I was invited as key-note speaker to the 14th Conference of the Affiliated Psychoanalytic Groups: ON LOVE to be held in Vancouver on July 31st-August 1st, 2016. As I could not travel to Canada because of personal reasons, a video was recorded in Barcelona and screened in Vancouver to be discussed with Anne Dufourmentelle and with the audience. So it happened. The text I presented could be read below. The French translation is poised to appear in #22 of the celebrated magazine Savoirs et Clinique.
Thanks to Tamara Frances and Hida Fernández for the help with the English version and to Jacques Nassif and Daniel Koren for the corrections in the French translation.
THE WORK OF LOVE IN THE AGE OF ITS TECHNICAL
REPRODUCTIBILITY —– Néstor A. Braunstein
Good morning to everybody and thank you for the invitation and for allowing me to be virtually with you from the other side of the Atlantic.
Ours is an International Conference on Love in Psychoanalysis, and I feel deeply honoured by being asked to make a contribution followed by a discussion of my proposals and statements. I am looking forward to this discussion as it is the main reason that moved me to accept the invitation. We cannot spend much time with the already well-known quotations of Freud and Lacan on love, so I strongly recommend a careful reading of two wonderful essays where their ideas are reviewed in detail: a) Jean Allouch: L’amour Lacan (2009) and, in a more concise exposé, b) Mayette Viltard’s paper “Amour”, in Albin Michel’s Dictionnaire de la Psychanalyse (1997). These authors expose what we can call “classical” psychoanalytic ideas on this neverending subject about which everything seems to have already been said (everything and the opposite of everything). Specifically, on our subject, I could only find a paper by Pascal Herlem “L’amour à l’époque postindustrial” (Topique (50), 2005, pp. 127/136).
As “Love’s no Time’s fool” (Sonnet 116), after recommending these three texts, I must not waste the allowed time and I shall begin to develop the chosen subject from its odd title.
Of course you must have recognized in it the paraphrasis of the famous essay by Walter Benjamin and taken into account the presuppositions of this heading. First, the equivalence of work of art and work of love. Second, the idea of love as work, like in Kunstwerk, or in Traumwerk or Treuerwork , three shocking Freudian words that would be neologisms in any language different from German where they do not sound like linguistic inventions. Third, and the most arguable of all from a psychanalytic viewpoint, that love changes through the ages (Zeitaltern), that there is a historicity of love that threatens us with falling into a sociological or culturalist reading and with loosing the specificity of our own discourse. It would not be a real fall inasmuch as “L’amour est un fait culturel… il ne serait pas question d’amour s’il n’y avait pas la culture”. (Lacan, S. X, p.210).
But, what is the real specific subject of psychoanalysis? The subject itself. Him/herself. The sexuated subject. Is the subject a historic category? No; not from a structural psychoanalytic approach. Is the speaking subject (parlêtre) the same through the ages? Yes and no. The subject is a body and has a body. The body speaks and because of this fact it requires the complement of speech: the other, the other as an other subject and the Other of language. For mankind language is an organ, an inevitable component of the body, the organ (neurologically supported) that gives voice and in doing so humanizes the rest of the bodily organs with the complete set composing the body as organism..
Is this the body of Rembrandt’s lesson of anatomy? No; the naked corpse on the surgical bed is not the subject. The subject speaks, it is the agent and the receiver of a discourse and is attached to a huge amount of extensions of its body: all kinds of different prosthesis, clothes, furniture, writings that can be read, houses, domestic animals, foods, even symbolic parts of its being: laws, beliefs, knowledge, unknown (unbewusst) rules of kinship and of exchange, technical and technological devices, drugs, commodities. All of them (dispositives for Agamben, agencements for Deleuze and Guattari, organes for Stiegler, whom we prefer to follow because his word gives room to an organological conception of the subject) are not ‘external’ things glued to the body. They constitute the body itself (real, symbolic and imaginary), a body that cannot be conceived from a merely biological viewpoint.
