Hermetico-Promethean Postnihilism

 

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To begin at the beginning we shall say that philosophy is the dialectical process of truth in time, it is an infinite questioning of that which is known, a continuity in change of the unknown, a practice of situating eternity in time. Without a relation to the requirements of one’s own time philosophy may still mean many things, but these do not amount to anything worthy of rigorous consideration much. This doesn’t mean that philosophy must have an absolute conception of good and constantly strive towards it. Quite the contrary, if anything, philosophy would much rather resist against the evil within this inconsistent multiplicty falsely named world. No, there is no one world against which philosophy can situate itself, but rather many multiplicities out of which philosophy infers meanings and values in accordance with a better future in mind. Not necessarily better than today, but less worse than it will have been if nothing is done to slow down worsening. So having an idea of a better future is not necessarily imposing a totality, an absolute conception of goodness upon the multiplicity of existents. What’s at stake might as well be that the resistance aganist evil in time is itself a creative act sustaining the less worse condition of future existence. It’s all bad and it can only get worse, the question is this: How can we decelarate this worsening condition of we humans, we animals and we the plants?

My interest in science in general and neuroscience in particular derives from this understanding of philosophical activity as a dialectical process in nature. For me science is not an object of philosophy but a condition of it. Presumably you can already hear Badiou’s voice here, and rightly so I must say. Badiou had once said that “philosophy is the conceptual organisation of eternity in time.” What, then, is dialectic? Dialectic is simply “the unity of opposites,” as Fredric Jameson defines it in his Valences of the Dialectic. Everything has within itself nothing and inversely. The self and the other are always already reconciled, but in order to actualise this unity philosophy splits the one in such a way as to sustain the process of its reconciliation within itself. The one is not, it all begins with two and continues ad infinitum. Of course a designation such as Hermetico-Promethean post-nihilism is paradoxical, but this being paradoxial is itself creative of the space out of which something not only new but also good, or less worse than that which is or could be, can emerge. That said, a positively altered future itself only ever emerges from a split introduced in-between the past and the present, the good and the bad…

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Now, I see nothing bad in interrupting the process of negativity, but needless to say one cannot achieve this by affirming it. One still needs negativity to interrupt negativity. It is in this sense that nihilism turned against itself becomes a condition of progressive philosophy. If science is making a huge progress while the whole planet is rapidly dying, what’s the point of that progress in science? It becomes a meaningless activity for its own sake. Without a future there can be no science either, but it is only by way of putting science into good uses that we can have a future. And when I say we I mean we humans, we animals and we the plants. Paradoxical though as it may sound, robots are of no concern to me, but enhancement technologies such as neuroplasticity softwares are…

I take whatever rings true to me in accordance with my intention. Intending something is not necessarilly willing without consciousness. One may be driven to anything at all, including willing nothingness as Nietzsche has taught us, adding that “man would much rather will nothingness than not will.” Although Nietzsche’s proclamation may be valid for some, it is not necessarily valid for all. To say again now what I’ve already said some other time, I’m still up for consciously desiring good life. That said, I reckon it’s not even worth mentioning that will, drive and desire are not the same thing. As for the difference between consciousness and self-consciousness, we must return to Hegel as always. There are indeed many illusions in this life, some for life yet some others not, some necessary while some irrelevant. Not that I am one, and yet it’s not for nothing that Hegel had once said, “the great man of his time is he who expresses the will and the meaning of that time, and then brings it to completion; he acts according to the inner spirit and essence of his time, which he realizes.” This, I think, is still true and ever will be, if we are to have a future worthy of the name, that is…

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Cinema and Fetishism, or, The Commercial Value of Shit

Even shit has a commercial value, depending of course, on whose shit it is. While in the case of human shit you have to pay to get rid of it, in the case of animal shit it is said to be a very efficient and sufficient fertilizer for one who has learned to use it, rather than seeing it as something worthless because it cannot be eaten. “Inversely, it is this very terror that is projected on to the spectacle of the mother’s body, and invites the reading of an absence where anatomy sees a different conformation.”[1]

Since even the instincts are produced by the superpanoptic projection-introjection mechanism in which the subject finds himself/herself, giving free rein to the unconscious to express itself only produces projections of the evil within onto the without. For Freud the death drive is the effect of a striving for infinity, nothingness, and death. I would say it is also the cause of it.

