone are the days of the autonomous consultant, the feared figure-head, who wouldn’t ask but simply tell, more often should and expect things to be done. He was beholden to no one except matron and the ward sister, now also extinct. The difference it seems is that over the last 30 years the NHS has become beholden to a new master: money and with it, targets and efficiency. Some might say that politicians and managers have deliberately downgraded the importance of consultants, despite the promise of successive governments to make the NHS more independent. The ability to just “do it” has gone. Multiple committee meeting are required before even the slightest change can be made. Conflict grows between consultants and managers, and finally a feeling of complete impotence sets in. At one hospital, a manager was allowed to stop an operation to check all the staff for inappropriate clothing. This expectation of powerlessness and helplessness is being propagated earlier and earlier in a doctor’s training. Because of the brevity of the training, the treatment of many diseases is governed by guidelines, which in practice are protocols, which means there is no longer a place for the original thinker, or the innovator; do it by the book or don’t do it at all. Health care like so much else, has fallen prey to the tick-box culture, with knee-jerk inappropriate responses that do nothing to improve health-care. Everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator. While there have been real improvements in certain outcomes and waiting times, these come at the price of emasculating the profession and driving out those attributes that so defined the consultants of the past. Originality, and that epitome of the old consultant – character – are frowned upon and discouraged and like a homeopathic remedy we have been diluted so much that although we are told we have an effect, in truth we have very little at all.
June 20th 2011 Camille Paglia refers to the chaos and anomie of the Western bourgeois sexuality. ‘Sex is a force of nature not just a social construct. Monsters stalk its midnight realm. Too many over-protected middle-class girls have a dangerously naive view of the world. They fail to see the animality and primitivism of sex, historically controlled by traditions of religion and morality now steadily dissolving in the West’. She suggests that the laws regulating sex and sexual violence can only ever partly protect women. ‘Protests and parades cannot [re-]create honour’, says Paglia, assuming “honour” to be what modern women want. It may be rather old-hat to ponder Paglia’s assertion that, ‘SlutWalk’s overflowing emotion is less about sexual violence than the spiritual disconnection of men and women in this tech-driven careerist age’. In a sense we are long past caring about those old issues of real connection, honour, dignity and so on, that informed an earlier generation of feminists. As Paglia says, ‘When it devalued motherhood, Western feminism undermined women’s most ancient claim to dignity’. No so-called “pride” or “reclaiming” marches can recover this loss, because women now only authorise themselves without reference to any so-called “loss”. Loss? What loss?! (From The Sunday Times, 12/6/11)
June 16th 2011 Paul Verhaeghe describes what he calls the “Enron culture”, the post-ethical culture that has arisen since 1970s, as a neo-liberal discourse became hegemonic in the West. This is a rights-based culture against authority, where the Market determines the price of everything and inequalities begin to increase dramatically in Western economies. Ostensibly the system is meritocratic belonging to the self-made man, creating new classes of “winners” and “losers” where measurable, verifiable performance and targets rule. The intrinsically ethical attitude of former times has been replaced by an extrinsic regulatory framework of rules, targets and contracts. An atmosphere of distrust spreads as every person is assumed to be ‘getting away with it’, like the MPs in Britain who believed they were doing nothing wrong by fiddling their expenses because after all ‘we did not break any rules’. This knowledge and data based culture is the modern-day realisation of Bentham’s panopticon. This amounts to an infantilisation process that has the effect of radically reducing agency and creating the widespread defence of cynicism. People no longer feel engaged; indeed they feel hostile to the organisation that employs them. Is the rise in autism connected to this detachment from the Other? The subject’s Hegelian question to the big Other: what am I for you? is changed into the humiliating belief that, nobody needs me. (From a lecture in Dublin, “Society and its discontents” 11/6/11) Lacan talked about a new kind of discourse which characterizes our post-modern society: the discourse of the capitalist. Here, the position of the agent, is occupied by the subject (S), who does not address the Other per se, but the Market, the master signifier (S1). Through the Market, the subject (S) can access knowledge (savoir) (S2), science and technology, that in turn produces enjoyment, objects to be consumed (a). With the Discourse of the Capitalist, Lacan tried to account for a new kind of social bond in which the subject becomes more and more individualistic and egoistic, indeed without the social bond.
June 12th 2011 What does it mean to be foreign? (BBC Radio 4. Off the Page. 6/6/11) It means you can’t read the little things. You are always a bit of a fool, a bit heavy; you’re not quite there, you speak funny, you dress funny; you don’t know how to behave. Even if you master the language you’ll still miss the cultural references, or be incredibly clumsy with them. And even if you do become well integrated, it will have taken so long that now you will be out of touch with your own country of origin if you return. And don’t imagine that back home they will be the slightest bit interested in your experiences abroad, your travels, because they won’t be because they are far too wrapped up in their own lives. However, everyone should try living aboard for a while; not so much because travel broadens your mind, but because being a foreigner wrong-foots you, it allows you to see your limitations and the extreme otherness of other people. When you marry from outside your culture you are endlessly fascinated by that culture. It is thrilling. To be an ex-pat is liberating because you are free to reinvent yourself. You can never know a country unless you were born there. You can never know a city unless you were born there. However well you get to know it you will never quite understand the psyche. If you are married to someone from a different country, no matter how long you live with them, you will never understand them and you will be always surprised by the values they hold and you know that they will never change. This is Otherness.
June 10th 2011 David Norris (Ireland) and Ken Clarke (England) have both in their different ways become caught up in a language correctness that neither in their complacency either anticipated or accepted. When Senator Norris suggested, with some approval, that in Plato’s time older men initiated young men sexually, and furthermore, when he suggested that there was a “spectrum” of sexual abuse from the violent to softer forms, he was caught out by the intensity of the reaction from victim groups. Similarly, Clarke had suggested that there was a similar spectrum in rape cases from violent rape to date rape, provoking the strong reaction that, “all rape is rape”. But according to the thought police, whom Norris and Clarke would normally be encouraging, even these avowedly and genuinely liberal people are advocating abuse and putting future victims are risk.
June 7th 2011 We have all these reductionist views of human nature. For instance, dialectical materialism (Marx) at the socio-economic level; the unconscious, ultimately the (death) drive (Freud) at the level of psychology; the Selfish Gene (Dawkins) at the bio-genetic level; the “mind as computer” (Moravec, Kurzweil) at the level of information science and AI; language as structure (Saussure) and Jouissance (Lacan) at the level of philosophy. In each instance, the nobility of the human subject is swept away by objective forces belonging to the Real, against which the subject has little or no control. More recently, the belief in “emergent properties”, self-organisation, autopoeisis (Maturana) relegates the subject to radical contingency. What strange fragile effects this must create.
June 2nd 2011 Towards the end of Totem and Taboo, Freud summarises his thinking thus: ‘The beginning of religion, morals, society and art all converge in the Oedipus complex’ (SE 13:156). Notwithstanding that post-Freudian psychoanalysis has moved away from this bold assertion from Freud’s middle period, we can properly ask now where indeed have religion, morals, society and art gone? Totem and Taboo was published just a year before the Great War and the beginning of the long emptying. Freud’s words were prophetic.
May 29th 2011 It is more than ironic that Germany, who after WW2 forswore military power so that it would never again Germany dominate its neighbours, is now via the inexorable logic of the “return of the repressed”, dominating its neighbours economically with hints of the return to its past racist attitudes to the so-called PIGS, with consequences nearly as frightening. All this at a time when as in the ‘thirties the rest of Europe lacks a credible leader to challenge the gross injustices involved. Incidentally, there was a psychoanalytic paper written in the ‘seventies about the emergence of the Greens in Germany earlier than elsewhere. The interpretation given was the German's deep fear of the "smoking chimneys".
May 26th 2011 The DSK affair has exposed the key divergence of attitude in relation to sexuality between France and the Anglosphere. In France, there is a broad acceptance of the vicissitudes of the erotic that will always remain opaque and hidden to a degree. The Anglosphere, more Protestant and puritanical, demands clarity, safety and equality. For instance, there was a wholly unsympathetic response from the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, to complaints from France that Mr Strauss-Kahn was unfairly paraded before the media when he was shown, unshaven, walking out of a police station in handcuffs – the so-called “perp walk”. ‘I think it is humiliating, but if you don't want to do the perp walk, don't do the crime’, said Bloomberg, quite forgetting that DSK has not yet been convicted of any crime. Time leads with an article, “Sex. Lies. Arrogance. What makes powerful men act like pigs?” And lest anyone should accuse Time of animal hatred, there is a note at the bottom saying, “no offence” next to a little picture of a pig. The article deplors what it calls the “Misconduct Matrix” of powerful men, ranging from the “massively hypocritical”, the “plain stupid”, to those in “jailhouse” or just the “doghouse”. It calls France, ‘a culture so tolerant’ that it causes women victims who complain ‘only ridicule and pain’. The whole seductive problematic of the erotic that psychoanalysis describes and explores is reduced in the Anglosphere to a rational question of negotiated consent in which some “behaviours” are deemed “inappropriate” or not, where women are innocent victims of “harassment”. Here, no chaud lapin, no droit de seigneur, no séducteur, séductrice. According to our harassment codes, ‘U.S. bosses are told they have gone too far when they compliment female employees on the colour of their clothes or style of their hair’. French women are said to be “colluding” sexually with the men they work with. But there is a mood of optimism, we are assured after the Strauss affair, French women may come to see the light.
May 23rd 2011 The Queen has gone back home after a hugely successful visit here, surpassing all expectations. She received a massive positive transference from the Irish people, partly by virtue of her own quiet dignity as a vulnerable 85 year-old and partly by virtue of her symbolic position. The question that Freud raises about such transference love is not so much that it is unrealistic, illusory and defensive, but, ‘can we truly say that the state of being in love which becomes manifest in analytic treatment [and outside] is not a real one?’ Further on he says, ‘There is no such state [of being in love] which does not reproduce infantile prototypes’, however, ‘We have no right to dispute that the state of being in love which makes its appearance in the course of analytic treatment has the character of a “genuine” love’ (SE. 12:168). Six million people in Britain claim familial links with Ireland, a massive reservoir of potential love; consequently, ‘We should not forget, however, that these departures from the norm constitute precisely what is essential about being in love’ (SE. 12:169).
May 20th 2011 All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace. Adam Curtis takes the title of his upcoming programmes on the BBC from a vision, a “hippie manifesto”, created hippie poet Richard Brautigan in 1967 and distributed on the streets of San Francisco. Growing excitement around the new computer technologies created the belief that everyone would soon become enabled and empowered to be heroic individuals leading to a society where the old hierarchical forms of political control would be unnecessary. It was a utopian notion of a world where animal and human would be cybernetically linked into a web of total harmony. For the last 15 years, this paradigm of “connectivity” has indeed become central, in three broad areas: in nature (ecology); through computers (social networking); through global financial systems. Communes were the prototypes of these self-organising systems. We would live together connected as nodes in a system; we would negotiate with each other, without being allowed to form coalitions or banding together in any way (old politics); the system would find its own stability. Thus, connectivity implies a new kind of levelling of democratic interests, in which power disappears and everyone is equal. However, experience has shown that power did not disappear in the communes for long, primarily, Curtis suggests, because people themselves are intrinsically different and unequal. Power and inequality inevitable reassert themselves. Whatever freedoms appear are quickly controlled by power. The revolution (like the so-called Arab spring) may be started on social networks and everyone comes together, but then powerful vested interests come in and eventually take-over. In Lacanian terms the Real of social antagonism and class warfare always reappears. The absence of even the apprehension of this violent Real, renders the hippie vision and its New Age variants hopelessly naive. In fact, these "Machines of Loving Grace" watch over us in a way that might become a means of perfected power itself as a kind of electronic panopticon, rendering us all equally abject.
May 17th 2011 The easiest thing to say about the so-called “SlutWalks” is that they represent an absolute repudiation of the feminine qua reticent, disappearing, modest, and so on. An international series of protests known as SlutWalks, sparked by a Toronto police officer's comment that women should avoid dressing like “sluts” to avoid being raped or victimized, is taking root in the United States and elsewhere. ‘The event is in protest about a culture that we think is too permissive when it comes to rape and sexual assault’, says one. ‘It's to bring awareness to the shame and degradation women still face for expressing their sexuality’, says another. In San Francisco, they wanted the walk to be a family event, a fun event: ‘Singles, couples, parents, sisters, brothers, children, friends, come walk or roll or strut or holler or stomp with us’. ‘Nobody tells me what to do. Embrace your inner slut’. ‘Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim’. These are some of the comments and slogans. In an ironic reclaiming of this pejorative term, the narcissistic imperative now extends to slut-pride, where all violence is forcibly projected into the other (man). As always, there must be no limit to self expression; no limit to enjoyment; no limit to freedom. Maybe the Founding Fathers had a notion of freedom with responsibility as a way to self-respect. The re-issue and recycling of the term slut, now with a positive valance, may have a blowback effect, thus seeming paradoxically to normalise the worst elements of the brutal abuse of women, understood to be on the increase world-wide. And what about very young girls, should they be aspiring to the lowest common denominator of slut-pride, also?
May 15th 2011 The head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been charged by New York police over an alleged sex attack on a hotel maid. How symbolic is that!
May 12th 2011 In 1915 the late Italian self-styled seismologist Raffaele Bendandi predicted that the “the big one” would strike Rome on May 11, 2011. Panic developed recently as rumours spread across social media including Facebook and Twitter. And yesterday, many Italians fled Rome amid fears of a pending earthquake despite reassurances from seismologists and political leaders. Ironically, an earthquake struck Spain instead. But we definitely live now in what it is appropriate to call apocalyptic time, on many levels – ecological, financial, techno-digital, religious terrorism, social breakdown, and so on. We are more than ready to believe in and anticipate catastrophic events. This is part of the chaos and non-linearity of postmodernity. Apocalyptic time was preceded by the linear time of modernity, where one advance leads to another, or one breakthrough leads to another, until the point we are at now, the zero-point of break-down. Prior to modernity and progress, there was cyclical time reflecting the rhythms of nature and the seasons where nothing changed.
May 8th 2011 But the question should arise as to what is the point of all this (a-mortality), this non-dying, or this between-two-deaths? The first death was the sacrifice of life to functionality and the second, now infinitely delayed by all the supplements, is bodily death. The same question could be asked about the a-sexual, the non-sexual. There is no transcendence, just mere functionality and the performance principle, nothing beyond. Condemned to the ultra-technological manipulation of the body “life” continues in a purely formal and indeed technical and statistical sense, with moment to moment monitoring of physical modality in the absence of the metaphysical.
May 5th 2011 “Amortal” is the term coined by Catherine Mayer in a recent issue of Time (25.4.11) when she visited Las Vegas where she discovered the “uniface” of those living agelessly, helped by the Cenegenics Medical Institute, allegedly ‘the world’s largest age-management practice’. The perma-tanned were remarkably devoid of the differential age markers that determine adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, retirement, golden years, and so on, even across the gender divide and income range. As Mayer observes, many of us now increasingly inhabit our own ‘virtual Las Vegases’, as we are now living 30 years longer than a century ago. It is no longer possible to answer when is the best age to have children (fertility treatments), to settle with a life partner, to retire, etc. Adults stay “young” with diet, exercise and cosmetic procedures, assuming all options are always open, attempting to live the same way and at the same intensity from youth right into old age! They get old without getting old, trusting that science will deliver them from the inevitable. Anti-aging supplements can exceed $1,000 a month including hormone replacement therapies, so that men in their 70s look young and virile again. And to prove that just thinking can make you younger, an isolated hotel in New England was retrofitted to the 1950s in every respect and the elderly guests were told to imagine that they had travelled back in time and live as though they were young again and within a week they had very significantly improved cognitive and motor skills, compared to the control group who were told that their stay was just an exercise in nostalgia. A Mayer implies, death continues to show through such a self-centred, hedonistic calculus - my life, not yours; a race to be the last to die; this is what it comes down to! Death is the absolute master, and this is as far as you can get from the alternative notion of life as “gift”.
May 2nd 2011 According to an article researched by Roisin Ingle in today’s Irish Times, rates of self harming increased by 33 per cent last year. A case is given of a 20 year-old woman who began cutting herself aged 11, using the blade from a pencil sharpener. Her home life had always been difficult, shunted between feuding separated parents; she found the family situation painful but didn’t feel able to discuss her problems. ‘Cutting myself was something I did nearly every time I got upset. Over the years it got worse, I started getting what I now know were panic attacks and the cutting became more regular. By the time I was 15 or 16 I was doing it every other day’. While there are currently about 12,000 hospital admissions a year for self-harm, it is estimated that there are as many as 60,000 cases of self harm going unreported each year. She has a particularly unsightly scar, one of the most recent, the result of a night out when she had a row with her boyfriend, the father of her now one-year-old son. ‘I smashed a glass and used it on my arm. There was blood everywhere. I had to go to hospital’. The standard explanation for this relatively new pathology is that it represents a form of bodily “communication” for people who haven’t learnt to express fear, pain or distress in any other way. Self harming does not just include drug overdoses or cutting, the most widely used methods, but can range from chronic nail picking and biting, scalding or swallowing dangerous objects. Other “socially acceptable” self harming behaviours include bingeing on food or alcohol, extreme dieting, smoking or cosmetic surgery. Welcome to the desert of the Real. To imply that this represents just a new form of communication, albeit a dangerous one, is trivial. Instead, it requires a psychoanalytic formulation. Put briefly, self-harm represents a breakdown in the primordial symbolisation process to be brought about by proper attachment to the first Other, that we used to be able to take for granted. Without this graduated, mediated passage from the Real to the Symbolic, strong feelings and emotions, levels of rage, can only be expressed violently, intensely and impulsively, in the Real, here and now, where the self-injury serves to “say” to the other (harking back to the failure of the first Other): look how much you have hurt me, look how much you are killing me.
April 30th 2011 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. Christopher Boone's favourite dream: ‘In the dream nearly everyone on the earth is dead, because they have caught a virus. It's like a computer virus...and I can go anywhere in the world and I know that no one is going to talk to me or touch me or ask me a question’. He is apt to lie down and scream, or groan when confronted by the outside world, because his computer brain is easily overwhelmed and he prefers “white noise” to listening to his parents arguing, mainly about the difficulties posed by him and his rigidities. He has the safety of his Swiss army knife in his pocket with its saw blade ready if the other comes too close and his only “friend” is Toby his pet rat. Although both his parents try to help him, Siobhan, his special needs assistant at school, is the most consistent. Although this story has been criticised as autism-lite, the question we should ask is why “otherness” has become so toxic for some children. The standard answers are, better awareness, more reporting, more diagnosis, more funds for Special Needs, and so on. Is the post-human bearing in on children’s minds, effectively digitalising them in preparation? Christopher is unable to deal with emotions. He is told of his mother’s death and he records his Scrabble score and writes what he has had for dinner. Yet, he hugs the dog that was killed, mysteriously, and is nearly killed himself while rescuing Toby. Humanity and empathy, as it were, hover in the margins of the story – always a link, a contact, a bond just missed, ungraspable, stillborn. The future child locked in with his prime numbers, his noughts and ones.
April 22nd 2011 Schizophrenia Ireland. The former managing director of Allied Irish Banks, Colm Doherty, received a pay package of more than €3m last year after stepping down from the bank which had reported a pretax loss of €12bn for the year. Last week, RTE’s flagship Late Late Show did a very serious and poignant piece on suicide which was followed after a musical break by a decadent piece on “dog marriages”, which can cost as much as €20k and doggy outfits costing €1,000, and so on. Finally, in an RTE Frontline programme on teachers in Ireland, the presenter, Pat Kenny, attacked teachers over their levels of pay, when Kenny's pay is at least 15 times higher, also paid out of the public purse.
April 20th 2011 Following the niqab and burka ban in France, the London Taliban, no less, have ordered Muslim women in the London borough of Tower Hamlets to cover-up. Good old multicultural Britain can generate its own local misogynists.
April 19th 2011 Writing about the obesity epidemic, Irish journalist, Kevin Myers says, ‘I loathe seeing the faces of fat children, without chins or jaws or cheekbones. Only an abject terror of being “judgmental” -- easily the most paralysing social norm of our times: our equivalent of the prudishness of the Victorian era -- prevents people discussing this issue with the frankness it deserves’. Not so; obesity is discussed everyday in the media, but to no avail. Only, in official circles is no spoken judgement made, while unofficially fat people are hated, bullied and above all hate themselves. What Myers is hinting at is that there is no overall authority in the home or school that will situate food cravings in a strong cohesive social context. As Freud made explicit throughout his writing, without “binding” (bindung), the drives are de-fused and dis-inhibited. Then a new kind of binding comes to the foreground, closer to the drives themselves, independent of ego-functioning and the basis of the repetition compulsion.
April 16th 2011 The Samaritans’ slogan, “Life’s worth talking about”, has the usual postmodern therapeutic timidity about it. There is a shrug of the shoulders mild affirmation in it, which could easily invite the casual reply: ‘Maybe so; maybe not. Anyway, mine isn’t worth talking about’. The slogan is no stronger than the old BT ad, “It’s good to talk”, and that was of course was just about communication, not about life or death. It is as if the Samaritans do not really believe in life any more than their client population; it is hardly a ringing endorsement of life. But in a non-judgemental age, we can only be gently invited to stay living and talking; anything more assertive may provoke an impulsive counter-reaction. However, talking about life is precisely the problem. In the days when life was regarded as a Gift, it was quite simply ineffable and therefore beyond any discussion. Once it becomes a possession in a rational secular culture that chooses and evaluates, what people call, “my life”, is for choosing and talking about. Choosing to end it, discard it, could be just cool.
April 12th 2011 Under the new law in France, any woman - French or foreign - walking on the street or in a park and wearing the niqab or burka can be stopped by police and given a fine. The French government says the veil undermines the basic standards required for living in a shared society and also relegates its wearers to an inferior status incompatible with French notions of equality. The niqab or the burka put their wearers beyond the symbolic law (shared society) that demands visibility, transparency and accountability. In this sense, these women are not just unequal, they do not even exist; they are hidden out of sight of the world, often in great danger mentally and physically, for that reason. The veil creates an absence which invokes the invisible traumatic Real, the sinister “dark continent” that Freud wondered about, the so-called “feminine jouissance” of Lacanian theory. It is only from a western (feminist) viewpoint, where women should be equal to men and transparently so, that niqab/burka wearing women are “inferior”, that is, under the control of men, not allowed to be sexual, hidden, constrained not to exist, and so on. Surely, in addition, these women potentially represent, what men and equality feminists have always feared, is a non-phallic power, the power of exclusion which, by it very darkness, threatens radical evil. Beyond all the very reasonable and re-assuring republican equality rhetoric, chaos potentially threatens from the interior, behind the veil. In this sense, the wearing of the veil is “political”. In fact, it is more than political, threatening the very basis of the polis itself.
April 11th 2011 It is amazing and remarkable that within the Lacanian oeuvre, if in doubt posit a term as “empty”. We should list all formerly positive terms as now empty, voided and nothing. The strategy has been to void everything: the person (personare – to sound through) now called the subject is nothing; the woman, although she gives birth, for instance, does not exist; the sexual relationship, upon which so much can be built, does not exist and there is no possibility of sexual rapport; the lost psychoanalytic object – oral, anal, phallic, etc., becomes the voided little “a” object, that because it is the nothing organises desire; the Real is the nothing that lies behind ordinary reality; the father is nothing but his Name with his symbolic function; even my counterpart, the small other, is purely a mirage; love is something that I do not have that I give to others who do not want it; my essence does not exist because everything about me is contingent, accidental and subject to change; the analyst who was once a substantial presence is now a zero point; every universal is founded on an exception, a null point, and so on.
April 7th 2011 I am, therefore it thinks. This small Lacanian formula illustrates the so-called division of the subject. Unlike the popular therapeutic fantasy that we should integrate heart and mind, there is a gap or a crack between being and thought. Against the Cartesian assertion that I think therefore I am, Lacan asserts that when I am thinking I am not being and when I am being I am not thinking. In other words, when I am being (in normal reality), elsewhere there is a stain, a blot that is outside my awareness (unconscious thoughts). Like, for example, the Irish Gardai yesterday, whose normal reality (being) is keeping law and order. But when they stop being officially Gardai, their “thinking” can come into play. They had just arrested two women protesters on the Corrib pipeline and were inadvertently recorded (on the confiscated recorder) joking in coarse terms about what they might do to the women - arrest them, deport them, rape them. As Gardai, they enforced the law, but that enforcement comes at a price – the obscene autonomy of the “it thinks”.
