Perversions of Fascism

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Contemporary versions of evil demonise modern "fascists", "totalitarian threats", and "Hitlers". As if not obscure enough, fascist evil has been equivocally linked with perversion. This book reveals that both fascism and perversion implicate the non-symbolisable kernel in politics, which becomes the source of their mystification. It argues that the fascist does not take the same discursive position as the pervert does, regarding this symbolic gap.Antonio Vadolas develops a new rhetoric, de-pathologised and de-ideologised, regarding the structure of the so-called pervert, introducing new vocabularies and directions for psychoanalytic research that further distance the pervert, or whom he calls the "extra-ordinary subject", from fascist politics and, instead, exposes his diachronic "fascist" isolation from the social edifice. This reveals the fruitful alternatives that can stem from a "return to Freud cum Lacan", which supports a flexible on-going reformulation of psychoanalytic knowledge.

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CHAPTER ONE: 1930s–1940s: The Frankfurt School and the Freudian left

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Critical Theory against Fascism

Since its foundation, in 1923, the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research has produced one of the most influential discourses on modernity, while its work has become synonymous with the movement of Critical Theory. Better known as the Frankfurt School, and without forming a unified body of congruent theoretical ideas, the movement dissected, under its analytic and kaleidoscopic spectrum, state capitalism into the components that transformed it into the prevailing model of socio-economic relations in Western society. Concerned with the escalating pervasiveness of despotism in the West, the School's critical theorists aimed to develop a contemporary theoretical encapsulation of the shifting configurations of capitalism, enquiring into the rise of fascism, as an interrelated trend. In the 1930s, as the spreading of fascism cast a shadow over Europe, the particular socio-political conditions in Germany occupied the centre of the Frankfurt School's analytical focus.

 

CHAPTER TWO: 1940s–1970s: The authoritarian and evil profile of fascism

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The fascist brunt against Oedipus

After years of meticulous research in psychopathology, the psychoanalytic clinic solidified its theoretical edifice and opened the possibility for the application of clinical material to the interpretation of socio-historical matters. As early as the first period of the psychoanalytic school in Vienna, renowned members attempted to identify the unconscious processes behind political events and social dynamics.

Freud was the first to pave the way, with works such as Civilization and its Discontents (1930a) and Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c). Freudians, such as Ernst Kris (1975) and Theodor Reik (1959), also developed an interest in the efficiency of psychoanalysis in approaching social-political issues, while Erich Fromm (probably the most representative case) departed from the traditional psychoanalytic clinic and conjoined Frankfurt School's radical Freudo-Marxism. It is not surprising, then, to find narratives from the orthodox Freudian discourse that try to make some (psychoanalytic) sense of the fascist phenomenon and search for its pathological elements.

 

CHAPTER THREE: 1970s–1980s: Neo-Freudian perspectives

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The chaos of the creator

Freud's early successors, who applied the psychoanalytic discoveries to non-clinical contexts, often produced doctrinaire accounts, rigidly relying on the dominant Oedipal logic. None the less, a new generation of Freudian analysts in the second half of the century reframed many of the traditional concepts by taking into account the implications of pre- or post-Oedipal development. In recent neo-Freudian narratives that create links between fascism and perversion, there is a shift from the interpretative monotony of the Oedipal paradigm to the scrutiny and the illumination of pregenital influences in the psychic domain.

From the European school of modern neo-Freudians, Chasseguet-Smirgel is a leading name whose work on perversion expanded the psychoanalytic conception of the term, viewing it as an indivisible feature of psychic reality. It has been known since Freud (1905d) that, on the level of fantasy, perverse scenarios, both conscious and unconscious, operate in all psychic structures. Chasseguet-Smirgel (1985) seems to readdress this point and chart its intricacy with other aspects of reality, not just for the individual, but also for the group. She links the notion of perversion to various frames, such as aesthetics, group psychology, and political ideology, departing from its traditional conception as a disorder of the sexual instinct. From a wider angle, perversion embraces more than plain sexual behaviours and includes behaviours associated with creativity and innovation. Under the influence of pregenital idealizations, there is a latent part in everyone's psychic structure founded on the disavowal of reality that resists the acknowledgement of sexual difference and the difference between generations.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: 1990s: The surfeit of fascist jouissance

