Affects and Lacanian Theology

One of the more admirable aspects of Colette Soler’s work is her allegiance to theological concepts, which we should remember, Lacan himself took very seriously. In Lacanian Affects: The Function of Affect in Lacan’s Thought, theological and philosophical concepts such as sin, guilt, God, and the ethics of virtue–all of which were crucial to Lacan’s understanding of the four discourses and to the contemporary symbolic–are thought in the context of our contemporary capitalist juncture. I want to talk about how this makes her text an especially valuable contribution to Lacanian thought.

Soler reads Lacan as an analyst and she reads his ethics as one formed around modesty (which is the primary virtue in the era of a decline in the S1 or master signifier). This line of an ethics of modesty in Lacan is notably absent in Marxist Lacanians who prefer to formalize Lacan’s ethical maxim from the Ethics seminar, which states that the subject must never compromise on their desire. We find this in Badiou’s ethics starting in Theory of the Subject, where the professors of desire don’t perform an adequate destruction of the symbolic or splace of class domination.

The ethics of modesty, on the other hand, and much of Soler’s reading of Lacan, is based on an ethics of interpretation of the symptom, it is based in a conception of capitalism that argues there can be no social bond without symbolic productions or semblances. Anguish is the most central/important affect of capitalism as it is the affect the subject feels when he perceives himself as an object. Lacan sought to provide a matheme for capitalism which implied that what is at work in capitalist discourse is a situation wherein there are no bonds formed between human partners (38 – 39). The capitalist discourse has no Other – it is only subjects and what is produced. The capitalist bond leaves all ties broken and forces each of us to come face-to-face with plus de joir object.

In Soler’s reading of Lacan’s ethics, it is a sin to not want to know anything about your unconscious desire (71) and this can go so far as a mortal sin of foreclosure as we find in mania, which risks the very survival of the body. What Lacan’s ethics of modesty aims towards is the production of a joyful knowledge which is based on resisting the meaning of textual knowledge, but all the same tethering with it.

In other words, the ethics of deciphering the text around us is the goal. This ethics is formed out of the analytic act itself — wherein we must constantly decipher the signifiers and images that determine our symptoms over and above the capitalist demand to perfect one’s story. This difference is what makes psychoanalysis different than the capitalist version of self we find in the narrative of neoliberalism which states the pinnacle of human freedom is found in the figure of the entrepreneur, or the self-autonomous subject shaped by the market. Such a subject, which is the pinnacle of the capitalist discourse, is a subject that thinks it can persist without any reliance on a relation with the Other. We find this figure appear in the TED-talk model, which insists that the self can be discovered through perfecting one’s story. The flip side of this tendency arises in repressive tolerance in its neoliberal variation, which insists that an enemy can be eliminated as an illusion if only the enemy’s story is able to be uttered to the Other.

Our discontent in the era of the decline of the S1 is tied also to the fact that jouissance does not constitute a relationship (80) and as such, there is no semblance that is made up to manage the couple crisis, or lack thereof. The only virtue, assuming there is no sexual relationship, is modesty. Just as the only virtue is tied to modesty, the only sin for Lacan is found in the subject who finds no place of nomination in the symbolic.

One of the more helpful ways that Soler introduces the question of God and of belief in God is in her analysis of the decline of the S1, or the master signifier in late capitalism. This decline brings about a shame at being alive as the S1 is responsible for the creation and furthering of values and morals and in such a social situation, the subject is faced with a shame of being alive. This shame is tied to the fact that the S1 has wavered in our present culture.

In university discourse, on the other hand, which places knowledge in the position of the master. What Lacan sought to point out is that the master does not operate on brute force, but operates on the power of the Word. So Soler helps us to understand the famous statement of Lacan to the students of May 68 whom he told “As revolutionaries, you are hysterics who demand a new master.” We can locate shame at the level of having to bring back the S1.

But there is a different, more revolutionary type of shame that Soler identifies, one that awakens the subject to being riveted to oneself, to a foreign self inside oneself (97). This type of shame is interesting insofar as it is connected to an ‘unknown affect’ that does not attest to what escapes from the signifier. This enigmatic affect attests to knowledge that remains foreign to the subject, or more precisely, to knowledge that is enjoyed, “in the enjoying, the conquest of this knowledge is renewed every time it is exercised” (Lacan 1998, p. 89).

Enigmatic affects are potentially revolutionary, or to use a term that Soler uses which I found interesting, they are “dissident affects” that produce incredulity (112). To be incredulous about something means to not believe. It is here that we return to God. There are two different forms of believing: first, there is believing when there is a hole in the symbolic, when the lack throws in the towel, we believe by inventing something to fill over this lack. This is belief at the level of primal repression, or what Lacan calls “God in person,” and what Soler calls “the religion of the hole” (Soler, 2010). Interestingly, my understanding of religion of the hole is that it is the normative mode by which we believe today. There is a moment of resignation with the decline of the S1 and every act of belief is a wager to fill the hole that the absent S1 leaves.

The second mode of belief is a more refined belief tied back into the ethics of deciphering, modesty and ultimately to the sinthome. This mode of belief finds enjoyment of the real outside of meaning. It creates a myth outside of meaning and this version of belief is one that you might call the pinnacle of a new category of refined belief–a new faithful subject.

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