20 January 2007

Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!

The last few days have left me feeling despondant and without a thought in the world, though I'm dreaming a good deal, which must, from an analytic point of view, mean that I'm doing some serious thinking. I feel as if my brain has fallen out of my ear. Last night's dream involved an old friend Dan, who first introduced me to philosophy in highschool, holding a German luger pistol to my head and laughing as I squirmed. I wonder what that's all about. In the dream it turns out that after all these years he still works at Long John Silver's as a fry cook. My father has such a gun... Hmmm.

At any rate, in my quest to better understand the series of critical questions that N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has been posing vis a vis the conditions for the possibility of critique, I've returned to Adorno's Negative Dialectics, a text that always, for some reason, fills me with guilt... The guilt of a missed encounter. Just in traversing the first few pages, I can see why N.Pepperell has been intrigued by a good deal of the work I've been doing here, as much of Adorno resonates closely with Lacan and Zizek. The following remarks are more placeholders than anything else, designed to forge a sort of translation device or lexicon, rather than to propose an argument. Of course, any translation is already an interpretation, so perhaps I should bear that in mind.

In a striking remark that cannot fail to ring significantly to the Lacanian ear, Adorno claims that,
The name of dialectics says no more, to begin with, than that objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder, that they come to contradict the traditional norm of adequacy... It indicates the untruth of identity, the fact that the concept does not exhaust the thing conceived.

Yet the appearance of identity is inherent in thought itself, in its pure form. To think is to identify. Conceptual order is content to screen what thinking seeks to comprehend. The semblance and the truth of thought entwine. The semblance cannot be decreed away, as by avowal of a being-in-itself outside the totality of cogitative definitions... Aware that the conceptual totality is mere appearance, I have no way but to break immanently, in its own measure, through the appearance of total identity. Since that totality is structured to accord with logic, however, whose core is the principle of the excluded middle, whatever will not fit this principle, whatever differs in quality, comes to be designated as a contradiction. Contradiction is nonidentity under the aspect of identity; the dialectical primary of the principle of contradiction makes the thought of unity the measure of heterogeneity. (5)
This is perhaps the pithiest expression of the Lacanian borromean knot between the symbolic, the real, and the imaginary I have ever encountered. I have never been particularly fond of the term "imaginary" in Lacanian psychoanalysis, as it too readily lends itself to common usages suggesting what is false or imagined, whereas for Lacan the imaginary pertains to the dimension of the image, of our identification with our bodily image that always differs from the lived body of movement, that we can never fully assume or be identical with. Of course, this is part of the point in Lacan's use of language: It is a pedagogy that teaches the difference between signifier and signified, of their radical discontinuity, and that enjoins us not to assume the signified as inherently attached to the signifier, but to look for it among those signifiers immanently attached to it in a text or the speech of an analysand. The imaginary is the domain of identification, and marks our yearning for completeness, wholeness, totality, and identity. Dylan Evans puts it nicely in his Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis,
The basis of the imaginary order continues to be the formation of the ego in the mirror stage. Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, identification is an important aspect of the imaginary order. The ego and the counterpart form the protypical dual relationship, and are interchangeable. This relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification with the little other [the mirror image or image of another person] means that the ego, and the imaginary order itself, are both sites of a radical alienation; 'aleination is constitutive of the imaginary order' (S3, 146) [we are alienated insofar as we are never identical to the image, hence the identification generates rivalry and aggressivity as can often be witnessed in the blogosphere when various bloggers go to war with one another in thinly veiled struggles for prestige and recognition]. The dual relationship between the ego and the counterpart is fundamentally narcissistic, and narcissism is another characteristic of the imaginary order. Narcissism is always accompanied by a certain aggressivity. The imaginary is the realm of image and imagination, deception and lure [deception insofar as I confuse myself with what I am not, my frozen image]. The principle illusions of the imaginary are those of wholeness, synthesis, autonomy, duality and above all, similarity [images appear whole, whereas language and movement are not]. The imaginary is thus the order of surface appearances which are deceptive, observable phenomena which hide underlying structure; the affects are such phenomena. (82)
Returning then to Adorno, then, the concept can loosely be translated into the domain of the symbolic, while the totality or whole can be translated into the domain of the Lacanian imaginary. As Adorno will say a few pages later, "No object is wholly known; knowledge is not supposed to prepare the phantasm of the whole" (14). Those philosophical systems that present the whole such as, for instance, Whitehead, can be situated as the symbolic under the dominion of the imaginary. They fantasize an image without remainder, without blindspot or tain, without gaze before which they dance. And it is remarkable that variants of holism so often paradoxically generate aggressivity.

