Notes for a Discussion with Duane Rousselle

Jesse Cohn and Shawn Wilbur – What’s Wrong With Postanarchism?

From 2007

This text is where I am going to begin. I probably wasn’t aware of post-anarchism when this was written and if I was, I certainly wasn’t familiar with Shawn Wilbur, Jesse Cohn, or any of the writers they are discussing. It’s possible that I had already interacted with Duane, but anyway…

It’s clear that the intervention that post-anarchism was making at the time was fresh. The protective sentiment at the outset of the text makes me nostalgic for some things about this period of time in US anarchism.

It has been so long since I read Koch, May, Newman, or Call that I don’t even know who wrote what anymore. That said, the criticism that the “classical anarchism” they respond to is almost a strawman has been made numerous times over the years and seems to be an accurate assessment. That said, I know that I adopted the criticisms of modern anarchism made by these authors for some time, but eventually learned about many instances where anarchist thought from the late-19th and early-20th Century didn’t always fit the patterns of modern philosophy that post-structuralists had critiqued in their works. Therefor, I assume that what the authors of this text say about Koch, May, Newman, and Call is accurate and they did indeed build an almost-straw man of “classical anarchism” to critique.

The use of post-structuralist thinkers to discuss problems with post-anarchist works was done quite well in this text: Foucault, Haraway, Derrida, etc. Even throwing in some of my ilk: Levinas, Arendt. Of course, having read a good deal of Wilbur’s writing, this all makes sense since he clearly reviews history with the critiques of such thinkers informing his methodological approach.

This point is worth quoting in whole:

“The way in various critical missteps can compound one another is perhaps clearest in the discussions of “essentialism.” Much postanarchist critique echoes Nietzsche’s charge that anarchism is “poisoned at the root” (a rather essentialist claim); for postanarchists, ironically the “poison” is “essentialism.” This notion however, is compromised to begin with: for some time now, theorists from Diana Fuss to Hubert Dreyfus have been complaining that the term “essentialism” has become a mere pejorative epithet, so flexible in its usages (Nick Haslam counts no less than six distinct concepts lumped together under the one word) that it can be applied to almost any statement qua statement, and feminists like Gayatri Spivak have argued that some uses of “strategic essentialism” are endemic to any politics whatsoever. Nonetheless, for Koch, May, and Newman alike, Godwin, Proudhon, and Kropotkin are representative of a hopelessly “essentialist” or “ontological” anarchism: as Koch writes, “eighteenth- and nineteenth-century anarchists’ attacks on the state were based on a ‘rational’ representation of human nature” in which a basically static human subject is innately possessed of “reason, compassion, and gregariousness”; on this view, “corruption takes place within social institutions and is not an essential part of human nature,” since “the human being is seen as a rational, cognitive, and compassionate creature.” Certainly, if these theorists believed in this sort of innate goodness, they would have a hard time explaining the prevalence of violence, inequality, and domination; however, they affirm no such thing. For instance, in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, far from assuming a spontaneously good, rational, or gregarious human subject, Godwin depicts the subject as the result of social construction: “the actions and dispositions of men are not the off-spring of any original bias that they bring into the world in favour of one sentiment or character rather than another, but flow entirely from the operation of circumstances and events acting upon a faculty of receiving sensible impressions.” Thus, he ridicules the idea that complex behavioral patterns such as a favorable disposition towards “virtue” are “something that we bring into the world with us, a mystical magazine, shut up in the human embryo, whose treasures are to be gradually unfolded as circumstances shall require,” and denies equally that “self-love” (egoism) or “pity” (compassion) are “instincts”; both, to him, are learned behaviors. The “representation” of the human subject that emerges from Political Justice is far from “fixed” or “closed” — it is dynamic, endlessly mutable: “Ideas are to the mind nearly what atoms are to the body. The whole mass is in a perpetual flux; nothing is stable and permanent; after the lapse of a given period not a single particle probably remains the same.” This, in fact, is why Godwin thinks we are capable of doing better, and it is why he wrote so extensively on questions of pedagogy and culture: just as government is ultimately founded not on physical coercion but on popular obedience springing from culturally learned “opinions” and “prejudices,” a non-authoritarian society would have to be the product of cultural change — not “human nature.” His real argument against “the state, as a coercive institution” (and against every other coercive institution) is simply that it is coercive, when cooperation is possible. Human beings — whatever else we are — are capable of negotiating conflicts and coordinating efforts without resorting to force or manipulation. In Godwin’s words: “The evils existing in political society… are not the inseparable condition of our existence, but admit of removal and remedy.” This is all that ever need be argued ontologically, and all that Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin really require: the possibility of free cooperation, which is the possibility of a life in which no one is treated merely as an instrument.”

