U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Not-All, Revisited (Chingo Bling and the Politics of Interruption, Part III)

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.

Maths Politics

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.”

Works Cited

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

12 Thoughts on this Post

    • This is one hazard of being a #USIH theory guy. 🙂 …Now, to read the post. …And at least this doesn’t require reading/skimming 90 comments to know the gist of things. – TL

  1. As you reached the end, applying “not all” to the situation of Chingo Bling’s statement, I thought you might take it in a spiritual and not just material direction. I mean, it’s entirely possible that some policy could result in all Mexican Americans being deported. But that wouldn’t be the point. The real point is twofold.

    First, it would go against deep American ideals about being a welcoming people (notwithstanding the real historical evidence to the contrary). Second, once a people has been here, that people leave a indelible trace upon the nation. Their work changes the nation such that not only can “not all” be deported, but also neither forgotten nor erased. Some aspect of the “deportees’ ” character now makes up the American identity.

    And it’s this potential for deeper change that irritates and scares conservatives like Malkin. Yes, some of the opposition are superficially afraid of the crimes potentially perpetrated by the other. But the natives—new and old—are afraid that their character is now “not all” of the new identity created by the presence of the other. – TL

  2. Tim thanks so much for this comment. Your sense of a theological swerve as a road un-taken is spot-on: Lacan’s Seminar XX is a very Christian text (a lot of discussion of God, and St. Paul and Augustine make appearances) from a pretty Christian phase (the later Lacan is the Lacan of the “sinthome,” the symptom beyond the symptom, that is also the St-Thom”). Badiou, famously, writes about Paul and the “not-all.” There are Jewish routes to the “not-all” as well–via Rosenzweig, Arendt, Eric Santner, Judith Butler… and Buddhist ones, as Eric Cazdyn has been writing about. Most of my best Lacanian friends (by which I mean other folks like me who are trying to figure this stuff out) are students in theology programs.

    And, yes, you highlight the most profound reason “they can’t deport us all”–because, in a Peircean key (both Peirce and William James make appearances in Seminar XX) the encounter between one element and another changes each thing and the situation in which they meet.

    We could flip it around, and say, because borders are arbitrary, and the “they” and “us” are shifters–that part of what is being indexed here is that but for a turn of fortune here, a Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo there, the shoe might be on the other foot. It calls to mind the song of Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter: a plea from the plantation prisoner to the Texas governor Pat Neff, from whom a pardon is sought: “if I had you, like you have me, I’d wake up in the morning and set you free.” That’s a pretty theologically weighty thing, too, isn’t it?

  3. Damn you, Kurt! You made me write yet another long comment on the USIH blog. Curses! Take what’s useful here and leave the rest.

    One thing I like about this series is the way you use Lacan and other theorists to connect language to questions not only of subjectivity and constructions of the self, but also to issues of democracy, the state, and citizenship. That may be an obvious thing to say, but I wanted to say it anyway.

    The other thing I was admiring about this particular installment of the series is how your writing itself develops a rhythm of interruption with its short sentences that kind of pop one out of the other and twist forward, then suddenly back against the prior statement. The prose style expresses some aspect of the very feeling of interruption that you have been exploring. Or so it reads to me.

    What you got me thinking about are the many meanings of interruption. There is the interruption of others, either to silence them or to refuse being silenced. There is the interruption of “everyday” life by ruptures of something else: trauma, transformation, awakening, release, acceptance. And then there is the interruption that, if I am understanding you correctly, you are addressing here, which is a kind of interruption of subject formation as it relates to the legal, political, linguistic, and communal constructions of and by a nation-state.

    This is about how language is at play in the contours and definitions of citizenship. And here, you seem to be linking the politics of interruption to something more like the politics of ambiguity or linguistic multiplicity. The way Chingo Bling’s sentence can, like the “not all apples are red” sentence, be read or understood multiple ways without ever quite resolving into a definitive statement. Or better said, “They can’t deport us all” seems at first to be a definitive statement—a demand for freedom and liberation—but the more you put the words together, the more it seems to make its demand precisely by not making one single demand. Its imprecision is its precision, its lack of resolution is its resolution to not be labeled, controlled, defeated, destroyed, oppressed, deported.

    In your reading then, Chingo Bling is signifying, yes? The song seems, at first listen, like a straightforward claim. But tapping into a richness of phraseology and musical collage, it turns out to be a straightforward claim for rights, freedom, justice that is not so straightforward at all. It is built not upon the typical foundation of legal citizenship as it is grounded in an independent, autonomous subject or self (I am a man!). Rather, it is asserted (as an interruption?) from a position that is something more like an anti-foundation, one constructed of conjoining multiple voices that never resolve into one coherent, autonomous speaker. Or perhaps better said, the citizen here claims rights precisely as a kind of disorganized, polyglot self rather than a unitary one with clearly defined external boundaries and internal consistency. This cornerstone here has a million fissures in it. (Incidentally, I’m drawing on Barry Shank’s work here, his interest in music and its modes of anti-foundational logic.)

