From speech to practice

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How many discourses, ways of establishing the social bond between the participants of a given society, today and yesterday, are there?

How many discourses, ways of establishing the social bond between the participants of a given society, today and yesterday, are there? As we know, according to Jacques Lacan, who thinks from a structuralist and transhistorical perspective, there would be basically four: there would be the discourse of the master, the university, the hysteric and the psychoanalyst. In addition to additional speech from the homo economist - which he, when apprehending it only in the sphere of circulation of contemporary consumerism, calls the capitalist discourse – wouldn’t there be any more?

In all cases – and this is very important – the theoretical assumption of this construction as a whole says that the human being is just a homo alienatis. And this is so because, according to Lacan's esoteric formalism, he is placed as an eternal prisoner of the structure of language which, according to him, functions as a transcendental. Now, where does such an “ideological illusion of a complete subordination of human life to formal rules” come from? The “bureaucratization of praxis”, as Carlos Nelson Coutinho suggests?[I]

It should be noted, firstly, that the notion of social bond is the structuralist way of learning the appearance of certain social relationships. Thus, the relationship of domination by direct command (material subsumption) between, for example, the master and the slave, is understood as a link that unites, certainly in a tense way, these two characters through the master's speech. Presented in this way, it starts to function as a scheme that allows us to understand the relations of domination by command in general, that is, as if it were a structural constant with a transhistorical value.

Similarly, the social relationship of ideological domination (intellectual subsumption) that unites, for example, an authoritarian leader and his followers, is confiscated as a type of social bond that Lacan terms confusingly, but on purpose, as is his style, of university speech. Everything happens, then, as if the knowledge generated there was always already routinized in the service of domination. In any case, also in this case, the bond is constituted as a tense connection between social actors positioned differently from each other.

The term “university discourse”, for this very reason, creates enormous difficulty of understanding, since it is, in fact, the ideological discourse that aims to subordinate others to interests that are foreign to them, through the introjection into their psyches of ways of being and acting that alienate them in the form of “subjects” – that is, subjects in quotation marks. Thus, those who have been consciously and unconsciously co-opted by this type of discourse are driven to function socially in the interests of others, ceasing to be and act for themselves. Could this be the most important role of the university institution in capitalism, which has already entered its twilight?

These two discourses have their reverse in the discourses of the hysteric and the analyst. The first exposes the position of the subordinate especially in the relationship of domination by direct command – but also in the relationship of psychic subordination. The hysteric is, in principle, someone who continually complains, whether with words or with their own body, with the aim of deposing a master, a lord, a boss. The second presents the position of the one who is supposedly on the side of the subordinate, particularly in the relationship of ideological domination, always seeking to decipher the reasons for their suffering. Maintaining the Lacanian lexicon here, would it truly be a revolutionary discourse?

Constructed, according to Lacan, supposedly in the tradition that comes from Sigmund Freud, these discourses expose, at a highly abstract level, the actions mediated by language that consist of governing, educating (indoctrinating is perhaps a more appropriate term here), making desire and psychoanalyzing . Before proceeding, it should be noted right away that one of the problems with this formulation is that it loses its historical reference, even though it has a notable descriptive value, which – and this is very important – can be used in several very contradictory ways. .

The social ties described by these four discourses place external links between social positions that lack complementarity, mutual adjustment, a good combination. And here it is necessary to see that Lacan is partially committed to Thomas Hobbes's founding anthropology according to which “man is man's wolf”. As he is committed to moving away from the conceptual dialectic that comes from Hegel, instead of saying that these bonds are appearances of social contradictions, he says that they are characterized by establishing a disjunction, which he says is a non-relation (non rapport). Now, what does this conception of discourse hide?

Antonio Quinet, a renowned Lacanian doctor, states that “every social bond is a discourse determined by jouissance and about jouissance”. And that “the social bond is a discursive structure of the domination of enjoyment”[ii] – Now, what does he mean by that? It seems to indicate that Lacanian anthropology understands the human being as a desiring being, who inexorably seeks enjoyment, in such a way that this becomes his supreme objective. And by enjoyment, a complex and polysemic notion, we roughly understand the finished sensation that promises pleasure, but brings along pain and suffering, and that tends to be sought repeatedly. Now, desire for Lacan is not the product of concrete need, but is taken as transfinite.

Here only the psychoanalyst's discourse is discussed, with a view to showing its limitations, presenting, at the same time, an “other discourse” which, as we seek to show later, cannot be exposed through such a scheme in its original form, transformative or revolutionary discourse. Even because it cannot be defined as a Lacanian discourse, but as praxis, symbolically mediated concrete action (in a minimal definition). Note, first, that the Lacanian typology of discourses has a general structure, as well as a logic of interaction and production of results, and it appears here in sequence:

Called mathema by Lacan – a dandy who sacralized the formalized language of mathematics –, the structural scheme constitutive, by assumption, of the psychoanalyst's discourse also appears in sequence. It can be seen that this discourse has a critical character that places, on one side, the one who analyzes the other and who does so because he has supposedly adequate knowledge and, on the opposite side, the one who presents himself as “sick”, that is, who is limited by some psychic knot that causes him suffering. In this social bond, unlike the other three in which the other (represented by a so-called crossed out $) is treated as an object, the other here is treated, supposedly, as a subject; in fact – strictly and at most – as a “subject”.

