How other is the Other in politics and psychoanalysis?

Jelica Šumič Riha

What follows is an attempt to examine the various ways in which politics and psychoanalysis address the issue of otherness in the late capitalist conjuncture while theorizing and practicing new forms of the non-segregationist collectivity. Our aim in this essay is to contribute towards an understanding of this complex issue by bringing into question the seemingly self-evident relationship of the mutual exclusion between politics and psychoanalysis. In order to expose an affinity in dealing with the issue of otherness in politics and psychoanalysis, it is necessary to move beyond the traditionally hostile polarities of the singular and the universal and to reverse the usual perspective, according to which there is no passage between the domain of the singular and the domain of the universal. We will then move on to consider the relationship between psychoanalysis and politics from the point of view of the collectivity “for all” constituted through a complex practice of disidentification and production of the generic or, to use Agamben’s term, ”whatever” singularities.

Ourstarting assumption isthat politics and psychoanalysis encounter the same structural impasse that of dealing with some kind of an irreducible heterogeneity or alterity. Indeed, the central issue in analysis is precisely that of a knot which holds the subject together, an instance that links together three registers that would otherwise remain disconnected: the symbolic of his or her representation, the real of his or her jouissance, and the imaginary consistency of the body’s image. What the patient learns at the end of his or her analysis is that nothing holds together these three instances, the real, the imaginary and the symbolic – except the symptom or sinhome as Lacan termed it in his later teaching. Politics, likewise, irrespective of the regime, of the type of government, confronts a similar impasse that could be formulated in the following terms: how to hold together singularities which have nothing in common. Modern politics, at least from the French Revolution onwards, has treated this impossibility of the social bond by constructing a form of collectivity which would be “for all”. It is a paradoxical collectivity since the condition for its very constitution requires the exclusion of the exception, of some otherness that is presumed to be evading the universalisation.

From such a perspective, psychoanalysis and politics appear to be two different languages for articulating heterogeneity or otherness that are in confrontation with each other. But is the heterogeneity or otherness in psychoanalysis the same as that which we encounter in politics? What is at issue here is precisely the question: under what conditions is it legitimate to bring together politics and psychoanalysis? Indeed, any attempt to relate psychoanalysis to politics is far from obvious. According to the received idea, there seems to be no common ground permitting their encounter. In this view, psychoanalysis is presumed to be defending the rights of the singular, of that precisely which resists the universal. Indeed, psychoanalysis is by definition the domain of the “not for all”. As such, psychoanalysis cannot, without losing its competence, force the boundaries of confidentiality imposed by its practice to wander into a domain in which, on the contrary, something is valid only insofar as it applies to all. From this viewpoint, psychoanalysis has no competence in the domain destined ”for all”.  Politics, by contrast, designed as the order of the collective, deals with the masses, with the multiple. In so far as politics is preoccupied with the question of that which is valid for all, can only turn a blind eye to the singular: the proper object of psychoanalysis. For politics, in which there seems to be no place for the singular, it would be an illegitimate step to make the opposite move: from the “for all” to that of the “only for one”. Indeed, if we follow the received idea, what makes their encounter impossible is a double interdiction of the passage from the register of the singular to that of the multiple.

We propose to reverse this perspective and to examine under what circumstances the relation between these two domains, that of the “for all” and that of the “irreducible singularity”, can be established. Hence, the very fact of posing the question of heterogeneity or otherness in politics and psychoanalysis, requires the construction of a site, a scene for their encounter.  Our guide in this pivoting of perspective will be Lacan. We will refer, more specifically, to his Television, in which he presents both his critique of politics as a way out of capitalism and the task of psychoanalysis in a universe governed by the capitalist discourse. Consider the following remark: “The more saints, the more laughter; that’s my principle, to wit, the way out of capitalist discourse – which would not constitute progress, if it happens only for some.”[1]

First of all it should be noted that to propose psychoanalysis as a solution, as the way out of capitalism, is only possible in the very specific circumstance of the collapse of the belief in the emancipatory power of politics to face the growing impasses of the way out of capitalism, i.e. of a regime of mastery that yields to generalized metonymization. As a consequence, psychoanalysis, according to Lacan, is confronted with a paradoxical task: to find a way out of a discourse which is considered to be limitless, “eternal”, a discourse which precisely knows of no way out. It could, then, be said that, for Lacan, only psychoanalysis is capable of inventing, of forcing even, in the situation of an impasse, a radically new solution: that of an immanent way out.

