eipcp transversal extradisciplinaire

Destituting, Instituting, Constituting ... and the De/Formative Power of Affective Investment

Translated by Aileen Derieg

Alice Pechriggl

Alice Pechriggl


Aileen Derieg (translation)






Formation of Power

For Aristotle politea means, on the one hand, the form of the polis or “constitution”, on the other the constitution par excellence, in other words as the positive form of the exercise of power by the – good – mass over itself; the bad form of the rule of the mass, plêthos, or the many, polloi, is what Aristotle – following Plato – calls “democracy”. (Although Plato sees no positive opposite of the rule of the many, certainly not one that he – like Aristotle – would designate as constitution.) Consequently, good political life would be a life in which people in their multitude live according to their political “nature”, partaking of and participating in the exercise of power by alternately commanding or governing and obeying or being governed (achein kai archesthai).

This statement on politics that can be formulated from Aristotle’s writing (especially Athenaiôn Politeia and Politikai) is intended to be an impulse for reflecting on the relationship between the three forms of “position” or positing (tithêmi) that echo in the terms constituting, instituting and destituting. What is central here is the aspect of the political, in other words the deliberative (consultatively decisive) and executive arrangement of society. Its cohesive formation is indicated with the prefix con-, whereas instituting relates to the founding moment of bringing-into-being. In the following, investment and withdrawal of investment designate primarily the affective and general psychical drive; in this way they are distinct from structurally conceived destituting as disintegration and displacement, i.e. the negative of constituting. Creative instituting that does justice to affects and democratic formation could be posited opposite to administration as the machinic bureaucratic executive organ of the respective society / political entity, to which emotions are a priori repugnant, creativity only tolerable within the framework of the prescribed execution, even though – despite their dangerous surplus – they appear to be indispensable to its functioning. This is an initial outline of the semantic field that I will attempt to concretize now in several aspects.

Whether we differentiate the concept of power or regard it as an aporetical unit is not to be decided here; rather, an exploration of the modes of positing should lead to a better illumination of the Aristotelian question of quality and quantity in the exercise of power.[1] Instead of seeking to hypostasize or obscure the micro level as the “other” of the macro level, it seems most relevant to me here in terms of a “political aesthetic” in the broadest sense of aesthêsis (sensual perception) to analyze, change or dissolve internalized positions and dispositives. Contrary to the triad of destituting – instituting – constituting, however, the concept of the dispositive presupposes a certain coagulation of the “dis-position”, which appears to be transcendentally located opposite the “secondary” modes of positing. However, this kind of “dis-position” must first emerge or happen or be envisioned in this way through the specific constellation of this triad: the constellation that is specifically effective, which in other words institutes or constitutes reality, cannot – as in the case of certain dispositives or certain constitutions – be analyzed as something already arranged, but is subject to change as the matrix[2] inherent to human beings or society, whether through being implicitly instituted or explicitly posited (as norm).

The implicit or latent emergence of structure and interconnectedness in the field of explicitly deliberatively forming/formed coexistence is conceived in political theory primarily as one to be elucidated, open to advice and decision. In this way it is bound in the conventional ontological sense of the equation being = presence, which still predominates in current histories and historiographies of politics as representation.[3] We can only speak of being = presence and its passing in terms of a delimited figure and the idea “representing” it, whereas the triad of positing requires a creative logic of change engendering something new, yet without having to condemn the posited, the formed a priori (or as a “mere result”, as it is listed by Hegel in the register of corpses).

Social demarcations, determinations, distributions, norms, laws and prohibitions, taboos, impulses and distractions, etc. can be experienced and grasped as a priori castrating, blocking and alienating, or as ambivalent, potentially alienating, but also as potentially (dynamei) liberating, protecting, meaningfully chosen and defined, and thus also as realizing political autonomy. However, those who see in all modes of political – here meaning an explicit and public – positing or positedness both a priori and a posteriori exploitative dispositives and structures of alienation, primarily analyze the exploitation of all by society as a capitalistic, male alliance, heteronormative, etc. system along with the concomitant dispositives, but do not see the process of instituting in all its manifoldness.[4] They would in this way restage the inevitability of this connection at the aesthetic level (i.e. here primarily relating to the senses, taste and the affects) and at the level of being and cognition. Hence this connection tends to crystallize into a conceptually necessary connection, in which little or no scope can be given to an-archic experience, invention, agency and conceptualization in the sense of effectively democratic politics.[5] Even by invoking the microscopic, the quasi total assertion of alienation, subjugation, exploitation and disposition cannot create the political free space of thinking and experience that it already cannot bear as minimalistic free space in the context of the public positing of norms and explicit institution.

