A little vacation…

Well, once in a while a guy just needs a break, so spring fever is setting in and I just decided to head up to Montana for a month. No computers, no cell phones, no electronics… maybe a book or two, but mostly a little river time in my old cabin. I’ll be back in about a month… hold the fort down till I return.

Have fun all… be back soon!

Slavoj Zizek: What is the Parallax View?

The basic idea of the parallax view is that the very act of bracketing off produces its object – ‘democracy’ as a form emerges only when one brackets off the texture of economic relations as well as the inherent logic of the political state apparatus; they both have to be abstracted from people who are effectively embedded in economic processes and subjected to state apparatuses. The same goes also for the ‘logic of domination’, the way people are controlled/manipulated by the apparatuses of subjection: in order to clearly discern these mechanisms of power, one has to be abstracted not only from the democratic imaginary (as Foucault does in his analyses of the micro-physics of power, but also as Lacan does in his analysis of power in Seminar XVII), but also from the process of economic (re)production. And, finally, the specific sphere of economic (re)production only emerges if one methodologically brackets off the concrete existence of state and political ideology – no wonder critics of Marx complained that Marx’s ‘critique of political economy’ lacks a theory of power and state. And, of course, the trap to be avoided here is precisely the naïve idea that one should keep in view the social totality (parts of which are democratic ideology, the exercise of power and the process of economic (re)production): if one tries to keep the whole in view, one ends up seeing nothing, the contours disappear. This bracketing off is not only epistemological, but it concerns what Marx called the ‘real abstraction’: the abstraction from power and economic relations that is inscribed into the very actuality of the democratic process.

– Slavoj Zizek, Interrogating the Real

Slavoj Zizek: On The Fichtean Wager

Of course, Fichte passionately opts for idealism …

Both materialism and idealism lead to consequences that make practical activity meaningless or impossible. In order for me to be practically active, engaged in the world, I have to accept myself as a being ‘in the world,’ caught in a situation, interacting with real objects which resist me and which I try to transform. Furthermore, in order to act as a free moral subject, I have to accept the independent existence of other subjects like me, as well as the existence of a higher spiritual order in which I participate and which is independent of natural determinism. Accepting all this is not a matter of knowledge: it can only be a matter of faith. Fichte’s point is thus that the existence of external reality (of which I myself am a part) is not a matter of theoretical proofs, but a practical necessity, a necessary presupposition of me as an agent intervening into reality, interacting with it.

Fichte thus resumes the basic insight of the philosophy-of-reflection, which is usually formulated in a critical mode: the moment the subject experiences itself as redoubled in reflection, caught in oppositions, etc., it has to relate its own split/mediated condition to some presupposed Absolute inaccessible to it, set up as the standard the subject tries to rejoin. The same insight can also be made in more common-sense terms: when we humans are engaged in a turmoil of activity, it is a human propensity to imagine an external absolute point of reference which provides orientation and stability to our activity. What Fichte does here is that, in the best tradition of transcendental phenomenology, he reads this constellation in a purely immanent way: we should never forget that this Absolute, precisely insofar as it is experienced by the subject as the presupposition of its activity, is actually posited by it, i.e., can only exist for it.’ Two crucial consequences follow from such an immanent reading: first, the infinite Absolute is the presupposition of a finite subject, its specter can only arise within the horizon of a finite subject experiencing its finitude as such. Second consequence: this experience of the gap that separates the subject from the infinite Absolute is inherently practical, it is what pushes the subject to incessant activity. …in this practical vision, Fichte also opens up the space for a new radical despair: not only my personal despair that I cannot realize the Ideal, not only the despair that reality is too hard, but a suspicion that the Ideal is in itself invalidated, that it simply is not worth it.

However, from the practical standpoint, the finite Self posits the infinite Self in the guise of the ideal of a unity of Self and not-Self, and, with it, the non-self as an obstacle to be overcome. We thus find ourselves in a circle: the absolute Self posits non-self and then finitizes itself by its delimitation; however, the circle closes itself, the absolute presupposition itself (the pure self-positing) returns as presupposed, i.e., as the presupposition of the posited, and, in this sense, as depending on the posited. Far from being an inconsistency, this is the crucial, properly speculative, moment in Fichte: the presupposition itself is (retroactively) posited by the process it generates.

So, perhaps, before dismissing him as the climactic point of subjectivist madness, we should give Fichte a chance.

– Slavoj Zizek. Mythology, Madness and Laughter:
Subjectivity in German Idealism

Paul Feyerabend: The Practical Philosopher

The knowledge we claim to possess, the very general knowledge provided by modern physical theory included, is an intricate web of theoretical principles and practical, almost bodily abilities and it cannot be understood by looking at theories exclusively.

– Paul Feyerbend, The Tyranny of Science

After this little quip Feyerbend lays it low and true: most popular accounts of science and many philosophical analyses are therefor chimeras, pure and simple (108).1 Being a software engineer / architect I’ve had occasion to relate to Feyerbend’s words, where he mentions on a slightly different note the work of engineers: to evaluate a project an engineer needs both theoretical and on-site experience and this means that he should have theoretical as well as practical schooling (108). He continues, saying:

A variety of disasters has convince some administrators that the top-down (theoretical) approach is defective and that engineering practice is an important part of the education of even an engineering theoretician. (108)

As I read posts by young or old philosophers I am almost tempted to have them go back t school and Major in some practical area, say mechanical engineering, architecture, biology, etc., where they can actually spend summers interning and gaining practical insight into their subject form a bottom-up perspective. I often think of political theorists of the past few hundred years and wonder just how they thought their strange theoretical  generalizations would ever support  practical application. Too bad those young revolutionaries of former eras didn’t have some school of Revolution 101 to show them that in actual application their ideas might just take on a life of their own and connect back to human emotion and anger, follow the death drives right down into the cesspool of some slime bucket of catastrophe.

