INVISIBLE HANDJOB. Chapter 2 – …And Even Stranger Out There (Part 3)

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The ‘Otherside’ of the Market

YouTube: INVISIBLE HANDJOB. …And Even Stranger Out There (Part 3)

Welcome to Lecture 7 of Alenka Zupančič’s What Is Sex? In this lecture we will be concluding Chapter 2 …And Even Stranger Out There which broadly focuses on issues of capitalist dynamics in the context of the non-relation.

We start with the extraordinarily witty and provocative subsection ‘The Invisible ‘Handjob’ of the Market’. This is of course a play on the infamous ‘invisible hand’ metaphor for the self-organization of capitalism, first proposed by Adam Smith. The idea of the invisible hand attempted to communicate that if each individual followed their own self-interested behaviour within a market economy then the totality of the market economy would self-organize to produce a world that worked for each individual. The idea of the ‘invisible handjob’ is the idea that this process of self-organization leads to a dynamic that was not properly considered by Adam Smith, which is that capital can reproduce itself for itself, even if it comes at the expense of what benefits individuals.

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Orders of Relation

To start this subsection Zupančič brings up a critical point about Lacanian theory: namely, that a non-relation (or an absolute) structures all discursive relations. In this sense, the non-relation is not simply limited to the “sphere of love”, the non-relation is not simply limited to the impossibility at the core of man and woman in sexuality, but is constitutive of the symbolic order, as such. In order to capture this idea you can see in this representation the idea that the whole of material nature, from the physical order, biological order and so forth, are structured by relations (relations between particles to relations between organisms). However, you will see that at the beginning of this chain of relations we encounter an impossible non-relation, the absolute oneness of the primordial universe; and you will also see that towards the end of this chain, with the emergence of the symbolic order, there appears another impossible non-relation, the absolute (negative) oneness that structures human relationality.

To quote Zupančič (1):

“Lacan’s point is that, since it is one with the discursive order, the non-relation is at work in all forms of social bond; it is not limited to the “sphere of love”. (The latter is, rather, distinguished by the fact that in its field it actually happens, from time to time, that the relation “stops not being written”.) And his further point is that the social relations of power — domination, exploitation, discrimination — are first and foremost forms of exploitation of the non-relation.”

Thus we see the Lacanian point that the non-relation transcends romantic or love relations. Importantly, this non-relation can find itself at play in relations of social power. In other words, when an individual human believes that they have the absolute truth and the way, they are using this absolute truth and the way to obfuscate their own real, their own antagonism, and what follows are relations of domination, exploitation and discrimination.

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Non-relation for social power

Here Zupančič attempts to structure two ways in which the non-relation can be used by social power towards authoritarian or exploitative practices. In the first example she claims that authoritarian regimes will claim to have “The” Relation (or as stated previously, they have ‘the truth’ and ‘the way’). What this strategy thus attempts to do is pretend there is no non-relation, that there is total transparency in clarity in regards to the direction of being or history. One can see this strategy deployed in many dictatorships, like for example North Korea, where the dictator proclaims that he has ‘The’ Relation and that there is no antagonism or cut in the social order.

In the second example she claims that exploitative regimes found themselves on ‘narratives of the Relation’ which presents an antagonism as an absolute obstacle. In this sense we have all symbolism circling around an antagonism to be conquered, where an injustice will be translated into a true justice. According to Zupančič this is how many authentic revolutionary practices of the 20th century structured themselves. We can easily see that the Marxist dialectic finds its home here, presenting to us the absolute antagonism of the proletariat and bourgeoisie.

Here to quote Zupančič on what psychoanalysis can interpret from this matrix of power (2):

“This is a truly political lesson of psychoanalysis: Power — and particularly modern forms of power — works by first appropriating a fundamental negativity of the symbolic order, its constitutive non-relation, while building it into a narrative of a higher Relation. This is what constitutes, puts into place and perpetuates, the relations of domination. And the actual, concrete exploitation is based on, made possible (and fuelled) by, this appropriation, this “privatization of the negative”. This is what distinguishes — to take the famous Brechtian example — the robbing of a bank (common theft) from the founding of a bank.”

