Book Review: Braidotti’s Vital Posthumanism

 

Book Review: Braidotti’s Vital Posthumanism.

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20 Great Works of Latin American Fiction (That Aren’t by Gabriel García Márquez)

Originally posted on Flavorwire:

It appears our old buddy Jonathan Franzen’s reign of terror continues.  He totally bungled an interview with Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Franzen said, “To me it feels as if there’s been a kind of awakening in Latin American fiction, a clearing of the magical mists,” and asked Vásquez if his wonderful new book, The Sound of Things Falling, is a reaction to Gabriel García Márquez and his peers.

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Interview with Giorgio Agamben At VersoBooks

agamben

 

Interview with Giorgio Agamben

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Don Jon and Desire

In Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera asks the reader the question whether to prefer a particular lightness of living / love or living a life of burden and heaviness.  He evokes the ideas of Nietzsche and the eternal reoccurrence of the same to consider the existential question that most of us have asked ourselves: Would it have been better for Dasein to have never reflected on itself or i.e. to have never known existence?  This is not the same question that Camus asks in the question of ending existence but instead to never have known existence.  However, what about the  question of corporality which in contemporary discourse we have begin to take seriously with the advent of virtual avatars and mind uploading?  What about the idea of desire and online sexuality (if there is such a thing)?  Pornography and fantasy?

Take for example the 2013 movie Don Jon which depicts a modern day ‘Don Juan’.  A narcissist who finds sexual satisfaction not from the actual sex act but instead through the images and depictions of pornography.  Through the “cloud” of cyber space in which any sexual act can be viewed with just the click of the mouse.  In one poignant scene as he is clicking through many images and masturbating he tells us in an almost mystical sense that the mind stops and the hand takes over.  No doubt the reaction of dopamine, prolactin, and perhaps oxytocin (not necessarily in this case).  I mention these neurotransmitters because as Slavoj Zizek writes:

Even advocates of cyberspace warn us that we should not totally forget our body, that we should maintain our anchoring in the “real life” by returning, regularly, from our immersion in cyberspace to the intense experience of our body, from sex to jogging. We will never turn ourselves into virtual entities freely floating from one to another virtual universe: our “real life” body and its mortality is the ultimate horizon of our existence, the ultimate, innermost impossibility that underpins the immersion in all possible multiple virtual universes. Yet, at the same time, in cyberspace the body returns with a vengeance

If space is moved to a virtuality we would still need the reward centers in order for the chemistry to transmit and to have an experience.  Again one of the main problems with this idea of unlimited pornography is simply desire has no object.  This is depicted in the excellent film Shame in which we see the impossibility of the cessation or fulfillment of sexual desire.  There is always a remainder that is never satisfied.  This is the way that no other species relates to the world, we relate to the world in an excess, or fetishistic parasitic way.  Slavoj Zizek explains it in the Parallax View perfectly

The Freudian death drive has nothing whatsoever to do with the craving for self-annihilation, for the return to the inorganic absence of any life-tension; it is, on the contrary, the very opposite of dying – a name for the ‘undead’ eternal life itself, for the horrible fate of being caught in the endless repetitive cycle of wandering around in guilt and pain. The paradox of the Freudian ‘death drive’ is therefore that it is Freud’s name for its very opposite, for the way immortality appears within psychoanalysis, for an uncanny excess of life, for an ‘undead’ urge which persists beyond the (biological) cycle of life and death, of generation and corruption. The ultimate lesson of psychoanalysis is that human life is never ‘just life’: humans are not simply alive, they are possessed by the strange drive to enjoy life in excess, passionately attached to a surplus which sticks out and derails the ordinary run of things” (Slavoj Zizek, The Parallax View, 2006, London: MIT Press, p.61)

It is here where we should understand Don Jon.  Pornography is not his desire but only the thing that situates the desire (object a).  One of the things we clearly see is that Don Jon is actually fearful that he will be ‘found out’, that he is not able to fulfill the desire of the other.  He will prove he is castrated in the Lacanian sense.  To prove our point in another interesting movie, we see the effect of this in the movie Sleeping Beauty.  The men pay a pretty female to sleep while they molest her and play out their fantasies without being found out.  Of course their fantasies change throughout as they play along, because desire is never satisfied.

