Thomascalvin Ten Lessons in Theory File (2024)

Te n L e s s o n s i n Th eory

TTenen LLessonesson TTheory.indbheory.indb i 44/1/2013/1/2013 11:43:2111:43:21 AMAM TTenen LLessonesson TTheory.indbheory.indb iiii 44/1/2013/1/2013 11:43:2111:43:21 AMAM Ten Lessons in Th eory

An Introduction to Th eoretical Writing

Calvin Th omas

NEW YORK • LONDON • NEW DELHI • SYDNEY

TTenen LLessonesson TTheory.indbheory.indb iiiiii 44/1/2013/1/2013 11:43:2111:43:21 AMAM Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

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First published 2013

© Calvin Thomas, 2013

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ISBN HB: 978-1-6235-6989-1 ISBN PB: 978-1-6235-6402-5

Typeset by Deanta Global Publishing Services, Chennai, India Printed and bound in the United States of America

TTenen LLessonesson TTheory.indbheory.indb iivv 44/1/2013/1/2013 11:43:2111:43:21 AMAM F o r I h a b H a s s a n

TTenen LLessonesson TTheory.indbheory.indb v 44/1/2013/1/2013 11:43:2111:43:21 AMAM TTenen LLessonesson TTheory.indbheory.indb vvii 44/1/2013/1/2013 11:43:2211:43:22 AMAM Contents

Acknowledgments x Preface: “Something worth reading”: Th eory and/as the Art of the Sentence xi

Introductory Matters: What Th eory Does, Why Th eory Lives 1

I. “Th eory is [undead] everywhere” 1 II. Th e problem with givens 7 III. Just being diffi cult/diffi cultly being just 14

Part 1 Antiphysis: Five Lessons in Textual Anthropogenesis 25

Lesson One: “Th e world must be made to mean” 27 —or, in(tro)ducing the subject of human reality I. Work with words 27 II. Post-oceanic feelings 30

Lesson Two: “Meaning is the polite word for pleasure” 34 —or, how the beast in the nursery learns to read I. Bungle in the jungle 34 II. L’être pour la lettre 40 III. Happier endings 44

Lesson Th ree: “Language is by nature fi ctional” 48 —or, why the word for moonlight can’t be moonlight I. Down to earth 48 II. Giving (up) the fi nger 51 III. Th anks for nothing 53

Lesson Four: “Desire must be taken literally” 59 —a few words on death, sex, and interpretation I. “a few words” 59 II. “on death” 66

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III. “sex” 73 IV. “and interpretation” 80

Lesson Five: “You are not yourself” 88 —or, I (think, therefore I) is an other I. Missing persons, bodies in pieces 88 II. Ideology is eternal 102 III. Aesthetics of resistance? 115

Part 2 Extimacy: Five Lessons in the Utter Alterity of Absolute Proximity 123

Lesson Six: “Th is restlessness is us” 125 —or, the least that can be said about Hegel I. Th esis 125 II. Antithesis 132 III. Ecce hom*o 139

Lesson Seven: “Th ere is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism” 146 —or, the fates of literary formalism I. “not a pretty thing” 146 II. What’s the matter with formalism? 151 III. Absolutions of irony 158 IV. Strategies of estrangement 165

Lesson Eight: “Th e unconscious is structured like a language” 172 —or, invasions of the signifi er I. Without positive terms 172 II. Adventures in metaphor and metonymy 180 III. “the phallus”—for lack of a worser word 190

Lesson Nine: “Th ere is nothing outside the text” 201 —or, fear of the proliferation of meaning I. Given to excess 201

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II. “What are we calling postmodernity?” 221 III. “something strange to me, although it is at the very heart of me” 239

Lesson Ten: “One is not born a woman” 247 —on making the world queerer than ever I. My (male feminist) credo 247 II. “Th e future is kid stuff ” 264

In the End: Th eory is (not—) Forever 271 Reference Matters 275 Index 289

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I would fi rst like to express gratitude to all the students who have been open and kind enough to listen to me for the two decades or so that I’ ve been teaching these and other lessons in theoretical writing. I would also like to thank Ian Almond, Rahna Carusi, Tim Dean, Lisa Downing, Janet Gabler- Hover, Chris Kocela, John Lowther (for the expert indexing and sharp eye for infelicity), Randy Malamud, Melanie McDougald, Mark Noble, and Matthew Roudan é for their support, advice, assistance, and encouragement in the years that I have been planning this book and writing and rewriting these sentences. Special thanks go to Haaris Naqvi, incomparable senior commissioning editor at Continuum/Bloomsbury, for his splendid support of this project, and to my colleague and climbing partner Mark Nunes, who has so oft en held my life in his hands. And as always, all my thanks and all my love go to Liz Stoehr.

TTenen LLessonesson TTheory.indbheory.indb x 44/1/2013/1/2013 11:43:2211:43:22 AMAM Preface “ Something worth reading ” : Th eory and/as the Art of the Sentence

Toward the end of Samuel Beckett ’ s novel Molloy , the narrator, who calls himself Jacques Moran, encounters a strange man on a lonely road. Words are somewhat nonsensically exchanged, and violence of some extreme sort apparently ensues. For, as Moran rather vaguely reports:

I do not know what happened then. But a little later, perhaps a long time later, I found him stretched on the ground, his head in a pulp. I am sorry I cannot indicate more clearly how this result was obtained, it would have been something worth reading. But it is not at this late stage of my relation that I intend to give way to literature. (1955: 151)

Nor at this early stage of my relation do I intend to linger with this bit of Beckettian pulp fi ction. But I would like to note the neat defi nition of “ literature ” that Beckett ’ s Moran provides — “ literature, ” we are told, is “ something worth reading. ” Toward the beginning of Literary Th eory: An Introduction , Terry Eagleton off ers a similarly simple defi nition, a “ purely formal, empty sort of defi nition, ” of the word “ literature ” — “ Perhaps, ” writes Eagleton, “ ‘ literature ’ means . . . any kind of writing which for some reason or another somebody values highly ” (1983/1996: 8). Th is “ functionalist ” defi nition, as he calls it, doesn’ t quite satisfy Eagleton, but it works well enough for my purposes here, mainly because it allows me— at the outset of this book, Ten Lessons in Th eory — to begin troubling the defi nitional distinction between “ literature ” and “ theory, ” to begin introducing “ literary theory” as a particular kind of writing that “ for some reason or another” more than a few people have valued highly (even if others have loathed and reviled it). Taken together, Eagleton ’ s and Beckett ’ s defi nitions of “ literature ” give me license to suggest that “ theory, ” like “ literature, ” is “ something worth reading,” that “ giving way to literature” and “ falling into theory ” (Richter 1999) can be intimately related responses to remarkably similar temptations. Written as a “ literary ” introduction to “ the activities that have come to answer to the nickname theory ” (Culler 2007: 1), this book stakes itself upon three major premises. Th e fi rst premise is that a genuinely productive

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understanding of theoretical activities depends upon a much more sustained encounter with the foundational writings of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud than any reader is likely to get from the standardized introductions to theory currently available; discourse concerning these four writers thus pervades Ten Lessons in Th eory. Th e second premise involves what Fredric Jameson describes as “ the conviction that of all the writing called theoretical, [Jacques] Lacan ’ s is the richest ” (2006: 365 – 6); holding to this conviction pretty much throughout, Ten Lessons pays more (and more careful) attention to the richness of Lacan’ s psychoanalytic writings than does any other introduction to theory (that isn’ t specifi cally an introduction to Lacan). Th e book ’ s third premise, already introduced above, is that “ literary theory” isn’ t simply highfalutin speculation “ about ” literature, but that theory fundamentally is literature, aft er all — something worth reading, a genre of writing that considerable numbers of readers have, for some time now, valued highly, even enjoyed immensely. Th e book not only argues but attempts to demonstrate that “ the writing called theoretical ” is nothing if not a specifi c type of “ creative writing,” a particular way of engaging with the art of the sentence, the art of making sentences that make trouble — sentences that articulate the desire to make radical changes in the very fabric, or fabrication, of social reality. As presented and performed here, theoretical writing involves writing about “ writing as the very possibility of change ” (Cixous 1975/2007: 1646). Both the presentation and the performance of the book are consistent with this emphasis on sentence-making as trouble-making transformation. As its title indicates, the book proceeds in the form of ten “ lessons, ” each based on an axiomatic sentence or “ truth-claim ” selected from the more or less established canon of theoretical writing. Each lesson works by extensively “ unpacking ” its featured sentence, exploring the sentence ’ s conditions of possibility and most radical implications, asking what it means to say that “ the world must be made to mean” (Stuart Hall), that “ meaning is the polite word for pleasure ” (Adam Philips), that “ language is by nature fi ctional” (Roland Barthes), and so on. In the course of exploring the conditions and consequences of these sentences, the ten lessons work and play together to articulate the most basic assumptions and motivations supporting theoretical writing, from its earliest stirrings to its most current turbulences. Provided in each lesson is a working glossary — specifi c critical keywords (like “ reifi cation ” or “jouissance ” ) are boldfaced on their fi rst appearance and defi ned either in the text or in a footnote. But while each lesson constitutes a precise explication of the working terms and core tenets of theoretical writing as such, each also attempts to exemplify theory as a “ practice of creativity ” (Foucault 1983/1997: 262) in

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itself. And so, while the book as a whole constitutes a novel approach to theory, it also asks to be approached as a sort of theoretical novel. In other words, Ten Lessons is a textbook, to be sure, but a textbook written to be read closely, not (or so its writer dares to hope) as yet another routine, academically commodifi ed, and dutifully “ historicized ” rehearsal of the now-standard “ theories of literature, ” and not as a guide to the practical “ application ” of theory to literature, but rather as a set of extended pedagogical prose poems or experimental fi ctions or variations on the theme of theory as literature, of “ life as literature ” (Nehamas 1987) and of “ the world as text ” (Barthes 1968/1977: 147). Th e ten lessons are divided into two parts. Part 1 is called “ Antiphysis: Five Lessons in Textual Anthropogenesis.” Th e word antiphysis actually appears but rarely in the canon of theoretical writing; the word isn ’ t glossed in any of the critical dictionaries that I ’ ve employed here to explicate key theoretical terms. And yet the word antiphysis does quite nicely express the core tenet of what’ s called “ historical materialism” — Karl Marx’ s permanently revolutionary argument that humans distinguish themselves from animals, and that human history as such begins, when people fi rst start working to produce the very conditions of their human existence. Th e word antiphysis thus concerns the rudimentary but transformative labor — the actual work on or against physical nature— that must be performed for any “ human reality ” ever to form itself, bring itself into being. And in this argument, all human realities do, in fact, actively and transformatively bring themselves into being; all human realities are restless exercises in anthropogenesis , a word that concerns the human causality, the human origins or human geneses, of the human qua human. Th e phrase “ textual anthropogenesis, ” then, involves what ’ s called linguistic determinism, or what I ’ ll call semiotic materialism, the argument, also to my mind permanently revolutionary, that any human reality, and any individual subject thereof, must be made out of language as a specifi cally “ antinatural ” — unreal or “ antireal ” — form of productive labor. Th us the book’ s fi rst fi ve lessons, all in various ways, concern “ the virtual character of the symbolic order” of language as “ the very condition of human historicity” (Ž i ž ek 1999/2002: 241); they all concern the diff erence between human and non-human animals, between human reality and “ the real, ” as well as the constitutive interrelations between historical and semiotic materialisms; they all address the linguistic formations and transformations, the political inscriptions and ideological interpellations, of the specifi cally human subject, the “ animal at the mercy of language” (Lacan 1966f/2006: 525), the animal sentenced to keep making sentences in the purely anthropogenetic, socio-symbolic, textual or virtual reality that is, so to speak, ours.

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Part 2 is called “ Extimacy: Five Lessons in the Utter Alterity of Absolute Proximity.” A key Lacanian neologism, the word extimacy mixes “ exteriority ” with “ intimacy, ” and thereby “ neatly expresses the way in which psychoanalysis problematizes the opposition between the inside and the outside, between container and contained ” (Evans 1996: 58). Th e word “ extimacy ” signifi es the unsettling idea that “ the innermost, intimate core of a person ’ s psychical being is, at root, an alien, foreign ‘ thing. ’ ” (Johnston 2009: 86): “ extimacy ” involves the strange “ coincidence of utter alterity with absolute proximity ” and “ brings us close to what, in ourselves, must remain at a distance if we are to sustain the consistency of our symbolic universe ” ( Ž i ž ek 1999/2008: 368). And so, here, the word “ extimacy ” marks the various ways theoretical writing tends, rather like the Mobius strip so beloved by Lacan, to turn itself and its readers inside out and outside in; “ extimacy ” serves to condense the various concerns with alienation, alterity, foreignness, defamiliarization, constitutive otherness, diff erence, diff é rance, queerness, and so forth, which continue to pervade and motivate theoretical writing. While Part 2 of Ten Lessons is similar to Part 1 in that it strives to explicate and perform theoretical writing as a “ practice of creativity” in itself, Part 2, despite its alienating title, also serves as a slightly more orthodox introduction to and survey of “ the history of literary theory,” addressing certain “ schools ” or “ approaches ” that have by now acquired perhaps a bit too much “ name recognition” — formalism, structuralism, semiotics, poststructuralism, postmodernism, postcolonial theory, feminism, gender studies, and fi nally, queer theory. But what initially sets this section of the book apart from other, more routinely “ historicizing ” introductions to theory is that it begins with a full lesson devoted to Hegel. Major theorists from Althusser to Ž i ž ek acknowledge Hegel’ s importance to their writing. Jean-Michel Rabaté insists “ that a patient reading of Hegel . . . is, if not a prerequisite, at least an essential step on the way to an understanding of theory ” (2002: 21) as such. And yet, no introduction to theory to date devotes more than a few sentences, if that much, to Hegel’ s work. Th e lesson on Hegel given here attempts to rectify this situation, letting some prolonged exposure to the ever-pertinent Hegel serve the book’ s readers as “ an essential step on the way” to better understanding not only the lessons on formalism, structuralism, poststructuralism, etc., that are to follow, but also, retroactively, the fi ve lessons on “ antiphysis ” that precede. “ Antiphysis ” and “ extimacy ” are, of course, intimately interrelated matters, so much so that we might here borrow the phrasing of one of our lesson’ s guiding sentences and say that there is no lesson in “ antiphysis ” that is not, at the same time, a lesson in “ extimacy, ” and vice versa, so

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that a productive understanding of this book wouldn ’ t in my estimation be seriously damaged by your reading Part 2 before Part 1. Before getting to either portion of our lessons, however, we have to consider the question of why any of us should even be studying “ theory ” anymore in the fi rst place; we must work through an introductory chapter that explains why theory isn ’ t dead — even if certain readers have long wished it were. Th e introduction accounts for this “ death-wish ” against theory and takes up several descriptions (from Jonathan Culler, Michael Hardt, Slavoj Ž i ž ek, Judith Halberstam, Fredric Jameson, and others) of what theory has done and must continue to do to “ stay alive,” explaining why theoretical writing always attempts to “ shatter and undermine our common perceptions ” (Ž i ž ek 2006: ix), usually by taking any and all “ meaning as a problem rather than a given ” (Culler 2007: 85). Th e introduction accounts for theory ’ s necessarily antagonistic stances, exploring the various motivations behind theoretical writing as a mode of creative abrasion, a means of relentlessly writing against (against common-sense assumptions, against given meanings, against “ things as they are, ” etc.). Th e chapter concludes with a justifi cation of theory ’ s notorious “ diffi culty,” its discursive warfare against “ clarity, ” and ends by insisting that theoretical writing’ s inevitable mission is to try “ to keep open the diff erence between things as they are and things as they might otherwise be ” (Critchley 1997: 22). As for the individual lessons themselves, let ’ s let the following serve as a preview: Lesson 1: “ Th e world must be made to mean” — or, in(tro)ducing the subject of human reality Th e guiding sentence for the fi rst lesson comes from Stuart Hall. Th e lesson explains how the sentence ’ s fi rst clause, “ the world must be made , ” expresses the principal assertion of historical materialism and then posits the ending infi nitive — “ to mean ” — as a sort of semiotic kicker. Th e lesson presents historical/semiotic materialism (the constitutive interrelation between labor and language) as the grounding “ antiphysical ” assumption of theoretical writing, the twin foundations of anti-foundationalism, so to speak. Here, we begin to unpack this word “ antiphysis, ” to understand why theoretical writers think that human reality can never be taken “ naturally, ” as a given, and can never be understood as biologically determined or theologically guaranteed. Here also, with a nod to Lacan’ s insistence on our species’ universal “ pre- maturity at birth,” are we introduced to the idea that the “ subject of human reality ” — the specifi cally human individual — must always be induced , must always be brought into being not merely physically, but through labor and language, “ work with words. ”

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Lesson 2: “ Meaning is the polite word for pleasure” — or, how the beast in the nursery learns to read Th is lesson ’ s guiding sentence comes from Adam Phillips ’ Th e Beast in the Nursery: On Curiosity and Other Appetites . Th e lesson begins with the curiously unappetizing assertion that we are never simply “ born human ” but must always be meaningfully made that way. Th e lesson expands upon Lacan’ s suggestion of human prematurity at birth and discusses the various “ orthopedic ” processes by which, as Louis Althusser puts it, the “ small animal produced by the union of a man and a woman” must be turned into “ a small human child” (1971: 205). For a historical/semiotic materialist conversant with Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, this “ turn ” is always laboriously linguistic — it always involves both the adjustment of the pleasure principle to the reality principle and the sacrifi ce of animal “ being ” to human “ meaning. ” Freud, as we ’ ll see, posits that “ whoever understands the human mind knows that hardly anything is harder for [us] than to give up a pleasure which [we have] once experienced. Actually, we never give anything up; we only exchange one thing for another ” (1907/1989: 437 – 8). Lacan, as we ’ ll read, casts this exchange of “ one thing for another” in terms of a sacrifi ce of real “ being ” (l ’ ê tre ) for symbolic “ meaning ” ( la lettre ). Phillips ’ sentence merges these articulations, revealing “ politeness ” — the discursively orthopedic politics of self-policing— as that arena of exchange in which the pleasures of animality (such as they are for us) must be traded up for “ meaningful ” participation in the polis . Lesson 3: “ Language is, by nature, fi ctional” — or, why the word for moonlight can’ t be moonlight Although it was Nietzsche who fi rst stressed the radically fi gurative nature of language — the utterly metaphorical condition of any articulated “ truth ” — our guiding sentence here comes from Roland Barthes ’ Camera Lucida . Readers of Lesson Th ree are asked to consider the disturbing propositions that we are all “ made out ” of language and that language itself simply isn ’ t real (or isn ’ t simply real). Language exists, to be sure, but it cannot be real; language exists only ever “ antiphysically, ” precisely by virtue of not being real, by never quite failing to negate the real. Along the lines of Lacan ’ s assertion that “ the symbol fi rst manifests itself as the killing of the thing ” (1966d/2006: 262), this lesson posits a certain murderous or prohibitory “ no to the real thing” as any noun’ s structural condition of possibility. Th e lesson rehearses several elementary examples to illustrate the “ antiphysical ” point (the word “ elephant ” can ’ t really be an elephant, the word “ dirt ” etched into real dirt isn ’ t really dirt, a pointing fi nger must be read as something other than just real fl esh in

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order to function as a sign, etc.). Th e lesson also adumbrates Lacan ’ s take on the linguistic subject as a subject of desire, his “ oedipalization ” of language acquisition, the way he links language’ s “ no to the real” with the metaphorical “ no of the father,” connecting the “ paternal ” prohibition against incest to the fi gurative “ bar ” that separates signifi er from signifi ed, preventing any word from ever completely being the thing that it means . Th e lesson closes with a riff on a passage from Don DeLillo ’ s postmodern ghost story Th e Body Artist and with the suggestion that while it might seem like a “ bad thing” that the word for moonlight can never really be moonlight, it ’ s probably a “ good thing ” that words for excrement aren ’ t really excremental — in other words, the lesson closes by suggesting that we “ animals at the mercy of language ” should be more gratefully relieved than fundamentally disturbed to be told that we are made out of words, that words aren ’ t really real, and that language is literally nothing. Lesson 4: “ Desire must be taken literally ” —a few words on death, sex, and interpretation Th e lead sentence here is from Lacan, for whom “ to take literally ” means to take “ to the letter,” and so this lesson thoroughly unpacks the various structural coimplications of language and desire, starting with the uncanny resemblance between Alexandre Kojè ve ’ s Hegelian description of desire as “ an emptiness, the presence of the absence of a reality” (1947/1980: 5) and Lacan ’ s formulation of the signifi er as a literal “ presence made of absence ” (1966d/2006: 228). In the fi rst section, on words, the lesson maps Lacan’ s trio of need, demand, and desire onto his three psychic registers of the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic; the lesson also takes up Freud’ s key distinction between “ thing-presentations ” and “ word-presentations. ” In the second section, on death, the lesson gets at the notion of the death-drive in the same way Freud did in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, by taking up that famous bit of child ’ s play called “ the fort-da ” ; this section also addresses the relation between the death-drive and narrative (as per the analysis of Peter Brooks). Th e section on “ sex ” attempts to justify, or at least cogently explain, the Lacanian assertion that human sex is a problem of speech and that speech itself is a sexual dilemma. As the lesson spells out, the English word “ sex ” itself comes from the Latin secare , “ to cut. ” Because the word “ sex ” shares its root, so to speak, with other “ cutting ” words (scission, scissoring, sectioning), the “ meaning of sex” can be said to involve nothing but “ coming to terms” with “ the cut ” of materialist language, in which not just “ sex ” or “ scissors ” but all words in all languages are serrated, castrating: so much, then, for any retrograde notion of some “ completely natural ” sexual desire among humans. In this section, however, the problem of sex is “ taken to the letter”

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by being taken as a problem of writing , the literal forming of written letters on the page. A few passages of literary writing from Poe and Faulkner that thematize incestuous desire are briefl y interpreted , and this move takes us into the fourth section, on the relation between interpretation and desire. Here, however, we turn away from the explicitly psychoanalytic register, away from Lacan’ s matter-of-fact assertion that “ desire, in fact, is interpretation itself” (Lacan 1973/1981: 176) and toward a consideration of Nietzsche ’ s quip that there are no facts, only interpretations, and his interpretation of the “ will to truth” as a form of the “ will to death.” Th e lesson ends with Michel Foucault’ s discussion of the “ life and death ” of interpretation and his Nietzschean or “ aestheticist ” insistence on writing as an art of self-transformation. Lesson 5: “ You are not yourself ” —or, I (think, therefore I) is an other Th is lesson explores the politically anti-identitarian strains of theoretical writing. Th e lead sentence is the slogan that appears on the famous Barbara Kruger text-art photograph (woman’ s face in shattered mirror), but it also relates to Rimbaud ’ s “ Je est un autre ” or “ I is an other ” (which insight appears, mashed-up with the Cartesian cogito , in the lesson ’ s subtitle). Aft er introducing some of the ethical motivations behind theoretical anti- identitarianism, the lesson performs a close reading of Kruger ’ s jagged edges, then moves to a thorough explication of Lacan’ s essay on the mirror-stage. Th e second section is an extensive explication of Althusser ’ s essay “ Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses,” while the third section returns to Nietzsche and Foucault and to the question of an eff ective “ aesthetics of resistance ” to the ideological interpellation of the subject. Lesson 6: “ Th is restlessness is us ” — or, the least that can be said about Hegel Th is lesson ’ s lead sentence comes from Jean-Luc Nancy ’ s Hegel: Th e Rest- lessness of the Negative, and the lesson begins with a question: if Hegel is in fact what Nancy calls him — “ the inaugural thinker of the contemporary world” (2002: 3)— and if Jean-Michel Rabaté is right to insist that reading Hegel is “ an essential step on the way to an understanding of theory ” (2002: 21), why do most introductions to theory slight Hegel so drastically, saying very little about his writing, if even mentioning his name at all? Th is widespread neglect of a crucial theoretical fi gure is best explained by Fredric Jameson, who warns that “ the attempt to do justice to the most random observation of Hegel ends up drawing the whole tangled, dripping mass of the Hegelian sequence of forms out into the light with it ” (1971: 306). Th is lesson attempts to do justice, not to a random observation of Hegel, but to the crucial Hegelian concept of Aufh ebung, or “ sublation. ” While the lesson doesn ’ t consider the whole Hegelian sequence of forms, it does

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attempt to chart some of the key movements of the dialectic, taking up, in particular, Hegel’ s theoretical sublation of Christianity and his rehearsal of the struggle between “ lord and bondsman ” or “ master and slave. ” Th e lesson ends with an attempt to demonstrate the political pertinence of a restlessly Hegelian analysis with a close reading of the famous photograph of the 1968 sanitation workers ’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee, the stark depiction of the “ I am a man ” placards held up against the fi xed bayonets of the state militia. Lesson 7: “ Th ere is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism ” —or, the fates of literary formalism Th e lead sentence here is from Walter Benjamin, but the lesson begins with Terry Eagleton ’ s assertion that all the readers and writers of all the civilized documents in the world basically fall into two groups — those who actually understand Benjamin’ s dialectical observation and those who simply don’ t get it. Historically speaking, the latter group tends to be populated by literary formalists, particularly the Anglo-American New Critics, who arguably made attempting to prevent our understanding of Benjamin’ s sentence their critical mission in life. Th us, the fi rst section of this lesson examines the standard defi nitions of (and political charges against) literary formalism, taking up, in particular, the way the New Critical concern with formal control and containment mirrored an underlying and reactionary interest in social containment and control. Th e section also shows how Virginia Woolf practically demolished New Criticism in advance with certain passages from A Room of One’ s Own . Th e second section of this lesson performs a close reading of two oft en-anthologized essays by Cleanth Brooks— “ Irony as a Principle of Structure ” and “ My Credo ” — demonstrating Brooks ’ investment in using formalist methods of reading poetry to transubstantiate “ new ” literary criticism into orthodox religious devotion. Th e third section pits Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky’ s “ defamiliarization ” against Brooks’ new critical “ faith, ” arguing that Shklovsky ’ s resolutely secular (actually, quite Nietzschean) conception of formalism— and particularly, his attention to the distinction between “ poetical ” metaphor and “ prosaic ” metonymy — is still quite pertinent to and compatible with contemporary materialist semiotics and poetics. Lesson 8: “ Th e unconscious is structured like a language ” —or, invasions of the signifi er In this lesson, we return to Lacan, at least with the guiding sentence, and more or less with a vengeance in Section Th ree. But the fi rst two sections are devoted to explaining the developments in structural linguistics

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that made Lacan’ s trademark assertion possible, to begin with. Here, we distinguish formalism from structuralism and examine the interdepen- dence of structuralism and semiotics. We necessarily spend some time with Ferdinand de Saussure, charting the signifi er/signifi ed and syntagm/ paradigm distinctions, mainly as a way of seeing how Roman Jakobson is able to connect metaphor and metonymy to condensation and displacement in Freudian dream analysis (thus enabling Lacan’ s signature claim). We also spend some time exploring the most radical implications — particularly for considerations of sex, sexual diff erence, and gender identity— of Saussure’ s insight that language is a diff erential system “ without positive terms” (1959: 120). Th is discussion, of course, takes us back to “ the structuralist Lacan,” to the famous “ twin doors” (Ladies and Gents) in “ Th e Instance of the Letter” and, inevitably, to “ Th e Meaning of the Phallus. ” Th e lesson ends with an attempt to establish: (1) that the phallus really isn’ t the penis any more than the word moonlight really is moonlight, and for much the same reason; (2) that Lacan ’ s writings ultimately expose, rather than perpetuate, so-called phallogocentrism, that his writings describe, rather than prescribe, a patriarchal unconscious “ structured like a language” ; and that (3) we may already fi nd in the allegedly “ structuralist ” Lacan the strong possibility of what Judith Butler calls “ a queer poststructuralism of the psyche” (2004: 44). Lesson 9: “ Th ere is nothing outside the text ” —or, fear of the proliferation of meaning Th e ninth lesson concerns poststructuralism, postmodernism, and post- colonial theory. Poststructuralism and postmodernism have been branded as “ trendy nihilisms ” that deny life or literature any signifi cance whatsoever. But poststructuralist and postmodernist writers actually fall quite short of affi rming that “ life ” has “ no meaning. ” Rather, such writers examine our pervasive fear that human reality generates far too many meanings, far too much interpretation— they trace and engage with our anxieties about semiotic excess, what Jacques Derrida (who is, of course, responsible for the lesson’ s guiding sentence) calls “ the overabundance of the signifi er ” (1966/1978: 290). To see how poststructuralism concerns our “ fear of the proliferation of meaning ” (Foucault 1969/1998: 222), the fi rst section of this lesson begins with a necessary revisiting of Nietzsche, with specifi c attention to key moments in “ On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” and the Genealogy of Morals . We then move through Derrida ’ s deconstruction of metaphysics, his attempted evaporation of “ the center ” and his abolition of the “ transcendental signifi ed, ” and then to Roland Barthes ’ and Michel Foucault ’ s interrogations of “ the author.” Th e second section gets into postmodernism

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by way of the Habermas/Lyotard debate, but then more carefully explicates “ the postmodern” by considering “ the modern” in three aspects— socio- economic modernization, philosophical modernity , and aesthetic modernism . Section three, on postcolonial theory, begins — on what some will, no doubt, consider an inappropriately Eurocentric and “ queerly ” Foucauldian note— by pointing out the strong similarities between Edward Said ’ s anti-imperialist descriptions of “ Orientalism ” and Eve Sedgwick ’ s anti-hom*ophobic limning of “ sex. ” We then look at some queerly Orientalist moments in Hollywood fi lm-noir, specifi cally the Geiger Bookstore sequence in Hawks’ Th e Big Sleep and the entrance of Joel Cairo in Huston ’ s Th e Maltese Falcon . We then consider the reasons why some postcolonial theorists aligned with Marxism (Lazarus, Ahmed, Almond) would have major problems with what we’ ve just done, why they rail against the “ culturalist emphasis in postcolonial studies” (Lazarus 2004a: 9), why they think the hybrid intermingling of poststructuralist, postmodernist, and postcolonial theory destroys the very possibility of intellectual critique in the sense that Marxism inherits from the Enlightenment. We close, however, by giving Foucault the fi nal word, and his fi nal word is, once again, “ Nietzsche. ” Lesson 10: “ One is not born a woman” — on making the world queerer than ever Th e lead sentence for this lesson is, of course, from Simone de Beauvoir ’ s Th e Second Sex (while the subtitle hails from Michael Warner ’ s introduction to Fear of a Queer Planet ). Th e lesson begins by considering a quite recent objection to Beauvoir ’ s axiom, articulated by Francine du Plessix Gray in the pages of the New York Times. Laying waste to Gray’ s objection, and to other similarly clueless resistances to basic feminist analysis, allows me to pay ironic homage to Cleanth Brooks by posting four “ articles of faith” in what I call “ My (male feminist) Credo. ” Here, I argue that to become not a woman, but a feminist theorist, one must learn:

1. To become relentlessly anti-essentialist, except when it ’ s “ strategically ” interesting not to be. (Elaborating on this article takes us to Diana Fuss, Gayle Rubin, Gayatri Spivak, Judith Butler, Martha Nussbaum contra Butler, etc.) 2. To become relentlessly anti-theological : no gods (or goddesses), no masters— no exceptions. (Elaborating on this article takes us from Marx and Nietzsche, briefl y, to H é l è ne Cixous and Donna Haraway, at greater length.) 3. To become relentlessly “ anti-universalizing ” in one ’ s critical endeavors, except when to do so eff ectively disables critical endeavor. (Th is article

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involves an extensive and unapologetically non-historicizing critique of Chandra Mohanty ’ s “ Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses” .) 4. To do one ’ s part to help “ make the world queerer than ever. ”

Th e last “ article of faith” takes us directly to the lesson’ s second section, called “ Th e Future is Kid’ s Stuff ” (aft er Lee Edelman). Th e section begins with Gayle Rubin ’ s assessment of the analytical limitations of feminism in her essay “ Th inking Sex,” charts the way theorists like Edelman, Lauren Berlant, Michael Warner, David Halperin, Eve Sedgwick, Carla Freccero, and others have redefi ned and redeployed the word “ queer, ” and ends with an extensive consideration of Edelman ’ s rudely worded and identity-disturbing critique of “ reproductive futurism” in his incomparably “ negative ” No Future: Queer Th eory and the Death Drive . Th e last lesson, and the book itself, would thus seem to end on a note of death and destruction. But the book also ends with my resurrection of the claim, fi rst made in the introductory chapter, that theoretical writing, as a vital mode of writing against , is not only “ not dead, ” but will most likely “ live forever” — or at least, for as long as “ the humanities” remain an ongoing concern within a recognizably human reality. For, as Jean-Michel Rabat é puts it in his book Th e Future of Th eory, theory is that relentless kind of writing that “ never stops coming back” (2002: 10). In the end, Ten Lessons is a textbook that never stops coming back to “ the basics ” of literary theory; it is written to serve as a stylistically performative introduction to the most fundamental assumptions, motivations, tenets, and terminologies of theoretical writing. In other words, believe it or not, Ten Lessons is written to give pleasure . Of course, the book ’ s overarching aims are pedagogical; these are indeed lessons that are made of sentences that are written to be studied . But these sentences are written quite particularly for those diligent students who can delight in diffi cult instruction, who can engage in close but identity-disturbing reading, who are capable of learning to relish the experience of letting their common-sense perceptions and assumptions be completely shattered and undermined, and who may be willing to risk “ losing their religion ” in order to fi nd what they might not have otherwise known they had— not exactly the courage of their convictions, but, as Nietzsche somewhere puts it, the courage for an attack on all their convictions. In other words, the sentences in this book are written for “ good students ” who aren’ t so thoroughly “ good ” that they can’ t fi nally bring themselves to “ give way to literature. ” On the one hand, though clearly “ instructional, ” Ten Lessons is not written as a facilely commodifi ed “ user-friendly guide”

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to theory or as an overly convenient theoretical “ tool-box. ” On the other hand, while not without its practical uses, the book is written to be enjoyed, even if “ enjoyment ” of the sort this writing aspires to provide proves arduous and unsettling. As a professor of theory, I hope that you ’ ll learn to enjoy the genuine diffi culties, the “ provocative and perverse challenge[s]” (Jameson 2009: 4), of this genre of writing. As a theoretical writer, I hope that you ’ ll simply like the writing itself, that you’ ll end up falling for it, that “ for some reason or another” you’ ll value it highly. As one animal at the mercy of language writing to another, I hope you ’ ll fi nd “ something worth reading” in these Ten Lessons in Th eory .

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I. “ Th eory is [undead] everywhere ”

On the fi rst page of his book Th e Literary in Th eory , veteran theorist Jonathan Culler takes up the question of his discipline’ s decline. Acknowledging that “ the heyday of so-called high theory ” is over, Culler concedes that “ the activities that have come to answer to the nickname theory are no longer the latest thing in the humanities ” (2007: 1). Most up-to-date observers in and of the humanities would agree with Culler ’ s assessment. Some have concluded, and not exactly sadly, that theory has had it, that “ theory is dead” (2007: 1). Others— who had never been all that fond of “ the activities ” Culler designates anyway — no doubt believe that “ this thing called theory ” (Surin 2011: 6) never should have “ lived ” in the fi rst place, that “ the thing” never should have gained its prominence in literary studies, much less its supposed dominance of the fi eld. Th us, Kenneth Surin, reporting on theory’ s present condition in a special issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly entitled “ Th eory Now,” describes the current academic situation in terms of a “ presumed or merely posited ‘ aft er’ of theory, now fashionable in certain parts of the profession (as in ‘ the days of theory are over, so let’ s get back to doing literary studies in a way that really focuses on novels, plays, and poems, etc. ’ ). ” Surin also describes the long-smoldering “ ressentiment of intellectual conservatives who detest theory because for them it ensued in the alleged sidelining of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Goethe, and so on (as in ‘ how dare you place this Egyptian or Pakistani novelist in the same literary-analytical framework as Faulkner or Gü nter Grass?’ ) ” (2011: 3). Here, Surin alerts us to two related aspects of the death-wish against theory— theory-haters hate theory and are more than happy to think it dead because “ the thing ” in its heyday debased, degraded, or “ decentered ” literary studies, spoiling intellectually conservative parties either by taking the focus away from novels, poems, and plays as novels, poems, and plays (in order to harp on “ non-literary ” matters such as popular culture, identity politics, class struggle, etc.), or by staying more or less in the literary ballpark, but sidelining the canonical fi gures of Great Literature’ s all-star team (Surin’ s

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famously named white male players), sticking in a slew of non-white and perhaps non-male “ others ” in their stead (Surin’ s unnamed and ungendered Egyptians and Pakistanis). But let’ s not fail to mention a third, “ aesthetic ” or “ stylistic ” factor in the longstanding resentment against theory — the obstreperous complaints about the sheer ugliness of theoretical writing, its abrasively off -putting opacity, its outrageous dependence on “ specialized terminology, ” on bloated and clunky “ in-group jargon,” cumbersome “ critical keywords” such as “ defamiliarization ” and “ reifi cation ” that not only sound unlovely to belletristic ears but refuse all nimble defi nition. Little wonder, then, given such unforgiven trespasses against all the fi ner things in academic life, if no few “ intellectual conservatives ” think their world a better place for theory ’ s being dead. But while the actual extent of its dominion over literary studies, or the exact duration of its heyday, or the aesthetic or even ethical value of its stylistic infractions against clarity and grace may all be open to debate, it’ s surely premature for intellectuals of any stripe to mourn or celebrate the expiration of theory, to wring or clap our hands about theory’ s demise. Like it or not, “ the thing” still lives. Th eory persists. Th eory abides. Granted, the activities that answer to the nickname “ theory ” may no longer be the latest thing in the humanities, but they do seem to have become lasting things. Th ey endure — though not, let ’ s note, as stony monuments of unageing intellect or otherwise solidifi ed things (aft er all, resisting so-called reifi cation remains one of theory ’ s most vital and pressing assignments). Rather, theoretical activities continue as, precisely, activities , actions, restlessly critical procedures producing “ insights which completely shatter and undermine our common perceptions” (Ž i ž ek 2006: ix). Extending its shelf-life beyond any number of sell-by dates, theory survives as a battery of disturbing questions , an unsettled and unsettling set of strategies for enabling what Culler calls “ refl ection on meaning as a problem rather than a given ” (2007: 85).1

1 Reifi cation (from res, Latin for thing) is a Marxist term designating “the way that commodifi cation reduces social relations, ideas, and even people to things” (Parker 2008: 193). Th eoretical writing exposes and opposes this baleful reduction to commodifi ed thing-iness and attempts, against heavy odds, to rescue itself and its objects of analysis from reifi cation, to keep itself unreifi ed. For some theoretical writers, this eff ort against reifi cation actually constitutes “theory” as such. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, one of the founding documents of contemporary critical theory, Horkheimer and Adorno write that “Intellect’s true concern is a negation of reifi cation. It must perish when it is solidifi ed into a cultural asset and handed out for consumption purposes. Th e fl ood of precise information and brand-new amusem*nts make [sic] people smarter and more stupid at once” (1947/2002: xvii). More recently, in Valences of the Dialectic, Fredric

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Given reasonable suspicion that “ meaning ” may never cease to be a “ problem, ” given reasonable confi dence that there will never spring from the earth nor fall from the sky some “ completely meaningful ” and universally satisfying answer that would lay all critical inquiry to eternal rest, given reasonable doubt that “ common sense, or even reifi cation itself, can ever permanently be dissipated” (Jameson 2009: 4), one might brashly forecast that “ this thing called theory” will go on forever— or at least, for as long as “ the humanities” remain an ongoing concern within a recognizably human reality. For even if “ theory itself is [no longer] seen as the cutting edge . . . of literary and cultural studies,” even if theory is no longer considered “ prominent as a vanguard movement ” within these fi elds, the fi elds themselves nonetheless “ take place within a space articulated by theory, or theories, theoretical discourses, theoretical debates.” Th ose of us who still work “ in the humanities ” are “ ineluctably in theory, ” as Culler writes, for in the humanities, “ theory is everywhere ” (2007: 3, 2). Or, as Jean-Michel Rabat é puts it in his book Th e Future of Th eory , “ theory never stops coming back” (2002: 10). Far from having kicked the bucket, then, theory is resolutely undead , permanently relevant and perpetually revenant — if not “ everywhere ” that

Jameson writes “that theory is to be grasped as the perpetual and impossible attempt to dereify the language of thought, and to preempt all the systems and ideologies which inevitably result from the establishment of this or that fi xed terminology.” And yet, because the working lexicon of any theory can coagulate into a “fi xed terminology”— the word “reifi cation” has, for example, a specifi c and precise, if not “fi xedly” economic meaning in the language of Marxist thought—Jameson warns that any “theoretical process of undoing terminologies [can], by virtue of the elaboration of the terminology that very process requires, become . . . an ideology in its own turn and congeal into the very type of system it sought to undermine.” Th us, Jameson notes “the hopelessness of the nonetheless unavoidable aim of theoretical writing to escape the reifi cations [and] commodifi cations of the intellectual marketplace today” (2009: 9). As these two examples of “theoretical writing” qua writing against reifi cation should suggest, to say that theory was ever “the latest thing in the humanities” or to characterize theory, as I have above, in the mercantile terms of “shelf-life” and “sell-by dates” is to leave it open to the charge of having failed to stay frosty against reifi cation, as if theory had never been anything more than a steaming chunk of cultural capital, a hotly commodifi ed intellectual amusem*nt, rather like a computer game requiring “advanced” skills, but very little wisdom, a product making “consumers” (teachers and students) at once “smarter” (more technically savvy) and “stupider” (less perceptive about their actual conditions of existence, and hence more compliant with the dominant—reifi ed and reifying—social order). As for theory’s hopeful project of successfully “dereifying the language of thought,” Jameson soberly suggests that “theory” cannot “expect to supplant the multitudinous forms of reifi ed thinking and named and commodifi ed thoughts on the intellectual marketplace today, but only to wage persistent and local guerilla warfare against their hegemony” (2009: 61).

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can be imagined, then at least in and to “ the humanities ” as they are still being imagined and re-imagined. For in Culler ’s words:

the position of theory as an institutional and disciplinary presence now seems well established in the American university . . . It now seems widely accepted that any intellectual project has a basis in the- ory of some sort, that graduate students need to be aware of theo- retical debates in their fi elds and able to situate themselves and their work within the changing intellectual structures of the professional landscape, and that theory, far from being ‘ too diffi cult ’ for under- graduates, is the sort of thing they ought to explore as one of the most exciting and socially pertinent dimensions of the humanities. (Culler 2011: 224)

Th is book hopes to serve participants in the humanities at all levels as both an introduction and an inducement to theoretical writing as writing against reifi cation, writing against the commodifi cation of writing and of thought. Of course, resisting the commodifi cation of writing in writing isn’ t particularly easy these days, especially not if one feels compelled, for professional reasons, to present the putative resistance in a commodifi ed form — to publish, that is, one’ s writing as a book that one “ naturally ” hopes will be commercially successful, that is, “ widely adopted ” as a textbook. And of course, there are many textbooks, many introductions and inducements to theory, available in “ the intellectual marketplace today ” (Jameson 2009: 61). Most of these begin with matters of defi nition; they attempt to describe what theory is and to provide an historical narrative about how this thing came to be such a strong (or insidious) “ institutional and disciplinary presence.” In this introduction, however, we’ ll be concerned less with what theory is and more with what theory does . Our most vital concern will be with the question of why theory lives or why theory matters , why theory excitingly pertains not only to students “ of the humanities, ” but to all “ the undead ” — to everyone, that is, who still actively participates in our specifi cally human reality, if only in the spectral form of writing. Culler, for one, writes that theory can be understood as an interdisciplinary “ genre of works,” as a “ name for a mixture of philosophy, psychoanalysis, linguistics, aesthetics, poetics, and political and social thought ” (2011: 230). But again, we might more productively understand theoretical writing less as an institutionally generic thing (even an academically mixed-up thing) than as an “ exciting and socially pertinent” intellectual activity . For Culler, what theory is is the activity of “ thinking about thinking ” ; correspondingly, in his words, the “ impetus to theory is a desire to understand what one is doing ”

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when one is thinking. Culler thinks that theory, as a particularly challenging way of “ thinking about thinking, ”

is driven by the impossible desire to step outside one ’ s thought, both to place it and to understand it, and also by a desire— a possible desire— for change, both in the ways of one ’ s own thought, which always could be sharper, more knowledgeable and capacious, more self-refl ecting, and in the world our thought engages. (2011: 224 – 5)

Here, Culler ’ s thinking (about thinking) about theory in terms of a desire for change “ in the ways of one ’ s own thought ” might make one think of the following bit of wisdom from Michel Foucault — “ Th ere are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think diff erently than one thinks and perceive diff erently than one sees is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and refl ecting at all” (1986: 7). But thinking about theoretical writing in terms of desire for change— change not simply in our own individual modes of cognition but “ in the world ” itself — might also bring to mind the revolutionary slogan carved in marble at the tomb of Karl Marx — “ Th e philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it ” (1845/1978: 145). Culler ’ s thinking, however, leads him to quote a somewhat more densely packed sentence from Michael Hardt, who, in an essay called “ Th e Militancy of Th eory, ” writes that “ the task of theory is to make the present and thus to . . . invent the subject of that making, a ‘ we ’ characterized not only by our belonging to the present but by our making it ” (2011: 21). Culler goes on to suggest that Hardt here “ makes explicit what is only implicit in a lot of theory: the attempt to produce a collective subject, a ‘ we, ’ through argument about how things should be conceived or understood ” (2011: 225). Now, while Hardt clearly owes his theoretical militancy both to Marx and to Foucault, his quoted sentence might require a bit more “ unpacking ” than either one of theirs. And indeed we ’ ll be returning throughout this book to the question of what it might mean to argue (1) that what Hardt calls “ the present ” is never simply given but must always be made ; (2) that a collectively subjective “ we ” both belongs to and is responsible for making “ the present” historical moment; (3) that the “ we ” in question must itself be invented or produced; and (4) that theoretical writing is somehow constitutively involved in this vital activity or task , this job of our self-actualizing “ the world, ” of our restlessly producing the very subject of human reality — in other words, “ ourselves. ” As I said, Hardt ’ s sentence calls for some strenuous and extended unpack- ing. Here, though, let’ s linger on that last phrase from Culler concerning

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the desired “ production ” of this collective subject, a certain “ we ourselves” that somehow gets produced “ through argument about how things should be conceived or understood,” and let’ s ask ourselves how, in theory, things arguably should be conceived or understood. What ’ s the diff erence, aft er all, between the way things should theoretically be conceived or understood and the normal or given way in which things are commonly conceived or understood? Moreover, how does our recognizing this diff erence— this discrepancy between the good or rich or productive understanding that arguably should be and the bad or impoverished or reifi ed understanding that commonly is — impel us toward what Slavoj Ž i ž ek is happy to call “ insights which completely shatter and undermine our common perceptions ” (2006: ix)? What allows a theoretical writer like Ž i ž ek to propose that “ our common perceptions ” really should be “ short-circuited, ” as he puts it, that they really ought to be utterly shattered and undermined?2 Th ese questions bring us back to the matter of “ reifi cation, ” as that crucial term is defi ned above, and to Horkheimer and Adorno ’ s insistence that the “ true concern ” of any bona fi de theoretical work is “ the negation of reifi cation ” (1947/2002: xvii). For theorists like Ž i ž ek and Hardt, who write in the critical tradition of Horkheimer and Adorno, of Marx and of Foucault, “ reifi cation ” and its “ common-sense ” confederates pose fairly formidable obstacles to theory ’ s most militant task, diligently working to try to block “ our ” collective and transformative remaking of the present historical moment. For, whenever “ we ” fi nd ourselves doing the business of “ thinking ” within an utterly reifi ed social order — the current global capitalist “ mode of production, ” for example, “ a world in which corporate Capital [has] succeeded in penetrating and dominating the very fantasy-kernel of our being” (Ž i ž ek 1993: 10)— chances are mighty high that “ our common perceptions” of that social order, not to mention of “ our being, ” will be pretty much “ reifi ed ” themselves, and thus the odds of our fi nding ways to think or dream or use our critical imaginations against that order can grow quite dismally slim. Arguably, our habitual tendency to conceive or understand “ things as they are ” in our given human reality as things— specifi cally, as commodities to be purchased (if only we can aff ord them), and not as productively human and collectively humanizing

2 Žižek explains that “a short circuit occurs when there is a faulty connection in the network—faulty, of course, from the standpoint of the network’s smooth functioning. Is not the shock of short-circuiting, therefore, one of the best metaphors for a critical reading?” Th is critical short-circuiting, writes Žižek, “is what Marx, among others, did with philosophy and religion” and “what Freud and Nietzsche did with morality.” Žižek writes that “the aim of such an approach is . . . the inherent decentering of the interpreted text, which brings to light its ‘unthought,’ its disavowed presuppositions and consequences” (2006: ix).

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processes — is symptomatic of “ our ” pervasive cognitive and aff ective reifi cation today. For, are we not commonly “ encouraged ” by “ corporate Capital” to conceive absolutely “ everything ” imaginable in commodifi ed or globally “ free market ” terms, and to perceive “ ourselves, ” in our very being, as primarily and essentially consumers (with or without purchasing power) rather than as subjectively collective makers of the present, much less as “ citizens of the world” empowered and engendered by the work of our own self-refl ective understanding? Th eory, as Culler notes, is indeed driven by the desire for change both in ourselves and of “ the world,” and so the task of theory, as Hardt insists, is indeed to make the present — or better, to participate in the radical transformation of the present by negating regnant reifi cations, by working to shatter and undermine our common and congealed perceptions, particularly the all too common-sense view that “ we ourselves” are not the actual (and sole) producers of our present (and future) human realities but merely passive consumers of “ things as they are, ” customers who are “ always right ” (to think of themselves as customers) and who are thus all too well accustomed to taking or buying into “ the world ” as given .

II. Th e problem with givens

Describing what he calls “ the duty of the critical intellectual,” and using the words “ theory ” and “ philosophy ” more or less interchangeably, Ž i ž ek writes that

philosophy begins the moment we do not accept what exists as given ( “ It ’ s like that! ” , “ Law is law! ” , etc.), but raise the question of how is what we encounter as actual also possible. What characterizes philosophy is this “ step back ” from actuality into possibility . . . Th eory involves the power to abstract from our starting point in order to reconstruct it subsequently on the basis of its presuppositions, its transcendental “ conditions of possibility.” (1993: 2)

Ž i ž ek, then, would pretty much agree with Culler’ s point that theory’ s central task is to refl ect “ on meaning as a problem rather than a given” (Culler 2007: 85). But how might this job-description relate to the more militant claim that theory’ s most serious business is negating reifi cation? Since both activities would seem to constitute the real work of theoretical writing, shouldn’ t we ask how refl ecting on “ meaning as a problem rather than a given ” and “ negating reifi cation” might be practically related? Th e quickest answer to

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this question would of course be that “ taking meaning as a given ” essentially equals accepting or “ buying into ” reifi cation. But since we wouldn’ t be doing our homework if we were simply to accept that quick answer, take that neat equation as a given, we must rather address it as a problem, must explore its problematic “ conditions of possibility. ” To proceed with this labor, let ’ s put aside the term “ reifi cation ” for the moment and focus instead on this tension between “ the given ” and “ the problematic” in the general fi eld of “ meaning. ” What might it mean to refl ect on “ meaning ” as a problem rather than a given? What might it mean to take some specifi c instance of meaning “ as a given ” in the fi rst place? Well, even in our common understanding, wouldn’ t our accepting any piece of meaning as “ a given” actually mean our taking its “ actuality ” pretty easily, with little or no questioning about its conditions of possibility? And wouldn ’ t that “ easiness ” entail that the more we take a particular piece of “ meaning ” as “ a given, ” the fewer the questions we ’ re likely to raise about it? What “ given meanings ” would thus seem to be given, whenever such easy reception prevails, is a facile sort of freedom from analysis, a reprieve from “ thinking about thinking,” a sort of well-lubricated immunity from any abrasive “ problematization. ” In theory, however, no meaning should ever be taken as a given. No piece of meaning, no particular idea, ever gets a free pass. Or, paradoxically, the only idea that might safely be taken as a given is the idea that no idea should ever be so taken. Th e only idea that isn’ t open to question, the only idea that isn ’ t problematic, is the idea that any idea can and should be frequently and vigorously problematized, if not completely shattered and undermined. But let’ s consider a specifi c example of a “ given ” whose license to be taken as “ given ” theoretical writing has attempted to revoke. For quite some time, “ in the humanities ” and elsewhere, it was pretty much taken as a given that the word “ Man ” simply meant all the human beings in the history of the world— the total “ horizon of humanity,” as Jacques Derrida once put it (1972: 116). Th e usage ranges from early to late modernity, from Prince Hamlet’ s “ what a piece of work is man ” ( Hamlet 2.2. 303) to Karl Marx’ s “ man makes religion; religion does not make man ” (1844/1978: 53) to astronaut Neil Armstrong’ s moonwalking soliloquy describing, albeit somewhat confusingly, “ one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Th e “ given ” here is (or maybe was ) that the word “ Man ” could self-confi dently represent all human beings universally — even though, at any given time, well over half the human beings in the world aren ’ t exactly men, and even though only a minority of actual men resemble the generically “ Anglo-European ” image that tends to

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be conjured by the word “ Man. ” 3 Our taking this “ blanched ” meaning of the word “ Man ” as “ a given” has always tended to involve “ our ” either ignoring these contradictions or not seeing them as causing “ us ” any problems. Another example — for some time, “ in the humanities ” and elsewhere, it was taken as a given that the word “ Woman ” could be deployed to designate not some individual woman or the entirety of the human group “ women ” (and not, to be sure, “ the total horizon of humanity ” ) but rather some universal and eternal “ essence ” of “ womanliness ” or “ femininity. ” Th is meaning of the word “ Woman ” could be taken as a given despite rather glaringly evident tensions between this “ essential ” determination “ Woman ” (which for some reason usually involved such dispositions as passivity, masochism, or infi nite willingness to self-sacrifi ce) and the characteristics, situations, experiences, or desires of actual women. Considering these two examples together, then, we might belabor the obvious— that the heretofore “ given ” meanings of “ Man ” and “ Woman ” have involved a pervasive inequality, that what this particular “ given ” has historically given “ us ” is the strong impression that the phrase “ Man and Woman ” has always meant and should forever inevitably mean the hierarchical diff erence between the one’ s taking giant steps and the other’ s being stepped on or over. In other words, here the “ given meaning ” has done its bit to “ naturalize ” or “ inevitable-ize ” or “ eternalize ” systemic male dominance, sexism, racism, and so on. If the situation today has to some extent been altered— at least “ in the humanities, ” if not elsewhere, and thanks mainly to feminist, postcolonial, and critical race theorists — then the words “ Man ” and “ Woman ” are no longer employed quite so facilely in these essentialized senses, no longer taken quite so broadly as givens.4 As these examples suggest, what theory does when refl ecting on meaning as a problem rather than a given is to foreground the contradictions embedded in the “ meaning ” under consideration. We might note, for another example, a contradiction in Culler’ s very phrase, for arguably one actively refl ects on “ meaning ” only as a problem— that is, critically “ r e fl ecting on” and “ problematizing ” are pretty much the same procedure— whereas

3 In Th e Location of Culture, Homi Bhabha nicely specifi es one of the key diff erences between “Man” and actual men by rewriting the phrase “almost the same, but not quite” as “almost the same, but not white” (1994: 89). 4 In Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature, Diff erence, Diana Fuss describes essentialism as “belief in the real, true essence of things, the invariable and fi xed properties which defi ne the ‘whatness’ of a given entity.” For feminist theory, essentialism involves “the idea that men and women . . . are identifi ed as such on the basis of transhistorical, eternal, immutable essences.” Th eory is “anti-essentialist” in that it rejects “any attempts to naturalize human nature” (1989: xi).

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to take meaning “ as a given” is precisely not to refl ect on it but merely to refl ect it, to repeat and reproduce it, like a mirror, without question, without friction . In this sense, a successfully “ given ” meaning is (rather like a sexually transmitted disease) the gift that keeps on giving. If I myself should take some piece of meaning as given, I will probably expect you to partake as well, to “ repeat aft er me,” to join me as I have joined others in a reifi ed set of “ common perceptions, ” a coagulated sort of “ common sense, ” “ a stagnant confi rmation of inherited thinking, its presuppositions, and its dogma” (Derrida 2008: 120). Th eory, however, isn ’ t going to take it. In actively refl ecting on meaning as problem, theoretical writing attempts to disrupt or short circuit the reproduction of “ common sense. ” Th eory, writes Culler, must always engage in the “ critique of common sense, of concepts taken as natural ” (1997: 15). Th eoretical writers in fact decline to take any human activity “ naturally, ” for “ as long as one assumes that what one does is natural it is diffi cult to gain any understanding of it ” (Culler 1975: 129). And, as Michael B é rub é has recently put it, “ It is very diffi cult to get a man to understand something when his tribal sense of his identity depends on his not understanding it. But,” Bé rub é adds, “ there are few tasks so urgent” (2011: 74) for theoretical writers and readers — few tasks so urgent or so arduous as trying to get ourselves to understand arguments that our “ tribal ” or inherited sense of identity, our stable or “ naturalized ” common sense, necessitates our not understanding. Fredric Jameson thus writes of the daunting “ un-naturality ” of theoretical writing, “ its provocative and perverse challenge to common sense as such ” (2009: 4). Abrading, then, any and all “ natural ” or common-sense assump- tions, theoretical writing promotes instead an unnatural and uncommon sensibility, an extraordinary or even anti-ordinary understanding. Th eory, that is, endeavors to defamiliarize all the settled normalities of the given world.5 And this “ creative abrasion” (Hall 2003: 71) of “ common sense” constitutes the primary reason theoretical writing isn ’ t oft en “ easily understood” — theoretical writing is by defi nition hostile to “ normal ” understanding and to

5 For Russian formalist Victor Shklovsky, defamiliarization (ostranenie, or “making strange”) defi nes not theoretical writing but literary discourse as such. For Shklovsky, whose 1917 essay “Art as Technique” we’ll consider more thoroughly in Lesson Seven, literature “defamiliarizes” in that it “disrupts ordinary language and habitual modes of perception.” Th e term describes “literature’s ability to disrupt through its representation of reality the dominant ideas of society” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 76). For Shklovsky, “defamiliarization” pertains to “literature” and not “theory” per se, but contemporary theoretical writers oft en employ this word to argue that theoretical writing performs the most radical work of literature, as for example, when Jameson writes that the aim of theoretical writing is “to defamiliarize our ordinary habits of mind and to make us suddenly conscious not only of our own . . . obtuseness but also of the strangeness of reality as such” (2009: 50).

