Monday, July 16, 2007

Daleks




Mark K-Punk on the psychology of the ruling class:

"Class power maims at precisely the same moment that it confers its privileges, which is why, in my experience, so many members of the ruling class resemble Daleks: their smooth, hard exterior contains a slimy invertebrate, seething with inchoate, infantile emotions. Dominic is quite right to insist on the distinction between inner phenomenological states and social confidence. The ruling elite will often be in states of profound inner turmoil (which states they often believe are terribly interesting, even if they are tediously generic); yet this doesn't affect their social confidence a jot. The behaviourist philosophy of Gilbert Ryle may prove surprisingly useful if we want to understand how this is so. Ryle's dismissal of the 'ghost in the machine', his claim that there was no inner entity corresponding to the Cartesian notion of mind, might well have been polemical overstatement, but his emphasis on the external and behavioural quality of mental states is essential to understanding how class power operates."

...which I think is an excellent piece of writing. It illustrates a problem vividly and concisely: economic forces; the Cartesian notion of mind; an image from popular culture concretely relating these ideas. We're then left to decide how applicable this model is. Objections to this argument could be made on various grounds:

1. Ethically: The pronounced gap between esoteric and exoteric presentations of self in Mark's model conforms quite closely to fashionable Lacanian ideas about psychology. Mark, however, isn't applying it universally, but only to one social group. This simple conceptual modification presents a psychology quite different, affectively, to that of Lacan. Instead of the obligatory chorus pronouncing that we are all suffering, one hears, if distantly, the catcalls of the mob. It seems unfair.

2. Aesthetically: Undoubtedly the figure of the Dalek does serve to poetically represent Descartes' theory of mind. But one has reservations as to whether a character from a television series is a philosophically appropriate object of contemplation. Can we really place the Dalek on a pedestal beside Lacan's heuristic figures?

3. Logically: Statistical research in psychology is of course dominated by institutions with their own political interests, which in this case are likely to coincide with the interests of the ruling class*. One could, nevertheless, extract concrete positions from Mark's observations and evaluate them with reference to the available literature.

*we need a consistant definition of this term "ruling class", which can be stretched to mean: those who give orders, so including the overseers of the working class; the upper middle class, including those who don't give orders; capitalists and state administration; or just the capitalists; or the ruling class in the last instance, the Generals and Chiefs of Police.

28 comments:

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"Mark, however, isn't applying it universally, but only to one social group"

It is possible that Lacan was observant of certain things but that really do only manifest in certain social groups, but that it was Lacan who mistook them for transhistorical, universal, etc, and thus went wrong in his explanation of these (assuming they are) observable features of psychic function. This is partly what Beller argues in his book I keep pushing The Cinematic Mode of Production. But it would also be a kind of standard assumption from a Marxist materialist pov about all derivatives (including Jung as well as Lacan) of Freudian psychoanalysis. To trace it takes one back to the issue of the individual, the bourgeois individual, and this is preserved in Lacan of course - his acolytes can stamp feet as lmuch as they like but the lacanian subject is the bourgeois individual diagrammed newly and the notion that it's not is the biggest horseshit ever - which is modelled as a proprietor, that is a unique subject of property, a split thing from the start, I&Mine. Lacan has this elaborate way of describing this I&Mine, the pair disguised as individual/indivisible (for an historical ideological reason, not capriciously), but it's still a proprietor that is described. That its interchangeable with biographical legal individuals is accepted as going without saying - notice even with Daniel's misread Lacan there is no question for him that if Lacan said "one is always responsible for one's position as subject" this can be particularised exactly like this "Mark is responsible for his position as subject" without any questions arising whether "mark" qualifies as "one" and whether there is such a thing as "mark's position as subject".

dejan said...

which is modelled as a proprietor, that is a unique subject of property, a split thing from the start, I&Mine.

this is bollocks; the splitting of the subject is based on the splitting in LANGUAGE (de Saussire), not on class/property. The working classes speak a language just like the burgeoisie, which though it has a different vocabulary and inflection, operates on the same grammar/structure. You are performing a violent operation and appropriating Lacan to Marxism - which is possibly what Beller did as well, although I have to re-read those passages. If you want to deliver a really deadly blow, you'd have to provide a convincing critique of De Saussirean linguistics first, and then also provide a positive alternative because just critiquing it is amusing rhetorics, but insufficient to get me to stop stomping my feet.

dejan said...

I&Mine.