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Nishitani Keiji: The Laughter beyond Nihilism

A paradigmatic example of the Way that has attained the stage of being able to laugh is Zen Buddhism. To immerse oneself in the “play” of the illusionary world and its groundless activity, and to live it to the utmost, is the life beyond nihilism of which Nietzsche’s Zarathustra was an exemplar. What Nietzsche meant in speaking of becoming a “child,” and what he calls “my” innocence (being without guilt), is participation in the play of the world which is at once laughter and folly. When the world and its eternal recurrence become the laughter of creaturely existence, not only the spirit of gravity but also the nihilism of “nothingness (meaninglessness) eternally” is for the first time eradicated from the ground of one’s being. As an old Zen Master once stated: “In laughter there is a blade.” It cuts through the illusions revealing the pure emptiness that is, such is the laughter beyond nihilism…

– from Nishitani Keiji’s – The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism

Deleuze & Guattari: America, Nomadism and the Rhizomatic Middle

America is a special case. Of course it is not immune from domination by trees or the search for roots. This is evident even in the literature, in the quest for a national identity and even for a European ancestry or genealogy… Nevertheless, everything important that has happened or is happening takes the route of the American rhizome…

 from a thousand plateaus
by gilles Deleuze / felix Guattari

Why America? What is there special about America that these nameless ones – these schizoanalytical philonauts who write neither philosophy, nor anything that could be identified as part of the two-thousand year literature of wisdom, have discovered about the dreamworlds of the “Western Lands” (Burroughs). “There is a whole American “map” in the West, where even the trees form rhizomes. America reversed the directions: it put its Orient in the West, as if it were precisely in America that the earth came full circle; its West is the edge of the East”(19).1 What is this open secret, what story does America have to tell us? “Has not America acted as an intermediary…,” D&G inquire. Yes, we say, it has brought both death and life, flows, intensities, migrations, exterminations, liquidations, and immigrations:

The flow of capital produces an immense channel, a quantification of power with immediate “quanta,” where each person profits from the passage of the money flow in his or her own way…: in America everything comes together, tree and channel, root and rhizome. There is no universal capitalism, there is no capitalism in itself; capitalism is at the crossroads of all kinds of formations, it is neocapitalism by nature. It invents its eastern face and western face, and reshapes them both  – all for the worse. (20)

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Cengiz Erdem as usual discovers what it means to be nothing and no-one…. Islands of Thought that keep us sane!

Senselogic

brightonpier

Islands are either from before or after humankind.[1] ~ Gilles Deleuze

 William Golding’s Lord of The Flies is an allegory of the death-drive inherent in human nature. It is a reversal of Ballantyne’s The Coral Island. In direct opposition to The Coral Island in which three young men establish the British culture on an island after their ship sinks in the Pacific Ocean, in Lord of The Flies we have children who become deranged and lose control of their aggressive impulses on a deserted island. In the absence of an external authority they become more and more violent. Golding is implying that humankind is violent by nature and the absence of symbolic order initiates a regressive process governed by the unconscious drives leading to violence and destruction.

People prefer security and certainty to truth, they want an unshakable, stable order in which they can feel secure. They…

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Alenka Zupancic: Quote of the Day!

Kazmir Malevich – Black Square

One analogy that seems particularly striking could be drawn between Nietzsche and Kazimir Malevich. Indeed, I am tempted to suggest that, at least to a certain extent, Nietzsche is to philosophy what Malevich is to art. “So far, artists have only been portraying, or representing, the world and its objects in different ways, but the time has come for us to create something in this world” – this is how one could express Malevich’s motto. He declares his Black Square to be the first new form that was ever created, the first artistic creation in the strong meaning of the word: it is nothing less than the “birth of the painting-surface.” A painting-surface or a “plane” is not an object that could be found anywhere in the world (and then reproduced or represented in a painting); it exists only as a painting. This is not to say that the painting represents some imaginary fantasy-object that exists nowhere in reality, only in the fictive domain of the painting. On the contrary, Black Square introduces a new object in reality, this new object being precisely the painting-surface as object. A painting such as Black Square is the very materiality of the painting-surface. Therefore, “any painting-surface is more alive than any face from which a pair of eyes and a grin jut out,”‘ and Suprematism is “the beginning of a new culture.” In relation to Malevich, one should stress that his project was far from being simply abstractionist; it was not about purifying the world of images or representations up to the point where nothing is left but its pure form. Rather, his project was to create a form that could count as the first “content” or object created by painting from within its own practice-the “painting-surface” or “plane” being, according to Malevich, precisely this: namely, a painterly object par excellence.

 from Alenka Zupancic’s:
The Shortest Shadow:
Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two

*********

Notes:

Is this the thing itself immanently registering its movement on the plane of the painterly surface as it rises from the gap as an Object replete with all its objecthood intact as the subjectal manifestation of the ‘plane of immanence’? Or is this nothing less than the geometry of the Void? Maybe this is the gap itself that gives rise to suture, the ontological crack that cuts through reality itself: because we cannot take in the whole of reality we are blinded by its immensity, situated within its dark concavity where we continuously fill it with a sea of fantasy… but even as our gaze penetrates the black darkness of this object we discover that we are falling into our own abyss of subjectivity rather than the Real, caught between sex and death we become destitute of the illusions that have sustained us and suddenly astonished we grasp for the first and last time the jouissance of life.

Slavoj Zizek: The Answer of the Real

What, then, is the “Thing-in-itself” from a dialectical-materialist standpoint? The best way to answer this question is, again, to oppose dialectical materialism to Buddhism: in Buddhism, the In-itself is the void, nothing, and ordinary reality is a play of appearances. The question ultimately unanswered here is how we get from nothing to something. How do illusory appearances arise out of the void? The dialectical-materialist answer is: only if this something is less than nothing, the pre-ontological proto-reality of den. From within this proto-reality, our ordinary reality appears through the emergence of a subject which constitutes “objective reality”: every positive reality of Ones is already phenomenal, transcendentally constituted, “correlated” to a subject— in Badiou’s terms, every reality is that of a world defined by its transcendental coordinates.

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R.S. Bakker: Is Philosophy Dead?

Of late on R.S Bakker’s site Three Pound Brain he remarks on the failure of critical philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge to obviate the need to answer the primary question that it sought to answer, which is, namely, the question of securing speculative truth despite the limitations of our nature.1 Epistemic humility and finitude: the two poles of philosophy from Kant to now. Kant in his idealism argued for a “regulative principle of reason” that would guide our philosophical or scientific inquiries by “regarding all combination in the world as if it arose from an all-sufficient necessary cause, so as to ground on that cause the rule of a unity that is systematic and necessary, but it is not an assertion of an existence that is necessary in itself”.2

Bakker demarcates his own stance of Blind Brain Theory against such thinkers as Daniel Dennett’s well known conception of an “intentional stance,” which contrasts with the “physical,” “design” and “personal” stances.3 What Dennett means by an intentional stance is that it is a heuristic and predictive explanatory strategy, and the intentional stance is one that treats the behavior of the “system” being investigated as “rational” in the sense that it operates on the basis of beliefs and desires. The whole point of this exercise is an as-if strategy, since there is no assumption that the system under investigation is rational, the idea that it is such is merely a useful fiction (heuristic), a matter of treating it “as if” it were, which seems very much like a Kantian regulative idea.

Now Bakker touts his own BBT theory as being post-intentional, and he describes himself as a “skeptical naturalist”. Succinctly put BBT argues that the first-person perspective is the expression of the kinds and quantities of information that, for a variety of structural and developmental reasons, cannot be accessed by the ‘conscious brain.’ In other words the subject – or, in Transcendental Subject is blind to its own foundations or ground, it has no access to the given entity of its own formation: the brain – mind($). As he remarks: “Puzzles as profound and persistent as the now, personal identity, conscious unity, and most troubling of all, intentionality, could very well be kinds of illusions foisted on conscious awareness by different versions of the informatic limitation expressed, for instance, in the boundary of your visual field. By explaining away these phenomena, BBT separates the question of consciousness from the question of  how consciousness appears, and so drastically narrows the so-called explanatory gap.”3

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Tom Sparrow: ‘Levinas Unhinged’ and ‘A History of Habit’

Both of Tom Sparrow’s new books are ready for pre-order:

You can pre-order his book Levinas Unhinged HERE. It should be available at Amazon US before too long, too, in both paperback and Kindle versions. You can now pre-order his co-edited book A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Graham Harman: Allure is the Engine of Creation for Objects

Like many others I’ve read the works of Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, Levi R. Bryant, and Timothy Morton. Even if I am an insubstantialist rather than a substantial formalist I can admire their work even as I disagree with it. One should still confront it and understand its basic premises.

Following up from yesterday’s post on the theme of Withdrawal I decided to enter another aspect of Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology with one of his main themes: the power of Allure. Wandering the blog world one can find both allies and enemies of Harman’s basic notions, but one thing I’ve discovered over and over is that many allies and enemies alike get it wrong – they give descriptions of Harman’s Objects that always seem to reduce them to some other flavor of philosophy. Nothing bad about trying to translate notions, concepts, ideas, etc. into one’s own terms I suppose, but most of the time when this is done one gets something other than the truth of the original. (And, no, I’m not going to burn down the web and find a bunch of examples of this. Why should I expose others to their own folly?)

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Slavoj Zizek and Graham Harman: On withdrawal…

Even though Slavoj Zizek and someone like Graham Harman are diametrically in opposing camps, there is something I’ve discovered along the way. Harman is an avid reader of Zizek even if he opposes his base line materialism. You can find scattered throughout his oeuvre references to Zizek’s works from Tool-Being onwards. I often wondered why he was so interested in Zizek, and confronted the ideas Zizek upheld.

Both philosophers were at one time deeply influenced either oppositionally or  friendly toward the work of Martin Heidegger. You find references to Heidegger strewn through both philosophers works. Of late I’ve seen many people castigate Harman for his use of the notion of ‘withdrawal’, and yet, in other respects, even as late as Less Than Nothing (LTN), I see Zizek intensely working that term as well in alternating passages. In one of the notes in LTN Zizek remarks on Heidegger:

When Heidegger speaks of the “concealment of concealment itself” or the “oblivion of oblivion,” this should not be reduced to a double movement of first forgetting Being in our immersion in beings and then forgetting this forgetting itself: forgetting is always also a forgetting of forgetting itself, otherwise it is not forgetting at all— in this sense, as Heidegger put it, it is not only that Being withdraws itself, but Being is nothing but its own withdrawal. (Furthermore, concealment is a concealment of concealment in a much more literal way: what is concealed is not Being in its purity but the fact that concealment is part of Being itself.)(Kindle Locations 25735-25740).

Is it too hard to hear in the above passage the echoes of influence in Harman of, let’s say, what is concealed is not the Object in its purity but the fact that concealment is part of the Object itself. And if Being withdraws itself as in Heidegger then what of the Object withdraws itself. Are these metaphorical ellipsis in movement?

