Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 234: Unhingedness — with Sanem Güvenç

Speakers: Samantha Walters, Am Johal, Sanem Güvenç


[theme music] 

Samantha Walters  0:04  
Hello listeners. I'm Sam with Below the Radar. A knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. On this episode of Below the Radar. Our host Am Johal is joined by Sanem Güvenç, a scholar, psychoanalyst and university professor, as well as co-president of the Vancouver based psychoanalytic society Lacan Salon. Together they discuss friendship, authoritarianism, teaching, and how Sanem reads the works of various philosophers with a focus on how she got into Lacan. Enjoy the episode.

Am Johal  0:44
Hello, welcome to Below the Radar, delighted that you could join us again. This week, we have a special guest, Sanem Güvenç is with us today. Welcome, Sanem.

Sanem Güvenç  0:54
Thank you Am for having me. It's wonderful to be here and chatting with you.

Am Johal  0:59
Maybe we can begin with you introducing yourself a little bit. 

Sanem Güvenç  1:04
Sure. I am a sociologist, and I'm working at Emily Carr at the moment as a visiting scholar or scholar in residence. I don't know which one is the official name, but... And I've been there since 2017 teaching classes in critical theory, posthumanism, on history of diseases, and I'm also at the moment, the co-chair for the Lacan Salon. We're co chairing it with Hilda Fernandez, and we have, we've been, like, undertaking lots of things. I think we might get into a little bit of those. And we're working with a wonderful board. So that's what I'm doing.

Am Johal  1:46
We first began taking up a conversation a couple of years back because I've been working on a book on friendship and community with my collaborator Matt, and wondering if we can sort of begin with thinking about these concepts of friendship and community. Of course, there's long discussions and histories in various ways going back to the beginnings of philosophy, but in more recent times, there of course was that period in the early 80s. Jean-Luc Nancy, Blanchot, and later Agamben's Coming Community. There was Lingis, Alphonso Lingis, and others, Leela Gandhi later on, but wondering if we can sort of begin there to see, you know, how you think about friendship and community. Or what's at stake, maybe philosophically, or the importance of thinking about these things today that might be different.

Sanem Güvenç  2:43
Yeah, absolutely. Now, all the philosophers that you have listed, they're all very interesting, and they're all, in a sense, have contributed so much to philosophy and friendship. And they have basically— were saying that the basis of philosophy is friendship, right. And the question was where to place it. In that podcast we made earlier with community and friendship, I was talking about Deleuze, because he has such an interesting conceptualization of friendship. This is coming from his interview with Claire Parnet. And it's called L'Abécédaire avec Deleuze, I think that's what it is. It's only transcribed into English. But if people are interested, they can find it on YouTube, they can find it on pirate torrent sites. But one thing that he says, and in there, he kind of like goes against the grain, is that friendship is about unhinged-ness. You don't become friends with someone because you are interested in, I don't know their, their credentials. So I'm a sociologist, if I'm interested, I wouldn't become charmed, or I wouldn't necessarily become friends with another sociologist. What I would be interested as, as a person, would be somebody's charm. And Deleueze defines that charm as unhinged-ness. Which I think is very interesting, because the way that he says that charm, the French term that he uses there is kind of like, you lose control of your pedals. So you're a little bit out of control, you cannot control yourself and that is what he says, we become attached to. Or that is how we, how we become friends with people. Now this is very interesting. This is not, this is not a philosophical concept of a friendship, come to think about it, because it's all about oh, the friendship is happening somewhere like in between people. And in between there is a third. This is a very Aristotelian concept of friendship. But Agamben also uses it, right? Friend is in between. So Deleuze is not saying that, he's not saying that you are there with your friend in between. But he's saying that you are captured by what is out of control in the other person. Now, the more interesting part is that that section that he talks about friend is actually listed under 'f'. And it's fidelity. So Deleuze is kind of like, annoyed with that term fidelity, because he is talking about being distrustful to his friends. He's almost saying like you are, that he's betraying the friendship, that, again, this concept of like being out of control. But he asks the question, so what does it mean to have something in common? So if we asked that question about the common in terms of community, and in terms of like, how do we conceptualize or how can we think about this being unhinged with the community or with what's in common? What emerges is— can only be a speculative concept of a friendship, or of politics, maybe, if you wish.

Am Johal  6:08
And this term, unhinged-ness is so interesting, because I think, you know, it's a bit crazy. It's a bit wacko, it's out there. But this is what sort of can draw oneself to the other or attach oneself to the other, the not knowing the craziness, the what could it be? But I'm wondering if you could unpack that term a little in terms of what comes to you in terms of what unhinged-ness might mean, and what it did for Deleuze.

