In a striking passage from Seminar XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, Lacan remarks,

What have I said, in effect, about any possible saying [dire] in the place of truth? The truth, I have been saying, can only be stated via a half-saying [mi-dire], and I have given you a model for it in the enigma. For this is how it is always presented to us, and certainly not in the form of a question. The enigma is something that presses us for a response in the name of a mortal danger. Truth is a question, as has been known for a long time, only for administrators. “What is truth?” We know by whom that was, on one good occasion, eminently pronounced.

But this form of half saying that truth restricts itself to is one thing, and this division of the subject which takes advantage of this to mask itself is another. The division of the subject is something quite different. If “where he is not, he is thinking,” and if “where he is not thinking he is,” it is indeed because he is in both places. And I would even say that this formulation of the Spaltung is improper. The subject partakes in the real precisely in that it is impossible, apparently. Or, to put it better, if I had to employ a figure that doesn’t occur here by chance, I would say that the case with it is like that of the electron, where the latter is proposed to us as being at the intersection of the wave theory and the corpuscular theory. (103)

Of course, the split here that Lacan speaks of is between the ego and the subject of the unconscious. In and through my ego, as a sort of frozen statue or image of oneself that one aspires to, we find a minimal ontological consistency. Yet it must be emphasized that this image is frozen, and is for that reason without thought. Rather, if there is thought it takes place in this other scene, the unconscious, that is always at odds with the frozen and statuesque image of the ego that we take ourselves to be.

Lacan developed this sorting of the split subject in a variety of ways between seminars XI and XIV, always emphasizing the forced choice between being and thinking. We can choose to be and therefore are consigned to not thinking, or we can choose to think and are therefore consigned to not being, but, unlike Descartes’ substantial subject, there is never an identity between being and thinking. And if this is the case, then it is because thought requires the support of the signifier and the signifier cannot signify itself (Seminar XIV). By virtue of the signifier being unable to signify itself it follows that any substantial support of being is always rendered perilous, for we always have one signifier too few or require one signifier more, in order to signify. Here, then, would be the ground of why we so desparately pursue being or identity at all. But I’ve discusssed this elsewhere.

I was reminded of this little aphorism– that we think where we are not and are not where we think –recently when I was reflecting on my experience with Netflix. When I first discovered Netflix I was delighted with everything I heard. Finally I would be freed of pesky and irritating trips to the local video store where the selection is inevitably bad– they stock films based on how well they did in the box office –and where they never have the film I want in stock. At long last, I thought, I will be able to see all the films I’ve wanted to see! And to make matters even better, they will be sent directly to my house in an envelope with return postage paid. I can keep them as long as I like– no irritating late calls or fees –and just pop them in the mailbox whenever I’ve finished watching them. Eagerly I signed up for the $9.95 plan that allows you to rent an unlimited number of movies a month at a rate of two per order.

What I encountered was something quite different. As soon as I signed up for Netflix my desire to watch any films at all strangely seemed to disappear. In a few instances, these red packages have sat beside my DVD player for weeks, even months, only to be sent back unwatched. Often I would experience a tremendous pressure to watch the films that I had ordered, and would experience these films as ominously regarding me, commanding me to watch them and chastising me for not watching them. When I go to the Netflix website to select the films I would like to watch, I find myself experiencing an unbearable pressure of choice? What if I choose the wrong film? What is the film that defines my identity as a film-watcher? Are there denizens of the Netflix staff that secretly laugh at my selections, either mocking me for my poor taste, or mocking me for my obvious attempts to have some taste?

Perhaps the strangest phenomenon has been that I find myself returning to my old video store despite having films at home to watch. Or, to make matters even more perplexing, I will find myself delighted when some film I’ve rented through the service appears on cable. Somehow the fact that it appears on cable makes it that much more enjoyable to watch. This is true, as well, of the films that I actually own yet rarely watch. While I have this or that Hitchock film on DVD, I never watch these films. Yet I find myself excited and delighted when a film such as The Birds or Rear Window comes on television and am unable to resist watching. I’ll drop everything to watch the film.

All of this begs the question of what my real engagement with film is all about. Why is it that I find myself without any desire to watch films that come from Netflix and even resistant to the activity of doing so? Isn’t this a perfect example of what Lacan refers to as surplus-jouissance, where the enjoyment isn’t to be located in the activity itself, but in some secondary dimension of the activity quite unconscious and unrelated to the activity? Netflix has had the effect of depriving me of my surplus-jouissance with regard to film. In graduate school I used to agonize over my taste in film and art. “Do I have the right taste in film [for the Other]?”, I wondered. I imagined that somehow everything hinged on having the right taste in film, theory, art, literature. What a pathetic thing to confess. And so I set about straight away educating myself about these things. Returning to the Lacanian split subject, this would be the ego dimension of my being. This was the statue, the frozen image, the semblance of being that I was constructing. And it is tremendously important to recognize that this statue was a statue that was produced for the Other, and with reference to the gaze of the Other.

Yet the encounter with Netflix suggests something entirely different. What is suggested in the case of the drought of my desire incubated with Netflix is not this dimension of the statue, but rather the surplus-jouissance functioning as the motor of my unconscious and governing my desire. If Netflix led to the evaporation of my desire, is this not because the real aim of my drive with regard to film has nothing to do with the film itself. Rather, the film is simply here an occasion for drive satisfaction, but not a necessary object of drive satisfaction. Rather, the drive dimension of this enjoyment is to instead be located in the temporal dimension of those situations where this enjoyment “worked”. The renting of a film is an aleatory event that emerges by chance and ruptures the ordinary order of the day. The appearance of a film on cable is again an aleatory event that ruptures the order of the day. In these cases, something is stolen back from the order of the day– where order should be read in both senses: “to be ordered” and “to give an order” –and where enjoyment is thus stolen back from that order. The enjoyment here has little or nothing to do with the quality of the film itself.

I reflect on this and I feel a bit of despair. I recall that throughout college and graduate school, I could never read assigned materials but had to read the material for classes a semester in advance so that I might be able to read something else during the semester. I worry about what this activity of blogging might signify with respect to my more professional writing and duties. I worry how this jouissance and drive might be operative in other aspects of my life that I hardly care to examine.