Over at Ecology Without Thought, Morton has a nice post up discussing his queering of objects. It appears that he’s especially indebted to Michael O’Rourke’s paper “Girls Welcome!!!” forthcoming in Speculations II, which I can’t recommend highly enough. In my view O’Rourke is both a highly sensitive reader, but also takes OOO in entirely new directions. Morton links to my post “Lacan’s Graphs of Sexuation and OOO” in relation to his trajectory of thought. This line of thought figures heavily in the final chapter of The Democracy of Objects.
For me one of the central targets of my onticology is what I’ve now come to call “phallosophy”. Within my framework, phallosophy (a portmanteau word combining “phallus” and “philosophy”) is an orientation of thought characterized by reterritorialization on a master-figure, but which is also premised on the ideal of full presence and representational realism. In his later work– especially Seminar 22, RSI, and Seminar 23, Sinthome –Lacan distinguished between “believing in your symptom” and “identifying with your symptom”. The former is belief in what Derrida would later call a “transcendental signified” or a final presence that would stitch everything together. In Burke we’d refer to this as a “God term”. The latter, by contrast is an identification with symptom as process, not unlike what takes place in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, where it is not a univocal meaning that’s important, but rather a process of production that is important. The phallosopher is someone who believes in their symptom, holding that parousia is possible in the form of a transcendental signified whether that transcendental signified is afforded by a certain version of God, the subject, communicative rationality, essences, or scientific truth. As I argue in my discussions of masculine and feminine sexuation vis a vis Lacan, it is not femininity that is masquerade as much of the psychoanalytic tradition has argued, but rather masculinity that is always and everywhere a masquerade (did we ever really doubt this? was it ever anything more than a refusal to dare saying it?). If masculinity is masquerade, fiction, illusion, then this is because it is a special form of posturing and chest thumping, where one presents oneself as being fully present, without castration, without withdrawal, and capable of mastery. Masculine sexuality, as we see in both the discourse of the master and university, is always a discourse of domestication. And domestication is always, everywhere, and only possible on the premise of presence that refuses withdrawal. This masquerade is the very essence of phallosophy. A non-phallosophical philosophy will necessarily be a philosophy that treats constitutive incompleteness and withdrawal as the very core of its thought.
Over at Ecology Without Thought, the ever dynamic, thoughtful, and brilliant Eileen Joy raises a number of interesting questions with respect to the concept of withdrawal. Joy writes:
But: if there is always an excess of “essence” not exhausted in manifestation, where is that “essence” located, positioning system-wise? I ask because my M.A. students and I, just last night, wrapped up our discussions of Harman’s always-withdrawing objects [by way of his essay “Aysmmetrical Causation,” but also by way of “Prince of Networks” and “Circus Philosophicus.”
So, in order to [maybe] not let this excess-ive “essence” simply hover as a kind of Absolute or to have no locatable “hiding place,” um … where might it be hiding (interior), hovering (exterior)?
It’s one thing to say something [whether a person, a species, a daffodil, an astral belt, whatever] is always “in excess” of what we can perceive, apprehend, touch, etc. It’s another to start thinking about the location, taxonomy, material makeup, etc. of such an excess. How can I be sure we’re not just reinventing animism [even your crossed out animism, which I love, btw], or soul? Haven’t you also said, in other contexts, that it’s “parts all the way down” … and “up”?
She then goes on to write:
I want to clarify, too, that I ask this question partly because, as I and my students were discussing Harman’s essay, “The Sleeping Zebra,” we were concerned to see if we could distinguish between Harman’s comments that any object [in this case, a sleeping zebra] always
“rises above its own pieces, generated by them but not reducible to them. And second, it is indifferent to the various negotiations into which it might enter with other objects, though some of these may affect it,”
and your cautions against holism in “The Ecological Thought.” You see, increasingly, and partly under the influence of reading *you* [TUI–“thinking under the influence”], I don’t know if any object retains any sort of “life” or “essence” apart from its relations with everything else. And I worry a little, too, that “essence” is being treated in some of our discourses as a kind of Latourian “black box” that we take too much for granted, regarding how it supposedly “works,” without peering inside as much as we, maybe, ought to. It might be an empty box. And that might even be okay.
