Probably the most significant criticism that Everyday Analysis has come under in the course of its first year (our birthday is Jan 14th), is that it fails to criticize heavily enough the problematic popular culture that it tackles (see the #THICKE saga and the Twitter fall-out below), or even that it has defended problematic elements of culture (see the attempt to discover a radicalism in frightening rapper A$AP Rocky). These criticisms may have a political point to make about where emphasis is placed, and this article is an attempt to negotiate them.
What we want to avoid at all costs is something common inside both academic and journalistic discourse; criticizing the popular from an imaginary privileged position of knowledge, and even setting up this imaginary position in the process; making it seem as though we can speak from somewhere outside these discourses. This makes philosophy/theory into something pure, and allows it to appear to be a ‘key’ to reading the outside world; something we have taken particular issue with in our forthcoming book.
What we follow instead is something directly from but by no means limited to Lacanian psychoanalysis. We ask your attention here for a quick look at another matheme. Those interested in these can compare this to the ones discussed in our analysis of Epic, otherwise it can be taken on its own. The matheme describes ‘the discourse of the analyst’:
The first position in the matheme is the ‘driving seat,’ here filled by the symbol a. The a refers to what Lacan calls ‘jouissance’, which for now we might settle on the definition: enjoyment which has no apparent purpose. This can be anything from biting our nails to enjoying rap music; it is when we cannot see or imagine what the value of such enjoyment is. The first position in the matheme operates on (and creates) the second position, here occupied by the S. This represents the Subject, or the individual as s/he exists as subjected to his/her historical and political conditions. So – though there are many implications of this – we can say that what is reversed here is a traditional idea of ‘cultivated taste’ – we do not control what we like, what we like controls us. As such there is a criticism here of some of those academic and journalistic tones referred to earlier; whilst they see themselves as cultivated, as ‘above’ problematic forms of enjoyment (imagine the voice, ‘oh I only like arthouse cinema etc’); we ought not to congratulate ourselves on our taste, because we did not choose this enjoyment, it chose us.
And yet – this enjoyment is not entirely privileged either. In the matheme, below the first bar, is the S2. This represents ‘knowledge’ – but we might better think of it as ideology, or as the total amount of knowledge that a particular time and place has. Being below the bar in the matheme means to support, so that here it is knowledge, or even ideology, which supports this enjoyment that in turn creates us as subjects. So our enjoyment, the bit of it that we cannot explain, the bit which does not fit the model epitomised by a colleague who recently remarked ‘Oh I love the opera because it really questions the logic of Fascism,’ the bit we ‘love’ but cannot understand why, even the bit which it specifically seems we should NOT love (biting my nails, A$AP Rocky) is the bit which reveals to us how we are constructed by the knowledge of our moment. The question of what supports and constructs this a has always been the focus of Everyday Analysis. We’re not so much interested in criticizing what we enjoy as in thinking about what allows us to enjoy it. We hope this shows that we are not trying to get Robin Thicke off the hook…
What we have tried to do in this project is write on what we enjoy, and even especially what we enjoy but should not be enjoying or cannot explain enjoying according to our existing systems of knowledge, because it there that we can find out something about the way our enjoyment is structured that was previously unknown to us. We hope to avoid the journalistic and academic tendencies to write positively about what we like and negatively about what we don’t, which simply re-affirms our position as the subject writing. Instead it is hoped that this approach questions that which constructs us as subjects. This means admitting that we have enjoyments we may not want, and even placing these in the centre, in the ‘driving seat’ of the matheme, in order to take them apart. Perhaps in the next year of our project we can extend the politics of this, and show more convincingly that in these terms the popular is the political.
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