Libidinal Materialism Contra Lacan | Toxic Love

A Libidinal Materialist Critique of Lacan the Semiotician

Evan Jack
5 min readJan 3, 2021

Reference Codes

When I reference a text I will put its reference code and then the page number.

GLP — Overy, The genealogy of Nick Land’s anti-anthropocentric philosophy: a psychoanalytic conception of machinic desire

TA — Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

FN — Land, Fanged Noumena

CCT — Hegarty, Georges Bataille: Core Cultural Theorist

CI — Noys, Georges Bataille: A Critical Introduction

VE — Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939

E — Lacan, Ecrits

FAB — Reynolds, Freud After Bataille: Death, Dissolution, and the ‘Oceanic’ Feeling

AS1 — Bataille, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Volume 1: Consumption

Psychoanalysis is “the science of the unconscious” (TA 46). This means that if we can in any way critique the idea that the unconscious exists, we, therefore, critique the ground on which psychoanalysis stands on.

It is from the depths of the Kantian text that the (energetic) unconscious is found.

“It is rather out of an intertwining of two quite different strands of the Kantian text that the perturbing figure of the energetic unconscious emerges: first, the heteronomous pathological inclination whose repression is presupposed in the exercise of practical reason, and second, genius, or nature in its ‘legislative’ aspect” (FN 152).

From there the unconscious (will) is further developed by Schopenhauer (FN 153).

It is with Schopenhauer that the foundation of libidinal materialism is built.

Libidinal Materialism is “the philosophy of the energetic unconscious” (FN 162).

Now that the unconscious has been established, let us move on.

“If for a moment we attribute some validity to the claims of psychoanalysis, we would still have to recognize that psychoanalysis is the limited, restricted economy to Bataille’s general economy of sex and death” (CCT 67).

Bataille’s general economy is not just Bataille’s (anti-)economy, it is Bataille’s (anti-)system, Bataille’s (anti-)philosophy. Bataille’s (anti-)texts are the exaltation of general economy. This is why when we read Bataille’s words on general economy, we mustn’t have a totally restricted perspective, this is to say that when we read Bataille, we mustn’t try to constrain him to restricted systems of genre and subject.

Psychoanalysis is apart of restricted economy. It seeks to regulate, identify, constrain, render intelligible the unconscious which is heterogeneous. In other words, psychoanalysis is like capitalism (hereafter referred to as capital), in that it seeks to make the heterogenous homogenous. Psychoanalysis tries to fuck around with the ‘base matter’. The irony is that in this very movement, psychoanalysis undoes itself as it tries to use the base matter. The unconscious cannot be “absorbed and organized by psychoanalysis as a discipline or institution” (CI 32–33). The unconscious is to “be considered as one of the aspects of the heterogeneous” (VE 141).

Firstly, we must note that a critique of the entirety of psychoanalysis has been made above. We could stop here as Lacan is tied to psychoanalysis, but we will continue for purposes of nuance.

Secondly, we must also note that this critique above will be expanded upon in my future article I am planning to write on Freud and I may write one solely on psychoanalysis.

Land Contra Lacan

Anthropocentrism and Idealism

Lacanian psychoanalysis is obviously looking at the human subject. It thus is stuck withing a “lineage of philosophy which tends towards anthropocentrism and Cartesianism” (GLP 128). It is here that we could expand upon a Landian critique of anthropocentrism but we will refrain for now.

Overy explains Lacan not only trapped himself within anthropocentric philosophy but also idealism. Overy shows Lacan’s purposeful movement towards idealism, as he shows that Lacan says, “[B]ecause recourse to the idea of matter is but a naive, outmoded form of authentic materialism” (E 73).

On Desire: Lacking? Not me!

Lacan posits desire as lacking its object (a). Lacan says, “the object of desire is the cause of the desire [object a], and this object that is the cause of the desire is the object of the drive” (Seminar XI 243). Taking from Lacan’s own words, we also take note that Lacan posits the cause of desire as the objet petit a.

We can take Lacan’s proposition to say that to Lacan, desire is lack as desire is defined by its relation to the objet petit a (which is lacking if we presuppose that Lacan is correct).

The issue is that desire is not lack(ing). Desire is a “dissipative energetic flow” (TA 47). It is dissipative because desire expends, desire reaches zero. Libidinal energetics is found in the field of energetics where we will find a materialist theory of desire.

Land lines out the “resources for a materialist theory of desire” as follows (TA 42).

1 Chance.

2 Tendency.

3 Energy.

4 Information.

He then goes on to say, “libidinal energy is chaotic, or pre-ontological” (TA 44). This is an issue for Lacan because “in this view, chaos is the irrepressible flux of compositions and being (or rather becoming) is its effect. This, Land argues, is against Lacan’s foregrounding of lack, as well as the Platonic or Christian positing of an end to desire” (FAB 142).

There is another angle which we could critique lack from: Bataille’s theory of excess. If we take Bataille literally when he says, “it is not necessity but its contrary, “luxury,” that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems”, then one could say that desire is purely an energetic excess and that there is no lack.

If I am to be honest, I don’t know why I go on… No objet petit a to chase after… well… I thought she was my objet a. But, ironically, she also escapes me.

Everything I write about is centered around her in some way. I’m hoping cathexis will lead to decathexis. But I’m going to assume that like most hopes this one will also be denied.

Land Contra (Lacanian) Structuralism

I think Lacan’s “linguistic structuralism” is problematic. It attempts to turn the heterogenous energetic unconscious into metonymy and metaphor. He attempts to make it something which can be clinically treated. The problem with this is that the heterogenous cannot be the object of homogenous, universalizing, and institutionalized practice.

Land looks at “the jungle wilderness at the heart of psychoanalysis” and he sees that Lacan turns it into “a structuralist parking-lot” (FN 282).

“Structuralism is the target of Land’s critique because it formalises relations between components in such a way as to reaffirm and deepen them” (GLP 144).

Structuralism makes signifiers rigid and fixed. Structuralism is thus idealism.

Land Contra (Lacanian) Idealism

We must already note that we, with Land, have posited a materialist theory of desire. It is a libidinally energetic system.

“There is no scope for idealism in Freud’s casting of the unconscious as an energetic-hydraulic system which operates according to its formal rules as a system” (GLP 145).

The reason this critique of idealism is so important is that it is what Lacanian psychoanalysis stands upon. The logic that follows is sound. We established at the beginning of this essay that psychoanalysis is contingent on the unconscious. If Lacan’s linguistic structuralism is the basis of his interpretation of the unconscious and his structuralism is contingent on idealism then all we must do is release attacks on idealism until it falls.

“The primary reason for Land’s dismissal of Lacan’s thought is therefore that it operates as a tendency towards idealism in psychoanalysis and, concentrating on ideas rather than production, effaces the quality of being able to plot desire as material-production-in-itself which psychoanalysis offered” (GLP 146–147).



Evan Jack

How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille