Adam Kotsko discusses a quotation from William James’s Psychology: The Briefer Course, ch. 17
“Will you or won’t you have it so?” is the most probing question we are ever asked; we are asked it every hour of the day, and about the largest as well as the smallest, the most theoretical as well as the most practical, things. We answer by consents or non-consents and not by words. What wonder that these dumb responses should seem our deepest organs of communication with the nature of things! What wonder if the effort demanded by them be the measure of our worth as men! What wonder if the amount which we accord of it were the one strictly underived and original contribution which we make to the world! »
Kotsko finds a Lacanian resonance to this passage, comparing it to the binary logic of 0 or 1 to be found in « Lacan’s deployment of cybernetics toward the end of Seminar 2 », operating as an unconscious binary code « which it is the task of psychoanalysis somehow to bring to the surface or force the subject to confront or assume ».
Try as I may, I just don’t see the Lacanian resonance. Here again I see Nietzschean “will”, and thus the Deleuzian notion that any assemblage is one of desire. To make the link with Kotsko’s previous post, I understand this organology of “dumb responses” as an explicitation of the “It thinks”, as they seem to belong to a our prepersonal singularity. In other words I would say that we are constantly continuing our desiring process (or individuation): even if we accept situations we are affirming them as “Thus I will it!” So where Kotsko sees machine-like code I see productive desire, where he sees cybernetics, I see individuation.
To me this confirms my thesis that there is something profoundly ambiguous in Lacan, and thus in Lacanian readings of other philosophers. Such notions as “There is no meta-language” and “The Big Other does not exist” seem to pull Lacan in the direction of the poststructuralists, or even beyond them as Zizek would have it. Other themes, such as seeing the unconscious in terms of binary code, seem very reductive to me.
The James quote does not seem to me to square with Kotsko’s idea of a limitation of spontaneity to yes or no, except in a very abstract sense, as James affirms that the degree of effort accorded to these acts of consent and of non-consent is a measure of the depth of our communication with the nature of things, of our worth as men, and of the originality of our contribution to the world. So our spontaneity is not reduced just to giving our yes or no, but includes the depth and effort that we accord to such giving. These are not just binary choices, but scalar values, of degrees of intensity, which seems much more in accord with Jamesian pluralism.
Kotsko contrasts Lacan favorably with James: « for James those consents or non-consents are the one space left for freedom, for Lacan it seems to be located at a meta-level of the subject’s stance toward that very sequence of 0s and 1s ». However, I do not agree that Lacan’s model is the richer of the two. In the text he cites there seem to be three levels
1) consents and non-consents = dumb responses = Will = (productive) Desire (this is one space of freedom)
2) the effort demanded by them (maybe this is not really a separate level, but its degree determines « our worth as men »)
3) the amount of effort we accord (this according of effort seems to be a meta-level, assimilable to the subject’s stance, different from Lacan’s as it is on an intensive scale) (it constitues a second space of freedom, on the meta-level)
I think one will concede that according more or less effort to our consents and dis-consents affects their depth and the degree of their communication with Nature (and not just their entrapment in stereotypes), so even this 0 or 1 level is subject to intensive variation going from superficial sensori-motor arcs to the deepest organs of communication with the nature of things.
I would add that not all consents have the same value. Consenting to oppression is not the same as consenting to liberation. Consenting to multiplicity is not the same as consenting to monism. To take up the terms of Jeff Bell’s recent post, consenting to indiscipline (as Peirce does, and as I would argue James does) is not the same as consenting to order and identity. Binaries should not be homogenised into being equivalent from the point of view of binary logic. Deleuze and Guattari point out that binaries are qualitatively different, depending on whether they are preliminary differentiations opening on to a pluralist field or merely fixated dualisms. Lacan remains for me ambiguous in that he differentiates and homogenises at the same time.