The Triad of Destituting, Instituting and Constituting in the Singular and in the Collective – Associations with Castoriadis

Against the background of a critical engagement especially with Marx, Aristotle, Trotzky, Kant, Arendt, Merleau-Ponty, Lacan and Freud, Castoriadis formulated the concept of the instituting imaginary, which requires a brief explanation for those who are not familiar with his work. At the start of a closing with revolution that was only concluded with Fukuyama’s farcical platitudes – both as a political practice and as a philosophical concept – Castoriadis presented his main work The Imaginary Institution of Society in 1975.[6] An older text is reprinted in the first part of this book, in which he deconstructs determinism and functionalism, on which he considers Marxism and traditional philosophy to be equally based. At the same time, he imbues the concept of revolution with a new meaning, through which he shifts the creativity of the psychisms, the “anonymous collective”, and the social imaginary into the center of his work as the “instituting imaginary”.

Castoriadis primarily addressed the problem of social and political self-organization (autoorganisation) and especially self-institution (autoinstitution) as collective autonomy or radically understood democracy. For example, he raised the aporetical question of how a “self”, always already both endogenously and exogenously “heteronomously determined”, driven by the Id and/or the unconscious, overtaxed by society and its imperatives, is capable at all of constituting a political whole with analogously “constituted” others; a whole that assembles as such for collective self-determination and self-institution and is able to communicate this well enough to realize this collective autonomy in such a way that it lasts longer than the moment of an anarchist, soviet-democratic revolt. In the principles of Athenian democracy, but especially in the anarcho-operaist soviet movements, in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and in other, more particular grassroots democracy movements since 1968, in the feminist movements or in the organization of the sans papiers, Castoriadis saw “seeds” (germes) for this kind of autonomy, which he had always located under the concept of magma and thus of brokenness caused by the “other” and by change. These references to collective autonomous movements that have effectively taken place and occur again and again permeate his entire political theory oeuvre. Instead of pressing them into a systematic unity or “idea of revolution” or of the “revolutionary subject”, or chastising them because of their merely defensively resistive character, he saw in each of them specific, inventive exercises in collective autonomy enriching the political imagination in the sense of the instituent imaginary. At the same time, he assessed the probability of a successful revolution in the sense of an autonomous, explicitly democratic (i.e. with equal participation of all judicious members) self-instituting collective increasingly as being less likely than the effectiveness of contemporary heteronomous tendencies and dispositives.

Instead of a democracy instituted in the here and now in a real (non-representative) sense, Castoriadis’ philosophical investigation starts from a political transcendental question, specifically from the question of the conditions of the possibility for a sufficiently large number (of a society, a political entity, etc.) to begin to communicate about the formation of an autonomous society, or one that promotes collective autonomy, to begin to want it and then to prevail against (capitalist, oligarchic, androcentric, heterosexist, racist, xenophobic, etc.) interests and institutions, and starts to take responsibility, specifically to the extent that these interests and institutions act and rule in us.[7]

Indeed this “battle” already enters un/pleasurably into the question of the conditions, especially where Castoriadis (in this he is certainly similar to Kelsen and the legal positivists) locates the collective will to position as the final instance and transcendental condition, even though he, particularly as a psychoanalyst, regards the collective will as being weakened by all kinds of other powers, inhibitions and instances both at the intrapsychical and at the collective psychical (or the social-psychological) level and constrained in its “sovereignty”.[8]

Institution and Group/Psychoanalysis

Antonio Negri was asked in an interview about his references to Castoriadis’ concept of the instituent imaginary. Following an expression of appreciation, Negri’s criticism of Castoriadis related to