This is even more fallacious, since the subject, being always spoken by language, by the Other, can NEVER entirely own himself, and I further didn't hear Lacan using the ''mine'' (as in possessive pronoun) or notions of ownership.

dejan said...

That its interchangeable with biographical legal individuals is accepted as going without saying

It seems like you're not really reading my comments. I suggested just a second ago that the individual, and the position of the subject, are in a Moebial relationship according to Lacan's topographical model, same as reality/fantasy. Superimposed, not ''interchangeable''. The structural is reflected in the individual.

dejan said...

And Luke, from you I'd like to hear what a Marxist critique of De Saussirean linguistics would be, as well.

T.C. said...

Only why do you use a picture from Star Trek?

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"this is bollocks; the splitting of the subject is based on the splitting in LANGUAGE (de Saussire), not on class/property"

dejan there is no splitting in language. it's a metaphor. the metaphor is meaningful - the thing it seeks to convey is noteworthy - only given a certain already accepted conception of the subject of language as an individual and proprietor. even the relation of this given individual subject to signs is property-modelled.

you continually take 'bourgeois individual' in certain kinds of sentences to mean an individual person who is bourgeois. for the last time (!), i will clarify, "the bourgeois individual" is an idea, a notion of the individual - the universal human individual, the human being - produced by bourgeois ideology. Lacan does not abandon this notion of the individual, he simply renovates certain elements of the description of its psychic functioning, in such a way in fact as to defend the basic conception from (materialist) challenges.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

the whole business of objet a is an almost too hilariously clear example of ideology as reality on its head. to get this bourgeois individual now as property itself, proprietorship and nothing but (this post war revision), this subject as a desire-oozing gap, a lack, L concocts this whole mystical machinery, the Phallus just property in hegel renamed, around it only and in relation to it humanity itself as psyches, as individuals, comes into being, the little other desired only as substitute for this purported, merely asserted-to-exist desire for the big O, this grand non existent given into which the social order and the universe are collapsed. Justification for this causal chain of course is wholly lacking - its a speculation, a story, you can't prove or disprove it but when you consider what it is L "can't say" (ideologically, historically) you see the story is just that but totally upside down, backwards, in reverse, encrypted, delivering a way of sanctifying and mystifying property and the proprietor individual as the inevitable effect of human biology and the divine order of things.

dejan said...

the metaphor is meaningful - the thing it seeks to convey is noteworthy - only given a certain already accepted conception of the subject of language as an individual and proprietor

since you speak of metaphors,
why would you need any conception of the subject or object or agent of language to explain METAPHOR itself, in which there is clearly a splitting between what is being said, and what is meant? Surely this can be detected independently of the subject of enunciation and any considerations of historicity?
and it's also reasonable to assume metaphors existed for as long as language itself, which must be at least as old as the formation of property relations?

dejan said...

Justification for this causal chain of course is wholly lacking - its a speculation, a story, you can't prove or disprove it

do you KNOW de Saussirean linguistics? The basic premise is that a word consists of a signifier (the set of letters C H A B E R and T) and a signified (the audio-visual representation of a mysterious woman in a corsette). MEANING is produced out of their connection. Disconnected, there is no meaning. That the letters CHABERT are connected to this particular audio-visual representation would be entirely arbitrary, if there was no social conctract attaching signifiers to signifieds. How do you dispute this thesis from the Marxist viewpoint?


but when you consider what it is L "can't say" (ideologically, historically) you see the story is just that but totally upside down, backwards, in reverse, encrypted, delivering a way of sanctifying and mystifying property and the proprietor individual as the inevitable effect of human biology and the divine order of things.

I don't understand how you came to this conclusion, when (as I have just tried to tell you through Sinthome's text) the point of Lacanalysis is to DISOWN the Big Other (and so, since the subject is partially owned by, determined by the Big Other, Lacan would ultimately be closer to the position of the working class i.e. against relations of property)?

ktismatics said...

"One could, nevertheless, extract concrete positions from Mark's observations and evaluate them with reference to the available literature."

