1|Jodi Dean. Cardiff draft. Do not cite.

Drive, Complexity, and University Discourse

Among the remarks circulating as evidence of bankers’ arrogant disregard for the destructive effects of their high risk financial strategies in 2007, the most notorious came in July from then CEO of Citigroup, Charles Prince: “as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.” He added: “we’re still dancing.” At the time, the subprime mortgage market was in free fall. Yet over the preceding five months, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch had led Wall Street in creating and selling 50 billion dollars in new CDOs (collateralized debt obligations, a kind of derivative backed by mortgage bonds). Prince thought the “pools of liquidity” were deep enough —the amount of available capital big enough—to be virtually immunized from the collapse of subprime. That year, the total dollar amount of CDOs issued by Wall Street was 486.8 billion dollars. In the words of one investor, “We knew the collateral for the CDOs had collapsed. And yet everything went on, as if nothing had changed.” The following year, the International Monetary Fund would put losses related to US generated subprime mortgage assets at one trillion dollars. The psychoanalytic term for this keeping on, this repetition, is drive. Drive is a keeping on beyond pleasure, beyond use, beyond desire. In the reflexive turn of the drive, drive’s loop back round upon itself, activity becomes passivity, stuckness in a circuit: I know that you know that I know that you know that I know. . . One of Slavoj Žižek’s most significant theoretical contributions is his activation of Lacan’s teachings on drive. Žižek explores drive throughout his work, using drive to rethink subjectivity, ideology, and ontology. His activation of the concept also configures drive as a category for political economy. For example, the reflexive loops, stuckness, and ruptures of

2|Jodi Dean. Cardiff draft. Do not cite. drive manifest themselves in the dynamic of capitalism’s booms and busts. Žižek writes, “Drive inheres to capitalism at a … fundamental, systemic level: drive is that which propels the whole capitalist machinery, it is the impersonal compulsion to engage in the endless circular movement of expanded self-reproduction.” This afternoon, I put Žižek’s version of drive to work in order to analyze the extreme capitalism of neoliberalism. I highlight derivatives as the commodity form of drive, the relation between drive and complexity, and university discourse as a dynamic of the drive to keep on knowing more and more. The point is to attend to our contemporary capture in circuits of drive. I’ll start off by exploring the difference between desire and drive. Desire and drive designate relations to jouissance, that is, the economies through which the subject structures her enjoyment. Desire is always a desire to desire, a desire that can never be filled, a desire for a jouissance or enjoyment that can never be attained. In contrast, drive attains jouissance in the repetitive process of not reaching it. Enjoyment comes from the process itself, not from fulfilling an ultimate goal. Žižek writes, “In Lacanian terms, one can determine the distinction between individual greed and the striving of capital itself as the difference between desire and drive.” Individual greed might be unlimited, a desire for more, more, more, a desire that ultimately can never be met. Desire alone, however, can’t account for the persistence of capitalism. The fundamental structure of capitalism is a circuit; capital strives to accumulate, to reproduce itself. It circulates, ceasing to be capital if this circulation stops. Žižek also considers the difference between desire and drive via a change in the position and function of objet petit a. He writes: Although, in both cases, the link between object and loss is crucial, in the case of the objet a as the object of desire, we have an object which was originally lost, which coincides with its own loss, which emerges as lost, while, in the case of the

That is to say. the process pushes on. Drive’s compulsive force captures the subject. Drive is loss as a force or the force loss exerts on the field of desire. Hands were tied. completion. that takes its form and pulsion. the weird movement called ‘drive’ is not driven by the ‘impossible’ quest for the lost object. from loss. traditional asset managers have been forced to play keep-up to stay in the game. Wall Street persistently spoke in the confined and compelled terms of drive. objet a as the object of drive. The idea here is that drive is a kind of compulsion or force. hedge funds. in a relentless. It’s a force that is shaped. distance —itself.” This high frequency trading is not . in the immortal words of Margaret Thatcher.” government had to step in. We see this force of loss expressed in capitalism as the loss of satisfaction. A New York Times article on high frequency trading. it is a push to directly enact the ‘loss’—the gap. it’s the more uncanny force of drive in capitalist dynamics. During the financial crisis. Rather. cut. we pass from the lost object to loss itself as an object. a capacity to be at rest.” This “has to” shouldn’t be confused with some kind of illusory natural law or inherent economic truth.3|Jodi Dean. Do not cite. nonsensical circuit. Cardiff draft. transactions that occur at a rate of something like 98 millionths of a second. “Broker-dealers. drive’s compulsion manifest itself in part in the absence of alternatives that pervaded official explanations in the US for the bailout of the big banks: “they were too big to fail.” Since “failure was not an option. Even two years after the bailouts. “There is no alternative. Absent an end or a limit. the ‘object’ is directly the loss itself—in the shift from desire to drive. quoted a research report on the necessity of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on faster computers and designated networks to enable higher speed trades. One has to keep going or.

Persistent repetition can amplify patterns to the point of overload and collapse. a bit of enjoyment. This reflexivity has market effects: deals are made and prices rise. the reflexive movement of drive is a loop. although each moment is a little different. but rarely really gets it. Stuck in the loop of drive. The reiterations that fail to respond to changes in their setting themselves change the . but more like a messy spiral. doing the same thing over and over shifts from order into chaos. As Žižek emphasizes. then I should make and sell you some. which again confirms my expectations and your savvy as an investor. the subject gets something. this confirms to you that they are good investments (or else I wouldn’t be selling them).4|Jodi Dean. consequently. Do not cite. Cardiff draft. Still. I then share this news with others. the subject keeps doing the same thing. At some point. And why is each movement a little different? Because it comes next. This inclusion brings with it an unavoidable (and constitutive) distortion as the presence or intervention of the subject affects the setting it encounters. And this nugget of enjoyment is enough of a payoff to keep the subject keeping on. trying to get the same result. One shouldn’t imagine it as a circle or oval. confined to shadow markets. who want to buy some. it adds itself and thereby changes the setting of the next circuit. An additional feature of drive is its reflexivity. The loop of the drive is an uneven repetition and return that misses and errs. in the repeated effort of trying. which tells me I was right to think that you thought these were a good investment. etc. the average time a stock is held is 22 seconds and the average foreign currency investment last 30 seconds. though. Expressed in the bubble dynamics of speculative finance: if I think that you think CDOs are a good investment. the inclusion of the subject in the scene she observes. According to economist Michael Hudson. you purchase more. as in the bursting of market bubbles.

As a class. It’s not just a bet. Consider the “synthetic CDO.” This is a collateralized debt obligation comprised of credit-default swaps (insurance on tranches of bonds). currency swaps. Derivatives are a class of custom-made financial tools such as commodity futures. and collateralized debt obligations that let traders insure or bet against movements in other financial instruments. stock options. Thus. capitalism in the US and UK has changed from a Keynesian to a neoliberal form. the derivative market expanded from $866 billion to $454 trillion. Cardiff draft. Do not cite. Here we encounter capitalism’s creative destruction or the centrality of crises to capitalism’s peculiar persistence. specialized investment vehicle. setting. Michael Lewis explains. from 1987 to 2007. Over the last thirty years.5|Jodi Dean. So Žižek’s activization of drive mobilizes the category for political economy as it highlights drive as a compulsive. One of the finance sector’s primary weapons of mass destruction (to use the term applied by investor Warren Buffet) is the derivative. it’s a bet on how others will bet. the derivative instrument is reflexive: it steps back from one level of circulation (like trade in stocks or bonds) and commodifies a possible future moment of circulation (how investors will assess the asset in the future). “The market for ‘synthetics’ removed any constraint on the size of risk associated with subprime mortgage . derivatives have three key attributes: they are limited term contracts to exchange capital in an agreed upon description of the future on the basis of the price of the underlying asset at that time. Although initially a rather obscure. “limited term” here means that the contract has an expiration date. The dismantling of the regulatory features characteristic of the Keynesian consensus unleashed a predatory financialization. Against this background. I turn now to consider derivatives as the commodity form of drive. reflexive circuit that captures the subject and whose repetitions can intensify to points of destruction and rupture.