Commodity fetishism is equal to will to nothingness in that it is the desire for the inorganic objects to stand in for nothingness, the Real of the subject’s desire. Capitalism replaces the use value of the objects with two-dimensional commercial value, so the subject desires to be desired, and he/she can only do that by adapting to the two dimensional sphere of commodity fetishism; by becoming a fetish object himself. If we recall Marcuse complaining that the one-dimensional is absorbing the two-dimensional  and also keep in mind that Marcuse’s two-dimensional culture has become the pre-dominant culture of today, we can see why the solution is to say, “I don’t see myself as you see me,” to the big Other in whatever form it appears in our lives.

In our opinion fetishism only occurs in sadism in a secondary and distorted sense. It is divested of its essential relation to disavowal and suspense and passes into the totally different context of negativity and negation, where it becomes an agent in the sadistic process of condensation.[2]

So the death drive produces new objects of desire by splitting the already existing objects. The subject as death drive, by splitting the symbolic, opens up spaces for the emergence of new objects of desire to stand in for nothingness and death.

The good object has moved to the side of knowledge and the cinema becomes a bad object (a dual displacement which makes it easy for ‘science’ to stand back). The cinema is ‘persecuted’, but this persistence is also a reparation (the knowing posture is both aggressive and depressive), reparation of a specific kind, peculiar to the semiologist: the restoration to the theoretical body of what has been taken from the institution, from the code which is being ‘studied.’[3]

Writing about cinema is essentially a criticism of the symbolic order, for both writing and cinematic production are themselves symbolic social activities. Since cinema exploits the life drive by satisfying the desire for something covering nothing, writing about cinema is essentially governed by the death drive which tries to expose the nothingness behind the symbolic. That which a film veils is nothing other than nothing; and exposing this nothingness behind the film introduces a split between the subject and the signifier. When looked at like that psychotherapy becomes critical of the existing social order, for by criticizing the film the critic heals the film industry hence having a healing effect on the spectator.

It is clear that fetishism, in the cinema as elsewhere, is closely linked to the good object. The function of the fetish is to restore the latter, threatened in its ‘goodness’ (in Melanie Klein’s sense) by the terrifying discovery of the lack. Thanks to the fetish, which covers the wound and itself becomes erotogenic, the object as a whole can become desirable again without excessive fear.[4]

According to Metz cinema is a fetish object. Films stand in for an object that is absent. The reflection of images on the screen veil the nothingness behind them without which they would not have been seen. “The fetish is the cinema in its physical state. A fetish is always material: insofar as one can make up for it by the power of the symbolic alone one is precisely no longer a fetishist.”[5]

Cinema produces unattainable objects of desire. By filling in a gap they render the nothingness more unattainable. They give the impression that there is something they are hiding and that way they produce the desire for nothingness. Cinema’s power of exploiting the will to nothingness, however, is the only tool one has at hand to criticize the cinematic apparatus as a form of ideology.

Sublimation of the objects of desire takes place through cinema and television. The more they are rendered unattainable the more sublime they become. What cinema does is to create the illusion of presence. Cinema shows an absent object through presenting an object to substitute for the nothingness. So it is the presence of an absence that we see on the screen. To enjoy cinema the subject has to know that what he/she is watching is only a presence covering an absence, that it is that which stands in for the Real of the subject’s desire. So Metz can say, “the fetish is the cinema in its physical sense.”[6] Looked at that way fetish is that which is produced to stand in for the Real object of desire, which is nothingness, and is therefore produced to satisfy the will to nothingness.

Cinematic narrative doesn’t show events in their real sequence. There are cuts, gaps, spaces between the scenes. All those, cuts, gaps, spaces between the scenes are openings to an external reality; they give the impression that there is something external to that which is actually being shown. The spectator is made to believe that there is something he/she doesn’t know as to what’s really going on in the film. This curiosity for that which is unknown inherent in every human is that which cinema exploits. By making the spectator simultaneously believe and not-believe what he/she is seeing on the screen, cinema creates an ambiguous relationship with itself and the spectator.

 By leaving gaps within the narrative, cinema invites projective identification. The spectator projects what he has inside him onto the absence within the filmic text. He fills those gaps with his internal partial objects and imposes a unity and continuity on the split narrative of the film.

