Moby Dick, Existentialism, Stoicism – Herman Melville (Hubert Dreyfus lecture)

Nature, Culture, and Lacan

To have dismantled love in order to become capable of a greater loving. To have dismantled one’s self in order finally to be alone and meet the true double at the other end of the line. A clandestine passenger on a motionless voyage… –– Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 197

According to Lacan a psychoanalysable subject’s drama is an outcome of the conflict between nature and culture. As Claude Lévi-Strauss put it, this conflict arises from the incest taboo, which is a result of the prohibition of marriage among family members who are tied to one another by blood.

It is modern structuralism that has brought this out best, by showing that it is at the level of matrimonial alliance, as opposed to natural generation, to biological lineal descent—at the level therefore of the signifier—that the fundamental exchanges take place and it is there that we find once again that the most elementary structures of social functioning are inscribed in the terms of a combinatory.[1] 

 From the perspective of structuralism the incest taboo produces the cultural family and separates it from the natural family. The incest taboo is the effect and the cause of the conflict between nature and culture.  Oedipus delivers the subject’s role in society and hence gives the subject its cultural and sexual identity. This separates the subject from its non-identity and forms the basis for the conscious desires to flourish. All that is repressed in this process gives birth to the unconscious. But the unconscious is not a pool in which the repressed waste material is accumulated; rather, it is a theoretical construct to explain what happens to the repressed material but which nevertheless has discernible effects in everyday life and behaviour. 

For Freud, with the resolution of the Oedipus conflict the period of primary narcissism comes to an end. All that the subject wants is to get back what it had lost upon entry into the symbolic order through Oedipus. The subject loses the sense of omnipotence and is in pursuit of a narcissistic sense of oneness. Each time the subject steps it tries to step towards the pleasures of narcissistic satisfaction of the first step, and yet with each step moves further away from it.[2] Lacan’s narcissistic period, the mirror stage, is the period after the period of an unmediated relationship between the child and the mother and it is in the mirror stage that the child identifies himself with his whole image on the mirror to become what his mother wants him to be. Identification with the mother turns into identification with the self’s whole image on the mirror which is assumed to be the object of mother’s desire. Since the child cannot yet make a distinction between the me and the not-me, and sees himself as one, the child is as yet a mere (subject), that is to say a subject that is not a subject of culture.[3]

The child exits the order of nature and enters the order of culture through symbols. It is a symbolic entry to the world of symbols in which a subject becomes the subject. A symbol fills the space in-between the child and the mother and is the third world, the imaginary world between the symbolic and the real, which takes the place of the unmediated relationship between the other two.

The reflection on the mirror sets in motion the numberless introjective-projective processes that the subject will experience throughout his/her life. Seeing the whole image of self on the mirror helps the subject to develop a self-consciousness as a separate being neither in-itself nor for itself. The awareness of selfness brings with it the awareness of otherness. The subject distinguishes between the me and the not-me. This situation cuts the subject in two halves; one half is the omnipotent exhibitionist and the other half is the object of the gaze of others. Realizing that the subject is not only the observer but also the observed produces a self-conscious consciousness; being conscious of self as that which can never be fully conscious of itself.

The subject is produced in and through language. When the subject says I the symbol becomes the mediator between the internal and the external worlds, which means that language splits the subject and the object as it unites them. Following the mirror stage The Name of the Father completely ends the unmediated relationship between the child and the mother and establishes its own laws and institutions. The symbolic father is he who has what the mother lacks and to whom the mother is subject. The father deprives the mother and the child of their unmediated relationship and deprives the mother of the phallus. For Lacan, the civilizing castration, the castration that turns the human child into a cultural subject, does that by directing the child from being to having. Rather than being the phallus the child begins to want to have the phallus. It is the absence of the phallus that is established rather than the phallus itself. In pursuit of the phallus as a substitute for the unattainable mother, the subject obeys the father’s law. The constitution of the phallus as a lack opens a gap between the subject and the object. It is this gap, this lack, this absence that is the unconscious and renders the conscious subject possible. What man lacks is a mythological totality symbolized by the phallus. And this lack is a condition of the subject. The subject and its unconscious are produced at the same time. Language turns the human child into a non-subject, it gives him his sexual identity, at the same time produces unconscious drives and situates the subject in the symbolic order and induces pain.

