The after –shock convulsions of Slavoj Zizek’s orgiastic entrance into Philippine Marxist intellectual circles are now faint echoes to what has been a ‘Zizek-mania’. Whatever these mania has been, it is beyond doubt that the psychoanalytic trend has indeed created a mark to some of the Marxist intellectuals who felt rather constricted to the ‘class analysis reflex’ characteristic of sophomore radical babblings. Here at the University of the Philippines Baguio, for instance, a brief (and somewhat exclusive) lecture was held by one of the leading psychoanalysis experts Ian Parker regarding the connection of psychoanalysis and society (unfortunately, I haven’t grabbed the opportunity to sit in the lecture, and I also don’t plan to buy his expensive book either). However, I incubated a few questions that are disturbs me regarding this whole psychoanalysis thing, and considering my lack of comprehensive knowledge regarding the issue, let me just blurt out a few questions and observations:
(1) For some reason, I believe that Marxism and psychoanalysis (Freudian/ Lacanian) have already been bedfellows since 1970’s to 1980’s in the West ( Julia Kristeva, Fredric Jameson, Loius Althusser, Herbert Marcuse, to name a few, comes to mind). It certainly wasn’t a new thing to deal with.
(2) The most consistent argument (which most of the time is not explained beforehand, or at least was un/consciously taken for granted) is that Marxian theory and classical Marxism lack a psychological element, as it fails to consider the psyche, drives and other motivations that play within the individual. Hence, many psychoanalytically-inclined intellectuals readily accept psychoanalysis (especially Freudian/ Jungian/ Lacanian) as its ‘dialectical’ half. Marxist theory aims to theorize the social totality of capitalism, together with the means of production, the superstructure, etc, while psychoanalysis aims to swim through the rather hazy realm of the individual and its psyche. Psychoanalytic Marxism, then, in this line of thought, is a harmonious, marriage-like synthesis of two very distinct intellectual territories. However, I have a question on this: can Marxism exist and remain to do so if it purged of its psychoanalytic language? Can it not be thought that Marxism is a separate and organic realm of study that analyzes capitalist society and all its aspects, from the larger global capitalist system to the individual fetishes, for instance? I think that the underlying reductionist/determinist pretext that Marxism is a theory of totality (Hegel) comes from a very familiar political event, the Cold War: the accusation against Fredric Jameson, for instance, is that he is a ‘totalitarian’ apologist of the Soviet totalitarian regime merely because his study prioritizes the ‘totality’ of human experience under the fragmentizing power of global (post-modern) capitalism— this gross miscalculation arises from the Cold War ideology that anyone who speaks about the total, rather than the singular (collective over the individual) is a true-blue, sky-punching Stalinist automaton. As if a stance on accepting defeat, some Marxists gave in to this propagandistic version of Marxism as a ‘totalitarian’ theory and hence incorporated psychoanalysis to redeem themselves. The bitter joke, of course, is that Marxism is never a totalitarian theory of repression, as the liberal-democratic ideologists claim, but rather a comprehensive theory of the over-all workings of capitalist reality. Even a Grade 1 student can discern the difference between the words ‘totality’ and ‘totalitarian.’ (We might as well critique free-market economic ideas that govern the global system today as the US and other powers claim that ‘capitalism is the best theory around, so must integrate every country into it’ and hence legitimizes the totalitarian concept of ‘globalization’, the chief alibi of the imperialist murders committed world-wide on an daily basis.
(3) The most common rebuttal to an argument which defends Marxism as an organic theory is that “any attempt to ‘purge’ Marxist theory of any ‘bourgeois’ theory is a vulgar call for Marxist purism.” Without any hesitation, one can say with pure confidence that to call for a ‘pure’ Marxist theory is misguided dogmatism, and hence an oxymoronic utterance. To draw a line between ‘authentic’ (or dogmatic Marxism) and an impure (some call it ‘revisionist’) Marxism, hence, is a contradiction to the dialectical element of the theory itself. Hence, problematizing psychoanalysis (if this may be the case) and its Marxist articulation, or vice versa, is not an act to retain a pure theory. E. San Juan wrote an article about Zizek’s popularity in UP Diliman a couple of years ago expressing his suspicion of the usage of Freud and Lacan (and hence, Zizek himself) in the analysis of capitalism.
(4) Freud and Lacan’s psychoanalysis are based primarily on the analysis of the bourgeois family. The subject of psychoanalysis is the rational ego, situated in a daddy-mommy-me paradigm. To retain a proper psychoanalytic method or diagnosis in analyzing a much bigger space of analysis, what a psychoanalyst is inclined to do is to expand the epistemological dimension of the paradigm, and hence assume the bourgeois family as the basic unit of society. This assumption, as one may readily suspect, diverges from Marxian political economy, hence leading us to the conclusion that a harmonious interpenetration of both theory is quite untenable.
(5) Although Zizek’s polemical theatrics are entertaining (with his repertoire ranging from Spinoza to old Slovevian toilet humor), his analysis are somewhat blurry in deeper investigation. San Juan quotes Peter Osbourne, a respected scholar on psychoanalysis and Marxism, in his article linked above:
“’Psychoanalytical readings are a means of repression to the extent that they shield the reader from the productive enigma of the text/object/practice by imposing a standardized narrative interpretation: the Oedipal reading, the ‘depressive position’ reading, the Real reading…. Such readings offer the comfort, not of strangers, but of all-too-familiar codings of strangeness which serve to reinforce the interpreting subject’s existing formation. As such, they offer a theoretical version of the pleasure in repetition which is an essential part of all cultural experience” (Philosophy in Cultural Theory, London, 2000, pp. 114-15).
Certainly, it is quite an amusement to read Zizek’s ‘paradox rhetoric’, wherein an apparent meaning or perception of a concept is cleverly reinscribed and reinterpreted as meaning exactly the opposite of the apparent meaning (this rhetorical style is Zizek’s own application of the Hegelian ‘negation of the negation’). But if scrutinized, I noticed that many ‘paradoxes’ that Zizek throws at us are actually linguistic manipulations that aim to shock the reader and spontaneously establish the paradox as the ‘truer’ statement (Naomi Klein’s ‘shock doctrine’ comes to mind).
(6) Truth to say, psychoanalysis is enjoying, as it talks about sex, fantasy and all the other hoopla. But if we are to use the older argument, psychoanalysis is meant to be a method, not as a theory of the social. Psychoanalysis is all about the diagnosis of a neurosis, not of a historically-driven mass hysteria. However, to push the point further away from dismissive essentializing, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari offered a debilitating critique of psychoanalysis as a theory and practice by arguing that psychoanalysis viewed desire as a drive that sprouted from the nuclear family while avoiding an analysis of desire as a systemic reflex of capitalist reality:
There are socioeconomic “complexes” that are also veritable complexes of the unconscious, and that communicate a voluptuous wave from the top to the bottom of their hierarchy (the military–industrial complex). And ideology, Oedipus, and the phallus have nothing to do with this, because they depend on it rather than being its impetus. (Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari 1972 pp. 114-115).
Deleuze and Guattari argues that psychoanalysis establishes a normative power relationship between the patient and the analyst. Following Foucault, what determines the madness or sanity of the patient is its very compliance (or non-compliance, if that is the case) to the episteme of the prevailing power, and as part of the system as a ‘cure’, psychoanalysis reinforces the power itself. To quote, “A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch. A breath of fresh air, a relationship with the outside world (30).”
(7) Finally, can psychoanalysis provide the edge to ‘cure the world’? Or it is just there to give jobs to academicians who wanted to cure themselves of the haunting guilt of non-engagement?