Speech


This evening, while grading piles of essay quizzes and logic exams– with many more yet to go –I happened to catch a documentary on spree killers. Spree killers, of course, are people that go on killing sprees, killing a large number of people. As the show attempted to explain this phenomenon, it made reference to a psychological study done at a university (sadly the name and researcher escapes me), on this very phenomenon. The thesis– not a particularly elaborate or well developed one –is that people who have suffered continuous and constant rejection are especially prone to spree killing. In order to test this hypothesis (without producing the same result!), the psychologists called for groups of students to participate in an experiment. As usual, the students were not told what the experiment was for or were given a different account of what the experiment was about. First they would tell the students that they were going to work in groups to do a particular task. They then spoke to each of the participants in private, telling them either 1) that everyone else in the group had requested to work with them, or 2) no one wanted to work with them.

In order to determine the effects of this rejection, they had the students do word games on a computer, filling in the missing letters of words that would appear on screen. Thus, for example, a word such as “m r” or “s b” would appear on the screen and the student would be asked to fill in the first letters that came to mind. Not surprisingly, those students who had been rejected were more likely to turn the words into violent words like “murder” or “stab”, rather than say “slab”. As an additional level of this experiment, groups of two students would then do sound testing together, where they had the ability to raise the volume of their partner’s earphones to painful levels. Again, not surprisingly, those students who had been told they were rejected by everyone often raised the volume to the highest possible levels. The conclusion of the experiment, of course, is the rather obvious point that rejection generates violent and murderous thoughts that actively seek to negate the supposed “rejecters”.

What I find interesting in this experiment is not the light it sheds on spree killers, but on certain rhetorical encounters. Those familiar with Lacan will readily recognize the conflictual nature of the dimension of the Imaginary at work in this experiment, where two people enter into a struggle for recognition that can spiral out of control. Of course, Lacan’s imaginary is more sophisticated than what the experiment assumes, as the Lacanian would point out that in order for rejection to produce this sort of effect there must be a prior identification with the rejecter. That is, I must already recognize myself as either being like the person rejecting me or as desiring the recognition of the person rejecting me for these results to ensue. I do not, for instance, find myself upset if I’m rejected by members of the Ku Klux Klan or members of the Hal Bop cult. It is only those I already identify with who instill these violent impulses in me. Perhaps this is what Freud had in mind when referring to the “narcissism of minor differences” in Civilization and its Discontents, where the two groups are very much alike (Simpsons fans will think of the rivalry between Shelbyville and Springfield), yet find some minor difference to fight over that seems blown out of all proportions.

When I am rejected by those with whom I consciously or unconsciously identify at some level, my ego or specular identity is itself cut to the core, as like an onion I have constructed this identity or ego from out of my identification, thereby rendering it dependent on those who reflect me, such that my very being is endangered when it is rejected. I seek to strike back to destroy the gaze from which I see myself as myself, thereby hoping to re-establish or re-ground my identity. However, as Lacan points out, this dialectic is doomed to failure for if I am successful in destroying the other through whom I reflect myself I am not longer reflected and thereby cease to exist as well. It is a catch-22. In being rejected I cease to exist. In destroying my rejector, I cease to exist. Yet, I am dependent on my other in order to exist. (Here I am making a highly condensed allusion to Lacan’s dialectic of the forced choice between being and thinking in his account of alienation and separation. This, of course, would only refer to the alienation portion of that dialectic).

It seems that we encounter these rhetorical situations primarily in discussions about politics, academic debates about theoretical positions, interpretations, ownership of master-theoreticians, etc., and religion. In these cases, both groups involved seem to experience themselves as being marginalized and rejected, and then strike out to destroy their opponents. It is at this point that we get the cascade of rhetorical effects, where the opponent’s being is severely simplified and they are reduced to a malignant, evil other without any other possible merit, where ad hominems come into play, and where we strike out to completely obliterate the person we’re engaged in debate with. For the most part, I do not think the abusive rhetorical fallacies result from a conscious desire to willfully deceive, but rather they are almost like computer programs that are activated when certain conditions in the imaginary are ripe. Just as a strong gravitational field around a massive celestial object like the sun will produce an aberration in [Newtonian] bodies for closely orbiting planets (the famous shift in the planet Mercury), so too will these distortions of thought ineluctably emerge under certain ripe conditions in the imaginary. Similarly, a number of the other psychological fallacies will emerge when dealing with issues around which our libido, our desire, is tightly bound, leading us to either ignore certain things, turn other things into strawmen, be overly optimistic, etc.

I do not know what, if anything, can be done about this. It seems to me that there is a bit of an antinomy at work here at the place of sites of contestation. Politics, religion, and theory are all sites of struggle and conflict. They require taking positions and rejecting other positions. Yet by the same token, they are sites of dialogue. For me, the question is how these two things can be thought together in such a way as to minimize the antagonism that so commonly emerges around them. I suppose there’s a parallax here. I do not at all have the answers, though I continuously find this phenomenon frustrating, mystifying, and exceedingly painful.

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In his forward to Anti-Oedipus, Foucault points out that fighting fascism does not simply consist in fighting fascist social organizations, but rather it above all consists in fighting the fascism within: Our own fascist desires. In this vein, I’ve begun to notice that I think all of you are lunatics. That’s right, I think you’re all absolutely crazy, off the wall, and completely nuts. I’m not proud of this, and it certainly doesn’t make me a very good Lacanian. After all, as Lacan says at the end of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, the desire of the analyst is not a pure desire, but is rather a desire for absolute difference. The thought that makes me shudder, the thought that makes my stomach burn with acid, is the thought that I don’t desire difference.

Of course I can say abstractly that I desire difference, that I aim for difference, that I would like to promote difference. But the simple fact that I, for the most part, encounter each and every person that I talk to as being mad reveals, I think, the truth. I confuse the symptoms of others– or better yet, the sinthomes of others, their unique way of getting jouissance –with insanity. I am confusing difference with madness. What I am interpreting as madness– in my bones, in my gut, in the fibers of my being –is in fact difference. And, of course, if I think all of you are mad in your desires, your fixations, your obsessions, your persistant fears, themes, and anxieties, then this must mean that I believe myself to be sane. That’s right, I must believe myself to be normal and healthy. Yet in reflecting on my day to day life, with the way I obsess, the things that I fixate on, the dark fantasies that sometimes inhabit me, the way I don’t allow myself to sleep or enjoy, the varied forms of abuse I heap on my body, and so on, I can hardly say that I am a model of health. No, I don’t have a particularly nice sinthome. I don’t suppose that this is a sinthome that many would want or care to exchange with me. Of course, as Lacan says in Seminar 23: The Sinthome, we are only ever interested in our own symptoms… Which is another way of saying that we never hear the symptoms of others. The symptoms of others are always filtered through our own symptoms.

Perhaps this is “progress”. Perhaps the fact that it is dawning on me that what I so often consider a bit of madness in other persons is really difference or an encounter with otherness qua otherness, is in a way, a traversing of the fantasy, such that I’m recognizing that the frame through which I view the world is just that: a frame. Yet no matter how ashamed I am to admit it as it thoroughly undermines any “theory cred” I might posses (which is scant, to be sure), I wonder if I will ever be able to desire difference. It is one thing to recognize that what one takes as madness is an alternative organization of jouissance. It is quite another thing to find the other’s jouissance tolerable or desirable.

I notice just now, as I write the preceding sentence, that I have not capitalized “other”. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, of course, the typographical convention between “Other” and “other”, makes a vast difference, as “Other” refers to, among other things, the abyss of others or the inscrutability of their desire. The neurotic attempts to convert the desire of the Other into the demand of the Other so as to escape an anxiety producing encounter with the enigma of the Other’s desire. By contrast, “other” refers to the semblable in the imaginary, the logic of identity, or what I take as being the same as myself. The other is my sense that others are like me or the same as me. This failure to capitalize thus marks the work of repression in these ruminations, as it marks a disavowal of the Otherness of the other or the recoil I experience when confronted with the Other’s sinthome. Is it truly possible, I wonder, to ever desire the difference of the Other, or is this simply impressive sounding talk? Perhaps there are others that truly desire Otherness and I’m simply a fascist pig. Lacan liked to poke fun at philosophy, calling it a paranoid discourse striving to establish a regime of the same and identical: The hegemony of the imaginary, striving for the whole, completeness, and an eradication of difference. Perhaps my sickness has been produced by philosophy, or perhaps my sickness, my inability to desire difference, is what has drawn me to philosophy. I would like to stop thinking everyone is insane. Or perhaps it’s just my singular misfortune to attract the company of people who really are lunatics!

Every semester I begin my introductory courses with Plato’s Euthyphro. There are a number of reasons for this. On the one hand, the Euthyphro is exemplary as a model of philosophical analysis, argumentation, and critique. On the other hand, this dialogue stages the manner in which action and belief interpenetrate, such that actions are based on beliefs and false belief leads to false action. Additionally, there are geographical reasons as well. Teaching in the Dallas Texas area– home of the megachurch and the central hub of apocalyptic variants of Evangelical Christianity –teaching the Euthyphro exposes students to questions of religion and faith that perhaps they have never before encountered. Finally, the Euthyphro inaugurates some basic and fundamental distinctions as to how all subsequent ethical and political philosophy will be conducted. However, it is also possible to see the Euthyphro as a criticism of ideology and as a sort of therapy strategically designed to both reveal Euthyphro’s attachments and precipitate a separation from those attachments. Socrates aims at nothing less than producing a sort of void in Euthyphro… A void, perhaps, that would have the effect of producing the possibility of freedom.
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In my previous post I spoke of how Lacan’s Borromean knot can be mapped on to Adorno’s sorting of concepts, remainders, and the whole in terms of the symbolic, the real, and the imaginary, yet I strangely said nothing of the fourth loop in Lacan’s Borromean knot. Compare Lacan’s original version of the Borromean knot, with the one I presented yesterday… A knot that Lacan somewhere refers to as the “Lacanian knot”. If we examine the original version of the Borromean knot depicted on the right, we notice that the three orders are linked together in such a way that if any one of the rings are cut, the other two fall away. This, then, would be a model for psychosis. The cutting of one of the rings leads the structural relations among the orders to fall apart. In yet another poorly drawn depiction of this version of the knot– I call it poor as it fails to show how the knots are tied together –we see how the Borromean knot can be used to locate the various forms of jouissance that we encounter in the clinic– JA or the jouissance of the Other, a or surplus-jouissance, and J-phi or phallic jouissance –which allows us to localize the various forms of jouissance involved in the symptom and allows us to devise techniques for properly handling these forms of jouissance.