    So the song becomes a clear statement of outrage at immigration policy and practice on the US-Mexico border. It gathers force not only by, in an obvious way, jumping over the fence of what’s “appropriate” to state in public about this policy and practice (they can’t deport us all is simply true even in its most straightforward sense), but also by sort of tunneling under the words themselves to access, through musical performance, their weird instability and unsteadiness: as the line gets repeated over and over again, especially at the start of the song, the repetition (repetition? interruption? What’s the relationship?) starts to bend the lyric in new, almost surreal, metaphysical, almost existential directions.

    To me this is what makes popular music so marvelous and so potent as intellectual discourse. It always has this quality of, Did I really just hear that? Is that really what he’s saying or meaning? The music can circulate in astounding ways, across many kinds of fences and borders. There are those who want to put it in its place, keep it detained. But it’s difficult to do that with sounds. They seep through. They go into “us all” as well as surround “us all.” They bleed into one another.

    Moreover, we are not very good at processing the intellectual content of this kind of communication in the field of intellectual history. Some resist analysis of this sort outright (the old Honey Boo-Boo chestnut that’s appeared here before). Some are ambivalent (even I am sometimes) because of the seemingly vast distances of ways of talking, of social position, of cultural capital between, say the artistic creations of Chingo Bling or Buck Owens on the one hand, and the academic flights of Lacan and company on the other. And that’s not even grappling with the class, status, ethnic, racial, and gendered boundaries being leaped and transgressed as well as the various kinds of appropriations occurring, when academics shift pop culture into a scholarly idiom (which is to say, are we doing so with a trampoline or with a passport?).

    Anway, back to “They Can’t Deport Us All.” As I listen to it, what at first seemed a kind of straight up social protest song becomes something way more personal and existential as the language thickens (my favorite is when “Public Enemy,” with not only its legal FBI associations, but of course also its hip-hop historical reference becomes, for Chingo Bling, “public enema”). Indeed the song’s power, for me embodied as much in that slurping, ominous Houston “Dirty South” bass line as in the lyrics, is to start to break apart the “wall” of reasoning about US immigration policy not only at the obvious surface levels of contemporary political language, but at deeper, more disorienting levels of subjectivity and understandings of what a self is in relation to a collective group identity (a “they,” an “us,” an “all”).

    My questions, then, are two.

    First, is this politics of interruption really conducted as interruption? Or is it more like a whispered murmur below a louder statement? Most people will hear this song on its surface level, as a protest against current immigration policy; but at the affective level, the music along with the incantation of signifying, polyvalent language might also produce other effects: a kind of tugging, a nagging, a pulsating pointing at the deeper philosophical groundings upon which US immigration policy’s legal, political, and cultural edifice is quite precariously built. Would “interruption” be the best term for this, when the thing you speak of kind of articulates itself by escaping under breath, out the corner of the mouth, as it were?

    Second, there is the ending of the song, which pivots not on a moment of linguistic ambiguity, but rather on a moment of linguistic distinction. When Chingo Bling’s father is asked by the police whether he is an “American citizen born,” he responds “Jes” instead of “Yes.” This is what “busts” him. Is that a moment of interruption too or is it the moment when the kind of interruption you are describing, that undercurrent in the song that keeps destabilizing assumptions (really assertions) of what a self is in relation to receiving the rights of legal citizenship in a nation-state, gets blocked? Chingo Bling’s father “crosses with a trampoline not with a passport,” but he seems to get sent back to Mexico at the end of the song at the end of a gun.

    Postscript: Oh, but then Chingo Bling does something great. As the beat stops suddenly (interrupted!), the very last line is Chingo Bling’s voice alone: “Never learn, does ye?” he says, almost so quickly that you don’t hear it before the song is over. This very last line is him ventriloquizing the voice of a white border patrol officer, of course, in the moment of the song’s story, but it doubles, nay it triples, even quadruples, up as the final word, rendered once again as a final statement through its very lack of finality, its irresolute ending.

    The last line is not only the voice of the law and the state, it is also the absurdity of what that voice sounds like to Chingo Bling (and presumably his core audience) when it comes from a cartoonishly poor white Southern accent (think Dukes of Hazard with healthy dose of outsize Texas cowboy).