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Slavoj Zizek: The Thin Red Line

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

– Dylan Thomas

As we know the notion of the gap or crack in the world is central to Zizek’s philosophy, the sine qua non of its dialectical core or kernel. Between a passion for the Real and a passion for the Semblance humanity seems to be caught in the net of an illusionary drive toward opposing truths. Are either of these positions right? Zizek says there might just be a third way:

There is not just the interplay of appearances, there is a Real— this Real, however, is not the inaccessible Thing, but the gap which prevents our access to it, the “rock” of the antagonism which distorts our view of the perceived object through a partial perspective. The “truth” is thus not the “real” state of things, accessed by a “direct” view of the object without any perspectival distortion, but the very Real of the antagonism which causes the perspectival distortion itself. Again, the site of truth is not the way “things really are in themselves,” beyond perspectival distortion, but the very gap or passage which separates one perspective from another, the gap … which makes the two perspectives radically incommensurable. The “Real as impossible” is the cause of the impossibility of our ever attaining the “neutral” non-perspectival view of the object. There is a truth, and not everything is relative— but this truth is the truth of the perspectival distortion as such, not a truth distorted by the partial view from a one-sided perspective.1

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Cindy Sherman: Subjectivity and Late Modernism

Cindy Sherman: ‘Untitled’

The grey tones of a grey world, norish, negative, cognitive, abstract and abstracted, painful and self-defeating, a world in which the violence of beauty awakens a claim of ugliness against the artificial beauty of fashion and mechanized reproductions. This is the world not of self-discovery but of the typical unglorified image of fairy-tales, horror movies, pornography, the negative and positive movement of death as it imposes or supervenes itself on the blankness of self-exposure. As J.M. Berstein remarks this is the gesture of spaces where representation and ugliness converge, “where the ugly – distortion and fragments – operates as a disruptive counterforce to the compulsive stilling of the beautiful” (255). 1 Like an ancient tragedian Cindy Sherman focuses the lens not of the eye or gaze of mind or self onto the dark contours of her objects, but rather reveals from the immanent depths of an immersive medium the emptiness at the heart of reality. This is not a subjectivist portrayal but a realist horror that illuminates even as it crushes and divests itself of the very anchors of subjectivity that we of the West have for so long fetishized in our fantasmatic images of self and other.

Cynthia “Cindy” Morris Sherman (born January 19, 1954) is an American photographer and film director, best known for her conceptual portraits. In 1995, she was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. Through a number of different series of works, Sherman has sought to raise challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art. Her photographs include some of the most expensive photographs ever sold. Sherman lives and works in New York. (Wikipedia: Cindy Sherman)

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Zizek on Kant and Hegel: the Grotesque, Macabre, and The Ugly

We have pointed out the characteristic trait, the fundamental difference that separates, in our view, modern art from ancient art, today’s form from dead form, or – to use vaguer but better accredited words – Romantic literature from classical literature… Not that it would be correct to say that comedy and the grotesque were absolutely unknown to the ancients: which would be impossible … But in modern thinking the grotesque plays an immense part. It is everywhere on the one hand it creates the deformed and the horrible, on the other the comic an the clownish … Beauty has only one type, ugliness has thousands… What we call ugly is a detail from a great whole that eludes us, and that harmonizes not so much with man alone but with all of creation. This is why ugliness constantly reveals new, but incomplete aspects of it.

– Victor Hugo, ‘Preface to Cromwell’ (1827)

“Kant, like a good compulsive neurotic … sets up the network of the conditions of possible experience in order to make sure that the actual experience of the real, the encounter with the Thing, will never take place, so that everything the subject will effectively encounter will be the already gentrified-domesticated reality of representations” (75).1 For Zizek Kant was an obsessional whose whole philosophical project was a great apotropaion: his discursive system is a labyrinth in which he hoped to entangle the vague horrors of the noumenon, ritual dependence and the ironic distancing from that dark heart of a traumatic encounter that he could ill afford to master. It is after Kant’s impossible withdrawal from the noumenal into a more refined realm of appearance and representation: his safety net against the dark horrors of the grotesque, macabre, and the ugly that Zizek speaks of “the monstrous noumenal Thing,” an abyss or vacuum threating to swallow up the subject that fails to maintain an appropriate degree of distance from it  ( Plague of Fantasies, 237).2

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Notes on Adrian Johnston’s – Zizek’s Ontology

Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.

– Immanuel Kant, Critique Of Pure Reason

Slavoj Zizek is the great inheritor of German Idealism. His transcendental and dialectical materialism must be seen as the inverse shadow world of Idealism’s indigestion. It is the very kernel of materialism that German Idealism from Kant to Hegel were never able to explain away, never able to overcome nor completely break free. As Adrian Johnston remarks it was Zizek’s reading of Fichte as a materialist – against the grain so to speak, that allowed him to recognize in the deadlocks and internal obstacles of every transcendental idealism a remainder that could not be digested by absolute knowing of a transcendental subjectivity. It was on this account, that “materialism is philosophically tenable solely as the spectral inverse  of idealism, accompanying it as the shadow cast by idealism’s insurmountable incompleteness” (49).1 This is why Zizek admits that his work is rooted in the idealist world, even if it betrays its idealist intent by exposing its inability to escape the very materialist Real that underpinned its inescapable subjectival epistemology:

My  work relies on the full acceptance of the notion of modern subjectivity elaborated by the great German Idealist from Kant to Hegel: for me, this tradition forms the unsurpassable horizon of our philosophical experience, and the core of my entire work is the endeavor to use Lacan as a privileged intellectual tool to reactualize German Idealism. (ibid, 14)

The whole foundation of Kant’s epistemological framework and its centering on finitude as our inability to grasp reality is the very positive proof of the ontological conditions of reality itself. The truth be told it is Kant’s explicit stance within epistemology that demarcates and formulates finitude as ontologically constitutive. It is in this distanciation between epistemic knowing and ontological knowledge that Zizek ontologizes Hegel’s difference, his fundamental insight into the incompleteness of reality itself. As Johnston remarks it is Zizek’s reading of Hegel and a fully ontologized Kant that offers an “acceptance of the “not all” of finite incompleteness as more than just an epistemological limitation” (15). Johnston goes on the stipulate that Zizek’s use of the motif of the subject as “crack” as the foundation of the entire edifice of his ontology is itself derived from Kant’s transcendental turn (15).