The death drive involves splitting and introjection. The subject as death drive splits given unities and continuities. It is impossible for a spectator governed by the death drive to identify with the characters in the film. On the contrary, he desires nothing, identifies with nothing, without which he knows there can be no meaning. Rather than filling in the gaps within the narrative death drive puts them into the spotlight, it shows that those gaps are interior to the narrative itself. The incompleteness of the narrative is the condition of possibility for its meaning.

We can differentiate these two different types of spectatorship, one governed by the life drive and the other by the death drive, as associationism and dissociationsim.

In associationism the subject immerses himself/herself in the medium of the imaginary and identifies with the characters in the movie. In dissociationsim the subject introduces new splits between the internal and the external objects and hence renders identification impossible for himself/herself.

The life drive is the will to become one with the world, it is the force behind mimicry and associationsim. It is wrong to associate the death drive with mimicry and associationism. The subject as death drive dissociates and splits given unities and continuities. In horror movies the absence of the knowledge of truth for the spectator, that is, not being given the role of the omniscient eye, the spectator becomes curious and to understand what’s really going on in the movie he/she identifies with the characters. In the face of the abundance of gaps to be filled in the process of watching the film the life drive grows less and less strong for doing all the job throughout the watching process, while the death drive is oppressed and because of this very oppression it grows more and more strong. Eventually the life drive collapses and the death drive overflows the auditorium.

cropped-artwork_images_185199_333751_hiroshi-sugimoto.jpgAlthough it is itself a product of the death drive, horror film exploits the life drive, that is, the spectator’s will to form unities, bind the action, desire to get rid of all gaps and inconsistencies within the narrative. The death drive negates negation and reaches the highest possible degree of affirmation. Thanatos wills nothing, whereas Eros wills nothingness. We can see that the Thanatos case is the reverse of what Nietzsche says, “man would much rather will nothingness than not will.” Eros wants to want nothing; and strives to form such unities that everything will fit in its place; the system will lack nothing, so Eros will want nothing. Thanatos introduces splits, and tries to reach the nothingness behind the symbolic. Thanatos wants nothing rather than nothingness. He wants nothing to show the nothingness in the midst of everything, that there is nothing behind all that there is.

While Eros wants to lack nothing, wants the lack of lack, Thanatos affirms life as it is and wants lack, wants something to lack, wants that lack to remain after all is said and done, so that he can desire the nothingness which that lack presents. Thanatos doesn’t want something to replace nothing, but rather wants the lack in everything. By negating negation the death drive affirms life as it is, that is, in its incompleteness, and with nothingness and death in its midst.


[1]Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and Cinema, trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster and Alfred Guzetti (London: Macmillan, 1982), 69

[2] Gilles Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty, trans. Jean McNeil (New York: Zone, 1989), 32

[3] Metz, 80

[4] Metz, 75

[5] Metz, 75

[6] Metz, 75

Notes Towards an Object-Oriented Psychoanalysis -3

For Lacan there is this solipsistic period of life at the beginning. The subject becomes capable of making a distinction between himself and others after the Narcissistic period of the mirror stage. The subject’s ability to interpret and adapt shows signs of progress. Once the mirror stage is passed through and the fantasy is traversed, the subject becomes capable of controlling the unconscious drives and touching reality. The child learns to postpone gratification and finds other ways of satisfying himself. The function of the I shows itself when the child feels the need to act upon the external world and change things in the way of attaining pleasure and satisfaction of desires. When the child gives up desiring his mother and realizes that he has to identify with his father the foundations of the super-ego formation are laid. It is the fear of castration that leads the male child to give up the mother. The sexual desire turns away from the forbidden object and moves towards finding ways of expressing itself in and through metaphors supplied by the predominant culture.

            According to Klein the formation of the super-ego begins in the first year of life. For Klein the “early Oedipus conflict” is at the root of child psychoanalysis. Klein says that Oedipal tendencies of the child start with oral frustrations and this is when the super-ego takes its course of formation. 

