Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Agencies of Repetition

According to Lacan, the basis of Freudian psychoanalytic theory rests on the calling forth of the Cartesian subject out of the “structural necessities” of signification. This “recollection,” as he terms it, occurs at our “lowest encounter” with language and is constituted by the very structural constraints it seeks to escape (47). For Freud, It is the “Wiederkehr” (recurrence) of this moment that initiates the gap of the unconscious. It is the encounter between the thinking subject and the lacuna of the real. Lacan writes, “An adequate thought, qua thought. always avoids...the same thing. Here, the real is that which always comes back to the same place-to the place where the subject in so far as he thinks...does not meet it” (49). Thinking is the subject’s search for the thing (the real) whose very refutation makes it (cogito) possible.
I talked in my last post about refutation as the “essential function” of the unconscious, so I’m not going to go into that here. Rather, I want to focus on the function of distributed agency in Lacan’s theory of repetition.
In formulating his theory of repetition, Lacan bridges off of Freud by focusing on the importance of the “human act” occurring in a structure disconnected from the real, and he references ritual suicide as a paradigmatic example (50). Here, Lacan seems to be pointing towards a notion of the human defined by its degree of agency within a field of possible actions
However, Lacan sums up his lecture with what at first seems like a peculiar detour through traumatic repetition in dreams which he posits as the very thing that problematizes the notion of human agency presented above in the way that it de-centers the subject “into a certain number of agencies” (51). Lacan claims that distributed agency is the only means through which the subject can approach a traumatic encounter, a claim that would seem to run counter to the popular notion of traumatic repetition as “mastery.” Which leads Lacan to formulate his question: “Why speak so hastily when we do not know precisely where to situate the agency that would undertake this operation of mastery?”.
Lacan concludes his lecture by noting that repetition can be characterized as the search for the moment in which an event “seems to be under an obligation to yield itself” (i.e. the real, “original” encounter) (51). He then further defines this process rather enigmatically as “the resistance of the subject,” which could presumably be read both as “the subject’s act of resistance” and as “resisting the subject.” In sum, it seems that Lacan is saying that a subject’s attempt to grasp the real (the “human act”) is in an inverse relationship to the “totalizing, synthesizing psyche” that initiates this act in the first place.

Perhaps the instruction to be drawn from this section would be to avoid approaches to the real through consciousness. This is the logic of literacy,which is fine for scientific pursuits, but inadequate for our purposes in electracy which sublates the true/false binary on which such pursuits depend. Similar to my last instruction, our repetitive approach to the real will have “always already” occurred, it is simply a matter of locating this approach retrospectively in the various agencies through which it occurred. Which perhaps leads to another instruction: when mapping the subject’s network of signifiers, look for distributed agencies not a unified agency.

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