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Reconsidering the Newest Social Movements from the Perspective of Lacanian Sociology.


This essay examines the 'newest social movement' paradigm advanced by a Canadian sociologist, Richard J.F. Day. I argue that the strength of his methodology consists of its movement away from a tendency to favour the Gramscian organisational logic of 'hegemony', toward an embrace of the 'affinity logic' of modern anarchist political theory. However, the inadequacy of the approach arises due to a number of assumptions, including the following three: (1) there is an assumption that the genealogy of affinity provides a sufficient counter-narrative to the more prevalent logic of hegemony; (2) there is an assumption that the former logic breaks completely from the latter, and; (3) there is an assumption that the former is a spontaneous and contemporary logic while the latter is a bygone determinative logic. I shall aim to demonstrate that a more compelling claim may have been that hegemony logic is a less cunning discourse of mastery than affinity logic, and that the latter is in all actuality a continuation rather than an abandonment of the former. I believe that this amendment broadens the paradigm's applicability and situates it within a global context of determination.

Richard J.F. Day has put forward a bold claim: within many of today's social movements there can be discerned a new cultural logic that aims not at the hegemonic establishment of central nodes of political power but rather at the proliferation of solidarity networks based on the anarchist principle of 'mutual aid'. These solidarity networks organise themselves loosely and horizontally without a fixed centre of political power. Today's most interesting social movements 'display [...] an affinity for affinity, that is, for non-universalizing, non-hierarchical, non-coercive relationships based on mutual aid and shared ethical commitment[s] [...] all of these groups and movements [are involved in an] ongoing displacement of the hegemony of hegemony by an affinity for affinity' (Day, 2005, 9). Day's framework has become a cornerstone for the reorientation of contemporary social movement studies--particularly for those with an 'anarchist studies' orientation--and it has inspired countless scholars (Avery-Natale, 2010; Carroll, 2010; Karatzogianni and Robinson, 2010; Shantz, 2012).


If it is true that the shift from older class-based social movement paradigms toward the 'new' (note: not 'newer') social movement paradigm brought with it a displacement of explicitly political logics by emphasising the prominence of cultural logics (Scott, 1990) then we might also claim that the 'newest' social movement paradigm only further accentuates this displacement. The newest social movements are not political for the precise reason that they are not meant to be understood as hegemonic. In fact, they are not at all what most sociologists or social movement scholars would call 'social movements' at all (Day, 2005, 8). These movements, and scholars of these movements, have therefore continued to deepen the work of many traditional anarchist theorists by distinguishing between 'political revolution' and the 'social revolution'. One of the ways the work has been deepened was by introducing a shift from a logic of 'hegemony', which is a political logic, to the logic of 'affinity', which is a cultural logic.

This shift from politics to culture also introduced a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the nature and function of power and resistance. The underlying methodological premise of the newest paradigm is explicitly genealogical, which is to say that it borrows its theoretical apparatus and assumptions from the writings of Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzsche. The genealogical method permits newest social movement scholars to unearth the 'social' or 'cultural' revolution already present within political movements and theories (like a seed beneath the snow). Todd May (1994), whose work has also been heavily influenced by Foucault, has described this shift as one from a 'strategic orientation' toward a 'tactical orientation'. The strategic orientation has as its general understanding a notion of power that operates uni-directionally and repressively from a given central and unitary location. This was the position of the 'classical' anarchists. They believed that the state was the major site of political power and repression (see also Newman, 2004). The tactical orientation has as its understanding a notion of power that operates constructively rather than repressively and across a wide range of cultural and social registers. None of these registers have any natural ontological privilege as the key site of power. What exists is merely a semblance of power afforded by a given register where power is permitted (by the multiplicitous collection of social actors) to conglomerate. As Day put it, 'there is no single enemy against which the newest social movements are fighting. Rather, there is a disparate set of struggles, each of which needs to be addressed in its particularity' (Day, 2005, 5-6). The enemy is everywhere, and, therefore, so too is the front line of battle.

The logic of affinity may be retraced within traditional political theory so as to demonstrate that the (neo)liberal and (post)Marxist variants of social movement organisation have displaced an altogether more essential and novel cultural logic. In other words, movements could have organised differently, and this may be demonstrated by unearthing traces of an alternative and immanent framework from deep within the margins of political praxes. This is the goal of the genealogical methodology. Todd May has explained that 'the project of living otherwise is never far from Foucault's writings. When he engages in genealogy, for instance, he does so with the goal of showing us that since who we are now is the product of a contingent history, living otherwise is always available to us' (May, 2014, 120). Historically speaking, the great majority of social movements have remained within the hegemonic orientation. This, in turn, has conditioned their respective logics and induced in them a movement toward either obtaining (e.g., revolution) or else influencing (e.g., reforming) the place of power.