With the so-called “Lacanian knot”, everything changes. As Colette Soler puts it,

[The]… Borromean clinic not only involves a reformulation of traditional clinical issues, but also introduces new categories of symptomatology… These diagnoses relied no only on the three categories of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real that he already had at his disposal, but also crucially dependend on the three modes of jouissance: the Jouissance of the letter as One [JA], the jouissance in the chain of meaning, and the jouissance which can be said to be Real because it exists as a subtraction from the two preceding ones. In light of these distinctions, it is not enough to say that the symptom is a mode of jouissance; one must define which mode, and thus produce a new declension of grammar of symptoms according to the jouissance that gives them consistency. Then one will be able to speak of Borromean symptoms in the case where the three consistencies and the three jouissances are bound (neurosis and perversion), of symptoms that are not Borromean (psychosis) and others still that simply repair a flaw of the knot. For this last type of symptom, using the example of Joyce, Lacan produced the new category of the sinthome, which he used afterwards in a more general way. (The Cambridge Companion to Lacan, “The Paradoxes of the Symptom in Psychoanalysis”, 94)

With the Lacanian knot the first thing we observe is that a new ring has appeared, labelled Sigma, the matheme for the sinthome, and that the three rings of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real are no longer tied to one another as in the case of the original Borromean knot. Rather, Sigma, the sinthome, supplements the three rings, binding them together despite the fact that they aren’t tied, repairing the flaw in original knotting. As Soler notes, an entirely new symptomology opens up as a result of this new knot, for now we can imagine scenerios in which not only the three orders are untied from one another, but where one order is tied to another– such as the symbolic to the imaginary or the imaginary to the real –while neither are tied to the third. Sigma then intervenes to make up for this deficit, this lack of a tie, and can repair the lack of a relation in a variety of ways. As J.A. Miller notes, the shift from the Borromean knot to the Lacanian knot marks a fundamental shift in Lacan’s thought about the symptom, for now we have a generalized theory of the symptom– A theory where everything, as it were, becomes a symptom, including the name(s)-of-the-father. As a prelude to this development in Seminar 23, The Sinthome, Lacan will declare in Seminar 22, RSI, that “there is no subject without a symptom”. This new symptomology is largely unexplored to date and is fertile ground for productive clinical and theoretical work.

Unlike traditional psychotherapeutic approaches, Lacan, like Freud, begins with the thesis that the symptom is a solution and a form of satisfaction. The symptom is not a alien invader preventing the subject from attaining normality, nor is it a disease to be cured through medication. In this regard, there is no “normal” or “healthy” subject, and it is a mistake to believe that the aim of psychoanalysis is to cure someone from their neurosis, perversion, or psychosis. These are fundamental stances of subjectivity defining the relationship of the subject to the Other and jouissance, not diseases.

The question that thus begs to be asked is what leads the analysand to enter analysis at all? If the symptom is a form of satisfaction, if it is a solution, why does the analysand enter analysis? In Negative Dialectics, Adorno remarks that,

If a stroke of undeserved luck has kept the mental composition of some individuals not quite adjusted to the prevailing norms– a stroke of luck they have often enough to pay for in their relations with their environment –it is up to these individuals to make the moral and, as it were, representative effort to say what most of those for whom they say it cannot see or, to do justice to reality, will not allow themselves to see. Direct communicability to everyone is not a criterion of truth. We must resist the all but universal compulsion to confuse the communication of knowledge with knowledge itself, and to rate it higher, if possible– whereas at present each communicative step is falsifying truth and selling out. (41)

Here Adorno seems to speak of a sort of privileged experience, a sort of person embodying a failure in the social order, as the place from which critique can emerge. In my brief gloss on the Borromean knot, I did not discuss the forth loop represented by the greek letter “Sigma”, which denotes the symptom holding together the other three strings. In psychoanalysis the symptom is that form of sense-laden enjoyment that holds the psychic-system together, compensating for the frustrations that occur as a result of socialization and is a way of attaining satisfaction by other means. For instance, drawing on a favorite example of obsessional jouissance from Freud, rather than masturbating, I wash my hands hundreds of times a day (a form of phallic jouissance, insofar as it’s not dependent on the Other). Handwashing comes to serve a dual function– On the one hand, it functions as a substitute for my masturbatory desire. However, on the other hand, it bows to the punishing demands of the super-ego, by marking the “uncleanliness” of my desire and punishing me for my transgression (my hands become painfully raw and cracked). “But you haven’t transgressed if you don’t actually masturbate.” Recall that the unconscious makes no such distinction, that the primary process knows no difference between reality and fantasy– I am every bit as guilty of my fantasized acts as I am of my actual acts.

Similarly we can speak of social-symptoms as serving a like role, such as the Jew in anti-Semitism serving the function of marking the place of failed utopian aspirations and the overcoming of antagonism, while allowing the social order to maintain itself and reproduce its identity by maintaining extant social relations through persecuting the Jew rather than directly targeting the social system itself. My social space is riddled with contradictions and conflicts. An ideology or community never delivers exactly what it promises, but always brings with it disappointment and requires sacrifice on my part. I cannot live among others and act directly on my jouissance, but must either defer jouissance as can be seen in the crass example of toilet training where I no longer go immediately, or sacrifice certain forms of jouissance altogether. Of course, jouissance itself is indestructable, which means that sacrifice is impossible and the sacrificed jouissance will always return in some other form. The point is that even though I experience frustration and antagonism with regard to whatever social field I identify, my very identity, my very being, is nonetheless dependent on this identification. Consequently, there is little choice to surrender these identifications. The figure of the Jew thus functions as the supplement that allows me to exercise (in both the literal sense of “act” and the figurative religious sense of an exorcism) my antagonism to the social order. I simultaneously punish myself for the jouissance I possess through my persecution of the Jew (I covertly identify with the Jew as with myself, attributing my own disavowed jouissance to him), fantasize that somewhere someone enjoys (the Jew is seen as enjoying what I have sacrificed), fantasize that my social order that I resent is persecuted by this foreign invader thereby providing myself with the enjoyment I would like to possess in attacking that order, and treat the Jew as a figure that would allow my social order complete enjoyment were I to destroy him. The symptom is an overdetermined supplement that renders my relation to this order tolerable.