its bundling into a commodity to be sold. The securitization of risk. their own conditions of emergence. firms can undertake more investments than they would with regular stocks and bonds. Derivatives are thus commodified forms of drive in that they repeat in their own structure and relations the circulatory regime of global capital. these recombinant financial instruments distribute risk broadly so that no one firm suffers too badly when an investment sours. All you had to do was find someone else in the market willing to take the other side of the bet. Cardiff draft. Products of the perceived need to protect investors against the risks involved in complex speculative financial transactions. When a market is made for a specific designer instrument. thereby producing. Complex derivatives combine. Someone has to be on the other. Risk is not primarily a side effect of complex. more firms become susceptible to investments gone wild. you no longer needed to accumulate a billion dollars worth of actual mortgage loans.” enabling the circulation of gains and losses to cross from one market to another. This reflexivized.6|Jodi Dean. recombine. is deliberate and intentional. Because derivatives “tighten intermarket connectivities. no market is shielded from the effects of big events. losing. Derivatives enable enormous leveraging. interlinked market transactions. Because the immediate cost of risk is comparatively small. small outlays of capital can have huge pay-offs or pay-outs in the future. it occupies the place previously held by the asset. In the words of LiPuma and Lee. From one perspective. the surplus risk shifts from being a byproduct to being the product. To make a billion-dollar bet. commodified bet contributes to producing the future on which it is betting. Do not cite.” So derivatives don’t simply profit from risk. Derivatives also contribute to the future on which they are betting insofar as they require counter-parties. slice up. and sell bundles of assets and/or swaps. “once the speculative capital devoted to financial . like a credit default swap. side of the deal. lending. retroactively. derivatives make these transactions possible. From another.

“Complicated financial stuff was being dreamed up for the sole purpose of lending money to people who could never repay it. as long as the circuit keeps on going on and no one tries to cash in or call. it develops a directional dynamic toward an autonomous and self-expanding form. Derivatives commodify drive in another sense as well: they presuppose. Although per capita GDP in the US nearly doubled between 1976 and 2005. Investment banks did. as long as everyone involved believes that they will.” Since abstract financial relations are themselves treated as underlying assets.” The expansion in the number of subprime mortgages. Do not cite. the tranches’ repackaging into CMOs (collateralized mortgage obligations) and CDOs (which included debts besides mortgages such as student loans and credit card debts) resulted from demand for these massive financial instruments.” The mortgage holders “existed only so that their fate might be gambled upon. It also had the benefit of being securitizable and thus available as an investment vehicle for the excess of capital at the top.” Demand for CDOs corresponded to the rise in inequality. reinforce. Prior to the subprime mortgage boom. and amplify relations of dramatic inequality. Mortgages were issued with . Working people’s desire to purchase homes they could not afford did not create CDOs (which is sometimes how media accounts blaming mortgage defaults for the financial crisis make it sound). about half the gains went to the top five percent of the population. “without the demand from the investment banks. the bad loans would never have been made. derivatives becomes self-reflexive and begins to feed on itself. Lewis writes. Scott Patterson writes. subprime mortgage lending was a barely legitimate business.7|Jodi Dean. Debt (or the extension of credit. their bundling into bonds. money markets can expand seemingly without limit— that is. the bonds’ dividing into tranches. which is the same thing) was a way of addressing the decline in purchasing power. The real median wage remained stagnant. Cardiff draft.

