More Jamesian Lacanianism!

From Psychology: The Briefer Course, ch. 17

“Will you or won’t you have it so?” is the most probing question we are ever asked; we are asked it every hour of the day, and about the largest as well as the smallest, the most theoretical as well as the most practical, things. We answer by consents or non-consents and not by words. What wonder that these dumb responses should seem our deepest organs of communication with the nature of things! What wonder if the effort demanded by them be the measure of our worth as men! What wonder if the amount which we accord of it were the one strictly underived and original contribution which we make to the world!

This notion that all we can “spontaneously” do (if anything) is give our yes or no seems very similar to Lacan’s deployment of cybernetics toward the end of Seminar 2, particularly the lecture that makes up the penultimate chapter. For Lacan, though, this sequence of “yes or no,” 1 or 0, seems to be conceived as a kind of unconscious code operating on us in a machine-like way, which it is the task of psychoanalysis somehow to bring to the surface or force the subject to confront or assume.

11 thoughts on “More Jamesian Lacanianism!

  1. Honestly, Adam, I just don’t see the Lacanian resonance. Here again I see Nietzschean “will”, and thus the Deleuzian notion that any assemblage is one of desire. To make the link with your last post, I understand this organology of “dumb responses” as an explicitation of the “It thinks”, as they seem to belong to a our prepersonal singularity. In other words I would say that we are constantly continuing our desiring process (or individuation): even if we accept situations we are affirming them as “Thus I will it!” So where you see machine-like code I see productive desire, where you see cybernetics, I see individuation.
    To me this confirms my thesis that there is something profoundly ambiguous in Lacan, and thus in Lacanian readings of other philosophers. Such notions as “There is no meta-language” and “The Big Other does not exist” seem to pull Lacan in the direction of the poststructuralists, or even beyond them as Zizek would have it. Other themes, such as seeing the unconscious in terms of code, seem very reductive to me.
    The James quote does not seem to me to square with your idea of a limitation of spontaneity to yes or no, except in a very abstract sense, as James affirms that the degree of effort accorded to these acts of consent and of non-consent is a measure of the depth of our communication with the nature of things, of our worth as men, and of the originality of our contribution to the world. So our spontaneity is not reduced just to giving our yes or no, but includes the depth and effort that we accord to such giving. These are not just binary choices, but scalar values, of degrees of intensity, which seems much more in accord with Jamesian pluralism.

  2. It seems to me that, for James, if the “I” is to have any spontaneous positive role aside from being that which passively “thinks,” it is to contribute nudges — of various intensities, yes, but ultimately in an effort to either concentrate on one idea or put another out of our mind (and hence influence our motor processes indirectly).

    James’s theory as a whole is different from Lacan’s pure 0 and 1, but it’s interesting to me that in the last analysis he thinks of it in terms of a yes or no (and this is the final paragraph of the chapter on the will). What I’m gesturing toward is that if for James those consents or non-consents are the one space left for freedom, for Lacan it seems to be located at a meta-level of the subject’s stance toward that very sequence of 0s and 1s.

  3. In the text you cite there seem to be three levels
    1) consents and non-consents = dumb responses = Will = (productive) Desire (this is one space of freedom)
    2) the effort demanded by them (maybe this is not really a separate level, but its degree determines our worth as men)
    3) the amount of effort we accord (this according of effort seems to be a meta-level, assimilable to the subject’s stance, different from Lacan’s as it is on an intensive scale) (it constitues a second space of freedom, on the meta-level)
    I think you will concede that according more or less effort to our consents and dis-consents affects their depth and the degree of their communication with Nature (and not just their entrapment in stereotypes), so even this 0 or 1 level is subject to intensive variation going from superficial sensori-motor arcs to the deepest organs of communication with the nature of things.
    I would add that not all consents have the same value. Consenting to oppression is not the same as consenting to liberation. Consenting to multiplicity is not the same as consenting to monism. To take up the terms of Jeff Bell’s recent post, consenting to indiscipline (as Peirce does, and as I would argue James does) is not the same as consenting to order and identity. Binaries should not be homogenised into being equivalent from the point of view of binary logic, Deleuze and Guattari point out that binaries are qualitatively different. Lacan remains for me ambiguous in that he differentiates and homogenises at the same time.

  4. From a lexical point of view the quote begins with “Will” (“Will you or won’t you have it so?”). Conceptually it attributes to this disposition of the will the highest value (“most probing question”, “deepest organs”) and the effort invested in this willing the source of our value (“the measure of our worth as men”). The will for Nietzsche is a pluralist concept relating to a field of multiple forces with their quantities, qualities, and directions. We can see this formula for the will in an aphorism such as “A yes, a no, a straight line, a goal” where the link to consents and non-consents (plural) is clear. Willing is valuing for Nietzsche. Further the will is metamorphic, so the binary choice is no mere homogeneous distribution but is inseparable from transformatory bifurcations: eg the Three Metamorphoses of the Spirit in THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA. This concept of will affirms our own participation by consent and non-consent in what happens:To redeem what is past in man and to recreate all ‘it was’ until the will says, ‘Thus I willed it! Thus I shall will it!’.

  5. Don’t take this the wrong way, Terence, but if, in the future and in more formal venues, you want to link Thinker X to Nietzsche on the will, you might be well served by not making your leading point the occurrence of the word “will”.

    The redemption point also can’t help you; that can’t be part of a theory of the will since it’s explicitly retrospective. “Thus I willed it” doesn’t mean that I affirmed it at the time (indeed, if I did, there would be no need for it to be redeemed now with that form of words—it’s the fact that at the time “it was” that makes the transformation into “thus I willed it” meaningful) or even that there was a role for my affirming it at the time to play, a possibility concerning which Nietzsche is frequently quite skeptical (as in e.g. Gay Science 360).

Comments are closed.