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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751

Tydskr. geesteswet. vol.49 no.2 Pretoria  2009


Lacan en die diskoers van kapitalisme


Lacan and the discourse of capitalism



Bert Olivier

Departement Joernalistiek, Media en Filosofie, Nelson Mandela Metropolitaanse Universiteit, Port Elizabeth,




Hierdie artikel is daarop gemik om Lacan se teorie van die "vier diskoerse", en daarmee saam sy weergawe van die "diskoers van die kapitalis", wat direk hiermee verband hou, duideliker te verstaan. Lacan se teorie word teen die agtergrond van Marx, sowel as Eagleton se karakterisering van kapitaal/kapitalisme uiteengesit. Albei laasgenoemde denkers beklemtoon die kapasiteit van kapitaal om produksie te rewolusionariseer en sodoende die ganse ekonomiese en sosiale veld aan kragte van gelyktydige skepping en vernietiging te onderwerp. Lacan se formele onderskeid tussen vier tipes diskoers, asook hul onvermydelike vervlegtheid met magsrelasies word bespreek. Dit stel 'n mens in staat om die "slimheid" van die kapitalis se diskoers te begryp, daar dit op 'n "klein omkering" van betekenaars op die vlak van die meester se diskoers staatmaak, om sodoende die paradoksale posisie van die sogenaamde "histeriese kapitalistiese meester" teweeg te bring. Die moeilike vraag na moontlike wyses van verset teen, of ondermyning van, die oënskynlik onaanvegbare kapitalistiese diskoers word verder ondersoek aan die hand van die werk van Matthias Pauwels, Naomi Klein, Joel Bakan, Joel Kovel en Benda Hofmeyr.

Sleutelwoorde: Lacan, Naomi Klein, Marx, diskoers, kapitalisme, meester, histerikus, universiteit, kritiek, ontmaskering


This article is aimed at explicating Lacan's theory of the four discourses, within which his account of the discourse of the capitalist is situated. Lacan's theory is outlined against the backdrop of Marx's as well as Eagleton's characterization of capital(-ism), both of which stress its capacity to "revolutionize" production and subject the entire economic and social field to forces of simultaneous creation and dissolution. Lacan's formal distinction among four types of discourse (those of the master, the university, the hysteric, and the analyst) is discussed, with due attention to the meaning of their (sometimes confusing) schematic representation as indication of their ineluctable imbrication with power relations. This enables one to grasp the "cleverness" of the capitalist's discourse, which consists in a "tiny inversion" of signifiers at the level of the "master's discourse", producing the anomalous position of the so-called "hysterical capitalist master" -which turns out, on closer inspection, to be a mere pretence, however, strategically promoting economic (and indirectly, political) interests while masquerading as a relentless critic of those in power. Initially, in his seminar on the four discourses, Lacan appeared to group capitalism under the heading of the "discourse of the university", where knowledge is seen as organizing the social field. A few years later, in the Milan lecture, however, he apparently changed his mind and characterized the capitalist's discourse as "hysterical" instead, with the signifier of the "split subject" organizing the social field - that is, addressing the signifier for knowledge, and repressing the master signifier, which is what, according to Lacan's schema, really orchestrates the ostensible "split subject". In this way a powerful "methodological" conceptual configuration is provided for the analysis of capitalist practices, and ultimately, intellectual strategies for their subversion (although some have raised doubts about this). One may wonder why Lacan changed his mind about the structure of the capitalist's subject. Here it is argued that the change from the schematic representation of capitalist discourse along the lines of the discourse of the university, which has traditionally been in the service of the master, to a schema which highlights the agency of the capitalist in the guise of the "split subject" (the hysteric's signifier), must be understood as reflecting a different strategy on the part of the capitalist, and not a fundamental change regarding the pursuit of economic and political power. It is still the master that orchestrates the pseudo-hysterical postures and behaviour of the capitalist. The fact that, as Pauwels argues, the capitalist defuses potential criticism in advance with an ostensibly hysterical posture, poses difficulties as far as possible resistance or unmasking of this pretence is concerned. This difficult question concerning possible avenues of resistance to or subversion of the ostensibly unassailable capitalist's discourse are subsequently explored via the work of Matthias Pauwels, Naomi Klein, Joel Bakan, Joel Kovel and Benda Hofmeyr. All of these authors uncover, in various ways, the character of capitalism as an inhuman economic practice which operates relentlessly, driven solely by the profit motive, at the cost of other people as well as the environment. For example, Naomi Klein's recent book, The Shock Doctrine, which outlines her assessment of the phase (in the history of capitalism) known as "disaster capitalism", provides just the kind of information and insight to alert one to signs that strategies of resistance are not beyond one's reach, and that there are ways of debunking the hysterical behaviour of the capitalist as mere pretence in the service of power. Lacan's theory therefore proves invaluable in the setting to work of various modes of resistance and subversion of the capitalist position. This paper is an attempt to understand how this could happen (and is perhaps already happening).

