Phantasmagoria of the Thing: Aporias of the New Capitalist Discourse

Federico Chicchi
Università di Bologna

Volume 9, 2016

Liberation from a merely psychological point of view occurs by moving towards the recognition that the “collapse of the world” means the irruption, the advent of a ‘New Time’.
(E. De Martino, La fine del mondo)

1. Phantasmagoria of the Thing

1.1. Capitalism as Commodification of the Living

Capitalism relies on the phantoms of the commodity. This is the fundamental thesis I will try to articulate in this paper. In other words, capitalism determines itself historically through a violent process of translation of life into the ciphering of the commodity. This thesis – which is not so original – can be found first and foremost in the works of Karl Marx. It is not mere coincidence, in fact, that the German philosopher started his most important book, Das Kapital, with a chapter dedicated to the concept of the commodity: “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities,’ its unit being a single commodity”.

From this perspective, a first and irreducible interpretative line can be traced in order to analyze a capitalist society within the issue of so-called phantom objectivity. It is our conviction that nothing can be understood of capitalism – in the past as well as in the future – without fully interrogating the genealogy of the commodity. Nothing truly original thus far. We would like to add that the commodity plays the role of the einziger Zug (Unitary Trait) of Capital, its phallus, its master signifier. In other terms, the commodity is what allows Capital to organize the repetition of social exploitation (the extraction of surplus value from the bios), and hence to articulate the different and dynamic territorial forms (the re-territorialization) of capitalist biopower – which is all but crystallized.[1] To put it bluntly: the phantoms of the commodity are the imaginary, symbolic and real pivot of capitalist exploitation.

The commodity, as Marx says, is in the first instance a quality of the thing – be it material or immaterial – since it intrinsically implies a use, a consumption, an individual enjoyment. The commodity, however, is also a quantity, a figure, a symbolic measure (an exchange value and a price). This constant oscillation – fort-da – between the emancipatory “power” to act and the “power” which its price and its accountancy inscribe onto subjectivity, makes clear what Lacan used to call capitalist discourse and—in homology with Marx’s theory of exploitation—the law of surplus enjoyment.[2] Hence, the ambivalence of the commodity-form. In fact, labour power, the living commodity, is always and simultaneously inside and outside Capital: it is the productive power of labour and the indispensable valorizing energy for constant capital. It is precisely in the contingency and historical determination of the management of this gap (which cannot close itself without provoking a structural crisis of the system) that the historical duration of capitalist society finds its ground and justification.

However, from a phenomelogical perspective the commodity is also the privileged terrain of the modern production of subjectivity, the crucial compensating object for the structural lack of being of the speaking subject (this is the objectification of the subject). The commodity is the material and temporal solution offered by capital to manage the structural non-existence of the sexual relationship, as Lacan’s notorious formula puts it. At the same time, the commodity is also the form through which the subjectivation of the object is produced. Fetishism is in this sense the process of defining the social bond as a thing-like relation, as a perverse “contract amongst commodities”.

After all, is this not what Walter Benjamin had in mind when describing the flâneur’s anesthetic contemplation of shop windows? Benjamin’s goal, in fact, is to think the connection between the modern city (passage) and the commodity as a constitutive figure of modernity. It is “in the very core of this connection that Benjamin poses the question concerning fetishism” (Desideri, 177). It is important to highlight that the perverse quality of fetishism assumes, for Benjamin, the style of the social removal of the subject’s structural split. Death and the inorganic, in fact, install themselves in the fashion industry and its fetishes, in order to then melt and eventually evaporate, as if such fetishes could repair, through a sort of voluptuous clogging brought by the irresistible appeal of the object, the real and anxiogenic hole of being. The “problem” is that the object—or, rather, the fetish—must forget the origin of the thing in order to work properly. “The actually illusory function of the fetish, then, aims at producing the oblivion of the origin of the thing. This is the reason why the fetishistic object has no history, knows no becoming, but stands still (…) to settle into absolute thing-like appearance” (Desideri 186). The oblivion of the thing and of the perverse relationship between subject and object occur in the name of the commodity, in its becoming absolute immanence.

Maniacal repetition, a typical feature of the fetishist attitude, is, then, the rhythm through which the new and ephemeral promise of immortality gets impressed. This seriality of full objects seems to be a fundamental dimension of the social side of fetishism. It is a dimension that, in its infernal hold, annihilates imaginative capacities and allows a commodity-based society to abstract “precisely from the fact of commodity production”, and to confuse appearance and reality up until their reciprocal evanescence. As such, the metaphysical phantasmagoria of commodities realizes and makes intangible the oxymoron of the concept of social nature. Benjamin would call it the oblivion of consciousness in the infernal era. The commodity acts at the level of the unconscious as a sort of impalpable—and yet effective—straitjacket. As affirmed by Simmel in his discussion of money, which is the “perfect” commodity form: “The inner polarity of the essence of money lies in its being the absolute means and thereby becoming psychologically the absolute purpose for most people, which makes it, in a strange way, a symbol in which the major regulators of practical life are frozen” (Simmel 249-250). In order to understand the complex and unsaturated status of the commodity we need to observe it through its spectrograph: through the invisible and cogent presences that traverse it; through its enigmatic and capricious niceties. Mario Tronti’s extreme lucidity concerning this issue is remarkable: “The modern subject is the commodity (…) Is there an interiority of the commodity, as there is a subjectivity of the commodity. So it seems; so it appears” (Tronti 107). The commodity—better, fetishism—is bourgeois ideology; its false consciousness. Karl Korsch understood this: “Bourgeois society is the particular social form in which the fundamental relations established by men through the social production of their life appear to their consciousness solely ex post, in a reversed form, as relations between things” (Korsch 122).

Yet my impression is that what have been said so far is not enough. We need to add a second fundamental thesis to support our general argument. We believe that the commodity is always internally troubled by the phantom of freedom. We might say that the promise of freedom contained in the commodity is its fundamental phantom. This is what makes it so “sly” and effective in penetrating the very core of (in impressing) the processes of subjectification both in their modern (through labour-power) and contemporary (through money) manifestations. This kind of freedom, in fact, implies in its fruition/consumption a false promise: on the one hand, the possibility of a mostly unconscious trajectory of subjectification, which is as illusory as it is paradoxically concrete; on the other, the possibility of an emancipation from the bond. In other words, we witness an imaginary and reversed plane of acting out, the generation of a mirror image saturated with a narcissistic, imaginary autonomy as reflection of the symbolic discourse performed by the commodity on the plane of immanence.

The commodity is the unwritten text of Capital that allows for the orchestration of an upside-down world in which freedom and slavery appear to exchange place, and where the generalization of objectuality occludes—by rendering opaque—the true nature of exploitative social relations. As such, the alienation Marx talks about organizes itself from the very beginning by means of rationed discharges of enjoyment; such discharges are released by the discourse of the commodity through the inscription of the subject in its justifying phantom.

To clarify the exposition, however, it is necessary at this point to specify in clearer terms—by carefully and originally following the conceptual dimension of psychoanalysis—the figure of the phantom. It is, in fact, by means of this concept (and of its social and historical transformations) that we will try to approach the crisis of contemporary capitalism in its subjective declination. By contemporary capitalism we mean that mode of production that looks suspiciously at the half-opening of the threshold of the Common.

1.2. The Phantom: Barred Subject – Desire of – objet petit a

The phantom, in its psychoanalytic sense, is a complex concept that is able to keep together – in a unitary construction – the three Lacanian registers: the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. In the clinic experience, the phantom can be described as an unconscious psychic operator that works by producing signifying selections. In other words, it functions by writing propositions through the selection of certain signifiers out of those that are socially available. Let us recall that the Lacanian theory of the subject describes the unconscious as a linguistic structure, as a something that is externalised with regard to the subject. In this way, the phantom ends up configuring a very particular vision of the world, composing a screenplay, staging a world which manages to veil the lack of being typical of the speaking being. In so doing, the phantom establishes a particular and symptomatic modality of its own desiring activity at the level of the subject. Such a modality originates from the traumatic (but necessary in order to produce subjective effects) encounter with language and its signifying chains. This desiring activity can then be described as a sort of hallucination related to the experience of the irremediable loss of original enjoyment.

First and foremost, what we maintain from the theory of the phantom – as expressed by the famous Lacanian formula [($ <> a) (S barred – lozenge – small object a)], is the structural bond which links the subject of desire (the subject that is castrated by language) to an object that causes it and, by doing so, determines the subject itself. In other words, the phantom is a formula that relates two heterogeneous elements: enjoyment and desire, two elements that in psychoanalytic doctrine belong respectively to the real (the object petit a) and symbolic registers. Moreover, it is important to specify that the object petit a in Lacan’s teaching – at least initially, in its inceptive phase – represents the narcissistic other, the identifying support which allows the subject to assume a body, consistency and identity. From this we can, and must, derive that a universal phantom cannot exist. Every subject produces its particular phantom according to the specific relations within which it is immersed. As a consequence, every subject has its singular desire. However, subjective identity comes necessarily and invariably from the Other (capital O). Each and every subject is generated by the Other. All the signifiers that fix the being of the subject are pronounced by the Other. They are the words by means of which the subject is nominated by the Other. As Lacan says, it has always a foot in the Other. In other terms, this means that the phantom is surely a subjective construction, but that it could not exist nevertheless without a reference to the Other. Hence, the subject is strictly dependent on the Other. The phantom is an effect of the signifying castration (barred S), but the phantom is also a subjective response to the desire of the Other. The subject’s always particular phantom depends on the phantom of the Other. From the very beginning, the subject is kept as an object in the phantom of the Other.

To come back to our analytic perspective on capitalism we can now say that the phantom of capitalism fixes subjectivity in the commodity realm (in its grammar as well as in its logical syntax) as its fundamental phantom, and produces the subjective consistency and its yearning starting from this thin line between the symbolic and the real. The phantom is a libidinal converter that is able to transmutate pain and suffering into an unconscious pleasure. Although the symptom – caused precisely for this reason by the phantom – denounces the subject’s suffering, Lacan’s phantom produces a complementary enjoyment, which is completely consubstantial with pain.

As such, signifying words precede us. We are at the mercy of the Other. Even before being born, even before man encounters the world, a story or a discourse about us is already there, preceding us at least at the level of intentions, when dialogues about the name of the (as yet) unborn occur. But a closer look will reveal that, even before such dialogues, already the decision to conceive entails a discourse in which the subject is inscribed, despite itself. In Lacan’s words: “Man grows in a bath of language”. In capitalism this liquid in which we are immersed is the invisible manifestation of the phantoms of the commodity.

Instead, from the perspective of the real the phantom is the subjective staging of the object petit a, which is to say, the reduction of original enjoyment to pleasure, to the homeostatic circle of the drive so that desire is not produced where its lack would realize itself: namely, in the désêtre of the Thing. Reversing the Lacanian formula according to which the operation of sublimation is to “elevate an object to the dignity of the Thing”, we can now affirm that the phantom’s action on desire in its real register represents a lowering of the Thing to the consolation of an object.

Our thesis can be further specified considering that the commodity articulates the fundamental grammatical proposition that animates the subject in capitalism. Moreover, even more specifically, its phantom works ideologically through the production of undecidable axioms (Deleuze and Guattari 1983) that define an unprecedented exploitative logic. This logic stages a narrative that adapts its plot according to the historical and material conditions of the social relations of production (namely, according to the varying conditions of possibility of surplus value extraction). The commodity phantom in its neurotic structure appears in the subjective “working” of industrial capitalism through labour (and its social ethics). Differently, the perverse phantom narrates the de-territorialized screenplay of the commodity in financial and globalized capitalism. The cunning of the commodity discourse (but we might say capitalist discourse tout court) mostly inscribes itself through the double (bifida) structure of the phantom. Put otherwise, although the phantom is internal to the quality and modality of existence of the ruling symbolic order, it nonetheless leaves the ultimate (only apparent?) responsibility to act freely to the subject under the banner of its own (and particular) phantom. From this perspective, the phantom is also a liminal concept since it signals the border between knowledge and power within the hegemonic discourse. And this limit expresses itself through its unkept pleasure, a pleasure that cannot be castrated (it would turn into sclerotization), which must be released and wasted. We will come back to this point in the conclusion. For the time being, we would like to clarify a little the relationship between Lacan’s capitalist discourse and Marx’s commodity fetishism.

2. Postmodernity and Its Discontents, or, The Fetish of Individual Freedom

It is well known that Lacan, during a conference held in Milan in 1972, specified the existence of a new kind of discourse: a torsion of the original master discourse, which was one of the four discourses previously defined.[3] According to Lacan, capitalist discourse entailed a new configuration of the capitalist social norm once centered around the neurotic phantom, which is to say, around the inhibition and discipline of libidinal drives (as in the Freudian argument in Civilization and Its Discontents). To the contrary, contemporary civilization is characterized, according to Lacan, by an unprecedented libidinal economy based on a constant production of excessive enjoyment caused by the inexorable weakening of the traditional symbolic order. In so far as the determination of the subject is concerned, the Oedipus model is in fact substituted by a new normative configuration which is no longer intrinsically repressive; rather, it is more subtle but equally forceful—utilizing different modalities than those deployed in the past—since it presents itself as maternal and gift-based. The capitalist discourse, then, produces a kind of bond that is paradoxically asocial, which grounds its effectiveness in the fetishistic link between individuals and commodities rather than in intersubjective relationships. As such, it is “indifferent to ‘love’; it implies a fragmentation and an increasing instability with regard to social bonds and, eventually, leaves individuals more and more exposed to precarity and loneliness” (Soler 191). This is what Massimo Recalcati poignantly calls the totalitarianism of the object. The capitalist discourse as Lacan defines it, then, can be synthetically defined as the suppression of the lack of being. In other terms, it is the social organization of drives by means of the coercive, serial and maniacal consumption of the commodity-object. Thus capitalism tries to show the void where there is none, that is, on the side of having rather than on the side of being. First of all, this reduction of lack to void entails a subjective effect of false mastery. Once lack is turned into void, it offers the illusion of filling up such emptiness through the compulsive consumption of the object of enjoyment. In other words, in the contemporary socio-historical context of capitalism “the principle of the realization of the subject is related to the consumption of the object” (Recalcati 2003, 107).

However, for our purposes the most important novelty introduced by the capitalist discourse as introduced by Lacan is the tendency of the subject to pose itself as primal agent, as uncontested master of its own agency. In the discourse of the capitalist, in fact, the subject acts no longer as determined by the presence of a master or by the truth of the Big Other, but rather as determined by the illusion to be free, to be able to reach its satisfaction and enjoyment through an objectal fullness. Our society is, therefore, a society of narcissism and cult of personality, of wild individualism, of generalized idiocy, of appearance as truth manifestation. Here we see, entangled with the issue of the commodity, another distinctive feature of contemporary subjectivity: freedom. Moreover, at stake is its necessary and continuous production both as systemic justifying rhetoric and as fundamental individual disposition. Contemporary capitalism, in fact, inscribes itself in social relations and in subjective desires through a social rhetoric whose imaginary exalts freedom (of enjoyment). It is our impression that nothing can be understood of the social and historical present without starting from what Lacan called the unsustainable cunning of capitalism, as based on compulsive consumption and the fiction of the Ego. Such cunning is here, within capitalist discourse, where the power contained in the commodity structure is part and parcel of the economic field, where enjoyment’s vanity and commodity’s caprice melt into each other. The cunning of capitalism poses the uselessness of social mediation, the insignificance of the institutional field, and the reduction of the human to a fictitious and uninhibited mimetic unity of enjoyment. In this mimetic unity is inscribed the disorientation of postmodern subjects.

Moreover, what is important to underline is that in capitalism “production is not only production of objects, but also, immediately and inextricably, production of inter-human relationships, the personalization of objects and the objectification of people” (Iofrida 1995, 207). Consumption—whose propensity is today linked less to salary than to financial investments and wealth effects—becomes integral to a governing code of productive action.[4] Directed and sustained by seductive and sophisticated governmental practices, consumption aims at making population—in its Foucauldian sense—predictable but also mobile, individualized but also extroverted. In other words, population must be established as free but also bound to an ethical regime of truth imposed by the market.

As Michel Foucault has highlighted brilliantly, neoliberal governmental practices are especially characterized by their constant and ceaseless production of freedom. Neoliberal freedom is in fact entirely subsumed and internal to an immediate logic of economic rationality (which is to say the computational grammar of the commodity phantom). Thus, consumption shows itself as a privileged field of this redundant and recursive production of freedom, as a tangible and proprietary subjective experience. In other terms, consumption is the terrain of desire-control—once desire is translated into commodity need— and of the new, disoriented social identities of the post-industrial age. After all, we might say, the incessant production of freedom as performed by the governmental model finds its fulfilment today in the pervasive inscription of subjectivity within financial activities (as the new propulsive driving force of capitalist accumulation) and in the consumption of symbolic products as the illusory expression of a new identitarian ethos.

Étienne Balibar has recently published an important essay in which an elaboration of the Marxian issue of commodity fetishism is proposed.[5] In the first instance—and similar to our own hypothesis—Balibar shows how the apparent marginality of “anthropological” reasoning in Marx hides a fundamental moment in his reflection on subjectivity in capitalism. In order to be grasped and properly framed, subjectivity must be articulated within the conceptual space emerging at the intersection between the economic and the juridical spheres. In other words, the analytical space of subjectivity is situated in the classical tension opened up by modernity, which is to say, between economy and law. With regard to this issue, it is worth following Balibar in his intriguing analysis.

According to Balibar, Marx’s reflection on subjectivity is marked by a certain dualism, or by an unsolved ambivalence, which is a feature of his work as a whole. From this perspective the issue of the commodity ends up being, on the one hand, an enigmatic veil to be rationally removed through the analysis of the nexus valorization/exploitation; on the other, however, the commodity manifests a magical and phantasmagoric quality whose “effects of suggestion on the spirits and souls of individuals” (Balibar 320) must be emphasized. Simultaneously, then, Marx designates in the same concept “a phenomenon of expression (a ‘hieroglyph to decipher’, a ‘language’ to understand beyond its original obscurity), and a phenomenon of symbolization that entails both a dimension of idealization and a dimension of incorporation (the extraordinary powers that belong to the thing since it immediately embodies in its sensible or ‘visible’ materiality the social power as such, and as a consequence allows everyone to consider its own appropriation) […] Or else, the first aspect refers to what Marx calls the ‘objectification of individuals’ (Versachlichung der Personen), whereas the second refers to the ‘personification of things’ (Personifizierung der Sache)” (Balibar 320-321). According to Balibar, the inter-objectivity that results from this process would be both an improbable and an effective ‘commodity-based social contract’ producing an ontologically constituted subjectivity. Such a subjectivity would be so profoundly entangled in the realm of things that it would become extraneous to itself, or, to say it through a famous Marxian category, alienated. Therefore, the problem is that this commodified form of social relationships is inscribed in a juridical fiction of freedom (consider the Marxian fictio juris of the contract). This juridical fiction—first in modern capitalism, and then in its contemporary fashion—progressively tends to generalize and extend the principle of measure and of exchange equivalence (i.e. price) to subjectivity itself. This is what Claudio Napoleoni (1970) called alienation as the capitalist inversion between subject and object, or what Jean-Luc Nancy refers to as general equivalence.

3. Crisis of Presence and its Redemption: Beyond the Paradigm of Affliction

The risk to which we are all exposed is the loss of the way to love, which is to say, the inability to bind together desire and enjoyment, Eros and Thanatos; to be unable to plan in words the space for a common life or for the common tout court. It is our conviction that the common represents the only prospect of civilization for our time, also considering the digital-technological revolutions.

It is through the work of Ernesto De Martino that we can find further space to approach the issue of contemporary anthropological conditions. In particular, the concept of the crisis of presence discloses the profundity of subjective disorientation as the disjunction between the individual and the world, as a breakdown of the intimacy between the individual and social aspects of the subject. This lost intimacy is, in our opinion, the very core of contemporary disorientation, as it represents the indispensable genetic space for the formation of the speaking subject (the Lacanian parlêtre as opposed to the psychotic Ego). In other words, lost intimacy is the graveyard of the Marxian social individual.

Again, the intimacy that is constitutive of the parlêtre is a very precious human place and is today, as shown in De Martino’s anthropological narration of cultural apocalypses, threatened from within by the weakening cogency of its symbolic order. The crisis of presence is caused by “the vault of the heavens collapsing” (De Martino 2002, 58) because there is no longer an Atlas to sustain it; by the distressing diffusion of the undifferentiated and the unlimited; and by the manifestation of the “swallowing abyss” (De Martino 203). It is the disease that sweeps away the subject when the cultural tree becomes uprooted. This is the end of the ethos of transcending, of the act by means of which presence affirms itself in what Ernesto De Martino calls an existential project.

We are not interested here in fully discussing De Martino’s theoretical perspective. We are not fully persuaded by his link to phenomenological psychiatry, his attraction towards Pierre Janet’s dissociative theory, or his interest in magical redemption, etc. What is instrumentally crucial for us is, in the first place, to show carefully how De Martino’s intuition and description of the crisis of presence helps us in delineating the experiential kernel of disorientation that affects the subject in the self-evident crisis of capitalism. Secondly, we would like to recuperate and situate on a different level De Martino’s theme of the redemption of presence. This level is not that which reduces the analysis of contemporary anxieties to their lamentation or to the acknowledgement of their psychopathology. Otherwise put, our intention is not to crystallize the analysis within a paradigm of affliction whose fixed horizon is the dismemberment of the contemporary subject. To the contrary, our conviction is that the present time also discloses an ambivalent possibility of redemption for the subject. Such a subject, in fact, is in the position to see beyond its present (beyond Oedipus and beyond Narcissus) and to begin a new itinerary aimed at opening up a passage in the Weberian iron cage which is today rooted in the quicksand of financial and economic crisis, and which runs the risk of bringing us all with it.

Therefore, one thing we want to strongly emphasize is that disorientation is not necessarily a condemnation. As De Martino and others indicate, crisis can be followed by the redemption of presence. The pre-condition for this is the understanding of the quality and profundity of its manifestation. Our analysis is not to be inscribed in a hopeless paradigm or—even worse—in a nostalgic cry for the restoration of an Oedipal program for civilization. We firmly believe that the present is full of ambivalence and that within it there is room for a change and an overcoming of the disquieting and melancholic impasse of the present.

4. Conclusions. Traversing the Phantom

The current economic and financial crisis forces us to interrogate the real of capitalism through its symbolic and institutional limits. The financialization of the economy, the becoming-rent of profit, the progressive dematerialization of commodities and the evaporation of labor as the central institution of value and identity all bring us to the verge of a possible overcoming of the commodity phantom. Is there, at the core of the current crisis, an element of potentiality? An exodus of the multitude beyond capitalism?

It is still very difficult to answer these questions. However, cracks pop up everywhere in the capitalist present and show themselves as uncanny. It is as if we had eventually looked the dead-end of Capital’s truth in the eyes, as though we had seen the inconsistency behind the symbolic structure that sustains the show of the commodity phantom. Behind this, there is nothing to maintain.

Money, namely the contemporary commodity par excellence, finds it difficult to reproduce its premises and promises. In fact, money appears to have shown its obscene and dissymmetrical side, its real, as Žižek would put it. So paradoxically and negatively—to follow Massimo Cacciari—even money ends up gesturing towards that ‘useless’ gratuitousness where the inconsumable and the indestructible coincide. We can still feel such gratuitousness, despite of everything, in the core of our ceaseless search for a beyond. Where is, then, the blocking point of commodity fetishism? From our perspective, it is exactly where its starting point is located.

In La Part maudite (The Accursed Share) from the beginning of the 1930s Georges Bataille had already described it in all its incandescence through the notion of dépense (expenditure): “In general, we must admit that wealth and life cannot be endlessly fruitful, and that a moment always arrives in which they must renounce growth in order to expend” (Bataille, 2011; our translation). It is certain, as argued by Rocco Ronchi, that capitalism is linked intimately to dépense. On the one hand, Weber’s reflection on worldly askesis indicates the hard, disciplined and somehow obsessive removal set in motion by capitalist instrumental reason to “defend itself” against expenditure and its unmentionable, obscene leftovers of enjoyment. On the other, however, capitalist society has never fully appropriated, never fully come to terms with, the drive that incessantly traverses it. It has attempted to manage it, to control the drive to its own advantage through the super-Ego imperative to enjoyment; but the drive has never ceased to pulsate as capital’s limit, as its furthest point, merely to explode in its shamelessness in the current financial and postmodern configuration.

Therefore we might say that dépense constitutes the essential origin as well as the inextricable limit of capitalism: “Its critical punctum, its enjoyment-endpoint, its ‘beyond the pleasure principle’, as the moth with the flame that will burn it” (Ronchi 2012, 141: our translation). The present economic crisis is, then, the space in which contemporary capitalism encounters its limit extimo, its real, where its psychotic madness fully reveals itself.

So what can happen now? In 1972 Lacan prophesied the explosion of capitalism and its discourse. In his words: “The crisis not of the master discourse, but of the capitalist discourse, which is its substitute, is overt. I am not saying to you that capitalist discourse is rotten; on the contrary, it is something wildly clever, eh? Wildly clever, but headed for a blowout. This is because it is untenable” (quoted in Contri 1972, 10-11). There is therefore an urgency, a protrusion to be grasped in the current crisis, a political and ethical urgency that we cannot allow ourselves not to assume fully. In fact, the opening of the phantasmal oscillation that allowed the commodity to impress subjectivity is now restricting itself. What is needed is courage in order to force the limits of the gap in such a way that a gash can be opened up. Such a gash should aim at creating a new possibility for the production of sharing, a new dance of subjectivity. This is nothing other than a new common potentially able to sustain a new subjective horizon and a new realm based on the wealth of our incommensurable differences.


01. From this standpoint, my approach is consistent with Korsch’s analysis of labour-power (the commodity par excellence of industrial and machinic capitalism), as a particular determination of that universal fetishism which is already contained in the commodity form. (See Korsch, 1938).

02. Let us recall that little Ernst, by playing the Fort-da game, was attempting to symbolically establish the control of the situation produced by the loss of his object of enjoyment (namely, his mother). (See Freud, 1922).

03. See G. B. Contri (Ed.) Lacan in Italia 1953-1978, La Salamandra, Milano, 1978.

04. On the concept of wealth effect see in particular the works of the French economist André Orléan.

05. See in particular Étienne Balibar, 2011, 315-342. All translations ours.


Balibar, Étienne. Citoyen Sujet et autres essais d’anthropologie philosophique. Paris, Puf, 2011.
Bataille, Georges. La Part maudite: précédé de La notion de dépense. Paris, Les Editions de Minuit, 2011.
Contri, G. B. (Ed.). Lacan in Italia 1953-1978. La Salamandra, Milano, 1978.
De Martino, Ernesto. La fine del mondo. Contributo all’analisi delle apocalissi culturali. Ed. C. Gallini, Torino: Einaudi, 1977/2002.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1983.
Desideri, F. “Teologia dell’inferno. Walter Benjamin e il feticismo modern”. In Mistura S. (Ed.), Figure del feticismo. Torino: Einaudi, 2001: 175-196.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Trans. M. Hubback, London/Vienna, International Psycho-Analytic Press, 1922.
Iofrida, M., “Derrida e la rivendicazione dello spirito del marxismo”. In Filosofia e discussione pubblica (14). 1995: 197-211.
Korsch, Karl. Karl Marx. New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1938.
Marx, Karl. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy Volume I. Trans. B. Fowkes. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976.
Napoleoni, Claudio. Smith, Ricardo, Marx. Considerazioni sulla storia del pensiero economico. Torino, Boringhieri, 1970.
Recalcati, Massimo. Introduzione alla psicoanalisi contemporanea. I problemi del dopo Freud. Milano, Bruno Mondandori, 2003.
Ronchi, R. “Il reale del capitalismo. Bataille e Lacan”. In Pagliardini A. (Ed.), Il reale del capitalism. Milano: et al./edizioni, 2012: 126-145.
Simmel, Georg. Philosophy of Money. Trans. T. Bottomore and D. Frisby. New York, Routledge, 2011.
Soler, Colette. L’inconscient réinventé, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2009.
Tronti, Mario. “I “grilli” della merce”. In Stefano Mistura (Ed.). Figure del feticismo. Torino, Einaudi, 2001: 103-122.