Why the Coalition Should Have Us in Stitches, but Doesn’t… A Lacanian Reading of the 2010 General Election

When a Liberal Democrat told one of us that, “what you don’t understand about politics is this…”, it seemed they were going a little against that policy of ‘free debate’ which is inherent in the party name, but it also got us to thinking: what exactly is ‘Liberal Democracy’ in the grand political scheme of things? In the political spectrum, we’ll agree, there is the Left and Right, and if – as Slavoj Žižek argues in Less Than Nothing (p.613) – the Right truly see themselves as the preservers of a moderate and stable unified society and the Left as campaigners for greater social justice then the Left can only be seen to the Right as intrusive and disruptive antagonisers, and the Right to the Left only as purveyors of a class-divide which keeps the advantaged at an advantage over the disadvantaged. But where do the Liberal Democrats figure in all this?

We would be acting too hastily to assign them the place of the ‘middle-ground’. Perhaps it is more likely the case that the political spectrum is not actually riven by a middle-ground, but is instead ‘sutured’, in the Lacanian sense: the Left to the Right. Suture, a concept elaborated by Jacques-Alain Miller, is here seen as the process by which a stitch functions: in surgery, as in textiles, a stitch brings two lips of tissue together through their suture, and in the first instance is then most often removed, or dissolves, or falls away, and in the second is often hidden or covered up; for example, by a hem – in both cases leaving all but a trace. The gap between the two lips of tissue is thus only removed through their suture, and then the suture itself is removed.

In our above political analogy there is no middle-ground: the Left can only see the Right in a certain way and the Right can only see the Left in a certain way. This is so because the gap between Left and Right is sutured, bringing the two poles together to form what we perceive as the political spectrum, and for this spectrum to begin operating the suture itself must dissolve, or fall away from the wound, leaving its scar tissue. That the political wound is neither open nor healed, but a scar, is the trace of its having been sutured. The suture, thus, cannot speak for itself, but rather confers a meaning on that which it has sutured through its removal. The meaning it leaves in the wake of the sewn-together Left and Right, for example, is that of the concept of politics itself. The stitch or thread cannot and does not take a political stance, but rather leaves a scar that is the political realm behind. This of course does not mean that suture is neutral; it cannot even be neutral as it cannot take a political standpoint at all, even that of neutrality; i.e., it cannot be neutral precisely because it cannot take sides: the stitch must dissolve entirely or fall away, not remain stuck on one side or the other.

The political spectrum is thus always already a coalition: the very result of its suture. In the true political spectrum the only thing that really binds the Left’s thinking to the Right’s is the fact that they are both political, in all else they are vehemently separated (this is the case even if in this country what is left of the ‘Left’ is only a tokenistic remnant; a fact which by no means compromises the concept of Leftism itself). Why then, are the Liberal Democrats not representatives of suture? The last election will provide an answer. Ideally, the Lib Dems would like to be the suture that remains in place. Remaining in place, however, is precisely suture’s structural impossibility, and the 2010 election only goes to prove this in the fact that it forced the Lib Dems to pick a side.

For Lacan the phallus is the master-signifier: like suture it confers signification, but it castrates itself in the process. For a brief moment Nick Clegg was the phallus par excellence. The most powerful politician in the country and yet bound by being only able to ask himself the one question: who must we choose to render our party impotent? Precisely why the joke of our coalition government doesn’t leave us in stitches is because stitches cannot be left in.

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