Every God wants to die: Belated reflections on Westworld

At the time that Westworld first aired, I wasn’t interested. I partly blame the marketing, which presented it as an anchor-style show on the scale of Game of Thrones — and the premise made it sound like it would be just as nihilistically exploitative as Game of Thrones as well. The whole thing sounded exhausting, all the moreso given that the show would surely attract a high level of attention from online critical culture.

Mark this day on your calendar, because it could very well be the first time someone on the internet has openly admited he was wrong. Westworld is absolutely excellent. I think it would have been fun to participate in speculation about where the plot was heading as it happened, and meanwhile I probably could have ignored most of the articles worrying about whether each individual character was given the exactly correct level of agency in every single scene, etc.

The marketing really is to blame, though, because Westworld is not like Game of Thrones. It is more of a niche-market piece, on the scale of Leftovers. And it is the opposite of exploitative or nihilistic. Many shows try to have their cake and eat it too, shaming the audience members who wish that women were not fully human, for example, while still satiating their lusts. Westworld refuses that gambit. There is plenty of nudity, but not of the sensual or tittilating kind — it is the nudity of the slave ship or the concentration camp, the nudity of the morgue. Its violence is at times impressively choreographed, but it is all the more horrifying in that its victims can never escape or effectively fight back.

Westworld already preempts the horrifically ill-conceived Confederate by showing us an unromanticized picture of slavery — and allowing us to understand how such a regime could be tempting and could even seem self-evident. Continue reading “Every God wants to die: Belated reflections on Westworld”

formation, structuration, dialectic

Exactly sixty years ago, Jacques Lacan conducted his 5th seminar, Formations of the Unconscious, treating the phallus, castration, and jokes, and presenting the first version of the graph of desire.

One year ago, InterCcECT conducted a mini-seminar with Professor Chris Breu on the newly released Seminar 10: Anxiety.  Join us this year for a reprise, with the newly released Seminar 5: Formations of the Unconscious.  We will focus on the sections on “The Dialectic of Desire and Demand” – contact us for pdfs.

Monday, 14 August, 4pm, Volumes Bookcafe (Blue Line: Damen)

As always, write interccect at gmail dot com to propose events, and like us on Facebook for frequent links and commentary.

The Philosophy of Complaining

The outraged traveller, the disappointed gourmet, the lazy tweeter, the postoffice grouser: there are as many complainer genres as there are varieties of neurosis or flavors of potato chips. Everyone’s a critic, but what possible theory can unite these diverse types? What could carping and griping, lamenting and whining, tell us about subjectivity itself?

InterCcECT welcomes Aaron Schuster to lead a mini-seminar on the art, science, and pleasure of the complaint. We’ll read selections from his book The Trouble with Pleasure: Deleuze and Psychoanalysis, and his recent essay “Primal Scream, or Why Do Babies Cry? A Theory of Trump,” along with an excerpt from InterCcECTer Adam Kotsko’s book Awkwardness.

Join us Tuesday 18 April, 4:30-6:30pm at Volumes BookCafe 1474 N Milwaukee Ave (Blue Line: Damen). Coffee, booze, and snacks available amid the great indie book selection.

To request the readings, contact us.

Also on our calendar:

11 April “Designing Infrastructure”
13 April Jared Hickman, “Black Prometheus”
21 April Rodolphe Gasche

As always, get in touch to propose events, and follow us on facebook for frequent links and updates.

Love Trump’s Hate

In my initial reflections on the election result, I said that I felt ashamed. I was not the only one — anecdotally, that word showed up a lot in people’s gut reaction. In some ways, it’s a strange thing to say, especially when we look closely at the phrasing. I didn’t notice anyone saying that they were “ashamed to be an American” or “ashamed to be part of a country that could elect a man like that.” They were just “ashamed,” full stop.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, the presence of shame indicates that enjoyment has taken place. And oh, how we loved to hate Trump! And how we loved to perform that hate! It gave us every kind of political satisfaction. He was at once a horrible danger to the republic, meaning we were righteous and even brave for denouncing him, and a clown, so that linking regularly to his hate speech functioned as a kind of joke. It’s like we were all living in an episode of Family Guy, where racist and misogynist rhetoric is flying around and the audience is expected to laugh at it (i.e., to enjoy it on some level) while maintaining the plausible deniability of disapproval. Can you imagine? In this day and age? Best of all, we could indulge this hate more and more, because it was what would guarantee us victory. We wanted, needed him to go further — no matter how much it coarsened an already appalling public discourse, no matter how much it risked legitimating the very sentiments we hoped would delegitimate him.

After the initial shock, a similar cycle seems to be starting up. There are important differences, of course, now that it appears that he will actually assume office — though we get to continue writing our Electoral College fan fiction, hoping that the hated and antiquated institution will somehow save us. Now we point and laugh at his ignorance of what the presidency even entails, at his utter lack of planning for winning, etc. All of his transparently incompetent cabinet picks and advisors serve an analogous function — they show how he is simultaneously a horrible threat and that he’s an incompetent who can’t achieve anything. His promise to deport millions of people is at once the definitive proof that he’s a racist who means what he says and a logistical nightmare he can’t possibly carry out.

In a weird way, it’s as though the way we deal with him hasn’t fundamentally changed. And I bet we will one day look back at this reaction, at the ease with which we were able to fall into the familiar pattern of Trumpertainment, with shame.

Why Psychoanalysis?

When both scientism and the so-called “post-critical” movement are ascendent, what can possibly be the purchase of psychoanalysis?  Alenka Zupancic is going to tell us!  Join InterCcECT Tuesday 14 June for a reading group on her very short book “Why Psychoanalysis: Three Interventions.”  We’ll meet in the garden at Handlebar at the luxuriantly summery hour of 3pm.  Drop a note to interccect at gmail for the readings.