April 4th 2011 Žižek: ‘The shift from the classic form of hysteria to borderline disturbances is strictly correlative with the shift from the traditional Master to the form of power legitimized by knowledge’. Add to this, Melman’s assertion that the decline of the paternal name is linked an increase in psychosis in the population, and there is a clear trend. Not that this trend should make us nostalgic for the hierarchical old Master. However, if the “father” disappears so does the “child” and what, we should ask, will become of human subjectivity? Maybe our contemporary descriptions of the subject as empty, contingent, fading, virtual, etc., already implicitly acknowledge disappearance.
April 1st 2011 According to Camille Paglia, Elizabeth Taylor was a ‘pre-feminist woman [who] wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy’. She continues, ‘Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliché. But the femme fatale expresses women’s ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm’. (Sunday Times, 27.3.11 Review) Ever since the famous 1929 paper, by Joan Riviere “Womanliness as masquerade” (IJPA 10), woman will be (mis) understood as being, or appearing to be “for-the-other” in patriarchy. But the mask that she puts on for the other is there, so the story goes, to hide the feminine secret. Whereas, behind the male image (rather than masquerade) there is no secret only a person trying to live up to a (macho) male ideal. In terms of the phallic economy, the man believes he has the phallus, without masquerade, without frills, he is what he claims to be, whereas the woman appears to be the phallus as a strategy of lure and seduction. The phallus after all is a semblance as it can only create its attractive function while veiled. Once uncovered its power collapses. The woman, therefore, appears to want to be loved for what she is not; she offers herself not as she is but as a phallic mask. Behind the mask, is not substantial true womanliness, but a paradoxical nothing, where she can remain free and out of reach of man’s aggressive desire. According to the Lacanian schema, she remains un-castrated (like the primordial father) and herein lies her ‘world-disordering impact’. In effect, woman as exception to the phallic universe, becomes the Master – a pre-feminist, pre-symbolic subversive power! From here, positioned at one remove “outside” the phallic universe (not-all submitted to it), she can see through its charismatic function, she can unmask its magic. Or, let us be clear: is this just an idealisation of woman? When feminists oppose the male values of autonomy, competitiveness, etc., with the feminine values of intimacy, attachment, interdependence, self-sacrifice, and so on, are these authentic feminine features or simply male clichés about women - features imposed on women in the patriarchal society? Similarly, when feminists object to the suggestion that Taylor, for instance, represents some primordial secretive feminine power, is this “for-the-other” of patriarchy, or “in-itself”? This is the key question. Every positive assertion of what woman allegedly is “in herself”, brings us back to the question: are you sure, is she not that “for the other”? Following Lacan, woman is pure subject, the subject qua original void, deprived of any further positive qualifications. What ultimately characterizes the subject is radical contingency and artificiality that cannot be identified with any of these features. On the other hand, “pure void” might be just the “nothing” that enables interdependence, self-sacrifice, openness to contingency, and so on – nothing, as hidden (from the symbolic) plenitude. Consider the story of The Dancer, related by Leo Scheer. A concentration camp guard forces a young beautiful Jewess to dance for him before her death. As she does so, he is so spellbound that she is able to approach him, steal his knife and kill him. Baudrillard is correct in asserting that true castration is the inability to seduce. Žižek uses a recent beer advertisement to illustrates Lacan’s provocative thesis, “there is no sexual relation”. Firstly, we follow the fairy tale: a girl walks along a stream, sees a frog, takes it gently into her lap, kisses it, and the ugly frog turns into a beautiful young man. However, we are not finished: the young man responds by casting a lustful glance at the girl. He draws her towards himself, kisses her, and she turns into a bottle of beer that the man triumphantly holds in his hand. For the woman, the point is that her love and affection (signalled by the kiss) turn a frog into a beautiful man, a full phallic presence. But the man turns the woman into his fantasy object that will satisfy his desire. In the Irish version of this story, the man will leap over several beautiful women to get to a pint of Guinness.
March 30th 2011 The modern subject, the expert, the one with intellectual university knowledge was dubbed by Lacan as the “subject-supposed-to-know”. Lacan deployed the notion of the analyst as the “subject supposed to know” in Seminar XI. He is the illusory figure who arises via the transference in analysis. He is supposed to know, to be expert in the meaning of the patient's symptoms. The patient believes that the analyst has knowledge that will improve his condition. In terms of the 4 discourses, this subject as analyst is imagined in the transference to be expert in psychological knowledge (S2). There are at least 3 other subject-positions, posited by Lacan in Seminar XVII: at another turn, there is the subject-supposed-to-believe (S1), which involves being the subject of an ideology; at another, the subject-supposed-to-enjoy (a), the postmodern subject pursuing his pleasures in freedom; finally, the subject-supposed-to-be-a-subject (S-barred), the neurotic subject who does not know himself or hates himself. But with the analyst as transferentially the subject-supposed-to-know, Lacan betrayed his intellectual bias, as surely the tranferentially inflected analyst is above all imagined as the subject-supposed-to-love. What we want above all, what we desire is not so much knowledge but the love of the Other. Freud pointed-out that analysis was a cure through love. In line with St Paul, we may possess the gift of prophecy, comprehend all mysteries, all knowledge (S2), may have faith (S1) to move mountains, but if we do not have love, we are nothing. And later, Lacan came to place the analyst as nothing (a), as empty void, which maybe another name for love. Without at least this paradoxical capacity for emptiness, for being/having nothing, for being a hostage (Levinas), analytic work cannot take place.
March 28th 2011 Two decades of tribunals have opened up the way business is conducted at the top in Ireland. And the reason for the hyper-confident, bullish demeanour of Denis O’Brien, Michael Lowry and Ben Dunne last week was partly bombastic denial of the truth, as indicated by Dunne himself when he roared and implicitly denouced himself, ‘If Ben Dunne is corrupt he should go to prison for 10 years’, and partly obscene joy at triumphing over the Law. The Law in this part of the world, is linked to the hated foreign British colonial law. When a Dublin journalist visiting Lowry’s constituency asked a local supporter about the controversy surrounding the State’s granting of the second mobile licence to O’Brien, he retorted, ‘wasn’t it better that it went to one of our own’, and when the journalist persisted with questions, he was warned that, ‘if you don’t effing back off, you’ll be effed off that wall over there...’. When Charles Haughey’s took in the equivalent of almost €50m during his political career (according to Fintan O’Toole) and was exposed by the McCracken and Moriarty tribunals, he was never prosecuted for tax evasion on his vast income, but instead was granted a State funeral and hailed at his graveside by his successor Bertie Ahern as ‘a patriot to his fingertips’. Here is the same obscene delight at the continuation of the war by other means.
March 25th 2011 The Moriarty tribunal found that Minister Michael Lowry tried to hide his dealings with businessman Denis O’Brien and to mislead and prolong the investigative process of the tribunal. Its chairman, Mr Justice Moriarty, found that certain people went to great lengths to conceal the sensitive transactions involved in payments from Denis O’Brien to Michael Lowry. As a consequence of these secretive payments, O’Brien’s Esat Digifone got the State’s very lucrative second mobile phone licence from Lowry’s department, beating the other contenders. However, O’Brien and Lowry have strenuously denied any wrong-doing and blamed Moriarty himself. Furthermore, Lowry was re-elected for Tipperary North on the first count in the recent general election, having secured more than 14,000 votes! This is a good example of so-called paranoid schizoid functioning akin to schizophrenic “thinking”, otherwise known as bare-faced lying; either O’Brien and Lowry are lying, or worse still, the judiciary itself cannot be believed. The investigation was dragged out over 14 years and cost the State €150m and the main players still deny wrong-doing. Ethics gives way to a pure, primitive survival with lying and denial as basic strategies. Likewise, Gerry Adams recently won his seat in Louth, in spite of denying what everyone believes, that he was a member of PIRA and ordered executions during the recent Troubles. In the same vein, there is no abortion in the Irish State (you just go to England); there is no nuclear power in Ireland (you can still avail of the inter-connector); Ireland is a neutral country (if attacked NATO will come to its defence). Up until recently there was no divorce in Ireland, no contraception, and so on. These absolute denials of reality, often referred to as Irish solutions to Irish problems, might put one in mind of R.D. Laing’s story about the man who arrives home to find his wife in bed with another man. Forcefully, she denies outright what he has seen, telling him he is deluded by his jealous imagination. He develops a psychotic breakdown.
March 22nd 2011 The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan is projected to cost the Japanese economy up to $235bn in damages, while the reconstruction efforts could last five years, according to the World Bank. Ironically, this sum approximates to the total Irish debt to be borne by the Irish economy over the coming years. This represents the hidden financial devastation, the virtual tsunami we have largely brought on ourselves. Furthermore, there are more than 2,800 ghost estates in the country, according to a report from the Department of the Environment, as a reminder that even this virtual quake produces it own destructive effects on property, people and communities, but as far as we know with no immediate loss of life.
March 18th 2011 There is a life insurance ad that shows a man high up in a tree sawing off the branch on which he is sitting; thus the branch and him fall catastrophically to the ground. By good fortune (and his wise choice), the company has provided a mattress to save him from death and injury! This insurance model symbolises the protective model of therapy with all of its so-called professional ethics and promises of care. Their advice would be of course to stay away from trees. At the other extreme, without safety nets except the “net” of language, is the radical Lacanian model: nothing is insured and there is ultimately full exposure to the Real. However, there is the constant presence of the analyst. Everything hangs on this.
March 14th 2011 The Real is what is refused by therapy culture. The Real is what gives reality gravity. Without it nothing is true, everything is a lie and can veer off in any direction. Therefore in the postmodern we have become accustomed to therapeutic reality and moral relativism. All these terms are now equivalent. This enables cultural theorists to resist, via deconstruction and decontamination, any confrontation with the Real of, say religious, scientific, artistic or philosophical truths, let alone personal truth – the truth of one’s own history gleaned through analysis. Everything stays the same, all the contents are still there even the unconscious, but without gravity. The losses are incalculable and brutal.
March 9th 2011 Cigarettes and other products will have to be kept under-the-counter from 2012 for large stores and 2015 for small shops, ministers have announced in the U.K. In Ireland the ban is already in place. No matter, it makes no difference to smoking levels. The attack on smoking is a big symbolic part of the humourless control measures adopted by the Administered Society. Martin Amis has a sign on his house saying smoking permitted and an interview with a Sarah Palin supporter last night showed a sign on the outside of his snow-covered house saying, ‘Smoke a pack a day’. But, as we are told, smokers are a dying breed.
March 7th 2011 The Bad Girl (By Mario Vargas Llosa. Trans by Edith Grossman. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2007). The book opens with boyhood scenes narrated in the first person. Ricardo recounts an erotic fixation that begins in 1950, in the Mira flores district of Lima, Peru. Ricardo Somocurcio is 15 and Lily arrives in town pulling Ricardo into her strange orbit. Once caught, Ricardo will believe he recognizes Lily’s “essence” beyond her disguises. No matter how many years pass between their reunions, each of which devastate and excite Ricardo, whom she regards as a sentimentalist, “good boy”. Ricardo achieves his dream of leaving Peru and moving to Paris, where he works as an interpreter for Unesco. The bad girl reappears now as Comrade Arlette en route to Cuba for guerrilla training. The bad girl sheds one mask only to try on the next and the next, and so on. Driven by a need for excitement and riches only the most powerful and dangerous men can offer, she assumes whatever appearance is needed to secure the excitement she craves, beyond anything but the apparent humdrum boredom that the good boy can offer. He treats her with tenderness; she repays him with cruelty and humiliation. The bad girl mocks the good boy’s devotion, criticizes his lack of ambition and exploits his generosity. Is her true self hidden from view, or does it, like the good boy’s, not really exist? The reader knows that Ricardo and the girl whose first mask was to pose a the Chilean Lily will cross paths indefinitely, that she will allow him to possess her only long enough to rekindle his obsession, and that despite his intention to give her up, especially after a humiliating incident, he will nevertheless take her back the next time and the next time. Llosa raises the familiar postmodern themes of obsession, identity and love. Maybe Ricardo is just as she calls him, a “pissant”.
March 5th 2011 Would Watson pass the Turing test in spite of his lack of humour and emotion? As strong AI approaches, answers to these questions are no longer so clear. As computers approach the immense complexity needed for the emergence of strong AI, real humans are functionalising themselves in preparation. Functionaries are sounding more and more like automated pre-programmed voice synthesisers (‘Excuse me, but is this a real person I am speaking to’?). The question now should be: are there humans that would not pass the Turing test? Is there a connection here with the increasing incidence of autism and autistic states? There seems to be a kind of gradual convergence of the human and the inhuman. Maybe we are preparing for our destiny, shedding our humanity in anticipation of 2045, pre-emptively de-traumatising that date. Our desire for endlessly updated prostheses is just the early sign of this momentous change. Long ago we gave up any belief in transcendence. We have developed a collective Stockholm syndrome: as electronic hostages we paradoxically feel love and appreciation towards our powerful captor. At one time this would have appeared irrational and dangerous because of the risk faced by the victims, who mistake a lack of obvious abuse as kindness. Now, however, with no means of escape imaginable, we can only love and celebrate our disappearance.
March 1st 2011 This week a computer captured attention as it battled for supremacy against two human competitors. Watson, the IBM computer, prevailed over Jeopardy's finest, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Jennings was quick to explain that ‘there's no shame in losing to silicon’. Watson, with its 200m pages of text from encyclopaedias runs on 90 servers and takes up an entire room. It does not need help understanding questions but is still not yet regarded as “strong AI”. Some thought that in spite of winning Watson, behaved heartlessly! As the other contestants surrounded the machine at game's end to add some levity, they described Watson as being, ‘unfazed. He didn't get the joke, even though he took it like a man’.
February 28th 2011 An important article (“Singularity”. Time, Feb 21st 2011) highlights the possible date, 2045, as the moment when the engine of technological change, increasing exponentially, becomes so enormous that it represents an absolute rupture, a “singularity” in human history. As Vernor Vinge is quoted as saying, ‘within 30 years we will have the means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after the human era will be ended’. Such unimagined computing power is being generated that Raymond Kurzweil believes that, ‘we’re approaching a moment when computers will become intelligent, not just intelligent but more intelligent than humans’. What will happen then, post-2045? How will we share the planet with these new intelligences: maybe cooperatively as cyborgs; maybe they will help us treat old-age; maybe we can scan our consciousness into them and live inside these immortal robots as software; maybe they will turn against us an annihilate us? After all, introducing a superior life form into the biosphere is clearly a Darwinian own-goal. Currently however, computers cannot generate the kind of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that we associate with humans, as they can only master one specific domain, like search queries, playing chess and so on. Strong AI or artificial general intelligence does not yet exist. The key question here is the nature of consciousness itself. Some critics believe AI will never duplicate or exceed the human brain because the neurochemistry that generates consciousness may be too complex and analogue to be replicated digitally. Or, even if a computer was created that passed the Turing test, it may remain just a machine, a semblant, without the spark of consciousness, the ghost in the machine. Kurzweil, on the other hand, sees no difference between ‘flesh and silicon’, and argues that we are already using hand-held network-enabled digital prosthetics, and it is possible to envisage these more directly hooked up to the brain itself. 30,000 Parkinson patients already have neural implants.
February 19th 2011 Buitiful, by director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Iñárritu describes his fourth film as his first complete tragedy. ‘Biutiful is not about death, It’s about life. It’s a hymn to life’. To underline his point, he quotes from “On Myth” by the Mexican poet Jaime Sabines: Someone spoke to me all the days of my life, / into my ear, slowly, taking their time. / Said to me: live, live, live! / It was death. The film is the story of Uxbal (Javier Bardem), an impoverished father of two who is dying of cancer, and whose manic-depressive ex-wife (Maricel Álvarez) is sleeping with his brother. Uxbal is a good man trying his best for his kids while operating on the wrong side of the law among third world immigrants in the backstreet underworld of Barcelona. He takes his cut while shifting dangerously between corrupt police, gay Chinese gangmasters who have a basement full of terrified immigrants who will work for his brother, and Senegalese illegals who sell drugs on the street. On top of all this, Uxbal has the gift of second sight; he can see dead people and give messages to their grieving relatives. Is he the living embodiment of the notion that one man can make a difference? Or, does this film promote, ‘a global, humanist aesthetic of compassion... like a Benetton ad from the 1990s’, as Peter Bradshaw suggests in the Guardian? More than this, the sublime fractured intensity of the camera-work captures the human response to the Real of suffering and loss, beyond any post-modern commentary.
February 18th 2011 The over-the-counter availability of the “morning after” pill has been welcomed by the Irish Family Planning Association and the Irish Pharmacy Union. It will be available to minors as well as adults. The women who spoke for both these groups warned that the pill is most effective when taken literally the morning after. Thereafter its efficacy falls off to just over 50% after 3 days. Here, as usual, Left and Right are as one; the former promoting no limit to casual sex, while the latter, via the pharmaceuticals, are quite happy to make money from sex. And the spokeswomen seem pleased indeed with the new service they can provide. Crisis pregnancies can now be avoided. Sex has now almost reached its fully virtual recreational form, finally detached from the real of reproduction, a process that began seriously with the contraceptive pill half a century ago is nearing completion.
February 14th 2011 Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky) is set in the intense world of New York City ballet. Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina whose life is taken over by dance, which is the overwhelming desire of her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter’s professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition - a new dancer, the sensuous Lily (Mila Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who has been bereft of her lover and who must be seductive, sensual and dangerous. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily suits the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to merge, not with her dark side, it is not hers, but with a blind recklessness that threatens to destroy her. So there are three young women who have been caught in the leering male gaze of Leroy and who allow themselves to be objectified by him and the training system he represents. The focus is on Nina, who is told by Leroy to “touch herself”, too loosen up, to become seductive so that she can dance the black swan. Her fragile self gradually unravels as she leaves the desire of her mother and is taken over by a death drive that that begins to fragment the Imaginary-Symbolic coordinates of her reality and operates as the inhuman Thing that attacks and animates the body. So, loosening-up and “getting in touch with” her inner black swan, her shadow, is not the simple holistic awakening so beloved of New Age therapies; quite the contrary, a monstrous excess is released.
February 10th 2011 Des Bishop, Irish-American comedian, presents My Dad Was Nearly James Bond. His father, the former model and actor, who had small parts in Zulu and Day of the Triffids, narrowly lost out to George Lazenby for the role of James Bond. During the making of Des’s film, however, his father discusses his fight with lung cancer and his love of his three sons. He had no regrets about giving-up his acting career when he became a father. As he is about to go on stage at the Edinburgh fringe, his son is doing the introductions out on stage, the father, still back-stage, says directly to camera: when they are born you become a father and you give up everything for them. His moving words, entirely without rancour, as he nears death and is about to go on stage with his son for the first and only time, echo Levinas on paternity. Paternity is a relation with an other who is paradoxically also myself. I do not have a child, I am in some way my child. As Levinas says,‘the I breaks free from itself in paternity without thereby ceasing to be an I, for the I is its son...The father does not simply cause the son. To be one’s son means to be I in one’s son, to be substantially in him, yet without being maintained there in identity’. With the son, the I continues into the future: ‘In paternity, where the I, across the definitiveness of an inevitable death, prolongs itself in the other’. With the son, Levinas suggests, ‘time no longer expresses the unintelligible dispersion of the unity of being...time adds something new to being, something absolutely new. But the newness of springtimes that flower in the instant is already heavy with all the springtimes lived through. The profound work of time delivers from this past, in a subject [son] that breaks with the father’. (Levinas, E. 1961. Totality and Infinity. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne UP. pp278-284). The point here is that the radical isolation of the ego begins with hypostasis, the initial withdrawal of the self into a human existent. But this withdrawal is not entirely without remission. It is through my being that I am my son. Paternity is not simply the renewal of the father in the son by the father’s merger with him, it is also the father’s exteriority in relation to the son, a pluralism of being. (See also, Hand, S. [Ed] 1989. The Levinas Reader. London: Blackwell, p52).
February 7th 2011 The picture in The Irish Times (5/6.2.11) of tens of thousands of Egyptians kneeling in row after row at Friday prayers in Tahrir Square (Cairo) as part of the mass protest to end Mubarak’s 30-year rule underlines, above all, the new kind of obedience and determination that constitutes Islam. It indicates a discipline and commitment that would be unheard of in the west.
February 5th 2011 Badiou describes the post-modern world as “atonal”, which means unaccented, without tone, debilitated, or pointless in the Lacanian point-de-capiton sense. There are no quilting points or buttoning points that will hold the social fabric in place. For increasing numbers therefore there may be no point in living. Life is meaningless. Therefore we must expect a rise in suicide and para-suicide rates, for those increasing numbers who can no longer find meaning. Maybe psychoanalysis should give way to logotherapy.
February 1st 2011 ‘When was the last time you encountered any culture that you can say was really dangerous, that actually challenged anything’? The question is put by the Anti-Design Manifesto launched by the graphic designer, Neville Brody (Radio 4. Start the Week, 31/1/11). The former art director of The Face and Arena magazines has now taken over as head of the Royal College of Art’s Visual Communications department, where he plans to ‘challenge the norm’. While graphic design has become heavily associated with commercial art, Brody insists it is a discipline that was ‘born out of “social engagement” and the desire to give form to ideas and feelings, and this role is needed more than ever in the digital age’. He speaks of the digital public space and multi-media convergence with the dissolving of the teacher pupil relationship in favour of collaborative research. He jokes, ‘We are calling the College, an “unfinishing school”’. Andrew Marr asks: ‘What are the students paying for’? Brody says that students come with well formed skills and ideas and we break them down and see which is appropriate. He points out that we now inhabit, ‘a multiple skill set space. In the College today there are at least 25 different nationalities and the old idea of Britain being a place of singular vision is wrong; instead there is a great melting-pot. All we did was bring strategy’. He says, ‘with the internet you can go anywhere in the world and have access to the same basic information and cultures’. Speaking of the last 30 years, he says, ‘Since Thatcher, things went stagnant with the cult of success, students went to college to learn how to get success skills. Now that has collapsed, they are turning back to ideas and to revolution and it’s going to be a very exciting time, new ideas, new risks. Students are not interested in becoming highly finished professionals, they are interested in relevance, learning skills for tactical action. The potential for change is phenomenal. Let us call it this the manifesto of the hyper-real. It is not in the least dangerous. It is no more than the usual ferment that the System expects, except the system is at least two revolutions ahead. This is only a revolution in simulation, a levelling out of imagery and roles, at which anyone can play. ‘We’re here to inject art into commerce; we’re here to be bad’. Who is not bad these days? Every negativity has already been pre-absorbed long ago into “Integral Reality”. However, against this necessary Baudrillardian analysis, we must allow for the rare possibility of a miracle, or a singularity to emerge, if our senses are not too jaded through massive over-exposure to see.
January 30th 2011 The European ideal is of course the liberal ideal that we are all equal, we are all peaceful, civilised peoples, sharing our wealth, anti-discriminatory, on the Left, and so on. This is a very comforting post-ideological position, promoted everywhere and believed everywhere. In a sense, this is the continuation of Fascism by another name. Any disruption to the smooth functioning of the apparatus (as is happening, or might happen in Ireland and elsewhere) will be quickly suppressed. The functioning of the administrative system extends beyond economics, right into the most intimate areas of our lives with news laws regulating our relationships, what we can say or do, and so on, where we can smoke, etc. This controlling ethos strikes terror into our leaders and public figures lest they be caught “off message”, all the more disorientating because of its utter reasonableness. After all, Ireland’s (Greece’s, Spain’s, Italy’s) financial “irresponsibility” is just that, irresponsible! Until, that is, you look beyond the egalitarian facade, to the violence that sustains it, and a few short decades ago was brutally manifest. The financial crisis threatens to reveal the ideological underpinnings of these “European Ideals”, as we lurch uncomfortably from the apparent safety of the virtual to the underlying Real.