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The Lacanian perspective

So far, the exploratory spectrum of this study provided a retrospective and comprehensive scrutiny of various discursive arguments about fascism and its links to perversion. In recent theoretical literature, Slavoj Zizek and Juliet Flower MacCannell drew on Lacanian psychoanalysis as a critical medium for dissecting postmodern theoretical currents or lifestyles, as well as modernist considerations. For these authors, postmodernism does not really break the tradition of modernity, but, on the contrary, it follows its pathway. None the less, postmodernism denounces modernity's most essential tool: the supremacy of critical reason. Both scholars treated issues related to fascism in a meticulous and fertile implementation of Lacanian concepts. Yet, despite their erudite appeal, the readings of Zizek and MacCannell on fascist politics have recourse to the psychoanalytic knowledge on perversion, which is far from being unproblematic. Even if perversion has something to say about fascism, what does fascism have to say about the category of perversion? The mystification regarding the relation of the two notions remains unresolved.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Power and mastery through the Lacanian prism

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So far in the present study, my allusions to the notion of discourse were related to the theoretical framework that shaped the production of each narrative included in my critique. For the remaining parts, my analysis revolves around the logic of discourse as conceived by Lacan and its paradigmatic application into socio-political analysis by researchers such as Stavrakakis and Laclau (especially in his late work). The latter's reading of hegemony set the basis for the implementation of Lacanian theory in discourse analysis.

In Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), Laclau and Mouffe developed a discourse theory that expands the frame of discourse analysis, so that it embraces all social practices and elucidates the formation of social systems and subjective identities. This initiated an unbroken effort to apply discourse analysis to the field of social research in a highly comprehensive and systematic way, integrating components from Marxism, post-structuralism, and psychoanalysis and revising previous suggestions. Specifically, Laclau and Mouffe abandoned the dichotomy between the discursive and the nondiscursive, while criticizing Foucault for retaining it, in spite of its inconsistency. Such a dichotomy is insubstantial, or else it is possible only as the product of articulation within a discursive frame. This is because “every object is constituted as an object of discourse, in so far as no object is given outside every discursive condition of emergence” (ibid., p. 107). Discourse is a “differential and structured system of positions”; that is, it involves the articulation of meanings comprised by linguistic and non-linguistic elements (ibid., p. 108). Language is entrenched in practices and materiality, so it is not possible to separate them, but only to perceive them as strongly interlaced. Moreover, there is strong homology between discursivity and the incomplete character of social systems. All systems of meaningful practice rely upon discursive exteriors that partially constitute such orders, while potentially subverting them (ibid., p. 111).

 

CHAPTER SIX: The Lacanian discourse

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The four discourses

When one approaches fascism as a symbolic category, as a system that organizes the circulation of the signifiers in a certain social setting, the question of the operating discourse is raised. The fascist principles imbue and hierarchize social relationships, influencing speech and overall communication. Psychoanalysis, as a critical tool, makes it possible to contemplate the organizing terms of the fascist discourse and discourses on fascism. Not only does psychoanalysis supplement the understanding of other discourses, but it also augments the vigour of its theories, by constantly reappraising ideas applied either to the clinic or to social theory.

With regard to the goal of critically elucidating the discursive incongruence between fascism and perversion through psychoanalysis, recourse to Lacan's model of the four discourses is essential, since the primary focus is on collective phenomena that shape social bonds. Lacan did not develop a schema of a distinct perverse discourse, although the perverse subject is inscribed in the field of the Other. This means he can relate his desire to the Other and form social relationships. As a problematic omission, this further mystifies the notion of perversion, since one has to rely on the model of the four discourses that regulate social bonds between neurotic subjects, strictly speaking. If the absence of a discourse of the pervert constitutes a paradox, it is not the same for psychosis, where the subject does not operate within discourse. The psychotic subject does not address the other, which means difference is not acknowledged at all. The subject is one with the Other, who exists, in psychosis. When it comes to the pervert, the latter tries to make the Other exist through the other. In a common psychoanalytic perception, the pervert has the knowledge about the lack in the Other, but he disavows it and tries to conceal it (Evans, 1996; Laplanche & Pontalis, 1988). If we reduce fascism (a type of social bond) to a perverse structure, it becomes difficult to match fascism to one of the four discourses, given the absence of the perverse discourse. Does such a discourse exist, and, if it does, what is fascism's pertinence to it? What is the prevalent discourse in fascism?

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Three masters, three systems of domination

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Discursive systems of power

By alluding to Lacan's four discourses, my intention was to evince the discursive incongruity between fascism and perversion. Unlike the pervert, caught up in his ceaseless and repetitive acts and scenarios, the fascist takes a position in discourse which produces a definite fantasy of domination. This serves the power of fascism's master signifier, breeding the illusory certainty of seizing the phallus.

The pervert is dominated by the Other, in as much as he serves the Other's jouissance, whereas the master seeks for domination of the Other. The master derives his power from the signifier (the phallus), yet he positivizes the lack of the Other, around an object (a), and makes the slave work in order to postpone the acquisition and, eventually, extinguish the missing status of the object and the concomitant lack in the Other. For example, as Zizek (1996d) made clear, the fascist master constructed the figure of the evil Jew to substantiate lack. The obliteration of the Jew, but also the vassalage of the non-Aryan on the supremacy of the Nazi edifice, would secure the prospect of a complete Aryan Other. Desire would be desiccated, which is impossible, of course.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Sade with Kant and Eichmann

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The Kant in Sade

In 1795, Sade published one of his principal works, Philosophy in the Boudoir, a book that came after several years of imprisonment and a number of scandalous incidents of its auteur that often troubled the French magistrates (e.g., the orgies in La Coste in 1775) (Lever, 1993). It is in this work that Sade weaves the model of his “aberrant” morality. In the “fifth dialogue” of the Philosophy, one finds the illustrious pamphlet “Yet another effort, Frenchmen, if you would become Republicans”, where Sade develops his “sinister” ideas about religion and manners.

Eight years earlier, in 1787, Kant wrote The Critique of Practical Reason, a major philosophical oeuvre, which expanded Kant's contribution in the terrain of ethical speculation. Kant's ethical stance is defined by one's obedience to a supreme ethical categorical imperative impervious to any heteronomous will, that is, any ethical attitude determined by hypothetical imperatives and laws instituted by someone else.

The pioneering element of Kantian ethics was that it moved beyond the common perception of a predetermined supreme good, since such a perception involves a heteronomous content. What is ultimately valued in Kant is not the good, but the law. For him, “there is only one moral good, defined as an act accomplished in conformity with duty and strictly for the sake of duty,” as Zupancic puts it (1999, p. 53). By this token, Kant became the first philosopher to swerve from traditional ethics of the good. Leading a new ethical paradigm beyond good, Kant would have been astounded to find the affirmation of his ethical edifice in Sade's philosophy of evil and virility.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Ethics and guilt

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The dilemma of guilt

The sense of guilt is the most accessible state that marks morality and a distinctive feature of subjectivity. Only the subject of language can experience guilt, as an indivisible and ubiquitous feature of the (moral) law. In this regard, guilt can be a valuable thread for exploring Sade's relation to Kantian ethics and its implication for fascism and perversion.

Conventionally, psychoanalysis regards perversion and psychosis as “guilt-free” structures, counter to the neurotic condition, where guilt constitutes a constant torment. The reason for this is a unitary conception of guilt as the heritage of the resolution of the Oedipus complex, something that the pervert and the psychotic never accomplish. Thus, the way guilt or its supposed absence operate in each structure may have something to say about the desire of the subject in relation to the Other, which is exactly what determines her structure. It is not fortuitous, then, that Lacan links guilt, as the distillation of moral experience, with the ethics of desire. At the epicentre of his theorization, in the late 1950s, we find guilt associated with the end of analysis, as the subject has to “assume his guilt and/or his constitutive [symbolic] debt” (Zupancic, 1999, p. 170). In Seminar VII, Lacan makes a vital remark on guilt and its part in ethics, noting that guilt is found whenever someone has betrayed his desire, that is, s/he stepped back to the safety of the moral law:

 

CHAPTER TEN: From imaginary to democratic ethics

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“The good of society before your own good”

(Nazi party slogan)

Violent Utopianism

By implementing a fantasy that promises the means to satisfy the subject's desire, power endorses and commits itself to the service of a certain good. The character of the good must reflect an ideological nuance harmonic with power. The good is a fictional object, that is to say, a fantasy par excellence that supposes the accomplishment of desire. Thus, fantasy serves and sustains power relations; this is because power needs a moral law that echoes the phallic supremacy of the master and fuels the desire of the subject. But the realization of the good does not achieve the fulfilment of desire, but its eternal repetition and maintenance, because desire's satisfaction lies outside the domain of Good and the goods, according to Lacan's witticism in Seminar VII (1992).