However, it is important to consider how psychoanalysis can emerge as a way out of capitalist discourse. It is true that Lacan harboured some ambitions concerning the “duty incumbent upon [psychoanalysis] in our world”[2], as he puts it. From this point of view, it seems that psychoanalysis, according to Lacan, is capable of succeeding there where the politics of emancipation failed: to find a way out of the growing impasses of capitalism. Indeed, one is tempted to say that psychoanalysis emerges as a tenant-lieu, place-holder of the impossible, absent emancipatory politics.

Politics of the symptom or politics of love?

What could, then, be a politics proper to psychoanalysis? Actually, there exist two interpretations of the politics of psychoanalysis respectively termed the “politics of the symptom” and the “politics of love”. Both of these interpretations which have their partisans and critiques are to a certain extent grounded in Lacan’s work, in particular as they both take as their point of departure the  irreducible heterogeneity inherent in  the subject,  a kernel of the real resisting the dominant social bond. There is something in the subject which makes him/her other, unlike any other in the community to which he or she belongs. While both of these paradigms refuse the antinomic relation between politics and psychoanalysis, they nevertheless differ in outlining the crucial stakes of such a politics proper to psychoanalysis.

According to a first reading, the politics of psychoanalysis can only be a “politics of the symptom”. Setting out from the assumption that politics and psychoanalysis are in an antinomic relation, the task of psychoanalysis is to examine contemporary modes of the social bond from the view point of the symptom. The symptom here is conceived as a specific fixing of jouissance proper to each subject, in a word, as that which in the subject resists universalisation. The central stake in such a politics of symptom is therefore to uncover the tension between the social bond and the symptom. More particularly, to reveal the incompatibility between the allowed and the forbidden jouissance. Thus, there is, on the one hand,  jouissance, such as is prescribed by the social Other, and, on the other hand, there is the symptom as a mode of jouissance, particular to each subject and which is as such irreducible to the standard jouissance. As a result, the jouissance under the guise of the symptom cannot but present a threat to the social bond.

There are two structural consequences that follow from the politics of the symptom. The first is that the conclusion to be drawn from the conflict of these two jouissances is that nothing can “hold together” subjects-symptoms, nothing can bring together these irreducible modes of jouissance. From this perspective then, jouissance can be seen as the impossible-real of the social bond. Jouissance, as a symptom, is that irreducible otherness or heterogeneity on which no collective logics can be grounded. The ultimate lesson to be drawn from psychoanalysis insofar as it ventures into the domain of the social and politics is then the affirmation of what we would propose to call the “solipsism of jouissance”. 

There is however a problem that such a ”politics of the symptom” cannot solve to the extent that the hegemonic social bond today, the discourse of the capitalist, brings into question what is supposed to be the major issue in this politics, namely, the tension between the prescribed, standard jouissance, and jouissance provided by the symptom. Thus the politics of the symptom may well have been applicable in Freud’s times, whereas today there seems to be no place for such a politics of the symptom precisely to the extent that the capitalist discourse itself dissolves the tension between the singular and the universal. Capitalism is therefore an exceptional social bond. Capitalism, in a sense, could be seen as an aberration among social bonds, since it realises what in all the other social bonds seems to be impossible: its compatibility with jouissance. The capitalist discourse is a social bond which does not demand that the subject sacrifice his or her jouissance. Rather, the capitalist social bond is a bond that adapts itself to the “trifle”, the private jouisance of everybody. It is offered as an apparatus which is able to provide the subject with the lacking jouissance. So, from this perspective, it could be argued that, not only does jouissance not threaten the capitalist social bond, but, on the contrary, capitalism presents itself as a discourse in which the solipsistic “democracy of jouissance” rules, a democracy whose sole principle is primum vivere:  one lives for jouissance. This is because the capitalist discourse, by situating, in the place of the agent, the barred subject that is caught in an infinite quest for the missing signifier, the one which could put an end to the subject’s erring, exploits the lack it installs in the subject as a way of reproducing itself. The cunning of the capitalist discourse then consists in exploiting the structure of the desiring subject: by manipulating his or her desire, i.e. by reducing it to demand, the capitalist discourse creates the illusion that, thanks to scientific development and the market, it is able to provide the subject with thecomplement of being that he or she is lacking by transforming the subject’s lack of being into the lack of having.In this view, “having” is considered to be a cure for the lack of being of the subject of the capitalist discourse. One could then say that, being nothing but the embodiment of the lack of being, the subject of the capitalist discourse can only be completed by products thrown on the market.

