LEVI BRYANT ON LACAN’S GRAPH: SEXUATION OR ANNEXATION?

Lacan’s graph of sexuation “prefigures” Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas after the event because it was first expounded in his seminar in 1973, one year after the publication of ANTI-OEDIPUS, and represented a very weak and watered down appropriation of insights that Deleuze and Guattari had elaborated over the preceding four years. Guattari tells us: “When I was put in touch with Deleuze in 1969, I grabbed the opportunity. I progressed in my contestation of lacanism on two points: oedipal triangulation and the reductionism of his doctrine of the signifier” (Dosse, GILLES DELEUZE ET FELIX GUATTARI, 13, my translation). “Machine et structure” was a conference given also in 1969, using the concept of the machine to break through the purported omnipresence of the signifier.

So in 1969 Guattari was already arguing for

1) the abandonment of Freudian psychoanalysis and its Lacanian variant

2) the critique of oedipal triangulation

3) the exit from a preoccupation with discursive formations

4) the transition from the hegemony of the signifier to a machine ontology.

Guattari makes no attempt at a synthesis of Lacan’s signifier-ontology and Deleuze and Guattari’s own machinic ontology, but calls for and effectuates a conceptual revolution, a radical paradigm change, an incommensurable leap. Levi Bryant ignores all this, falsifies the historical record, and tries to annex Deleuzian and Guattarian insights into a paradigm whose fundaments they totally rejected.

This strategy of tacit annexation and adulteration was one of Lacan’s preferred modes of erudition and “creativity”. Levi Bryant continues this strategy: he has even claimed that Lacan was the first “anti-oedipus” because in his system “men don’t have the phallus” and “the place of the sovereign can never be occupied”. But such language retains the jargon of the psychoanalyst-priest and his vision of anarchy as mysteriously exemplifying the negation of the negation, as that which does not fall under the function of castration.

Bryant involuntarily confirms my thesis that there is no possible synthesis of Lacan and Deleuze & Guattari, and that all attemps at such a synthesis void Deleuze and Guattari of their conceptual singularity and amount to a curious neo-lacanian de-concepted hodge-podge masquerading in deleuzian vocabularies voided of their sense.

The idea that Lacan’s “graph” (with arrows and quantifiers and even a dummy function that can stand in for virtually anything: castration, language, or even withdrawal (as is claimed in THE DEMOCRACY OF OBJECTS, 265), the idea that this “graph of sexuation” expresses anything interesting about ontologies of immanence is ludicrous. Further,  Deleuze and Guattari always maintained that immanence is not enough, and that it must be associated with positivity and abundance (this is their Nietzschean engagement).

The graph of annexation as interpreted by Bryant contains the statement that not all xes are subject to the language function – this timid “not all xes” is a very ascetic and impoverished form of immanence, especially as it is accompanied by another assertion in logical contradiction to it: there is no x that is not subject to The Function. Apparently a logical contradiction is OK if it comes from Lacan.

I have argued, in IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID?, that Graham Harman’s ontology of real objects is one of transcendence. Bryant’s machine ontology insofar as it concords with and instantiates Harman’s meta-categories is one of transcendence too, even if he fills these transcendent meta-categories with immanent categoreal content. Laruelle provides a quite good on the various mixes of transcendence and immanence that give themselves out as philosophies of immanence.

Harman himself is obliged to mix together and to try to persuade us to conflate a set of transcendent meta-categories and another set of immanent categories meant to instantiate them. He is obliged to create these mixtures whenever he gives a concrete example of his supposedly unknowable objects. However, this sort of transcendental ontology is far too constraining on matters that only empirical research can decide. In this light Bryant’s post festum Lacanian lessons on immanence are unjustified in content, and comic in form (Lacan’s graph of sexuation as a lesson in immanence).

Meillassoux promotes an impoverished account of the history of philosophy via his bogus concept of “correlationism”, which has minimum intension and maximum extension, allowing one to call anything one wishes to disqualify “correlationist” . Harman constantly reiterates his historically illiterate idea that epistemology is all about access without feeling the need to cite one major, or even minor, epistemologist (Quine, Popper, Kuhn, Rorty examples of the epistemology of access? far better to cite no examples).

Levi Bryant tries to enrich this discussion by talking about many figures in Continental philosophy, and glibly proposes Lacan as a thinker of immanence, while at the same time elaborating a “Deleuzian” machinic ontology. Thus he continues the Lacanian tradition of annexation, and proves himself to be a very unreliable narrator indeed.

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