Saturday, January 28, 2017

Living Life as "Performance Art""

Slavoj Zizek, "Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism"
This is brilliantly articulated by Kierkegaard in $5 of "The Concept of Dread":
Innocence is ignorance. In his innocence man is not determined as spirit but as psychically determined in immediate unity with his natural condition. This view is in perfect accord with that of the Bible, and by refusing to ascribe to man in the state of innocence a knowledge of the difference between good and evil it condemns all the the notions of merit Catholicism has imagined.

In this state there is peace and repose: but at the same time there is something different, which is not dissention and strife, for there is nothing to strive with. What is it then? Nothing. But what effect does nothing produce? It begets dread. This is the profound secret of innocence, that at the same time it is dread. Dreamily the spirit projects its own reality, but this reality is nothing, but innocence constantly sees this nothing outside itself... Innocence still is, but one word suffices, and with that innocence is concentrated. Innocence of course cannot understand this word; but dread has at it were obtained its first prey; instead of nothing, innocence gets an enigmatic word. So when it is related in Genesis that G_d said to Adam, "Only of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat," it is a matter of course that Adam did not really understand their word. For how could he have understood the difference between good and evil, seeing that this distinction was in fact consequent upon the enjoyment of the fruit?

When one assumes that the prohibition awakens desire, one posits knowledge instead of ignorance; for Adam would have had to have the knowledge of freedom, since his desire was to use it. The explanation therefore anticipates what was subsequent. The prohibition alarms Adam (induces a state of dread) because the prohibition awakens in him the possibility of freedom.... After the word of prohibition follows the word of judgement: "Thou shalt surely die." What it means to die, Adam of course cannot conceive; but if one assumes that these words were said to him, there is nothing to prevent his having a notion of the terrible. Indeed even the beast is able to understand the mimic expression and movement in the speaker's voice, without understanding the word. In case one lets the prohibition awaken desire, one may also let the word about punishment awaken a deterring conception.
We have here a precise succession of steps, beginning with a state of innocence which is not the same as immediacy: innocence is :peace and repose," there is no knowledge and no sin (in short, no knowledge of sin, of the difference between good and evil, or, even shorter, no knowledge at all, since knowledge as such is sinful), but there is already "something different,"something that disturbs the peace of innocence and gives rise to dread. Kierkegaard struggles with how to define this externality that does not yet involve differentiality, negation, opposition, or mutual exclusion. Innocence is not good and its externality is not evil, there is no limit separating innocence from "something different," innocence forms a closed circle with no limit, just the feeling (of those inside the circle) that there is an indeterminate something outside, that they are moving within a closed circle.

This state of things fits perfectly with the notion of the non-All in Lacan's feminine formula of sexuation: there is no limit, no exception, and yet we are nonetheless somehow aware that the circle in which we dwell is not "all," and this emptiness, this shapeless void, triggers the most elementary dread....

--- we begin with a closed-loop of innocence turning around a shapeless Void that generates dread- how can this deadlock be resolved? Kierkegaard's answer: with the intervention of a Word of Prohibition. In the Bible this is, of course, G_d's "Don't eat from the tree of knowledge!"; in the case of Don Giovanni, the word belongs to the statue of the Commendatore which, at the opera's end, calls on Don Giovanni to repent. As Kiekegaard emphasizes, this word which disturbs the innocence is "enigmatic," the subject to whom it is addressed cannot understand it, it is what Lacan would have called an Empty Master-Signifier, a signifier without a signified. It cannot be understood for the simple reason that the innocent subject cannot yet know what knowledge is, or the difference between Good and Evil- he knows no Evil, just the formless Void outside the limitless loop of his pleasurable innocence, and the first Word materializes, condenses, or "concentrates" this Void: "Innocence still is, but one word suffices, and with that ignorance is concentrated." "Concentrating ignorance" here means condensing this shapeless Void into its signifying representative, an empty signifier.

A further explanation is needed here: it is not that we need words to designate objects, to symbolize reality, and that there is some excess of reality, a traumatic core that resists symbolization, which is then "concentrated" in an empty signifier. We have reality in front of our eyes well before language, and what language does, in its most fundamental gesture, is the very opposite of designating reality: as Lacan put it, it digs a hole in reality, opening up the visible/present reality to the dimension of the immaterial unseen. When I see you, I just see you - but by naming you I indicate the abyss in you beyond what I see. The enigmatic "empty signifier" thus in a sense comes first, its emergence is the founding gesture of language, Let us explain through another example.

