Tag Archive: Lacan


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzUYiOV2-kE?fs=1&hl=en_US

(This post spun off from the last, where I concluded by noting the increasing amount of debris out in the upper atmosphere. Somehow I couldn’t resist pulling that image into the vortex of ecopolitics and the objects-relations debate, which is carrying on at hyper tiling, Object-Oriented Philosophy, Larval Subjects, and elsewhere.)

Like the tail of a dog who, in his immersed excitedness at any signs of life, notices movement behind himself and lurches back to catch it, humanity’s material ecologies are wagging behind us in various ways: from reports of melting glaciers and impending crashes of the ocean’s fish stocks to images of the Pacific Trash Vortex, space junk accumulating in the atmosphere (anyone remember the rains of space debris on Max Headroom?), the mountains of e-waste accumulating around the world (which, in our future history, take over the terrestrial landscape around the time of Wall-E), and the repositories of toxic and radioactive waste that dot the landscape all around us, though we rarely see or think about them. Sooner or later, the trash will hit the fan, somewhere at least, if not everywhere at once.

Our social ecologies work the same way, with “blowback” to social injustice arriving in the form of terrorism and other forms of political violence. If, as I’ve argued before, it’s better to think in threes than in twos — with our material ecologies (“nature”) and social ecologies (“culture”) supplemented and filled in with mental or perceptual ecologies, the actual interactive dynamics out of which the material and the social, or the “objective” and the “subjective,” continually emerge — then what is blowback in the perceptual dimension?

That’s easy: it’s guilt, bad dreams, and the other affective undercurrents that plague our “unconscious.” These are our responses to the eyes of the world (human and nonhuman). It’s what makes us feel that things aren’t right. It’s the traumatic kernel of the Real, which Lacan (and, somewhat differently, Buddhism) place at the origin of the self, but which in a collective sense is coming back to haunt us globally. (I’ve made the case for a psychoanalytically inspired ecologization of Fredric Jameson’s political symptomatology of culture here and here.)

We misperceive the nature of the world for the same reasons that we misperceive the nature of the self. Every social (and linguistic) order interpellates its members somewhat differently, but, over the course of humanity’s long history, most such orders have incorporated into that process some sense of responsibility to more-than-human entities or processes. In whatever way they were conceived — as spirits or divinities, or in terms of synthetic narrative or conceptual metaphors (life-force, the Way, the path, the four directions, etc.) — these have generally borne a crucial connection to what we now understand as ecology. Modern western capitalism has fragmented these relations, setting us up individually in relation to the products of a seemingly limitless marketplace, but leaving us collectively ecologically rudderless. So even if scientists, the empirical authorities of the day, tell us we’re fouling our habitat, we haven’t really figured out how to respond to that, at least not at the global levels where many of the symptoms occur.

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(I love this photograph, so here it is again…)

I think the idea and image of dark flow streaming out of our universe has also been resonating with me because of the work I’ve been doing using Vipassana teacher Shinzen Young’s system of mindfulness training. Young is one of the most erudite and intellectually rigorous teachers of Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation, having synthesized decades of training in Zen, Theravadan, and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions along with what seems a voracious appetite for languages, into an “algorithmic system” that takes what, in other places, seems a morass of mutually incommensurable terms and makes it thoroughly coherent and applicable.

Many meditation teachers teach ways of developing clarity, concentration, and equanimity, but none of them — at least none of those I’ve come across currently living (and, of all places, just down the road from me, when he isn’t traveling) — draws in so many different traditions, East and West, into a system that is very approachable, practicable, and yet somehow thorough and complete. (See links at bottom to his talks and writings.) More than that, his system resonates with many of the ideas I’ve been exploring on this blog, including the process-relational and Naturphilosophical streams of Continental philosophy, and in some respects the Lacanian-psychoanalytical (as I’ll point out below), not to mention, of course, other Asian field-theories such as Daoism, western traditions of Hermetic philosophy and Christian negative theology, and the like.

Shinzen describes human subjective experience as phenomenologically distinguishable into three primary “fields,” “spaces” or “elements”: Feel, which are bodily sensations experienced as emotional; Image, which are internal forms of visual thinking; and Talk, which are internal forms of monologue/dialogue/talk or “auditory thinking.” The three subjective “spaces” in which these arise develop in sequence from infancy: first we learn to feel with our bodies, then we start to see things (once our eyes learn to focus on them) and “image” the world and its relationships through imaginal fantasy, and finally we learn the words and the linguistic-discursive constructs that come to shape both our subjectivity and our world for us. And over time the three kinds of elements (distilled, for simplicity’s and usability’s sake, from Buddhism’s “five aggregates”) become densely entangled and knotted into emotionally-laden force-fields.

In a very interesting sense, these three spaces correspond with Jacques Lacan’s tripartite analysis of the psyche into the Real, a kind of nondual state of nature from which we become separated as we take on the qualities of socially defined subjective experience; the Imaginary, the image-based world of self-other relations and fantasies that emerge through the “mirror phase,” when we learn to recognize the body that appears in a mirror as the same one that others see when they see “me”; and the Symbolic, which is the language- and narrative-based world that “interpellates” or “hails us” into being the kind of subject that would fit into the social world.

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The image of dark flow, described as 1400 galaxy clusters streaming toward the edge of the universe at blistering speed in the ongoing “afterglow” of the big bang (or something like that), has haunted me ever since I read about it several days ago. Caused “shortly after the big bang by something no longer in the observable universe,” and possibly by “a force exerted by other universes squeez[ing] ours” (umm, a force… doing what?… I can imagine Jon Stewart’s face squinting after hearing that), I can’t help thinking that astrophysicists are arriving at the point where the known universe is being bounded and taking its place amidst a more mysterious space of otherness, where we have no clue (and can’t possibly have a clue) what goes on. So it becomes the realm of poetry, of dreams and nightmares, of haunted imaginings, like the deep sea, beyond the reach of sunlight, that still fascinates us, but even more deep, dark, vital.