Zizek according to Johnston takes up the precarious stance of situating the transcendental materialist as the kernel of the Fichte-Kant  transcendental subjectivity, as showing that this very subjectivity in its finitude discovers the nonassimilable foreign body of materiality in the core of subjectivity itself (19). This produces a tentative definition for Zizek’s materialism: “True materialism does not consist in the simple operation of reducing inner psychic experience to an effect of the processes taking place in ‘external reality’ – what one should do, in addition, is to isolate a ‘material’ traumatic kernel/remainder at the very heart of ‘psychic life’ itself” (20). Johnston finishes this particular inquiry with a series of questions:

Given Zizek’s combination of Kant and German Idealism with Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis, what specific sort of “materialism” does he have in mind as constituting the inner core of subjectivity? What is the nature of the “hard kernel” subsisting within the structure of the seemingly immaterial subject, whether this is Kant’s transcendental subject or Lacan’s subject of the signifier? Does Zizek content himself, like Fichte, with leaving this notion in a quite abstract state, as an entirely indeterminate, enigmatic je ne sais quoi provoking yet defying any sort of conceptual concretization? These queries are best answered by returning to focus upon Zizek’s Lacan-influenced appropriation of Kant (20).

1. Adrian Johnston. Zizek’s Ontology A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity. (Northwestern University Press, 2008)

Slavoj Zizek: Quote of the Day!

“In the Marxian perspective, utopian socialism consists in the very belief that a society is possible in which the relations of exchange are universalized and production for the market predominates, but workers themselves none the less remain proprietors of their means of production and are therefore not exploited – in short, ‘utopian’ conveys a belief in the possibility of a universality without its symptom, without the point of exception functioning as its internal negation.”

– Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology

Slavoj Zizek: The Place of Blindness

Our brain is almost entirely blind to itself, and it is this interval between ‘almost’ and ‘entirely’ wherein our experience of consciousness resides.

– R. Scott Bakker, The Last Magic Show

…philosophy as such is defined by its blindness to this place: it cannot take it into consideration without dissolving itself; without losing its consistency.

– Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology

Zizek like the Laughing Buddha, Budai, enlightens us through laughter and paradox, jokes and juxtapositions of high and low culture. And, at times, he surprises even himself, as in his first book The Sublime Object of Ideology where he uncovers the very form of philosophical blindness:

Philosophical reflection is thus subjected to an uncanny experience similar to the one summarized by the old oriental formula ‘thou art that’ [‘Tat Tvam Asi’]: there, in the external effectivity of the exchange process, is your proper place; there is the theatre in which your truth was performed before you took cognizance of it (11).1

Instead of a Freudian ‘scene of instruction’ this site or place is more of a confusion, a misrecognition scene in which individuals caught up in their own private solipsism exchange relations blind to the actual staging of thought itself (11). Thought and its reasons are blind to each other in the movement of the act. This misrecognition brings about a fissure in consciousness into ‘practical’ and ‘theoretical’ domains in which the ongoing active exchange between agents is carried on in complete non-knowledge, ‘practical solipsism’. And if these agents were to know too much, to awaken out of their solipsistic awareness, to ‘pierce the true functioning of social reality, this reality would dissolve itself (12).

This is probably the fundamental dimension of ‘ideology’: ideology is not simply a ‘false consciousness’, an illusory representation of reality, it is rather this reality itself which is already to be conceived as ‘ideological’ – ‘ideological’ is a social reality whose very existence implies the non-knowledge of its participants as to its essence – that is, the social effectivity, the very reproduction of which implies that the individuals ‘do not know what they are doing’ (15-16).

It is the ideological reality itself as ‘false consciousness’ that supports the sociality of this agent (being). We enter these ideological bubbles or spheres as children and are immersed in the effectivity of sociality long before we understand the dilemma of our blindness into its impact and strange control over our lives. The symptoms of this ideological world’s logic escapes us until the moment that knowledge after the fact awakens in us that ‘mise en scene’ of self-knowledge. In the moment of this antagonistic duel between knowledge and non-knowledge the kernel of self-reflecting negativity that is the transcendental field forms in the place of blindness.

1. Slavoj Zizek. The Sublime Object of Ideology. (Verson, 2008)

Dystopic Thoughts: 21st Century Neurototalitarianism

On BBT, all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Ironically enough, many have sought intentional asylum within that poverty in the form of apriori or pragmatic formalisms, confusing the lack of information for the lack of substantial commitment, and thus for immunity against whatever the sciences of the brain may have to say.

– R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

In my previous post I centered on the statement all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. And that we know that informatic poverty is defined as that situation in which individuals and communities, within a given context, do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it  apply it appropriately. It is further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure.

I also want to return to the previous quote:

The epoch of intentional philosophy is at an end. It will deny and declaim–it can do nothing else–but to little effect. Like all prescientific domains of discourse it can only linger and watch its credibility evaporate into New Age aether as the sciences of the brain accumulate ever more information and refine ever more instrumentally powerful interpretations of that information. It’s hard to argue against cures. Any explanatory paradigm that restores sight to the blind, returns mobility to the crippled, not to mention facilitates the compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition. (ibid)

In the statement above I began to visualize a future where people were divided by genetic profiles and forced into dystopic conclaves of the stupid, the knowledgeable, and the players. This tripartite division came to me from Scott’s statement above about people through the power of science, and especially of neuroscience, being suborned into cognitive domains (“compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition”). One can imagine how our globalists and their corporate think-tanks would have a heyday with such ideas.