Another glaring example would be Mel Gibson’s pornographic film The Passion. It is not difficult to notice that Gibson is just a bit too fascinated with the suffering of the Christ, that the focus on Christ’s torture has the status of a snuff film, as if compensating for the overly repressive dimension of Pauline Christianity, and covertly taking revenge on this body of doxa and these attitudes towards sexuality nowhere genuinely present in the Gospels themselves or the “red script” of Jesus, by imagining the worst possible suffering descending upon He who is responsible for this. Perhaps proof of this is the fact that the content of the Gospels, Christ’s actual words and teachings, strangely fall under the bar of repression and are notably absent, as if Christ’s death, not his life, were all that mattered. Such a fantasy simultaneously allows one to exact their pound of flesh or revenge for their sacrifice in entering the Catholic church or the Pauline community, while also reaffirming their commitment to the very community that is the source of their dissatisfaction, through the guilt they seek to overcome in enjoying the spectacle of this suffering.

When an analysis begins it is always of vital importance to determine what precipitated the person’s entrance into analysis. From a normal psycho-therapeutic perspective this is paradoxical, as we normally think of therapy as aiming at “curing the symptoms”. Under this view, one seeks treatment for their symptom. However, from the analytic perspective, a person enters analysis precisely at that point where their symptom fails, where it no longer provides the “satisfaction” it once provided (even if a painful satisfaction), when the person encounters the real that the symptom was designed to clothe and “metabolize”. Adorno here seems to speak of something similar at the social level… The critic, as maladjusted individual, is that one who has had an encounter beyond the social symptom, where the symptom allowing individuals to maintain their relations has collapsed and something other has peaked through, revealing that the social system is “not-all”, pas-tout, riddled by underlying antagonisms that ideology and symptoms struggle to hide from view and gentrify. Analysis begins where the symptom fails. This too would be the case with social and philosophical analysis. Is it a mistake that social theorists and philosophers have so often come from the interstices, the gaps, and the non-places of various empires? In this case, the thinker would be the real of the symptom embodied.

The last few days have left me feeling despondant and without a thought in the world, though I’m dreaming a good deal, which must, from an analytic point of view, mean that I’m doing some serious thinking. I feel as if my brain has fallen out of my ear. Last night’s dream involved an old friend Dan, who first introduced me to philosophy in highschool, holding a German luger pistol to my head and laughing as I squirmed. I wonder what that’s all about. In the dream it turns out that after all these years he still works at Long John Silver’s as a fry cook. My father has such a gun… Hmmm.

At any rate, in my quest to better understand the series of critical questions that N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has been posing vis a vis the conditions for the possibility of critique, I’ve returned to Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, a text that always, for some reason, fills me with guilt… The guilt of a missed encounter. Just in traversing the first few pages, I can see why N.Pepperell has been intrigued by a good deal of the work I’ve been doing here, as much of Adorno resonates closely with Lacan and Zizek. The following remarks are more placeholders than anything else, designed to forge a sort of translation device or lexicon, rather than to propose an argument. Of course, any translation is already an interpretation, so perhaps I should bear that in mind.

In a striking remark that cannot fail to ring significantly to the Lacanian ear, Adorno claims that,

The name of dialectics says no more, to begin with, than that objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder, that they come to contradict the traditional norm of adequacy… It indicates the untruth of identity, the fact that the concept does not exhaust the thing conceived.

Yet the appearance of identity is inherent in thought itself, in its pure form. To think is to identify. Conceptual order is content to screen what thinking seeks to comprehend. The semblance and the truth of thought entwine. The semblance cannot be decreed away, as by avowal of a being-in-itself outside the totality of cogitative definitions… Aware that the conceptual totality is mere appearance, I have no way but to break immanently, in its own measure, through the appearance of total identity. Since that totality is structured to accord with logic, however, whose core is the principle of the excluded middle, whatever will not fit this principle, whatever differs in quality, comes to be designated as a contradiction. Contradiction is nonidentity under the aspect of identity; the dialectical primary of the principle of contradiction makes the thought of unity the measure of heterogeneity. (5)

This is perhaps the pithiest expression of the Lacanian borromean knot between the symbolic, the real, and the imaginary I have ever encountered. I have never been particularly fond of the term “imaginary” in Lacanian psychoanalysis, as it too readily lends itself to common usages suggesting what is false or imagined, whereas for Lacan the imaginary pertains to the dimension of the image, of our identification with our bodily image that always differs from the lived body of movement, that we can never fully assume or be identical with. Of course, this is part of the point in Lacan’s use of language: It is a pedagogy that teaches the difference between signifier and signified, of their radical discontinuity, and that enjoins us not to assume the signified as inherently attached to the signifier, but to look for it among those signifiers immanently attached to it in a text or the speech of an analysand. The imaginary is the domain of identification, and marks our yearning for completeness, wholeness, totality, and identity. Dylan Evans puts it nicely in his Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis,

