So I said I would wait until I finished my marking to continue my conversation with Sinthome about fantasy, desire and the standpoint of critique in Sinthome’s appropriation of Lacan. I lied. Marking still looms – and then the preparation of two presentations after that… But I’ll reply briefly nevertheless… ;-P
Sinthome’s full response is available at Larval Subjects, and focusses on responding to my question about whether Lacan’s approach requires some kind of reference to a pre-symbolic realm that functions as a potential standpoint of critique. Sinthome argues that the concept of a “remainder” does not require any appeal to a pre-symbolic reality but, instead, should be conceptualised in terms of:
a twist, distortion, or ripple in the symbolic that isn’t a hold-over from a mythological pre-symbolic past (how could such a past fail to be mythological, given that we can only approach the world through language?), and that results from operations in the symbolic itself
I am certainly much more comfortable with this concept than I would be with an appeal to the pre-symbolic (and, of course, we all know that our primary objective in selecting a critical theory should be the preservation of my personal comfort… ;-P). But I have a further question, which relates essentially to how far this notion of critique can carry us, if our goal is to analyse potentials for political action. The notion that the operation of the symbolic carries its own internal tensions might ground the possibility for critique in a very abstract way – the possibility for humans to look beyond any particular social configuration and seek some kind of alternative, for example. Can it, though, get us any closer to understanding the rise and fall of any specific form of critique – a critique that expresses particular qualitative ideals, for example, or that organises itself in specific social movements?
I should note, of course, that this question won’t “connect” in any meaningful way, if someone isn’t interested in this sort of historically-specific analysis – it’s not an intrinsic problem for any theoretical tradition that it doesn’t do something that it doesn’t seek to do… But since I have a personal interest in understanding the rise and fall of specific intellectual and social movements at particular times – and since I see this interest as at least potentially useful for political practice – I’m always on the hunt for how a particular tradition can, and cannot, cast light on this kind of question.
So I guess my updated question is: granting this reading of Lacan, is there some way that this tradition then moves – either in Lacan’s work or in the work of his successors – to a more historically specified level? This question actually links back indirectly to the question I asked previously about the metaphoric connections between this description of desire, and Marx’s description of value: how does this tradition account for its own historical emergence? Presumably, if something about the operation of the symbolic creates this “overhang” – this nonencompassed remainder – this would have always been the case, since the symbolic is an intrinsic element of human thought. Why, then, have we only come to articulate this potential, in this way, at this time? Would a better understanding of this issue, perhaps, allow us to tease out clearer relationships between what might be genuinely transhistorical and grounded in something like “human potential”, and what might be the determinate potentials of our own time and place?