Sanem Güvenç  6:39
Well, I don't know what it did for Deleuze. Interestingly, as I was preparing for the podcast, I was also looking for What is Philosophy? Their last book with Félix Guattari. And there in the very beginning, there's a part about distrust and friendship. And I didn't bring it with me, but it's in the introduction. And if people are interested, they can go there. So there is that, too. I don't know if Deleuze knows what he's doing with this concept of unhinged-ness. Because when I read it through a Lacanian perspective, or through Lacanian psychoanalytic perspective, what he's describing is a symptom. So what he's saying is that you don't become friends with someone you have identifications, or someone you have bondings. But you become attached to other person's symptoms. And what the symptom means, in Lacanian parlance, it's that symptom is not something that needs to be like cured, you cannot cure your symptom. It is your relationship with the real, and you only find out about your symptom once your relationship with the, with society, once you hit that real, once you hit what is holding you together, once everything that holds you together, kind of like collapses, and your coping mechanisms do not work. So the symptom emerges there, in a way, and Deleuze says that, that's someone's singularity. We can never be, we can never identify with another person's symptom. So what Deleuze is saying is that, actually, in terms of what makes us common, and to build the community, we cannot build the community through sameness. We can only build the community through radical difference. This is how I read what Deleuze is saying. But I mean, I do need that, I do need a Lacanian intervention there to make that kind of deduction. And to say that, okay, this is what Deleuze is talking about. And this is what I think that radical politics there is coming out as a collectivity of singularities, as a collectivity of people who are living through their symptoms. That's I think what is, what's interesting, because if you think about politics, politics is all about the way that we understand it now or community, right? It's all based on sameness. And it's all based on what makes us resemble one another. We are both anti-fascists, you and I, we have been talking about it and we have our own struggles against authoritarianism. That's what makes us common. However, Deleuze is talking about a different kind of community here or a different kind of— I wouldn't even want to say community because communities too... Because I'm also a sociologist, right? I mean, I hear like, I hear like very face to face relationships there. Maybe a collectivity where, when I'm talking to someone, I have no way of knowing beforehand what I'm going to say. So it's kind of like opening up a different space for a language or a discourse. And in that sense, it's very Agambenian if you think about it, I mean, you mentioned The Coming Community, and the first section of The Coming Community is Whatever.

Am Johal  10:03
That's right, the Whatever singularity.

Sanem Güvenç  10:04
Exactly, the Whatever singularity. So I am connecting through you in the Deleuzeian sense, or in that sense, in an Agambenian sense, through your ‘whatever,’ through your singularity, through what makes you singular. Which is also alien to you, by the way. I mean, if we can kind of like go into Lacan, which we might not, but it's also alien to you. So we're connecting through our, the things that make us alien.

Am Johal  10:30
A number of people in town here, including and I'm thinking about Willow Verkerk's work on Nietzsche and friendship, and other people that are thinking through these questions. We recently interviewed TJ Demos, and his work around ecology and art history, and Travis Holloway's book, How to Live at the End of the World. But it's interesting how friendship and community keeps coming up even tangentially in some of these works or TJ Demos would use the word comrade maybe, in the Jodi Dean sense. But in terms of Lacan, let's say, you know, how else might we think about friendship and community and these challenges of what it means to be together? Because as we've seen in civil wars or those types of conditions of fracture, that just because a community holds together today, doesn't mean it's going to hold together tomorrow, this thing that keeps us together in common for a period of time. What are the stakes of durability? And these questions of, as we do see signs of authoritarian populism in many places, or the evocation of the nation, let's say, for example, Central and Eastern Europe as an example. It's almost, almost rational, that people are evoking a kind of nationalist thing when you think about the pre 1990 period, about a kind of failed experiment to a period of crony capitalism, to the promises of the EU. And that not quite working out at a series of levels, both socially and economically, that the return to the nation of a place where people have been screwed over, you know, by various systems. You can see the– I can understand rationally at least the political appeal of that, at least from a political point of view. And so how might we unpack that psychoanalytically or philosophically or what kind of armature can we bring to bear on some of these questions. And to some degree, they rest on forming togetherness, how to be together. We haven't answered that question philosophically, as Jean-Luc Nancy said to us in an interview a few months before he passed away, as somebody who was invested in these questions for 40, 50 odd years of his writing.

