From Civilisation to Globalisation I
Since the end of the Second World War, the world has changed. And this change can be put into order starting from the concept of discourse as Lacan formalised it1. The progress made by the discourses of capitalism and science allows us to grasp the effects of it.
The Capitalist Discourse and its Subject
As for every discourse, the discourse of capitalism account for a loss of jouissance that is impossible to recover. This loss of jouissance is always perceived as a theft, and its return is always located on the side of the Other, the Master. Freud describes the same libidinal displacements within the circuit of the drive. But Marx was the first to knot these two unknown displacements of the libido, which made Lacan say that he is the inventor of the symptom. This symptom as it was discovered by psychoanalysis in its beginning is still valid today. Scientific obscurantism in the 21st century may very well decide to ignore it, which does not prevent it from existing.
This capitalist discourse rejects the first loss of jouissance and suspends its return. The symptom ceaselessly reiterates this double movement of refusal of the loss and its return so as to totalise it, which it does not miss. This is the fundamental stereotypy of the symptom. This discourse thus accomplishes a foreclosure of castration. In Freud’s era, civilisation and its discontents centred itself essentially on loss, whilst today, globalisation centres itself especially on the second time of the return of jouissance without limits. For Lacan, the discourse of the unconscious must be clarified with this capitalist discourse.
Capitalism has allowed a new subject to emerge. He is very much an effect of language, but is no longer subjected to the master signifier which is repressed. That is to say that the signifiers of the social Other no longer identify him. We particularly observe this with regards to homosexuality or autism, current symptomatic stakes for the DSM. These subjects refuse the segregation induced by the dominant discourse which classes them respectively within perversions or psychoses. These worn-out master-words no longer index the real that is at stake and are rejected.
More generally, the capitalist subject refuses the authority of the Master. And “the authority crisis” names this phenomenon of the decline of the Master at every level of democratic societies. However, the function of the master-words is also the mortification of jouissance. When the master-word is repressed, the mortification of jouissance – castration – no longer operates. The consequence of this at the level of the body is decisive. There are no longer any limits upon the production of the object (a) surplus-enjoyment. This is exploitation to death. The reason for this is that it is not only having that is concerned, but also being. The subject is even more abandoned to the authority of the absolute master in so far as he is not identified to any particular master. Death is the only limiting principle for jouissance when castration no longer operates.
Capitalism has known two major modifications during the last thirty years. Firstly, it has become globalised. Effectively, since the fall of the Berlin wall, communist nations have come together under the market economy. It is then legitimate to say that there is no longer civilisation, but globalisation in which subjects are suffering particularly from addictions without any limits founded upon the unlimited return of the surplus-enjoyment. Next, capitalism has become “scientific” – financial capitalism should be called scientific capitalism. Its subject is the generalised proletarian, because nothing allows him to uphold a discourse, as the phenomenon of the ‘Indignados’ shows us. It is no longer necessary to place the proletarian in factories in order to extract the surplus-enjoyment from him. The financial crisis of 2008 showed this, it suffices to lure him by means of investments which have the appeal of casino winnings, reduced to a few opaque mathematical equations (securitization) in order to transform him into a homeless person at the first crisis of confidence. The phenomenon of solitude and its autistic satisfaction gives an idea of the worldwide expansion of this phenomenon.
The Scientific Discourse and its Subject
With science, the master-signifier no longer functions either. What is more, science reduces the effect of a series of functions of discourse: The signifier is reduced to its effect of letter –mathematics only uses letters– and the object (a) surplus-enjoyment is rejected; there, the dialectical work of truth is no longer possible because the subject’s division is neutralised. Castration then no longer operates. Truth and the singular real of libido are disconnected. The only real at stake in this discourse obeys universal laws, and not a singular cause: It is the real of the organism which is to be distinguished from that of the body. The analytic discourse has shown, in effect, since its beginnings in the 20th century, that the body is always a speaking body, which evidently is not the case of the organism which is a matter of science.
The subject of science dates from the cogito and is nothing other than a void. It is a pure subject. It is decisive to see this, because science no longer needs to turn to the intuition of the body. It does without the body. Now science operates solely on the organism and its real. This pure subject of science does not exist anywhere, but it is necessary to grasp that science veils the part of the subject that expresses itself in the fantasy and which is correlated to the object (a). The subject thus neutralised in his division becomes universalising. He increasingly lends himself to the logic of classes. But the liberation from the body provokes a disjunction between the body and the object (a), between the universality of the body and the particularity of the object (a). The object (a) is an empty set, it is therefore incorporeal. When it is rejected, it gallops off all by itself, separated from the body. But it is also ready to recapture the bodies again at the first opportunity. This is the case of every natural or industrial object (a). This object (a) is not inert. It is a bit like a black hole, it is an object “that wants”. Let us take the example of the object (a) gaze and its relation to the body. The gaze increasingly captures the bodies in our societies under surveillance, whether outside on the street by way of increasingly numerous cameras, but also in the home by way of television or computer screens without counting mobile telephones and other mobile tablets transportable everywhere, all the time. In other words, this object (a) has on the body the effect of a push-to-enjoying, from which it cannot be separated for long. When it returns towards the organism, it then manifests itself in all sorts of addictions which make up contemporary symptoms. It is the same insatiable gaze object that scrutinises the private life of everyday people through shows of the so-called reality TV; it is also this object that feeds upon the vicissitudes of the private lives of our modern masters whose mediatisation is demanded without delay. But when the media mirror no longer provides a veil, the awaited ideal does not appear, and disappointment is then assured. The ideal of the normal man is without doubt in the spirit of our times. However, this fiction which gathers together also contains within itself the germ of ulterior dispersion. Effaced for only a short time, it does not miss re-appearing and manifesting itself in particular as the small difference to which each one holds on, as though to his most precious possession. Let us add that the subject of science, liberated from the body, is also a subject without shame. Following the same principle, the emancipation of the oral object provokes worldwide epidemics of obesity or anorexia, from the earliest age.
Science and capitalism are united for better and for worse. They have engendered the most important progress of humanity. However, the deep modifications that they impose on discourse also generate new forms of discontent. Evaluation has come to reinforce this globalised discontent. Contemporary discontent knows no traditional frontiers and this is why it is justifiable today to speak of globalisation and no longer of civilisations.
Translated by Frances Coates-Ruet