These analyses have shown that oral frustrations release the Oedipus impulses and that the super-ego begins to be formed at the same time. […] This is the beginning of that developmental period which is characterized by the distinct demarcation of genital trends and which is known as the early flowering of sexuality and the phase of the Oedipus conflict.[1]    

            It is Klein’s legacy to have taken the beginning of development to a stage earlier than the appearance of the Name of the Father. In this world the castrating father figure doesn’t yet exist. And the child has at least three years ahead to become capable of using language. Klein’s journey into a zone before language, a zone before the child finds itself in the signifying chain, is valuable especially for showing the lack of the role of fantasy and phantasmatic production in Lacan’s story of the formation of the subject. And Gilles Deleuze uses Klein’s insight to make the necessary connections between literature and the unconscious. But before moving on to Deleuze I would like to show from where Klein is coming and hint at the direction she could possibly be heading towards.

            Klein attributes as much importance to the death drive as she does to the life drive. For Klein, already in the first year of life there are object relations and these relations involve expression of libidinal and aggressive impulses.

[…] unfavourable feeding conditions which we may regard as external frustrations, do not seem to be the only cause for the child’s lack of pleasure at the sucking stage. This is seen from the fact that some children have no desire to suck—are ‘lazy feeders’—although they receive sufficient nourishment. Their inability to obtain satisfaction from sucking is, I think, the consequence of an internal frustration and is derived, in my experience, from an abnormally increased oral sadism. To all appearances these phenomena of early development are already the expression of the polarity between the life-instincts and the death-instincts. We may regard the force of the child’s fixation at the oral sucking level as an expression of the force of its libido, and, similarly, the early and powerful emergence of its oral sadism is a sign that its destructive instinctual components tip the balance.[2]

            The child projects his aggressive impulses onto the external world and sees the object (the mother’s breast) as an enemy trying to destroy him. The frustrations that take place in the first year of life cause anxiety and lead the child to express his aggressive impulses through oral sadism (biting the breast). The fantasy that the mother contains the father’s penis leads the child to want to tear apart the mother’s body and introject the object hidden in it through oral sadism. After oral frustration the attention of the child shifts from the mother’s breast to the father’s penis. The aggression against the father’s penis and the response this aggression gets plays a dominant role in the formation of the super-ego. As it develops the super-ego becomes more and more important in the way the subject handles his relation to the world.

[…] by projecting his terrifying super-ego on to his objects, the individual increases his hatred of those objects and thus also his fear of them, with the result that, if his aggression and anxiety are excessive, his external world is changed into a place of terror and his objects into enemies and he is threatened with persecution both from the external world and from his introjected enemies.[3]

             An aggressive attitude towards the external world damages the relationship with the external world; the external world is regarded as hostile, which leads to aggression, and this aggression in turn provokes hostility against the child. It is this kind of a vicious cycle in which many psychotics and neurotics find themselves. Klein describes schizophrenia as the “attempt to ward of, master or contend with an internal enemy.”[4] For Klein, the force of aggression as a result of oral frustrations can reach to such levels that the subject feels obliged to project the super-ego ideal onto the external world. The super-ego is terribly ruthless and aggressive. The projection of the super-ego onto the external world turns reality into an enemy. The subject becomes ill and shuts himself up into his fantasy world and, detached from reality, suffers inordinately. Lacan sees schizophrenia in a similar way; for Lacan what produces schizophrenia is the exclusion of the Name of the Father.                        

            With Klein we learn that the sense of reality is gained through oral frustrations. Lacan, too, thinks that frustrations have a role to play in the constitution of the reality principle. But according to Lacan what’s important is not the natural frustrations themselves, but how they are symbolized, how they are represented in and through language, how they manifest themselves in the form of cultural products. Lacan finds Klein’s theories too biological.

            To explicate where Lacan and Klein disagree I would like to give their opinions on Dick who is a four years old boy suffering from “psychosis.” Dick, who hardly ever talks, is permanently indifferent towards the external world. In Dick’s world there is no good and bad, there is nothing to be afraid of and nothing to love. It is as though Dick lives in a world apart, in another reality. Dick’s world is not structured like language, there is no differentiation, and where there is indifference there can be no difference, in Dick’s world all objects and subjects are one.    

            Dick has a toy train which he repetitively moves to and fro on the floor. Klein says, “I took the big train and put it beside a smaller one and called them ‘Daddy train’ and ‘Dick train.’ Thereupon he picked up the train I called Dick and made it roll [toward the station]… I explained: ‘The station is mummy; Dick is going into mummy.’[5] At the end of this first session of therapy Dick begins to express his feelings. It is after Dick becomes capable of situating himself within the symbolic order in relation to his mother and father that he becomes a human. He begins to play his role given to him by Klein.