'New' and 'Old' social movement theorists sometimes suffer from a dichotomisation of their aim into a false choice between 'revolution' or 'reform'. Alas, this is also where we can begin to see the inadequacies of the 'newest' social movement paradigm. On the one hand, the newest social movements appear to have already found a way out of the dichotomy of the prevailing hegemonic orientation (Day, 2005, 15-6). They have offered an alternative 'affinity' logic. On the other hand, there is a sense that the newest social movement paradigm enforces a repressed or disavowed moral position that one ought to break out of the hegemonic dichotomy (Ibid., 214). For example, we can see how this position is repressed or disavowed by Day: 'I want to make it clear that I am not advocating total rejection of reformist or revolutionary programs in all cases; to do so would be to attempt to hegemonize the field of social change' (Ibid., 215). Here he is explicitly distancing himself from such a position. I shall return to the importance of this latent moral discourse within newest social movement scholarship momentarily.

For now I simply want to point out that the former descriptive position (statements which appear to simply report upon the ongoings of the newest social movements) does not necessitate the latter moral position (statements that one ought to realise the inadequacies of the hegemonic position and align oneself with affinity logic). One could in principle describe the cultural logic of the newest social movements without subscribing to that same logic at the prescriptive or moral level. One could claim that the newest social movements appear to be working within a logic of affinity without necessarily claiming that it is the logic that we should all adopt. Meta-ethicists describe the movement from the former position to the latter as the tendency to conflate descriptive or 'second-order' ethical discourse with prescriptive 'first order' discourse (Mackie, 1977, 16; see also Burgess, 2007, 437). This introduces a problem concerning Day's movement toward prescriptive normative ethics, a problem to which I shall now turn.

It is in the movement from descriptive to prescriptive (otherwise referred to as 'normative') ethics that newest social movement scholars suffer a devastating lapse of logic. Their failure to articulate or justify the connection between descriptive and prescriptive ethics has left a more significant question open. It is a question that metaethicists have entertained for decades: from whence do ethical subjects obtain their notion of the 'good', and through which means of justification (Rousselle, 2012)? To be sure, there is within Day's work an analysis of the stated beliefs of the newest social movements. This is the data that they themselves present to the world. It is the data meant for public consumption. It is the data studied and reported on by scholars within the university. This is what Jacques Lacan named the 'enunciated statements'. But nowhere in the work of the newest social movement scholars is there an analysis of the unconscious determinations propelling the discourse of these movements. This is what Lacan named the 'enunciations of statements' (Lacan, 1973, 139-40).

It is my conviction that scholars of the newest social movements do not go far enough by simply reporting on the ongoings of a given social movement at the level of the enunciated. There must also be an analysis of the repressed or disavowed enunciations. The analysis of unconscious determinations does not imply that the university has somehow succeeded in imposing its discourse onto social movements. Quite the contrary, it implies that we shift away from the discourse of the university toward what Jacques Lacan described as the 'discourse of the analyst'. The discourse of the university is always the one which eroticises knowledge by placing it at the fore of the essay or book, it concerns itself with simply documenting or reporting facts or statements at face value. The goal of university discourse is to make sure that one not only appears to know about something that other people do not know (thus, 'university discourse' appropriates the unknown into the field of the known; this is represented by the top part of the matheme for university discourse: [S.sub.1]--> a) but also that others can know something that they did not already know (but that we, as anarchists, social movement scholars, and agents of those social movements, already know). In either case, knowledge is the agent of the discourse.

While attending an anarchist conference ('Renewing the Anarchist Tradition' in Vermont, United States) several years ago I overheard a conversation from some anarchists about Richard J.F. Day's book Gramsci is Dead. They described it as free information for the COINTELPRO programme. At the time, I objected to their assessment. Today, however, I am prepared to admit that these anarchists had an intuition that is worth considering. The discourse of the analyst places the desires and drives of the social movements themselves at the fore. To occupy the analyst's discourse implies that the analyst allow himself to be 'stupid' or 'ignorant' enough not to be seduced by knowledge. The agent of this discourse is not knowledge, [S.sub.2], but rather desire itself, what Lacan named 'objet petit a'. The analyst, by letting himself be stupid vis-a-vis knowledge and facts, permits the latent discourse to speak precisely through the discourse of knowledge (rather than 'as' the discourse of knowledge). The result is that the things that we already knew (but repressed) are revealed for what they are to a subject who was too afraid to face them, $ (the 'split' subject).

