Last week I spoke of an uncanny encounter with a thing that suddenly appeared in my world out of nowhere.  I walked to my mailbox and had received a package (right), addressed to me, from Amazon.  I had not ordered this package, nor did it anywhere appear in my list of recent orders.  Moreover, there was no money subtracted from my bank account.  Above all, I had no idea what this thing was.  Clearly it displayed some human use, some “equipmentality”, but what its function might be was entirely mysterious to me.  This thing appeared out of nowhere, yet here it was…  A hole in my world.

I compared this experience to Heidegger’s discussion of the broken tool in Division I of Being and Time.  However, the flavor of this encounter was markedly different than that of having one of your pieces of equipment break.  Where the broken tool has the effect of bringing the entire network of equipmentality into relief, thereby disclosing the world of significance or meaning that is ordinarily invisible, this encounter didn’t so much bring the world of signifying relations into relief, but rather opened a sort of void or gap in the world of meaning, the symbolic, disclosing the operation of something else that is not of this world.

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I called this “something else” the “earth”.  While the earth is the condition for all that is, while there is nothing without the earth, the earth is nonetheless most often swallowed up by the world.  The world is like a net cast over the earth in much the same way that we trace longitudinal and latitudinal lines on a map of the globe.  We treat those lines as if they were reality, even though they are nowhere to be found, and these lines serve to orient us and define spaces and locations wherever we might be.  Keeping with the analogy, the world is a system of signification– the symbolic –thrown over the earth; and in being thrown over the earth it comes to be thought as identical to the earth.  We come to treat the world as total, such that there is nothing else.  However, every so often, something of the earth erupts into the world, challenging the totalization of the world and indicating that there is something else, something other, that is not of the order of signification.  The world, we discover in these moments, is not-all.  We think that Newton is sufficient to describe all motion and then we run afoul of the irregular orbit of Mercury.

There is something uncanny, disturbing about such moments.  Here something had appeared in my world that had no place in my world.  A gap, a hole, had opened up.  In this connection, I cannot help but think of Lacan’s discussion of the unconscious in “Position of the Unconscious”.  There he writes,

this is not unsolvable– assuming the “open sesame” of the unconscious consists in having speech effects, since it is linguistic in structure– but requires that the analyst reexamine the way in which it closes.

What we have to account for is a gap, beat, or alternating suction, to follow some of Freud’s indications, and that is what I have proceeded to do in grounding the unconscious in a topology.

The structure of what closes is, indeed, inscribed in a geometry in which space is reduced to a combinatory:  it is what is called an “edge” in topology.   (E, 711)

While the sort of hole that I’m describing here is not a formation of the unconscious, it nonetheless has speech effects.  Signifiers begin to swirl around these holes in the world, arranging themselves in an attempt to fill that hole or lacuna that has opened up.  In the passage above, Lacan describes the hole of the unconscious as possessing a sort of suction; and what is the suction of these holes if not a sort of gravity that pulls signifiers, scraps of the symbolic, into their orbit?  In this regard, those holes that appear as a result of the eruption of the earth into the world do say something of the subject’s unconscious.  In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan will remark that “…[w]hat the unconscious does is to show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real…” (22).

Signifiers begin to swirl around the hole instituted by the real, recreating a harmony with that real; reinstituting the world that has been challenged.  The Newtonians set about searching for hidden bodies that would provide the mass to account of Mercury’s irregular orbit.  Perhaps there’s a hidden moon, they thought.  During the Middle Ages many concluded that the Black Death was punishment for the sins of humanity or the end times.  Faced with fire mysteriously and unexpectedly raining down from the skies, the survivors of Sodom and Gomorrah concluded that they were being punished for– in the Jewish interpretation –failing to practice the proper rites and duties of hospitality toward the stranger.  And, in my own case, signifiers began to swirl around this sucking hole, striving to re-establish the world against the earth.  I wrote of Heidegger, Lacan, and Derrida, striving to theorize this uncanny encounter.  I’m doing so again and again.  I wondered if a friend had sent this thing to me as a sort of encrypted message (perhaps they were playing Diogenese the Cynic to Plato, saying that I need to attend more to my body by climbing mountains– it’s a piece of climbing equipment, I think).  Or perhaps they were saying that I need to symbolically or metaphorically climb mountains, like a sort of Zarathustra in reverse (Zarathustra comes down the mountain).  Or maybe someone has stolen my identity.  Or maybe it was a simple mistake.  Signifiers swirled around this hole that had opened in the world; around this little bit of the real.

It turns out that the real (pardon the pun) explanation was far less interesting, but, in a certain sense, far more amusing.  A couple days ago I noticed that the package was addressed to “Levi Paul Bryant”.  This meant that it had to come from someone I know on Facebook because I only use this name on Facebook.  I recalled that days ago Geoffrey Bennington– one of our premier Derrideans –had generously offered to send me a copy of his latest book as it is relevant to questions I was raising about rhetoric (which I intend to get back to soon).  I messaged him to see whether he had perhaps sent me this piece of climbing equipment by mistake, and he, like myself, was baffled by the thing and wondered what it was.  However, it turned out that Amazon had gotten his order wrong.

I confess that when we finally figured out what had happened I was left laughing hysterically for a long time.  Cecily thought I had gone insane and smiled at me in amusement.  I had been eagerly awaiting Geoffrey’s book as an opportunity for an encounter and to think.  And indeed, Geoffrey, through a sort of tuchegave me this gift, though not as he intended.  His action caused my signifiers to swirl, leading me to think the uncanny and this relation between the world and the earth.  But, above all, it was our respective theoretical orientations that brought about my relieved mirth.  I could not help but think of Lacan’s aphorism from his “Seminar on the Purloined Letter” where he notoriously says “the letter always arrives at its destination” and Derrida’s question, in Glas, “what if the letter does not arrive?”  I could not stop thinking of all the references to the postage system in Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49, and how signifiers came to circulate in an almost paranoid fashion around the mysterious sign of the bugle.    I thought of all these dense theoretical references to letters and the postage system and laughed joyously, and could not stop laughing, at how my encounter with Bennington had enmeshed me in the reality of these theorizations.  Geoffrey, through no fault of his own, had turned me into a ranger, swept along by eddies of the signifier in an encounter with the real.  And perhaps, in this regard, both Lacan and Derrida were both right:  the letter arrived at its destination by virtue of the formations it evoked in my unconscious through an encounter with the earth or the real, but only because the letter did not arrive.  True to the title of his book, Bennington scattered my signifiers.