Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Samo Tomšič, The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan (Verso 2015)

"Building on this argument, Tomšič argues that the unconscious is not the realm of the irrational or the private, as we so often think, a place where social reality is suspended. On the contrary, it is a terrain where the political system is most effectively reproduced, a space which is territorialized and organized by social and political reality. Tomšič then shows that the idea of homology between political and libidinal economy implies that the same discursive structures operate in the subjective and social realities. The effect of this is that we are made to feel that the structure of our desires and the structure of our society mirror each other. Consequently, the grip of capitalism intensifies on an unconscious level, making capitalism seem inevitable and unavoidable. In other words, Tomšič shows that whilst capitalism appears to be the effect or our desires, we are better off seeing our desires as the effect of capitalism.

Ultimately, the point is to show that, for psychoanalysis, the unconscious has always been a battlefield, where a confrontation with the predominant social structure takes place, and where the subjective consequences of this structure can be analyzed. At the very least, we need to recognize that the unconscious is political in order to have any hope of working out how we are created as subjects by political conditions and to have any chance of potentially changing anything.
Tomšič then extends the key argument of the book: that effects of capitalist modes of production can be made visible and challenged through a new approach to the unconscious and capitalism together. He uses Marxist theory to argue that the modern state can be defined as a state in which every citizen is placed in the position of the ‘debtor,’ so that we all feel we ‘owe’ something back to the state, which in turn is placed in the position of the ‘creditor.’ Tomšič’s analysis here strikes me as true both practically (in a debt based society in which all use credit for student loans, mortgages and shopping) and more abstractly (our constant feeling that we ought to ‘give something back’ to society and to our employer). Tomšič then joins this Marxist analysis with a Lacanian one, writing:
The equivalent of the placement of the citizen in the position of the debtor is the transformation of the subject into a quantifiable and exploitable subjectivity, which is indebted in advance and is also produced as such.
Thus, the unconscious of each subject, each worker in capitalism, is structured in this particular way by capitalism. Tomšič shows that the Lacanian subject is not a natural or essential one that cannot be changed, but one who is the effect or symptom of political and social conditions. In short, capitalism has modified and changed the Lacanian ‘lacking’ subject into a new subject: the indebted subject. It has done this to turn us into a labor force whose energy can be harnessed.
When Marx famously wrote that “history is the history of class-struggles”, he did not mean that we have always had the same old inevitable class struggle throughout history. He meant, instead, that class struggle determines what we call history and that, as Walter Benjamin would later say, the history we tell is “the history of the victor” in this struggle. Tomšič shows that the history of the unconscious needs to be seen in this light. Far from being something that has always been there, remaining the same, the unconscious has been determined by battles fought out and won, and least in the last few centuries, by capitalism"

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