January 26th 2011 Ross Clark in the Spectator. ‘No one can say this is not a redistributive government. It is taking benefits away from the poor and giving them instead to people with large houses and a bit of spare capital’. That is Britain. In Ireland, we are doing much more. We are taking money from the sick and disabled as well as the poor and giving it to retiring politicians and bankers, as well as international financiers aboard, to pay them back for their very generous €85bn loan, necessitated, according to Barroso, solely ‘by the irresponsible financial behaviour of some Irish institutions’ – no mention by him of the role of European bankers in this irresponsibility. On the contrary, he says angrily, ‘It is important to know where the responsibility lies. This is why it is important that those of us – and this is clearly the majority – who believe in European ideals, are able as much as possible to have a common response’. At least, we have clarity here on precisely the hidden nature of these “European ideals” – to those that have more shall be given.
January 24th 2011 There is a simple ad on the television at the moment showing a man sawing off a branch that he himself is sitting on. As he crashes to the ground, the voice-over informs him that he should have got health insurance to pay for such mishaps. However, the man is doing what we should all be prepared to do: saw off the ideological branch which supports us.
January 21st 2010 The King’s Speech (directed by Tom Hooper) is a historical drama in which self-taught speech therapist Lionel Logue (David Seidler) helps King George VI (Colin Firth) overcome his speech impediment, that clearly had neurotic origins, resulting from the excessive strictness of his father, George V (Michael Gambon) and the coldness of his mother, Queen Mary (Claire Bloom). Logue acts like a psychoanalyst in that he encourages the reluctant patient to assume his history, changing from the position of Master (Duke/King) to becoming a divided (stuttering) subject (Bertie) and finding his own voice, using a variety of techniques to overcome his massive resistance. Upon the 1939 declaration of war with Germany, George VI is given a three-page speech to read over the radio. With only forty minutes to rehearse, Logue runs the King through all of the freeing techniques he has learned, which include swearing, body movements, humour and singing his words. As he reads the speech, with the whole country listening over the radio, it is clear that the King has found his voice with his stammer now sublated into pauses, silences, that underscore the gravity and the momentous drama of the occasion.
January 18th 2011 For Saul Bellow, ‘seeing had a metaphysical warrant, the perception, and the recording of perception, was not a pastime but an “assignment”. To believe that writing is necessary, in this way, one must believe that there is One or some Thing that needs it; and not just metaphorically...To write as Bellow does, one must believe in a kind of divinity...not believe in the arbitrariness of what we see and feel...’. (Adam Kirsh reviewing Saul Bellow's Letters in TLS. No. 5621/2 p5) Bellow believed that the soul makes the flesh; the soul corresponds with the body. As Bellow says, “Imagine the other world; imagine souls there by the barrelful; imagine them sent to incarnation and birth with dominant qualities ab initio...Eternal being makes it temporal appearance in this way”. He believed this by the vividness with which the physical world appears to us beyond just mere subjectivity. As Kirsh continues, ‘the wager of Bellow’s fiction is that this very energy can be harnessed to affirmation. “The Universe itself being put into us, it calls out for scope. The eternal is bonded onto us. It calls out for its share”’. Against those who complain about the “broken” world, or as Herzog calls it, “the Wasteland outlook”, Bellow says, “I can’t accept this foolish dreariness. We are talking about the whole life of mankind. The subject is too great, too deep for such weakness and cowardice...”. “What were we here for, of all strange beings and creatures the strangest? Clear colloid eyes to see with, for a while, and so finely, and a palpitating universe to see, and so many human messages to give and receive...”.
January 16th 2011 Sooner or later, there will be a passage á l’acte, a violent impulsive acting out, leading to an atrocity. Someone, or some group, will break the deadlock created by the lack of any coherent, credible, effective opposition to the current impasse maintained by the corrupt elite whose antics are being exposed daily in the Irish media. Someone will feel themselves driven to act in a blind, mad and criminal way, just to relieve the tension of the injustice made manifest. It will achieve nothing and it will be condemned, but nevertheless it will be symptomatic.
January 14th 2011 The true arrogance of the west is indicated by Hillary Clinton when she made the comparison, as she did recently speaking to Arab students, between the Arizona shooting and September 11. This link indicates, according to the Clinton world-view, that America and the Arab world have similar problems with terrorism! Or, as Barry Rubin put it, ‘You've got terrorism! We've got terrorism! Let's get together and fight terrorism’! This overlooks the radical difference between a crazed lone gunman in Arizona, with absolutely no local support and no finance, and organised Jihadi violence stretching from Morocco to Asia, with government, media, financial and alleged popular support, prepared to kill indiscriminately anywhere and anytime. What an insult to the Islamists to equate these crimes! It is the same when western liberals comfort themselves with the thought that, 'well we have our own Christian fundamentalists, worse still Israeli settlers, who are just as bad as the Islamists on the other side. So, we’ve both got our problems, why do you keep picking on the other side'? Is not the Clinton complacency and wishful thinking terroristic in its own way?
January 10th 2011 Shadow Catchers (running in the V & A, London, until February 20th 2011), presents the work of five international contemporary artists - Floris Neusüss, Pierre Cordier, Susan Derges, Garry Fabian Miller and Adam Fuss – all of whom work in thee photographic world but without a camera. Instead, they create images on photographic paper (photograms) by casting shadows and manipulating light, or by chemically treating the surface of the paper (chemograms). By removing objects from their physical context, Neusüss, for example, encourages the viewer to contemplate the essence of form. He creates a feeling of detachment, a sense of disengagement, like his silhouette of a girl on a glass sheet. His images explore themes of mythology, history, nature and the unconscious. Fuss has a disturbing image of a baby illuminated from above as if floating freely in space. Derges became well known for her photograms of water flowing. To make these works, she used the landscape at night submerging large sheets of photographic paper in rivers and using the moon and flashlight to create the exposure. Within seeming chaos, Derges conveys a sense of wonder at the underlying orderliness. In fact what she is doing is capturing the beautiful patterns created by turbulence. In her dreamlike landscapes, she made images of cloud by direct digital scans of ink dispersing in water within a small glass tank. She shows striking images of standing waves made with carborundum powder on photographic paper to produce photograms. Miller catches diffuse light coming through a latticed window. He has luminous abstract images in the darkroom, using only glass vessels filled with liquids. Cordier creates images like a cell nucleus or the villi of the small intestine, or reflections from crumpled metals. He describes his work as ‘mutation, hybrid and marginal - fake photographs of an imaginary, improbable and inaccessible world’.
January 4th 2011 Increasing numbers of Christmas cards do not refer to Christmas as such but instead wish you a “snowy time” or a “jolly holiday”. So what the Market started with the wholesale commercialisation of Christmas, the Left is now completing with it relativisation and earnest concern for other faiths and none. In a similar vein, people let you know that they feel guilty about their air-miles or their Carbon footprints, how busy they are recycling and how they always buy “organic”, shop in “ethical” shops and buy “fair-trade” coffee. ‘Every day, we go to work hoping to do two things: share great coffee with our friends and help make the world a little better. Our mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time’.(Starbucks). ‘We will work for positive social, ethical and environmental improvements in our supply chain’. (Next) ‘Looking for an ethical Expresso or Cappucinio with a conscience? You’ll find it in M and S. It will be Rain forest alliance certified’. Tesco we learn, is ‘adhering to the Ethical Trading Initiative and making sustainable environmental impact a key business priority’. By paying for your plastic bags you are caring for the environment. By buying this food you are helping to save a child’s life. The emphasis on ethics, care of the world and the sense of urgency – do something now – has everything to do with the immediate salving of the consciences of the consuming classes, part of a therapeutic strategy to make us feel well, feel good, as consumers, so that we continue to enjoy even more excessively than before.
December 31st 2010 Of Gods and Men. (Des hommes et des dieux) Xavier Beauvois. The film is based on a real story. In 1996, seven French Cistercian monks were kidnapped and then killed at Tibhirine in Algeria. Their murderers were never found. The monks live a simple life dispensing medicine and comfort to their very poor Muslim neighbours. As the countryside is terrorised by the Islamist mujahideen, there comes an order for all foreigners to leave the country. Do the monks leave, or do stay to protect their flock, knowing that they are a target? ‘Every one of these monks made a personal decision to stay, and it was very courageous. I don't know if I could have done the same. Yet they say, “there is no better proof of love than to die for people”’, says the film's producer Etienne Comar. So this is a film above all about human solidarity. The community sing to drown out the roar of a military helicopter overhead. The men share a supper with red wine as Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake plays in the background on an old tape deck. They are marched off through the snow supporting each other until the end.
December 27th 2010 ‘Stripped of the old claim to exclusive possession of the truth, they no longer know who they are...Timorous and all devouring, the Old World is in danger of dying, like Rome, of obesity, and ectoplasm that grows larger as it loses its substance’ (Pascal Bruckner). True in a geographical sense and spiritually, where already the currency itself is threatened by the excesses of a decadent elite. An elite that uniquely refuses to recognise itself as such!
December 22nd 2010 Isn't Senator Joe O’Toole such a brave and populist fellow to attack Cardinal Sean Brady about his statement on the abortion issue? Here is O’Toole, ‘They can do the praying up there and we will do the legislating down here. If we want to legislate for Sharia law or whatever kind of fundamentalism they want to peddle to us, we will give them a call when that arises’. He continues, ‘In the meantime, as Senator John Hanafin said yesterday, we are an independent republic and we will do our own business and we will not be lectured to by any fundamentalist, whether he is wearing a red hat in Armagh or a white hat in the Vatican’. There are two things worth commenting on here. Firstly, it is not so long ago senators and TDs (with very few exceptions) were running in absolute fear of priests and bishops and tipping the cap and allowing outrages to go unnoticed, including the plight or women with multiple pregnancies. Now, when the tide has turned they are all on message. Whose message, we should ask? Secondly, if there is demand for Sharia and fundamentalism, as is already the case in some European cities, O’Toole et al will be the first to sign up.
December 20th 2010 It remains the most interesting question as to how in our universe (out of the many) the observed force strengths and particle masses are so minutely fine-tuned to enable life to evolve, and even consciousness itself. Does this not suggest the most profound teleology as opposed to randomness? Is this not the best argument for a religious world view?
December 16th 2010 ‘The outward signs of barbarism which threaten to trivialise our schools, which demean the level of discourse in our politics, which cheapen the human word, are so strident as to make deeper currents almost impalpable’.(George Steiner, 1975. After Babel. p491) This should remind us of Heidegger’s assertion that the second Fall of humanity was the fall into banality. Banality has been raised to the level of an art form and many people feel compelled to say they like it for fear of being called elitist. Meantime, so-called high culture feels obliged to “democratise” itself so as to become therapeutic. Since the first Penguins in the 1930s, the first record albums before the war, the first LPs just after WW2 and now dissemination through the internet, exposure to and consumption of art forms has never been greater. Where are the “deeper currents”? Do they survive?
December 13th 2010 In the absence of objectivity and balance, we are left with a chronic hyperbolic form of subjectivity, part of the exacerbations of therapy culture. For instance, there is a video by councillor Joel Burns (Texas) that has had over 2m hits. Burns in his speech to Council gives many examples of extreme school bullying and harassment of students, deemed to be “different”. In a number of tragic cases that he outlines, they go on to attempt suicide. After recounting his own painful experience in school, he goes on to advise, ‘these suicides tear at my heart, you need to know that this story needn’t end, life can be so much better, just get out of that family that does not understand you; get out of that high-school so that you’ll never have to deal with those jerks again if you don’t want to. You will find and you will make new friends that do understand you, life will get so much better. I look back on so many happy memories...’. His plea to students is clear, immediate and well meant. But his advice becomes part of the problem: get out of that family; get out of that school. What should happen, of course, is that the perpetrators of such violence should be caught and punished by the authorities. But a moment’s thought will remind us that there are no longer authorities as such, but rather a faceless administration with it “best practice”. And as “official” administered culture, essentially de-politicised, purports to become more tolerant, in the absence of authority proper, unofficial culture becomes more violent. Without any brakes on emotivism, the drift to extremes is structurally unavoidable. As the rhetoric becomes “softer” the behaviour becomes “harder”. The net result is fear, a politics of fear and survival – get out of that school. Get out of that family. Get out! Get out! Each student that leaves his school because of bullying becomes a mere survivor – weakened but surviving. The school has been allowed to fail him or her. The postmodern world is increasingly divided into survivors, victims and perpetrators. The gloves are off, as Christopher Lasch used to say, there is nothing any longer honourable about the other. The other is our enemy.
December 10th 2010 The real of the capitalist machine is revealed by the Irish government recent decision to reduce social welfare rates for blind and disabled while at the same time workers in AIB will share €40 million in deferred bonuses. TDs keep their €90k salaries plus huge expenses.
December 6th 2010 ‘Who, if anyone, is in charge of the modern individual? Is our essence such that the notion of self-control, or indeed the notion of a self or a will are any longer plausible’? (Adam Phillips, On Balance) He goes on to suggest that the ego is plausibility itself, and that this is its fundamental deception - to be pleasing. But what are we going to replace plausibility with, especially if our human essence is to be plausible? So, let us be clear about Phillip’s pseudo-profundities: no one is in charge; there is no self-control, no self or will; the ego is mere self-deception. These assertions are already not assertions but rhetorical questions and therefore can be reversed on an equivocal whim. So in this way you can say something do/does not exist to suit the moment. The cool thing is not to be committed.
December 3rd 2010 Eadaoin O’Sullivan, media analyst debating how the media have been covering the current debt crisis in Ireland, waxes eloquently in a thoroughly post-modern way (Vincent Browne Tonight 30/11/10): ‘One of the big myths for me is the one about objective facts. That, for instance, you two [other panellists] can sit here and debate the arguments around corporation tax rates and their putative effect on the Irish economy, when in fact we can’t predict the future. And when it comes to numbers we get so carried away by the notion that there are objective facts, that we cling to those and the notion that if we can just unearth these facts, we’ll have the answers! This leads us on to how we talk about the Market, as if there is an objective entity out there, that has an existence all of its own...’. Vincent intervenes, ‘So are we going to abandon the search for objective facts then? ‘No I’m not saying we should abandon the search for objective facts, but rather than looking for the correct objective answer, as if somehow we are talking about science, what we need to do is have a moral, an ethical and a political argument about where we go from here, as opposed to bandying about numbers’. What do you propose then? 'I wouldn’t pretend to have the proper moral, ethical or political argument to put to you, but I do think that part of this initiative on politico.ie is beginning the conversation, giving people a forum in which to debate these values based things, rather than getting completely carried away by these numbers, pretending we can find the right answer because we obviously can’t’. Here is the strong assertion of equivalence, of not knowing, of non-objectivity, of unreality, in an entirely non-ironic way. When questioned on it, when called on what she asserts, O’Sullivan says, it’s values we should be thinking about not science. It is true that values tend to inform the “facts” we find, that “reality” bends with our whims and prejudicial perspectives, but to assert that there are no objective facts is the great contemporary evasion. It is right there in psychoanalysis as well. There are no referents; so whatever you believe is right by the very fact that you assert it.
November 29th 2010 ‘The death of affect’ is how J. G. Ballard characterised the ‘60s, according to writer Will Self (Archive on 4, Self on Ballard) paying tribute to the extraordinary imagination of J.G. Ballard. His later perceptions were influenced by his own childhood witnessing of the obscene brutality of the Japanese on the Chinese when he was living as a small boy in rich comfort with his parents in Shanghai. To see dead Chinese, he said, was commonplace during the occupation. He saw a Chinese Cooley being beaten to death while singing his normal sing-song as he received the blows that killed him. His parents could do nothing but stand idly by. His family along with other Europeans were interned and he and his parents had to live in just one room. Much later, after marriage and four children, his young wife died suddenly of a rare form of pneumonia and he was left as a single-father while at the same time his reputation grew as a writer of contemporary science-fiction. Ballard suggested that the late ‘60s was characterised by ‘machine-like alienated sex’ which had affect-less quality. ‘Sensation ruled. Nothing else mattered. Like the firing of an electric current into the leg of a dead frog to get a greater and greater sensation’.
November 27th 2010 A good example of postmodern irony and contradiction is reported in the Guardian. British-based men of Afghan origin are spending months at a time in Afghanistan fighting Nato forces before returning to the UK, the Guardian has learned. They also send money to the Taliban. A Taliban fighter in Dhani-Ghorri in northern Afghanistan last month told the Guardian he lived most of the time in east London, but came to Afghanistan for three months of the year for combat. In London, he worked as a minicab driver! Last year, RAF spy planes operating in Afghanistan had detected strong Yorkshire and Birmingham accents from fighters using radios and telephones. They apparently spoke the main Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, but lapsed into English when they were lost for the right words.
November 24th 2010 Ireland’s total indebtedness now stands at an estimated €0.34tn after the very slow process of uncovering the extent of our losses. In brief, this is quite unsustainable and Ireland will now have to default. This puts us in a strong position because we are too big to fail and those who gambled on our mania will have to suffer proportionate losses. 1% of the European population cannot be expected to fix what has been the casino capitalism experiment of the continent and beyond.
November 22nd 2010 Marx following Hegel famously wrote, ‘all the great events and characters of world history occur, so to speak, twice. He [Hegel] forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce’. Fintan O’Toole notes our farcical repetition of history. ‘Ireland is being placed under adult supervision. And it cuts right through to the most tender nerve of a former colony. What colonial overlords tell their subject peoples is: You’re not fit to govern yourselves’. Painfully, we can see such humiliating farce in persistent government denials of adult supervision while just such an intervention is underway, as happened last week. There are additional postmodern twists to this story. The new overlords are not the human oppressors of old – masters beating down their slaves, but rather, friendly inhuman technocrats of the rationally administered society that inflict no more than a virtual humiliation. Furthermore, a significant number of people welcome their intervention! Here too, is a collective illustration of Freud’s repetition compulsion. Beyond the ordinary machinations of the pleasure-reality principles, Freud acknowledged that there was a more primordial repetition at work, a tendency to repeat the worst, an uncanny ineluctable attraction to the worst, a stickiness of origins. How well illustrated that is by the repeated lumbering mistakes made by the Fianna Fail party getting deeper and deeper into denial.
November 19th 2010 It appears now that Ireland will not get a bail-out as such, but another loan piling a new debt upon the old debt. The European bond holders want the Irish government to shoulder all the blame, so the money will be given to the government who will then give it into the black hole of the failed banks. The banks in France, Germany and so on, have lent close to €1tn to the so-called PIGS and they do not want their taxpayers having to pay for their banks’ reckless mistakes and they do not want direct exposure to the excessive debts of those countries even though these banks fuelled the boom in the peripheral countries over the last decade. This strategy of piling debt upon debt cannot possibly work. In the end, as all the PIGS begin to collapse, there will have to be some debt restructuring or debt forgiveness and the large European bond holders, pension funds and the like will have to take their share of a hit. In the meantime, they do not trust Ireland so they are taking their money out of the country. They will continue to do so until we get our own house in order. The whole notion of “light-touch regulation” has led to this phenomenon of widespread and now contagious indebtedness and potential collapse. This economic pathology is really part of a wider and deeper moral pathology, or decadence. The removal of moral regulation in all the myriad ways leads to precisely this unravelling process. The unleashing of greed has become an economic disaster inseparable from and entirely symbolic of an underlying moral collapse.
November 17th 2010 Another Year. Mike Leigh. Set in the straggling laid-back, bookish, London home of counselling psychologist Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and her geologist husband Tom (Jim Broadbent.) They are the admirably stable loving centre of the film with their allotment shown appropiately to illustrate the passing of the seasons of the year. Set against this scene of contentment is the implicit misery of those whose lives have not turned out so well. Imelda Staunton's grim face in the opening sequence as she visits the doctor for sleeping pills and is then sent to Gerri for psychological help is the strongest image in the film. She adamantly refuses any help. Then there is Mary (Lesley Manville), Gerri's work colleague, a divorcée living on her own, drinking too much and desperate for company. Ken (Peter Wight) is Tom’s overweight alcoholic friend from Hull. Nothing much happens in this film outside the trips to the allotment and ordinary life events many of which are fun. There is a funeral. Tom’s brother’s wife has died. His brother Ronnie (David Bradley) has an estranged son who bursts into the funeral too late when it is all over. Ronnie himself is an isolated figure. At long last Gerri and Tom's son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), starts a relationship with Katie (Karina Fernandez), much to the vocal disapproval of Mary who gets a rather un-counselling earful of tolerant repressive criticism from Gerri. The implicit message here is be married, be in relationship or cringe in face loneliness and depression. As is usual in Mike Leigh films, there is no outside, no larger community. In the last sequence of the film the two couples, Gerri and Tom, Joe and Katie are laughing and enjoying recalling their memories of great times together. The camera pans in on Mary underlining her painful exclusion and non-future. Maybe she will finally flip and upend the table, and Imelda Staunton will reappear, but no.
November 14th 2010 Returning to the Finkler question (November 4th below), Gaza’s senior leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, Dr Mahmoud Al-Zahar, said last weekend, according to the pro-Palestinian website, Al Qassam, ‘Jews were kicked out by France, Britain, Russia and Germany because they betrayed, stole and corrupted these countries. The Jews will soon be expelled from Palestine that same way’. Earlier he said, in a televised broadcast recorded at a secret location, ‘They [the Jews] have legitimised the murder of their own children by killing the children of Palestine. They have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people’. Talking more generally about the West, Zahar shares his insights in an interview with Reuters, ‘we have the right to control our life according to our religion, not according to your religion. You have no religion. You are secular. You do not live like human beings. You do not [even] live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticize us? We are the ones who respect women and honor women … not you. You use women as an animal. She has one husband and hundreds of thousands of boyfriends. You don’t know who is the father of your sons because of the way you respect women.We understand you very well. You are poor people. Morally poor. Don’t criticize us because of what we are’.
November 12th 2010 ‘What human beings can achieve without the aid of revelation is a limited agreement on a set of rules founded on shared disapprovals, rules that may be sufficient to secure some degree of social harmony, so that human beings can live together in political communities, but that do not direct human beings towards their final end, the knowledge and love of God. Only divine law does that’. (God, Philosophy, Universities. A History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition. Alastair MacIntyre. London. Continuum, 2009, p57.) MacIntyre envisages a minimalist harmony without transcendence in the liberal West. Interestingly, he notes that Freud’s ethos is a paradoxical inversion of Augustine’s. Freud sees belief in God as an illusion disguising our inhibited sexual drives which are primary; for Augustine, sexuality creates an illusion about the true object of our desire, hiding our belief in and desire for God. Ultimately however, it comes down to belief, to faith. For MacIntyre and Augustine, ‘Belief is a precondition of grace, grace of charity, and charity of an undistorted vision of oneself and so of understanding’ (p28). Whereas for Freud, belief in psychoanalysis is a precondition of pleasure and an undistorted vision of oneself in a secular world devoid of God. As Augustine says, ‘We are guided in a twofold way, by authority and by reason. So it follows that authority opens the door to those who desire to learn the great and the hidden good’ (quoted on p27). Precisely the same applies to psychoanalysis – the authority of the (Freudian) doctrine opens the door to those who want to know the hidden good of desire.
November 8th 2010 Paul Sommerville, Market Analyst, was furious last Saturday in a radio show about our ongoing denial and delay in reforming the Irish economy. The following is a rough summary of his diagnosis. The bond market shut Ireland out last week. We will have to have a bond auction in the New Year as by then we will have run out of money to pay public servants. The people who lend to us are afraid of not getting their money back, because they have no faith in this government. Some countries cannot pay back their debts; Ireland is one of these. All the figures that the government have produced have been wrong; the numbers have been over-optimistic. They do not have credibility. We have structural problems like the over inflated salaries of public servants, too high a minimum wage and welfare costs, etc. The hard decisions have not been made; for instance, you would have to tackle the sheltered economy, he insists. The Croke Park Agreement was a classic case of denial in which public servants agreed to put in more efficiencies that everyone knows will not be carried out. We have to tackle the ‘fat-cat- culture’ and once we start to do that then confidence will return. From the other side, the European side, the French and German banks who lent to us during the boom are terrified of contagion. If we can get a strategy together that is credible, we can go back to them and negotiate; that is our best hope. The way things have turned out it is tempting to think that Ireland has humiliated herself in front of her new imperial masters, the EU and the IMF. The question must now arise, as many including Sommerville have pointed out, as to whether or not we continue what is in effect the colonial cringe or take responsibility for ourselves and then square up to the foreign lenders who, at the very least fuelled our irresponsibility. Sommerville’s anger is closer to moral outrage at the paralysis of a government that is out of touch with reality.