Oedipal discourse forms the basis for the deliverance of the subject’s sexual identity and is the discourse of the other, the unconscious. For the subject to be able to use language, first he has to acquire language. In the learning process the unconscious manifests itself in and through slips of the tongue, jokes, and dreams. Slips of the tongue and jokes reveal the real of the speaking subject’s desire. The unconscious is the condition of conscious discourse. 

For Lacan, language is the condition of the unconscious. The symbolic order constitutes the unconscious drives. That which the subject wants is the unmediated experience of existence lost upon entry into the symbolic order. The rupture between being and non-being opens with language and in the unconscious the symbol of the fullness of being, completeness of the subject, is the phallus. And the phallus is that which the subject had lost upon entry into the symbolic order. But since the subject has to use language to attain the lost object, his striving for wholeness is in vain, which renders him tragic and exhilarating. For as I said earlier on, as the subject thinks that he is stepping towards the real of the desired object he is in fact moving further away from it with each word he adds to his vocabulary.

Here I would like to tell the most known of the Oedipus myths, but at the same time the one that is least known as an Oedipus myth, the story of Adam and Eve. We shall listen to Adam and Eve’s story as though it is our own story. For man perpetually runs after his dreams, and as he does this he moves on through disappointments. I shall therefore stress the significance of disappointment and frustration in psychoanalytic discourse.

Adam eats the forbidden apple given to him by Eve. Counter to what Genesis andMiltonsay, I think the relationship between male and female is built on a prohibition. Adam eats the apple. Adam is expelled from paradise for doing that which shouldn’t have been done. He is banned from the heaven on earth (Eden) and is nailed to pain and suffering. And he is promised paradise after death. But why is an apple prohibited in paradise? Because as a cultural fantasy, paradise is the other of something forbidden, it is the product of this forbidding. If the law, the symbolic, is removed from the scene, all symbolic meaning collapses. And since it is law that produces the unlawful, since it is repression that forms the unconscious, there can be no symbolic order without the fantasy supporting it and keeping the unconscious drives at bay.

It is the sense of primary Narcissism that is the desired object of fantasy, a sense of oneness with the world, omnipotence, and completeness. So life doesn’t end with death, it reaches its most complete form in the womb, it begins with a death. Life is a striving for a death oscillating between a forbidden death and a promised death. Death pulls the subject towards itself with all the attraction of its staticity, or stasis. Eros and Thanatos are twin brothers.

Expulsion of Narcissism is a condition of cultural life. Narcissus, this beautiful man, falls in love with his own image on the water. His love for himself prevents him from seeing the love presented to him by culture–Echo’s love. Narcissus leans forward to touch his image and leans so much that he falls and drowns in the water, dies in his own image.[4]

This period of primary Narcissism is what Lacan calls the mirror stage. At this stage there is a conflict between the Ideal-I and the I as the object of the other’s desire. It is this that splits the subject. In other words every individual re-experiences the tragedy of Narcissus at the back of his/her mind throughout life. And it is this regressive re-experiencing that produces and is produced by the real of the subject’s desire.

The father’s law forbids identification with the mother and promotes identification with the object of the mother’s desire. The father’s law is the law of the culture. If the child doesn’t obey the father’s law, that is, when the child refuses to leave the mirror stage behind, the child cannot move on to the next stage and distinguish itself from the others; it resists codification. This is what a schizophrenic is. To be locked in the mirror stage is to be a schizophrenic. Here the subject experiences existence as an illusory reality. He can do nothing to act upon the world for he doesn’t know what use the objects surrounding him have. The schizophrenic who refuses to pass from father’s civilizing castration, is he who escapes cultural codification. And culture locks away the mad into a cell with mirrors on all walls that hide the secrets. A chain of identifications with the objects of others’ desires begins when and if the subject passes through the fantasy world of the mirror stage and becomes rational. It all ends with an idealized war culture, when and if culture is built on and through the Name of the Father.

Nature, Culture, and Lacan un-gif-dans-ta-gueule:Mr Nobody - Jaco Van Dormael 


 Reference Matters

[1] Jacques Lacan, Seminar XII, The For Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 150

[2] Sigmund Freud, On Narcissism: An Introduction, trans. Strachey J. (London: Hogarth Press, 1964)

[3]Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage,” Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1977