Lacan defines an ethical position that opposes utilitarian and Christian ethics, in tune with Kant. Zupancic (1999) reveals the symmetry between the ethical speculation of the two, as they both posit the ethical act in the realm of impossibility, beyond any type of good, that is, in the dimension of the real. The ethical act is neither inscribed by the (socio-juridical) law nor by its mere transgression. For Kant and Lacan, morality per se is inscribed within impossibility, that is to say, the “demand for the impossible,” rather than the possible accomplishment of a certain Good, as traditional ethics proclaims. Lacan notes that the desire of the subject does not reside in the service of goods; rather than reaching satisfaction in power, desire is continually perpetuated.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Beyond the fascist Utopia

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The dark veil of fascism

Confusion and misjudgement of the genuine character of fascism revolves around its eroticization through perverse sexuality. Such a methodical misinterpretation amplifies the shortage in the consensus regarding the constitutive elements of historical fascism and reveals its elusive core that cannot be grasped either by leftist or liberal historians. There is an ongoing debate among the latter about whether fascism was the extreme manifestation of bourgeois despotism or the negation of liberal democracy. Yet, this does not mean that there is no common ground between theoreticians. A general admission is shared, since Hork-heimer and Adorno's acerbic criticism of fascism in the Dialectic of Enlightenment (1973): the fascist encroachment and (misappropriation of the Enlightenment principles and the ideals of the French Revolution. Nevertheless, the belief in fascism's perverse character is in itself a “perverted” approach to the phenomenon and incongruous with rationalism. Forming less an effective critique of fascism and more an inadvertent support for the latter, such discursive links entail a seduction by the fascist ideology's imaginary web, woven around ideas of power, violence, and pagan romanticism, the main purpose of which is precisely to blur the absence of a well-defined political planning and profile.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: Extra-ordinary anxiety

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The perverse object of anxiety

The status of perversion in psychoanalysis constitutes more a conundrum than a lucid category of firm theoretical suggestions. Indicative of this mystification is the almost exclusive reference to perversion in terms of structure rather than symptom, which is rarely encountered in the psychoanalytic discourse on perversion, given the predominantly neurotic implications of the term.

But, if the neurotic structure is not to be equated just with the symptom, then why should the perverse ritual be equated with the structure of perversion? Let us put forward some ideas for re-examining the category of perversion in psychoanalysis and society, by returning to Freud's view of perversion as the negative of the neurotic condition: “Thus [neurotic] symptoms are formed in part at the cost of abnormal sexuality; neuroses are, so to say, the negative of perversions” (Freud, 1905d, p. 165).

Despite its problematic intricacies, Freud's early theorization seems to be more accurate about the perverse condition than it was thought later. The Other still operates in perversion. However, it is not so much desire as the jouissance of the Other that determines the position and the symptom of the pervert, or whom I call the extra-ordinary subject.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Negating disavowal

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Disavowing the pervert

In his seminal paper on fetishism, Freud (1927e) introduced the term Verleugnung, commonly translated as disavowal. Over the years, the term has turned out to become probably the most typical criterion and mechanism for the psychoanalytic interpretation of perversion. Not just the fetishist, but also the sadist, the masochist, the voyeur, the exhibitionist, and every other subject of “perverse” structure disavows castration. Freud wrote, when explaining the operation of disavowal,

It is not true that, after the child has made his observation of the woman, he has preserved unaltered his belief that women have a phallus. He has retained that belief, but he has also given it up. In the conflict between the weight of the unwelcome perception and the force of his counter-wish, a compromise has been reached, as is only possible under the dominance of the unconscious laws of thought—the primary processes. Yes, in his mind the woman has got the penis, in spite of everything. [Freud, 1927e, p. 154]

 

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