Here's a cross-cultural study that shows an inverse statistical correlation between mathematical self-confidence and mathematical ability. So, for example, Korean kids are very doubtful about their mathematical ability even though they perform very well on standardized math tests. Of course one can always question the methodology, though I'm not sure how such findings would "coincide with the interests of the ruling class." And one can question whether mathematical self-confidence has anything to do with the social self-confidence of the ruling elite. Still, Dominic and Mark K-Punk emphasize that the upper-class attitude manifests itself in academic self-assurance.

catmint said...

thanks ktismatics - my feeling is that the middle-classes respond to hearsay in a more pronounced way, which would agree with Mark's view (I think) if it was justified. I'm not sure how you could test for this though, and I fear if the result was positive it would only be used to produce better advertising.

t.c. - well spotted! Where were you when we were translating Lacan?

Dejan - Marx certainly criticises the social contract view of society in Capital. I don't think he thought structural linguistics was a terribly pressing problem for the working class. Personally I think the signifier/signified thing overstresses one property of language.

"That the letters CHABERT are connected to this particular audio-visual representation would be entirely arbitrary, if there was no social conctract attaching signifiers to signifieds."

Wouldn't this form a "moebius strip" anyway:

language as precondition of social contract
guaranteeing language as precondition of social contract guaranteeing etc

ktismatics said...

"In the Science study, British people had the most inaccurate stereotype. Although they thought of themselves as being reserved and conventional they were, in fact, among the world's most extroverted people."

-- from an international study of national stereotypes.

dejan said...

Personally I think the signifier/signified thing overstresses one property of language.

at the expense of WHICH properties of language?

I don't think this was a pressing problem for the working classes either, especially because Lacanalysis doesn't extend to some collectiva or collective unconscious, but since Comrade Fisher's argument is partly Lacanian, and Comrade Chabert persists in making a problem out of it, then it seems it has become a problem for the working classes.

catmint said...

"at the expense of WHICH properties of language?"

structuralism, as I understand it, neglects to consider the concrete social situation in which language is used

I don't think we can consider all these things at once. The point, initially, was not whether Saussure was right or wrong within his field. Rather I was saying that I didn't think the relationship between Saussure and Lacan was such that if one accepts Saussure's positions one is virtually accepting Lacans.

Lacan, from what I know, is close to Freud, and does exemplify individualism i.e. he practiced psychoanalysis not socioanalysis.

ktismatics - I'm afraid your link didn't work. I think the active stereotypes in Britain are English, Scottish, Welsh etc. Did the survey mention these? Also what about the republics of the former Yugoslavia?

catmint said...

Chabert, I think Empson mentions the formulation of the "bourgeois individual" in Some Versions of Pastoral, which I've been reading. I'll try to find the place.

dejan said...

structuralism, as I understand it, neglects to consider the concrete social situation in which language is used

the therapeutic situation is a social situation. it might be justified to say that structural linguistics neglects the concrete social situation, but this is precisely why i quoted sinthome who explains that more modern, non-linear models, like the moebius strip, improve the situation by positing the structure as being carried by the agent in a relationship of superimposition: they reflect each other and influence each other. also note that since in the analytic situation the discourses of the analyst and the analysand meet and mingle, language is in constant flux and therefore depends in equal measure on the enunciator and on the grammar.

dejan said...

Of course Luke I forgot to mention that the crucial point of De Saussirean linguistics is that the link between the signifier and the signified is unstable, so that C-H-A-B-E-R-T can ALSO mean ''malevolent patrician opera goeur'' and ''insidious currency tradeur'', depending on which agents are striking the social contract with which agents.

ktismatics said...

Crap. Okay, try this. I just wondered whether this sense of self-doubt among the British looks a lot like self-confidence to the non-British. I quote D. Fox from a comment on my blog wherein he confessed to a "fairly typical Brit sense of humour which for some reason tends to play to Yanks as aggressivity."

dejan said...

"fairly typical Brit sense of humour which for some reason tends to play to Yanks as aggressivity."

I think it IS aggressive, at least judging from BBC shows like Ab Fab or Keeping Up Appearances. The characters are always in warfare through that humor. And I find that very alluring about the Brits. American humor strikes me as literal, which doesn't have to mean it's bad, but that it resembles the Dutch one more - the Dutch have a direct sense of humor, probably related to their closely-knit farming communities, where you have to communicate directly because everybody can hear you. Then in something like Jerry Lewis you find a very specific American form of body humor that I find delightful.

ktismatics said...

