Some random inquiries into psychoanalysis’ popularity in contemporary Marxist discourse

Le Gai Savoir (1969) - Jean-Luc Godard

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?

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10 thoughts on “Some random inquiries into psychoanalysis’ popularity in contemporary Marxist discourse”

  1. (1) And even earlier with the likes of Fromm. . .

    (2) But is not this psyche/soul/ego/unconscious qua thing already encompassed in the Marxist notion of politico-cultural superstructure/consciousness that, in the last instance, is ultimately attributable to class and class struggle or to the economic base as such? Or at another and cruder level, is not the personal political and vice versa?

    (3) Revisionism is not a matter of purity – theory and practice must be continually raised to a higher level in order to respond to constantly developing conditions – but a matter of fidelity to the revolutionary cause.

    (4) Thus the need to reconfigure psychoanalysis as such?

    (5) Which is precisely why Zizek is well-loved and read, never mind the substance?

    (6) But ultimately Zizek is far more entertaining than any of Deleuze or Guattari. . .

    (7) Amen. 😉

  2. (2) I believe it is already integrated into the classical Marxist paradigm way before Freud started talking about it. Maybe it’s just that many academicians feel rather discontented of a theory that doesn’t talk about their sex life. Haha.

    (4) No, because that is precisely the fallacy of the thinkers who wanted to utilize their ‘cure’/ theory and make them more ‘socially-relevant.’

    (5) Anyway, I’d rather read Zizek than Chaucer. Haha

    (7) This article seems to be a symptom of my own guilt. Hehe

    By the way, thanks for sharing your own ideas!

  3. “can Marxism exist and remain to do so if it purged of its psychoanalytic language?” While Marxism and psychoanalysis seemed to be a match made in heaven, the imperative is always to historicize. And you clearly proved this point considering how the practice (and theory) of psychoanalysis emerged as a tool to diagnose the malaise of this civilization. But this is reminiscent of Althusser’s defense of Marx’s “epistemological break” from the humanist Marx to a more “structural” reading of Marx’s magnum opus, Capital. Note that the former, according to Althusser, was used by “apologists” of Stalinism. (Of course, I’m not endorsing Althusser’s position in its entirety.)

    Zizek wants to be enigmatic (perhaps due to an overdose of reading Lacan, “the shock effect”). But the problem remains: his reading of the society that we have now (using Lacan as a “privileged” theorist for his conceptual framework) may be prove helpful in understanding the concept of alienation, popular culture, and so on but the revolutionary potential of his thoughts seems problematic. The later writings of Zizek (In Defense of Lost Causes; First as Tragedy, then as Farce) outlined his political standpoint, but this, well, is rather paradoxical: how do we reconcile the symptomatic (Left) Hegelian critique of ideology (and the “crisis of determinate negation”) to that of Marxist revolutionary potential, the violent entrance towards universality-in and for-itself? In relation to the aforementioned paragraph, sa tingin ko, sapat na ang balikan si Marx (e.g. Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).

    Nice article, ‘dre. 🙂

    1. Salamat pre. Yung defense of lost causes at first as tragedy yung pinaka concrete pero pinaka problematic. Siguro mas maganda pa sa pagbalik kay Marx ay BMI. Without doubt, the masses know more about the real situation than some Slovenian sweatbag. Haha

  4. Hehe, pa-barge in sa inyong discussions; here are my six-cents:

    On the irreconcilability of Psychoanalysis and Marxism:

    I think that this is not yet fully exhausted today (despite the emergence of the likes of Zizek and Jameson) given the divergence of the two schools of thought in terms of their primary objects of study; that is, for Marxism, the society at large particularly the interplay of the economy, politics and culture, and for psychoanalysis, the human psyche.

    Psychoanalysis, burgeoning after Freud and Lacan, simply focuses a bit too much (more especially perhaps in the Marxist judgment) in the psyche of the individual and talks limitedly about the social forces and their influences on the individual. What Zizek does more as a post-Lacanian (in the sense that he is speaking after him) thinker is yes, a critique of the system where the individual psyche is operating but the boldest, most revolutionary-sounding proposition he has is his “act.” Still, this “act” fails to recognize or incorporate explicitly the implication of the individual and his staging of the “act” in the society where he belongs. The “act” in itself was individualistic and this results perhaps from the aforementioned failure of Zizek to situate the individual in his society and the pressures that raise the need for him to do the “act” to begin with.

