The Interminable Process

“The primordial trauma, the trauma constitutive of the subject, is the very gap that bars the subject from its own ‘inner life’.”

-Slavoj Žižek. Disparities

My friend R. Scott Bakker’s response to this implies what he terms ‘medial neglect’ or the notion that we are blind to the brain’s own processes. In a fine essay describing this issue Scott remarks,

A curious consequence of the neuroscientific explananda problem is the glaring way it reveals our blindness to ourselves, our medial neglect. The mystery has always been one of understanding constraints, the question of what comes before we do. Plans? Divinity? Nature? Desires? Conditions of possibility? Fate? Mind? We’ve always been grasping for ourselves, I sometimes think, such was the strategic value of metacognitive capacity in linguistic social ecologies. The thing to realize is that grasping, the process of developing the capacity to report on our experience, was bootstrapped out of nothing and so comprised the sum of all there was to the ‘experience of experience’ at any given stage of our evolution. Our ancestors had to be both implicitly obvious, and explicitly impenetrable to themselves past various degrees of questioning.

What Zizek says in metaphysical terms (i.e., Lacanian $ – barred – Subject, etc.) can be opted for the neuroscientific model just as easy, and with a great deal more of clarity – at least if you’re a naturalist. The neuroscientific or naturalist path opts for the use of external technics, instruments, or prosthesis to develop its models. Through the modern innovation of computation and imaging technologies scientists can actually observe the brain’s own processes in real time, a feat that philosophers were never able to do in the external medium of language or math*. Of course, interpreting these visual cues is an altogether other matter, and one open to question on both sides of the opposition. Yet, the central insight is obvious: philosophy will never have anything but the circle of its cultural inheritance in language or math, while the sciences escape this circle with the added feature set of external ‘technics’ and artificial machines or processes or prosthesis.

Although some would say that both language and mathematics are just that: artificial constructs and engines of creation that are nothing if not pure technics or prosthesis external to the subject in question, and that what we term the Subject has always already been an artificial construct made possible by the use of language and math in turn. This sense of a dialectical interpellation between the animal we term the ‘human’ and its prosthesis (technics, art) has over time produced this thing we are: an interminable process in transition or becoming.

One reason I like reading Zizek is that his conclusions on this interminable process is part of his anti-Hegelian Hegelizanism (i.e., he goes against the main-stream Hegelian scholars of the final synthesis, and sees the human animal as a transition, a process of becoming that is interminable – and, that even in our age of machinic being the notion of becoming other (in the Deleuzian sense) is not far out there. Becoming machinic in Guattari/Deleuze’s sense of artificial life-forms in either incorporating more and more prosthesis internally or externally is an endless process. One might say that dialectical materialism is naturalist through and through. But if this is so then why not use the naturalist terminology? Why all the impossible talk of metaphysical rubbish that can never have an answer or a terminus? I think that’s where the issue lies: philosophy is chasing its own shadow and will never escape the labyrinth. The natural sciences have externalized the labyrinth and made it possible to observe its inner workings.

The notion of becoming cyborg or of becoming external devices of memory technics is part of the traumatic heritage of which we have always been in process. Even our cultural dreams of immortality in some beyond were dreams of this process that in our age has returned immanently in a bid to make that universal concrete. We are never outside our own mechanisms, caught in language and math we build external tools that are in turn building us in unexpected ways.

*note: many would argue that these external tools – conditions of possibility, were only ever possible because of language and math – i.e., technics-art – I would opt for technics as the enforcer of all these various intrinsic/extrinsic processes of externalization that have created objective culture and tools as time-machines or carriers of shared memory, etc., which in a dialectical reversal have in turn created us through what Bernard Stiegler terms tertiary retention or cultural transmission and shared memory technics.

3 thoughts on “The Interminable Process

  1. I’m leery of making this equivalence and going further to associate the prosthesis with trauma is a step too far in my view, Craig. Firstly, why should medial neglect be viewed as a kind of trauma? That would imply that the lack is “in” subjectivity somehow. But if Scott’s right, we “have no information about the lack of information”. It does not figure our phenomenology, except in those occasions when we fail to paper over the cracks with our homespun self-interpretations (e.g. in choice blindness or change blindness). But these episodes require quite a lot of experimental manipulation to achieve. Above all, this blindness has no constitutive role for subjectivity or objectivity. It’s a consequence of a bottleneck in the capacity of brain’s to model themselves. It doesn’t bring home the metaphysical bacon as it must in Zizek or Lacan. I think the prosthesis stuff is even more questionable. This is not because there is no trauma associated with technology, but because technology is not traumatic of itself. If as Andy Clark says we are “natural born cyborgs” then outsourcing cognitive processes to extra-bodily resources is just what we do. It only gives rise to something traumatic or alienating when those resources start to work on scales or speeds that are intractable for us somehow.

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    • I’ll agree on both counts. Zizek is an Idealist quote dialectician with supposed materialist pretentions, while trauma is not that we are conditioned by substantive subjectalism, and lack is not something missing but the very positive drive that enforces us to move interminably in process. I’m not defending Zizek, but presenting him as one more failed metaphysician whose explanada are but one more fiction and fantasy trying to fill the void of the Real.

      You don’t share that, so yea I understand. We all have our specific stances. Bakker on Zizek:

      “Brassier, as we have seen, opts for the epistemic humility of the Humean route, and seeks to retrieve the rational via the ‘merely verbal.’ Zizek, though he makes gestures in this direction, ultimately seizes on a radical deflation of the Kantian route. Where Hume declines the temptation of hanging his ‘merely verbal’ across any ontological guesses, Zizek positions his ‘self-referential symbolic act’ within the ‘Void of pure designation,’ which is to say, the ‘void’ of itself, thus literally construing the subject as some kind of ‘self-interpreting rule’–or better, ‘self-constituting form’–the point where spontaneity and freedom become at least possible.

      But again, there’s ‘void,’ the one that somehow magically anchors meaning, an then there’s, well, void. According to BBT, Zizek’s formulation is but one of many ways deliberative metacognition, relying on woefully depleted and truncated information and (mis)applying cognitive tools adapted to distal social and natural environments, can make sense of its own asymptotic limits: by transforming itself into the condition of itself. As should be apparent, the genius of Zizek’s account is entirely strategic. The bootstrapping conceit of subjectivity is preserved in a manner that allows Zizek to affirm the tyranny of the material (being, truth) without apparent contradiction. The minimization of overt ontological commitments, meanwhile, lends a kind of theoretical immunity to traditional critique.”


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