This is why Lacan named the subject of the capitalist discourse, “the proletarian”, this being a name for the subject that is inseparable from that which constitutes the complement of his or her being: his or her plus-de-jouir,  surplus-jouissance, the object a. As the dominant structure of social relations, the capitalist discourse provides the conditions for an obscure subjectivation, one that depends on the conversion of the surplus-value, that is to say, any product thrown on the market, into the surplus-jouissance, the cause of the subject’s desire. Indeed, it is precisely this indistinction between the surplus-value and the surplus-jouissance which makes it possible for the capitalist production of “whatever objects” to capture, indeed, to enslave the subject’s desire, to sustain its eternal “this is not it!” It could be claimed that capitalism, insofar as it promotes a sort of an autistic jouissance, promotes at the same time a particular communal figure, that which J.-C. Milner termed a “paradoxical class”, a collectivity in which its members are joined or held together by that which disjoins them, namely, their idiosyncratic mode of jouissance. [3] What is thus placed in question is precisely the social bond. Or to be more precise, the social bond that exists today is one presented under the form of dispersed individuals that is but another name for the dissolution of all links or the unbinding of all bonds. For something has radically changed with the globalization of the capitalist discourse.Globalization, in this respect, does not mean simply that nothing is left in its place as no anchoring seems to be capable of controlling the unending movement of displacements and substitutions. Indeed, in the current space of discursivity, the notion of place itself is strangely out of place. What is more, with the category of place thus rendered inoperative, it is one of the key categories of emancipatory politics, the notion of lack – necessary to the subject for it to sustain itself in the symbolic Other -, which as a result becomes obsolete. 

Both of these features of the capitalist discourse, disidentification and the replacement of the prohibition of jouissance with commanded jouissance through the regulation of desire, could, then, be brought together in a single syntagm of the generalized proletarianzation. In the words of  Lacan,  “there is but one social symptom: every individual is in effect a proletarian, that is to say that no discourse is at the disposal of the individual by means  of which a social bond could be established”.[4] Ironically, proletarianzation remains the symptom of contemporary society. Only, this proletarianzation is of a particular kind, one that, by being articulated with the intrinsically metonymic nature of the capitalist discourse, has lost all its subversive effectiveness, all its revolutionary potential. Summarizing in this way Lacan’s thesis on the contemporary proletarianzation is to shed some light on the impasses of the presentgeneralized “metonymization”, operated by the capitalist discourse, in order to identify the difficulties for contemporary subjectivity in finding a way out of the present impasse. For the inexistence of the Other, contrary to what might be expected or hoped for, is not in and of itself a liberating factor for the subject, it is not experienced by the subject as liberation from the capture which the Other effects upon him/her. Quite the contrary: in the absence of the master signifier which would render a given situation “readable”, the subject remains a prisoner, not of the Other that exists, but of the inexistent Other, better put perhaps, of the inexistence of the Other.

The second paradigm of the politics of psychoanalysis is to a certain extent the reversal of the first one. What is at issue here is to show that jouissance, precisely as an irreducible heterogeneity or otherness, is the point at which psychoanalysis encounters politics. Far from precluding all social bonds, jouissance appears rather as a foundation for that politics which could be called, for lack of a better term, the “politics of love”. At issue in this paradigm is love for one’s neighbour rather than the solipsism of jouissance. The texts of reference here are, of course, Freud’s Civilisation and its Discontents and Lacan’s The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, two texts having as their point of departure the presupposition that what constitutes the otherness of the other is jouissance insofar as it is evil. For Freud, the evil jouissance I suspect exists in the Other justifies my reservations with regard to him, the reason why the Other does not deserve my love since I can give my love only to the one who is like me. For Lacan, on the contrary, it is precisely this evil jouissance that the Other and I have in common. This irreducible otherness of jouissance is what joins us together. And this is why Lacan can claim that “that fundamental evil which dwells within this neighbour…also dwells in me.”[5] This is why Lacan in his “Kant with Sade” reproaches Sade, but in an indirect way Freud too, with the misrecognition of his own jouissance. Sade, just like Freud, says Lacan, “refuses to be my neighbour”. The reason for this refusal, according to Lacan, is that “Sade does not have neighbourly enough relations with his own malice [méchanceté] to encounter his neighbour in it”,[6] backing away, just like Freud, from the Christian commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. Nothing then, to follow Lacan, is closer to me than that which I try desperately to avoid, this nameless, evil jouissance that I encounter not only in the Other but in myself too. On the other hand, it is precisely because, like myself, the Other is in the same position in relation to that which Lacan calls la chose la plus proche, that thing which is closest to me – which is, of course, jouissance -, that I can love the Other. What is difficult to accept here is not the idea that the Other is unfathomable, enigmatic, wholly other. What is unthinkable is this sameness that the Other and I share at the level of jouissance. That which radically separates me from the Other, his or her  absolutely particular jouissance, is at the same time that which we have in common: this otherness in me. Paradoxically, jouissance as this irreducible otherness is the foundation of sameness.  

