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Bookchin

Theodoor Rombouts (1597-1637)

A new Prometheus need not take the form of the ‘Modern Prince’, the party, if the latter is regarded as a commanding height and centre supervenient on any other council, association or organisational form. Collective control must involve the control and ‘recall’, to use that important slogan of delegation in communes and soviets, of its inevitable instances of centralisation. But whether the horizon be one of radical reform or revolution, a systemic challenge cannot but take on, rather than blithely ignore, the risks of Prometheanism, outside of any forgetful apologia for state power or survivalist, primitivist mirage (Toscano 2011).

Despair 

So says Alberto Toscano in a paper The prejudice against prometheus. We all know the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to men enabling the opening of progress, the driving force of civilisation, there is no need to repeat it again. In Toscano’s essay he surveys the political scene in 2011- the year of the high point of the UKs student mobilisations, the year of riot- and finds that on the left and on the right everyone was decrying Prometheus. On both sides of the political divide everyone threw their hands up in despair at the thought of taking drastic action and mounting a campaign oriented to the ‘control of collective destiny’. On the right he finds calls for reform that do nothing but nourish the repressive function of the state. In the UK this has been borne out. The state has indeed become more repressive under the guise of welfare reform measures that have actively impoverished unemployed, zero-hour and part time workers, forcing them into a state of dependency on food banks, into homelessness, and sinking the mental health of the working class into abjection. On the left, he diagnoses ‘melancholy or illusion’.

I share his belief that the left itself is suffering from melancholy, although I use the less psychoanalytic term “depression”. For Toscano the melancholy is directly related to loss and to mourning: the loss of the revolutionary project and the mourning for a time when communist ends were imaginable, even possible. The illusion is even simpler than this: it is the illusion that powerlessness can triumph over the powerful, the illusion that organisation is irrelevant. Toscano decries this as the counter-revolutionary impulse that believes any attempt to design a better society is doomed to fail and fall into totalitarianism. The history of the left is one drenched in blood and disaster, it is become irredeemable, beyond salvage, a mausoleum best left sealed in the past with the past silently inside it.

Already in 2011 this was familiar ground. Toscano is writing after Zizek’s In defence of lost causes wherein the Slovenian agitator wrote against the ‘liberal blackmail’ (2009,  41) that the politics of emancipation were always the politics of terror and tyranny. Zizek has long rallied against the liberal identification of fascism and actually existing Communism as two sides of the same totalitarian phenomena. In IDLC Zizek is keen to point out that this is simply not the case: German fascism succeeded in carrying out what it promised, whereas Communism was a grotesque failure. The reasons are manifold: Stalinism was supposed to uphold an Enlightenment vision of truth and responsibility in which men could be held accountable for their crimes, Nazism on the other hand smuggled into its project only the sheen of Enlightenment, justifying the mass murder of the Jews by the fact of their biology. Communism had defectors and dissidents who saw that Stalinism was a betrayal of communist principles, whereas there could be no such disagreement with Hitler; as Führer Hitler was the Reich. There are also the points that Nazism was a response to communism as a threat and as a model, adopting its forms just as the communists were usually among the first the Nazis brutalised.

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Last night at the Glasgow School of Art Mark Fisher took the stage to discuss accelerationism. I have to say that up until last night I had given only a passing interest to accelerationism, seeing it as not linked to my reading in antipsychiatry. But for all that its necessary to focus our readings it is myopic to act as if something like accelerationism can be passed by, as if it registered no effect on the left at all. The relevance of accelerationism first of all comes from its success in circulating around left tendencies, in appearing in different contexts, and in stirring us on the left, on both sides of an increasingly spurious divide between anarchism, autonomism and traditional Marxism.

What follows is less a report on the specifics of what Mark talked about, although that’ll be in there, but more my first attempt at really engaging with accelerationism, something I’ve been reticent to do until now as I’ve largely felt that accelerationism has functioned as an intellectual meme. But this is probably the strength and weakness of the term. As it spreads it everywhere forces a kind of decision. It seems impossible for most people to discuss accelerationism without endorsing it a a tendency or dismissing it as an irrelevance. I’m most interested in the stakes involved in this decision and in how accelerationism really operates as a force that it has become impossible to be indifferent to.

The double-bind of desire

Among the most interesting aspects of Mark’s talk last night was his continued insistence on desire. Its here that I think it is impossible for someone involved in a renewed antipsychiatry can first connect up with accelerationism. First and foremost psychiatry operates according to the regulation of desires and behaviours. One is mad if one’s desires are unacceptable and/or if one’s actions betray aberrant desires. This is something that antipsychiatrists have always emphasised. Foucault is perhaps the clearest on this question in his interrogation of proto-psychiatric techniques and strategies that constituted the therapeutic battle between doctor and patient.

The first is that these four elements introduce a number of questions into psychiatric practice that stubbornly recur throughout the history of psychiatry. First, they introduce the question of dependence on and submission to the doctor as someone who, for the patient, holds an inescapable power. Second, they also introduce the question, or practice rather, of confession, anamnesis, of the account and recognition of oneself. This also introduces into asylum practice the procedure by which all madness is posed the question of the secret and unacceptable desire that really makes it exist as madness. And finally, fourth, they introduce, of course, the problem of money, of financial compensation; the problem of how to provide for oneself when one is mad and how to establish the system of exchange within madness which will enable the mad person’s existence to be financed.

 

For now I’ll simply assert my agreement with Foucault on this point, although I hope to expand on it elsewhere. We could perhaps quickly state that the question of madness, of identifying mad subjects, always passes through the question of desire, of what it is the mad person wants and what actions and beliefs they are invested in, what libidinous attachments they have formed, half-formed, wrenched themselves away from or had shattered in front of them. This is part of what Foucault will isolate in the confessional apparatus of Christianity that will again be seen in the psychoanalytic confessional: one must articulate one’s desire before the cure can be effected. This is still seen in today’s psychiatry among the new hysterical subjects with the proliferation of bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and anorexia nervosa. These diagnoses codify experiences of aberrations in desire first and foremost. The so-called new symptom is circulates more around the question of desire than it does cognition, and this is perhaps proven by the disappearance of the term “desire” from psychiatric literature. Instead we see the accumulation of theories about impulse control, motivational deficits, obsessive-compulsions. With this is the deployment of procedures for the manipulation of these psychological constructs, chief among them the motivational interviewing techniques and the mindfulness based protocols that seek to attach subjects to proper desires via “values work”, and which may remain open to repurposing among radicals.

The question of desire doesn’t just circulate around madness, although this is one of the aspects in which the engineering of desires by capitalism effects casualities. We can talk of psychic wounds when we talk about madness, but we could just as well talk about libidinal wounds. Capitalism effects double-binds. Its not so much that there is this injunction to Enjoy! It is more that there is the injunction to Enjoy Responsibly! The command is issues at once to enjoy but also to isolate a limit that is never explicitly specified. Libidinal subjects are then forced into the situation of enjoyment in which enjoyment becomes an ethical moment without any existing rule of thumb. What is the limit? Where is the limit? Does one transgress it? Is that enjoyment? The double bind is a perverse command that undoes itself, dissolves itself by doubling back on itself, the second fork in the injunction sweeping back to cancel the first.

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