November 7th 2010 Code of Professional Conduct for Teachers in Ireland. ‘Teachers should respect students, parents, colleagues, school management, co-professionals and all in the school community. They should interact with them in a way that does not discriminate and that promotes equality in relation to gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race, ethnicity, membership of the Travelling Community and socio-economic status’. Note the freely arrogant tone of this statement from the administrative big (B)Other covering all the bases for our contemporary enforced tolerance. ‘Teachers should respect students, etc’, this is insulting to Irish teachers who generally speaking would be courteous and respectful as a result of former traditions of courtesy, training and commitment; they do not/should not need to be told this by some anonymous body acting on a directive from a transnational body. This is a totalitarian statement that dictates the correct thinking/behaviour, i.e. negates free-thinking. When people in totalitarian societies speak longingly of "freedom", it is freedom from this kind of mental interference from the State. The guiding principle of Free Association in psychoanalysis ultimately means precisely the same – freedom from totalising superegos, including those from within its own ranks.
November 4th 2010 The Finkler Question. Howard Jacobson. Bloomsbury 2010. Julian Treslove, a 49-year-old bachelor, wandering home late at night, after a meal with his Jewish widower friends, is mugged by a woman, who says something barely audible like ‘you Jew’ to him during the attack. His two friends are 90-year-old Libor Sevick, one-time intimate to the stars ex-Hollywood journalist who is in mourning for his beautiful wife, and school chum Sam Finkler, a philosophy populist and TV personality. Treslove, endlessly going over the mugging in his mind, becomes interested in Jewish teachings and customs, wonders if he is indeed a Jew himself, spurred in this direction by an experience of real or imagined anti-Semitic violence and later when he falls in love with the beautiful Hephzibah. Finkler is an Israel-hater and joins a group of celebrity Jews called ASHhamed, whom Jacobson sends up in style in all their self-regarding glory. ‘The movement needed him. The Palestinians needed him’. The book is about the Jewish question, but the term “Jew” has become an unacceptable term, a term of abuse in the British media: ‘It was the passport to madness. Jew. One little word with no hiding place for reason in it. Say “Jew” and it was like throwing a bomb’. So Jew becomes Finkler and Finkler himself is emblematic of the split within the Finkler community generally. However, the stars of the ASHamed were not quite starry enough for Finkler. ‘Every now and then a letter or a text would be read out from one of the greats, presently touring Australia or South America, wishing the group well in its indispensible work, and occasionally a DVD would show up in which the eminent musician or playwright would address the ASHamed Jews as though they were the Nobel Prize Committee whose faith in him he deeply appreciated and was only sorry he was unable to receive the prize in person’. Then there was the liberal rabbi who mounted a lonely vigil outside the Wigmore Hall where a little known ensemble from Haifa was due to play, but cancelled due to ill-health. The rabbi kept his vigil anyway as much to shame the concert hall as to dissuade people from buying tickets. ‘I love m-music as much as anyone’, he told a reporter, ‘but I cannot allow my thoul to thoar on the back of innothent blood’. Jacobson's style is sometimes humorous, sometimes flippant, but mostly irritatingly cynical. However, most reviewers celebrate his style while ignoring to a great extent the book’s two main themes, the question about the seemingly unstoppable worldwide rise in anti-Semitism and the unbearable isolation of grief; racism and love and loss. On these themes Jacobson excels. Libor is visited by an elderly Jewish lady whose grandson had been stabbed in the face, here in London, by an Algerian man shouting God is great in Arabic and Death to all Jews. ‘Jew hating was back. These things never went away’. ‘My grandson’s blindness justified by Gaza’? she explodes. He wanted to say he was sympathetic but couldn’t help. He would speak to a few people but she knew he wouldn’t. There was no point. ‘There had been spillage from regional conflict to religious hatred. Jews were again the problem. After a period of exceptional quiet, Antisemitism was becoming again what it always had been – an escalator that never stopped, and which anyone could hop on at will’. Libor visits a bereavement counsellor, where he ‘mouthed feelings, play-acted grief’. ‘What was the need for this? Why did he not simply speak his heart? Because the heart did not speak, that was why. Because language presupposes artificiality. Because in the end there was nothing, absolutely nothing to be said’. ‘A Gentile woman with a sorrowful face’ speaks to the ASHamed Jews about her admiration for Jewish ethics, but discovered when she visited Israel an apartheid country ruled by racist supremacists: ‘is the reason you are uniquely singled out for censure, that you are uniquely racist’? ‘How dare you’, roars Finkler, ‘how dare you, a non-Jew, even think you can tell Jews what sort of country they may live in, when it is you a European Gentile who made a separate country for Jews a necessity? By what twisted sophistication of argument do you harry people with violence off your land and then think yourself entitled to make high-minded stipulations as to where they may go now you are rid of them and how they may provide for their future welfare’? He asks her if she knows of any country not blackened by prejudice or hate. ‘Only from a world from which Jews believe they have nothing to fear will they consent to learn lessons in humanity. But not from you, madam, since you present yourself as a bleeding-heart, a conscience-pricked representative of the very Gentile world from which Jews, through no fault of their own, have been fleeing for centuries’. Finkler has become un-ASHamed. In his review of this book, Nick Cohen makes the important point that, ‘Howard Jacobson could only have produced his attack on anti-Zionism in The Finkler Question as a book’. Only as a work of great satirical fiction is it still possible to debate ideas, because anti-Zionism everywhere else is a done deal and the discussion and debate are over.
November 1st 2010 Louise Minihan of the socialist republican group Éirígí threw red paint on Health Minister Harney as she arrived to turn the sod on the new Ballyfermot Primary Care and Mental Health Centre today. Referring to the government’s ‘blood budget’, Minihan said that, ‘the red paint that I used in today’s protest is symbolic of the blood that Harney, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have on their hands’. There is of course an alternative unconscious meaning for the repetition of the word “blood”, which Minihan refused to acknowledge when it was pointed out to her, namely, her support for the IRA of old and its copious, ‘blood on its hands’.
October 31st 2010 Srdja Trifković, comments on George Soros and his $1m support for the campaign to legalise of Cannabis in California: 'He promotes an education system that will neutralize any lingering spiritual yearnings of the young, and promote the loss of a sense of place and history already experienced by millions of Westerners, whether they are aware of that loss or not. Estranged from their parents, ignorant of their culture, ashamed of their history, millions of Westerners are already on the path of alienation that demands every imaginable form of self-indulgence, or else leads to drugs, or suicide, or conversion to Islam or some other cult'. Soros is an example of a liberal communist, a speculator-cum-social activist, apparently breaking down the old divisions between Left and Right, ending in effect all connections with the past, all in the guise of philanthropy. This allegedly benign and democratic process of dilution and neutralisation is already well advanced in our open societies - so open that nothing is retained or conserved; only nothing, in the strong sense, is conserved.
October 23rd 2010 Recently, Vincent Browne interviewed Garret Fitzgerald, respected older statesman and Taoiseach of Ireland, twice during the 1980s. Fitzgerald suggested that for the first 40 years after Independence, Ireland was ruled by true patriots with integrity. Since then, integrity has become increasingly suspect not just in politics but in all areas of society, politics, business, the professions and so on, leading to a series of dramatic crises of increasing intensity. ‘In the early years’, says Fitzgerald, ‘people really did put the country before their own self-interest’. Maybe part of the problem has been that increasingly philosophers, psychoanalysts and neuroscientists have discounted and discredited the notion of integrity itself: the human subject is no one. Add in morality, sincerity and patriotism, all now deemed suspect and divided, and you have no way of judging with any confidence on whom to rely on in a crisis. Hence the very confused debate over the legacies of Haughey, Ahern and now Cowen.
October 21st 2010 Where has it all gone wrong with children and food, asks Mariella Frostrup, in the Bringing-up-Britain series on Radio 4? The previous Labour Government spent nearly £2bn over 10 years attempting to tackle childhood obesity levels. The result is now more than 1 in 3 British children aged 5 to 13 are in the over-weight or obese category. Yet according to the latest research, parents of over-weight children do not even recognise that their children are too heavy to qualify as healthy. Education and choosing healthy food together with exercise is the answer of the “experts”, who have absolutely no sense of the frenetic intensity of the oral drive, which other cultures, including those in continental Europe, realise needs forming and taming from birth, binding in, as it were, the oral drive according to traditional cultural and familial patterns. Instead, in the anglosphere, everywhere break down and deregulation are apparent with regression to infantile comforting and gorging as bodies balloon out of shape.
October 16th 2010 The Chilean miners are expected to receive offers of jobs, advertising deals and book and movie contracts to tell their extraordinary stories. From the “null site” between being and non-being, the Chilean miners in their ironic freedom, back in the world, will more or less unavoidably become slaves to the hyperreal of celebrity culture. First together in solidarity; now, irredeemably separated. It is death and near death that brings us together. George Bataille, for instance, explains: ‘Everything leads us to believe that early human beings were brought together by disgust and a common terror’ (Surya, M. 2002. Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography. Trans. K. Fijalkowski and M. Richardson. London and New York: Verso, p265). He emphasises, ‘The living only gather together “in anguish”; the greater this is, the stronger being is in them, and the stronger their community, [always of necessity] a tragic community’ (p245). Laceration creates communication. Love is based on a shared death: communing in tragedy. Shortly after the Twin Towers fell, Union Square filled with candles, flowers, messages, small shrines, messages like graffiti. For a few weeks everything was permitted, the authorites didn't intervene in any way.
October 14th 2010 ‘What ended up as a real blessing from God started as a possible tragedy. But the unity, the faith, the compromise, the honesty, the solidarity of the Chileans in those 69 days makes us very proud’, said the Chilean president, Sebastian Pinera, at the successful conclusion to the rescue. Capturing the attention of the whole world (there are 1,400 journalist there) this heroic effort approximates to a pure Levinasian event. For Levinas, the selflessness displayed by the miners, their rescuers and their families represents the a priori ethical nature of humanity – ethics as our first philosophy, where the Good chooses us in what Levinas refers to as our radical passivity prior to any choice we might make. For Levinas, there is between being and Nothingness, between being as what manifests (things, entities, essences, beings as what appear, as what disclose, what persist in the world) and, nothingness (the zero point, the void, the void of the space - half a mile underground), between these two positions, there is fraternity or solidarity. Humanity, the excluded middle, excluded from everywhere, excluded by every discourse, occupies a “null site” between being and non-being. Before I can speak, I am affected by the other, I am accused by the other. Before I can choose to be ethical or unethical, I am chosen, by virtue of being human, by virtue of belonging. There is no escape! Levinas thus exposes the Cain philosophy, which asks carelessly: Am I my brother’s keeper? Asserting instead, what is ethically absolutely unavoidable: I am my brother’s keeper. I am responsible for his responsibility, infinitely. Levinas states that Cain’s answer is limited and ontological (like the psychoanalytic position also): I am I, over here; he is himself, over there. Not so for these Chilean miners, forced by their very proximity, trapped in the void, they bear witness to Levinas’s doxa: ‘Proximity is fraternity, before essence and before death, having a meaning despite being and nothingness’ (Otherwise than Being. 1998. Duquesne UP., p139). Our fascination with this remarkable rescue belongs to its revelation of the ‘anarchic Good’ beyond being.
October 12th 2010 The world has ended. Or, we’re told specifically on good authority, that THAT world has ended - the world of grand narratives, God the Father, the Oedipal father, the consistency of the big Other, and so on; that world that stabilised meaning has gone forever. So get used to it, it is not coming back, it’s gone. Gone! The world has ended, but in its place its copy continues in a virtual, artificial or simulated form (Baudrillard). Humans have left reality (Canetti). We are living the Epilogue (Steiner). Modernity destroyed the world – The Shock of the New (Hughes). When do we date this end of the world, or have there been many “ends”: August 1914, the Camps, Hiroshima, the Gulags, Mao, Cambodia, Vietnam, 9/11 and so on? On a personal level, my life in rural England was altered forever when its tranquillity was criss-crossed by concrete motorway flyovers. One of the early analysts in Ireland was undergoing his analysis as WW2 broke-out. In his divided and anxious state, he said that at the time he was convinced the world was ending. The world has ended and the losses have been immense, but we have the gift of adaptation; we can live in apocalyptic times, in the radical absence of meaning, but there are casualties too and people who can’t adapt, for whom the shock of emptiness and radical contingency is all too much. This week’s Time features an article “Locked and loaded”, about the growth of private anti-government militias in the States, well-armed and trained, biding their time: ‘You have to have the right fuel-air mixture, the piston has to be in the right position, the spark has to be perfectly timed...the day will come sooner or later’. All true writing, therefore, must be eschatological; it must be about the end of times.
October 11th 2010 Victoria White (Mother Ireland: Why Ireland Hates Motherhood. Londubh) ‘Women of my generation have become mothers at a time when the economy demanded they be workers and child-rearers, and the two demands were frequently on a collision course. There is, in truth, a tension between the perceived rights of women and the perceived needs of children. The two “rights” revolutions, those of women and those of children, are often in open conflict. Every effort is made to pretend this is not so, with the result that elements of children’s needs are often officially denied. Even some of the progressive measures for children introduced in this country have to be examined in case they are really about getting mothers into the workplace’. This controversial statement underlines a universal problem with a rights’ based culture – sets of rights conflict with each other. Each groupuscule demands certain entitlements with no reciprocal giving except the minimum required by law and politically correct tolerance. It creates a kind of paranoia where each group believes that their entitlements are being infringed. Any sense of giving, generosity or sacrifice feels like exploitation. And the rage about possible and past exploitation serves as a noisy cover for present aggressive assertions. You fight your corner irrespective of the other while at the same time celebrating his liberation as you both negotiate a kind of uneasy truce under the rubric of social inclusion. The ultimate losers must be children, as White points out.
October 7th 2010 Bertie Ahern, the former Taoiseach, was filmed hiding in a cupboard drinking a cup of tea for the News of the World to advertise his sports column in the Sunday newspaper. This occurs just a few weeks after the present Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, sounded hung over in an early morning interview on RTE (September 14th), which became instant news around the world. Two leaders, one former and one current, of the now disgraced Fianna Fail government acting in some conformity to Irish stereotypes. The banal psychoanalytic take on this would be that it is nothing less than masochistic exhibitionism: the comic, careless and destructive desire to clown around and abject oneself in front of the (colonial) other. However, maybe they were engaged in slightly more than this: possibly an ironic reclaiming, an amusing strategy of over-identification with a stereotype, thus catching those who would want to make a racist attack on Ireland once again. For instance, Jay Leno (NBC’s Tonight Show) picked up the Cowen story calling him a ‘drunken moron’. The third explanation is the simplest: both leaders show contempt for those who have sustained them in power over the past decade and more.
October 5th 2010 Three versions of the psychical agency known as the superego are discussed here: the old paternal superego (Freudian); the archaic superego (Kleinian); the perverse superego (Lacanian). Each makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the psyche, extending well beyond the discipline and clinic of psychoanalysis.
October 3rd 2010 Black Thursday (30th September) the day when Ireland learnt that it would have to sink a third of its GDP into paying for the greed of the developers and bankers - the elite class - over the past decade. This was the class that believed that, in the new century, the era of Boom and Bust was over and growth would be forever onwards and upwards, with Ireland leading the way. Anyone who said anything negative should think about committing suicide, suggested the former Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern (he had suddenly to apologise for that remark). A form of collective hallucinosis took over. The archaic symbolic law of the talion which governs all exchanges was forgotten: we had the greed phase and now Ireland, it seems, must endure more punishment than any other country. Furthermore, there is still the question of the further hidden losses. That there may be more losses to be disclosed by the banks symbolises precisely our post-modern predicament. We do not know what we have lost. Having erased so many of our natural values, having deregulated so much more than just the banks, we now have no means of estimating the loss of social capital that has been engendered by the cool Clinton-inspired “light touch”.
September 30th 2010 Winter's Bone, Debra Granik, based on a 2006 novel by Daniel Woodrell. It is always winter in the isolated and cold Ozark mountain terrain of south-western Missouri, with material and spiritual decay evident everywhere in the scattered community where dogs and people alike react unfavourably to the arrival of strangers. In this implacable world, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is just 17 and having to take care of her little brother, sister and mute, maybe traumatised, mother who is of no help. Her father has not showed up for a court appearance. A marshal turns up and tells Ree that her father has put the family house up as a bond. He has absconded, and unless Ree can either locate him or prove that he is dead the family will be made destitute. Eventually Ree has to confront the clan’s fearsome elders who are involved in the secret brewing of methamphetamine to find out what has been the father’s fate.
September 26th 2010 One of the major dramas of its time, comments Mark Lawson (Front Row 21/9/10), about Simon Stephens’ new play, Punk Rock. Set in the sixth form of a private school in Stockport, Stephens comments on ‘the sense of anger, dislocation and sexual despair that goes right across the class structure in Britain today, just as real in the middle classes as on sink estates’. Stephens says he is trying to capture the kind of violence that you see these days in kids as young as 10, and not just black and Asian kids. He continues, ‘it was the massacre at Columbine High School that first drove him, an event that has left its scar over the beginning of the 21st century’. In the scenes in the play that are set in the school, there are no adult figures at all, no teacher, no police, no parent. Stephens refers to his favourite play last year, Dennis Kelly’s Orphans, in which Kelly explored precisely this “psychological orphaning”. According to Kate Kelloway, in the Observer, Stephens describes his schoolboy assassin as ‘romantic, violent, funny, charming and ironic - suffering from an increasing dislocation from himself’. For Stephens, there is no such thing as a villain. It is what makes his work dangerous, persuasive, conspicuous. It is worth noting this signifier of the times, “dislocation”. It is not so much poverty that drives such nihilism (especially within the middle class), but the loss of place, the loss of a possible world of stable meanings and values, destroyed by the new perverse superego command to enjoy without restraint and without context. It is too much this child-less world without the (big) Other.
September 23rd 2010 It rather remarkable that these days if you ask a person, seeking psychotherapy, to speak about their lives by saying whatever comes into their mind (free association), they increasingly say that they cannot really see the point of doing this, and persist in this line of thinking in spite of going on to talk about potentially significant events in their lives. Have we becomes so influenced by the materialist notion that ‘We are organisms not angels’, as Steven Pinker writes, ‘and our brains are organs, not pipelines to the truth’, that introspection seems to offer little of possible worth? The sociobiologist, E.O. Wilson suggests ‘The brain is a machine not to understand itself, but to survive’. Some people increasing think that their lives have no meaning, no intrinsic value, and this loss does not occur to them as anything of a loss. It is met with a shrug of the shoulders, or they misunderstand the question of meaning thinking such preoccupations might be narcissistic. The question of awareness of alienation no longer seems to arise.
September 19th 2010 At the heart of Lisa Bareitser’s book (Maternal Encounters: The Ethics of Interruption. London and New York: Routledge, 2009) is a maternal phenomenology albeit not a dispassionate or indifferent one, (nor a narcissistic or sentimentally idealising one, for that matter), because, as she says, ‘Someone or ideally a number of different people, do, after all still have to love children’.(153) She wants to rethink, very modestly (and this is the excellent low-key nature of this work), the maternal as a potentially life-changing event brought about by a certain response to another whom we come to name as our child. Maternal encounters is precisely that, encounters with the radically other qua other – exploding the narcissistic fantasy about the other. How does the mother change in these encounters? Bareitser mixes snippets of her own experience with an impressive array of theoretical perspectives. This mention of the other (in a non-Lacanian sense) takes us to Levinas, whose account of our pre-subjective exposure to the naked face of the other could not be more radical and impossible in its ethical implications. Ironically, this seems more problematic than anything psychoanalysis has always appeared to require by way of the perfectly functioning mother! As Levinas says, ‘This subjection is to an absolute order, to the authority par excellence of the Good’ (p117, Time and the Other. 1947. Pittburgh: Duquesne UP, 1987). For Levinas, maternity is as close as we get to the ultimate ethical relation – love without concupiscence – as Levinas is fond of quoting Pascal; the principle of absolute substitution and being made a hostage to the other, as in pregnancy for example. This seems to bolster in the most extreme way the sexist idealisation of the feminine, as absence, as silence, as modesty, as de Beauvois noted. But this (Levinasian ethics) is beyond sexual politics and intersubjectivity per se, having instead to do with ethics as first philosophy, ethics as prior to ontological/political considerations. Derrida, in his tribute to Levinas - Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas – having spoken about the home and ‘the implacable law of hospitality’, where ‘the dwelling opens itself to itself’ (41), continues, ‘the absolute, the absolutely originary welcome, indeed the pre-original welcome, the welcoming par excellence, is feminine; it takes place in a place that cannot be appropriated, in an open “interiority” whose hospitality the master or owner receives before himself then wishing to give it’ (45). And so as not to fall into this implicit sexist trap, Derrida says, this welcoming, welcome, ‘confers the opening of the welcome upon the “feminine being” and not upon the fact of empirical women. The welcome, the anarchic origin of ethics, belongs to “the dimension of femininity” and not to the empirical presence of a human being of the “feminine sex”’. Therefore it does not matter that a home, a dwelling, a domos, does not have a woman in it, ‘the feminine has been encountered in this analysis as one of the cardinal points of the horizon in which the inner life takes place’. (Levinas, quoted on 44). However Bareitser, in a seminar in Dublin yesterday to discuss her work, aware of insistent theoretical academic assumptions, wants to distance herself from any “essentialist” notions of motherhood, mothering, maternity or the feminine. Likewise, she says she does not want to bolster “heteronormativity” in any sense and is most afraid of backing any traditionalist conservative ethics. Indeed, in academic circles, when people ask her about her research interests and she mentions maternal subjectivity, people tend to glaze over or turn away.
September 16th 2010 Recently, it was claimed by an intelligent man that his father who was clinically depressed was cured, he alleged, by a drug treatment. His son’s comment was that if your brain (like any other organ) is faulty then surely it can be fixed by the appropriate chemical. He never talked to his father about his depression. For the son it was just an illness. One can easily see how such a ultra-materialist point of view has gained unquestioned popularity. It was just over half a century ago that Gilbert Ryle published his attack on Cartesian dualism in The Concept of Mind, which challenged the notion of a parallelism between body and mind, to the detriment of mind and mental states which could not be observed scientifically. This favoured behavioural and neuropsychiatric approaches to mental illness. Consciousness was relegated to the firing of neurons and the release of chemicals into the brain; hence the massive growth of psychopharmacology in the intervening time. And most people still believe that mental illness is just a question of neurochemistry.
September 13th Camille Paglia also makes comment on the new subjectivity generated by the internet age. Her point of departure is Stefani Germanotta, who almost overnight becomes Lady Gaga, created by the corporate apparatus that also bankrolls her, beyond playful masquerade into total artificiality. ‘Generation Gaga’, Paglia generalises, ‘doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages...they process reality as a cluttered de-centred environment of floating bits...[they] are marooned in a global technocracy of fancy gadgets but emotional poverty. Everything is refracted for them through the media. They have been raised in a relativistic cultural vacuum where chronology and sequence as well as distinctions of value have been lost or jettisoned by politically correct educators’. (Camille Paglia. The Sunday Times Magazine. 12.9.10. p21). This is an apocalyptic piece describing the anti-oedipal world of lost borders and de-differentiation, where gender for instance can be re-learned with all (biological) reference removed. Fluidy extends to all former distinctions: parent/child; public/private; fact/fiction, diffuse and flip-over and into each other. Paglia it seems is trying to alert us to the loss of what Lacan referred to an ‘affective density’ in our newly hyper-mobile world. The key signifiers here are speed and acceleration. Paul Virilio is the philosopher of speed. We are caught up in what he terms the “dromosphere”, leading to a compression of time and space, suggesting that such instant interactivity is a dangerous as radioactivity. Taking his cue from Aristotle: ‘the accident reveals the substance’, Virilio suggests that each new technology has its appropriate accident. Thus, he speculates now about the “genetic accident” or the “integral accident”. (The Original Accident, Paul Virilio. Polity 2005). These “accidents”, no longer localised, will have a global reach.