The crucial point of Lacan’s interpretation of the love of one’s neighbour, far from a postmodernist exaltation of the irreducible otherness of the Other, is designated here as a strategy for handling this irreducible otherness in me. Love – insofar as it is beyond all transaction, this non-reciprocal love, in the final analysis, as a renouncement of any direct equivalent to that which I give, all promise of payment, this wholly unmotivated, gratuituous love, love as a gift without recompense – is what Lacan proposes as a solution to the impasse caused by the encounter with the jouissance in the Other, with the otherness of the Other. This “real” love – real in the sense that it demands the impossible – to love somebody for that which provokes their hatred and aggression and turns them against me –  is a possible strategy for handling that otherness in me, for neutralising it. From the perspective of the second interpretation of the politics of psychoanalysis, only psychoanalysis, by bringing to light jouissance as the irreducible singularity common to me and my neighbour, as a paradoxical sameness in otherness, can elaborate a theory of the subject appropriate, indeed, necessary, to democracy. It is precisely at this point that the political implications of love of one’s neighbour can be drawn out. Love of one’s neighbour as a way of dealing with jouissance is precisely what Derrida perceives as a chance for democracy. According to Derrida, “there is no democracy without respect for irreducible singularity or alterity.” But, Derrida adds, “there is no democracy without a ‘community of friends’, without the calculation of majorities, without identifiable, stabilizable, representable subjects, all equal”.[7]

A nonreciprocal love for one’s neighbour detached from all usefulness, is that terrain on which politics and psychoanalysis necessarily meet. Indeed, such a love can be seen as a model for a nonsegregationist community. This is because the indifference to the useful which situates love beyond all altruist utilitarianism, signifies a radical mutation in the field of politics, a mutation which concerns precisely the status of the Other. For the break with the useful characterises not only love and friendship, but also hatred, as Freud himself points out in his Civilisation, because my enemy is not interested in the profit he might gain from the wrongdoing he inflicts on me. This leads to a somewhat unexpected conclusion: if the refusal of usefulness, the indifference as to the possible gain, is what friend and enemy have in common then the distinction between the friend and the enemy disappears.

The crucial question here is of course: what consequences can be drawn from the disappearance of the demarcation line between friend and foe, in the final analysis, from the collapse of the figure of the Other for the social bond and, consequently, for politics? This is precisely the central issue in Schmitt’s theory of politics. As is well known, Schmitt situated the friend/enemy discrimination at the core of politics[8] signalling in this way that the moment of hatred is essential in politics. The intrinsic complicity between enmity and the Other, more precisely, between the identification of the Other and the domestication of hatred, is embedded, according to Schmitt’s fundamental thesis, in the very constitution of a (homogeneous) political community. In Schmitt’s view, a mere agglomeration of  fellow men can never bring about the desired homogeneity, as their recognisable similarity requires the existence of an instance of dissimilarity, an element of otherness or heterogeneity which, at the level of the relationship between mere fellow men, is precisely what is lacking. At this level, not only is the other not an other at all, since it is coupled with the ego, in a relation which is always reflexive, interchangeable, but this specular relation itself is governed by a lethal alteration: if it is you, I am not, and if it is me, it is you who are not. In deconstructive terms: in the absence of some radical otherness, which makes it possible for individuals who are grouped together to identify themselves as being in some crucial aspects similar and can thus constitute themselves as a  community, the unleashing of a pure logic of identity or equivalence would, instead of bringing about a reconciliation and unification, lead to a total destruction depicted in the Hobbesian fantasy of the state of nature.

Schmitt’s greatest merit is to have pointed out the intrinsic complicity between enmity and the Other. If we are to follow Schmitt, for homogeneity to be established at all the existence of an instance of dissimilarity, an element of otherness is required, that which at the level of the relationship between semblables, fellow men, is precisely lacking.  Schmitt’s introduction of the friend/enemy distinction can thus be understood as an attempt at diffusing the hatred that the fellow men would otherwise vent against one another through the “exportation” of this inherent aggressivity elsewhere.  This externalisation of the Other that prevents slipping into cruelty and total destruction is possible only on the condition that the relationship of enmity is purified of all passion and affects. Hence it is not simply the “we”/“they” distinction that would in itself render the checking of the excess of hostility, the measureless violence, possible, but the symbolisation of enmity, involving a distance, a construction of a remote, external Other, and rules that must be respected by all. Viewed from this perspective, the role of the Other is pacifying. 

On the other hand, however, hatred is never completely domesticated. As Schmitt himself is forced to acknowledge, the establishment of such a constitutive Beyond is always incomplete since the Other is always contaminated by another figure of the enemy, within the community. This other Other, by being unlocatable, indiscernible, corrodes the communal being, threatens the community with its dissolution. From the very start, there are then two figures of the enemy and not simply one: the symbolic enemy that Schmitt calls the political enemy. And there is yet another figure of the Other: the “real” or internal enemy. Whereas the first figure is essentially pacifying, the second activates the absolute destructive hostility leading to a permanent civil war.

This distinction between the “good”, external, i.e. political enemy, and the “bad” unfathomable internal enemy, is patently undermined in present conjecture of globalisation. This is because today we are facing a situation in which, strictly speaking, there is no instance that could play the role of the “constitutive outside”, no instance of the “they” that would render possible the construction of the “we”, since both “we” and “they” are always already “in”, included. Hence, it is essential to realise how contemporaryotherlessness, paradoxically, opens up the possibility for the emergence ofa hatred that nothing can appease. The proliferation of the hated real others inan era of the nonexistence of the Other is necessary since – once the figure of the external, political,  “symbolic” enemy is eliminated, onceeverybody is included –  anybody, myself included, can occupy the place of the radical, real other. For what characterises present-day globalisation is, so to speak, the denial of all exclusion. The exclusion of the exclusion did not, however, make the exclusion disappear. It has only become internal and thus invisible.  It is precisely because the frontier between the included and the excluded is ultimately invisible, as there is no sign, no attribute that would help me determine who is “in” and who is “out”, that, in a universe without beyond or limit, a universe that knows of no exception, anybody can, in principle, find him/herself occupying the place of the real, dehumanised Other. This construction of the “altogether others” in a constellation in which no Other is possible bears some similarities to the movement designated by J. Lacan as the barbarism of all human assimilation. According to Lacan, in order for the subject to attain his/her identity, s/he is compelled to resort to her/his self-affirmation: “I declare myself to be a man for fear of being convinced by men that I am not a man.”[9]

This is precisely the reason that the “politics of love”, a politics which aims at the impossible articulation of the otherness and the social bond, the impossibility of counting and the necessity of counting, remains forever contained within the perspective of the promise, it is forever “to come”, “à venir, never in the here and now. In other words, such a politics cannot provide us with a satisfactory answer to the question: how is it possible to justify the legitimacy of the move from the singular to the universal. The politics of love is satisfied with the ceaseless affirmation of the singularity of otherness. That is why it cannot indicate a way in which this singularity could be asserted politically, i.e. a way of politicising the singularity of the singular by introducing another principle of counting: that of counting the uncounted, the uncountable. Ultimately, what such a conception of politics in terms of love misrecognises is precisely the irreducible gap between counting and the impossibility of counting as the sole site in which contemporary politics of emancipation can be situated. We propose to call the politics of emancipation that politics that organises a confrontation between counting and the impossibility of counting, an operation that reveals the constitutive impossibility of institutionalising a collectivity “for all”, a collectivity in which what is at stake is precisely the predicate determining the belonging to the community, the line of demarcation between inside/outside, us/them.