It occludes the ways neoliberal capitalism differs from welfare state capitalism. At this interface of the extremes of profit and loss. jumped at the chance of no money down. Lenders attached exorbitant charges to the loans made to customers at high risk of default. the price of houses continued to rise as people refinanced when their rates turned over. economic force that necessarily exceeds any attempts at regulation. offering even lower quality mortgages to people who. The debts of poor and working people were fodder for the Wall Street finance machine. So even though adjustablerate mortgages were defaulting at epic rates in 2005. the subprime market was larger than before. its emergence through specific monetary policies. As he writes. since it itself controls our activity. . Consequently. The system turns in on itself and feeds on its own excesses. the money was in the fees. poverty (like risk) isn’t an unavoidable byproduct of capitalism but its condition and content—the increase in the number of poor people is an investment opportunity. . interest only mortgages. little regard for whether they could be repaid. a beast that by definition cannot be controlled. was made possible by derivatives created out of the debts of the people seemingly furthest from Wall Street. regulatory and deregulatory practices (not the least of which was the end of the separation between commercial and investment banks. . Žižek often describes Capital as Real. Most of these early lenders went bankrupt in the mid-nineties. Cardiff draft.” Read empirically. the subprime mortgage market continued to expand. those considered the least credit-worthy. suggesting at times an almost ahistorical. relying on teaser rates that would balloon up after a couple of years. facing a decade of stagnant wages and maxed out credit cards.8|Jodi Dean. The derivative is the commodity form of this reflexive circuit. “The self-propelling circulation of Capital thus remains more than the ever the ultimate Real of our lives. Less than a decade later. This massive financial boom required. Žižek’s description directs attention away from the role laws and states play in enabling the paths capital takes. Do not cite.

As Foucault discusses in his 1978-1979 lectures. the free market is a myth—with powerful effects. the inescapable drive to profit and grow. The Birth of Biopolitics.” Should the state attempt to manage or regulate these transactions. descriptively). neoliberals emphasize competition. fair prices and reasonable distributions of goods would result from individuals self-interested transactions—Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand. or mainstream economists’ own acknowledgements that the suppositions of their models don’t hold in real-life conditions. Cardiff draft. the persistent force compelling capital’s ceaseless circuit and entrapping us within its need to accumulate. and tax laws (on corporations and individuals). Here the role of the state is to insure not free markets but free competition. This is what cannot be controlled as long as capitalism exists. this endless circuit of creation and destruction. over the course of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Whether one focuses on ongoing tariffs. and intensify. It makes more sense to understand Žižek’s point in terms of drive as the Real of Capital. and restrictions in global trade. subsidies. it became clear that real-existing neoliberalism involved neither free markets nor free competition. classical liberal economics emphasized free markets. In contrast. the social and control conditions establishing many of presuppositions for what can be bought and sold. capitalism’s tendencies toward monopoly. this perpetual push to accumulate. Do not cite. At every level of society.9|Jodi Dean. competition—inclusive of the resulting inequalities—was alleged to unleash excellence and productivity. it would inevitably distort them. expand. If the state would refrain from interfering. To be sure. what underlies capitalism in its different guises. the exclusivity of most Wall Street deals. however. Understanding Capital in terms of drive expresses Capital’s compulsive force without reiterating liberal and capitalist claims for an inevitable economic logic and thereby obscuring changes in capitalism. Likewise. contemporary financial .

C a r d i f f d r a f t .10 | J o d i D e a n . Work performed may not be work remunerated. high-reward policy tools such as prizes and challenges to solve tough problems. and not if we think that competition has disciplining effects. writing. art. transferred from the capitalist to the worker. the competition is between bankers for their salaries and bonuses.” Explicit in its goal of amplifying competition. and design people feel fortunate to get work. Žižek misstates the primary question here as “beyond which point does competition break down and the winner take all?” He overlooks not just the differences between popular and economic notions of competition. People work for a chance at pay. entertainment. In growing numbers of fields.” The prize as inducement does more than amplify the entrepreneurial risk presupposed in capitalist models of innovation. but the way this ambiguity informs a new configuration of work. fair rules. On Wall Street. For example. not the outcome of the deal for parties to it. the White House wants to use “high-risk. not if by “competitive” we imagine some kind of open contest with clear. more tasks and projects are conducted as competitions: those doing the work are not paid unless they win. Winners get . In academia. Rather than having a right to the proceeds of our labor by virtue of a contract. to get paid. the Obama administration has given “inducement prizes” a key role in its “Strategy for American Innovation. a mindset that rewards short-term deal-making and the overall number of deals made. markets might be blood-thirsty and cut-throat. ever more of us are in win/ lose situations where remuneration is treated like a prize. it alters it such that the risk is distributed downward. D o n o t c i t e . architecture. but they aren’t competitive.” But who is in a position to take such risks? Only those who are already “the haves. to get hired. A noteworthy aspect of the new “winner-take-all” logic of transactions in the contemporary networks of communicative capitalism is the way they change the very meaning of competition.