In this remarkably clear passage we can summarize Zupančič’s basic claim that whether or not social power claims to have “The” Relation (as in a dictatorship) or whether social power claims to have “The” antagonism which would eventually abolish the non-relation, we have the way in which the ‘fundamental negativity’ of the symbolic order is used to mobilize and order society.

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Evolution of non-relation

Here Zupančič claims we can see both moves with the formation of capitalism. The first move of capitalism is to challenge the old monarchical order functioning as a mercantile nation. In this old order there was a belief that a nation’s wealth was constant and closed. In this order there was no change or growth and the only way in which the sphere could grow would be through eating or annihilating another sphere (another monarch). Capitalism challenges this view by claiming that there is no such thing as an economic Relation in the monarchical sense of a closed totality. What capitalism does to replace this closed totality is to open the field and exploit the non-relation, to exploit the absence of the Relation. It is in this context that we could situate Walter Benjamin’s claim that God did not die, he turned into money. Instead of having a society in which one small family sits atop of the world claiming to have found “The” relation, technically anyone could organize a situation where they are ‘sitting on top of the world’, as long as they mobilize the resources which exploit the non-relation. This is where Zupančič would situate the idea of the emergence of the ‘free market’. The ‘free market’ is the freedom to exploit the non-relation by occupying the place of the Relation.

Here to quote Zupančič and her deployment of Adam Smith (3):

“What is the fundamental “discovery” of capitalism? That non-relation is profitable, that it is the ultimate source of growth and profit. […] This is how we got the narrative of a new, higher Relation, the foundation myth of modern capitalism, known as “the invisible hand of the market.”

[…]

It is precisely by ruthlessly pursuing one’s own interest that one promotes the good of society as a whole, and much more efficiently so than when one sets off to promote it directly. As Smith puts it in a famous quote from The Wealth of Nations: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.””

In other words, in capitalism, and when one becomes a capitalist entrepreneur, it is as if we are all becoming our own little kingdoms, our own little monarchs. We pursue our own good in relation to the non-relation, against the background of our own self-interested activity, and from this we benefit society as a whole. Capitalism is a more distributed monarchy where a field of kings emerge, signified by their ability to generate capital.

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The Other in Capital

If one recalls from the previous lecture titled “Anti-Sexus” we explored Zupančič’s “matryoshka dolls” model for the relationship between the individual and the Other, either in its religious or its psychoanalytic interpretation. In the religious interpretation there was a relation (or non-relation) between Adam and God; in the psychoanalytic interpretation there was a relation (or non-relation) between the subject and the Other. In this representation we think about this structure of enjoyment in the context of capitalism. We can see that the model here is one that represents the relation to the non-relation as one founded between the self-interested capitalist or entrepreneur with the invisible hand of the market.

When we consider this relation only from the perspective of the individual self-interested capitalist we find Adam’s Smith’s basic proposition that self-interested activity (the enjoyment of the capitalist) is what allows for the self-organization of the market towards the general welfare of all and everybody (4):

“what we find at the very core of the most selfish individual enjoyment is actually the Other (looking after a general welfare).”

However, Zupančič claims that what is missing is the ‘other side’ of the equation. The fact that when we, instead of focusing on the self-interested activity of the capitalist entrepreneur, we focus on the self-organizing hand of the capitalist market itself, we find not an invisible hand that is benefitting the whole of (human) society, but rather an invisible handjob in a type of self-referential masturbatory motion. Thus, we have the often cited claim that the capitalist market reproduces itself for itself, independent of the welfare or benefit of other human beings (5):

“What is missing is the next step: […] what we find […] at the core of this Other, is a most “masturbatory” self-enjoyment.”

In other words, we find that the individual is erased and the absolute other reigns supreme in its anonymity. Thus, when we ‘distribute monarchy’ into the ‘free market’ we have, instead of a personal human tyranny (like a dictator), an impersonal inhuman tyranny (the dictator of the market).