The basis of the imaginary order continues to be the formation of the ego in the mirror stage. Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, identification is an important aspect of the imaginary order. The ego and the counterpart form the protypical dual relationship, and are interchangeable. This relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification with the little other [the mirror image or image of another person] means that the ego, and the imaginary order itself, are both sites of a radical alienation; ‘aleination is constitutive of the imaginary order’ (S3, 146) [we are alienated insofar as we are never identical to the image, hence the identification generates rivalry and aggressivity as can often be witnessed in the blogosphere when various bloggers go to war with one another in thinly veiled struggles for prestige and recognition]. The dual relationship between the ego and the counterpart is fundamentally narcissistic, and narcissism is another characteristic of the imaginary order. Narcissism is always accompanied by a certain aggressivity. The imaginary is the realm of image and imagination, deception and lure [deception insofar as I confuse myself with what I am not, my frozen image]. The principle illusions of the imaginary are those of wholeness, synthesis, autonomy, duality and above all, similarity [images appear whole, whereas language and movement are not]. The imaginary is thus the order of surface appearances which are deceptive, observable phenomena which hide underlying structure; the affects are such phenomena. (82)

Returning then to Adorno, then, the concept can loosely be translated into the domain of the symbolic, while the totality or whole can be translated into the domain of the Lacanian imaginary. As Adorno will say a few pages later, “No object is wholly known; knowledge is not supposed to prepare the phantasm of the whole” (14). Those philosophical systems that present the whole such as, for instance, Whitehead, can be situated as the symbolic under the dominion of the imaginary. They fantasize an image without remainder, without blindspot or tain, without gaze before which they dance. And it is remarkable that variants of holism so often paradoxically generate aggressivity.

The real then, of course, would be the remainder that resists conceptualization. This remainder seems to function in a two-fold way. When Adorno suggests that to think is to identify, he immediately seems to back up, expressing hesitation, treating this remainder as the motor that propels the imaginary yearning for identification. It is precisely because the object differs from itself, that thought strives to identify. A perfect identity would leave no space, no gap, calling for the thing to be thought. The thing would reside purely within itself, never producing the distance that calls for it to be thought. It is only insofar as identity already is minimally indifferent that we’re driven to try to identify. As Hegel puts it in an important passage in the Logic (and I think Adorno is pretty far off the mark in his interpretation of Hegel),

This proposition in its positive expression A = A is, in the first instance, nothing more than the expression of an empty tautology. It has therefore been rightly remarked that this law of thought has no content and leads no further. It is thus the empty identity that is rigidly adhered to by those who take it, as such, to be something true and are given to saying that identity is not difference, but that identity and difference are different. They do not see that in this very assertion they are themselves saying that identity is different; for they are saying that identity is different from difference; since this must at the same time be admitted to be the nature of identity, their assertion implies that identity, not externally, but in its own self, in its very nature, is this, to be different. (413)

Hegel goes on to argue that the contradiction embodied in the principle of identity is not simply that identity is different from difference– though this is true as well –but immanent to identity itself as a contradiction or difference between form and content. At the level of form, any proposition of the form “x is…” calls for a predicate that enriches the subject with some new content. For instance, I say a “pen is a utensil”. However, at the level of content, all we get is “A is A”, such that the predicate gives us no additional content, but merely repeats, tautologously, the initial subject. What we thus get is a marking of the difference betwen form and content. It is precisely because the content fails that we are able to become aware of the form of this species of propositions. Thus, even in the most formal presentation of identity already contains the elusive remainder within it or its own resistance to complete conceptualizations or symbolization.

We might begin from an epistemic stance, arguing that this remainder is a deficiency in thought, a deficiency in knowledge, that could perhaps be surmounted by gaining more information and understanding. Here the world, in-itself, would be free of such remainders and would be complete. It would simply be a matter of a disadequation between thought and being. However, in a vein very similar to Zizek’s, Adorno goes on to claim that in fact it is the world itself that is antagonistic, that doesn’t have the smooth functioning of the signifier (when conceived under the dominion of the imaginary):

However, varied, the anticipation of moving in contradictions throughout seems to teach a mental totality– the very identity thesis we have just rendered inoperative. The mind which ceaselessly reflects on contradiction in the thing itself, we hear, must be the thing itself it is to be organized in the form of contradiction; the truth which in idealistic dialectics drives beyond every particular, as onesided and wrong, is the truth of the whole, and if that were not preconcieved, the dialectical step would lack motivation and direction. We have to answer that the object of a mental experience is an antagnoistic system in itself– antagonistic in reality, not just in conveance to the knowing subject that rediscovers itself therein…

…Regarding the concrete utopian possibility, dialectics is the ontology of the wrong state of things. The right state of things would be free of it: neither a system nor a contradiction. (10-11)

The obvious target here is Hegel, who Adorno portrays as the thinker of a complete and whole system where everything has its place. However, when Hegel speaks of absolute knowledge, it is precisely this antagonism, this remainder, reflected back into the thing itself (rather than the knowing subject) that he is speaking of. Put a bit differently, reality is already dialectical in itself, or just is this tension between the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. The real is the undoing of any totality, but is also the motor that drives towards totality. Therefore it has an ambiguous status.