Lacanian School and Its Politics

It is precisely at this point that the contemporary politics of emancipation encounters psychoanalysis. We would argue that psychoanalysis can show us how it is possible, in spite everything, to think and to practice a collectivity “for all” as an open, nonsegregationist community.  For the great merit of Lacan’s proposed solution in Television consists in recasting the question of the universal, of the “for all”, from the perspective of the not-all, of the infinite. Clearly, the solution proposed by Lacan is a paradoxical solution since we are dealing here with an interior way out: if we may say so, a paradoxical way out which implies no transgression, no forcing of a barrier, since there is no barrier separating the outside and the inside. In view of this interior way out, everything depends, of course, on the way in which we understand Lacan’s statement: “It would not constitute progress if it happens only to some”. Does the expression “not only for some” imply “for all” or not? Our claim is that it points in the direction of the “for all”. To be sure, this is a very peculiar “for all” since, in the not-all, that is, in an infinite universe in which this “for all” is situated, it is impossible to state the universality of the predicate.

To fully grasp the political implications of this articulation of the “for all” with the “not-all”, we must distinguish between two forms of the not-all: the not-all of incompleteness and the not-all of inconsistency. The first not-all is what we usually refer to as the all or the universal, to use its traditional name. This category designates a unity constructed through the limitation, or, more precisely, through the exclusion of an exception. And there is another form of the not-all, the inconsistent not-all which can, paradoxically, be obtained, not through the exclusion of the exception, but through its inclusion. By the very fact of subtracting the exception from a series we render it limitless, non-totalizable. Now, what exactly is the status of the exception seen from the perspective of the not-all? We cannot simply state: there is no exception to the universal function, for instance, “All As are B”. We should rather say: if there is an exception we don’t know where to find it.  From the perspective of the not-all, the exception is seen as being erratic. It is everywhere, yet nowhere to be located.  It could then be said that the exception is generalised. We could also say, for instance, that we are all exceptions.

The first figure of the not-all is subtractive or segregationist, because the price to be paid for the constitution of the “all” is the exclusion of those who do not posses the required predicate. A “true” not-all is non-segregationist because, from the outset, all exception is postulated as being undecidable, indeterminable. Consequently, such a not-all is open, inclusive, in a word: “for all”. We can see here a solution to the impasse that Schmitt confronted: how to conceive of a community when there is no Other from which the members of the community are to be distinguished. The politics of the non-segregationist not-all is symmetrically inverted, when compared to that proposed by Schmitt: it consists in including the Other rather than in excluding the Other. Not of course in the name of respecting the rights of otherness, openness to the Other, but in order to bring into question the communal identity, the supposed homogeneity of the group. It is this second aspect of the not-all, one in which it is impossible to determine the existence of a totalizing exception that can best be illustrated by the politics inherent to Lacan’s School: École de la Cause. For there is yet another way of considering a politics proper to psychoanalysis, one that is capable of dealing with the problem of structural non-totalization. 

A shift in Lacan’s reflections on politics in general and the functioning of a psychoanalytic institution whose principal task would be the transmission of a radically singular experience such as can only be encountered in an analysis, is marked by a paradoxical thesis according to which: a group is the real, that is, according to Lacan’s vocabulary, a radical impossibility. The real of the group is that which is precisely at stake in the foundation of his School: École de la Cause, School of the Cause.  If we propose to consider Lacan’s thesis about the real of the group seriously, this is precisely because Lacan, while insisting on the impossibility of the group, by founding his School nevertheless succeeded in demonstrating that there is a way of dealing with this impossibility.

Lacan’s solution to the impasse of collectivity consists in opening his School “to everybody”, which is to say “to anybody”. Setting out from the assumption that there is absolutely nothing to define the analyst, no pregiven predicate or property on which his identification could be grounded, the only viable  solution is one that takes into account precisely this impossibility of determining a predicate that would be proper to the (Lacanian) analyst. The solution is then none other than to call on all those who are willing to work in the Freudian field. By inviting to his school anybody, without any qualification, Lacan created an open, empty space destined to be inhabited only by a special kind of work, the work of the “determined workers”[10], be it analysis or not, as he puts it.