The analyst's discourse liberates desire and drive form the asphyxiating determinations of university discourse and our tendency to run away from our own desires and drives by processing them through the knowledge-factory. And does this not explain why psychoanalytic institutions continue to build for themselves so-called 'para-academic' enterprises? Psychoanalytic institutes (in most countries) are not entirely accepted within academia, and neither are they entirely accepted within the prevailing medical-scientific apparatus. These institutes enjoy relative autonomy from both--forever holding themselves accountable for their desire to flee back into the university or back into rigid scientific determinations. Psychoanalytic institutes must defend against the temptation to lapse into academicism, medical fetishisms, and new age obscurantism.


I return now to the claim that I have made about Day's lapse from descriptive to prescriptive ethics. I use this as an example of a more pervasive tendency within social movement scholarship to disavow or repress moral conviction. If at one time Day claimed that 'classical anarchists tried to transcend the dichotomy between revolution and reform', then, at another time, he claimed that 'revolution and reform have failed to produce the goods, [...] non-hegemonic strategies and tactics need to be explored more fully than has so far been the case' (Day, 2005, 215). Does this not demonstrate precisely a movement from descriptive to normative ethics? The counter-narrative of 'affinity' does not therefore sufficiently respond to the meta-ethical question of 'place' within the enunciated content (e.g., the place from which ethical statements are derived). This ethical 'place' is assumed and then traced backward to a narrative point of origin within and against the overarching hegemonic tradition.

The scholar of newest social movements therefore avoids a deeper analysis of the unconscious determinations. The consequence is the following problematic position: first, the argument is that affinity logic hasn't received sufficient attention by scholars of social movements, and; second, the argument is that affinity logic has remained submerged beneath hegemonic logic. On the one hand, the argument is that affinity logic ought to be explored more fully than it has due to hegemonic subsumption, and, on the other hand, the argument is that affinity logic is an exciting and forceful new trend within the global scene. We can see clearly how the latter position is at odds with the former. If affinity logic ought to be explored more fully, then it is because it hasn't been, and yet if affinity logic has been so exciting and important, why hasn't it, then, been explored more fully? It should go without saying that this tendency to present a logic as 'new' and yet vitally important, while at the same time historically underappreciated, occurs in most of the 'post-' scholarship. It also happens to be the way that new products are pushed to market (e.g., infomercial logic: 'you wouldn't believe this new miracle product!', 'our product is more popular than the competition, but the competition doesn't know it!').

The methodological or theoretical deadlock has to do with the assumption that the genealogy of affinity provides a sufficient counter-narrative or counter-logic to prevalent hegemony logic. Newest social movements, as well as scholars of the newest social movements (who, as a rule, find themselves to be agents of the movements for which they speak) claim to overcome the hegemonic orientation while still being subsumed beneath it. This is not consistent logically because it only returns us to the initial deadlock of there being a dichotomy of 'revolution' or 'reform.' Thus, we have only displaced and not dealt sufficiently with the problem. The initial problem becomes all the more difficult to resolve because it has become more obscured, more displaced. For example, the prescriptive notion of the 'good' may only be articulated against the backdrop of an observable master hegemonic discourse. It is not that hegemony logic fails because it does not produce the goods, as Day has maintained, it is rather that hegemonic logic succeeds because, paradoxically, it does not produce the goods.

Hegemony logic produces alongside itself an alternative and more secular 'good' which it then submerges beneath itself as its own unacknowledged truth. Indeed, hegemonic logic cannot sustain itself without this vital component. The truth of the discourse of mastery, that is, the truth of all hegemonic discourses, is that it produces the subject of its own transgression. On the other hand, the truth of the discourse of affinity is that it must forever position itself against and within the master discourse as its inherent determination. This is the cruel dance of neoliberal capitalist expansion.


The second methodological problem has to do with the assumption that the logic of affinity breaks considerably from hegemonic logic. The evidence suggests that this argument cannot be maintained. It is by rejecting moral universalism that affinity logic must adopt a prescriptive stance and reject the rejection of hegemonic logic. In this case, this amounts to an acceptance of the hegemonic orientation. To put it in Hegelian terms: negation of negation implies a return to the prevailing orientation rather than a higher order sublation. Once again, the belief in the hegemonic orientation is simply shifted or displaced into a different register. Day wrote: 'I want to make it clear that I am not advocating total rejection of reformist or revolutionary programs in all cases; to do so would be to attempt to hegemonize the field of social change' (Day, 2005, 215). The initial dichotomy is thereby displaced and renewed. Or, to use a psychoanalytic term, it is 're-covered', which is to say that it is covered over again. The abandonment of the 'revolution' or 'reform' dichotomy brings with it a return to the hegemonic framework at the prescriptive level (even while it is disavowed at the descriptive level).