[4] Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of The Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (The University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London, 1995), 126-27-28 “The Greek myths do not, generally, say anything; they are seductive because of a concealed, oracular wisdom which elicits the infinite process of divining. What we call meaning, or indeed sign, is foreign to them: they signal without signifying; they show, or they hide, but they always are clear, for they always speak the transparent mystery, the mystery of transparence. Thus all commentary is ponderous and uselessly verbose—all the more so if it employs the narrative mode, and expands the mysterious story intelligently into explanatory episodes which in turn imply a fleeting clarity. If Ovid, perhaps prolonging a tradition, introduces into the fable of Narcissus the fate—which one might call telling—of the nymph Echo, it is surely in order to tempt us to discover there a lesson about language which we ourselves add, after the fact. Nevertheless, the following is instructive: since it is said that Echo loves Narcissus by staying out of sight, we might suppose that Narcissus is summoned to encounter a voice without body, a voice condemned always to repeat the last word and nothing else—a sort of nondialogue: not the language whence the Other would have approached him, but only the mimetic, rhyming alliteration of a semblance of language. Narcissus is said to be solitary, but it is not because he is excessively present to itself; it is rather because he lacks, by decree (you shall not see yourself), that reflected presence—identity, the self-same—the basis upon which a living relation with life, which is other, can be ventured. He is supposed to be silent: he has no language save the repetitive sound of a voice which always says to him the self-same thing, and this is a self-sameness which he cannot attribute to himself. And this voice is narcissistic precisely in the sense that he does not love it—in the sense that it gives him nothing other to love. Such is the fate of the child one thinks is repeating the last words spoken, when in fact he belongs to the rustling murmur which is not language, but enchantment. And such is the fate of lovers who touch each other with words, whose contact with each other is made of words, and who can thus repeat themselves without end, marvelling at the utterly banal, because their speech is not a language but an idiom they share with no other, and because each gazes at himself in the other’s gaze in a redoubling which goes from mirage to admiration.”

Ben Woodard – ‘A Nature to Pulp the Stoutest Philosopher: Towards a Lovecraftian Philosophy of Nature’ (via REAL HORROR)

Special commissioned writing by Ben Woodard

A Nature to Pulp the Stoutest Philosopher: Towards a Lovecraftian Philosophy of Nature

The possibility of Lovecraftian philosophy (and a philosophy of nature) is at least a threefold weirdness:

1-Lovecraft’s own philosophical views were bitingly materialist following in the footsteps of Hugh Elliot, Bertrand Russell as well as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer while making dismissive remarks about Bergson, Freud and others. Lovecraft’s enthusiasm for Nietzsche was actually more Schopenhauerian than it appeared as evidenced in his piece Nietzscheism and Realism.[i]

2-Lovecraft’s reception ‘among the philosophers’ has been fairly limited with only a few scattered remarks from Deleuze and Guattari and philosophical-literary treatments by Michel Houellebecq, ST Joshi, and others. Though it seems to have begun to change with Speculative Realism and other connected thinkers – as even Badiou has expressed his appreciation for Lovecraft.[ii]

3-This relationship of Lovecraft to philosophy and philosophy to Lovecraft is coupled with Lovecraft’s habit of mercilessly destroying the philosopher and the figure of the academic more generally in his work, a destruction which is both an epistemological destruction (or sanity breakdown) and an ontological destruction (or unleashing of the corrosive forces of the cosmos). These demolitions are a result of a materialism which border on supernaturalism in Lovecraft’s cosmos, a materialism which operates within an onto-epistemological indistinction. This indistinction, which runs throughout weird fiction on the whole, means not only that being and knowing are indistinct and cannot be pre-determined by thought, but that it is difficult to separate being and thinking formally from one another.

Or, in other words, the horrorific entities and forces of Lovecraft’s fiction (while rigorously materialistic and part of a real nature) simultaneously test the limits of knowing on a small scale – ‘do I know what X is?’ – as well as on a large scale ‘can I know what X is?’ as well as ontological limits, of questioning the very possibilities of is such as in the horrific phrase ‘what is that?.’[iii]

 … Read More

via REAL HORROR

Collapse Vol. III: Unknown Deleuze [+ Speculative Realism] Now available to download for free (via Speculative Heresy)

Word from Urbanomic that Volume III of Collapse has sold out and is now available for free online. It includes the much-cited original Speculative Realism conference. Find it here.

via Speculative Heresy

Collapse III contains explorations of the work of Gilles Deleuze by pioneering thinkers in the fields of philosophy, aesthetics, music and architecture. In addition, we publish in this volume two previously untranslated texts by Deleuze himself, along with a fascinating piece of vintage science fiction from one of his more obscure influences. Finally, as an annex to Collapse Volume II, we also include a full transcription of the conference on ‘Speculative Realism’ held in London in 2007.