Sanem Güvenç  12:48
Well, no, actually, this is a very good question, because it's also inviting us kind of, like to think about what is it that in these contemporary forms of nationalism, authoritarianism, or like resurging, I want to say that resurging communitarianism, maybe. I don't want to use the word like togetherness or gathering or collectivity because I always associate those with more progressive politics or with more radical politics. But what's happening there is that they are building themselves on very powerful collective, and if we want to use again Lacan, like phallic signifiers, right? Nation is a very significant phallic signifier. What does it mean to be a Hungarian? What does it mean to be a Greek? So I was just reading, for instance, the other day that in Greece, the wildfires are right now being thought of as refugees, like setting Greece on fire. And there are these little vigilante groups that are going on and quote unquote, like hunting refugees. And what— why are they doing it? And how are they doing it? Because the right wing there is on the rise and Golden Dawn is on the still rise and the contemporary government. And what it's proposing is, is a kind of nationalism, right? So it is bringing people together. What to do... Like, how can we see the opposite side of it? And thinking that, I mean, because, if we're going to be talking about the unhinged-ness, if we're going to be talking about things that are outside of sameness, and that when we're stripped off of these phallic signifiers that make us, we might be actually looking into the lives and into a refugee existence. You know, I'm thinking about Arendt here, for instance, and Arendt has a very short interesting text that's called We Refugees, where she's talking about her own experience and the experience of her colleagues and her friends who had to escape from the camps and make a different life in the States or in different parts of the world. And you can see there too, that life there, the collectivity there, needs to be rethought, needs to be invented. And I think that is where this kind of the concept of the unhinged-ness, or that you are like bare to your symptom, like stripped bare to your symptom, which would also have resonance with, maybe with Lacanian politics can do. Because a refugee basically is someone who's dislodged and who's dislocated, and it is a life in limbo. One of the very... I had multiple friends in Turkey working on the Syrian refugees. And one of the difficulties the Syrian refugees were pronouncing was that they have always been in this form of waiting. So it is kind of like a suspended state. But if it's a suspended state, we know that Agamben tells us that states of exception open up in the suspended states. But it's not only that the authoritarian governments open up those, that we also have some kind of a, of an opportunity or a space of potentiality to build something there. But it's again, a question of building something from zero, in a way. And not resorting to these phallic signifiers like nation religion, I don't know, like masculinity, or I would even say femininity, because sorority and brotherhood, I would say that they are both very powerful again, signifiers. But how to make something with people who are in a way living in some kind of limbo or in a void. Right? I mean, this is the, I think this is the question and I think this is what I find in the very margins of Deleuze talking about fidelity or unhinged-ness. Or like to think about the common through a collectivity of symptoms, or through a collectivity of, not something that we hold in common, but but almost a foreign language, creating a different discourse, creating a different language out of nothing.

Am Johal  17:10
When we were speaking the other day, you had mentioned this concept, or you're referencing something around the topologies of the void, you're writing a lot about the void. And thinking about it. I'm wondering if you could speak to that a little bit?

Sanem Güvenç  17:23
Well, I mean, it is, as I was just saying, like, it came out of Agamben. Because in 2013, like, during the like, the summer of 2013, we had like a big commune. And it was like almost a summer of, like, uprisings. In Turkey, sorry. And right afterwards, we started having a very significant authoritarian regime. So ever since that, around those times, I have been thinking about this, what does it mean, to have, to be living in a state of exception or a state of emergency. The idea of the void, and the idea of like a, to think about the void as a topology came out of, from his book on state of exception. And there he says that, during a state of exceptions, a void opens up, and it is where we have to locate politics now. But very interestingly, he did not touch upon that ever again. So it was, it's almost that he left it suspended. And ever since I read that I've been trying to make sense of it, in a way, for the past 10 years. But together with all the questions that you're asking, for instance, in terms of politics, or what does it mean to build a politics in, in these states of exceptions or in these states of emergencies. It's only in the past three years that I started, like making it into a book. I mean, it's a draft, and it's a manuscript, and hopefully by the time this podcast is out, it will be on its way of becoming like an official book. We'll see.

Am Johal  18:56
Now, in the way that Agamben talks about the void in the state of exception, in your view, does it have a kind of relationship to event in the way that Badiou talks about or, how do you— what are the different ways you think about the void through Agamben.

Sanem Güvenç  18:57
Through Agamben. It is definitely related to the event. I'm not sure if it is related to the event in the way that Badiou thinks about it, because A, I don't know too much of Badiou. So it's definitely… Badiou is above my paygrade. Maybe you can speak to it.

Am Johal  19:35
I always joke with all you in Lacan Salon that Badiou is for people... Lacan is for people who haven't read Badiou.

Sanem Güvenç  19:44
We'll see. But in terms of I mean, again, to turn to Deleuze. I think there's something about the event there, because in Deleuze the event is something very minor. It's a matter of encounter. And so, you encounter someone. I encountered you this morning, I couldn't wake up and having this conversation is, I'm now alive, right? It's a good encounter. So an event is something as minor as this. And as I was, and when I'm thinking of obviously about the only event, the big event that I experienced is, it was a matter of like these very... collection of these minor events. What was happening in Istanbul, for instance, or it was the, what I have been reading, again, with all of these encampments, with the Occupy movement, with Tahrir Square, right, what was going on there. And it's very different from the big events or revolutions that we think about, it's more like, they're all forms of commune. And what happens in a commune, it's, on the one hand, nothing happens. It's actually a very flat form of being, that you continue with your day, you cook, you clean, you get together, but on the other hand, there's a different kind of like, a collectivity that's built. So it is also made out of these encounters, and you are encountering people you have no idea that you are going to find yourself together with. I do remember one day walking with someone from the university I was working at back then. And I know him to be an ultra, like right wing fascist. And at the faculty meetings, he was... like he was having tears in his eyes when he was talking about like being a Turk and things. And all of a sudden, he's next to me. He's there in the commune. So you know, I mean, it's— you have that it's a minor encounter. It is, it goes back to this unhinged-ness. It's because he's unhinged. That he finds himself there. And it's because I'm maybe unhinged in a different way that I am speaking to him. Right? It's, it makes something to you. So it is, it is an event and where does it take place? It takes place in the void. Because what is the space of the commune? It's nothing. You cannot define it as any space. It's not an empty space. It is not a... So for instance, when people were like forming communes, or occupations or encampments in parks or in squares, is it still a park? No. Is it a square? No, I mean, it's, it's the void. It's an indefinite space, it's a space of... it's an indeterminate space, where you have no idea, in a way, how to build, what can happen. It's undefined. So that's what I'm calling it. I'm calling it—

Am Johal  23:01
I cannot help but like have this Badiou because it's sort of like, in a Badioiun reading of what you're describing. It's the transformational political opportunity or opening that comes from that, relates to the fidelity to the event. And he talks about fidelity in a different way than Deleuze, perhaps. But it's interesting. This is a great place for a conversation.

Sanem Güvenç  23:21
I know, how does he talk about fidelity? Because Deleuze talks about distrust.

Am Johal  23:26
Ah, interesting. 

Sanem Güvenç  23:27
He says that I distrust my friends.  Yeah yeah, and you can take it to, to almost like, to the point of you betray your friends.

Am Johal  23:32
Interesting.  Yeah.

Sanem Güvenç  23:38
Right? Because your symptom also betrays the friends. I mean, if I'm going to become friends with you through your symptom, or this is such a bad way of articulation. But still, if I am going to be charmed by your symptom, then I'm also in a way betraying everything that I hold dear. Right?

Am Johal  24:00
Right. I'm wondering if we can speak a little bit to, well, someone who was a contemporary of Lacan and others, Althusser. In thinking about the void, Althusser writes about the philosophy of the encounter in some of his later works. I've seen Catherine Malabou’s talked about this before, and wondering if you can speak a little bit to your relationship to some of those texts of Althusser.

Sanem Güvenç  24:25
Oh yes, absolutely. The Philosophy of the Encounter text is, is a text I'm working on right now. And it's a very interesting text, because it is... I mean, it's interesting in the sense that Althusser is writing it after the tragic event in his life, after he accidentally kills his wife and he was in a mental institution for three years. And then I think he comes and goes again. And then he finds himself, and he has been living in, on the fifth arrondissement, in Paris, which is, which is a fancy area of Paris. And then all of a sudden he finds himself on the 14th, towards the outskirts, at a working class neighborhood. And when he looks back to his life, the only concept for him that makes sense, is the void. Right? So in, in him, redefining his life, and redefining his work, redefining the thread of what makes, of what we talk about today as an Althussarian philosophy, if there's anything like that, is written through the void. So he is going over from everything he has written so far, like from Machiavelli, from Hobbes, Marx, Montesquieu, all of it, you would see that it's the void that holds them together. So it tells us something, right, I mean, and we have been talking about Malabou too. Malabou has a book that's called Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing. It's interesting, because it is almost very similar to Althusser. That she finds herself at a moment of shaking up, I don't know quite well, where it corresponded in her life. But all of a sudden, she looks back, and she writes something on plasticity. So these concepts, and of course, he has been writing about plasticity, but not in the way that she has been thinking about plasticity before, I mean, it takes on a different form. And for Althusser too. Althusser has written about the blank space, for instance. If you look at the beginning of the reading capital, you will see that he is talking about, again, about symptom, about the blank spaces, about these gaps in reading, what he calls symptomatic reading. So it is there. But all of a sudden, void becomes the thing that holds him together, which I think is a very— It's very telling. I find a little bit of like, what do you call it, a chagrin, some kind of tragedy in it, but it's also... It's there, that Althusser all of a sudden thinks that encounter, an encounter is the encounter in the void. And so he is encountering also the works that he has done before, through the concept of the void. So it's also a kind of like a conversation with his former self.

