The Sovereign Subject

Psychoanalysis is a theory and practice of the subject. Through a process of anamnesis the subject emerges from the recognition of his social determination by the signifiers and objects of the other. Can this be a process for social change – one subject at a time?

Perhaps older conceptions of social change considered humanity as a mass – a conglomerate. But were we to regard humanity as a multiplicity – sets within sets – we could find a new way to see the relation between psychoanalytic and social theory and practice. In this view nations, groups, individuals, and even transient acts and events become so many aspects of a process of becoming – each with its own sovereign subjectivity.

Both Freud and Lacan were skeptical of social movements – yet they have profoundly affected critical theory and social change – not just as a result of the transformative practice of psychoanalysis but through their writings and lectures reconceptualizing subjectivity. Since Freud and Lacan a number of critical social theorists – many of them practicing analysts – have developed the integration of psychoanalysis and social theory into ideas which could have far reaching impact on the future of humanity.

George Bataille – an early member of French psychoanalytic circles – developed the concept of sovereignty beyond the limitations of communism in his massive work on general economy. Wilhelm Reich – once revered student of Freud – created psychoanalytic clinics for social change in poor neighborhoods and reintroduced psychoanalysis into the biological reductionism of physical medicine. Felix Guattari – analysand of Lacan – evolved schizoanalysis for the production of subjectivity beyond the individual/social divide into a multiplicity of new practices. Most recently Alain Badiou – long-time participant in Lacan’s seminar – has attempted to extend Lacan’s idea of the subject into the courageous fidelity to the transformative event – be it artistic, scientific, political, or transferential.

Clearly psychoanalysis and critical social theory have not lost their impact. Rather their innovation and integration have only begun to be felt as they come to affect the subject of the 21st Century.