 

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Rat Torture and Jouissance

One of the most interesting observances in the history of psychoanalysis is described in Freud’s paper The Disposition of Obsessional Neurosis which was written in 1913.  Freud wrote about a session where his patient (Rat-Man) described a torture where rats were placed in a ceramic bowl, and then attached to the anus of the victim.  The pot was then heated on one end which left the rats no choice but to “bore” through the anus of the victim.  The observance is when Freud detected in the Rat Man’s expression, “the horror of a pleasure of his own of which himself was unaware”.  It is exactly at this place where we come to the idea of jouissance; this excitement, which is often not conscious, and can even be considered disgusting to the one who thinks it, it is here where we encounter a symbolic castration and otherness.

Rat-Torture

Fantasy for Lacan seems to be positional in the sense that fantasy is a confrontation of how the other positions us in their desire.  Fantasy is very rarely solipsism, it points outwards to another object.  Think of some of the top fantasies women report (note I write report):

Submitting sexually, being watched, being “dirty” or “naughty”, dominating the sexual scene.

These sexual wishes are a way of actually mirroring the wishes of the other, whether you are master/or slave.  The dialectic always relies on a slave or a master.  Lacan felt that this relationship is related to the idea that we are helpless creatures who rely on the other to sustain our existence.  He calls this the mother-child-dyad or unity.  Before symbolic castration there perhaps was an unmediated jouissance between the mother and child.  This was before the child notices the mother is not whole, and has other desires, perhaps desire for the father or the other who represents the third point which disrupts the unity or in other words the one who performs the paternal function.  The one thing that seems quite interesting is language moves beyond the signified.  Chimpanzees development mirrors our own development in many ways, and how they develop relies very much on how the mother situate her desire towards the infant.  The difference between demand and desire.

It is here that Lacan talked about a second-order jouissance which substitutes for the perception of “wholeness”.  It is the use of fantasy which allows us to situation desire, fantasy sustains the subject, and allows desire.  As Bruce Fink writes, “While existence is granted only through the symbolic order (the alienated subject being assigned a place therin), being is supplied only by cleaving to the real”.  The subject is placed even before birth into a signifying position which is also related to the parental symbolization.  I would even call this a genealogical symbolization.

It is through this separation of the child and mother that the subject is born.  The subject of course is this rift, this rift is something Lacan called object a.  Bruce Fink writes that the object a is “the subject’s complement, a phantasmatic partner that ever arouses the subject’s desire”.  The subject is then split between ego and the unconscious.  The subject is a layer of meaning to the other and to itself, which often retrospectively positions itself to the wider context of a world situated in symbolic meaning.

Now to get back to the beginning and wrap up my thoughts on this.  The idea of symbolic castration is the idea that we give up on some jouissance.  If we take pleasure in tying up a bowl to someone’s anus and watching rats climb through the body we renunciate this action unless of course we are Pinochet in Chile.  How exactly does the “speaking ape” give up this jouissance, perhaps through sublimating it in art, or through our words.  We create movies and stories that seem infinite which allows us the other to experience our jouissance.

 

 

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Life Matters International Conference

Life Matters International Conference.

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Notes – Lacan’s Seminar on Anxiety (X): 12 December 1962

Originally posted on dingpolitik:

Note : It is important to point out at the beginning that these notes should not be read as independent blogs. They are to be read in order, beginning at the first set of notes  for the first class of this seminar on anxiety.

Who’s afraid of object a? Lacan seems to intimate that there is a relationship between the void and object a. The English word “void” has a close relationship to the word “vacuum” (vacuus in Latin, for “void”). It makes sense, then, that Lacan finishes the seminar by mentioning Blaise Pascal’s courage when faced with the void. Indeed, it seems that Pascal carried out his experiments on the vacuum precisely because he was interested at some level in his own desire. I called his pursuit “courageous” for two reasons. First, because it lends itself to a Badiouian analysis of the subject’s relationship to the void:

We must also have…

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Ernesto Laclau

Originally posted on Posthegemony:

Ernesto Laclau

I have spent almost the entirety of my academic career reading, and responding to, Ernesto Laclau, who has died at the age of 78. Ernesto was one of the great systematic thinkers of the past fifty years, possibly the most influential Latin American theorist of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and one of the most significant influences on Anglo-American cultural and political theory as a whole. We all write to some extent in his shadow and in his debt, myself perhaps more than anyone.

“Hegemony” was Laclau’s signature concept. He was not the first theorist of hegemony, but he made the term his own and spent decades elaborating a theoretical structure around the basic recognition of the contingency of political allegiances. This insight first came to him as an activist in 1960s and 1970s Argentina, faced with Peronism’s extraordinary capacity to mobilize people of all classes and every political inclination…

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Foucault, Politics, and Violence :A reading of chapter 1 of Johanna Oksala’s book

book

One of the great ideas that must be traversed in any post-human or emancipatory politics is the idea of violence.  Do all political projects become perverted into a thanatopolitics?  Here I will trace Oksala’s trajectory by going chapter by chapter with notes and commentary on the text.