Am Johal  27:33
Yeah it's interesting, Althusser gets his work on ideological state apparatuses, often has it read alongside Gramsci's notebooks, but his later work, for at least for a very long time hasn't been taken out. But it's interesting how it's coming up again, and again. Wondering if you could speak a little bit more to Malabou's concept of plasticity, what, how she takes it up, and its relationship to the void.

Sanem Güvenç  28:00
I, well, I mean, I cannot speak exactly to plasticity as such, but I can speak to destructive plasticity, because that's where for me her work comes in. Because destructive plasticity is where she defines it as, we've been talking about this, something happens in your life, and you always, you find yourself starting from zero. A destructive force within you, or a destructive force that allows you to split from your former self. And then what happens there. And in the beginning, she has a wonderful essay on destructive plasticity, it's called The Ontology of the Accident. And there she defines the lives or she talks about the lives for instance, you have an accident, like a literal accident, you have a trauma, and after trauma, you don't know who you are anymore. So your life starts there. And from there on, she takes the notion of— she doesn't talk about the void, but she talks about starting from zero, and having a life that is completely different, or the possibility of having a life that's completely different from before. And the reason why I like it so much, is because she's not thinking about it in terms of metamorphosis, that something gradually changes, and there's always something within you that you have been bringing with you. No, this is a radical change. So, what is the possibility of how, first of all, how are we going to conceptualize the radical change? And secondly, she says that it's not only a change in the content, but it's also a change in the form. So what does it mean, right? It's so, it's so fascinating, because to think about it, I mean, A) like what does it mean to be thinking about a change in form for human beings. And there she gives the example of Marguerite Duras. So she says that overnight, she has aged. And we have all seen it. It happens, like one day she was young and beautiful and charming. And the next day, she was old, she was an old woman. So what happens there? Like what does it that makes this, that makes this very sudden change happen? And who is she afterwards? And who was she? So, you see, I mean, the destructive plasticity, I think it goes with, also it goes with Althusser. She doesn't give reference to Althusser in that book. But she definitely, I think Althusser is there. Right?

Am Johal  30:46
Yeah, in fact, when she came to speak at UBC, five, six years ago, there was a reading group that was set up at 221A that Amy Kazymerchyk and others were coordinating and some of the readings included Althusser's philosophy of the encounter, and she came in, she spoke to it as well and referenced Althusser, so I'm sure it's very much there, or influenced by it. I'm really, I think it's great the way Catherine Malabou's work is being taken up. I was doing a seminar with her a number of years ago, must have been 2012 or 2013. And just the first 15 minutes of it was, you know, giving a definition of Foucault's notion of biopolitics. And Agamben's notion of biopolitics, and Derrida's notion of biopolitics. And she just paused for a second. And she said, they were all wrong, the three of them, and then she proceeded to move a different way of what biopolitics actually is, and going into scientific and other notions. And she's completely dismissed these, you know, titans of philosophy, just as a warm up act in 15 minutes, it was really quite beautiful to encounter that. Yeah, I'm wondering if you could speak a little bit to some of the work of Hardt and Negri, and how you've been thinking it through?

