01 December 2006

Me and My Semblable

On occasion I've been known to resemble myself, though instances of this are few and far between. This lack of resemblance started quite early in my life, as I did not know my true name until I was about nine years of age. Prior to nine I had always answered to the name of "Levi", yet around the age of nine a teacher brutally informed me that my true name is "Paul". As it turns out, I had been named after my father, "Paul Reginald Bryant". Before I was born, my uncle had visited the family graveyard with my grandfather-- this is not as pretentious as it sounds, as the family graveyard was a small plot of land in the woods on a small old farm in Virginia that they didn't even own anymore --and had seen the name of my great uncle who had died of some nasty fever very early in his childhood.

Apparently he liked the name "Levi", so before I was even born he began referring to me as such, and apparently it caught on with the entire family. There's even a black and white photograph of my mother, while pregnant, standing in the front yard with my father's ear pressed to her stomach. Both of them have enormous and silly smiles on their faces, and the caption that reads "Listening to Levi". I grew up with this picture gazing at me in the house and these days I often wonder what impact it might have had on the structuration of my unconscious. Listening to Levi... Is it a mistake that I chose a career as an educator? Is it an accident that I detest loud places such as dance bars or concerts as I am unable to hear; or, better yet, be heard? Is it a mistake that my primary jouissance consists of talking and that I often find myself bored and discontent when attending outings where there is little talk or opportunity for me to talk? Does it come as a surprise that I would later choose "talk therapy" and become captivated by Lacanian psychoanalysis, where the analyst occupies such a passive role? Might this be why I find myself most infuriated when I experience myself as not being heard-- I recall the rage I felt many months ago when Jodi Dean had not responded to a couple of my posts on her blog and the rage and dark fantasies that swirled about this silence --and that when I am heard I suddenly feel as if I lose my voice, unable to continue speaking, as if I must walk a fine line between being heard and not being heard so as to sustain my desire. There is also, of course, my obsessive participation on blogs and email lists, my inability to resist responding. On those occasions when I've contemplated having a child I've often said to myself that I would like him or her to have a name that "they could make for themselves", like Elizabeth that could be "Beth", "Liz", "Lizzie", "Ela", etc, or "Finnegan" that could be "Fin". It wasn't until recently that I recognize that "making a name for oneself" also signifies something quite different, as if I willfully did not wish to hear what I was saying or recognize my own desire.

And what of the picture itself? My father's ear is pressed against my mother's stomach. In a way this is a sort of "primal scene", a vision of myself being born through the ear of my father or of surmounting the impossibility of witnessing one's emergence into the world, thoroughly demolishing Kant's first antinomy which argues that both the claim that the world has a beginning in time and space and does not have a beginning in time and space are false. To be born of an ear and to see oneself born of an ear. And yet the fact that my name issued not from my father, but from my uncle perhaps allows me to sustain the unconscious fantasy that my father is not my father.

I am not sure whether the discovery that my name was not my name, that "Levi =/= Levi", was traumatic or not. I argued with the teacher, yet she insisted. Later, on the way home, I told my younger sister on the bus, and she was furious, convinced that I was lying. She even declared that she would "tell on me", ran into the house, and was shocked when my mother said that indeed it was true. I felt betrayed and immediately set about insisting that everyone call me "Paul". Yet in making this decision, I effaced my own name-- what's in a legal name? --and underwent an aphanisis, a fading, behind the name of my father. Where the extension of a name is = to 1 in most cases, the extension of my legal name was = to 2. Yet since 1 = 1, perhaps I confused myself with the one who had bequeathed me my name, preventing me from discerning any of my own accomplishments as my own. For instance, prior to analysis, my completed dissertation sat on a shelf for many months gathering dust, despite the fact that after I'd written it by mistake-- I originally intended it as my master's thesis, but five hundred pages popped out and my director insisted that I use it as my dissertation and write another master's thesis --and I was unable to complete the editing until I re-took my name "Levi". In retrospect I must have looked quite mad to those around me, as once again I went about insisting that I be referred to as "Levi", that I was no longer "Paul". From that point on, my intellectual production increased massively, and I no longer felt the crushing anxiety that had before accompanied my engagement on discussion lists or the writing of articles and conference papers. In short, it seems that my psychic structuration precisely mirrored that of masculine sexuation. Even today I still feel the need to crush my name-- my original name --and do things such as writing this post that humiliate that name; as if I must cede to my father that which is rightfully his and am committing an act of transgression by embracing my name.

In this regard, I wonder when work is. I phrase this question in this way purposefully. When is work? Last week I posted a diary entitled The Diacritical Production of Identity, that received a good deal of praise and interest both on this blog and in email. Rather than experiencing delight from this recognition, I instead felt rage, anger, and depression, for I had written this article for the Yahoo Lacan list in 2003, and was simply posting it here so as to get my work on Lacan in one easily locatable place. This is a rare thing for me to do. Only a handful of articles on this blog were written previously and many of my other posts receive similar recognition-- such as a post a few months ago about Deleuze and individuation or another on Lacan and sexuation --yet strangely I fixate on this post. If I experienced melancholia at the reception of this article, then this was because this reception made me feel fallen, as if I was doing genuine work in the past and was no longer capable of this sort of work. Will I ever do work again that matches the sort of work I was doing in 2003 at the height of my engagement with Lacan or when further back yet when I was writing my book? Has my mind grown thick and slow from age or my nightly glass or two of wine? Are the exingencies of life too pressing, leaving me with no leisure to think? Am I finished?

For me, it seems that work is always something I once did or always something yet to come in the future after I have finally gained intellectual mastery of theory and philosophy. It is never what I am doing now. Peas porridge hot. Peas porridge cold. Peas porridge in my bowl, five days old. I have either already done work or am yet to do work. So in this experience of work that I have done, I experience a hatred of my semblable, of that person that I once was and would like to crush and best that person, exceeding their work... I would like to resemble myself, as perhaps I have done on occasion.

Yet in experiencing my work in this way, it seems that I sustain my desire. Lacan argues that we have a desire to desire, that the aim of desire is not to satisfy desire, but to continue desiring. In obsession, the obsessional has a desire for an impossible desire... A desire that is impossible to fulfill such as seeing oneself born or being alive while being dead. In hysteria the neurotic has the desire for an unsatisfied desire so that he might continue to desire. Occasionally I overcome the idea that work will finally commence at some point in the future, only to find myself in the opposite situation of feeling that work is past. When describing the difference between desire and drive, Zizek tells the joke of a man having sex for the first time. The woman instructing him first tells him to push it in, which he eagerly obeys. She then tells him to pull it out. Again he obeys. Then in again, and so on. Finally, in a moment of exasperation, he exclaims "Make up your mind, woman! Is it to be in or out?" This subject is a subject of desire insofar as he believes that there is a final state, one action he is supposed to engage in. By contrast, the subject of drive is that subject that finds his jouissance not in one or the other state, but rather in the repetition of the idiotic action itself. Why did I use the signifier "fallen" to describe my relation to my previous work. Bruce Fink pointed out that this term has connotations of sin.

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Anonymous pebird said...

"And what of the picture itself?"

Envision yourself as Brad Pitt or Edward Norton?

December 01, 2006 11:20 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

While I'm certainly as handsome as Brad Pitt, I would envision myself as Ed Norton's character, struggling with his ideal ego.

December 01, 2006 1:08 PM  
Blogger sexy said...








December 30, 2008 12:01 AM  

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