The subject is the body with its extensions, not without them. A parlêtre connected to the other: the other of the lien social, the social link that is the very definition of discourse. This is the subject of demand, of desire, of the artwork and of the lovework, un fait culturel. The subject of the unconscious who has organs, tools, words. The subject provided with these linguistic and pragmatic extensions of its bodily organs in a Lacanian or, if you prefer, a lack-anian theory of the social link.
The subject (parlêtre) is an eternal category that has to be related to the contingent and transitory technological addenda informing its body, the hipomnemata and pharmakon that Derrida underscored in so many of his writings. But le tus go go back to Benjamin’s title and reflect over his conclusions: the work of art changes in nature because of the possibility of its technical, mechanical reproductibility (Reproduziertbarkeit) and this change implies a cleavage between the original with its aura and the reproductions that have lost this aura and which appears as a lack with regard to the original.
One might subsume the eliminated element in the term “aura” and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. Both processes are intimately connected with the contemporary mass movements.
Is there in love some equivalent of the “aura” that can be lost through the possibility of its reproductibility, even of its clonation? Is there an ‘original’ and ‘reproductions’ of it? Would the ‘original’ be the mother’s love (in the two senses of the genitive, subjective and objective)? or an ideal form of love (courtois? romantic? passionate? sexual?) that would be lost through repetition or lost in translation? The work of art… the work of love… Maybe I am enforcing a mere analogy… unless love has to be taken as the model or paradigm of all art? … or viceversa?
Coming back to love historicity: “Ages”. Age of the handmade object satisfying needs (the manuscript book), age of the industrial commodity (the printed book), age of the informatic product that can abolish restrictions of time and space (the e-book).
“Ages”. Ages of socio-political organization: sovereignty hierarchical societies (Legendre) where power proceeds from God and its representatives, disciplinary societies (Foucault) that follow the model of capitalist appropriation of surplus value, and control societies (Deleuze) where power is embodied in anonimous and ubiquitous ‘corporations’ governing (ciber) a unified world through scientific inventions that take control of the subject from outside the planet and that turn every (wo)man into terminals (termites) of its all-encompassing presence and power.
We can formulate a hypothesis linking one to one the three forms of technological production of commodities and the three forms of political organization of societies.
In the “three ages” the subject is divided (le sujet barré : $) between its knowledge and its unconscious. This subject transfers the knowledge that it lacks to a transcendental subject, the subject supposed to know, supposed to know the truth about itself. The subject supposed to know becomes the object of the subject’s love. Thus, love is characterized by the disguise of somebody or some trait(s) of somebody as replacements for the lost and lacking object @ (my writing of Lacan’s invention). The mirage of love allows the subject to prevent the development of anxiety. Love or anxiety, those are the two ways of bridging the gap between desire and jouissance. The object of love, of Verliebtheit (falling in love) is the incarnation of the subject supposed to know, its semblance (semblant de @). “Celui à qui je suppose le savoir, je l’aime”. (Lacan, Encore). (“The one to whom I suppose knowledge, I love him/her/it”, according to Bruce Fink’s translation).
The question now is if the new cybernetic or informatic era changes the structure of the subject. The risk of posing this question is that of yielding to the appeal of novelties and giving them a transcendental importance when they are nothing but tickling and ephemeral data. We must reject the bulk of phenomenological empiric data that constitute the usual stuff of media anecdotes and also forget the harbingers of apocalypse or of redemption caused by the technical ‘advances’ owed to cyberscience and nanotechnologies. In short, we must not take into account the statistics or the presumptive and presumptuous essays advocating a ‘new psychic economy’ or the finding of new ‘mental illnesses’ or diagnostic labels that fill large shelves in libraries and pile up in our computers. Instead I propose to focus our attention on, precisely, the political economy of attention and its effects on the libidinal economy of the new generations. Of course we are ready to admit that rules nowadays (as ever) know of nothing but exceptions with regard to every supposed rule. It is definitely the case in the fields of love and desire.