Maybe what's needed is a theory of self-assurance not as personality construct but as language. Donald Davidson asks this: How many competent speakers of a language must there be if anyone can be said to speak or understand the language? He says he doesn't know the answer, but surely there must be at least two. The social communication of self-assurance requires a recipient of the communique who understands the meaning of the message. This language of class consciousness is almost surely culture-specific: the cues that convey class self-assurance to a working-class English person may convey nothing of the sort to a non-English observer. I recall discussing clothing with an old bourgeois German woman: the lining of the coat conveys high class, she told me. The message conveyed by the lining would be entirely lost on me.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

dejan, first of all, you've got saussure wrong, and second, as catmint says, Lacan does not simply follow from Saussure.

Saussure says language is a sign system. Signs are two sided things, the metaphor is a piece of paper - on one side, the auditory image (the sound of the word), on the other, the idea conveyed by the image. For saussure this is a one to one relation - the sound "foot" and an idea. What relation there may be to a physical thing external to the subjects of language is not confronted. The meanings and values of signs are created by relations of difference to surrounding signs. No sign has a positive meaning all by itself, but only by virtue of difference from other signs.

voloshinov
http://www.marxists.org/archive/voloshinov/index.htm

was the first marxist to try to incorporate saussure into marxism.

there are many objections however or problems for marxism with saussure. saussure offers an "objective idealism". the biggest problem is there is no concern at all for diachrony, for history. there are other issues; derrida of course honed in on the phonocentrism (privileging of speech) and logocentrism, his argument based in a certain historical materialism.

but saussure, writing about sign systems, proposing a "new science" of semiology, is not strictly incompatible with marxism, as the application of his observations are limited to certain features of synchronic relations and if you don't say 'okay that's a whole explanation' of either human language or other sign systems than the observations could have use. But structuralisms in the social sciences and human sciences "inspired" by Saussure on language are another thing altogether. First of all their neglect of diachrony, of history, becomes an insuperable flaw leading to unacceptable distortions, bad explanations. Out the window with history of course goes human agency and creativity, all development and change. Lacan is both a structuralist and post structuralist. Timpanaro said a clever thing - the post structuralists objected to the objective idealism that is structuralism not because of its idealism but because of its objectivity. That fits for Lacan.

What I mean by metaphor, btw, was that "splitting" is a metaphor which implies a prior whole. This is ideological. To concieve of the sign as saussure describes it as "split" is tendentious and evokes a whole (catholic but also kabbalistic) theology. Now this is a favourite post structuralist notion - rupture, splitting découpage. It's a motif. It has ideological energies. In Lacan ts the main theme. It has little explanatory power and serves to occlude a great deal of observable phenomena.

as catmint said, accepting saussure (partially) does not require accepting Lacan. Lacan is a mishmash of influences. Thanks to Gérard Haddad's book Lacan et le Judaisme, I read this Benamozegh book Israel et l'humanité, which was such a big influence on Lacan's way of putting things. But at the end of the day, intellectuals are not explicable merely either as successors to prior intellectuals or maverick genius eccentrics. Elite thinking is not the product of an isolated priesthood neatly passing on wisdom, mentor to pupil. People don't simply form a worldview from reading a single genre of books professionally. And the adoption by institutions and culture as fashionable and rewarded is subject to historical determinations. "Lacanian psychoanalysis" is not simply the next reaction in a chain after saussure, the motion of an object ball on an academic billard table struck by the cue ball of saussure. the first question should not be what elite influences contribute to lacan's thought/product but what about this product made it suitable for the status it achieved when it achieved it; what kind of worldview does it encourage and fit smoothly with and what kind does it discourage and create dissonance in. then next one examines how it came to be historically.

dejan said...

the auditory image (the sound of the word), on the other, the idea conveyed by the image.

http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem02.html

Nowadays, whilst the basic 'Saussurean' model is commonly adopted, it tends to be a more materialistic model than that of Saussure himself. The signifier is now commonly interpreted as the material (or physical) form of the sign - it is something which can be seen, heard, touched, smelt or tasted. For Saussure, both the signifier and the signified were purely 'psychological' (Saussure 1983, 12, 14-15, 66; Saussure 1974, 12, 15, 65-66). Both were form rather than substance.

If one accepts the arbitrariness of the relationship between signifier and signified then one may argue counter-intuitively that the signified is determined by the signifier rather than vice versa. Indeed, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, in adapting Saussurean theories, sought to highlight the primacy of the signifier in the psyche by rewriting Saussure's model of the sign in the form of a quasi-algebraic sign in which a capital 'S' (representing the signifier) is placed over a lower case and italicized 's' (representing the signified), these two signifiers being separated by a horizontal 'bar' (Lacan 1977, 149). This suited Lacan's purpose of emphasizing how the signified inevitably 'slips beneath' the signifier, resisting our attempts to delimit it.

