Overcoming self-overcertainty and how ideologues are often wrong

Overcertainty about the world has its psychological correlate of paranoia. When Adam named all the animals, did he not feel uncertainty that he had perhaps named them incorrectly? The names he gave to them were surely arbitrary, having little to do with their actual genus and species. (One presumes that Adam didn’t know this kind of science, which was able to apply labels according to some rational criteria.)

Lacan speaks of knowledge as having a paranoiac structure, but I believe what he was really getting at with that idea is that one must generally pay the price for one’s indulgence in over-certainty by being visited by the niggling voice of conscience which suggests: “Hey, Buddy, perhaps, after all, you got it wrong?”

My views pertain to Yin and Yang, or rather more generally to the notion that genuine knowledge is never fixed nor set in stone once and for all, but always requires openness to the possibility of error. To assert one’s truths is desirable. But to deny the possibility of error in one’s truths is one’s undoing. Knowledge is not one-sided, and it is a brittle form of knowledge that is forced to play that role of supporting a one-sided system of rhetoric. (It is likely that Lacan’s idea fhat knowledge is intrinsically paranoiac is because he saw knowledge in patriarchal terms — as it it were only Yang — and did not conceive that receptivity in regard to the possibility of error is the basis for overcoming cognitive paranoia.)

Contemporary interpreters of Nietzsche have also failed to conceive that the Socratic method of interrogating an overblown and exaggerated self-certainty about what one is or is not known is the path to psychological health.   Indeed, as per Nietzsche, there are some modes of questioning that are in fact intended to put noble natures into doubt. Yet genuine nobility should have nothing to fear from Socratic dialogue (so long as it does not become particularly political or forceful) — for genuine nobility retains its noble nature whether or not it is proven to have got certain things wrong. 

As for making moral integrity a characteristic of perfect knowledge — this is precisely what undermines the development of actual knowledge,  since it makes everyone too afraid to admit what they don’t know. (It would be the equivalent of admitting that one is a moral degenerate for not already having learned a particular, important fact.) 

As for making moral integrity a characteristic of perfect knowledge — this is precisely what undermines the development of actual knowledge,  since it makes everyone too afraid to admit what they don’t know. (It would be the equivalent of admitting that one is a moral degenerate for not already having learned a particular, important fact.)

 It is the mistake of contemporary ideologues to link moral integrity to the possession of perfect knowledge.  This linkage belongs to Plato, not to Nietzsche.  All the same, Nietzsche places too much emphasis on being and not enough on knowing.  Being is a form of knowing in some cases, as when one knows what it means to be a lizard by acting and behaving like one — for one is actually a lizard.  Otherwise (and in the case of humans) knowledge and being are separate but they practically intertwine and thus transform each other.  We have to be open to change and transformation, otherwise, we are all moral reprobates for not knowing from birth all that there is to know. (Interestingly, both Plato and Nietzsche, for totally different reasons, desire us to learn only what it is already intrinsic within us to know. Nietzsche seems to think one should not attempt revolutionising the mind, but pursue a gentle evolutionary process. Unlike Bataille, he was also keen to maintain social hierarchies.)

nature, lack, castration, and Lacan

When Lacan speaks of the idea that we are “castrated” (and thus are introduced into language by virtue of a “lack”)  he seems to be entering a framework defined by metaphysics. When we lose touch with the self-sufficiency of Nature, we enter a realm governed by the intellect, which organises the world on the basis of abstract reason along with the postulation of notions of “essences”, which are not to be found with the bare eyes, looking empirically for them, in Nature.

What my old Zim school friends seem to lack, apparently, is lack. It seems to me that they do not wander in the corridors of metaphysics at all. The degree of lack in their lives has been so slight, that recourse to the intellect as a way of coming to terms with life has hardly been necessary for them. Their orientation towards the world still remains relatively natural, if not indeed to the degree of being “one” with Nature. Their degree of closeness to the idea and sensations of consolation by Nature is greater than mine.

Due to my abrupt departure from Africa, I have two culturally different selves — one behind the wall of possibility now. The old self is very much undifferentiated from nature, at least in terms of my own subjectivity. My old self expected to move through life without much need to contend for anything. The fluidity of such a self, that would move through society as it moved through a rain forest is gone now. My later self, a much more intellectual and capable self, is free of the naivety that had expected social fluidity. Yet the “lack” (as per Lacan) that is acquired through a loss of unity with nature is ultimately stored up as an excess of unutilised and disconnected possiblities (including the possiblities of meaning something — an aspect of (unpredictable) resourcefulness stored up within a subjectivity that is necessarily unfinished). The self that is separated from nature is therefore more dynamic than the self that is relatively more attached to it.



