Academic journal article New Formations

Complexity as Capture-Neoliberalism and the Loop of Drive

Academic journal article New Formations

Complexity as Capture-Neoliberalism and the Loop of Drive

Article excerpt

Real existing neoliberalism reconfigures elements of multiple discourses. By neoliberalism, I mean not simply the ideological program of the Chicago school and its adherents in government and business but rather the broader cloud of distributed suppositions and practices through and within which capitalist reality takes its particular neoliberal format. Some of the elements from differing discourses that neoliberalism configures include frontier myths of heroic individuals, new media celebrations of fast and fluid networks, fantasies of free markets, misplaced critiques of collective ownership and government regulation, as well as confusions between the economic concept of competition and competition understood as a rivalry or contest. There are others. (1) In this essay, I highlight two additional components of the neoliberal atmosphere--reflexivity and complexity.

Reflexivity and complexity show up as assumptions regarding neoliberalism's basic setting. Insofar as these assumptions traverse politics, economics, science, philosophy, and media theory and insofar as their academic and popular applications crisscross, reflexivity and complexity seem to point to fundamental truths about thinking and being. They seem so obvious and uncontestable that only an idiot would question them. Since at least Descartes (though some might say Socrates), reflexivity has been a primary feature of reason (not to mention a necessarily constitutive element of critiques of reason). (2) Most critical academics as well as most economists and financial analysts link reason to self-consciousness and give this link a moral valuation. Most critical academics as well as most economists and financial analysts likewise embrace a general notion of complexity (if not all the specifics of complexity theory). Even as they may differ on the relative power of models and abstractions (and hence of the explanatory value of cellular automata and similar computer experiments), these academic and financial types share a weak ontology of interconnectivity, mutual causality, contingency, and singularity (the unique qualities of individuals, persons as well as non-persons). Everyone knows that there are always exceptions, different experiences, improbable results. The world exceeds our attempts to explain it. It's complex. (3)

To consider the ways assumptions of reflexivity and complexity contribute to the configuration of neoliberalism, I use the psychoanalytic category of 'drive'. In so doing, I employ and extend some ideas from Slavoj Zizek, specifically, his upgrade of ideology critique via the later seminars of Jacques Lacan. As is well known, Louis Althusser taught that the category of the subject is constitutive of ideology. But what kind of subject or the subject in what sense is constitutive? Perhaps the most-widely accepted answer to this question emphasises the subject of desire, particularly as theorised by Lacan. The subject emerging through ideological interpellation is said to be a desiring subject, its desire a product of the intervention of the law that prevents it from getting what it wants, thereby insuring the openness of desire. Zizek's version of ideology critique reaches beyond the subject of desire to consider the subject of drive. Here the subject is understood as a remnant or effect of the failure of ideological interpretation, the ineliminable gap exceeding ideology's efforts to determine its subjects. (4)

One way to get at the difference between the subject of desire and the subject of drive is to highlight each's relation to the object. As Zizek explains, desire is for a lost object. In contrast, in drive loss itself is an object. (5) Drive, then, is the force of loss. For example, capitalism expresses this force of loss as an absence of completion or limits. Capital is only capital through the loss of a capacity to be at rest (money under a mattress, money that can't be invested or put to work, isn't capital). …

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