For writers. under conditions of free choice and preferential attachment. has become a commonplace (bringing with it the elimination of growing numbers of print newspapers in the US and cuts in numbers of paid journalists). prizes usher in a new and acceptable relation to work bringing with them a likely decrease in opportunities for contract based work and work for pay. Workers don’t even appear as workers. they are contestants. they elaborate a form of exploitation and expropriation of the common particular to communicative capitalism—network exploitation.” this is impossible “since nobody is prepared to pay for nothing more than a name. paying for work. artists. who is now in the position of judge.” Perhaps more radical is the shift effected by a prize-based reward structure: workers pay to work. and film-makers. nodes in a complex network will distribute themselves such that the top one or two get a lot and . Insofar as prizes produce the one.” As theorized by Albert-László Barabási. charitable giver. In the instance of one competition. appropriately called the “X Prize.” competitors “spent 10 to 40 times the amount” of the award. the winner. Discussing the “extra something” provided by brands like Nike. losers don’t. they paid to do it. The only link between the work and the remuneration comes from the prize awarder. The material costs were transferred onto the ones doing the work. all of whom depend on the “prize” for their livelihood vanishes.11 | J o d i D e a n . and beneficent lord with no particular obligation to those who have worked. with multiple conditions and participants. bloggers. Work as a collective enterprise. and then the winner and the losers. C a r d i f f d r a f t . money. D o n o t c i t e . “power laws. Complex networks are characterized by a particular distributive pattern. In the form of an explicit governmental policy. that “extra something” associated with a prize. working for less than nothing. Most prizes involve an element of prestige. Žižek notes a kind of impossible limit position: although the capitalist ideally would like to be able to sell just a brand name and “get money for nothing.

many CDOs were new combinations of slices . and the distributed labor of creating of apps for smart phones all follow this pattern. book sales. Without the work of the many. Beyond comprehension. Other wizards then came up with alchemical strategies for managing risk. one described in popular media as the 80/20 rule or the “winner-take-all” or “winner-take-most” characteristic of contemporary capitalism. movie tickets. Network exploition results in a dewaging of skilled. used their advanced mathematics and high powered computers to identify statistical anomalies and price differentials and quickly capitalize them. These nearly magical geeks. For example. intellectual labor. Academic citations. the majority get a little. siphoned off from academia. Hundreds of lobbyists for the finance sector worked ceaselessly to teach US members of Congress that derivatives can’t be regulated precisely because no one understands them. Expansions in the field produce the one (hubs are an immanent property of complex networks). C a r d i f f d r a f t . blog hits. Such exploitation contributes to the expropriation of opportunities for income and paid labor. the general field out of which the one emerges is the common. the one would not emerge. Initially.12 | J o d i D e a n . and monetizing. In these examples. As markets plummeted during the financial crisis. as in the examples of print journalism and university presses. D o n o t c i t e . Exploitation consists in stimulating the creative production of the field in the interest of finding. the mainstream media repeatedly intoned that financial instruments like collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps are beyond our comprehension. strategies that involved lots of borrowing (leverage) and shifting (structured investment vehicles). finance porn (I have in mind here mainstream media treatment of the finance sector as well as the multiple books on the subprime mortgage crisis) lauded “quants” as the ones who actually knew what was going on. I turn now to complexity and university discourse. the one. they are beyond control.