UPDATED:  All is well again. I have aborted my long term attempts to adjust to something I had identified as “Western culture”.   It turned out, I had been trying to adapt to Western identity politics — which is, of course, designed to be impossible, like wearing a hair shirt or lying on a bed of nails.


Just like Althusser, who appropriated his paradigm, Lacan can be viewed as a high Modernist, in the sense that he gives place to any subject only to the degree that the subject has become a predictable machine (a machine = by definition calculable, predictable). In terms of this paradigm, the subject must be a thoroughly scientifically comprehensible object in order to be recognised as a proper social subject. The object, “woman”, is thus an empty set, precisely because the subject-position of “woman” in patriarchal society is thought not to yield anything predictive about the behaviour of whatever is there, within this patriarchal subject-position.

So to understand Lacanianism is to understand that neatness and predictability must prevail within this paradigm — a paradigm which is essentially mechanistic.

What kind of people does such an actual social system (if the paradigm as a form of analysis, is anything like accurate about it) churn out? What kind of view of people does such a paradigm (in itself) reinforce?

Do we see anything like those sort of people in the contemporary Zimbabwe of today?

Lacan and Lacanians

I think what Lacan and Lacanians fail to take into account is that there are degrees of castration. (And perhaps in addition to this, there are different levels of it — more than one castration.)

If ‘castration’ is, as what it is indicated to be, a movement from the realm of nature into the realm of civilisation, then there are obviously degrees of this, depending on what kind of civilisation we are talking about. In terms of tribalistic civilisation, the degree of castration (away from Nature) will probably be much less than it is, say, under an industrial totalitarian and militaristic regime.

Lacan and the pleasure factor in politics

Theory, Culture & Society


Politics and the Impossible: Beyond Psychoanalysis and Deconstruction Glyn DalyTheory Culture Society 1999; 16; 75DOI: 10.1177/02632769922050728 The online version of this article can be found at:http://tcs.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/16/4/75

They key of the article for me is the incompleteness of identity as a psychic (soul) structure. Nobody’s identity is as complete as they feel it should be. We are all necessarily “decentered” in the postmodern sense — which is to say, in the Lacanian sense, we are all necessarily “castrated” (unless we are psychotic and do not feel that there is any difference between subjectivity and objectivity — but it is awareness of this difference that in technical terms “castrates” us whilst making us able to communicate objectively, in a way that makes sense to others). So we are all “castrated” so as to enter society and therefore have a depletion of jouissance (which I interpret to mean that sense of immediacy, of direct gratification in communion with the world, where pleasure-pain are barely differentiated). Nonetheless, none of us completely lack jouissance, or we would be robotic and spock-like. We have been castrated away from an infantile repletion in jouissance, but we still experience it, within the cracks of our socialised existence and the logic that pertains to that.

According to the article, however, the ruling classes and other politically influential groups are inclined to the mode of thinking that it is normal not to be decentred, but to have a fully complete identity. I read this as meaning that they want to have their cake and eat it too — to be able to be non-psychotic members of society, but also to have all of their jouissance (the collapse of objectivity into subjectivity, which defines sexual pleasure and/or psychosis).

Because they implicitly lack the understanding that in the psychic economy we cannot have all our jouissance AND be functioning members of society, and because these influential groups experience that necessary and universal constraint as being a “lack” in the constitutions of their own identities, they feel resentful. Instead of embracing the reality principle that this is simply how it is, they go on the warpath.

Specifically, they conclude that is is the social “other” — those who are not fully assimilated to a particular nationalistic identity or so on — who have stolen the interest group’s “jouissance”.

The dynamic of mis-identification that I have outlined above explains why it is that those who have the most power in society often attack those who have the least power in society. They see in the definitive “other” the missing element of their own jouissance. It is as if they figure out that the missing part of their totalitarian nationalist identity can be found in this other, who has gone astray by virtue of being “other”. By being other, they reason, these (marginal people or members of the oppressed classes) have undermined and decentered the national identity. They have stolen the “jouissance” — the sense of completeness — from the national state. That is the reasoning of the dominant classes, who want to get their “jouissance” back from those who are most oppressed.

