Getting rid of the vicious part of libidinality would also get rid of its potential for creative fervor, since in a libidinal economy, creativity can only develop parallel to libidinal drives. Thus, capitalist alienation is fiercely criticized, but it nevertheless remains unconsciously seductive to its critics. But what if the society rids itself of the tempting form of a commodity, of surplus value, and grounds economy on competition in production and distribution according to the necessities constructed by de-libidinized habits of consuming?
In the work of Soviet Marxist philosophers and psychologists, especially Lev Vygotsky, one comes across an unconcealed mistrust of the role of the unconscious—mistrust of the idea that there might be a dichotomy between the unconscious and conscious regimes. Piaget interprets this feature as the mode of the unconscious as such. This stage of infancy represents the psychic condition directed to individual pleasure and detached from culture and reality. All social, logical, and generalizing functions emerge later.
Generally speaking, in works of Soviet philosophy in which the impact of the unconscious, pleasure, libidinality, and individual psychology was debated works by, for example, Evald Ilyenkov, Mikhail Lifschitz, and Mikhail Bakhtin , the emphasis was always on the fact that social functions precede the instincts and hence the regimes of the unconscious.
Within the framework of such a teleology, individual pleasure, desire, and its satisfaction are complements to the broader demands of the social, even at a very early stage. Vygotsky insists that the attachment or detachment of a child to the implementation of social procedures is dependent on the social conditions of his or her upbringing—on whether the child is raised in the family or in broader collectivities. This presupposes the acquisition of cultural and social habits by way of collectivity, rather than via the nuclear family.
It means that even when a child is confined to the father-mother nucleus, he or she acquires qualities general for humanity and society, since these qualities have been constructed diachronically over the course of human history. From this standpoint—a standpoint that obsessed Soviet Marxist philosophy—so-called polymorphous sexuality and the whole set of sexual perversions ascribed to the child by psychoanalysis can be regarded as superfluous. Perversions and sexuality can be ascribed to the child only if they unfold via the linguistic articulation and registration of them—which the child, at least in the pre-oedipal or even oedipal stage, is not able to do.
By contrast, Vygotsky insists that the satisfaction of needs which Piaget calls the regime of pleasure cannot be divorced from the social adaptation to reality.
According to Vygotsky, pleasure is not just about receiving pleasure; rather, it is inserted into a more complex teleological set of references to reality. This logic is diametrically opposed to the logic of libidinal economy that characterizes capitalist society. Desire and pleasure can only be understood as necessities to be implemented.
The gap between the need for pleasure and the necessity for common values is minimized. A society in which production tries to attain the conditions of use value rids itself of the surplus economy—both in desire, as well as in consuming and communication. On the contrary, excessive action is manifested elsewhere—in labor, ethical deeds, social responsibility, art, and culture.
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It becomes the zeal and toil of dedication rather than pleasure or jouissance. Thus, under the conditions of an economy aimed at use value, desire stops being libidinal. Lyotard expertly describes the way the commodity form permeates bodies and their impulses. This is why the critique of the commodity cannot overthrow the regime of capital and the libidinal economy: because the body, the unconscious, and desire remain aroused by the commodity.
This does not, of course, take place in a straightforward way. The point here is that the commodity form is constructed so that it serves and extends the phantasmatic drives of the unconscious. But Vygotsky, along with many other Soviet thinkers, tried to prove that the satisfaction of desire should not be opposed to the adjustment to reality.
The Libidinal Economy of Singularity
Necessity can be realized in the domain of reality, not counter to it, as Piaget claims. Similarly, there is no abstract thought without a relation to reality, to concreteness. Both the unconscious and the speculative or logical regimes are part and parcel of reality.
Desire is tied to reality rather than to phantasms; it functions within the regime of necessity.
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To repeat: for Vygotsky and his Soviet colleagues, pleasure is described as a need to be satisfied. This means that pleasure is not epistemologically separate from necessity. It also implies the non-libidinality of an economy based on necessity and its unmediated satisfaction this unmediatedness is actually the quality of use value. By contrast, in a libidinal economy, pleasure, even when it is satisfied, is embedded in the diversification of modes of mediation—mediation between the drives and their satisfaction.
It is precisely this gap that is phantasmatic and that produces the surplus.
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Historically, in socialist countries, extensive underground economies developed to meet the demand for alluring commodities from abroad. Perhaps, they may speculate, there was some ideological imperative to keep the whole spectrum of production, trade, and services plain enough to evade the attractiveness generated by a surplus economy—attractiveness that first takes the form of a phantasm, and is then embodied in a commodity. I put this question to Andrey Kolganov, a well-known economist who researches the Soviet economy. He answered that there was never any deliberate social engineering through unreliable services or intentionally unattractive and poorly designed commodities.