 “a certain Jungianism, in other words the conception of a collective psychology, a collective unconscious, a collective imaginary. […] I don’t believe in the productivity of psychoanalysis in the social sciences. On the contrary, I think that when one insists on the boundaries, the blockages inherent to the human being and his capacity for expression – which in my opinion are fundamental Freudian elements, even though I don’t want to say that there is an original evil according to analytical ideology – then one loses the possibility of thinking of liberation from a collective, even individual perspective; one finds oneself in a situation, in which even the exercise of imagination becomes difficult. From this perspective I am a Spinozist, and I think that if there is evil in life, boundaries, blockages, then not in the sense of them being inscribed in the essence, but rather in the sense of being imposed from the outside. For if development is hindered, then always because other forces come from outside.”[9]

What is not new, and therefore not in need of explanation, is the superficial confusion of terms between Jungian archetypes or his “collective unconscious” and Castoriadis’ concept of the social imaginary[10], which he had developed not least of all in reference to initial ideas of Merleau-Ponty[11]. With regard, on the other hand, to the question of the unconscious of the individual and of its effects in and on the collective, a statement like this that mistakes both psychoanalysis and the concept of the unconscious cannot, in my opinion, be left unquestioned. Not only – as Negri himself suggests – that psychoanalysis does not involve defining evil and setting it within or outside of the psyche. The more dynamic psychoanalytical concept of the conflict understands its genesis as  equally endogenous and exogenous; the origin (from inside or outside) is hence secondary, just as it is secondary whether the trauma really happened “exactly this way”, or whether more microscopic traumatizations or dispositions “laid” the conditions for an event to have a traumatizing effect in the psyche of the individual or a group and thus hamper the capacity for judgment and action. In his drive theory Freud presumes an ambivalence disposition that has always been innate to human beings, which he calls Eros and Thanatos in reference to Plato and Greek mythology. Castoriadis partially follows him in this, whereby his interest is not in evil, but rather in the originary disposition to insulation, following Melanie Klein and developed together with Piera Aulagnier, of the “psychical monad” that constantly continues to work in us. This is described as a phantasm of omnipotence (ego = everything / everything = ego) with a psychical potential to defy all boundaries and (physical) needs, tending towards totality, which Aulagnier calls “originary” in the sense of the perspective of psychical development. The monad (or the originary) is neither evil nor pure inhibition. It is rather that in us which radically negates boundaries (of the fantasized ego omnipotence). Yet the rebellious element in us is just as rooted in the insulation of the “monad”, which is actualized against attacks and unhealthy socialization, also politically and resistively in extreme conflicts against state interests that are intrusive or deny reality. The “monadic” also helps us to distance ourselves from boundless demands that our psyche or our bodies cannot cope with (sometimes, if the invasion is too massive for the psyche, our bodies suffer the costs of this distancing). Finally, what is autistic in human beings is rooted in the “monad”, the egocentrically excessive, the hubris in the demand that something should be “so and no different”, which feeds both bureaucratic compulsiveness and totalitarian regimes.[12]

Where does the psyche stop, where does it end, who is able to delimit it, when collective phenomena are involved? Do we stop having/being an unconscious or affective conflicts and displacements, when we are political, act politically? Then, to the extent that we take Aristotle’s brilliantly paradoxical and at the same time coherent statement seriously that “man is by nature a political being”, we have always already stopped being psychical, having a psyche …

Castoriadis goes beyond this question by formulating the modalities of these psychical aspects of the societal more precisely by differentiating the concept of the imaginary. We invent, institute and destitute because and to the extent that we are or effectuate and participate in psyche, monad, unconscious psyche-soma and conscious feeling, speaking, thinking, judging, acting. At the same time, we invent, institute and destitute in that as individuals we are always already interacting, beings specifically socialized in this or that world, language, in this or that imaginary, embodying, expressing and – at least subliminally – permanently changing the respective imaginary as individuals.

The problem relating to the dialectic of autonomy and heteronomy, which Castoriadis runs into in the concept of the social imaginary, is not the boundary or the mental inhibition, but rather the question of why so many societies alienate themselves from “their” imaginary, their own products, from that which Hegel called education (Bildung)[13]; why they do not recognize their actively engendering contribution and instead institute a transcendent omnipotence or powers, which the society thinks it is only obeying; a divine plan that everything follows, etc. Castoriadis attempts to illuminate this phenomenon with the pair of concepts instituting and instituted, instituant/institué, and to better understand them in the sense of autonomy: How can we contribute to having people in a society no longer deny their historicity, recognize their “work”, which founds meanings and structures, and take this upon themselves in the sense of democratic self-determination?[14]

Yet as long as we take into account exclusively the ideational, objectal, in other words purely representationally conceived imaginary and ignore the microscopic shifts or transfers of affect (to real or illusionary objects), the affective investments and “withdrawals of affect”, the analysis remains quasi without lifeblood in the hypostatical. Indeed, Castoriadis repeatedly sought to point out the mood, the investment or withdrawal of affective investment in the collective; he also coined the term of the “real imaginary”, to the extent that from his perspective there is little in society/culture that is outside the “products” of the collective power of imagination, language, meaning and institutions, in other words outside the imaginary, which makes up societal reality. Yet what is largely lacking in his considerations are thoughts on the body, on corporeality, and on that which I call – closer to Merleau-Ponty’s references to corporeality, but certainly also in allusion to Castoriadis’ discovery of the imagination – the somatic vis formandi. This involves the affects and the senses (aisthêseis) in metaxy (in the middle) between psyche and soma, which I call the psyche-soma-complex that Castoriadis conceptually only briefly touched upon. It involves the cultural embodiments of psychical conflicts at the collective level and the “rest” of the psychical life of the individuals and their communities, as far as it “reaches into the somatic”. This is not a matter of exploring the “drive life of the nations”, but rather of thinking of events and what is culturally of long duration in terms of this dimension, including them in analyses and perspectives for action and investigating the social projective in terms of its exclusionary emotional structures and dynamics with a conceptual analysis.[15]

Following this path of political reflection, the perspective of the latent, affective (i.e. endogenously sensual) dimensions of the political or politics is virtually inevitable.[16] Taste or dispositions, in other words dis/pleasure in the context of destituting, constituting and instituting, are to be analysed in agreements (Ab-stimmungen), for instance, which from this perspective no longer have only the sense or function of producing something (by decision), but rather also have the ambivalent sense of expressing the dispositions that divide or even dissolve the community or its members by immediately "discharging" them and sublimate or end them – at least temporarily – in the recognition of the agreement (and thus also of the possibility of being subject to it).

It is exactly at these intersections that aisthêsis can be located in the field of politics. What this involves is, not least of all, the inclusion of that which in philosophical aesthetic theory as well as in political theory is often marginalized (for the benefit of the eidos, in other words the shapes, forms, etc.): the affects as a kind of endogenous aisthêsis in their conflictual positioning between the imaginary and the material-somatic, between the individual and the collective (or group), but also between the intrapsychical instances, layers, etc., to the extent that these do not cease to have an impact in the state of communalization or political assembly, but rather first form, constitute and even "crystallize" structures of meaning and affects.

Although we can only elucidate affects (and also drives) linguistically through the notions, thoughts, and other eidetic or phantasmatic forms that are conjoined with them ("invested" by them) – via centripetal and centrifugal mental force –, nevertheless they cannot be reduced to these. Rather, they constantly mark or distort the compositions, amalgamations between eide, between desire and idea, between perception, imagination and action, between operating and acting.

Not wanting to treat this level is one thing. It is quite another to think that the unconscious conflicts and the affect/idea/desire amalgamations shifting within them are not relevant at the level of the collective and for its analysis and its self-change/self-persistence, because the analysis of the unconscious is presumed to be reserved to the individual psyche (which is false, as was shown not only by group psychoanalysis, but even by Freud and the analyst and philosopher Theodor Reik).

Instituent and Constituent Power

Dis/pleasure in change, dis/pleasure in persisting in an illusionary self-sameness, cohesion and integration or disintegration and meaningful linkage are relevant terms of this field of the affective aesthetic reflection of the political imaginary and political practice. The illusion of the world of thoughts and laws and their rationalizing realization ("thoughts are omnipotent; experience can be avoided") replace reflections on these kinds of amalgamations relevant to practice in dispositives of collective heteronomy. The question of why we want change and why we want that the abominable or the normalized horror that "happens" or is "perpetrated" is to be stopped; that the henchmen and -women of exploitation or simply those of bad politics should be dismissed: in a discursivized dispositive comprehensively regarded as heteronomous, this question does not even need to arise and be reflected on as one relating to reflection on experience. Complete dogmas and undifferentiating explanatory theories of systems predominate instead, just like pseudo-identities, in which unrest, unease, fears, but also enjoyment and political demands are banned and sublated in the Hegelian sense. Although they do not return in exactly the same way as the desire repressed into the unconscious, being inappropriately banned they pour forth anew at every opportunity, adhere to every possible suitable, ideational projective constellation, and thus promote operating blindly at the cost of deliberative action in the sense of collective, i.e. always also integrative freedom.

Yet like the affects of dread or of guilt that have once emerged and then been politically repressed, the affects tied to liberation (like the desire for it) live on subterraneously; as a kind of anachronism in the societal-historical, they are always finding new ways to achieve realization. The explicit memory of – and re/institution of – old forms of political protest, political-democratic institution or constitution contributes to engendering new forms just as much as to their implicit, even unconscious sedimentation. Reflecting on the conflicts linked to them as our own, as those inherent to us, should not be an obstacle to this, but quite the opposite.

To relativize the tendency to absolutization, with which the concept of power has often been inflated or reactively decreed in the philosophy of the 20th century, I would like to close with Arendt's metaphor of power lying in the street. This metaphor has a realistic effect counter to the often theoretically proclaimed abstinence from power that thinks it can get by politically without taking power, where power is in fact nothing other than the question of the most equal and just distribution of power possible as instituted/destituting/instituent/constituent … taking power without setting up a power monopoly for anyone is the art of democracy, in other words the most equal distribution of power possible and the alternation of everyone possible in the exercise and "acceptance" of it.[17] The power monopoly of the few is abhorrent to the concept of power as a political (which also means public) concept of power, to the extent that the monopoly privatizes and appropriates what belongs to/obeys all and has to belong to/obey all. Power as political power urges its distribution and alternation in constant reflection on a fundamental an/archical conditionedness of the archê. This constantly grows out of unconditionalness in both the conceptual and the ontological sense, to the extent that there is no universal foundation for the type of its exercise or for its impact. This was obvious to Aristotle, and those who – like Arendt, Castoriadis, Lefort or Rancière – seek to understand politics with Aristotle have emphasized it again and again counter to the fundamental and prototheological discourses about power/archê as a universal ontological principle. In the state of theoretical faith, however, people trust more in the omnipotence of thoughts and principles than in the power of democratic instituent practice – including speech acts and art practices; in principles (the ontotheologically curtailed meaning of archai), from which they think, due to a lack of intuition and political power of judgment, that they can derive the essence and the possible realizations of power.

In the field of political reflection Arendt’s power metaphor denotes a power that is definitely also located in us, in our ideas, our structures of desire, etc., and which is effective here; in our imagined and realized communications; on paths or on water … the ingenious core of this metaphor, however, is found in the oxymoron of power lying where it can be picked up by those who go into the street, to institute new forms and structures from there.[18] A new, more democratic constitution? Perhaps, but at the moment the multitudes of the EU abide with an oligarchical coup d’état with the partial suspension of the distribution of powers (legislative competence of the Council of Ministers), through which the de facto virtually nonexistent legislative sovereignty of the “demos” that is already extremely mediated in the representative democracies is handed over to the national government representatives in a completely unproportional way. Democratically instituent and especially democratically constituent power requires a honing of the political power of judgment as far as possible on the part of everyone by everyone. This would remind us less of the Realm of Rhetoric[19], but more of the Aristotelian honing of political intelligence through alternating partaking and participating, and of the Kantian ethics and aesthetics in their connection with politics – a connection that is not coincidentally only rarely taken into consideration, but one that does not necessarily have to vanish behind the logics of affects.

[1]On this, cf. the chapter “Von der Menge zur Polis. Quantität und Qualität der Menge”, in: A. Pechriggl, Chiasmen, Bielefeld: Transcript 2006, p. 152–158.

[2]Here I refer to the matrix concept from group psychoanalysis, as it was developed in the 1940s by both Bion and Foulkes as a group matrix, in which all unconscious or unconscious and conscious notions, affects, desires, etc. are assembled, interconnected and interacting.

[3]Benjamin Constant distinguishes freedom in antiquity from modern freedom with the concepts of participation and representation, whereby représentation means, first of all, “stand in”, but must be inseparably linked with “stand for”, if it is to fulfill its purpose: no representation without a representative idea of what is to be represented.