It is by rejecting the dichotomy of 'revolution' (form) or 'reform' (content) that the paradigm renews the problematic dichotomy of 'universalism' (hegemony) or 'relativism' (affinity). There is nowhere an understanding by newest social movement scholars, including their post-anarchist sympathisers (May, Newman, etc.), that it is possible to adopt a universalist framework which negates the negation through sublation. More generally, this points to a reoccurring problem within anarchist scholarship. Many anarchist studies scholars continue to use their suspicion of authoritarianism and totalitarianism to reject the position of universalism. Thus, it seems logical that the only position that remains for them is to turn toward relativism, subjectivism, pluralism, or some variant of these. In many cases, for example, anarchist scholars fetishise the concept of 'community' (e.g., Day does this in the final chapter of Gramsci is Dead), by attempting to discover communities (in the plural) that may (slowly but surely) 'render redundant' existing hegemonic communities. To put it in psychoanalytic terms: this is the symptom of newest social movement theory, and it has rapidly become the symptom of post-anarchist scholarship.

Meta-ethicists have long maintained that these 'anti-universalist' (e.g., 'relativist' or 'subjectivist') positions are actually a part of a much more insidious and cunning form of universalism, rather than a departure from the universal position (Reiman, 1996, 253). The problem is that relativism does not break from the master discourse of universalism but rather renews and obscures it. When the relativist position truly matters, that is, when its values are truly put to the test, one of two solutions must be invented: (1) the relativist may accept value subsumption beneath another value system--this implies that the relativist value set must allow itself to be overcome by a more universal value set, or (2) the relativist may remove any pretence toward tolerance and extend itself as a more universal value set, thereby subsuming another competing value system beneath itself. It is easy to be a relativist when there is no confrontation with a competing value set, but when relativism matters, that is, when it is put to the test, it always reveals a displaced universalism. Thus, relativism resorts to masquerade, or, to use an old punk expression, it is 'posing'. If one of the aforementioned two options is not selected when the relativist position is put to the test then the relativist position cannot be seriously maintained; yet, if one of these two options is selected then the relativist position must give way and return to the universalist position. In any case, the universal position was never abandoned.

The meta-ethical problem may be summarised by a well-known psychoanalytic joke. An individual believes himself to be a grain of seed and is about to be devoured by a giant chicken. He visits his psychoanalyst thrice, weekly. Until, finally, the analyst cures him. A few years later the individual returns to the analyst. The analyst says: '... but I thought you no longer believed yourself to be a grain of seed!' The individual snaps back, 'I know that I'm not a grain of seed, dummy!... but the chicken doesn't yet know it!' Here we can see an illustration of the way the relativist shifts responsibility for his belief from himself over to another, from his own ego toward what Lacanians refer to as the big Other. The meta-ethical relativist no longer believes or has faith in universalism. He or she does not believe in the logic of hegemony. However, the hegemonic movements, the masters of politics, nonetheless still believe in it! And the hegemony must be convinced otherwise! In other words, the relativist knows all too well that others still follow hegemonic politics, that hegemony and universalism is the only game in town.


The third methodological assumption is that the newest social movements are spontaneous, revolutionary, and new. In other words, the newest social movement paradigm incorrectly presumes that there is a 'newer' political logic and that this has only come into view today. For example, Day wrote that 'it's time to forget the 'new' social movements of the 1960s-1980s. There's something even newer afoot, and it offers the best chance we have to defend ourselves against, and ultimately render redundant, the neoliberal societies of control' (2005, 18). I need not remind the reader that Freud considered 'forgetting' to be one of the foremost strategies of repression. According to Freud, we rarely forget much of anything. We forget in the enunciated statements all the more to have the repressed content return in the statements of enunciation. I shall not go into arguments against the novelty of this political logic (the best of which was probably made by Jesse Cohn in 2002). Instead, I wish to highlight the position from which affinity logic derives. It is this argument which I shall focus on for the remainder of the essay.

The discursive strategy of newest social movement scholars has been to present the newest logic of social movements while also demonstrating that there has nonetheless been 'a long-standing tradition of affinity-based direct action that has been submerged under (neo)liberal and (post-) Marxist theory and practice' (Day, 2011, 96). What the newest social movement theorists have failed to demonstrate is that affinity logic in fact pre-exists hegemony logic, though their efforts point in this direction. For this reason, the implication is that affinity logic must have emerged alongside of and always beneath hegemonic logic. This lends some credibility to my hypothesis that affinity politics has been produced as a specific solution to (that is, as a symptom of) the problem of discourses of mastery. For Day, this remains without theorisation. Instead, we must simply presume that the newest social movements are spontaneous and creative political interventions and not merely responses to the spontaneous interventions of the master discourse. This can only be upheld as a matter of faith.

Lacanian psychoanalytic discourse theory provides a counterpoint for thinking about the various permutations of a master or hegemonic discourse. If it is true that hegemony logic has been hegemonic (recall that Day has named this the 'hegemony of hegemony', 2005, 8) then perhaps it is only understood this way when looked at through the vantage of newest social movement theory. The newest movements occupy a split between the prescriptive phantasmatic political framework (these are the 'coming communities' outlined by Day, 2005, 178-97; Giorgio Agamben, 1993, and others) and a presently existing descriptive orientation based on the logic of submergence. To be sure, adherents of the newest movement paradigm subscribe also to the belief that their cultural logic ought to be accepted because it uniquely 'delivers the good(s)'. However, at the same time there has been an under-examination of the place from which these 'goods' are delivered (e.g., who owns the goods?). For them, that which is truly 'good' remains submerged, fighting for a semblance of universality, even while rejecting any universal ethical commitment.

It is for this reason that the Lacanian split subject, denoted by $, is the agent of newest social movement discourse. At the same time, newest social movement scholars do not realise that the 'good(s)' are ultimately offered up by the master discourse, denoted by S1. The split subject as agent of the discourse interrogates or flaunts itself in front of an altogether more superior discourse, the hegemonic discourse. It is not that the discourse of hegemony is in fact superior (although it may well be) but rather that the split subject believes that the discourse is superior and thereby places itself in the superior position of their discourse. This displacement explains nicely why Richard J.F. Day doubles up his expressions in the following way: hegemony of hegemony, affinity of affinity, and so on. These are unconscious displacements revealed through the cleverness of enunciated statements.

Why is the subject split? It is because the subject of the discourse proclaims himself or herself to be split! On the one hand, the subject claims to be oppressed by power or the subject claims that his or her discourse is submerged, and so on. On the other hand, there is the part of the subject that breaks free and seems somehow able to transgress, to find some freedom, to transcend oppression, and so on. The subject is split, then, because he or she is torn by these two conflicting positions. This subject is a bit like the young child pulling petals from a flower: 's/he loves me, s/he loves me not, etc.' The interrogation of this Other discourse by the agent of affinity discourse may be denoted by the following 'key': agent--> Other. Lacanian discourse theory outlines a relation where the split subject interrogates an Other discourse, namely the discourse of Mastery. The clinical name for this discursive formation is the 'discourse of the hysteric'.

The discourse outlines a relation that moves from an agent to an Other, from a Truth to an Agent, from a Product to an Agent, and from a Truth to an Other. However, an obstacle separates any relation from Truth to the Product or from Product to Truth. See, for example, the diagram below:

The split subject interrogates a master discourse to produce some knowledge, denoted as [S.sub.2]. This knowledge is also subsumed beneath the master discourse (Product--> Other). We might also claim that the organisation principles of the newest social movement, their 'goods', return back to benefit the overarching hegemonic paradigm. To provide an example: if the hegemonic political orientation wishes to know and to thereby control the ongoings of the newest movements then they have only to read our research. Our publications are in public view and we find ourselves doing the difficult work of intelligence gathering for the hegemonic discourse, the repressive state apparatus. The problem is that no matter how many genealogies are produced, no matter how many [S.sub.2]s are put into circulation, the truth of the discourse (e.g., the object cause of the split subject's desire, objet petit a) is never directly confronted. This desire is rendered nowhere more palpable then in the Lacanian expression that 'desire is the desire of the Other' (Lacan, 1977, 235).


This explains why Lacan claimed that the first and only discourse is the Master's discourse: it is the Other's desire which accounts for desire itself. Thus, 'desire is the desire of the Other' means that the hysteric's desire is not essentially different from the desire of and for mastery. We can therefore claim that the master's discourse finds its reason and support in the hysteric's discourse. The hysteric's desire does not offer a way out of the problem of mastery. Lacan, in his seventeenth seminar, claimed that 'the discourse of the master has only a single counterpoint, the analytic discourse, which is still unappropriated' (1969-1970, 119). This implies that all discourses are situated within and not necessarily against the overarching discourse of mastery. Except that the analytic discourse, unlike the others, is 'not-all', that is, it uniquely stands outside of discourses of mastery. To claim that the discourse of the analyst is 'not-all' is to take the agent of its discourse (objet petit a) and find that it is always on the side of feminine sexuation (see, for example, Lacan's chart of sexuation, 1988, 73, reproduced below).

What does feminine sexuation have to do with the analyst's discourse and with preventing the problem of mastery? If the analyst is on the side of feminine sexuation then she is also 'not-all' or 'not-whole' with respect to the symbolic order, the order of the big Other. Lacan taught that 'woman is not-whole--there is always something in her that escapes discourse' (Lacan, 1988, 33). However, we should not be so quick as to presume that Lacan was being sexist, or that this type of thinking is somehow old-fashioned. It is much more radical than all that: the feminine position stands somewhat outside of discourse without recognising that this is the case. This is why the top row of the formulae of sexuation may be read as a contradiction between 'there does not exist a woman who is not submitted to castration' and 'not-all of women are submitted to castration'.

This implies that those who are defined as 'woman' are not simply those who embody normative standards of femininity (e.g., certain biological organs, certain mannerisms, certain sexual object choices, etc.) but rather those who find themselves located differently with respect to the field of the big Other. This means that 'woman' is not entirely symbolically castrated, which is to say 'woman' is not entirely disempowered by a master discourse. On the other hand, then, the contradiction for man is between 'there exists a man who is not submitted to castration' and 'all of men are submitted to castration'. It is because 'there does not exist a woman who is not submitted to castration' that all of women are nonetheless castrated; but they are castrated on the opposite side of the phallic function, on the side of the real rather than the symbolic.

In any case, the following four discourses are introduced by Lacan:

Each of the discourses are obtained by shifting the variables (e.g., $, a, [S.sub.1], [S.sub.2]) counter-clockwise around the positions of 'agent', 'Other', 'Product', and 'Truth'. The hysteric's discourse consists of three counter-clockwise revolutions of the master discourse. You can see that it takes just one more counter-clockwise turn to return to the master position. This indicates their mutual proximity. This also explains why the analytic discourse is so difficult to maintain. Recall, as one example, Freud's premature interpretation of Dora's narrative and the subsequent passage a l'acte (Freud, 1997). One reading of this is to claim that Freud slipped from analytic discourse into the position of mastery or university discourse. Any discourse aiming at interpretation runs the risk of slipping back into the overarching mastery discourse. Bruce Fink, a foremost American Lacanian psychoanalyst, wrote that 'in Lacanian psychoanalysis it's much more about getting the patient to do the work of interpretation. The analyst is not in the position of the master who knows, but rather in a position of unknowing and this requires the patient to produce knowledge' (Fink, 2013, 218).

If the agent of the analytic discourse is objet petit a, and the agent of the master discourse is [S.sub.1], then we might position the two discourses on opposite sides of a mobius strip. This illustrates nicely the way in which the analyst's position is the inverse and threshold of a return to the discourse of mastery.

The lesson is instructive: the hysteric's discourse only further implicates her in the problem of mastery, while the analytic discourse is the only counterpoint (but a difficult one to sustain). As Bruno Bosteels put it, 'mastery and hysteria would thus appear to be co-dependent' (2011, 171). It is also well known among continental theorists that Lacan once said during an impromptu presentation to revolutionaries that 'always, the revolutionary aspiration has only a single possible outcome--of ending up as the master's discourse. This is what experience has proved. What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one' (1991, 207).


The hysteric stages a confrontation with her master without realising that it is this deadlock of mastery within which her desire is implicated. Saul Newman summarised the problem very well when he wrote that '[j]ust as the hysteric sees the master as the cause of her alienation, so the anarchist sees the State as the cause of the subject's alienation [...] anarchism finds itself, paradoxically, reliant upon [the State] in order to form its own revolutionary identity' (2004). The hysteric partakes in an extensive masquerade: it is because of not having power and mastery (structurally equivalent to not having the phallus) that the anarchist pretends to be autonomous, spontaneous, and revolutionary (structurally equivalent to being the phallus). This deadlock was put well by Gherovici & Webster:
Lacan moves beyond Freud when he adds to the binary of 'having' or 'not
having' the phallus the possibility of 'being' the phallus. With
Lacan's shift, [the hysteric's] lack becomes a plus--the possibility of
masking lack by accepting it while concealing it even from herself
[sic], 'appearing' to be the phallus [...] is exemplified by Riviere's
notion of feminine masquerade [...] [The] position [is] one of
'seeming', of making semblance of 'being the phallus' (2014).

The newest social movements stage a confrontation with a master or hegemonic discourse without realising that it is from within this same discourse that their desire is implicated. When the split of a given discourse is the agent there is also a submergence of objet petit a as 'truth' in such a way that unconscious desires remain repressed. In this case, the newest movements desire to remain within the discourse of mastery by re-covering--that is, by covering again--the split of subjectivity. The Lacanian explanation is that this symptomatic recovering occurs by propping up a semblance of 'being' (the phallus) by, for example, demonstrating spontaneity, autonomy, and self-mastery. The hysteric's solution is to discourse in such a way that the enunciated betrays the enunciations. Thus, the statement 'we are spontaneous and new' always occurs alongside the enunciation '... except that we are unfairly submerged, determined, or dominated'. We are supposed to conclude that the newest movements are what is new and most promising within social movement theory today, except, of course, that they also happen to be submerged, determined, dominated, and under-examined or under-appreciated.