September 11th 2010 The internet is causing us to lose the ability to do ‘solitary, attentive thinking’ according to author Nicholas Carr (The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember. Atlantic Books). Carr began to notice his own reading habits were changing: ‘I really began to realise in a way that frustrated me that I really couldn’t sit down and read, not just a book but even a long article, with any degree of attention’. Perhaps it takes someone of a certain age – someone who came to adulthood in the pre-internet, pre-social networking age – to see this shift and, more to the point, to worry about it. He argues, we skim, we extract, we hyperlink, but we don’t bury ourselves in deep thought. ‘The strip mining relevant content replaces the slow excavation of meaning’, he writes. ‘I think we are well equipped to survive in a world of constant distraction and interruption...but the idea that it is somehow natural and is better is a strange thing to me’. In a Freudian vein, he suggest that the story of human civilisation has been to master and move beyond many primitive instincts; a primary one being to train the mind for focused argument and deep contemplation and reflection. By contrast, the web is returning us to ‘the shallows’. On Today (Radio4, 2/9/10), he discusses the impact of online quick thinking with innovation expert Vijay Govindarajan. The internet enables us to multitask, to continuously gather more and more information. But we are losing the capacity to think about that information. Technology enables increasingly rapid innovation but ironically it is the organisations themselves that offer resistance. The Silicon Valley slogan is:fail often and fail quickly. Fail early, fail fast and fail cheap. The internet affords us low cost experiment to enable rapid adaptation and change, without, however, any secondary revision, without any vision, as if we are rushing headlong into the void.
September 8th 2010 The Maid (La Nana) by Chilean writer/director Sebastian Silva. Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) is a 41 year old single woman who has become perhaps too close to the wealthy upper middle-class Santiago family she has worked for more than 20 years. She feels she has become part of the family. They buy her a cake for her birthday and make a minor fuss of her. But she is over-worked and increasingly unhappy and isolated. Unspecified Oedipal longings and envies begin to surface and to threaten, until, that is, Lucy (Mariana Loyola) arrives and transforms the situation through love.
September 6th 2010 Britain is 'the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death; we have the highest abortion rate in Europe'. These comments come from Edmund Adamus, pastoral affairs director at the diocese of Westminster and an adviser to the Most Rev Vincent Nichols. Mr Adamus says 'Our laws and lawmakers, for over 50 years or more, have been the most permissively anti-life and progressively anti-family and marriage, in essence [Britain is] one of the most anti-Catholic landscapes, culturally speaking, than even those places where Catholics suffer open persecution'. He also urged Catholics to 'exhibit counter-cultural signals against the selfish, hedonistic wasteland that is the objectification of women for sexual gratification' (Irish Times Sept 2nd). The Catholic writer Paul Vallely, in the Independent, calls this an 'incitement to cultural war'. However, the war is ongoing and the secularists are winning. We know that there is now probably only one force that will stop them.
September 3rd 2010 And Levinas revives the old idea of the double. The I is enchained to itself, ‘its freedom is not as light as grace but already a heaviness, the ego is irremissibly itself...the relationship with a double...a viscous heavy, stupid double...’ (p56). My being doubles with a having – a body, a materiality. The freedom of the ego is encumbered by the finality of the existent, ultimately its material solitude in the Real itself. This is the unconscious qua double. Baudrillard also plays on this theme of the double in what he calls his own little theory on the fringes of psychoanalysis. He takes us back to the double of Homo sapiens, Neanderthal man. Firstly, there was our twin species, the Neanderthals, and then just us alone. His thought is that we might revert and regress to the Neanderthal form! We have had to get rid of our twin in order to exist as one dominant species, but then we are left with a hidden otherness that threatens. And these days we are nostalgic for all those species that have been sacrificed for us to become one. On the individual neurotic level, the ego is also haunted by its excluded double in its attempt to be some-one. Roughly speaking, the repressed twin is regarded as evil and primitive and potentially the locus of the death drive from the vantage point of the one and only “good one”. However, the twins can suddenly flip over, and the controlling good one can become evil, while the death drive becomes a liberation! This flipping can never be settled like the parallax problem in visual perception – is it a vase or two opposed faces? Psychoanalysis asserts that there can be no reconciliation between the twins. The Lacanian subject is situated between the twins, between the inflated good ego and the heaviness of the stupid existent in the Real. For the Klienians, there are the good and bad objects and the depressive position is the locus of their incompatibility.
September 1st 2010. Doubtless solitude is one of the greatest problems of our time. For Levinas, solitude is an existential reality and is not brought about by our withdrawal from the social. It is a registration of the fact that the existent being is caught in the “thrownness” (Geworfenheit) of existing: ‘the subject is alone because it is one...The price paid for the existent’s position lies in the very fact that it cannot detach itself from itself’ (Levinas, E. 1947. Time and the Other. Trans. A Cohen. Duquesne UP. 1987, pp54-55). The existent is separate come what may. It is not down to our being abandoned by the other and left alone, it is due to the existent’s hypostasis, its becoming an entity, and its mastery over being. It is ultimately about freedom and power. Nevertheless, given an unfavourable early environment, the existent’s solitude could become unbearable.
August 29th 2010 The viral analogy for terrorism is apt. A viral attack on a living cell is asymmetric: the virus enters the cell and subverts the cell's protein generating machinery into turning out clones of itself which ends in the destruction of the cell. The cell has no defence against viruses by comparison to the traditional means of warfare it can exert against bacteria which is essentially cell against cell. But the viral insurgents get in under the radar mixing with the local population and using the host’s most sophisticated genetic machinery to destroy it. Here, too, analogously, the virus could claim to be justly avenging the enormous "wealth" of the nucleated cell, gained during evolution, and furthermore, the insurgents will struggle to eliminate the whole eucaryotic population on earth, returning us to the dark ages, the viral early phase of minimal life on earth. And the eucaryotes for their part have not found any credible protection against this war without end.
August 24th 2010 About half of the European population cannot see the Milky Way because of light pollution in big cities. Our virtual culture has eroded the real night for most of us. It has eliminated real darkness just as surely as it believes that it had destroyed symbolic darkness. Even the birds are fooled as they sing to themselves during all hours of night; they too have lost the capacity to distinguish between real light and artificial.
August 23rd 2010 Spanish television shows a rare event: the revenge of a bull who leaps over the confining wall of the fighting arena, struggles over two barriers, escaping into the packed crowd that parts in a bow wave to either side of the advancing bull who is eventually caught by his tail and restrained by ropes. For a few moments we witness, over and over again (as it is on a loop and shown every hour or less), the bull's terrifying and absolute freedom! No naive anthropomorphism here; the bull subverted the whole game; he broke the rules and we, no doubt, are secretly with him.
August 12th 2010 Surely Alex Higgins illustrates the dual principle - the irreconcilability of good and evil. According to the Daily Telegraph, Alex “Hurricane” Higgins, who died on July 24th aged 61, was once described by his bugbear Steve Davis as ‘the only true genius I have encountered in the game’; his talents, however, were at the mercy of a seriously deranged personality. To his fans, he was simply the most exciting player of all time. He was asked whether he could live without snooker. ‘Can snooker live without me’? he returned. ‘When they made the Hurricane, they must have broken the mould’, he said of himself, ‘I'm a one-off, a mystery man that would drive the world's most eminent psychiatrist to his consulting couch’. Higgins was not living in sheltered accommodation in Belfast on £200-a-week state handouts because he suffered from cancer. He was in this situation because he was a ferocious drinker and a gambler who lost £3m. Gaunt and down to under 6 stone, and living on baby food, before he died, because he has lost his teeth, he was however much loved by everyone in his city, Belfast. He also performed many charitable activities. The floral wreath that accompanied Alex Higgins on his final journey through the streets of Belfast displayed just three words: ‘The People's Champion’. Many of today’s players owe a huge debt of gratitude to Higgins for the profile he gave the game. He could be charming, eloquent and entertaining as well as bitter, nasty and violent. By the beginning of 1999, with no money, no fixed abode, and nowhere to practise, he was ranked 387 in the world. And by this stage he had been diagnosed with throat cancer. He has also been described as a tragic genius; he was both good and evil. Normally one form predominates, the good, while the other form is driven underground; with Higgins both coexisted. We might reasonably expect reconciliation via some dialectical interaction between good and evil, but with Higgins (as with everyone), what we call evil remains outside and is designated “evil” because it remains irreconcilable and anarchic with respect to the “good”. The psychotherapeutic aim of integration is always only a partial success because of this dual world of Eros and Thanatos. And there is one extra twist as good and evil can swap over; Higgins’ genius can become evil and death-dealing, for instance, while the hurricane-anarchy can seem like the highest good indeed the highest freedom.
August 9th 2010 Otto Kernberg, speaking in Dublin on Saturday about the borderline patient, stated that the analyst's position should be one of “concerned objectivity”. He assumes patients want to get well and makes them sign a contract initially to that effect. He makes it very clear that any destructiveness, self harming and so on will not be tolerated, and he is clear about ending the sessions or ending the treatment if destructiveness is acted out instead of being thought out or “mentalised”. And where violence is concerned, he is clear that the safety of the analyst or the analyst’s family comes first. His aim is to interpret the “here and now” transference and counter-transference manifestations, in terms of the “there and then”, with the analyst exploring whom he represents at any given time in the patient’s past (the parent imago or indeed the child in the presence of parent, or both). The more disturbed the patient, the more the analyst’s counter-transference will be felt and must be analysed rather than acted out. The aim is to achieve more flexibility, adaptation and to resolve the “identity diffusion” that lies at the heart of the borderline patient’s problems, by bringing the good idealised and bad threatening objects to light in the transference and integrating them. Politically, this approach represents the kind of uncritical American interventionism that Lacan et al deplored. In terms of Žižek’s so-called, parallax perspective (The Parallax View, MIT press, 2006), we have here two radically incompatible psychoanalytic approaches with much clear water between them. This gulf was created by Lacan, in his attempt to divide and conquer the psychoanalytic movement. According to Roudinesco, Lacan mounted a “campaign” against positivist empirical psychology, a subject that was gaining popularity in the expanding universities during the mid- 20th century in France. In a politically strategic move, Lacan embraced Foucault, who had published Madness and Civilisation in 1961. Althusser, Deleuze and Derrida became excellent interpreters of Lacan’s work and brought to it the recognition for which Lacan had been waiting for so long. Earlier he had even sought, but not been granted an audience with the Pope while at the same time he was trying to forge links with the leadership of the Communist party. Now, in the 21st century, the conflict is over; each psychoanalytic approach is largely ignorant of the existence of the other. We have reached the post-ideological phase, although even now each perspective is haunted by the excluded other.
August 8th 2010 Christopher Hitchens has written about his recent diagnosis of cancer. He speaks about his first raw reactions to being stricken and his ongoing ‘war against Thanatos’. Wryly he observers,‘My father had died, and very swiftly, too, of cancer of the oesophagus. He was 79. I am 61. In whatever kind of a “race” life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist’.
August 5th 2010 ‘The favoured game in town really is White Men Rescuing Brown Women From Brown Men’, says Priyamvada Gopal, lecturer in post-colonial studies at Cambridge writing in The Guardian, in response to a picture on the front cover of Time showing the damaged face of an Afghan woman. After fleeing an abusive marriage the Taliban tracked her down and ordered that her ears and nose to be cut off as punishment. Beneath the Time picture, the caption reads: What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan. Gopal continues, ‘Feminists have long argued that invoking the condition of women to justify occupation is a cynical ploy, and the Time cover already stands accused of it. Interestingly, the WikiLeaks documents reveal CIA advice to use the plight of Afghan women as “pressure points”, an emotive way to rally flagging public support for the war’. While conceding, ‘Misogynist violence is unacceptable’, Gopal invokes the very worst stereotypes of the West – Sex in the City, bikini waxes, Oprah-imitators, simplestic ‘bedtime stories’, NATO’s ‘corporate militarism’, as well as the depiction of Afghanistan as what Liam Fox, Britain's defence secretary, called a ‘broken 13th-century country’. Apparently, that is all we can offer according to Gopal. She presumably prefers non-intervention into the “complexities” of another culture, because the West has absolutely nothing to offer until we achieve, ‘A radical people's modernity and not only for the embattled denizens of Afghanistan’. This sounds a little like academic activism as a mask for indifference.
August 3rd 2010 It was reported last week that seven brothers were among a group who violently took over a pub in Balbriggan in May 2009 and caused €90k of damage, after one of the brothers had been refused a drink. He is shown in a large tea-shirt with the words written in felt pen, You without sin cast the first stone. Televisions, furniture, beer pumps, shelves and plaster work were smashed and 103 panes of glass had to be refitted. A snooker table was pushed up against a back door to prevent gardai gaining access. Gardai retreated until the public order unit arrived and when attempted to gain entry they were sprayed with a fire extinguisher through a broken window. Gardai successfully reclaimed the pub later that evening. The scene resembled a battle zone, the court was told.
July 29th 2010 Earlier this week, The Daily Telegraph reported that a 51-year-old man exploded with rage after enduring hours of listening to vuvuzelas being blown in the Coco Bamboo bar in the quiet little village of Pievebelvicino near Vicenza, in north-eastern Italy. He first grabbed a rifle and fired shots into the air, but the warning had no effect on those in the bar and the noise continued. So he then jumped into his car and rammed it at least three times through the windows of the bar, sending the unsuspecting drinkers inside scattering in panic. Miraculously, no one was hurt. The man fled the scene but later checked himself into a local hospital. There, he was arrested by police and will undergo treatment in a psychiatric unit. The next time people might listen.
July 26th 2010 There is a flourishing gay scene within the Holy See in Rome. According to an undercover reporter for Panorama (monthly news magazine in Rome), there are gay parties and brief encounters featuring openly gay priests, named in the report together with photographs. The reporter was invited to a party in the Testaccio area of Rome, by a friend of a French priest, Fr Paul, whom the friend claims he first met in a sauna. Fr Paul is shown dancing semi-naked on stage and photographed in his boxers in the friend’s bedroom the morning after. Another encounter is filmed between two Rome based priests, Carlo and Luca. After sex, Fr Luca proudly showed off his clerical vestments, walking around the bedroom half-naked. It is common knowledge in the gay scene in Rome that priests frequent gay venues. (Report, The Irish Times 24th July)
July 22nd 2010 What Hitchens saw at first hand as a foreign correspondent was decent into lawlessness. In Russia, theft of property was universal and ‘accepted a normal’. As a small example, for instance, when it rained in Moscow, the traffic would come to a standstill, while every driver stopped to fit the windscreen wipers to their holders. Any wipers left in place while the car was parked were stolen as a matter of course. He contrasts this, ‘coarse and mannerless world’ with the warmth of the Russian kitchen, with ‘close friends gathered over smoked fish, black bread and vodka to talk long into the night’. But it was in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, that Hitchens found degradation coming into its own. He was there in 1992; he had volunteered for a brief assignment. Mogadishu was no longer a functioning capital. It had no commercial airport, no law, no street-lights, no electricity, no embassies. A body-guard was essential, or ‘you’ll be naked and dead by morning’, he was told. There is famine and children are dying. There are no trees, no shop fronts, but dozens of pick-up trucks with heavy machine guns belonging to the competing militias leaving town because the US Marine have arrived. Once back home, Hitchens sees pictures of Mogadishu taken just a few years before with its Italian style pavement cafes, well dressed prosperous people, modern shops and hotels. The overall effect on Hitchens of Russia and Somalia convinced him about the essential vulnerability of civilisation. Back in Britain after 5 years, he noted with concern, ‘the rapid vanishing of Christianity from public consciousness and life, as the last fully Christian generation ages and disappears’.(p66)
July 19th 2010 The title of Peter Hitchens’ last book, The Rage Against God, is ambiguous. He intends it to be a discussion (and indeed it is) about how the West has turned against its Judeo-Christian heritage. However, he would acknowledge that he himself had his own personal rage against God, symbolised by the burning of his bible on the playing fields of his Cambridge boarding school in 1967 when he was 15. However, a key moment in his return to religion was seeing Rogier van der Weyden’s fifteenth-century “The Last Judgement” in Beaune, near Dijon in E. France. What struck Hitchens in this work were, ‘the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of Hell...These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation...They were me and people I knew’.(75) He stresses that this was not a religious or a mystical experience as such, but, ‘a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day’.
July 15th 2010 For Peter Hitchens, violence comes from utopian materialist revolutionary movements, not from religions, at least contemporary Christian religions. He asks, ‘where now do we find Christian churches or factions persecuting each other as they did in the Reformation or Counter- Reformation? Nowhere’. Whereas each revolutionary generation repeats the former savagery. The Bolsheviks repeated the French revolutionary terror. The Chinese communists, the Khmer rouge, even Castro resorted swiftly to torture and now of course some on the revolutionary Left back Islamist terror. What makes the difference for Hitchens is whether or not we submit to an earthly authority or an eternal one. For a moral code to the affective, he believes, it must come from a non-human source. It must be beyond the power of humanity to change it. However, against Hitchens, we must argue that this “non-human source” has been and continues to be the Symbolic register’s inhuman violence and which can operate without mercy. However, Hitchens seems to come closer to his ethical concerns after witnessing an execution in Dallas, a few years ago. With time to spare before his flight, he visits the City’s Museum of Art. He is struck by Thomas Hart Benton’s painting of the Prodigal Son (1939), who, unlike the son in the New Testament story (Luke 15) returning home exhausted materially and morally to be greeted with love and welcome, Benton’s Prodigal Son has arrived too late. Nobody has seen him from afar and no one has run to greet and anoint him. There is no forgiveness, no music or dancing. Instead, he is gaping with his hand to his mouth, at the ruin of his family home outlined ominously against the cold sky. Instead of the fatted calf, there is an animal skeleton, on unkempt grass with a dead tree at his feet. The landscape is dead. To complete the triad, consider the fate of the rebellious son in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 21:19: ‘If a father has a rebellious son. . . then shall his father and mother lay hold on him and bring him unto the elders of the city, and they shall say unto the elders of his city, “Our son is rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard”. And all the men of the city shall stone the son until he die’. Thus the Christian Prodigal son, situated somewhere between the archaic and modern, is nothing less than a singularity, exemplary of Paul’s dictum: Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20).
July 12th 2010 His and Hers. Ken Wardrop. “A man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best and his mother the longest”. This film documents the many stages of a woman’s life and the women in question are unknown women from the Irish Midlands. The film begins with a baby on her back on a mattress and ends with a woman in an old-persons’ home. In between, experiences are recounted with men who are more present because we never see them. First, dads and granddads, secondly boyfriends, then husbands and sons, finally women on their own and the emptiness that you have no choice but to bear; as many as 40 women participate, but they are not acting. There is no ideological “message”, no deeper feminist meaning to be elucidated, no palpable design on us. Instead, the film is pure appearance, pure illusion in the Baudrillardian sense. Each shot, each banality stands: the old dog waiting outside; the words talked; the farmer’s wife called to watch a gap in the hedge; the woman starting up a tractor; the milk on the windowsill. Each stands without explanation or representation. There is nothing to find behind any remark or image; each is already other.
July 10th 2010 ‘Attempts to rebuild a proper civil society have failed. There are many reasons for its failure...the prevalence of organised crime, drunken disorder, universal dishonesty, cultural decay, devastated family life and corruption. But one of the most important [reasons for failure] must be the absence of conscience and self-restraint among even its educated people, and the vacuum where the rule of law ought to be’. Not Ireland in 2010, but Russia after 70 years of Communism, as reported by Peter Hitchens in Rage Against God (Continuum 2010), p157. This is what happens in a Godless society, with ‘its submission to an earthly authority instead of an eternal authority’.(115)
July7th 2010 The manifest innocence of those demanding civil partnership rights under the signifier “inclusivity” was fought vigorously by journalist David Quinn (RTE Frontline) who challenged the notion of “we want only what is best for our children”, by asking the oldest metaphysical, least progressive question, you could possibly ask: does not a child have a right to be brought up by a mother and a father? Oh no, comes the inclusive answer, just loving parents. Under their breaths they are shouting: get rid of the traditional family; get rid of the bourgeois family! The latter has always stood in the way of the hegemonic integral State. It has always been regarded on the Left as a thorn in the side of progress, a private domain of resistance to be eliminated. The strategy of de-differentiation, of homogenisation, moves on inexorably. There will be no difference between a man and a woman, a mother and a father, a parent and a child. There will be no difference!
July 4th 2010 Baudrillard’s formula that, whatever is abolished in the real reappears in the hyperreal, or, as he says, ‘all that has disappeared is artificially restored’, imagines a global silent destruction of reality (The Perfect Crime) during the modern period, which “returns” in the wholly artificial simulated world of the mediatised post-modern. This puts us in mind of Freud’s notion of verwerfung – foreclosure or repudiation. As Freud specifies, ‘the ego rejects the incompatible idea [incompatible with reality] together with its affect and behaves as if the idea had never occurred to the ego at all’.(SE 3:59) This is not repression as such, but expulsion from the psyche: ‘what was abolished internally returns from without’. (SE12:71). And it returns via hallucination or delusion. For Freud, reality or part of reality is decathected; reality is lost. For Lacan and his concept of foreclosure, what is foreclosed in the Symbolic, abolished from ordinary human reality, reappears in the Real as hallucination. This is the defense mechanism specific to psychosis, ‘the reappearance in the Real of what the subject has refused’. Baudrillard, Freud and Lacan are pointing similarly to a refusal, negation, abolition or rupture of reality in favour of a false real. Meaning has become radically destabilised; the moral compass has been lost. Welcome to the desert of the Real (Matrix). Welcome to the void.
July 1st 2010 Charles Taylor regards Girard’s work as significant. Girard like Freud asserts that what Paul calls, “Powers and Principalities”, obey the scapegoat rule. They are ‘state structures based on the founding murder’.(Battling to the End, pxiv) ‘Foundation is never a solitary action; it is always done with others. This is the rule of unanimity, and this unanimity is violent’.(23) For Freud the Law itself was founded on the murder of the Father. For Žižek, every source of political power has a hidden disavowed violent underside. As Girard says, ‘violence is never lost on violence’, violence is all, original sin is vengeance, never ending vengeance: ‘we have to imagine that for these very reasons the first human groups self-destructed’.(19) Girard’s interlocutor, Benoît Chantre, asks the key question: ‘Is there some way out of the crisis at a time when according to you, the mimetic mechanism is spiralling out of control at the global level and there can be no sacrificial resolution? Unless the sacrificial resolution coincides with the disappearance of humanity itself’.(20) Girard has no answers except to say that Christianity has exposed the truth of violent sacrifice. And with Nietzsche this realisation is made absolutely explicit. Not only, God is dead, God remains dead and we have killed him. What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives. What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? (Aphorism 125 in The Gay Science)
June 29th 2010 Older man to young boy: what does your father do? Young boy: he’s a magician. Older man: is he now, what sort of tricks does he do? Young boy: he saws men and women in half on stage. Older man: does he now, that’s a clever trick. Do you have any brother or sisters? Young boy: I only have a half brother and a half sister.
June 26th 2010 Girard agrees with Pope Benedict XVI about the “pathology of rationalism” in post-modernity. In three ways rationalism has been split off and isolated from faith, and thereby become toxic. Firstly, it has been reduced to practical empirical reason. Secondly, it has lent itself to pure operationalism and instrumentalism leading to the domination of our world by scientism. Thirdly, it has become de-Hellenised, in favour of a too simplistic return to the literalism of the Texts. The key point is, as Girard says, it is because ‘we have wanted to distance ourselves from religion that it is now returning with such force and in a retrograde, violent form. The rationalism...was not a real distancing, but a dike that is in the process of giving way. In this, it will perhaps have been our last mythology. We “believed” in reason as people used to believe in gods’.(119) The Pope returns to both the Greek and Jewish origins of the rational and monotheistic origins of Christianity - Faith and Reason together. As the Pope says, ‘pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it’.(Quoted on 206) Girard continues, ‘The Pope is alerting us to the fact that Greek reason is disappearing, and that its disappearance will leave the way open to rampant irrationality’.(207) Once more the escalation to extremes, the mimetic contagion of a rationality become hyper-rational versus hyper-religion, preached “by the sword”.
