Hasty Thoughts on Segregating Oneself From the New Lacanian School — Reading Eric Laurent’s “Racism 2.0”

I read multiple times this short text by Eric Laurent on “racism” in Lacan. And then I read Marie-Helen Brousse’s new text. And I compared the two (which I will not do here). I thank one of you in particular — who I will not name because it would incorrectly implicate them in my shoddy reading — for guiding me through these texts this morning. It seems to me that these two texts are important for situating some of the diffi-cult questions that we are now facing. I want to focus just a bit on Laurent’s text, from 2014, attached below.

What was happening when Lacan began to speak about racism and segregation in his seminar (and dramatically concluded his “Or Worse” with those wonderful lines, which provoked me as I read them again just last week)? There are a number of things here, of which I will only mention a few. First, the unfolding of 1968, and it was still fresh. Communism became popular, particularly in Lacan’s circles and lecture-hall. Distributive justice was on the rise! And these forces were intending to provoke Lacan. Why? Because, perhaps, they thought he was authoritarian, anti-feminist, conservative (for refusing to go out into the streets and toss bricks), and so on. When that young Situationist poured the water all over Lacan’s notes — hence creating a spectacle — there was perhaps the first attempt to cancel™ Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Lacan responded a bit like Eminem when the same happened to him: “I’m tone deaf.” In other words, it was like they were speaking different languages. But, Lacan engaged the fella, and tried to enter into a discussion with him. One should note that the Situationist gentleman had prepared all of his words — his manifesto — in advance, and had no concern for what Lacan had to say by way of dialogue. Lacan was not a subject-supposed-to-know.

In any case, the word “brothers” seems to be sprinkled throughout a few of the seminars from this period (I know this because I just reread the three after his Semblant seminar). It was repeated for a particular reason: he was witnessing, without knowing that it was only the tip of the iceberg, the brothers of new revolutionary fraternities. I believe that Lacan was much more empathetic than those brothers gave him credit for. More than that, he was even prophetic: the brothers, he claimed, take hold at the level of the body, and have something to do with the drive. He said: “when we come back to the root of the body, if we are to reassert the value of the word brother […] you should know that what rises up, the ultimate consequences of which have yet to be seen — and which takes root in the body, in the fraternity of the body — is racism.”

He qualified this term, “racism,” to isolate its “segregative” effects. Racism was ultimately a social bond founded upon segregation at the level of jouissance. Worse than patriarchy, you might say — indeed that’s what the classical anarchists thought too: Bakunin, after his expulsion from the First International, claimed that communists, if they took power, could in fact be worse than the Tsar! Notice how the anarchists were cancelled. This was what formed the basis for the anarchists social bond. (Don’t be fooled, I do not consider myself an Anarchist, I am much closer to the Marxists these days.) In any case, this is why, in 2021, seven years after Laurent’s text, and decades after Lacan’s prophecy, Marie-Helene Brousse claims that the new movements in America effect a separation of the body and speech, a segregative effect from the speaking-being’s mode of jouissance.

It’s not entirely crazy, though it does feel incomplete. It’s worse, because I really don’t think that it is such a controversial claim. Miller, at the time of Lacan’s prophecy, provoked Lacan with the question, quoted, as are my other quotes above, by Laurent: “[w]hat gives you the confidence to prophesize the rise of racism? And why the devil do you have to speak of it?” Ultimately, for Lacan, in his answer, what is the logic of this racism? It is “rejection of the jouissance of others.” At first, I was quite skeptical of this position, and not only because it seems to be consistent with prevailing American ideology (which proclaims that we should tolerate the jouissance of others). But what good is tolerating it if we do not recognize the way this tolerance begins with segregation? This, I think, is the point.

Racism, defined in this way, is a rejection of the jouissance of others, which effects a separation of the body and speech (Brousse’s way of putting it), which is, in other words, a segregation produced by fraternities — by comrades, by allies. Laurent writes: “From Lacan’s perspective, there is always, in any human community, a rejection of an unassimilable jouissance, which forms the mainspring of a possible barbarism.” Thus, we might claim, the old expression from Marx — “socialism or barbarism” — within America has now transformed: “socialism as barbarism,” and the critical task is to rescue Marxism from its ‘desupposed’ status, to its demotion, to an adjacent identitarian movement of bodies.

Lacan predicted that we would see, alongside the expansion of the markets, an “increasingly hard-line extension of the process of segregation.” He was right. We are now living in the woke of it, exploring our way forward, in the deep end of the pool. Laurent reminds us of the claim made by Freud in his group psychology that groups can indeed be formed without a name of the father, without a leader, if there is an Idea that unites them into a body of brothers: “we should consider whether groups with leaders may not be the more primitive and complete, whether in the others an idea, an abstraction, may not be substituted for the leader …. Hatred against a particular person or institution might operate in just the same unifying way.” We could therefore speak of Freud’s prophecy too, since we are now living in the woke of our fraternities reaction to Jacques-Alain Miller. I quote Laurent: “for Freud, hatred and racist rejection form a bond, but remain connected to the leader who takes the place of the father, or, more accurately, the place of the father’s murder.” Though, in American, it is a basic truth that Miller killed Lacan. But that hardly seems to be what is at stake today: it is something else, that Miller’s “tone” is unassimilable and hence it is time for all of us to join the others in segregating ourselves from the New Lacanian School.

I’m not yet convinced, though I might be persuaded (since I’ve never been a member anyway).

But Laurent notices that when Lacan discusses discourse as a social bond, it is possible to form a brotherhood without a leader, through segregation, based on what one knows one is not, gains recognition in this way within the group, and then remains in fear that they might one day be convinced that they are not. Thus, the group does not need to form an identification in order to be recognized. We do not need to think very hard to find examples of this today. Well, maybe Marxism is based on what it is not too, after all.