The heads of the big investment firms—Bear Stearns. their risk management strategies necessarily involved all sorts of bets and plans on what could happen. Complexity displaces accountability. Carina. The interrelation between the CDOs was circular. At the heart of finance are impossible objects that create money. Goldman Sachs—claimed that they both knew and didn’t know what was going on as the financial markets heated up and burned out." Goldman thus describes its decisions as attempts to reduce its risk in conditions of uncertainty. the firm stated that its “risk management processes did not. Citigroup. On the other hand.13 | J o d i D e a n . he didn’t know that it was making massive mistakes in rating mortgages and bonds before the crisis. Neither he nor anyone else could be expected to know. provide absolute clarity. Merrill Lynch. In documents that Goldman Sachs made available to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Lehman Brothers. exotic names—Abacus. D o n o t c i t e . the bankers and regulators claimed that the crisis was the once in a century event that no one could have predicted. His own business is too complex for him to understand. Complexity displaces accountability onto knowledge. and could not. Finance is simply too complicated. objects that incarnate futures. investor Warren Buffett (chief shareholder in Moody’s ratings agency) said that he didn’t know what Moody’s was doing. It’s as if Goldman only reacted . Gemstone —heighten the sense that one is approaching the inner sanctum of finance’s arcane mysteries. C a r d i f f d r a f t . The big banks were not accountable because there were all sorts of things for which they couldn't account. they contained each other yet were somehow able to transform this mutual containing into gold. they underscored deep uncertainty about evolving conditions in the US residential housing market. Under questioning at the Congressional hearings on the financial crisis. (tranches) of other CDOs that a bank had created but had been unable to sell. Yet it fails to acknowledge how its decisions are part of these very conditions. On the one hand. The CDOs’ opaque.

a terrain that banks and corporation find important enough to spend millions upon millions to defend. like the bankers. C a r d i f f d r a f t .” I disagree. Both argue that since the world is more complex than this. to extreme conditions rather than created them. For example.” Accordingly. what Goldman Sachs alludes to when it mentions its decision to reduce risk. assume that accountability implies total knowledge. or total determination of outcomes. accountability cannot rightly be localized. Associating accountability with a sovereign view of subjectivity and with moralizing impulses to punish. To say that the global economy is beyond knowledge and governance cedes in advance a terrain of struggle. like so much absolutist mystical arcana. he argues that “the political and economic knowledge we have inherited from modern rationalist philosophy is now useless. Franco Berardi writes that “the complexity of the global economy is far beyond any knowledge and possible governance. because the current collapse is the effect of the infinite complexity of immaterial production. Treating food as a commodity to be speculated upon isn’t necessary and unavoidable—forbid it. total control. Regulating derivatives isn’t impossible—make them illegal. since our networked interactions implicate us in relations and outcomes beyond our determination. D o n o t c i t e . other investors. Not being able accurately to predict the future of the US housing market is not the same as not knowing that the large default rate of subprime mortgages issued after 2004 would threaten the value of the bonds for which they provided collateral. other firms.14 | J o d i D e a n . Banks can be nationalized and required to back permitted investment with adequate capital reserves. Whose purpose does it serve to pretend that this can’t be done? Bankers benefit from our thinking that there are operations and processes that compel our obedience. . they. Some contemporary theorists converge with the finance sector in their assessments of complexity. Its reduction of its own risk transfers this risk to other places. Nor is it the same as disavowing one’s own role in the market.

’ And why are you powerless. chance and circumstance. in the enjoyment that accrues through adding. .” Just as the impossibility of complete knowledge served as a wedge against sovereign power. repeating. is that it is impossible because knowledge cannot be totalized. it’s not surprising to find an overlap with Friedrich Hayek. Total knowledge. call for constant modulation. repeats his argument against economic planning: we cannot know. “You must not because you cannot. the discipline of economics renders a sovereign view of the economy impossible. to displace matters of will and action onto questions of knowledge. It is also subject to constant change.15 | J o d i D e a n . who know directly of the relevant changes and of the resources immediately available to meet them. Given the convergence between finance and critical theory around the notion of complexity.” His argument against central economic planning. Foucault expresses the idea that limits on knowledge are limits on government in terms of the economic rationality specific to liberalism. C a r d i f f d r a f t . Infinite particulars of time and place. As it insists on the unknowability of the totality of economic processes. Economic knowledge is widely distributed. then. which is a rejection of politics. complete knowledge is unobtainable. homo economicus tells the sovereign. For Hayek the problem of the economy is a problem of knowledge. As Foucault puts it. “that the ultimate decisions must be left to the people who are familiar with these circumstances. D o n o t c i t e . so does the inability to know emerge as an attempt to block or suppress politics. and circulating. “It would seem to follow. a kind of derivative thinking that fantasizes value in the absolutely conceptual and without price. They also benefit when we slip into thinking primarily in terms of immaterial production. The rejection of accountability. and you do not know because you cannot know. why can’t you? You cannot because you do not know. And you cannot in the sense that ‘you are powerless.” Hayek concludes.

or other. knowledge occupies the place of the Master. It is no longer knowledge of what the Master desires. Lacan sees in university discourse a “new tyranny of knowledge. slave. In Seminar XVII.16 | J o d i D e a n . the pure knowledge of the master. D o n o t c i t e . knowing cannot be mastered. or desire. Knowledge (S2) is in the upper right corner. particularly as it situates liberal and neoliberal approaches to the market in the context of struggles and debate. When knowledge is in the position of Master. Rather. this means that university discourse affirms nothing but knowledge. Lacan describes this position variously as speaker. He provides a potent reminder of the fact that attempts to limit the power of the sovereign shift over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from limitations on the sovereignty of the king to limitations on the sovereignty of the people.” What does this tyranny involve? First. which Lacan also views as capitalist discourse. S2. In university discourse. knowledge no longer serves the Master. The slave knows what the Master desires. He uses a set of formulae comprised of four terms to express this change (S1. It is Master. a). In the discourse of the Master. University discourse is all-knowing not in the sense that it knows everything but in a sense that it is fully comprised of knowing. The relation between S1 and S2 expresses the idea that the slave’s knowledge is in the service of the Master. and sovereign authority have never been fully grounded in knowledge but have to appeal to an addressee capable of responding to and as a collective. C a r d i f f d r a f t . Foucault’s historical account of the links between the rise of economics as a discipline and the liberal political challenge to absolutism is compelling. agent. the Master (S1) is located in the upper left corner. Only knowing counts. In its new position. knowledge isn’t knowledge . For Lacan. This shift displaces our attention from the ways law. $. Lacan associates the change from the discourse of the Master to university discourse with a change in the place of knowledge. legitimacy. in the position of the addressee.

and little technical gadgets and devices. and branch. a drive. proletarians. They are in excess of knowledge. the lower left corner.” Hence. Third. are interchangeable. the position of remnant and loss. who cannot subjectivize it. shaped around and through loss.” His examples of addressees of university/capitalist discourse are students. They are supposed to produce—but what. all of which. for a purpose. who can basically do nothing other than keep on. supporting knowledge (S2) in the position of truth.” In Lacan’s algebra: objet petit a takes the place of the slave or addressee (S2). it is a command. consumables every bit as much as they others. little interchangeable objects. the greater the loss. the more extensive the gap between the movement of knowing more and more and the possibility of subjectivizing this knowledge. they are already products? They can only continue to produce themselves as products. though. . shift. The more knowledge. an extra or surplus. A drive for limitless information confronts persons and things. It’s too complex. They are caught in an endless circuit—not a closed circuit. consumable. but a circuit that in its movement outward and back can alter. Second. but knowledge refuses it. as we say. in the place formerly occupied by knowledge is now not something that might fit or be inserted into the order of knowledge. is the Master (S1). but knowledge as a command: “keep on knowing more and more. The tyranny of knowledge entails the loss of the subject or the subject as loss. we could call them actants. human capital. Freud uses the metaphor of a network of tributaries. Knowledge isn’t something that a subject assumes. The university discourse provides an apparatus for thinking about drive as a social structure (or drive in terms of a set of discursive positions). but “something which is its product instead. disperse. the subject is remaindered— subject barred in the lower left corner. C a r d i f f d r a f t . Lacan describes this as a substitution “by those who are themselves products. from the standpoint of university discourse. Complexity displaces accountability onto knowledge.17 | J o d i D e a n . D o n o t c i t e .