To quote Zupančič (6):

“The invisible hand of the market, supposedly looking after general welfare and justice, is always also, and already, the invisible handjob of the market, putting most of the wealth decidedly out of common reach.”

What this quote captures is the fact that our dictator (capital) is how anything actually gets done in our world, and that this prevents a lot of action, since most capital is out of common reach. In many instances capital is simply reproducing itself, generating the well-known differences in both income and wealth inequality. Beyond the simple moral outrage that this can provoke in those aware of its dynamics, this also displays a type of emergent dynamic of self-organization which transcends the particular human creatures who bring this monster to life.

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Paradox of Capitalism

Zupančič here notes the double consequence or paradox at the heart of the capitalist system. On the one hand we have the objective fact that, due to the emergence of capitalism, everyone does get wealthier. In that sense there is truth to the metaphor of the invisible hand. The rising tide of the free market does work in the sense that we all are wealthier then most if not all people before the rise of capital. On the other hand, we also have the fact that the difference between the rich and poor grows exponentially, and we have insane differences between those with capital and those without capital. This creates a dynamic that is unstable for society on many different levels.

On the level of theory, Marx pointed out that this whole process starts when money is transformed into capital. That is, this whole process starts when the money enters into a relation with itself, a circular process in which money begets more money. Or from Lecture 8 of Less Than Nothing focused on the relation between Marx and Hegel, where we have the introduction of the concept of M-C-M, money-commodity-money. In this situation the capitalist who has money operating for himself in a self-referential loop of enjoyment, can direct that money to exploit negativity/entropy in his own determination. This is achieved because the capitalist can buy the miracle of labour, which is the source of real value creation, or what Marx identified as ‘surplus value’.

To give an example with this channel, I do not have capital operating in a self-referential relation, capable to buy labour and create new value. All I have is my own labour as a surplus value. However, if my own labour as a surplus value is identified by capital as something useful for the invisible handjob of the market, then I could be targeted and then exploited for my labour towards the ends of the capitalist. In that context it would be the level of my morality and my ethics as to whether or not I would diverge from my own purposes and ends or whether I would stay true my own purposes and ends.

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Capitalist Otherness

Now please recall the representation from the last lecture titled The Anti-Sexus on the structure of the Lacanian totality as a divided absolute structured by certain possible relations and certain impossible non-relations. Here we can use this representation to situate analysis of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie occupies a certain position in relation to the non-relation and the proletariat occupies a certain position in relation to the non-relation. The Bourgeoisie is in the position of exchange value of capital where he uses capital to make more capital; the proletariat is in the position of use value of capital where he uses capital to meet basic necessities. In this divided totality the proletariat can feel the impossibilities of the Other as the fact that capital is ‘unpredictable, unreliable, unavailable’; whereas the bourgeoisie can feel the impossibilities of the Other as ‘expecting, demanding, complicating’. Thus, the proletariat view capital as the impossible obstacle to their self-fulfillment; whereas the bourgeoisie view humans as the impossible obstacle to their self-fulfillment. Both require and need each other since the bourgeoisie need to buy the value creation which only human labour can provide; and the proletariat need the money which only the capitalist class can provide.

To quote Zupančič on this strange dynamic between the bourgeoisie and proletariat in relation to the status of work or labour in value creation (7):

“Labour power as commodity is the point that marks the constitutive negativity, gap, of this system: the point where one thing immediately falls into another (use value into source of value). Labour is a product among other products, yet it is not exactly like other products: where other products have a use value (and hence a substance of value), this particular commodity “leaps over” or “lapses” to the source of value. The use value of this commodity is to be the source of value of (other) commodities. It has no “substance” of its own. This could also be put in a formula: “The Worker does not exist.” What exists — and must exist — is the person whose work is sold and bought. This is why it is essential, according to Marx, that the person working does not sell himself (his person), “converting himself from a free man to a slave, from an owner of commodity into a commodity. He must constantly treat his labour-power as his own property, his own commodity.” This also shows how the usual humanist complaints about how, in capitalism, “we are all just commodities” miss the point: if we were indeed just commodities, capitalism would not work; we need to be free persons selling our labour power as our property, our commodity.”