Einstein had famously said that “as our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it”; and perhaps the current constellation of events — the economic crisis with its Ponzi schemes, bank machinations, and the West’s growing indebtedness to po-faced and unreadable China, the gradually accumulating reports about climate change, and films about forthcoming apocalypses (2012), zombies and vampires (Zombieland, Twilight Saga: The New Moon), and zombieless apocalypses (The Road) — are conspiring to make us all a little curious, and spooked, about what’s out there in the growing darkness… What god will put the squeeze on us next, and what’s to guarantee he or she will be benevolent?

I’m also recalling a recent set of exchanges between Ben Woodard, kvond, and others on dark vitalism, a thought-stream brewing out of the nature-philosophical wing of speculative realism that Ian Hamilton Grant helped unleash with his Philosophies of Nature After Schelling… which perhaps is a Zeitgeist thing.

Zizek’s account of the Robert Heinlein novel “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” includes a lovely passage where he equates the Lacanian Real, the unassimilable kernel around which subjectivity is formed, with the “grey and formless mist, pulsing slowly as if with inchoate life” that emerges at the boundary of the known world and the unknown, outside the traveling couple’s car window. The Lacanian spookiness is perhaps what’s missing from Buddhist accounts of emptiness (though it’s hardly foreign to the Tibetan tantrics, with their graveyard nightshift meditations), and, to the goth-loving nature hound, it’s a nice addition. The passage is worth reproducing in full:

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Žižek and his Others

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Speaking here at the University of Vermont last Friday, Slavoj Žižek responded to a student query about where to study Lacanianism by lauding our Film and Television Studies Program as the only one anywhere at which Lacanians are actually “in power” — the current chair, former chair, and at least one other faculty member, plus an overflow audience composed primarily of undergrads providing pretty good evidence of this — and then by characterizing the world of Lacanian theory as a kind of widely but thinly spread diaspora, in which the Lacanian had to craftily pretend to go along with the powers-that-be until they got into a secure position at which point they could turn around and “shoot,” i.e. do the real (Lacanian) stuff.

It’s nice to have one’s university marked out as a unique place in this way, not necessarily because of the Lacanianism (though some would say for that, too) as because having Žižek’s imprimatur adds some always-welcome cachet to it. Compared to the talk Žižek gave in Montreal recently, where his topic had been theology and the death of God, he was more on home turf here, both in terms of having the sympathetic packed-hall audience and because his topic was the more familiar one (for his fans) of ideology, film, and Jacques Lacan.

As I’ve related here before (to some extent), I admire Žižek’s passion, am awed by his energy and prolificacy, and strongly sympathize with his overall project, which he has loosely characterized as waking people up from their ideologically induced slumber, where the ‘waking’ is part of a Lacanian unmasking of psychologically driven illusions, and the ‘ideology’ is the one propping up capitalist injustice. But when it comes to the details of his arguments, I don’t always find them as convincing as I would like.

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I’ve been impressed and even moved by a few recent posts over at Larval Subjects. “Electro-Chemical Signifiers” describes the author’s transformation from full-fledged Lacanian (both theorist and analyst) to something that seems much broader and welcoming of the world. Not, of course, that Lacanians cannot be broad and welcoming of the world; I’m only judging LS’s movement based on his own narrative. That narrative concerns depression and a cure (not a talking cure) as well as, it seems, gardening.

In “Gardening”, LS mixes soil, happiness (the author’s, at watching spinach, romaine, and cucumbers “poke up from the earth”), science, and Alberto Toscano’s Theatre of Production (which I just ordered) and Susan Oyama’s Ontogeny of Information (which I found mesmerizing when I read it years ago and am now happy to hear referred to more & more as she belatedly finds a well-deserved audience).

In the (ex-)Lacanian confessional he writes:

“I think Guattari had the right idea in proposing a model in which we strove to think the intersection of regimes of signs, the biological body, economics, nature, etc… A highly complex ecological, networked model.”

Not only is Guattari wandering in this intersective middle-earth of bodies, neurons, cultures, politics, and economies, but so, I would add, are Deleuze, William Connolly, Francesco Varela, Eve Sedgwick, JK Gibson-Graham, Antonio Damasio (in some respects), and many others who’ve been inspiring my thoughts on this blog and in my writing. Thanks, LS, for your courage.

On the surface, “immanence” would appear to favor certain religiosities (paganisms, pantheisms, animisms, earth spiritualities) over others (transcendentalist monotheisms, rigid dualisms, Buddhist “extinctionism,” et al). But its resonance works within traditions as well: towards panentheistic strains of Christianity, where the Christ is seen as in-dwelling, where Easter is the rebirth of nature and life as well as of social relations after the long hard winter, where Mary is the cosmos; or toward a boddhisattvic liberationist Buddhism that cherishes life rather than seeking to flee from it.

Immanentism redirects our attention to what is going on in the moment-to-moment shaping of the world, to our experience and ability to shift things in one direction or another, to karmic conditions as open-ended rather than fixed. When we grasp something (the self, political power, the object of our desire), we lose it. Immanentism redirects us to the between: the grasping, the finding and losing, the power-to and power-with, the swelling current that pushes for change (e.g., in the build-up to the last US election) rather than the icon of change it gives rise to (Obama) though that icon be instrumental to the change.

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