Sanem Güvenç  31:59
I have something to say about that. No, this is brilliant, thank you, Am for that anecdote, it's so good, because I mean, before I was reading her, I was also like, looking into her interviews, and she always says that I have, like, I had, I don't have the kind of like decorum to be an academic, or to be like a philosopher, because I'm very out there. And I just like, say things like that. And on that note, they were all wrong. The amazing, like, life changing talk that I listened to by her was where she was talking about Foucault's governmentality. And the notion of governance. And I don't remember where she gave this, this was like, during the pandemic, so it was over zoom. And I was so grateful, it was one of the only things that made like, pandemic worth it, in a way. Because what she said was that with governance, with the concept of governance, you're always in the, in the bind of submission, or obedience and control or domination. Like, even if when Foucault was talking about like the governance of the self, what he means is that you have to have very strict dominance on yourself. And you have to, in a way, commit yourself, you have to subordinate yourself to, I would say now, like the superego in you. What she finds to be unhinged in Foucault is his latest seminar, which is, like the courage of truth. And where he talks about Diogenes, and the kiniks, or the cynics. And there, because he's not trying to define another life, but he's trying to define a life that's other. Which is very different to what Malabou was saying. And that was the only thing, to define not another life. How can another life be possible? How can another politics be possible? How can another I mean, to go back to the beginning of the conversation, right? How can another nation be possible? How can another community be possible? No, it is a life other. It is a community other. I'm not going to go into intonation because I think it's one of these evil concepts. But so, she has such a good reading. She's an amazing reader. And she's so bold and so daring to say that, yes, this is, this is what I see. And they were wrong. Like right? Foucault could not get out of like domination and subordination, who would say so right? Because we're all thinking today about like the technologies of the self, care of the self, oh I'm taking care of myself, as if it's a liberation. But what she's saying is that no, this is not liberation. It's not liberatory at all.

Well, I mean, it's especially when I was preparing for the podcast. And I was taking notes. All of a sudden I thought that whether the idea of what do we find in common that Deleuze asked, can be thought in terms of the commons that Hardt and Negri are talking about. Right? Because it is, it's the commons, made out of singularities. And it's a commons that is both bringing in the multitude. And also it is what is generating the multitude. So the question for me, and their book about the assembly, that's called The Assembly, it ends on such an amazing note that is, that's still giving me goosebumps, is that we still don't know what a multitude can do. It's kind of like a different version of Spinoza's we never know what— we don't know what the body can do. So it's, it's that to think about the multitude as a body, and when we're talking about multitude as a body, when we're talking about it in terms of singularities, late Lacan, his notion of the sinthome, is the body event. So I cannot not, like see some kind of, or hear some kind of resonance with Lacan, Deleuze, Hardt and Negri, Spinoza coming all together and asking the question of, again, to go back to Deleuze, what would it be, mean, to think, for instance, multitude, in terms of, of a body, that is, that has a symptom? And that it's, it's bringing the symptom out, or that it is living the symptom. Right? I mean, it's, for years, people thought that Deleuze and Lacan, they have been there, they have been on the separate side, and, but it's not true, actually. There are people who are bringing them together. And I think that also theoretically and politically, if we can, if we are thinking about the question of the event, if we're thinking about the question of the political community, they can all be brought together, and to be thinking precisely, experimentally, and speculatively. What does it mean to be a common? What does it mean to be a common of singularities? What does it mean to be a common, of a common that, that generates these, right? Because it's also, I mean, we're talking about the... we're talking about that lives, for instance, that do not have any anchor or any, like land or terrain that is definite, or that's defined. So a common is also something like that. We're not talking about the ancient commons, even there, that the land was not something that was, that belonged to anyone. It was a common use. So it did not have a definition in the sense of like, it did not define a nation. It did not define a community, but it defined a way of use or a way of being together. So I think that here, they do come together, and I think Hardt and Negri, they— obviously they are Deleuzians, but I think that it's the literature that would definitely be very interesting to think with Lacan, and especially with the work of the late Lacan that thinks about the body and, and the symptom through the body. Because in the earlier work of Lacan, it's all about language, the body is not there, but in the late Lacan the body is there, it is there through its resonance, it's there through the effect of the signified, in a way.

Am Johal  38:41
Sanem, you of course teach at some— Emily Carr and of course, you know, the courses that you take on and the themes are probably really helpful in terms of, generative in terms of your own writing and thinking, I know you've done some courses on silences and the void, art and politics of getting lost. And wondering if you can speak a little bit to some of the courses you've taught in the past and what you were trying to do with them and how your teaching practice informs or regenerates or excites your research and writing?