Key words:  Lacan, Naomi Klein, Marx, discourse, capitalism, master, hysteric, university, criticism, unmasking


Full text available only in PDF format.




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1 Dit mag wel met die eerste oogopslag 'nie-polities' blyk te wees, maar vanweë die intieme vervlegtheid van politiek en ekonomie het hierdie ekonomies-revolusionêre aard van kapitalisme onteenseglik politieke gevolge, veral in die postmoderne, globaliserende era (sien byvoorbeeld Hardt & Negri 2001: xiii; Steger 2003: 37-55; 93-112).
2 Ek sal hier deurgaans na die "meester" - as subjek van die meester-betekenaar - in terme van die manlike voornaamwoord verwys, aangesien die bestaande magsorde steeds grootliks patriargaal is. Dit beteken nie dat vroulike subjekte nie ook die posisie van "meester" kan inneem nie; inteendeel, of dit nou as "patriargale vrouens" is, of andersyds as feministe, die meester-betekenaar verteenwoordig die posisie van enige subjek wat hierdie posisie in die vier skematiese voorstellings van verskillende magsrelasies inneem.
3 Diegene wat met Michel Foucault se diskoersteorie bekend is, sou gou raaksien dat, ofskoon Lacan se opvatting van diskoers daarmee versoenbaar is, dit inderwaarheid meer genuanseer en gesofistikeerd is as dié van Foucault. Laasgenoemde se werk op hierdie gebied is egter nie te versmaai nie, soos ek al by verskeie geleenthede geargumenteer het (sien Olivier 2003 en 2007).
4 Sien in hierdie verband my artikel, "Negotiating the 'paranoiac structure' of human knowledge: Fowles's The Magus and Lacan" (Olivier 2008), spesifiek wat betref die verband tussen hierdie sisteem-georiënteerde opvatting van kennis en wat Lacan elders as die "paranoïese struktuur" van menslike kennis beskryf. Dit is betekenisvol dat Lacan aanvanklik hierdie diskoers (van die universiteit) met wetenskap geassosieer het, maar later van mening verander het en "ware" wetenskap met die diskoers van die histerikus verbind het (vanweë die immer-bevraagtekenende struktuur van hierdie diskoers).
5 Ek meen dat dit geen toeval is dat Lacan later in die teks (1978: 11) op die vooruitsig sinspeel, dat psigoanalise 'n medepligtige van kapitalisme in Amerika kan word nie: ".. .'n Diskoers wat uiteindelik waarlik verderflik sou wees, geheel en al toegewy aan die diens van kapitalistiese diskoers". Hiermee suggereer hy dat (professionele) psigoanalitiese diskoers maklik, in 'n land waar ongebreidelde kapitalisme heers, in die die slaaf-diskoers sou kon ontaard en eindeloos diensknegte van hierdie orde sou kon reproduseer, net soos wat hoofstroom psigologie gewoonlik die diskoers van die meester of dominante orde ondersteun.
6 In die huidige tyd, waar meer mense skynbaar film-, televisie- en rolprent-"geletterd" eerder as "leesgeletterd" is, is hierdie media vanweë hul reikwydte onmisbaar in die stryd teen 'n hartelose, uitbuitende kapitalisme - neem maar kennis van die miljoene mense wat tans (vroeg in 2009) ly onder die ekonomiese konsekwensies van 'n globale finansiële krisis wat uit talle oorde beskou word as iets wat teweeggebring is deur die gierigheid waardeur die banksektor gedryf word, veral in Amerika.
7 Ek bedoel hierdie vraag bloot retories, aangesien dit uit wat reeds aangetoon is en uit wat volg, duidelik behoort te wees dat - ten spyte van kapitalisme se asembenemende produktiewe kragte - dit 'n negatiewe, destruktiewe kant vertoon wat in toom gehou behoort te word.
8 By etlike vroeëre geleenthede (onder andere Olivier 2005, 2007 en 2007a) het ek ander kritiese benaderings gevolg wat daarop gemik is om kapitalisme se wurggreep op sosiale organisasie aan die kaak te stel, byvoorbeeld via 'n diskoers-analitiese blootlegging van die korporatisering van universiteite, asook langs die weg van 'n uitbreiding van die praktyk van kritiese psigologie, ten einde die verhouding van mense met die natuur in 'n omvattende sin in te sluit.
9 Sien in hierdie verband Hardt en Negri se belangrike werke, Empire (2001) en Multitude (2005), wat eksemplaries is wat betref moontlike strategieë om wêreldkapitalisme die hoof te bied. By etlike vorige geleenthede (onder andere Olivier 2006 en 2007b) het ek ook probeer aantoon hoe 'n mens in die rigting van 'n ander lewenswyse sou kon beweeg, wat die kontoere van 'n alternatiewe diskursiewe praktyk sou vertoon.
10 Dit behoort duidelik te wees dat dit hier om monopolistiese ekonomiese praktyke gaan, en nie om klein besighede se reg om aan eienaars en werknemers 'n inkomste te besorg nie.
11 Sien in hierdie verband Zizek (2000:15), vir 'n Lacaniaanse uiteensetting van die "reële" uitwerking van abstrakte kapitalistiese prosesse, soos onder andere spekulatiewe beleggings in die "toekoms".