[4]In terms of the criticism of, for instance, heteronormativity per se, in light of radically changing posited norms this would seem narrow-minded and akin to a surreptitious discursive positing of norms.

[5]Cf. Jacques Rancière, La haine de la démocratie, Paris: La fabrique 2005.

[6]L’institution imaginaire de la société, Paris: Seuil 1975 [Engl. The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Cambridge, England: Polity Press and Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1987]. This critical engagement began – together with Lefort and Lyotard – in the 1950s in conjunction with the editorial collective of the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie.

[7]Unless, of course, we separate what is alien or conflictual as evil and see it only as “l’enfer c’est les autres”, “all evil comes from outside”, etc. In this microscopic self-questioning perspective, which also questions one’s own heteronomous tendencies and involvement and the unconscious inner resistance to liberation and change, Castoriadis was at least theoretically increasingly closer to Foucault than some philosophers of the macropolitical “counsel of the prince”. On the connection between Castoriadis and Foucault, see especially Philippe Caumières, “La pensée de l’autonomie selon Castoriadis au risque de Foucault”, in: Sophie Klimis, Laurent Van Eynde (Ed.), L’imaginaire selon Castoriadis. Cahiers Castoriadis n° 1, Bruxelles: Facultés Universitaires St. Louis 2006, p. 165–199.

[8]To this extent, “transcendental” proves to be a necessarily relative term that has always already been based on the empirical and is hence contingent (a posteriori) in a perspective of open circularity. This makes it easier to comprehend Castoriadis’ sharp criticism of structuralism as an approach that is too deterministic and hostile to practice from an ontological epistemological perspective.

[10]Castoriadis himself criticized Jung’s understanding and what remained of it with Freud; see for instance: Fait et à faire. Carrefours du labyrinthe V, Paris: Seuil 1981, p. 177

[11]Cf. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L’institution. La passivité. Notes de cours au Collège de France (1954–1955), Paris: Belin 2003.

[12]Cf. the last chapter in: P. Aulagnier, L’apprenti historien et le maître sorcier, Paris: PUF 1984.

[13]See the chapter of the same name in Phenomenology of the Spirit.

[14]In this respect, “the Greeks”, or more precisely the Athenians, are not a model for Castoriadis, but pioneers in a certain respect, because they were the first to explicitly ask this question, and they established political (democratic) institutions for it accordingly. This is not at all intended to gloss over the exclusion of women and slaves that was constitutive for Athenian democracy, whereby the former still marks the political imaginary “conscious of tradition” up to the present. Although this massively hinders the realization of “gender democracy”, it is not fixed for all times as an “archetype” or genetically anchored “collective unconscious”. It is only when we illuminate the complex and regenerative patterns of persistence and dynamics of these exclusionary moments that are, as such, constitutive for the formation of androcentric oligarchies, that we can better destitute them and begin to invent and institute a new, more democratic imaginary along with the concomitant institutions.

[15]With regard to the “projection surface imaginary of the feminine”, see A. Pechriggl, Corps transfigurés Vol. I and II, Paris: l’Harmattan 2000, and A. Pechriggl and G. Perko, Phänomene der Angst. Geschlecht – Geschichte – Gewalt, Vienna: Milena 1996.

[16]The inclusion of taking action, of defense at the collective level addresses, for example, the question of the extent to which historical conflicts that have been massively repressed (although never equally by all) have an impact on the eros-thanatos conflicts of subsequent generations, which in turn effectively and significantly affect emotional shifts and sublimations (private sublimations as well as those that ground institutions and meanings). For example, it makes a difference whether lesbians and gays become conscious of their internalized homophobia together and from this, in the course of a Gay Pride event, for instance, derive political ironic meaning, thus constituting power from impotence, or whether they project their internalized homophobia (that is inevitable in a homophobic society) exclusively divisively as the hate of others against themselves, hence living increasingly anxiously, more covertly and auto-aggressively.

[17]For Aristotle the alternation of archein kai archesthai is the only possibility for the citizen of the polis to be free, and those who have not learned to obey (the law) cannot rule other free citizens as a free citizen, but must always pre/dominate tyrannically.

[18]See especially her book On Revolution, London: Penguin Books, 1990

[19]Title of a book by Chaim Perelman.