In order to get back “their” jouissance (which obviously never was theirs in the first place), the dominant classes seek to prevent the lower classes from experiencing any jouissance of their own, by constantly harrassing them (or in the case given by the article, regarding Muslim women in Bosnia — by removing the community’s ability to experience jouissance by means of rape.)

Western education = generalised madness

My insight comes originally from my father’s behaviour, and how I understood that — even at the time, somehow I gave it a post- or quasi-Freudian reading, without realising that I was doing so. What happened is that I got a strong impression, when he was yelling at me, that he was yelling at his mother: He seemed to be yelling at someone he felt to be omnipotent (the phallic mother, in Lacan’s terms.) Also he was yelling at me concerning what he thought my characteristics were — which were wholly negative in his eyes, and nothing I could have been responsible for in terms of my own treatment of him. So I concluded that he was yelling at his mother. I also realised that if someone had laid down the law for him (the law of the father — in Lacan’s terms) and basically warned him off, he would have gratefully accepted the externally imposed limits. [This didn’t happen — and that led to me viewing Western society as deeply negligent or psychotic.] The laying down the law by a respected representative of society (which he did not see me to be), would have given him his chance at his third sweep at resolving the Oedipus complex (which was the need behind why he turned me into his mother, to begin with!)

However, I think there is a misplaced tenderness, perhaps, that is behind this whole tendency in society, which was only evinced more extremely in my father’s behaviour towards me. I feel that there is a tendency in society these days to view women in terms of the register of the Imaginary, as if they were omnipotent. They are also simultaneously viewed as mothers (thus indicating a lack of psychic recognition of the castration of the mother). This puts an unconscionable amount of pressure on all women who are not 100 per cent perfect as would befit their phallic mother status. So in the register of the Real, we women constantly rebound against our imperfections in the eyes of others. However we are held to the standard of 100 per cent perfection, all the same. And we are held to being nurturing and representing mothers.

It seems that a societal trend not to impose “castration” means that few people properly enter the register of the Symbolic. (If more did, there would be a greater concession on the part of society that humans are human and not meant to be omnipotent.) Alas, society as a whole seems to preponderate around the level of the Imaginery (a level of regression or stunted development). This actually leads to a lot of needless vulgarity, misunderstandings, misogyny, and narcissistic competition and abuse.

Shamanistic language, she is not …

Shamanistic language is not the language of Lacan’s symbolic order, denotative and stable. Rather it is the language of incantation. It presumes change and instability in the nature of the world. Thus the world is a politically charged hive of meaning, subject to change and manipulation from the shaman’s point of view. The nature of the world is neither fixed by logic nor by formal religious or political dispensation of rights. Reality, although perceived as limited by whatever its current manifestations may be, is subject to pressures brought to bear from the realm of the imagination (or, in more traditional terms, the realm of “spirits”). This primary realm of the imagination is conceived as the antecedent and progenitor of the profane and limited world or ordinary reality.

Due to its primary metaphysical position, the imagination is able to force changes of a political and social sort, within the everyday realm. The power of language, brought under the shaman’s control as a servant of his rather particular will, is one means by which reality can be altered. This is what Marechera means when he refers to ordinary or everyday reality as “the available reality” – it is the reality that is currently made manifest on the basis of arbitrary determinations. Due to the primacy of position that Marechera gives to the imagination, his views roughly parallel those of the French Situationists [http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/graffiti.htm]:

“Every view of things that is not strange is false.”

Forget everything you’ve been taught. Start by dreaming.

Going through the motions kills the emotions.

Those who lack imagination cannot imagine what is lacking.

Imagination is not a gift, it must be conquered.

The shaman is one who has conquered the force of their own imagination – so much so that they are able to use the powers of the imagination, like an experienced hang-glider, as a life-enhancing force. The glider’s skilful knowledge of the structures and behaviour of the thermals (high pressure systems) enables them to remain bouyant. Such experiential knowledge enables one to ride the forces of one’s passions whilst minimising the chance of harm. Shamans have the kind of experiential self knowledge that makes their passions servants to the shaman’s will, rather than aspects of the self that are dangerously unknown or unpredictable.

Organisation keeps one sane

As I take my struggle through many academic articles — the struggle to see Lacan as representing more than a wet-behind-the-ears-patriarchy: “Take that knife away from it; it’s going to injure itself!” — I start to see that Lacan himself allows that more is involved in interacting than to utilise the formality of language as a predetermined social system of meanings.