To get straight into the matter without forgetting the aforementioned caveat: is the division of life in two forms of human experience, in line / on line, something that distorts the subjective perception of oneself at opening the possibility for the subject to be plugged or connected 24/7? Are we being introduced to a new configuration of human life that eliminates the subject’s time and space for reverie, for Schwärmerei, for phantasy, for Bion`s alpha function, for paying attention to our neighbours, to the people who surround us, to the small changes in nature, even for Organlust and sexual drives, replacing the organic functions of the body and making cyborgs of men and women alike?
Are we the witnesses of the birth of a new kind of subject, shut up in a temporospatial chamber or isolated in a capsule (as the one so exactly described in E. M. Forster’s astonishing prophecy The machine stops,1909), with its relation to its fellows restricted to contacts through ‘social networks’, with an almost absolute loss of commitments to the other, when performatives become futile or ineffective and the subject remains unengaged with its socius, with its attention spans largely reduced to almost zero by video games that demand automatic, immediate and most certainly thoughtless answers, with the increasing use and abuse of neurotoxic substances that lead to an induced ataraxia? What the sum of these novelties imply for the experience of love, the subject of our conference in this not Gershwinian summertime?
Is there a new logic of love, the logic that Lacan underscored in his time when he spoke about the capitalist discourse characterized by the primacy of calculation and evaluation, the “foreclosure of castration, and a complete ejection out of the symbolic field of everything related to love”?
To continue the set of wry and rhetorical questions: is the accelerated transformation into cyborgs one of the many reasons for the reduction of psychoanalytic demand? What can incite one of these subjects to adapt itself to the requirements of a psychoanalytic cure where love is, as we know, the essential lever? Of course, the answer lies in the symptom, the suffering that cannot be reduced with the usual neuro-pharmacological substances prescribed by big pharma to doctors and by doctors to its ‘patients’. Sustained examination of the subject by himself or through the other, the analyst, is increasingly elusive in our age of persistent technological stimulation. The continuity of time (of attention) is broken and we become used to new words describing this condition: scatterbrain, scatterlife (Karen McQuestion, 2010, Don de Lillo (2016).
The time has come to circumscribe our problem in psychoanalytic terms: in this brave new world the whole second floor of the Lacanian graph of desire is severed from the first floor. The shortened passage from $ to I (A) at the first floor skips desire, phantasy, the fading of the subject of drives, the question about the desire of the Other (che vuoi?), the lack of a signifier in the Other (S of a barred A), and the assumption of the lack on the line that carries from jouissance to castration. Instead we find a bypass through the mirror, the imaginary figured by the vector (i(a) Õ moi-ego) and through the symbolic ( A à s (A)), both of them reduced to the level of demand and satisfaction of demands. The way is open to suggestion and to drug-induced relief of symptoms avoiding the question of true knowledge. Because of this short circuit, the subject is no more the subject of the unconscious desire, it becomes debased to the condition of a mere consumer of goods and goodies, drifting from one object to the next, careless of what he uses or wrecks. The field of the object-choice in love is so wide that it shows a tendence to be unlimited: if everyone or if everything can be the object filling the narcissistic lack in the subject… who would care about the other, the always and infinitely replaceable chosen object?
What comes to the place of the Freudian Ichspaltung (split ego) or of the Lacanian (Lackanian) subject written as sujet barré, $? In other words: is it still the $ of classical psychoanalysis, who remains as a $ still apt for a cure aiming at the divided subject of preconscious / unconscious and the lifting of neurotic (oedipal) repressions)?
I think that we can risk two alternative answers to the question regarding the supposedly transformed subject of the advanced technologies.
- a) le sujet éclaté, scattered, machinical, deserving some kind of schizoanalysis, something that can be written not with a single but with a double diagonal crossing the letter S that figures the subject,
- b) le sujet de la jouissance (noted only as S, with no bar over the letter), appealing to a rare syntagm used by Lacan in his seminar, an expression that was banned by Lacan himself. He said that this ‘subject of jouissance’ should only be conceived as mythical because “there is no other way than the mythical for isolating it as a subject.” (Seminar X, 03/13/1963, my translation). Therefore, we could refer to this subject of jouissance as the final product of the supression of the subject induced by the “scientific” depersonalization that follows the use of personal technologies, smart devices, social networks, etc. The command this subject receives is to comply with the instructions given by the “artificial intelligence”. In sum: the order is ‘enjoy!’. It seems there exists an incompatibility between jouissance and a desiring subjectivity. Is this really so? No!, a possibility remains: again, as Lacan said: “Seul l’amour permet à la jouissance condescendre au désir ¾ only love allows jouissance to condescend to desire) (id.). The alternative, as we already remarked, is anxiety.