The real then, of course, would be the remainder that resists conceptualization. This remainder seems to function in a two-fold way. When Adorno suggests that to think is to identify, he immediately seems to back up, expressing hesitation, treating this remainder as the motor that propels the imaginary yearning for identification. It is precisely because the object differs from itself, that thought strives to identify. A perfect identity would leave no space, no gap, calling for the thing to be thought. The thing would reside purely within itself, never producing the distance that calls for it to be thought. It is only insofar as identity already is minimally indifferent that we're driven to try to identify. As Hegel puts it in an important passage in the Logic (and I think Adorno is pretty far off the mark in his interpretation of Hegel),
This proposition in its positive expression A = A is, in the first instance, nothing more than the expression of an empty tautology. It has therefore been rightly remarked that this law of thought has no content and leads no further. It is thus the empty identity that is rigidly adhered to by those who take it, as such, to be something true and are given to saying that identity is not difference, but that identity and difference are different. They do not see that in this very assertion they are themselves saying that identity is different; for they are saying that identity is different from difference; since this must at the same time be admitted to be the nature of identity, their assertion implies that identity, not externally, but in its own self, in its very nature, is this, to be different. (413)
Hegel goes on to argue that the contradiction embodied in the principle of identity is not simply that identity is different from difference-- though this is true as well --but immanent to identity itself as a contradiction or difference between form and content. At the level of form, any proposition of the form "x is..." calls for a predicate that enriches the subject with some new content. For instance, I say a "pen is a utensil". However, at the level of content, all we get is "A is A", such that the predicate gives us no additional content, but merely repeats, tautologously, the initial subject. What we thus get is a marking of the difference betwen form and content. It is precisely because the content fails that we are able to become aware of the form of this species of propositions. Thus, even in the most formal presentation of identity already contains the elusive remainder within it or its own resistance to complete conceptualizations or symbolization.

We might begin from an epistemic stance, arguing that this remainder is a deficiency in thought, a deficiency in knowledge, that could perhaps be surmounted by gaining more information and understanding. Here the world, in-itself, would be free of such remainders and would be complete. It would simply be a matter of a disadequation between thought and being. However, in a vein very similar to Zizek's, Adorno goes on to claim that in fact it is the world itself that is antagonistic, that doesn't have the smooth functioning of the signifier (when conceived under the dominion of the imaginary):
However, varied, the anticipation of moving in contradictions throughout seems to teach a mental totality-- the very identity thesis we have just rendered inoperative. The mind which ceaselessly reflects on contradiction in the thing itself, we hear, must be the thing itself it is to be organized in the form of contradiction; the truth which in idealistic dialectics drives beyond every particular, as onesided and wrong, is the truth of the whole, and if that were not preconcieved, the dialectical step would lack motivation and direction. We have to answer that the object of a mental experience is an antagnoistic system in itself-- antagonistic in reality, not just in conveance to the knowing subject that rediscovers itself therein...

...Regarding the concrete utopian possibility, dialectics is the ontology of the wrong state of things. The right state of things would be free of it: neither a system nor a contradiction. (10-11)
The obvious target here is Hegel, who Adorno portrays as the thinker of a complete and whole system where everything has its place. However, when Hegel speaks of absolute knowledge, it is precisely this antagonism, this remainder, reflected back into the thing itself (rather than the knowing subject) that he is speaking of. Put a bit differently, reality is already dialectical in itself, or just is this tension between the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. The real is the undoing of any totality, but is also the motor that drives towards totality. Therefore it has an ambiguous status.

I realize here that I am only repeating points that I've already made to N.Pepperell: That the non-identity of identity is the necessary but not sufficient condition for critique, that it is what accounts for how critique is possible in the first place. However, it is a first step, I think, in unfolding the question of self-reflexivity, or accounting for the conditions for the possibility of a critical subject. What is needed in addition to this is a socio-historical account of the conceptual web such a subject swims in at a particular juncture... A conceptual web that must already be non-identical to itself to be recognized as such. Additionally, my interest in all of this, revolves around questions of how it is possible to philosophically appropriate psychoanalysis and various other forms of social theory drawing on some explicit or implicit notion of the unconscious. These forms of thought remain dogmatic so long as they are baldly or empirically asserted as is so often the case. Moreover, it is clear that philosophical stances based on the primacy of the classical subject such as those found in Descartes or Husserl, are inadequate in dealing with anything resembling the unconscious or social systems. Finally, embedded approaches such as Heidegger's or Merleau-Ponty's seem to inevitably lead to mystical obscurantism. What a dialectical approach provides is precisely the means of thinking the identity of identity and difference... And what is the unconscious but that "Other scene" that differs from identity but which I nonetheless am?

Apologies for the scattered and random remarks.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Dejan said...

Dear Sinthome, if it doesn't take too much of your time, can you help my confusion around the terms ''dialectical binary'' versus ''oppositional binary'' (I take it that Lacan understood the formation of the sign as being based on the latter, rather than the former). Did Hegel propose a ''dialectical binary''?

January 20, 2007 5:57 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

It's hard to say much about this without knowing where you're getting it from. I haven't come across the term "dialectical binary" in Hegel, but it sounds like you're referring to a distinction drawn by J.A. Miller in his sequel to "Suture", entitled "Matrix". Under this reading, an oppositional binary would be one in which the terms are opposed yet independent, such as the sort of dialectic that constitutes the Doctrine of Being in Hegel's Science of Logic. By contrast, a dialectical binary would be a form of opposition where the set includes *both* the opposed terms *and* their relation to one another, i.e., the relation is a part of the set.

I'm a little unclear on your reference to Lacan and signs. Lacan was always careful to distinguish signs and signifiers, claiming that the former "represents something for someone", and the latter "represents the subject for another signifier". For Lacan, the signifier would be a dialectical binary insofar as every signifier already includes its own absence. This, for instance, can clearly be seen in the case of the phallic signifier, where having the phallus entails that one is already castrated as it already implies its own loss (i.e., it includes the relation to its own absence as one of its elements).

January 21, 2007 11:27 AM  
Blogger Dejan said...

iqwmpI am sorry I should have already quoted the text that I was pondering, and that is from the book ''Between quotation marks'' by Lacanian therapist Dragan Vukotic. The chapter (entitled THE HEALTH OF MULTIPLE MEANING) discusses the difference between a conscious and an unconscious notion. Excuse my inept translation.

''Visual traces of memory'' stemming from things will be the foundation for the construction of a more ''primitive'', visual thinking - as opposed to the later, more developed, discursive thinking. Traces of memory stemming from different sources will condense the experiences of pure difference with the states of pleasure or displeasure. The oppositional binarity (which entails the presence of both members, unlike the dialectic binarity, where one member of the pair is absent) will produce the signifying material, and this will in turn 1) capture and enmesh instincts; 2) confirm them and write them into the symbolic dimension, enabling them to ''speak'' as well as to ''deny'' the enunciated; and 3) provide building material to the form of expression and be accessible to perception.

The idea of notions which are not built out of sign material leads to the assumption of a nonverbal material, which would enable them to assume a form. Assuming that the signified exists independently of the signifier, as something that does not refer to another signifier and is situated outside of the signifying chain, we could find ourselves pursuing one possible mode of thinking about the subject. What saves Freud's theory from taking that particular road is his experience of the speech practice, from whence nearly all psychoanalytic notions came. Today we could say that in the speech experience during analysis, pre-patterns reoccur of a process that created the first representations of instinctual strivings - elements which continue to transfer sensations coming from different parts of the body to the symbolic register (and vice versa)in a similar way. The funny thing is that the sensory experience of difference corresponds to the structure of the binary opposition operating in language - by the PHONEME which is either present or absent, which is a material unit in and of itself, without meaning, but generating meaning.

(he proceeds to illustrate this with the example of the Manwolf etc)

And here Vukotic provides the reverse of the explanation you just provided re. the oppositional and dialectic binary?

January 21, 2007 6:16 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

I find that reversal strange as dialectics just is that form of thought that shows how the so-called "immediate" is but a moment dependent on other moments. For instance, in the first move of Hegel's Logic he shows how being necessarily leads to the thought of nothing and vice versa. Perhaps the author is think of Saussure's description of the signifier as defined by its oppositions, and then getting confused about what goes on with dialectical thought.

For me what is interesting about dialectics lies elsewhere. Take an ordinary slip-of-the-tongue, like the one Freud cites where the president of the senate says "I now declare this meaning *closed*" at the very *beginning* of the session. The psychoanalyst says that this slip reveals the presidents true desire: that he wishes there were no meeting. Now from a philosophical perspective, there are a couple of problems with this analysis. The psychoanalyst would like to say that this enunciation is the result of unconscious thought processes, but where does he get this warrant? What allows the psychoanalyst, or even the person that made the slip, to come to this conclusion despite the fact that there is no evidence of consciousness that would allow him to demonstrate it after the fashion of Descartes demonstrating his own being through thinking? There isn't, precisely because, well, such processes are unconscious. Similarly in the case of ideology where the social theorist would like to argue that such and such an action is really the expression of some clothed social structure.

Empiricism gets us nowhere here as there's no datum from experience that allows us to infer that there must be an unconscious desire at work here. Consequently, if philosophy is to allow something like symptoms and the unconscious into its field, it needs some other philosophical framework for doing so. Dialectics provides such a route insofar as it enables one to establish the identity of identity and non-identity. For instance, the dialectician might point out that despite the fact that we have no insight into the deep unconscious workings of mind and no evidence of consciousness to base this interpretation upon, nonetheless the statement *still* signifies despite these intentions. The dialectician then goes on to demonstrate the manner in which meaning is not based on conscious intention, but is dialogical and transpersonal. In this way, he can begin to establish how something can still be an expression of desire despite the fact that no such desire is registered in the conscious life of the person who made the slip. In fact, this is the route that Lacan himself goes... For Lacan, the unconscious is not *inside* the mind, but is our alienation in language, the manner in which we always say more than what we mean insofar as meaning is not dependent on the speaker. Of course, much more needs to be said here.

January 21, 2007 6:34 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Or to put it a bit differently, Saussurean oppositional determination already is a form of dialectical opposition in the Hegelian sense. It very precisely follows the logic of determinate being in The Science of Logic, where each quality can only be defined in terms of its others. It's rather odd that any author would suggest that the thinker who argues that self-consciousness only emerges in relation to others (the lord/bondsman dialectic) or that something only appears in relation to others (the dialectic of Dasein), or that essence only is in relation to appearance and so on, would claim that dialectical thinking somehow conceives moments as independent and externally oppositional. This is a pretty massive confusion of vocabulary in my view, assuming you've portrayed the authors claims correctly.

January 21, 2007 7:05 PM  
Blogger Dejan said...

I apologize the fault is in the translator (Dejan), not the author. I just sent you an internet article which addresses the relationship between Lacan and Hegel:

http://www.academyanalyticarts.org/kalo2.htm

Thus, it is quite obvious that the five modes of negativity, recognized by Kojève as the principles of historical dialectics, extend their function in Lacan's psychoanalysis to being the principles of the divisions or the splittings, constitutive of the subject as a void. Lacan himself admits:

"(...) in the term subject (...) I am not designating the living substratum needed by this phenomenon of the subject, nor any sort of substance (...) nor even some incarnated logos, but the Cartesian subject, who appears at the moment when doubt is recognized as certainty except that, through my approach, the bases of this subject prove to be wider but, at the same time much more amenable to the certainty that eludes it" (Lacan, 1977b, p. 126).

