01 August 2006

Feminine Sexuation, Ontology, and Politics

Increasingly my aim is to read ontology and political theory through the lense of sexuation. Here Zizek points the way. As Zizek puts it in "The Real of Sexual Difference" in Interrogating the Real,
...far from being opposed to historicity, the Real is its very 'ahistorical' ground, the a priori of historicity itself. We can thus see how the entire topology changes from Butler's description of the Real and the 'big Other' as the prehistorical a priori to their actual functioning in Lacan's edifice. In her critical portrait, Butler describes an ideal 'big Other' that persists as a norm, although it is never fully actualized, the contingencies of history thwarding its full imposition, while Lacan's edifice is instead centred on the tension between some traumatic 'particular absolute', some kernel resisting symbolization, and the 'competing universalities' (to use Butler's appropriate term) that endeavour in vain to symbolize/normalize it. The gap between the symbolic a priori Form and history/sociality is utterly foreign to Lacan. The 'duality' with which Lacan operates is not the duality of the a priori form/norm, the symbolic Order and its imperfect historical realization: for Lacan, as well as for Butler, there is nothing outside of contingent, partial, inconsistent symbolic practices, no 'big Other' that guarantees their ultimate consistency. However, in contrast to Butler and historicism, Lacan grounds historicity in a different way: not in the simple empirical excess of 'society' over symbolic schemas but in the resisting kernel within the symbolic process itself.

The Lacanian Real is thus not simply a technical term for the netural limit of conceptualization. We should be as precise as possible here with regard to the relationship between trauma as real and the domain of socio-symbolic historical practices: the Real is neither presocial nor a social effect. Rather, the point is that the Social itself is constituted by the exclusion of some traumatic Real. What is 'outside the Social' is not some positive a priori symbolic form/norm but merely its negative founding gesture itself. (350-351)

What we have here is a very precise formulation of the two propositions of the feminine side of the graph of sexuation. On the one hand, the socio-symbolic refers to the proposition that "there is no jouissance that is not subject to the phallic function", while on the other hand, the Real refers to "not-all jouissance is subject to the phallic function". I would argue that Badiou is currently theorizing this logic in a rigorous fashion in his Logiques des mondes. What is crucial in the first proposition is the "there is", which implies a plurality of different worlds or situations, each with their own internal logic, that cannot be totalized in a global World like Deleuze's One-All or Hegel's Absolute. On the other hand, the "not-all" refers to the possibility of a supplementation, a Real, that can occur within that situation and marking the excess of parts over elements (cf. my "Hermeneutics and Subtraction", where I try to explain the set theoretical difference between parts and elements/members and its significance with regards to historicism and constructivism). The key Zizekian point is that this Real is not some noumenal being-in-itself, but a kink or twist within the symbolic itself.

This ontological perspective stands in sharp contrast to ontologies premised on totalization, organized around the masculine position of sexuation, and promises a political logic other than that of the sovereign. Here what becomes important isn't the ability of the sovereign able to decide the exception, but the exception, the Real itself, that comes to supplement the situation as in the case of Ranciere's part-of-no-part, or Badiou's indiscernable. That is, it is necessary to explain how there can be something indiscernible according to the encyclopedia of the situation, that can exemplify the logic of the not-all. As Badiou describes this encyclopedia:
I also posit that every situation is accompanied by a language, a capacity to name that situation's elements, their relations, their qualities, their properties. And in every situation there is also what I call "the state of the situation"--the order of its subsets. The situation's language aims at showing how an element belongs to such and such a subset. The situation is what presents the elements that constitute it; the state of the situation is what presents, not the situation's elements, but its subsets. From this point of view the situation is a form of presentation, the state of the situation a form of representation. And knowledge, being the way we organize the situation's elements linguistically, is always a certain relation between presentation and representation. Knowledge is most simply defined as the linguistic determination of the general system of connections between presentation and representation. The set of a situation's various bodies of knowledge I call "the encyclopedia" of the situation. Insofar as it refers only to itself, however, the situation is organically without truth.

The event is that which is not discernable according to these criteria structuring the finite elements of the situation. I do not know if this responds to Jodi Dean's questions about a politics premised on the sovereign in response to my "Identification and Social Psychosis" post, but it does promise a start in thinking about how feminine sexuation invites us to think a different type of exceptionality, the aleatory part-of-no-part, other than that of the sovereign exception. As per Laclau's requirement, this exception does, nonetheless, draw a friend/enemy distinction between the counting of this "supernumery" or aleatory element and the encyclopedia of the sitatuation that strives to assimilate this element to existing categories. Quoting Mao, as Badiou likes to do, "when you have an Idea, the One [of the situation] divides into Two".

The additional step comes in thinking the Lacanian subject as a point of resistance by virtue of its irreducibility to any signifying order (the Lacanian subject fades in the signifier the moment appears), as a way of avoiding the trap of discursive constructivism, thereby allowing for a new version of the autonomous Enlightenment subject. Of course, Zizek has already done a good deal of this work, so I'm not really saying anything new here. What the Lacanian subject promises is the possibility of separation and a proper "citizen of nowhere", while also allowing for a substantial critique of the mechanisms of ideology as they hook into desire and jouissance.

Many apologies for the length and volume of my posts lately. This blog is quickly becoming a sort of workbook for my projects. All of you who comment and challenge my claims are profoundly helping me to formulate my questions, thoughts, and make decisions.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jodi said...

You write:

"how feminine sexuation invites us to think a different type of exceptionality, the aleatory part-of-no-part, other than that of the sovereign exception. As per Laclau's requirement, this exception does, nonetheless, draw a friend/enemy distinction"

this strikes me as really promising. But, would you mind engaging in a little clarification (the problem is my ignorance here, not your exposition).

I'm not sure what you mean when you say feminine sexuation lets us think a different type of exceptionality--maybe I just don't understand aleatory very well?

I've thought about it in terms of a fundamental openness or incompleteness, the impossibility of totalization so that one can never say that X is an exception because there is no set Y that can be constituted through its exclusion (as with the masculine formulae)--instead, we begin with incompleteness, a beginning that is humbling and frightening, that allows for freedom but that places responsibility firmly with the subject (although I here I think that I need to get clearer on what responsibility means in this context). But maybe I'm missing something.

Also, your explication of Zizek at the beginning was really useful.

Finally: on citizenship--in what sense is the Lacanian subject a citizen? I would say that insofar as the subject is a gap, a formal space, it's the element that gives mobility, mutability, responsibility to a formation. But, this would be the case in any type of system or structure (family, bureaucracy, church) so it isn't clear to me how citizenship would work specifically here.

August 03, 2006 7:31 AM  
Anonymous Sinthome said...

Hi Jodi,

I don't have a lot of time to respond right now as I'm currently away from my desk, on vacation.

With differing structures of exceptionality, I'm trying to get at the idea that the sovereign functions as an exception that *totalizes* the social organization (always producing a remainder or scrap as a result, as per the discourse of the master), whereas the exceptionality characterizing feminine sexuation reveals the excess of being over operations of counting (or identification). That is, it reveals the constitutive incompleteness of the social field, or the manner in which the categories defining the field don't capture everything. In this connection, I like Badiou's example of the illegal immigrant that fits none of the standard categories defining the situation. The ethics/politics here, then, wouldn't be one of abstract laws but of specificity within a situation (though I'm still trying to think about this).

When I describe the Lacanian subject as a cosmopolitan citizen or citizen of the world, I'm trying to get at the manner in which the Lacanian subject, as void, has no defined *territory* or can never be fully reduced to any particular identification. It is always in excess of its identifications. A citizen of the world is without specific land or identification, or is empty/void with respect to identifications. This, of course, would be a utopian ideal.

August 04, 2006 10:45 AM  
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December 30, 2008 12:21 AM  

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