Bodies, Networks, Borders - The new politics of the not-All
Jacques-Alain Miller has characterised the ZADIG movement as “a field open to initiatives”, with the stated aim of making psychoanalysis exist in the political field.
ZADIG is a signifier that opens up a new field of psychoanalytic action. It has given rise to a loose network of multi-cellular associations across the different territories and continents that respond to the Lacanian compass.
These improvised, ad hoc, local and trans-national networks manifest ongoing effects of proliferation and ramification as the Lacanian orientation seeks ways to insert itself in the pressing social, political and cultural questions of our times.
This form of association, this mode of operation, goes against the grain of the dominant political tendencies of our times, which increasingly lead to the creation of barriers, the policing of borders and the retreat into the false security of national identities.
The whole sorry story of Brexit provides perhaps the most compelling instance of these questions at every level, an attempt on a national scale to pull up the drawbridge and keep the others out in the name of some ill-defined slogans of national sovereignty and ‘taking back control’.
One of the driving themes at stake in the Brexit saga is a particular mode of relation to the Other, played out over many decades in this country in relation to the idea of Europe, coming to a head in the curious dynamics surrounding the Brexit negotiations and accompanied by a more sinister undercurrent of views on immigration.
The media space currently being given to the economic, legislative and administrative challenges at stake in defining our future relation to the European Union should not blind us to the degree to which the Brexit fantasy has been played out around the question of borders.
The very terms ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit to which our binary options were reduced (before coming to be played out around the sudden-death options of ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’) are clearly derived from the type of border we expect to establish around the perimeter of our nation.
We should not then be surprised to find that one of the prime sticking points in the Brexit negotiations has turned on the question of how those borders are to be defined, monitored and policed, as if for some reason it never occurred to those most in favour of this project that a border inevitably has at least two sides.
Psychoanalysis obviously has something to say about the psychical operations and fantasies at play in these discourses. Very early on, Freud was able to sketch out some of the mechanisms of rejection, expulsion and consolidation at play both in the formation of the ego and in the constitution of the body.
Lacanian psychoanalysis has been able to explore in further detail the variety of operations involved in the constitution of a body whose integrity is vulnerable to eruptions of jouissance and whose very consistency is indexed on a violent rejection of the jouissance of the Other.
More recently the contemporary Lacanian School, following the work of Jacques-Alain Miller and Éric Laurent, has been able to extend this thematic into the political register, providing the basis for a new reading of some of the currents at play in the convulsions of contemporary politics at a national and international level.
Drawing on Lacan’s work, Jean-Claude Milner has also been able to demonstrate some of the ways in which Lacan’s elaboration of the logic of the not-All provides a robust principle of legibility for orienting ourselves in relation to the ongoing reconfiguration of discourses both within and without the clinic.
In his reference text ‘The Traps of the All’ Milner shows how the contemporary alignment between the political and social domains can be distributed according to the logic of the All and that of the not-All respectively.
The discourse and vocabulary of traditional politics, in effect the discourse of mastery, is elaborated on the basis of constituted wholes made up of defined and homogenous populations organised around a reference to national identity and indexed on corollary principles of enclosure, exception, and expulsion.
Milner traces the rise of the social to the aftermath of the French Revolution, the intrusion into the political sphere of a register organised according to different principles, essentially according to the logic of the not-All. The social then becomes a political question and politics becomes situated as the domain expected to provide answers to questions arising from the social sphere.
One of the key propositions of Milner’s work is that many of the challenges and difficulties of the modern political era can be situated on the threshold, the frontier between the political and social registers. Not only do these pressing questions arise in the zone of friction between the two registers but at the same time the vocabulary of traditional political discourse also finds itself eroded and undermined by the tensions and contradictions arising from the divergence of logics organising the two domains.
This analysis provides us with a minimal principle of legibility for addressing some of the most pressing political questions of our times. It might also provide the basis for a critique of the dominant forms of contemporary political discourse preliminary to the project of elaborating a new mode of political discourse perhaps better modulated to the kinds of challenges we face today.
The theme for this year’s work of the Laboratory – Bodies, Networks, Borders – sets up a wide-ranging and flexible framework that allows us to locate certain test cases for our work, various empirical or experimental domains for testing and refining the co-ordinates of our reading.
Amongst obvious candidates for examination would be the various discourses surrounding the politics of Brexit, with particular attention to the underlying question of immigration and the challenges this poses for the traditional discourse of liberal democracy. Here we might trace the elaboration of the ‘Hostile Environment’, initially as an immigration policy, but more widely as contributing to the shaping of the discursive environment in which we now live.
This would also allow us to take up the more extended question of the reconfiguration of discourses underlying the rise of hate speech and the infiltration of mainstream discourse by the discourse of the far right. Here we would be building on the work of the ongoing series of Forums of the EuroFederation of Psychoanalysis, including the upcoming Forum to be held in Brussels on Saturday 1 December on the theme ‘Discourses that Kill’.
We might consider the role of digital platforms and social media in facilitating, accelerating and aggravating some of these discursive effects, examining the ways in which the new digital technology has contributed to the reconfiguration of the social domain and the concomitant erosion of the traditional political discourses. It is here that we might also seek to make room for an analysis of the ongoing reconfiguration of the status of the Other in the digital era, along with the inevitable consequences for the constitution of our subjectivity.
These are simply some initial instances that might provide useful points of address for the work of the Laboratory this year. We will of course be seeking to make room for other proposals along the way, given that a collaborative style of working in conversation is fundamental to the workshop ethic of the Laboratory and its political orientation. Anyone willing to work with us on these urgent and pressing questions will be more than welcome to contribute to the further elaboration of this important project of work.
Roger Litten, Director