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New Translation of Living Currency Is Now Available

To my great excitement, Jordan Levinson has just posted an independent translation of Pierre Klossowski’s Living Currency (La Monnaie Vivante) on his website, available for perusal and download.

To those who have not read my recent (p)review of the text, Living Currency has been praised by Foucault as “the greatest book of our times” and is purported to provide the missing link from Bataille to Baudrillard and from Lacan to Foucault and Deleuze. It also played a key rôle in Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, and doubtless (though less explicitly) in Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus.

If anyone is interested but finds Klossowski’s style of writing too abstruse, I intend to engage in a close reading of the text, delineating Klossowski’s thought in more accessible language, in addition to tying it in with other theoretical accounts of political economy (such as those of the authors mentioned above, plus the more contemporary For a New Critique of Political Economy by Bernard Stiegler). Optimally, I hope to figure out the text’s implications for the way we think about the economy & economics in general, and to incorporate these into my honors thesis on the work of Piero Sraffa (which you’ll hear more about in the near future).

(For the record, Levinson’s translation is unaffiliated with the translation by Reena Spaulings which I mention in my review.)

The Stakes of Grammatology

The well-known quarrel between Lacan and Derrida over Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” did not come from nowhere. Consider in this regard Lacan’s formulation from “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious,” that one is to grasp the letter à la lettre, that is, literally, and Derrida’s counter in the title to section one of his Of Grammatology, “Writing Before the Letter,” in French, avant la lettre, that is, before the fact, before, that is, the literal. Never to shirk a provocation, Lacan responded in the points edition of the Écrits by instating that his insight into the “instance/agency of the letter preceded any grammatology.” This in turn appears to have prompted The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan by Derrida partisans Jean-Luc Nancy and Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe. The titular phrase, le titre de la lettre, might also be rendered as “the deed to, or rank of the letter.” Here is not the place to elaborate the stakes of this face-off, but suffice it to say that at issue is the nontrivial problem of whether philosophy can think the general economy of signs that conditions the possibility of language, whether spoken or written.

~John Mowitt, in Lyotard – Discourse, Figure, Editor’s Introduction, pg. 397, endnote 7.

Richard Webster on Intellectuals

The tragic predicament of such intellectuals [as Lacan] is that, driven by terrifying feelings of emotional emptiness and insecurity, they mistakenly conclude that intellectual truths can be an adequate substitute for emotional warmth. Convinced that difficult or abstract intellectual formulations can alone fill the void they feel within them, they develop a voracious appetite for such formulations, anorexically judging their goodness by the degree of difficulty or abstraction they possess. Believing that what they have devoured is intrinsically nourishing and failing to grasp the poverty of the diet they have adopted through their own self-denying ordinances, they now feel impelled to share their ‘truths’ with others. Indeed they are driven by their own generosity to do so. Like a starving man who compels others to eat the diet of stones he believes has saved him, they give abundantly of their poverty out of a genuine conviction that they are enriching others. Because their own most generous impulses have become inextricably entwined with their impulse to self-denial they are unable to discriminate between generosity and cruelty and unable to understand that by compulsively sharing with others (or compelling others to share) their own chosen form of intellectual or spiritual wealth they are merely disseminating their poverty.

~Webster, R. “The Cult of Lacan

[The above is the only thought-provoking paragraph of an otherwise worthless essay.]

A Question For Lacanians

When Jacques-Alain Miller was a philosophy student at L’Ecole Normale Superieure, Althusser told him to read “all of Lacan,” so he did. Then, one day when Lacan was visiting the school, Miller asked him a now-‘famous’ question that supposedly revealed the key to Lacan’s psychoanalysis, and the two from then on entered into an understanding which was to last all their lives. Miller’s question was: “Does your notion of the subject imply an ontology?” (via)

Another account of the exchange (which includes Lacan’s answer), located here, is:

The ontological concerns of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse themselves are prefigured in a key moment in Jacques Lacan’s seminar in the spring of 1964, when Jacques-Alain Miller asked Lacan if his theory of the subject, grounded in an account of lack and its structuring function of the unconscious, presupposed an ontology. In the seminar, Lacan answered this question with the suggestion that the constitutive gap of the unconscious was essentially ‘pre-ontological’. The Cahiers pursue Miller’s original question along multiple lines, identifying points of contact between Lacan’s theory of subjectivity and the ontological concerns to be found in recent and contemporary developments in logic and the sciences.

As far as I can tell, there are two possible interpretations of the word ‘ontology’ in Miller’s question. Ontology can mean ‘study of being’, or more rarely can mean ‘diegesis’ (fictional ‘world’), though I’m not sure if the latter is still true in the French. In the former case, it would seem that Miller is asking “Does your notion of the subject imply that your work is a study of being?” In the latter case, he would be asking if the ego (which is an imaginary construction) subsists in a distinct diegesis (i.e. a plane of reality separate from everyday existence).

Even after hearing Cahiers pour l’Analyse‘s account, I still do not understand the question (nor how Lacan’s answer can be correct). My question to Lacanians, then, is: what does Miller mean, what does Lacan’s answer mean in relation to Miller’s question, and what are the broad implications of this question?