Lacan poetically refers to Saussure's illustration of the planes of sound and thought as 'an image resembling the wavy lines of the upper and lower Waters in miniatures from manuscripts of Genesis; a double flux marked by streaks of rain', suggesting that this can be seen as illustrating the 'incessant sliding of the signified under the signifier' - although he argues that one should regard the dotted vertical lines not as 'segments of correspondence' but as 'anchoring points' (points de capiton - literally, the 'buttons' which anchor upholstery to furniture). However, he notes that this model is too linear, since 'there is in effect no signifying chain that does not have, as if attached to the punctuation of each of its units, a whole articulation of relevant contexts suspended 'vertically', as it were, from that point' (ibid., 154). In the spirit of the Lacanian critique of Saussure's model, subsequent theorists have emphasized the temporary nature of the bond between signifier and signified, stressing that the 'fixing' of 'the chain of signifiers' is socially situated (Coward & Ellis 1977, 6, 13, 17, 67). Note that whilst the intent of Lacan in placing the signifier over the signified is clear enough, his representational strategy seems a little curious, since in the modelling of society orthodox Marxists routinely represent the fundamental driving force of 'the [techno-economic] base' as (logically) below 'the [ideological] superstructure'.

dejan said...

the biggest problem is there is no concern at all for diachrony, for history. there are other issues; derrida of course honed in on the phonocentrism (privileging of speech) and logocentrism, his argument based in a certain historical materialism.

yes i am aware of those critiques and there is no reason for me to disagree with them. the bigger problem is what was offered instead. in derrida's case, for example, i am not quite sure how he critiqued phono and logocentrism by proclaiming a language entirely bereft of any meaning, in which the signifiers just float, when that is already disputable by commonsensical experience?


going back to the issue of ''mine'', yesterday i found the following in bruce fink:

The Imaginary is war, the Symbolic peace. The symbolic - law - divides things up, providing a kind of a distributive justice: this is yours, that is mine. The father who incarnates the law - the symbolic father - says, Your mother is mine, but you can have any other woman. He makes a tacit pact with his son: This part of your day must be spent on homework, and the rest is yours to do what you will.

Now I am not sure if you can extend this to Marxism, but in any case the ''distributive justice'' sounds more egalitarian and sharing than selfish burgeois ideology! Although of course you can always argue that the symbolic father is here placed in the role of the landlord, who determines the distribution for you... I really think generalizing here from the problem of psychosis (where this text appears in Fink) to sociology would be unstable.

dejan said...

Luke I suppose you would be just too lazy to replace that STAR TREK picture with one from DR. WHO, despite T.C.'s kind effort to draw your attention to this laziness? Because we as your readership are expected to read your thoughts, I guess, and conclude that in your mind, you acknowledge the corrigendum and have only the best intentions of replacing the picture in the nearest future?

catmint said...

"The Imaginary is war, the Symbolic peace. The symbolic - law - divides things up, providing a kind of a distributive justice: this is yours, that is mine. The father who incarnates the law - the symbolic father - says, Your mother is mine, but you can have any other woman. He makes a tacit pact with his son: This part of your day must be spent on homework, and the rest is yours to do what you will."

...just looking at this quote; two things an analyst could look at:

1. Lacan's use of ambiguity: ambiguous terms like symbolic, father, imaginary

2. Lacan's borrowing of other writers ideas: the two sorts of sovereignty from Dumézil, exchange of women from Lévi-Strauss

a lot of his concepts come from German Romanticism, often Hegel, but also eg The Real from Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, The Other from Novalis, stress on The Law from Kant

catmint said...

...the ruling class, in capitalist countries - absentee owners with market power - apparently

catmint said...

The Ruling Class (2) - C Wright Mills from 50 years ago is still persuasive on this issuue:

1. power in capitalist countries is vested in the corporation

2. the class of exucutives largely coincides with that of major stockholders

3. politics and the military are also closely linked into this structure

all that's given, Mills is disinclined toward capitalism as abstract force, that bastard child of the free market dogma. He has still some traces of the old protestant ethic, that aversion to fatalism; voyage of the Mayflower, all that. At least I thought so. Of all people Izetbegovic in one of his books argues convincingly against these things. We can understand a lot that's still obscure through just abstract forces, even leaving out the ruling class, as if it did not exist, although it does.