A Recent Post on Psychoanalysis and Surveillance (also posted on the Waterloo Watchmen Website: http://waterloowatchmen.blogspot.com/)

Hello all,

Below I’ve posted the most recent blog entry from the Waterloo Watchmen website (http://waterloowatchmen .blogspot.com/).  I’d like to encourage any and all discussion on the matter; my only request is that you post any comments both here and on the blog (this will allow us to expand the discussion to include the WWW community).




It is interesting that in many academic discussions of the topic of surveillance, particularly those focused on the panopticon principle, a gendering of social and cultural surveillance persistently occurs; we are told to fear the “Big Brother,” an arbitrarily gendered masculinzation of the socio-cultural “gaze.” Such a gendering of surveillance suggests that examining issues of paternal authority, particularly those expressed within the realm of psychoanalysis, might yield particularly insightful results in terms of the Law of the Father and the Symbolic Order intrinsic to the Freudian/Lacanain model. In addition, adopting a psychoanalytic lens may allow a validation of the undeniable erotic component to the gaze of the “Big Brother”, helping us account for the pleasure intrinsic to both sides of even the grandest voyeurism.

But within a psychoanalytic framework, how would one conceptualize this “Big Brother”? A brief retelling of the Freudian/Lacanian Oedipal organization of the self, and the consequential presence of patriarchal Law, will assist in orienting surveillance within psychoanalytic theory and, more importantly, within the larger order of human psychological and symbolic existence.

According to the Freudian/Lacanian Oedipal system, the infantile male subject, living by the doctrine of the pleasure principle, needs, demands, and more importantly desires the exclusive affection of the mother; however, the infant subject recognizes that it is the father who holds the object of maternal desire (the phallus, the female lack) and that, oddly, the mother lacks a phallus. The subject falsely deduces that the female lack is the result of a violent castration enacted by the father and is overcome by jealous hatred and hostility toward him. Yet, moved by his own castration anxiety, the subject shifts from a position of resentment toward the father to one of sacrificial obedience—in order to preserve his own phallus the subject must forgo the desired gratification of union with the maternal love object. It is this obedience to the father that indoctrinates the child into the realm of the social and symbolic order, ruled by the omnipresent, and singular, patriarchal Law of the Father (big ‘F’) in which prohibition dictates action and sacrifice dominates pleasure. Thus, the Law between the subject and society necessarily mimics the relationship between the subject and the family patriarch; the important point to take from Freud’s rendering is that cultural patriarchy mimics familial patriarchy and it is within the family structure that the subject learns the meaning of “no” (prohibition). But, as we know, our society is hardly one of prohibition—pleasure, desire, enjoyment, all of these sensations are encouraged by contemporary social structures, even demanded.

Enter Lacan, who points to an important variation in Freud’s theory, brought on by capitalism, individualization, and the “Century of the Self.” Lacan recognizes that patriarchal, or “Oedipal” Law does exist and that all human action cannot, by social necessity, enter the realm of pleasure (we must forgo pleasure and do work sometimes!). Lacan rather succinctly paraphrased the prohibiting function of the Law of the Father through typical Lacanian wordplay, referring to this Law as a doctrine in the “Name-of-the-Father,” represented in French as both the name (nom) and the no (non) of paternal Law.

However, Lacan suggests that the symbolic manifestation of prohibition (the denial of pleasure), what was once the ruling order of human society (one can think back to the protestant work ethic in order to recognize this Law in action), has effectively been replaced. In Lacan’s self-proclaimed “late works” (beginning approximately with seminar 7, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis), he points to the existence of two Laws and two Fathers—a supposition developed further by members of the “new Lacanian” movement (including, among others, Slavoj Žižek and Joan Copjec). Although Lacan acknowledges the Law of the Oedipal Father, and the patriarchal subjection that he demands, he identifies an extant second Father who, rather than demanding the prohibition of pleasure, is driven toward enacting it. Lacan suggests that this second Father is symbolically represented in Freud’s pre-Oedipal tale of the primordial horde (referenced in Totem and Taboo) in which the “phallic” or “primordial” father demands all desire be directed toward him and reserves exclusive right to all pleasure; Lacan calls this indulgent drive toward extreme, narcissistic pleasure jouissance. It is this new Law, the command to enjoy, that fuels our economy and dictates the postmodern symbolic order (prohibition has been fundamentally replaced by pleasure). Thus, the identification of these two contradictory Fathers, the Oedipal and the Primordial, leads Lacan to suggest that contemporary society faces a “forced choice” between two negatives, le pere ou pire, the father or worse.

Where does surveillance fit in then? Which father, if any, is metaphorically realized in modern surveillance? If surveillance is rooted in discipline and punishment, if it attempts to encourage prohibitive behaviour and obedience, it must be a manifestation of the Law of the Oedpial Father. However, if surveillance also promotes and encourages both pleasure and egotistic self-indulgence, if it provokes the pleasure inherent to the gaze, than it aligns itself more closely with the Law of the Primordial Father. This contradiction (which is a wonderful thing to identify when engaging in psychoanalytic discourse) situates surveillance in a complex and theoretically rich position, as the potential culmination of patriarchal Law in both forms, as a socio-cultural symbol, a metaphor, for the precarious position of the post-modern subject.

Such observations also beg the question, would it be possible to destabilize the gendering of surveillance? What happens if one investigates the “oedipal complex” or “castration anxiety” of the “Big Brother”? Could a maternal surveillance model be devised within a psychoanalytic framework? Such questions would undoubtedly provoke intriguing work within surveillance studies. Regardless, the connections between socio-cultural surveillance and psychoanalytic theory clearly point to a need for further exploration into the veiling of the gaze, with special attention to gender and sexuality, as they relate to manifestations of desire (and concealment) within the Symbolic Order. This line of reasoning will be pursued in future posts.


One response to “A Recent Post on Psychoanalysis and Surveillance (also posted on the Waterloo Watchmen Website: http://waterloowatchmen.blogspot.com/)

  1. Wow. The potential to look at the intersection of the Primordial Father and the Oedipal Fathers sounds fascinating. But what I’m really intrigued by here is the inherent gendering of the gaze and the possibility of destabilizing this. What would this require? What position would this gaze occupy?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s