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the familiar versions of “ the normal world” such understanding attempts to secure, and this very hostility makes it diffi cult for us to be secure in our understanding of theory.6 We ’ ll return to the matter of theory’ s alienating “ diffi culty” anon. Here, though, let’ s pause to mull over yet another contradiction— this one located in my own exposition of theory ’ s self-refl ections. A moment ago, I gave you “ Man ” and “ Woman ” as examples of meanings that had until recently been taken as givens in the humanities but that had gotten themselves roundly “ problema- tized” at the hands of “ high theory.” My intent was to off er the following as quick examples of theoretical “ problematizations ” of these given terms. In regard to “ Man, ” I intended to quote from the fi nal pages of Th e Order of Th ings: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, where Michel Foucault writes that “ man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed for human knowledge, ” that “ man is an invention of recent date,” that the invented convention of man is “ perhaps nearing its end,” and that the fi gure of man will someday “ be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea ” (1966/1973: 386, 387). But I intended to stress that when Foucault heralds the erasure of “ man, ” he isn ’ t predicting or calling for the extinction of the human species; rather, Foucault is signaling that a particular fi gure of meaning that had for some time been taken as the most central and meaningful fi gure in “ the human sciences” and in humanism in general now no longer could or should be.7 Regarding “ Woman, ” I intended to point out that when Jacques Lacan proclaims that “ Woman does not exist” (1975/1998: 7) he is not insanely positing that there are no women in the world. Rather, he is asserting

6 To make this diffi cult point more or less understandable, let’s borrow and alter some language from Jean-Luc Nancy and write that “If the strictest [and strangest] formulations of [theory] oft en inspire perplexity, annoyance, and refusal, it is because . . . these formulations . . . wish to make understood that they cannot be, as they are, understood by [our normal] understanding, but rather demand that [such] understanding relinquish itself.” (2002: 63) Nancy’s language will appear again in unaltered form in a footnote in Lesson Six. 7 Childers and Hentzi write that “in current critical debates humanism usually refers to an anthropocentric view of the world that asserts the existence of a universal human nature informing all actions and decisions.” (1995: 140) “Anti-humanist” theorists don’t hate humans, but question the existence of any such “universal human nature” or at least reject “Man” as this universal’s standard-bearer. Specifi cally, “feminists, black activist, postcolonial critics, and gay and lesbian critics have argued that the ‘man’ at the heart of humanism is not free of the limitations of limiting interests resulting from the specifi cs of a particular gender, class, race, or sexual orientation; on the contrary, this ‘man’ is male, white, middle-class, Anglo, and heterosexual. For these [anti-humanist] critics, the attempt to pass off such a limited viewpoint as universal is covertly, if not overtly, oppressive.” (1995: 141) Anti-humanist writing thus desires, as Derrida puts it, to “pass beyond man and humanism” (1966/1978: 292).

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that “ Woman ” — specifi cally, the eternally, masoch*stically self-sacrifi cing Woman— is “ essentially ” a fi ction, if not a pathologically self-serving male fantasy.8 I also intended to explain that when Monique Wittig avers that a “ lesbian ” is “ not a woman” (1981/2007: 1642), she doesn’ t mean that “ lesbians ” are not “ chromosomally female ” or don ’ t “ have vagin*s, ” and so on and so forth, but rather that “ woman ” is a political category invented by men for the purpose of maintaining systemic male dominance, and that lesbians, by defi nition, refuse the category as well as the system (not to mention the men). But here ’ s the problem. By introducing these particular examples, I basically wanted to tout my investment in feminist, psychoanalytic, and queer disturbances of the “ given ” meanings of gender and sexuality as among the most excitingly and politically pertinent activities that theoretical writing brings to the table. And yet, in the very gesture of off ering these examples, I unintentionally reproduced one of the primary “ givens ” of masculinist privilege itself. I trotted out “ Man ” fi rst, because, for some strange reason, that example occurred to me fi rst. And in maintaining this particular order of introduction, I unconsciously repeated— and eff ectively reinforced or “ re-reifi ed ” — an ancient order of male priority, a dogmatic fable as old as Adam. In attempting, that is, to conscientiously refl ect on “ Man ” as a problem rather than a given, I unconsciously refl ected “ Man ” as the given rather than as an outdated problem. Now, upon recognizing my own complicity with the very order of systemic male privilege and priority that I was ostensibly writing against, I could have easily revised my writing, resituated the examples, let “ Woman ” come fi rst, given Wittig the fi rst or only words, and so on. I could have neatly hidden the traces of my being unconsciously in cahoots with patriarchy, and no reader of my work would have been any the wiser. But since I should aspire to make my readers at least somewhat wiser— or, since theory’ s purpose is to “ negate reifi cation,” and reifi cation can be defi ned not only as commodifi ed “ thingifi cation” but “ as the removal of traces of production from the product ” (Jameson 2010: 124)—I ’ ve chosen to let these infelicitous “ traces of production” stand and to call your attention to them. I do so not to make myself momentarily look “ bad ” for having made the mistake and then “ good ” for having “ politically corrected” it but rather to attempt further to illuminate what theory does , to describe theoretical activities while attempting in the process to do some theory, to attend to a contradiction and elucidate (but not exactly solve) a problem. “ Th eory,” writes Culler, “ is refl exive, thinking about

8 In Mythologies, Roland Barthes diagnoses what he calls “this disease of thinking in essences, which is at the bottom of every bourgeois mythology of man” (1957/1985: 75).

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thinking, enquiry into the categories we use in making sense of things, in literature and in other discursive practices ” (1997: 15). But theoretical writing is also always necessarily self -refl exive critique; it devotes considerable energy to thinking about (its own thinking about) thinking. Refl ecting on meaning as problem rather than as naturalized given, theoretical writing is given or driven not only to refl ect upon but also to interrogate, if not to torture, its own refl ections — apparently to cause yet more problems. But why keep causing problems? Why this endless “ problematization ” of “ meanings ” that might just as well be taken for granted? Why not let just a few things go without saying? Why keep trying to make sense (or mincemeat) of the categories we use to make sense of things? Why not just keep using these categories if they have heretofore served us well? In regard to “ literature and other discursive practices, ” why all the “ complicated fuss about things that really should be simply consumed” (Culler 2007: 251) or unproblematically enjoyed? Why not simply relish reading for the sake of reading, literature for the sake of literature? Why not gratefully accept “ the pleasure of the text” as gift , pure and simple? A short response to these questions would be that there is really no such thing as pure enjoyment, or simple pleasure, much less simple meaning, for any specifi cally human being. To say so is not bleakly to proclaim that there is absolutely no enjoyment, pleasure, value, or meaning ever to be had (contrary to rumor, that is, theory is not a thoroughly anhedonic nihilism); rather, it is “ simply ” to say, with Jacques Derrida, that “ things are very complicated ” (1994: 110); it is “ simply ” to say, with Jean-Luc Nancy, that “ the given always gives itself as something other than simply given ” (2002: 52), that human experiences qua human are never pure or simple, if only because in reality a human being is “ an animal at the mercy of language ” (Lacan 1966e/2006: 525) and “ language being what it is, we shall fi nd nothing simple in it” (Saussure 1959: 122). In other words, given this radical absence of simplicity in language, given the irremediable loss of immediately natural life for any speaking being as such, the gift of the text can never be a simple present , for “ what opens meaning and language is writing as the disappearance of natural presence ” (Derrida 1967/1997: 159). Or, in the words of Marjorie Garber:

Language is not a secondary but a primary constituent of human nature . . . Language is not transparent, though fantasies of its transpar- ency, its merely denotative role, have always attracted and misled some of its users, both writers and readers. (2003/2008: 437 – 8)

So much, then, for any short sweet reply to the question of simple enjoyment; evidently, a more extensive response is needed. And indeed, this more

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extensive response, which must account for why all of the preceding might actually be the case, which must explain why writing involves the disappearance of natural presence, why simplicity has gone forever missing from language, why speaking can be said to necessitate a loss of immediacy, why the transparency of language is an attractive but misleading fantasy, why the terms “ human, ” “ being, ” “ meaning, ” “ nature, ” “ presence, ” “ language, ” “ text, ” “ writers, ” “ readers, ” “ enjoyment, ” and so on, must all ceaselessly be called into complicated question — “ dereifed into a complex set of human acts” (Jameson 2009: 47) rather than simply taken as natural givens— will take up the remainder of Ten Lessons in Th eory .

III. Just being diffi cult/diffi cultly being just

If language itself “ is not transparent,” as Marjorie Garber stresses, theoretical writing is rather notoriously not so even more so, and in his introduction to Critical Terms for Literary Study , Th omas McLaughlin provides some clear and compelling explanations for theory ’ s abrasive complexities and opacities. McLaughlin writes that “ the very project of theory is unsettling. It brings assumptions into question. It creates more problems than it solves. And, to top it off , it does so in what is oft en a forbidding and arcane style. ” But McLaughlin maintains that “ theory isn ’ t diffi cult out of spite.” Rather, theoretical writing is always rough going

because it has proceeded on the premise that language itself ought to be its focus of attention; that ordinary language is an embodiment of an extremely powerful and usually unquestioned system of values and beliefs; and that using ordinary language catches you up in that system. Any discourse that was to uncover and question that system had to fi nd a language, a style, that broke from the constraints of common sense and ordinary language. Th eory set out to produce texts that could not be processed successfully by the commonsensical assumptions that ordinary language puts into play. Th ere are texts of theory that resist meaning so powerfully . . . that the very process of failing to comprehend the text is part of what it has to off er. (1995: 2)

For Culler, as we ’ ve seen, what theory does is refl ect on meaning as a problem rather than a given. McLaughlin, however, puts Culler’ s case more strongly, asserting that theoretical texts do not merely refl ect on meaning but sometimes go so far as to “ powerfully ” resist it. And these texts don ’ t just resist some specifi c instance of meaning; rather, theoretical texts “ resist meaning” altogether, resist meaning itself . Th ey attempt to break free from those

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“ constraints of common sense and ordinary language ” that systematically regulate the ostensible given-ness of meaning, that work to make sure “ our common perceptions ” pretty much stay common. Th eoretical texts attempt to liberate us as readers from these commonly normative constraints since our very use of ordinary language is said to catch us up in this disciplinary system. Moreover, in their attempted break with conventionalized meaning, these texts endeavor to provoke in their readers a salutary failure to comprehend the very discourses that are off ered up for comprehension. Promising a strange sort of freedom through cognitive failure, theoretical texts attempt to engage us in what Gayatri Spivak calls “ moments of productive baffl ement” (1999: 273). Should readers, then, take these baffl ing texts up on their off ers and feel licensed to give up even trying to comprehend their meanings? By no means, for the unsettling “ freedom through failure ” of which I write above has nothing to do with the normalizing “ freedom from analysis” to which I earlier alluded. Th eory, that is, never gets us out of work , never frees us from the responsibility to read. Even in their most rebarbative moments of unreadability, theoretical texts mean not to repel readers but rather to encourage us to take the risk of getting caught up in the potentially productive process of unsuccessful processing. Th eoretical writing off ers us the opportunity to refl ect not only on comprehensible meaning but on the very conventions of comprehension that make “ meaning itself” possible. Ceaselessly questioning what it means to mean, theory provocatively and perversely encourages us to challenge “ the categories we use in making sense of things ” (Culler 1997: 15), to inquire into the origin of these categories and of our places within them, to ask about their conditions of possibility as well as our own. Th eory encourages such inquiry even if it involves the risk of comprehensive failure, the risk of “ not getting it,” of losing certainty, losing “ clarity, ” losing the ability to “ make sense ” in the ways to which we ’ re normally accustomed, the ways in which we ’ ve in fact been formally trained. I repeat the word “ encourages ” here because I believe it requires something like courage to go against one’ s training, to risk losing or disrupting one’ s ability to “ make sense of things” in one’ s accustomed or inherited or “ tribal ” ways. But what makes the risk worth taking is the possibility of discovering new and diff erent ways of making sense of things— of the world, of the text, of oneself, of one’ s life— in this “ unprocessable ” process. For once again, “ Th ere are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think diff erently than one thinks and perceive diff erently than one sees is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and refl ecting at all ” (Foucault 1986: 7). Before going on with these refl ections, however, I’ d like to touch on two theses regarding the way theoretical writing disturbs our normal

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procedures of “ making sense ” and provokes us to “ think diff erently, ” to see “ things as they are ” otherwise. Th e fi rst thesis— to my mind, a permanently and radically “ de-reifying ” one — is that “ sense ” must indeed always be made, must always be fashioned or fabricated or produced, and by none other than our own all-too-human hands. Making sense — like “ making the present” in Michael Hardt’ s theoretically militant sense— is nothing if not human labor; human reality is nothing if not a piece of work . To employ a sentence from Stuart Hall that will be put to much more strenuous labor in this book ’ s fi rst lesson— “ Th e world must be made to mean ” (1998: 1050), which means that neither “ sense ” nor “ meaning ” ever grows on trees or falls from the sky, that there’ s nothing “ natural ” or “ supernatural ” about these phenomena. To be sure, common sense and given meaning have oft en relied upon ideas of “ nature ” and/or the Deity to guarantee, legitimate, or otherwise prop up their own reproduction, to stabilize or “ fi x ” themselves as steadily lucid signs. Be forewarned, however, that theoretical writing constitutively refuses “ nature ” and “ God, ” emphatically rejects both “ biological determinism” and “ divine will” as causal factors or explanatory solutions to any of the problems of human meaning. If it weren ’ t for the fact that theoretical writing also jettisons “ Man ” — erasing that little stick- fi gure “ like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea ” (Foucault 1966/1973: 387) — we might say that theory is a form of secular humanism. Of course, theory is nothing if not secular; it is “ fi rmly and rightly committed to renewing the necessary conviction . . . that thought only begins on the further side of religion ” (Gibson 2006: 5); but theoretical writing is oft en just as resolutely “ anti-humanist ” as it is decidedly “ antinaturalist ” and deicidally “ anti-theological ” (Barthes 1968/1977: 147). Designating these antagonistic stances as such leads to my second thesis, which is that “ theory ” is most productively encountered as a “ practice of creativity ” (Foucault 1983/1997: 262) in itself, a genre of so-called creative writing, an interventional exercise in the art of the sentence. Th eoretical writing, that is, warrants being read in the same “ close ” way that “ defamiliarizingly ” imaginative literature demands to be read. Indeed, the main premise of this book is that the risk we take in engaging with theoretical writing, the risk of losing the ability to “ make sense of things ” in our normalized, habituated ways, is intimately related to the risk we take in that “ encounter with strangeness ” (Bloom 1994: 3), which is (or can be) “ the literary experience” itself. Th eory, my friends, assumes “ the world as text” (Barthes 1968/1977: 147). It engages with a world that must be made to mean as a problem to be interpreted or thought through rather than as a given that “ just naturally” goes without saying. Th eory is a de-reifying procedure of reading and writing that “ refuses to fi x meaning ”

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(Barthes 1968/1977: 147) and which, by virtue of that refusal, affi rms a world that can only ever be experienced as text, affi rms “ the very text of your existence” (Lacan 2008: 78), affi rms a subjective existence that can only ever be lived “ extimately, ” inter-textually, as “ interpretive experience ” (Derrida 1988: 148). But these affi rmations can never be purely “ positive. ” Th eoretical affi rmation always depends upon active negation. Th eory, that is, enacts or actualizes itself by being antinaturalizing, anti-humanist, anti-theological, anti-essentialist, anti-normative, anti-metaphysical , and so on.9 But to the extent that “ negativity can be positively exhilarating ” to “ a properly literary understanding ” (Culler 2011: 228), this actively negative dependence marks theory ’ s radical affi nity with “ creative writing,” with “ literature. ” Th eoretical writing, perhaps like all actually creative writing, only ever agonistically affi rms. It must negate or say “ no ” to a host of “ givens ” in order to say “ yes ” to what it takes to be the fundamental problem. But what, for theory, is the fundamental problem? McLaughlin has already told us by pointing out that theory ’ s enabling premise is “ that language itself ought to be its focus of attention ” ; he further specifi es that “ the experience of theory . . . ought to engage the reader in a struggle over language and with language” (1995: 3). But we should hastily add that much more is at stake in this “ struggle over language ” than just some “ ivory tower ” tussle with terminology. For theoretical writers, this wordy confl ict is intimately connected to worldly struggles involving relations of power . Th eoretical writing, that is, conceives and understands the fundamental problem as the human power-struggle over meaning, the confl ictually “ interpretive experience” of all our struggles with and over signs . Th is agon among animals at the mercy of language is always, at the same time, both a real power-struggle and a “ matter of interpretation,” for power, as theoretical writing interprets it, “ is both part of material, social reality, and also available to comprehension as a profoundly complex textual structure, operating diff erentially and discursively ” (Wolfreys 2004: 197). In examining and challenging the workings of power, theoretical writers confl ate these complex textual or discursive structures with more self-evidently “ real world ” forms of social, economic, political, and historical striving and strife, those forms of real human suff ering, those matters of real life and death, that don’ t “ normally ” seem to have much to do with sentences or textuality or

9 Metaphysics “usually refers to philosophical attempts to establish indisputable fi rst principles as a foundation for all knowledge” and involves belief in “the existence of absolute entities” (Childer and Hentzi 1995: 186). Metaphysics also involves “belief in something unconditioned, i.e., something which would be true, absolutely and unconditionally, outside of all temporal and perspectival conditions” (Pearson and Large 2006: xxxi).

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semiotics or discourse— the really important matters that “ people in the real world ” typically don ’ t like being “ reduced ” to “ mere words. ” 10 For theoretical writers, however, the fundamental problem is precisely that these down-to-earth agons never cease to have to do with words, have never been exterior to language, are “ always already ” irreducibly semiotic. For theoretical writers, the struggle over meaning— a problem as old as polis and papyrus and as new as Derrida’ s “ there is nothing outside the text ” (1967/1997: 158)— is what constitutes any human subject , individual or collective, and all human reality as such . 11 Th eory, that is, interprets the whole of human reality as a “ signifying structure” constituting itself through the social production, proliferation, and exchange of signs. But because this totally interpretive experience of socio-symbolic reality is seen in terms of “ real-world ” struggles over power, most theoretical writing situates a “ political perspective” on language, literature, and culture as “ the absolute horizon of all reading and all interpretation ” (Jameson 1981: 17).12 Although postmodern theorists tend, as we’ ll see, to abjure any “ univer- sal,” “ totalizing, ” or “ absolute ” claims about human reality, we might note that the preceding paragraph describes little else but universalizing absolutes.

10 “Real-world people”—a category normally understood to exclude academics in general and “English majors” in particular—dislike having themselves “reduced” to mere words as well. Even students of literature, who supposedly “love language,” don’t always relish the thought that that’s the stuff all people in the real world are made of. But such radically “linguistic determinism” is pretty much the message of semiotics—the study of signs and signifi cation—as it regards all selfh ood or subjectivity or “personal identity” whatsoever. As for discourse, Wolfreys defi nes it as “the work of specifi c language practice: that is, language as it is used by and within various constituencies (e.g., the law, medicine, and the church) for purposes to do with power relations between people” (2004: 65). He also writes that “human subjectivity and identity itself is produced out of various discursive formations as a result of the subject’s entry into language always already shot through and informed by fi gurations and encryptions of power, politics, historical, cultural and ideological remainders organized through particular relationships and networks” (2004: 66). 11 Th eoretical writers use the term subject to designate the human individual as constituted by linguistic, discursive, and sociocultural practices (which is to say, the human individual as such); in theory, humans or “subjects” exist only by virtue of being “subjected” to these practices—hence, as Louis Althusser puts it, “the ambiguity of the term subject” (1971/2001: 123). Th e term “subject” sometimes refers to “the rational, active mind of the human individual” and is “defi ned in opposition to the object—that which is other than consciousness” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 256). But what interests most theoretical writers is the weird permeability of the boundary between conscious and unconscious, subject and object, self and other, particularly, as we’ll see, in ambiguous moments of “writing or self-representation” when “the I is the self-present subject of the sentence as well as the subject ‘subjected’ to the symbolic order of the language in which [it] is writing” (Gagnier 1991: 9). 12 Th e political in the theoretical sense exceeds our “normal” (and hence impoverished) concepts of electoral politics, political parties, and so on. Rather, theoretical writers “understand political in its deeper meaning, as describing the whole of human relations in their real, social structure, in their power of making the world” (Barthes 1957/1985: 143).

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Indeed, the word “ theory ” itself might be considered a “ nickname ” for all the critical activities that begin to crank up at that moment when, as Derrida puts it, “ language invaded the universal problematic and everything became discourse ” (1966/1978: 280, my emphases). Th e “ moment ” or “ event ” that Derrida describes is sometimes called “ the linguistic turn in the human sci- ences, ” and we could probably do worse than consider the historical emer- gence of “ theory ” itself in terms of this all-encompassing “ turn. ” Jameson, for example, tags the linguistic turn as the very genesis of theory when he writes that “ theory begins . . . at the moment it is realized that thought is linguistic or material and that concepts cannot exist independently of their linguistic expression. ” Jameson thus describes theory ’ s inauguration as well as its con- tinuation “ as the coming to terms with materialist language ” (2004: 403).13 Th e postcolonial theorist Rey Chow also commemorates the lin guistic turn when she uses the term theory “ to mark the paradigm shift . . . whereby the study of language, literature, and cultural forms becomes irrevocably obligated to attend to the semiotic operations involved in the production of meanings, meanings that can no longer be assumed to be natural. ” Chow, like Jameson, defi nes theory as a coming to terms with materialist semiotics, as a way of paying “ tenacious attention to the materiality of human signifi - cation ” (2002/2007:1910).14 Arguably, then, it is through pushing “ the linguistic turn ” to the extreme — through trying to grasp the most radical consequences of the idea that

13 For Jameson, “coming to terms with materialist language” involves the “attempt to dereify the language of thought” (2009: 9) and entails that “the traditional relationship between language and thought is to be reversed . . .: not language as an instrument or a vehicle for conceptuality, but, rather, the way in which the conditions and form of representation (speaking and writing) determine the concepts themselves, and constitute at one and the same time their conditions of possibility and also their limits, infl ecting their shape and development” (2006: 365). 14 Th e words materialist and materiality deserve some defi nition here, but I am going to defer elaborating on them until the next chapter’s discussion of the sentence “Th e world must be made to mean”—a “materialist” assertion, if there ever was one. Here, let it suffi ce to say that one is well on one’s way to being “materialist” or “coming to terms with materialist language” when one attends to the production of meaning in a way that no longer assumes meaning or sense to have any “natural” or “supernatural” guarantee, when one begins to grasp the whole of human reality as an ongoing historical process of materialization or dynamic realization or actualization that originates in and depends upon nothing other than human productivity. Conceptualizing a world that must be made to mean, materialism “has to do with the humanization of that world and its de-naturalization, that is to say, with our recognition of that entire post-natural world [i.e., human reality itself] as the product of human praxis and production” (Jameson 2010: 108). Now, if this brief explanation of materialism doesn’t suffi ce, see Žižek’s long response to Adrian Johnston’s question “What does it mean to be a materialist in the early twenty-fi rst century?” (Johnston 2009: 214), or consider the “antinatural” implications of the following from Catherine Malabou’s What Should We Do With Our Brain?: “A reasonable materialism, in my view, would posit that the natural contradicts itself and that thought is the fruit of this contradiction” (2004/2008: 82).

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“ everything ” has become discourse, has always been discourse, will always be discourse — that theoretical writing both universalizes its political claims and politicizes its universal claims (even its paradoxically universal claims against universalization). Tenaciously attending to the materiality and historicity of all human signifi cation whatsoever, assiduously connecting “ all aspects of life and consciousness to the material conditions of existence ” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 181), theoretical writing attempts to respond to the contradic- tions and confl icts embedded in the variously discursive ways in which the world must be made to mean. But responding responsibly to the ways our world means means more than just subjecting it to gnarly “ academic ” analy- sis. For Marx, as we ’ ve read, philosophers have only interpreted the world, while the point must be to change it. In the text called Specters of Marx, how- ever, Derrida writes of “ the dimension of performative interpretation, that is, of an interpretation that transforms the very thing that it interprets ” (1994: 51). For theoretical writers, then, to interpret the world really can mean to change it — that is, to substantially rewrite it— for the “ real world” is “ always already” nothing but actively and collectively performative interpretation. If theoretical interpretation involves transformative “ thinking about thinking,” theoretical writing involves writing about “ writing as the very possibility of change, the [discursive] space that can serve as a springboard for subversive thought, the precursory movement of a transformation of social and cultural structures ” (Cixous 1975/2007: 1646).15 With such subversive thoughts in mind, let’ s return to the question of theory’ s diffi culty, to what we might call its guerilla warfare on “ clarity. ” McLaughlin, as we ’ ve read, asserts that theory “ isn ’ t diffi cult out of spite,” but, to be quite honest, when considering all the possible motivating factors involved in theoretical militancy, I ’ m not so sure we should rule out “ spite ” altogether. Nietzsche no doubt had our number when, in the Genealogy of Morals, he linked our most rigorously “ objective ” intellectual procedures to extremely personal feelings of pique and ressentiment . And no doubt there are some really mean-spirited theoretical writers out there who like nothing better than to shatter your poor common-sense perceptions simply because

15 A major caveat here: please note that the operative word in Cixous’ promising phrase about “writing as the possibility of change” is possibility, not “certainty” or “inevitability.” Nor can theoretical writing guarantee in advance that any “changes” wrought by your “coming to terms with materialist language” will necessarily be useful or progressive in any conventional political sense or that letting your common-sense perceptions be shattered and undermined will be “good for you” in any conventional moral sense. As we’ll be exploring, there are ethical as well as aesthetic and political dimensions to theory’s attempt to “de-reify the language of thought,” but the ethics of the attempt aren’t always transparent. And so, please recall this caveat—“change” is neither painless nor necessarily “for the common good”—anytime that I seem in this book to be crowing too loudly about the “transformative” potential of theory.

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they can be shattered. But setting aside as much as I can my own considerable meanness of spirit, I would like to suggest that theory ’ s opacity, while perhaps partly rooted in all-too-human ressentiment , also involves ethical obligation, a sense of political responsibility or social justice. I would like to suggest that what animates most theoretical writing is not a spiteful insistence on “ just being diffi cult ” but rather a strenuous commitment to diffi cultly being just . To explain this suggestion, I turn back to Horkheimer and Adorno ’ s Dia- lectic of Enlightenment. I have already quoted this resolutely “ diffi cult ” duo to the eff ect that “ Intellect ’ s true concern is a negation of reifi cation. ” Now, on the same page in which they express this concern, Horkheimer and Adorno also write that “ False clarity is only another name for myth” (1947/2002: xvii). By this claim, the authors mean that we may never be more mysti- fi ed, more benighted by our “ primitive ” or “ tribal ” mythologies, than during those still moments when everything seems perfectly obvious, completely unproblematical, when our “ common sense” tells us that some premise or perception is clearly absolutely right and true. By the word “ myth, ” the authors refer specifi cally to the sort of fearfully reactionary and religious/ superstitious worldviews that “ enlightenment ” thinking (ostensibly rational- ist modern philosophy) sought to escape, defeat, or crush (as per the slogan “ écrasez l’ inf á me ” — we must crush the infamy!— with which the arch-phi- losophe Voltaire reportedly signed his letters). In Dialectic of Enlightenment , Horkheimer and Adorno are concerned with what they call “ enlightenment ’ s relapse into mythology ” (xvi), the way purportedly fearless modern rational- ism devolves into a fear-based “ instrumental reason ” as bloody and oppres- sive as anything practiced under any ancien regime. Other than mention that the authors see both the rise of European fascism and standardized post- World War II American mass culture (particularly the Hollywood fi lm) as expressions of this intellectual and moral disaster, we can’ t rehearse their arguments about enlightenment ’ s mythological relapses here. We can note, however, that Horkheimer and Adorno consider “ myth ” the symptom par excellence of reifi ed thinking. If critical intellect’ s true concern is to negate reifi cation, and if “ clarity ” can function as the calling card of reifying myth, then critical intellect should always be prepared to challenge “ clarity ” itself. Because in an utterly reifi ed social order, any instance of “ clarity ” stands a splendid chance of being a myrmidon of “ false consciousness,” a promoter of “ mass delusion,” the critical intellectual is always obliged to try to kick “ clarity ” in its transparent pants. In other words, in any culture in which reifi cation reigns, the “ duty of the critical intellectual” is to learn to suspect an ideological shell-game at work in the very insistence upon linguistic transparency, to smell something fi shy whenever words and sentences appear “ to mean” all too axiomatically, all too unproblematically, “ all by themselves.” Obviously, then, since “ clarity ” itself can be the symptom

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of reifi cation, it follows that one ’ s attempt to negate reifi cation, to de-reify the language of thought, isn’ t likely to be very clear. Indeed, one’ s articulation is obligated to be strategically diffi cult, baffl ing, defamiliarizing, resistant to facile processing or immediate comprehension. Of course, for Horkheimer and Adorno, not every single instance of “ clarity ” in the world of discourse is necessarily “ false ” ; for these guys, clarity is mythological, and hence false, only when it aids and abets reifi cation. But we might understand clarity ’ s abetting function more clearly if we momentarily drop “ reifi cation,” Marxism’ s preferred term for the undesirable “ fi xing ” or coagulation of cognitive processes, and employ another word (viz. sedimentation), drawn from a diff erent intellectual tradition (viz. phenomenology), instead. Th is terminological shift might give us some clarity about what ’ s at stake in both the formation and the attempted negation of clarity.16 Imagine, if you will, a fi rmly sedimented foundation at the bottom of some body of standing water. To call this foundation “ sedimented ” is to say that over a period of time a certain amount of particulate matter has settled down and become stably impacted therein. A direct result of this sedimentary process is that the water above the foundation remains relatively clear. Clearly, how- ever, the water ’ s present transparency is an eff ect dependent upon the accom- plished sedimentation, upon the previous “ settling of matters. ” In other words, “ clarity ” (fi gured here by the unclouded water) depends upon the sedimen- tation of complexity (fi gured here by these particulate “ matters ” which have been put out of sight, which seem to have just “ naturally ” gotten themselves “ settled ” ). But if this sedimentary foundation were to be in some way unsettled or de-sedimented— if some trickster were to poke a stick into this soggy bottom and give it a vigorous stir— then all the gritty matters that had long been settled down would come swirling back up into play. And the necessary consequence of this agitation would be the water’ s corresponding loss of clarity. Th eory, if you hadn ’ t guessed, is the stick that stirs this dirty analogy, which is why we should stick with thinking of the very project of theory

16 Phenomenology involves the analysis of “human consciousness as ‘lived experience’ ” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 227) and is usually associated with “the canonical three H’s of German philosophy” (Rabaté 2002: 47)—Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger. Th e phenomenological term sedimentation appears in the later work of Husserl and, somewhat like “reifi cation,” refers to a sort of spatial transformation of active perception into “settled” knowledge. David Carr writes that Husserl’s “geological metaphor suggests that which has sunk below the surface [of human consciousness as lived experience] but continues to support what is on the surface. Husserl availed himself of this metaphor in his later work precisely to elucidate what has the status of knowledge or belief rather than perception, but which recedes into a position comparable to a spatial horizon. It is that which fi gures in my awareness of the present, frames or sets it off without my having to think about it explicitly” (1987: 263).

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as unsettling— theoretical writing involves de-sedimenting or disturbingly deconstructive thinking about thinking.17 But contrary to the scatological allegations of those who despise theory and rejoice at the thought of its demise, the main impetus behind the theoretical “ movement ” in literary studies was never simply to dump a load of “ fashionable nonsense ” into the ordinarily clear and calm waters of thoughtful minds. Despite appearances, theory does not aspire to foul placidly apodictic streams of consciousness, but it very much desires to disturb the waters, to stir up matters seemingly long settled, all the better to “ completely shatter and undermine our common perceptions” (Ž i ž ek 2006: ix). Or, in somewhat ruder words, originally issuing from the lips of queer theorist Judith Halberstam, theoretical writing really just wants “ to f*ck sh*t up ” (2006: 824), and so this writing sticks its abrasive questions and irritating keywords deep into the sedimented foundations and mythological fantasies that underpin ideational clarity — which means that we can basically stick “ anti-foundationali sm ” pretty high up on our expanding list of theory ’ s antagonistic stances. In the following pages, we ’ ll explore the dire consequences of what is no doubt theory ’ s most radically “ anti-foundational ” insight, emerging directly from the aforementioned linguistic turn — this would be the “ structuralist ” perception that signs “ do not have essences but are defi ned by a network of relations” (Culler 1975: 5), that “ in language there are only diff erences without positive terms” (Saussure 1972/1986: 118), that “ no signifi cation can be sustained except by reference to another signifi cation ” (Lacan 1966e/2006: 415), and so on. For now, we ’ ll “ simply ” observe that, from a theoretical perspective, no single instance of linguistic or ideational “ clarity ” can ever just simply, transparently, meaningfully be ; nor can “ meaning ” ever securely rest upon a naturally or supernaturally fi rm foundation, some reassuringly “ real bedrock ” of metaphysical truth. Rather, from a theoretical perspective, a perspective which always desires to bring about “ a desedimentation of . . . encrusted determinations ” (Smith 2002: xi), mythological clarity, ordinary language, plain common sense, given meaning, absolute truth, and so on — this whole crusty and determined gang — are all only the ideological eff ects of a naturalizing, essentializing, familiarizing, or normalizing

17 Although I defer describing deconstruction until later pages, I will here share David Richter’s story that Derrida at one point wanted to replace the word deconstruction with “de-sedimentation”—although “that word never caught on” (827). In fact, early in Of Grammatology, Derrida uses the words interchangeably: he writes of an “enlarged and radicalized” writing that “no longer issues from a logos” (that is, from any consciously rational center of intention, either human or divine), and he writes that “this writing inaugurates the destruction, not the demolition but the de-sedimentation, the de-construction, of all signifi cations that have their source in that of the logos. Particularly the signifi cation of truth” (1967/1997: 10).

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suppression of other meanings, the repression of extraordinary signs. Th ese assorted “ betrayals of repressed human possibilities ” (Derrida 2008: 105) work together as an active forgetting, a forced amnesia about alternative intelligibilities. While no meaning is sustained except by reference to another meaning, some meaning— namely, clearly given meaning— sustains itself through the erasure of competing interpretations. Such an erasure, such a removal of the traces of production from the product, is the very work of reifi cation, of sedimentation, the underlying goal of which would be obviating the very possibility that “things as they are ” might be imagined otherwise.18 Th eoretical writing, then, must always attempt to negate reifi cation, must always work against the erasure of imaginative alterity. Th rough its restless de-sedimentations, theoretical writing attempts to help bring alternative intelligibilities into circulation, to help bring other ways of making sense, other ways of “ making the present, ” into play. At its productively baffl ing best, theoretical writing “ never stops coming back” to challenge, resist, or disturb all the sedimentary operations that are required to reproduce “ ordinary understanding,” to stabilize “ given meaning,” to reify all human reality, and to normalize a world thus insulated from discomfort, protected from interrogation, shielded from interpretation, contestation, and change. Th is “ normalization ” is what theory fi ghts. Th is fi ght is what theory does. And what theory does is why theory lives.

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in the Introduction:

reifi cation, essentialism, defamiliarization, humanism, metaphysics, semiotics, discourse, the subject, the political, materialism/materiality, sedimentation/de-sedimentation, phenomenology, deconstruction

18 I’ve repeated the phrase “things as they are” a number of times now without giving proper attribution, so here, at last, are two—In Very Little . . . Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, Literature, Simon Critchley writes that for Adorno, “the task of thinking is to keep open the slightest diff erence between things as they are and things as they might otherwise be” (1997: 22). Meanwhile, in the poem “Th e Man with the Blue Guitar,” Wallace Stevens writes that “things as they are are changed on the blue guitar” (1937/1982: 165). I take “the blue guitar” to mean for Stevens the poetic imagination itself. But I also imagine that in some venues, performing the task of thinking, keeping open the possibility of change, theoretical writing can play a pretty mean blue guitar.

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Antiphysis: Five Lessons in Textual Anthropogenesis

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— or, in(tro)ducing the subject of human reality

I. Work with words

So what in the world does it mean to say that “ the world must be made to mean” ? How does this sentence help us begin the hard work of “ coming to terms with materialist language ” (Jameson 2004: 403), of getting a handle on materialist semiotics? And why is this morsel of semiotic material an appropriate starting point for “ in(tro)ducing the subject of human reality ” — for introducing the idea that this “ subject ” must always be induced , as other processes, like labor or vomiting, must occasionally be induced? Like all properly “ materialist ” questions, these cannot be simply, briefl y, or tidily answered, but we can learn a great deal about the most basic assumptions of theoretical writing by “ coming to terms ” with their terms. Th e sentence was written by the Birmingham School cultural theorist Stuart Hall.1 To say that Hall ’ s sentence concisely expresses the most basic assumption of “ materialist semiotics ” is to locate it within the tradition of Marxist or “ historical materialist” cultural studies. Th e initial clause of the sentence —the world must be made — is pretty much the foundational premise of historical materialism, while the fi nal infi nitive —to mean — i s our semiotic kicker . Taken together, premise and kicker basically boil down to labor with language , or work with words , or, if you’ ll forgive me, Marx with marks . What marks Marx as an “ historical materialist” is his conviction that humans must always make or produce their “ world, ” their “ history. ” In other words, Marx concurs with what Edward Said calls Giambattista Vico ’ s “ great observation that [people] make their own history, that what they can know is

1 What Hall actually writes, in “ Th e Rediscovery of Ideology, ” is “ Th e world has to be made to mean” (1998: 1050), but for a number of reasons, including the hard time I have resisting alliteration, I ’ ve changed “ has to ” to “ must. ” Birmingham School is short for the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies, founded in 1964 at Birmingham University, UK. Hall was director of the Center from 1968 to 1979 (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 28 – 9).

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what they have made ” (1978: 4 – 5). For Marx and other historical materialists, that is, “ the world ” is nothing but “ the history of the world, ” and that history is only ever “ anthropogenetic, ” only ever humanly fashioned, fabricated, or caused— humans only are responsible for it.2 In Th e German Ideology , Marx sets his materialist analysis of anthropogenesis against philosophically idealist or mistily theological accounts of “ the origin of the world. ” He writes that human beings

can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. Th ey themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence . . . By producing their means of subsistence [people] are indirectly producing their actual material life. (1932b/1978: 150)

For Marx, then, specifi cally human history begins, antinaturally enough, when the earliest humans fi rst distinguish themselves from immediately natural or merely animal life by actively producing the real material conditions of their existence, their human reality, their world . For Marx, only humans “ think, act and fashion [this] reality ” (1844/1978: 54); only humans produce , actively and materially create , this world — which is why some Marxists, such as Antonio Negri in Time for Revolution, speak of historical materialism as “ creative materialism” (2005: 166). Here of course the word “ world ” doesn ’ t mean the physical planet (crust, mantle, magma, molten core, etc.), which Marx doesn ’ t for a minute think that humans “ created ” (though he doesn’ t believe that some almighty, otherworldly deity cooked it up either); rather, by “ world ” an atheist historical materialist like Marx means the untranscendable horizon of human social existence in its historical totality, from the most rudimentary tribal forms in the dark backward and abysm of time to the most developed and digitally

2 Commenting on the link between Vico and Marx, Fredric Jameson notes that Marxism “ stakes out what may be called a Viconian position, in the spirit of the verum factum of the Scienza Nuova [1725]; we can only understand what we have made, and therefore we are only in a position to claim knowledge of history [which is our work] but not of Nature itself, which is the work of God ” (2009: 7); thus “ Vico ’ s verum factum in eff ect sunders history from nature as an object of possible human knowledge” (2009: 217n21). But where Marx ’ s materialism surpasses Vico ’ s is less in the act of sundering history from nature as an object of human understanding and more in understanding human history itself as our permanent sundering of ourselves from nature, understanding history as the ongoing and productively human or “ anthropogenetic ” process of “ antiphysis. ” Marx further surpasses Vico in rejecting the idea that nature is “ the work of God” and positing instead that “ God ” is the creative or imaginative work of “ man ” — for the militantly atheist Marx, that is, “ the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism, ” and “ the basis of irreligious criticism is this: man makes religion , religion does not make man ” (1844/1978: 53 – 4).

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fast-forwarded cyber-societies. Specifi cally human history or “ the world” begins for Marx not when some deity says “ let there be light” but when “ the fi rst humans” begin working on the raw materiality of their immediately natural environment in order to transform it into something starting to resemble specifi cally human or social existence — thereby becoming, anthropogenetically speaking, “ the fi rst humans.” In other words, probably because “ living like animals” wasn’ t working out all that well for them anyway, the proto-people who are our most distant ancestors gave up trying to live a “ merely natural ” life —they stopped seeking shelter in the nearest natural formation (the proverbial cave or some other hole in the ground) and starting building huts and hovels out of the available sticks and mud; they stopped being merely hunters and gatherers, as some animals merely hunt and gather, stopped grubbing on whatever happened to be growing or grunting nearby, and started raising fl ora for harvest and fauna for slaughter. As these quite basic examples might suggest, the materialist gist here is that human reality or human history even at its most “ primitive ” level never “ just naturally” (much less supernaturally) happens, never just grows on trees, or falls from the sky; a certain amount of work or productive activity is required in order to get human history up and running— to begin wrangling a realm of specifi cally human freedom from the merely natural realm of necessity . “ Antiphysis, ” then, isn’ t a bad name for this anthropogenetic activity, this totally human and — potentially, at least — totally humanizing work on and “ against nature.” 3 For in an historical materialist account, there is no benefi cently divine creator watching over us, and nature is completely indiff erent to our survival, much less to our “ cause ” (freedom, autonomy, dignity, etc.). Nature, that is, doesn ’ t really give a damn whether or not we ’ re protected from its elements, doesn’ t care if or, most importantly, how we live or die. If I live like a king or die like a dog, it’ s all the same to nature. And the fact that nature is completely indiff erent to Operation Human Freedom, the fact that raw and immediate physical nature must be transformed, worked on, worked against , if this project of antiphysis is ever to get off the ground,

3 I write here that human history as our ongoing work on and against nature is only potentially “ totally humanizing ” because, so far, history hasn ’ t exactly worked out this way for everybody — in other words, we haven ’ t yet reached what Jameson calls “ the human age itself, ” the utopian age of our totally mutual recognition of ourselves in a “ fully human and humanly produced world ” (2010: 107). Th e “ world, ” to be sure, is still only ever “ humanly produced, ” but for many, the work itself is anything but “ fully ” humanizing. For many producers, that is, labor is still “ alienated ” in the four-fold sense Marx describes in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. We will discuss Marx ’ s theory of alienated labor more fully in Lesson Seven. For now, let ’ s just say that from a Marxist perspective, “ the human age itself ” can ’ t and won ’ t come about until the age of global capitalism is superseded.

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constitutes the basic or primordial reason why “ the world ” must always “ be made ” — and always only by us. Because we, the people, fi rst distinguish ourselves as people by anthropogenetically diff erentiating ourselves from animals in the practical act of producing our means and conditions of existence, human reality must always be distinguished from natural reality, from merely animal life.

II. Post-oceanic feelings

Or, as psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan might put it— in terms no less laboriously “ materialist ” than those of Marx— human reality must be distinguished from nature because each and every subject of this reality must be set apart from the real , must separate or free itself from the real ’ s oppressively immediate hic et nunc or “ here and now. ” Lacan describes “ human reality ” as a “ montage ” of the imaginary (the register of images) and the symbolic (the register of language). He distinguishes this imaginary and symbolic montage from another register, which he calls the real. In Lacan’ s account, the real both precedes and exceeds human or “ socio-symbolic reality,” precedes and exceeds any individual subject of this reality, any particular human being. Th e real precedes reality insofar as it relates to “ the very young child ’ s experience of itself, ” which, Lacan says, “ develops on the basis of a situation that is experienced as undiff erentiated ” (1966c/2006: 91); Lacan characterizes this “ precedent ” real as a perceptual state or experiential stew in which “ things . . . at fi rst run together in the hic et nunc of the all” (1966d/2006: 229). Because the inarticulate infant mired in this undiff erentiated real literally can’ t “ tell the diff erence” between its “ experience of itself” and everything else, it in eff ect experiences itself as “ everything. ” Th us the real as “ the hic et nunc of the all ” relates to what Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents calls the infant’ s “ oceanic ” feeling, “ a feeling of an indissoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole ” (1930/1989: 723) — a “ feeling ” that we all of course must one day lose . For, eventually and inevitably, each and every “ very young child” must be pulled out of the “ oceanic ” real and installed in properly human reality, framed in the imaginary/symbolic montage, must become an individual human subject, an “ I, ” a parl ê tre or “ speaking being, ” as Lacan puts it, “ an animal at the mercy of language ” (1966f/2006: 525). Th ereaft er, the real is what exceeds human reality and “ resists symbolization absolutely ” (Lacan 1991: 66). We ’ ll be returning to Lacan, to “ infantile ” experience, and to the real ’ s resistance to language’ s tender mercies, later in these lessons. Here, let’ s say

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that for Lacan, human reality must be distinguished from the real because, in the real, there is nothing to distinguish the human from the merely natural/ animal “ here and now. ” 4 While for Marx, labor pries humans loose from nature, for Lacan, language separates reality from the real. Taking Marx and Lacan together, materialist semiotics asserts the “ labor of language” as the specifi cally and exclusively human mode of antiphysis that produces human reality as such. Th e world must be made, to be sure, but it must also be made to mean. Human reality is only ever the product of human work with words. But how do these laboriously linguistic matters relate to the idea that “ the subject of human reality ” — the individual human being — must be “ induced ” ? Here, we begin to approach a materialist assumption that many self- respecting human beings fi nd unpalatable— the assumption that, like “ the world,” each and every one of us must also be “ made to mean.” To paraphrase Lacan— humans make meaning, but only because meaning makes us human.5 Antinaturally enough, this quip means that none of us is ever actually born human ; rather, universally and transhistorically, we must all be turned into human beings through the antinatural labor of language. What does this mean? How does this work? How could this possibly be? Well, consider all the abilities or activities by which we tend to “ distinguish ” ourselves from animals. Make a list of everything we can do that a non- human animal, a monkey or a lobster, cannot.

4 Let ’ s also say a little more about Lacan’ s triptych— the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. It ’ s true that Lacan distinguishes human reality, as imaginary/symbolic montage, from the real. It’ s also true that Lacan gives us a sort of developmental narrative in which the infant starts off in the undiff erentiated real, leaves that mess behind, and enters “ the imaginary order” via the so-called mirror stage (which we’ ll be discussing quite thoroughly in a later lesson), and then supersedes the imaginary by entering “ the symbolic order ” of language. But Lacan doesn ’ t want to suggest that any distinction drawn between the real and reality is absolute; nor does he want us to put all our psychoanalytically interpretive eggs in the developmentally narrative basket; rather, Lacan stresses the structural permanence of real, imaginary, and symbolic interconnections within human reality as such. In fact, he famously represents the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic with the diagram of the so-called Borromean knot, “ a group of three rings that are linked together in such a way that if any one of them is severed, all three become separated ” (Evans 1996: 18) and the whole “ subject of human reality ” falls apart. So, while it ’ s accurate to say, as I have above, that “ the real ” in Lacan ’ s sense precedes and exceeds human reality, it ’ s probably more accurate to say that the real precedes, exceeds, and yet never ceases to invade human reality. Th is sense of invasion can produce a feeling of “ extimacy ” for the subject of human reality. As explained in the Preface, the word extimacy “ neatly expresses the way in which psychoanalysis problematizes the opposition between the inside and the outside, between container and contained” (Evans 1996: 58); the word opens us up to the unsettling suspicion “ that the innermost, intimate core of a person’ s psychical being is, at root, an alien, foreign ‘ thing ’ ” (Johnston 2009: 86). 5 Or, to quote him directly: “ Man thus speaks, but it is because the symbol has made him man ” (Lacan 1966d/2006: 229).

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Seriously—make a list. Now consider whether you could perform any of these constitutively human tricks immediately upon the moment of your birth, or even for several years thereaft er. Sure, you may have fi rst popped out with the innate potential to learn these operations eventually, to acquire these characteristics one fi ne day. But a moment’ s refl ection will inform you that you, in fact, had to be taught each and every single one of them because in the inert facticity of your neonativity, you basically couldn’ t do squat . In fact, from this rather unfl attering perspective, our most “ species- specifi c” characteristic as newborns is our utter inadequacy not only as humans but even as little animals. Th is lack of suffi cient animality stems from what Lacan calls our species’ “ specifi c prematurity at birth ” (1966b/2006: 78), a matter we’ ll consider more carefully in the next few lessons. For now, however, let’ s see if we can cut through all the “ ideological labor of cuteness ” (Edelman 2004: 137) that is normally and normatively performed upon “ the baby ” and behold the human neonate as a “ small animal conceived by a man and a woman, ” a little creature that will not just naturally become but must actually be made into “ a small human child” (Althusser 1971: 205). If we can swallow this queerly materialist description, then we might begin to digest the radical proposition that humanness itself, while a conceivably innate or hard-wired potential, is actually only ever a hard-scrabble acquisition, that we are each born as inadequate little animals, rough beasts that must be turned into human children through laborious linguistic processes of socialization . Like the world that must always be made to mean, we ourselves must always be made to mean and must always continue to make meaning. But while being “ made ” here denotes being manufactured or fabricated , the word also suggests being compelled or forced , just as the word “ must ” implies an inexorable, and hence, vaguely sinister imperative. What are we to make of this more ominous meaning of the phrase “ must be made” ? Here, it might help to know that Lacan refers to human reality as the symbolic order . In Lacanese, the symbolic order is the underlying set of grammatical and syntactical structures that regulate the material production of meaning that is social reality itself. For Lacan, the symbolic order pervades and supports any actually existing social order. Th e symbolic order is the “ grammatically correct” organization of signs and symbols that gives us our “ politically correct ” position within the polis , within the prevailing social order (our properly gendered position within a legitimated exogamous marriage or kinship system, for example). To become a social subject, one must fi rst assume the symbolic position of the grammatical subject . One must fi rst agree to designate oneself in terms of the fi rst-person pronoun — to say “ I ”

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and really mean it.6 But this seemingly casual agreement to “ be oneself” in words is actually “ made ” under a bit of psychic duress. For the symbolic order isn ’ t merely an ordered row of symbols, an organized concatenation of words. It ’ s also an order to symbolize, an offi cially issued directive to mean— or else. To enter “ the symbolic order, ” to participate in human reality as one ’ s own personal “ I, ” one must fi rst follow “ the symbolic order, ” the order to symbolize, the relentless imperative to mean. Non-participation in “ meaning, ” exclusion from the privileges of the “ I, ” would be the aforementioned “ else ” — and you really don ’ t want to end up there . Now, like everything else involving the production of human reality, the symbolic order doesn ’ t grow on a tree or fall from the sky. So, where does it come from? How is it maintained? Suppose I don’ t really want to enter or follow it. Can I take or leave the symbolic order, as I please? Is it possible to refuse? Or, does the symbolic order “ make me” (as) an off er that I can’ t refuse without somehow refusing myself and participation in human reality in the bargain? Th ese questions take us into our next lesson, which explores the socializing mechanisms by which we are initially “ made to mean,” fi rst inducted into the “ politics ” of meaning.

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson One:

Birmingham School, real/imaginary/symbolic, the symbolic order

6 With this phrase— “ to say ‘ I ’ and really mean it” — I am playing on the literal meanings of Freud’ s German das Ich and das Es — “ the I ” and “ the it ” — which appear in Strachey ’ s English translation of Freud ’ s work as “ the ego ” and “ the id. ” Th us, Freud’ s famous motto Wo Es war, soll Ich werden — “ where id was, there ego must be ” (1933/2001: 80) — can be read more literally as “ where it (das Es) was there I (das Ich) must come into being.” Th us, “ to say ‘ I ’ and really mean it” can mean: (1) to say “ I ” and sincerely intend to represent oneself as a subject, a self-identical person, but it can also mean (2) to say “ I ” but unconsciously refer to something else, something “ other, ” an “ it, ” an object, “ an alien, foreign ‘ thing ’ ” (Johnston 2009: 86). Th is second and much stranger meaning points us to what Lacan calls “ the truth of ‘ I is an other, ’ less dazzling to the poet ’ s intuition than it is obvious from the psychoanalyst’ s viewpoint” (1966c/2006: 96). We’ ll have more to say about this dazzling truth in Lesson Five.

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— or, how the beast in the nursery learns to read

I. Bungle in the jungle

In our fi rst lesson, concerning how “ the world must be made to mean,” we encountered the rather rude proposal that none of us is born altogether human, that each of us comes into this world as an inadequate little animal that— not who , mind you, but, more precisely, that— must be turned into a small human child. We also encountered the unfl attering suggestion that our entire species universally and transhistorically experiences a “ specifi c prematurity at birth” (Lacan 1966b/2006: 78). Th is prematurity is called upon to account for our woefully insuffi cient animality, for what Lacan calls the “ organic inadequacy of [our] natural reality ” at the experiential get-go, “ a certain dehiscence at the very heart of [our] organism, a primordial Discord betrayed by the signs of malaise and motor uncoordination of [our] neonatal months ” (1966b/2006: 77, 78). But what accounts for our prematurity, for our allegedly over-early launch out into this world that must be made to mean? How does it happen that we as a species don’ t take as much time in uterine space as we apparently “ should ” and so seem “ biologically determined ” to endure a period of abject immobility and helpless dependency considerably longer than that of any other animal neonate? A conjectural explanation for our endemic “ organic inadequacy ” at birth is that premature birthing developed as a strategy of evolutionary adaptation — when our primate ancestors fi rst assumed an upright gait, this postural shift precipitated a skeletal pelvic contraction in proto-human females such that heads of fully formed fetuses were suddenly too big to be born. But whatever its speculative prehistorical cause, the ongoing eff ect of our prematurity— and thus, our dehiscent historicity— is that, unlike other animals, born simply as small versions of what they already organically are, we are not born human but have to be made that way. In other words, while any non-human animal that survives its neo- nativity will spontaneously grow to become an adult of its species, the

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infant of our species, congenitally inadequate to its own animality, requires careful assistance, orthopedic correction, extensive training, and prolonged cultivation if it is ever actually going to become a human being, a viable participant in extra-uterine human reality. If the neonate, for some reason, never receives its “ basic training, ” if nobody ever “ does any work ” on it or with it, if nobody ever orders or induces it to mean, then this organism may somehow survive in the purely physiological or “ animalistic ” sense, but, bluntly stated, it won’ t become “ one of us.” It won’ t, simply by virtue of growing larger, just naturally and spontaneously develop the characteristics that distinguish us— or, that we cultivate in order to distinguish ourselves— from non-human animals. In a way, this problem, the primordial discord of our species, is registered in the quirks of our vocabularies. Consider, for example, how fairly commonplace such English words as “ humanization ” and “ dehumanization ” can seem, while nonce words like “ caninization ” or “ deporcinization ” seem fairly absurd. And the reason for the absurdity is clear enough. You might be able to teach a puppy some nice tricks, but you don ’ t exactly have to “ caninize ” your mutt in order for it to become a dog. And because the individual oinker is completely identical to its own porcine life, the only way to completely “ deporcinate ” a pig would be to kill it. Humans, however, do have to be humanized, or socialized — worked on and put into words— in order to become certifi ably human. And while, unlike non-human animals, we have proven ourselves particularly adept at genocide and self-slaughter, it is of course quite possible to “ dehumanize ” people and peoples without actually having to go so far as to kill anybody— indeed, we’ ve been performing this nasty trick on ourselves and each other for pretty much all of our history. It is sometimes said, though rarely anymore, that people should study “ the humanities” so as to become “ more fully human.” But as far as I know it has never been suggested that a horse should study “ the equininities ” to become more fully equine, or that an ass needs to throw itself into “ the asininities ” to become more completely asinine. But let ’ s sum up the idea that I ’ ve been braying about here, an idea that may come as a kick in the pants to any self-respecting common-sense adult, but which, I would venture, most very young children intuitively understand— the idea that we “ adulterated ” human beings are actually only ever relatively humanized beings, never anything other than anthropomorphized animals in a world that must be made to mean. Now, when I suggest that children basically get this, that they actually understand humans to be socialized or anthropomorphized animals, what I mean is that children at a certain age can probably sense what’ s really going on with them, what’ s really happening

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to them, even if they couldn ’ t articulate the ordeal in such sophisticated language— children, that is, may unconsciously register the fact that their “ animality, ” such as it is, is being transformed by and into “ sociality, ” that their already quite limited “ animal joy ” is being further sacrifi ced to the socio-symbolic, that their “ animal being” is being exchanged for intelligible meaning . Of course, this exchange isn’ t really the worst existential bargain in the world, for the child no doubt painfully perceives the extent of its own helpless dependency, the sheer inadequacy of its otherwise enjoyable animality. Ambivalently, then — grudgingly and gladly — the child, in order to become “ a child,” a “ who ” instead of a “ what, ” accepts induction into “ the human club” as a sort of consolation prize for not having been a particularly successful beast. But this child, I speculate, unconsciously (and, again, ambivalently) may very well register the cost of following the symbolic order. At some level, at some other frequency, so to speak, the child knows that something is being lost as well as gained in its mandatory morphing from a “ what ” to a “ who, ” from an “ it ” to an “ I, ” from “ bad ” little animal to “ good ” little boy or girl. Evidence for this awareness on the child ’ s part might be found in the enduring popularity among schoolchildren of a certain species of animation. I refer to the pleasure that children take in watching animated cartoons that feature nothing but anthropomorphized animals — dogs, cats, mice, birds, bears that/who are capable of walking upright, can engage in relatively polite (if rather inane) conversation, and so on. Very young spectators probably wouldn ’ t long enjoy watching a realistic cartoon canine that could only bark, growl, bite, eat from a bowl, crap on the sidewalk, and so on; they would be bored, dismayed, or possibly even frightened by animated adults who behaved just like their parents (and thus, their own futures). But children do psychically invest in and gain representational pleasure from animatedly anthropomorphized animals. Th ey fi nd meaning in these fi gures simply because, as small animals that/who are in the process of being anthropomorphized themselves, they identify with these “ funny ” forms. Th ese “ silly ” characters correspond profoundly to their own transitional state — no longer specifi cally animal, not yet certifi ably human. Such cartoons compensate children for their acquiescence to the symbolic; they make good the little human animal ’ s huge animal loss. But let ’ s be clear about the “ nature ” of this loss. It of course involves a loss of nature, a loss of animal enjoyment, a disappearance of real pleasure . But it also involves a gain in and of meaning. But what, or how much, does this loss-as-gain actually amount to? How does this cost/benefi t analysis open the question of meaning ’ s initiation as a subtraction of enjoyment, a sacrifi ce

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of pleasure, a renunciation of the real? Note that in the preceding I write that children “ gain representational pleasure” from cartoons. Since cartoons are nothing but representations (i.e., they’ re “ not real” ), the pleasure gained from them is clearly representational. But the phrase is tricky, implying a distinction between merely representational pleasure and some immediate non -representational enjoyment of “ the real thing. ” And here’ s where language rears its head, so to speak, for what is language if not a “ mediating ” system of representations in which words are called upon to re-present real things , to symbolize or signify the various matters of the real? But then again, what if language itself in its entirety were nothing but a massive and total substitution of itself for every really enjoyable thing, for any immediate enjoyment of the real? What if representational “ meaning ” turned out to be our very young child’ s reward for having abjected or “ cast out ” real enjoyment? What if “ meaning ” were really only another word for “ pleasure ” — a single word for all the words that substitute themselves for pleasure, and thereby eff ectively block our ever really having any ever again? Solemn adults who respect all meaning and suspect all pleasure — who both insist that life be Meaningful (with a great big honking capital M) and despise the thought of anyone’ s being alive just for the heck of it— would likely be displeased by these questions (or rather, they would fi nd them “ meaningless ” ). But children, again, arguably understand the questions quite well— and perhaps even get a kick out of them. Indeed, in his book Th e Beast in the Nursery: On Curiosity and Other Appetites , the child psychologist Adam Phillips goes so far as to suggest that “ for the child, meaning [itself] is the polite word, the sophisticated word, for pleasure ” (1999: 11). What does Phillips mean by this impolite suggestion? For Phillips, I think, the word “ pleasure ” must pertain to what Freud calls the pleasure principle , a primary type of psychical functioning that Freud contrasts with the reality principle . As we ’ ll see in the following elaboration of these two principles, their negotiation is the crux of what I ’ ve called above the very young child’ s “ existential bargain” — the initial anthro- pogenetic exchange of “ bad ” young animal being for “ good ” old human meaning. In other words, the negotiation between the pleasure and reality principles is the very condition of possibility for that little animal’ s being brought “ into the fold” of human historicity, for its becoming a subject of human reality. Now, you may be surprised to learn that by “ pleasure, ” Freud does not mean “ stimulation ” of any sort (sexual, emotional, neurological, etc.), but rather just the opposite — by “ pleasure, ” Freud means the reduction of excess stimulation, the subtraction of unpleasurable tension. By “ pleasure

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principle, ” then, Freud designates a process of mental functioning that demands and depends upon unpleasure ’ s immediate reduction. Th e basic goal of the pleasure principle is to retreat from unpleasurable tension and return to a psychic equilibrium or quiescence, an ideally tensionless homeostasis. Whenever it loses homeostasis, whenever it experiences unpleasurable tension in any form— hunger, diaper-rash, fear of the dark or of strangers or of being all alone— the helpless infant wants to get its “ pleasure ” back, wants the tension to go away, wants its homeostasis restored, immediately . But in reality there will always be some discrepancy between the infant’ s immediate demand and two interrelated and mediating factors (factors which mediate in that they “ come between” infantile demand and its fulfi llment). One signifi cant factor is the time it actually takes for homeostasis to be satisfactorily restored (if ever it is); the other signifi cant factor is the form in which the satisfaction actually materializes (if ever it does, and the object eventually obtained may very well diff er in form from the object irritably anticipated or psychically reached aft er). Reality, then, constitutively involves the “ factoring in ” of signifi cantly temporal delay and signifi cantly formal alteration (so much so that, as we ’ ll see, temporal delay and formal alteration become the twin bases of signifi cance itself). Th e discrepancy between immediate, formally self-identical gratifi cation and satisfaction temporally delayed and/or formally altered is pretty much the diff erence between pleasure and reality. And every “ little animal ” must deal with this diff erence in order to factor itself into human reality, to become a small human child, a good or polite little girl or boy. Now, the infantile psyche— ragingly impolite (and arguably ungendered) at this juncture — is completely under the “ inhuman ” dominance of the pleasure principle. Whatever it wants, whenever it wants it, its infantile majesty wants exactly what it wants and it wants that now. It knows no reason to endure waiting for pleasure’ s homeostatic restoration; it knows no reason to accept any substitute gratifi cation whatsoever. Too bad for this completely unreasonable infant that it ’ s also utterly powerless, helpless, and dependent, a miniscule tyrant incapable of actually doing anything to remedy its “ wanting ” situation. Under the pleasure principle ’ s dominance, then, the infant having a bad time attempts to reduce anguished temporality in the most immediate way possible — by mentally summoning (i.e., fantasizing, hallucinating reaching aft er) the missing object (e.g., the mother’ s breast). But since this instant fantasy image fails to satisfy, provides merely representational pleasure, but never the real thing, the infant who wants someday to be more and other than an infant must eventually give itself over to the mediations of the reality principle. Th e infant, that is, must actively

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substitute a real demand for the merely imagined delight, must actually cry out for the missing object, which in reality may only eventually appear, may show up in a disappointingly diminished form (pacifi er instead of breast), or may never materialize again in any form whatsoever— the toughest tit of all, so to speak. Th e psychoanalytic gist here is that reality necessarily impels the infant ’ s acquiescence to waiting and substitution , to temporality and exchange . To the infant’ s fantasmatic demand for the real thing, right here, right now , reality or “ the adult world ” comes back with a prohibitive or retarding counter- off er. Reality “ responds, ” so to speak, with a rather tragicomical “ promise of happiness,” with a “ not that, not here, not now, not yet; something else, somewhere else, some other time, maybe — we ’ ll just have to wait and see. ” Given adult-world’ s promisingly negative response, the infant, completely dependent upon adult-world, has little choice but to renounce the fantasy of immediate enjoyment and accept the adulterated, delayed, partial, altered, substitutive gratifi cations that reality off ers— or rather, that human reality essentially is . 1 Outside of accepting reality’ s counter-off er— a frustratingly vague “ promise of happiness” in place of the real thing— the infant’ s only other “ option ” would be to remain a kicking and screaming infant for all time . Th e word “ infant, ” of course, means “ without speech, ” so, psychically speaking, remaining an infant (even while physically outgrowing the nursery) would mean “ going without ” speech. But without speech one isn ’ t likely to go very far with the grown-ups. For the reality principle, whose interests the adults represent, off ers its promising gift s mainly in the form of speech, or even as the very structure of language itself. For language, like the reality principle — or perhaps as the reality principle — always involves temporal delay, formal alteration, partiality, substitution, displacement, and exchange. While real , natural, animal, or infantile experience is always immediate, reveling in the here and now, human reality , revelatory linguistic meaning , must always unfold in time (for “ meaning ” is never instantly “ revealed ” through parting clouds but actually only ever appears in sentences, and even the shortest sentence imaginable isn’ t exactly instantaneous, while some — like those I write, as you

1 In “Creative Writers and Daydreaming,” Freud writes that “whoever understands the human mind knows that hardly anything is harder for [us] than to give up a pleasure which [we have] once experienced. Actually, we never give anything up; we only exchange one thing for another. What appears to be a renunciation is really the formation of a substitute or surrogate” (1907/1989: 437–8). In Civilization and its Discontents, however, Freud describes perhaps the most “universal” form this “existential bargain” takes when he writes that “Civilized man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities for happiness for a portion of security” (1930/1989: 752).

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may have noticed— seem to drag on forever). Language, linguistic meaning, always takes time, always takes us out of the present, always tears us away from the here and the now. As Lacan writes, language,

by its very nature, always anticipates meaning by deploying its dimension in some sense before it. As is seen at the level of the sentence when the latter is interrupted before the signifi cant term: “ I ’ ll never . . .,” “ Th e fact remains . . ., ” “ Still perhaps . . . ” Such sentences nevertheless make sense, and that sense is all the more oppressive in that it is content to make us wait for it ” (1966e/2006: 419).

Always making us “ wait for it” (whatever “ it ” may be), language oppressively substitutes its “ promise of happiness” for happiness itself. And language, with its negatively promissory or “ diff erential ” structure, always “ exists prior to each subject’ s entrance into it at a certain moment in his psychic development ” (Lacan 1966e/2006: 413). Initially, upon entry into language, “ each subject ” is saddled with the responsibility of substituting words for withdrawn gratifi cations, for prohibited pleasures, for unsettled homeostases, for lost or missing things ; consequently, as reality’ s “ life-sentence ” goes on, “ each subject ” must ride out the relentless substitution of words for other words, must follow the potentially infi nite combination of words with other words. For each and every subject of human reality must be made to mean — that ’ s the symbolic order.

II. L ’ ê tre pour la lettre

Th e negotiation between pleasure and reality is the symbolically ordered sacrifi ce of an insuffi ciently animal being for properly human meaning . Lacan calls this animality-overcoming exchange l ’ ê tre pour la lettre, by which phrase he designates the anthropogenetic act of swapping “ being ” (l ’ ê tre ) for “ the letter ” (la lettre). But call it whatever we please, call “ it ” by some name we must, for barring this mandatory change-up, our infant can never become a “ meaningfully ” human being. If the infant “ chooses ” against reality, goes on hunger strike, opting for its internally conjured image of the mother’ s breast to the point of refusing the externally real thing, it could starve to death, lose its very animal life. If it refuses to trade its demand for immediate gratifi cation for its desire for the other ’ s recognition, for the promise of a more signifi cant, meaningful, important pleasure in the future , then our infant will

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refuse (to be made) to mean, refuse to work (or be worked on) with words. It will never obey or accede to the symbolic order, and “ it ” could thus lose its opportunity to “ fully ” participate in properly human life, to be a subject of human reality, an “ I. ” 2 Now, Adam Phillips suggests that the child sacrifi ces pleasure to meaning not to “ be a subject of human reality,” but rather, and seemingly more simply, in order to be “ polite. ” Th e word “ polite ” does seem relatively simple, but it actually gets quite complicated if we play a bit rough with its etymology. For being “ polite ” involves more than simply refraining from talking with one’ s mouth full, or interrupting the grown-ups, or loudly farting in their general direction. Of course, polite “ participation in human reality” does largely entail learning how and when to keep our asses covered and our pie- holes shut, learning how to be well-behaved in the polis. But such excellent comportment doesn ’ t just develop spontaneously; rather, it results from our being rather relentlessly policed. Th e most profoundly political meaning of “ meaning is the polite word for pleasure” is that proper “ meaning ” always means being subjected to “ police ” investigation. “ Meaning ” means being disciplined or corrected, not simply by Miss Manners or some overly prescriptive grammarian but by the symbolic order itself — the “ Big Other, ” as Lacan also ominously calls it. “ Meaning ” means pleasure ’ s being put under the Big Other ’ s surveillance; it is the political consequence of having subjected oneself and one ’ s pleasures to the normative policies and prohibitions of the socio-symbolic order. If these policies are properly enforced, then the polite or “ politicized ” child will have taken its rudely animal being and “ turned it in” — given it up, informed upon it, betrayed it to the authorities, had it arrested — in exchange for literally human meaning . Th e wild child becomes a wise child when it trades up the animalistic demand for immediate gratifi cation for the anthropogenetic desire for the other ’ s recognition. To illustrate how this trade works, I turn back to that rudimentary example — the baby at the mother ’ s breast. At the animal level, the infant needs this overfl owing “ object ” not merely for “ ideal ” psychical homeostasis but for real physical survival. At this level of sheer physiological need , there’ s no real diff erence between the proto-human animal and any other udderly feeding

2 To get the “fullest” picture of what this thoroughgoing refusal might amount to, con- sider that the little animal that refuses linguistic training may very well decline other forms of “basic training” as well—toilet training, for example. Here, I suppose, would be the appropriate place to let drop what Žižek calls “Lacan’s thesis that [the] animal became human the moment it confronted the problem of what to do with its excre- ment” (1994: 179).

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beast — we all must nurse or die. What sets our “ beast in the nursery ” apart is that it demands more from the breast than mere mammalian sustenance. Th e “ wannabe human ” infant demands to be given the breast-giver ’ s gift not only as an indispensible “ life-line, ” but also as an excessive sign— a signifi er of what else but love. In other words, just as Marx’ s very early workers “ distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence” (1845/1978: 150), so the very young child distinguishes itself from its own suckling animality as soon as it accomplishes the work of letting the sign-value that attaches to the appearance of the breast exceed the merely animal “ life-value ” that fl ows directly from it; in yet other words, the very young child distinguishes itself from itself when it fi rst begins to learn how to read . For what else but reading would we call an activity in which a sign of life somehow becomes more important than immediate life itself, which thereaft er seems strangely to lose signifi cance? No non-human animal ever can be taught to “ read ” in this sense or to this extent; no non- human animal can ever allow a mere sign, a mere look of love or recognition, to become more important than itself, more signifi cant than its own animal life; no non-human animal can ever consider losing life for love. A platypus couldn’ t manage it. But our little animal turns human not by literally losing life, but by symbolically exchanging l ’ ê tre pour la lettre , not by really dying but by metaphorically sacrifi cing the “ inner animal” that is unwilling to sacrifi ce itself, unwilling to metaphorize, that recalcitrant beast that needs to be fed and demands to be pleased, but can ’ t quite bring itself to “ come to terms, ” can ’ t quite agree to defer pleasure, or accept substitute gratifi cation, the animal that can ’ t stand being in a state of sustained desire because it is incapable of ever “ dying to be loved ” — the animal, in other words, that can ’ t be made to mean . Th e fl edgling human sacrifi ces or renounces or distances itself from its bad animal being in a bid to be recognized, to be meaningfully loved, or belovedly “ read. ” For to be read/recognized as being meaningful is to be loved, wanted, approved, applauded, to be the deserving recipient of some (typically parental) hymn of praise. Reading/ recognizing as desiring to be read/recognized means desiring not only to “ fi nd meaning ” in the other (rather than just demand pleasure from the other); it means desiring to be found meaningful (rather than merely animal) by the other, to rise in the other ’ s esteem, to become not a “ what, ” but a recognizably human “ who ” who would literally rather die than go without meaning, would rather die than remain an animal “ it, ” a mere thing, in the estimation of others. Th e anthropogenetic desire for recognition trumps merely animal need and merely infantile demand when the very young child recognizes that it is signifi cantly more pleasurable to have

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certain others be pleased with it than it is for “ it ” to have whatever pleasure it wants whenever it wants it.3 Th e “ beast in the nursery ” begins to learn to read when it starts allowing the metaphorical incept of desired signs to become more important than the material intake of needed sustenance, when it starts perceiving substitutive “ signs of life ” and reality ’ s “ promise of happiness” as being somehow better than immediate life itself — “ even better than the real thing. ” When the real thing in question is the breast, what the infant must learn to read is not that real pound of fl esh, much less its milky issue, but rather the telling expression that “ overfl ows,” so to speak, from the breast-giver’ s face. When the needy infant demanding the breast accepts in its stead a disappointingly diminished substitute— the cold dry plastic pacifi er instead of the warm and soft ly seeping thing — it accepts this diminution only because a surplus of meaning provides symbolic compensation, makes good the loss of real enjoyment qua enjoyment in the real. Th e mother’ s completely approving facial expression, her milky look of love, along with any unconditionally soothing sounds she might manage to make — all work to compensate the infant, make up for the diff erence in pleasure-yield between breast and pacifi er. Th ese signifi cant sights and sounds partially “ paper over” the discrepancy between the enjoyment anticipated and the enjoyment obtained. But if the infant does feel fairly compensated, it does so only because it senses what it damned well better get used to sensing — to wit — that it is “ better ” to “ take in ” these rewarding sights and sounds of approval than it is to obtain immediate gratifi cation. At the end of the day, reality’ s primary lesson is still Freud’ s famous motto Wo Es war, soll Ich werden — “ where id was, there ego must be” (1933/2001: 80), or, more literally, where an “ it ” was, an “ I ” must come into being. Reality ’ s lesson, in other words, is that it will have been much more signifi cant for me, das Ich, to obtain recognition (for having sucked it up and been polite) than it would have been for it, das Es, to have gotten exactly what it wanted, exactly when it wanted it (back in the prehistorical miasma of the real, the merely natural/animal hic et nunc ). If the infant doesn’ t learn this “ history lesson,” if it doesn’ t on a very basic level grasp “ the virtual character of the symbolic order [as] the very condition of human historicity” (Ž i ž ek 1999/2002: 241), if it doesn’ t fi gure out the terms of this existential bargain— if it clings to its pure pleasure principle in the real and doesn ’ t allow itself to be worked over by virtual reality, if it simply continues to cry like a baby until it gets what it wants, refuses any substitutive

3 I allude here to the distinctions Lacan makes among need, demand, and desire, which roughly and respectively correspond to his three “registers” of psychic life—the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic. We will return to the “knotted” relations among these two trios in our fourth lesson.

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pacifi cation and never learns to give a big happy damn what any signifi cantly “ Big Other” thinks of it— then this beast isn’ t going to get very far in the polis . It probably won ’t make it out of the nursery.

III. Happier endings

Adulterated reality, then, must supersede pure pleasure if “ das Ich ” is ever to displace “ das Es , ” if anything resembling anthropogenesis is ever to occur. But reality can ’ t simply eradicate pleasure altogether; rather, reality modifi es, redirects, transforms pleasure. Reality can ’ t “ just say no ” to any and all enjoyment. Reality “ says no ” to immediate and self -identical gratifi cation, to be sure, but because no animal responds well to unmitigated negativity, the reality principle must always hold out the future promise of greater, more important, more signifi cant gratifi cation. Th e paradoxical crux of the matter, however, is that, throughout their negotiated confl ict, the pleasure and reality principles still share the same overriding goal— the reduction of unpleasurable tension, the restoration of homeostasis. And since the goal does remain the same, pleasure still pretty much rules the roost, despite reality ’ s encroachments on its terrain. What must fundamentally change in the transition from pure pleasure to accomplished reality is the question of what actually constitutes the source or cause of the unpleasurable tension that demands to be reduced. Back in the day of the pure pleasure principle, what caused unpleasurable tension was whatever forced us “ to wait for it ” ; in our quest to have our homeostasis restored a.s.a.p., we psychically withdrew like the heads of frightened turtles from whatever threatened to make us wait — that is to say, whatever threatened to make us mean. In the accomplished reality principle, however, unpleasure involves whatever disturbs the reassuring stability of meaning , whatever threatens the formally established coherence of das Ich . Th e stray memory of non-meaning (the “ purposeless ” animal enjoyment of inarticulate babble); the emergence of bad meanings (impolite or “ perverse ” gratifi cations that “ I ” might feel sick even thinking about); the appearance of strange meanings (unfamiliar articulations that disturb my normal understanding, anxiogenic “ foreign elements ” that “ terrorize ” my psychic equilibrium) — all these “ bad ” things become the unpleasurable tensions that “ I ” have to deal with— that is, repress — if meaningful homeostasis (the “ homeland security ” of my own private Idaho) is to be maintained. In the pleasure principle, it is the very thought of repression , the thought of my having to renounce a satisfaction, of my not getting what I want, that precipitates unpleasure; in the reality principle, however, it is the thought of the return of the repressed, of getting

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more than I bargained for, that does the trick. As Freud writes in the essay called “ Repression, ” a specifi c satisfaction might be “ pleasurable in itself” (i.e., in the pure pleasure principle), but “ irreconcilable with other claims and intentions ” (e.g., those of the reality principle). Th us the same thought can “ cause pleasure in one place and unpleasure in another ” (1915/1989: 569). Psychoanalysis, which studies psychic confl ict, which explores the ways the same thought can generate antithetical feelings, has thus been called “ the science of ambivalence. ”4 But speaking of ambivalence, and of tricks, the one that my “ I ” is about to play on yours really isn ’ t very nice. For I can imagine that your “ I ” could without too much diffi culty imagine itself as an infant sucking with great satisfaction at its mother ’ s breast. Your “ I ” might even be able to imagine that infant being seriously displeased to have this breast suddenly pulled away. You as an adult “ I ” can probably imagine fairly easily that you as an infant “ it ” would want to banish immediately the very thought of the nipple’ s disappearance. OK, so far so good. Now let’ s see if you can imagine yourself at your present age sucking away at the wet and erect nipple of your own mother’ s breast (not just any old nipple, mind you, but specifi cally, unimaginably, unspeakably, your own mother’ s ). I imagine, I would even heavily bet, that your “ I ” can bring that image to mind only with extreme diffi culty, if at all, that the very idea provokes feelings of queasy disgust, unbearable shame, painful embarrassment, horrible incestuous weirdness, hom*ophobic revulsion (particularly if you ’ re a good girl), considerable anger at yours truly for even trying to stick the hideous thought into your head, etc.— in other words, massive psychical unpleasure . You must want to get this sick thought out of your head as quickly as possible. But while you’ re busy trying to restore your disrupted homeostasis, let ’ s at least note what ’ s illustrative here — to wit, back when you were a little “ it, ” completely under the dominance of the pleasure principle, it was the thought of the object’ s disappearance that you wanted immediately to get rid of; now that you ’ re a great big “ I, ” long under the sway of the reality principle, it’ s the unwelcome thought of the object ’ s return that you want to beat back, exclude, expel, repress, tout de suite, for “ the essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance, from consciousness” (Freud 1915/1989: 569 – 70). In Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, the term unconscious marks the “ extimate ” space of “ otherness within” each of us, the traumatic thing or “ unbearable truth ” ( Ž i ž ek 2006: 3) within each subject ’ s psyche from

4 I have to apologize for the fact that I can neither remember nor discover who coined this phrase—I’m beginning to think that I dreamt it.

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which normally constituted consciousness tries— pathetically and bathetically enough— to keep its distance.5 So, when I write that anthropogenesis depends upon repression, that anthropogenesis begins to kick in when impolitely animal being is “ sacrifi ced” to properly human meaning , I don ’ t mean to suggest that the sacrifi cial beast vanishes into thin air, fl ies, or slithers, or waddles off to die. For “ to be sacrifi ced” doesn’ t necessarily mean “ to be killed ” ; sacrifi cing an object can involve making it “ sacred ” by setting it apart, excluding it from the mundane, the everyday, the familiar, the easily accessed, the readily known. Th e strangely animal “ it ” of the pure pleasure principle is not terminated, but repressed, distanced from normal everyday consciousness, from the standard operating procedures of “ common sense.” Upon repression, it —the it, das Es— is relegated to the unconscious, where it doesn ’ t expire but rather remains a lively but covert participant in the psychic life of the I, das Ich , sometimes coming back to bite my polite or “ politicized ” ego in the ass. As this rather rude turn of phrase might suggest, its most vital activities are fundamentally incompatible with normal, conscious, proper meaning and manners, homeostatic good housekeeping, all the rules and regulations of fi ne upstanding citizenship, freedom, dignity, self-respect, impeccably clear writing, and so on. Th e fundamental psychoanalytic thesis about anthropogenesis is that none of us ever neatly exchanges l ’ ê tre pour la lettre, pleasure for reality, wild being for civilized meaning, our pitiful portions of real happiness for the Big Other ’ s tenuous portions of security. Th ere is always for each of us an “ unbearable truth,” an ego-traumatizing remnant or left over, unconscious but still unceasingly productive, the impolite if not unspeakable “ stuff ” that our darkest dreams of light are made of. Freud, of course, called dreams the “ royal road ” to the unconscious. But for any theoretical writing that is informed by psychoanalysis, all the lost highways on the map of human reality lead to and from that strange location as well. For the gist of psychoanalysis is that the unconscious plays its part not only in the production of baffl ing dreams, neurotic symptoms, and embarrassing slips of the tongue; it determines and undermines the very production of meaning itself, all the work with words that makes the world that must be made to mean. Unconscious desire haunts all the forms

5 In How to Read Lacan, Žižek writes, “Th e unconscious is not the preserve of wild drives that have to be tamed by the ego, but the site where a traumatic truth speaks out. Th erein lies Lacan’s version of Freud’s motto Wo es war, soll ich werden (Where it was, I am to become): not ‘Th e ego should conquer the id,’ the site of unconscious drives, but ‘I should dare to approach the site of my truth.’ What awaits me ‘there’ is not a deep Truth that I have to identify with, but an unbearable truth that I have to learn to live with” (2006: 2–3).

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of symbolic compensation or substitute gratifi cation that we can imagine, or that have been pre-imagined or prefabricated for us, in this world or “ the next.” Cartoons and other forms of child’ s play can, of course, “ count ” as such imaginary or fabricated compensation. But then, so can all the really important grown-up stuff as well — literature, art, cinema, culture, politics, philosophy, science, religion, not to mention theory itself — in short, pretty much everything of which it pleases us to say that it all “ has to meaning something, ” that it must be meaning and not just pleasure.

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Two:

pleasure and reality principles, the unconscious

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— or, why the word for moonlight can’ t be moonlight

I. Down to earth

Th us far in our introduction to theoretical writing we’ ve seen some fairly large claims being made for language . We’ ve been instructed that theoretical writing demands nothing less than our radically “ coming to terms” with linguistic determinism, our bowing down, as it were, to language as invader of the universal problematic, surrendering to language as constitutive power behind all human reality, accepting language as origin and limit of all personal identity, and so on. But now we’ re being asked to swallow the pill that “ language is, by nature, fi ctional” (Barthes 1981: 87); we fi nd ourselves being told that almighty language— “ this alien and inhuman force . . . which tortures and scars our existence as human animals ” (Jameson 2006: 393) — isn ’ t even really real . 1 Th is claim would seem particularly counter-intuitive, since we are obviously really using language at the present moment to communicate, or because the very assertion that “ language is by nature fi ctional” must be made in language, therefore language must exist, and so on. So where does theory get off , telling us, on the one hand, that we’ re made out of language and then, on the other, that language is nothing but fi ction? To understand the real signifi cance of the claim that signifi cance isn ’ t real, to grasp “ the virtual [fi ctional or unreal] character of the symbolic order [as] the very condition of human historicity” (Ž i ž ek 1999/2002: 241), we need fi rst to situate fi ctionality between relative unrealness and absolute non-existence . To say, with Roland Barthes, that language is nothing but fi ction, to say, with the structural linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, that language is “ a form and

1 When Roland Barthes makes this remark in Camera Lucida: Refl ections on Photography, he is specifi cally refl ecting upon language’s problem with authentication as compared to the camera’s capacity for more veridical documentation (i.e., the now dated, pre- Photoshop idea that the camera doesn’t lie). Compare the evidentiary value of a sworn statement such as “I was the man, I suff ered, I was there” with an undoctored photograph that might conclusively prove that I was really a woman enjoying myself elsewhere.

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not a substance” (1959: 122), is not to say, absurdly, that language doesn’ t exist; it is to say that language is not a substantial thing, but it’ s not to say that there ’ s “ no such thing ” as language. For, aft er all, fi ction obviously exists — it ’ s demonstrably not the case that there ’ s “ no such thing ” as fi ction, and I could give you a fairly substantial list of not too shabby examples thereof (Antigone, Beloved, Candide, Disgrace, Ethan Frome, Germinal, Hamlet, Infi nite Jest, Kangaroo, Lolita, Molloy, and so on). So, since there clearly are such “ things ” in the world as “ pieces of fi ction,” to say that language is by nature fi ctional is not to say that language doesn ’ t exist. But to assert language ’ s “ natural ” fi ctionality is to foreground its unnaturalness, its “ virtual character,” and, in that quite specifi c sense, its antiphysical unrealness. For “ fi ction, ” by defi nition, isn’ t real. Just as human beings must distinguish themselves from non-human animal nature in order to live as human beings, as subjects of human reality, so “ fi ction ” must bring itself into existence as fi ction by formally distinguishing itself from the really real. Fiction’ s very existence as fi ction defi nitionally depends upon this separation from the real, this active negation of the real. If a little piece of fi ction, like that bit from Henry James that he calls “ Th e Real Th ing,” were somehow to become the real thing, to become real, to become “ fact, ” it would thereby cease to be fi ction, no? Well, in much the same way, the existence of language as language depends upon a similar separation from and negation of the real. So, we might venture to rewrite and expand upon Barthes’ claim that language is by nature fi ctional as follows — language exists, but it ’ s not real. It cannot possibly be real. In order to be language, to exist as language, language must separate itself from the real thing, cut itself off from the really real. If language were somehow to become real, to merge with the real, to become identical with the real, it would, by defi nition, cease to exist— or, at least, it would no longer be language (though whatever it would be I really can ’ t say). Language, in other words, comes into existence not by positively but vaguely “ saying something, ” but rather by negatively but specifi cally having “ said ” no to the real. Whatever language affi rmatively says, it says only by virtue of this primordially prohibitive no. Th is negation of the real, this prohibition against identity with the real, is language ’ s existential condition of possibility. Some examples drawn from the realms of words and things might help us out here, so let’ s say that in order to mean “ elephant, ” the word “ elephant ” cannot be an elephant. A complete merger of the meaningful word with the elephantine thing would not be possible, would not be meaningful. Of course, nothing prevents me from saying the word “ elephant ” in the real physical presence of a pachyderm or even from painting the word “ elephant ” on the said elephant’ s hide. Th e word’ s meaning, however, in no way depends

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upon that real, hidebound presence in order to mean. Rather, the word’ s meaning depends upon the real thing’ s absence , its disappearance, its non- being. In language, in other words, there can never be a completely real coincidence of being and meaning . For “ to mean, ” as Barbara Johnson writes, “ is automatically not to be. As soon as there is meaning, there is diff erence” (1981: ix). But let ’ s get “ down to earth ” here and literally (that is to say, fi guratively) run this point into the ground. Let’ s say that even if I were to trace the word “ dirt ” into actual ground, into an actual spread of real dirt, the fi ngered word “ dirt ” still wouldn’ t be dirt; it would merely mean dirt. What allows the meaning of the word “ dirt ” to emerge from the dirt is nothing other than the four letters, the purely formal delineations of non-dirt that I’ ve traced into the dirty surface. Th ese formal delineations, these narrow defi les of non- dirt within otherwise unfurrowed substance— these non-substantial fi ssures within formlessly real soil— become the existential openings (the very souls , if you like) of meaning itself. Meaning must formally or soulfully separate itself out, must cleanse itself of and distinguish itself from formlessly real being , in order to raise itself up out of the really real as clear or distinct meaning. Meaning must mean non-merger with murkily real being . Th e veritable “ law ” of meaning means quite precisely that the word for “ elephant ” must not be elephant, that the word for “ dirt ” must not be dirt. We can take the letter of this “ law ” back to our previous lesson. Its signifi cance is not simply that “ meaning is the polite word for pleasure.” Our lesson’ s actual signifi cance is that pleasure itself is a polite word for pleasure, that any meaningful word (pleasure, elephant, dirt) is a “ polite ” substitute for and separation from the real thing or experience that it names. To mean “ pleasure, ” the word “ pleasure ” is prohibited from really being pleasure. I don ’ t mean to say that saying the word “ pleasure ” can’ t be pleasurable, can ’ t be a form (however attenuated) of enjoyment. I do mean to say that saying “ pleasure ” never necessarily depends upon one’ s really experiencing pleasure; rather, the word “ pleasure ” depends upon the possibility of our not really enjoying ourselves, of our not experiencing real pleasure; it depends upon the possibility of pleasure’ s non -presence . If one could say “ p l e a s u r e ” and really mean it only if one were at the precise moment of enunciation really experiencing a pleasure that was not only completely identical with the word but in fact caused one to say it, then the word “ pleasure ” as word would not be possible. Th e word “ pleasure ” need not be caused or accompanied by real pleasure any more than the exclamation “ ouch ” need be caused or accompanied by actual pain — we can say “ ouch ” even when we ’ re not being bitten or stung or insulted, and we can say “ pleasure ” even at moments, such as perhaps this very one, when we ’ re not having any fun at all.

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II. Giving (up) the fi nger

Again, what makes the presence of any word possible is nothing but the pos- sible absence of the real thing or experience that it names, which is precisely why Lacan characterizes the word as “ a presence made of absence.”

In order for the symbolic object freed from its usage to become the word freed from the hic et nunc [here and now], the diff erence resides . . . in its vanishing being in which the symbol fi nds the permanence of the concept. Th rough the word — which is already a presence made of absence— absence itself comes to be named . . . And from this articulated couple of presence and absence . . . a language ’ s world of meaning is born, in which the world of things [must] situate itself (1966d/2006: 228).

For Lacan, the ways by which language is “ by nature fi ctional ” are intimately related to the rules and regulations that make “ meaning ” the polite word for pleasure in a world that must be made to mean. In other words, for Lacan, our linguistic separation from and negation of “ the real ” has everything to do with what he calls “ the symbolic order” — the imperative processes of anthropogenesis that we belabored in our fi rst two lessons. To demonstrate the relations among these lessons even further, however, I’ m afraid I’ m going to have to give you the fi nger. Th at is to say, I ’ m going to have to ask you to imagine that you are a very young child, in the very last stages of your infancy, not yet “ in language ” but on the cusp of “ learning to read ” in the sense described in the previous lesson. Imagine that I am the adult standing before you, trying to give you one of your fi rst reading lessons. In this imaginary scene, I am using not my middle but rather my index fi nger to indicate something “ over there” to which I want to direct your attention, some real thing other than my fi nger that I employ my fi nger to point out to you. You, however, continue to stare at my pointing fi nger, blissfully unaware that “ pointing ” is what I ’ m attempting to do with this digit. I can therefore jab and gesticulate as much as I please, but you simply won ’ t get the picture; you won ’ t get the point of my pointing. Illiterate infant that you are, you don’ t yet know how to “ read, ” so you don’ t understand that this fi nger isn ’ t merely a fi nger, a column of fl esh moving back and forth in space, in a relatively undiff erentiated, pointless, or meaningless “ here and now. ” Incapable as yet of meaningful speech, you don ’ t realize that, in giving you the fi nger, I am giving or trying to give you a sign . Not yet up to speed on your structural linguistics, you don ’ t comprehend that this “ indexical ” sign is comprised of a signifi er (the index fi nger as pointer ) and a signifi ed (the

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point, the “ concept ” I’ m trying to convey, which in this case is “ hey, look over there ” ). Nor do you yet grasp that the function of a sign (signifi er and signifi ed combined) is to refer to something else , something other , a referent (in this case, whatever the stupid or wonderful thing “ over there ” is that I so desperately want you to look at).2 Because you don ’ t yet “ get ” any of these points, because you ’ re not yet in any position to take pointers, you won ’ t take your eyes off my fi nger. I might as well be gesturing to a gerbil. Now, if all I really wanted from this exercise were simply to get you to “ look over there,” then I could fi nally resort to just picking you up and pointing your little eyes in the thing ’ s direction so that you would fi nally really see it. But we would have accomplished very little by these merely physical acrobatics. Th erefore, because what I must want is for you to learn to read, not just see, I must make you see this thing (my fi nger) not just as a real thing fl oating around in this immediate space but as a veritable sign indicating some other thing elsewhere . To give you the fi nger as mediating sign , I must gently or sternly deny you the fi nger as fi nger . To teach you to “ read ” fi nger as a sign, I must, as it were, wean you from fi nger qua fi nger. And this weaning denial will no doubt initiate itself in the form of the prohibitive word no, as in, no, don ’ t look at my fi nger, look over there; no , dumbass, not this stupid thing but that one; no , you cannot just keep staring at my fi nger; no, you must tear yourself away from the real fl esh and look to that “ other scene ” to which the fl esh is pointing; no , our fl esh and bone can ’ t just be pointless boney fl esh, it all must signify something; no , our fi ngers can’ t just be , they must mean , must be ordered, must be named. And the same thing goes for you too, sweetie. Not that sweet little infant you would actually take in any of these words, even though according to Lacan you’ ve “ always already” been taken in by them insofar as language always “ exists prior to each subject’ s entrance into it at a certain moment in [its] psychic development ” (Lacan 1966e/2006: 413). But, if you ’ re ever going to become anything more than a sweet (or squawking) little animal, you must begin to hear that sour no te; you must begin to understand the “ negating ” function of the fi rst word in each of my prohibitory but literacy-enabling phrases (no, don ’ t look at my fi nger; no, not here but there, and so on); moreover, you must, on some level, “ understand ” that this singularly prohibitive and negative word no actually precedes and precipitates all the words and all the phrases that you ’ re ever going to understand in your life. Th e world that you are sentenced to enter must be made to mean, but it ’ s precisely this primordial “ no to the real ” that fi rst makes

2 All of these terms—signifi er, signifi ed, sign, referent—pertain to the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure, which we will explore at greater length in Lesson Eight.

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any meaning happen, that initially gets any sentence in any language up and running, by preventing any word you can imagine from ever really being the real thing that it names. Erecting, so to speak, a permanent and irreversible divide between real being and signifi cant meaning , this primordial no is built into and basically causes or makes possible any articulation whatsoever. In order to signify anything, a sign can never be a simple, indivisible, absolute “ thing in itself, ” but must always separate itself into a signifi er and a signifi ed, a pointer and a point. In order to be a meaningful word, a word can never simply remain what it “ really ” is — a certain quantum of sheer materiality, of ink on a page, or chalk on a board, or pixels on a screen. No, it must articulate a message, and back behind any articulation lurks the fundamental imperative of the symbolic order, which is simply this word— no. No, you can ’ t keep looking here for your pleasure; no, you can ’ t simply remain in the pure pleasure principle of the immediate experience of real being; as per the fi nal words of Beckett’ s Th e Unnamable , no, you can ’ t stay here; no, you can ’ t even stay there; no, you must “ go on ” (1955: 414).

III. Th anks for nothing

Th e real being that meaning must leave behind in order to “ go on ” meaning is “ the real ” in Lacan ’ s sense, the “ oceanic feeling ” in Freud ’ s — a formless, limitless, undiff erentiated experience of the “ all ” of the hic et nunc , the immediately here and now. Meaning, as such, formally cuts into and incisively removes us from our experience of that simple “ immediate ” being and “ sends ” us, as if we ourselves were letters, on our limited, grammatically regulated, and politely articulated way. For it’ s the real function of any meaningful word to tear us away from immediate being, to deliver us from the undiff erentiated darkness of “ the Real always lurking dimly in the background ” (Jameson 2006: 376), and send or carry us in a brighter, more promisingly signifi cant direction. Any meaningful word must point us away from itself and prod us to “ go on ” to the next word in the chain of signifi ers (so please imagine my exemplary fi nger as pointing from left to right, the direction in which we in English read ). Th e word “ the, ” for example, the so-called defi nite article, seems to say something positively “ in itself” to its reader— something affi rmative, like “ My name is ‘ the ’ and I am the defi nite article.” But even if it is the defi nite article, which it is, “ the ” still isn ’ t simply the real thing; because it ’ s a word, the word “ the ” still must always say “ no ” to whatever real thing or stuff (like ink or sound) that it might substantially be. In other words, the word “ the ” can never allow its reader to stay with it. Like the fallen grunt in the military action fi lm who waves his comrades on, heroically urging the

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rest of the squad to keep going, the word “ the ” must always impel the reader to abandon it, to leave it behind, to keep moving on— if only just one more space . . . to . . . the . . . right. In other words, the word “ the ” must always carry out its symbolic orders and the symbolic order itself— the word “ the ” must prod the . . . reader to move on to the . . . next word in the . . . temporal sequence of meaning that we . . . call . . . the . . . sentence.3 As these annoyingly retarded articulations might help me suggest, “ language is by nature fi ctional ” not only because, like fi ction, it isn ’ t really real, but also because, like fi ction, it usually involves something resembling narrative design, the formal manipulation of merely chronological revelation upon which the craft or sullen art of narration depends.4 Certain exercises in the art of the sentence — consider the hard work of a Henry James or a David Foster Wallace— can read like gnarly epics. But even the briefest of complete and fully predicated sentences, even those completely innocent of craft , still manage to tell a little story, unfold a tale, relate the dramatic adventures of a grammatical subject, verbalize an action, enact a beginning, stage a middle, and struggle toward an end, providing, perhaps, a relatively satisfying sense of narrative closure.5 But if language is “ fi ctional” not only because it de-realizes but also because it “ narrates, ” just what sort of story does language actually tell? For Lacan, the story of language always at some level involves Oedipus, or Oedipal desire. Lacan, that is, rather tirelessly (and, for some, tiresomely) relates language acquisition to what Freud famously dubs the Oedipus complex . 6 But Lacan “ Oedipalizes ” our accession to language not simply for psychological reasons, not simply because language acquisition and

3 Unless of course the “the” in question is that last word of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, in which case the reader is compelled to circle back to the text’s fi rst word, “riverrun,” and begin the fi ction all over again. 4 “Th e narrative theory of Russian Formalism distinguishes between story (fabula) and plot (sujet), between the story and the way it is told. Fabula . . . refers to the story as it might have occurred in real time and constitutes the raw narrative material awaiting the formal manipulation of the author. Sujet . . . designates the authorial transformation worked upon the story” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 106). 5 “Structurally, narrative shares the characteristic of the sentence without ever being reducible to the sum of its sentences: a narrative is a long sentence, just as every constative sentence is in a way the rough outline of a short narrative” (Barthes 1966/1977: 84). 6 Th e Oedipus complex involves the idea that every child unconsciously desires complete “possession” of the mother and thus jealously and aggressively regards the father as a rival. Freud names this complex aft er the tragic title fi gure in Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, the man who consciously attempts to avoid his “fate” (an oracle tells him that he will murder his father and “marry” his mother) and thus unwittingly blunders into it. Freud also off ers an Oedipal interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, suggesting that Hamlet can’t bring himself to kill Claudius because Hamlet unconsciously identifi es with the man who has done in fact what Hamlet himself desires to do in his dreams—dispatch the father and “marry” the mother.

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the onset of the Oedipus complex can be said to “ happen ” at roughly the same time in the child ’ s psychological development; rather, Lacan links language to Oedipus for “ structural ” reasons. He posits, that is, a structural analogy between the primordial “ no to the real” that initiates all access to language and the “ paternal ” prohibition against incest that bars all sexual access to the mother ’ s body and thereby founds any exogamous social order whatsoever. Obviously, Lacan ’ s analogy goes against the grain of consciously common sense; aft er all, it’ s pretty hard to grasp what our conventionally grammatical desire to make complete sentences might have in common with our unconsciously Oedipal desire to “ make it” with the mom. But if you can understand how “ the symbolic order ” as the “ law ” of meaning that separates you from your immediately real being and subjects you to conventional rules of grammar and syntax might be analogous to “ the symbolic order” as the “ law ” against incest that separates you from the maternal body and subjects you to the conventional regulations of normative heterosexuality , then you basically get the Lacanian picture. If you can understand that “ meaning ” means both that you can no longer simply be in the undiff erentiated real and that you can no longer “ be with ” your mother in the exclusive way that you might unconsciously desire, if you can understand that “ the symbolic order ” is an “ order to symbolize” your mother (and everything else in the world) rather than “ totally ” be with her as if you and she were “ everything ” and there really were nothing or no one else out there— then you’ re well on your way to speaking basic Lacanese (whether you want to be or not). But let ’ s leave Lacan, not to mention our poor mothers, out of this discussion for the moment and return to the question of “ real being” and of language’ s fi ctive negation thereof. I ’ ve suggested that linguistic meaning tears us away from the pure unmediated “ here and now ” of real being and sends us on our intelligibly articulated way. I’ ve insisted that, consequent to this “ tearing, ” there is an irrevocable split or rupture between being and meaning. A word, as I insist (or as the very pronoun “ I ” insists), can never be the thing that it names (elephant, dirt, me, etc.), and a thing (like my dirty fi nger) can never remain a simple, self-identical thing if it is ever made to function as a sign . But is it a “ good thing” or a “ bad thing” that “ the word” can never be “ the real thing ” ? It depends, perhaps, upon the specifi c word in relation to the particular thing. To illustrate this “ moral relativism,” we can note a rather interesting thing that happens late in Don DeLillo ’ s short novel Th e Body Artist, a sort of postmodern ghost story that, like most of DeLillo ’ s fi ctions, meditates upon the strange and (in DeLillo ’ s view) occasionally miraculous things that can happen in contemporary (fi ctional) encounters between language and the real. Th e story concerns a woman, Lauren Hartke,

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a performance or “ body artist ” who, while mourning the death of her fi lm- maker husband, apparently discovers a strange quasiperson living in her (formerly their) house. Th is male semipersonage may be the embodied ghost of Lauren’ s husband, or he may be an imaginary fi gment that Lauren is cooking up for one of her embodied performance-art pieces, or he may simply be “ a retarded man” (2001: 102) who has wandered away from some nearby institution. Whatever he may be or mean, this fi gure — nameless, though Lauren for reasons of her own calls him “ Mr. Tuttle ” — is presented to us as suff ering from a disorder of speech, a sort of linguistic indeterminism. Mr Tuttle speaks, utters intelligible and even uncannily familiar words, but he is still paradoxically caught up in what the narrator calls “ the not-as-if of things” (2001: 92). We are told a number of things about Mr Tuttle, but the most pertinent for our purposes here is that he “ hasn ’ t learned the language. Th ere has to be an imaginary point [says our narrator], a nonplace where lan- guage intersects with our perceptions of time and space, and he [Mr. Tuttle] is a stranger at this crossing, without words or bearings” (2001: 101). Because he is so alien to this linguistic crossing, because he cannot quite successfully use good old words to cognitively map his “ being in the world,” Mr Tuttle, we are told, “ violates the limits of the human ” (2001: 102). Th is description of Mr Tuttle’ s loss of bearings makes it sound “ as if” he’ s in an unbearably inhuman spot. And yet, despite (or perhaps because of) his strange violation of human limits, Mr Tuttle manages to say some lovely, brilliant things. For example:

He said, “ Th e word for moonlight is moonlight. ” [And] this made [Lauren] happy. It was logically complex and oddly moving and circularly beautiful and true— or maybe not so circular but straight as straight can be. (2001:84)

Now, bear in mind that Mr Tuttle isn ’ t simply being tautological here. He isn’ t just elliptically claiming that the word that we use to designate the phenomenon called moonlight is this specifi c word, “ moonlight. ” Rather, he claims, fl at-out, “ straight as straight can be,” that the word moonlight really is moonlight . Th is “ poetical ” merging of word with wave strikes Lauren as “ beautiful ” and thus makes her “ happy, ” thus reminding us of Stendhal ’ s tragicomic characterization of “ beauty ” as “ the promise of happiness.” But even though it makes her happy because she fi nds it beautiful — and even though a line from Keats ’ s “ Ode on a Grecian Urn ” instructs us that the “ articulated couple ” or aesthetic/veridical copulation of beauty with truth is all we know and all we need to know — is Lauren “ right ” to consider Mr Tuttle ’ s statement “ true ” ? Doesn’ t this “ logically complex” statement logically

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contradict everything we ’ ve learned in this lesson about the impossibility of a word’ s meaning merging with its real being? If “ elephant ” can’ t be an elephant and “ dirt ” can ’ t be dirt and “ I ” can ’ t be me, how can “ moonlight ” possibly be moonlight? Truly, maybe sadly, but in the end, I think, quite fortunately, it just can ’ t be; it can ’t possibly simultaneously mean and be . But why the hell not? And what ’ s so “ fortunate ” about this sad impossibility of the said ? Why might it be a “ good thing ” that linguistic meaning both makes and breaks the so-called promise of happiness? OK, so Mr Tuttle ’ s blurting out that “ the word for moonlight is moonlight” makes Lauren happy — fair enough. But we might ask if Lauren would have been made just as happy if Mr Tuttle had proclaimed that “ Th e words for internal hemorr- hage are internal hemorrhage” ? Th e sentence is far from beautiful, you’ ll agree, but it could only quite disastrously be “ true. ” For if the statement were “ literally ” true, then no “ body artist” could ever produce the words “ internal hemorrhage” without her body’ s internally hemorrhaging. Or, to take the art back out of the body, what if Mr Tuttle had asserted that “ the word for excrement is excrement” ? It’ s hard to imagine that Mr Tuttle’ s pressing those little words out of his uncanny hole would have made Lauren or DeLillo or Keats or any lover of beauty and truth radiantly happy. So, yeah, maybe it ’ s a real shame, on the one hand, that the word for moonlight can never really be moonlight, that we can’ t just utter this enchanting word and be instantly bathed in lovely lunar lucidity. But on the other hand, maybe it’ s a relatively good thing that you can ask for a “ concrete example” of the diff erence between being and meaning without having a cinderblock fall on your head. Maybe it’ s a good thing that words for real excrement aren’ t really excremental things. Maybe it’ s a good thing that we’ re all able to utter our favorite excremental words without fi nding our mouths fi lled with you-know-what, that we can read Eliot’ s Th e Waste Land without actually landing in waste, and so on. Maybe, at the end of the day, there ’ s something to be said for our just saying “ no ” to non-diff erentiation, for our being able to distinguish ourselves from the real, simply by saying “ no, not really what we had in mind. ” Maybe there’ s something to be said for being’ s being said, even if saying so means forever losing all our oceanic feelings. Maybe there ’ s something to be said for our being able to say, which is to say, our being able to lie, to fabricate, to negate “ the not-as-if of things ” by making metaphors, by reading and writing, telling the stories of our so-called lives, proliferating ourselves quite precisely as fi ctions. Maybe we readers and writers and would-be lovers of literature should be enormously grateful that language is by nature fi ctional, even if its unstable fabrications actually turn out to be the stuff that we’ re made of, even if such gratitude puts us in the exceedingly strange position of having

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to say thanks to no one for nothing. Yes, the “ no to the real ” that makes the phrase “ real signifi cance ” nonsensical, that makes language, and hence we ourselves, possible, may prevent us from getting all that we might really desire . But such negativity also protects us from getting more than we might really deserve . We may be “ real-losers ” in the sacrifi cial exchange of our being for a meaning that can never be completely real again, but, considering what we get out of it, and considering what it gets us out of, we might just have to say that “ radically linguistic determinism” — our being sentenced to sentences, to being nothing by nature if not fi ctionalized characters, anthropomorphized animals at the mercy of language, male and female impersonators in a world that must be made to mean— can ’ t really be the dirtiest trick that was ever played on us, can ’ t really be the crappiest thing that ever happened to us. While the slogan “ language is by nature fi ctional ” might seem like the worst bit of “ ontological bad news ” (Butler 1999: 198) ever to hit the fan, it really can’ t be the unhappiest headline, the most unpromising piece of prose, that any real fan of writing has ever encountered, that any really appreciative reader of fi ction has ever really read.

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Th ree:

sign, signifi er/signifi ed, referent, narrative/narration

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— a few words on death, sex, and interpretation

I. “ a few words ”

We oft en abuse the word “ literally, ” claiming that we literally died laughing or literally jumped out of our skins when we actually only ever fi guratively accomplish such maneuvers. How literally, then, can we take Lacan when he insists that “ desire must be taken literally” (1966f/2006: 518)? What would it mean, and where would it take us, if we were to take Lacan at his word? In Lacan ’ s own words — as registered in “ Th e Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or, Reason Since Freud” — to take desire “ literally ” means to take it “ à la lettre ” (1966e/2006: 413), to the letter. And the “ letter ” to which Lacan takes us here would seem to follow the same script as the letter we fi nd in l ’ ê tre pour la lettre , the slogan Lacan uses to describe our exchange of being for meaning , the loss of real being that we all incur upon our anthropogenetic gain of recognizably human signifi cance. So when Lacan writes that “ desire must be taken literally,” to the letter, he means that “ desiring ” and “ lettering ” are pretty much the same thing, or rather the same non -thing, that desire and signifi cation are both precipitated by the same “ no ” to the real thing, the same negation of the real that we encountered and belabored in the previous lesson. Because “ for Lacan, human desire (in contrast to animal instinct) is always, constitutively, mediated by reference to Nothingness ” ( Ž i ž ek 1999: 126), we should take his phrase “ desire must be taken literally ” to mean both that “ desire ” itself is literally nothing — “ the revelation of an emptiness, the presence of the absence of a reality ” (Koj è ve 1947/1980: 5) — and that the signifi er itself is, again, literally nothing, “ a presence made of absence ” (Lacan 1966d/2006: 228), never (again) the completely real thing. Insisting that desire means incompletion, that in desire, as in signifi cation, something real always goes missing, Lacan means that meaning always means the loss of the real thing, that language presupposes a radical subtraction of being, that signifi cation

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is always constituted around a central and defi ning lack . And since we ourselves— as distinctly human beings, or non-animal animals— are always constituted in and by signifi cation, we ourselves must be subjects of this very lack. For better or worse, Lacan chooses to speak of this situation, of our situation (in contrast to the non-human animal’ s completely instinctual situation), in terms of symbolic castration —in terms, that is, that are not to be taken anatomically or biologically, but are to be taken, quite literally, “ literally. ” Taken literally, then, desire involves our signifi cant (albeit unconscious) attempts to get the missing real thing back , to overcome our symbolic castration, strenuous eff orts animated by nostalgic fantasies of “ totally ” returning to the lost homeland of the real. But because these attempts and eff orts are totally fantasmatic— imaginary and symbolic, not “ really real, ” but only ever the signifying traces of the real ’ s inexorable withdrawal — nothing is more impossible than our desired recovery of the real thing. Because the word “ must ” in the slogan “ desire must be taken literally ” corresponds intimately to the same imperative in the axiom “ the world must be made to mean,” nothing is less possible, nothing is less meaningful— and, fi nally, paradoxically, nothing is less desirable — than our desired restoration of really real being, our desired return to the real. It’ s literally the last thing we’ d ever want to happen. To begin to hash these matters out, let ’ s return not to the real, but to Lacan’ s distinctions among need , demand, and desire, touched upon but lightly in a previous lesson. Let’ s see if we can see how these three modalities might instructively be mapped onto Lacan ’ s three registers of the real , the imaginary , and the symbolic . Let’ s see if we can see how need seeps into the real, how the imaginary refl ects demand , and how the symbolic order provokes and perpetuates — but never fully satisfi es —desire . Since I desire to interpret these inter-knotted trios under the general rubric of anthropogenesis, or the question of what “ makes us human,” let’ s begin by noting that at the most basic level of organic need , there ’ s really nothing that radically distinguishes us from nature, from animals and plants, from eagles and oak trees or earthworms and algae. Fish, fl esh, or fowl; fl ora, fauna, or fl edgling folk — all organisms need air, water, food, maybe a little light, to live and not die. At this basic or beginner’ s level of sheer nutritional need , then, we ’ re all pretty much in the same boat. Or rather, since at this level “ we ” living organisms are all missing the meta- phorical boat — missing, that is, if we ’ re plants, animals, or human infants, any fi rmly diff erentiated ego-coherence or buoyant personhood or ship- shape sense of self— let ’ s say that at the level of need “ we ” all seem to sink,

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swim, or “ run together ” in the undiff erentiated “ ocean ” of the biologically determined real . 1 But there is one particular aspect of incipient human existence that does distinguish us from every other chicken in the sea, and that ’ s the fact that we really need more than all those other organisms in the real, thanks to the “ vital insuffi ciency” (Lacan 1966b/2006: 72) stemming from our specifi c prematurity at birth, discussed at some length in Lesson Two. Th e fact that our earliest needs are more pronounced (compared to those of the more vitally suffi cient neonates) inevitably compels us to have to pronounce them, to make them known to others, even if, as newborns, we can ’ t yet make them nouns . In terms of the Lacanian registers, we might say that our capacity while as yet still mewling infants to express without nominating our real needs situates us at the imaginary level of demand . Demand allows us to make our fi rst feeble movements out of the oceanic real, where all things run together, to crawl up and fl op around on relatively drier land. Th e capacity for demand, that is, separates us, though only partially, from the swirling stew of sheer

1 Th ere are a number of sources for all this “nautical” talk about the undiff erentiated real, this “sea of yolky enjoyment” (Žižek 1992: 40) where “things . . . at fi rst run together in the hic et nunc of the all” (Lacan 1966d/2006: 229). For Freud, as we’ve seen, the infant in the “primary narcissism” of the real experiences a putatively “oceanic feeling,” the overwhelming sensation of “an indissoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole” (1930/1989: 723). Freud’s “oceanic feeling” of course precedes anyone’s sense of ego-coherence, predates any fi rm “sense of self”; in Civilization and its Discontents, Freud writes that “originally the ego [das Ich] includes everything, [but] later it separates off an external world from itself. Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of . . . an all-embracing . . . feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world” (1930/1989: 724–5). For Georges Bataille, this all-embracing and relatively ego-free world is both dissolutely oceanic and saturated with animality; in the “Animality” chapter of his Th eory of Religion, that is, Bataille writes that “every animal is in the world like water in water” (1973/1989: 19), and in Bataille’s thinking, the diff erence between animals (thoroughly saturated with their own being) and humans (relatively dessicated by their own meanings) involves the diff erence between continuity and discontinuity with this water-world. Anticipating Freud and Bataille, Nietzsche, in Th e Birth of Tragedy, discusses the formation of the principium individuationis—the Apollonian “principle of individuation,” as opposed to Dionysian self-dissolution—in notably nautical terms, quoting Schopenhauer, “As a sailor sits in a small boat in a boundless raging sea, surrounded on all sides by heaving mountainous waves, trusting to his frail vessel; so does the individual man sit calmly in the middle of a world of torment, trusting to the principium individuationis” (1872/ 2006: 44). Arguably, Nietzsche’s “frail vessel” and Freud’s “shrunken residue” and Bataille’s all too human “fi sh out of water” are all fi gures for ego-coherence or ego-syntony, for the fi rm “sense of self” that the pre-linguistic “little human animal,” like any other piece of yolky fl otsam in the real, lacks. It’s this lack of a discernible “sense of self” that I’m addressing when I suggest that, in the realm of real need “we” are all “missing the boat.” Correspondingly, those of us organisms who come to possess a sense of self, who are “on board” and thus no longer “missing the boat,” are, by defi nition, missing the real. In other words, persons qua persons are always missing the real, and the real is always missing persons.

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mute need — demand-capability, that is, distinguishes us from all vegetable matter (from seaweed, for example, which as far as I know can ’ t demand anything) but not from all animals. For just as human infants can and do issue demands, quite vocally, in the form of grating inarticulate bleats and squeals, so can certain non-human animals let their pressing needs be known. My dog Joni, for example, never fails to let me know— and in “ terms ” that are no less certain for not being put into words — when her canine highness needs to be fed or petted or taken out for a walk. Demand, then, like need, remains an aspect of animality; it is not yet desire , which, in this interpretation, exclusively involves the human. Demand, that is, can be said to correspond to the register of the imaginary , the embodied realm of the visible world (in which all animals with eyes take part), but demand does not yet coordinate with the symbolic , which organizes or structures specifi cally human reality. Animals can of course not only see but communicate, can send and receive “ vital signs,” signals that (again, as far as I know) pertain only to the protection-enhancement-continuation of their biological species-life, with which they are (again, arguably) completely identical, as per Georges Bataille’ s claim that every animal is in its world “ like water in water” (1973/1989: 19). But even “ signaling ” animals, from warblers to whales, lack language in the “ vitally mortifying ” sense that is specifi c to human reality; their signals, that is, can neither separate them from nor ever become more signifi cant than their immediately animal life, whereas our signs not only can and do but must separate us from our purely corporeal existence, our simply anatomical destiny, our merely animal instincts. Unlike human desire, which must be taken literally, to the letter, animal instinct is never “ mediated by reference to Nothingness ” ( Ž i ž ek 1999: 126). Unlike us, animals don ’ t have to repress or negate some aspect of their animality in order to become or remain the animals that they are. Unlike us, animals shake off nothing of their “ real being ” in their ecstasies of communication, while we non-animal animals can be said to lose everything but our symbolic meaning — lose our sense of being (lost in) everything — when we fi rst fi nd ourselves distinctly located in language. Th is “ total loss ” as loss of totality turns us from organisms of real need , or animals of imaginary demand , into symbolically ordered subjects of desire . 2

2 If we lose our sense of being (lost in) everything by fi nding ourselves cohering as individual selves in language, then we can regain that sense only by “losing ourselves,” losing our singular and isolated sense of self-coherence, escaping our enclosure in what Nietzsche in Birth of Tragedy calls “the miserable glass shell of human individuality” (Nietzsche 1872/2006: 82). We can experience loss of self as ecstasy (sex, drugs, rock n roll, sports, mysticism, religious fervor, or some combination thereof) or as trauma (war, assault, natural disaster, animal attacks, etc.). But the line separating ecstasy from

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Now, it should be fairly easy to see how need corresponds to the organic real, how animal demand can be distinguished from botanical need, and thus how human beings are a bit closer to monkeys than we are to moss. But other than the fact that irises don’ t have eyes, what decisively links demand to the imaginary? To grasp this connection, let’ s momentarily bracket the diff erence between need and demand and consider instead the diff erence between the imaginary and the symbolic. And, to use a few terms from Freud, let’ s say that the diff erence between imaginary demand and symbolic desire involves the diff erence between “ thing-presentations ” and “ word- presentations. ” 3 As we should be able to see, both physically and psychically, “ thing-presentations ” function as visual images in a clear-cut, either/or sense — whether in perception or apperception, whether in the eye or in the mind’ s eye, a “ thing-presentation ” exists in such a way that “ now you see it, now you don’ t. ” Th ing-presentations, that is, are typically either present or absent; basically, they’ re either there or they ’ re not there. And it is in this respect that images, as thing-presentations, might be said to correspond to demand , at least insofar as demand, in Lacan ’ s book, is always “ for a presence or an absence ” (1966g/2006: 579, emphasis added). In other words, what the organism that can demand does demand of a needed or unneeded thing, of some wanted or unwanted thing-presentation, is either for it to “ be there” for the organism or for it to get the hell away from the organism. What the “ organism of demand ” most basically demands is that the image/ thing-presentation either appear or disappear, either come closer or keep its distance. Th us, barring some complex visual eff ect or tromp-l ’ œ il in which “ objects may be closer than they appear, ” thing-presentations are always

trauma is easily transgressed (when great rough sex gets too rough to stay great, or when we overdose on drugs or religious fervor and turn into fanatics, or when the drunken crowd in the “Dionysian” mosh pit or sports arena riots and “Apollonian” people get their “principles of individuation” crushed to bloody pulp). Th e point here is that “you” as a point, as a coherent self, can never return to the real as such, mainly because you were formed as a “you” by being separated from the real by the symbolic order. Like language, “you” exist, but you’re not real; if “you” were to become real, to merge with the real, “you” would cease to exist, lose your “personal identity.” Th e real, again, is always “missing persons,” and persons qua persons are always missing the real, so if anything returns to the real, it’s not going to be “you personally.” Any return to the real would involve a violation of human limits, an ecstatic/traumatic encounter with the “not-as-if of things.” Th e great benefi t of language, art, and other cultural forms of representation (high and low, tragedy and Wagnerian opera or theatrical S&M, war and horror fi lms, p*rn) is that they allow spectators to approach a close encounter with the ecstatic/traumatic “not- as-if” of the real without ever really being blown away or torn apart. So Nietzsche argues in Birth of Tragedy (minus, of course, the bit about p*rn). 3 According to Laplanche and Pontalis in Th e Language of Psycho-Analysis, these are “terms used by Freud in his metapsychological works in order to distinguish between two types of ‘presentation’—between the (essentially visual) type which is derived from things and the (essentially auditory) one derived from words” (1973: 446).

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clearly either/or — they are never both/and — for the organism of demand. Animal or infant, barking dog or squealing kid, the organism physically capable of demand is nonetheless psychically incapable of sustaining the ambiguity and/or ambivalence that the simultaneous both/and of presence/ absence demands (of us). And so here’ s the crux of the matter— very much unlike imaginary “ thing- presentations,” “ word-presentations ” are nothing but ambiguous instances of the both/and of presence/absence . To re-present Lacan ’ s and Derrida ’ s presentations of the “ absentations ” of words, a word is always a “ presence made of absence ” (Lacan 1966d/2006: 228); a meaning is always the appear- ance of the “ disappearance of natural presence” (Derrida 1967/1997: 159). A “ word-presentation ” is both a “ thing-presentation ” and a “ non-thing- presentation” at the same time. Th is both/and condition obtains for the word because, as we’ ve read, the word presents or shows itself as a thing but can never be the real thing that it names. Th us a word, rather like a king in Prince Hamlet ’ s bitingly low estimation, is always ever a “ thing of nothing. ” And the reference to Hamlet — for whom the famously soliloquized question is “ to be or not to be” — isn ’ t exactly infelicitous here:

For the signifi er is a unique unit of being which, by its very nature, is the symbol of but an absence. Th is is why we cannot say of the . . . letter that, like other objects, it must be or not be somewhere but rather that, unlike them, it will be and not be where it is wherever it goes. (Lacan 1966a/2006: 17)

Now, we should be able to recognize that real need , imaginary demand , and symbolic desire all bear on the question of the satisfactions necessary to sustain “ life ” and/or human reality. And because to be or not yet to be or not at all to be (satisfi ed) is indeed the question, we should be able to imagine how the tensions among real need, imaginary demand, and symbolic desire coordinate with the confl icts between the pleasure and reality principles that we examined in our earlier lesson. But we should also be able to understand the following distinctions among our inter-knotted trios: In the real , all living organisms have needs. Moreover, organic need can actually be completely fulfi lled . Th e orchid in the swamp, the mollusk in the shell, the fetus in the womb, can all really, naturally, or umbilically obtain amounts of nutrition vitally suffi cient to their days, however numbered, without having, or even being able, to ask. In the imaginary , some living organisms do have to ask and are quite capable of demand . Moreover, some demands can be fully met — for if demand

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is always for a presence or an absence, all things or thing-presentations can either be (seen) or not be (seen), can either be brought closer or chased away, killed off or kept at the ready. But while in the imaginary any given organism may demand a presence or an absence, once the human organism is ensconced in the symbolic, once the fl edgling human organism fi nally learns to turn its needs into nouns , what this non-animal animal gets, and gets to be, is only ever a presence made of absence— a “ letter ” (like the letter “ I ” ) that will both be (a thing) and not be (the thing that it is), wherever it (or “ I ” ) may go. And the “ letter ” in question here is of course the letter to which we ’ re taken if we “ take desire literally, ” as Lacan insists we must. Th e letter thus reveals all of human reality as not- all, as never completely here or there, as nothing but the problem of desire. Th e letter turns all incipient subjects of human reality from demanding organisms with merely real needs into symbolically ordered subjects of anthropogenetic desire. I don’ t mean that upon this transformation the subject of human reality no longer experiences any real need, or that it completely gives up on all its merely imaginary demands. I mean that in entering/following the symbolic order the subject of desire suppresses and surpasses its own real needs and imaginary demands by symbolizing them , putting them into words, taking them literally, to the letter. Only by taking its needs, its demands, and itself “ literally ” can it “ truly ” (i.e., not really ) become a subject of human reality/desire— a being driven , to be sure, but driven much less by animal instinct than by an ongoing reference to (its own) nothingness. It is not not for nothing, then, that Lacan writes that language “ grabs hold of desire at the very moment it becomes humanized by gaining recognition ” (1966d/2006: 243). For Lacan, that is, the desire for recognition, the desire of meaning, is the meaning of humanized desire. If desire is the presence of the absence of a reality, and the word is the presence of the absence of the thing, then linguistically determined or humanized reality is nothing but the appearance of the disappearance of natural presence, the presence of the absence of the real. To insist, then, that “ desire must be taken literally” is really only to reiterate our fi rst three lessons (in reverse order), to say once again that “ language is by nature fi ctional,” that “ meaning is the polite word for pleasure,” and that “ the world must be made to mean.” And having repeated these lessons as oft en as we now have, we should be better positioned to return all the way back to our “ introductory matters” and to better appreciate “ what theory does,” to better understand why theoretical writing must refl ect on “ meaning ” as a problem rather than as a given, why theory lives to denaturalize and defamiliarize the desire for meaning as the meaning of

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desire —particularly when theoretical writing gropes and grapples with the meanings of human sexual desire. OK, you might be thinking, it ’ s about f*cking time — all this “ theoretical ” chatter about “ pleasure ” and “ desire ” with only the slightest mention of “ real sex ” ! Well, yes, it is about “ f*cking time,” so to speak, and we are fi nally going to say a few words about desire in relation to “ real sex” and in relation to real death. But we ’ re going to have to let death come fi rst.

II. “ on death ”

You might have already noticed its shadow falling upon this discourse. Back in the fi rst lesson, for example, when I asked you to list everything you could think of that separates humans from, say, roosters, you might well have included “ awareness of our own mortality ” on your roster. Or maybe you got a whiff of the necrotic back when I was giving you the low-down on the pleasure principle ’ s prime directive. When you read that this principle’ s goal is to “ reduce unpleasurable tension,” to restore homeostatic quiescence, the thought might have crossed your mind that it’ s hard to be much more quiescently homeostatic than stone-cold dead . Freud himself reached the same conclusion, by which I don’ t mean that he died, though of course he did, but rather that, in his attempts to think through the problems of the pleasure principle, Freud ends up speculating on Th anatos , the unconscious death drive, which, along with Eros, the unconscious sexual drive, works to shape human psychical reality.4 Well before trotting out the couple Eros and Th anatos , however, Freud begins his great study Beyond the Pleasure Principle by addressing the phenomenon of “ repetition compulsion” and by posing the following thorny question — if the goal of the pleasure principle is to avoid unpleasurable tension and restore homeostatic quiescence, why on earth would we compulsively repeat unpleasurable activities or disquieting memories of tense or even traumatic experiences? Freud provisionally answers this question by speculating that we compulsively repeat unpleasure in the attempt to gain a sort of ideational mastery over it and so to recover our lost equilibrium,

4 According to Laplanche and Pontalis, Th anatos is the “Greek term (ϭDeath) sometimes used by analogy with ‘Eros’ to designate the death instincts; its use underscores the fundamental nature of the instinctual dualism by lending it a quasi-mythical sense. Th is name is not to be found in Freud’s writings, but according to [Ernest] Jones he occasionally used it in conversation” (1974: 446).

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fantasmatic endeavors fundamentally in keeping with the pleasure principle ’ s overriding goal. Freud bases this “ masterful ” hypothesis upon a number of clinical observations, but what particularly leads him to posit an unconscious death drive is his interpretation of a seemingly simple game played by his 18-month-old grandson, Ernst. In what is now called the fort-da game, little Ernst — a “ good boy ” who “ obeyed orders not to touch certain things or go into certain rooms ” and who “ never cried when his mother left him for few hours ” (1920/1989: 599) — would be observed (by Freud) fooling around with a wooden reel tied to a piece of string. Th e child would repeatedly throw the reel away while holding onto the string, making urgent staccato sounds (rendered in the text as “ o-o-o-o ” ) that for Freud approximated the fully fl edged German word fort , meaning “ gone. ” Th en, typically, Ernst would pull the reel back in and greet “ its reappearance with a joyful ‘da ’ ” [ ‘ there ’ ]. “ Th is, then, was the complete game — disappearance and return ” (1920/1989: 599). And, in Freud’ s view, the “ interpretation of the game” is, at least initially, “ obvious ” :

It was related to the child ’ s great cultural achievement — the instinctual renunciation . . . he had made in allowing his mother to go away without protesting. He compensated himself for this . . . by himself staging the disappearance and return of the objects within his reach. (1920/1989: 600)

But this interpretation, if obvious, is also complicated for Freud by the fact that Ernst sometimes throws the reel away without reeling it back in. Th is repeated pattern of disappearance and no return contradicts any purely happy reading of the ludic reel as unambiguously representing an unam- bivalently desired maternal object (since Ernst would ostensibly always want that object back, constantly da rather than ever distressingly fort). As Freud explains:

Th e child cannot possibly have felt his mother ’ s departure as something agreeable or even indiff erent. How then does his repetition of this distressing experience as a game fi t in with the pleasure principle? It may perhaps be said in reply that her departure had to be enacted as a necessary preliminary to her joyful return, and that it was in the latter that lay the true purpose of the game. But against this must be counted the observed fact that the fi rst act, that of departure, was staged as a game in itself and far more frequently than the episode in its entirety, with its pleasurable ending. (1920/1989: 600)

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Now, the fact that in the observed performances of the fort-da game, the fort s sometimes outnumber the da s leads Freud to posit “ another motive ” behind the Liebestod dler ’ s staged loss of the reel.5

At the outset he was in a passive situation— he was overpowered by the experience; but, by repeating it, unpleasurable though it was, as a game, he took on an active part. Th ese eff orts might be put down to an instinct for mastery . . . But still another interpretation may be attempted. Th rowing away the object so that it was ‘ gone ’ might satisfy an impulse of the child ’ s which was suppressed in his actual life, to revenge himself on his mother for going away from him. In that case it would have a defi ant meaning: ‘ All right, then, go away! I don ’ t need you. I ’ m sending you away myself. ’ (1920/1989: 600)

Freud ’ s interpretation of this pint-sized revenger’ s tragedy subtly connects “ play ” in the ludic sense, as game , to “ play ” in the literary sense, as dramaturgy (note the references to staging, fi rst acts, taking on parts, etc.). And the main piece of dramatic literature Freud has in mind here is pretty obviously Oedipus , for the evidence of Ernst ’ s being a “ good boy ” includes his never crying when his mother goes away and his obeying orders not to “ go into certain rooms ” (forgive me, if you possibly can, but one has only to imagine Fudd rather than Freud reading that line to get the Oedipal gist of which chambers Ernst has been symbolically ordered not to go back into).6 Somewhat less obviously, but perhaps no less Oedipally, the fort-da also plays out the whole three-act drama of real need, imaginary demand, and symbolic desire. Th e game thus leads us, as it led Freud, to the death drive, to the radical idea that “ an instinct [or drive] is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things ” (1920/1989: 612) and to the fateful conclusion that “the aim of all life is death” (1920/1989: 613). We are taken to this conclusion literally— that is to say, fi guratively. For fi gurative language allows us to suggest that the earliest “ state ” of little Ernst ’ s big ocean of “ things ” is immersed in the real (if only by virtue of the hom*onymic coincidence that

5 I claim full responsibility for this atrocious word “Liebestoddler,” which mashes up the English “toddler” with the German “Liebestod,” or “love-in-death” (taken from Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde)—all the better to adumbrate Freud’s argument that the desire for love and the desire for death are disturbingly merged in the playful dynamics of the little boy’s fort-da. 6 “Loony Tunes” cartoon character Elmer Fudd, hapless hunter and principal adversary of Bugs Bunny, is represented as having a speech impediment that causes him to pronounce “rabbit” as “wabbit,” just as Ernst in Beyond the Pleasure Principle is represented as pronouncing “front” as “fwont” (1920/1989: 600). Th e really bad Oedipal joke here is that in a Fuddian/Freudian reading the word “room” would sound like “womb.”

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one of these things is in English called a reel). If the aim of the death drive is to return to an “ earlier state of things” that resembles being in the real, then, we might argue, Ernst expresses his desire to return himself to the real when he returns the reel to himself. We might also argue that Ernst “ masterfully ” manipulates the real reel both to vocally register imaginary demand (for an absence or a presence, a fort or a da ) and to aggressively negate real need (as in the puny and punitive ad-lib “ all right, then, go away! I don’ t need you ” ).7 But what separates Ernst’ s anthropogenetic antics with the reel from a puppy’ s fetching a stick or a kitten’ s toying with a piece of string is the fact that in Freud’ s reading this reel means something other to the boy than what it really is . In this sense, the reel is symbolic, and as we are signifi cantly told, the “ good boy” manipulates this symbolic object all the better to compensate himself for the very “ instinctual renunciation” by which he becomes “ good ” in the fi rst place, by which he becomes un demanding, able to allow “ his mother to go away without protesting ” (1920/1989: 600). But it takes more than throwing real things around in the play-pen to turn imaginary demand into symbolic desire— it takes, so to speak, a fi gurative ink - pen , the magical “ wand ” of words, to perform that anthropogenetic trick. For what’ s actually decisive in the fort-da game is not any physical manipulation of real objects but rather the way little Ernst must literally “ write ” his way out of the real, must linguistically designate his own relationship to any real object ’ s disappearance and return. To “ literally ” free himself from the here and now, Ernst must irrevocably bind his fate to that of the letter. In other words, whatever he may or may not have in his mitts, nothing will be anthropogenetic for Ernst until language grabs hold of the nib of his desire. And, to tell the truth, anthropogenesis just isn’ t going to be happening for Ernst until it fi nally occurs to him to lie— to fabricate, to make stuff up, make the real “ go away,” to turn his back, as it were, on “ the not-as-if of things.” For it really is as if language will have “ truly ” grabbed hold of Ernst ’ s desire only when he becomes a playful liar, a bit of a poet, a ludic little “ man of letters” (even if the fi rst letters attributed to him are but the compulsively repeated revelations of an emptiness, an empty set of naughts, a meager series of zeroes

7 To grasp how Ernst’s physical manipulation of the reel expresses imaginary demand, we can note two details. Th e fi rst is that when Ernst plays fort-da with the reel, he throws the object “over the edge of his curtained cot, so that it disappear[s] into it” (1920/1989: 599). Signifi cantly, the game of disappearance/reappearance stresses the visual over the tactile. Th e second detail is that Ernst would sometimes be observed playing fort-da or “Baby o-o-o-o” with his own image in a mirror, “the child had found a method of making himself disappear. He had discovered his refl ection in a full-length mirror which did not quite reach the ground, so that by crouching down he could make his mirror-image ‘gone’ ” (Freud 1920/1989: 599n2).

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strung together in a hyphenated line — “ o-o-o-o ” ).8 Only when simulation and dissimulation become vital sources of stimulation— only when he realizes that he doesn ’ t have to have a thing in his little hand to give birth to a da , or that he can at any time let out a fort without having cast out any actual reel — does little animal Ernst “ literally” begin becoming human. But Ernst enters human reality not simply by using words — presences made of absence — to designate the tangible alternation between presence and absence that he himself causes. No, Ernst liebestod dles into the big empty house of fi ction, the world of desire — becomes, again, fi guratively speaking, human, a non-animal animal at the mercy of language— only when he accepts that it is fi guratively speaking , not really having, not really being, that constitutes the only true “ habitat for humanity” in which he or we will ever meaningfully live. In this interpretation, it is only ever language that builds what Martin Heidegger calls “ the house of being” (1947/1977: 193), only ever the “ world of words that creates the world of things” (Lacan 1966d/2006: 229).9 Th is world, the only world there is, must always be made to mean, and “ to mean ” must always mean to lose real things, to lack real being— in other words, to desire . But I ’ ve yet to toss out a compelling interpretation of how this interpreta- tion of desire relates to the death drive. To grasp this relation, we need to return, not to an earlier state of things but to some earlier statements about nothing— specifi cally, to Kojè ve ’ s neat description of desire as the “ revelation of an emptiness, the presence of the absence of a reality ” (1947/1980: 5) and to Ž i ž ek ’ s assertion that “ for Lacan, human desire (in contrast to animal instinct) is always, constitutively, mediated by reference to Nothingness ” (1999: 126). Taking these lines of thought literally, we can better comprehend

8 How many o’s does it take to make a fort? In Freud’s fi rst inscription of Ernst’s approximation of the German word for “gone,” there are four letters, or four instances of the same letter: “o-o-o-o.” But in a second inscription, there are, perhaps not insignifi cantly, only three—as Freud reports, “When this child [Ernst] was fi ve and three-quarters, his mother [Freud’s beloved daughter Sophie] died. Now that she was really ‘gone’ (o-o-o), the little boy showed no signs of grief” (1920/1989: 599n2). What to make of this emotional no-show, of the fact that here, in Freud’s writing, one lower- case “o”—which can already be read as a zero, a hole, a sign that something’s missing—is itself quite conspicuously missing, no longer “da”? Insofar as that “o” might be read as representing the departed Sophie (not for the son Ernst, who showed no signs of grief, but for the bereft father, Freud), we might speculate that by letting that “o” be “gone” from his writing, by himself staging the absence of a particular presence made of absence, the “philosopher” Freud is showing by not showing the very sign of his grief—“o.” 9 Although some theoretical writers, like Derrida, consider Heidegger to be terribly impor- tant, and despite the clear relevance to the present discussion of Heidegger’s notion of “being towards death,” I am omitting any further mention of Heidegger’s philosophy in this book for this simple reason—I really really hate Heidegger. I’ve just never been able to get past the whole business of his having been a Nazi. Concerning Heidegger’s Nazism, see, for example, Farias (1991). For what passes for a critique of Derrida’s “retention” of Heidegger, see the chapter on Heidegger and Derrida in Th omas (1996).

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not what desire literally is (because it literally isn ’ t any thing ) but rather the way desire formally works (with “ formally ” here meaning without regard to any particular content, any specifi c object of desire). Formally, then, if there is desire, if desire exists , if desire is “ present, ” then some reality or object of desire must be absent. If the desired reality weren’ t absent, then desire wouldn’ t be present— the desideratum’ s “ full presence” would spell desire’ s complete cancellation. Desire as emptiness, as nothingness, would necessarily terminate itself in its utter fulfi llment. Th us, in the purely formal sense, the desire of desire must be to end itself, to cancel itself out, as desire. By defi nition, then, desire desires to kill itself; structurally, desire desires suicide, and so on. But if there ’ s something structurally and constitutively “ self-destructive ” about the desire of desire, there ’ s also something animatedly “ self-protective ” about it as well. Desire, that is, may very well desire to end itself, but at the same time desire desires to sustain itself, to go on and on, to continue to make its presence felt by literally “ staying hungry,” by remaining insistently empty, dissatisfi ed, discontent ed, constantly deferring or negating or “ sending away” the absent but approaching “ reality ” whose fully satisfying presence would inevitably bring desire to its (un)desired conclusion. Desire in this sense desires to keep playing fort/da — it is nothing but the longing to keep on longing to reach the end, the longing to keep on longing to grasp the thing at the end of the line. Formally, then, desire “ literally ” self-perpetuates by putting off its ending, by only ever circling but never seizing its object, remaining the garrulously active revelation of its own emptiness or nothingness or restless discontent. It is in this sense that desire can be confl ated not simply with “ death ” or “ the dead” but, more strictly speaking, with the death drive . And the vital irony of the death drive involves this very discrepancy between merely “ being dead ” and actively “ being death ” — the tension between, on the one hand, the idea of “ death ” as necrotic state , as passive stasis , an “ earlier ” state of things where we all “ eventually ” end back up (ashes to ashes, womb to tomb), and on the other hand, the idea of “ death ” as an eternally destructive, “ reicidal ” force that actively negates all things (I take the word “ reicide ” from “ reify, ” from the Latin res, for “ thing ” ) but just keeps going and going because it’ s always already “ nothing ” itself and negates everything but itself. Death in the latter sense is actually quite lively — it apparently “ lives ” forever. Th is “ death ” can never ever die, which is why we rarely personify “ Death ” as unlucky stiff or motionless cadaver— we imagine “ Death ” as the grimly active reaper, never one of the grimly reaped . Now, we might desire to grimly read the diff erence between death and death drive, between being dead and being death , as the diff erence between

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an “ earlier state of things” and our active (albeit unconscious) desire to return to that “ state. ” Or, to put the death/death drive diff erence in somewhat more “ literary ” terms, we might think of it as the distinction between “ lying in state ” and lying through our teeth . We might read the desire to return to an “ earlier state of things” as a desire to return to the real, to the “ not-as-if of things ” that all run together, a desire to dissolve that isolated and desiccated residue called “ the self ” back into the greater “ sea of yolky enjoyment ” ( Ž i ž ek 1992: 40) that we fondly remember as lost oceanic feeling. But the law of language can only ever tear us away from real dissolution; the law can only ever say “ no, not really” to the yolky enjoyment of the not-as-if of things. Real death— not the active death drive but the passive state of dissolution— would be the only conceivable result of language ’ s becoming really real, of its no longer lying, of its ceasing to be fi ctional and fatally merging with the real. Stirred to the only life it knows by its “ no ” to the real, language can stay alive only by keeping the real at a distance, maintaining its actively destructive stance toward the thing. “ All right, then, go away! I don ’ t need you. ” Such “ reicidal ” labor — the very work of antiphysis — is the ludic, liberatory, and transformative “ fi ction writing ” that makes and keeps all human reality (all too dishonestly) human. Let ’ s remember, though, that, in the interpretation of desire being pushed here, it is not language per se but language ’ s specifi c and “ vitally mortifying ” fi ctiveness that allows us to confl ate it with symbolic desire and the death drive, that arguably sets it (and us) apart from natural need, corporeal demand, animal instinct, or any merely “ biologically determined” method of “ communication ” between physical bodies (those of “ the birds and the bees,” for example). As we learned in Lesson Th ree, language is constitutively fi ctional both at the level of the solitary word and in the sequential or “ narrative ” dimension of the sentence. At the level of the word, language is fi ctional because of the word’ s necessary separation from and negation of the thing. Literally, the word both lacks and kills the thing. Th is linguistic “ reicide ” is what leads Lacan to refer to words as “ lethal symbols ” (1966d/2006: 249), what compels him to comment upon “ the profound relationship uniting the notion of the death instinct to the problems of speech” (1966d/2006: 260), what causes him to insist both that “ the symbol fi rst manifests itself as the killing of the thing, and [that] this death results in the endless perpetuation of the subject ’ s desire ” (1966d/2006: 262). Taken literally, however, desire tends to be perpetuated mainly in the form of sentences , seldom in random strings of murderous words but more typically in grammatically organized and syntactically ordered patterns of meaning that are, again, arguably narrative in structure. As suggested in the previous lesson, every completely predicated, grammatically correct sentence “ tells a story, ” narrates an action, features a beginning, middle, and end, and so on. But insofar

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as they do participate in narrative, sentences also implicate themselves in the death drive, for, like the beginning of any well-told story, the beginning of any minimally well-craft ed sentence presupposes its ending and literally provokes a reader ’ s desire for closure, her desire for “ the end.” According to this interpretation of desire, we “ readers ” at a very basic level want the same “ thing ” from our sentences, our stories, and our lives— that by the time we reach their and our conclusions, they and we will have “ totally ” meant something.10 But believe it or not, this notion that we all desire to obtain a satisfying sense of “ totality ” or “ completion ” from syntactical, narrative, and auto- biographical “ closure ” is what fi nally connects “ the problems of speech” to the problem of . . .

III. “ sex ”

If taking desire “ literally ” means anything at all, it means interpreting language and sex as the same knot ty problem — to take desire literally means to read all language as “ sexual ” and all human sexuality (the avian and the apian won’ t count for much in this discussion) as linguistically rather than biologically determined. As befi ts an argument based on linguistic determinism, what justifi es this theory of linguistic sex qua sexual linguistics is neither empirical research involving microscopic investigation of physical, chromosomal evidence nor exhaustive ethnographic research quizzing every child, woman, and man in the history of the world about the minute particulars of their actual “ sex lives.” Rather, what justifi es the assertion that human sex is (and has always been) a problem of speech, and that speech itself is (and has always been) a sexual dilemma, is the purely etymological “ fact ” that the English word “ sex ” comes from the Latin secare , meaning “ to cut. ” Because the word “ sex ” shares its root, so to speak, with other “ cutting ” words (scission, scissoring, sectioning), the “ meaning of sex” can be said to involve nothing but “ coming to terms ” with “ the cut ” of materialist language, in which not just “ sex ” or “ scissors ” but all words in all languages are (strictly speaking) serrated.11

10 Th is interpretation was fi rst and most famously developed by Peter Brooks in the essay “Freud’s Masterplot,” in which Brooks employs Beyond the Pleasure Principle to confl ate our desire for narrative closure with the death drive. 11 Of course, not all languages derive from Latin, nor is it likely that the word for “sex” in each and every language in the history of the world derives or derived from some primordial word for “cut.” But these historicist objections are actually quite immaterial to the properly structuralist argument that antiphysis, this reicidal “cut” or lacerating “no to the real” that I’ve been yammering about in these lessons, is not simply a “secondary characteristic” of one or more languages but is rather the condition of possibility for human language (and human sexuality) as such.

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For here, the sexual “ cut ” is to be read as nothing but the “ no to the real ” that initiates (us into) the symbolic order, tearing us away from the here and now, turning our oceanic world of runny things into a more sharply defi ned world of articulated phrases, routing our polymorphous perversity through the defi les of unimorphous normality, and so on.12 Just as Marx alerts us to the fact that “ to be radical means to grasp things by the root ” (1844/1978: 60), so too a radically linguistic account of human sexuality holds that language cuts us off at the natural root, scissors or sections us away from the real, tears us a new hole— castrates, so to speak, every one of us who manages to speak , regardless of any merely anatomical origin or destiny.13 While actual castration in the “ anatomically correct” sense would seem to make it impossible for some people to really “ have (a) sex, ” symbolic castration — always articulated, never anatomical — is for Lacan the very condition of possibility of “ sex ” of any kind for everybody— yes, everybody. For if human sexuality can be described in the universal terms of a desire for some form of erotic merger, union, or more-or-less lubricated orifi cial friction between one desiring/desired body and some other(s), then this description presupposes a division between such “ bodies and pleasures,” however infi nitely varied they all might be (for if there were no division, no separation, there would be no desire to speak of). Human sexual desire thus presupposes a certain incompletion or “ missingness” ; it presupposes our being “ cut off ” from others with whom we were “ originally ” merged, from others to whom, mythically or umbilically, we were “ originally ” attached — others back into whom we would like ourselves to melt, others up against whom we would like to rub ourselves or some part of ourselves again (and again).14 In other words, in contrast to

12 Freud characterizes infantile sexuality as polymorphously perverse, which means that for the infant erotogenic stimulation comes from many diff erent sources and that its various component drives are not yet fi xed in relation to any orifi ce or object. For Freud, the infant’s polymorphous perverse disposition entails an original bisexuality and is part of what the child loses when subjected to the social prohibitions that produce “unimorphously normal” erotic experience/fantasy/object choice. 13 Toril Moi ends her splendid essay “Is Anatomy Destiny?: Freud and Biological Destiny” with this observation—“psychoanalysis is a form of thought that attempts to understand the psychological consequences of three universal traumas: the fact that there are Others, the fact of sexual diff erence, and the fact of death. Freud might have said that it is our destiny to have to fi nd a way to coexist with others, to have to take up a position in relation to sexual diff erence, and to face death. To say so is not evidence of biological or any other kind of determinism” (2000: 88). I would add that Lacan might have said that language is the universally traumatic condition of possibility for all three of these “universal traumas,” that language is our specifi cally human way of coexisting with others, of taking up positions in relation to sexual diff erence, and of facing up to death. 14 In one of the richer moments in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud turns to “myth rather than . . . scientifi c explanation” to trace “the origin of an instinct to a need to restore an earlier state of things” (1920/1989: 622). Aft er having dwelt at tedious length on the topic of germ-cell division, Freud abruptly trots out “the theory which Plato put into the

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animal instinct, human sexual desire presupposes a sort of “ personological ” discontinuity with the totality of “ things [that] at fi rst run together in the hic et nunc of the all” (Lacan 1966d/2006: 229); it presupposes a radical separation not only from designated “ others ” but, back behind them, and more primordially, from that anonymous “ sea of yolky enjoyment ” that both “ resists symbolization absolutely ” (Lacan 1975/1991: 66) and saturates our earliest experience-of-ourselves-as-everything in the undiff erentiated real. Note that in this interpretation of desire, Eros and Th anatos are disturbingly indistinguishable. Th e two become “ as one, ” so to speak, insofar as both the erotic and the thanatical can be imagined as a single drive, “an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things ” (1920/1989: 612). Just as all desire, regardless of particular object or orifi ce, is structurally suicidal, always urging self-cancellation, so, as Lacan comments, “ every drive is virtually a death drive” (1966h/2006: 719). Th is interpretation of desire thus couples the idea that “ ‘the aim of all life is death ’ ” with the notion that the aim of all sex is jouissance . 15 In this interpretation, both Eros and Th anatos aim to dissolve themselves into their “ others. ” Both desire to erase the boundary that separates each into its own discontinuous confi nes. But what if this boundary demarcating “ the limits of the human ” person were initially nothing but the “ no to the real, ” the no to nondiff erentiation, that fi rst installs any speaking subject into the symbolic order? If “ the moment at which desire is humanized is also that at which the child is born into language” (Lacan 1966d/2006: 262), then the initiating law of language dictates that words must be separated from real things in order to symbolize them, that signifi ers must be divided from signifi eds in order to join together

mouth of Aristophanes in the Symposium, and which deals not only with the origin of the sexual instinct but also with the most important of its variations in relation to its object. ‘Th e original human nature was not like the present, but diff erent. In the fi rst place, the sexes were originally three in number, not two as they are now; there was man, woman, and the union of the two . . .’ Everything about these primeval men was double: they had four hands and four feet, two faces, two privy parts, and so on. Eventually Zeus decided to cut these men in two . . . Aft er the division had been made, ‘the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and threw their arms about one another eager to grow into one’ ” (1920/1989: 622–3). Note how in this myth whoever is subjected to the sexual drive desires to return to a state before “the cut.” Note also how neatly the myth accounts for variations in regard to sexual object—accounts, that is, for male and female hom*osexuality and heterosexuality for we obviously should read the three sexes in the mythic time “before the cut” not as “man, woman, and the union of the two,” but as man–man, woman–woman, and man–woman. 15 Jouissance is a “French term derived from the verb jouir,” to enjoy, to play, and to come. Jouissance “denotes an extreme form of pleasure: ecstatic or org*smic bliss that transcends or shatters one’s everyday experience of the world” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 211). Jouissance thus relates to la petite mort, or “the little death,” as French writers have been known to refer to org*sm.

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and become signs. Th is law decrees that the very letters comprising signs must be separated from each other, must not occupy the same space at the same time, so that each individual letter might be “ more productively” organized and combined with other letters in properly spaced, grammatically correct, normatively sequential and thus socially consequential ways. In this “ legal ” interpretation of human desire — in which all merely “ animal instinct” is always already trumped by a “ law ” that isn’ t simply “ of the jungle” — language structures and enforces the anthropogenetic social norms that make all versions of human reality everywhere possible. For Lacan, however, the most rudimentary law and most constitutively social norm that language enforces is the “ paternal prohibition” against incest . As we rehearsed in the preceding lesson, the “ no to the real ” that separates words from things is for Lacan structurally analogous to the “ Oedipal ” law that separates moms from their spawn. Just as a word cannot immediately merge with the real thing that it names but must “ wait ” to be combined with other words in order to form a grammatically correct and complete sentence, so the child cannot “ merge ” with its real mother as illicitly desired sexual object but must wait to grow up in order to be legally “ combined ” with some more appropriate “ other ” in a institutionally sanctioned matrimonial alliance. Intimately bonding syntax to kinship, Lacan marries the syntactical rules that establish which linguistic combinations are permitted and which are proscribed to the sexual regulations that establish which erotic combinations are legally recognized or encouraged and which are abominated, reviled, or (in some cultures even capitally) punished.16 As Lacan insists:

Th e primordial Law is . . . the Law which, in regulating marriage ties, superimposes the reign of culture over the reign of nature . . . Th e prohibition against incest is merely the subjective pivot of that Law . . . Th is law, then, reveals itself clearly enough as identical to a language order. For without names for kinship relations, no power can institute the order of preferences and taboos that knot and braid the

16 In 2010, for example, the government of Uganda, aft er hosting a series of anti-queer talks by visiting American “evangelicals,” got to work proposing “a bill to impose a death sentence on hom*osexuality” (see “Aft er US Evangelicals Visit, Uganda Considers Death for Gays,” Th e New York Times, 4 January 2010, A1). In 2011, however, “aft er receiving overwhelming criticism from across the globe, Uganda’s Parliament . . . let the time expire on a contentious anti-hom*osexuality bill that had threatened this East African country’s international standing. Th e Anti-hom*osexuality Bill sought to impose the death penalty for a number of reasons, including being a ‘serial off ender’ of the ‘off ense of hom*osexuality.’ Th e bill also called for Ugandans to alert the government to known cases of hom*osexual behavior within 24 hours. Religious leaders said they had obtained more than two million signatures in support of the measure” (“Antigay Bill in Uganda is Shelved in Parliament,” Th e New York Times, 14 May 2011, A4).

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thread of lineage through the generations. And it is the confusion of generations which, in the Bible as in all traditional laws, is cursed as being the abomination of the Word and the desolation of the sinner. (Lacan 1966d/2006: 229 – 30)

But, outside of the fact that some infractions of the sexual laws of a given society are punishable by execution of the desolate “ sinner, ” how might these syntactical/sexual analogies relate to the death drive?17 As it turns out, they are quite intimately related, for, in a sense, all three ( Eros, Logos, and Th anatos ) involve our old friend — perhaps our oldest friend— antiphysis ; all three involve the initial and ongoing separation from the real “ reign of nature” that is human reality’ s “ cultural ” condition of possibility; all three intimately involve the social question of the various ways in which we must psychically deal with this physical separation. Let ’ s pause to consider this intimate involvement in the light of the distinction between the physically impossible and the socially prohibited. As we learned in Lesson Th ree, it is physically impossible for the word “ elephant ” ever to be an elephant, or for the word “ moonlight ” ever to be moonlight. Analogously, it is physically impossible for “ the little animal produced by the union of a man and a woman” to “ unproduce ” itself back into that woman, to disappear up into its mother ’ s womb, to physically re-occupy that “ real place” with the entirety of its miraculously re-fetalized body (umbilicus reattached, placenta stuff ed back in to boot, all needs met before they can even be experienced as needs, much less turned into demand or desire, and so on). Both of these “ mergers ” (word with thing, tot with mom) are physically impossible, not just socially prohibited — in other words, there ’ s no “ law ” imposed from elsewhere, the “ repeal ” of which could allow these events to transpire. Ontheotherhanditisphysicallypossibleforanexperimentalwritertoun- separatewordsandlettersandtoomitpunctuationaltogetherandyetstill- havewrittensomethingmoreorlessreadablealbeitnotwithoutsomediffi- culty. It is even physically possible, in some graphic media, to “ do away” altogether with the spaces separating individual letters (like, say, the letters i, n, k, s, t, a, i, and n), so that they all can be made to occupy the same space at the same time. Nothing physically prevents a writer from “ experimen tally ” superimposing in one single space all the letters in an

17 I refer in the fi rst part of the sentence not only to legally sanctioned hangings of convicted “sodomites” in early modern Western Europe, and the stoning to death of hom*osexuals that is permitted under some contemporary Islamic law, but also to the extralegal (but still ideologically encouraged) murder of hom*osexuals and transsexuals in the United States (Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena, for recent historical examples).

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independent clause— such as, for example, “ the word for ink-stain is ink- stain ” — thus breaking the “ law ” that “ says ” that individual letters “ must ” be divided from each other. Such a real merger is prohibited (by the symbolic order) but not impossible . Our “ experimental writer ” will have really taken these letters down, transgressively merging one with another, aggressively destroying the discrete individuality of each; s/he will have really negated the prohibitory “ no to the real, ” the no to “ sexual ” undiff erentiation, that makes “ normal ” human reality possible. But the end result of this scoff -law experimental writing will be only a real but unreadable stain, a dark spot of abjection, a traumatic/ecstatic blotch marking the “ place where mean- ing collapses ” (Kristeva 182: 2).18 In other words, our experimental writer ’ s “ ink-stain ” will have achieved being a real ink-stain but only at the expense of ever legibly meaning “ ink-stain ” or anything else at all. Analogously to this botched experiment in transgressive writing — it is quite possible to really break the law against incest and actually “ return to the mother ’ s womb ” by having honest-to-god sexual intercourse with said mother, whether “ wittingly ” or not.19 Th e trouble here, however, is that our “ wits ” are constituted in such a way— through socio-normative regulations and prohibitions— that to really and wittingly have sex with our own mothers could very well cause us to lose them (our wits, that is). If the very structural coherence of consciousness is established through being made to mean, through an ordered separation from or loss of the real, then to lose the loss of the real and re-merge with it could mean to lose ourselves, lose our meanings, lose our minds. In other words, overcoming the social prohibition against incest, negating this particular form of the prohibitory “ no to non- diff erentiation” that initiates human reality, may very well be physically possible , but it may not be psychically viable.

18 From the Latin abjectus, meaning “cast out,” abjection involves the acts of psychic, social, and corporeal exclusion and expulsion by which symbolic order, cultural identity, and personal hygiene are maintained. Th e abject, writes Kristeva, is thus that which “disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules” (1981: 3). Th us “fi lth, waste, pus, bodily fl uids, the dead body itself are all abject,” for “the abject represents what human life and culture exclude in order to sustain themselves” (Childers and Henzi 1995: 1). 19 Oedipus was unwittingly incestuous, had no idea that Jocasta was his mother when he was once again inside her. Nor does Hamlet seem to know what he’s asking with the line “How stand I, then, that have a father kill’d, a mother stained?” (IV.iv.58–9). Ambiguously mixing possession with commission, this line is usually taken as the clincher for the Oedipal interpretation of the play, for though Hamlet is consciously stating the obvious—that he has a father who has been killed (poisoned, by Claudius) and a mother who has been “stained” (inseminated, by Claudius)—Hamlet inadvertently owns that he himself has done the killing/staining in his unconscious.

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Now, since the adjective “ viable ” relates to life and the liveable— the word literally means “ capable of living outside the uterus ” — what the preceding examples suggest is that neither experimental ink-stain nor accomplished incest can be a viable subjective or “ authorial ” enterprise. Literally speaking, one might say that both spell death, the collapse of conventional meaning . In other words, “ incest ” might be read as a name for “ the place where meaning collapses,” but insofar as the word “ incest ” itself remains a legible name for that unspeakable stain, a “ lethal symbol” that can be used to murder that murderously meaningless “ place ” from a distance, the word “ incest ” is not that place, says no to the “ primal scene” of undiff erentiation.20 In other words, the word “ incest ” can mean incest, can designate whatever incestuous desire we might unconsciously harbor, but the word “ incest ” can never fi nally be incest — and we have nothing but the “ sexual ” cut of the symbolic order to thank for that. But let ’ s fl esh these analogies out a bit by considering a few pieces of fi ction that thematize incest as symbolic death-match, watery silence, structural collapse, and so on. At the end of Poe’ s “ Th e Fall of the House of Usher,” for example, Roderick Usher ’ s “ eroto- thanatical ” tussle with his own freshly “ unencrypted ” sister precipitates the crumbling collapse of his “ House ” (a gothic mansion of a metaphor for both his psyche and the Usher “ family line” ) — at the moment of narrative climax, the whole show fi ssures and falls back into the miasmic “ tarn ” from which it seems to have emerged. In Faulkner’ s Th e Sound and the Fury, the suicidal Quentin Compson— obsessed with temporality, mortality, and thoughts of having sex (or of claiming to have had sex) with his sister Caddy — takes a little time before drowning himself in the Charles River to think “ If I’ d just had a mother so I could say Mother Mother” (1929/1984: 197). But if I were to rewrite Quentin’ s line to let it support the interpretation of desire being developed here, I would have him think instead, “ If I’ d just really had mother, I never would ’ ve had to say Mother, not even once. ” For if Lacan is correct to say that the prohibition against incest “ reveals itself clearly enough as identical to a language order, ” then it ’ s the fact that Quentin has to say “ Mother ” — is ordered to symbolize Mother, to put her and everything else into words, to “ matri-reicidally ” mean her rather than uninterruptedly be with her — that keeps him from ever “ really ” having “ had ” her in the fi rst place. If he had never been separated from that “ fi rst place,” he wouldn’ t have to think about

20 Normally in Freud’s discourse the phrase “primal scene” refers to the real or imagined observation of one’s parents having sex. I am misusing the term here by letting it represent the image of one’s having sex with one’s parent.

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tossing himself into the body of water that fi nally substitutes for it. If he had just had Mother, had never been expelled from the oceanic/maternal real, he wouldn ’ t have had to say Mother or anything else at all.21 But of course the symbolic order insists that we all do “ have to say.” Even if we don’ t all get to have our say, “ our say” is, in this interpretation of desire, all we ever really get to have, all we ever really get to be. Th e linguistic “ limits of the human ” ensure that we never really get to be but must always be made to mean . It is nothing other than the radical unavailability of being to meaning that guarantees that desire must be taken literally. As whorish as it all may seem to Prince Hamlet, this interpretation of desire tells us why we can only ever unpack our hearts with words.

IV. “ and interpretation”

Now, I keep unpacking my theoretical heart with the words “ in this interpre- tation of desire” because, in this interpretation of desire, “ desire, in fact, is interpretation itself ” (Lacan 1973/1981: 176). In fact, my own heart ’ s desire at this juncture is nothing but to marry Lacan’ s matter-of-fact statement about desire ’ s being “ interpretation itself ” to Nietzsche ’ s radical claim that there are no facts, only interpretations.22 In other words, the “ fact ” that I have been

21 You can add Usher’s tarn and Quentin’s river to your list of bodies of water that represent “self-destructive” immersions in the oceanic real. You can also throw (yourself) in Buff alo Bill’s bathtub in Th e Silence of the Lambs. In Jonathan Demme’s 1991 fi lm, Buff alo Bill (Ted Levine) is a serial killer and all-too-real gender-bender who “wears” the skins of his female victims. He also sports lipstick and eye-liner and poses “self-castratedly” naked in front of a mirror, penis tucked between his legs, etc. When FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) ventures into the killer’s basem*nt, she obeys the literary/cinematic convention that misreads unconscious as subconscious and compels the protagonist to enter some subterranean space in order to confront her own unconscious fears and desires. And what Clarice fi nds in the cellar is of course a horrifi c scene of sexual undiff erentiation, a place where meaning has collapsed because the primordial “cut” separating the symbolic from the real, life from death, one sex from the other, has been inhumanly “sutured.” Th e money-shot of this sequence comes when Clarice beholds a bathtub fi lled with some “unspeakable” dark gunk, from which protrudes what appears to be the “iceberg” tip of a submerged skull. Th is tank is of course the acid bath in which Buff alo Bill dissolves the remains of his victims, and it is the last hideous thing Clarice sees before the lights go out and she loses herself in the darkness. A good cinematic example of the bad oceanic feeling, the sequence does a neat job of depicting the ecstatic/ traumatic “kernel” of the real. 22 In Th e Will to Power, Nietzsche writes, “Against positivism, which halts at phenomena— ‘Th ere are only facts’—I would say: No, facts are precisely what there are not, only interpretations. We cannot establish any fact ‘in itself’—perhaps it is folly to want to do such a thing . . . In so far as the word ‘knowledge’ means anything, the world is knowable;

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giving this account of desire in a language that is by nature fi ctional means that what I am off ering here is not “ the truth ” about desire, but “ merely ” an interpretation. And yet, as Nietzsche would have it, any competing set of truth-claims about desire can’ t fi nally amount to anything more or other than interpretation, either. For in this interpretation, there is no empirical, objective, or absolute “ truth ” about desire or about anything else in human reality to be had; there is only ever a potentially infi nite set of competing, more or less engaging, more or less lively — but never anything other than perspectival— interpretations. Of course, it may come as no surprise to read that what you’ re reading here purports to be nothing more than an interpretation, given from a particular perspective, and not an objective report on absolutely axiomatic conditions. But if reading this stale news leaves you unsatisfi ed, wanting more — not because you want fresher revelations but because you are at heart a reader who hungers aft er timeless truth and aren ’ t likely to be content with “ trendy ” artifi ce — then you may already have an unconscious sense of what links interpretation to desire (and hence, to sex and death). For what, one might ask, is “ interpretation itself” if not the revelation of a certain emptiness, the presence of the absence of certainty or fi nality, the limning of one ’ s lack of some satisfyingly conclusive explanation? And what would we want “the truth ” to be if not the fi nal answer to all our interpretive prayers, the explanation to end all explanations, the “ absolute knowledge ” that would bring the restless activity of interpreting to its fi nal destination? But here, our “ prayers ” can pretty much be damned — for in “ the end, ” our actively “ interpreting the text ” of human reality must presuppose that some fi rm and fi nal knowledge of its signifi cance will always remain missing . Th e phrase “ interpreting the text ” of course implies our wanting to know “ the truth ” about it, wanting to know exactly “ what it all means.” But what does “ wanting to know ” mean except not knowing? And what would knowing “ t h e truth ” or the “ total meaning ” of anything mean if not being in a state of no longer wanting to know, no longer desiring, no longer interpreting, no longer restlessly reading ?

but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no [single] meaning behind it, but countless meanings.’ ” (1901/1968: 267). Anticipating this theme in “On Truth and Lies in a Non- moral Sense,” Nietzsche writes, “What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensifi ed, transferred, and embellished, and which, aft er long usage, seem to . . . be fi xed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions” (1873/2006: 117).

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Paradoxically, then, Roland Barthes knew exactly what he was talking about when he wrote that “ literature is the question minus the answer. ”

What do things signify, what does the world signify? All literature is this question . . . but it is this question minus its answer. No literature in the world has ever answered the question it asked, and it is this very suspension which has always constituted it as literature. (1964/1972: 202).

And because Barthes is, ironically enough, perfectly correct — “ literature ” is the right answer to the question of the missing right answer— literary interpretation might be read as the very “ restlessness ” of the active death drive itself. However, such articles of faith or kisses of death as “ the answer, ” “fi rm knowledge,” “ unshakeable belief” in “ absolute truth,” etc., could be considered the anti -literary tropes par excellence , representing the necrotic “ state of things” that interpretation may think it desires to restore (since interpretation ostensibly “ wants to know, ” wants to have knowledge) but which interpretation may “ literally ” want to defer. In other words, active interpretation ceaselessly puts off possessing the knowledge it supposedly wants to have because the vital process of interpretation ends , cancels itself out, when its “ revelation of emptiness” fi lls itself up (with satisfying “ truth ” ); interpretation dies when the restless negativity of being death settles into the pure positivity of being dead certain, being dead right. In a literally literary interpretation of desire, then, desire desires only desire, not absolute knowledge; interpretation interprets only interpretation, minus fi nal answers, minus the honest truth. Now, I have written the words “literary interpretation” above as if there were some other kind. But if we buy Derrida ’ s interpretation that “ fi ctional” language has “ invaded the universal problematic” and everything become “ discourse ” (1966/1978: 280), if we subscribe to Lacan’ s interpretation that all human “ desire must be taken literally ” and that “ desire, in fact, is inter- pretation itself” (1973/1981: 176), then might we not also want to submit ourselves to the interpretation that all interpretation is literary, fabricative, creative writing? If the beating heart of any interpretation must be unpacked with words, expressed in language that is by nature fi ctional, then might not “ interpretation ” be most richly interpreted as an aesthetic rather than veridical or moral phenomenon, a strong exercise in the art of the sentence emerging from a strong aversion to any honest-to-god “ truth ” ? Interpretation, in this radically Nietzschean interpretation, wouldn ’ t desire the intuition of “ truth ” or the acquisition of “ knowledge ” ; it wouldn’ t want answers at all but rather the strength to live without fi nal answers so as to proliferate more engaging fi ctions about fi ction in a world that must be made to mean.

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I call this interpretation Nietzschean because it was Nietzsche’ s radical claim that “ only as an aesthetic phenomenon are existence and the world justifi ed” (1872/2006: 58). Well before Freud or Lacan got around to it, it was Nietzsche who fi rst interpreted interpretations as matters of life and death (drives), as particularly dense transfer points for libidinal energy and relations of power. It was Nietzsche who fi rst framed the arts of interpretation as perversely erotic, even sadomasoch*stic, but in any event always richly aesthetic endeavors, and it was Nietzsche who correspondingly considered the “ will to truth” as an austere and impoverishing form of priestly asceticism , a pacifying renunciation of interpretation grounded in a rancorous hostility to sensuality, to art, to sex, to violence, to “ life ” itself. Perhaps the fi rst philo- sopher wise enough to love fi ction more than “ wisdom, ” it was Nietzsche who fi rst desired to call the value of “ truth ” into question and who fi rst connected the epistemological drive, the “ will to truth,” to the “ will to death. ” 23 For Nietzsche, there is neither “ absolute truth” nor “ divine will,” only competing and “ all too human ” interpretations. All interpretations are humanly “ embodied, ” situated in individual perspectives, and all perspectives are contingent upon, and determined by, the relative strength or weakness of the interpreter ’ s “ will to power ” or “ instinct for freedom. ” Th e relative strength or weakness of any interpreter ’ s “ will ” depends in turn upon the type of “ instinct for freedom” it expresses in relation to “ life ” interpreted as perpetual change or becoming , as a (not exactly painless) process of self- transformation— the ecstatic, self-shattering, “ Dionysian ” reality of creatively human suff ering. Nietzsche, that is, pretty much endorses the Buddha ’ s fi rst “ noble truth,” that “ life is painful,” but he veers away from Buddhism or any other “ world religion ” in terms of the question of what to do with or about the pain. For Nietzsche, strong interpretation not only “ takes the pain” but eagerly uses it to express itself as the instinct for freedom for “ life ” as perpetual becoming , while weak interpretation fl ees the pain, fl inchingly expresses an instinct for freedom from “ life, ” conducts itself as a “ spiritual retreat ” into hypostasized being . A strong or “ noble ” interpretation “ masoch*stically ” enjoys the pain of vital self-transformation, fi nds a constitutively aesthetic “ happiness in great tension ” (1886/2006: 356); a weak or “ slavish ” or “ herd ”

23 In Book V of Th e Gay Science, Nietzsche writes that the “will to truth . . . might be a concealed will to death” (1887/2006: 364); in Genealogy of Morals, he writes that truth-driven ascetic idealism entails the “renunciation of any interpretation (of forcing, adjusting, shortening, omitting, fi lling-out, inventing, falsifying and everything else essential to interpretation),” and that “on the whole, this [renunciation of interpretation] expresses the asceticism of virtue just as well as any denial of sensuality (it is basically just a modus of this denial). However, the compulsion toward it, that unconditional will to truth, is faith in the ascetic ideal itself, even if as an unconscious imperative” (1887/2006: 431).

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interpretation, however, fi nds its “ promise of happiness” only anesthetically , in conventional “ truth ” or the congregationally “ fi xed idea” (1887/2006: 396) and in whatever “ slackening of tension ” (1887/1992: 474) such “ fi xings” can provide. Rather obnoxiously, at least from our contemporary perspective, Nietzsche frequently depicts the diff erence between “ noble ” and “ slave ” moralities, between strong and weak modes of interpretation, in explicitly gendered, racialized, or nationalized terms. More interestingly and productively, however, Nietzsche, anticipating Freud, also suggests that this “ prepositional ” confl ict of interpretive wills — desiring freedom for life vs. desiring freedom from it — can obtain within a single individual ’ s psyche.24 Now, the idea that a mode of interpretation can be grounded in an instinctual desire for “ freedom from life” allows Nietzsche to link a certain type of interpretative “ will ” to the death drive. But Nietzsche also appreciates the diff erence between death drive and death itself; he understands the diff erence between active and passive annihilation. Nietzsche thus posits that although the “ will to truth . . . might be a concealed will to death” (1887/2006: 364), even the weakest will in the world “ still prefers to will nothingness than not will ” (1887/2006: 435). In other words, though interpretive desire may desire to complete or “ end itself” as desire, it also desires to perpetuate itself as interpretive desire, as the continuing revelation of emptiness, as an ongoing “ reference to Nothingness” (Ž i ž ek 1999: 126), an indefi nitely literal and literary suspension . Little wonder, then, if, aft er Nietzsche, the “ essential incompleteness of interpretation ” becomes one of the most prominent “ postulates of modern hermeneutics, ” as Michel Foucault writes in the essay “ Nietzsche, Freud, Marx. ”25 Foucault suggests that in Nietzsche’ s work in particular “ it is clear that interpretation is always incomplete. ”

What is philosophy for him if not a kind of philology continually in suspension, a philology without end, always farther unrolled, a philology that would never be absolutely fi xed? Why? As he says in Beyond Good and Evil, it is because “ to perish from absolute knowledge could well form part of the basis of being.” (1967/1998: 275)

24 In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes, “Th ere are master moralities and slave moral- ities. I would add at once that in all higher and more complex cultures, there are also apparent attempts to mediate between the two moralities, and even more oft en a confu- sion of the two and a mutual misunderstanding, indeed sometimes even their violent juxtaposition—even in the same person, within one single breast” (1886/2006: 356). 25 Hermeneutics is generally understood as “the study of understanding” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 201), is generally interpreted as “the theory of interpretation in general” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 132).

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In Foucault ’ s strongly Nietzschean interpretation, any strongly Nietzschean interpretation refuses to fi x meaning or be fi xed by it; such an interpretation declines “ to perish from absolute knowledge. ” Rather, interpretation in the Nietzschean mode suspends and sustains itself, persists in perpetually becoming rather than fi nally or completely being (itself), and it pulls off this hat-trick of modern hermeneutics by reveling in language’ s vital but brutal fi ctionality . In Foucault ’ s “ violent ” interpretation of Nietzschean violence:

Interpretation can never be completed . . . quite simply because there is nothing to interpret. Th ere is nothing absolutely primary to interpret, for aft er all everything is already interpretation, each sign is in itself not the thing that off ers itself to interpretation but an interpretation of other signs . . . so that it is as much a relationship of violence as of elucidation that is established in interpretation. Indeed, interpretation does not clarify a matter to be interpreted, which off ers itself passively; it can only seize, and violently, an already-present interpretation, which it must overthrow, upset, shatter with the blows of a hammer. (1967/1998: 275)

Interpretation “ with a hammer ” enacts its “ will to power ” against certainty, against the fi xity of non-fi ction, against the self-cancellation of desire, against reifi cation, positivism, or any absolute truth. Th is interpretive desire expresses — and always in a language that is by nature fi ctional, always in words that negate real things, always in symbols that are reicidally “ lethal ” (Lacan 1966d/2006: 249)— an instinct for freedom for rather than from “ life ” :

Th e death of interpretation is to believe that there are signs, signs that exist primarily, originally, actually, as coherent, pertinent, and systematic marks. Th e life of interpretation, on the contrary, is to believe that there are only interpretations. (Foucault 1967/1998: 278)

In the end, then, taking desire “ literally ” requires a suspension— not of disbelief, but of belief itself; for if taking desire literally requires “ believing ” that there are, originally and ultimately, only all-too-human interpretations, it also requires believing that this very belief is “ only ” an interpretation as well. But while this interpretation of interpretation is, no doubt, radically atheistic, it is not an expression of so-called “ nihilism ” ; rather, believe it or not (and if you’ re trained to believe that atheism equals nihilism, then you ’ ll probably not), radically incredulous interpretation maintains itself as a way of overcoming nihilism, as a way of saying yes to “ life ” — or at least to what Nietzsche calls “ everything strange, unusual, and questionable ”

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(1887/2006: 368) in the interpretive experience of life.26 For Nietzsche, and for Foucault, the “ death of interpretation” (and hence of desire) would indeed be the wages of believing “ in the absolute existence of signs” (Foucault 1967/1998: 278), of believing that such signs can actually ground objective knowledge, faithfully represent absolute truth, fi nally decipher the real ’ s big secret, and so on. Th is faith in some fi rm and fi nal signifi cance, in what Derrida calls “ the transcendental signifi ed ” (1966/1978: 280), expresses a weak interpretation that completely “ abandons the violence, the incom- pleteness, the infi nity of interpretations” (Foucault 1967/1998: 278). Faith in the “ transcendental signifi ed ” signifi es a spiritual retreat from “ life ” — it enacts or “ wills ” a veritable “ freedom from life. ” But the “ life ” of “ faithless ” interpretative desire, as the perpetual revelation of human (and cosmic) emptiness, as the ongoing reference to our own nothingness, the perpetual presence of the absence of the answer— as, in other words, literature — involves affi rming that signs only ever signify more and other signs. In this interpretation, saying “ yes ” to this “ life ” means nothing but affi rming that “ everything is [always] already interpretation” (Foucault 1967/1998: 275). Ultimately, then, taking desire literally involves affi rming human reality as a montage of the imaginary and the symbolic, as a rich tapestry of ambiguous and confl ictual fi ctions— suspended over the void. To affi rm (rather than bemoan) this “ empty ” or “ aesthetic ” reality means learning, with Nietzsche and other bad company, to savor the unsettling of sedimented ways of making sense of the world, to affi rm that it is “ only as an aesthetic phenomenon [that] existence and the world [are] justifi ed ” (Nietzsche 1872/2006: 58). Such affi rmation involves refusing the comforts of fi xed meaning, swearing off absolute knowledge, swearing to tell anything but “ the truth,” lying with a good conscience, even dancing at the edge of the abyss. It involves nothing less and nothing more— and, for Nietzsche, nothing more becoming of a “ free spirit ” — than affi rming “ life as literature. ”27

26 Overcoming nihilism for Nietzsche means getting over the “death of God,” getting over “monotonotheism,” getting over one’s disappointment and hurt feelings that an interpretation turned out not to be the one—“One interpretation has collapsed, but because it was considered the interpretation, it appears as though there is no sense in existence whatsoever, as though everything is in vain” (1887/2006: 386). For Nietzsche, our overcoming nihilism and affi rming life mean our allowing “the world [to] become ‘infi nite’ for us all over again, in as much as we cannot reject the possibility that it may include infi nite interpretations” (1887/2006: 379). 27 In Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche designates “art” as the realm “in which lying sanctifi es itself and the will to deception has good conscience on its side” (1887/2006: 431–2). In Gay Science, Nietzsche writes that “one could conceive of such a pleasure and power of self- determination, such a freedom of the ‘will’ that the spirit would take leave of all faith and every wish for certainty, being practiced in maintaining himself on insubstantial ropes and possibilities and dancing even near abysses. Such a spirit would be the free spirit par excellence” (1887/1974: 289–90). “Life as Literature” is the subtitle of an excellent book on Nietzsche by Richard Nehamas (1987).

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But taking desire literally also involves affi rming or asserting oneself as literature, accepting one ’ s own “ textual anthropogenesis, ” reveling, so to speak, in the revelation of one ’ s own emptiness, the referential nothingness of subjective desire. Not that there ’ s anything particularly self-assuring about such “ self-relating negativity” (Ž i ž ek 2006: 64). Indeed, affi rming one ’ s own textual condition or symbolic castration takes a sort of existential courage, or perhaps just a strong sense of irony, a willingness to put the self at risk, if only by virtue of not being co*cksure about identity, not taking one’ s own or anyone else ’ s dead-seriously. Perhaps taking desire literally requires taking all identity ironically, for both forms of “ taking ” require that we “ recognize ourselves as always already altered by the symbolic — by language ” ; both forms invite us to “ hear in language that basic incompleteness that conditions the indefi nite quest of signifying concatenations. ” Taking desire literally, taking identity ironically, affi rming “ life as literature, ” interpreting the self as text — all these linguistic endeavors fi nally add up to nothing but “ joying in the truth of self- division ” (Kristeva 1982: 89), engaging in the work of antiphysis, the violent art of self-transformation. As Foucault puts it in “ Th e Minimalist Self ” :

For me intellectual work is related to what you could call aestheticism, meaning transforming yourself . . . I know that knowledge can transform us, that truth is not only a way of deciphering the world (and maybe what we call truth doesn ’ t decipher anything) but that if I know the truth I will be changed . . . Th is transformation of one’ s self by one’ s own knowledge is, I think, something rather close to the aesthetic experience. Why should a painter work if he is not transformed by his own painting? (1983/1988: 14)

Or, to change the medium, but not the self-divisive aesthetics of the experience in question, why should writers desire to write if “ writing ” isn ’ t actively interpreted “ as the very possibility of change ” (Cixous 1975/2007: 1646)? Why would we ever fi nd ourselves dying to write if we didn’ t think we were going to be transformed, turned on and torn apart— literally — by our own writings?

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Four:

need/demand/desire, Eros/Th anatos, fort-da, polymorphous perversity, jouissance, abjection, hermeneutics

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— or, I (think, therefore I) is an other

I. Missing persons, bodies in pieces

Unlike Jesus in the popular bumper-sticker slogan, theory doesn’ t love you. Th eoretical writing is of course keenly concerned with the social, psychic, and political processes that allow or compel you to become a “ you ” or me to become an “ I. ” But theoretical writers generally don’ t believe in any real “ you ” or “ I ” ; they don ’ t believe in any essential or abiding core of identity for any one of us, don’ t believe that there’ s some truly “ true self” trapped within, lurking behind, or fl oating above these socio-symbolic processes. “ Anti-identitarian ” theorists never claim that “ we ” don’ t exist at all, you, and I; rather, they argue that none of us ever manages to abide in the purely self- identical, fully self-present way that we might be pleased to think. Given our irreducibly linguistic and representational condition, we can never quite seamlessly coincide with ourselves; we are always “ extimately ” alienated “ strangers to ourselves, ” always more or less or, in any case, other than what we (might like to) think (of ourselves). But just so we ’ re clear — in this interpretation, it ’ s not as if anyone of us ever originally possessed some naturally “ true self ” back in the day, some organic or authentic identity that we managed to lose through some blunder, trauma, or trespass, some historical misfortune, social injustice, or original sin, an essentially “ real core of self ” that ’ s somehow been highjacked by malign forces and that we might actually recover some bright dawn through therapy, prayer, meditation, heroic intellectual eff ort, divine intervention, spiritual retreat, or worker ’ s revolution. No, sorry, fat chance of help for one ’ s “ true self ” from any of those redemptive quarters — in this interpretation “ you are not yourself,” you’ ve never been yourself, and you’ re never going to be yourself, no matter what. So you might just as well get over it. Now, this last piece of theoretical advice may seem cynically fl ippant, less sage than sour. For “ alienation ” is commonly recognized as a genuinely human malaise, a source of considerable human suff ering. And according

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to no less of a theoretical writer than Th eodor Adorno, “ the need to lend a voice to suff ering is the condition of all truth ” (1966/2007: 17 – 18). But truth be told, this seemingly cynical counsel about our self-alienation— that maybe we should just get over it — might also be taken as well-intended, user- friendly, even generously meant. Th is “ anti-identitarian ” idea of constitutive and irreparable “ loss of self” could even be taken as a sort of “ glad tidings,” as an invitation to throw off the burdens and constraints of consistent self- identity. In other words, the “ ontological bad news ” (Butler 1987/1999: 198) that we’ ll never really get to be ourselves, you, and I, is off set by the more promising assurance that we don’ t have to really be ourselves either (given that there ’ s never been any “ real self ” for any one of us to be). At the end of the day, the ardent identity-busters of “ anti-humanist ” theory aren’ t simply callous misanthropes indiff erent to personal suff ering or spiteful nihilists who think nothing valuable about anyone ’ s humanity has ever been damaged or denied through assault, addiction, objectifi cation, state-sanctioned violence, terrorist attacks, alienated labor, religious intolerance, racial oppression, colonial subjugation, the predations of consumer capitalism, or any other indisputably real source of humanly caused human misery— theorists just don’ t think it’ s some inherently “ true self” that gets banged up on these avenues of immiseration. And actually it’ s oft en in the interest of protecting or enhancing our potential for self-transformation— for developing richer and suppler modes of human agency, dignity, creativity, well-being, and freedom— that theoretical writers resist or reject the notion of the absolutely “ true self.” For, on this view, there’ s already been enough damage done to human life in the service of mandatory selfh ood; there’ s already been enough impoverishment of human reality in the name of compulsory identity. So while “ the need to lend a voice to suff ering” may well be “ the condition of all truth, ” as Adorno proclaims, the actual articulation of specifi cally theoretical “ truth, ” as Fredric Jameson describes it, “ must always be accompanied by the shock of defamiliarization and demystifi cation, and of the revelation of repressed or forgotten realities ” (Jameson 2006: 369). And the shocking revelations that must always accompany radically theoretical truth-claims must also come as pain-causing kicks in the pants for our reifi ed common sense, our clarifi ed understandings of identity, our oldest and strongest feelings of familiarity with ourselves and our surroundings. Th eoretical truth-tellers, then, demote or deride “ the true self ” — and stress identity’ s contingency and fl uidity (as opposed to its necessity and stability ) — for a whole host of ethical, political, aesthetic, or even secularly “ spiritual ” reasons. Because they discern ideology busily working behind the scenes of all “ identitarian ” imperatives, theoretical writers see liberatory potential in hatching new strategies for subverting, abusing, or otherwise defamiliarizing

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and demystifying “ identity. ” Th eoretical writers, that is, suspect that it ’ s invariably some representative of the “ regulatory regimes” of “ the Political Father” that encourages you to “ be yourself” or commands you to “ be all you can be ” (to quote an old recruiting slogan for the United States Army); they suspect that it ’ s always some instrumental agent of the normalizing law that demands to see your dog-tags, your identity papers.1 So the question of whether and how successfully you can “ play tag ” with yourself and produce “ your papers” before the law is always already political. But because the name-game of “ identity politics” does involve the production of “ papers ” (or, in the broadest “cultural ” sense, of writing , of inscribing and re-inscribing ourselves into our various “ documents of civilization” ), the question of what it means to be (or not to be) “ all you can be” is always already “ literary ” to boot.2 Our purpose in this lesson is to investigate why this is the case. Or better, our purpose in this lesson is to consider how a “ literary ” response to the “ political ” question of our being or not being “ really and truly ” ourselves — a response that, as “ literary, ” is necessarily ambivalent , mixing anxiety and exhilaration as well as memory and desire — relates to both Adorno ’ s and Jameson’ s truth-claims about “ truth. ” 3

1 In “Imitation and Gender Insubordination,” Butler writes that “identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes . . . the normalizing categories of oppressive structures” (1991/2007: 1707). In Th e Pleasure of the Text, Barthes writes that “Th e text is . . . that uninhibited person who shows his behind to the Political Father” (1975: 53). But the patriarchal fi gure being mooned here is for Barthes not necessarily your own personal daddy but rather whoever or whatever attempts “to fi x meaning.” Th us, for Barthes, the uninhibited text “liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fi x meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases—reason, science, law” (1968/1977: 147). 2 With the phrase “documents of civilization,” I’m alluding to the title sentence of our seventh lesson (which concerns the fates of literary formalism)—Walter Benjamin’s axiom “Th ere is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (1950/1968: 256). As for the term cultural, in his essay on “Culture” in Critical Terms for Literary Study, Stephen Greenblatt characterizes culture as “a system of constraints” and describes cultivation as “the internalization and practice of a code of manners” (1995: 227). Noting that in literary studies the concept of culture is “closely allied” to that of ideology, Greenblatt writes that “the ensemble of beliefs and practices that form a given culture function as a pervasive technology of control, a set of limits within which social behavior must be contained, a repertoire of models to which individuals must conform” (1995: 225). Th e use- value of “culture” for literary studies involves recognizing that “Western literature over a very long period of time has been one of the great institutions for the enforcement of cultural boundaries through praise and blame” (1995: 226). 3 Since both Adorno and Jameson are resolutely Marxist intellectuals, both of their truth- claims about truth are consciously and conscientiously “political.” But while Adorno’s straightforward stance on the “condition of all truth” is morally or ethically political, Jameson’s description of what must accompany the practice of “truth” is, one might argue, aesthetically or poetically political as well, not because the claim itself is particularly beautiful or aesthetically pleasing, but if only because of the way the claim couples those

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Taken in full, this lesson ’ s title is a mash-up of three sentences, one from a contemporary feminist visual artist, one from a seventeenth-century rationalist philosopher, and one from a nineteenth-century symbolist poet. Th e title ’ s fi rst words— “ You are not yourself” — are taken from a 1983 Barbara Kruger photograph, upon which they appear prominently and in Kruger ’ s trademark futura bold italic font. Th e “ subject ” of the photograph is a woman’ s face refl ected in a broken mirror. A densely reticulated circular shape appears in the top portion of the frame, and lines of fracture radiate from this point of presumably violent impact (perhaps the woman threw some blunt object at the mirror, or perhaps she hit it with her own forehead in anger, frustration, or disgusted self-hatred). Th e letters of the words “ You ” and “are ” are scattered across the top of this scene of disintegration, those of “ yourself ” are strewn about the bottom, while the three comprising the word “not ” are positioned in a straight line at the exact center of the visual space. Th e photograph positions its spectator, you are looking at it, as the “ You ” addressed in its textual overlay, so that in viewing this shattered image, you are prompted to see “ yourself ” in and as the fragments of the woman, of this “ other ” who — unless you just happen to be she who posed for the

unsightly terms “defamiliarization” and “demystifi cation.” Th e fi rst term, as we’ve read in this book’s introductory chapter, and as we’ll consider more fully in Lesson Seven, hails from the poetics of the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky; this “lit-crit” term also relates to the “alienation eff ects” intentionally wrought upon the audiences of the theatrical productions the German Marxist dramatist Bertholt Brecht. But the term “defamiliarization” is also quite relevant to the philosophical hammerings of Friedrich Nietzsche, who, as we read in the previous lesson, issued the famously “anti-moral” and paradoxically “anti-veridical” truth-claim that “only as an aesthetic phenomenon are existence and the world justifi ed” (1872/2006: 58)—and who for this and other reasons isn’t exactly a Christian or Marxist saint. As for “demystifi cation,” that critical procedure has pretty much been the prime directive of all rational “Enlightenment” thinking since Kant, and it remains an indispensible weapon in the Marxist arsenal for any assault against “false consciousness.” And if reifi cation is still the principal method of “mystifyingly” maintaining “false consciousness” within the ideological machinations of late capitalism itself, “demystifi cation” would have to equal “dereifi cation” for Jameson and would have be a crucial aspect of theory insofar as theory must involve our “attempt to dereify the language of thought” (2009: 9). But here, returning to this lesson’s focus on “personal identity,” is the rub, the point of seeming tension between Adorno’s stance and Jameson’s. Many people, particularly among the global poor and working class, the dispossessed and wretched of the earth, utterly depend upon forms of mystifi cation and reifi ed “false consciousness” to make their suff erings bearable—they depend, in other words, on faith, on religion, on a strongly familiarized sense of self-identity recognized by parents, priests, and despots, blessed by a benefi cent deity, etc. Such people do not “suff er” from reifi ed “false consciousness” so much as they enjoy and benefi t from it, psychically and spiritually. To subject such people to abrasively dereifying, defamiliarizing, and demystifying revelations or “truths” would surely only increase their suff erings. And so if Adorno’s “lending a voice to suff ering” is taken to mean alleviating

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picture — is “not ” exactly you. As for the imaginary woman, she isn ’ t quite herself either. Nor does she seem to be particularly “ joying in the truth of self- division” (Kristeva 1982: 89). Her expression sorrowed, her gaze downcast, a teardrop clinging to a piece of broken glass, “ she ” appears to be looking not at you or “ You ” or even at her own face within the frame but down and out, past “ yourself , ” perhaps at her own body, not shown, or perhaps at some missing shard of refl ection that has fallen away from the frame and which “ gives her back” some tiny piece of “ herself ” from the fl oor. At bottom left , there’ s a disconnected hand with polished fi ngernails, presumably hers, shown holding a mirror-fragment like a piece of jigsaw puzzle. A sliver of white space just below the hand-held fragment brings it into relief, suggesting that the hand is either pulling this piece of glass away or attempting (in apparent futility) to put it back in place, to restore the broken mirror to something resembling wholeness. If you were looking at this photograph as I at this very moment am — not on the wall of a gallery or in a book or on a computer monitor or cellular screen but while holding it as a postcard between the thumb, middle, and index fi ngers of your own left hand, with the index extended along the card’ s edge— then your own hand would, like mine, be visually replicated

suff ering, protecting wretched suff erers from even more pain than they already feel, then in this case compassionately hiding or withholding theoretical “truth” automatically becomes the “condition of all truth.” But this seeming tension or paradox is actually an old problem in Marxist theory, one solved in advance by Marx himself—for just as he insists that “the point” is not simply to interpret the world but to change it, so the early Marx writes that the political objective of critique or demystifi cation is not simply to destroy people’s illusions, but to destroy or abandon or otherwise change “a condition that require illusions” (1844/1978: 53). Religion, as Marx quite famously opines, is “the opium of the people” (1844/1978: 54), and while, again, “the need to lend a voice to suff ering” may be “the condition of all truth” for Adorno, “the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism” (1844/1978: 54) for the early Marx. But the point of lending a voice to suff ering is not simply to off er the suff erer a comforting fi x, any more than the point of criticizing religion is stoically to “just say no” to all spiritual narcotics and deny oneself and everyone else the “promise of happiness” they provide. Rather, as Marx writes, “Th e abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of [people], is a demand for their real happiness. Th e call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions” (1844/1978: 54). “Criticism,” Marx continues, “has plucked the imaginary fl owers from the chain, not in order that [people] shall bear the chain without caprice or consolation but so that [they] shall cast off the chain and pluck the living fl ower. Th e criticism of religion disillusions [people] so that [they] will think, act and fashion [human] reality as [humans] who have lost [their] illusions and regained [their] reason” (1844/1978: 73). Th e question that will be taken up by Nietzsche and his non-Marxist followers (like Foucault) involves the extent to which life itself might be a condition that for humans absolutely requires illusions, requires art, much more than it demands or even involves “reason” or “truth.” Th e question for Nietzsche is whether all the thinking, acting, and fashioning of human reality of which Marx speaks aren’t ultimately aesthetic (rather than moral, rational, or veridical) phenomenon. We’ll be returning to this question.

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by that of the woman in the photograph itself. Perhaps this replication implicates us in what Walter Benjamin calls “ Th e Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, ” since what we hold and behold is not the “ original ” artwork, imbued with a quasi-sacred “ aura ” of singularity, but the “ same ” work in its cheaply mass-reproduced commodity form.4 But this “ manual ” and “ digital ” reproduction (of our own hands and fi ngers) can also raise the unsettling question of whether we “ consumers ” of contemporary art can ever masterfully “ hold ” this little picture (like little Ernst holds his reel in the fort-da ) or whether “ the picture” is not holding “ us, ” framing us, containing us, taking us in, cutting off some little piece of You yourself —mon semblable!— that none of us will ever get back (together with) again.5 Kruger ’ s photograph, then, achieves its alienating eff ects by implicating its viewers and readers in the “ self-shattering ” message that it both verbally delivers and visually enacts— You are not yourself . And so Kruger’ s piece of jagged edginess not only provides us with the fi rst sentence of our lesson’ s titular mash-up but also leads us nicely (if that’ s the appropriate word) to Lacan’ s essay “ Th e Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience.” For the fi rst paragraph of Lacan’ s most famous écrit features a discursive fragment of the second portion of the present lesson ’ s title. Here, Lacan writes of a certain “ experience ” — an early experience of constitutive “ misrecognition ” or m é connaissance — that sets psychoanalytic theory “ at odds with any philosophy directly stemming from the cogito ” (1966b/2006: 75). Cogito is of course short-hand for Ren é Descartes ’ slogan cogito ergo sum , “ I think, therefore I am, ” the “ root ” statement of logically self-refl ective self-certainty from which modern Western rationalist philosophy is usually considered to stem. Th e “ experience ” of which Lacan speaks, however, involves that fateful historical moment in which the human

4 Writing in the 1930s about photography and cinema as serious but accessible popular arts, Benjamin argues that in the artwork in the modern age suff ers disenchantment as it gains democratic mass appeal. In modernity, Benjamin says, art loses its aura, both its elitist, aristocratic associations and its hallowed connection to religious ritual. While in the past some paintings were not publically displayed but kept locked away in cathedrals to be seen by only a few, a Hollywood fi lm is of course produced to be viewed by as many as possible. And while today one might still want to make a quasi-religious pilgrimage to, say, the Prado in Madrid to see the Picasso’s “Guernica” in all its horrifi c and “auratic” splendor, no one would go out of her way to see the original print of the latest installment of Star Wars or Saw. Indeed, with cinema, one might even forego traveling to the radiant multiplex and just wait to have the DVD delivered in the mail with the rest of the junk. 5 “Mon semblable!” is thrown in as an allusion to “Hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable— mon frère!” (hypocrite reader, my twin, my brother), the line from “To the Reader” in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil) that Eliot appropriates in Th e Waste Land.

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infant fi rst apprehends its “ self, ” fi rst feebly “ grasps ” its “ own ” image, in an “ anthropogenetically ” refl ecting surface.

Th is event can take place . . . from the age of six months; its repetition has oft en given me pause to refl ect upon the striking spectacle of a nursling in front of a mirror who has not yet mastered walking, or even standing, but who — though tightly held by some prop, human or artifi cial (what, in France we call a trotte-bé b é ) — overcomes, in a fl utter of jubilant activity, the constraints of his prop in order to adopt a slightly leaning forward position and take in an instantaneous view of the image in order to fi x it in his mind. (1966b/2006: 75 – 6)

Now, our initial questions about this little piece of theatre— Lacan refers to a mirror stage to invoke theatrical performance rather than to designate some “ organic ” phase or natural plateau of human psychic development— are these: Why does it prompt Lacan to oppose “ any philosophy directly stemming from the cogito ? ” How does Lacanian speculation about the psychic consequences of baby’ s fi rst mirror experience disrupt the Cartesian equation of epistemological activity ( “ I think ” ) with ontological self- certainty ( “ therefore I am ” )?6 What is it about the formation of the “ I function ” through what Lacan calls “ homeomorphic identifi cation” (1966b/2006: 77) that will eventually lead him to make mincemeat of the cogito in the following manner?

I am thinking where I am not, therefore I am where I am not thinking. Th ese words render palpable to an attentive ear with what elusive ambiguity the ring of meaning fl ees from our grasp along the verbal string. What we must say is: I am not, where I am the plaything of my thought; I think about what I am where I do not think that I am thinking. (1966e/2006: 430)

Finally, why would a clinical psychoanalyst like Lacan — ostensibly devoted to “ the healing arts, ” to the therapeutic project of reducing human suff ering, making people “ feel better” about themselves— develop such a painfully bewildering style of writing as what we witness here, a “ violent ” style that produces in the reader what Jane Gallop calls a “ great malaise, ” an aggressively

6 Epistemology is “the branch of philosophy that is concerned with theories of knowledge” (Childers and Henzi 1995: 98), while ontology, “literally translated as ‘the science of being,’ ” involves “the study of existence itself” (214). In regard to the cogito, Childers and Henzi point out that “Descartes’ formulation ‘I think, therefore I am,’ while a statement of ontology or being, is also fundamentally epistemological” (98).

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disintegrative style that causes the typical reader “ to feel non-identical to herself as reader ” (1985: 117)? We can address these questions only by continuing to read, however that activity may make us feel. And if our feeling upon attempting to come to terms with Lacan (or any diffi cult theoretical writer) is anything but placidly oceanic— provoking more alienation than jubilation, more unease than self- confi dent calm — then our sensations of readerly malaise, of self-divisive dis-ease, may be related to what Lacan considers the infant’ s experiences of ambivalence and misrecognition when it fi rst appears to itself (as an other) upon the mirror stage, on “ the threshold of the visible world ” (1966b/2006: 77), when it fi rst begins to subject its sense of being-in-the-world to the articulated process by which “ the specular I ” or imaginary ego “ turns into the social I ” (1966b/2006: 79), the subject of the symbolic order. Perhaps Lacan ’ s writing provokes the reader ’ s malaise and alienation all the better to illustrate the point that “ malaise and alienation” are the subjective conditions of reading and writing as such , to better illuminate the poet Artur Rimbaud ’ s grammatically deformed observation (and this is the third source of our lesson’ s titular pastiche) that “ Je est un autre ” — “ I is an other ” (1871/1966: 304). Perhaps Lacan’ s style makes the reader feel non-identical to herself as reader because his writings “ can be understood only in reference to the truth of ‘ I is an other, ’ less dazzling to the poet ’ s intuition than it is obvious from the psychoanalyst ’ s viewpoint ” (1966c/2006: 96). For Lacan, then, the problem with “ any philosophy directly stemming from the cogito ” is that such refl ection remains oblivious to this dazzlingly defamiliarizing “ truth. ” Just as Freud (and Nietzsche before him) objected to rationalism ’ s reduction of all psychic activity to intentional consciousness, its indiff erence to unconscious motivations and desires (particularly its own), so Lacan opposes the cogito ’ s seemingly seamless equation of epistemology with ontology, of meaning with being. For Lacan, as we’ ve read, the thinking subject may very well desire to be , but it is required , instead, to mean , ordered to symbolize; meaningful thinking — for all the reasons belabored in previous lessons — always entails a lack or dislocation of complete being. To mean means not really, fi nally, or fully to be . So for Lacan it can ’ t be the case that “ I think, therefore I am.” What the case must be, rather, is that “ I think [cognitively participate in meaning only] where I am not [that is, in the symbolic, where I must lack completely real being] . . . I am not [that is, I lack completely real being] where I am the plaything of my thought” — which is nowhere else but in the symbolic. Th e ecstatic “ truth of self-division ” that Lacan and I are driving at here involves the irreducible “ splitting of the subject,” our unavoidable separa- tion and alienation from ourselves in language . Linguistic self-estrangement

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is unavoidable for Lacan, and for you and I, because (1), like you, I have no “ I ” to speak of unless I can speak of it, and (2), I can speak and think of myself only by discursively splitting myself in two, scissoring myself, on the one hand, into the subject who performs the speaking and thinking and, on the other, into the potentially losable object — the elusive “ ring ” or “ plaything ” — of my “ own ” speech and thought. Whenever I put myself into play; whenever I put myself into words (as I must , if I want to participate in human reality); whenever I say, think, or otherwise mean “ I, ” I inevitably (albeit unconsciously) end up with more than one “ I ” (an embarrassment of r Iche s ). I am thus put into the position of having to play the game of fort-da with myself, or at least of having to open myself, playfully or pain- fully, to the division between signifi er and signifi ed, the gap between what I say I am and what I think I mean. Lacan, being Lacan, exacerbates this crack, this fi ssure, and throws a handsawed bit of Hamlet into the breach, by thinking to ask:

Is the place that I occupy as a subject of the signifi er concentric or eccentric in relation to the place I occupy as subject of the signifi ed? Th at is the question. Th e point is not to know whether I speak of myself in a way that conforms to what I am, but rather to know whether, when I speak of myself, I am the same as the self of whom I speak. (1966e/2006: 430).

For Lacan, the only valid responses here are: (a) eccentric, and (b) not the same. Because I is an other, you are not yourself — all of which means, among other things, that our mutual friend “ the cogito ” just isn’ t going to cut it anymore, at least not “ directly, ” and certainly not aft er “ the linguistic turn ” in the human sciences, not aft er “ language invaded the universal problematic and everything became discourse ” (Derrida 1966/1978: 280). But let ’ s return, you and I, to the moment of the mirror stage, an “ imaginary ” event which does seem to complicate the cogito to no end but which would also seem to be a scene of cognitive “ jubilation ” rather than discursive alienation. As we ’ ve read, Lacan describes the infant at/upon this stage as a sort of speechless early reader, leaning toward the “ fi rst page ” of its self-refl ection “ in a fl utter of jubilant activity . . . in order to fi x it in his mind. ” Lacan then repeats the happy adjective, asserting that

the jubilant assumption of his specular image by the kind of being— still trapped in his motor impotence and nursling dependence— the little man is at the infans stage thus seems to me to manifest in an exemplary

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situation the symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in its primordial form. (1966b/2006: 76)

And of course there is cause for celebration, for a bit of the old “hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa!” here, for no “ little man” of any gender is ever going to make it far in “ the visible world” without a sense of identity, a valid ID, or a vehicular I of some make or model.7 But in Lacan’ s account, the infant, prior to its premiere upon the mirror stage, lacks any formal sense of self, doesn’ t yet possess an ego, is not yet strictly speaking an I, is not yet perceptually coordinated as the subjective locus or pivot of its “ own ” experience of being-in-the-world. Subjectivity, mind you, depends upon a working sense of diff erentiation, depends upon knowing the diff erence “ between the Innenwelt and the Umwelt ” (1966b/2006: 78), the inner world and the great outdoors. But as Lacan suggests elsewhere, “ the very young child ’ s experience of itself . . . develops on the basis of a situation that is experienced as undiff erentiated” (1966c/2006: 91), and, unless I’ m very much mistaken, this early situation of experiential undiff erentiation bears a close resemblance to our long-lost friend and implacable enemy— the real. Let’ s say that before and outside the montage of the imaginary and the symbolic, before and outside the limits — and the libidinally normalizing limitations— of human reality, the infant has all of its “ eggs ” put into this one oceanic “ basket, ” that the infant has all of its sense of being situated— cathected or “ invested ” — in this “ sea of yolky enjoyment” (Ž i ž ek 1992: 40) that is the undiff erentiated real. Let’ s say that the infant “ in the real” doesn’ t know the diff erence between subject and object, interior and exterior, can ’ t tell the diff erence between itself and everything else, can’ t accurately say where its self-sameness leaves off and everything else or anything other “ offi cially ” begins. Nor, let’ s say, does the infant “ in the real” have any conception of the way its own prematurely born body actually hangs together. If it happens to see its own hand fl apping around in front of its as yet self-unseen face, it still

7 Th e words “hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa!” appear at the beginning of the “Oxen of the Sun” chapter in Joyce’s Ulysses (1922/1986: 314); according to Giff ord, these words represent “Th e cry with which a midwife celebrates the birth of a male child as she bounces it to stabilize its breathing” (1988: 408/09). Here, though, against Lacan’s little mannerisms, let’s remember that the child whose image bounces back to it in the mirror isn’t necessarily male, and, following the vehicular metaphors employed above, that in some countries an adult female can’t legally operate an auto or even obtain a license to drive (see Milani 2011). Th e point to be driven home here is that it isn’t simply natural “breathing” but socio-cultural gendering that starts getting stabilized even at such a seemingly “neutral” moment as the mirror stage.

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may not visually “ grasp ” the proper connection of hand to arm to shoulder to “ self. ” Its “ own ” appendage might register as just another piece of meat swimming in the continuous visual stew, just another blob of perceptual fl otsam in the great yolky sea— as, for that matter, might its own mirror refl ection, if the infant happens to be exposed to that graceless fi gure before being developmentally capable of apprehending the image as its “ own. ” For better and for worse, this oceanic feeling of undiff erentiation contracts, dries up, at the moment of the mirror stage. For, when the infant, assisted by its human or artifi cial “ prop, ” fi rst recognizes itself as “ an other ” in the mirror, fi rst sees the way its own fairly inept bodily movements correspond to those of the fairer shape or sharper image it beholds before it, it arguably “ loses ” undiff erentiation— and loses it for good . 8 Th e infant— formerly in the real, now formally being hauled out of it — must from now on discern and maintain the diff erence between itself and everything else, must note the contrast between fi gure and background, must come to know that “ in reality ” (as opposed to “ in the real” ) it is not everything but merely one relatively quite diminished thing, one “ miserable glass shell of human individuality ” (Nietzsche 1872/2006: 82) among others, what Freud ego- defl atingly calls a “ shrunken residue” (1930/1989: 725), a separate and much smaller entity, constitutively discontinuous with everything else in the visible world. However, beholding for the fi rst time its own head tottering on its shoulders, as well as their connection to its own arms and hands, the infant may now be gratifi ed to see that in the Umwelt —in external reality as represented in this “ other scene” out there— its body does seem to hold together in an “ ideal ” or formally coherent way, or at least in a much better way than anything the infant had heretofore imagined. Th is ideal morphological “ unity of self” was imperceptible, unimaginable, in the indiff erent time before the mirror stage, back “ in the real,” when and where the infant will have thus experienced itself only as a corps morcel é , a “ body-in-fragments. ” But as my emphatic and confusing use of the future anterior (the phrase will have thus ) might suggest, here’ s where “ things ” get particularly complicated, logically and

8 Th e infant loses undiff erentiation “for good” in both the “temporal” and the “moral” senses, both “forever” and “for better”: for, once the infant fi xes its distinct image of itself in its mind, once the infant is installed in the imaginary and the symbolic, there’s no “going back” to the real for the subject as subject, however much the fantasy of return might animate a subject’s unconscious desire (and in a sense all fantasies are this fundamental fantasy, including, perhaps, the fantasy that “all fantasies are this fundamental fantasy”). But this fantasmatic return “to an earlier state of things” is both spatio-temporally impossible and “morally” prohibited (since, as we discussed in the previous lesson, primal undiff erentiation is “eroto-thanatically” analogous to “incestuous” merger with the maternal).

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chronologically, for the newly refl ective “ little man ” (if not for the malaised reader of “ Th e Mirror Stage ” essay itself). For if a “ fragment ” is thinkable as fragment only in diff erential relation to the idea of some unbroken unity or whole, then how in the visible world could the infant— prior to the mirror stage, still residing within an experientially “ undiff erentiated” situation— be said to imagine itself as a fragmented body? Well, logically and chronologi- cally, it couldn ’ t, and Lacan doesn ’ t exactly say that it does. What Lacan writes is that the mirror stage

is experienced as a temporal dialectic that decisively projects the individual’ s formation into history: [it] is a drama whose internal pressure pushes precipitously from insuffi ciency to anticipation — and, for the subject caught up in the lure of spatial identifi cation, turns out fantasies that proceed from a fragmented image of the body to what I will call an “ orthopedic ” form of its totality— and to the fi nally donned armor of an alienating identity that will mark his entire mental development with its rigid structure. (1966b/2006: 78)

Now, to say that the mirror stage is experienced as a temporal dialectic is to suggest, among other things, that its eff ects and causes are never immediately present but must be read as unfolding in time.9 In other words, the narrative

9 Dialectic can be provisionally described as a model of conceptual agency that proceeds through confronting (and perhaps even resolving or overcoming) contradiction, particularly the conceptual agent’s contradictory self-alienation. When associated with Hegel—or, more precisely, with Hegelianism—the dialectic is oft en reduced, inaccurately, to an abstract “thesis-antithesis-synthesis” formula and to the notion that any synthesis or unifi cation of opposites becomes a new thesis, which in turn generates another antithesis, which is then overcome, or sublated, by an even greater synthesis, and so on and so on, until ideally all ontological/epistemological contradiction is resolved or subsumed into the rational/conceptual maw of “absolute knowing”—a Hegelian phrase commonly or “vulgarly” understood to represent Hegel’s hubristic faith in the philosophical possibility of rationally possessing a totally complete and absolutely unifi ed knowledge of “the ultimate meaning of everything” (Findlay 1971: 93). We will consider Hegelian matters more extensively in our next lesson. But since we are here trying to come to terms with Lacan and the dialectic, I will let a few sentences from Fredric Jameson’s essay “Lacan and the Dialectic” serve to further provisionally describe the latter term—“At its most general,” Jameson writes, “we can call dialectical any thought mode which grasps its objects, terms or elements as subject to defi nition, determination or modifi cation by the relationships in which they are by defi nition seized” (2006: 395). Countering the pseudo- dialectic of “vulgar Hegelianism,” Jameson writes that the dialectic “is a tormented kind of language which seeks to register incommensurabilities without implying any solution to them by some facile naming of them, or the fl attening- out of this or that unifi ed philosophical code” (2006: 375). One might note here that Lacan’s “dialectical” writing is not only a “tormented” but a tormenting “kind of language.” Hence, the “great malaise” produced by Lacan’s style, if not, paradoxically, by Lacanian therapy, in the clinical experience of which the discovered lack of “any solution” to the problems of

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of the formation of the I function must be read in a sort of temporal loop, backward as well as forward, with an eye toward the phenomenon that Freud calls Nachträ glichkeit , “ deferred action” or “ retro-determination ” or “ retroversive causality. ” What occurs in a typical episode of psychic Nachtr ä glichkeit is that a subject will experience a “ new ” discovery that retroactively “ recodes ” the memory of some earlier experience, imbuing the remembered event with a signifi cance (typically a sexual signifi cance) that it previously lacked. Th is freshly reinterpreted experience then circles back from the past to bear down upon and “ pre-recode ” the present revelation. Considering, then, the “ bad timing” of the corps morc è le in the light of Nachträ glichkeit , we see that the infant in the undiff erentiated real can ’ t cognitively experience itself at that time as an insuffi cient body-in- fragments. Th is can ’ t be the case because the infant can ’ t simultaneously experience undiff erentiation and insuffi ciency (since “ insuffi ciency” can be experienced only in diff erential relation to some ideally suffi cient image). Never having seen its ego ideal before, never having seen its own “ up-standing ” self up-close and personal, the infant “ in the real ” can ’ t have the faintest suspicion that there ’ s ever been anything “ wrong ” with it. It is only aft er the moment of the mirror stage, only aft er the “ orthopedic ” or corrective perception of a totally coherent “ body image,” that the infant’ s earlier and “ innocent ” experience of the real is retroactively re-imagined as one of “ organic inadequacy ” (1966b/2006: 77), of corporeally scattered insuffi ciency. Th e fantasy of the hellishly fragmented body (Lacan references the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch in this regard) gets retro-projected onto the infant’ s “ lost ” situation of undiff erentiation, while “ the lure of spatial identifi cation, ” in the form of the fantasy of the “ ideal-I, ” gets projected into its future as a desirable “ dialectical ” resolution to what will have become the problem of fragmentation. Th us, Lacan writes of “ the dialectic syntheses by which [the subject] must resolve, as I , his discordance with his own reality ” (1966b/2006: 76). Th e subject of the mirror stage is suspended between the “ insuffi ciency ” of a still-present past and the “ anticipation ” of an attractive future good. Th e subject is situated between the (bad) idea of the fragmented body (which the subject is told, in so many words, that it should desire to forget or repress, should desire to start moving away from) and the (good) ideal of the unifi ed, non-discordant self , the image of the purely self-identical

contradiction and alienation becomes itself the solution to the problem. In clinical terms, the absolute lack of cure turns into the cure itself. In Slavoj Žižek’s Wagnerian terms, the cure involves the realization that “ ‘the wound is healed only by the spear that smote you’ ” (1993: 165). Meanwhile, in stylistic terms, the “great malaise” produced by Lacan’s writing—that is, the speared or smitten reader’s feeling of non-identity with herself as reader—paradoxically becomes the very standard of Lacanian well-being.

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I (which the subject gets told, in so many words, that it should eventually add or shape or live up to).10 But as these emphasized shoulds should suggest, here ’ s where the “ political ” or ideological aspects of “ morphological mimicry ” (1966b/2006: 77) come to the foreground. Here ’ s where the little man ’ s “ house of mirrors ” starts to look like the “ department of corrections” that it actually pretty much is. For, like everything else in a world that must be made to mean, the imposing ego ideal that appears in a mirror doesn ’ t grow on a tree or fall from the sky but is produced through human labor. As we’ ll see, a mirror is never simply a neutral or objectively refl ecting surface but is always “ political ” to its very tain.11 Th e mirror experience functions as the enabling gateway to a whole host of socially produced images, each ready to play its “ orthopedic ” part in the larger “ cultural intervention ” (1966b/2006: 79), each lying in wait for its chance to subject the subject to the rigors of “ identifi catory reshaping ” (1966c/2006: 95). In other words, the subject of the mirror stage is always already subjected to ideology, and “ ideology ” is the precise term for and of this subjection .

10 It’s instructive to read the dynamics of Lacan’s mirror stage in relation to Freud’s slogan Wo Es war, soll Ich werden— “where id was, there ego must be” (1933/2001: 80), or “where it (Es) was there I (Ich) must come into being.” But it’s also important to grasp the counter-intuitive coordinates, the weird whens and wheres and theres, of this ego- boosting scenario. If, that is, we apply our habituated, common-sense understanding of the diff erence between an “I” and an “it”—a pure self and a mere thing, an active subject and an inert object—to the scene of the very young human child situated in front of a mirror, our normal tendency would be to think of the child as being situated on the “spiritual” side of the I/self/subject and the mirror as being on the “material” side of the it/thing/object. In the fi rst moments of the mirror encounter, however, these “sides” are actually reversed—the real living body of the child is, precisely, the soulless and unspiritualized “it,” while the ego or “I” initially “resides” in a contraption of deadwood and glass, the mirror as lifeless thing or inanimate object. One of the many paradoxes here is that the infant exits the real and begins to enter human reality by virtue of a formally mortifying experience. Or, more precisely, at the crucial moment of the mirror experience, a specter of human reality, launched from the “dead” side of the mirror’s surface, enters and inhabits/inhibits the body of the helpless child, so in a sense it’s from the position of the mirror image that the Wo Es war, soll Ich werden is articulated— where “it,” that stupidly living body, is, there “I,” a culturally endorsed form, will move, intervene, plant my fl ag, etc. In their 1999 fi lm, Th e Matrix, the Wachowskis visually literalize this “extimate” movement of cultural intervention: aft er Neo takes Morpheus’s red pill, he sees his own image, at fi rst cracked and then “whole,” in a mirror. When Neo reaches out and touches this mirror, its surface begins to liquefy, moving out from the frame and into Neo’s space, moving onto his person, covering his hand and arm and creeping quickly up his neck, eventually “invading” his interior by cascading down his open throat. Assuming, consuming, or introjecting his own image, Neo is forced, as it were, to eat himself. In a sense, as we’re just about to see, all “subjects of human reality” are similarly force-fed ideology. 11 Th e “tain” is the foil or silvered backing applied, by dint of human labor, to a piece of glass (itself produced through labor), thus turning it into a mirror.

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II. Ideology is eternal

Although Lacan never employs the word “ ideology ” in the mirror-stage essay, he nonetheless insists that what the mirror stage represents is not “ a natural maturation process ” but a “ cultural intervention ” (1966b/2006: 79). For Lacan, the ideal “ specular I ” that the infant is encouraged to mimic is a culturally “ orthopedic ” or corrective form, “ the root-stock of secondary identifi cations . . . subsuming the libidinal normalization functions” (1966b/2006: 76). In “ Aggressiveness in Psychoanalysis, ” Lacan suggests that these “ secondary identifi cations ” work by virtue of the subject ’ s “ introjection of the imago of the parent of the same sex, ” and he thus stresses “ the ‘ pacifying ’ function of the ego-ideal: the connection between its libidinal normativeness and a cultural normativeness ” (1966c/2006: 95). Now, boys and girls, what does it mean for Lacan to connect “ morphological mimicry ” to “ libidinal normalization ” to “ cultural normativeness ” ? It means that no mirror in the history of the world has ever just “ objectively ” given back the simple refl ection of a “ good ” little boy or girl anatomically destined to naturally mature and/or libidinally blossom into “ normal ” heterosexuality. Rather, the mirror functions as a sociocultural “ apparatus ” that “ imposes ” and “ naturalizes ” the vision of an always-already sociocultural subject who had better get its act together, who had better perform its mimicry correctly, and who had better turn out straight . For Lacan, the subject ’ s eventual concordance with its “ own reality” entails a rather large quantum of fear- based conformity with the “ pacifying ” function of the ego ideal; it involves the coerced internalization of the “ appropriate picture,” the successful introjection of the image of the parent of the same sex (who, as “ successful ” parent or eff ective “ prop, ” must be presumed to have turned out “ straight ” him-or-herself), and a perpetual identifi cation with and docile endorsem*nt of all the images of compulsory normativity that a given culture proff ers. Th e operative critical idea here is that any existing culture, working or doing business as a “ system of constraints ” (Greenblatt 1995: 227), depends upon the institutional circulation of normativizing images to continue to exist, to work, to “ reproduce its conditions of production. ” Th is last phrase comes to us from Marx via Louis Althusser, to whose essay “ Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses” we now turn. For here, Althusser develops an innovative and infl uential theory of ideology based in no small part on Lacan ’ s insights into the mirror stage. What Althusser theorizes, however, is not any particular ideology, but “ ideology in general.” In other words, Althusser isn’ t into analyzing “ isms ” as codifi ed sets of political ideas or “ articles of faith” to which various individuals in a given society might consciously subscribe. Nor is he about

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debunking some specifi c “ ism ” as a pernicious piece of ideological “ false consciousness. ” Rather, Althusser sees “ ideology in general ” both as a pervasively unconscious formation and as “ a necessary element of ‘ sociality ’ itself ” (Kavanagh 1995: 314). Ideology in general is “ a structure essential to the historical life of societies . . . indispensable in any society if [individuals] are to be formed, transformed and equipped to respond to the demands of their conditions of existence ” (Althusser 1970: 234 – 5). Because all human individuals are born prematurely, not “ fully equipped ” to respond to even the most basic existential demands, every stinking one of us must be formed and transformed, socialized and cultivated, brought into the fold of human reality in its current historical form . 12 For Althusser, then, the phrase “ ideology in general” designates a formal, structural, transhistorical, even “ eternal ” aspect of socialization , that “ extraordinary adventure” which “ transforms a small animal conceived by a man and a woman into a small human child” (1971: 139– 40). Ideology “ in general ” is now and forever integral to the “ humanization of the small biological creature that results from human parturition” (1971: 140). Althusser thus isn ’ t concerned with specifi c “ isms ” that turn otherwise perfectly nice people into sinister or tedious “ ideologues. ” Rather, he investigates “ ideology in general” as the necessary process that transforms individuals into subjects “ in the fi rst place.” Althusser is concerned not with ideological content , with what some specifi cally espoused ideology is, but rather with the ideological function , what “ ideology in general ” does and how it does it.

12 We can begin to consider the diff erence between ideology as “false consciousness” and ideology in general as unconscious formation by comparing the two versions of the horror fi lm Th e Fly. In both fi lms, a scientist invents a teleportation device that can zap matter from one chamber to another; he intentionally tries the device out on himself and (unintentionally) on the eponymous insect that has lighted into the launch chamber with him; and he emerges from the destination chamber in an altered, “insectifi ed” (or, let’s say, “ideologized”) form. In Kurt Neumann’s 1958 version of the fi lm, the disastrous alteration is quite obvious—the scientist steps out with his human head (his truly human consciousness) missing and with a huge fl y-head (i.e., ideological “false consciousness”) conspicuously in its place. By contrast, in David Cronenberg’s 1986 version, the scientist emerges on the other side of the botched experiment looking exactly like himself, but his ideal self-resemblance is preserved only because he has internalized the fl y (i.e., ideology) at the general, invisible, and systemic level of DNA. Later on, the horrifi cally insectile manifests itself quite visibly, but at least at fi rst, the invisibility of the scientist’s “inner fl y” allows “DNA” to metaphorize ideology as an unconscious formation. Cronenberg’s treatment of the scientist’s dilemma thus implies that the problem of ideology cannot be remedied in an old-school “humanist” fashion—by restoring the true, self-conscious (and now wiser) human head to the human. Actually, given the nasty fate of the tiny human head in Neumann’s version (attached to fl y, caught in Web, nearly eaten by spider before being smashed by rock), neither Fly seems to suggest that the problem of ideology can be remedied at the level of heroic individual eff ort. In this judgment, as we’ll see, both fi lms concur with Althusser.

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Th e fi rst and overarching function of ideology is to secure “ t h e reproduction of the conditions of production ” (Althusser 1971/2001: 85). By “ production ” Althusser means the actual making of the world that must be materially made, that must be humanly generated or manufactured (that doesn’ t grow on trees or fall from the sky). Th e “ conditions of production ” include both the “ productive forces” (humans in and as their “ labor power” to make the world) and “ the existing relations of production ” (1971/2001: 86) — the cooperative or confl ictual relations of these producers (1) to each other; (2) to other humans (in a class society, these would be the owners of production, who don ’ t produce but who extract wealth and power from the workers who actually do; and (3) to the product(s) or fruit(s) of their labor (all the manufactured objects in the world and, in the largest “ materialist ” sense, the very history of the world, the very “ world history” that they— we — are in the process of producing). Now, the historical conditions of production or “ world-making ” are such that they always necessarily have to be reproduced — structurally, transhistorically, universally, “ eternally, ” the world must be made and remade. Such remaking involves physical, material, and of course sexual reproduction (the producers themselves must be produced — or, as Shakespeare ’ s Benedick crows in Much Ado about Nothing , “ the world must be peopled! ” ). It is thus a truth universally acknowledged that “ the ultimate condition of production is . . . the reproduction of the conditions of production ” — or at least Althusser quotes Marx to the eff ect that “ every child knows” (1971/2001: 85) such to be the case. Marxism holds these truths to be self-evident— the world must be peopled, and people all over the world always have to work to produce the conditions of their self-population. “ Labor ” in both senses of the word is an absolutely necessary condition of possibility, never a merely historical contingency. But still one might ask — under what specifi c and historically contingent conditions do men and women (go into) labor? Leaving aside for the moment the question of the diff erent ways in which “ human parturition ” might be handled, one can accept the inevitability of labor, can accept that people must work, but nonetheless still wonder — Which people? What sort of work? Under what “ working conditions” ? And for what actual purpose? Of course, one might imagine a world— a “ fully human and humanly produced world ” (Jameson 2010: 107) — in which the conditions of production were such that the real purpose of all work was to produce and reproduce equally humane and equitably humanizing conditions for all . Conversely, one might imagine a world in which the real “ meaning and purpose ” of everybody ’ s work everywhere was to produce wealth and power and pleasure for only some . But look — one doesn ’ t have to merely “ imagine ” the latter world. One has

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only to recognize contemporary global capitalist society (or “ Planet Money, ” as I’ ve heard the phrase coined) for what it is and as our very “ own reality” — not because we all own it, to be sure, but because we actively reproduce its conditions of production, simply by “ being ourselves, ” simply by living our purportedly “ purpose-driven ” lives.13 Th e main purpose driving ideology is, again, to secure the reproduction of the conditions of production. But ideological security apparently requires the labor of “ making ” historically specifi c and contingent conditions seem unconditional — necessary, inevitable — to the very producers of those conditions. Making the conditional seem unconditional is required whenever it appears that workers will continue to work only on condition that their working conditions appear to them as unconditional, unquestionable, absolutely inevitable. Without that ideological “ job-security ” — the job of ideationally securing people in their jobs, in their allotted places on the fi gurative or actual “ assembly line ” — these workers might refuse to work. In order to “ make ” workers (who) work, to make workers (who) “ work all by themselves ” (i.e., to “ make ” them without having overtly and physically to force them, without having to march them off at gunpoint to labor camps or factories or offi ces or universities), ideology works to “ make ” contingent conditions appear necessary, to reproduce or represent contingencies as necessities, securing the reproduction of the conditions of production by repre- senting the contingent as eternal. Th e dominant eff ect of this reproduction/ representation is to render alternative working conditions unrepresentable, even unimaginable, to and for the workers themselves. Th is work of making the contingent seem eternal involves both repro- duction and representation. It depends, actually, upon a crucial shift from “ reproductive systems” (involving the biologically real ) to “ systems of

13 I allude here to “evangelical” blowhard Rick Warren’s 2002 best-seller Th e Purpose-Driven Life. I would suggest, however, that in a capitalist society, it doesn’t really matter what you imagine or believe to be the “purpose” driving your life; in a capitalist society, the real purpose, the real practical eff ect, of all of your “real life” activities is to create profi ts for capitalists, to enrich and empower the owners of Planet Money. Not that it always works out that way, but capitalist social reality is structured so that that’s the dominant intended eff ect of your actual living, what your living actually materializes. In capitalist reality, whatever you may imagine, everything that you actually do—living somewhere, eating, drinking, being clothed and shod, being entertained and/or educated, staying healthy, staying alive—requires/costs money, and thus makes money and power for capitalists. Unless you are a capitalist, the work that you do, which makes you some money, ultimately makes more money for capitalists than it does for you, since you turn most of that money back over to capitalists so that you can continue to do all the things mentioned above (i.e., live). So, again, whatever you imagine you’re purposively doing with your life doesn’t really matter; what you’re really doing with your life is generating wealth and power for capitalists.

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representation ” (involving the cultural forms of human reality, pretty much anything comprised of images and/or words). Th is shift from systematic reproduction to systematic representation leads us to a second major function of ideology. Althusser writes that to secure the reproduction of the conditions of production, ideology “ represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence ” (1971/2001: 109). “ Imaginary ” here means imagined , otherwise than real, and so Althusser clearly implies a discrepancy between representations of “ imaginary relations ” and non- representationally “ real conditions. ” He suggests, in other words, that people ’ s real conditions of existence might be otherwise than what they imagine for themselves or see represented to them.14 But “ imaginary ” also means imaged , comprised of images, involving the social circulation of pictures . Karl Mannheim has observed that “ a society is possible in the last analysis [only] because the individuals in it carry around in their heads some sort of picture of that society” (1964: xxiii). James Kavanagh writes that “ with the important addition of ‘ and their place in it, ’ ” Mannheim ’ s observation “ might serve as a fair introduction to current ideology theory, which tries to understand the complex ways through which modern societies off er reciprocally reinforcing versions of ‘ reality, ’ ‘ society, ’ and ‘ self ’ to social subjects” (1995: 309).

Ideology designates a rich “ system of representations ” . . . which helps form individuals into social subjects who “ freely ” internalize an appropriate “ picture ” of the social world and their place in it. Ideology off ers . . . a fundamental framework of assumptions that defi nes the parameters of the real and the self . . . Ideology is less tenacious as a “ set of ideas ” than as a system of representations, perceptions and images that precisely encourages men and women to “ see ” their specifi c place in a historically peculiar social formation as inevitable, natural, a necessary function of the “ real ” itself. (1995: 310)

Th e basic critical idea here is that men and women, in order to be “ men ” and “ women, ” must be “ encouraged ” to see their allotted places in a particular “ social world” as necessary functions of “ the real itself” or else they might

14 If you can’t bring yourself to imagine a discrepancy between the imaginary relations and the real conditions of your own “purpose-driven” life, consider what happens to Neo in Th e Matrix. Neo “imagines” or “knows perfectly well” that he is Mr Anderson who lives and works and is basically in control of his own life; but when he swallows Morpheus’s red pill and “goes through the looking glass,” he “awakens” to his real conditions of existence and discovers he is in fact a “coppertop,” a passive, plugged-in, quasi-fetal energy source whose only real purpose “in life” is to generate power for “the matrix,” the computer- generated “system of representations” in which he “lives” out his imaginary relations.

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not want to stay in their places, might not want to keep being what they “ are. ” Encouraging people to just “ be themselves” and discouraging them from imagining any other destiny, ideology involves systematically framing/ forming people, keeping them in line and on task, mainly by “ giving ” them the impression that by staying “ on the job” (of being themselves) they are just “ doing what comes naturally.” Impressing us with (and into) our given identities; representing our imaginary relations to our real conditions; off ering “ reciprocally reinforcing versions of ‘ reality, ’ ‘ society, ’ and ‘ self ’ [in pictures and in words] to social subjects” (Kavanagh 1995: 309)— all this is ideology’ s “ business. ” And ideology is always quite busy, particularly in those intimately “ personal ” places where ostensibly non-ideological “ common-sense ” is most loath to fi nd it. “ Common sense,” as you’ ll recall, involves the reception/ affi rmation of “ given meaning, ” of whatever seems to go without saying, whatever seems perfectly obvious , self-evident, clear, right, and true — to anyone with “ common sense. ” But Althusser argues that ideology works its magic by enforcing and reinforcing “ common sense, ” or, as he puts it (and here ’ s the third major ideological function), by imposing certain “ obviousnesses as obviousnesses. ” Althusser writes:

It is indeed a peculiarity of ideology that it imposes (without appearing to do so, since these are “ obviousnesses” ) obviousnesses as obviousnesses, which we cannot fail to recognize and before which we have the inevitable reaction of crying out . . . : “ Th at ’ s obvious! Th at ’ s right! Th at’ s true!” (1971/2001: 116)

For Althusser, ideology (1) secures the reproduction of the conditions of production by (2) representing people’ s imaginary relations to their real conditions in a way that (3) imposes obviousnesses as obviousnesses. By getting social subjects to cough back up its “ inevitable ” common-sense truisms, ideology off ers what Althusser calls “ the absolute guarantee that everything really is so, and that on condition that the subjects recognize what they are and behave accordingly, everything will be all right: Amen— ‘ So be it . ’ ” (1971/2001: 123).

Th is phrase [ ‘So be it! ’] which registers the eff ect to be obtained proves that it is not ‘ naturally ’ so . . . Th is phrase proves that it has to be so if things are to be what they must be: [i.e.,] if the reproduction of the relations of production is to be assured . . . in the attitudes of the individual subjects occupying the posts which the socio-technical division of labour assigns to them. (1971/2001: 124)

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Th rough this imposition of the obvious as obvious, ideology gets people to work by getting people to work on their attitudes, on the pictures they carry around in their heads, in order to turn what merely happens to be (an historically contingent division of labor) into what “ simply ” and “ obviously ” has to be (a veritable “ force of nature” ). In other words, ideology operates in exactly the same “ clarifying ” way that Roland Barthes says “ myth ” functions in his 1957 book Mythologies. As you ’ ll recall from our introductory chapter, for Horkheimer and Adorno, “ False clarity is only another name for myth ” (1947/2002: xvii). Similarly, for Barthes, “ myth, ” or ideology — the words can be used interchangeably— is a particularly clarifi ed “ type of speech, ” a “ purifi ed ” or “ depoliticized speech, ” a mode of communicative action whose primary function is to “ transform history into nature” (1957/1972: 129). As Barthes writes

Myth has the task of giving an historical intention a natural justifi ca- tion, and making contingency appear eternal. Now this process is exactly that of bourgeois ideology. If our society is objectively the privileged fi eld of mythical signifi cations, it is because formally myth is the most appropriate instrument for the ideological inversion which defi nes this society: at all the levels of human communication, myth operates the inversion of anti-physis into pseudo-physis . (1957/1972: 142)

To elaborate on this inversion, let’ s recall that since “ physis” here means the “ raw material” of the natural world, the project of “ anti-physis” entails the transformative work on or against “ brute materiality ” in which humans must engage to produce the conditions of their existence, to produce their “ world-history. ” To put this process or project in roughly “ dialectical ” terms, we can say that if physis stands as the negation or antithesis of constitutively humanizing labor, as the negation of human dignity, autonomy, freedom, etc., then labor itself assumes the form of the negation of this negation. “Antiphysis ” thus expresses the project of the dialectic of freedom, the productive, progressive, and (one can always hope) liberatory process of our collectively and cooperatively making human history itself— the dialectical project not of intepreting the past but of what Michael Hardt militantly calls “ making the present. ” 15 What Barthes calls “ pseudo-physis, ” then, would thus be a sort of “ bogus nature,” a “ naturalized ” reproduction/representation of the laborious production of human reality that eff ectively “ freeze- frames ” or reifi es it.

15 As you’ll recall from our introductory chapter, Hardt, in the essay called “Th e Militancy of Th eory,” writes that “the task of theory is to make the present and thus to delimit or invent the subject of that making, a ‘we’ characterized not only by our belonging to the present but by our making it” (2011: 21).

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Th e “ inversion of anti-physis into pseudo-physis ” thus involves transforming a mutable and (perhaps) progressive human history into an immutable and seemingly inevitable human nature. And this inversion/transformation is the “ very principle of myth” (1957/1971: 129). As Barthes explains:

What the world supplies to myth is an historical reality, defi ned . . . by the way [people] have produced or used it; and what myth gives in return is a natural image of this reality . . . Myth is constituted by the loss of the historical quality of things; in [myth] things lose the memory that they once were [humanly] made. Th e world enters language as a dialectical relation between activities, between human actions; it comes out of myth as a harmonious display of essences. . . [Myth] has emptied [human reality] of history and has fi lled it with nature, it has removed from things their human meaning so as to make them signify a human insignifi cance . . . In passing from history to nature, myth . . . abolishes the complexity of human acts, it gives them the simplicity of essences, it does away with all dialectic, with any going back beyond what is immediately visible, it organizes a world which is without contradictions because it is without depth, a world wide open and wallowing in the evident, it establishes a blissful clarity: things appear to mean something all by themselves. (1957/1972: 142 – 43)16

Now, if turning history into nature is the “ very principle ” of myth, this principle subtends all three of the major functions of “ ideology in general” described thus far. Th ere is, however, a fourth function in Althusser ’ s theory, a function which eff ectively connects the mythological work of making “ things appear to mean something all by themselves” with the ideological work of getting workers to “ work all by themselves ” (Althusser 1971/2001: 123), that is, without their having to be forced into labor at gunpoint. Th is function involves “ constituting individuals as subjects, ” imposing the very “ category of the subject” as a primary obviousness, and thus eliciting an individual ’ s subjective “ self-recognition ” as an “ inevitable reaction, ” a “ perfectly natural ” response. And here’ s where Althusser’ s theory of ideology gets really “ personal. ” He writes that “ the category of the subject is constitutive of all ideology ” but adds that “ the category of the subject is only constitutive of all ideology insofar as all

16 In a splendid footnote, Barthes writes “To the pleasure-principle of Freudian man could be added the clarity-principle of mythological humanity. All the ambiguity of myth is there: its clarity is euphoric”—an observation that nicely explains why readers who insist upon “clarity,” who like to take their meanings neat, tend to dislike and/or steer clear of theoretical writing—they fi nd its dereifi cations dysphoric.

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ideology has the function (which defi nes it) of ‘ constituting ’ concrete individuals as subjects ” (1971/2001: 116).

It follows that, for you and for me, the category of the subject is a primary “ obviousness ” (obviousnesses are always primary): . . . Like all obviousnesses, including those that make a word “ name a thing ” or “ have a meaning ” (therefore including the obviousness of the “ transparency ” of language), the “ obviousness ” that you and I are subjects— and that that does not cause any problems — is an ideological eff ect, the elementary ideological eff ect. (1971/2001: 116)

For Althusser, the most elementary ideological eff ect is the recruitment or interpellation of individuals as subjects. Th us, ideological analysis “ is concerned with the institutional and/or textual apparatuses that work on the reader’ s or spectator’ s imaginary conceptions of self and social order in order to call or solicit (or “interpellate , ” as Althusser puts it, using a quasi- legal term that combines the senses of ‘ summons ’ and ‘ hail ’ ) him/her into a specifi c form of social ‘ reality ’ and social subjectivity ” (Kavanagh 1995: 310). As Althusser puts it:

Ideology “ acts ” or “ functions ” in such a way that it “ recruits ” subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or “ transforms ” the individu- als into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hail- ing: “ Hey, you there!” Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street, the hailed individual will turn around. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognised that “ it was really him who was hailed” (and not someone else). (1971/2001: 118)

In a footnote, Althusser explains that “ hailing as an everyday practice subject to a precise ritual takes a quite ‘ special ’ form in the policeman ’ s practice of ‘ hailing ’ which concerns the hailing of ‘ suspects ’ ” (118). And yet, he also argues that interpellation as an “ everyday practice ” is always a “ police action ” , regardless of whether the “ hailer ” is an actual cop or the “ hailed ” a guilty perp. In other words, anyone who is anyone , anyone who “ answers to the description ” of the second-person pronoun in a hailing address — hey, you there!— is ideologically interpellated, eff ectively constituted or recruited as a subject. Althusser even includes under the rubric of “ ideological subjection” such “ everyday ” banalities as answering “ it ’ s me ” to the question “ who ’ s there? ” posed from the other side of a knocked-upon door.

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But here, one might well wonder — as long I ’ m not “ suspected ” of being a criminal, a maniac, a “ terrorist, ” a “ pervert, ” or some other type of “ bad subject, ” as long as I ’ m “ suspected ” only of rather blandly “ being myself, ” what’ s really so “ ideological ” about my being constituted as a subject? In Althusser ’ s view, the problem involves “ the ambiguity of the term subject . ” As he writes:

In the ordinary use of the term, subject in fact means: (1) a free subjectivity, a center of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions; (2) a subjected being, who submits to a higher authority, and is therefore stripped of all freedom except that of freely accepting his submission . . . Th e individual is interpellated as a (free) subject in order . . . that he shall (freely) accept his subjection, i.e. in order that he shall make the gestures and actions of his subjection ‘ all by himself’ . Th ere are no subjects except by and for their subjection . Th at is why they ‘ work all by themselves ’ . (1971/2001: 123)

Th is ambiguity explains why there’ s something fundamentally fi shy about the category of the subject, why “ the ‘ obviousness ’ that you and I are subjects . . . is an ideological eff ect” (1971/2001: 116) — the more self- confi dently we “ imagine ” ourselves as “ subjects ” in the fi rst sense, the more “ freely ” we “ turn ” or screw ourselves into our subjection in the second. But the larger problem involves the type of society by and into which we’ re screwed. For example, at this historical moment in the dark fi elds of the republic in which I write, debates about reform of the “ health care system” are raging. On the op-ed page of the New York Times , a pundit named Matt Miller opines against making the health insurance that covers members of the US Congress available to the American public on the grounds that it “ does little to encourage people to be smart health care shoppers” (21 July 2009). Now, it shouldn ’ t take an Althusserian brain surgeon to diagnose the problem with this symptomatic “ encouragement, ” to recognize “ smart health care shoppers ” as an ideologically interpellative phrase that basically prescribes and endorses the commodifi cation of all life in the United States. Attempting to make it seem obvious that whatever is done about the US health care system should “ encourage people to be smart health care shoppers, ” the phrase “ encourages ” people to envision “ health care ” itself only as a shopping item rather than as, say, oh, I don’ t know, maybe something like a human right. Further, the phrase “ encourages ” American people to imagine “ the American people ” themselves only as consumers, smart or stupid, with or without purchasing power, rather than as say maybe a collective of

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socially empowered citizens with certain inalienable rights (i.e., rights that shouldn ’ t be privatized, shouldn ’ t be taken away and then sold back to us as commodities in order to generate abundant monetary health for capitalists). Th e interpellative phrase “ smart health care shoppers” works to naturalize “ market solutions ” to all human problems, to represent private property and the “ free market economy ” as inevitable functions of the real itself.17 Th e phrase reproduces-represents- imposes a world in which, as Fredric Jameson laments, it seems easier to imagine the end of the world than to envision the end of capitalism.18 Now, as may or may not be “ obvious, ” my point in turning to the journalist ’ s turn of phrase is to connect what occurs “ in the text” or “ on the page” to the “ physical conversion” that transpires in Althusser’ s theoretical street-scene, wherein the individual turns into a subject simply by turning in response to a policeman ’ s hail. In other words, while the pundit ’ s hegemonic hail “ hey, American health care shopper!” may seem “ merely textual,” the phrase is structurally complicit with the cop’ s more forceful and compelling “ hey you there! ” Th e journalist, an editorial agent of an Ideological State Apparatus , works in collusion with the cop, a uniformed agent of the Repressive State Apparatus , to defend, protect, and serve the private property system.19

17 Another example of “mythic” interpellation at work—I was recently on a “commercial fl ight” from Atlanta to Salt Lake City and noticed an interesting detail in the airline safety instruction video that played prior to take-off . Th ere came the standard moment in the video when we’re shown how to behave if “cabin pressure drops” and we suddenly fi nd oxygen-masks dangling in front of us. Th e video depicted a man properly attaching the mask to his own face before turning to help the young male child, presumably a son, sitting beside him; meanwhile the narrative voice-over instructed us to negotiate our own masks fi rst “before assisting other customers”—not the old “others who might need help” or even “other passengers,” but other customers. Th us are we instructed to conceive even (or especially) our own children as corporate capitalism conceives/interpellates them and us—as markets. And the point here is not that reading “ideology at work” in the airline’s safety video entails discerning some “hidden meaning” or “subliminal message.” Th e “myth” here is anything but subliminal; rather, it’s blatant, an imposed obviousness, as clear as the oxygen mask on your face—You and yours are customers; your life is a commercial transaction; don’t bother with any other fl ights of fancy; don’t bother imagining alternatives; just relax, sit back, and enjoy the ride. Amen, so be it. 18 “It seems easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations” (Jameson 1994: xii). 19 Althusser’s theory of ideology is indebted to Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, which “refers to relationships between classes, specifi cally the control that the bourgeoisie exerts over the working classes. For Gramsci, hegemonic control is not maintained merely by force or the threat of force, but by consent as well. Th at is, a successful hegemony not only expresses the interest of a dominant class . . . but also is able to get a subordinate class to see these interests as ‘natural’ or a matter of ‘common sense’ ” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 131). Similarly, Althusser’s distinction between Ideological and Repressive

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Here, though, let’ s turn from the theoretical scene of interpellation, which occurs in “ the street,” with its strong police presence, back to Lacan’ s earlier “ theatrical ” scene of mirror-stage recognition, which occurs “ in the home, ” and from which the constabulary would seem to missing. Althusser, however, admits the police into the house, shows their warrant to search your imaginary premises, when he writes that “ the structure of all ideology, interpellating individuals as subjects . . . is speculary , i.e., a mirror structure, ” and that “ mirror duplication is constitutive of all ideology and ensures its functioning ” (1971/2001: 122). To see how the “ mirror duplication” of the “ specular I” functions ideologically, consider the moment in Lacan ’ s account when he writes that the mirror-stage infant is “ held tightly by some prop, human or artifi cial,” and that the infant “ overcomes . . . the constraints of his prop ” to better “ take in ” the view. Implying that it doesn ’ t really matter whether the “ prop ” be human or artifi cial, Lacan suggests both that the artifi cial prop is laboriously human (i.e., the trotte-b é b é contraption is brought about through human labor, even if our commodity fetishism helps us forget that fact) and that the properly human is also artifi cial— that is, socially produced through representational labor.20 Th e mirrored subject is formed by being informed that it should “ shape up,” that it should eventually add or live up to the ideal formal totality that it sees before it. But the agent of this information is none other than the aforementioned “ prop, ” the primary caretaker (let ’ s say, the mother) who works all by herself, who does her duty and hoists the otherwise incapable one up to eye-level with the mirror and “ encourages ” it to identify with what it sees. With her own “ body language” — her gestures, her looks, her smiles— this supportive

State Apparatuses seems based on Gramsci’s “analytical distinction between civil and political society in which the former is made up of voluntary . . . affi liations like schools, families, and unions, the latter of state institutions (the army, the police, the central bureaucracy) whose role in the polity is direct domination” (Said 1978: 7). Althusser distinguishes Repressive State Apparatuses, like the police and the army, which work primarily by repressive force, from Ideological State Apparatuses—churches, schools, families—which function primarily by ideology rather than force. He stipulates, however, that the RSAs are not purely repressive—they depend upon ideology “both to ensure their own cohesion and reproduction, and in the ‘values’ they propound externally” (1971/2001: 98). Nor are the ISAs purely ideological, for “they also function secondarily by repression . . . Th us Schools and Churches use suitable methods of punishment, expulsion, selection, etc., to ‘discipline’ . . . their fl ocks. Th e same is true of the Family” (1971/2001: 98). 20 “Fetishism is the endowment of an object or a body part with an unusual degree of power or erotic allure, as in the cases of cultures that attribute magical powers to idols or human effi gies. Use of the term oft en betrays a skeptical attitude toward such beliefs; thus, Karl Marx coined the term commodity fetishism to express the way that capitalist emphasis on the abstract value of commodities conceals the underlying social relations of their producers” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 109).

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“ prop ” signals a message to the homunculus— “ there you are — there ’ s my good boy! ” And the good boy normally responds with a fl utter of jubilant activity. All seems well and good with this scenario, everything in its right place, everything perfectly obvious and true. For, aft er all, it’ s obviously really him in the mirror and not someone else. But while the maternal “ prop ” seems only to be doing what would “ come naturally” to any human mother, isn’ t mumsy actually following certain stage directions, rehearsing pre- scripted lines, performing the duties of “ the good mother” as she has seen these chores systematically represented to her basically all her life? Granted, it does seem more “ natural ” that the mother should at this juncture utter something like “ there’ s my good boy” rather than raise her fi st and shout “ Workers of the world unite! ” Nonetheless, when “ the good mother ” says “ there’ s my good boy,” all these “ obvious ” terms are actually shot through with political meaning. While “ good ” may seem to mean inherently worthy of any mother’ s love, it also means fully compliant with the prevailing norms of the polis , the “ historically peculiar social formation ” in which tot and mom have to live, with all of its attendant “ institutions for the enforcement of cultural boundaries through praise and blame ” (Greenblatt 1995: 226). As for the tot, is it really all that obvious to him that it ’ s really him and not someone else who ’ s being addressed with the “there ’ s my good boy ” line? Or is there not already a self-alienating subtext to his prop ’ s orthopedic script? Even in the midst of its jubilant fl utter, the infant might begin to get the real picture, to “ read ” between the lines, to hear the inner voice that eff ectively says —there , refl ected in that mirror, not here , in your body ’ s immediate experience of itself, is the “ good boy ” ; that fi gure there who seems to hang together like a little man-in-full, he’ s the “ good boy,” he’ s the version of yourself that we like, that we recognize —not you, little mister craps- his-pants, not you , leaky little corps-morc è le , still trapped in your motor impotence and nursling dependence, your yolky enjoyment, polymorphous perversity, and the devil only knows what else. Small wonder, then, that when you look in the mirror and see how the hip-bone’ s connected to the thigh-bone, you hear (and fear) the name of the Lord. But while you might believe that in hearing this call and leaning toward this image “ in order to fi x it ” in your mind you are thereby overcoming the constraints of your “ prop, ” what you’ re actually “ leaning into” is an ever more eff ective system of constraints. Because ideology, my friend, is eternal, there has always been and will always be a correspondence and a complicity between the prop’ s “ there you are!” and the cop’ s “ hey you there! ”

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III. Aesthetics of resistance?

Is there, then, no possibility of “ yours truly ” ever resisting or eluding “ ideology ” ? For the Marxist Althusser, this question truly misses the point. Since “ ideology in general” is basically synonymous with socialization (the always necessary process of turning little animals into little human beings), and since our species ’ prematurity at birth ensures that the need for socialization “ will always be with us” (as Jesus supposedly said about the poor), “ ideology in general” is pretty much eternal, elemental, inescapable, for all individuals — past, present, and future. Th e truly political question, then, is not whether an individual can somehow heroically resist ideological subjection/interpellation; rather, the only valid political question for Althusser concerns the historical character of the society in/to which the individual will be subjected. In the last analysis, Althusser is less concerned with any individual ’ s “ personal ” transformation than he is committed to the radical transformation of all social relations as a whole:

In a class [or capitalist] society ideology is the relay whereby, and the element in which, the relation between [people] and their conditions of existence is settled to the profi t of the ruling class. In a classless [or communist] society ideology is the relay whereby, and the element in which, the relation between [people] and their conditions of existence is lived to the profi t of all [people]. (cited in Kavanagh 1995: 313)

Unlike Althusser, however, some theoretical writers interested in questioning identity and eff ecting political change would settle for less than a classless society, or they desire but don ’ t see the possibility of any such society on the near horizon, or they don ’ t interpret oppression and liberation primarily or exclusively in Marxian economic terms. Th ese theoretical writers do see individual subjectivity as a possible site of resistance to “ naturalized ” forms of social domination. Th ey understand “ personal identity” as the axis of intersection for a number of discourses of power, as a nodal point for the reproduction of various relations of oppression (including but not limited to economic processes or class). Th ese theorists thus discern liberatory potential— “ resistance-value, ” or what might be called “ ref-use value” — in discourses that disturb, subvert, transform, or even abject self- identity, in whatever might unsettle, short-circuit, or reconfi gure the regnant human reality, in whatever helps “ to f*ck sh*t up ” (Halberstam 2006: 824) when it comes to our standard imaginary relations to our real existential conditions.

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Michel Foucault, for example, studied arduously with Althusser but never ardently followed Marx. Describing his intellectual training in an interview called “ Th e Minimalist Self, ” Foucault writes, “ I was a pupil of Althusser, and at that time the main philosophical currents in France were Marxism, Hegelianism and phenomenology. I must say I have studied these but what gave me for the fi rst time the desire of doing personal work was reading Nietzsche ” (1983/1988: 8). Now, I would say that this “ desire of doing personal work” that Foucault claims to have contracted from reading Nietzsche relates quite intimately to Nietzsche’ s “ antimoral ” stance that “ only as an aesthetic phenomenon are existence and the world justifi ed ” (1872/2006: 58). I would venture that Foucault’ s desire to do “ personal work” corresponds to what he elsewhere calls “ the search for an aesthetics of existence,” the “ elaboration of one’ s own life as a personal work of art ” (1984/1988: 51). As we read at the end of the preceding lesson, for Foucault, “ personal work” as “ intellectual work is related to what you could call aestheticism, meaning transforming yourself” ; Foucault, as we’ ve read, believes that “ this transformation of one’ s self by one’ s own knowledge is . . . something rather close to the aesthetic experience” (1983/1988: 14). So, while Althusser’ s star pupil agrees with his teacher that “ the subject is constituted through practices of subjection” (i.e., in politically and economically predetermined ways), Foucault also believes that we subjects of human reality can reconstitute ourselves aesthetically, self-transformatively, “ in a more autonomous way, through practices of liberation, of liberty, as in [pre-Christian] Antiquity, on the basis of course of a number of rules, styles, inventions to be found in the cultural environment” (1984/1988: 50 – 1). Elaborating on this liberatory stylistics— what I’ ll call “ the will to style” — in an interview titled “On the Genealogy of Ethics, ” Foucault remarks:

What strikes me is the fact that, in our society, art has become something that is related only to objects and not individuals or to life. Th at art is something which is specialized or done by experts who are artists. But couldn’ t everyone’ s life become a work of art? (1983/1997: 261)

Asked how his aestheticist perspective diff ers from the existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, Foucault responds:

I think that from the theoretical point of view, Sartre [rightly] avoids the idea of the self as something that is given to us, but through the moral notion of authenticity, he turns back to the idea that we have to be ourselves— to be truly our true self. I think the only acceptable

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practical consequence of what Sartre has said is to link his theoretical insight to the practice of creativity— and not to that of authenticity. From the [salutary] idea that the self is not given to us, I think there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art. (1983/1997: 262)

And when Foucault ’ s interlocutor remarks that his aesthetic work-ethic, which pits style and creativity against morality and authenticity, “ sounds like Nietzsche ’ s observation in Th e Gay Science that one should create one ’ s life by giving style to it through long practice and daily work,” Foucault concurs, “ Yes. My view is much closer to Nietzsche’ s than to Sartre’ s ” (1983/1997: 262). Foucault ’ s perspective is indeed closer to Nietzsche ’ s than to Sartre ’ s, or to Althusser ’ s, or, for that matter, to the revolutionary views of Karl Marx. Again, Foucault isn ’ t a Marxist by any measure (he once expressed the desire never to hear the man’ s name again).21 But unlike the unabashedly antidemocratic Nietzsche, or the cheerfully slave-owning citizens of classical Antiquity, Foucault comes off as fairly egalitarian in his radical aestheticism, implicitly refusing the idea that “ the practice of creativity” should be reserved for some elite cadre of artists/experts within the ruling class. Foucault, that is, seems more sincere than na ï ve when he poses the “ utopian ” question — “ couldn ’ t everyone ’ s life become a work of art? ” (1983/1997: 261, my emphasis). Moreover, Foucault, though not a Marxist, could be considered a sort of historical materialist, at least to the extent that he doesn’ t believe that anything related to our “ personal work, ” to our human reality, grows on trees or falls from the sky. For Foucault, everything specifi cally human must involve our old friend antiphysis , must involve human “ practices ” of power and resistance, of discourse and counter-discourse, of subjection and of liberation — practices of creativity that are simultaneously “ political ” and “ aesthetic ” and that can develop only on the basis of “ rules, styles, and inventions to be found” nowhere else but in the prevailing “ cultural environment, ” nowhere else but in a cultural language that is by nature fi ctional, nowhere else but in our own making of the present, our own creative writing of the “ history of the present” (1975/1995: 31). Perhaps the most conspicuous sign of Foucault ’ s non-Marxist historical materialism is his emphasis on sex, rather than economic class, as a principal vector of oppression and possible self-transformation. In Th e History

21 “Don’t talk to me about Marx anymore! I never want to hear anything about that man again. Ask someone whose job it is. Someone paid to do it. Ask the Marxist functionaries. Me, I’ve had enough of Marx” (cited in Erbion 1992: 266).

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of Sexuality and elsewhere, Foucault famously posits “ sex ” not as some inherently revolutionary “ force of nature” to be repressed or liberated but as a socio-discursive construction, “ an especially dense transfer point for relations of power” (1976/1990: 103). Foucault investigates what he calls the “ deployment ” of sex, the way “ sex ” is “ put into discourse. ” He analyzes those strategically “ discursive orthopedics” (1976/1990: 29) that “ encourage ” individuals to understand and articulate their “ sexuality ” as the “ truth ” of their “ identity. ” For Foucault, there are no “ natural ” or “ inevitable ” connections among sexual practices, truth-claims, and identity-formations; rather, the connections among sex, truth, and self are produced and enforced through disciplinary institutions, discursive implantations, carceral segregations, capillary relays of power, and panoptical technologies of self-surveillance.22 But since all these “ police actions ” take place discursively (they are socially enacted in various institutional, medical, psychological, religious, juridical, pedagogical, and literary discourses — what Althusser would consider ISAs), and because they occur at the level of subjectivity/subjection (what Althusser calls interpellation), these practices of sexual self- policing can be confronted and resisted discursively and subjectively as well, through “ practices of creativity, ” through “ deployments ” of style and invention. In other words, in Foucault’ s view, “ we ” subjects of the social construction of sex don’ t have to wait for a worker ’ s revolution or for the fi nal breakdown of late capitalism to try to unsettle dominant relations of power, to try to renegotiate sexual identities (or untether “ sex ” from “ identity ” altogether), to try to invent new forms of aesthetic existence, new styles of corporeal subjectivity, new ways of orchestrating our “ bodies and pleasures ” (1976/1990: 159). To re-orchestrate some of Foucault ’ s words in “ Th e Subject and Power” — we don’ t need Marx to “ refuse what we are ” and “ to promote new forms of subjectivity though the refusal of this kind of individuality that has been imposed on us for several centuries ” (1983/2000: 336).

22 In Discipline and Punish, Foucault “derives the concept of panopticism from a diagram drawn up by the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1791. Bentham’s Panopticon was a model prison in which supervisors could observe prisoners in their individual cells without being seen themselves. According to Foucault, this system was eff ective because prisoners never knew whether or not they were being watched: ‘he is seen, but he does not see . . . what matters is that he knows himself to be observed’. Foucault [argues] that this constant sense of surveillance and visibility is what characterizes the development of disciplinary societies in toto. In such societies, ‘the automatic functioning of power’ is guaranteed because individuals police themselves and each other. For Foucault, the notion of individualism in Western society is in fact a direct eff ect of panopticism. Th e individual is constructed by having internalized the disciplinary power of penitentiary and/or medicinal discourses, with their numerous methods of segregation and social exclusion. Th is is why, as Foucault concludes, modern institutions such as hospitals, schools and factories all resemble prisons” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 237).

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But while we may not need Marx (or Sartre) for this promotion of the subjectively new, this refusal of the centuries-old, we might very well need Nietzsche , as Foucault claims he did, to discover our desire for doing our own “ personal work,” for undoing the work that’ s already been done on our persons. For if the authentic and moral “ kind of individuality” that Foucault stylistically resists here has in fact been “ imposed upon us for several centuries, ” Nietzsche was one of the fi rst to chafe, rail, and write against the imposition. As for the “ individuality ” in question, it’ s clearly more Cartesian than Nietzschean. As you’ ll recall, we began this lesson by considering Descartes ’ cogito ergo sum as a truth-claim involving both epistemology and ontology, both personal knowing and subjective being. In the purely rational truth of Cartesian self-certainty, I think I know both that I am and exactly what I am. As we noted, Lacan opposes any philosophy directly issuing from the cogito because such philosophy reduces all thinking, and hence all being, to rational consciousness. But Nietzsche also objected to this reduction, this “ rationing ” or reasonable impoverishment of the “ aesthetic phenomena” of human psychical life. In Book V of Th e Gay Science, Nietzsche off ers a stingingly “ elitist ” critique of consciousness, suggesting

that consciousness does not really belong to man ’ s individual existence but rather to his social or herd nature; that [consciousness] has developed subtlety only insofar as this is required by social or herd utility. Consequently, . . . “ to know ourselves,” each of us will always succeed in becoming conscious only of what is not individual but “ average. ” Our thoughts are continually governed by the [herd] character of consciousness . . . and translated back into the perspective of the herd. (1887/2006: 367 – 8)

Translating Nietzsche into a sort of Althusserian Lacanese, we could say that our given or conventional sense of self-understanding is dominated by the ideological character of consciousness, governed by the props and cops of the symbolic order. To “ know ourselves ” under prevalent “ herd ” conditions means to tame, police, contain, and domesticate ourselves, to convincingly demonstrate that we have assumed or fi xed in our minds all the pictures of libidinal and cultural normativity that pertain to us — the images most familiar to and hence most useful for the dominant order in its continuous eff orts to secure the reproduction of its conditions of production. If this normalization qua familiarization is actually all that rationally “ knowing ourselves” amounts to, then it’ s pretty clear that under this epistemological regime any “ unfamiliar ” aspects of ourselves would have to remain alien, “ unknown, ” unrealized, excluded from consciousness, hustled into the unconscious and/ or projected onto some strange god or abject scapegoat or another.

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In Nietzsche’ s view, maintaining normal everyday consciousness or common sense always depends upon reducing “ the strange ” to “ the familiar. ” He sees this “ will to familiarize ” as the very engine of normative epistemology, as “Th e [very] origin of our concept of ‘ knowledge. ’ ” As Nietzsche writes in Gay Science under this titular heading:

I take this explanation from the street. I heard one of the common people say, “ he knew me right away. ” Th en I asked myself: What is that the common people take for knowledge? What do they want when they want “ knowledge ” ? Nothing more than this: Something strange is to be reduced to something familiar . And we philosophers — have we really meant more than this when we have spoken of knowledge? What is familiar means what we are used to so that we no longer marvel at it, our everyday, some rule in which we are stuck, anything at all in which we feel at home. Look, isn ’ t our need for knowledge precisely this need for the familiar, the will to uncover under everything strange, unusual, and questionable something that no longer disturbs us? Is it not the instinct of fear that bids us to know? And is the jubilation of those who attain knowledge not the jubilation over the restoration of a sense of security? (1887/2006: 368)

In bringing the hammer down on “ knowledge, ” Nietzsche’ s writing here adumbrates Althusserian and Lacanian motifs; it features both an ontological scene of common, “ street- level” recognition and an epistemological “ fl utter ” of mind-fi xing “ jubilation, ” thus grounding the highest fl ights of metaphysics in the basest instincts of fear. But if Nietzsche here foreshadows Lacan ’ s theory of “ paranoic ” knowledge, he also sets the stage for performing an abrasively Foucauldian “ aesthetics of resistance” to fear-based familiarization, to the anxious expulsion of strange “ foreign elements ” that still seems to dominate our “ everyday ” self-understanding. Nietzsche, that is, anticipates not only Foucault’ s commitment to “ aesthetic existence” but Viktor Shklovsky’ s notion of defamiliarization as the defi ning aesthetic technique of all literary writing worthy of the name. We ’ ll consider Shklovsky ’ s self-estranging “ formalism ” at some length in subsequent pages. Here, however, we ’ ll let his main idea — that literary writing as literary writing defamiliarizes “ the subject ” of any literary text — remind us of the underlying thesis of this introductory text — that “ theoretical writing” is itself a “ practice of creativity,” that “ theory ” is not merely a way of “ approaching ” literature but a way of performing the strangely “ personal work ” of living one ’ s “ life as literature. ” Now, having earlier quoted Stephen Greenblatt to the eff ect that literature is “ one of the great institutions for the enforcement” of normative culture as an ideological “ system of constraints ” (1995: 226, 227), I would be an

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ass to suggest that “ creative ” theoretical writing — theory “ not of literature but as literature” (Rabaté 2002: 117)— could ever be essentially liberatory, inherently resistant to reifi cation, naturalization, libidinal normalization, etc. I would be an ass to think that “ theory as literature ” could ever work as a sort of permanently subversive riposte or transcendental antidote to “ eternal ” ideology, could ever stand as what Foucault dismissively calls the “ single locus of great Refusal, . . . soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary ” (1976/1990: 95 – 6). Aft er all, some of the “ greatest ” literary works in the world have worked quite diligently to familiarize and naturalize dominant power relations, reinforce given meaning, impose obviousnesses as obviousnesses, and so on. Some “ great works of literature ” disturb particular aspects of regnant human reality while leaving other matters all too comfortably settled, all too readily known. And theoretical writing, like any other kind, can all too quickly become weary, stale, fl at, and unprofi table, can lose the capacity to desediment, subvert, or surprise, can fail to keep open that crucial antiphysical diff erence “ between things as they are and things as they might otherwise be” (Critchley 1997: 22). But to the extent that theory can stay aesthetically frosty, can work to remain politically and personally resistant, this kind of writing can invite or provoke all but the most frightened of us to imagine ourselves and “ things as they are” otherwise; at its most eff ective, theoretical writing can make our imaginary relations and our real conditions of existence seem strangely unnatural, radically fi ctional, anything but inevitable. By delivering, among other malaise-inducing messages, the “ ontological bad news” that we are not ourselves, that we can never really or “ authentically ” be ourselves— along with the “ glad tidings ” that we don ’ t necessarily “ have to be ourselves, ” don ’ t really have “ to be truly our true self” (Foucault 1983/1997: 262)— theoretical writing might be able to keep us open, if only just barely, to the possibility of self- alteration, the radical practice of creativity, the secular miracle of change.

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Five:

culture, aura, epistemology, ontology, dialectic, Nachträglichkeit/ deferred action, interpellation, hegemony, ideological/repressive state apparatuses, commodity fetishism, panopticism

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Extimacy: Five Lessons in the Utter Alterity of Absolute Proximity

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— or, the least that can be said about Hegel

Truly to escape Hegel involves an exact appreciation of the price we have to pay to detach ourselves from him. It assumes that we are aware of the extent to which Hegel, insidiously perhaps, is close to us; it implies a knowledge, in that which permits us to think against Hegel, of that which remains Hegelian. We have to determine the extent to which our anti- Hegelianism is possibly one of his tricks directed against us, at the end of which he stands, motionless, waiting for us. — Foucault (1972: 235)

I. Th esis

Hegel is important. Indeed, for many theoretical writers, the name “ Hegel ” practically signifi es importance itself. In Hegel: Th e Restlessness of the Negative, Jean-Luc Nancy calls Hegel “ the inaugural thinker of the contemporary world ” and identifi es Hegel as “ the fi rst to take thought out of the realm of identity ” (2002: 3, 55). In Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Refl ections in Twentieth- Century France, Judith Butler writes that her theoretical work began and still “ remains within the orbit of a certain set of Hegelian questions: What is the relation between desire and recognition, and how is it that the constitution of the subject entails a radical and constitutive relation to alterity?” (1999: xiv) Slavoj Ž i ž ek, a critical adversary of Butler ’ s, also situates his work in the Hegelian orbit — “ Ultimately, ” he declares, “ if I am to choose just one thinker, it ’ s Hegel. He ’ s the one for me . . . He may be a white, dead, man or whatever the wrong positions are today, but that ’ s where I stand ” (in Rasmussen 2004).1 And in Th e Future of Th eory, Jean-Michel Rabat é , noting “ the almost

1 Butler critiques Ž i ž ek in Bodies Th at Matter (1993); Ž i ž ek critiques Butler in Th e Ticklish Subject (1999/2008); Butler, Ž i ž ek, and Ernesto Laclau critique and converse with each other in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality (2000).

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ineluctable Hegelian infl ection given to any discourse that presents itself as ‘ literary theory,’ ” insists “ that a patient reading of Hegel . . . is, if not a prerequisite, at least an essential step on the way to an understanding of theory ” (2002: 39, 21). So, again, Hegel is important, if not, at least in theory, importance itself. And yet, in the preceding pages of this discourse, which certainly “ presents itself ” as literary theory and as a guide to understanding theoretical writing, Hegel is mentioned by name only twice (once in the footnoted gloss on the term “ phenomenology ” and again in the footnoted gloss on the term “ dialectic ” ). And in fact most introductory guides to theory make similarly reductive gestures (or even no gestures at all) toward Hegel, even though practically all of the questions raised in such guides are plausibly situated within the Hegelian ballpark, and even though practically all of the heavy hitters of high theory, from Althusser to Ž i ž ek, became the theorists they became by fi rst becoming readers, patient or impatient, of Hegel. We might best explain this relative silence about the hugely important Hegel by considering Fredric Jameson ’ s early warning that “ the attempt to do justice to the most random observation of Hegel ends up drawing the whole tangled, dripping mass of the Hegelian sequence of forms out into the light with it” (1971: 306). Th e problem, that is, facing the writer who would introduce theory, is that even the briefest reference to Hegel can transmogrify into a massive treatise on Hegel, a gnarly epic narrating the restlessly negative, formally sequential, spirally all-encompassing corpus of Hegelian thinking— a.k.a. “ Absolute Knowing” — itself. 2 To avoid getting “ totally ” caught up in that tangled, dripping, and serpentine mass (Jameson seems to be alluding to Laoco ö n here), it ’ s safer just to keep one ’ s hole shut and not mention Hegel at all. But once safety is abandoned, the hazardous mention made, the introductory writer’ s strategic question still remains— what ’ s the least that can justly be said about Hegel? Clearly “ Hegel is important ” won ’ t do, nor is

2 Th e “ anti-Hegelianism ” or desire “ to escape Hegel” that Foucault mentions above stems primarily from the perception of Hegel as an abstruse know-it-all who aspires toward or even claims to have arrived at an all-encompassing “ Absolute Knowledge ” of “ the ultimate meaning of everything” (Findlay 1971: 93), a thinker of totality “ suspected of totalization, and even of having totalitarian designs ” (Malabou 1996/2004: 1). For Ž i ž ek, Jameson, Butler, Nancy, Malabou, Johnston, and other contemporary champions of the dialectic, however, “ Hegel is the opposite of a ‘ totalitarian ’ ” thinker” (Nancy 2002: 8); he “ is anything but the cheerleader for an omniscient philosophical self-consciousness, for a complete and exhaustive encyclopedic knowledge from whose fi rm grasp nothing whatsoever can escape” (Johnston 2008: 128). I’ ll add only that if Hegel were a totalitarian cheerleader, he really wouldn’ t be “ important ” to theory, and we wouldn’ t be including a lesson totally devoted to his writing here.

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it suffi cient to give in to what Jameson calls “ the tripartite temptation ” (2010: 19) and reduce the Hegelian dialectic to the old “ thesis-antithesis-synthesis ” formula à la the earlier footnote, since Hegel himself never described his own sense of the dialectic quite so formulaically, and in fact, chafed against the limitations of this Fichtean trinity.3 If we had to boil Hegel ’ s thinking down to a single term, other than “ dialectic ” — and other than “ restles sness,” which, as Jameson helpfully notes, was “ one of Hegel’ s favorite words” (2010: 21)— that term would probably have to be Aufh ebung, or “ sublation. ” But in attempting to do that particular word justice we very quickly see our discursive pot boil over, saturating just about “ everything ” in sight. For in the Science of Logic, Hegel asserts that Aufh ebung or sublation “ constitutes one of the most important notions in philosophy” (1812/1998: 194). Th e word, he writes, has “ a twofold meaning, ” and its duplicity actually constitutes its dialectical operation — “ on the one hand [to sublate] means to preserve, to maintain, and equally it also means to cause to cease, to put to an end ” (1812/1998: 194). Th ese two “ folds ” of meaning of course seem mutually opposed, hopelessly contradictory, for how can anything be simultaneously maintained and put to an end? But this contradiction, inherent to Aufh ebung, allows us to consider one of Hegel’ s most Hegelian premises— to wit, “ everything is inherently contradictory ”

3 Jameson calls the thesis-antithesis-synthesis formula “ one of the most notorious and inveterate stereotypes of Hegel discussion,” though he allows that Hegel himself “ is complicitous in the propagation of this formula, and at least partially responsible for its vulgarization. It is certainly a useful teaching device as well as a convenient expository framework: and is thereby called upon to play its role in that transformation of Hegel’ s thought into a systematic philosophy — into Hegelianism, if you will . . . [But] even if the tripartite rhythm happens to do justice to this or that local Hegelian insight, it still reifi es that insight in advance and translates its language into purely systematic terms . . . Yet the tripartite temptation does not appear out of nowhere, nor does it correspond to nothing [in Hegel] at all. Indeed, it might be considered a relatively awkward codifi cation of what is certainly a far more consistent and coherent Hegelian view of human time, which governs the growth of the individual (Bildung ) fully as much as the development of history itself ” (2010: 18 – 19). As for the Fichtean origins of the “ tripartite temptation, ” Yirmiyahu Yovel writes that for Hegel, dialectical logic “ cannot be formalized, not even by the famous formula ‘ thesis-antithesis-synthesis ’ (which is Fichte’ s, not Hegel’ s) . . . Fichte constructed his system by triads of the form ‘ thesis-antithesis-synthesis, ’ which repeat themselves throughout his systematic work, Th e Th eory of Science , as an a priori formula. Th ough Hegel refrains from using this formula, it has nevertheless been ascribed to him in many textbooks and in the public ’ s mind. It is true that Hegel ’ s system, in its broad lines, also advances a triadic form, but it is diff erent, freer, and without a priori formulaic limitations” (2005: 29). Yovel goes on to suggest that the slogan “ ‘Self-refl ection in being- other ’ is perhaps Hegel ’ s most succinct formulation of a dialectical relation . . . Although the dialectic cannot be squeezed into an a priori formula, when a short characterization is needed, we might prefer to speak of ‘ self-refl ection within otherness ’ instead of the problematic formula ‘ thesis-antithesis-synthesis ’ ” (2005: 99).

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(1812/1998: 238). And by “everything , ” Hegel does mean absolutely everything, for in his book

there is nothing, nothing in heaven or in nature or mind or anywhere else which does not equally contain both immediacy and mediation, so that these two determinations reveal themselves to be unseparated and inseparable and the opposition between them to be a nullity (1812/1998: 178).

So here, our questions become: How does this two-fold meaning of Aufh ebung— to cancel and equally to preserve — relate to the assertion that everything everywhere is contradictory in that there is nothing anywhere that doesn ’ t equally contain both immediacy and mediation? What do “ immediacy and mediation” mean for Hegel, and why is it so important for him that we nullify their opposition? Why is Yovel correct to say that “ absolute immediacy is a myth for Hegel ” (2005: 48)? Why is Jameson correct to say that “ the whole of Hegel’ s philosophical production is an elaborate refutation of all possible concepts of immediacy ” (2010: 13)? For Hegel, writes Michael Inwood, “ Th e immediate is unrelated to other things; simple; given; elementary; and/or initial. Th e mediated, by contrast, is related to other things; complex, explained; developed; and/or resultant ” (1992: 184). Th us, for Hegel, developing the understanding that “everything is inherently contradictory” entails both grasping and revealing the inseparability, within the orbit of “ everything, ” of apparent immediacy and actual mediation; it means negating the apparent opposition between the two, so that what appears to be isolatedly unrelated to other things is shown to be totally other-related; what seems simple is shown to be complex; what is normally “ taken as a given” demonstrably warrants more sustained explanation; what seems elementary is drawn into secondary, tertiary, and further spirals of rhetorical development; what initially appears to our historical imagination as an absolutely self-identical origin is posited instead as a mixed and derived result . “ Down-to-earth ” examples of all this are forthcoming, but for now let’ s just say that this revelation —of and as the developmental nullifi cation of opposites —is the conceptual work of sublation and that in Hegel ’ s work it is this work that ultimately works through (without entirely resolving ) the contradiction embedded in Aufh ebung. For in Hegel’ s view, mediation “ refutes ” but doesn ’ t simply annihilate immediacy; rather, mediation dissolves the immediate in its given form and perpetually transforms the immediate into something other than itself . Th e given or familiar form is “ sublated ” rather than destroyed to the extent that something in the form that is essential to

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the form survives its mediation/transformation into something external to and “ alienated ” from itself, retaining “ something in and of itself” without “ self-righteously ” resisting self-estrangement. Th is recourse to self-alienation as destructive transformation explains how sublation equally cancels and preserves. Th e conceptual work of Aufh ebung consists of grasping the “ truth ” that “everything is inherently contradictory ” in that “ everything ” that really “ is ” only potentially “ is ” ; that is, everything that “ is ” truly is, absolutely is, only by virtue of going through the dialectical process of remaining itself (or “ winning its truth ” ) by becoming (for a moment, or for an ever-extended series of moments) the negative of itself, and that nothing — not even “ nothing ” — can exempt itself from getting “ caught up ” in the “ truth, ” the “ revealed reality, ” of this universally transformational “ sequence of forms. ” As Hegel posits:

Th e True is the whole. But the whole is nothing other than the essence consummating itself through its development. Of the Absolute it must be said that it is essentially a result , that only in the end is it what it truly is; and that precisely in this consists its nature, viz. to be actual, subject, the spontaneous becoming of itself. (1807/1998: 53)

Now, Hegel turns that loaded phrase “ everything is inherently contradictory ” in the section of the Science of Logic called “ Doctrine of Essence,” and the phrase pops up at a moment in Hegel ’ s exposition that fi nds him challenging the stale and prejudiced notion that immediate “ identity ” constitutes the most profound “ essence ” of “ being. ” As Hegel writes:

It is one of the fundamental prejudices of logic as hitherto understood and of ordinary thinking, that contradiction is not so characteristically essential and immanent a determination as identity; but in fact, if it were a question of grading the two determinations . . ., then contradiction would have to be taken as the profounder determination and more characteristic of essence. For as against contradiction, identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and an activity. (1812/1998: 238)

In other words, if Aufh ebung is inherently contradictory, duplicitous in its unfolding, then so is “ everything ” else— or at least everything else that in actuality does unfold , that actually does move, that isn’ t “ dead being,” fi xed in the immediate “ givenness ” of determinately self-contained identity. Any “ being ” that remains fi xed maintains the boundaries of its formal necrosis by shrinking from mediation, shirking the duty of self-alienation, refusing to

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face up to what its own inherent contradictions imply and potentially express. Th e diff erence, then, between “ identity ” and “ contradiction ” is for Hegel the diff erence between an ever self-enclosed hypostasis and an ever-expanding expression of self-alienating movement.

Th e principle of self-movement . . . consists solely in an exhibition of it. External, sensuous motion itself is contradiction’ s immediate existence. Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this ‘ here ’, it at once is and is not. (1812/1998: 239)4

What Hegel calls “ livingness, ” then— animation or Spirit— is self-movement as “existent contradiction itself ” (1812/1998: 239). Any “ being ” that exists, that animatedly is “ is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and defi cient, the negative of itself (1812/1998: 239). What Hegel on the other hand calls “ abstract self-identity” remains fi xed “ in itself,” and it remains fi xed because of its refusal to acknowledge its inner defi ciency, because of its failure to fail to be itself, its inability to let go of itself, to realize itself in and as the negative of itself. Th us:

Abstract self-identity is not yet a livingness, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction. (1812/1998: 239)

Th is power to endure contradiction, to hold on to letting go— this capability of Spirit to give up “ the fi xity of its self-positing ” (1807/1998: 60), to get outside its own tightly clenched circle and submit itself to alteration — is what Hegel calls negating negativity, “ the activity of dissolution, ” “ the tremendous power of the negative” (1807/1998: 59), and so on. But this tremendously negative power is actually nothing but subjective “ Understanding ” as the self-moving/self-dissolving force of mediation. In Hegel’ s understanding,

4 Because theorists like Ž i ž ek see Hegel ’ s dialectic as anticipating and making possible Lacan’ s “ antiphysical ” take on language , because Ž i ž ek believes that “ the Hegelian dialectic begins with a chasm opened up between words and things ” (Johnston 2008: 263), it’ s interesting to note the similarity between what Hegel says here about “ the principle of self-movement” and what we earlier saw Lacan say about the movement of the signifi er — “ Th e signifi er is a unique unit of being which, by its very nature, is the symbol of but an absence. Th is is why we cannot say of the [signifi er] that, like other objects, it must be or not be somewhere but rather that, unlike them, it will be and not be where it is wherever it goes ” (Lacan 1966a/2006: 17). For more on Hegel ’ s anticipations of psychoanalysis, see Mills (2002).

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Understanding means (or at least potentially means) much more than ideational consumption, more than simply “ taking in” existing thoughts and representations “ as given” ; rather, Understanding entails the arduous work of “ freeing determinate thoughts from their fi xity, ” a liberatory work that imparts “ spiritual life ” (1807/1998: 60) to both the Understanding subject and the “ substantial ” matters understood.5 And yet, rather astonishingly, this benefi cently and creatively “ spiritual life ” is for Hegel inseparable from the destructive work of death and dismemberment. In a particularly famous moment in the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit , Hegel writes:

Th e activity of dissolution is the power and work of the Understanding , the most astonishing and mightiest of powers, or rather the absolute power. Th e circle that remains self-enclosed and . . . holds its moments together, is an immediate relationship, one therefore which has nothing astonishing about it. But that an accident as such, detached from what circ*mscribes it . . . should attain an existence of its own and a separate freedom— this is the tremendous power of the negative; it is the energy of thought, of the pure ‘ I ’. Death, if that is what we want to call this non- actuality, is of all things the most dreadful, and to hold fast what is dead requires the greatest strength . . . But the life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather

5 I use the word “ Understanding ” here because it ’ s the word Hegel uses in the famous passage from the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit that you’ re just about to read. But it ’ s actually a bit misleading to let the word “ Understanding ” signify the “ power and work ” of active thinking that Hegel advocates, for typically Hegel lets Verstand or “ Understanding ” stand for exactly the type of ideational consumption — the passive “ taking in” of thoughts in their empirical, given, common-sense, or reifi ed form— that is described above. Indeed, “ If the strictest formulations of the dialectic oft en inspire perplexity, annoyance, and refusal, it is because . . . these formulations . . . wish to make understood that they cannot be, as they are, understood by understanding, but rather demand that understanding relinquish itself” (Nancy 2002: 63). For Hegel, eff ectively dialectical thinking should be understood as the self-overcoming of “ Understanding, ” a relinquishing sublation of certainty and of empiricist common-sense. Th us, Jameson writes that in Hegel’ s work, “ the great movement from Verstand or Understanding to Vernunft or Reason is grasped as a radical break with common-sense empiricism and with what we may also call reifi ed thinking” (2010: 1), which is why I write that in Hegel’ s understanding, “ Understanding ” only potentially means something more and other than passive or reifi ed ideational consumption— Understanding, that is, has the potential to radically break with itself, to relinquish itself, but to enact this potential Understanding must “ enthusiastically embrace the power of negativity introduced into reality through the internal rupturing of the idiotic, sterile enclosure of consciousness as solipsistic sense-certainty” (Johnston 2008: 263). Without embracing “ the power of negativity,” which is the power of Understanding itself, Understanding will never become more and other than itself, will never become Reason, but will remain exactly itself, ossifi ed, rigidly if not “ idiotically ” self-identical.

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the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it fi nds itself . . . Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. Th is tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being. Th is power is identical with . . . the Subject, which . . . supersedes abstract immediacy . . . and thus is authentic substance: that being or immediacy whose mediation is not outside of it but which is this mediation itself. (1807/1998: 59)

Earlier, in what has been called “ the single most important sentence in the Preface” (Yovel 2005: 16), Hegel writes that “ everything turns on grasping and expressing the True, not only as Substance , but equally as Subject ” (1807/1998: 52). Hegel also posits that the fact “ that the True is actual only as system, or that Substance is essentially Subject, is expressed in the representation of the Absolute as Spirit” (1807/1998: 55). We can best understand what Hegel means by these terms by considering “ Subject ” as self-consciousness (never mind, for the moment, whose) and “ Substance ” as everything supposedly external or alien to self-consciousness; we could also understand “ Subject ” as “ Spirit ” or “ Mind ” and “ Substance ” as stuff , objective “ Matter. ” At fi rst glance, or for what Hegel calls “ ordinary thinking, ” it would seem that these two determinations are absolutely opposed, that one is the simple negative of the other, that Spirit is the pure “ non-actuality ” of Matter, or that Subject is completely alien to Substance, or, if you like, that the “ I ” diff ers utterly and eternally from the “ not-I. ” But for Hegel, grasping the True in its totality means realizing that Subject/Spirit “ truly is ” only through its developmental actuation or substantiation. Only through the “ overcoming of alienation ” (1807/1998: 56) does “ Subject ” essentially become “ Substance ” while remaining substantially Subject. Only through Spirit ’ s eventual realization of “ pure self-recognition in absolute otherness ” (1807/1998: 56) does inert exteriority become “ authentic substance” for, of, and as the Subject of “ Absolute Knowing. ”

II. Antithesis

But what ’ s the deal with “ Absolute Knowing ” ? Since, for Hegel, “ the True is the whole, ” it follows that the “ absolutely true ” must be “ absolutely whole. ” But, for Hegel, nothing can be true or whole without its being consciously and rationally grasped to be so. Th us, the “ Absolute ” can truly be, can totally be, only as the result of the rational Subject ’ s Substantially and self-consciously becoming itself, wholly overcoming its self-estrangement and knowing

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it, “ becom[ing] alienated from itself and then return[ing] to itself from this alienation” (1807/1998: 61). Th is absolutely “ totalizing ” or completely “ hetero-tautological ” take on Truth can allow readers of Hegel to take this philosopher either as a wholly progressive secular teleological rationalist for whom human “reason rules the world ” (1837/1998: 408) or as a residually holy- roller Christian eschatologist for whom good old “ God ” still calls the shots— depending on how one deals with the question of to whom or to what Power “ self-consciousness ” as “ Absolute Knowing ” fi nally and properly belongs, or depending on whether one takes one ’ s Spirits phenomenologically , onto- theologically , historico-collectively, and/or as a card-carrying Lacanian.6 We will return to these questions. But for the moment, let ’ s get back to Aufh ebung . I ’ ve said that its duplicitous unfolding is the operation of the dialectic. And, although I’ ve acknowledged that the three-step formula

6 “Telos is the Greek word for ‘ end ’ or ‘ goal, ’ and a teleology or teleological argument assigns meaning to events by viewing them as progressing toward a goal . . . Many of the most infl uential philosophies of history in Western thought have been teleological (as is, for example, Christian theology or the philosophy of Hegel) ” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 302). Eschatology is the branch of Christian theology concerned with future or fi nal events. Phenomenology (once again) involves the analysis of “ human consciousness as ‘ lived experience’ ” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 227) and is usually associated with “ the canonical three H’ s of German philosophy” (Rabaté 2002: 47): Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger. Th e term onto-theological hails from Heidegger and involves his faulting Western metaphysics for limiting the thinking of being ( ontos ) to the idea of God ( theos ) and vice versa. Derrida off ers the term “ hetero-tautology ” as “ the defi nition of the Hegelian speculative” (1980/1987: 301), casting Hegel’ s “ Spirit ” as “ self-recognition in absolute otherness ” as a teleological/tautological/totalitarian process of turning “ the other” back into “ the same.” In distinction to all this, Jameson takes Hegel’ s “ Spirit ” to mean the “ social collectivity” of human history— the sociohistorical or untranscendably human collective of laboring world-makers in the Marxist or materialist sense. Jameson insists that “ we can disambiguate Hegel’ s discussions by holding fi rm to the principle that the words Spirit or Geist, wherever they appear, have nothing to do with spirituality nor even with consciousness itself as such . . . [Rather], we must . . . hold fi rmly to the conviction that in Hegel the word ‘ Spirit ’ always designates the collective” (2010: 13). Ž i ž ek — who likes to call himself a “ card-carrying Lacanian ” — views Hegel ’ s “ Absolute Knowing” not as an all-encompassing grab-bag of fi nal and stable philosophical Truth, nor as the full achievement of a classless society, but rather in the Lacanian “ Spirit ” of radical loss— Adrian Johnston writes that “ as Ž i ž ek sees it, Hegel’ s notorious ‘ absolute knowledge’ ( das absolute Wissen ) amounts to nothing more than the acceptance of the irreducible incompleteness not only of the subjective human understanding of the world . . . but also of the reality of being and of itself. Ž i ž ek describes das absolute Wissen as involving an experience of ‘ radical loss, ’ rather than an intoxicating ascension into omniscience. ” For Ž i ž ek, writes Johnston, “ the dialectic arguably involves an insight into the interminability of the restless dialectic movement . . . instead of marking a point at which a stable body of knowledge is consolidated once and for all ” (2008: 130 – 1). As Johnston continues, “ According to Ž i ž ekian Hegelianism, the Absolute is the absolutely fi nite. Reaching the vantage point of the Absolute amounts to realizing that there ’ s no seamless transcendent Elsewhere in which the snags and tears in the fabric of experiential reality are magically mended ” (2008: 132).

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“ thesis-antithesis-synthesis ” is a sorry way to describe that operation, I will now employ the heuristic formula anyway— aft er all, as Jameson allows, it ’ s “ a useful teaching device” (2010: 18)— in order to draw out several versions of “ the Hegelian sequence of forms,” one abstractly logical , the other comedically theological , and the third collectively world -historical . In the Science of Logic, Hegel posits that it is impossible to think of the thing or thesis called “ being ” without also thinking of its non-thing, its antithesis, so-called “ nothing. ” More to the point, Hegel posits the impossibility of thinking “ being ” itself, “ beingness ” as such , or “ being ” in general, without also thinking of its opposite, the antithetical thought of “ nothing ” in particular . Th is “ nothing in particular ” is summoned to the thinking (of) being only to be excluded from it — it appears only to disappear as the simple, immediate antithesis of “ being in general,” “ being as such.” But Hegel, being Hegel, cannot rest content to allow a determination and its negation — in this case, “ being ” and “ nothing ” — to settle down into a comfortably fi xed or “ indiff erent ” opposition. Understanding that “ being ” and “ nothing ” already infect each other, that “ nothing in particular” negates nothing but “ being ” in general and thus properly belongs to “ being ” as being’ s property , its own proper negation, Hegel posits becoming as the mo(ve)ment of mediation between simple “ being ” and pure “ nothing. ” In this mediation, “ being and nothing each become the other, and so constitute the concept of becoming. Becoming . . . is the ‘ unity ’ of . . . both being and nothing, in that becoming is [both] the coming to be of what was not [and] the ceasing to be of what was ” (Inwood 1992: 45). As Adrian Johnston explains:

For Hegel, the movement of becoming is a result of the inextricable intertwining of being and nothing. In other words, Hegelian becoming is simultaneously the dynamic of being passing into nothing and of nothing passing into being. Th is two-way dynamic is driven by, among other factors, temporal negativity. Th e unstoppable movement of time is the passage of nothing into being that forced being to pass into nothing by negating any and every congealed confi guration of being(s) . . . Hegel’ s ontology is one in which all actually existing things are crystallized objectifi cations of the antagonism between being and nothing. Everything with actual ontological status is in a state of becoming as a materialization of the dialectical oscillation between being and nothing. Consequently, in this ontology, there is neither brute being as inert raw matter (i.e., subjectless substance) nor pure nothing as entirely dematerialized negativity (i.e., substanceless subject) — substance always involves the subject and vice-versa . . . As Hegel repeats, all of existence is an “ impure ” admixture of these abstract poles: “ Nowhere

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in heaven and earth is there anything which does not contain within itself both being and nothing” (Hegel 1969, 85), and correlatively but conversely, nowhere in heaven or on earth is there being by itself or nothing by itself. And again, he maintains that “ there is nothing which is not in an intermediate state between being and nothing ” (Hegel 1969, 105). (Johnston 2008: 239 – 40)

A hell of a long quotation, to be sure— but note in passing how here, as elsewhere in the Science of Logic, Hegel simultaneously introduces and negates the opposition between being(s) “ in heaven or on earth. ” Note too how Johnston can pull off his impressive unpacking of the “ the dialectical oscillation between being and nothing” without giving in to the “ tripartite temptation. ” If we were to yield to that temptation, however, and map the “ abstract poles” of this Hegelian “ admixture ” onto the heuristic formula of the dialectic, we would reductively posit “ being ” as thesis, “ nothing ” as antithesis , and “ becoming ” as synthesis , the negation of the negation. But we would also stress that what keeps this or any other dialectical ball rolling is the conviction that any synthesis must be considered a new thesis precipitating yet another antithesis, thereby generating the next stage of dialectical synthesis, which becomes a new but restlessly self-contradictory thesis, and so on. But to see how this transformative sequencing works in less abstractly logical and more “ down to earth ” terms, let me ask you a question that ’ s out of this world. Are you, by any chance, “ God ” ? No, I didn ’ t think so. And I hope and trust you didn ’ t say so. But if you did answer that question sanely, then, believe it or not, you manifested something like Hegelian negation, for, as Inwood notes, “ Th e native German for ‘ negation ’ is Verneinung , from verneinen ( ‘ to answer “ No ” (nein ) to a question, to deny or contradict an assertion’ ) ” (1992: 199). Th us, by rationally answering “ no ” to the crazy question — “ are you ‘ God ’ ? ” — you eff ectively posit yourself as the negation of God, as God ’ s antithesis, as “ bad ” as that might initially sound. And it sounds even worse before it starts to sound better. For if “ you ” stand as the negation of “ God, ” how then stands “ God ” ? Rather unsteadily, as it turns out, at least in Hegel’ s actively dissolvent Understanding . For Hegel really means it when he writes that “everything is inherently contradictory ” and that there is “ nothing in heaven or in nature or mind or anywhere else ” that isn ’ t a mix of immediacy and mediation, of being and nothing, including even “ God. ” But how in God’ s name could “ God ” possibly be brought down into this dissolute mixture? How can even “ God, ” the very fi xture of the

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Absolute, be posited as an inherently contradictory being that (even up “ in heaven ” ) unfi xedly stands on the unstable grounds of Aufh ebung ? Well, consider the standard attributes of the Absolute Being in our “ ordinary thinking.” Conventionally, belief in “ God ” is staked on the conception of a deity that transcends all human limits, that is immortal and omniscient, that doesn’ t gain power as He rolls along but is “ all-powerful ” from the foundational get-go. But a moment’ s refl ection on these “ essential ” attributes shakes them all up, brings them into trembling contradiction. Immortality, for example, clashes with omniscience, for, strangely enough, an immortal being can ’ t know what it feels like to be consciously mortal, to be conscious of mortality, suff ering through the actual lived experience of the anticipation of death. Being absolutely all-powerful also abrades omniscience, for an infi nitely almighty and exalted being just can’ t know what it really feels like in actual lived experience to be puny, powerless, and forsaken — just a slob, a bum, a loser. Omniscience alone is shot through with irony, for the omniscient can ’ t know what it really feels like not to know, which means that the omniscient is by defi nition limited in knowledge. Paradoxically, then, the omniscient “ God ” who already knows everything, already knows how it’ s all going to turn out (at, say, the end of time), thereby lacks something that we mere mortals sometimes possess in abundance, and I don ’ t mean ignorance. Rather — and you might already have guessed where this irony is headed (God knows I’ ve planted enough clues)— the Absolutely Omniscient must by defi nition lack curiosity , even the curiosity that killed the cat. But what say we yield once more to tripartite temptation and take this bizarre notion of an inherently self-contradictory and strangely defi cient “ God ” — a “ God ” put weirdly at a defi cit in knowledge by the very virtue of omniscience— back to the stereotypical formula? “ God ” would be the thesis, and, as we ’ ve established, you and your ilk would be the antithesis, the negation of “ God. ” Now, the “ Almighty God ” of some old-time religion might be content to rest or ineff ably abide on the safe side of this fi xed opposition. But that old-time (or Old Testament) religion (i.e., Judaism) isn’ t good enough for Hegel. Nor is such divine self-suffi ciency good enough for the “ defi cient ” God of the new and “ true ” religion, for the self-sacrifi cial Spirit that can “ win its truth” only by losing/fi nding itself in utter dismemberment. To the extent that self-consciousness of and as inherent contradiction prods this “ defi cient ” God into “ the restlessness of the negative,” this self-prodded God desires to overcome the contradiction, to nullify the opposition, between its own divine thesis and your all-too-human antithesis . Th is restless and infi nitely Understanding Spirit not only has a desire but essentially is this desire to negate the negation by undergoing alteration and becoming something other than itself, by coming down to your level, by actually becoming one of you

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(no small sacrifi ce on the Deity ’ s part, you might agree). Only through this sacrifi cial process can Spirit as self-lowered Lord succeed in “ winning its truth ” and (if you do agree) winning you over, winning all of you who are in agreement over, or back, if not at the same time, then at the end of time, to be (rapturously) sure. Perhaps, then, the least that can be said about Hegel is simply “ Jesus Christ!” 7 But of course there ’ s nothing simple about this moniker, which we can ’ t just drop in praise or take in vain, hoping to let the expletive hang there as the least or last thing that can be said about Hegel. To stop at this particular station would be both to neglect the ongoing operation of the dialectic and to ignore the way Hegel ’ s subjectively rationalist philosophy restlessly supersedes whatever remains of his substantially religious faith. But since we do have to stop for a vanishing moment before considering that supersession, let’ s “ tarry with the negative ” for a while in its “ totally ” Christian form. Simply put, and employing the heuristic dialectical formula once again, if God is the thesis and you ’ re the antithesis, Jesus Christ would have to be the synthesis. But as we’ ve noted, any synthesis snaps into the position of new thesis, generating yet another antithesis. In this case, however, the new antithesis is the same one as before, given that you (if still sane) would no doubt answer “ no ” to the question “ Are you Jesus Christ?” But we can readily see how this contradiction, between you and the Savior of the world, might be sublated, for while you might quite rationally deny being Christ , you might not emotionally deny Christ himself, might not deny “ the body of Christ, ” “ the passion of the Christ, ” and you might very well deny that denial by passionately affi rming being Christian. But of course when “ the devout Christian” becomes the fi gural synthesis of Jesus and the likes of you, all the non-Christianity “ out there ” pops up as the new antithesis; Operation Dialectics in its totally and exclusively Christian form thus expands into a world-wide evangelical movement, a missionary crusade that seeks to negate the negation of non-belief by converting (or exterminating) all non- believers. And the absolute fi nale of this dialectical narrative would be that the Absolute Deity that started the whole show will have fi nally and totally overcome His own self-estrangement. By submitting Himself to “ incarnation, ” by Himself becoming a substantial piece of meat in the very

7 Jameson notes that Hegel ’ s early writings are concerned with the theological concept of the Trinity, and writes that “ the formal similarities of the tripartite dialectic with the theological interpretation of the Trinity have led many interpreters either to locate the origins of the dialectic in these theological refl ections or else pronounce Hegel a Christian thinker without further ado ” (2010: 120). Yovel notes that “ religious interpreters have argued that Hegel gives theology precedence over philosophy because of the structural analogy between dialectical logic and the Christian trinity” (2005: 13). Both Jameson and Yovel believe that “ such hermeneutical moves are dubious ” (Yovel 2005: 13).

