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In a very nice response to my paper on assemblages and networks, Joe Clement remarks,

I liked the paper too. However, could you say a bit more about how post-structuralists like Deleuze understand networks as opposed to how structuralists understand, well, structures. At a certain point, it sounds like they are different names for the same pomme de terre. I can get behind networks and assemblages being “things” of change, while structures are usually talked about as quasi-eternal forms. However, what is to stop us from saying that a network is structured, not according to an identity with some sort of totality, but according to its symptomatic deadlocks/exclusions/slippages? I’m thinking of Zizek’s very rudimentary lesson in commodity fetishism in the first chapter of The Sublime Object of Ideology

“rather, it [commodity fetishism] consists of a certain misrecognition which concerns the relation between a structured network and one of its elements: what is really a structural effect, an effect of the network of relations between elements, appears as an immediate property of one of the elements, as if this property also belonged to it outside its relation with other elements” (24).

You know Zizek then goes on to quote Marx on commodities A & B, and then tie that into an allusion to the mirror stage. All of this falls very neatly under the conventional structuralist rubric, but it’s the point about misrecognition that perks my interest. Zizek says misrecognition occurs as a structural effect, though this really does not pre-suppose a “structured network” (i.e. what I take to be the conventional structuralist line) anymore than it pre suppose that “this property also belonged to it outside of its relation with other elements.” That is to say, the misrecognition is about the “structured network” as much as the individual element, though that means we aren’t stuck having to unravel the “structured network” anymore than we are stuck having to stabilize the individual element. They are both “structural effects,” whose unified expression is the symptom. With my Buddhist hat on, subject and object are “structural effects” caused by ignorance (avijja), whose symptomatic expression is suffering/dissatisfaction (dukkha).

There is some similarity between structure and networks, but also quite a difference. A network is something more than atomistic individuals and something less than a structure. A structure is a set of interdependent differential relations where the terms have no existence independent of one another. Thus, for example, in language the phonemes that make up a language are not /b/, /p/, etc., but differential relations between these units. Neither /b/ nor /p/ form a phoneme, but rather only b/p forms a phoneme within a specific language. As such, /b/ has no existence independent of /p/ and vice versa. The minimal condition for being a phoneme is that the substitution of a unit produces a difference in sense: /b/at, /p/at. Sense is thus not something that precedes these differential relations, but is an effect of these differential relations.

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A few passages from Jean-Pierre Vernant’s brilliant Origins of Greek Thought:

The search for a balance and accommodation between these opposing forces, set loose by the collapse of the palace-centered system and occasionally coming into violent confrontation, gave rise in a time of troubles to moral thought and political speculation, that amounted to an early form of human “wisdom.” This sophia appeared as early as the dawn of the seventh century, and was associated with a rather odd assortment of figures who came to be clothed with an almost legendary radiance and whom the Greeks continued to revere as their first true sages. Sophia was concerned not with the universe of physis [nature] but with the human world: the elements that made it up, the forces that divided it against itself, and the means by which they might be harmonized and unified so that their conflict might give birth to order of the city… The problems of power, of the forms it took and the factors that formed its substance, were immediately posed in new terms. (40)

In this connection, Vernant chronicles how the collapse of the centralized Mycenaean social system, created a void within the social system that was not subsequently filled. A cascade of consequences followed from the appearance of this void. I am tempted to repeat the Deleuzo-Spinozist declaration, “we do not yet know what a body can do!” with “we do not yet know what a void can do.” The void in question, of course, was the voided place of the monarch and transcendent divinity.

Later Vernant observes that,

The recourse to a spatial image to express the self-awareness that a human group has acquired, its sense of existing as a political unit, is of value not only as a comparison; it also reflects the creation of a social space that was altogether new. Indeed, urban buildings were no longer grouped, as before, about a royal palace ringed by fortifications. The city now centered on the agora, the communal space and seat of the hestia koine [the central or public hearth], a public area where problems of general interest were debated. (47)

And,

The advent of the polis constitutes a decisive event in the history of Greek thought… With the polis, social life and human relations took on a new form and the Greeks were fully aware of its originality.

