As part of my ongoing inquiry into collective desire, I've been reading Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, The Freudian Subject. It has not gotten the attention it deserves. Borch-Jacobsen, in a work informed by Lacan and Girard, asks about the "it" that thinks, exceeding consciousness (self-presence), language, signifier, and structure. Who thinks in the unconscious? Who is the subject of desire? Who is the subject of the unconscious, this intimate otherness?
B-J's bold claim: the unconscious is multiple, unnameable, unverifiable. It is unidentifiable because it is plural. The book is a close reading of Freud. My comments try to give a schematic of the argument; they don't repeat B-J's own close engagements with the texts.
B-J does not accept the Lacanian idea that desire depends on lack, that it is necessarily unsatisfied. Rather, he thinks that desire is satisfied through identification (even as identification is not the object of desire). Indentification sets up a scenario "in which the wish is presented as fulfilled: on this basis, identification is indeed the satisfaction of the desire as such" (16-17). He writes:
saying that wishes are fulfilled fantasmatically and that enjoyment is based on identification amounts to saying the same thing. This is what accounts for the fact that the subject's place in fantasy is always the place of another.
Or in Lacanese, desire is the desire of the Other (a point to which B-J returns more than once). Even with respect to the lack, B-J seems to me to be more compatible with Lacan than he acknowledges. Why? Because B-J's discussion is about fantasy, enjoying in fantasy, using fantasy to stage desire. Enjoyment is indirect. It has to take a detour (and now we get into the weird fuzziness of the it that enjoys or enjoyment as its own force or, possibly, something else, something more primordial). Identification is that detour (and, as Zizek will remind us, there are at least two possibilities here, with an ideal ego or an ego ideal). And wish fufillment is always in another place.
Enjoyment is fantasmatic (the wish is fufilled in a fantasy). The fantasy stages desire. But whose? It is only present to the subject insofar as the subject identifies with another; it is never directly manifest as the subject's desire but as the desire of another. But why?
B-J answers this by connecting desire first with mimesis (not with interdiction or the Law ala Lacan; this seems to me like a good move, especially for us now in a setting of the decline of symbolic efficiency). Invoking Girard, he claims that desire had no object before a mediator intervenes to tell us what is desireable (this is also compatible with Zizek, whether with respect to his discussion of the ego ideal, his discussion of the theft of enjoyment, or his discussion of ideology as a matrix of desire; in each instance, desire depends on the other; desire is the desire of the other). Desire for an object, then, is induced. It is secondary to imitation, mimesis, that is, to the desire of others. For B-J, this means that there is a prior desire to imitate. And, since mimesis informs desire, desire is indissolubly bound to rivalry, hatred, and violence: I want what the other has; I want it in his place. "What triggers desires is mimetic assmilation, identification with a model of desire" 28.
The repercussion of this is that the aim of desire is to be, not to have. And, to be, for B-J, means to be like. Identification is what enables the desire to be. B-J notes that not only does this mimetic account of desire displace the centrality of sexuality (and the centrality of the object), but that it priotizes a different set of passions, the passions connected with being replaced and being equated: rivalry, jealousy, envy, ambition. Note the fundamental ambivalence involved in identification with another (32). So, for B-J desire is not first about obtaining pleasure (object oriented), it is first about identification. No wonder desire may involve pain and death.
That desire is mimetic raises particular questions with respect to fantasy: in what way does fantasy stage desire? If the scene stages desire, the subject is in the position of the spectator. If the scene is one in which the subject acts out desire, then the subject is an actor within the scene.
Thus the subject either plays a part in the spectacle or is a spectator; either he merely sees or he sees himself, by presenting himself to himself, confronting himself, in the objectivity of the Vor-stellung; either he is in representation, here and now, in the scene on stage, or he is representing himself there, on the stage. This dilemma is implacable, insurmountable. The lack of distinction between self and other--the mimesis--has to be acted out; yet no sooner is it represented to the subject in the specular mode than it is betrayed. At that very moment the image in the mirror, the spectacle will have already opened up the space of adversity (note that I am not saying of alterity): hence the instanteous rage that overcomes the child when she sees the other in her place ... And no doubt the other will be at that moment scarcely different from me mylsef (almost myself); but this self, myself, being specular, will already be an adverse, adversary self, an enemy (almost another). 40.
A difference, a cleavage, between the stage on which one is playing and the stage one sees. One cannot occupy both positions at the same time (although we can list efforts to do so: plays within plays; Being John Malkovich). Thus, "mimesis is unrepresentable for the subject in the mode of Vorstellung. Remaining unspecularized, it remains ungraspable. It is in this sense that fatnasy remains unconscious--not that it is assigned to a place or subject, but that it cannot be assigned. Or, as I will add, that it remains plural.
I wonder if the analysis of mimesis here provides a way for thinking about opposition to the party: it's like at the moment when our political energies and efforts are assigned to an agency compromised of us even as it stands outside of us, people become anxious, angry, concerned. The other (that is us) is in our place. We can't occupy both the position of spectators and of actors at the same time. This also makes me wonder about a lot of anger I recently heard expressed toward 'so many cameras' in Occupy. The cameras were seen as in the way, non active, merely spectators, even as they were right in the middle of the scene, part of the crowd.
Desire does not come first. (47). There is no desiring subject prior to identification. "Identification brings the desiring subject into being." There is 'primordial tendency' to identification; it gives rise to desire, and this desire is "from the outset, a (mimetic, rivalrous) desire to oust the incommodious other from the place the pseudo-subject already occupies in fantasy."
It's not yet clear to me why, exactly, there is a primoridal tendency to identification. B-J is emphatic that it's not a matter of a primary repression (to think in this direction is to presume a pre-existing subject--which also makes me think of Butler's discussion of passionate attachments). He also wants to avoid 'the ineradicable megalomania of desire.
The so-called subject of desire has no identity of its own prior to the identification that brings it, blindly, to occupy the point of otherness, the place of the other (who is thus not an other): an original alienation (which is thus not an alienation); and an original lure (which is thus not a lure, either).
Does this tell us why there is a tendency to identification? My idea is that this tendency is the problem of individuation and embodiment. That it designates the problem of self-consciousness as something apart from being originally a part, from being a part of a collective or a crowd or a group. And that insofar as we are originally parts, we remain inextricably interconnected--every attempt to be apart involve connection at another point. Hence, original alienation is not alienation at all, but the immediacy of connection (which should not be mistaken for absorption).