(Note: the above exchange can be found in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis.)

Trying to Get Immanence Out of a (Philosopher’s) Stone: Archetypes, Sociobiology, Harry Potter, and the UK Riots

Click the picture for a more detailed explanation of the notion of signifier/signified.

[To make the parallel of Harry Potter & the Tottenham riots seem less farfetched, see here.]

There are a number of popular (i.e. non-academic) intellectual movements whose objective is to find an immanent basis for the meaning of signifiers. One such example is Jungian archetypes, which states that various symbols are innate in the human mind, and thus that symbols are “universally recognizable.” As well, the sociobiology of Desmond Morris seeks to ground social phenomena in biological instinct (once again, innate), e.g. he ascribes the tradition of women coloring their lips red to the fact that when a woman becomes aroused, her lips become engorged with blood, appearing fuller and redder; thus lipstick is a display of availability for mating, just as is the peacock displaying its feathers. A third, more contemporary instance of this tendency can be found in the Harry Potter series. In Hogwarts, students of witchcraft & wizardry are taught combinations of signifiers (e.g. a “swish & flick” of one’s wand combined with the words “Wingardium Leviosa” pronounced in a specific way) which are somehow inherently connected to their magical function. There is no talk of ‘inventing’ spells; presumably experimental wizards merely spout out Latin-sounding words in hopes that they’ll bring a result connected to their etymology. This essay will outline the three views described above; show how meaning is in fact not immanent, but for the most part purely arbitrary; and show how this immanent treatment of signifiers resonates within the UK riots, perhaps to the point of precluding any significant cultural change.

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A Brief History of the Real, or, Laruelle’s Niche: Ontological Reification

[Note: After actually reading Laruelle, I disavow everything written in this post. It completely misses Laruelle’s point, and I’m only leaving this post up to let it serve as a bad example.]

The responses by An Und Für Sich to Graham Harman’s review of Laruelle have reminded me of an old argument I had against his ‘Non-Philosophy’. My argument centres around a single aspect of Non-Philosophy―namely, the notion of ‘The One’―largely because my exposure to Laruelle has been limited to Anthony Paul Smith’s “Introduction to Non-Philosophy” (notes) and Alexander Galloway’s “François Laruelle, or The Secret.” Nevertheless, I feel that it adequately situates Laruelle within the tradition of Continental philosophy; to make it more accessible, however, I will preface it with in-depth background information.

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My Nervous Illness’s Memoirs: Schreber’s Beautiful Insanity

Above all I want to mention that the rays (nerves) of the upper God, when they are thrust down in consequence of my nerves’ power of attraction, often appear in my head in the image of a human shape. I am by coincidence in the fortunate position to be able to point to a really existing picture instead of having to describe these things in words; this picture is surprisingly like the picture I often see in my head. It is the painting “Liebesreigen” by Pradilla contained in the 5th volume of Modern Art (Berlin, published by Richard Bong); in the left hand upper corner of this picture a woman is seen, descending with arms stretched before her and folded hands. One has only to translate her into a male person to get a fairly accurate picture of what appears in my head when the nerves of the upper God come down. Head, chest and arms were distinct; the arms swung to one side, almost as if these nerves were trying to overcome an obstacle to their descent―the nerves of Flechsig’s soul crowding the heavenly vault… The rays of the lower God (Ariman) also quite frequently create in my head the picture of a human face which (as soon as soul-voluptuousness is present) starts to smack its tongue, like human beings when eating something they like, or in other words, if they have the impression of sensual enjoyment.

~Schreber, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, pg. 228

The woman who Schreber describes is in the upper left corner, the second person from the cupids.


A closer look at this section, though unfortunately the woman described by Schreber is decapitated

Another section of the picture (lower right)


Daniel Paul Schreber

The Schreber case seems to me a striking example of how language (i.e. in this case, reading the Memoirs as a book) is inadequate for depicting the real. The following are links to artworks inspired by Schreber, which help to capture the experience of his madness. Lacan hypothesizes that the fear provoked by horror movies is because they somehow express the inchoate, incomprehensible Real; it is far too easy to ignore the eeriness of Schreber by categorizing his book as ‘literature’, even when reading him for psychoanalytic reasons, and I feel that the following, particularly the films, capture nuances which allow for fuller comprehension of Schreber’s affliction. All of these works serve to underscore the one crucial fact that this actually happened, even if by no other method than creating ontologies (put more formally, diegeses; put less formally, fictional ‘worlds’) on lower planes of ‘reality’ than that of Schreber’s book, and hence make the Memoirs seem more real by comparison.

As Freud states in The Uncanny (1925):

[A]n uncanny effect is often and easily produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when a symbol takes over the full functions of the thing it symbolizes, and so on. It is this factor which contributes not a little to the uncanny effect attaching to magical practices.

It is not difficult to leave Schreber within the imaginary.  This, however, is to miss the point.

Habe die Sonne nicht zu lieb und nicht die Sterne.     [Do not love the sun too much and not the stars.]
Komm’, folge mir ins dunkle Reich hinab.                [Come, follow me to the darker realm below.]
~Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris