Political Truth in the Age of Populism: Part 3

This is the third and final section of a conversation between Sokol Ferizi of Stillpoint Spaces Berlin and Leon Brenner, PhD candidate at Tel Aviv University and a guest scholar at the Freie Universität Institute of Philosophy in Berlin. In this section, Sokol and Leon link politics and philosophy directly with psychoanalysis, and its potentials, today. You can read more from Leon Brenner on his website: https://leonbrenner.com/. And, you can read part 1 of this conversation, including an introduction by Sokol Ferizi, here

Sokol: I was wondering about what Badiou says, that a faithful subject has a chance to resurrect, as you mentioned in the lecture. When this resurrection of the faithful subject happens, that constitutes the universality of truth, that becomes a truth. Like the example of Spartacus and the insurrection of slaves, the fact that something like that happened once, being as it was investigated throughout history (i.e. there followed other struggles against slavery), and, by reappearing in other historical contexts, it installed itself in the world consciousness. Today we live in anti-slavery consciousness, and that is the universal truth.

Leon: This resurrection, this distance between the first and the universalising second, is a bridge between two singular events. These are not two parts of the same event,  they are two singular events. Whatever connects them is the potency of the truth that stands behind them. Potency of a truth, as Badiou says, depends on a hypothetical forcing, and is that which connects that truth’s particular appearances. There is something universalizing in what Spartacus was fighting for, that’s why the fight against slavery was resurrected. And the connection between these events, is that they are all manifestations of that specific political truth. This is not the truth, but a truth.

Sokol: Opening the ground to psychoanalysis and the emergence of truth, could we say that this process is similar there, or to put it like this: we live, we are individuals with our own experiences and memories and dreams, and then only when we go through psychoanalysis, when our experiences, memories and dreams are investigated, in the context of the talking cure, the dyad, in the presence of a psychoanalyst, that’s when we become aware of the meaning of our experiences, and our dreams.

Could we say, for lack of better expression, a “cured subject” is a subject who becomes aware what these memories and dreams are about, or could be about? Is there any parallel that can be drawn alongside this truth-procedure we call an event, in Badiou, and the awareness of that event, when the event becomes the truth for that individual, so to speak? Is there a line that can be drawn between the psychoanalytic investigation and the truth-procedure?

Leon: OK, let’s put some things in order. What we’d have to do in this case is an illegal translation of concepts. So we’d have to start with Lacan, since Badiou bases himself in some level, on Lacan’s conceptions. So we’d have to stick to the framework that Lacan presents.

But, for our purposes today, we can maintain our focus on Badiou and say first, truth for him manifests in a process, in a procedure which creates a new present, materially. So we situate the truth in the psyche, but truth is not what is created; what is created is the symptom. Somewhere in the beginning of your life you became a subject, when your body encountered the necessity to use language. At that point something happened, a break—an event is a rupture in reality—and this process accumulated into a symptom. The symptom became a structure, and  according to Freud, these structures are neurosis, perversion and psychosis. You said that awareness is the point of psychoanalysis, but I disagree.

There is a unique kind of knowledge that is sought in an analysis. For example, Lacan differentiates between savoir and connaissance. I would say it’s not what we might call conscious knowledge—you said awareness—that is sought. Rather, it’s unconscious knowledge. Unconscious knowledge has an effect, it affects your symptom. So you can say you learn something in analysis, but definitely not consciously. I would even say that you don’t learn to remember, (some people would say you remember things in analysis), but actually you learn how to forget in a way that helps you to suffer less, or to suffer in a different way. Not everybody needs to go to analysis, because some people suffer really nicely. So what you do through the articulation of this unconscious knowledge, not consciously, is you have an effect on the symptom. As I said, not everybody needs to go to analysis, but according to Badiou every person needs to, if you want to be human, participate in the event. In politics, in arts, etc.

Sokol: If you don’t, you are not faithful?

Leon: Right! For Badiou, if you are not partaking of the event, you’re just an animal. But if you become part of the event, you take part in the subject, and you manifest what is most human in you. Badiou goes to great lengths and says that you become immortal when you participate in the event. This is going completely against Lacan. Because death is very crucial in psychoanalysis. There is an inevitabile relation of our unconscious to the death drive.

Sokol: Badiou overcomes this, then, from finite to infinite, back to finite, therefore immortal. As a participant of the event, the individual…

Leon: …partakes of immortality.

Sokol: This makes sense to me. For example, every struggle of every single woman in history, accumulated into what feminism brought about in 20th century. So in a sense every single woman with her own personal struggle has contributed to the position of women today in society. In other words, every particular woman in history has immortalised herself by her own struggle.