Again, this all brings back so many memories. I’m sure that I have read this text before and I can assume how I probably felt about it then. I have made the mistake of discussing existentialism as a corrective to past anarchist thought and received responses that I felt were overly-protective of the old anarchist thinkers. I could easily feel that way about this text if I didn’t agree with so much of it.

Saint Schmidt – Postanarchism is Not What You Think: The Role of Postanarchist Theory After the Backlash

From 2008

At the time of this text, postanarchism was only known through “a humbling stockpile of only three books dedicated explicitly to the subject.1 However, the reception of postanarchist theory is hindered less by the problems associated with its propaganda than with a fundamental misunderstanding of what postanarchism itself represents coupled with a blatant misrepresentation, on the part of its critics (in particular: Antliff, 2007; Cohn & Wilbur, 2003; Cohn, 2002; Day, 2005; Franks, 2009; Sasha K, 2004; Zabalaza, 2003), of what the postanarchists’ claims have been.”

Immanent Transcendence

This term “immanent transcendence” is used by the author to explain the methodological preference of postanarchist critique… This method starts from within its subject. This is similar to phenomenology and indeed, probably is a sort of phenomenological method

Postanarchism: Neither post-anarchism nor post-anarchism

  1. Postanarchism situates its perspective within (traditional) anarchism, but uses insights from poststructuralism to find and critique elements of Modern philosophy found there. One of the reasons why it situates itself this way is because it wants to define itself against the inside of anarchism, rather than looking beyond anarchism for sources of power to define itself against.
  2. Postanarchism identifies more with the spirit of anarchism than with any particular anarchist theory or doctrine.
  3. That spirit can be described as an attitude of hostility towards any form of represntation.
  4. “Traditional anarchism can now be summarized as a specific attitudinal assemblage held in tendency, among others, within the larger anarchist assemblage, which, according to the postanarchist critique, holds a number of problematic assumptions. The most significant of these assumptions is that power derives from a particular place (the State), is an objective phenomenon, and emanates outward to repress an otherwise creative human essence.”
  5. Postanarchism is also an attempt to describe changes in anarchism. Not just (or at all) an attempt to promote changes in anarchism

So far, it still seems to me like postanarchist critique has ignored traditional anarchist thought that wasn’t good material for criticism. I would have to read more from thinkers like Gustav Landauer to support this argument, but that is where I would start looking.

Reducing Reductionisms: The popular critique against postanarchism

This section touches on the defensiveness that I also saw in the Cohn & Wilbur text above, but the basic point wasn’t addressed at all. If we can find traditional anarchists that don’t assume “power derives from a particular place (the State), is an objective phenomenon, and emanates outward to repress an otherwise creative human essence,” then this isn’t merely a difference in interpreting what traditional anarchism was. The main accusation, I believe, is that Newman and others didn’t even try to interpret a decent amount of traditional anarchist thinkers.

Postanarchists: Subjects supposed to know?

This section reviews the postanarchist critique of ressentiment… It is also an early example of Rousselle wrestling with the idea that anarchists seek “a new master”. Over the years of interacting with Rousselle, I feel like this is one of the major issues he has worked hard on. It comes through very much in conversation with him that he tries to not take the position of the “subject supposed to know”. So what’s the deal with this?

Lacanian Transference

“It was in his later work that Lacan made his most forceful attempt to discuss the issue of trans- ference in relation to the subject supposed to know position. He eventually made the claim that “as soon as the subject who is supposed to know exists .. there is transference” (1977 [1964]: 232). Put another way, as soon as one positions oneself, or is positioned by another, as the analyst (in the proper sense of the term), as the person who has or claims to have the answers to the problems of the analysand, there is transference.”