According to Lacan: One uses language only because one is oh-so-needy. And it is an effort to use language when one’s laurels have been quite resplendent for sitting. The human machine optimizes itself on the basis of a biological (or psychological) calculation — to expend one’s energies only when necessary; that is, only when one is in a state of lack. (There is a certain Darwinist logic to all this — one has to need a feature such as language in order to have it. If there was no sun to crave the light of, light blind fish we would not have our eyes.)

Yet, as always, it is what Lacan seems to smuggle into his equations about human developmental maturity and language that leaves more than a small space to wonder. Questions that none of the articles explicitly address are: What kinds of ideologies are we led to adopt when we are led to adopt language for the first time? Also, on what basis can it be assumed that these ideologies –inherent in different systems of language; that is, in different cultural systems — are automatically healthy and great for us. I mean to say, so long as we are speaking language with the best of them, how does this guarantee that we are not psychotic?

IN simpler terms: Is achieved social conformity really the guardian at the gate that prevents psychosis?

It seems to me that Lacan’s theoretical construction smuggles in this notion, but in a way that is not obvious. He simply does not address the issue.

The complexity of his points about normal psychological development seem to be reducible to his idea that so long as we have order in our minds (and no doubt in our behaviour patterns, too), we have escaped insanity. The principle of social order is the principle of sanity. Order in the individual comes from social organisation. The principle of non-order or chaos signifies madness, of course. But this non-order seems not to be defined in terms of the individual in relation to herself alone, but in terms of his or her accommodation to, or non-accommodation to the patterns of society — which are given as the basis for “order”.

Nonetheless, the social order might be mad. To refuse to walk in lockstep with the social order — say, of Nazi Germany — might turn me mad in terms of Lacan’s paradigm. Surely, I would lose my structure for existence (in detachment from society), and thus lose my mind? Walking in lock step guarantees my sanity like nothing else can do. Is it worth bothering to do anything different, in that case? I should hold on to what I can get, and not bother expending any energy that would not serve to cater to my needs.

Lacan’s realm of the “Imaginary” will leave me no way out if I decide to secede from the demands of the symbolic order. This is an order of immature thinking filled with useless archetypes. I could perhaps play at seceding from the nazi order by pretending I was Che Guevara — but everybody would just know I wasn’t. I would eventually be brought around to realising the folly of my ways, especially when the nazis killed my family to convince me. After that, I would happily walk in lockstep, realising the ridiculous nature of my immaturity that had led me down that inefficient path.

What to do then? I know the nazis cannot ever fulfil me in my deepest desires by making me feel whole and satisfied with things, and yet they do offer me my sanity. That is the best that I can hope for.

Sometimes I am overrun with a feeling at the gut level that there is something inherently wrong with the whole system of nazi affairs and heil hitler, but Lacan cautions me that this feeling is just a regressive intrusion of “the real”, and that these feelings have no relation to human culture functioning at its peak level of efficiency. Giving in to that kind of foolishness of feeling will just make me an hysteric. It is better to attend closely to what Hitler says.


The savage, Lacan and shamanism

From Lacan (but actually from Wikipedia):

—The pervert [is one who] disavows castration; he perceives that the mother lacks the phallus, and at the same time refuses to
accept the reality of this traumatic perception.

 A “pervert” in Lacanian terms is clearly someone who may well be culturally Japanese, for he or she holds that  “nature” still has meaning, relevance and, indeed potency.
Such “a pervert” (in my terms, a shaman) engages with that meaning and potency in nature in a shamanistic fashion, which is deemed “perverse” by the Judeo-Christian ideological establishment defined by Freud (Judaism) and Lacan (Catholicism).
Judeo-Christianity, a distinctly Western way of structuring thought, opposes and pathologizes naturalistic sensibilities, whilst maintaining that “castration” ought to be accepted as defining sanity.


Marechera sayeth:

To be able to read and write is […] only the first downward step towards the first circle where black fires rage inconsumably. Candide’s experience of the world is the nearest we can get to the series of cerebral shocks which await the savage who is earnestly in search of culture. ‘There is nothing here but illusion, and one calamity after another.’ The experience is not unlike that of one organism living on and at the expense of another. (p 33, The Black Insider).