The contributors to this volume aim to clarify, from a variety of perspectives, Deleuze’s contribution to philosophy: in what does his philosophical originality lie; what does he appropriate from other philosophers and how does he transform it? And how can the apparently disparate threads of his work to be ‘integrated’ – what is the precise nature of the constellation of the aesthetic, the conceptual and the political proposed by Gilles Deleuze, and what are the overarching problems in which the numerous philosophical concepts ‘signed Deleuze’ converge?

Contents

ROBIN MACKAY
Editorial Introduction [PDF]
THOMAS DUZER
In Memoriam: Gilles Deleuze 1925-1995 [PDF]
GILLES DELEUZE
Responses to a Series of Questions [PDF]
ARNAUD VILLANI
“I Feel I Am A Pure Metaphysician”: The Consequences of Deleuze’s Remark [PDF]
QUENTIN MEILLASSOUX
Subtraction and Contraction: Deleuze, Immanence and Matter and Memory [PDF]
HASWELL & HECKER
Blackest Ever Black [PDF]
GILLES DELEUZE
Mathesis, Science and Philosophy [PDF]
INCOGNITUM
Malfatti's Decade [[PDF]
JOHN SELLARS
Chronos and Aion: Deleuze and the Stoic Theory of Time [PDF]
ÉRIC ALLIEZ & JEAN-CLAUDE BONNE
Matisse-Thought and the Strict Ordering of Fauvism [PDF]
MEHRDAD IRAVANIAN
Unknown Deleuze [PDF]
J.-H. ROSNY THE ELDER
Another World [PDF]
RAY BRASSIER, IAIN HAMILTON GRANT, GRAHAM HARMAN, QUENTIN MEILLASSOUX
Speculative Realism [PDF]

Cronenberg, Burroughs, Deleuze (3) – From Metaphor and Towards Metamorphosis

From Metaphor and Towards Metamorphosis 

With Deleuze the Cartesian mind-body dualism has been replaced by body-language dualism. Without being too insistent about it at this stage I would like to hint at where the relationship between these dualisms is heading. I propose, therefore, what Deleuze has already pointed out, namely a new possibility of analysing the nature of dialectics in the context of the relationship between language and its affective quality, what he calls the sense-event. As he puts it in his Time-Image, Deleuze thinks that neither the grounds of mind-body dualism nor those of body-language dualism are sufficient to theorize a progressive movement towards a new mode of signification. 

These are no longer grounds for talking about a real or possible extension capable of constituting an external world: we have ceased to believe in it, and the image is cut off from the external world. But the internalisation or integration in a whole as consciousness of self has no less disappeared.[1] 

Lothar Osterburg, Trailer Park, 2009

 There is no longer any movement of internalisation or externalization, integration or differentiation, but a confrontation of outside and an inside independent of distance, this thought outside itself and this un-thought within thought.[2] 

Deleuze invites exploration of a text in the way of explicating a progressive potential within the text which had hitherto been consciously or unconsciously ignored or neglected, or even repressed. This theme is linked to Deleuze’s life-long concern with Nietzsche’s thought of eternal recurrence and difference qua repetition. The emergence of the unthought within thought requires an encounter with the already thought in such a way as to expose its inner dynamics and hence show what’s inside it as its outside. That is, what the thought seems to be excluding as its other constitutes its subject as self-identical. It is through the exclusion of the other that the subject becomes itself. If we apply this to subject-object relations it becomes obvious that the split between the subject and the object is itself a construct, but nevertheless a necessary construct for the subject’s subsistence. In-between the subject and the object, then, there is an unfillable gap that is constitutive of both the subject and the object. 

[…]thought, as power which has not always existed, is born from an outside more distant than any external world, and, as power which does not yet exist, confronts an inside, an unthinkable or un-thought, deeper than any internal world […][3] 

For Deleuze new thought can only emerge as a curious absurdity, as in the Beckett case. That is because the new thought, although it comes from within the old thought, is beyond the interiority and the exteriority to a context in its primary emergence. This means that new thought always appears to be a non-sense, for no thought can be meaningful without a context. But non-sense is not the absence of sense. It is, rather, sense with its own particular context which it creates in the process of emergence from out of the old context. Being without the predominant context makes the thought seem absurd, non-sense, but not meaningless, for meaningless means absence of thought. 