Lacan's conception of the subject, however, does not reside peacefully in the Cartesian tradition but rather, being an analytical conception, carries this tradition and the conception of the subject it gives birth to, to its very limit - to the emptiness of the subject.

"When carried to the limit, the process of this meditation, of this reflecting reflection, goes so far as to reduce the subject apprehended by the Cartesian meditation to a power of annihilation" (Lacan, 1977b, p. 81).

It is precisely this limit, which Lacan unhesitatingly transgresses, for he does not belong to the Cartesian tradition any more (unlike Kojève). It is this limit which is the point of contact and at the same time the point of separation between Lacan and Hegel (and Kojève). Such a limit is the negativity of the subject, which Lacan inflates into the nothingness of the subject. To recapitulate, the Lacanian reversal of Hegel's dialectic consists not only in the overestimation of the aspects of negativity and forcefulness in it, but mainly in the introduction of something quite new and non-Hegelian. The figures of dialectics in Lacan's psychoanalytical theory, do not have a synthetic and creative outcome, but rather result in an irrevocable disjunction and splitting of what they represent. The Lacanian reformulation of "the fundamental identity of the particular and the universal" in Hegel's philosophy, postulates that:

"(...) it is certainly psychoanalysis that provides it with its paradigm by revealing the structure in which that identity is realized as disjunctive of the subject" (Lacan, 1977a, p. 80). 4

Negativity, forcefulness and above all disjunctivity (the emptiness of the subject) are the indices of (the Hegelian) dialectic. And that is already a paradox (certainly not the only one in Lacan): something non-(or even anti-) Hegelian becomes an index of what is properly Hegelian.

January 21, 2007 8:59 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

"The figures of dialectics in Lacan's psychoanalytical theory, do not have a synthetic and creative outcome, but rather result in an irrevocable disjunction and splitting of what they represent."

This is one way of reading Hegel and certainly not the one that I'm working with. If you go back to my post entitled "Zizek's Hegel", you'll see a markedly different interpretation of Hegel that is precisely this sort of irrevocable disjunction and splitting. Clearly the reading of Hegel you describe above cannot be thought consistently with Lacan as Lacan holds that the big Other does not exist and that there is no meta-language.

Now, the problem with Zizek's Hegel is that it has not systematically been worked out by Zizek or anyone else. Consequently, there's a lot of work to see how far Zizek's thesis can be pushed and developed in a more systematic and rigorous fashion.

As I've already said in a few posts, my broader interest in dialectical forms of thought in general (Hegel or otherwise), is that they hold out the promise of non-dogmatically discussing psychoanalysis in a philosophical fashion due to dialectics ability to integrate otherness into the very heart of identity.

Kojeve is very important for understanding the earlier Lacan and is fascinating in himself, but I would caution against treating him as a careful reader of Hegel. His reading is far to heavily tilted towards the lord/bondsman dialectic and the Phenomenology to the exclusion of everything else.

Thanks for sending me the article link. What you seem to be missing is that I am in the process of developing a very specific reading of Hegel, not looking for an authority-- and I trust few anyway that do not practice clinically themselves --to tell me what Lacan's relationship to Hegel is. For instance, this author is unfamiliar with much of the unpublished seminar and seems unaware of Seminar 17, which engages in heavy discussion of Hegel, describing him not as the thinker of totality as Lacan had argued in earlier works, but as "the most sublime of hysterics", undermining both the masters discourse and the university discourse. There we have a markedly different version of Hegel than the one Lacan portrays in "The Subversion of the Subject" and seminars 4-6. At any rate, this discussion is very quickly having diminishing returns for me.

January 21, 2007 11:18 PM  
Blogger Dejan said...

Yes I know the discussion has diminishing returns for you, as I have selfishly imposed my own unresolved questions, hoping for a shortcut through the enormous amount of literature I have no time to read. But I will get back to you once I've done my share of reading.

As for Zizek's dialectics, I can responsibly claim that much of Zizek's writing is more of a ''word salad'' than any sort of a coherent philosophy. This you can extract easily from his cultural theory and political texts. In my ''Exorcism of Zizek'' I try to point out the particular passages.

January 22, 2007 12:43 AM  
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