The object “a”, according to Lacan’s metapsychology, is the “transcendental thing” in which desire falls. It does not, therefore, express the desire for this or that in the first place. In an abstract way, it represents the lost object, invariably sought without success by human beings in general, which reveals (but this will still be questioned here) that the desire of the featherless biped turns out to be greedy and insatiable. Now, desire thought of in this way becomes, in fact, a cult of the commodity form under secrecy.

The psychoanalyst, as an agent, puts himself in the place of this object of desire, of the abstract want of the analyzed person, constituting a discourse whose specificity consists of striving to refocus the “subject” that is being analyzed. What he holds is the specialized knowledge of the “science” of psychoanalysis and what he makes are interpretations, which he submits to his patient so that he or she can have “clicks” (insights) of clarification about his alienated psychic being – without him being able to stop being an alienated person. What he can do is face and come to terms with his situation better. homo alienatis.

What does the barred subject, that is, a “subject” in quotation marks, produce? He speaks in the analytical environment (a room with at least a couch or, perhaps, a screen), not with a deliberate purpose, but through free association, for this is how he opens the recesses of his mind through “alerts” that they are symptoms for the analyst. The internal censorship, which usually constrains those who speak in society, is partly suspended, in such a way that the unconscious of the analyzed person can reveal itself through spoken enigmas in which the analyst tries to find its existential meaning. Behold, on the couch, society is supposedly in parentheses.

Psychoanalysis calls this experience hysterization of the “subject”: he doesn't know, but he says it, ends up saying it – and what he says is about the most hidden part of himself. And he “speaks” through sudden silence, through a stumble in speech, through dreams, etc. If the analysis gets it right and undoes a knot, the “subject” lives the experience of enjoyment – ​​of a sensation that supposedly undoes the psychic knot. It will be?

The main limitation of this discourse is that it forges a situation in which possible change is restricted by a given psycho-sociological structure, in which a true transformation cannot therefore occur: thus, as a consequence, the subject packaged – and thus seen – by this Psychoanalytic knowledge leaves the analysis as it entered, that is, still as a “subject”. This is, therefore, a methodological limitation: the structuralist way of thinking confronts the dialectical way of thinking, in which contradictions continue to produce tensions, at least for a while, but end up engendering transformations of the structures themselves, which, as we know, whether well or poorly, they can be constructive or destructive.

Freud in his classic text Terminable and never-ending analysis, written in 1937, discusses the practical limitations of the analytical effort, with undeniable pessimism. Psychoanalysis, as I said, aims to “strengthen the ego, expand its field of perception, so that it can appropriate new parts of the id”. If it is successful: “where the id was, the ego will remain” – he added. However, this effort – he considered – is contradicted by comorbidity, resistance, the impossibility of changing the patient's practical life and the death drive (name given to the destructive or aggressive impulse of the natural human being that has been stored and contained in the unconscious of the human being). civilized and which manifests itself in the form of compulsion).

Thus it can be seen that even classical psychoanalysis – which is still materialist and not idealist like Lacanian psychoanalysis – also suffers from a methodological deficiency, that is, the same one found in the discourses in which Lacan closes the social links: both one and the other construct a founding anthropology and, thus, becomes incapable of understanding the role of praxis ontocreative that transforms society and, also, the human being himself. Structural social relations, structures of societal interaction, mental structures can be modified through this praxis.

Bearing this consideration in mind, we disagree here with Slavoj Zizek when he makes a peremptory statement in his seminal article on Jacques Lacan's four speeches, that “the analyst’s discourse supports the emergence of emancipatory and revolutionary subjectivity (…)”.

 It is believed here that this is false because he ignores the limitations of this entire structuralist construction of the French psychoanalyst. Now, he is still wrong – it is judged here – when he states, in the same text, that the “[revolutionary] agent addresses the subject [barred] from the position of knowledge that occupies the place of truth”. Therefore, a subjected subject cannot know the entire truth of current society and, as such, does not and does not attempt to bring about societal transformation.

And the reason is simple: the Lacanian subject becomes the homo alienatis, that is, just a “subject”, a subject subjected to a vanishing point that is within it and outside of it – which comes from society, but appears there as transcendental. As a “subject”, he remains alienated from language and the object “a”, the supposed incessant and driving cause of an always “more”, a “more” that makes human desire insatiable; Now, there is no transformative or revolutionary movement if there is no transition from the “subject” into an effective subject – even if this cannot be established in a full and definitive way.

It should be noted, in passing, that the idea of ​​a subject fully realized in history is, in fact, in open conflict with the very notion of praxis. In fact, becoming a subject is a constant struggle, which has moments of success and moments of failure.

