An aside on games. Within the chiasmatic ontology (thank you Christopher Breu!) I’m trying to think, the point of overlap between the real and the symbolic in 3 can be illustrated with respect to games. Games are one way in which we encounter the materiality of the world, for there we encounter the interplay between chance and law. The rules of the game, along with the identity of the pieces or agents, are the symbolic dimension of the game. These rules produce a mesh covering a field in which the real can appear. Suppose we take the game of Quirkle.
Quirkle is a game similar to chess played with blocks that have shapes in different colors painted upon them (circles, squares, diamonds, stars, etc). Each player gets six blocks selected randomly from a bag at the beginning of the game. The objective is to accrue the most points by placing the blocks next to each other according to color or shape. You get points by either creating a row of up to six blocks of the same color or the same shape. For example, if you play two orange blocks during your turn, you get two points. If you place six blocks of the same color (a “quirkle”) you get 12 points. The caveat is that if you group blocks according to color your row cannot contain two blocks of the same shape (e.g., two yellow circles), and if you place blocks according to shape you can’t place blocks of the same color (two orange squares). The symbolic system therefore creates constraints– and is therefore a system of norms –even though the rules themselves have no causal power or efficacy. The symbolic is a grid in which the material (the blocks) is captured.
Each time a player places blocks out of the six from which they began, their store is replenished by being replaced by blocks taken at random or blindly from the sack (the game ends when all the blocks have been played). It is paradoxically here, through the operation of a rule, that we encounter the material or real within the game.
While it is the rule that issues the imperative (order-word) for the player the player to draw blocks from the bag, the rule does not tell us what blocks will be drawn (what color and shape they will be). The real here enters the game in the form of chance. It is not merely that each player encounters chance in playing against the opacity of the other player– her thoughts –and the non-knowledge of the pieces that she has in her queue, but also that ones own queue is replenished in an aleatory fashion or fashion that cannot be anticipated. The rules do not tell me what specific blocks will appear. In this regard we can return to Hegel on sense-certainty and his reflections on certainty. The real is that which the symbolic, the rules, cannot anticipate.
As a consequence, the players must reckon with chance. In one of his definitions, Lacan says that the real is a missed encounter. By this he means that the real is that which was not and could not have been anticipated. It is that for which the system of anticipations and retentions was not prepared. The player must respond to these eruptions of the real within the framework delineated by the rules. It is a question, in part, of how to respond to the real. We can thus imagine a converse game that wouldn’t be a game at all– a game that would be a pure symbolic game –in which there is no element of the real or the material. In such a game all of the pieces would be known and all the pieces would be given. We could call this “Laplace’s game”, for it is his vision of materialism where the position, velocity, and vector of every piece is known. Far from being a materialism, this would be a pure symbolic idealism, for the real appears at precisely that site where the symbolic encounters its “negative space”, its obverse, that which is not of the order of the signifier and its grammar.
In the first instance, the real is that which falls away from or escape the order of the symbolic. In terms of Lacanian discourse theory we can say that it is the product of the discourse of the master, the a.
S1 and S2 are the symbolic, the rules of the game and the system of categories; whereas a is that which erupt within the game in an expected or unanticipated fashion. It matters little whether we say that a is that which is lacking from the symbolic chain (S1 → S2) or whether it is in excess of the symbolic chain; whether it is the too little or the too much. What matters is that is that which is the obverse of the symbolic, its negative space, its anterior or tain. In this regard, it is not wrong to say with Graham Harman that the real is withdrawn. It is that which is not of the order of a conceptual scheme, and for this reason it requires an epistemology of the gesture or indication precisely because it is that which cannot be said. There are never enough words, nor are words ever enough. Moreover, the eruption of the real issues an imperative. We must respond to the real within the constraints of the symbolic or the rules of the game.
We can say that Quirkle is a well-controlled game. Within a game like Quirkle, the real is mastered or controlled. It indeed appears or erupts through the drawing of new pieces, but the symbolic grid (S1 → S2) is itself never touched. The rules of the game, its symbolic structure, remain the same and unscathed. For every eruption of the real there is a rule that delineates the move that may subsequently be made; except in those instances where the placement of the blocks in the field– the past or history –admits of no move in relation to the new pieces that have appeared. One must pass or trade in pieces. Perhaps this is part of the pleasure of games. They stage a controlled encounter with the real, with the aleatory, within a space where the reassuring orderliness of the symbolic remains intact. To be sure, one can lose but at least order remains. What I seek is that moment within the chiasm or knotting of the three orders where the eruption of the real leads to the reconfiguration of the symbolic order or the system of categories. In some respects, this is the converse of Kant’s problem of the schematism. Where Kant’s schematism seeks to account for how the synthesis of the symbolic (categories) and the real in aisthesis is accomplished, I am looking for that site where either aisthesis or the real disrupts the system of categories, preventing the collapse of the lived and real into our categorical schemes.