Chapter 1  Politicization of Ontology

Oksala states that she will be arguing in this chapter for the importance of “ontological inquiry in political philosophy”.  She feels that ontology and politics are unable to be separated.  Let me move on from the many arguments that have been presented on this question because this will bring me to a much longer post than I have intended.  However, if you want to go down that rabbit hole for a bit you can start here .  Oksala defines her term when she is speaking of political ontology however by stating it is a “politicized conception of reality”.  She takes some of the ideas of Michel Foucault that starts with the premise that “power is everywhere”.

For Foucault all social practices contain or incorporate power relations, something he would even call capillary power relations which allows the entire edifice to run.  Foucault in an interview once stated he is not a relativist as he has been charged so often with and he explained that if he had a child and this child was writing on the walls he of course would tell the child to stop and not allow the walls to be written on.  For Foucault we need to question these relations and how these relations become sedimented into our discursive and non discursive practices.  This is what Oksala is doing in chapter 1 as well, she is thinking against any essentialist notions of politics or the political or again as Foucault would state “nothing is fundamental”.

girl wall

Within these social practices that are performed new objects are created (never a priori) and new concepts are created which creates subjects (ie. a sick, an insane person).  As Oksala writes Foucault “attributes to Nietzsche the claim that there is no natural or necessary resemblance, no a priori affinity between knowledge and the things that are known”.  In this sense we have a historical ontology.  Within these relations we conceive of a reality, “power produces, it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth”.

Oksala tells us that for Foucault the term governmentality has two meanings:

1. In 1978 lectures she states that Foucault meant this term to mean the techniques of government that allowed the formation of the state

2. 1979 and onward it took on the meaning of an “analytical grid for relations of the state”.

However, Foucault often criticized the simplicity in the argument to just demonize the state.  For Foucault the state is not a transcendental entitity that exist with its own logic and essence much believed in early political thought perhaps as he writes in his essay governmentality before Machiavelli’s  The Prince.  Foucault taking this a step further explains to us that “the state is a practice” much like the idea of Machiavelli’s in which to be a prince requires a certain performativity.  However for Oksala and Foucault this performativity is exactly how we come to feel that reality is a given unchangeable necessity.

For Foucaut, “The common world is already a sedimentation of power relations and not simply a given and objective space containing the plurality of individuals who inhabit it”.  I found this statement striking in that we see a particular geological reference that we find a lot of in Deleuze’s A Thousand Plateaus of rhizomatic networks where Deleuze is trying to purge the sedimenation of power relations that Foucault systematically showed us in his genealogical writing.

Oksala then begins to explain to us in a Gramscian/Foucault fashion that since the “ontological order of things is inevitably the expression of hegemonic power relations–then the differing interpretations of the world, social order, and human life cannot, in principle be reconciled in a harmonious and homogenous unity (32)  I feel this is one of the major points in this chapter because it begins to show us that in order to think ourselves out of violence it will require us to traverse the binary either/or way we form our world or  a master/slave dialectic where the master needs the slave as much as the slave needs the master.

Wrapping up this chapter Oksala begins to write about what she terms the “ubiquity of the political”.  As Foucault and now Agamben theorize the separation between a political life and a life seems to have blurred into a zone of indistinction in which ” modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question” (History of Sexuality Volume I)  As Agamben has explained often, he in a way is doing the same project that Foucault worked on, the idea of ‘problematization’.  Why exactly do certain forms of behavior become problematized, which means why are these practices subject to what he would called disciplinary society–a society built around structures of power such as the prison, hospital, etc?  Oksala with Foucault, Agamben and others seems to be heading in the direction of calling into question these idea of violence and politics necessary and allowing us to see that only within the current structural apparatus do we have this inevitable political violence.  We must contest necessity in favor of contingency.  Looking forward to chapter 2.

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Violence and the Biopolitics of Modernity

Excellent paper by Johanna Oksala   Violence and the Biopolitics of Modernity

It is my contention that the violence of modern biopolitical societies is not due to some originary ties between sovereign power and biopower, as Agamben claims.  Sovereign states use biopolitical methods of violence, but this violence is not originary or necessary aspect of political power (Johanna Oksala)

urban-romance-posters

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