Todd McGowan on the misrecognition of capitalist failure

Psychoanalysis reveals … that the subject’s satisfaction derives from the repetition of the failure to obtain the object, and the subject who recognizes the form of its satisfaction can see the necessity of the public world, which is the site of the subject’s original loss. The satisfaction of the subject does not reside in what it accumulates but in its repeated failures to accumulate. Though the capitalist subject sees itself as avoiding repetition by moving from object to object, this subject repeats the same trajectory without knowing it. Even though the object changes, the failure remains the same. The capitalist subject, just like every subject, finds satisfaction in failure. It is just that the capitalist subject doesn’t recognize the form of its own satisfaction. But this misrecognition can have dramatic effects on the structure of the social order.

— Todd McGowan. Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets. Columbia University Press, 2016. p. 121-122.

Roland Barthes on the whole and the remainder of the other

By a singular logic, the amorous subject perceives the other as a Whole (in the fashion of Paris on an autumn afternoon), and, at the same time, this Whole seems to him to involve a remainder, which he cannot express. It is the other as a whole who produces in him an aesthetic vision: he praises the other for being perfect, he glorifies himself for having chosen this perfect other; he imagines that the other wants to be loved, as he himself would want to be loved, not for one or another of his qualities, but for everything, and this everything he bestows upon the other in the form of a blank word, for the Whole cannot be inventoried without being diminished: in Adorable! there is no residual quality, but only the everything of affect. Yet, at the same time that adorable says everything, it also says what is lacking in everything; it seeks to designate that site of the other to which my desire clings in a special way, but this site cannot be designated; about it I shall never know anything; my language will always fumble, stammer in order to attempt to express it, but I can never produce anything but a blank word, an empty vocable, which is the zero degree of all the sites where my very special desire for this particular
other (and for no other) will form.

— Roland Barthes. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978. p. 19

Jodi Dean on comradeship

The comrade figures a political relation that shifts us away from preoccupations with survivors and systems, away from the suppositions of unique particularity and the impossibility of politics, and toward the sameness of those fighting on the same side. It draws out the demands on and expectations of those engaged in emancipatory egalitarian political struggle. Comradeship engenders discipline, joy, courage, and enthusiasm… If the left is as committed to radical change as we claim, we have to be comrades.”

— Jodi Dean. Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging. Verso Books, 2019. p. 36.

Ernest Mandel on raising the self-confidence of workers

One of the main aspects of the direct action of the masses, of their strikes or mass mobilizations, is the raising of their level of consciousness through the growth of their confidence in themselves. In daily life the workers, poor peasants, small artisans, women, youth, national and racial minorities are all used to being crushed, exploited, and oppressed by a multitude of possessors and powers. They tend to feel that revolt is impossible and useless, that their enemies are too strong … But in the heat of mobilisations and great mass struggles, this fear, this feeling of inferiority and powerlessness, suddenly begins to disappear. The masses become conscious of their immense potential power as soon as they act together, collectively and in solidarity, as soon as they organise themselves and organise their struggles effectively. That is why revolutionary Marxists attach extreme importance to everything which increases the self-confidence of the masses, everything which helps to break them from the obedient and servile behaviour which has been impressed on them through thousands of years of domination by the possessing classes. ‘Servile masses, arise, arise’: these words from the first verse of the Internationale’ perfectly express the psychological revolution which is needed for the victory of the socialist revolution.

— Ernest Mandel. From Class Society to Communism: An Introduction to Marxism. Ink Links Ltd, 1997. p. 128-129.

HP Lovecraft on the Hidden and Fathomless Worlds of Strange Life

Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.

— H.P. Lovecraft. “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927).

Adam Phillips on sanity

Definitions of sanity become elegies for a lost world, nostalgic fantasies for a wished-for strength, for an afterlife without struggle and self-division. In a supposedly secular society sanity keeps in circulation pictures of life before the Fall. Of a life, that is to say, in which one’s body, and other people — other people’s bodies — are no trouble.


The traditional contest between sanity and madness is therefore about the transparency of our intentions, about the extent to which our lives are our own — not subject to the darker forces, the obscurer inclinations — and so can be designed by ourselves for ourselves. What is at stake in sanity is whether we can be at home in the world; whether we are right to think of ourselves as self-fashioning creatures, and whether, if we are not, there is still a way of living available to us that is the right way…”

— Adam Phillips. Going Sane. Penguin Books, 2005. p. 60; 77.

Mark Fisher on hauntology in the 21st century

Haunting, then, can be construed as a failed mourning. It is about refusing to give up the ghost or — and this can sometimes amount to the same thing — the refusal of the ghost to give up on us. The spectre will not allow us to settle into/for the mediocre satisfactions one can glean in a world governed by capitalist realism.

What’s at stake in the 21st century hauntology is not the disappearance of a particular object. What has vanished is a tendency, a virtual trajectory. One name for this tendency is popular modernism.

What should haunt us is not the no longer of actually existing social democracy, but the not yet of the futures that popular modernism trained us to expect, but which never materialized. These spectres — the spectres of lost futures — reproach the formal nostalgia of the capitalist realist world.

— Mark Fisher. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Zero Books, 2014. p. 22-27.

Eric Cazdyn on the new chronic mode

We have entered a new chronic mode, a mode of time that cares little for terminality or acuteness, but more for an undying present that remains forever sick, without the danger of sudden death. The maintenance of the status quo becomes, if not quite our ultimate goal, what we will settle for, and even fight for. If the system cannot be reformed (the cancer eradicated, the ocean cleaned, the corruption expunged), then the new chronic mode insists on maintaining the system and perpetually managing its constitutive crises, rather than confronting even a hint of the terminal, the system’s (the body’s, the planet’s, capitalism’s) own death.
The new chronic extends the present into the future, burying in the process the force of the terminal, making it seem as if the present will never end.
— Eric Cazdyn. The Already Dead: The New Time of Politics, Culture, and Illness. Duke University Press, 2012. p. 5 – 8.

Grafton Tanner on the ghosts in our mausoleum culture

Our limitless nostalgia, our willingness to subscribe to an ideology that scrambles our codes of meaning in exchange for material pleasure, our addiction to information, and our distracted, regressive tendencies form the base of a greater societal crisis — a general failure of the future. The ghosts of the past, with their optimistic vision of the future, are welcome guests in our mausoleum culture, in which we enslave them … in order to revisit a time before now.

— Grafton Tanner. Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts. Zero Books, 2016. p. 69

Slavoj Žižek on ideology & the misrecognition of the illusion

[W]e have established a new way to read the Marxian formula ‘they do not know it, but they are doing it’: illusion is not on the side of knowledge, it is already on the side of reality itself, of what the people are doing. What they do not know is that their social reality itself, their activity, is guided by an illusion, by a fetishistic inversion. What they overlook, what they misrecognize, is not the reality but the illusion which is structuring their reality, their real social activity. They know very well how things really are, but still they are doing it as if they did not know. The illusion is therefore double: it consists in overlooking the illusion which is structuring our real, effective relationship to reality. And this overlooked, unconscious illusion is what may be called the ideological fantasy.

The fundamental level of ideology … is not of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an (unconscious) fantasy structuring our social reality itself … even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironical distance, we are still doing them.

— Slavoj Žižek. The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso Books, 1989. p. 32-33.