A dystopic society controlled through neuropathic or cognitive sciences as the basic premise. Obviously the horror of such a thing brokers our imaginations. But I think we have to assume such a possibility if we are to take seriously Scott’s and our investment in a society in which naturalism and science rule. If as he suggests in his original post that intentional thought is an illusion, and that thought itself may become a thing of the past, then what will replace it? Will we be controlled by neurosurgeons who divide the human species into workers that are more machine than human, devoid of emotion and thought they would become the perfect society of robots enabled to do all our work without thought or issue. Such a world of mindless beings, of zombies without the virus of cannibalism, who live to work, never complain, go about their lives with idiot smiles on their faces living to serve their masters.

While on the other hand you have the knowledge workers, those who have the ability to think (within limits), who can use thought (Math, language, etc.) as tools but no more. Manipulators of symbolic codes that no longer have the ability to feel, to love, to care only enabled to work the vast knowledge based systems of control for their masters.

And, the Masters, the elite of this society? What kind of power plays would be afforded to them? What kind of lives would they lead knowing that the majority of humans were enslaved within neuroprisons, free to move about and do their jobs and live out their lives oblivious to the truth of their slavedom. And what if these supposed Masters were conned into believing that they were truly free, that they were enabled to do whatever they liked but were in fact worse off that the suborned classes of stupids and knowledgers? What if these elite were neuropathically enabled with only a set of predefined emotional markers, enabled to love but only under controlled and manipulated forms, able to rule but only as the neurotoxins and neurosuregeries allowed for? What if these Masters were slaves as well to a system that their ancestors schemed up ages before and threw away the keys to such knowledge.

And, what if someone came upon this knowledge? What if someone accidently, as evolutionary thought has always supposed, became an enigma a new Eve or Adam and discovered that everyone else lived in a clockwork world thinking they were actually free and moral beings? What then? I can imagine this as a series of YA Dystopic Novels with all the antagonisms of young protaganists awakening from the long sleep within neuroprison. Reawakening all the old revolutionary ideologies etc. A tattered set of ideas, all, I agree… but what happens if Bakker is right… and such a neurotechnical society came about through the erroneous use of science without philosophy, ethics, etc. What then?

1. R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

R. Scott Bakker: Artifacts of Missing Information; or, the Posthuman Blues

The epoch of intentional philosophy is at an end. It will deny and declaim–it can do nothing else–but to little effect. Like all prescientific domains of discourse it can only linger and watch its credibility evaporate into New Age aether as the sciences of the brain accumulate ever more information and refine ever more instrumentally powerful interpretations of that information. It’s hard to argue against cures. Any explanatory paradigm that restores sight to the blind, returns mobility to the crippled, not to mention facilitates the compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition.

– R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

One almost expects to see the Wizard of Oz step out from behind the proverbial curtain. But instead we get the prognostications of a posthuman rabble rouser, daring philosophical speculators to trump his magic cards; or, better yet, walk down the golden brick road of BBT and rewire the world as a blind bug in a dark cave. The Saviour is among us, but he is not Jesus, no it seems to be none other than the veritable god of Science come round at last like some monstrous progeny or machinic entity of  naturalism offering its special prognosis for the blind brains of the earth.  Suddenly the new Cognitive Imperium rises before us, its latest spokesman, R. Scott Bakker, with pomposity and egoistic grandeur burying its supposed distant brethren within the prescientific domains of what used to be termed ‘philosophy’. The Imperium of BBT (Blind Brain Theory) is among us, no longer the fictional creature of a cartoon fantasy, this monstrosity purports to reduce everything to the three-pound lump of neuronal bliss we call our brain, the last frontier of cognitive theory and therapy. And, who is the emperor of this new Empire of the Mind? Is the grandiose ego of R. Scott Bakker taking the helm? A rock star of mythic fantasias and neuronal crime novels  he seems ready to replace all Master Signifiers of phenomenology and its epigones with just one GRAND UNIFIED THEORY of the Brain: Blind Brain Theory as Maximus Philosophicus, the Emperor of all Sciences. But before we bow down to such neuronal gods shouldn’t we make inquiries into this latest reductionary naturalism of which his science is the heir? Should we not ask a few questions of this grand system of discursive and explanatory power just why it is that Mr. Bakker with his if not magic, then scientific, wand can now cast all prescientific thought into the dustbin of lost notions?

On BBT, all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Ironically enough, many have sought intentional asylum within that poverty in the form of apriori or pragmatic formalisms, confusing the lack of information for the lack of substantial commitment, and thus for immunity against whatever the sciences of the brain may have to say.

Let’s take a peak at that first statement: all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Now we know that informatic poverty is defined as that situation in which individuals and communities, within a given context, do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it  apply it appropriately. It is further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure. Bakker argues that if “…philosophy is our response to informatic poverty, our inability to gather enough of the information required to decisively arbitrate between our claims, then philosophy itself becomes an important bearer of information. It is an informatic weather-vane. In this case, philosophy tells us that, despite all the information we think we have at our disposal via intuition or introspection, we actually represent a profound informatic blindspot.”2

The whole point of this argument for Bakker is that philosophy was fine and dandy as a prescientific tool, but compared to science it is no longer adequate to the task accept as an ‘informatic weather-vane’ for attracting information, yet blind as a bat when trying to apply theoretical or conceptual practices on that very information.