    It is also more than that. The last line is the voice of Chingo Bling to his father, channeled through the voice of the white border patrol officer. It is rueful, sardonic, panicked, worried. It is frustrated at the linguistic error that has been committed and the terrible implications of that error.

    But that’s not all. That last line is also, in some way, Chingo Bling speaking to himself, asking himself if he, in singing the song so boldly, is repeating his father’s linguistic mistake. Or to put it another way, he expresses his worry, and simultaneously his resolve, in that very last little interruption of the song as it ends.”Never learn, does ye?”suggests it would be far safer to hide in plain view, illegal but unnoticed. When Chingo Bling appropriates the question at the end of the song, he is implicitly but also defiantly answering “Jes.” That’s an interruption worth hearing.

    Correct, respond, improve, deny, restate, revise away here. Where did I follow your thinking and where did I, er, interrupt it?


    • Oh sure, Michael—-show me up by *actually listening to the song*. …Otherwise, great questions here. I’ll be pleased to hear Kurt’s replies. – Tl

    • Sorry, that last paragraph should read:

      But that’s not all. That last line is also, in some way, Chingo Bling speaking to himself, asking himself if he, in singing the song so boldly, is repeating his father’s linguistic mistake. Or to put it another way, he expresses his worry, and simultaneously his resolve, in that very last little interruption of the song as it ends. Ending (or in some sense not ending) by asking ”Never learn, does ye?” suggests, at first, that it would be far safer to hide in plain view, illegal but unnoticed. But when Chingo Bling appropriates the question at the end of the song, he is implicitly answering his own self-interrogation with a resounding “Jes!,” which is really a way of defiantly stating, “No!” He won’t ever learn. Indeed he will continue to unlearn. Now that’s an interruption worth hearing.

      • Wow Michael, this is amazing. I completely agree with your reading! What can one say? This is breathtaking. Thanks so much.

  4. Kurt,
    I really like this, perhaps because I sympathize much more with the Lacan of the later seminars than the earlier, structuralist Lacan. One thing about the pas tout: it also echoes the colloquial “pas de tout”–not at all–, which adds another layer of meaning to Chingo’s interruptive response to immigration politics. Although he doesn’t explicitly point to it, this also could be connected to the notion of “illegal” immigrants, and how even liberal newspapers such as the NYT continue to construct the subjectivity of undocumented peoples through the framework of illegality.

    I confess to not like the music of Chingo–hip hop snob that I am, I find the samples and rhythms quite conventional and uninspired, particularly the guitar riffs. But I appreciate the lyrics and especially the video. I am fascinated about the representation of a cyborg Chingo and their comic proliferation–in his image–throughout the video, this can be read as a signifier of the constructedness of interruption, and how we can all participate in a radical politics like the one insinuated in the video.

    The one issue–and it is a big one–I have with Chingo is that about his gender politics. His discourse essentially reproduces the conventions of Mexican machismo. You can see that clearly in a video like Walk Like Cleto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P1m6VtXPsU

    • Kahlil: terrific points, as always. And I appreciate your bringing in the question of the French “pas” and “tout,” which really are, in a certain sense, untranslatable. I was just reading an elegant disquisition on the absolute difference between “all” and “whole” in the language of math, and have been feeling guilty about not attending to this issue–so you have done me another favor!

      Re: the music–sure, I don’t think CB is working at the edge of the form like the producers who have followed in the wake of Prince Paul, J Dilla, Oh No, etc, nor is he a linguistic virtuoso on the terms of a KRS-One, Busta Rhymes, Chuck D, or the Good Life emcees (though I would argue that he is his own kind of virtuoso, perhaps akin to the Jewish comedic musician Mickey Katz, a connection that Josh Kun has made). Beyond that, I guess: horses for courses, if that is an expression?

      Re: gender. Yes. A problem. Always the thing that limits, to my mind, the potential of this kind of art. There was a discussion the other day on facebook between left heavyweights about how well the film “Salt of the Earth” has aged–and, of course, it hasn’t aged well, in certain respects: it is a bit literal, a bit “social realist” in a way we can’t access directly anymore, etc. But I was thinking about the way George Lipsitz teaches the film, which is about how a certain gender conservatism always serves as the limit of collective action: if the film it is didactic, it is didactic in a feminist way that the Left is still quite reluctant to take seriously.

      In the fall, I will be presenting this research at a panel with a student of (mainly male) Chicana/o punk rockers, a student of a popular Latina singer in Los Angeles, chaired by a scholar who works on gender and spirituality in California hip-hop and practices like krumping. So, I expect that the conversation about CB will be largely about gender–which makes me appreciate this comment even more! Thanks, Kahlil.

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