            Human reality is a mediated reality. We can see in Dick’s case that the biological turns into cultural through Oedipalisation. Lacan thinks Klein’s therapeutic technique is correct but her theory wrong. What Lacan thinks Klein’s theory lacks is the castrating father figure who says “No.” Lacan complains that the castrating father figure is not given a role in Klein’s scenario. It is true that father is not given a role in the process of subject formation, but Lacan’s assumption that Klein is Oedipalizing the child is wrong. For if the father is excluded from the scene how can the Oedipal triangle be formed. All Klein does is to tell Dick that mummy and daddy copulate. Klein’s world is entirely biological, whereas Lacan is talking about the subjectivation of the individual in and through symbols. For Lacan the unconscious is nothing other than a chain of signifiers. There is nothing before the symptoms manifest themselves in and through metaphors. So metaphors are the products of repression which splits the subject into two separate but contiguous sides; the biological self and the cultural self. Psychoanalysis is about a regressive process which goes back in time through a chain of signifiers and tries to reach the Real of the subject’s desire. A symptom is the manifestation of the Real of the subject’s desire in the form of metaphors.

In advancing this proposition, I find myself in a problematic position—for what have I taught about the unconscious? The unconscious is constituted by the effects of speech on the subject, it is the dimension in which the subject is determined in the development of the effects of speech, consequently the unconscious is structured like a language. Such a direction seems well fitted to snatch any apprehension of the unconscious from an orientation to reality, other than that of the constitution of the subject.[6]

            When Lacan says that “the unconscious is structured like a language,” what he wants to say is that if the unconscious is a web of metaphors the signifiers behind the metaphors are interacting with one another just like the signifiers in language.   

            In psychosis the subject’s fantasy of unmediated omnipresence resists symbolization. The subject cannot turn his feelings and thoughts into symbolic acts, he cannot make a distinction between the me and the not me, cannot engage in intersubjectivity. Introversion dominates the psychotic and he finds himself in a world where nothing matters for nothing is differentiated. The psychotic experiences his inner reality as though it is the reality of all, he cannot separate the inner from the outer. The psychotic’s reality escapes cultural codes. The psychotic doesn’t know the symbolic meaning of the father’s law. The law of the father establishes the order of culture, but the psychotic refuses to come to terms with the father’s law and eventually cannot overcome his frustrations. The mother’s role is determinant in the formation of psychosis. If the mother doesn’t recognize the role of the father the child remains locked in the imaginary world, outside signification.   

            Psychosis appears when all the signifiers refer to the same signified. Language and meaning dissolve. Locked in the mirror stage the subject identifies everything as me, and the me as the phallus. But the reality is that the “I” is not the phallus inside the mother’s body. The psychotic is deprived of nostalgia, of the feeling of loss which is constitutive of the subject. Lacking lack the psychotic subject lacks what Lacan calls “lack in being.” And lacking lack in being the subject cannot identify his natural self as being separate from the cultural objects of identification. By entering the symbolic order the narcissistic sense of oneness, “the oceanic feeling,” is lost. And this loss opens a gap within the subject, which the subject tries to fill with the objects of identification presented to it by the predominant culture. Identification is a way of compensating for the emptiness within the subject caused by the loss of sense of oneness. But the unconscious desires can never be satisfied by metaphors. To overcome the frustration caused by the loss of his fantasy world, the subject turns towards symbolic acts in the way of climbing up the social ladder. The subject becomes a doctor, pilot, teacher; all to endure the pain of not being able to satisfy one’s unconscious desires, or the Real of one’s desire. It is in this context that Lacan sees repression as productive of the subject as a split subject. Because the psychotic has lost nothing, lacks nothing, he has no motivations for such pursuits as becoming a doctor, pilot, or teacher. The psychotic has no sense of nostalgia and he is therefore extremely indifferent to the external world. Experiencing no frustrations in the face of the harsh reality of not being one, the psychotic desires nothingness.


[1] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, 123

[2] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, 124

[3] Klein, 143-4

[4] Klein, 144

[5] Melanie Klein, quoted from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, 45

[6] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Hogarth Press, 1977), 149