Now we can go back to our title propounding a new question: The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility: what would love mean between cyborgs constituted by replaceable parts or allowed to experience jouissance and to overcome the structural impossibility of the fulfillment of desire? If love is the result of the encounter of two interplaying lacks in the couple erastes/eromenon, how can love arise between the bodies of the two parts of the mythical Aristophane’s androgynous born after the divine surgery that split it in two? What kind of work is required when the essential question is that of Turing: are you a human intelligent being or are you a device provided with speech and intelligence? If you cannot tell the difference, the very category of ‘human’ has come to its robotic end.
And all of us are in the process of becoming cyborgs with modified bodily organs and artificial smart organs that take command of the subject of the unconscious and regulate its coupling with another sexuated being. This is what we used to call love (also hate) and allowed us to relate to the other through a new kind of subject supposed to know, one who knows everything about each of us materialized in the web that connects every parlêtre to an universal knowledge that pretends to have all the answers and skips the unconscious with its dreams and phantasies.
In a remarkable film (Ex machina, Alex Garland, 2015) the inventor of the Turing machine creates a model supposedly able to wipe out the difference between human and artificial intelligence. He grants his robot with a human shape and progresses from one version to the next, supposedly better one: 7.4 to 7.5 to 8.0. He uses some of the components of the inferior version replacing the less efficient for new ones until he gets a perfect Turing machine built with plastic materials that succeeds in looking just like a human organism. Is it a human being with classical feelings and emotions or is it an informatic compound? The inventor’s work-in-progress strongly resembles our own process of constant superseding of organs and parts of our bodies for mechanical prosthesis, smart devices or chemical substances that improve our performance. The cyb component takes dominance over the org component of the cyborg.
Also in this sense the work of love is comparable to the work of art (tekhné). Thus, love becomes the encounter between two speaking works of art (artful devices), with the likeness of dolls, puppets, Pygmalion’s or Dr. Frankenstein’s creations.
The questions to be asked in a loving couple to each other in the age of mechanical reproductibility would be: How much of you is a Turing machine? How advanced is your version of the android? The answer could be: Maybe you prefer the best, maybe you like the worst of my components (organs). It is up to you to decide what you want me to be. I am ductile, ready to adjust to your demands and incorporate or change the new organs you may require. If you see that there is something I lack… oh! … maybe I can get it in Amazon!».
Once the top floor of the graph of desire has been cut out, the bottom floor is regulated by the market, the true rival of the work of psychoanalysis. The satisfaction of demands replaces the unending search for the object of desire and its evasive encounter in love.Thus, psychoanalysis, the work of psychoanalysis, is also placed in the conjunction of the works of love and art.
Beside the aforementioned three references mentioned at the beginning I would add:
Pascal Bruckner: The paradox of love, Princeton University Press. 2012.
Ruth Golan: Loving psychoanalysis, London, Karnac, 2006, pp. 21-34.
Anne Dufourmentelle: Blind Date. Sex and Philosophy. University or Illinois Press, 2007
Anne Dufourmentelle: En cas d’amour. Psychopathologie de la vie amoureuse. Paris. Payot, 2009.
Anne Dufourmentelle et Laure Leter. Se trouver. Dialogue sur les nouvelles souffrances contemporaines. Paris, J. C. Lattès, 2014.
 I owe and am pleased to thank Daniel Koren for reminding me about this and other precisions needed by this text. Also to Tamara Francés, Jacques Nassif and Hilda Fernández for the countless corrections to the English text.