InterCcECT miniseminar on Eve Sedgwick

Eve Sedgwick’s profoundly supple thought surprisingly instigates both queer theory as we know it and that riposte to queer reading now called “post-critique.”  Her arc was dynamic, capacious, unpredictable, and we have only barely begun trace it.

InterCcECT is delighted to host a mini-seminar on Sedgwick’s work, led by Professor Zach Samalin.  Readings span the poles of her career and include “Epistemology of the Closet: Axiomatic”; “The Weather in Proust”; and “Melanie Klein and the Difference Affect Makes.”  Materials available by request: interccect at gmail

Join us Wednesday, 27 January, 5pm, at the Newberry Library (basement seminar room).  Red Line: Chicago.

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Check back soon for the announcement of our February session with Daniel Zamora.

Also on our calendar:

12 Jan Jason Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life

22 Jan Pete Coviello, The Wild Not Less Than the Good: Thoreau, Sex, Biopower

25 Jan Adam Kotsko @ UIC School of Architecture

28-29 Jan Beauty & Form

Identity, PTSD, and Trigger Warnings

I am in the middle of a research project right now on the history of psychoanalytic psychological testing. I am taking a broadly historical perspective on the evolution of theories of psychoanalysis and the ways in which our theories of development and psychopathology are mediated by the psychologist’s absorption in the sociocultural milieu. One of my guiding ideas is that individuals who are designated as mentally ill often reveal the dark underside of culture, as they are essentially the casualties of our sociocultural system. After all, built into the very definition of mental disorders in the DSM-5 is the requirement that the ‘mental disorder’ prevents the individuals from adequately functioning according to the standards of the day.

This has led to me try to begin thinking about the current times. A couple of things have jumped out at me in my research. First, I have been trying to come to terms with the emerging trend over the last years for people to be described as “empty”. Now, this idea has always puzzled me. How can a self be empty? What does it mean when individuals seek out psychological treatment citing emptiness as a major symptom? Does emptiness convey a desperate hunger? Does it suggest that the subject hates what s/he sees and thus reports feeling empty, i.e. is emptiness defensive? Does emptiness adequately capture the person’s internal experience? There are many cultural critics who have attempted to address this idea. Philip Cushman has written a cultural history of psychotherapy in the US and has noted the economic underpinnings of emptiness and the ways in which people turn to consumer capitalism to ‘fill up’ this void. Others such as Christopher Lasch decried the terrible narcissism of the 1970’s with its purported obsession with inner discovery. This afternoon I have been reading Lunbeck’s latest text The Americanization of Narcissism, and she casts a critical eye towards to these jeremiad condemnations of the modern American subject. She rightly points out that every younger generation is condemned by the older generation as being spoiled, hedonistic, self-absorbed, etc.

So, I began to think more about what is the current diagnosis of my generation (as someone who is 28). Well, enter the new Atlantic article on the coddling of the American mind (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/). I assume many of you read it. In it we encounter a long-winded somewhat whining criticism of the current university student in the United States. I want to address some of the issues laid out in the article.

On a broader cultural level, the trigger warning issue suggests to me that our generation’s is trying to address issues of validation, shame, and aggression. Part of the notion of trigger warning is that Person A exposes Person B to phenomena C that ‘triggers’ unpleasant reaction D in Person B. One of the problematic aspects underlying the concept is that Person B’s unpleasant reaction D is wholly created by Person A exposing Person B to phenomena C. It is as if you push a button in Person B then it is your fault for whatever reaction it generates. It strips Person B of agency, decision, or reflection, rendering Person B a machine that is simply activated whenever the controls are adjusted in a certain way. What is fascinating to me is that it is based upon a PTSD-based notion of subjectivity. In other words, a person’s sense of self is organized around certain traumatic events that s/he need to be utterly shielded from stimuli that threaten to fragment the integrity of the self.

Implicit in this notion is a prescription for moralistic behavior (i.e. since we all carry around unresolved issues that can easily be set-off if the individual is exposed to unfavorable circumstances then you should tread lightly). It leads to deep anxiety and undue guilt in Person A, as if Person A is wholly responsible (and thus guilty) for whatever reaction Person B experiences. I hear this type of discourse at my work in a psychiatric hospital. Generally, we hear about how some patient has triggered another patient. The person who has been triggered (traumatized?) then attempts to exert a level of control over others by warning people about this vulnerability. It is based on the notion that someone should never be triggered, as if the person’s vulnerability is everyone else’s responsibility. I think what I am trying to say is that the agency and responsibility of the subject is being undermined with the PTSD-model of subjectivity.

At the same time, I think there are reasons to be critical of the Atlantic article. For instance, the notion that our generation is being coddled (intellectually) while we are being destroyed financially through the overpricing of advanced education seems suspect to me. Furthermore, I think many politically active students have pointed out the particular examples highlighted in the article are skewed in a certain direction. The article generally portrays students as excessively irrational and hypersensitive. The recent racial issues on campuses from Missouri to Yale highlighted these issues. In some examples, the media depicts the students as needlessly sensitive or alternatively as being subjected to intense discrimination. Also, the idea of prescribing to students ‘cognitive behavior therapy’ to make them more rational seems woefully naïve and stupid, almost like thought policing college freshmen. College is about being offended and learning from one another. I am not currently in a university, having graduated two years ago with my doctorate in psychology. I am curious what others thought (both students and professors) about this article. I am personally trying to understand what is going on psychologically and sociologically with the ways in which identity is being expressed and shaped in our current cultural moment. I would also appreciate any suggested readings people have.