There is one more problem with the newest social movement paradigm. These movements are said to be 'building spaces [...] alongside, and at a greater rate than the neoliberal utopia' (Day, 2005, 215-7). Here we can begin to see that this position offers a long and ultimately postponed revolution. To be sure, Day retains the hope of something like a 'revolution'--for example, he aims to 'render redundant' and hence overthrow the neo-liberal order--but he abandons the revolutionary means to do so. The newest movements desire a cultural or social revolution, much like the 'new' movements (on contrast to the 'old' social movement paradigm) but only because they believe that the cultural or social revolution to lead to a political revolution (Ibid., 15). For example, Todd May's most recent work privileges 'friendship' as an essential mode of resistance to neo-liberal capitalist expansion. (1) Consequently, newest social movement theorists along with much of 'post-anarchist' scholarship today offers a revolutionary anarchism emptied of its most crucial component: revolution. Much of contemporary anarchist scholarship has followed suit. For example, Saul Newman once wrote that '[we are] forced [...] to question the idea of Revolution with the capital 'R', the Revolution as the all-defining, all-encompassing Act, wherein all will be redeemed, whereby the whole of Humanity will be liberated. Social transformation cannot be conceived in this way--it must be an ongoing process, an ongoing contestation with limits and power, a continual process of invention and experimentation' (Newman, 2013, 85-6).

There are two major problems with this approach. First, it displaces the revolution into a secondary register so that social movement actors and scholars do not have to take responsibility for their political action. It also allows political subjects to avoid the troubling possibility that this displacement implicates them within the neoliberal determination insofar as politics consists of taking care of the private political interests of the self as well as some of the vested interests of small-scale groups. Zizek explained that 'on today's market we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol,... and the list goes on [...] [leading to] the contemporary redefinition of politics as [...] politics without politics' (Zizek, 2004). The problem is that this avoidance of revolutionary politics, of confrontation, also produces an avoidance of the truth of mastery.

It is a bit like the long work day for the slave class, all of whom, with demonstrable commitment and dedication, some day, with hope--perhaps when the master gets old and tired--discovers that the master has acceded some space for promotion within the prevailing discourse or political arrangement. The point is rather simple, then: it is by avoiding a confrontation with the master that the newest social movements all the more re-veal themselves as impotent slaves of a master discourse. Moreover, they reveal themselves as harbouring a dangerous desire for mastery. As a part of this enunciated strategy of political withdrawal, Day urges social movements to get 'over the hope that the state and corporate forms, as structures of exploitation and division, are somehow capable of producing effects of emancipation' (Day, 2005, 15). I admit, with Day and others, that this 'traversal of the political phantasy' is an important process of political subjectivation, but what some of the newest social movement scholars miss is a more essential traversal: the traversal of the phantasy of a non-violent and non-confrontational revolution.

My position is therefore an analytical one. The analyst has it as his or her task to constantly interrogate the place from which one's subjectivity speaks its truth within a given discourse. The analyst is a revolutionary insofar as she seeks always to come to know how it is that the master's discourse reproduces itself through various revolutions: such as, for example, in the university discourse and in the hysterical discourse. The revolutionary analyst is the one who harbours a pure desire, inasmuch as 'pure' signifies a desire that interrogates the split at the heart of political subjectivity, a split which, in the final instance, is accepted and integrated into the prevailing discourse. It is only by integrating and accepting the split of political subjectivity that one can move toward a politics which is rid of the awful temptations of mastery.


If the newest paradigm is to become relevant then it must traverse an altogether more troubling phantasy. The newest scholars, as well as the movements from which they/we speak, must get over the expectation that emancipation can occur without exploitation, domination, and violence. In other words, political subjects must be open to the possibility that revolutions will occur in ways we cannot already predict--in ways which are traumatic and awful, or in ways that are uplifting and emancipatory. This explains, then, why Walter Benjamin claimed that fascism usually rides the back of a failed revolution. The point is that fascism is itself part of a revolution. Not all revolutions ought to be treated equal.

Recall that Pierre-Joseph Proudhon rejected utopianism because of its inherent absolutist tendency and, because utopia is ultimately an unattainable ideal, he believed that it imposed horrific violence upon those who sought to bring it into existence. Larry Gambone wrote: 'Proudhon criticized all forms of absolutism and utopianism. He saw that utopianism is dangerous and is a product of absolutism [...] anarchist theory [on the contrary] should be open-ended, or loose [...] utopia is a dangerous myth [for Proudhon]' (Gambone, 1996). For Zizek, on the other hand, it is not that we should refrain from any positive imagination of utopia because it is inherently violent or politically naive (as Proudhon and other contemporary anarchist scholars argue today) but rather we should reject utopianism because any such vision is not violent enough! This strikes me as a much more tenable position.

