A Field Guide to Getting the Lost Art of Unrecovery (part two)

Filed under:A Field Guide to the Lost Art of Unrecovery — posted by Schizostroller on July 28, 2018 @ 8:23 am

The standpoint

In an ImROC newsletter Professor Geoffrey Shepherd stated that a consensus was required for the word ‘recovery’. He also referred to Lewis Carroll in order to explain his argument, Humpty Dumpty’s discussion on ‘words’ with Alice in Through The Looking Glass:

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. But the question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things. “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master— that’s all. ”

Shepherd is, in using this quote, referring to what the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan called a Master Signifier, he wants it to serve for all the discursive signified of ‘recovery’, (and we can only assume by implication that he hopes ImROC will supply it). But what if rather than needing a Master Signifier, recovery has up to now been a black box to support a particular paradigm in a certain competition amongst social movements or paradigms (as Nick Crossley describes such competition ). Gregory Bateson describes a Black Box as something that is an explanatory principle that scientists decide to stop at . In this case recovery has been a convenient truth, a convenient signifier, for several competing paradigms. The word itself amongst these paradigms has a history that goes back to Tuke and Pinel, it didn’t start with the disagreement over the possibilities of recovery from Dementia Praecox between Kraeplin and Bleuler. However, what if, like in the 1980 film ‘Airplane!’, when someone says, ‘the shit is going to hit the fan’, the trope sort of plays itself out. The plane crashes this time, due to some combination of a return of the trauma model, neuroscience and austerity, and one doesn’t have to invoke Trostky’s definition of a crisis of capital to know that under austerity this black box now needs unpacking after the crash. rather than being turned into a hegemonic Master Signifier that whitewashes the class issues and economic effects of austerity out.
Shepherd, later in the same newsletter, discusses Anti-Recovery . I want to be clear here ‘unrecovery’ is something quite different to anti-recovery. ImROC will never be able to supply unrecovery as a commodified recovery techne, as it is born (as Henry Louis Gates Jr shows in his discussion of the history of Black-American Literature, and its relation to the history of slave narratives ) of the speech of Chakravorty Spivak’s subaltern , of the vernacular, of the struggle of the precariat, the working class, marginalised identities, it is a pedagogy of the oppressed , of the wretched of the earth … of the mad. However, I must briefly address Shepherd’s criticism of anti-recovery and then move on. Shepherd argues that [A reduction in services] was done initially to address the profligacy and corruption of international bankers. More recently, this rationale has been dropped and government has made it clear that it is simply part of a longer-term policy to reduce public expenditure (and by implication to increase expenditure on private providers) .” Which seems shocking. In fact to confuse a deliberate neo-conservative but radical rewrite of economic policy that shook up the previous Keynesian complacency (in the face of increasing inequality cf. Thomas Piketty ), that attempted to blame a deficit (that given the bank bail-out was reasonably moderate and furthermore was being paid off by the Labour government prior to the crisis) on overspending in services and suggest for the first time, since at least WWII if not earlier, that getting the private sector to pick up the slack instead in a recession when market confidence was low whilst cutting services was a good idea, when said private domestic sector in such a market would have to rely on risk-taking by said financial sector (that was to blame) was instead “to address the profligacy and corruption of international bankers” is an economic illiteracy bordering on Liam Byrne’s handwritten satirical joke “There’s no money left”. In fact by 2013 Wren-Lewis points out, a Financial Times survey had found that less than 20% of economists still thought that austerity was necessary , and 4 years later in 2017 the same paper, the Financial Times , showed that the UK was the only Western economy that had increased its GDP whilst simultaneously lowering levels of the average wage, nearly all the other countries had, with less austere policies increased both their GDP and average wage, yet Shepherd claims that UK austerity policies were to “address the profligacy and corruption of international bankers’ rather than lower the average wage to make the country competitive? Something Jeremy Hunt had suggested at a Tory party conference in 2015, competitive on wages with the USA, India and China no less . And this happening at a time when there was a media attack on the welfare state and arguments about ‘benefit dependency’.
Shepherd goes on to state that “[his] own suspicion is that those who criticise supporting recovery as opening the way for service reductions are actually expressing
their broader – and very correct – concerns about the policies of austerity and their effects on public services… but it is important not to get the two mixed up. It is like blaming shortages of school or hospital places on EU immigration.” I would argue that this is a false analogy. What he labels as ‘anti-recovery’ is closer to an attempt to acknowledge that, since the imposition of tighter cost-aware policies under austerity, the type and form of recovery techniques have narrowed as a direct consequence of these policies. That as a paradigm the ‘competitive success’ gauged towards ‘private business’ (as he states himself) and therefore the concurrent requisite profit maximisation has left us with more coercive recovery practices than we had 15 years ago when the contemporary paradigm of recovery that he supports started to make inroads against the bio-medical model. It is closer to acknowledging that part of the much-mooted self-reflective practice of recovery practitioners should (but has failed to) include a critique of the forces (both economic and policy – having government advisory contracts doesn’t help here) that have changed the meaning of recovery that he is alluding to, so in this sense it is a left-wing critique of class relations to the means of production and its effect on the knowledge base quite the opposite of right wing immigration-baiting in order to mask these effects. So, unfortunately, when he quotes Lewis Carroll in his opening paragraph and calls for a master signifier; a master signifier that is tied up (as language always is) in the contemporary economic hegemony which thus has a hand in dictating that master meaning of recovery such a discursive meaning (and bear in mind Lacan said reality was discursive ) requires the very criticism Shepherd bemoans in the newsletter without such criticism austerity would therefore define recovery even more.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace