Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

The Matter of Madness

A few days ago, Sinthome from Larval Subjects wrote a beautiful reflection on the capacity to desire difference, which led Joseph Kugelmass to offer an intriguing response, which prompted both Sinthome and me to ask for more information. Joseph has now provided this, in a post over the Kugelmass Episodes – Sinthome has responded, and I’ve tossed in comments at both sites… I thought it might be time to post a pointer over here.

The original post in this conversation was Sinthome’s “I Think You’re All Lunatics”, which offers a series of meditations around the theme:

Of course I can say abstractly that I desire difference, that I aim for difference, that I would like to promote difference. But the simple fact that I, for the most part, encounter each and every person that I talk to as being mad reveals, I think, the truth. I confuse the symptoms of others– or better yet, the sinthomes of others, their unique way of getting jouissance –with insanity. I am confusing difference with madness.

Joseph’s response included a series of lines that piqued both Sinthome’s interest and my own:

I hope for a common project of sanity emerging from a common recognition of one’s own madness. A madness that lacks even the distinction of being individual, being one’s own possession.

Joseph elaborates on these comments in his post “We’re All Mad Here”, which reflects, among many other things, on the issue of guilt in critical discourse:

The problem of difference, and the desire for difference, and a feeling of guilt over not desiring difference enough, is not just a Lacanian problem. It is really the major source of guilt and anxiety fueling the majority of postmodern writing, which, taken together, constitutes a canon that has practically no other subject besides self-incriminating, self-ironizing anxiety.

Sinthome picks up on Joseph’s post in “An Episode of the Kugelmass Show”, and asks whether the breakdown of stability or order within our social context has caused a collapse of meaning at the individual level:

There has been a collapse of our sense of who we are as individuals, (the “selfness of our self” as Kierkegaard might say), the orderliness or lawfulness of the world, and of purposes and goals. Or maybe this is just me. I cannot seem to find any fixity for my identity. I am suspicious of any goals I set for myself, suspecting some hidden catch behind them. And the world appears chaotic to me. Where is the joy in schizophrenic processes of desiring-production promised to me by Deleuze and Guattari? Why do I experience this as so anxiety provoking?

I’ve responded at Larval Subjects with some reflections on the different ways in which conventional sociological theory, and critical theory, understands the connection between dynamic, differentiated and complex societies, and the generation of certain forms of dysfunction. And I’ve posted a quick additional thought over at the Kugelmass Episodes on whether the category of “difference” might be understood as normatively underdetermined.

Thought it was high time I posted a pointer to the conversation…

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5 responses to “The Matter of Madness

  1. Ryan/Aless April 21, 2007 at 12:41 am

    This is very interesting. I’ll have to read those various posts.

  2. Carl April 17, 2008 at 9:54 am

    “The problem of difference, and the desire for difference, and a feeling of guilt over not desiring difference enough, is not just a Lacanian problem. It is really the major source of guilt and anxiety fueling the majority of postmodern writing, which, taken together, constitutes a canon that has practically no other subject besides self-incriminating, self-ironizing anxiety.”

    I suppose I should go back and find the original conversation on Larval and see what this says in context. But I read it here and I’ve been stewing over it for days. So this comment is just me clearing out my pipes.

    I think this is a very pithy and plausible characterization of postmodernism. I also think it’s exactly wrong. Modernism is about guilt and anxiety. Postmodernism is about getting past those feelings, which stem from a romantic modernist conviction that one is not square with essences that really matter (self, identity, nature, truth, justice, the American Way, whatevuh). Postmodernism is PlAyFuL, including self-ironic. If you are anxious, dudes and dudettes, you are NOT, by definition, self-ironic. You’ve got to be able to think it’s just plain funny to not know who you are to be postmodern.

    Collapse my ass. Buncha high modernists here. Go peddle your papers with that old fart Anthony Giddens. I’m just sayin’.

  3. N Pepperell April 17, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    On the run again: just quickly, from memory this was a somewhat heated exchange (or, perhaps more accurately, an exchange into which my interventions at the time weren’t particularly regarded as relevant or welcome by others participating…). You might be interested, though, in some of the things I tossed into the discussion here, which is where the issue of “collapse” was discussed – I was trying to kick back on that category critically – not quite in the same way you are suggesting here, but it might be of interest. In the post above, of course, I was just trying to point to a discussion underway, rather than to indicate my own stance within that discussion, since that had been presented elsewhere… Running!!

  4. Carl April 17, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Yes; N, I was not talking about you in the above. And I read your further remarks on collapse with great pleasure.

    How’d you learn not to fret? You are my hero. But it’s very irritating to the fretters, for whom fretting is not a problem to be solved but an end in itself (as you were told). Misery loves company, as some of my colleagues regularly attempt to teach me.

    On ‘experience’, a supporting word from Joan Scott with my compliments:

    “What counts as experience is neither self-evident nor straightforward; it is always contested, and always therefore political. The study of experience, therefore, must call into question its originary status in historical explanation. This will happen when historians take as their project _not_ the reproduction and transmission of knowledge said to be arrived at through experience, but the analysis of the production of that knowledge itself.” –”The Evidence of Experience,” 1991.

  5. N Pepperell April 18, 2008 at 10:45 am

    lol – Out of fairness to the other folks involved in that conversation, I should probably say that there were substantial vocabulary differences and differences in frames of reference that all of us were negotiating at the time: I think that, often, we all seemed to one another to be talking about different things than what we would have perceived ourselves to be talking about – a number of contestations like the one above, and we got to the point where we could speak with one another a bit more productively…

    The Joan Scott quote is lovely :-)

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