Revolutionary discourse, to say it still in the fixed Lacanian framework, has to give up the transcendental object “a” because it represents, ultimately, the compulsion of capital installed in the psyche. Therefore, it must be replaced by a generic representative object, a “concrete object”, which is represented by a circled “a”. Making this critical intervention in the Lacanian scheme, we have, in the figure in sequence, the passage from “a” into – that is, into an “a” rejected as such, because, to put it another way, it is a psychic representative of insatiability capital.

In fact, as has already been shown in another text (The speech of homo oeconomicus), Lacan's object “a” is just a subjective transfiguration of capital that, together with it, obeys the logic of infinite development that Marx fully presented in his most important work. This logic subsumes the social individual, transforming him into the support and personification of either merchandise, money, capital or all three at the same time. As we know, for the critic of political economy, the subject is not placed in capitalism, but only presupposed. It is through a revolutionary political process, only possible (but not inevitable as vulgar Marxism judges), that the denied but presupposed subject – the proletariat – can come into existence, abolishing capitalism and instituting a socialism that, in the original terms of Marx, cannot fail to be democratic.

If the analyst's discourse is incongruous with revolutionary praxis, how can the latter be thought of in a scheme derived from that created by Lacan, but which radically diverges from him? Firstly, it is necessary to recognize that it is not a discourse formed by free-floating signifiers about the “real”, but a link that employs language, but is immersed in the praxis constitutive social aspect of the human being as such, that is, in the work of transforming the world. Language, seen in this way, does not have a transcendental structure, but is formed as a whole in transformation in this praxis through historically determined social relations.

Secondly, it is necessary to think of the subject dialectically and not in a foundational way, that is, as a first principle: the subject is not placed in the initial conditions, but it comes in the process of transformation because it is presupposed, that is, it is in the form of a speculative moment that is inherent to dialectics. In this sense, the result does not fall short, but goes beyond the dialectic of master and slave that, as we know, inspired Lacan to construct his four speeches. Thirdly, it is also necessary to include, as a possibility, the transformation of society.

 Now, how is it possible to do this? To provide a concrete response to this challenge, consider what is described in the diagram below in which the speech, which has now become a praxis, presupposes the capitalist mode of production.

What does this scheme say? The revolutionary subject, who seeks to place himself in life as an effective subject, puts himself in the place of desire that is subsumed under capital in its initial condition, the forms of merchandise and money, seeking to show that he needs to abandon this “master”, that he dominates materially and intellectually. To do so, he uses the critical knowledge made available to those who want to fight and the history of struggles for emancipation. Its main objective is to counteract the alienation to which others are subjected so that they join the struggles against expropriation, exploitation, automation of human beings, etc.

The “subject” who can position himself as an effective subject is now guided by concrete objectives, such as, for example, inciting a strike for a salary increase, freeing women from patriarchy, electing socialist representatives in political spheres, etc. Thus, the other, who at first is just a “subject”, that is, a presupposed subject, also becomes a posited subject, that is, a subject – although never in the form of an absolute subject, as it becomes Being a subject is a constant struggle. In any case, the symbolic exchange is always bidirectional – and not unidirectional as in Lacanian schemes.

By achieving these objectives, the now subject acts – together with others, collectively, forming a class – as a consciously ontocreative being; thus, he obtains a satisfaction of happiness or even fulfillment – ​​even if fleeting; behold, the fight continues. If the homo alienatis can only claim jouissance (a mixture of pleasure and pain that comes in a compulsive process), he who places himself as a subject, who fights against his own alienation and its inner and outer causes, can obtain a satisfaction that goes beyond pleasure and that is not contaminated by suffering. Its activity is consciously conceived as praxis, that is, as a confrontation with what is historically established and which is preventing the realization of the woman/man who lives in the appearance of concreteness as a human and social being in a process of emancipation.

Finally, it is necessary to declare that the last scheme presented does not intend to be – and, in fact, it is not – a new contribution to left-wing politics, but merely a methodological counterpoint that aims to show the implicit weaknesses of the “four plus one” discourse. by Jacques Lacan. Which is also nothing new.[iii]

His schemes that present types of practical interactions as discourses suffer from the limitations of structuralist scientism which, if it does not entirely paralyze social processes, does not conceive them as carriers of internal contradictions and, therefore, in becoming. Now, only Marx's dialectic (developed from Hegel's dialectic) presents the concrete as a conceptually thought concrete, not as something that merely reproduces itself, but as a becoming, as a perennial transformation, in which the old persists, but the new appears in the end.

And by this “new” we mean profound changes in social life as a whole – note, however, that another future is here a telos, not a historical destiny. That praxis be guided, therefore, by the pessimism of reason and the optimism of will – a motto that is repeated here, without adding anything new.

* Eleutério FS Prado is a full and senior professor at the Department of Economics at USP. Author, among other books, of From the logic of the critique of political economy (anti-capital fights).


[I] See Coutinho, Carlos N. Structuralism and the misery of reason. São Paulo: Popular Expression, 2010, p. 75.

[ii] Quinet, Antonio. Psychosis and social bonds: schizophrenia, paranoia and melancholia. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2009, p. 30.

[iii] See Fougeyrollas, Pierre. L'obscurantisme contemporain: Lacan, Lévy-Strauss, Althusser. Spag-Papírus, 1980.

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