I realize here that I am only repeating points that I’ve already made to N.Pepperell: That the non-identity of identity is the necessary but not sufficient condition for critique, that it is what accounts for how critique is possible in the first place. However, it is a first step, I think, in unfolding the question of self-reflexivity, or accounting for the conditions for the possibility of a critical subject. What is needed in addition to this is a socio-historical account of the conceptual web such a subject swims in at a particular juncture… A conceptual web that must already be non-identical to itself to be recognized as such. Additionally, my interest in all of this, revolves around questions of how it is possible to philosophically appropriate psychoanalysis and various other forms of social theory drawing on some explicit or implicit notion of the unconscious. These forms of thought remain dogmatic so long as they are baldly or empirically asserted as is so often the case. Moreover, it is clear that philosophical stances based on the primacy of the classical subject such as those found in Descartes or Husserl, are inadequate in dealing with anything resembling the unconscious or social systems. Finally, embedded approaches such as Heidegger’s or Merleau-Ponty’s seem to inevitably lead to mystical obscurantism. What a dialectical approach provides is precisely the means of thinking the identity of identity and difference… And what is the unconscious but that “Other scene” that differs from identity but which I nonetheless am?

Apologies for the scattered and random remarks.

The last few days I’ve been rather amiss in blogging. I’ve been heavily immersed in research and just haven’t had much time to write. Happily, however, I received a call for an on-campus interview today. Hopefully it won’t be the last such call.

In a rather pointed post, Kenneth Rufo responds to one of my queries as to how it is possible to be influenced. Kenneth quotes me from my Forcing the Event entry, where I write,

I think this really gets to the core of the issue. To put it in Kantian terms: “What are the conditions for the possibility of being influenced.” I’ve seen some work done among the systems theory that’s promising in that it analyzes the manner in which systems are selectively open to their environment, but the problem here, I think, is that there’s a tendency among systems theorists to place too much emphasis on the agency and autonomy of the system to the detriment of the environment. In many instances I did not explicitly choose my own influences, yet I wasn’t simply a passive formation of pre-existent influences either.

To this Kenneth responds,

You know, there is a field that actually spends a fair amount of time on this exact question: rhetoric. It’s got a long tradition, it precedes philosophy, and there’s a subfield that deals with social movements, though I can’t speak to the quality of that scholarship. For particular people you might enjoy, I suppose I’m obligated to suggest Kenneth Burke, though he’s hardly my cup of tea. I’d also recommend a few contemporary scholars: Celeste Condit (she’s done some ideographic studies of abortion, genetics, and a few other topics), Barb Biesecker (articles more than book, though her Addressing Postmodernity is pretty good), Michael Hyde (more of an ethical, Levinas/Heidegger influenced version of rhetoric), John Durham Peters (his Speaking Into the Air is masterful), and Christine Harold (who’s book OurSpace comes out in April). I can be more specific if you have a particular example of symbolic structuration you’re grappling with, or if you can clarify what such a structuration might be in practice. Not that rhetoricians have any particularly final answer, but it might be useful to look at the stuff. As for the dialectical arrangement you’re alluding to, I’d at least advocate some engagement with Bourdieu, since his theory of structuration is predicated on a conception of agency as a dialectic between habitus and agent.

I think, perhaps, Kenneth here misses the focus of my original question and elides two distinct concepts: The concept of influence and the concept of persuasion. While these two concepts are interrelated, they are nonetheless distinct and respond to different issues. It is impossible for me to be persuaded without being influenced, however, I can quite easily be influenced without it being a matter of persuasion. What is at issue here are questions about the selective openness of organizations to the world. That is, an organization, whether it be a biological organism, a subject, a social system, etc., is only selectively open to the world and thus can only be selectively influenced. For instance, I am unable to perceive ultra-violet light.

As I see it, one of the central assumptions of vulger historicist approaches is the idea that we are unilaterially conditioned by an environment. That is, the idea is that we’re born in an environment and somehow this environment makes us what we are. This view is common, for instance, to both Foucault and Bourdieu. What this account of individuation misses is the way in which subjects are only selectively open to an environment such that there’s a way in which we always choose our cultural and historical influences. Zizek expresses this point brilliantly in Tarrying With the Negative through the lense of Hegel’s “doctrine of essence” in the science of logic. There Zizek writes that,

Another way to exemplify this logic of ‘positing the presuppositions’ is the spontaneous ideological narrativization of our experience and activity: whatever we do, we always situate it in a larger symbolic context which is charged with conferring meaning upon our acts. A Serbian fighting Muslim Albanians and Bosnians in today’s ex-Yugoslavia conceives of his fight as the last act in the centuries-old defense of Christian Europe against Turkish penetration; the Bolsheviks conceived of the October Revolution as the continuation and successful conclusion of all previous radical popular uprisings, from Sparticus in ancient Rome to Jacobins in the French Revolution (this narrativization is tacitly assumed even by some critics of Bolshevism who, for example, speak of the ‘Stalinist Thermidor’); the Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea or the Sendero Luminoso in Perud conceive of their movement as a return to the old glory of an ancient empire (Inca’s empire in Peru, the old Khmer kingdom in Cambodia); etc. The Hegelian point to be made is that such narratives are always retroactive reconstructions for which we are in a way responsible; they are never simple given facts: we can never refer to them as a found condition, context, or presupposition of our activity. Precisely as presuppositions, such narratives are always-already ‘posited’ by us. Tradition is tradition insofar as we constitute it as such. (126-7)

The point here is subtle but important: The subject is never simply a product of history or the result of conditioning, but rather posits those conditions through which it might be influenced and constitute itself. Or, where the writing of history is concerned, there is always an invisible subject– invisible insofar as there is no signifier for the subject –that posits x as history. Along these lines, my dear friend Melanie enjoys poking fun at me for my psychoanalytic narratives here on Larval Subjects, as she sees something false or contrived in the way I narrate myself. Here she is absolutely correct in that I often portray myself as a product of the events I narrate, as a sort of emergence, rather than as positing these events myself as a way of producing my presents. Indeed, my narratives are a sort of buffoonery. Sadly I haven’t yet developed the literary talent of Lars in his narrative conventions. Whatever the case may be, the Lacanian subject is a void, a lack, that animates the signifying chain. In short, the Lacano-Hegelian subject is– unlike the historicists –never simply a product of conditioning individuation such that it could be reduced to being a historically determined subject position. The question is one of how this lack, this nothingness, this absence of any successful identification, is handled and lived.