the gesture to the imaginary ideal of a whole political body makes most sense as a criticism of those who fail to understand that the political is characterized by the impossibility of closure rather than as a description of the political as such. not to mention his account of law and desire. Reading Lacan’s point as a criticism rather than a description is important for understanding capitalist university discourse—and hence neoliberalism—in terms of the change in the place of knowledge and the stuckness of drive. C a r d i f f d r a f t . Nor does it articulate well with his discussion of science. . It lets us recognize that the command to know more and more is not democratic demand. The fact of the open-endedness of knowledge. Yet Lacan also claims that the fiction that knowledge can form a closed whole is “immanent to the political as such. of the impossibility of totalizing Ss when it occupies the position of the Master (knowledge cannot be mastered). shaken off. it is not a demand that enables and empowers radical politics.18 | J o d i D e a n . a discourse that does address and challenge the Master. capitalism. In the terms of the four discourses. What the formula of the university discourse makes clear is the way knowledge in the position of Master disables a political subject: the addressee of the all-knowing is just any old object. Differently put. It doesn’t mesh with the movement through the four discourses that Lacan provides to think about the position of the subject in language. and bureaucracy. D o n o t c i t e . It functions best if read as a polemical or throwaway line disdainful of politicians and unspecified ideological formations. an enjoyment that cannot be fully reached but cannot be avoided. it mistakes university discourse for the discourse of the hysteric. To treat the command to keep on knowing more and more as if it were a demand that challenges the authority of the Master fails to grasp the change in the function and place of knowledge. either.” This claim is not convincing. Both are infused with the enjoyment that accompanies repetition. accounts for the convergence of science and capitalism (what Lacan refers to as their “curious copulation”).

do something else. You will get one. C a r d i f f d r a f t .” are most easily read fatalistically.” and that he really just gets thing going—he gives an order and “everybody jumps”—Lacan’s point seems more like a frustrated retort to students who may well be neglecting the way their ostensible counter-knowledge does not contest the discourse of the university but continues it. But if we recall that the Master is castrated. D o n o t c i t e . political action? Admittedly. it’s a way of thinking about the implications for subjectivity of a set of divisions involving desire. They are making their enjoyment appear. Their protests remain entangled in the circuits of drive.19 | J o d i D e a n . “what you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. Rather. Treating the command to keep on knowing as if challenged the Master also disavows the way this injunction entraps its poor addressee in the circuit of drive: there will never be a knowledge that itself will be cause enough to stop. its persistence is not a damning indicator of the inevitability of totalitarianism. Stopping. Yet who today can continue to think that our political problem is political closure rather than organized political will. is a matter of desire. effectively demonstrating the fact that in the setting of the union of knowledge and capitalism they cannot not enjoy. once we grasp that the Master is split between itself and its place and that different elements can occupy this place.’” The students are playing their part. Lacan’s remarks to the students at Vincennes. enjoyment. It says. get out. Indeed. perhaps even as an indication of his conservatism. ‘Look at them enjoying. Approaching the same idea from a direction. locating and criticizing images of this impossible totality has become the very measure of radical democratic politics. insofar as students are objet a in university discourse. his last comment in the exchange bears perhaps more weight: “The regime is putting you on display. doing something else. for some political theorists. . To be sure. knowledge. the Master “does not know what he wants. not drive.

we do not limit. D o n o t c i t e . the persistence of some kind of domination or discipline. that is. and why not.20 | J o d i D e a n . governance encompasses more than command. . educating. in accordance with different dominants. and truth. and a desire we do not cede. breaks through the circuits of drive. impossible to demonstrate from within a symbolic articulation. the real that necessarily eludes it. They exceed determination by a Master. The set can organized in different ways. fatalistically. He notes that a number of “crucial and robust” operations can only be articulated as impossible: “governing. the gap of the political? Lacan defines the real as impossible. analyzing also. collective mastery? And rather than construing the persistence of this agentic position. that is. causing desire. Why not then view the persistence of the place of the Master in terms of a desire for self-mastery. why not link it with the limits of discourse.” These operations exceed their symbolic articulation. but the divisions remain. and we do not compromise. C a r d i f f d r a f t . education is more than a drive to know more and more.

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