In this final installment of essays on the Houston hip-hop artist Chingo Bling I will be trying to focus in on a fairly specific and technical aspect of Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory: the notion of the “not-all.”
Lacan develops the “not-all” during a meditation on language and quantity. The area of inquiry is something like this. There can be one apple, or “not-one” apple. There can be some apples or “not-some” apples. There can be all the apples, or “not-all” the apples. (Of course, there are all sorts of permutations and arrangements of apples, and it makes a difference whether there is a finite or infinite number of apples in the world, and historical time is a crucial variable, for example, by making a statement that is true today false tomorrow in the event of an ecological catastrophe leading to the extinction of the apple).
Within this word of logical puzzling out, the “not-all” seems to have certain attractions—like the moebius strip and Borromean rings and the twisted torus and other topological figures that Lacan proposes as models for subjectivity. In the work of Cohen and Kripke and others, some version of the “not-all” is connected, in fact, to interruption, to rupture, to the emergence of the new. The conjugation of Lacan and the work of these logicians and radical left political philosophy powers much of the influential work of Alain Badiou, and it strikes me that attending to the “not-all” and the politics of interruption under the dual inspiration of Lacan and Badiou might be a good way to continue thinking about Chingo Bling’s They Can’t Deport Us All. My proposition is straightforward: They Can’t Deport Us All derives much of its interruptive power from the form of the “not-all.” The idea of the “not-all” and its capacity to interrupt might go a long way towards explaining why the very existence of They Can’t Deport Us All made Michelle Malkin so angry.
Putting the X Back in Seminar XX
Lacan works up his particular gloss on the “not-all” in the context of a long inquiry into the affairs of men and women, and “not-all” is another name for what he calls “feminine jouissance.” As Russell Grigg points out, however, Lacan address the “pas-tout” as “a conceptual or logical category” that need not have any direct link with sexuality.
My purpose here, then, is to apply this model to the figure of the “illegal immigrant” as an object of white fantasy, to move, that is, from a theory developed to think about male fantasies about women to a theory about white fantasies about “illegal immigrants” from Mexico. I recognize that this maneuver is not without risks, and certainly cannot be pulled off without incurring some bruises. But I think it is worth trying, at least.
Because Lacan introduces the “not-all” in his Seminar XX (Encore) of 1972-73, on the question of whether there is are specifically gendered modalities of desiring and enjoying, there is no way of avoiding talking about sex, a situation about which I am no more happy than you must be. Even worse, I will have to talk a bit about math. If frank discussion of such things is not for you, this is probably a good place to jump off.
The reason I regret having to talk about sex in this essay is not my own prudishness, but because talking about sex scrambles people’s brains and often provokes peculiar behavior. Ultimately, my interest in the “not-all” is not very connected to sex: it derives from a desire to better understand anti-immigrant discourse in the US. Nevertheless, intellectual-historically, one must attend to the origins of this notion of the “not-all”: and, as it happens, these origins lie in a seminar devoted largely to the “philosophy of the bedroom.”
In contrast, the reason I regret having to talk about math is that I am not good at it. For this reason, I will try to highlight some questions of propositional logic, without pretending that this is an intellectual milieu in which I can comfortably maneuver.
I will proceed by reviewing the larger arc of Seminar XX, and then turning to an excellent article by Russell Grigg on the place of the “not-all” in the work of both Lacan and Alain Badiou. I will try to resist drawing conclusions. What I wish to do is set the table in such a way that we might continue to think about this particular interpretive object through this particular analytical lens.
I Can’t Get No
To cut to the chase: what we seek in this reading of Seminar XX is the path that leads to the “not-all” (as with most Lacanian seminars, there are about 596 different threads interwoven in the text; it goes without saying that not all of Seminar XX is about the “not-all”).
We find that the “not-all” rears its head in Lacan’s discussion of the fundamental difference between male and female modes of enjoyment: the way men enjoy themselves and enjoy women; the way women enjoy themselves and enjoy men. This is all, of course, ridiculously reductionistic and heteronormative. At the same time, from what I can gather, is still a large part of what makes popular culture tick, and it continues to dominate the problems that psychoanalysts and psychotherapists see and treat every day. (But let me be clear, of course, that I do not think we can assimilate this text without highlighting its limitations as a text about men and women and heterosexual norms circa 1972 in France).
For Lacan, male enjoyment—in its classical form––is “phallic enjoyment.” Lacan often plays with the double meaning of the genitive “of”—so “enjoyment of the man” is both “the way the man enjoys” and “the way the man is enjoyed by the woman.” “Phallic enjoyment” is the domain of the “all” and its inverse, the “none”(there are complications here that have to do with some technical business about “castration,” but we can put them to one side).
One either has access to the phallus, or does not; one is either satisfied by the encounter, or not. That this is the fundamental quality of “phallic enjoyment” is attested to by the typical role of the male performer in adult films.
Female enjoyment, Lacan suggests, is something else. Lacan suggests that has something to do with Seminar XX’s title––“encore”—again, more, etc. In other words, “not-all.” On the one hand, at least some part of female sexuality resists discovery by men. On the other, the annals of male fantasy attest to a certain centrality of the “not-all” (thus the Don Juan and Casanova and The Game, the endless narratives of male desire for both “all the women” and “all of one woman,” which, whatever else, loom at the center of Western culture and commerce).