The system of the polis implied, first of all, the extraordinary preeminence of speech over all other instruments of power. Speech became the political tool par excellence, the key to all authority in the state, the means of commanding and dominating others. This power of speech– which the Greeks made into a divinity, Peitho, the force of persuasion– brings to mind the efficacy of words and formulas in certain religious rituals, or the value attributed to the “pronouncements” of the king when he rendered final themis [judgment]. Actually, however, we are dealing with quite a different matter (my emphasis). Speech was no longer the ritual word, the precise formula, but open debate, discussion, argument. It presupposed a public to which it was addressed, as to a judge whose ruling could not be appealed, who decided with hands upraised between the two parties who came before him. It was this purely human choice that measured the persuasive force of the two addresses, ensuring the victory of one speaker or adversary.

All questions of general concern that the sovereign had to settle, and which marked out the domain of arche [sovereignity], were now submitted to the art of oratory and had to be resolved at the conclusion of the debate. They therefore had to be formulated as a discourse, poured into the mold of antithetical demonstrations and opposing arguments. There was thus a close connection, a reciprocal tie, between politics and logos. The art of politics became essentially the management of language; and logos from the beginning took on an awareness of itself, of its rules and its effectiveness, through its political function. Historically, rhetoric and sophistry, by analyzing the forms of discourse as the means of winning the contest in the assembly and the tribunal, opened the way for Aristotle’s inquiries, which in turn defined the rules of proof along with the technique of persuasion, and thus laid down the logic of the verfiably true, a matter of theoretical understanding, as opposed to the logic of the apparent or probable, which presided over the hazardous debates on practical questions. (49-50)

This is simply gorgeous. Where the sovereign in the Mycenaean system, had decided these issues, these issues are now, in the Greek system, a contested, agonistic, or polemical space. Philosophy here emerges out of a particular rhetorical situation, brought to the fore through these social and political issues. As logos, speech, gains prominence and these issues are debated, focus shifts to the grounds of persuasion. In this focus on grounds, the basic concepts of philosophy begin to be generated as these are grounds of persuasion: cause, being, form, criteria of beauty, qualities of virtue and character, etc., etc. Philosophy here does not so much pose problems, but rather it emerges as a response to a problem. With that emergence it takes on an autonomy of its own. Where initially it is the handmaiden of rhetoric, a special branch of rhetoric that investigates the grounds of persuasion, it now undergoes a speciation, becoming an autonomous form of engagement.

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.

In a couple of recent posts Spurious has playfully poked fun at some of my fantasmatic structures and used my persona (or lack thereof) as a foil against which to distinguish his own non-existent being (here and here). This, of course, is a pretty remarkable thing, for as Lucretius and others have argued, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish one void from another. As Lars writes in his usual beautiful fashion (unlike my “hammer-like” fashion, as Anthony Paul Smith so gorgeously described it in a recent post),

Where did they go, The Young Hegelian and No Cause For Concern? Many times I went back to wander through their corridors. But Invisible Adjunct is still there, one of the first blogs I read frequently. And will mine, too, disappear one day? No matter, when there are new blogs proliferating.

Perhaps it will crash down like a telegraph pole, carrying incoming links like cables down with it. But that, I think, is too violent an image. Now I see the links snapping like web filaments delicately breaking. Broken links wave like filaments in the air. Who notices they are broken? Who follows them? No one.

No one: and isn’t that beautiful? To disappear, drawing oneself from the corner: isn’t that what you want? In some way, I am the opposite of Sinthome, with what he tells us of his narcissism. I think by this blog I want to prepare a kind of sacrifice, but one no one will notice as it burns.

To be anyone at all: what kind of fantasy is that? No self-analysis here, however it might appear. A kind of drifting, just that. Don’t wake me up, that’s what I’m telling you. I don’t want to wake up, not here; I am too awake in the world. And isn’t that it: that one who has to speak too much, and with too much reason sets speech loose here instead?

Elsewhere Spurious goes on to say,

But Mars is not strong in my birthchart, and nor do I seek to make up for its lack; once again, unlike Sinthome, I have a marked dislike of discussion, being suspicious always of what I take to be its frame. Insinuation, quieter movement, and in the end, a writing that does not seek to deal blows or to parry them, but that lets continue the movement of others, though in another way, because it is itself only motion, like a river into which tributaries pour. Only I imagine this river running backward, and the distributaries that join it are like a river’s delta. How can a river leap back to its origin?

I have to confess that I was delighted when I read these passages and took them as a tremendous compliment. Of course, this is not because I believe that it would be horrible to be Lars. Quite the contrary. Then again, the talented psychoanalytic reader knows that it’s best to prick up one’s ears whenever an analysand suggests, in an unsolicited way, that he is not trying to do something. However, harrowing descriptions of Lars’ apartment aside, I was delighted and tickled because Lars had described me as his opposite, thereby placing me on a common plane with him as in the case of a dialectical identity or inverted image.

In a haunting and justly famous passage from his Prolegomena, Kant gives the example of enantiomorphic images to demonstrate the difference between conceptual differences and “aesthetic” differences that cannot be captured by the concept (Deleuze will not hesitate to pick up this example in developing his concept of difference in Difference and Repetition). There Kant writes,

If two things are quite equal in all respects as much as can be ascertained by all means possible, quantitatively and qualitatively, it must follow that the one can in all cases and under all circumstances replace the other, and this substitution would not occasion the least perceptible difference. This in fact is true of plane figures in geometry; but some spherical figures exhibit, notwithstanding a complete internal agreement, such a difference in their external relation that the one figure cannot possibly be put in the place of the other. For instance, two spherical triangles on opposite hemispheres, which have an arc of the equator as their common base, may be quite equal, both as regard sides and angles, so that nothing is to be found in either, if it be described for itself alone and completed, that would not equally be applicable to both; and yet the one cannot be put in the place of the other (that is, upon the opposite hemisphere). Here, then, is an internal difference between the two triangles, which difference our understanding cannot describe as internal and which only manifests itself by external relations in space. But I shall adduce examples, taken from common life, that are more obvious still.

What can be more similar in every respect and in every part more alike to my hand and to my ear than their images in a mirror? And yet I cannot put such a hand as is seen in the glass in place of the original; for if this is a right hand, that in the glass is a left one, and the image or reflection of the right ear is a left one, which never can take the place of the other. There are in this case no internal differences which our understanding could determine by thinking alone. Yet the differences are internal as the senses teach, for, notwithstanding their complete equality and similarity, the left hand cannot be enclosed in the same bounds as the right one (they are not congruent); the glove of one hand cannot be used for the other. (paragraph 13)

In certain respects, the logic of enantiomorphs follows the logic of the mobius strip. I know that the mobius strip has only one side, but in order to confirm this I must introduce the dimension of time, tracing a line on the surface of the strip to encounter them meeting. There is an identity here but also a difference. Similarly, when Hegel describes the relationship between the French Revolution and the terror, these things are on “one” side, but they can never quite appear together; just as the analysand discovers that the symptom is on the side of his desire, but perpetually encounters his symptom as the impediment to his desire.

When Lars kindly mocks my narcissism, asking “To be anyone at all: what kind of fantasy is that?”, I think he recognizes the principle behind my narcissism– That it is a technology designed to undermine my narcissism, to encounter myself differing from my own image, to progressively undo my own image. I do this in a variety of ways: By taking pleasure in humiliating forms of recognition, by putting together philosophers that don’t belong together so that I might not belong to any of them, by enthusiastically arguing against things I love and positions I’ve formerly endorsed so as to destroy them and then later on arguing for them, etc. It is in this regard that I can wistfully look upon Spurious’ blog, imagining myself to be on a mobius strip, a single surface, with his writing, and witnessing him enacting what I aim for. To be anyone at all is to be no one at all. Here the literary reference would be Klossoski’s Roberte novels, where one becomes other to herself in and through the relation to the other, ultimately becoming a void.

All of this, for some reason, makes me think of the film Kinsey. I don’t know if Kinsey’s life was anything like what is depicted in the film, and in certain respects that’s entirely appropriate for this post. However, it’s difficult for me not to think of the simulacrum depicted in that film as a saint. Now in suggesting that Kinsey was a saint, I am not suggesting this on the grounds of his compassion towards those who had suffered sexual oppression such as the homosexuals he interviewed, or his crusade to generate a knowledge of sex so that we might be free of superstition and crass moralism. Rather, what fascinates me about this simulacrum is the Kinsey who collected millions of gall wasps, tracing generation after generation, and discovering that all of them were different.

I think this is saintly. In a crucial scene early in the film, a party is being held for Kinsey, honoring him for his research and the publication of his most recent book on gall wasps. Kinsey is flattered, but points out that there are probably only six people in the world who have actually read his books and that he is well aware that his research will not change the world. Yet nonetheless, Kinsey found supreme value in this research and pursued it with passionate zeal. Later in the film we discover that Kinsey’s garden has the most complete collection of a particular type of flower; and, of course, Kinsey is driven to collect the most complete data set possible of human sexual activities. Kinsey, as depicted in the film, is a subject of drive, not of desire. He looks for no authorization from the Other for his pursuits and pursues these activities of collecting with a jouissance-filled zeal. He wears a whalers cap in the rain despite its lack of aesthetic appeal because it’s a sensible way of keeping oneself dry. When his future wife approaches him in the park and asks to sit with him, explaining that they are the only two unattached people of the opposite sex at the park and therefore it makes sense for them to sit together, he readily agrees with her reasoning. And whatever Kinsey does, he is collecting. It is the collecting that matters to Kinsey, not the possible world-shaking consequences that might follow from this research.

Lacan makes a similar point about collecting in Seminar 7, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. There Lacan relates that,

During the great period of penitence that our country went through under Petain, in the time of ‘Work, Family, Homeland’ and of belt-tightening, I once went to visit my friend Jacques Prevert in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. And I saw there a collection of match boxes. Why the image has suddenly rusurfaced in my memory, I cannot tell.

It was the kind of collection that was easy to afford at the time; it was perhaps the only kind of collection possible. Only the match boxes appeared as follows: they were all the same and were laid out in an extremely agreeable way that involved each one being so close to the one next to it that the little drawer was slightly displaced. As a result, they were all threaded together so as to form a continuous ribbon that ran along the mantlepiece, climbed the wall, extended to the molding, and climbed down again next to a door. I don’t say that it went on to infinity, but it was extremely satisfying from an ornamental point of view.

Yet I don’t think that that was the be all and end all of what was surprising in this ‘collectionism,’ nor the source of the satisfaction that the collector himself found there. I believe that the shock of novelty of the effect realized by this collection of empty match boxes– and this is the essential point –was to reveal something that we do not perhaps pay enough attention to, namely, that a box of matches is not simply an object, but that, in the form of an Erscheinung, as it appeared in its truly imposing multiplicity, it may be a Thing.

In other words, this arrangement demonstrated that a match box isn’t simply something that has a certain utility, that it isn’t even a type in the Platonic sense, an abstract match box, that the match box all by itself is a thing with all its coherence of being. The wholly gratuitous, proliferating, superfluous, and quasi absurd character of this collection pointed to its thingness as match box. Thus the collector found his motive in this form of apprehension that concerns less the match box than the Thing that subsists in a match box. (113-114)

It seems to me that Lars is describing this sort of saintliness with regard to writing… A writing that would no longer be utilitarian, that would no longer be a matter of prestige, but that would operate according to its own principle without need of authorization or recognition. Saint Lars.

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