What is a transcendental field? It can be distinguished from experience in that it doesn’t refer to an object or belong to a subject (empirical representation). It appears therefore as stream of a-subjective consciousness, a pre-reflexive impersonal consciousness, a qualitative duration of consciousness without a self. It may seem curious that the transcendental be defined by such immediate givens: we will speak of a transcendental empiricism in contrast to everything that makes up the world of the subject and the object.[4] 

Joe Bosquet must be called Stoic. He apprehends the wound that he bears deep within his body in its eternal truth as a pure event. To the extent that events are actualised in us, they wait for us and invite us in. They signal us: “My wound existed before me, I was born to embody it.” It is a question of attaining this will that the event creates in us; of becoming the quasi-cause of what is produced within us, the Operator: of producing surfaces and linings in which the event is reflected, finds itself again in incorporeal and manifests in us the neutral splendour which it possesses in itself in its impersonal and pre-individual nature, beyond the general and the particular, the collective and the private. It is a question of becoming a citizen of the world.[5] 

In this light we now see more clearly what Deleuze is aiming at with his disjunctive synthesis of transcendence and immanence leading to his transcendental empiricism. Empiricism starts from the material world rather than from the metaphysical world which it sees only as a product of the representations of experience through language. In fact, it knows no world other than the material world, and even if it does it prioritizes the physical world over the metaphysical world. Experience of the world before subjectivation is what Deleuze is trying to access. Since reaching the pre-subjective field of partial objects is possible only through language, and he knows that, he says that we have to produce that pre-subjective field which is called the transcendental field of immanence. 

The event considered as non-actualized (indefinite) is lacking in nothing. It suffices to put it in relation to its concomitants: a transcendental field, a plane of immanence, a life, singularities.[6] 

What we encounter with Deleuze is therefore a replacement not only of body-mind dualism with body-language dualism, but also a beyond of both, a triplicity; body-language-event. The event is the sense-event. It is the emergence of new sense not out of non-sense but out of the old sense, that is, a simultaneous explication of a new sense within the old sense. The new sense always appears in the form of an absurdity at first, but in time, through repetition and persistence this absurdity starts to appear in a new light and becomes new sense. Absurd is not the same as non-sense or absence of sense, but explicates the non-sense inherent in sense, and hence is in-between non-sense and sense. Through the absurd the unconscious manifests itself revealing another realm of consciousness which goes beyond the subject and the object and yet that is at the same time in-between them. This consciousness is the becoming of being. Being is a whole in process, that is, being is its own becoming whole, therefore it is always incomplete and yet whole. Being is an incomplete idea of wholeness which is in the process of becoming present. Since presence can only be at present, and since time is only at present, the pre-subjective impersonal consciousness is in between past and present, that is, in-between non-being and being. The event is the emergence of being out of becoming, what Deleuze calls a static genesis. This emergence, however, has neither a beginning nor an end, and therefore being is the becoming of an impersonal consciousness; “I am all the names in history,” says Nietzsche. 

This indefinite life does not itself have moments, close as they may be one to another, but only between-times, between-moments; it doesn’t just come about or come after but offers the immensity of an empty time where one sees the event yet to come and already happened, in the absolute of an immediate consciousness.[7] 

At this moment in time, and in this place all the wounds of humanity of the past are incarnated.  One has to feel the pain of all the past times, empathize with all those sufferings and learn from them for progress to take place. It is not the individual sufferings of a single person that Hegel, Nietzsche, or Deleuze talk about. Theory, cinema, and literature are not personal affairs. What is at stake is the “presence” of all the already dead bodies that have to be turned into fertilizers. How to make use of the already dead bodies in the service of progress as opposed to the ones who kill in the service of  progress? Suffering and pain indeed weaken the subject and yet there is no way other than turning this weakness, this impoverishment of thought into an affirmative will to power beyond the life/death drive. Perhaps a more than banal accident of life but just like Bosquet “my wound existed before me.” I am always already injured and if there are many more wounds awaiting to be embodied by me, well then, this indeed signifies that it has always been, still is, and will never cease becoming a time of passage from homo sapiens across homo historia and it appears to be towards homo tantum. 

 


 

[1] Gilles Deleuze, Time-Image, (London: Athlone Press, 1989),  277 

[2] Deleuze,, 363 

[3] Deleuze, 273 

[4] Gilles Deleuze, Pure Immanence: A Life, trans. Anne Boyman (New York: Zone Books, 2001), 25 

[5] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (London: Athlone, 1990), 148 

[6] Deleuze, 31-2 

[7] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 29