From this incommensurability, between “all” and “not-all,” derives one of Lacan’s most famous provocations: “there is no sexual relation.”
Which means not, of course, that sex doesn’t happen, but simply that one cannot write “X+Y=sex” and be done with it.
For one thing, the man and woman are positioned, asymmetrically, vis-à-vis the reproductive consequences of sex. The woman is also a potential mother who will have a physical bond with a child. The man is also a potential parent, but if he his, everyone has to take his word for it. That’s why the notion of “Name-of-the-Father” is so central in Lacan—all “the father” is, in the final analysis, is a name.
Furthermore, if sex for men is about “phallic enjoyment,” then the question of tumescence will always linger on the horizon: access to the “phallus” is not guaranteed. These are delicate matters. A huge amount of history revolves around them.
Here, one might object that beyond the gender conservatism of Lacan’s binarism, the progress of science has rendered much of this obsolete. This is a legitimate objection.
As Judith Roof has argued, the advent of DNA testing for paternity––coming of age around the late 1990s (when “Who’s The Daddy” became a staple of daytime talk shows)––represents a profound re-organization of the symbolic order described by Lacan.
The invention of Viagra (at about the same time), as Bruce Fink suggests, may mark a related epochal transformation of the “sexual relation” and its possibility or impossibility. Similarly, as Beatriz Preciado’s remarkable new book Testo Junkie explores, the terrain of our new “pharmacopornographic” moment is rapidly shifting towards new forms of medically mediated “intersex” positions and arrangements. We may really be in a new moment, a new arrangement of the symbolic order, in which the ideas of Freud and Lacan must be modified.
Again, I would not want to be read here as advocating for Lacan’s treatment of matters sexual—though I do think the archive of popular culture indicates that much of it still holds up, as the work of Slavoj Zizek and Alenka Zupancic amply demonstrates—but rather coming to terms with the world of which he was trying to make sense and the tools he developed in the process.
To get deeper into the political implications of Lacan’s notion of the “not-all,” it will be useful to turn to an excellent article by Russell Grigg, entitled “Lacan and Badiou: Logic of the Pas-Tout.” Grigg’s primary concern, in this piece, is to argue a quite “inside baseball” point about the relationship of Lacan and Badiou to a mathematical tendency called “intuitionism.” If we were disciplined, we would reconstruct that argument here.
But we are not disciplined. So we will use Grigg instead to help flesh out the propositional logic side of things, to better situate what it means to think about a given representation of a subject (whether “woman” or “illegal immigrant”) as “not-all.”
Grigg begins by sketching out the stakes of the “not-all.” The reason anyone would want to have the “not-all” in their pocket as a theoretical tool is because: a) one would want to have some version of “nothing” or “incompleteness” with which to play around, politically; and b) one would have to think there is something dangerous about universals. Complicating matters is the fact that “nothing,” as it happens, is a universal (“nothing is permanent” is equivalent to “everything is non-permanent”).
The motivation for (a) would seem to lie in a strong inclination, within radical political philosophy, for a theory of “incompleteness” that would avoid having to fix the set of the “political community” and would therefore be open to strangers and new subjects. The motivation for (b) would follow from (a): as I understand it, so long as any meta-theory (b) is universal in character, it would nullify the incompleteness of any conception of incompleteness (a).
For Grigg, the “not-all” is remarkable––and, by implication, politically valuable––precisely because it is a “non-universalizable nothing” (as expressed in the formula “~(?x)?x”).
This “not-all” as “non-universalizable nothing” is not a new invention. Grigg points out, it corresponds to what Aristotelian logic calls the “negative particular statement.” For example, the statements: “Some As are non-B,” “Not all As are B,” or “Not every A is B” (all logically equivalent).
Grigg argues that “not-all” has a range of meanings, depending on whether the “negative particular statement” is taken “in extension” or not, and whether it is used in a partitive or distributive sense.
So, using the apples example, again. Grigg proposes the phrase “apples are not all red.” This can mean “not every apple is red,” or “no apple is completely red.”
Applied to They Can’t Deport Us All, we would have something like this division: a) there is no “all of us” that can be deported, such that “we” are made to disappear, or we cannot be numbered, rounded up, and sent back somewhere; and, b) that part of “us” that is “deportable” is not all of who we are; we cannot be subsumed entirely under the figure “illegal immigrant.” Grigg’s formulation of (b) is, interestingly: “there is at least one x that does not come entirely under ?.” Or: “no one is illegal.” Or: “they can’t deport us all.”
Barnard, Suzanne, and Bruce Fink. Reading Seminar XX Lacan’s Major Work on Love, Knowledge, and Feminine Sexuality. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002.
Lacan, Jacques, Jacques-Alain Miller, and Bruce Fink. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XX, Book XX. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. New York [etc.]: Norton, 1999.
Grigg, Russell. “Lacan and Badiou: Logic of the Pas-Tout” http://dro.deakin.edu.au/view/DU:30003276