Zizek makes this point well apropos Hegel’s discussion of identity in the science of logic. Quoting Hegel, Zizek writes,

Father is the other of son, and son the other of father, and each only is as this other of the other; and at the same time, the one determination only is, in relation to the other… The father also has an existence of his own apart from the son-relationship; but then he is not father but simply man… Opposites, therefore, contain contradiction in so far as they are, in the same respect, negatively related to one another or sublate each other and are indifferent to one another. (SL 441)

The inattentive reader may easily miss the key accent of this passage, the feature which belies the standard notion of the ‘Hegelian Contradiction’: ‘contradition’ does not take place between ‘father’ and ‘son’ (here, we have a case of simple opposition between two codependent terms); it also does not turn on the fact that in one relation (to my son) I am ‘father’ and in another (to my own father) I am myself ‘son,’ i.e., I am ‘simultaneously father and son.’ If this were the Hegelian ‘contradiction,’ Hegel would effectively be guilty of logical confusion, since it is clear that I am not both in the same respect. The last phrase in the quoted passage from Hegel’s Logic locates the contradiction clearly inside ‘father’ himself: ‘contradiction’ designates the antagonistic relationship between what I am ‘for the others’– my symbolic determination –and what I am ‘in myself,’ abstractedly from my relations to others. It is the contradiction between the void of the subject’s pure ‘being-for-himself’ and the signifying feature which represents him for the others, in Lacanian terms: between $ and S1. More precisely, ‘contradiction’ means that it is my very ‘alienation’ in the symbolic mandate, in S1, which retoractively makes $– the void which eludes the hold of the mandate– out of my brute reality: I am not only ‘father,’ not only this particular determination, yet beyond these symbolic mandates I am nothing but the void which eludes them (and, as such their own retroactive product). (130-1)

This, then, is one of the meanings of Lacan’s discourse of the master:

S1—>S2

$

When Lacan remarks that “the signifier represents the subject for another signifier” it must be understood that the subject as such never appears in the signifier or that the subject is always effaced by the signifier. That is, when the subject falls under the signifier it suffers an aphanisis or disappearance, which is why Lacan will claim, in “Position of the Unconscious” that the subject is a temporal pulsation that disappears the moment that it appears and that can only be tracked through the traces it leaves (traces in symptoms, bungled actions, dreams, slips of the tongue, etc). These formations of the unconscious, in effect, are attempts to fill the void that is the subject, to produce a signifier that would be adequate to that void once and for all or that would be capable of naming it. However, this void is ineradicable (i.e., it’s a constitutive result of the individual’s subordination to the signifier). As Lacan will write, “For what the unconscious does is to show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with the real– a real that may well not be determined” (Seminar XI, 22). There is always one signifier too few and it is for this reason that there is no subject without a symptom (Seminar 22: RSI).

It is here that Lacan differs most radically from the postmoderns. Where the general trend of theory today is to reduce the subject to power, history, language, subject-positions, etc., Lacan demonstrates that between symbolic identity and the subject there is always a gap. The “cash-value” of this move is immense– On the one hand, Lacan is able to answer the question of why the subject is led to identify in the first place. As Freud had already argued well before Lacan, the ego dimension of the subject (which is always a misrecognition) is the precipitate of identifications. But what is it that motivates these identifications? Lacan’s answer is that my flight to the Other, to the signifiers of the Other, is the attempt to fill my “want-to-be” through identification. I look to the Other to tell me what I am. However, just as the central hole in a torus can never be filled, every identification is ultimately a failed identification (which is yet another reason that the formation of symptoms such as the symptom of the “Jew” for the German nationalist) as the hole insists and subverts the identification. As a result, there is always a kernal of resistance to any field of identification. The aim of the cultural critic should therefore be to lay bare these tensions, these antagonisms, so as effect a change in the symptom and how the symptom is organized. From the historicist standpoint this would be impossible as historicism is essentially Leibnizian: “Everything has a reason!” What it is unable to think is the kernal of contingency, of non-being, at the heart of any positive formation. The question here becomes one of devising technologies to shift the symbolic coordinates of narrative fields of identification so that antagonism as such might become thinkable.