Bert Olivier is Professor in Filosofie aan die Nelson Mandela Metropolitaanse Universiteit (vroeër UPE) in Port Elizabeth. Hy is die houer van 'n MA en 'n DPhil in Filosofie, en was by verskeie geleenthede 'n na-Doktorale Genoot aan Yale Universiteit in die VSA, asook 'n Navorsings-genoot aan die Universiteit van Wallis in Cardiff. By NMMU is hy verantwoordelik vir die onderrig van verskeie subdissiplines van filosofie, sowel as filmstudie, media- en argitektuurteorie, asook psigoanalitiese teorie. Sy publikasies strek oor 'n wye spektrum, insluitend kultuurfilosofie, filosofie van kuns, film, musiek, letterkunde en argitektuur, asook wetenskapsfilosofie, epistemologie, psigo-analitiese, sosiale, media- en diskoersteorie. In 2004 was hy die ontvanger van die Stalsprys vir Filosofie, toegeken deur die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, en in 2005 het hy die toekenning van Topnavorser aan UPE (later NMMU) vir die periode 1999 tot 2004 ontvang. In 2006 en 2008 is die toekenning van Navorser van die Jaar in die Fakulteit Lettere by NMMU aan hom toegeken, en in 2008 is hy ook aangewys as NMMU se Topnavorser.

Bert Olivier is Professor of Philosophy at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (formerly UPE) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He holds an MA and DPhil in Philosophy, has held Postdoctoral Fellowships at Yale University in the USA on various occasions, and has held a Research Fellowship at the University of Wales, Cardiff. At NMMU he teaches various sub-disciplines of philosophy; in addition, he is also responsible for couses in film studies, media and architectural theory, as well as pscychoanalytical theory. He has published widely in the philosophy of culture, of art and architecture, of cinema, music and literature, as well as the philosophy of science, epistemology, pscychoanalytical, social, media and discourse theory. In 2004 he was awarded the Stals prize for Philosophy by the South-African Academy for Science and Arts, in 2005 he received the award as Top Researcher at UPE (later NMMU) for the period 1999 to 2004. In 2006 and 2008 he received the award of Researcher of the Year in the Faculty of Arts at NMMU, while, finally in 2008 he was honoured as the Top Researcher at the NMMU.

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