Finally, and relatedly, we must traverse the fundamental phantasy of self-mastery inherent in the vision of 'autonomy' or 'spontaneous' political movements. Lancaster Dodd, a role played forcefully by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, lectured a young free-wheeling Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix, in Paul Thomas Anderson's 2012 film The Master:
Freddie, sailor of the seas. You pay no rent. You're free to go where
you please. You go. Go to that landless latitude. And good luck. Once
you figure out a way to live without serving a master, any master, then
let the rest of us know, will you? For you would be the first person in
the history of the world.

The problem is that the newest social movements leave us doing precisely what they claimed they wanted to avoid in the first place: waiting, forever waiting, waiting for that revolutionary moment. Day wrote that the revolutionary means are to set up 'small scale experiments in the construction of alternative modes of social, political and economic organization [which] offer a way to avoid both waiting forever for the Revolution to come and perpetuating existing structures through reformist demands' (Day, 2005, 16). We must risk the position of recognising that mastery is the condition of freedom, that is, the discourse of mastery affords revolutionaries the possibility of freedom. Beyond the master discourse there is waiting a much more brutal freedom: the freedom of jouissance.

Something similar occurs in the work of Todd May. Here, we can see clearly the degeneration of revolutionary politics into small-scale multi-local practices of friendship (May, 2012). In his pivotal work The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism (1994) he championed 'tactical' political philosophy because, unlike 'strategic' or 'formal' political philosophy, it holds that there is 'no centre within which power is to be located [...] Otherwise put, power, and consequently politics, are irreducible. There are many different sites from which it arises, and there is an interplay among these various sites in the creation of the social world (May, 1994, 11). Finally, we arrive at the contemporary problem of continental political theory: the conflation of politics and power. If politics is always already power then we have no reason to theorise the 'outside' pressure of (or against) capitalism. We have, then, no reason to think about 'antagonism', 'confrontation', or 'revolutionary strategy'. What else is left but a pleasant gathering of friends for dinner?


I have emphasised in my own work that we must come to understand the logical time within which political theory--and social movement theory--finds itself. If, at one time, we thought that power was purely repressive, had its unitary place within the state or economy, and so on, then, at another time, power was thought to be dispersed, without a central nodal point, and creative. Within these two moments there is also a move from the position of 'epistemological universalism' to 'epistemological relativism'. However, it is now possible to make an altogether different move. We may now return to the position of universalism without the supposition of 'hegemony'. It is possible to avoid the relativist position by emphasising once again the universal responsibility of negativity as such. Thus, the universal position doesn't have to be the hegemonic position. In other words, there is no reason to presume the universalism is a synonym for authoritarianism.

We ought to no longer accept the hegemonic position and therefore perpetuate the 'hegemony of hegemony,' nor ought we accept the essentialism of the classical anarchist position. The hegemonic position meant that power was in one place (e.g., epistemological universalism) and resistance was also securely tucked away within one place (e.g., the creative human essence; ontological universalism). We ought also to no longer accept the relativist obscuration (e.g., power is everywhere, dispersed; epistemological relativism/subjectivism) within the newest position of the social movement scholars and the post-anarchists. Their position offered an intense suspicion of all ontological foundations (e.g., either all questions settled about 'being' are universalist and authoritarian or else we must be rid of metaphysics altogether). We ought to construct the possibility for a non-hegemonic and non-relativist universality (e.g., epistemological universalism) as the ground for a new ontology. But what is this new ontology if it is not based on an authoritarian metaphysics? The recent movement in philosophy demonstrates that it must be about multiplicities (e.g., the new materialism/metaphysics, speculative realism, etc).

Scholars have faced the problem of universalism and found within it a problem of hegemony. They have retreated into the relativist position but have secretly upheld a framework of universalism which was all the more troubling. Now, after a time of reflection and honesty it is possible to accept the universalist framework as the only game in town. However, the movement must be such that the universal position no longer occurs as the ontological foundation; and neither can retreat into epistemological defences against authoritarian metaphysics. In other words, we can no longer presume that there exists something like a universal humanity, or universal human essence, which offers a point of departure for attacking power, nor can we prematurely claim that there is a multiplicity of power games. Rather, we must presume that the dimension of truth, of struggle, is universal. From the multiplicitous arrangement of ontological essences there can be grouped a universal dimension for struggle, at the level of epistemology. This is the dimension of truth. Truth is judged according to the epistemology of the oppressed.

The anarchist subject is the one who asserts her particular essence through and into a world of multiplicities in order to build a home for universal truth. All who struggle may enter. Above the doorway it reads: 'know thyself'.

Duane Rousselle is a course lecturer at Trent University and maintains a private practice in psychoanalysis in the Greater Toronto Area. His new book is with Bloomsbury, titled Lacanian Realism: Clinical and Political Psychoanalysis.


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Author:Rousselle, Duane
Publication:Anarchist Studies
Article Type:Essay
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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