On another Blog post Bakker succinctly defines BBT:

This is the approach Blind Brain Theory takes: crudely put, instead of looking at our deliberative access to conscious experience as an example of *turning the lights on,* you look at it as *turning the lights off,* as peering through an informatic gloom you can’t recognize as such for lack of comparison – neglect. Then, taking the mechanistic brain revealed by the sciences as your interpretative baseline, you can begin interpreting all the puzzles and conundrums that have so plagued philosophy of mind as ARTIFACTS OF MISSING INFORMATION, as what happens when our environmentally oriented cognitive systems find themselves welded to a single informatic perspective in a crowded, almost totally dark room.3

A sort of Plato’s cave for departed information specialists who are using the latest BBT apparatus to seek out and destroy the missing artifacts of informatics Borg like conclave that just happens to reside in the missing spaces of our blind brain. Something like William Blake who thought eternity resided in a grain of sand, Bakker’s prognostications for us all tend to the nihilistic fold of ultra hip doomsters:

Our ‘epoch of thinking’ teeters upon the abyssal, a future so radical as to make epic fantasy of everything we are presently inclined to label ‘human.’ Whether it acknowledges as much or not, all thought huddles in the shadow of the posthuman–the shadow of its end. (ibid)

Looks like we’ll have a lot of zombie parties in the dark loam of the coming post-philosophical apocalypse…   problem is with such dark laughter arising from the corpse of philosophy who will gather all those lost artifacts of information so that our machinic progeny will remember the truth of their own very human flesh and blood ancestors? If that three-pound lump in the skull is finally eliminated, finally subtracted from the transcendental field, enveloped in some machinic semblance of a strange attractor who will teach them that it all started with thinking brains if thought itself is no more? Will that blind god in the informatic shadows speak of those old ones who stirred the mud of life under a dying sun?

————–

Previous review I did on Scott’s BBT: Post-Intentional Philosophy

1. http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/reactionary-atheism-hagglund-derrida-and-nooconservativism/
2. http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/why-philosophy-and-why-has-the-soul-become-its-stronghold/
3. http://philosophyandpsychology.com/?p=2292

Slavoj Zizek: Two Lacan’s – Radical/Conservative

…those who err are precisely those cynics who dismiss the symbolic texture as a mere semblance and are blind to its efficacy, to the way the symbolic affects the Real, to the way we can intervene into the Real through the symbolic.

– Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing:
Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

Slavoj Zizek at the end of his discursive behemoth, Less Than Nothing, a convoluted yet brilliant divagation of the dialectic in all its ramifications enters the final stage, the stage of the political, the realm where the gap by which we as humans shall either produce something new or continue failing challenges us to think the gap of the political. Following Lacan as both radical and conservative, as a revolutionary that would push the ethics of symbolic realization and the ethics of confrontation bursting the bonds of the ego and pushing beyond the limits to the Real; and, then, in the last series of lectures, of a turn back from that abyss toward a more practical motion of psychoanalysis as a boat for the sick, a safety net in which  “One should not push an analysis too far. When the patient thinks he is happy to live, it is enough.”1 As Zizek puts it:

How far we are here from Antigone’s heroic attempt to attain the “pure desire” by entering the prohibited domain of ate! Psychoanalytic treatment is now no longer a radical transformation of subjectivity, but a local patching-up which does not even leave any long-term traces. (ibid)

It was this second Lacan, the conserver, the pale doctor of sick souls that would tempt his immediate keeper of the mantle, Jacques-Alain Miller, to accept the incurability of our subjectivity, to use it, to provide not a cure but a slow death between bodily jouissance and the acceptance of those semblances whose power marks the sacrifice of our lives limited finitude. Miller would provide a less than adequate critique of instrumental reason, a linkage between democratic culture and racism, a culture that used mathematical universalism and scientificity to demarcate the limits of reason and social hierarchies. The hegemony of science over language and positive knowledge, of its exclusionary practices and derogation of the humanities and other forms of knowledge would lead to a mode of universalism in which this passion became the end all for a culture of hedonistic enjoyment.

What this means is that a psychoanalyst occupies the position of an ironist who takes care not to intervene into the political field. He acts so that semblances remain at their places while making sure that the subjects under his care do not take them as real … (Kindle Locations 21584-21590).

The psychoanalyst no longer at the forefront of thought, becomes the ironist, and even the cynic of thought, he “doesn’t propose projects, he cannot propose them, he can only mock the projects of others, which limits the scope of his statements. The ironist has no great design, he waits for the other to speak first and then brings about his fall as fast as possible … Let us say this is political wisdom, nothing more”(ibid). With this we are lead to the defeat of the political, a Voltairean cynicism in which society is kept together only by semblances, “which means: there is no society without repression, without identification, and above all without routine. Routine is essential.” (ibid)

Such a world of routine and habit, repetition and abiding cynicism in which subjects know the truth of those semblances that hold them in thrall, but are unable to challenge their hegemonic power, allowing for only the hedonistic display of bodily jouissance as reprieve. Zizek tells us that only another alternative order, a new order of communism, one based on the idiosyncratic authenticity of a Utopia of misfits and oddballs, in which the constraints for uniformization and conformity have been removed, and human beings grow wild like plants in a state of nature … no longer fettered by the constraints of a now oppressive sociality, [they] blossom into the neurotics, compulsives, obsessives, paranoids and schizophrenics, whom our society considers sick but who, in a world of true freedom, may make up the flora and fauna of “human nature” itself.(Kindle Locations 21612-21615). In such a world ideology no longer resides primarily in taking seriously the network of symbolic semblances which encircle the hard core of jouissance; at a more fundamental level, ideology is the cynical dismissal of these semblances (Master Signifiers) as “mere semblances” with regard to the Real of jouissance (ibid).

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. Norton. Kindle Edition.

Slavoj Zizek: Quote of the Day!

The parallax gap is, on the contrary, the very form of the “reconciliation” of opposites: one simply has to recognize the gap.