Sanem Güvenç  39:16
Well, teaching has always been very generative for me, because I, I mean, I never thought even when I was working in like a proper sociology department, I never thought what everybody thought that I was supposed to teach. A little confession. So I've never taught the canon, even when I was teaching like sociological theory, it wasn't like Marx with Weber and Durkheim. It was always like, oh, I'm very much interested in Foucault or Agamben or... If it were today, I would teach Malabou. So no, so for me, it's very generative, and that's where I kind of try out and experiment with ideas and the courses I was teaching at, I am still teaching at Emily Carr, especially the seminars. For a very long time I taught post humanist theory. And what I was trying to, I think, look for in post humanism is, it's kind of like a way out of the... Partially the exigencies, the predicaments of contemporary theory. But, to my surprise, I couldn't find any. I mean, for me, posthumanism stops at the moment where we imply a simple difference between humans and nonhumans. And between living and nonliving. Sometimes we compile them together, sometimes we say that different and we approach it so— And I know that I'm terribly characterizing it and terribly, like reducing it a whole amazing like literature to binary in a way, but I couldn't find anything there and— much, I would say, and so I started to... So these two courses that you mentioned, silences and voids. And afterwards, art and politics of getting lost were exactly what I was trying to do in my, in my book, trying to think about silence and void through artworks. And also, the idea of getting lost. Where do we get lost? I was, for instance, one of the works that I talked about is Francis Elise's short video on, it's called rehearsal. And it's all about a car, driving up the hill, and then going down, driving up and then going down. So with the students, we were thinking, art is this car trying to make it over the hill? So is he, is it rehearsing something? Or is it just like making that motion? So for instance, it is for me again, that hill, and that space is the space of where you get lost. And it's a void, essentially, because you don't know looking at the work itself. What is it that that's doing?

Am Johal  42:13
There's an Annie Ernaux book called Getting Lost.

Sanem Güvenç  42:15
I know. I know. And it's the diary of the Simple Passion.

Am Johal  42:20
Yeah. That's right.

Sanem Güvenç  42:22
I was just telling yesterday, it's always interesting that this came up last night at the salon organizational meeting. Ted and Chris, were talking about that book. And I said, like, I don't think any man should read—

Am Johal  42:37
That's hilarious. You brought up the Lacan Salon. And you're, of course, involved and wondering if you could talk a little bit about the salon and particularly for our listeners who might not be involved or know about it, or could be interested about it, you know, what it is? What's happening? Even... the group's meeting at SFU, for quite a while now, but originally started back at the Roundhouse Community Centre many years ago.

Sanem Güvenç  43:01
Well I hope everybody will be interested, or lots of people will be interested because it is... So since April, now there's a new board, there was an AGM. And with that, there are very significant changes that are being introduced. First of all, it is a joint presidency or joint chair-ship. I don't know what you would call it. So it's Hilda and me. And in a way, I think we're kind of like coordinating. But if you look at the meetings, it's not our voice. It's everybody speaking, it's a collective effort. So that needs to be mentioned. And collectively, what we would like to do is, first of all, not only to read seminars. I mean, that's one thing that Lacan Salon always did that Tuesday—

Am Johal  43:51
The holy book.

Sanem Güvenç  43:52
The holy book. Absolutely. So we're not only reading seminars now, although it is like we are reading seminars. So every Tuesday, we're reading seminars, and— Sorry, every bi weekly Tuesdays. But alternate, we also decided on something that is called our alternate Tuesdays. And it came out of an idea of Paul Kingsbury, who's still onboard. What he said was that, when I want to think about something, an academic question, an intellectual question, I would like to just come, and without the mediation of a text, I would just like to speak about it. And I would like to be heard. So—

Am Johal  44:44
How does he have time for this when he's busy ghost-hunting?

Sanem Güvenç  44:46
He's ghost-hunting?!

Am Johal  44:49
That's part of his research as a geographer.

Sanem Güvenç  44:52
Oh, my goodness.

Am Johal  44:53
We won't talk about that today. But we need to have him on as a guest to talk about some of the work that he does, which is super interesting.

Sanem Güvenç  44:59
No, absolutely. Now I have to talk to him. Absolutely, ghost-hunting.

Am Johal  45:05
And Hilda's been with him ghost-hunting, in fact.

Sanem Güvenç  45:08
So that's one of the other things. But I do have another thing to say. So we are also forming or we're encouraging people to call for cartels. Sounds a bit fascist. Nah, I'm kidding. Please go on. Oh, well cartel obviously sounds fascist. It's not a drug cartel it's definitely, I have no idea why Lacan chose that word. And whenever I mention it to someone, it's always like with laughter and with like, anyways. A cartel is something that four to five people form. And there's someone that's called a plus one who acts as a mediator, facilitator. A cartel is like a workgroup. And the thing that I love most about the cartel, the idea of the cartel, is that it's completely horizontal. And the only thing that you need to bring in is your curiosity or desire to read Lacan. You might have not heard of anything else, but you might have just seen a quote of Lacan and be captured by it. And then you can say that, oh, I want to work on this. And then you can find yourself in a cartel whom, with someone who has been working on Lacan for 30 years, right? In a cartel they're equals. So this is what we're trying to also promote, in a way. People to form cartels and people to kind of like engage in the work of Lacan should be like...