June 22nd 2010 Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoit Chantre (Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture) by Rene Girard. The book focuses on Prussian general and military theoretician Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), the Napoleon-obsessed author of On War. Clausewitz speculated about total war and Girard is delighted to find that Clausewitz, independently, confirms his thesis of mimetic contagion. Girard theorises that human desire is not so much a desire for recognition (Hegel), but a desire for what the other has, the other’s possession. This inevitably involves an escalation to violent extremes where both sides become alike in their warlike behaviour. This theory points to the ubiquity of violence in human affairs - indeed, battling to the end. It is an apocalyptic theory. In primitive religions apocalyptic violence was ended via the selection of a scapegoat who was blamed and sacrificed, enabling both sides to cease hostilities by blaming and sacrificing the third. Christianity puts an end to that mythology - Jesus was innocent. However, by revealing the real innocence of the scapegoat, Christianity plunged us back into sacrificial crisis and retaliatory violence - unless, that is, we heed the Christian truth, which is our only alternative to violent apocalypse. Christianity is the only religion that exposes the innocence of the victim. But it is not clear how Christianity can make a difference. He states repeatedly (and psychoanalysis agrees) that violence is always essentially violence against truth and that the truth itself causes violence; Christianity being a religion that brings division. Yet, he emphasises, if one side in the conflict renounces violence this paradoxically increases the violence of the other side, and, one way or another, violence today is indeed increasing across the world. Western rationalism and secularism cannot see this. Girard says, ‘Western rationalism operates like a myth: we always work harder to avoid seeing the catastrophe’.(213) Yet, apparently, the Spirit increases in a hidden ways too, ‘We should not underestimate the insertion of the spirit into history, nor exceptional individuals, nor the opening of groups to the universal’.(119) ‘Pascal called the order of the spirit, the necessary passage towards the order of charity. It is absolutely powerless to change the course of events, even though it makes it possible to understand them’.(132) As for Hölderlin, who withdrew to a tower for 40years in Tűbingen, he says, ‘We have to rise to the nobility of this silence’.(121) It is only from this perspective of truth that we can see as Girard suggests, ‘the West is going to exhaust itself in its fight against Islamic terrorism, which Western arrogance has undeniably kindled’.(209-210)
June 19th 2010 Baudrillard's triad - Illusion, Reality, Simulacrum - is beautifully illustrated by, for instance, the perfume industry. It began way back with the fragrantillusion, the discovery of the smells and scents emanating from various plant species. Eventually, the desire to realise these fragrances gave rise to the search for the objective real of these substances, which, in turn led to the various techniques for the distillation, concentration, separation and extraction of the pure fragrances. This perhaps was the high point of the perfume industry, during the 18th and 19th centuries, with appearance and reality joining forces in the beauty and variety of exotic bottles and labels to contain these precious extracts. However, since the 'seventies, it has been possible to trap the perfumes from a flower in the field and separate the perfume's molecular constituents by gas chromatography. From there chemical analysis will reveal the molecular structures thus isolated, making it possible to synthesise the relevant molecules artificially. They can be altered at will to manipulate or augment the aromas, in other words, to beat the plants at their own game. This is the Simulacrum stage, the hyper-real, where the product is severed from its referent - the plant species itself, which becomes simply unnecessary. The irony is that this stage has a renewed magical-illusory effect, not least because it wipes out the former evolutionary stages. There is no longer any need for the plants themselves and we are left feeling a huge nostalgia for the real which has gone. This final stage is a total real-isation of the elemental "functional groups" (at the molecular level) of fragrance without mystery, largely devoid of pleasure and enchantment, with cool functional names like Boss and Fahrenheit.
June 16th 2010 John Lonergan, the outgoing prison governor, of the aptly named Mountjoy in Dublin, articulated a simple truth some time ago, in the form of a question: ‘Have you ever seen a smiling or a happy addict’? However, such a simple observation about chronic drug addiction, by a compassionate governor no less, can bring a scorn of opposition in some quarters. Who is he, this arrogant man, to dare to suggest that he knows what constitutes the truth of another's enjoyment? Implication: each of us has a right to our own death drive. This brings to mind another question from the well respected John O'Shea of the humanitarian NGO, Goal, about the abuse of foreign aid: ‘Have you ever seen a thin or hungry soldier’? Again, the critical response might be: who is he to imply a poor country shouldn't feed the death drive in its own way if it wants to? As Freud stated, ‘everything living dies for internal reasons – becomes inorganic once again – then we shall be compelled to say that “the aim of all life is death”... (SE.18:38) Intervening to prevent this death drive process is seen by some as unwarranted interference.
June 8th 2010 Writing yesterday in the Guardian (CIF), Nick Cohen puts his finger on the most pressing problem in geopolitics today: ‘the behaviour of European liberals seems more reprehensible than ever. Instead of confronting or even arguing with the anti-liberal forces that are terrorising much of the Middle East and Asia, they appease them and offer them Israel as a placatory gesture, when Israel is not theirs to give away’. In other words, Israel will become the scapegoat in the true Girardian sense. Israel will be offered as a sacrifice to prevent the escalation to extremes of uncontrolled violence. All blame is heaped on this small but symbolic country, from both sides. It diverts criticism from corrupt Arab governments. It lessens the legacy of European guilt over the Holocaust if we can describe Israel or Zionism as the embodiment of Nazism or Apartheid, as is commonplace now. ‘Zionism, the criminal DNA of humanity’ (Parisian protestors shout in July 2006 against the war in Lebanon). Pilger says that Israel is not a rogue state but a criminal state. Israel is also accused of inventing the myth of the Holocaust, of being responsible for the 9/11 attacks, of having created the AIDS virus (to eliminate the black race or humanity itself), of having created the tsunami in December 2004 via a nuclear device, of creating Avian flu to weaken Africa and Asia, of having arranged for the Muhammad cartoons published in Denmark to foment conflict between Christians and Muslims, of stealing the organs of Palestinian children and offering them for sale, and so on. Beyond all this however is the fact that we only really take seriously our own (Western) aggression; this is the only aggression we can “see”. Again and again one hears commentators ignoring or minimising Islamist aggression, a classic case of disavowal: yes we know about it, but we (try to) ignore it. The other is really just too bad to contemplate.
June 5th 2010 A post on the human rights website, Harry’s Place: ‘Living in Jerusalem, I walk through the Armenian quarter on a regular basis, and I always see the posters calling out for the world to recognize the Armenian genocide carried out by the Turks in 1915. I was recently at the ceremony dedicated to recalling the genocide and listened to the extremely polite appeals from speakers for governments to address the issue, knowing full well that these calls will be disregarded as they have been for decades. I can’t help comparing: the Turks have demanded and obtained international condemnation and commitments to investigations within 24 hours in regard to Israel [and the storming of Mavi Marmara]. The Armenians have requested this regarding the Turks for 95 years and are still waiting’. Kevin Myers perceptibly notes the passengers on the Turkish vessel chanted: “Remember Khairbar, Khaibar, O Jews. The Army of Mohammed will return”. This was a reference to the prophet's seizure of a Jewish-held oasis, the last Jewish settlement in Arabia. Most of the Jews were slaughtered and their leader, Kinana bin al-Rabi, was captured, burnt and beheaded. His wife was then forcibly “married” to Mohammed. Myers continues, ‘For western Europeans to take sides with these forces against Israel constitutes a form of cultural suicide, the equivalent of a peace-convoy to aid the oppressed Germans of the Sudetenland in 1938’. Nick Cohen, at the end of a long review of, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, by Pascal Bruckner Princeton University Press, takes a step beyond Bruckner: ‘I have looked into the eyes of editors who have refused to run cartoons or news stories attacking Islamism and academics who have refused to confront student Islamic societies that are producing terrorists. I don't always see remorse there but a simple fear that they or their staff will be attacked if they make a stand. Liberal guilt is a minor emotion at these moments’.
June 2nd 2010 Psychoanalysis investigates “the other” - the other that is other to oneself or one’s identity - better known as the repressed unconscious. The psychoanalytic encounter has an ethical dimension, beyond the usual “ethics code” for consumers of a service. The first ethical concern is for the other of the Imaginary, the specular double, the rival, (con)fused with oneself. Secondarily, the other of the Symbolic – the other as unconscious. This is as far as psychoanalysis goes. Finally, and controversially, there is the naked face of the other (Levinas), unmediated in the Real. This ‘ethics as first philosophy’, haunts the Imaginary and Symbolic.
May 30th 2010 Clearly, the way one subjectively experiences post-modern culture is against a background of loneliness and this has become increasingly so in the younger half of the population. Across all ages, one in ten people in the UK reports often feeling lonely, the Mental Health Foundation has found - a state which can impact upon one's physical as well as mental health. The charity highlights the decline of community and a growing focus on work. Nearly 60% of those aged between 18 to 34 questioned spoke of feeling lonely often or sometimes, compared to 35% of those aged over 55. The young people we work with tell us that talking to hundreds of people on social networks is not like having a real relationship and when they are using these sites they are often alone in their bedrooms. The changing nature of the family, with fewer children who themselves often move away, has increased the prospect of elderly isolation. This has also become more likely as a result of longer life expectancies, the report noted. But neighbourhoods have also changed, with the local services such as post offices that tended to form the heart of old communities on the decline. The report also found gender differences, with more women than men reporting loneliness, and more likely to feel depressed as a result. It highlighted the fact that the proportion of people living alone, both male and female, had doubled between 1972 and 2008. According to Age UK, "Living in isolation and loneliness is a stark reality for thousands of older people today. People over 65 are twice as likely as other age groups to spend over 21 hours of every day alone. Nearly a third of young people questioned for the report said they spent too much time communicating with friends and families online when they should see them in person. Social networking sites, at one level, have enabled people to make connections they might not otherwise have made, and virtual friendships can evolve into real-life relationships. The report cites the example of the parenting website Netmums, which says that because of contacts made online 10,000 women meet face-to-face every month, reducing the sometimes intense sense of isolation new mothers can experience. But there are also concerns that technology is being used as a replacement for genuine human interaction. Sarah Brennan, head of the charity YoungMinds, said: ‘The young people we work with tell us that talking to hundreds of people on social networks is not like having a real relationship and when they are using these sites they are often alone in their bedrooms’. Manhattan in New York has 50% lone households, more than anywhere else in the United States, yet its “urban village” model sustains social networks because people habitually use alternative meeting places, including cafes and public spaces. The loneliness results from disconnectedness and disengagement which is structural to the system and covered by the “twittering” ephemerality in every virtual network - a frenzied mass connectedness (unbridled immanence) which violently and triumphantly negates the void in the social. There must be an inverse relationship between social networking (largely in the Imaginary) and the real bonds that tie people together (Symbolic and Real). It is precisely this “tying” that people want to be free from. No one wants to be tied down. This is a content-less revolution, part and parcel of the economic revolution from which it is indistinguishable. Both aim at acceleration and complexity. Both take no responsibility for the symbolic consequences.
May 28th 2010 Vincent Browne does a program (May 25th) from the flats complex (Dolphin House) in Dublin’s South Inner City where he explores the lamentable state of the accommodation that tenants there have to live in: the lung damaging molds, the blocked drains, the rising sewage, the acrid smells even inside the flats, the leaking ceilings, and so on. Each tenant interviewed reports that they have complained to the authorities repeatedly and nothing more than token repairs have been carried out in spite of evidence being provided by health experts that living in such conditions represents a considerable health hazard. Many people have already moved out of the complexes which weakens the social solidarity which has been so strong in these otherwise impoverished communities. One other observation is worthy of comment. All the tenants interviewed and speaking to camera were women. There were no men heading up these selected households, or at least no men prepared to speak to camera – no fathers around apparently, and no comment on the no fathers. The only men to appear in this program, apart from Browne himself, were in the audience at the conference called to discuss this intolerable situation.
May 25th 2010 A South African cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro, has depicted the Prophet Muhammad lying on a psychotherapist’s couch complaining bitterly about why he, unlike other prophets, doesn’t seem to have any followers who laugh! Next to him is a newspaper with the headline, “Everybody draw Muhammad day”, which refers to a Facebook page which recently encouraged people to post images of the prophet, causing outrage in Pakistan. Fundamentalists have no sense of humour, because humour belongs to the Symbolic and fundamentalism belongs to the Real - the real of objective literal knowledge, with no gaps, no questions, no humour. The title of one of Roustang’s books is How to Make a Paranoid Laugh (1996). 'With paranoia one has all the worst, whereas with laughter at oneself one has all the best: proximity as opposed to distance; the tolerance that comes through realism; finitude without despair; humanity...as opposed to horror'. In another humourless vein, Swedish feminists and the Lutheran church have joined forces to oppose Crown Princess Victoria’s wish to be “given away” by her father, King Carl Gustaf, at her marriage next month.
May 23rd 2010 Chief Constable Peter Fahy of Greater Manchester Police, gives a brief social history of Britain’s recent drinking culture. Below cost selling of alcohol in supermarkets, with bulk reductions and double club card point incentives, have led to increases in consumption and the crime and violence associated with alcohol. What we do not see, Fahy explains, is the great increase in people drinking at home, drinking too much and getting involved in domestic violence. The ambulance service are rushed off their feet. The supermarkets have subverted the market with their cheap alcohol, they have put out of business the local clubs and pubs, the working men’s club, the social clubs, where until relatively recently people drank together and young people learned to drink in the company of adults, guided by relatives and other people in the community. The licensee is also responsible for the way people drink. Greater Manchester is littered with pubs that are boarded up and young people are now drinking in the park or going into large city centre pubs where there are not the same controls exerted on their drinking behaviour. Pubs, to meet the competition from the supermarkets, go down-market to attract more customers and these pubs end up being closed by the police. This is another instance of the undoing of the social.
May 19th 2010 Ben Judah, a journalist for Standpoint, reports on his travels in the Caucasus, Central Asian republics and former States in the USSR. These so-called “liberated” countries are suffering with their economies contracting by as much as half since 1985, causing a steady decline in living standards and education with a rise in illiteracy. He says, you see towns without schools but with new mosques. These States are no longer part of the large modernist project. They have gone back to pre-revolutionary times retreating into authoritarianism. The drugs trade is increasing. In Kyrgyzstan, for instance, he witnessed young men just smashing shop windows and attacking schools, bus stations and so on – anarchy and a frenzy born of despair. At night, blacked-out SUVs drive around with music blaring when most people are far too poor to even own a car – ‘Oh, they are the President friends’, is the common view on the street. Judah points out that British drug takers should take note of the suffering involved in the procurement of their recreation. Judah refers to the period since the collapse of Communism as “the Cold Peace” with Russia and America still challenging one another. In this post-ideological and post-modern period, Russia no longer has to take responsibility for these poor States; they can just use the cheap labour when they need it. A large US. base ferries 40,000 troops through Kyrgyzstan each month en route for Afganistan. A journey through central Asia will turn up some faded old images and relics of the dead gods, Stalin and Lenin, in some shops and still on occasional plinths. However, after 80years of Russian domination some re-naming has been going on with the Russians gradually being replaced by the names of national heroes, national historians and others.
May 16th 2010 Mikkel Borsh-Jacobsen suggests that psychoanalysis is a “zero theory” because it seems to accommodate all criticism and adapt to radically changing conditions with new theoretical formulations. For instance, upholders of Ego Psychology amend the doctrine to make it compatible with developmental psychology and the generally perceived need to adapt and have a strong integrated ego in the modern world. Object Relations theorists reject the solipsism and biologism of Freud’s drive theory in favour of ‘two-persons psychology’. Fairbairn’s dictum held that the infant stops crying at the sight of the breast rather than with the satisfaction of the drive. Kohut’s Self Psychology suspends analytic distance in favour of empathic understanding of the patient. Narrativists no longer concern themselves with the historical truth of what is said on the couch. Lacanians upend the dynamic theory in the radically new terms of language and the signifier. Kleinians think in terms of envy and containment. And so on. Borsh-Jacobsen’s mistake, however, is to think analysts believe that these changes constitute progress; no such claim is or should be made. ‘What’s the use of trying to criticise such a “zero theory”? It is everywhere only because it is anything’, responds Chris Oakley. ‘It is “everywhere” because people who are suffering have always turned to others for solace. Psychoanalysis is merely a chapter in folk psychology, underpinned by highly specific cultural and historical conditions’. Psychoanalysis defies definition which angers its critics, but Oakley concludes, ‘Folk psychology can't progress any more than rock 'n' roll’. However, “folk” should at least talk to one another and psychoanalysts are not very folksy in that way and nor are their over-complex and competing theories. There are currently no less than four Lacanian groups in Dublin, for example. And is not psychoanalysis with its multiple variants precisely post-modern? What else should we expect when a similar process of multiple differentiation with no centre is occurring everywhere? It is the essence of the Market and Capitalism.
May 13th 2010 Revanche: Götz Spielmann’s meditation on revenge and remorse. Moving from under-world Vienna to a beautiful but isolated stretch of Austrian countryside, Alex (Johannes Krisch), a small-time ex-con seeks a better life with his Eastern European prostitute girlfriend Tamara (Irina Potapenko), who has been sex-trafficked to a Viennese brothel, where she is trapped by the pimp who has also taken a fancy to her. Alex plans to rob a bank in his grandfather’s small town, where a young policeman’s happy marriage has its problems. Alex and Tamara make their risky escape, but Alex is clearly out of depth and his plans go horribly wrong and we live with the painful consequences and ethical compromises that have to be made. The film stays in the memory because of its simple tragic effect entirely without embellishment.
May 10th 2010 Juliet Mitchell gives a daylong seminar in Dublin on “sibling trauma”, what she believes is the neglected “horizontal” relationship between siblings. The psychoanalytic preference, she alleges, has always been for the vertical, that is, the Oedipal dynamics to do with the supposedly fateful effects of the parents on child development. Mitchell exposes what everyone, not just analysts, understands to be true when they give it some thought, namely, that there is a secret often violent, or latently violent, relationship between siblings that goes unrecognised because of our sentimental attachment to you-have-a-lovely-new-perfect-little-baby-brother/sister syndrome. Instead, the new arrival should be eliminated because his arrival means my displacement, or what Mitchell terms, “dethronement”. Mitchell emphasises, ‘the accompanying feelings of pain and rage at the loss of that crown can be quite intense and, as most parents can testify, the corresponding behaviour can be equally dramatic. It usually emerges either as aggressive acts – nipping, pinching, biting, trying to prise the new baby out of its mother’s arms – or regressive responses, such as bedwetting, thumb-sucking and clinging’. The displaced child’s conflict is that: ‘the ecstasy of loving one who is like oneself is experienced at the same time as the trauma of being annihilated by one who stands in one’s place’. What’s more, she argues, the trauma never completely goes away as it “transfers” itself onto other relationships, with our peers later taking the place of our siblings. That old jealousy may rear its head in sexual relationships, for example, with the woman who is always expecting her husband to have affairs. ‘Essentially, you’re cast adrift’, she says, ‘someone else is “the baby” now, and you’re not where or who you thought you were. Violence is never far away, love and hate turn on a pinhead: the hug for the new baby can easily turn to a throttle’. She lays stress on the term “trauma”, as the psyche of the infantile ego becomes overwhelmed from without and within, which can fail to be adequately “processed” during the course of development. Consider Silvia Plaith: ‘A baby. I hated babies. I who for two-and-a-half years had been the centre of a tender universe felt the axis wrench and the polar chill immobilise my bones. I would be a bystander’. Useful as Mitchell’s emphasis is and everyone has an interesting story to tell, in practice it is impossible and even misleading to separate the vertical and the horizontal relationships. The fight between siblings is about the sharing of the “tender universe”. The birth of a sibling leaves the existing child (traumatically) bereft of the love that it once enjoyed: firstly, there were two; now there are three. The fight now involves the fight over the desire of the (m)other – we both now want the same thing that we have lost and we are prepared to kill for it. The dethronement is the dethronement from love – not just self-love but the love and desire of the other who calls us into being. The source of this love is parental and so the vertical is necessarily brought into play and one cannot think about siblings without thinking about parents at the same time. What is primary is the provision of love and the vicissitudes of the “polar chill” that blows when the former fails.
May 9th 2010 Girard is unnecessarily critical of psychoanalysis when much of his theorising amplifies both what Freud emphasised about the ubiquity of the death drive and Lacan’s Hegelian-Kojévian theory of desire. Violence is a social phenomenon, not biologically rooted. It is the fight for what the other possesses, because he posseses it, that creates the potential for catastrophic escalation, like, as Girard says, an infection or a pollution, or the spilling of blood everywhere. Girard sounds Lacanian: ‘The reason is that he desires being, something he himself lacks and which some other person seems to possess. The subject thus looks to that other person to inform him for what he should desire in order to acquire that being’.(Violence and the Sacred, p155) Evil and the violent measures to combat evil become essentially the same, sowing chaos and destruction. This is the so-called “bad” violence to be countered by the “good” violence of a sacrifice, that will end the chain reactions of violent reprisals. As if taking his cue from Matte Blanco, Girard demonstrates again and again how violence becomes symmetrical, reciprocal, eliminating difference, as the combatants become mirror images of each other, “monstrous doubles”, with their tit-for-tat killings, spreading throughout the community. For instance, Oedipus, Creon, Laius, Tiresias, taking their cue from the oracle, seek each other’s downfall. Each becomes similarly violent. Yet Oedipus is selected as the sacrificial victim, because he alone is guilty of patricide and incest. He is therefore the monstrous exception. Oedipus becomes the repository of all the community’s ills. He is the quintessential scapegoat. Where differences are lacking or blurred mimetic violence threatens. Therefore, twins are regarded as impure, a warrior steeped in blood, an incestuous couple, menstruating women, and so on. Sexuality and violence are linked because each tends to eliminate difference. This recalls Laplanche’s “sexual death drive” theory. As Girard says, 'naked or pure sexuality is directly connected to violence. It is the final veil shielding violence from sight’.(p122) Violence once started creates an orgy of self-destruction. All difference is eliminated: between god and non-god; between man and woman; parent and child; biological and natural – ‘a hallucinatory state that is not a synthesis of elements, but a formless and grotesque mixture of things that are normally separate’.(p169) Girard’s formula: ‘at the point where two or three, or hundreds of symmetrical and inverted accusations meet, one [sacrificial victim] alone makes itself heard and the others fall silent. The old pattern of each against the other gives way to the unified antagonism of all against one...united in its hatred for one alone of its number...the surrogate victim’. (p82-84) Girard refers to this mechanism as “violent unanimity”. And therefore, the process of finding a surrogate victim constitutes a major means by which the many dispel from consciousness the truth about their violent nature. ‘For the anathema to deploy its full force it must slip from sight and from conscious memory’. (p89) The victim is an ambiguous figure. Oedipus at Colonus, for instance, appears as a redeemer, once he has been scapegoated and exiled when he was Oedipus Rex. Pharmakon, the sacrificial victim, is both poison and the antidote, both sickness and cure. For Gerard, ‘the modus operandi of violence - sometimes reciprocal and pernicious sometimes unanimous and beneficial - is then taken as a model for the entire universe’.(p101) In other words, good and evil are simply two aspects of the same reality and the purpose of the sacrificial rite is to consolidate this difference for the sake of the social fabric, after the terrible violence of all against all. Only the religious delusion as such, stands between the community and its violent dissolution. As Girard says, ‘religion protects man as long as its ultimate foundations are not revealed...to remove men’s ignorance is only to risk exposing them to an even greater peril’.(p144) Hinting at the independence of the drive, Girard says, ‘Violence is the divine force that everyone tries to use for his own purposes and that ends up by using everyone for its own’.(p153). He quotes Heraclitus: violence is the father and king of all. Thus the “monster” becomes an alien to himself. He seems possessed by the other (death drive), some presence seems to be acting from him, bellowing like Dionysius the bull. The use of masks mixes man and beast, erasing difference. Masks stand at the frontier between the human and divine and the masks disappear when the monsters once again assume the human form’. (p178). The sacrificial victim is designated firstly as the cause of all the violence and then revered as sacred - the bringer of peace and prosperity. Girard will later call this paradox, the “double transference”. Such a being becomes a special person, a sacred person – elevated to the level of a god. Only the Bible and Christianity, this is Girard's key claim, unveils the victim mechanism, exposing the scapegoating myth and siding with the victim. Take, for instance, the story of Cain and Abel. Because Cain murders his brother, God makes him a wanderer on the earth. God puts a mark on him to protect him, no less, from the suffering that he inflicted on Abel. Cain builds the first city and this is the beginning of civilisation.