So, again, what are the political consequences of asserting this gap? There are three basic options. First, there is the liberal option essentially advocated by Freud himself: the gap means that we should not fully identify with any positive political project, but retain a minimal distance towards them all, since politics is as such the domain of the Master-Signifier and of symbolic and/ or imaginary identifications. Then, there is the conservative option: against the eternal threat of destructive “negativity,” it is all the more necessary to impose onto social life a strict order based on a Master-Signifier. Finally, there is a Trotskyist-Deleuzian leftist version: true radical politics is a matter of “permanent revolution,” of persisting in permanent self-revolutionizing, without allowing this flux to stabilize itself into a new positive order. With Lacan and politics, it is thus the same as with Hegel: there are three main interpretations, the conservative (emphasizing the symbolic authority as a sine qua non of the social order), the leftist (using Lacan for the critique of patriarchal ideology and practice), and the cynically permissive liberal version (to each his or her own jouissance). This liberal interpretation participates in the short-circuit between ontology and politics typical of postmodern thought: radical leftist politics is rejected as “metaphysical,” as imposing on social life a universal metaphysical vision, as striving for a totally self-transparent and regulated society, and, since life resists the constraints of any such ideological straight-jacket, this politics necessarily ends in totalitarian terror. Such a political stance is very comfortable: while legitimizing a pragmatic politics without risks, it is able to present its cynical liberalism as the most radical-critical position.

So which of these three options is the correct one? The first should be rejected as taking the easy way out, claiming that the question itself is wrong: there is no “true” or “correct” version, the choice is undecidable, open. But, again, which of the three is the correct option? The answer is, of course, the fourth. In other words, as we have already seen, we should reject the presupposition shared by all three. In a properly Hegelian way, the distinction between the zero-level of the empty place and its filling-up with a positive project must be rejected as false: the zero-level is never “there,” it can be experienced only retroactively, as the pre-supposition of a new political intervention, of imposing a new order. The question is thus the Hegelian one of a positive order whose positivity gives body to the negativity by accomplishing it.

– Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing

Frantz Fanon: The Forbidden Cities

The violence which governed the ordering of the colonial world, which tirelessly punctuated the destruction of the indigenous social fabric, and demolished unchecked the systems of reference of the country’s economy, lifestyles, and modes of dress, this same violence will be vindicated and appropriated when, taking history into their own hands, the colonized swarm into the forbidden cities.

– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Today the poor of the world have no place to turn, neither the countryside nor the city, they have only the dark interior slums between. As Mike Davis iterates: “

Indeed, peri-urban poverty – a grim human world largely cut off from the subsistence solidarities of the countryside as well as disconnected from the cultural and political life of the traditional city – is the radical new face of inequality. The urban edge is a zone of exile, a new Babylon…1

In many third world countries night after night, hornetlike helicopter gunships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts, pouring hellfire into shanties or fleeing cars. Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions. If the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression, its outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side.(PS 206)

The poor of the world living in excluded realms, zones of invisibility, marginal to even the basic needs of survival. Closed off in the shanty town, the Medina, the reservation, in disreputable places inhabited by disreputable people. “You are born anywhere, anyhow. You die anywhere, from anything. It’s a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other, the shacks squeezed tightly together. The colonized’s sector is a famished sector, hungry for bread, meat, shoes, coal, and light. The colonized’s sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, a sector on its knees, a sector that is prostrate. It’s a sector of niggers, a sector of towelheads. The gaze that the colonized subject casts at the colonist’s sector is a look of lust, a look of envy. Dreams of possession. Every type of possession: of sitting at the colonist’s table and sleeping in his bed, preferably with his wife. The colonized man is an envious man” (WE 4-5). In the lands of the oppressed truth is learned each day in the struggle for another life:

Truth is what hastens the dislocation of the colonial regime, what fosters the emergence of the nation. Truth is what protects the “natives” and undoes the foreigners. In the colonial context there is no truthful behavior. And good is quite simply what hurts them most. (WD 14)

One can understand why Fanon thought such dark thoughts, why he felt that violence was a cleansing force. It is not just the oppression, the exclusion, it is the humiliation, the pangs of shame at having had to live under such horrid conditions for so long, having had to watch the masters treat one as a nothing, as a mere tool. Yes, one can understand such thoughts:

At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence. Even if the armed struggle has been symbolic, and even if they have been demobilized by rapid decolonization, the people have time to realize that liberation was the achievement of each and every one and no special merit should go to the leader. Violence hoists the people up to the level of the leader. Hence their aggressive tendency to distrust the system of protocol that young governments are quick to establish. When they have used violence to achieve national liberation, the masses allow nobody to come forward as “liberator.” They prove themselves to be jealous of their achievements and take care not to place their future, their destiny, and the fate of their homeland into the hands of a living god. (WE 51-52)

This was a man who knew the truth, who had lived it, had seen the oppression, had felt the pain of its deathly touch. He also knew that liberation came with a price, that nothing is gotten for nothing. There is always a price to pay for emancipation.

Total liberation involves every facet of the personality. The ambush or the skirmish, the torture or the massacre of one’s comrades entrenches the determination to win, revives the unconscious and nurtures the imagination. When the nation in its totality is set in motion, the new man is not an a posteriori creation of this nation, but coexists with it, matures with it, and triumphs with it. This dialectical prerequisite explains the resistance to accommodating forms of colonization or window dressing. Independence is not a magic ritual but an indispensable condition for men and women to exist in true liberation, in other words to master all the material resources necessary for a radical transformation of society. (WE 233)

1. Davis, Mike (2007-09-17). Planet of Slums (p. 201). Norton. Kindle Edition.
2. Frantz Fanon. The Wretched of the Earth (pp. 4-5). Kindle Edition.