    Meanwhile, for me Marxism needs to incorporate psychoanalysis in probing, and perhaps improving the mobilization of its forces (i.e. cadres) and more especially, the masses to prevent them from working as automatons na kilos nang kilos merely for the sake of it or for its “momentary merits;” in other words, without conviction in the supposed cause of all their pagkilos. Here, I think it is opportune for me to insert and for us to recall Zizek’s comparison of Communism (as a Cause), or the Party to the big Other. Communism being the Cause we seek to satisfy and achieve and for which all of our actions are oriented towards, are made. This applies to the Party as well, i.e. makikipagmeeting ako dahil magagalit ang P, makikimob ako dahil pupunahin ako ng P. Although I know that all our “pagkilos” is not devoid of an “enlightened” understanding of the material conditions harrowing us and the society in general, how do we see this in relation to our actual belief in the idea of communism, in the idea of a classless society that is supposed to be the ultimate goal of all these pagkilos, and perhaps more importantly, in relation to our trust on the Party who claims leadership of the movement towards “tagumpay.” Does that make a difference, when all our pagkilos is made for the satisfaction of this big Other (Communism-as Cause, the Party’s nod, just like Afterlife or Being in heaven) and not for the actual perseverance to “actualize” that Idea? Does it make a difference if we do not wholeheartedly believe that Communism will be an actualized idea? That all our pagkilos is still tied to the psychoanalysis’ “diagnosis” that we are all perpetually seeking to complete ourselves and this gives us positive identifications that buttress a sense of completion among us, even illusory, i.e. in the words of one cadre, “para may purpose ang buhay?”

    I think there is a need to reconcile the two schools of thought, albeit differently with the previous reconciliations made by the likes of Jameson and Zizek. More important is for Marxism to begin studying how they can (because I think they must) infuse psychoanalysis in their own theory and practice aside from the analysis of how our consumption behavior and responses to pop culture are tied to our proverbial psychoanalytic lack of identity.

    1. I believe what you are pushing through is more of an existentialist ingredient than a psychoanalytic one. Communism-as-a-cause/ Other sounds something more simple but precise to me, and that is exactly the classic middle-class problem of ‘remolding’, or in Lenninist terms, bolshevization.

      Of course it is natural for us (I mean, we us privileged netizens) to problematize our ‘identity’, our individualistic urges and whims, amid the hectic turbulence of collective struggle. But do Marxist theory and practice really need an esoteric psychoanalytic hoopla to accommodate our personal anxieties, especially given the fact that Marxist theory is not a theory of individual/ liberalist ruminations, but of the general welfare of the oppressed? I think not.

      Our personal doubts and sentimental tendencies, although of magnified importance to our self-fulfillment (“purpose ng buhay,” so to speak), are not the primary concerns of the revolution. It is not the theory or the movement’s fault if we feel miserable in our work. After all, immersing oneself in the Cause is always a whole-hearted self-sacrifice.

      And finally, all of these are easier said than done. Mukhang malalim ang pinaghuhugutan a, haha!

  5. Pano kung altogether binebelie ng pagkilos natin ang “immersing-oneself-in-the-Cause-as-whole-hearted-sacrifice?” Paano yung namention dati na “pagkilos” as an end in itself, not as a means to an end? Or hndi na ba dapat ito maging issue, basta ang point eh kumikilos? Hindi ba mas madaling magdetach sa gawain, i.e. mag-inactive, kung ganito ang pagtingin, kung hndi nakikita ang farther end of socialism at dominant ang short-sightedness, for instance, makapag-mob ng isang libo sa UP at after nun ay back to dating gawi? Naniniwala nga sa Cause, but unwilling to act, to put things into practice. Hindi ba ito (dapat maging) concern ng movement?

  6. Allow me to join up too! 🙂

    Siding with Ivan, I have to agree that any movement worth to be called as such must be able to motivate its leaders and members to unite and strive towards the common goal of liberating the Filipino people.

    But also following Levi, I must add that the forging of such a unity and commitment cannot be found in the incorporation of what he rightly calls “esoteric psychoanalytic hoopla.”

    A review of Mao’s Five Golden Rays, which looks into the standpoint, viewpoint, and methods of partisans of the emancipatory cause, should give us renewed insights on the matters being tackled in this thread:

    Serve the People
    In Memory of Norman Bethune
    The Foolish Old Man
    Combat Liberalism
    On Correcting Mistaken Ideas

  7. Hello, John,

    i am not quite familiar with the works of some of the authors you mentioned in the discussion like Zizek and Lacan. read some of Freud’s, though. what about the works of Eric Hoffer? have you read them, by any chance? he was saying that people who have ailments. discomforts or anxieties are more prone to act to change society. i wonder how his propositions would fit in into your discussion… ^^ hello and best regards! 🙂

    1. I haven’t read this Hoffer, but I googled him and it saw that he is not unlike Deleuze and Guatarri who argue that schizophrenics have the ability to effect change. While like the idea of normalcy being a sign of subservience to the system, I find it hard to conceptualize how ‘crazies’ will establish a more ‘sane’ society. Truth to say, i think these thinkers are the ones who are crazy, hehe. Thanks for the reference!

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