Summary: With his twentieth seminar entitled Encore (Still, 1970-1971), Jacques Lacan places a ‘point’ at the end of a sentence constituted by the combined titles of the eighteenth (Of a Discourse that Might Not Be a Semblance, 1971-1972) and nineteenth (… Or Worse, 1972-1973) seminars. Returning to the fifth (1957-1958) and sixth (1958-1959) seminars, in which Lacan described, in the context of his ‘graph of desire’, the point as that what in a chain of signifiers functions as a stop retroactively granting the chain with meaning, De Kesel presents Encore as functioning like a point that reflects on Lacan’s former seminars. Like the earlier work, Encore (Still) portrays human beings as subjects of desire. Linking people’s unquenchable desire for satisfaction to feminine jouissance and the ecstatic experiences of mystics – a fleeting, momentary fulfillment of an endless desire for the absent (divine) lover – Encore states, once more, with another set of signifiers, that the hoped-for attainment of the object of desire – the signified meaning, closure must be suspended, yet again.
During its long history, psychoanalytical theory has developed a criticism dealing with almost the entire domain of human culture and civilization. That theory lays bare the unconscious motives and structures which, on the conscious level, can have all kinds of pernicious effects. The weak point of that criticism, however, consists in its awareness that the unconscious motives and structures it brings to consciousness, after its critical analysis, will remain unconscious and repressed. In that sense, psychoanalytical theory performs a critique of criticism as such. Unmasking falsity and lies does not necessarily result in establishing truth.
This essay outlines the contours of such a psychoanalytical ‘critique of criticism as such’, as well as its implications for contemporary critical thought in general. The essay more precisely focuses on the right-wing cultural criticism, which makes use of criticism’s newly discovered ‘tragic condition’ in order to support a conservative ethical, cultural and political programme. This essay proposes a few points of reference replying to these tendencies in contemporary critical thought.
“Fascism is sadism”. This is the central thesis in the long opening chapter of Frank Vande Veire, Take, Eat, This is My Body – Fascination and Intimidation in Contemporary Culture (2005). In his essay, Marc De Kesel comments on the main theoretical source of Vande Veire’s definition of fascism, Lacan’s theory of perversion, and on how it reveals the cruelty that is typical of fascist practices. However, defining fascism as perversion is a bridge too far, argues De Kesel. Fascism must first and foremost be defined as a discourse, and both the definition and the analysis of fascism must follow from this. That the fascist discourse enables a perverse subject position does not imply that fascism is to be reduced to that position. Such reductionism falls into the trap of a moralising – and, more precisely, diabolising – view on fascism. De Kesel warns against any such moralising use of the critical tools of psychoanalysis as it weakens substantially its critical potential.