Review by Simon McNamee
Justin Clemens, Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy.
Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2013.
Available here via Amazon and here via Book Depository
Justin Clemens’ 2013 publication Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy marks a significant development in psychoanalytic theory and, indeed, ‘critical’ or ‘continental’ philosophy in general (if one can permit falling back on broad, ambiguous and perplexing terminology). Following Badiou’s situating of psychoanalysis as an ‘antiphilosophy’ (we’ll get to what this means shortly), Clemens re-examines themes which are not only crucially thematic to psychoanalytic theory, but have re-emerged – or, perhaps, refused to die – as central concerns in the political field; in turn, Clemens gives a clear statement of the importance of psychoanalysis, with its reintroduction of matter and the body into thought, in addressing issues ranging from the dominance of the pharmacological to the recent debates over attempts to legitimate torture. What can be seen in the book is the emphasis of the themes of slavery, alienation, and torture as key foci of psychoanalysis. And, thankfully, Clemens is not afraid of using puns along the way.
It may be useful to first clarify the use of the term ‘antiphilosophy’ in order to not rely on associations that may be misguided when the term rings out. Following Jacques Lacan, Alain Badiou situates psychoanalysis as ‘antiphilosophy’ in relation to philosophy. What this designation involves is not a dismissal of philosophy (a kind of ‘antiphilosophy’ which might be understood as characteristic of certain other fields that either see themselves beyond philosophy or see philosophy as some kind of ‘outmoded discourse,’ the kind of positions idiots take in order put some profundity into their life) but an engagement with philosophy in a manner that is not subsumed by philosophy. That is to say, ‘philosophy’ is an important representative of the ‘master’s discourse’ and encapsulates ‘learned institutional trans-cultural ignorance’ whereas psychoanalysis as an anti-philosophy (according to Badiou’s characterisation) can be seen as a liberation of philosophy itself from ‘the obscure drive to ignorance’ in a manner which does not escape nor have the pretence of sublimating philosophy. ‘[T]he struggle for antiphilosophy must be an attempt at the liberation of philosophy from itself.’ In order to clarify what an ‘antiphilosophy’ entails, it is useful to outline some of its features (Clemens clearly defines what the term means and how it functions in the book), which include: subordination of philosophical categories to language and, with this, a critique of philosophy’s pretentions to truth and systematicity diagnosed as a philosophical will to power; and, perhaps most importantly, the affirmation of an ethics which escapes philosophical strictures. Psychoanalysis as an antiphilosophy can, in particular, be understood as positioned at the intersection of scientific discourse and literary discourse – without being reduced to either discourse but understood as a genuinely new discourse, ‘that interrupts science with literature.’ Additionally, a further clarification can be made: psychoanalysis as an antiphilosophy does not define psychoanalysis in a purely negative relation to philosophy. Rather, as Clemens states, ‘[p]sychoanalysis doesn’t begin with a negative programme of critique, of preliminary ground-clearing, but of affirmative clinical construction which, in the course of its elaboration, curbs the idealism of philosophical beatitude.’
In the first chapter, ‘Listening or Dispensing? Sigmund Freud on Drugs,’ Clemens analyses the genesis of psychoanalytic discourse, using the notorious ‘cocaine episode’ as its point of departure. The aim of such an analysis is pertinent to anyone currently engaged in or aware of the contemporary clinical psychology and pharmacological debates that emerged in public discourse in the 1990s and have taken even stronger forms since the recent publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as well as anyone with an interest in the ethics of pharmacology and clinical per se. That is, the argument Clemens develops is that, in contradistinction to the way the debate is usually staged between the proponents of the dispensing regime over the proponents of the listening or talking-cure adherents, psychoanalysis is to be considered a post-pharmacological enterprise rather than a pre-pharmacological or pre-scientific enterprise. The result of his analysis for the wider thesis is that psychoanalysis functions through the injection of literary elements into the methods of science without reducing it to either in order to adequately capture ‘the infinite and singular complexities of human language-use as it bears upon psychopathology.’ Such a function is constitutive of a methodology ‘dedicated to creating ever-renovated means of non-violent isolation of a subject’s relation to their own speech, and then inventing new ways to enable the subject to transform that relationship through speech itself.’
‘Love as Ontology; or, Psychoanalysis against Philosophy,’ the second chapter of Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy, is of crucial importance to the central claim of antiphilosophy. As Clemens succinctly states, ‘psychoanalysis generates propositions that integrally affect philosophy; philosophy does not generate propositions that integrally affect psychoanalysis.’ Here, specifically, it is the question of ontology and its relation to transference (love). The central claim can be put as follows: love builds (the subject’s) world; ‘psychoanalysis is a praxis of world-destruction through love.’ Psychoanalysis puts transference love at its core and, as Clemens argues, it does so ‘to bury love.’ The ontological significance of ‘transference love’ can be briefly gleamed by the following quotation:
That the traces of a past that has no existence but in residues of unconscious infantile decisions continue to shape the physics of the present in ways that do not have any relationship with empirical, social or biological actualities. Into the bargain, the entire comportment of subjects towards their reality is bound up with something they cannot know, but whose effects they evince as ciphers. The transference is not just evidence of the return of these fictions in reality, but it is itself emblematic of the work of these fictions: the disorders of subjects is the symptom of a disorder of love. This love has no respect for empirical realities or specific differences.
The explication of this claim creates the grounds for the question of the subject qua slave is discussed in the following chapter, ‘Revolution or Subversion? Jacques Lacan on Slavery’. Also of broader ontological importance is the characterisation of the human being as a swarm animal later in the book in ‘Man is a Swarm Animal’.
Further developments in the book include a discussion of the work of the philosopher Giorgio Agamben (‘Messianism or Melancholia? Giorgio Agamben on Inaction’) and the analysis of his relationship to psychoanalytic theory; and the Aesopic in ‘The Slave, The Fable’. Though these chapters are important in their own right, I would to, lastly, address Clemens’ chapter on the psychoanalysis’ contributions to the contemporary debate over the permissibility or impermissibility of torture (‘Torture, Psychoanalysis and Beyond) and, in turn, the political. For Clemens, torture as the ‘technique’ – historically, pragmatically and in principle – which effects the transition between the living body and the life of the community, is the original landscape of the political; with this, torture is in an important sense state power. Torture discloses and is exemplary par excellence of the relationship between speech and the body. The political dimension (not sutured to ethics commonly understood) is elaborated by Clemens as: torture came to be – contra to the ubiquity of torture and the enthusiasm for torture that has existed up until, historically speaking, relatively recently – prohibited according to the struggle for democracy as equality and, with the import of psychoanalytic theory, the following propositions apropos of torture are addressed: the spectacle of torture is enjoyed by all albeit often in the mode of denegation or disavowal; ‘torture is politically the paradigm of arbitrary “exceptional” power; freedom of speech is properly understood as the capacity not to have to speak rather than the ‘right’ to say anything; there is an essential, intimate relation between torture and pre-publication censorship; the exclusion of torture is an essential element of and a necessary condition of democracy; ‘the existence of slavery within any society in general is defined by a person’s torturability’; and, the notion of ‘confusion-power,’ that is, a universal wrong of torture is that it confuses, amongst other things, ‘sense and reference, aims and ends, actuality and potentiality, persons and voices’. The significance of Clemens’ analysis for the contemporary debates over the use of torture – and the condemnation of such debates – of arrives, via a discussion of US interrogation techniques and US Justice Department legal documentations, at a disclosure: ‘Conterminously, torture has now been explicitly legitimated in the oldest democracies through its legal-medical redefinition,’ he goes on, ‘all the contemporary available terms for any public debate concerning torture – the ticking bomb, the necessity to urgently extract information that will save the lives of innocents – have no role to play here whatsoever. Except, that is, for the fact of legitimising torture by legitimising discussion about torture.’ Moreover, ‘[w]e no longer live in active polities, but in administrative waste-management societies. If democracy has historically defined itself by its repression of torture in order to enable “free speech” – not simply to be able to say anything in public, but to be able to speak, publicly or not, in one’s own name, without coercion – it is now essentially over. Contemporary torture is no longer about the extraction of speech from the body, but the absolute and irreversible separation of speech from the body. Perhaps this feature alone is enough to render the whole “debate” utterly otiose.’ This is not only a significant analysis for the ‘torture debate’, but Clemens also takes his critical examination to the issue of what such a ‘administrative waste-management society’ means for psychoanalysis as a practice. Of course, nonetheless, it is clear that this marks an important contribution to current politico-ethical concerns.
Justin Clemens’ Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy obviously contains much more than what I have outlined above. I would like to highlight, however, that Clemens is an eminently readable author, but in being accessible he manages to succeed at the task of not losing or distorting content or critical analysis through being an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating author (people who are familiar with Clemens work will already be aware of this). Do not be dissuaded; one does not have to be overly familiar with psychoanalytic theory in order to find this a significant work with important contributions to philosophy (broadly understood), critical theory-type subjects, as well as psychoanalytic theory. (For those unfamiliar interested in more general works regarding psychoanalytic theory, I’d recommend Elisabeth Roudinesco’s Why Psychoanalysis?, Bruce Fink’s The Lacanian Subject and A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Slavoj Žižek’s How to Read Lacan, and, of course, Sigmund Freud’s oeuvre; on a slightly different bent, Jean-Luc Nancy and Phillippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan is an significant philosophical work.) In short, I encourage everyone, whether they be neurotic, psychotic, or perverse, to read Clemens’ Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy and then prepare for his forthcoming work, coauthored with A. J. Bartlett and Jon Roffe, Lacan, Deleuze, Badiou.
Simon McNamee is a writer living in Melbourne
 Clemens discusses this as well as other subjects addressed in the book in a recent interview which can be read here: http://societyandspace.com/material/interviews/justin-clemens-interviewed-on-psychoanalysis-is-an-antiphilosophy/
 Clemens, p. 4.
 It should be kept in mind that: ‘it is strictly speaking impossible not to be philosophical in Lacan’s sense, even for psychoanalysis…’
 Clemens, p. 5.
 Clemens, pp. 5–6.
 Clemens, p. 7.
 Clemens, p. 14.
 Clemens, p. 18. Clemens, pp. 17–43.
 Clemens, p. 42.
 Clemens, p. 43.
 Clemens, p. 61.
 For the uninitiated, more on love as transference can be found: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330334/; http://nosubject.com/index.php?title=Talk:Transference; http://www.lacan.com/symptom/?page_id=263; http://www.lacan.com/thesymptom/?page_id=703.
 Clemens, p. 50. It is important to keep in mind that, for psychoanalysis, ‘there is no essential difference between transference and other kinds of love.’ (p. 51)
 Clemens, p. 124.
 Clemens, pp. 129–30.
 Clemens, pp. 140–1.
 Clemens, p. 141.
 Clemens, p. 141.