Rather, this situation was the consequence of a planned economy that did not so much aim to satisfy individual, specific demands; rather, it was constructed to satisfy basic shared and hence general necessities. Commodities were radically de-personified. Paradoxically, this de-personified, de-privatized material culture met the demand for de-alienation among individuals, who no longer needed any privacy or individualized space. In this economy, the object became the tautological realization of its idea—as if it were possible to imagine the chairness of a chair or to wear the coatness of a coat.
Interestingly, this applied even to food, which had to be healthy, but deprived of any specific gourmet features, meaning that one had to eat the cheeseness of cheese—i. This asceticism was not predesigned ideologically. The de-libidinized commodity was just a consequence of the planned economy. This quality was manifested in a number of works by Moscow Conceptualists. These non-libidinal conditions of production implied an economy that was not economical, that did not aim at economic growth: economy and production were had to be subordinated to social and cultural criteria.
That is why social and economic efficiencies were not treated as one and the same thing. Here we encounter an interesting paradox. The society that tried to de-alienate social relations produced extremely unattractive commodities and artifacts of material culture which even compelled the Moscow Conceptualists to invent a concept for a Soviet-produced object: Plokhaya Vesh —bad thing. By contrast, the society in which production was by definition based on alienated labor and social relations generated commodities that aroused intimacy, desire, and comfort—i.
The anti-commodity was too general, since it was the embodiment of the idea of a basic need, whereas the capitalist commodity acquired the qualities of an unalienated, desired thing. Later, this unattractiveness of Soviet material culture was characterized by its critics as the embodiment of inhuman, abstract mass production.
This is because personal desire is refused in favor of impersonally deployed de-alienation. Thus, the unattractiveness of Soviet goods was not the ideological imperative of the Party. Rather, it was the consequence of economic shortages that resulted from the demand for equal distribution for all. Modesty and asceticism were an inevitable consequence of social equality. Without the fetishism of commodities, it would be impossible to design any constructs or languages of sexuality. This is one of the important issues ignored by Freud. To repeat: according to a widely held belief, sexuality during historical socialism was suppressed by authoritarian restrictions on various freedoms.
But, the argument goes, since sexuality is the epitome of liberation, and since sexuality can never be absent from any society, sexuality is always at least latently embedded in any society as the potential for freedom—freedom from prejudices, power, control, and so forth.
In other words, the Shoah leaves us silent before its void, since it does not belong to any previous political phrase regimen or means for representing it. To represent it is to misrepresent it, and hence any regime is going to leave this powerful silence always on the edge of any discourse about it. From his early work on phenomenology through Discourse, Figure , Libidinal Economy , and The Postmodern Condition , Lyotard argued that events occur always in the face of what is not presentable to a phenomenology, discourse, language game, or phrase regimen.
An event, if it occurs, is not simply unforseeable within any of these, but in fact explodes our ability to represent them within any language game or phrase regimen. The Shoah is one such event. There is no link to be found between the genre of discourse of the Apartheid South Africa and those who were silenced and violently suffered under white hegemony. There is, in these cases, no possibility for litigation, since one side has no right to claim justice within the dominant language of the political regime.
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This is what a wrong would be: a damage accompanied by the lose of the means to prove the damage. This is the case if the victim is deprived of life, or all of his or her liberties, or of the freedom to make his or her ideas or opinions public, or simply the right to testify to the damage… In all of these cases, to the privation constituted by the damage there is added the impossibility of bringing it to the knowledge of others. Differend , 5.
This should not be taken to mean that linkages cannot eventually be made, that justice cannot be done in spite of a differend. But new phrases regimens will need to be invented, new gestures or ways of existing together will have to be found, to get around this incommensurability. In fact, the cause of justice means that one phrase regimen e.
For Lyotard, then, the politics of the differend does not call for valuing different discourses equally or one recognizing another, since, of course, conflict occurs precisely where neither side finds meaning in the phrase regimen of the other. Lyotard thus does not model the different phrase regimens as a marketplace of ideas, since the existence of one phrase regimen may mean the violent silencing of another. This is what gives us the ability to name the unjust.
The plurality of phrase regimens is a fact, and what is unjust or wrong would be precisely using one phrase regimen to silence that of others, to introduce a localized narrative as a metanarrative that would put all others in their place and render them mute and unseen.