None of this, of course, is to deny Kenneth’s observations about the importance of rhetoric. I work closely with rhetoric and with rhetoricians– at my school they’re my primary interlocutors. In my view, the central insight of the rhetoric tradition is that the subject is inherently intersubjective… Which is to say, the subject is constituted in the field of the Other. Even if poorly executed, this is part of Zizek’s own brilliance. On the one hand, Zizek has recognized the central importance of Lacan in giving us a truly rigorous intersubjective conception of the subject that thoroughly breaks with the tradition of seeing the questions of philosophy posed strictly in terms of subject-object relations. The minimal dyad is a triad: not subject-object, but rather subject-Other-object. No one has gone further than Lacan in thinking through the manner in which the subject’s desire, all its object relations, it’s very being in the world is thoroughly caught up in relations to the Other. This insight was glimpsed in philosophy beginning with the progressive shift towards language, history, and power in philosophy– all of which led to a philosophical crisis surrounding questions of presence –but it is with Lacan that this topology is thoroughly elaborated. On the other hand, Zizek has clearly seen that only something like Hegelian dialectic– beginning with the lord/bondsman dialectic in the genesis of self-consciousness –is successful in escaping the metaphysics of presence insofar as it conceives the subject’s relation to the world and the Other in terms of self-relating negativity capable of discerning itself in difference itself. This is a project that needs to be worked out far more thoroughly and rigorously. It is to the credit of the rhetoricians that they recognized from the beginning that questions of epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, ethics, etc., were questions of intersubjectivity and relations to the Other, such that any posing of these questions in restricted subject-object terms were bound to be truncated and mutilated.

However, where Kenneth’s remarks seem to suggest an opposition between rhetoric and philosophy, I would prefer to see something like a Lacanian real or parallax. As Zizek describes it,

The key problem here is that the basic ‘law’ of dialectical materialism, the struggle of opposites, was colonized/obfuscated by the New Age notion of the polarity of opposites (ying-yang, and so on). The first critical move is to replace this topic of the polarity of opposites with the concept of the inherent ‘tension,’ gap, noncoincidence, of the One with itself. This… is based on a strategic politico-philosophical decision to designate this gap which separates the One from itself with the term parallax. [already extensively thematized in the brilliant For They Know Not What They Do…, that no one bothers to read]. There is an entire series of the modes of parallax in different domains of modern theory: quantum physics (the wave-particle duality); the parallax of neurobiology (the realization that, when we look behind the face into the skull, we find nothing: ‘there’s no one at home’ there, just piles of gray matter– it is difficult to tarry with this gap between meaning and the pure Real); the parallax of ontological difference, of the discord between the ontic and the transcendental-ontological (we cannot reduce the ontological horizon to its ontic ‘roots,’ but neither can we deduce the ontic domain from the ontological horizon; that is to say, transcendental constitution is not creation); the parallax of the Real (the Lacanian real has no positive-substantial consistency, it is just the gap between the multitude of perspectives on it)… (7)

And so on. And to this I add the parallax of language between rhetoric and philosophy, or language in its address to an-Other where I can use the truth to tell a lie– WIFE: “Were you out with that redhead at the bar lastnight?” HUSBAND: [Sarcastically] “Of course darling, and after we rented a hotel room and had sex that’s illegal in 42 states all night long.” WIFE: “Sorry, I just thought I smelled perfume on you and my imagination got away with me.” –and language in its demonstrative and referential function to the world. The key point, of course, is that we are not to choose one or the other horns of the parallax but are rather to think them in their very gap, in their very heterogenoues irreducibility to one another. My rhetorician colleagues always express a sort of bitterness and hostility towards philosophy (no doubt they’re still angry over Plato banishing them from the Republic), and philosophers, of course, express a disdain for rhetoric, as can be witnessed in the solipsistic rigor of texts such as Descartes’ Meditations, Hegel’s Logic, or Husserl’s Ideas, where a palpable negation of the Other (as reader) seems to take place in the deductive meditations. Likewise, the rhetor often seems to reject questions of Truth. Indeed, today it increasingly seems that the most audacious and unforgivable thing one can do is proclaim a Truth. There is a veritable prohibition against Truth. Yet if the subject is constituted in the field of the Other, if the subject is an effect of the signifier in the real of the biological body, then there can be no question of choosing between rhetoric or philosophy. Rather, there can be no worldly statement that doesn’t already make reference to both the Other and the other, no demonstrative statement that is a solipsistic intellectual reverie. Rather, it’s high time that the parallax gap, the central antagonism motivating this inaugural division of disciplines and practices, be thought in its own right.

He was passionate about the Revolution and spoke of freedom, equality, egalitarianism; yet his reasons for believing were too subtle, to clever, too philosophical not to attract the suspicion of the party leaders. Unfortunately I could not see a happy ending for Dr. Zhivago.

~A passage about one of my imagos

K-Punk has written a nice post on blogging and pseudonyms that relates to some of the issues I’ve been discussing in the last few months regarding my name. K-Punk writes:

Perhaps writing – or more specifically, writing about oneself – only reveals the inherently split nature of the subject: the ‘the other one, the one called Borges … the one things happen to’ in ‘Borges and I’ is the subject of the statement, the Borges who observes that ‘I do not know which of us has written this page’ is the subject of the enunciation. Any use of the pronoun ‘I’ will always exposes this split, this spaltung.

It seems to me that this reminder of the split status of the subject is crucial for discussions of virtual engagements. The standard story has it that the net allows us to playfully create our own identity however we like, without the usual constraints that attend our day to day subjectivity. However, this sort of split is already constitutive of subjectivity as such: I am perpetually split between my imaginary imago that functions as an ideal ego for an ego ideal (a particular gaze from which we see ourselves as lovable) and my unconscious desire. Indeed, Lacan describes the imago structuring the ego as not only a semblable, but as a frozen statue constitutive of frustration itself, as I am never able to coincide with this ideal image of what I’d like to be. Between the lived body that farts and belches and moves in a less than graceful way and the body-image constitutive of the ego, there is always a disadequation or gap such that the imaginary is itself split or fissured, generating frustration and a perpetual remainder. Are not our net personae precisely such statues? Well worth the read.

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