What, though, is the “organism” that lives on at the expense of another, if not “civilisation” that lives on at the expense of our innocence and our naive “savagery”?

According to what I have just read this morning about Lacan:

‘Castration’ […] is the moment at which we become human beings, for the Law makes us ‘parle-etre’ or speaking beings. Language from then on structures our desires: language comprises the Symbolic Order. We figuratively must ‘be told’ what we feel and think through the big Other, the arbitrarily and socially-constructed matrix of words, which is the active functioning of the Symbolic Order.

Reading and writing are strong motifs of Civilisation and of being civilised. In European civilisation (such as the France of Lacan), “language” itself stands for the term ‘civilisation’ — probably because to speak is to give one’s obeisance to the social necessities of one’s existence as commanded by some complex dominating structure of power or ideological hegemony. In African societies, however, it is possible that “language” has some equivalence to nature, rather than being totally determined by the history of civilisation itself. For Marechera, then, it is not ‘language’ but reading and writing which contradict one’s natural state of being and put one in the outer circle of Dante’s Inferno.


I read that Lacan considers that males are those whose desires are determined by seeking power through acquiring. Women are those whose desires are determined by seeking power through a mode of being.

Modes of being and acquiring are both features of lack — since coming to be civilised (and hence human) and coming to be castrated are the same thing, both caused by a sense of lack (which can be read as a deficiency in our emotional — and no doubt economic — independence as isolated, non-social organisms). Becoming civilised, then, does actually imply a calamity — castration! (that is — to be “civilised” one must accept one’s absolute dependency on others, paying the price that is required: that is, sucking up to dominant orders who promise to run things ‘in our best interests’).

Lacan holds that society turns us into “men” or “women” depending on the exact manner of the boomeranging of our desires (which can go in only two possible directions when we are still children). What about the resolute savage, though? Is there not a third direction for our desires ?

If one is already born into a late form of civilisation, one could say desire boomerangs off the mother, due to her limitations to fulfil one’s every wish. Perhaps even if one is originatively savage (which is to say that one already lives beyond the limiting structures of the bourgeois nuclear family, which would restrict a child’s immediate options for being powerful to what would be approved by mummy and daddy), desire necessarily boomerangs off the mother to other sources of interest. Yet, the savage’s desire boomerangs on to the immediately fascinating aspects of the natural environment, which are imbued with animistic powers.

The savage, henceforth, finds limitless fascination in the natural environment and with regard to the “adventures” it offers. It is as if the savage child exchanges one teat — a female human teat — for another. He or she finally embraces their true destiny — which is to emotionally feast on the abundant pleasures offered by the natural landscape.

He will continue to face life with joyful abandon — unless inducted into reading and writing. These represent calamity as they stem from a European hegemony of culture, which (given that this represents “civilisation” itself) requires one to be castrated.

Since the above is the normative dynamic of civilisation in relation to nature (the force of one necessarily castrates the pleasure of the other — only more so than perhaps thought, because the former is also a hegemony) — one wonders why, under any circumstances, “the savage” should be “earnestly in search of culture.” As I have said, the natural situation of the savage is definitively NOT one of lack — which should therefore preclude such seeking.

Why is this savage “earnestly seeking” culture? — Perhaps because nature has already been taken away from him, in his particular instance. In any case, the more he seeks, the more he lets go of the possibility of returning to nature, and to its consolations. Thus he faces one calamity after the other, being aware of what he has left behind, but being unable to return to it — whilst falling more and more into the centre of hell in his abject search for “culture”.


Reading Anne McClintock on Lacan, it appears to me that Lacan de-erotices gender relations by placing them within a context of absolute difference which is very reminiscent of Achille Mbembe’s description of the conceptual differentiation between the coloniser and those who are colonised.

[references Heidegger]: “To command an animal (the slave or the colonised) was to play a game of attempting to get him/her out of the encirclement [presumably, as a being existent only within the sphere of objects] while being aware that the circle was never thereby reduced, since grooming and domestication occured almost always in the animal’s own distinctive drives. In other words, it was to play this game while conscious that, although the animal (the colonised) could belong to the conscious world, have needs (hunger, thirst, copulation) , it could never truly accede to the sphere of human possibility. [On the postcolony, p 28].

Such objectification by Lacan seems to be the product of either deep disappointment or gayness, in my view.

Now, if the colonised is freed (but of course this involves a mental adjustment), in the realm of human possibility  — and this is not Lacan