Always Leaving the Party Early?

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Always Leaving the Party Early?

Shawn P. Wilbur

[from the postanarchism email list, July 2003]

I was able recently to spend quite a bit of time rereading Newman's "From Bakunin to Lacan," and one of the things that struck me this time around is the extent to which Newman is not interested in a poststructuralist anarchism. The "from A to B" motif in the title is representative of the way in which book is organized, with theorists arrayed as something like "stops" on a progressive journey which *crosses* poststructuralism, but ultimately goes "beyond" that terrain to Newman's Lacanian "postanarchism." So Foucault offers an escape from the alleged essentialism and manichaeanism of classical anarchism, but Newman very quickly moves "beyond" Foucault, who seems still suspect, on to Deleuze and Guattari, and then on again to Derrida, who, curiously, is portrayed as a kind of limit figure for poststructuralism, representing its "purest" form - and its failure. Newman then does a kind of about-face: having driven his critique with a refusal of some exterior space of resistance, and showing, by the time he's done with Derrida, just how far this critique can be taken, he asserts a need for precisely that sort of exterior space, and he moves "on" (forward to the past) to Lacan and an interesting treatment of "lack."

It is an interesting treatment, but i'm left wondering what it has to do with the traversal of poststructuralism, which appears somewhat opportunistic in the context of this final abandonment. The move reminds me a bit of some of what is going on in recent writings by Zizek and Badiou, where all the poststructuralist critiques are at once acknowledged and dismissed. I get the sense that, for example, Badiou's "politics of truth" wants to have it both ways where "truth" is concerned - and that Badiou nearly succeeds by virtue of a shifting of ground onto psychoanalytic terrain, where "truth" becomes more or less a matter of phenomenology.

From Bakunin to Lacan, as i mentioned, positions various poststructuralist thinkers as stepping stones "from B to L." There is something suspiciously linear and progressive about Newman's account, in part because his stepping stone thinkers were contemporaries (or nearly so) and had personal and theoretical relationships among themselves not well represented by Newman's very partial account. Some time ago, Jesse raised the issue of the "" construction, and the ways in which it might play out. In this instance, where contemporaries are concerned, and where their relationships have been complex - and complexly narrativized - we can't escape any of the possible complications. Getting back to the question of Newman's "traverse of poststructuralism," the problem of the "" (in some sense of "before" and "after," concepts with a rich history in the writings we're concerned with, particularly those of Derrida) is in part a problem of intellectual histories. To go "from Derrida to Lacan" is almost inescapably a *return.* Derrida has spoken about the importance of Lacan in setting certain explorations and conflicts, including some of his own, into motion. Some of Derrida's most important work is a response to Lacan. And reference to Lacan, and to the whole range of psychoanalytic concerns, recurs frequently in Derrida's recent, most clearly political works. "...from Lacan to Derrida to Lacan..." - this seems implicit in Newman's scheme, at which point we still need to account for the detour.

To assess Newman's use of poststructuralism, and his subsequent abandonment of it for a Lacanian approach, it's necessary to decide whether poststructuralism - particularly as it appears in Derrida's work - does indeed show its own limitations, and whether poststructuralism thus understood can lead - or lead back - towards Lacan. Along the way we need to decide if there is indeed a need for some "place of resistance," understood this time in terms of Lacanian "lack" - or whether, perhaps, the aporetic terrain of poststructuralism still holds some un(der)explored possibilities for radicals.

The question of poststructuralism as a "dead end" seems, as Derrida might say, "to come." What is certain is that - in the time since Todd May excluded Derrida from consideration in his book on the grounds that he did not have a sufficiently developed political philosophy - Derrida and others have provided us with a large literature on the politics of "memory," "community," "friendship," "hospitality," the "invitation," and such with which anarchists and other radicals have not yet come to terms. I focus on Derrida because his most recent writings not only specifically address concerns we would easily call "political," but because these writings seem to represent a conscious effort to draw together the various paths of enquiry from his lengthy career.

Works such as "On the Name," "Resistances of Psychoanalysis," "Politics of Friendship," and "Archive Fever" - to pick a few - seem curiously absent from the discussions of poststructuralism and anarchism, particularly as postanachism seeks to ground itself on the Lacanian side of some old debates between Lacan and Derrida. Newman passes over pretty much all of the old, key questions - the agency and divisibility of the letter, the primacy of the phallus, the law of the father, etc - but also passes by the entire body of work on life and politics in their aporetic forms, forms without exteriority. A "politics of aporia," oriented towards "justice" as the experience of the possibility of the impossible, may not seem desirable to some, but if poststructuralism is our concern, this is probably as close to a poststructuralist politics as we have seen - and, arguably, it is a form of politics resonant in many ways with the concerns of the anarchist tradition.

Derrida has spoken of one of the conditions of being the call to respond to two very different sorts of exigency, operating at two very different "speeds." On the one hand, we simply cannot be careful enough, thorough enough, or defer judgment enough. "There is nothing outside the text" in a very material sense - not because "everything becomes text" but because the text is already material and has exceedingly porous boundaries. On the other hand, we cannot act swiftly enough, with enough urgency and respect for all that is already so i need of repair, with enough acknowledgment of our own implications in all of that. Two calls - and a dilemma from which no calculation can extricate us. Still, we must act and calculate, and, at some level, attempt to justify, if only to ourselves, our response. With regard to Newman's postanarchism, some of us have already asked questions about the care and thoroughness with which the anarchist tradition has been engaged. In these last few posts, i've been asking the same sort of question with regard to poststructuralism. It seems to me that poststructuralism as the bridge "from Bakunin to Lacan" is rather ill-used, both because some of its defining positions (like that on "the agency of the letter") are ignored, and because its project is declared closed, or at its limits, without any serious examination of that's project's current, developing state.

I'll leave this set of questions and criticisms there, except to suggest that if Newman's approach in _From Bakunin to Lacan_ is "postanarchist," then that term means something other than anarchist-poststructuralist - and may even mean something like post-anarchist-post-poststructuralist.

I'm curious what others think about these issues.