Wonderful remarks. I wish I was in that class! For me, the concept of withdrawal entails two things. First, withdrawal entails the impossibility of domestication. Freud, and Lacan after him, liked to say that there is no repression without the return of the repressed. Repression is never without a remainder or residue. It is this that we call a symptom. Such is the teaching of the Mobius Strip. In my view, the first consequence of withdrawal is that there is always a residue. Put differently and in negative terms, the first consequence of withdrawal is that domestication is impossible. In a structural coupling between two entities, there is always something that escapes such that the entity drawn on by the other entity as a perturbation in its own process ever eludes its domestication and mastery by this entity. No system of signifiers, no system of control, no system of power, no system of mastery is ever adequate to the domestication of any entity. As Morton likes to remind us, every entity is a strange stranger, ever in excess of any and all of its presencings as sensuous objects. Domestication is always and necessarily a failure. Such is the lesson of Lacan’s Master-Discourse, which is also the basic structure of every structural coupling.
However, this is not all. This first form of withdrawal refers to the manner in which one entity relates to <em.another</em. as a strange stranger. It doesn't yet get to the withdrawal of entities in and of themselves regardless of whether any other entity strives to use them as fodder for their own operations. For me, the second split within entities revolves around their constitutive openness. It is not simply that no entity is ever exhausted when treated as fodder for the operations of another entity, but rather also that every entity is constitutively open to its future. Insofar as entities are both open and unfolding, they are irreducible to any of their local manifestations or actualizations. They always, as it were, have more to “say”. Every entity is a becoming that promises to become otherwise. This is why entities are not only strange strangers to other entities (as Levinas would have it), but are also strange strangers to themselves. Any state they happen to occupy or “be” is is only provisional, containing a residue and excess beyond any phallic or egoistic identification. The second mark of phallosophic thought would thereby be the reduction of entities to an identity or fixed series of qualities, refusing the manner in which every entity is always-already an open set where its qualities are concerned and the manner in which it is always-already ex-istent with respect to itself. The object is withdrawn because it is never present either for-itself or for-another. And it is never present for-itself or for-another because it is always and everywhere becoming. The object is a space-time worm. Here we encounter a withdrawal so abyssal that it moves beyond any epistemological limitation, inscribing itself in the very being of the object itself. It is for this reason that every entity deserves the name “strange stranger”.
And does this deserves the title of a queer ontology, in addition to the title of feminist ontology? On the one hand this ontology challenges the reign of all phallic signifiers that would situate themselves in the position of sovereign and kind by marking the space of that residue that escapes any phallic reference (the dismal philosophies of mastery that we so regularly witness at symposiums, so easily marked through their lack of humor and their claims to seriousness). Queer, however, is a strange term. Sometimes we have seen it set at odds with feminism, treating it as if it had a necessarily masculine reference, reinforcing the primacy of masculine logic. Yet queer, of course, recalls the strange– here we should think of Morton’s strange stranger –in much the same way that Lacan notes that Freud’s “un-canny”, Freud’s un-heimlich recalls that which undermines and subverts homeliness by being at the very heart of the homely. The queer marks the space of the masculine as masquerade qua masquerade, subverting this masquerade as it reveals it in the most serious yet parodic of fashions. And if this is the case, then it is because it reveals the sham that is masculinity or phallosophy by disclosing the stranger stranger at work in the heart of such masquerade, undermining the fiction that phallosophy enacts, and disclosing the relation that is a non-relation to the strange stranger. Such is the (non)-relational ethics, the posthuman ethics of difference, that onticology and dark ecology strive to think: an ethics where the “non” must be placed in parentheses precisely because it is oddly both a relation and the absence of relation, precisely because it is proximity and the impossibility of any proximity… Precisely because it is charade and seriousness.