For a long time I’ve thought that what I truly desire is a great interlocutor or someone with whom I can really discuss things and develop ideas. I often find myself bored at parties, dinners with friends, and other sundry outings as I find “small talk” exhausting and a waste of time. My eyes glaze over with peoples’ reports of their day and what is going on in their life. Wouldn’t an engaged theoretical discussion be far more preferable and interesting? And why is it that people engage in small talk at all? It’s a bit like birds warbling on a telephone line, simply signalling that they’re there. If only I had a truly engaged interlocutor! I think to myself. I despair that the discussions I do have seem fraught with miscommunication.
However, as I look over my friendships, the discussions I gravitate towards, and some of my own theoretical presuppositions I advocate, and my own way of relating to others I engage deeply with, it appears that I desire something very different– I desire irritation! Everywhere I go I seem to look for conflict, controversy, and disagreement (perhaps making me a rather unsavory character). My sense of humor is designed to shock and cause suprise, saying what shouldn’t be said, and is riddled with irony so as to provoke. When reading the newspaper or news magazines, the first thing I do is turn to the editorials and letters to the editor. I enjoy going to far right conservative blogs as I have such difficulty fathoming this sort of reasoning. The friendships I’ve had have tended to be with people that irritate me to no end, constantly frustrating me with their claims. And my most intense romantic relationships have also tended to be the stormiest.
Theoretically, of course, it’s odd that I would look for an interlocutor that I could really work with. As a Lacanian I advocate the principle that “all communication is miscommunication.” In my analytic practice I see everyday how my interventions are taken in surprising directions by my analysands, and understood in ways I could have never anticipated. The systems theorist in me adopts the thesis that “all miscommunication is communication.” In some respects, I think the latter thesis is more interesting. If systems are dynamic, this entails that they must reproduce themselves from moment to moment by generating further system-forming events. Systems are composed of events, not objects or things. A social system must generate additional communication on the basis of every event of communication, so as to endure in time. Agreement and consensus tend to diminish further operations or the production of ongoing communicative events as there’s no necessity of continuing communications where there’s agreement, whereas conflict and difference tend to promote ongoing autopoiesis of communication. Irritation (in its system-theoretical sense) generates ongoing communication.
Thus, I find Acephalous very irritating, and for this reason I had a very fine discussion with him that was generative of concepts for me (here and here). I suspect that Acephalous and I understood little of what the other was saying, but it was productive for me as it led me to develop thoughts I would not have otherwise developed– these days I’m becoming more and more sympathetic to his position based on my aleatory materialism –and he wrote about it further. Jodi Dean irritates the hell out of me because she seldom responds to my posts on her site, which I find terrifically rude (no doubt my tone comes off as insulting as I tend to write “dissertations” like I’m lecturing or teaching), but this irritation leads me to write even more with the vain fantasy that she’ll someday respond. As such, her silence generates ongoing communicative events. My friend Melanie irritates me to no end, as she’s always challenging psychoanalysis and attacking my latest theoretical fetish, leading me to throw up my hands in exasperation and heatedly defend what I was claiming, thereby generating ongoing autopoiesis between the two of us. My friend Noah, in graduate school, was extremely condescending, mocking, and abrasive, while brilliantly astute theoretically in a way that diverged sharply from my own views, leading me to constantly spar with him and pushing my thought to develop in ways that it never would have otherwise. My dear friend Robert irritates me to no end, as he constantly misinterprets my claims and pushes them in directions I don’t like, leading me to try to demolish him theoretically, while never really wanting to so that we might continue irritating one another. Yusef drives me up the wall with his playful writing style and rhetorical excesses, and therefore drives me to become even more rationalistic despite the fact that I sympathize with many of his positions, just to spite him.
There is a standard utopian narrative about how the internet allows us to exchange ideas and develop thought together collaboratively, by increasing nodes of communication (wherever connectivity is increased among nodes or elements of a system, that system changes qualitatively). It is not untrue that the net transforms the autopoiesis of communicative systems, but it doesn’t do this in a representational way (exchanging one and the same message). Everyone knows that thought is a solitary activity, that concepts are always misunderstood when you attempt to share them, and that communication in the representational sense is impossible for all save mathematics. Rather, what the net enhances are our possibilities for being irritated, which in turn leads to further development of the structures underlying our thought. If I participate on emails lists, for instance, it is not to reach some sort of agreement, but to produce irritation within myself that will push my thought in unforseen communicative directions.
I sing a hymn to gadflies, trolls, and cranks everywhere! May they be blessed and loved for upsetting the closure of my thought process and making me so uncomfortable.