Am Johal  46:41
It sounds a bit cultish. But, I trust and love you guys. I'm sure it's gonna be fine.

Sanem Güvenç  46:46
We love you too, Am. You're a good friend of the salon. Unfortunately, it's cultish.

Am Johal  46:54
One of the things that you— when we talked a bit earlier, you were talking a little bit about thinking through the politics of practices and how might the practice of psychoanalysis produce its own forms of politics? Or what might it have to say, or help us think through political struggle? So I'm wondering if you could speak a little bit about that?

Sanem Güvenç  47:21
Yeah, I only have questions about that, because I have been thinking a lot about and trying to understand how, what would be the relationship between psychoanalysis and politics. And there's always one thing that people in a certain Lacanian circle would say that, as an analyst, you only intervene in a session. So otherwise, it would be, I mean, you can talk about the politician, and you can diagnose it. And you can say, like, this is what's happening, which is like, this course, this is where they're faltering. And this is like, can be talking about the slips, you can be talking about this and that, but that's the interpretation that everybody can do. My question is, what can an analyst with the skill set that they have, which is like punctuating, cutting, interpreting, scansion. What can, how can we think about politics with these concepts? And I don't think that there's an answer to it, essentially. But that is what I'm curious about, I'm, I don't want to be analyzing the capitalist discourse. And I know that there are lots of like, Lacanians, like very interesting and very valuable work that's going over there. But for me, that would be playing the role of the meta psychology, or to be playing the role of the, in a way, the master and saying that this is what it's all about. I'm more interested in these very minor things, or the practices or the skill sets that people have, that practitioners have, and what they can do with that, in terms of politics. So partially, the question came before, as I started to work in at Emily Carr, because all of a sudden, I find myself as a sociologist amidst artists. And all I have, all I have is language. And all they have is their hands and the different practice. So as I was trying to get close to them, as I was trying to find a way to both communicate or to teach, to have dialogue or some kind of... Yeah, like, a dialogue going on. That's where I started to think that okay, maybe I can think about like, what does it mean when somebody is painting like, what kind of— How can I paint my argument? You know? Or how can I dance a thesis? How can I perform a question? Right, all of these things started coming up. And finally, as I landed on Lacan. I cannot say land, I'm still somewhere up there. Once I was captured by Lacan very much. That's what I started to think about in terms of psychoanalysis. What does it mean for a psychoanalyst to be doing politics with, with everything that they do in the consulting room?

Am Johal  50:35
Wondering if you can maybe speak to how you first encountered Lacan. Were you in University at the time? Did you, like where did you first encounter?

Sanem Güvenç  50:44
Through Žižek. Yeah, through Žižek. And it was, I was like, reaching towards the end of my PhD. There I was, reading Žižek. And he was so eye opening at the moment, and his polemical style at the moment really helped me. I even have a thank you note for Žižek in my dissertation. So. And then I think I taught a few courses. Not courses sorry, a few lectures in one of these like theory courses, about Žižek's reading of Lacan, but then it all stopped for me. And then in 2018, it was Clint Burnham, who was the president of the Lacan Salon, and he invited me. So this is also like a public thank you for him to introducing me into Lacan because the minute that I stepped in and the minute I started reading, we were reading formations of the unconscious. Seminar five. The minute I started reading, I couldn't stop so that's my introduction into Lacan. I just... It's been going on ever since.

Am Johal  51:58
Sanem, is there anything you'd like to add?

Sanem Güvenç  52:02
I think this is, this is perfect. We should talk about that Badiou comment you made, Am.

Am Johal  52:08
This is an ongoing jousting and shit talking we do with each other. It's all in jest.

Sanem Güvenç  52:14
Cool. One of these days I will find a very good answer to that. I don't have it, you caught me off guard completely.

Am Johal  52:23
Sanem, thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar.

Sanem Güvenç  52:26
Am, thank you so much for having me. This has been such a pleasure. Thank you. 

Samantha Walters  52:32
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Thanks for listening to our conversation with Sanem Güvenç. The Lacan Salon convenes in person and online every second Tuesday, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm Pacific Time, and welcomes all fellow enthusiasts of psychoanalysis and intellectual exploration. Find out more about how to join them, as well as additional resources, in our show notes. If you would like to support our podcast, you can donate at the link in the description below. Your generous donation will help support the podcast's activities and associated public events with SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Thanks again for listening and we'll catch you next time on Below the Radar.

Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
February 13, 2024

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