Yahya M. Madra and Ceron Özselçuk: “Jouissance and Antagonism in the Forms of the Commune: A Critique of Biopolitical Subjectivity”

Madra and Özselçuk find that with regard to the construction of subjectivity, both the governmentality literature (as typified by Foucault) and the post-Fordist literature (as typified by Hardt and Negri) are compromised by embedded forms of behaviorism in their attempts to theorize the neoliberal subject. Foucault errs in assuming that neoliberalism actually produces the rational subject that it posits, when in fact this subject is a fiction (that even the neoliberal literature doesn’t assume is real at the level of the individual). Because Foucault doesn’t allow for an incomplete subject, he also cannot allow for a resisting subject. Post-Fordist literature, on the other hand, does allow for resistance in the form of a new subjectivity that arises out its “flexible, mobile, and precarous labor relations.” It is a networked subjectivity, and immaterial production gives rise to the possibilities of positive social transformation through a reinvigoration of the common. But still, argue Madra and Özselçuk, the post-Fordists fail to adequately explain resistance at the level of subjectivity, or how “the subject herself participates in the constitution of her subjectivity.” Thus they want to tamper the constructivist bent of both traditions, and turn to Lacan’s concept of “jouissance” to posit neoliberal subjectivity as a tension between an imperative to enjoy and a desire to escape this obligation by substituting others as surrogates. Most neoliberal subjects defer their enjoyment to the very rich in order relieve themselves of the duty to measure up to the idealized figure of the Entrepreneur. Slavoj Žižek calls this particular condition (derived from Lacan) “interpassivity.” On the role that the Entrepreneur plays it is worth quoting Madra and Özselçuk at length:

“In bourgeois economics, the mythical figure of the Entrepreneur fills in the empty place of the exceptional position of the appropriator of surplus: the Entrepreneur is the innovator who can take risks like no other, who will create jobs by undertaking investment, and who will be the engine of economic growth and efficiency, providing thereby the supply-side ‘base’ for the consumption-led ‘superstructure’ of a late capitalist Utopia.”

Ultimately this figure is a fiction, as innovation and risk are “thoroughly socialized processes undertaken by complex institutional dispositifs,” not individuals. Nonetheless, the fiction of the Entrepreneur stabilizes the entire order of commodity fetishism: it constitutes the myth of economic success as enjoyment that we always fall short of. It is thus an exception (the Entrepreneur as appropriator of surplus) related to Lacan’s notion of masculine individuation, whereby an exception or “outside” to the symbolic order is posited in order to fix its meaning. This is the mode of capitalism: the Entrepreneur as mythic figure of full jouissance fixes the value of jouissance as lack for neoliberal subjects. Madra and Özselçuk oppose to this masculine individuation a feminine logic of “non-all.” For Lacan, feminine individuation does not involve an exception that gives the whole a consistent meaning. All jouissance is partial; there is no possibility of full enjoyment of plenitude. Because this possibility is foreclosed, immanence is affirmed: there is nothing outside of the symbolic order. The Entrepreneur becomes an impossible (and irrelevant) figure. Madra and Özselçuk see this as a model for the common. Instead of upholding exception, the common “is open to each concrete demand of inclusion with the partial enjoyment of experimenting and without the suffering of falling short.” Crucially, the common encourages experimentation: its aim is not a mythical full enjoyment of economic riches but the solving of real, concrete problems rooted in a community. Its figure is not the Entrepreneur but the collective—their example is Nuestras Raíces, an organization in Massachusetts that matches community contributions with potential projects. The point here is not that such organizations are uninterested in making money but rather that they posit and operate within a field of singularities: single contributions matched with single projects, the (fulfilled) pleasure of creating and solving rather than the (incomplete) pleasure of generating market need. Ultimately, the authors see this as safeguarding Marx’s axiom, “from each according to ability, to each according to needs.”

-ZH

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