Jonathan Lear has demonstrated how Freud's "pre-Socratic" turn to Eros and Thanatos as the two basic polar forces of the universe is a false escape, a pseudo-explanation generated by its inability to properly conceptualize the dimension "beyond the pleasure principle: he encountered in his clinics. After establishing the pleasure principle as the "swerve" which defines the functioning of our psychic apparatus, Freud is compelled to take note of the phenomena (primarily repetitions of traumatic experiences) accounted for in terms of the pleasure principle. It was "at this point that Freud covers over the crucial nugget of his own insight: that the mind can disrupt its own functioning." Instead of trying to conceptualize this break (negativity) as such in its modalities, he wants to ground it in another "deeper" positivity. In philosophical terms, the mistake here is the same as that made by Kant (according to Hegel): after Kant discovers the inner inconsistency of our experiential reality, instead of accepting that inconsistency, he feels compelled to postulate the existence of another, inaccessible, true reality of Things-in-themselves: "Freud is not in the process of discovering a new life force, he is in the process of trying to cover over a trauma to his psychoanalytic theory. In this way, invoking Plato and the ancients gives a false sense of legitimacy and security." One can fully agree with Lear: far from being the name of an unbearable traumatic fact unacceptable to most of us (the fact that we "strive toward death"...), the introduction of Thanatos as a cosmic principle (and the retroactive elevation of libido into Eros) is an attempt to cover up the true trauma. The apparent "radicalization" is effectively a philosophical domestication: the break that disrupts the functioning of the universe, its ontological fault as it were, is transformed into one of two positive cosmic principles, thus re-establishing a pacifying harmonious vision of the universe as a battlefield of two opposing principles. (The theological implications are here also crucial: instead of thinking through to the end the subversive deadlock of monotheism, Freud regresses to pagan wisdom.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Peacock

What's riches to him
That has made a great peacock
With the pride of his eye?
The wind-beaten, stone-grey,
And desolate Three Rock
Would nourish his whim.
Live he or die
Amid wet rocks and heather,
His ghost will be gay
Adding feather to feather
For the pride of his eye.
- William Butler Yeats, "The Peacock"

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Surviving Purposelessness...

March 1969, David Bowie moved to Flat 1, 24 Foxgrove Road, Beckenham
Thomas Jerome Newton is a humanoid alien who comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to take water back to his home planet, which is experiencing a catastrophic drought.

Newton uses the advanced technology of his home planet to patent many inventions on Earth, and acquires incredible wealth as the head of a technology-based conglomerate, World Enterprises Corporation, aided by leading patent attorney Oliver Farnsworth. His wealth is needed to construct his own space vehicle with the intention of shipping water back to his planet. While revisiting New Mexico, he meets Mary-Lou, a lonely, unloved, and simple girl who works as a maid, bell-hop, and elevator operator in a small hotel; he tells her he is English. Mary-Lou introduces Newton to many customs of Earth, including church-going, alcohol, and sex. She and Newton live together, eventually in a house Newton has had built near where he initially landed in New Mexico.
from Wikipedia
It's the last words, the true last. Or it's the murmurs: the murmurs are coming, I know that well. No, not even that. You talk of murmurs, distant cries, as long as you can talk. You talk of them before and you talk of them after. More lies: it will be the silence (the one that doesn't last) spent listening, spent waiting (for it to be broken, for the voice to break it). Perhaps there's no other, I don't know. It's not worth having, that's all I know. (It's not I, that's all I know.) It's not mine. It's the only one I ever had? That's a lie: I must have had the other, the one that lasts - but it didn't last. (I don't understand.) That is to say it did: it still lasts. I'm still in it. I left myself behind in it. I'm waiting for me there. (No, there you don't wait, you don't listen.)

I don't know: perhaps it's a dream, all a dream. (That would surprise me.) I'll wake, in the silence, and never sleep again. (It will be I?) Or dream (dream again), dream of a silence, a dream silence, full of murmurs (I don't know, that's all words), never wake (all words, there's nothing else).

You must go on, that's all I know.

They're going to stop, I know that well: I can feel it. They're going to abandon me. It will be the silence, for a moment (a good few moments). Or it will be mine? The lasting one, that didn't last, that still lasts? It will be I?

You must go on.

I can't go on.

You must go on.

I'll go on. You must say words, as long as there are any - until they find me, until they say me. (Strange pain, strange sin!) You must go on. Perhaps it's done already. Perhaps they have said me already. Perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story. (That would surprise me, if it opens.)

It will be I? It will be the silence, where I am? I don't know, I'll never know: in the silence you don't know.

You must go on.

I can't go on.

I'll go on.
- Samuel Beckett, "The Unameable"