As the expression “determined worker” suggests, it is the work that decides one’s belonging to the collectivity. This also implies that this work cannot be standarised. The work to be done is by definition indeterminable since it cannot take place unless there is a transference to a cause at hand. This expression, “determined worker”, emphasizes the importance of the fidelity to a cause, the willingness of everyone involved in it to risk him or herself and his or her desire in the pursuit of what is ultimately unknowable. All that the work to be done by everybody requires, and this despite the fact that neither its quality nor quantity can be prescribed, is a new relation to the cause; in the final analysis: the task that everybody is confronted with is that of inventing psychoanalysis. It is precisely in this sense that in Lacan’s School it is impossible to distinguish good, determined workers from idlers. Rather, School of the Cause is to be seen as a collectivity that is profoundly non-segregationist. It is non-segregationist because the presence of an element that is allegedly heterogeneous to the collectivity, a non-analyst, is not only tolerated but required in order to bringing into question the predicate: to be an analyst.[11]

This Lacanian collectivity “for all” can serve us as a model for the anonymous egalitarianism required by contemporary emancipatory politics in so far as it renders visible the functioning of both universalist, albeit incompatible logics: the one that is grounded in the exception, and the other that takes as its departure point the axiom according to which: “there is none who has not got it”, namely the capacity to be a determined worker. The paradox of the politics implied in Lacan’s School resides so to speak in the fact that it is situated precisely at the level of that which cannot be represented or counted, since it is what is left after the completion of identification. In short, it is situated at the level of the pure, whatever singularity. Yet it is precisely this irreducible singularity that Lacan’s School proposes to take into account, to ‘count’. For the ambition of Lacan’s School is not only to find a way out of the traps of identification. It is above all to find, to force, a passage there where there is a non-passage, an impasse, a deadlock, of the group.  What is at stake in the foundation of the École de la Cause is a paradoxical project: to universalise the singular.

We can see now that what is at stake in the distinction of the two logics of the universal is eminently political. At issue here is the way in which the logic of the not-all is set to work, made operational there where the segregationist logic operates, there where the exclusion, be it visible or invisible, reigns. From this perspective, Lacan’s School can be viewed as a special collectivity “for all”, that of workers, a collectivity which implies the disidentification practised at the level of the group: everyone ought to become anyone, a whatever singularity. This is not to say that one discovers oneself as already being such. On the contrary, one only becomes such: anyone. This is a subjective transformation that everyone has to accomplish for him or herself. This is because the collectivity “for all” is ultimately grounded in a cause that sets us to work. In this sense it includes in the real a radical novelty: a paradoxical collectivity that is at once not-all, non-totalisable and yet at the same time “for all”, offered to all.

Such a collectivity “for all” that is grounded in the real of the group, which is to say in its impossibility, is certainly a forcing: a forcing of saying, because what characterises such a collectivity is precisely the advent of an allegedly mute, uncounted, invisible instance that starts to speak out and, in so doing, asserts its presence: “We are here”.But it is also a forcing of all social order and its counting. What is at issue here is not to correct the  miscount made by the social order by including those who were left outside, those who did not count, but rather to accomplish, in view of those uncounted and counted alike, the operation of transfinitisation, an operation that aims at constituting an open, non-segregationist “for all”. How many members will count this “for all” of the not-all? It doesn’t matter. It is not about the numbers. On the condition, however, that it remains, just like a Cantorian aleph, indifferent, impervious, to both all addition and all subtraction. So this paradoxical interior way out is nothing other than the constitution of a local, temporary, provisional collectivity “for all”. It is not to remain forever. All that remains forever, ultimately, is its name and its call.   

[1] J. Lacan, Television,  A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment,  trans. J. Mehlman,  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1990, p. 16.

[2] J. Lacan,  “Founding Act”, in J. Lacan, Television, A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment,  trans. J. Mehlman,  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1990, p. 97.

[3] J.-C. Milner, Les noms indistincs (Paris : Seuil, 1983), pp. 116-123.

[4] J. Lacan, “La troisième”, in Lettres de l’Ecole freudeinne de Paris, n° 16, 1975, p. 187.

[5] J. Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, trans. D. Porter,  London: Tavistock/Routledge, 1992, p. 186.  

[6] J. Lacan, “Kant with Sade”, Ecrits,  trans. B. Fink, New York: W.W. Norton, 2006,   p. 666.

[7] J. Derrida, Politics of Friendship, trans.  G. Collins, London and New York: Verso, 1997, p. 22.

[8] “The specific political distinction, to which political action and notions can be reduced is the distinction between friend and enemy.” The Concept of the Political, trans. by George Schwab. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press 1996, p. 26.

[9] J. Lacan, “Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty,” Ecrits, p. 174.

[10] This expression was introduced by Lacan in his “Fouding Act”, p. 100.

[11] See, for instance, J. Lacan, “Discours à l’Ecole freudienne de Paris”, in Autres écrits, Paris: Seuil,2001,  pp. 270, 272.

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