More at

“if the analyst, or in our case, the postanarchist, positions oneself in such a way as to encourage a particular position of intellectual superiority, this position risks being transformed into one of dependency and mastery rather than as the position of a unique individual on a similar journey and with similar irresolvable confusions. For the postanarchist, this gets translated as a false sense of mastery, a false sense of knowledge about this or that tradition (‘traditional anarchism is this and not that’, ‘postanarchism is this and not that’, ‘Kropotkin’s theory was about this and not that’) and translated less less as an assemblage of attitudes held by a particular subject who may be out to own her own desires.”

Im sure more of this will be in later material, so onward…

A Note on Methodology

The author briefly describes the limits of Foucault’s totalized view of power and proposes lack as the ontological opening for an anarchist politics of resistance:

“By invoking Lacan, then, against Foucault and countless sociologists, I am able to retain the possibility for an uncontaminated place of resistance at the subjective level through the notion of lack which is inherent to power, but not dependent upon it; lack can be understood as an outside to power which is paradoxically on the inside of power”

This is exactly the sort of move that Sartre makes in Being and Nothingness…

Unfreezing Anarchism

“According to Lacan, it is only by ‘dialectizing’ the term ‘anarchism’, by bringing it into play with what is outside of its discursive reach, that the subject will be able to symbolize the term, grant it meaning, and therefore become a mobile subject.”

This mobile subject is also quite similar to Sartre’s spontaneous consciousness

“Bob Black once candidly remarked that the “Type 3 anarchist takes more out of anarchism than anarchism takes out of her, and he tries to get more out of life than life gets our of him” (2004), this is precisely the type of attitude that anarchism will need to uncover should it be ready and willing to thaw itself out. “War is too important to be left to the generals, and anarchy is too important to be left to the anarchists” (ibid.), the lesson gained from the postanarchists, among others, is that anarchism itself can fall into the very discourse it seeks to avoid, that it, itself, may restrict one’s options, become another order to be followed, another religion for which servants must oblige or be excluded from the church.”

This is the concern of those today who declare that they are for anarchy, not anarchism. It is what I have come to call “anarchyism”.


“postanarchism is not what you think. It is an attitude that one adopts — many times without realizing it — in particular contexts, in the face of specific truth claims. Moreover, it is an attitude that spits in the face of tradition and produces a heightened desire for experi- mentation in order to approach the freedom of the individual from the clutches of orthodoxy.”

Post-Anarchism and Psychoanalysis: Seminars on Politics and Society

I’m reading the complete book, which contains much more than this essay… but should I want an easy way to pull quotes:

Book Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Post-anarchism & Psychoanalysis
    • The Revolutionary Impulse of Melancholia
    • Revolutions of the One
    • Singularities, Fraternities, and the Social Movements
    • Three Plus One: The Lawless Real
  3. The Unconscious is Politics
    • The Unconscious as Device
    • The Fawning of Jouissance
    • A Separation That Doesn’t Make a Separation
  4. Other Seminars
    • Lacan’s Sociology
    • Everything Slovoj Zizek Already Knew About Jacques-Alain Miller

Book Notes

[Video] Psyche Podcast – Relational Musings: Dr. Duane Rousselle & Quique Autrey

Quique and Autrey are friends!

Q: When you say the friendships based on horizontal identifications, what do you mean?

A: From Lacanians and elsewhere, the question “what happens when the Father falls?” is being asked. The result is a horizontality, but is also suspicious a sort of insularity… a bubble.


The way social movements have evolved…

Three paradigms of social movements:

  1. Old Social Movements – the idea that social movements can be formed based upon a quasi-universal belief in exploitation. “If we can just become a class for-itself we can overthrow the system”
  2. New Social Movements – recognition-based social movements that strive for recognition. Recognition of their identities and whatnot.
  3. Newest Social Movements – described first by Richard Day (anarchist)… the Newest Social Movements saw the pitfalls of the former two paradigms that were based on a dichotomy of Reform vs Revolution. Newest Social Movements emerged as a politics of retreat. They refuse to engage with the world, refuse conflict, etc. The autonomous zone or T.A.Z. models.