May 6th 2010 Life during Wartime, Todd Solondz revisits his masterpiece, Happiness (1998) but with the characters played by different actors. The three Jordan sisters are still around, part of a dysfunctional and narcissistic East Coast Jewish family. Shirley Henderson is the shy, diminutive, alternative Joy, while Ally Sheedy is writer Helen, now at the peak of her success and dating a certain off-screen ‘Keanu’. Trish (Allison Janney) has taken the children and moved to Florida; there she's met a new man Harvey (Michael Lerner), whom she falls for because he's “so normal”. Trish's younger son Billy (Dylan Riley Snyder) is trying to understand the world in time for his bar mitzvah. He asks his mother, ‘What exactly does a man do to a boy when he’s raping him’? Trish’s estranged husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds) has been released from prison and is a disturbing brooding presence through the whole narrative. In the opening scene Joy and her husband Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams) attempt to patch up their troubled relationship over a restaurant meal. He urgently insists he's overcome drugs, etc. Andy, a former lover, who committed suicide because of Joy, is played by Paul (Pee Wee Herman) Reubens, who, in reality in 1991, was arrested for indecent exposure. She receives visitations from his ghost as he tries to get her to reconsider her opinion of him. As Bill tries to track down his former family, he briefly encounters Charlotte Rampling, a predatory old woman, who dismisses her own children as ‘just a pack of wolves. Because I am a monster’. Bill eventually finds his older son Billy (Chris Marquette), now at university. This mirrors the harrowing scene in Happiness where Billy confronts his father after he discovers that he’s been sexually abusing his sleepover friends, but now the issue has moved on from just ‘trying to understand’ to the question of forgiving. Bill tells Billy in a rare moment of truth, how tender he felt just holding him as a baby. To forgive and forget is the ethical dilemma posed in this film. Is it possible to forgive and forget – paedophiles, terrorists, bombers, etc. – or maybe just forget, without forgiving? Or maybe, it is neither being able to forgive or forget. This is now post 9/11 and the family identify with Israel. America is at war.
May 4th A solder of the Black Watch regiment recounts (Radio Scotland) a fragment of his experience in Afghanistan. He is boarding a Chinook helicopter, crouching low to avoid the rotor blades, then flying through sporadic small arms and RPG fire. ‘Immediately, a strange sensation of smell, a beautiful strange smell, the opposite of sheep dung, not the normal smell of Afghanistan; no, it was the scent of lavender, growing in the gullies in the horseshoe of a mountain, its scent had been blown in from the hot air of the jets and downdraft of the rotors, and here we were about to take firing position amongst her’.
May 2nd 2010 The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris, directed by Roman Polanski. Tony Blair is satirized as Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) the retired British PM who hires a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) to rewrite his memoirs, after the first ghost writer has been found drowned near Lang’s heavily fortified Cape Cod retreat. The new writer becomes caught up in unravelling the cause of death of his predecessor which in turn is tied up with Lang’s summons to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. McGregor is trapped on the island, finding himself distracted by the PM’s wife (Olivia Williams), who is Cherie. The film rides on the easy surge of anti-Blair, anti-US sentiment following the Iraq War. This is now accepted without question.
April 29th 2010 “Bigoted” has become the preferred term to be banded around quite freely by the elite or administrative class when characterising even quite ordinary people, critical of the administration’s progressive assumptions. Like, for instance, long-term labour supporter, Gillian Duffy, in Rochdale yesterday, to whom Brown was sweet and pleasant in person on camera, only to lapse into his real feelings in what he thought was a private conversation later in his car. When told of his “gaffe”, his first reaction was to blame his staff for providing such a woman and then to blame the (Right-wing) media for exposing him and endlessly replaying his slip. Members of the same administrative class have today come out tentatively supporting Brown pointing out that he needn’t have apologised – don’t we all make mistakes and maybe the woman was not such a nice woman after all for expressing objectionable (racist) views that decent people like us surely do not share? How sad, says Pat Kenny, some Labour supporters may now be turning to the BNP in this election. So once again the latent rage of the (Old Labour) white working class (amply illustrated by a Newsnight report from wider Rochdale) is just dismissed as pathological.
April 28th 2010 Apropos Girard, Patrick Kavanagh’s little poem comes to mind: ‘Who killed James Joyce? / I, said the commentator, / I killed James Joyce / For my graduation. // What weapon was used / To slay mighty Ulysses? / The weapon that was used / Was a Harvard thesis. In other words, the university discourse is the violent power that sacrifices the original work and must continue to do so for the maintenance of the integrity of the discourse. In the Lacanian algebra (Seminar 17) formulating the university discourse, what is in the place of “production” is the “barred subject”, namely, in this instance, the sacrificed Joycean text, which becomes barred, i.e. sacrificed.
April 26th 2010 Violence and the Sacred. René Girard (1988). Trans. Patrick Gregory. London, Continuum. 2005. In this key text, Girard underlines the ubiquity of violence in primitive societies. This so-called ‘mimetic violence’ will be controlled by sacred rituals involving the killing of a scapegoat, a relatively unimportant third party who can “safely” be sacrificed to defuse the crisis tearing the social fabric. The scapegoat must be foreign, an enemy or “other” in some way, sufficiently different so that his death does not lead to more killings within the society. The sacrifice is a sacred duty, the sacredness of which acts a cover for the violence of the act, the logic of which must never be disclosed to the participants. The list of potential sacrificial victims is varied: prisoners of war, slaves, adolescents, children, handicapped, from Pharmakós to King. Although the need for the scapegoat mechanism ceased with the invention of the Law, something of it remains as the basis of every power structure even today. Wherever there is power there are unseen disposable sacrificial victims that the adherents to the power structure largely disavow. As Girard says, ‘the judicial system and the institution of sacrifice share the same function, but the judicial system has been infinitely more effective. However it can only exist in conjunction with a firmly established political power’. (p23) This power exerts an extra-judicial function in the form of an obscene superego supplement.
April 24th 2010 The British Foreign Office has had to rush to apologise after a leaked document suggested the Pope's visit to Britain should be marked by the launch of, Benedict brand condoms. The junior civil servant responsible was said to have been transferred to "other duties". The document also suggested the Pope should be invited to open an abortion clinic and bless a gay marriage during his September's visit. Foreign Secretary, David Miliband was said to be "appalled" and other officials have been doing lots of hand-wringing. This is a classic lapsus by the Protestant-Anglican-Atheist-Secularist orientation, that for once stands up to, or at least ridicules the might of an authoritarian system – albeit only by a slip from the unconscious that is immediately denied.
April 21st 2010 Considering the psychoanalytic clinic we should be mindful of two incompatible but necessary approaches. Firstly, the well known epigenetic, developmental view which provides meaningful connections between present and past. Here the subject’s history is pieced together, the unconscious is “translated” (remember repression is a failure of translation), via dreams, jokes, parapraxies, and so on. This approach is forensically objective and hierarchical and it still informs the rational basis for “believing” that psychoanalysis is a valid and truthful activity. It is ethically justified, evermore so in these postmodern times where subjective experience and the enigma of one’s history is progressively discounted by “scientific” theories of personality, and not least of course by the subject himself, who often denies the psychical validity of his very own history, demanding relief from drugs, CBT or a “subject-supposed-to-know” (the analyst as expert). It is this approach, however, that leads to generalisations and categorisations and ultimately an objectification of the subject. The second approach, intimated to a degree by Lacan, asserts the ineffability of the subject. The subject is a unique instance, inexchangeable, ungeneralisable, without translation. Here one should proceed via seduction (Baudrillard), whereby free association leads not to latent contents and hidden meanings, but to more seduction and more freedom. The analyst will be lead astray by the unique events and thoughts described without any attempt at establishing connections, without any fantasy of an unconscious, deliberately eschewing meanings and interpretations. Each event, each phrase uttered, each experience told, is a singularity, immanent to itself alone, a stark real without any precedent or sequel. These are effects without causes, pure appearances, emerging and returning to oblivion. Each is perfection itself alone, without recourse to exchangeability or comparison. One is engaged with an individual destiny, not any general destination such as happiness or health, but something much more interesting. What should be obvious is that such a radical phenomenology has nothing to do with narcissism, where one takes oneself as ultimately meaningful and unique in a false comparative way, checking in the mirror all the time. Instead there is a secret order of being, a singular route, a unique narrative, outside the order of meaning and reason (however much the subject, addicted to meanings, imposes a rationale retrospectively). Memories are, childhood was, old age is; each itself alone; each is exceptional and mysterious and should remain so, being prevented from being de-intensified by entering the comfort-zone world of meaning. This is a critical-psychoanalytic mode even by Lacanian standards, which for all its enigmas and aporias, still aims at “speaking truth” and a divided subject. The shock here is that there is no truth and no subject; there is nothing beyond the event. In the inexorably operational world of science and economic exchange there is no subject; this includes the psychiatric and CBT clinic. In the broadly psychoanalytic world there is the fading or divided subject of passion and desire. In the phenomenological world, the subject has paradoxically both disappeared and fleetingly appears in a much intensified form without being grasped as such because it has no equivalent – no mirror, no double, no representation - anywhere. In practice, this second (Zen-like) orientation, what Baudrillard suggest we “find” when we come up against the “Impossible-Exchange-Barrier”, is immediately dominated by a return to reflexive consciousness and a quantum of narcissism. We still understand the subject as unique and beyond psychoanalytic reductionism, more than an unconscious, but now returned as part of a narrative structure to be libidinised, held to and valued, especially given that its illusory substance will slip through the fingers like water.
April 19th 2010 It looks as if Richard Dawkins has become his own God delusion or indeed his very own ‘greatest show on earth’, when you read this violent tract against the Church, published in The Washington Post, no less. Responding to his own question as to whether or not the Pope should resign over the child sex abuse scandal, he refers to the Pope as, ‘a leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds...a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal...he is perfectly positioned to accelerate the downfall of the evil, corrupt organization whose character he fits like a glove, and of which he is the absolute and historically appropriate monarch.... He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears’. Dawkins’ conversion must be complete; he is now working for the Church.
April 15th 2010 Referring to the marble statue of Moses, by Michelangelo in the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, Freud says, ‘no piece of statuary has ever made a stronger impression on me than this. How often have I mounted the steep steps from the unlovely Corso Cavour to the lonely piazza where the deserted church stands’. Freud ponders upon the uncomfortable thought that he himself fears, ‘the angry storm of the hero’s glance’, and that he even feels as if, ‘I myself belonged to the mob upon which his eye is turned – the mob which can hold fast to no conviction, which has neither faith nor patience and which rejoices when it has regained its illusory idols’.(SE 13:213) As Freud says, ‘Michelangelo has chosen this last moment of hesitation, of calm before the storm, for his representation. In the next instant Moses will spring to his feet – his left foot is already raised from the ground – dash the Tables [with the Decalogue] to the earth and let loose his rage upon his faithless people’.(p216) What impresses Freud here is Moses’ moment of self control. Instead of letting go his rage upon the mob he restrains himself. Therefore what Michelangelo has created, ‘is not an historical figure, but a character-type, embodying the inexhaustible inner force which tames the recalcitrant world’ (p221). This is what Freud refers to as, ‘the highest mental achievement that is possible in a man, that of struggling successfully against an inward passion for the sake of a cause to which he has devoted himself’. (p233). This “struggle” for sublimation rather than brute (fundamentalist) force and violence is the main theme that Edmundson illustrates in his recent book, reviewed here. For Freud, the secular Jew, Moses is the “tremendous father imago” and represents for Freud his ego ideal. However, Freud has at least one moment of doubt and conflict: he is ‘passionate for the sake of his cause’, on the one hand, but on the other, the cause itself might liberate the “faithless mob” who turn out to have no conviction and no patience. Maybe Freud himself (he fears) is no more than a faithless Pagan.
April 13th 2010 The exemplary moral inversion: Ireland’s taxpayers may pay €25bn to rescue Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI). The government will pump €22bn, equivalent to 65 percent of last year’s tax revenue, into Anglo Irish, once the country’s third-biggest lender, the Dublin-based institute said in a report yesterday. Irish Nationwide needs €2.6bn. This is at a time when unemployment is forecast to rise to 14%, viable businesses cannot get necessary finance and are forced to close and when public services are being cut back. Apparently, the Japanese taxpayer is still paying back the debt incurred in the late 1980s with their property bubble. Increasingly people are saying that Anglo and Irish Nationwide should be let go bust. There is an economic logic to this according to some expects, but more importantly the moral inversion whereby the greediest people get bailed out and rewarded would be to some important degree rectified.
April 9th 2010 In psychoanalysis, triads abound: Id, Ego, Superego (Freud); neurosis, psychosis, perversion (clinically); Real, Symbolic, Imaginary (Lacan). Just “outside” psychoanalysis: Illusion, Real, Simulation (Baudrillard). Illusion represents the appearance of the world (pre-modern) before man attempts to real-ise the world with meaning, production and objectivity (modernity). The increasing transparency and analysis of the world, its progressive disenchantment and dis-illusionment, leads to the world of simulations, with the progressive loss of the real and use-value, which are replaced by the virtual and exchange-value. As the world becomes increasingly realised it, the real itself progressively disappears, becoming increasingly synthesised into a virtual world of pure simulation and special effects, with the ironic return of illusionment and pure appearance. The real objective universe is a fragile entity, linked to subjectivity, forever in danger from the principle of “reversibility”, which could flip the real into radical meaninglessness again. The motor for reversibility is variously termed symbolic exchange, seduction, emergence, all of which dissolve identity and tend to return the world to illusion, via ‘an irreducible antagonistic power’, an evil that transpires within the real. So even as science advances towards the total realisation of the world and its universal operationality, a world totally disenchanted by the operation and triumph of technology and the digital, an entropic process intervenes, which has been present all along – a death drive outside the operations of Eros. This is not a dialectical process of flux and reconciliation which produces meaning, but a dual process of antagonism, not unlike the parallax described by Žižek, where the Real and Illusion can change places without ever being resolved or integrated in any fashion.
April 6th 2010 The logic of being non-judgemental translates in Ireland into, as Kevin Myers puts it, ‘Not being regarded as a gobshite, and letting an easy-come, easy-go philosophy prevail - these were the marks of a true gentleman, whether as a police officer or as a bank inspector’. Myers pinpoints the essential moral problem of recent decades: ‘The first duty of a state is to impose its order on its citizens. This is a primary obligation this [Irish] State declined to do from 1970 to the final IRA ceasefire in 1996. Throughout this period, the IRA army council members in the Republic usually slept in their own beds. If a state conspicuously failed to establish itself as the sole source of authorised violence within its boundaries, then was it surprising that it failed to impose its authority in other less visible areas’? The State was always a little equivocal about the “physical force tradition” as illustrated by the famous photo from 1972, showing a garda laughing and joking with armed IRA men in a farmhouse near the Border. This moral equivocation has taken more than three decades to pacify with the loss of over 3,000 lives. For much of that time there was the Law and the Outlaw vying for control, each with its own articulated ethical claim and justification. The Law won out with its democratically authorised violence and the Outlaw has spread its toxins into criminality and anarchy within our cities.
April 4th 2010 ‘If Gerry Adams were a bishop Patsy McGarry and Mary Raftery would be apoplectic’, writes a blogger in response to Fintan O’Toole’s recent article in the Irish Times critical of Adams’ denial of his membership of the IRA. In it he states that, ‘so long as Gerry Adams remains as the leader of a major Irish political party, no one can demand accountability for anything’, because, he continues, ‘Adams is exempt from the standards that apply to everyone else in public life in Ireland’. Adams also happens to be head of a one-time fascist organisation with a capacity to intimidate and threaten on a local as well as a national level. The fact that Adams became a major player in the Peace (pacification) Process, acts as a kind of (im)moral blackmail shielding him from having to admit responsibility for, for instance, the abduction and death of Jean McConville and the Bloody Friday bombings in Belfast, in which nine people died. And if Adams can get away with it, so can other lesser figures in Public life here. However, what is important is just how widespread is the non-judgemental logic that informs Irish life in general. Think most recently of the O’Donoghue expenses scandal, Pádraig Flynn and his daughter Beverley, further back Haughey and Blaney and the ‘70s Arms Trial, and so on. While this forgiving logic remains in place, multiple injustices pile up and the failure of accountability becomes massive. However, Adams cannot be used as an excuse to disavow the larger malaise. He is just the clearest example of a more generalised evasion. The whole point is that the so-called, ‘standards that apply to everyone else in public life’, have not applied or worked in the way they should in recent times, creating the two major current crises: within the Church and the Financial System.
April 2nd 2010 The universal drive for transparency and the demand for truth is symbolised by the Oedipal myth. In addition to the psychoanalytic preoccupation with the incest taboo, Oedipus represents the secular relentless striving for truth of origins. And what transpires in this endless uncovering is his own criminal origin. What he stumbles upon is his own crime. This formula applies at the individual, group or institutional level. Beyond the veil of illusion lies the negativity secreted by it, maintained by repression. It is this investigative or interrogative process with which psychoanalytic clinic is involved, except that the analyst positions herself as “neutral” when it comes to the “crime”. This so-called non-judgemental approach while necessary to enable speaking and revelation to occur, is nevertheless something of a deceit and disavowal, part of the analyst’s veil of neutrality. Recognition of the crime, of criminal intent, in Kleinian terms, is the “depressive position”.
March 29th 2010 One must think in addition to the Catholic Church’s role in the cover-up of child abuse, that there is the parallel even overlapping problem of the privacy of the confessional, where a crime can be confessed to, but the priest must not report this to the civil authorities. Three years ago, journalist Cathal O'Shannon reported on the role of the Catholic Church in finding safe houses and safe passage to Ireland of Nazi war criminals. He commented, ‘the [Catholic] Irish State seemed to give a greater welcome to former Nazis and their collaborators than they did to returning war veterans’. One commentator suggested that the role of the Catholic Church during the Nazi period was analogous to a cat walking across a table full of crockery without knocking anything over. As Kevin Myers has asserted recently, ‘the Catholic Church operated in a democracy. Its abuses were done with the connivance of generations of politicians, garda officers and judges and, ultimately, the Irish people’. Thus much of the anger vented recently in the media specifically towards the Church (not towards State institutions that were equally complicit in sex abuse cover-up), is presumably self-hate and self-loathing, generated by the overwhelming authoritarianism of the Irish Church, turned outwards at last. The victims have spoken and now finally, with safety in numbers, everyone can join in behind them.
March 25th 2010 This was the oath of secrecy the child victims of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth were told to sign during their meetings with Cardinal Sean Brady 35 years ago. ‘I will never directly or indirectly, by means of a nod, or of a word, by writing, or in any other way, and under whatever type of pretext, even for the most urgent and most serious cause (even) for the purpose of a greater good, commit anything against this fidelity to the secret, unless a...dispensation has been expressly given to me by the Supreme Pontiff’. Smyth's victims were thus three-times wronged: 1) by the abuse itself by the priest; 2) by having to go though the intimate details of the abuse verbally to another person; 3) by knowing that a terrible wrong has been done, but being sworn to total secrecy by the authority of the Supreme Pontiff no less - God's representative on earth. The last wrong is probably the worst, because the whole chilling objectifying authority of this supreme institution weighs upon, in this case, children. The same children will have been told that the loving mother Church will protect them from Evil. What better example could you find to illustrate the psychoanalytic thesis that institutions of power are founded in violence, that the Law originates in violence, always of course, ‘for the purpose of a greater good’ which “legitimates” repression. Repression is always, ‘for the purpose of the greater good’. The disappointment with the Church is based partly on the wishful fantasy that it should be the one institution that is not duplicitous; it should be the exception.
March 23rd 2010 ‘If you adopt the opposite of all the laws of the Decalogue, you will end up with the coherent exposition of something which in the last instance may be articulated as follows: “Let us take as the universal maxim of our conduct the right to enjoy any other person whatsoever as the instrument of our pleasure”…everyone is invited to pursue to the limit the demands of his lust, and to realise them’. (Lacan’s Ethics Seminar VII). This universal maxim of secularism, the iconic Lacanian statement of our ultimate right to enjoyment without limit, is now manifest across many institutions that are characterised by unlimited greed and excess. But does it not also summarise the paedophile orientation perfectly? It is the horrific reality of this squalid anti-ethics, that the Church now has to set about facing.
March 21st 2010 Surely the huge success of the social networking sites proves the point about negative transcendence: that behind all the exchanges there resides precisely nothing. It can only be nothing that circulates the globe at such speeds in and such vast quantities, weightless material with no value to slow it down! Secular and nihilist efforts are bearing fruit as negative equity expands on all fronts with a global reach. Think of political slogans: change you can trust; a future fair for all; working for a better X, and so on. These slogans are so empty they risk exposing the nothing that should remain hidden in the “beyond”, risking a massive political crisis to add to the financial one where the recent speculative nothing came close to creating a banking meltdown. Currently, we live in constant fear of the nothing being revealed via some literal catastrophe that would act like the black hole that some feared would be created in the Large Hadron Collider (September 2008). In the meantime, we can proceed as no one can see the emperor has no clothes.
March 19th 2010 We are definitely in a phase of negative transcendence. The two young victims of the most notorious paedophile priest Brandan Smyth were interviewed in 1975 and made to detail in precise terms the abuse they suffered at the hands of the antichrist, most famous for his jeering laugh from the police van as he is carried off. After this ordeal, the children were sworn to secrecy by the then priest and teacher Father Sean Brady, who felt he could do nothing more to help his young victims, beyond pass his findings up the chain of command within the Church. The Church’s reputation was thus protected and Smyth went on to abuse children over a further two decades. In the earlier phase of positive transcendence, when we could differentiate right from wrong, we believed, ‘whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea’.(Matthew 18:6).
March 17th 2010 A Single Man, Tom Ford's very stylish adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel. The film follows a single day in the life of a grieving man, George Falconer, played by Colin Firth, an Englishman in Los Angeles, a college professor teaching English literature. It is 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis has left America in a state of nervous anticipation, but Falconer’s partner of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode), has just died in a car accident and George will not be asked to the funeral. Charley (Julianne Moore) is perhaps George’s only close friend and confidante. There are flashbacks which heighten the sense of isolation and loss and add to Firth’s wonderful portrayal of quiet inner heroism, including moments of irony and spontaneity, as well as self-deprecation.
March 15th 2010 Is it not quite shocking and amazing to witness how the world turns against the small Jewish state, occupying a tiny fraction of Arab land, and how large numbers of ordinary quite decent people would be quite content to see Israel "wiped off the map" as has been publicly urged by Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah and others. Apart from the generalised re-emergence of anti-semitism in the West, clearly Israel is being used as a scapegoat to deflect Arab hostility from the West in general. What must it mean to individual Jews to have so many people indifferent to your extermination, for the second time within a century? 'You tell people that a new great era will begin if you abolish the ruling class or the bourgeoise, if you rationalise the means of production, if you use euthanasia on the incurables. To minds so prepared you then propose that the Jews be destroyed. And they make a substantial start. They kill more than half the European Jews...There's no telling which corner it will come from next'. (Saul Bellow).
March 11th 2010 Dylan Evans, author of An Introductory Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, talks to a small invited audience in Dublin last evening, about his “journey” through Lacanian analysis in Argentina, his subsequent work in London as an analyst, and his turn against Lacan to Anglo-American philosophy and evidence based science. It seems quite amazing that Evans has written a dictionary of Lacanian terms and emerges now more or less completely unmarked and unscathed by his analytic initiation. He is not so much a lapsed-Lacanian (forever marked by Lacanianism) as a non-Lacanian. He speaks about Lacan now as someone who has no real sympathy with this radical philosophy, as one who has never been moved by it in any real way. He can criticise Lacan for his obscurity, showmanship, total vagueness, whereby many concepts can have multiply meanings allowing adherents to muse forever. He can criticise Lacanians for never submitting their work to any evidence base. All this and more is true and valid. But, Lacan leaves no residue for Evans. Nothing. There is something chilling about this closure, the return to the surface as if nothing has been disturbed.
March 9th 2010 Baudrillard was reporting from Australia, where he experienced what he called a 'radical anthropological shock'. He realised that the aborigines have 'a kind of visceral, profound rejection of what we represent...there is something irremediable, irreducible in this'. We can offer them every help, understanding, support, but to no avail. He goes on to suggest that at the same time as the universal was invented, the other was discovered. The gulf between the other that refuses the universal and those within the West is growing inexorably. 'I have the impression that the gulf is hardening and deepening between a culture of the universal and those singularities [e.g. Taliban, Islamists, Jihadists, Al Qaeda, etc.] that remain. These people cannot allow themselves offensive passions; they don't have the means for them. But contempt is still available to them'. (ibid, p143). Beyond, 'we-only-have-our-bodies', the means to strike out effectively are becoming available to make mass radical vengeance a possibility. This is not a new version of the the old class hatreds which happened within the enlightenment tradition. Neither is it an anti-colonial struggle, where there were clear objectives to be achieved through force. These insurgents are not part of a grand historical process, a dialectic, Fukuyama was right about the so-called End of History, but for the wrong reasons. They want to end history by blind objective force - 'We choose death, while you choose life'. Some may be won over to the enlightenment side in Afghanistan, for instance, but the singularity that refuses - the other - will persist.
March 6th 2010 'Against all modern superstitions of "liberation", it must be said that forms are not free, figures are not free. They are on the contrary bound: the only way to liberate them is to chain them together, in other words to find their links, the ties that create and bind them, that chain them gently together. Moreover, they connect and engender themselves...'. (Baudrillard, J. The Conspiracy of Art, Semiotext(e) 2005, p127). Liberation leads to atomisation. The modernist "superstition" (we thought we were getting away from superstition once and for all), was that liberation was an undiluted good. Baudrillard cites Omar Khayyam: 'It is better for you to have enslaved one free man with kindness that to have freed a thousand slaves'. Liberation leads to evaporation and diffusion. The heroic days of liberation, the dissident days, are always in the beginning, during the phase of breaking free from bondage. With the bonds loosened, there is suddenly nothing! Hence, the need to find new victims in chains, new discriminations, to re-live the old days, the old battles, before everyone became freely the same - without links.
March 4th 2010 Alan Dershowitz: 'The current “Israel Apartheid Week” on universities around the world, by focusing only on the imperfections of the Middle East’s sole democracy, is carefully designed to cover up far more serious problems of real apartheid in Arab and Muslim nations. The question is why do so many students identify with regimes that denigrate women, gays, non-Muslims, dissenters, environmentalists and human rights advocates, while demonizing a democratic regime that grants equal rights to women (the chief justice and speaker of the Parliament of Israel are women), gays (there are openly gay generals in the Israeli Army), non-Jews (Muslims and Christians serve in high positions in Israel) and dissenters, (virtually all Israelis dissent about something). Israel has the best environmental record in the Middle East, it exports more life saving medical technology than any country in the region and it has sacrificed more for peace than any country in the Middle East. Yet on many college campuses democratic, egalitarian Israel is a pariah, while sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, terrorist Hamas is a champion. There is something very wrong with this picture'. Antisemitism is inexorably rising being the racism of choice of so-called anti-racists; the racism that decent people can safely avow. According to Anthony Julius, talking about his new book, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England. Oxford University Press, British Jews are wondering whether or not now is the time to leave. The desire to deligitimise Israel and destroy the Jewish state has to do with the unacknowledged total fear engendered by 9/11 and the thought that killing 3000 was, as Blair suggested at Chilcot, only the start. They wanted to kill 30,000 or 300,000. The cold logic is: if destroying Israel will appease them, lets do it.
March 1st 2010 A recent report for the British Home Office warns that the images we consume and the way we consume them are lending credence to the idea that women are there to be used and that men are there to use them, encouraging boys to become fixated on being macho and dominant, while girls in turn presented themselves as sexually available and permissive. One outcome had been the rise of sexual bullying in which girls felt compelled to post topless or naked pictures on social networks. The evidence gathered in the review suggests a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm. So instead of a transgendered convergence and loss of stereotyping, all the work of liberation has created a counter-reaction. Who could have imagined that after half a century of second wave feminism that young women in such large numbers would willingly enslave themselves to the other with airbrushing, cosmetic surgery, depilation, ultra-conformism, and so on? The removal of the old constraints and rituals between the sexes was bound to lead to increasing violence of all kinds as sexuality becomes pure exchange value. And the shape of the violence is quite predictable: for women against themselves (anorexia, bulimia, etc); for men, violence against women, "scoring", "riding", etc.
February 26th 2010 It is clearly not sufficient to have a culture that is only implicitly nihilistic; a secular progressivist regime that only aspires to be nihilistic is not enough. At some point the nothingness must materialise itself in various ways. We expect nihilism to bear fruit. All this work should produce some results. Within the small psychoanalytic field, there is Lacan, who is exemplary. Within the wider social, we should expect the immanence of nihilism through numerous disappearances, perhaps multiple disappearances. However, the disappearance of the real occurs at precicely the same rate as our incapacity to register its disappearance, therefore, it will go unnoticed! Creeping indifference affects our judgement as well. One generalised product of nihilism is the creation of "shell institutions" (Giddens). These are institutions that retain their name, but which have been hollowed out from within; they have had any substantial reality taken from them. Similarly, images no longer reflect the solid real, but point to its absence (Baudrillard). Images now refer to themselves or other images. To paraphrase Lacan, there are many things - not just the big Other, the woman and the sexual relation - that do not exist.
February 24th 2010 Jalo. Elias Khoury (2002). Trans. Humphrey Davies. London, MacLehose Press. 2009. Daniel Habeel Abyad is under interrogation and torture. He is a young man of Assyrian Christian background, who is accused of a number of crimes, raping women and robbing their lovers in a pine forest above Beirut at the back of a house, the Villa Gardenia, where he is employed as an armed guard. But it is his alter ego, Jalo, who tries to engage with his interrogator and give him what he wants. He writes and re-writes the story of his life as he tries to situate himself in the aftermath of the brutal Lebanese civil war in which many young men like Yalo were caught up and where on the Green line in Beirut when the shooting started Jalo experienced real fear and shat himself. Jalo was brought up by his mother, Gaby, after his father was sent away by his grandfather, when Gaby was 7 months pregnant. She had been having an affair with the tailor she worked for who was 20 years older than her. For Yalo, his grandfather replaced his father and Gaby was called his sister. Under interrogation, 'He discovered that he did not know this man called Daniel, whom they nicknamed Jalo'.(p2). Shireen was in the interrogation room too. She had been with a grey haired man as Jalo in his long black coat had approached their car in the dark in the forest with his torch and his Kalashnikov. He'd tap on the window with the barrel of the rifle. The man had driven off in terror and Jalo had taken Shireen with him back to his hut. He developed an obsessive love for her, 'from his spine' ('the love that shatters one's back'), and from the smell of incense that arose from her wrists, in spite of her being engaged to be married. He was seduced by his employer's wife, Mme Randa, and the intense sex they had together, he termed it 'randarising'. 'Her love brought me back to life, but it opened a well in my heart that nothing could fill. When I stood in the garden and smelled the scent of the pines, I was in turmoil. Believe me, sir, I became part of nature and nature doesn't recognise the boundaries between things'.(p239). However, it made him feel very guilty because his employer had recued Jalo in Paris, after he had been dumped by his friend Tony who had fled with the barracks money they had both stolen back in Beirut. Jalo, alone in his cell, is told to write his story. 'He has to release ink onto the sheets of paper. He is like the squid. All he possesses to squirt and mislead the fishermen and escape death is the weapon of ink, but alas if the sea creature should fall into the fisherman's net, for then they will cook it in its ink. It occurred to Jalo that he would be cooked in the ink he was writing with, that the black ink that flowed across the sheets of paper would kill him, and that he was incapable of misleading the fishermen...'. (p98). The interrogator's torture increases. 'Yalo, the tall man who wore a black coat and descended on lovers in their cars, Yalo who laughed while he fought and killed, no longer exists...I've become another person'.(p236). But what does the Other want. While the Other seems to want or desire something from him, a minimum of meaning and narrative coherence still seems just possible. And Yalo clings to this forlorn hope as he writes and rewrites his life - a kind of positive transference towards the interrogator which amounts to a pleading for his life. He plumbs even the tragic complex origins of his grandfather before the inevitable end.
February 23rd 2010 Aside from the massive crowd of protesters that said in relation to Iraq, "we-went-to-war-on-a-lie", there is another largely silent crowd - the silent masses - that will complain that, "we-went-to-peace-on-a-lie". Consider, for instance, the re-heating of the left-overs of the Cold War with the reassertion of Russian military strength; consider the wholesale rejection of the Obama out-stretched hand gesture of the last year; consider the Religion of Peace (see below); consider the CIRA and RIRA; consider the Revolutionary Guards. No. The silent masses are shouting - PEACE, not in my name.
February 20th 2010 The general knee-jerk assumption has been that it was Mossad who used stolen British passport identities for the hit-squad which assassinated senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al Mabhouh. However, according to Middle-East analyst Tom Gross, 'Many governments wanted Mabhouh out of the way, not only Israel. Sources confirm to me that the missiles Mabhouh was procuring from the Iranians had the capability of hitting central Tel Aviv, and were Hamas to use such missiles later this year, the Israeli response might lead to a region-wide conflagration, which many Western and Arab governments want to avoid'. He continues, 'Sources tell me that this was a particularly significant trip by Mabhouh (to Dubai, the regional arms hub, from his home in Damascus), in which he was en route to procure weapons of particular significance. His present activity was viewed as a turning point in the type of weaponry being smuggled, and it was considered very important to intervene at an early stage. Some Arab media have reported that the operation against Mabhouh may have been carried out by a rival Palestinian group and the photographed individuals have nothing to do with it'. In the post-Real world almost any version of the hyper-real is possible. 1) It was indeed Mossad, in spite of the bungling "total visibility" of the attack. 2) It was a Palestinian group hoping to weaken Hamas and incriminate Israel at the same time. 3) It was Mossad, but disguising itself by looking unusually careless with its image trail. 4) It was Hamas hitting itself to incriminate Israel. 5) It was agents of other Arab State(s) hoping to hit the Iran-Hamas link, knowing that Mossad will be blamed.
February 17th 2010 Nicholas Krystof in the New York Times writes that the civil war in Congo has claimed almost seven million lives over the last dozen years. It has also created a whole new vocabulary to describe the other horrific abuses it has generated – such as ‘autocannibalism,’ which is when militiamen cut flesh from living victims and force the victims to eat it, or ‘re-rape,’ which applies to women and girls who are raped anew every time militiamen visit their town. Yet the world rarely hears about Congo, because groups such as Amnesty and HRW (Human Rights Watch) have left, or report only infrequently. Therefore, by implication, it is preferably Western nations, and in particular, Israel and the US that commit human rights violations. "The Religion of Peace" website lists all the atrocities committed in the name of the religion of peace on a daily basis, the vast majority of killings against fellow Muslims. But the sustained belief that only Western nations can really commit human rights violotaion bolsters the more comforting liberal illusion that Evil is implicitly rational.
February 13th 2010 'It's an act of prestidigitation by which you pull away the tablecloth leaving the objects on the table, because there is always a material presence of objects, from which, however, the meaning has been removed'. (from a discussion between Baudrillard and Noailles in Exiles from Dialogue, Polity 2007, p7). What should we derive from this old trick, of the sudden removal of the cloth? The cloth has something in common with the Lacanian point-de-capiton, and the question of psychosis. For the discussants, it involves their passion for the Real (attempting being exiles from dialogue) and the question of being present before meaning intervenes, 'to arrive even before the objects had entered the order of reference'. This is what Baudrillard hoped to do when taking a photograph, to catch the form before it has context. Alternatively, generalising to the whole culture, such sleight-of-hand, could represent the end product of the modernising process itself involving the catastrophic loss of all moral orientation.
February 9th 2010 What do you think about global warming? We'd love to hear your views and observations. Apparently, the IPCC relies for its conclusions about AGW not just on the bedrock of peer-reviewed scientific findings, but also, the urgency of the problem facing us demands that we include claims about global warming from newspaper reports and environmental NGOs, according to an interview with a spokeman for the IPCC on Newsnight (February 2nd). So the glaciers in the Himalayas will be gone in 25 years, the Amazon rainforests are being depleted, there are more severe storms - none of this based on accurate scienctific investigations, but rather the opinions of interested parties. But the urgency of the problem facing us. Remember? It justifies anything we might do by way of falsifying existing data, or making up new data. So tell us what you think. Remember what you think in important to us. We are waiting to hear from you. Make that call, especially if you are a friend of the earth.
February 6th 2010 The recent psychoanalytic film festival in Dublin showed Ai no corrida, In the Realm of the Senses, literally 'Bullfight (Spanish: Corrida) of Love', a 1976 film directed by Nagisa Oshima. It tells the true story of Sada Abe a prostitute in pre-war Japan who came to work as a maid in a hotel and who begins an affair with the owner which becomes more and more intense and obsessive, escalating to the point where the man becomes excited by being strangled during sex. He is eventually killed in this fashion. Abe then severs his penis so that the couple 'will be the two of us forever', which she writes in blood on his chest. The so-called, "unsimulated sex" caused a problem initially for the censors in many countries. "Polymorphously perverse", it has minimal narrative content and therefore the scene of seduction for the viewer is largely absent. One is left with the endless ecstasy of orgiastic mechanics, the pulsion of the drives and ultimately the death drive itself. In Baudrillard's terms, this is the ob-scene of "cool seduction", seduction by "the System" itself. One feels nothing for the protagonists as they are no more than instruments of pure pleasure. Ironically, this is an anti-sexual film, as what we call sexuality depends for it seductive effects on repression. In a situation of total disenchantment and unsimulation, with everything stripped bare, naked, there is an absence of any erotic effect, like bodies on a nudist beach. Enchantment, seduction, beauty depend on the veil and the minimal illusion it creates. Rip that away and all that is there is flesh, meat.
February 3rd 2010 The true question is not the much talked about opposition between science and religion, but the creeping religiosity of science itself. We have seen in the recent past the faith that one has to have in science, not so much as a process of investigation per se, but faith in the specific "findings" of science: you must believe, or risk being called a "denier". And the list of beliefs is getting longer. In the '60s and '70s it was the coming ice age; we were told it could come with alarming rapidity. In the '80s, salmonella and eggs; in the '90s, it was BSE/CJD, and maybe 100,000 deaths of young people from this deadly brain disease. Then came the millennium bug and the so-called link between the MMR vaccine and autism. In this century Bird flu, then Swine flu and most of all Global Warming by human activity (AGW). In each of these cases, there is no knowing whether or not the Real will spring up and avenge the impostors of theory and faith. The record has not been kind to the people of scientific faith and their preachings. And their response has been to become even more evangelical. The World generally is becoming more religious and science is getting in on the act. All this belongs in the context of the promiscuity of the post-modern, where opposites interact and diffuse. Religion over the centuries has ceded its authority to science and now science cedes its authority to a new pagan religion. Consider, for instance, the religious science of the Dark Greens and their eco-sophy, beyond mere anthropocentric environmentalism.
February 1st 2010 What should we make of the Andy Murray "scream", as he wins in the semi-final of the Australian Open and again when he loses to Federer in the final? At one point the camera lingers on this gesture of intensity for too long and the gesture becomes obscene in its persistence. We are seeing too far into Murray's interior. One commentator referred to Murray's 'blazing hunger' to win with his Munch-like scream and another refers to it a 'unlovable'. But you can see right into his mouth, his vast gaping orifice, his primordial yearning exposed to the world! He has moved beyond the symbolic excited "sporting" gesture of winning/losing, passed over the border towards the Real of obscenity. What shocks us in the nullity of the void itself as well as the in-human dimension of the modern competitive process, the machine-like quality demanded of the athlete, and those who drive them.
January 27th 2010 Žižek says of himself and his incredible output of writing and speaking that maybe he performs so much because behind it he is nothing. If he doesn't speak and write, there is nothing there. He says, 'I am very much against this notion which is current today that, as people say, "I am a professional this or that, I do this or that, but behind it I am really a very nice guy, a warm human person, who has feelings and needs just like other people, I like good food and music, and so on, and just like you, I am also anxious, I eat too much, etc"'. Žižek states that this is part of our spiritual hedonistic ideology today, part of our deep belief that underneath it all, we are warm human beings beyond the false surface appearances of everyday life. He turns this around, suggesting that when the mask slips, when the cracks appear, there is nothing running underneath.
January 24th 2010 Baudrillard could have been speaking for psychoanalysts when he wrote, 'No one fundamentally believes in reality or in the evidence of his or her real life. That would be too sad'. Sadness belongs to the "depressive position", and it suggests that beyond all the hype and self promotion, there is loss and depression. People, as they say, don't want to know! They are saying in effect to Baudrillard, 'you are not going to discredit reality in the eyes of those who already have so much trouble living'. And he goes on to extend this contemporary critique of negativity by what he calls the 'good apostles', who tell him, 'you are not going to discredit abundance in the eyes of those who are dying of hunger. Or: you are not going to discredit class struggle for people who have not had their bourgeois revolution. Or: you are not going to discredit feminist and egalitarian protests for all the women who have never even heard of women's rights...If you don't like reality don't ruin it for everyone else'! ("Radical Thought", in The Conspiracy of Art, Semiotext(e), 2005, p163, emphasis added). That is what psychoanalysts do, they ruin things for people, by reclaiming 'the rugged reality of things' (Rimbaud). The good apostles continue: You're not going to undermine the ego for those who have hardly formed one. Or: discredit the Power of Now, for the unempowered. Or: undermine the beauty of love for those who have never even been loved. If you're too sad to do positive living, keep it to yourself, don't ruin it for everyone else.
January 23rd 2010 Jesus was a feminist as this extract from the Gospel of St. Thomas testifies: 'Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females are not worthy of life". Jesus said, "Look, I shall guide her to make her male. So that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven"'. (TLS. January 1st 2010, p12)
January 19th 2010 Why does Žižek call his short film, The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema, rather than the consumer's guide, or some other name, for instance? Žižek's use of the term "pervert" may be entirely precise. Firstly, because within psychoanalysis it no longer has a pejorative sense. Secondly, the term refers to the subject who enjoys, who enjoys an enjoyment that goes all the way to excess or horror. In Lacan's little formula for perversion, the agent is situated at little "a", this strange attractor that is the cause, the originator, of desire. The divided subject is displaced to the position of the other. In other words, enjoyment takes preference over all else. This is the opposite to the discourse of the Master, where enjoyment is situated under the bar and is properly kept within the Law and what we term civil society. Žižek sees the film, on the other hand, as arousing our desire while simultaneously 'keeping it at a safe distance, domesticating it, rendering it palpable'! This so-called "safe distance" is neither safe nor distant, as the void of Real returns and threatens the coordinates of our constructed reality.
January 14th 2010 The conservative commentator Melanie Phillips writes: 'Sexual restraint and the monogamy which enshrined and protected it were once considered a hallmark of civilisation and progress. It was primitive societies for which sex was merely a carnal and entirely non-judgmental procedure devoid of any spiritual, moral or socially progressive dimension. That is a key reason why such societies were very often marked by the oppression of women, cruelty and savagery and remained backward or even died out altogether'. Here, Phillips is remarkably like Freud, when he suggests, in Civilisation and its Discontents, that character formation and sublimation are essential for civilisation. 'Sublimation of instinct [sex and aggression] is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological', and thirdly, 'most important of all, it is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilisation is built upon the renunciation of instinct, how much it presupposes precisely the non-satisfaction (by suppression, repression or some other means?) of powerful instincts. This "cultural frustration" dominates the large field of social relationships between human beings. As we already know, it is the cause of hostility against which all civilisations have to struggle'. (SE. 21:97). Freud acknowledges that civilisation imposes 'an intolerable burden' leading to neurosis, guilt and discontent generally, and he recognises that what he describes as, 'races at a low level of civilisation, and among the lower strata of civilised races, the sexuality of children seems to be given free rein. This probably provides a powerful protection against the subsequent development of neuroses in the individual. But does it not at the same time involve an extraordinary loss of the aptitude for cultural achievement'? (SE 20:217).
January 13th 2010 Much has been made of the "plasticity" of the brain, but for a long time now it seems as if the brain itself has become post-modern. The modernist notion of the self as central controlling agency in psychic functioning has been replaced by its post-modern counterpart, the self-emergence via autopoiesis. Here multiple competing "agents" and proto-agents struggle and communicate with each other for self-maintenance and self-evolution. An autopoietic unit is a system that makes itself, through a network of interactions that take place within its own well-defined boundaries. According to Maturana and Varela, 'The living organization is a circular organization which secures the production or maintenance of the components that specify it in such a manner that the product of their functioning is the very same organization that produces them'. This is in effect a retroactive self-completing and self-organising, coupled with the world. There is no "inner self" directing operations; rather, a "self" that arises after the fact, a latecomer who claims authorisation. The so-called paradigm shift is thus apparent: the modernist bureaucratic top-down control yields to the post-modern horizontal networking fluid cybernetic control, essentially self-authorised and intensely interactive. There is other, but there is no "Other of the other". There is no ultimate value-system to which one can appeal, as such a system will have to take its place along with every other idea in the vast total mix. It can no longer claim any "meta" status. However, it will be clear, this holistic analysis marginalises self-consciousness in any strong sense of the term, a strategy wholly suited to our late capitalist discourse, which thrives on chaos and complexity and our passive lostness within it. As Baudrillard says, no one tries to understand or analyse the post-modern, one just uses it. It also misses the "ontological crack" which is the Lacanian barred subject, the subject of conflict and antagonism. Through this crack comes death - death to this self-ing, self-centring, self-correcting smugness! Autopoiesis is Eros in action, gathering together the One that goes on living in spite of the deaths of individual entities. Language on the other hand introduces death, conflict, strife, which Lacan linked with the death drive. With self-consciousness, we introduce a pathological imbalance; we can think of tearing or destroying the world!
January 10th 2010 In terms of the three Lacanian registers, Brian Lenihan's dividedness relates to the Real in that his illness is quite beyond his control, while Gerry Adams's relates to the Symbolic and is an ethical issue, while for the Robinsons it is the Imaginary, or more a question of "optics" to use the current phrase. The Martin Turner cartoon in The Irish Times catches the hypocrisy of the leaders of Sinn Fein saying to Peter Robinson, 'We are worried that you might be bringing our coalition into disrepute', as Gerry Adams stands with his foot pushing back a door which is bursting open with a whole lot of skeletons about to tumble out. As Lacan says, the Master's truth is hidden from him; the 'discourse of synthesis' comes apart. In the place of "production" in the so-called "discourse of the Master", is the little "a" object, i.e. enjoyment. And we know that our political masters have been revealed not to lack in that production in any way.
January 8th 2010 If you follow the Lacanian algebra that 'the truth of the Master is that he is really a divided subject', three leading Masters in Ireland have been revealed as (tragically) divided subjects in recent weeks: Brian Lenihan, at the level of the body, has been diagnosed with cancer; Gerry Adams has revealed that his father sexually abused his children and that his brother Liam, in his 50s, has been accused by his daughter Aine Tyrell, 36, of sexually abusing her from the age of four; Peter Robinson has been undermined by his wife mental illness, her affair with a 19 year old and possible financial irregularities arising therefrom. In the background to these high profile Masters are all those Bishops who have has to defend themselves. However, the three Masters are treated very differently. Brian Lenihan has received much deserved sympathy and has grown in stature. Gerry Adams, who has kept quiet about his brother's abuse for over twenty years, has not been challenged over this cover-up like the Catholic Bishops. Peter Robinson, on the other hand, because he comes from the loathed Protestant class, may be chased from office. So it seems that some Masters are destined to be more castrated than others.
January 5th 2010 The card that arrived after Christmas was an Amnesty International USA one. On the front in large letters: Peace; Hope (with a ribbon tied around a globe); Love. Inside: 'Wishing you peace and happiness at this wonderful time of year'. A holistic message in line with the spiritual hedonism of the age. Here, in the West, we demand our freedom from Christianity. The story is told of a small boy, walking with his grandparent past a church in a small town in the former GDR, ‘What’s that strange building? What’s it for?’ he asked. There in the East, it took some time to destroy Christianity, against the wishes of the people.
January 3rd 2010 Here is Žižek on nothing, which, paradoxically, is close to everything. 'There is nothing, basically. There is nothing, quite literally. But how do things emerge? Here, I feel a spontaneous affinity with Quantum Physics, where the universe is a void, but a kind of positively charged void. Then particular things appear when the balance of the void is disturbed. It is not just nothing; things are out there, but something went terribly wrong. What we call creation is a kind of cosmic imbalance, a cosmic catastrophe - things exist by mistake! And I am ready to go to the end and say that the only way to counter the mistake is to go to the end and we have a name for this, and it is called love. Love is this cosmic imbalance. This is why I was always disgusted with this notion of universal love - I love the world! I don't love the world. I am somewhere between, I hate the world or I am indifferent towards it. Reality is just itself; it is out there, it's stupid, I don't care about it. Love for me is an extremely violent act. Love is not, I love you ALL. Instead love is, I pick out something, even if this something is just a small detail, a fragile individual person, for instance, I say I love you more than anything else. In this quite formal sense, love is evil. You see perfection in imperfection'. The small youtube clips from Žižek demonstrate his radical Christianity, his love of contradiction and antagonism, the love of nothing for its creative potential. This is his theological materialism.