This is a complex but an important passage. Zupančič is attempting to communicate here the revolutionary gap or hole where the worker really is free in capitalism. Although it is hard to identify and recognize when one is in the position of being without capital, it is truly the worker power of the free subject which is of the highest value to the capitalist. The worker brings a surplus, an excess which cannot be captured by the automated algorithmic information processing of capital. It is the hole in the machinery which cannot be controlled or regulated and within which something radically new can emerge.

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X

Now if we can agree in Zupančič’s analysis that capitalism is basically the distribution of monarchy and the exploitation of the non-relation via the free market what can we say about the further evolution of this distribution? What we do see with the emergence of capitalism is another, in some ways much deeper negativity, which is the very core of the negativity as the proletariat masses. Capitalism cannot erase this negativity, cannot make it go away, as it were. We cannot all become bourgeoisie, we can not all become successful capitalist entrepreneurs, at least not in any way that we could currently articulate. This status of the proletariat as a core negativity of the capitalist order is what Zupančič means when she states that “The Worker does not exist”, the worker as some black hole around which the social order we observe revolves. Or to quote Zupančič directly: “The proletariat is not the sum of all workers, it is the concept that names the symptomatic point of this system, its disavowed and exploited negativity.” (8). The question now becomes, can this disavowed and exploited negativity really be overcome, as in the visions of a communist utopia? Or what about overcome, as in the visions of the invisible hand actually working for the benefit of all and everybody? Which is more probable? Are both simply fictitious illusions? How should we understand the structure of these relations as overdetermined by the non-relation?

Zupančič here offers her take (9):

“In conclusion, we can return to the invisible hand, its other side and its criticism: is it enough to claim that it does not exist, and to try to put in its place a better, truly operative Other? As a matter of fact, this is precisely the theoretical question that we see today emerging on the left (for example, with Thomas Piketty’s work): is it tenable to play one’s cards on the side of distribution? In other words, is there a way in which we could make the non-relation-based profit really profitable for all (eliminate its “handjob” aspect, as it were)? Can we maintain the profitable side of the non-relation while keeping its negative side under control (by means of different social correctives and regulations concerning the distribution of wealth)?”

Of course, these are mere questions which are left with us for reflection. It is true that the basic concrete offer of today’s globalist left is the idea that we need a new democratic socialist state on the global level capable of distributing the income and wealth inequality that we observe in today’s society. In this situation we attempt to repeat the measures that were extended on the national level in the 20th century, a type of Keynesian social-economic policy. This is imagined to be capable of building a ‘truly operative Other’ to give Zupančič’s description, and to eliminate the ‘handjob’ aspect of the market. Whether or not this is feasible we will have to wait and see, but it is worth it to reflect on these dynamics and to understand that we lose something in analysis when we only focus on one side of the free market mantra.

This brings us to the conclusion of ‘The Invisible Handjob of the Market’ Part 3 of Chapter 2 … And Even Stranger Out There. It also brings us to the conclusion of Chapter 2. In this chapter we covered the Quandary of the Relation, Anti-Sexus, and now the Invisible Handjob. We thus first approached the problems of relation at the heart of our social order, we approached this problem on the level of sexuality and love, and then we approached this problem on the level of political-economics. In this episode specifically we covered the structure of the non-relation in the evolution of capitalism with specific reference to the works of Adam Smith and the dynamics of self-interested activity vis-a-vis the Other as free market.

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Finished

Works Cited:

(1) Zupančič, A. 2017. Chapter 2: …And Even Stranger Out There. In: What Is Sex?  p. 30.

(2) ibid.  p. 31.

(3) ibid.  p. 32.

(4) ibid.

(5) ibid.

(6) ibid.

(7) ibid.  p. 33.

(8) ibid.  p. 34.

(9) ibid.

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