Leon: Yes, absolutely, but again, the subject is the carrier of the truth of the event. In psychoanalysis, the subject is a by-product of the encounter between the organism, our body, and language. Lacan says that we took the subject and made out of it a Cartesian subject, but the subject is actually something else. And Badiou takes that from Lacan, putting the subject front-stage, but not in a Cartesian way. But then Badiou’s is a different subject than Lacan’s. So I would say the comparison of the two falls short at the moment they are born. Once Badiou takes it from Lacan, it becomes something else.

Sokol: I was wondering about the fact. I was reading an essay by Christopher Bollas on The Functions of History and that in psychoanalysis a fact, in a patient’s life, needs to be interpreted. If it is goes uninterpreted, the fact becomes what he calls “a dumb fact”, something you can do nothing with in analysis.  A patient brings a fact, something that took place in their life, and this is where the work starts in psychoanalysis. An analyst “takes” these facts and sees where are they coming from, like what is the reaction of the patient to what happened to him or to her in life. So there’s this idea of fact in psychoanalysis and what one does with it. It might be a long shot to ask, but I was wondering, for Badiou, an event is also somehow a fact, a material happening, as in:  there is a happening, and individuals, groups or bodies react differently to it. My question would be if psychoanalysis and philosophy, in this case Badiou and Lacan, deal differently with the fact?

Leon: I’m not sure about this concept fact.

Sokol: Well, I mean a happening which gains reality in a point of time, in history. So a patient in psychoanalysis might say, when I was 8 years old, my brother was born, and then a path is opened for the interpretation of sibling dynamics.

Leon: Well, that is definitely not an event. When the event happens we cannot say, this has happened. It’s always indiscernible in time, you don’t know when it will happen, when it’s happening, if it’s actually happening, and even after it happens, there ensues a multiplicity of interpretations. I would compare, though it may be far-fetched, the event to an encounter in the Real. Which could be translated in Freudian terms as a trauma. Trauma is a place where a hole is carved out in the history of the subject, or the body. The first event, or maybe the only event, because it’s hard to know, is castration. That is to say, initiation into the Oedipus complex, the split in the subject, the rupture. That would be an event in psychoanalysis. For Badiou there is not one first event and that’s it.  Rather, multiple events are happening, encounters with the Real that we organise in unconscious knowledge, because they have no answer in the conscious.

Sokol: In psychoanalysis, the argument is often that a traumatic event can, if not should, be relived in the context of the analysis. That is to say, a traumatic experience, or memory, can be triggered in analysis, and though it appears differently (transferentially) in the analytic context, there is a certain resurrection of what has been lived before.

Leon: It is interpreted, it is articulated retroactively, and that is the way the symptom is changed, because the symptom is affected by the trauma. When we elaborate it, when we use words, it has an effect on the unconscious, and therefore it also affects the way the unconscious is organised.

Sokol: Could psychoanalysis be seen as a trace, or an event, or a truth procedure?

Leon: I don’t know…it’s a hard question.

Sokol: Personally, if I would situate it in one of the four of  Badiou’s truth procedures (science, art, politics and love), psychoanalysis would be in the amorous one.

Leon: But, you know, for Badiou amorous truth is about the two. And it’s true, psychoanalysis is about the subject and the other, but then for Badiou this amourous truth it means something for the amorous couple.

Sokol: It’s a bit…old-fashioned, for lack of a better word, this conception of love happening only in the couple, don’t you think? I tend to think so, as much as I think it’s a delicious concept of love, but it restricts what love can be…its open-endedness.

Leon: It’s about the two, because two is a philosophical concept. Three is something else.

Sokol: But in Lacan, as in psychoanalysis, there is no two without three. The condition for the two is a third term. Which is the child in the couple, for instance.

Leon: Right, we’re talking about the Oedipus complex here. But, you know, we’re talking about two individuals in Badiou, who fall in love. Let me try to answer this question from another perspective. I would say that psychoanalysis is a discourse. A discourse that Freud gave birth to, that he invented, the event Freud, let’s say, which created this discourse. Also, I wouldn’t confine it to strictly political, scientific, or amorous, because these are the three of four conditions for truth, for Badiou. But if we come back to the Foucauldian way of thinking, psychoanalysis is a discourse, and psychology is a discourse. I would say psychology is a discourse of science. Every discourse has the power to create and to explain, but also has blind spots. The scientific discourse has its strengths and its weaknesses, and one of its blind spots is that it is used in the policing of the body. Psychoanalysis is about something else; it’s about leaving a space for the subject in this saying. Whereas psychology says, this is you, you are like that, you like that, you’re like that, Freud would say, where you say I am like that, this is exactly where you are not. And this is why psychoanalysis is powerful, why it is subversive. Because in the scientific discourse, they ignore that space. They study people from whatever criteria they can break down: behaviour, chemical interactions, etc, we have lists. What psychoanalysis says is that you are exactly where this list is not. This is its subversive potency.

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