Q: The Newest Social Movements remind me of religious communities I have studied…

A: It’s problematic, but it is also truthful. We know that there is no relationships between these groups. There is no longer the illusion that these groups really relate with each other.

Q: Boundaries?

A boundary is the way we interface with the Other. They can be a form of retreat. Today we have an environment that is without boundaries. Capitalism is defined as pure excess, no limits, no boundaries. Even limits themselves have become commodified in the form of half-sized sodas, parental restrictions on smart phones, etc. There is no “me” if there are no boundaries to create a space for a “me” to emerge.

Q: How do we encourage both the liberating aspects of the metaphorical cave and also communication with the Other?

A: The boundaries of the cave are the condition for communication to happen, otherwise you’re basically just navigating your a world of one’s own desire writ large.

Q: Autism?

A: It is worth thinking about autism metaphorically because it is a way to discuss our relationship with the Other. In this part Duane offers some phenomenological description of contemporary atomization. It leads to relationships with people who are part of our practice (?)

Q: Is there anything about the book you’re working on regarding Negativity that you want to talk about?

A: The concepts of negativity and death-drive are being used in philosophy lately in a way that doesn’t make sense to them. It seems like a lot of the time people are using those concepts, they’re using them as if they are still in a bygone era (?)

There’s nothing less critical than Critical Theory today – LOL nice

This shit about death-drive and jouissance and whatever is something I really want to avoid in our talk!

Q: Science stuff?

A: Science is death-drive. It is always taken by surprise by the negative consequences of its own creations and then it panics to find solutions. Starts talking about the field of lies that science bumps into in the form of science fiction (?) It is only by passing through the lie that we can confront the Other…

This is more stuff I really don’t know how to carry a conversation on about…

Q: Boundaries are a lie, a type of fiction…

A: When people on Twitter are talking about boundaries lately they’re saying “I’m not going to be duped by this bullshit.” But a boundary also binds people together and it is a way to bond through a lie, through an error.

These “non-dupes” are ultimately incapable of loving. To fall in love one needs to be stupid. <-this is great!

Neither Slaves, Nor Masters: Neither Simps, Nor Tyrants!

Some stuff about Jonah Hill that I DGAF about…

Q: Something like how is society different now from the time of Marx?

A: Something about how in a society of excess and enjoyment, exclusion does not come in the form of an explicit prohibition. Rather, exclusion comes through affirmation. Like, everyone is invited to something except for you type of thing.

Q: Something about modal verbs… “I must” vs. “I can”?

A: Today we have to take more responsibility for ourselves that we did when oppression came in the form of commands and prohibitions. It’s also more confusing because the boundaries are fuzzy and nuanced. Positive affirmations can be tyrannical… toxic positivity, I guess.

Q: Is there anything else that you’ve been thinking/writing about?

A: It’s hard for me to say exactly because I don’t have research questions I’m focused on and what not. Now I just listen to people and respond to what they’re saying.

People stay in their rooms a lot more today and don’t feel included. This has something to do with the fuzziness of boundaries and social media.

Q: Masculinity?

A: This is a tricky question because it’s a discursive question…

Today men are asking what it means to be a man, which is a feminine question!

The question “what is a women?” has traditionally defined what a woman is. It is the question and not the answer to that question. The mystery of what femininity is was what defined it.

Q: Why do so many men feel like they are simps?

Confession, I don’t know what the fuck a “simp” is…

Links and stuff

Questions for Duane

  1. Terminology
    • What the fuck is jouissance?
    • What the fuck is “a simp”?
  2. Post-Anarchism
    • Where are you at now with post-anarchism. I am familiar with your earlier thoughts on the topic, but I’d like to hear where you are now. Some time ago, you focused a lot of things like power, lack, the Name of the Father, anarchists looking for a master, etc. Do you still think these are relevant concerns?
    • What about anarchism today, generally?
    • Stirner, Ressentament, Spontaneity, the Unique, etc.
  3. Psychology
    • Developmental psychology questions
    • Psychoanalysis: Lacan and others
    • The role of psychology in radical (anti-)politics
  4. Capitalism, the State, and other forms of Power
  5. Relationships and Group Dynamics