I’ve been away from this blog for a while because basically I’m sick of all of you, a bit disgusted with humanity and academics at the moment, and have been busy as hell (more the third thing than the other two). Anyway, I’m pleased to have completed the first draft of Onto-Cartography and to have sent it off to the editors (I like this book, always a bad sign as no one else ever seems to like the things I write that I like) and just finished an article for a special issue of Speculations devoted to “Speculative Realism” entitled “Speculative Realism and Politics”. I suspect– hope –a lot of people will be surprised by this article, and also hope that it will be a productive contribution to the controversies and debates that SR, the new feminist materialism, ANT, and so on have generated in recent years.
All of this makes me reflect on the power of naming. Those who have read this blog for some time now are familiar with how fraught my relationship is with my name. I didn’t know my birth or legal name until I was about 8 or 9 years old and was told by a teacher. Apparently my legal name is “Paul R. Bryant”– which is also my father’s name –whereas my family had called me “Levi” throughout my entire life. The discovery of my real name was both traumatic and, I believe, had all sorts of bizarre effects at the level of my unconscious and with respect to how my desire is structured. That discovery effectively erased me– from the perspective of that acephalous subject that is my unconscious –from the symbolic order and, I think, generated all sorts of nasty desires. Don’t ask. At any rate, I took my name back– “Levi” –towards the end of graduate school, when I was having trouble finishing my dissertation (Difference and Givenness), despite the fact that I’d had it sitting on top of a bookshelf for two years gathering dust and only needed to edit it. Folks thought I was nuts for wanting to change my name from “Paul” to “Levi”– some actually got irate –but I found that when I returned to the name I’d grown up with I suddenly began writing like a maniac, laughed a lot more, and no longer had trouble editing my dissertation. I guess my unconscious figured that completing my dissertation under the name of “Paul”, I’d be giving my father all the credit and that it just couldn’t have that. Yeah, my unconscious is anarchistic or anti-patriarchal. And I know this all sounds nuts, but sometimes– despite what we might consciously think –that’s how it is. Read Fink’s Lacanian Subject and attend to the mathematics.
So naming, I think, is a powerful thing. The Lacanians have two expressions. First, Lacan in the Rome Discourse said “the word kills the thing”. By this he meant that an abstract kind denoted by the signifier can never capture the singularity of a thing. As Hegel joked in a way that only psychoanalysts and philosophers can appreciate, “you can’t eat ‘fruit’”. You’ll never get the object of your desire because the object of your desire is an abstract type delineated by the signifier, not a singular thing. That’s the tragedy of desire (there are other tragedies of desire as well; not least of which is that it’s never about what you want). But the psychoanalysts also like to say that “to name it is to own it.” I won’t get into all of the Freudian “thermodynamics” on this thesis, but the idea is that by narrating these things we dissipate their power and begin to take some control over them. We negate the power of the thing in the name of the signifier. This is why Lacan, in one of his early seminars, handed out elephant (memory) figurines at the end of one of the years.
All of this relates somehow. I guess I’m pleased by this article where I feel I do some naming. I don’t think I really say anything new here, but I do think I name some things. I coin the terms “semiopolitics”, “geopolitics”, “infrapolitics”, “thermopolitics”, and “chronopolitics”. In naming these different politics I don’t think I name anything that hasn’t been explored in various orientations of cultural studies and the humanities. I do think, however, that the naming of these different forms of politics– yeah I’m plugging the article –makes a difference. I think it makes the difference of simultaneously preserving the strengths of what I call “semiopolitics”, while also revealing its shortcomings, and that naming these other four forms of politics opens other domains for strategic intervention and the theorization of power. That’s the power of a name. It allows us to discern our blind spots, consolidate trends of thought and practice that haven’t been named, and to intensify those other possibilities. I see this as the promise of speculative realism. Who cares about rarified issues like the critique of correlationism and the reality of things? I don’t. If there’s a promise to SR it’s in helping us to recognize unrecognized ways in which power functions, devising new political strategies, and in discerning sites of the political that we might have before thought were apolitical.