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stew of world history that He’ s spiritually stirring, by sacrifi cing Himself as fl esh and resurrecting Himself as Spirit, the Christian Dios con carne lowers Himself into the material world but eventually brings the “ best ” of the world “ back up” with Him (minus, one imagines, the meat). Th e Deity beats the world’ s meat, negates what’ s negative, merely carnal, about the world and reappropriates everything that’ s “ good ” about it to Himself— taking it all back up to “ heaven ” in a cosmically and comedically “ hetero-tautological ” restoration project. And as for you, who don’ t want to be left behind, it ’ s only by your actively negating what ’ s “ negative ” about yourself (i.e., whatever puts you at odds with Jesus, whatever you would do that Jesus wouldn ’ t) — it ’ s only by not denying Christ and actually becoming Christian — that you will ever get your sorry self-consciousness hauled back up to heaven. But, good God, is all of this what Hegel , “ the inaugural thinker of the contemporary world,” actually believed ? To the extent that he considered Christianity the true religion and remained Christian (specifi cally, Lutheran) in his religious beliefs, sure, why not? But to the extent that (his) philosophical concepts sublate (his) religious beliefs, to the extent that Hegel put his ultimate philosophical faith in the power of human Reason, arguing that “ Reason is Spirit when its certainty of being all reality has been raised to truth, and it is conscious of itself as its own world, and of the world as itself” (1807/1977: 263), to the extent that Hegel is the Enlightenment thinker par excellence , who justifi ed the Enlightenment’ s faith in reason’ s rule of the world in terms of “ the human possession of treasures formerly squandered on heaven ” (1948: 159), then, no, not so much.8 According to Inwood, what Hegel generally believes is that “ religion and philosophy have the same content . . . but present it in a diff erent form . . ., e.g. what Hegel presents, in the higher and more perspicuous form of thought, as the emergence of the logical idea into nature, or the overcoming of our natural urges, etc., is presented by Christianity, in the form of conception, as God ’ s creating of the world, or the death of Christ. ” In Hegel ’ s view, “ philosophy is required to translate the conceptions (or ‘ metaphors ’ ) of religion into conceptual thought. Since philosophy involves conceptual thought, it can refl ect upon and interpret religion, while religion cannot refl ect on or interpret philosophy or, for that matter, art ” (1992: 255).

8 “ Th e Enlightenment is one of the common names given to the historical period in Europe encompassing roughly the second half of the seventeenth century and the eighteenth century. Th e word also refers to the major intellectual project of the era, which was described by the philosopher Immanuel Kant as ‘ man ’ s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. ’ Th inkers of the Enlightenment rejected superstition and blind faith, extolled reason, and view it as the crucial means of improvement in all areas of human life ” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 95).

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If we think of philosophy ’ s required translation of religion in terms of dialectical stages, stages required by the art of the dialectic, then we see that Christianity, which insists on God ’ s becoming (for a limited time) human, sets the stage for Hegelianism, which insists on translating the Christian Deity’ s historical adventure in self-consciousness into the totally secular story of human Reason’ s completely coming into its own— with no more squandering of any treasures on heaven. Hegelianism translates the metaphor of the Messiah ’ s salvational sojourn into the concept of human Reason ’ s self- development into Absolute Knowing. You can, in other words, blame Jesus, or the Absolute ’ s sacrifi cial decision to become an utterly dismembered “ one of us, ” for Hegel ’ s utterly secularizing representation of Reason as Spirit as “ the likeness of God, the divinity of man ” (in Nancy 2002: 101).

III. Ecce hom*o

But speaking of “ man, ” and of bringing Hegel completely “ down to earth,” speaking, as Marx does, of standing Hegel on his feet rather than on his idealist head, and of revealing the “ rational kernel ” within the dialectic ’ s “ mystical shell ” (1873/1978: 302), speaking of bringing the de-deifi ed dialectic to bear on a specifi cally secular moment in what Hegel calls “ world history [as] the progress of the consciousness of freedom ” (1837/1998: 402), let ’ s consider an actual historical scene, a well-known documentary photograph of sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, 1968. Th is famous photograph depicts a row of marching men confronted by a column of standing men. Th e marching men are the striking sanitation workers, restlessly “ agitating ” for non-dehumanizing working conditions; the standing men are the state militia, positioned to control, contain, disperse, perhaps even murder the restless agitators. Except for one conspicuous bearded white guy, each of the marching men is an African American man and thus presumably a descendant of human beings once held in slavery in the American South. With no discernible exception, each of the soldiers is a white man, and thus presumably descendent from men who once enjoyed positions of mastery , who bought and sold other human beings and/or fought to the death to protect the institution of slavery in the American South. Apparently still employed for institutional protection, each of the standing white soldiers carries a rifl e with a fi xed bayonet. Demonstrably desiring institutional transformation, each of the marching black strikers carries a sign that bears this message— I AM A MAN.

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Now, to address the question of what’ s “ Hegelian ” about this scenario, we have to ask what moves a male human being to make this particular claim— I AM A MAN — at this particular moment in history, at the point of these loaded guns and sharpened knives, at the risk of his manhood, his very life. What moves an individual to put his life, his given (biologically male) body, on the line in order to bear a slogan that, in other historical circ*mstances or for other individual men , could well be taken as a given, held as an obvious fact, a self-evident truth? And what ’ s the diff erence between the apparently unnecessary assertion of self-evident maleness and the individual male marcher ’ s claim — apparently made necessary by world history as the progress of the self-consciousness of freedom — to be more than merely male , not an animal, and not a “boy, ” but actually a man ? 9 Let ’ s say that the sentiment behind the marcher ’ s sign I AM A MAN can never, has never, simply gone without saying. For:

Man is Self-Consciousness. He is conscious of himself, conscious of his human reality and dignity; and it is in this that he is essentially diff erent from animals, which do not go beyond the level of simple Sentiment of self. Man becomes fi rst conscious of himself at the moment when — for the “ fi rst ” time — he says “ I. ” To understand man by understanding his “ origin ” is, therefore, to understand the origin of the I revealed by speech. (Koj è ve 1947/1980: 3)

Th ese are the opening words of a speech, an introductory lecture on Hegel, given by the Marxist philosopher Alexandre Kojè ve in Paris in the 1930s. More specifi cally, the lecture is a “ translation with commentary ” of the section of Hegel ’ s Phenomenology of Spirit entitled “ Autonomy and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Mastery and Slavery” (or “ Lordship and Bondage” ). Hegel himself begins that section with the claim that “ Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged ” (1807/1998: 92). And so Lacan, one of the French intellectual luminaries who attended Kojè ve ’ s lectures, is recognizably waxing Hegelian when he claims that the claim “ ‘I [am] a man ’ . . . can mean no more than, ‘ I ’ m like the person who, in recognizing him to be a man, I constitute as someone who can recognize me as a man ’ ” (1966c/2006: 96).

9 Th e Memphis sanitation workers were reportedly oft en referred to as animals— specifi cally, as “ walking vultures.” And it is well-known that fully grown African American men were routinely called “ boys, ” and not simply in the American South. For example, consider the line in the 1942 fi lm Casablanca in which Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) casually refers to Sam (Dooley Wilson, then aged 56) as “ the boy playing the piano. ”

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Now, what do we recognize these Hegelian “ speeches ” to mean? What do they reveal about the “ I ” revealed by the “ speech ” of the striking sanitation worker on the mean streets of Memphis, 1968, who self-consciously puts his body on the line, his life at risk, in order to recognize himself being recognized as being a man, an I, and not your not-I? What does Hegel ’ s famous “ master – slave dialectic ” tell us about this literally life-risking fi rst-person speech?10 Th e master– slave story begins with the encounter of two beings who would be persons. Each wants from the other the same thing— to be recognized as being more than a thing, more than an animal. Each already recognizes its own value to itself, already possesses more than an animal “ sentiment of self,” and pretty much knows it, but each also recognizes that it needs the other to recognize the same. Th us, neither can rest content with its own private or immediate self-consciousness of its value, and so each must impose its desire for recognition upon the other. Each has recognized that “ the supreme value for an animal is [only the preservation of] its animal life ” and therefore that a “ man ’ s humanity ‘ comes to light’ only if he risks his (animal) life for the sake of his human Desire” (Kojè ve 1947/1980: 7)— that is, the desire for recognition.

It is in and by this risk that the human reality is created and revealed as reality; it is in and by this risk that it “ comes to light, ” i.e., is shown, demonstrated, verifi ed, and gives proof of being essentially diff erent from the animal, natural reality . . . Man’ s humanity “ comes to light” only in risking his life to satisfy his human Desire [for recognition]— that is, his Desire [for recognition] directed toward another Desire [for recognition]. (Koj è ve 1947/1980: 7)

Now, if human reality were always already a freely cooperative and egalitarian society, a “ risk-free ” peaceable kingdom rather than a risky historical business, then our two proto-protagonists would always already safely and eff ortlessly “recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another ” (1807/1998: 93), as Hegel describes the ideal scenario. But since human reality isn’ t a mutual recognition society from the egalitarian get-go, human reality must begin with and as a “ fi ght to the death for pure prestige” — a fi ght for the honor of being human— a struggle without which “ there never would have been human beings on earth ” (Koj è ve 1947/1980: 7).

A human being can be formed only if at least two [would-be human] Desires confront one another. Each of the two beings endowed with such

10 Th e risk to life was quite real, for Dr Martin Luther King travelled to Memphis to give his support to the sanitation workers ’ strike and was assassinated there on 4 April 1968.

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a Desire is ready to go all the way in pursuit of its satisfaction; that is, is ready to risk its life— and, consequently, to put the life of the other in danger — in order to be “ recognized ” by the other, to impose itself on the other as the supreme value [to be the man]; accordingly, their meeting can only be a fi ght to the death. (Koj è ve 1947/1980: 7)

So, instead of there being two beings who mutually recognize themselves in each other as “ fellow human beings,” we have this anthropogenetic agon in which one brays “I ’ m the man” to the other’ s “ No, I ’ m the man. ” But this stubborn fi ght for prestige, this struggle “ to be the man, ” can ’ t actually be a fi ght to the literal death, for if one man kills the other then the potential source of the desired recognition is obliterated, and if the other goes all the way and croaks for the cause of recognition then there’ s nothing but a memory left to be recognized. So what must happen is that one combatant must inexorably impose himself on the other to the extent that the other gives in to his fear of death, gives up risking his life, lets the desire for preservation win out over the desire for recognition, and in eff ect says, “ OK, OK, fi ne, you ’ re the man; you take history by the reins — I ’ ll just hold on to my merely animal life, such as it is, if you don’ t mind.” And of course the other doesn’ t mind at all, for the immediate result of this abject surrender is that the victor becomes Lord and Master, while the vanquished other becomes his slave. But the great irony here is that the Lord, the immediate winner, turns out to be the ultimate loser, the glorious chump of the world-historical process. For the immediate winner wins only self-certain mastery, not the true knowledge of freedom, the absolute knowing that can be attained only through the ironic process of having been a slave. It ’ s the master who really gets screwed here because while he wins the recognition he originally desired, he gets this recognition only from someone he can’ t recognize as an equal — the slave. Nor does he win even the resemblance of independence (i.e., prestige), for he obviously depends on both the slave’ s recognition (which has no value for him) and (more importantly) on the slave ’ s labor , for the very enjoyment of his mastery. Th e master thus screws himself into the “ existential impasse” (Kojè ve 1947/1980: 19) that Hegel calls abstract self-identity, or dead being. “ Th e Master is fi xed in his Mastery. He cannot go beyond himself, change, progress” (Kojè ve 1947/1980: 22). Th e master loses any desire to “ go beyond ” his fi xed position because all that lies beyond that fi xity seems “ beneath ” him— the position of the slave, which he doesn’ t want, or death, which he also doesn’ t want. So, the master simply sits on his prestigious ass and lets the slave do the work of “ fi xing” and bringing him things to consume.

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Meanwhile, the slave is working his ass off to fi x things for the master ’ s consumption, to nourish the master, to actively produce the master’ s mastery, to produce the wealth and power, the world with all its fi xings, that the master owns and enjoys. But, crucially, this forced production, this work of actively transforming things in the world (preparing them for the immediate enjoyment of the master, who doesn’ t have to work, and so doesn ’ t get to change or progress) implies the potentially progressive transformation of everything in this seemingly fi xed and given world— including the slave’ s own given position as slave. Here, the slave’ s historical irony obversely mirrors that of the master’ s existential dead-end. Th e master fi rst becomes master by embodying “ death, the absolute Lord” (Hegel 1807/1998: 97), by threatening to be death for the slave, to be the inexorable force negating the slave’ s animal life, only to end up (the master, that is) abstractly stuck in the “ dead being” of a fi xed identity. Th e slave ’ s irony, however, involves his freeing himself from his fi x, his enslavement, but he liberates himself only by subjectively internalizing and objectively materializing exactly what he initially feared in the master— death as the devastating force of negativity or dissolution, death as the tremendous power of the negative. As Koj è ve tells the “ antiphysical ” story:

Th e Master forces the Slave to work. And by working, the Slave becomes master of Nature . . . In becoming master of Nature by work, then, the Slave frees himself from his own nature, from his own instinct [the animal-instinctual fear of death] that tied him to Nature and made him the Master’ s Slave . . . Th e future and History hence belong not to the warlike Master, who either dies or preserves himself indefi nitely in identity to himself, but to the working Slave. (1947/1980: 22– 3) Th e Master can never detach himself from the World in which he lives, and if this World perishes, he perishes with it . . . Only the Slave can transform the World that forms him and fi xes him in slavery and create a world that he has formed in which he will be free . . . In transforming the World by this work, the Slave transforms himself, too, and thus creates the new objective conditions that permit him to take up once more the liberating fi ght for recognition that he refused in the beginning for fear of death. (Kojè ve 1947/1980: 29– 30)

Of course, there ’ s quite a bit more that could be said about this still ongoing fi ght for recognition, for liberation, for the creation of new objective

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conditions, if not for a fi nally andfully egalitarian human reality, a “ fully human and humanly produced world” (Jameson 2010: 107) without masters or slaves— or, in Marxist terms, without classes. And indeed, it was Marx who stood Hegel on his feet and transformed Hegel ’ s philosophical narrative of the Spirit’ s totally overcoming its self-alienation into a fully political story of the social collective ’ s attempt to overcome its alienated labor and positively annul private property. We will address this form of alienation (and its relation to literary formalism) in the next lesson. But, if we limit ourselves here to fl ying Hegel back to Memphis, we should at least be able to “ read ” the photograph of the worker ’ s strike against the warlike masters— those armed myrmidons of white identity, privilege, and prestige — in terms of the classic Hegelian who ’ s who. Not that Hegel told us, two centuries in advance, everything we need to know to absolutely grasp or capture this image. Nor can we attribute to Hegel himself any “ Absolute Knowing” about world history as the progress of the consciousness of freedom, since he was dumb enough (or suffi ciently stuck in his own historical moment) to have considered the African continent a primitive region without history, without any consciousness of freedom, thus without any recognizably human reality whatsoever (and, of course, a number of European “ Enlightenment ” thinkers thought about “ the dark continent ” in much the same deplorable way that is, in a way that “ we ” can all too easily deplore from a smug historical distance). But if, in a spirit of theoretical militancy, “ we ” can still think of “ contem- porary history ” or the “ making of the present ” as involving something resembling progress in the consciousness of freedom, then we might still consider Hegel a productively “ inaugural thinker” of our “ contemporary world. ” A “ patient reading ” of his work might still help us appreciate the distance some regions of the contemporary world have come in four decades — from 1968, and an African American man ’ s risking death and dismemberment to hold up a sign saying I AM A MAN, to 2008, and a democratic American election that permitted a man of African descent to raise his right hand and say “ I am the President.” Perhaps the least that can be said about Hegel in our contemporary context is that his restlessly negative refl ections might still help us in our attempts to dialectically overcome our own “ fundamental prejudices, ” our own “ ordinary thinking ” (1812/1998: 238), our reifi ed “ belief in the stability and substantiality of what is” (Jameson 2010: 25), or any other fi xities of self-positing that continue to affl ict us. If “ Hegel is important, ” it may be because his writing continues to provoke the understanding that our “ world is precisely what . . . manifests itself as a restlessness” (Nancy 2002: 78). If Hegel is still “ close to us, ” still “ waiting for us ” (Foucault 1972: 235), it ’ s

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only to the extent that his work remains “ an essential step on the way to an understanding” (Rabaté 2002: 21) that “ this restlessness is not only ours, it is itself ‘ us ’ ” (Nancy 2002: 78).

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Six:

Aufh ebung (sublation), immediacy/mediation, teleology, eschato logy, phenomenology, onto-theology, the Enlightenment

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— or, the fates of literary formalism

I. “ not a pretty thing ”

In Chapter 19 of Voltaire ’ s 1759 novel Candide, the eponymous hero and his companion Cacambo fi nd themselves on the outskirts of the South American town of “ Surinam, then belonging to the Dutch. ”

As they drew near the town, they saw a negro stretched upon the ground, with only one moiety of his clothes, that is, his blue linen drawers; the poor man had lost his left leg and his right hand. “ Good God! ” said Candide in Dutch, “ what art thou doing there, friend, in that shocking condition? ” “ I am waiting for my master, Mynheer Vanderdendur, the famous merchant, ” answered the negro. “ Was it Mynheer Vanderdendur,” said Candide, “ that treated thee thus? ” “ Yes, sir, ” said the negro, “ it is the custom. Th ey give us a pair of linen drawers for our whole garment twice a year. When we work at the sugar canes, and the mill snatches hold of a fi nger, they cut off the hand; and when we attempt to run away, they cut off the leg; both cases have happened to me. Th is is the price at which you eat sugar in Europe. (1759/2009: 95 – 6)

At the beginning of Heart of Darkness , Joseph Conrad has his narrator Marlow matter-of-factly announce that “ Th e conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a diff erent complexion or slightly fl atter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much” (1902/1996: 21). Th e rest of Conrad’ s novel— which follows Marlow into the conquered interior of “ the dark continent,” into “ the

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horror ” of the brutally exploitative ivory business in the Belgian Congo, to the very edge of Mister Kurtz ’ s murderous abyss, and then safely back to European “ civilization ” again— can be read, and has been read, as an explicit dramatization of this ostensibly anti-imperialist and anti-racist observation.1 So that at the novel’ s end, when Marlow sits in Brussels, in the comfortable and “ loft y drawing-room” of Kurtz’ s “ intended, ” and surveys all the “ pretty things” that surround him—

Th e bent gilt legs and back of the furniture shone in indistinct curves. Th e tall marble fi replace had a cold and monumental whiteness. A grand piano stood massively in a corner; with dark gleams on the fl at surfaces like a somber and polished sarcophagus. (1902/1996)

— the ugly point is driven “ home ” yet again: Th e “ pretty things ” of a given civilization aren ’ t all that pretty, are actually riven with “ bloody racist ” contradictions, if you look into them “ too much, ” which is why those who get to enjoy the “ pretty things ” tend not to look into them very much at all. In Toni Morrison ’ s Beloved, we don ’ t have to look too hard at the “ things ” produced by monumental white civilization to see much that isn’ t pretty. Late in the novel, Denver, the surviving daughter of Sethe— a character based, as Morrison relates in her foreword to the novel, on “ the story of Margaret Garner, a young mother who, having escaped slavery, was arrested for killing one of her children (and trying to kill the others) rather than let them be returned to the owner’ s plantation” (1987/2004: xvii)— notices a particularly un-pretty thing as she is leaving the house of some “ good whitefolks” from whom she is seeking employment.

Denver left , but not before she had seen, sitting on a shelf by the back door, a blackboy’ s mouth full of money. His head was thrown back farther than a head could go, his hands were shoved in his pockets. Bulging like moons, two eyes were all the face he had above the gaping red mouth. His hair was a cluster of raised, widely spaced dots made of nail heads. And he was on his knees. His mouth, wide as a cup, held the coins needed to pay for a delivery or some other small service, but he could just as well have held buttons, pins or crab-apple jelly. Painted across the pedestal he knelt on were the words “ At Yo Service. ” (1987/2004: 300)

1 Th e novel has also been read as a displacement or evasion of Marlow’ s observation, as a justifi cation for Anglo-Europeans ’ not looking “ too much ” into the imperialism and colonialism with which Conrad himself — whom Chinua Achebe famously called “ a bloody racist ” (1978/1989: 9) — is held to be fully complicit. See Rabinowitz (1996).

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You ’ d have to be a pretty callous reader not to be angered, saddened, and repulsed by this fi gure, which Morrison depicts as being put on shameless display by some of the “ good ” (i.e., sympathetic, liberal) “ whitefolks ” of 1873 Ohio. But if you’ re the kind of close and unforgetful reader that Morrison wants and warrants, you might let this image of a single “ blackboy ” on his knees , with his head thrown inhumanly back and his “ mouth full of money,” remind you (particularly if you’ re acquainted with the properly p*rnographical meaning of the term “ money-shot ” ) of an earlier scene in the novel, involving Paul D ’ s memory of being one of 46 black men on a white- controlled chain-gang in Georgia.

Chain-up completed, they knelt down. Th e dew, more likely than not, was mist by then. Heavy sometimes and if the dogs were quiet and just breathing you could hear doves. Kneeling in the mist they waited for the whim of a guard, or two, or three. Or maybe all of them wanted it. Wanted it from one prisoner in particular or none — or all. “ Breakfast? Want some breakfast, nigg*r? ” “ Yes, sir. ” “ Hungry, nigg*r? ” “ Yes, sir. ” “ Here you go. ” Occasionally a kneeling man chose gunshot in his head as the price, maybe, of taking a bit of foreskin with him to Jesus. Paul D did not know that then. He was looking at his palsied hands, smelling the guard, listening to his soft grunts so like the doves’ , as he stood before the man kneeling in the mist on his right. Convinced he was next, Paul D retched— vomiting up nothing at all. An observing guard smashed his shoulder with the rifl e and the engaged one decided to skip the new man for the time being lest his pants and shoes got soiled by nigg*r puke. (1987/2004: 127)

Now, except for the fact that the not-so-pretty “ things ” presented in these three great moments in literary history — the sweet sugar, the grand piano, the grotesque fi gurine— are better described as artifacts or commodities than as “ documents ” or written texts, we might say that these three great authors— Voltaire, Conrad, Toni Morrison— all do a pretty good job of palpably rendering Walter Benjamin’ s famous observation that “ Th ere is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (1950/1968: 256). But because the three “ things ” represented here are, strictly speaking, less documents than commodities, objects produced by dint of physical rather than merely imaginative labor, we can productively trace Benjamin’ s axiom back to its source in Marx, specifi cally in the theory of alienated labor that

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Marx sets forth in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 . Th ere, and as we began to see in our fi rst lesson, Marx argues that it is human labor and only human labor — “ the act of production . . . the producing activity ” (1932a/19781932a/1978: 73) — that creates human reality, that objectively produces “ humanity ” itself. Marx, being a man of his times, oft en refers to human reality as “ man ” — as in “ man is not an abstract being, squatting outside the world. Man is the human world , the state, society ” (Marx 1844/1978: 53), etc. And given his “ historical materialist ” assumption of the human creation of “ man, ” given his “ socialist ” assumption of the anthropogenetic nature of all human reality, Marx considers labor, the act of production, to be both the actual “ origin of the species” and, at least potentially, “ the objectively unfolded richness of man’ s essential being ” (1932a/1978: 88 – 9). However, as long as “ man ” is suffi ciently self-benighted and self- impoverished by the world religions “ he ” has, in fact, created— for “ man makes religion; religion does not make man” (Marx 1844/1978: 53)— this “ objectively unfolded richness of man’ s essential being” isn’ t really going to get “ him ” very far or make “ the human world, ” the world that “ man ” is , particularly rich. For “ religion is indeed man ’ s self-consciousness and self-awareness so long as he has not found himself or has lost himself again” (Marx 1844/1978: 53). But upon “ man ’ s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity” — as Immanuel Kant puts it in the essay “ What is Enlightenment?” — upon, that is, man’ s learning to “ have the courage to use [his] own understanding ” (Kant 1784/1996: 51) and to own his own self-conscious self-awareness, to no longer squander his treasures on deities, “ Man, who has found in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a supernatural being, only his own refl ection, will no longer be tempted to fi nd only the semblance of himself — a non-human being — where he seeks and must seek his true reality ” (Marx 1844/1978: 53). For Marx, “ man, ” in seeking “ his true reality, ” is easily capable of overcoming “ his ” self-alienation in the “ fantastic ” sphere of religion or the “ idealist ” realm of Hegelian philosophy, mainly because these dialectical overcomings can take place in the imaginary, through acts of interpretation. But, “ while the philosophers have only interpreted the world, ” says Marx, “ the point must be to change it ” (1845/1978: 145), and changing the world by fully overcoming man ’ s self-alienation in the actually economic realm is another, much more “ down to earth” matter. If under the systems of religion and idealist philosophy the “ objectively unfolded richness of man ’ s essential being” is “ intellectually ” misinterpreted by as yet unenlightened “ man ” himself, under the private property system of commodity production— a.k.a. capitalism— this “ objectively unfolded richness” is quite materially transmogrifi ed, becomes an anything-but-imaginary means of enriching, cultivating, and humanizing some men and women at the vital expense of

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others — at the expense not only of the others ’ physical labor but, because for Marx labor is the essentially humanizing activity of all human beings everywhere in history, of their actual humanity.2 Th us, we arrive at what Marx considers the ultimate or global contradic- tion, the “ richest ” irony of all time. Instead of the objectively human production of a fully human world, a fully human society (i.e., socialism), what we observe unfolding under capitalism — if we actually do “ look into it ” — is the human production of an inhuman world, the social production of an utterly reifi ed reality in which “ the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion [to] the devaluation of the world of men, ” a reifi ed reality where the world “ which labor produces — labor ’ s product — confronts it as something alien , as a power independent of the producer ” (1932a/1978: 71). In Marx’ s analysis, the world of private property, the world objectively produced by alienated labor (the world created by the workers but owned by the capitalists), is a world (and here ’ s where we start to get back to Benjamin) in which

the more the worker produces, the less he has to consume; the more values he creates, the more valueless, the more unworthy he becomes; the better formed his product, the more deformed becomes the worker; the more civilized his object, the more barbarous becomes the worker ; the mightier labor becomes, the more powerless becomes the worker; the more ingenious labor becomes, the duller becomes the worker and the more he becomes nature ’ s bondsman . . . It is true that labor produces for the rich wonderful things— but for the worker it produces privation. It produces palaces— but for the worker, hovels. It produces beauty — but for the worker, deformity . . . It produces intelligence, but for the worker idiocy, cretinism. (1932a/1978: 73, emphasis added)

Now, as an historical materialist, Marx is of course writing here about the entire panoply of production, about all sorts of reifi ed social processes, not

2 In Marx ’ s analysis, workers — that is, those who have no capital, no means of living other than selling their labor power to the capitalists— are alienated in four interrelated ways: Th ey are alienated (1) from the product of their labor (think of laborers in sweat-shops who could not possibly aff ord to buy the high-end sneakers that they make; (2) from the activity of production (think of the miserable, repetitive, dehumanizing, soul-killing toil of sweat-shop and factory labor, which doesn’ t seem to resemble the “ objectively unfolded richness ” of anybody ’ s “ essential being ” ); (3) from other human beings (from the owners and managers, who are always trying to extort more labor out of the worker for less money, and from other workers in a competitive and non-unionized “ labor market” ); and (4) from their own humanity or “ species being, ” as Marx puts it (since labor is the essentially humanizing activity, alienated labor is essentially dehumanizing).

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just about well-formed and “ wonderful things” of “ beauty ” and “ intelligence. ” Benjamin, however, while also writing as an historical materialist, is describing what he specifi cally calls “ cultural treasures, ” celebrated “ things ” of beauty and intelligence traditionally thought to possess “ intrinsic ” literary or aesthetic value — artworks or textual “ documents ” or literary masterpieces like, say, Candide, or Heart of Darkness, or (even) Morrison’ s Beloved . Th e historical materialist, says Benjamin, views all such beautifully formed literary achievements “ with cautious detachment. ”

For without exception the cultural treasures [she] surveys have an origin which [she] cannot contemplate without horror. Th ey owe their existence not only to the eff orts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. Th ere is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism. (1950/1968: 256)

II. What ’ s the matter with formalism?

In his book Th e Signifi cance of Th eory, Terry Eagleton divides “ literary critics” into two groups— “ those who understand what Walter Benjamin meant” in the passage just quoted “ and those who do not.” But Eagleton also suggests that:

you do not need ‘ theory ’ to understand the meaning of [Benjamin ’ s] claim; many of those subjected to barbarism, bereft of academic education, understand its meaning perfectly well. You may, however, require theory to work out some of its implications. Benjamin did not presumably mean by his statement that documents of civilization were nothing but records of barbarism. He meant that there is a way of reading — diffi cult and delicate— [by] which [one] can . . . X-ray the text in order to allow to emerge through its affi rmative pronouncements the shadowy lineaments of the toil, misery and wretchedness which made it possible in the fi rst place. (1990: 32 – 3)

For Eagleton, and indeed for most contemporary theoretical writers, the group of literary critics who basically don ’ t get Benjamin, who made not getting Benjamin their critical mission in life, who don’ t have and who don’ t seem to want anyone else to have Benjamin’ s “ X-ray ” vision into literature, who don’ t seem to want (anyone) “ to look into it too much,” tend to be called (or even to call themselves) formalists (though not all forms of formalism are equally Benjamin-resistant).

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In the remainder of this lesson, we’ ll consider two versions of literary formalism that actually had very little to do with each other. On the one hand, we’ ll examine Anglo-American Formalism, a.k.a. New Criticism, the “ mono-disciplinary ” version that dominated literary studies in English from just aft er World War II through the Cold War and Vietnam Eras, but which was eclipsed by theory in the late 1970s and onward. On the other hand, we ’ ll consider the earlier Russian Formalism — “ a lively and important interdisciplinary school that fl ourished around 1920” (Harmon and Holman 2006: 226, my emphasis)— as a version of formalism that in many ways informs and participates in the later theoretical onslaughts and, unlike New Criticism, remains relatively cognate and compatible with the analytical aims of materialist semiotics, with theoretical writing as writing against reifi cation. For the Russian formalists, formal study meant “ the investigation of the specifi c properties of literary material, of the properties that distinguish such material from material of any other kind” (Eichenbaum 1978/1998: 8). Russian Formalism assumes that “ the object of study in literary science is not literature but ‘ literariness, ’ that is, what makes a given work a literary work ” (Jakobson, in Eichenbaum: 8). Th e Anglo-American Formalists were also concerned with isolating the specifi cally “ literary ” qualities of literature, segregating poetic from ordinary language, separating literary art from other genres, and inoculating literary criticism against infection by other academic disciplines (such as history or, worst of all, sociology). For the New Critics, however, formalism meant not only attention to the literariness of literature but an evaluative description of the literary work as an “ organic unity ” whose various parts all contribute to the “ total ” experience of the whole. But unlike the Russians, Anglo-American Formalists distanced themselves from “ literary science ” and devoted their energies to distinguishing literary study from scientifi c observation. Indeed, “ the New Critics informed the study of literature with a concern for traditional religious and aesthetic values of the kind being displaced by science . . . the values of Christian theology and idealist aesthetics ” (Rivkin and Ryan 1998: 7). We ’ ll address these “ displaced ” values later on. First, let ’ s examine some formal defi nitions of formalism — and some formal complaints fi led against it. Th e entry for “ Formalism ” in Harmon and Holman ’ s Handbook to Literature , for example, begins simply enough with “ A term applied to criticism that emphasizes the form of the artwork.” But the entry’ s author doesn’ t get much further before complaining that “ Th e whole form-formal- formalism family is beset by problems of reference. ” Th e author observes that it is fairly easy to discuss form “ with a clearly tangible object of culture, such as a cup,” but that with literary artworks, “ it is diffi cult to specify what the form is because plot

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may be the form that contains the characters, the characters the form that contains the thoughts and feelings, the thoughts and feelings the form that shapes the diction, the diction the form that shapes the acoustic eff ects, and so on ” (2006: 223 – 4). Now, it ’ s fi tting that in pointing out formalism ’ s problems of reference, the entry’ s author distinguishes a cultural object such as a cup from a literary artwork, for to judge from some of their book titles— Th e Verbal Icon , Th e Well-Wrought Urn — the American New Critics did seem to want to frame the literary work as a spatial object. And it’ s this spatializing and decontextualizing tendency that prompts later, more socially and historically conscientious theorists to howl. Eagleton, for example, complains that in trying “ to convert the poem into a self-suffi cient object, as solid and material as an urn or icon . . . what New Criticism did, in fact, was to convert the poem in to a fetish ” (1983/1996: 42). For the Marxist Eagleton, to defetishize a cultural object is to de-reify it, to convert the product to a process, to reveal the underlying social relations that produced the object before it attained the dignity of the fetish. New Criticism is accused of fetishizing poems because its proponents desired to sever sonnets from any social context, and Eagleton here reads “ form ” as the very emblem of this ahistoricizing severance. For Eagleton, formalism and fetishism are twin symptoms of reifi cation, and he thus calls formalism “ a recipe for political inertia, and . . . submission to the political status quo ” (1983/1996: 43). So, let’ s look at the key ingredients of this recipe for inertia more closely and consider in greater detail formalism ’ s alleged complicity with political submission, with ideological containment . In ordinary usage, the word “ contain ” would seem politically neutral, as for instance when I observe that the red Italian cup that rests beside the laptop on which I write contains coff ee. Of course, a Marxist would counter that there ’ s nothing politically innocent about coff ee or anything else a writer consumes, since questions of the forces and relations of production, private ownership of land, alienation and exploitation of labor, etc., all bear down upon the immiserating reality underlying the social fact of my fi x of caff eine. In other words, Benjamin’ s observation applies even to the not particularly well-wrought cultural object that contains my last remaining addiction. But, Benjamin’ s claim notwithstanding, let ’ s say that “ this cup contains coff ee ” seems politically neutral in a way that a statement such as, say, “ the crowd has been contained” does not. For what was this crowd ’ s desire such that it needed to be contained, and by what “ formal ” methods? What relations obtain between the formal, seemingly neutral “ containment ” of coff ee in a cup, or characters in a plot, and the more obviously political “ containment ” of potentially unruly crowds (like, say, those who at the time of this writing have been busy Occupying

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Wall Street and other avenues of capitalist hegemony)? What links formal exercises in aesthetic control to regimented demonstrations of political force, compelling the aforementioned submission to the status quo? Th e New Critics did seem to have some “ control issues,” as well as a strong investment in preserving — or resurrecting — a status quo. I. A. Richards, for example, writes that “ Th e arts are our storehouse of recorded values. Th ey spring from and perpetuate hours in the lives of exceptional people, when their control and command of experience is at its highest ” (in Bertens 2001: 16). And Cleanth Brooks avers that “ the characteristic unity of a poem . . . lies in the unifi cation of attitudes into a hierarchy subordinated to a total governing attitude ” (1947/2001: 1361). Now, the terms I ’ ve emphasized here —control, command, unifi cation, hierarchy, subordination, total governance — all sound suffi ciently benign when bathed in an “ autonomously ” aesthetic or poetical light. But the same terms sound more sinister if they are denied their autonomy and reinserted into a historical and political context. For example, this characteristic bit of Brooksian analysis — “ Th e last fi gure thus seems to me to summarize [Wordsworth’ s] poem— to off er to almost every facet of meaning suggested in the earlier lines a concurring and resolving image which meets and accepts and reduces each item to its place in the total unity ” (1951/2007: 804) — sounds perfectly lovely and critically compelling until we are apprised of its author’ s concurring involvement with the reactionary Vanderbilt Agrarians , or until we associate his rhetoric of resolution with their authoritarian solutions to social problems, their nostalgic desire to return to a traditional hierarchical Southern status quo in which every subordinate knew and obediently accepted his or her “ rightful place ” (no doubt “ At Yo Service ” ) in the total governing unity.3 Now, Vanderbilt University, where the Agrarians took their stand, is located in Nashville, Tennessee, not that far from Memphis, the historical setting of the photograph documenting military “ crowd control ” that we examined in

3 For my money, Eagleton is historically accurate when he associates New Criticism with “ irrationalism . . . religious dogma . . . and with the right-wing ‘ blood and soil ’ politics of the Agrarian movement ” (1983/1996: 42). Th e Agrarians were “ a group of Southern American writers in Nashville, Tennessee, who published Th e Fugitive (1922 – 1925), a little magazine . . . championing agrarian regionalism . . . Most of its contributors were associated with Vanderbilt University; among them were John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate . . . [and] Robert Penn Warren . . . In the 1930s, championing an agrarian economy as opposed to that of industrial capitalism, they issued a collective manifesto, I ’ ll Take My Stand . . . Th e Agrarians were among the founders of the New Criticism” (Holman and Harmon 2006: 11). Some of the Agrarians were also proudly racist — Allen Tate, author of the poem “ Ode to the Confederate Dead,” is known to have haughtily declined to attend a Vanderbilt social event honoring visiting poet Langston Hughes on the grounds that Hughes was, well, aft er all, “ a Negro ” (Baker 1988: 144). Some Agrarians, including Tate, were also open admirers of European fascism — see Brinkmeyer (2009).

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the previous lesson on Hegel. As we saw there, we can productively view the content of this striking image of striking black workers confronting an armed white militia in politically Hegelian terms. But we could also consider the shot from a purely aesthetic angle, as a formal composition — an autonomous, self-contained, and delicately balanced arrangement of lines, space, light, and shadow — and we could describe and evaluate everything we see that makes the photograph successful as a photograph without giving two hoots about the “ racially charged” historical context. If we judge the photograph as a literary formalist would want us to judge a poem, we would have to demonstrate our “disinterestedness ” in such “ extrinsic ” matters and exclude them from our consideration.4 For formalism depends upon inclusion and exclusion, upon segregating “ intrinsic ” from “ extrinsic ” considerations. As David Richter puts it, “ All versions of formalism proposed an ‘ intrinsic ’ criticism that defi ned and addressed the specifi cally literary qualities in the text, and all . . . began in reaction to various forms of ‘ extrinsic ’ criticism that viewed the text as either the product of social and historical forces or a document making an ethical statement” (2007: 749, emphasis added). But rather like fetishism, formalism also depends upon historical amnesia; just as the fetishist must forget that he actually made the fetish fi gure in order to endow that fi gure with magical powers, so the formalist must forget the fact that his own critical activities indeed “ began in reaction.” Th is amnesia allows the essentially “ reactionary ” distinction between “ intrinsic ” and “ extrinsic ” to be taken as a positive given and forbids any close scrutiny of the exclusionary manner in which the “ intrinsic ” as such is produced. In other words, the Anglo-American Formalists assume certain “ intrinsically ” literary qualities as being simply and independently there . Th e “ intrinsically ” and essentially literary is thus allowed to assume the “ timeless ” contours of a Platonic ideal. Against such idealist essentialism, contemporary theoretical writers argue that the intrinsic qua intrinsic can be thought only with reference to the extrinsic, that the intrinsic is constituted by exclusion and is thus inescapably dependent on that which it excludes (just as the Hegelian Master’ s mastery depends upon the forced recognition of the working slave, just as the capitalist ’ s private property depends upon the proletariat ’ s alienated labor,

4 Th e term disinterestedness can be said to originate from Kant ’ s Critique of Judgment, but “ is perhaps most familiarly associated with the criticism of Matthew Arnold,” who used the word “ to mean a state of ideal objectivity and neutrality, an impartiality that allows the critic to see an object ‘ as in itself it really is. ’ ” Disinterestedness is “ the cornerstone of an objectivist theory of poetry, which invokes timeless standards of quality. ” Contemporary theory dismisses the possibility of disinterestedness or objectivity and “ emphasizes the imbrications of individuals in language, history, and culture ” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 85 – 6).

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just as the eff orts of great minds and talents owe their existence to the anonymous and oft en immiserating labor of their contemporaries). Th ere can, in other words, be no “ intrinsic ” as such without referential dependence upon some needed-but-excluded other . And so the ideal of “ intrinsic value ” falls prey to the deconstructive principle of constitutive otherness . We can see this principle at work in other dictionary entries on formalism that focus on what formalism self- defi ningly excludes. Childers and Hentzi defi ne formalism as “ the critical practice of focusing on the artistic technique of the text or object under consideration at the expense of the subject matter ” and write that the term “ has oft en been applied pejoratively to a number of types of criticism that emphasize a work ’ s structural design or pattern, or its style and manner — its form — in isolation from its contents” (1995: 116, emphases added); mean- while Julian Wolfreys informs us that “ Th e formalist approach to literature is one which, allegedly, retreats from any consideration of history, ideology or context, concerning itself only with the formal aspects of the text ” (2004: 142, emphasis added). Expense , isolation , reaction , retreat — such are the impoverishing terms of formalism ’ s self-enrichment and self-fortifi cation. But the more serious problem with formalism involves the way its “ literary ” exclusions mirror and abet other, more literal forms of exclusion and containment. In this sense, we could say that Virginia Woolf pretty much nails the main ethical and political problem with Anglo-American Formalism a few decades before its full development as a critical school. At the end of the fi rst chapter of A Room of One’ s Own , aft er describing being shut out of the library and shooed off the greens of the all-male enclave she archly calls “ Oxbridge ” University, Woolf, eff ectively demolishing New Criticism before the fact of its advent, writes that she “ thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and . . . how it is worse perhaps to be locked in; and . . . of the safety and prosperity of the one sex and of the poverty and insecurity of the other and of the eff ect of tradition and of the lack of tradition upon the mind of a writer” (1929/1989: 24). Woolf also preemptively tears formalism a new one when she writes that:

Shakespeare ’ s plays . . . seem to hang there complete by themselves [which is of course how the New Critics will want the bard’ s plays to hang]. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suff ering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in. (1929/1989: 41 – 2)

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With Woolf ’ s “ preposterous ” assistance, “ one remembers ” in advance the expense both of excluding others and of isolating the literary work from any concern with the actual social conditions that produced it, “ the toil, misery and wretchedness which made it possible in the fi rst place” (Eagleton 1990: 33). Th e New Critics essentially wanted to segregate literary works from their various contexts in order to talk about literature as literature. Th ey invested in “ the drawing of distinctions ” and assumed not merely the utility but the inevitability of the distinctions they themselves drew. As Brooks puts it, “ Man ’ s experience is indeed a seamless garment, no part of which can be separated from the rest. Yet if we urge this fact of inseparability against the drawing of distinctions, then there is no point in talking about criticism at all. I am assuming that distinctions are necessary and useful and indeed inevitable ” (1952/2007: 798 – 9). As Wimsatt and Beardsley reiterate:

Th ere is a gross body of life, of sensory and mental experience, which lies behind and in some sense causes every poem, but can never be and need not be known in the verbal and hence intellectual composition which is the poem. For all the objects of our manifold experience, for every unity, there is an action of the mind which cuts off roots, melts away context — or indeed we should never have objects or ideas or anything to talk about. (1954/2007: 815)

But most contemporary theoretical writers hold to the conviction that it is only by radically considering contexts, unveiling occluded political desires, that we have anything critically engaging to discuss. More to the point, most contemporary theorists suspect that the New Critical eff ort to jettison con- text arose not simply from the desire to talk brightly about literature “ for literature ’ s sake ” but, more darkly, from the desire to silence or exclude other questions, and that this desire was part and parcel of the need to muzzle other questioners— interlocutors and interlopers who didn’ t physically or psychically resemble the straight, white, upper middle-class, right-wing Christian men who were the New Critics themselves. As Robert Dale Parker points out:

Th e new critics ’ eff ort to exile social meaning carries (ironically) a social meaning, for it suggests their fear of the changing social world, of confl icts across [the lines of] race, gender, and class. Th eir vision of unity has no place, literarily or socially, for most of the rest of us. (2008: 25)

Th e problem with formalism, then, is that it attempts to forget what materi- alist semiotics and “ writing against reifi cation ” can never aff ord not to remember — “ the work of [the rest of us] suff ering human beings. ”

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III. Absolutions of irony

Repeating Virginia Woolf’ s phrase with a twist, I’ m confl ating her specifi cally literary “ work ” with Eagleton’ s generally materialist “ toil ” in order to underscore Benjamin ’ s point that these two forms of labor — the sublimely civilized work located in the cultural superstructure , the barbarically wretched toil located in the socioeconomic base — are inextricably related.5 But I also employ Woolf ’ s phrase, and change an adjective to a verb, in order to suggest that “ the work of suff ering human beings ” can be very hard work indeed, given how insuff erable some of them prove themselves to be. And I confess that what I fi nd most insuff erable in Anglo-American Formalism is its obvious indenture to “ religious dogma” (Eagleton 1983/1996: 42). As Eagleton points out, “ several of the leading American New Critics were Christians” (1983/1996: 42), and as I will argue in what follows, Cleanth Brooks was particularly invested in transubstantiating “ new ” literary criticism into a quite traditional form of Christian devotion. In “ Th e Rise of English,” Eagleton suggests that “ If one were asked to provide a single explanation for the growth of English studies in the later nineteenth century, one could do worse that reply ‘ the failure of religion’ ” (1983/1996: 20). What he means here is that “ English studies, ” in picking up the ball that “ organized religion ” in late Victorian society supposedly dropped, assumed religion’ s function of maintaining “ ideological control ” through acting as a sort of “ social ‘ cement ’ ”— providing critical crowd containment, engaging and binding readers at the level of “ deep-seated a-rational fears and needs ” , “ fostering ” in the eff ectively pacifi ed fl ock not revolution but “ meekness, self-sacrifi ce and the contemplative inner life” (1983/1996: 20). In other words, says Eagleton, English studies were originally complicit with, not a liberatory break from, the ideological functions of “ failed ” religion. Like religion, English studies were basically invented to help ensure “ political inertia and submission to the political status quo” (1983/1996: 43). And one upshot of this mass-opiating complicity of English studies with religion was that some English professors set themselves up as displaced priests whose classrooms became dens of religious genufl ection.6

5 “Base and superstructure are Marxist terms referring to the interdependent and refl exive relationship between the economic foundations of society (base) and the forms of state and social consciousness which inevitably follow that structure” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 27). 6 For Eagleton, “ the key fi gure here is Matthew Arnold ” (1983/2001: 21), who in 1880, expressed the belief that “ we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us ” and that “ most of what now passes with us for religion . . . will be replaced by poetry (in Bertens 2001: 2). Consider also the language of the British Board

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As for Cleanth Brooks, he begins his 1952 treatise entitled “ My Credo” with a list of so-called articles of faith. In one of these, however, he explicitly dismisses the idea that literature is “ a surrogate for religion ” (1952/2007: 798). Th is dismissal would seem to contradict my assertion that Brooks wanted to turn criticism into formal worship. But, if we look more closely at Brooks’ articles of high fi delity (there are, for some reason, 10), we’ ll see how that contradiction is resolved, if not what for Brooks constitutes the ultimate resolution of all contradiction. To use his own words, “ I do not think we can quite shut out the theological overtones ” (1951/2007: 802) of Brooks ’ articles of faith. Th e fi rst two of these are “ Th at literary criticism is a description and an evaluation of its object ” and that “ the primary concern of criticism is with the problem of unity— the kind of whole which the literary work forms or fails to form, and the relation of the various parts to each other in building up this whole. ” Th e third and fourth articles— “ In a successful work, form and content cannot be separated ” because “ form is meaning ” (1952/2007: 798)— will receive no further commentary here. For it’ s with the next two axioms that things start to take their theological turn. Brooks believes “ that literature is ultimately metaphorical and symbolic” and “ that the general and the universal are not seized upon by abstraction, but got at through the concrete and the particular” (1952/2007: 798). He elaborates on these two articles elsewhere, in an essay called “ Irony as a Principle of Structure ” :

One can sum up modern poetic technique by calling it the rediscovery of metaphor and the full commitment to metaphor. Th e poet can legiti- mately step out into the universal only by fi rst going through the nar- row door of the particular. Th e poet does not select an abstract theme and then embellish it with concrete details. On the contrary, he must establish the details, must abide by the details, and through his realiza- tion of the details attain to whatever general meaning he can . . . Th us, our conventional habits of language have to be reversed when we come to deal with poetry. For here it is the tail that wags the dog. Better still, here it is the tail of the kite . . . that makes the kite fl y.

of Education’ s 1921 “ Newbolt Report,” “ Literature is not just a subject for academic study, but one of the chief temples of the Human spirit, in which all should worship” (in Bertens 2001: 10). And consider I. A. Richards, who like Arnold “ saw in poetry an antidote to . . . spiritual malaise, ” who believed that verse is a means of “ overcoming chaos ” and that literature “ is capable of saving us ” (in Bertens 2001: 16). Small wonder, then, that the New Critics, infl uenced by Arnold and Richards, saw themselves as “ disappointed priests seeking in literature for a new Word to replace the one the world had lost” (Richter 2007: 760).

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Th e tail . . . seems to negate the kite ’ s function: it weights down something made to rise; and in the same way, the concrete particulars with which the poet loads himself seem to deny the universal to which he aspires. Th e poet wants to “ say ” something. Why, then, doesn’ t he say it directly and forthrightly? Why is he willing to say it only through his metaphors? Th rough his metaphors, he risks saying it partially and obscurely, and risks not saying it at all. But the risk must be taken for direct statement leads to abstraction that threatens to take us out of poetry altogether. Th e commitment to metaphor thus implies, with respect to general theme, a principle of indirection. (1951/2007: 799)

Now, with this principle of indirection in mind, let’ s wander back to those last two “ articles of faith. ” How and why do articles six and seven lead up to the startling article number eight — “ that literature is not a surrogate for religion” (1952/2007: 798)? Religion hasn’ t been explicitly mentioned thus far, so why would Brooks feel the need at this particular moment to disavow the idea that literature surrogates faith? Of course, the idea that poetry would “ replace ” religion had been in the belletristic air ever since Matthew Arnold, and perhaps Brooks simply wanted to dispel it. Basic psychoanalytic interpretation, however, alerts us to the ways in which a disavowal might indicate an unconscious affi rmation, and so here Brooks’ overt statement that literature does not surrogate religion may indicate his covert desire that it in some way actually does or should . And the placement of this disavowal suggests that the terms of the surrogacy might be embedded in the immediately preceding assertions about metaphor and symbol, the universal and the particular. What are Brooks’ major critical keywords, and how might they indicate the theological overtones of his operative critical principles? Th e most prominent terms are metaphor , irony , paradox , ambiguity , tension , and unity . 7 To take the fi rst two, we might agree with Brooks that a sense of metaphor and irony are indispensable if one is to read or write literature, that without them we ’ d be stuck with only literal or denotative language and “ literature ” just wouldn’ t be happening. However, we need to examine closely what irony and metaphor ultimately amount to in Brooks’ close readings.

7 Metaphor is a verbal comparison or analogy based upon similarity. Irony “ refers to an expression or event that means something diff erent connotatively from what it means denotatively ” ; paradox “ refers to an expression that combines opposite ideas ” ; ambiguity , “ similar to paradox, refers to suggestively multiple and unsettled meanings ” ; and tension “ refers to connected ideas that pull away from each other without reaching resolution” (Parker 2008: 16 – 17). Unity , at least for Brooks, is that which fi nally stabilizes , contains , resolves , and controls irony, paradox, ambiguity, and tension.

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As we’ ve already read, Brooks sums up modern poetic technique by calling it “ the rediscovery of metaphor and the full commitment to metaphor.” And yet the rest of the paragraph concerning this rediscovery harps on the diff erence between universal and particular, abstract theme and concrete detail. If this harping doesn’ t seem particularly relevant to metaphor, remember that the word “ metaphor ” stems from the expression “ to carry ” and that metaphor operates as a form of verbal transportation — the basic components of metaphor are tenor and vehicle , with the former representing the general substance of the metaphor and the latter that which conveys the tenor. Th us, in the example provided by Aristotle in Th e Poetics — “ He was in the evening of his life ” — old age is the tenor and “ evening ” is the vehicle. “ He was in the evening of his life ” is thus an indirect way of saying he’ s old as hell, a geezer getting close to being a goner. Brooks thus rightly asserts that the “ commitment to metaphor ” implies a “ principle of indirection.” As per Emily Dickinson’ s instructions to “ tell all the truth but tell it slant, ” the poet cannot say anything directly and forthrightly but must employ metaphorical indirection, and this imperative allows us to see how the universal/particular distinction involves metaphor — the universal is the tenor of the metaphor and the particular is the vehicle . But why, in an essay the title of which promises a discussion of irony, would Brooks begin with the question of metaphor? Is metaphor in some way a form of irony? Ironically, yes, it seems as if it is, because if we defi ne irony as does Brooks — “ irony is our most general term for indicating [the] recognition of incongruities ” (1947/2001: 1363), that is, the recognition of a discrepancy between what seems and what is — then we can indeed read metaphor as a potential fi eld of irony. A particular word may seem to mean one thing, but the word can be qualifi ed, contextualized, or “ warped and bent ” (1947/2001: 1363) to mean something altogether diff erent. Brooks writes that “ irony is the most general term that we have for the kind of qualifi cations which the various elements in a context receive from the context ” (1947/2001: 1363). Literally, or denotatively, then, the word “ evening ” signifi es only the later hours of the day; metaphorically, or connotatively, it can mean the latest or last years of a life. But Brooks is right to suggest that there must be a context for any single word to assume metaphorical dimensions. Th e word “ evening ” cannot be metaphorical “ all by itself. ” Framed in the simple sentence “ It was evening,” the word still hasn’ t been suffi ciently contextualized to work metaphorically, and if we say only “ He was in the evening ” it just sounds stupid, as if a word were missing (OK, he was what in the evening?). But with the complete sentence — “ He was in the evening of his life ” — we can grasp the qualifi cation or context that makes the sentence metaphorical, and hence ironical.

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For Brooks, both irony and metaphor concern the discrepancy between denotation and connotation, between the literal and the fi gurative. For him, then, the relationship between the universal and the particular is both ironic and metaphorical. Th e particular, concrete detail carries the universal meaning, and is thus metaphorical, but the particular can only metaphorize the universal if its denotative meaning gets bent, warped, contextualized, qualifi ed. In a successful work, the particular only seems to be only particular, literal; ironically, it also signifi es something else, something greater— the universal meaning. OK, but what does all this terminological monkey business have to do with religion , with “ theological overtones,” and with Brooks’ seemingly pat disavowal of literature’ s surrogacy for religious faith? Let me alert you to the fact that when Cleanth Brooks reads a specifi c poem, he typically focuses on particular instances of irony and metaphor in order to move toward a dominant metaphor or irony that he believes controls or resolves or even becomes the poem itself. For example, in Brooks’ reading, the “ well-wrought urn ” that appears in Donne’ s poem “ Th e Canonization ” becomes a containing fi gure for all the poem ’ s tensions and ambiguities. Th is movement toward the dominant metaphor in the poem refl ects Brooks’ desire to arrive at a resolution to the poem’ s ironies, the resolution that Brooks is happy to call the poem ’ s unity — its “ total meaning ” or “ total situation ” (1947/2001: 1362). For every little irony in the formally accomplished poem, Brooks decrees, there shall be the dominant irony of the poem, the “ principle of structure ” that situates the poem as a unifi ed, resolved, aesthetic totality. But what if there were for Brooks a single dominant irony that resolved or unifi ed all the others — a sort of meta-metaphor that ultimately abides outside of poetry but which poetry itself metaphorizes? I think that there is such a metaphor and that Brooks states it fairly directly. I, however, will proceed to it indirectly and hark back to the ironic tension between the universal and the particular. Brooks, as you’ ll recall, announces that the poet can only legitimately “ step out into the universal by fi rst going through the narrow door of the particular. ” Can one not note the structural similarity between that assertion and another, more overtly theological one, which maintains that one can only get to the Father, indirectly , by way of the Son? I believe that this structural similarity is in fact a structurating one for Brooks; I believe that any metaphor or irony that Brooks brings to our attention is itself a metaphor for the dominant metaphor, irony, and paradox of Christianity itself —God is the universal and Christ is the particular; God is the tenor and Christ is the vehicle. Christ seems to be just a man, just a slob like one of us, but ironically , he ’ s also God. God would seem to be almighty and all- powerful, but paradoxically , there he is, ecce hom*o , hanging, suff ering, dying

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on the cross. Christ seems to be dead, but, lo, he is risen, etc. And through that resurrection, the tension between the human and the divine is resolved, the soul does not perish but is unifi ed with God, etc. But in Christianity this holy harmony is possible only through spiritual indirection, through irony, metaphor, and paradox. Like poets, who can “ step out into the universal ” only by way of the particular, believers can climb the stairway to the heavenly Father only “ by way” of the loving self-sacrifi ce of the Son. I would thus hazard to say that Brooks is lying , or at least being ironic, when he says that literature is not a surrogate for religion, because the experience of poetry so evidently metaphorizes the experience of Christian faith for him that the two would seem to be as one. Compare two “ crucial ” paragraphs in “ Th e Language of Paradox ” :

For us today, Donne’ s imagination seems obsessed with the problem of unity; the sense in which the soul is united with God. Frequently, as we have seen, one type of union becomes a metaphor for the other. It may not be too far-fetched to see both as instances of, and meta- phors for, the union which the creative imagination itself eff ects. (1947/1998: 67) Th e urn to which we are summoned, the urn which holds the ashes of the phoenix, is like the well-wrought urn of Donne’ s “ Canonization ” which holds the phoenix-lovers ’ ashes: it is the poem itself . . . But there is a sense in which all such well-wrought urns contain the ashes of a Phoenix. Th e urns are not meant for memorial purposes only, though that oft en seems to be their chief signifi cance to [historicist or non-formalist] professors of literature. Th e phoenix rises from its ashes; or ought to rise, but it will not arise for all our mere sift ing and measuring the ashes, or testing them for their chemical content. We must be prepared to accept the paradox of the imagination itself; else “ Beautie, Truth, and Raritie” remain enclosed in their cinders and we shall end with essential cinders, for all our pains. (1947/1998: 69)

For Brooks, I believe, the paradox of the creative imagination is the paradoxical unity off ered through the body of Christ: God as man as metaphor for the reunion of the lost soul with its Creator. And though Christ himself is never directly mentioned, he certainly seems fi gured into the phoenix, that great honking symbol of death and resurrection, and even into the kite mentioned in “ Irony as a Principle of Structure, ” that holy fl ying kite which “ rises steadily against the thrust of the wind.” Th e kite, you’ ll recall, is structurally ironic and paradoxical because it has to be weighted down by some tail in order to rise. Likewise, to pin the tail on the Deity,

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Christ is ironical and paradoxical because, even though God, he must assume a human form, must load himself down with the particularity of human fl esh and blood in order to shed that blood for us, in order to die “ for all our pains ” and get himself resurrected. And we , Brooks preaches, “ must be prepared to accept” that paradox or we will all have died and gone to a hell in which words have only denotative meanings, poems fail to add up to organic unities, sociologists blind us with science, students or (worse) tenured colleagues “ who have a diff erent complexion or slightly fl atter noses than ourselves” ask annoying questions about race, sex, gender, history, politics, imperialism, colonialism, etc. Now, if, aft er having sat through this sermon, we return to Brooks’ sixth “ article of faith” — “ that literature is ultimately metaphorical and symbolic” — we might behold that we can warp and bend its language so as fi nally to stop shutting out the theological overtones— we might say that Brooks’ ultimate faith is that literature metaphorizes and symbolizes the Ultimate , the Absolute, that if for Brooks literature doesn ’ t surrogate religion it ’ s only because for him literature literally is religion, and that perhaps the fi nal irony about Brooks is that there is, in the end, for his money, absolutely no irony left at all. In the end, that is, Brooks absolves irony of the sin of having been ironic, for what seems to be the dominant sense of irony in Brooks ’ criticism turns out to be the critical domination of irony itself, “ the labor of controlling incongruities ” (Leitch 2001: 1352). In Brooks ’ work, openness to irony noticeably transubstantiates into a stony invulnerability to irony:

Irony, then . . . is not only an acknowledgment of the pressures of context. Invulnerability to irony is the stability of a context in which the internal pressures balance and mutually support each other. Th e stability is like that of the arch: the very forces which are calculated to drag the stone [of castle or cathedral] to the ground actually provide the principle of support — a principle in which thrust and counterthrust become the means of stability. (1952/2007: 801)

I believe, then, that what makes Brooks literarily formalist is inseparable from what makes him credulously Christian— ultimately , he is not fully committed to metaphor, tension, irony, ambiguity, or any of that other jazz but rather to what resolves, contains, controls, dominates, stabilizes, and unifi es them. For Brooks, the ultimate principle of structure is always organic unity, never corrosive irony. He is thus closer in spirit to the preacher than to the poet or the scientist. He would seem to side with the poet against the scientist in “ Th e Language of Paradox,” where he writes that “ Th e tendency of science is necessarily to stabilize terms, to freeze them into strict denotations; the poet’ s

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tendency is by contrast disruptive. Th e terms are continually modifying each other, and thus violating their dictionary meanings ” (1947/1998: 62). Th ere would seem to be something “ proto-deconstructive ” about the way Brooks privileges poetry ’ s disruptions and violations over science ’ s tendency to terminological stabilization. Brooks would seem eligible for membership in that theoretical club whose charter is to “ de-reify the language of thought” (Jameson 2009: 9). And yet, if my reading of Brooks as a reactionary religious acolyte wearing literary critic ’ s clothing is at all persuasive, we can say that Brooks’ proto-deconstructive tendencies fi nally run up against the bulwark of his faith in aesthetic unity, which itself metaphorizes divine unity, and which Brooks hoped would fi nally ensure sexual, political, racial, and academic unity. In other words, Brooks ’ faithful formalism is anything but deconstructive and anything but Benjaminian. Th is formalism ultimately seeks to restabilize whatever disruptions and violations might be eff ected by poetic language—or by writing about “writing as the very possibility of change” (Cixous 1975/2007: 1646).

IV. Strategies of estrangement

Russian Formalism, however, got along quite well without New Criticism ’ s idealist, theological, and segregationist baggage, which is one reason why Victor Shklovsky ’ s notion of defamiliarization, or ostranenie, as developed in the 1917 essay “ Art as Technique, ” can be considered compatible with the work of contemporary theoretical writing. Shklovsky begins his essay by taking issue with Alexander Potebnya ’ s assertion that “ art is thinking in images ” (1917/2007: 775). Shklovsky doesn’ t really mind Potebnya’ s eff ort to specify an activity that would defi ne the essential “ artiness ” of verbal art; he just doesn ’ t think that “ thinking in images ” quite fi ts the bill. In particular, Shklovsky objects to Potebnya ’ s assertion that “ the purpose of imagery is to help channel various objects and activities into groups and to clarify the unknown by means of the known” (1917/2007: 775)— or at least, he objects to the idea that epistemological clarifi cation amounts to a specifi cally aesthetic use or experience of language . Another objection involves the problem of literary history— if imagery is the defi ning characteristic of poetry, as Potebnya asserts, then a history of poetics would have to account for changes in imagery, whereas poetic images, in Shklovsky ’ s opinion, change very little. Poets, he writes, “ are much more concerned with arranging images than with creating them” (1917/2007: 776); verbal artistry, for Shklovsky, thus essentially concerns strategy or technique , not creation or clarifi cation.

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Furthermore, since imagery is an aspect of both poetry and prose, one can hardly allow imagery to defi ne poetry. Potebnya, says Shklovsky, “ ignored the fact that there are two aspects of imagery: imagery as a practical means of thinking, as a means of placing objects within categories; and imagery as poetry, as a means of reinforcing an impression.” He clarifi es the distinction as follows:

I want to attract the attention of a young child who is eating bread and butter and getting the butter on her fi ngers. I call, “ Hey, butterfi ngers!” Th is is a fi gure of speech, a clearly prosaic trope. Now a diff erent example. Th e child is playing with my glasses and drops them. I call, “ Hey, butterfi ngers!” Th is fi gure of speech is a poetic trope. (In the fi rst example, “ butterfi ngers ” is metonymic; in the second, metaphoric.) (1917/2007: 776)

Now, this distinction between metaphor and metonymy will assume a certain importance in the later adventures of literary theory, so let’ s linger with it for a while. Why, let’ s ask, does Shklovsky label the fi rst use of “ butterfi ngers ” metonymic and the second metaphoric? Why would he consider metaphor (a fi gure of speech based on similarity or analogy) poetic and call metonymy (a fi gure of speech based on association or contiguity) prosaic ? We might say that the fi rst instance of “ butterfi ngers” is metonymic because prosaic or “ realistic. ” In the fi rst example, that is, the child really does have butter on her fi ngers, and the physical contiguity of the real matter with the actual fi ngers is mirrored and affi rmed by the physical combination of “ butter ” with “ fi ngers ” in the trope “ butterfi ngers. ” In the second example, the child does not really have butter on her fi ngers, but in the metaphor “ butterfi ngers ” it ’ s as if she did, as if the slippery substance had caused her to drop Shklovsky ’ s glasses. Th us, the diff erence between metonymy and metaphor can be read as the diff erence between, on the one hand, the prosaic and realistic and, on the other, the imaginative (the as if ) and the negative (the not really ). Both instances involve imagery, if you like, but while the fi rst, metonymic usage is prosaic, “ journalistic, ” mere sensory reportage that allows us to “ see ” what’ s actually there (butter on fi ngers), the second, metaphorical usage is poetic, more verbally and cognitively “ artistic, ” an imaginative leap that invites us to envision what ’ s not really there (again, butter on fi ngers). But th ere ’ s an irony here, involving ostranenie , even if Shklovsky himself doesn ’ t put his fi nger on it. If I mumble “ butterfi ngers!” at some fumbler whose fi ngers aren ’ t literally buttered, I have indeed employed metaphor rather than metonymy. But my metaphorical usage isn’ t, simply by virtue of being metaphorical, necessarily more “ poetic ” than my metonymically calling a really butterfi ngered person “ butterfi ngers.” Why not? Well, perhaps

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the metaphor was fresh in 1917, but today, this facile fi gure is so well- worn and overly lubricated that it ’ s practically become what automatically slips out of the average person ’ s hole in response to seeing another lose her grip. However, it takes a special sort of idiot to be so obvious as to dub the really butterfi ngered person a “ butterfi ngers. ” Either our idiot is ignorant of the metaphor and is simply using the metonym to register exactly what he sees, or the idiot is more adroitly referring to and negating the cliché d metaphorical negation, as if to say “ Your attention, please. Ordinarily , the average person uses the metaphor butterfi ngers to refer not to someone with literally buttered fi ngers but to a fumbler— but look, here I’ m with a sort of ostentatious mock-stupidity doing just the opposite, inserting the obviously prosaic metonym in the place of the more familiarly ‘ poetic ’ metaphor. ” In either case, this idiotically “ real ” use of the metonym “ butterfi ngers” is rather extraordinary compared to the average/automatic utterance of the cliché d metaphor. Th rough over-use and over-familiarity, the metaphor has lost its edge, become practically literal, and so now the metonym — by virtue of a hyper-literal foregrounding of the obvious that disturbs or displaces the familiar— actually creates the stronger impression. And since for Shklovsky “ poetic imagery is a means of creating the strongest possible impression ” (1917/2007: 776), here the realistic metonym could be considered more poetic, more a “ work of art, ” than the standard metaphor. Shklovsky writes that “ by ‘ works of art’ . . . we mean works created by special techniques designed to make the works as obviously artistic as possible” and thus to create “ the strongest possible impression.” He writes that “ poetic imagery” is one such impressive technique, but that “ as a method it is, depending upon its purpose, neither more nor less eff ective than other poetic techniques” (1917/2007: 776). His adversary Potebnya’ s “ law of the economy of creative eff ort” (1917/2007: 777) pertains to modes of perception that involve the least possible mental exertion and to modes of discourse that communicate the most expediently. Again, Shklovsky doesn’ t mind the application of this law to practical language, but he objects to its being extended to poetry. He writes that “ If we start to examine the general laws of perception, we see that as perception becomes habitual, it becomes automatic” and that “ all of our habits retreat into the area of the unconsciously automatic” (1917/2007: 778). Such unconscious automatism leads us into a sort of perceptual “ algebra, ” by means of which we do not see objects “ in their entirety but rather recognize them by their main characteristics. ”

We see the object as though it were enveloped in a sack. We know what it is by its confi guration, but we see only its silhouette. Th e object, perceived thus in the manner of prose perception, fades and does not

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leave even a fi rst impression; ultimately even the essence of what it was is forgotten . . . Th e process of “ algebrization, ” the over-automatization of an object, permits the greatest economy of perceptive eff ort. (1917/2007: 778, emphases added)

Th e purpose of art , however, is for Shklovsky precisely to disrupt this “ habitualization ” and “ algebrization ” of perceived objects. Th e purpose of art is to de-automatize, to dis-habituate, to discomfort, to defamiliarize. Shklovsky cites a passage from Tolstoy’ s diary registering the extent to which our habituation of so much of our daily lives has the eff ect of erasing our lives ’ real substance. He writes that in accord with this dismal algebra, “ life is reckoned as nothing” because “ habitualization devours” just about everything. As Tolstoy complains, “ If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been. ” For Shklovsky, however, “ art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony . ”

Th e purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known . Th e technique of art is to make objects “ unfamiliar, ” to make forms diffi cult, to increase the diffi culty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important. (1917/2007: 778, emphasis added)

Th ese passages establish Shklovsky’ s “ formalist ” bona fi des — because only a formalist would ever privilege technique over content. For Shklovsky, however, a “ form ” is not an “ organic unity,” a “ self-suffi cient object,” a “ spatial fi gure, ” a reifi ed “ fetish ” or article of faith, but rather a “ temporal process ” (Eagleton 1983/1996: 42) — “ A work is created ‘ artistically ’ so that its perception is impeded and the greatest possible eff ect is produced through the slowness of perception. As a result of this lingering, the object is perceived not in its extension in space, but, so to speak, in its [temporal] continuity” (1917/2007: 783). Form, then, is not a perceived thing but a “ diffi cult ” perceptual event . Th us, for Shklovsky, form is not a means of “ containment, ” but rather engages our perceptual resistance to containment, particularly epistemological containment. Art, for Shklovsky, is a struggle against our habitual attempt to “ clarify the unknown by means of the known ” (1917/2007: 775). What “ diffi cult ” forms resist is our normal, ordinary, routine, automatic ways of understanding, of taking the world in. And given the extent to which we ’ ve been “ taken in ” by “ normal understanding” — trained to revere “ understanding ” or “ knowledge ” (or “ faith ” in “ truth ” ) above everything

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else— perhaps the most “ diffi cult ” aspect of Shklovsky ’ s “ formalism ” is the provocative way he pits art against “ understanding, ” the way he distinguishes between the “ event ” of seeing and the “ uneventful ” act of knowing , between enlivening aesthetic perception and mortifyingly familiar knowledge . Nietzsche, as you’ ll recall, diagnosed the epistemological drive in terms of the anxious desire to reduce “ the strange ” to “ the familiar. ” For Nietzsche, the familiar is “ what we are used to so that we no longer marvel at it, our everyday, . . . anything at all in which we feel at home, ” and so, “ our need for knowledge [is] precisely this need for the familiar, the will to uncover under everything strange, unusual, and questionable something that no longer disturbs us.” For Nietzsche, it is “ the instinct of fear that bids us to know” and “ the jubilation of those who attain knowledge . . . [is] jubilation over the restoration of a sense of security ” (1887/2006: 368). Following Nietzsche, Shklovsky cautions us against the habituating aspects of “ secure ” knowledge and off ers art’ s strategies of estrangement as a means of recovering sensations and perceptions that we lose or miss through ease, habit, faith, or fear. For Shklovsky, artistic defamiliarization and epistemological clarifi cation are in tension each other, and the former — or perhaps the formal —is actively hostile to the latter.

I personally feel that defamiliarization is found almost everywhere form is found. In other words, . . . an image is not a permanent referent for those mutable complexities of life which are revealed through it; its purpose is not to make us perceive meaning, but to create a special perception of the object — it creates a “ vision ” of the object instead of serving as a means for knowing it. (1917/2007: 781)

In studying art, then, and particularly “ poetic speech, ” what we fi nd, writes Shklovsky, is “ the artistic trademark . . . We fi nd material obviously created to remove the automatism of perception; the author’ s purpose is to create the vision which results from that deautomatized perception ” (1917/2007: 783). Positing “ form ” as defamiliarization allows Shklovsky to privilege the temporal aspects of poetry as “ formed speech” (1917/2007: 784) over the spatial aspects, which in turn allows us to distinguish Shklovsky ’ s formalism from New Critical fetishism. But defamiliarization also opens up a way of reading the history of poetic perception, and this opening also sets Shklovsky ’ s formalism apart from New Criticism ’ s closed and ahistoricizing “ idealist aesthetics.” Shklovsky calls poetry “ a diffi cult, roughened, impeded language ” (1917/2007: 783) and defi nes poetry as “attenuated, tortuous speech” (1917/2007: 784). Given this defi nition, we might posit that one aspect of poetry’ s rough

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trade would involve “ promoting the palpability of signs, ” deepening “ the fundamental dichotomy of signs and objects, ” as Roman Jakobson will later put it (1960/2007: 856). But another aspect of “ torturous ” defamiliarization involves what Shklovsky calls “ disordering the rhythm ” of poetic speech. “ Th e rhythm of prose is an important automatizing element; the rhythm of poetry is not” (1917/2007: 784). And yet Shklovsky quickly points out that rhythmic disordering “ cannot be predicted ” or systematized — “ Should the disordering of rhythm become a convention, it would be ineff ective as a device for the roughening of language ” (1917/2007: 784). And here ’ s where history, of a sort, enters the picture. Shklovsky insists that artworks are “ works created by special techniques designed to make the works as obviously artistic as possible.” But specifi c techniques or devices don ’ t always or eternally work to make artworks artworks. In the fourteenth century, for Giotto, the specifi cally new technique that made the painting obviously artistic was perspective; in the nineteenth century, for Gauguin, the device that made the painting obviously artistic was the abolition of perspective.8 Or, to go back to “ butterfi ngers ” — in a specifi c historical context, a roughly “ prosaic ” metonym might be more “ artistic ” than a smoothly “ poetical ” metaphor. Some coarse prose might be more palpably “ attenuated ” than some fl uent poetry. One can never predict or permanently decide in advance exactly what it will take for an artist in any genre to make us feel or see, to make the stone stony, to make the painting painterly, to form (or torture) practical language into poetry. And here ’ s where history of another sort enters the picture. Shklovsky writes that “ According to Aristotle, poetic language must appear strange and wonderful; and in fact, it is oft en actually foreign ” (1917/2007: 784). He goes on to cite examples of linguistic, historical, and geographical “ foreignnesses ” embedded within various poetical practices. For Shklovsky, then, poetic language, by appearing strange and wonderful, allows “ foreignness ” itself to appear strange and wonderful— rather than, say, bewildering and terrifying. Impeding the reactionary and paranoid habit of “ clarifying the unknown by means of the known,” poetry— the language of defamiliarization— can serve an ethical political purpose in promoting openness to “ the foreign, ” teaching its readers not to be afraid of “ the other” (not, e.g., to automatically assume the “ foreigner ” to be a “ terrorist ” ). Not that any form of “attenuated, tortuous speech ” possesses some inherently ethical power to keep

8 In painting, perspective is the “ method of representing spatial extension into depth on a fl at or shallow surface, utilizing such optical phenomena as the apparent diminution in size of objects and the convergence of parallel lines as they recede from the spectator” (Chilvers 1988: 379). Perspective is a technique that gives the illusion of three- dimensional depth to a two-dimensional canvas.

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reactionaries from torturing foreigners or to prevent literal exterminations of the unfamiliar. Th ere is no necessary or “ intrinsic ” relation between aesthetic defamiliarization and a progressive or liberatory ethics of alterity. Th ere is no “ specifi c technique” that can both make our artwork “ as obviously artistic as possible” and permanently keep the documents of our civilization from becoming the registers of our barbarity. And yet, for some writers, the hope remains that art, in some rough form or another, can still make at least a few stones stony. Or, in other words, the hope remains that an interventional art of the sentence can remain “ a crucial element of critical subversion, a political mode [of writing] that is designed to produce a sense of alienation and discomfort in the reader so that newness may enter and alter a defamiliarized world” (Salih 2004: 4).

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Seven:

alienated labor, formalism, aesthetics, Agrarians, disinterestedness, base/superstructure, metaphor, irony, paradox, ambiguity, tension, unity, tenor/vehicle, metonymy, perspective

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— or, invasions of the signifi er

I. Without positive terms

Not everyone buys into “ the conviction that of all the writing called theoretical, Lacan ’ s is the richest ” (Jameson 2006: 365 – 6). But for those who are heavily invested in Lacan, the great wealth of his psychoanalytic writing fl ows from its active trading with semiotics and structural linguistics. Lacan, that is, fi rst “ struck it rich” by reading Freud as if Freud had read Saussure, by rethinking Freud ’ s discoveries through Saussure ’ s “ linguistic turn, ” and by cashing in on the claim that “ the unconscious is structured like a language ” (1973/1981: 203).1 Our task in this lesson will be to understand what allows Lacan to stake his signature claim. We’ ve of course already encountered the unconscious , the

1 Lacan writes that while “ Freud could not have taken into account modern linguistics, which postdates him, ” Freud ’ s discovery “ stands out precisely because, in setting out from a domain in which one could not have expected to encounter linguistics ’ reign, it had to anticipate its formulations ” (1966f/2006: 578). Lacan asserts that when Freud ’ s Interpretation of Dreams was published in 1900, “ it was way ahead of the formalizations of linguistics for which . . . it paved the way ” (1966e/2006: 426); moreover, Lacan notes that “ in Freud ’ s complete works, one out of three pages presents us with philological references . . . linguistic analysis becoming still more prevalent the more directly the unconscious is involved ” (1966e/2006: 424). In How to Read Lacan, Ž i ž ek writes that “ Lacan started his ‘ return to Freud ’ with the linguistic reading of the entire psychoanalytic edifi ce, encapsulated by what is perhaps his single best-known formula: ‘ Th e unconscious is structured as a language.’ Th e predominant perception of the unconscious is that it is the domain of irrational drives, something opposed to the rational conscious self. For Lacan, this notion of the unconscious belongs to the Romantic Lebensphilosophie (philosophy of life) and has nothing to do with Freud. Th e Freudian unconscious caused such a scandal not because of the claim that the rational self is subordinated to the much vaster domain of blind irrational instincts, but because it demonstrated how the unconscious itself obeys its own grammar and logic: the unconscious talks and thinks ” (2006: 2 – 3).

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real kernel of Freudian discovery; we’ ve also heard quite a bit about language , the central concern of semiotics and structuralism, the study of signs and of sign systems. But what exactly is “ a sign” for a semiotician? How, in a structuralist under- standing, do sign systems work ? How does the “ structure ” in structuralism diff er from the “ form ” in formalism? In the previous lesson, we witnessed that “ form ” for a formalist tends to resolve into an ostensibly “ singular ” thing ( “ organic unity ” for Brooks) or technique (“ defamiliarization ” for Shklovsky). According to Robert Dale Parker, however, “ we cannot say that structuralism is any one thing ” (2008: 40). And the reason we can’ t say any such thing about structuralism is that structuralism pretty much demolishes the idea of there ever being any one thing, any absolutely singular element that can meaningfully “ stand alone,” independent of all other units of meaning. So when we read that “ if we boil structuralism down to one idea, it is about understanding concepts through their relation to other concepts, rather than understanding them as intrinsic, in isolation from each other ” (Parker 2008: 40), we can grasp what distinguishes a structuralist understanding of “ textuality in general ” from formalism’ s intrinsically “ literary ” and socially isolated text. If we do “ boil structuralism down to one idea,” it’ s that there can never be any such thing as one idea, one single “ positive term” — it ’ s about “ coming to terms” with the realization that “ in language there are only diff erences without positive terms ” (Saussure 1959: 120); it’ s about understanding that “ language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others ” (Saussure 1959: 114). Now, structuralism’ s big idea isn’ t that there’ s “ no such thing” as big ideas, or that meanings “ simply don’ t exist” ; rather, the thrust of structuralism is that ideational meanings don ’ t exist simply — ideas exist, but they exist only in language , and “ language being what it is, we shall fi nd nothing simple in it ” (Saussure 1959: 122). Th e structuralist idea is that ideas cannot exist except in diff erential relation to each other. Of course, the underlying ideal of Western metaphysics since Plato has involved the belief that meaningful ideas really do abide in their independently self-present “ truth, ” prior to any language that might be used to express, represent, or “ stand for ” them. But structuralism won ’ t stand for any of that. Structuralism posits that “ there are no preexisting ideas ” (Saussure 1959: 112), that “ no ideas are established in advance, and nothing is distinct” — much less true— “ before the introduction of linguistic structure ” (Saussure 1972/1986: 110) — “ Language, ” writes Saussure, “ has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic diff erences that have issued from the system ” (1959: 120).

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Language for Saussure is thus necessarily, interdependently, systematic— “a form and not a substance ” (1959: 122). Th ere can ’ t be an “ unstructured ” language, any more than there could be an “ unstructured ” society or an “ unstructured ” psychic apparatus. And so the structuralist argument that “ thought is linguistic” and that “ concepts cannot exist independently of their linguistic expression” (Jameson 2004: 403) entails the radical premise that linguistic structure constitutes the fundamental condition of possibility for all recognizably human reality, social, corporeal, and psychic. “ Th e structuralist idea is that reality is linguistic and structured, not that there is no reality but that we construct it, so that there is no reality independent of language. ” Th e structuralist idea is that “ language not only describes our world [but] also produces the world it describes” (Parker 2008: 46). Th is conception of language as world-forming is what sets theoretical writing aft er structuralism apart from preceding or competing literary criticisms. Regarding structuralism ’ s specifi c diff erence from formalism, then, we can say that if “ for the new critics, the goal is to interpret the individual text,” the structuralist goal is “ to describe or interpret the larger system” (Parker 2008: 47– 8). And because the structuralist concern is with “ the larger system, ” formalism ’ s more limited focus on the specifi c “ literariness of literature” seems pretty small potatoes. And yet, while structuralism would appear to neglect literature ’ s sublime (or starchy) literariness, structuralism ’ s emphasis on the larger system ’ s “ linguistic foundation ” arguably extends the strange condition of literature into every corner of human reality; “ literature ” thus gains considerably “ larger ” signifi cance by losing the isolated and elevated status that formalism had bestowed upon it. In the chapter of his Structuralist Poetics called “ Th e Linguistic Foundation,” Jonathan Culler refers to the structuralist “ notion that linguistics might be useful in studying other cultural phenomena ” (1975: 4). By “ other cultural phenomena,” Culler means (1) cultural forms that don’ t traditionally count as “ creative writing” (that aren’ t poems, novels, plays, etc.) and (2) cultural phenomena (such as fashion shows or football games) that hadn ’ t previously appeared to involve “ language ” to any pertinent extent and so hadn ’ t usually been considered suitable for linguistic analysis, much less “ worthy ” of close reading. For structuralism, however, all cultural phenomena are wide open to linguistic analysis; moreover, all phenomena, even ostensibly “ natural ” phenomena, are “ actually ” always cultural objects that warrant being attentively read. In the key structuralist text Mythologies, Roland Barthes writes that structuralists “ take language, discourse, speech, etc., to mean any signifi cant unit or synthesis, whether verbal or visual: . . . even objects will become speech, if they mean something” (1957/1972: 110– 11). “ Every object

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in the world, ” says Barthes, “ can pass from a closed, silent existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society, for there is no law, natural or not, which forbids talking about things ” (1957/1972: 109). Culler thus writes that

the notion that linguistics might be useful in studying other cultural phenomena is based on two fundamental insights: fi rst, that social and cultural phenomena are not simply material objects or events but objects or events with meaning, and hence signs; and second, that they [signs] do not have essences but are defi ned by a network of relations. (1975: 4)

Th e fi rst insight is basic to semiology, or semiotics, the “ science of signs, ” while the second is the foundation of structuralism, the analysis of the underlying systemic networks that make meaning, culture, human reality possible. For Culler, however, these twin insights are “ inseparable, ” for “ in studying signs one must investigate the system of relations that enables meaning to be produced and, reciprocally, one can only determine what are the pertinent relations among items by considering them as signs ” (1975: 4).

Th e cultural meaning of any particular act or object is determined by a whole system of constitutive rules: rules which do not regulate behaviour so much as create the possibility of particular forms of behaviour. Th e rules of English enable sequences of sound to have meaning; they make it possible to utter grammatical or ungrammatical sentences. And analogously, various social rules make it possible to marry, to score a goal, to write a poem, to be impolite. It is in this sense that a culture is composed of a set of symbolic systems. (1975: 5)

OK, so in human reality, everything and everyone is made of rules, composed of signs. But signs, we are told, “ do not have essences” ; they— and hence presumably we — “ are defi ned by a network of relations.” What allows structuralism this disturbingly “ anti-es sentialist” claim? What makes the claim disturbing in the fi rst place, and for whom? Of course, the claim that signs lack essences won’ t fundamentally disturb anyone who doesn’ t think much of signs anyway; it wouldn ’ t bother anyone who assumes that the “ real truth” of ideas, experiences, or identities preexists any signs that might subsequently be used, like mere tools, to express or describe them. Such a “ believer ” wouldn ’ t feel spiritually infected by the essencelessness of signs; he would be no more disturbed by the claim that signs lack essences than he would be surprised to hear that his screwdriver or word-processor didn ’ t have a soul; he could readily admit that signs don’ t have essences while still

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securely holding on to his own, so to speak. But the claim against signifi cant essences could be unsettling for anyone who takes to heart the structuralist premise that signs systematically “ create the possibility ” for the very reality, the very ideas and very identities, that they are normally thought merely to describe. So given the “ existential ” stakes involved here, what, again, allows the structuralist to deprive us and our signs of any “ essential ” natures? What are these hungry ghosts called signs, anyway— particularly for the semiotician whose job is to study them? Th e nineteenth-century American semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce distinguished among iconic , indexical , and symbolic signs. In Peirce’ s schema, iconic signs are mimetic, basically pictographic representations— a crude drawing on a chalkboard could be “ iconically ” taken to signify, for example, a cat. Indexical signs, on the other hand, are eff ective indices or “ indicators ” of preexisting natural or physical causes— smoke indicates fi re, stench indicates rot, etc. Note that an attempted iconic sign, like the drawing of the cat on the chalkboard, might be so miserably rendered that no one can possibly make out “ what it’ s supposed to be” ; the failed iconic sign, however, can still function as an index of the merely physical fact that someone has been marking, however ineptly, on the board. But while iconic and indexical signs can be “ grasped ” or “ sensed ” by those who can’ t read (a preschooler can recognize a well-drawn kitty, a real cat knows what to make of an emanating odor), a symbolic sign, like the word “ cat, ” can successfully signify only to a reader who knows the language in which it is written, in this case English. If a word for “ cat ” is chalked on the board in some language I can ’ t read, then the marks can signify indexically for me (I can take them as indicating that someone has been marking on the board), but not symbolically (I can’ t really tell what the marks symbolize, what they ’ re supposed to mean ). For Saussure, all linguistic signs, all words, are symbolic in Peirce ’ s sense, which means that their primary signifying function is neither iconic nor indexical , that words signify by being neither naturally mimetic images nor simple indices of physical cause – eff ect relations. But Saussure inveighs against our using the term “ symbol ” to “ designate the linguistic sign ” (1959: 68), because while “ the linguistic sign is arbitrary” — and we’ ll be discussing at length the huge implications of that little zinger — “ one characteristic of the symbol is that it is never wholly arbitrary; it is not empty, for there is the rudiment of a natural bond between the signifi er and the signifi ed . Th e symbol of justice, a pair of scales, could not be replaced by just any other symbol, such as a chariot ” (1959: 67, 68). For Saussure, “ symbol ” isn’ t quite the right word for a word because symbols can still participate in iconic or indexical signifi cations, both of

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which imply some “ natural bond” or physical motivation. But words are completely “ empty ” of and by “ nature. ” Th e linguistic sign, Saussure insists, is not only “ antiphysical, ” in all the senses of that word that we’ ve explored in previous lessons, but arbitrary , which means that words are based not on physical nature but on social convention , collective agreements. Saussure cautions that the term arbitrary “ should not imply that the choice of the signifi er is left entirely to the speaker, ” for “ the individual does not have the power to change a sign in any way once it has become established in the linguistic community.” Rather, to say that the signifi er is arbitrary means “ that it is unmotivated, i.e., arbitrary in that it has no natural connection with the signifi ed ” (1959: 69). Now, Saussure writes that “ the principle of the arbitrary nature of the sign . . . dominates all the linguistics of language ” and that “ its consequences are numberless” (1959: 68). Indeed, the implications of the principle “ that there is no fi xed bond ” (1959: 69) between signifi ers and signifi eds or signs and referents are probably much more numerous and extensive than Saussure himself might have envisioned. But because the principle of the sign ’ s “ arbitrary nature ” has proven to be so consequential, we need to make sure we understand exactly what Saussure means by it. In Saussurean terms, a linguistic sign couples a signifi er with a signifi ed in order to designate a referent . Th e signifi er functions as an “ acoustic image ” ; the signifi ed is the “ concept ” that this acoustic image conventionally evokes; while the referent is the “ real thing ” in the world that the sign (signifi er and signifi ed combined) conventionally designates. In the case of the “ cat ” inscribed on the chalkboard, the signifi er is the image , the perceptual imprint , of the grouped letters c/a/t, coupled with the phonetic sound — kat — that in English conventionally corresponds to those marks. Please note that on the side of the signifi er the “ image ” is not your mental vision of some feline but merely your visual perception of this trio of marks, c/a/t, as they appear on the board or page. Note also the absence of any natural, fi xed, or inevitable “ bond ” between the legible mark “ c ” and the hard “ k ” sound we are trained to make in English when we perceive that mark; obviously, other languages couple diff erently imaged marks with that particular sound. Note further that there is no “ natural bond ” between the signifi er “ cat ” and the signifi ed concept or mental image of a real cat. If there were some natural connection or physical cause – eff ect relation between them, then the marks “ c/a/t ” would inevitably provoke both the sound “ kat ” and the mental image of a cat for, say, a Chinese person who didn’ t read English, just as fi re inevitably causes smoke, or rot stench, everywhere in the natural world. So here’ s the crux of the matter: the condition of language is such that the linguistic sign has no natural connection, no motivated, iconic, or indexical

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relation, to anything in the physical world— and hence neither do we . Th is is not to say that neither language nor we, the animals at its mercy, have any connection with nature whatsoever; it is only to say that for us, as specifi cally human beings, there is no natural relation, no physically motivated connection, between signifi ers and signifi eds or words and things. What we have instead of merely natural relations is a shift ing ensemble of arbitrary, contingent, socially conventional relations. In other words, and once again, what we have is only what we ourselves make — the ongoing history of a world that must be made to mean. Now, as I hope you ’ ll recall from earlier lessons, Roland Barthes refers to myth as a “ depoliticizing ” type of speech that attempts to turn this “ history ” back into “ nature, ” into a static realm of naturalized signifi cations in which “ things appear to mean something by themselves” (1957/1972: 143). Myth in Barthes ’ sense depends upon a sort of enforced ignorance about the arbitrary, conventional, unmotivated “ nature ” of the linguistic sign. Myth, in other words, is politically motivated to occult language’ s lack of natural motivation, to actively depoliticize speech by ignoring or obscuring its purely fabricated social conventionality. Myth attempts to maintain the fi ction that language isn ’ t fi ctional, to support the illusion that linguistic signs really do function iconically or indexically ; myth, that is, attempts to permanently bond signifi ers to signifi eds, to make the connection between them seem as natural and inevitable as the indexical connection of smoke to fi re or stench to rot. In other words, myth presents words as if they were natural facts, not social forms , as if they were completely “ positive ” terms without any “ inmixture of otherness.” But Saussure’ s myth-shattering assertion is that “ in language there are only diff erences. Even more important: a diff erence generally implies positive terms between which the diff erence is set up; but in language there are only diff erences without positive terms ” (1959: 120). We should understand that a “ positive term” — if it existed— would involve a fi xed or fundamentally grounded content; a “ positive term” would simply and independently be what it is and mean what it means, all by itself, just naturally. But against this myth of terminological positivity, Saussure argues that any word’ s “ content is really fi xed only by the concurrence of everything that exists outside it ” (1959: 115), that terms “ are purely diff erential and defi ned not by their positive content but negatively by their relations with the other terms of the system. Th eir most precise characteristic is in being what the others are not ” (1959: 117). Of course, Saussure is here discussing terms, not real things. He ’ s not suggesting that the “ most precise characteristic” of a real cat is that it isn’ t

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a hotdog; rest assured that, for all a structuralist cares, a real cat can simply be what it is, positively. But for a structuralist the signifi er “ cat ” cannot be a positive term; the signifi er “ cat ” is what it legibly is, means what it visibly/ audibly means, only because of its diff erence from other signifi ers, “ outsiders ” that are almost the same but not quite — rat, sat, mat, pat, lat, hat, etc. If linguistic structure is in fact “ made ” entirely of such micro-diff erences, if any signifi er’ s most precise characteristic is not its positive content but its situation in relation to some other term that it’ s not , then Saussure is justifi ed in claiming that “ in language there are only diff erences without positive terms, ” that “ everything in language is negative ” (1959: 120). All these Saussurean claims are of course the “ linguistic foundation ” for Culler ’ s unsettling assertion that signs “ do not have essences but are defi ned by a network of relations ” (1975: 4). Th ese claims are also the condition of possibility for the anti-essentialist or deconstructive principle of “ constitutive otherness” that I mentioned in the previous lesson— that is, the idea that any meaningful entity “ is what it is” only by virtue of its diff erence from, and dependence upon, other entities. But Saussure may well have sensed the threat his principles posed to traditional metaphysics, to “ the underlying ideal of Western culture, ” for, perhaps protecting his own unconscious investment in that very ideal, Saussure backs away from his own “ new rule ” pretty quickly aft er having laid it down. Having just said that everything he’ s said “ boils down” to the bold statement that “ in language there are only diff erences without positive terms ” (1959: 120), Saussure seems to back- paddle— “ But the statement that everything in language is negative is true only if the signifi ed and signifi er are considered separately; when we consider the sign in its totality, we have something that is positive in its own class” (1959: 120). And as Saussure continues to recant, insisting that the sign in its totality somehow can be terminally positive, certain clich é s — involving barn doors being shut aft er horses have bolted, cats being let out of bags, and oddly named eggs falling off their walls— may well pop into the close reader’ s mind. For once, we very close readers have taken to heart Saussure ’ s central claims about language; nothing that he says thereaft er can put our shattered faith in “ positive terms ” back together again; nothing can restore our previously held idealist belief that signs really do have essences; nothing can persuade us that the structuralist slogan “ everything in language is negative” isn ’ t completely valid for “ the sign considered in its totality” — and hence, for human reality considered in its totality as well. Indeed, aft er Saussure’ s totally linguistic turn of the screw, nothing — not even the “ nothing ” that Hamlet calls “ a fair thing to lie between a maid’ s legs ” — has ever been exactly the self-same again.

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II. Adventures in metaphor and metonymy

But speaking of legs, and of what lies or doesn ’ t lie between them, did you know that crossing one’ s legs in a certain fashion— at the ankle, not at the knee— is the single best way “ to give the world the assurance of a man” while sitting? I myself was told this once, in so many words. Sitting comfortably enough at my desk in an eighth-grade classroom, minding my own business— albeit crossing my legs the other way, not at the ankle but at the knee— I suddenly heard a cackle of cultural intervention, the voice of the gender police: a concerned classmate, who happened to be a boy, pointed out to the rest of the class that “ Th omas” was “ sitting like a girl.” Too bad we weren’ t studying semiotics in this disciplinary setting. If we had been, I might have been able to respond to my classmate’ s panoptical observation in some other way than desperately repositioning my signifying limbs, assuming too late the appropriately gendered posture. I might have been able to turn to my interpellating tormentor and ask why he assumed that any particular way of arranging one ’ s legs constituted an indexical sign of some preexisting chromosomal cause , why he assumed any natural bond, motivated connection, or inevitable relation between the gestural and the genital. I might have pointed out that signs of “ sitting like” boys or girls are not “ positive terms ” with fi xed, biologically determined contents but are socially conventional signifi ers that “ mean ” only in diff erential relation to each other. I might have suggested that crossing one’ s legs one way signifi es sitting “ like a boy ” not because of any single thing that lies between a boy ’ s legs but only because crossing them the other way signifi es sitting “ like a girl. ” And if these choice words hadn ’ t been enough to earn me an aft er-school ass-kicking, I might even have announced that since “ everything in language is negative ” anyway, nothing positively causal lies between the legs of any human subject, boy or girl. With a precocious nod to Lacan ’ s “ Signifi cation of the Phallus, ” I might have mentioned that nothing “ truly ” lies between any of our legs but lies — contingent fi ctions of sex— regardless of whether any one of us really “ has what it takes ” down there or not. Or I might have lighted on the word “ like ” in my classmate ’ s accusation that I was sitting “ like a girl” to launch into a discussion of similarity and contiguity as these physical conditions correspond to the tropes of metaphor and metonymy in structural linguistics; I might have continued along Lacanian lines and “ articulated what links metaphor to the question of being and metonymy to its lack ” (1966e/2006: 439). But setting aside all thoughts of what I might have cleverly said back then, I will now get back on track by launching into — guess what? — a discussion of similarity and contiguity as they correspond to metaphor and metonymy

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in structural linguistics, not only because it is now relatively safe for me to do so, sitting however I like, but because this discussion will take us closer to understanding how the basic elements of Saussurean linguistics allow Lacan to reboot Freud and claim that the unconscious is structured like a language. We will continue our approach to Lacan ’ s analogy by considering Saussure ’ s distinction between syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations in language. Saussure insists that “ in a language-state everything is based on relations” (1959: 122), but he proposes that linguistic elements “ acquire ” their relations in two distinct ways. On the one hand, words can “ acquire relations based on the linear nature of language because they are chained together. ” Since language ’ s linearity “ rules out the possibility of pronouncing two elements simultaneously,” words must be “ arranged in sequence on the chain of speaking. Combinations supported by linearity are syntagms . Th e syntagm is always composed of two or more consecutive units ” (1959: 123), and syntagmatic combinations are typically arranged sequentially across the horizontal axis of language. Paradigmatic elements, on the other hand, “ are not supported by linearity” (1959: 123)— or at least not by a sequentially horizontal linearity. But these elements can be “ associatively ” aligned or imaginatively “ stacked up” on language’ s vertical axis. Paradigmatic or “ associative ” relations, as Saussure calls them, involve words “ that have something in common,” that can be “ associated in the memory” (1959: 123). While the real “ scene ” of syntagmatic relations is their actual occurrence on the sequential chain of discourse, the imaginary “ s e a t ” o f paradigmatic relations is “ in the brain; they are a part of the inner storehouse that makes up the language of each speaker.” Th us, syntagmatic relations are conspicuously evident , can be readily discerned and reported, while paradigmatic relations are rather more obscure , seem to require stronger powers of memory and imaginative selection. “ Th e syntagmatic relation,” writes Saussure, “ is in praesentia. It is based on two or more terms that occur in an eff ective series. Against this, the [paradigmatic] relation unites terms in absentia in a potential mnemonic series ” (1959: 123). To clarify Saussure’ s distinction, let’ s say that a simple declarative sentence such as “ Th is fi sh is dead” so eff ectively presents its syntagmatic relations, its horizontally linear sequence of grammatically and syntactically combined words, that basically, all we have to do to receive this report on piscine morbidity is to grasp conventional grammar and to recognize what the words “ fi sh ” and “ dead ” denote. We don ’ t have to “ remember ” very much or “ imagine ” anything at all; we have only to see/hear the words in their “ real time” seriality in order to “ get the message.” But if I were to pick these syntagmatic

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bones clean and off er up the skeletal sequence ridden with absences — as in “ Th is is ” —then, in order to fi ll in the blanks, one might imagine a potentially towering series of similar words other than “ fi sh” and “ dead, ” words that have “ something in common, ” nouns or adjectives that could be selected from one’ s mnemonic “ inner storehouse” and inserted into the positions opened by the absences of “ fi sh ” and “ dead, ” that could be substituted for “ fi sh” and “ dead ” (this bread is stale , this coff ee is cold , this lesson is tedious , this tapestry is gorgeous, etc.). And one could imagine those series arranged in vertical “ stacks ” above the blank spaces vacated by the dead fi sh (bread , coff ee , lesson, tapestry in one stack; stale , cold , tedious , gorgeous , in another). In fact, we pretty much have to imagine those vertical, paradigmatic “ stacks ” of signifi ers because —unlike the actual and evident contigui- ties and adjacencies of the horizontal chain of syntagms, which we don’ t have to imagine but can merely register — the paradigmatic “ word-towers ” are not really there: they must be imagined, conjured, thought up. While syntagmatic relations depend upon actual combinations and contiguities that are physically arranged horizontally, in praesentia, paradigmatic rela- tions involve imaginary substitutions and unifi cations, psychically aligned vertically, in absentia . And this distinction between the physical and the psychical , between the actual and the imaginary, allows the structuralist to align, on the one hand, the syntagmatic —sequential —contiguous — combi- native — horizontal axis of language with metonymy and, on the other hand, the paradigmatic | analogous |selective | substitutive|vertical axis of language with metaphor . Th ese alignments are among the most important in structuralist analysis. But Saussure himself doesn’ t mention metaphor or metonymy by name in his discussion of syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations. And in a sense it was not Saussure but our old formalist friend Viktor Shklovsky who laid the foundations for these structuralist alignments when he fi rst distinguished prosaic metonymy from poetical metaphor. Using structuralist terms to rework Shklovsky’ s “ butterfi ngers” illustration in the previous lesson, we could say that when the described child has actually gotten butter on her fi ngers, the employed metonym “ butterfi ngers” is a prosaically realistic syntagm, a horizontal verbal sequence combining the word “ butter ” with the word “ fi ngers” in a way that mimetically refl ects/reports the real physical contiguity of substance to fl esh in the present . But when the clean-fi ngered child has merely dropped an object — she doesn ’ t really have butter on her fi ngers, it’ s only as if she did— the employed metaphor “ butterfi ngers” is a relatively poetic imaginative analogy that substitutes itself for the absence of real substance. But if the “ present employment ” of metaphor really depends upon “ the absence of real substance,” on the negation of positive content,

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then Saussure, without explicitly naming metaphor as such, implies the utter metaphoricity of language simply by telling us that “ everything in language is negative” and that “ language is a form and not a substance ” (1959: 120, 122). Moreover, when he writes that in considering “ the relation that ties together the diff erent parts of syntagms . . . one must also bear in mind the relation that links the whole to its parts” (1959: 124), Saussure implicitly describes the function of synecdoche, the type of metonym that works by linking parts to wholes, and he thus nails the syntagmatic to the metonymic without explicitly naming the latter. Saussure thus allows us to see the antirealistic “ poetry ” of antiphysis even in the “ prosaic ” metonym “ butterfi ngers,” for in that two-term, syntagmatic composition the word “ butter ” isn ’ t really a dairy product any more than the word “ fi nger” is really a fl eshy digit. In other words, the signifi er isn ’ t really the signifi ed any more than the sign is really the referent. Because in language there are only diff erences without really positive terms, even metonymical terms can be said to function metaphorically. But because linguistic diff erences must be strung out along the horizontal or syntagmatic chain of meaning, metaphors themselves are typically sustained or supported metonymically, in sequential combinations. Finally, since language itself works thanks only to the interplay between the paradigmatically metaphorical “ poetic ” function and the syntagmatically metonymical “ prosaic ” function, “ any attempt to reduce the sphere of the poetic function to poetry [alone] or to confi ne poetry to the poetic function would be a delusive oversimplifi cation. ” Th us spake Roman Jakobson — “ a key fi gure in Russian formalism and a major infl uence on French structuralism” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 210)— a theoretical writer who indeed seems to meld Shklovsky ’ s “ formalist ” concerns with Saussure ’ s “ structuralist ” investigations. For when Jakobson describes “ the poetic function of language ” in terms of a “ focus on the message for its own sake ” — that is, excluding any other “ factors involved in verbal communication” (1960/2007: 857)— his description resonates with both Shklovsky’ s “ formalist ” argument that the prolonged process of perceiving a defamiliarizing message “ is an aesthetic end in itself ” (1917/2007: 778) and Saussure ’ s “ structuralist ” insistence that “ the true and unique object of linguistics is language studied in and for itself ” (1959: 232). Th is double resonance continues when Jakobson writes that the poetic function “ cannot be productively studied out of touch with the general problems of language, and, on the other hand, [that] the scrutiny of language requires a thorough consideration of its poetic function” (1960/2007: 857). What Jakobson calls “ the poetic function” would seem to unite Shklovsky’ s aesthetically “ word- roughening” techniques with Saussure’ s metaphorically “ substance-negating ”

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activities, for “ by promoting the palpability of signs ” (as per Shklovsky ’ s rough-stuff ), the poetic function always “ deepens the fundamental dichotomy of signs and objects” (1960/2007: 857)— that is, the sign as sign must negate or jettison the object. Note that in the preceding sentence I ’ ve employed what Jakobson calls “ the two basic modes of arrangement used in verbal behavior, selection and combination ” (1960/2007: 857). Th at is, I have selected certain words based on their paradigmatic similarity and sequentially combined those words according to an eff ectively syntagmatic contiguity , imposing Shklovsky’ s “ word-roughening ” onto Jakobson ’ s “palpability of signs” and projecting Saussurean “ insubstantiality ” onto Jakobson’ s “ fundamental dichotomy.” On the one hand, my “ verbal behavior ” here instantiates what Jakobson calls metalanguage — roughly, language about language rather than language about objects. On the other hand, my verbosity would seem to relate to Jakobson’ s most emphatic description of the poetic function— “ Th e poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination” (1960/2007: 858). Of course, my sentence is “ not really” an axial line of poetry at all. And yet, Jakobson’ s description allows me to speak of my sentence as if it were not unrelated to the poetic function, as if it somehow involved the interplay of metaphor (the axis of selection) and metonymy (the axis of combination) — even though, strictly speaking, the sentence contains neither metaphor nor metonymy. Th e fact that Jakobson ’ s description of the poetic function allows me to write about my writing as if it were poetry when it’ s really no such thing underscores his argument that “ when dealing with the poetic function, linguistics cannot limit itself to the fi eld of poetry ” (1960/2007: 857). But neither, writes Jakobson— in a key passage that eff ectively pre- lubricates Lacan ’ s insertion of Saussure into Freud — can linguistics limit itself to the “ formalist ” focus on “ the literariness of literature” when dealing with the interplay of metaphor and metonymy, for

a competition between both devices, metonymic and metaphoric, is manifest in any symbolic process, be it intrapersonal or social. Th us in an inquiry into the structure of dreams, the decisive question is whether the symbols and the temporal sequences used are based on contiguity (Freud ’ s metonymic “displacement ” and synecdochic “ condensation ” ) or on similarity (Freud ’ s “ identifi cation and symbolism ” ). (1956/2001: 1268)

Linking metaphor and metonymy to all “ intrapersonal ” and “ social ” symbolic processes, as well as to linguistic “ inquiry into the structure of

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dreams,” Jakobson here eff ectively paves the way for Lacan ’ s reading of “ the ‘ signifi erness of dreams’ ” (1966e/2006: 424) and thus for his claim that the unconscious is structured like a language. As we learned in our lesson on taking desire literally, Lacan is keenly concerned with what Jakobson calls “ the fundamental dichotomy of signs and objects” — he incisively explores antiphysis , the rupture between signifi cation and “ the real ” that makes all human reality possible. While he would agree with Roland Barthes that “ even objects will become speech, if they mean something” (1957/1972: 110– 11), Lacan insists that some ecstatically or traumatically “ real thing ” remains missing whenever objects or subjects are ordered to “ become ” meaningful “ speech. ” And though he would concur with Barthes ’ statement that “ every object in the world can pass from a closed, silent existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society, for there is no law . . . which forbids talking about things ” (1957/1972: 109), Lacan would interject that every object and every subject in the world not only can but must pass from its closed, silent, inarticulate existence to an oral state, open to cultural intervention and social appropriation. Lacan ’ s message is not that there ’ s no law forbidding our “ talking about things ” but that there is a law that forbids our not talking about things, not symbolizing them, that outlaws our not saying “ no ” to the real; this law, the symbolic order, prohibits our merely being (with or in) certain “ real things” rather than diff erentially meaning them, articulately distancing ourselves from them. Exploiting, moreover, the etymology of the word sex (from the Latin secare, “ to cut,” as you’ ll recall), Lacan “ sexualizes ” this articulate distance, this radical cut away from the real; he posits an “ Oedipal ” dimension to Saussure’ s claim that language is the clear-cut “ domain of articulations” (1972/1986: 111); he insists that what Jakobson calls “ verbal behavior” is always already “ sexual behavior ” and vice versa. As we ’ ve seen, for Lacan, both the symbolic order ’ s law against inarticulate, undiff erentiated “ silence ” and Saussure’ s linguistic law of linearity that “ rules out the possibility of pronouncing two elements simultaneously” (Saussure 1959: 123) are structurally analogous to the paternal law of lineage, that “ prohibition against incest ” which founds all exogamous social orders and which “ reveals itself clearly enough as identical to a language order ” (1966d/2006: 229). In “ Th e Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, ” Lacan pays homage to Jakobson, whom he duly credits as “ one of the leaders of modern linguistics ” (1966e/2006: 439). But when it comes to connecting the terms of linguistics to basic Freudian keywords, Lacan corrects and expands upon Jakobson to a large degree. As we ’ ll see, Lacan indeed connects metonymy to Freudian displacement, as Jakobson does above, but he also associates metonymy with desire or lack ; moreover, unlike Jakobson, Lacan compares not synecdoche

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but metaphor to Freud ’ s condensation and to the psychoanalytic symptom . 2 Before examining Lacan ’ s corrections, however, we must come to terms with condensation and displacement as these terms function in Freud ’ s lexicon, specifi cally in the Traumdeutung, the Interpretation of Dreams. Simply put, Freud’ s premise is that a dream represents the fulfi llment of a wish. But dreams being what they are, we shall fi nd nothing simple in them, so Freud’ s more complicated premise is that a dream represents a compromise formation, the symptomatic work of attempting to satisfy two mutually incompatible desires at once. On the one hand, there’ s the dreamer’ s unconscious desire, unconscious because repressed , repressed because incompatible with the dreamer ’ s socially installed ego-coherence or conscious sense of self-esteem; on the other hand, there ’ s the dreamer ’ s desire to stay asleep , to remain psychically undisturbed by the emergence of any potentially ego-damaging imagery. In Freud’ s view, human sleep involves the relaxation— but not the complete abnegation— of the censorship mechanism that holds repressed desire in place. Th us, when we ’ re soundly asleep, unconscious desire “ takes advantage” of our inner censor’ s vulnerability and surreptitiously attempts to “ have its say.” Th e unconscious, rather like Cleanth Brooks ’ “ poet, ” very much “ wants to ‘ say ’ something. Why, then, doesn ’ t [it] say it directly and forthrightly? ” (1951/2007: 799) Well, because if the unconscious did directly “ speak itself,” its dark matters would most likely set off the censorship mechanism’ s alarms and wake the sleeping dreamer up. Th e unconscious therefore “ understands ” that to allow any dormant das Ich to continue dreaming (with ego-coherence altered but still basically intact), and thus to keep its own scandalous message from being abruptly “ cut off ” in mid-stream, it, the unconscious, must “ have its say” only in disguised and distorted forms . Th e unconscious “ knows, ” in other words, that “ it ” —das Es — can have the substance of “ its say ” only formally . For the unconscious, like language, “is a form and not a substance.” Only as a signifying structure , a strangely organized sort of poetry slam, and not as some formlessly bubbling cauldron of biologically instinctual nature , can unconscious desire ever get away with having something like its say. Let ’ s say that I unconsciously harbor the standard Oedipal desires to “ have a father kill’ d, a mother stained,” as Hamlet ambiguously puts it. If I were to

2 While “ in medicine, symptoms are the perceptible manifestations of an underlying illness” (as a runny nose is a symptom of the common cold), in psychoanalysis, symptoms are treated not as direct indices of organic maladies but as “ unnatural ” signs of repressed desires. As writes Dylan Evans, “ Lacan follows Freud in affi rming that neurotic symptoms are formations of the unconscious, and that they are always a compromise between two confl icting desires. Lacan ’ s originality lies in his understanding of neurotic symptoms in linguistic terms ” (1996: 203).

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have a dream that “ directly and forthrightly” represented the fulfi llment of those desires— a dream in which I ecstatically decapitated my father and/ or seminally stained my own mother— the image of either atrocity would (let ’ s hope) be disturbing enough to rupture my slumber, because I really don’ t think I’ m the kind of person who would enjoy doing or spewing such horrible things. But if I were to dream of sawing off the top of a bottle of pop , or of masturbating onto the petals of a chrysanthemum , I would probably be able to sleep right through my own witness of these weird but comparatively placid hieroglyphics— my ego-coherence would be protected and, at the same time, “ my ” unconscious desire would have had something like “ its ” say. In my dreams, in other words, I(t) enjoy(s) otherwise. In the Traumdeutung, Freud says that dreams work exactly through such distorting mechanisms, through such condensations of ideas and displacements of enjoyment. Freud uses the word Verdichtung or condensation to describe the psychic process by which two or more ideas or images are “ paradigmatically ” compressed into a single form (my patricidal dream condenses father and bottle; my matri-maculating dream condenses mother and fl ower). He employs the word Verschiebung or displacement to describe the psychic process by which the “ discharge ” of forbidden aggression or obscene longing is “ syntagmatically ” transferred from one element in the dream sequence to another (my daddy-killing dream displaces murderous rage away from my father and onto something else, a stupid bottle; my mother-soiling dream transfers seminal abjection away from my mum and onto something else , the lovely petals). It ’ s all rather poetic, wouldn’ t you say? And even if you wouldn’ t, Lacan emphatically does, not only stressing the similarity between condensation and metaphor and associating displacement with metonymy—

Verdichtung, “ condensation, ” is the superimposed structure of signi- fi ers in which metaphor fi nds its fi eld; its name, condensing in itself the word Dichtung, shows the mechanism’ s connaturality with poetry, to the extent that it envelops poetry ’ s own properly traditional function. Verschiebung or “ displacement ” — this transfer of signifi cation that metonymy displays is . . . represented, right from its fi rst appearance in Freud ’ s work, as the unconscious ’ best means by which to foil censorship. (1966e/2006: 425)

— but also insisting on the traumatically sexual underpinnings of all enveloping tropes, metaphorical or metonymical, of all symbolic processes, intrapersonal or social, of all unconscious desire taken literally, à la lettre .

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One way to understand Lacan’ s “ Oedipal ” take on metaphorical conden- sation is to turn again to Saussure’ s assertion that language’ s law of linearity “ rules out the possibility of pronouncing two elements simultaneously” (1959: 153). Ordinarily, “ realistically ” speaking, one could say that this rule against incest— oops, my bad, I mean, against simultaneity, against two “ elements ” being pronounced as/at on(c)e — generally holds; aft er all, this is the rule that compels all good writers to keep their letters separate rather than piling them on top of each other (as in the bad experimental “ ink-stain ” example back in the lesson on taking desire literally). In a “ poetically ” condensed metaphor, however, it ’ s as if the rule of linearity were broken by the superimposition of signifi ers. In the Oedipal poetry of my dreams, either one of these dark inscriptions— “ bottle of pop ” o r “ c h r y s a n t h emum ” — would seem to break the syntagmatic rule and would seem to allow unconscious desire to enunciate two elements simultaneously (“ as one fl esh, ” so to speak). And this illicit enunciation transpires without das Ich quite catching on to what das Es is actually saying — that I(t) really do(es) want to have “ a father kill’ d, a mother stained.” Another way to understand metaphorical condensation would be to reconsider the trope from Aristotle that we trotted out in the preceding chapter, which involved being “ in the evening” of one’ s life. Here, we see the pronounced compression of a lengthy, four-term analogy (as evening is to day , so old age is to life ) into a shorter, two-term expression (evening of life ). In this metaphorical condensation, the luxury sedan of “ as A is to B so C is to D ” becomes the compact two-seater “ A of D ” — linear sequentiality is abrogated in that we “ jump ” directly from A to D; moreover, by virtue of that “ imaginative leap,” a certain number of substantially “ real terms” are negated or occulted from the proposition ( “ day ” and “ old age ” are absent or missing from “ evening of life” in much the same way as real butter is nowhere to be found in Shklovsky ’ s metaphorical “ butterfi ngers ” ). Note that all these condensations involve the substitution of words for other words. Evening subs for old age ; pop as bottle subs for pop as father; the fi nal syllable of chrysanthe mum stands in for a name bestowed upon my poor mother, etc. “One word for another: this is the formula for metaphor, ” writes Lacan, “ and if you are a poet you will make it into a game and produce a continuous stream, nay, a dazzling weave of metaphors” (1966e/2006: 422). And yet, the meaningful continuity of any verbal stream, however metaphorically dazzling, will always depend upon the horizontal drift of metonymy, for “ metonymy is based on the word-to-word nature ” of the syntagmatic thread of verbal behavior. Lacan thus “ designate[s] as metonymy the fi rst aspect of the actual fi eld the signifi er constitutes, so that meaning may assume a place there” (1966e/2006: 421). Because any “ meaning ” not only

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“ may ” but must assume its place in line , because the “ word-to-word ” basis of metonymy can be associated with the linear and sequential structure of the completely “ woven ” sentence, and because we read sentences not “ all at once ” but only by moving or transferring our attention, our perceptual cathexis or investment, from one word to the next along the chain of contiguous signifi ers, Lacan associates the syntagmatic metonymy of structural linguistics with the somnambulant displacement of the Freudian dreamwork. Lacan also links the substitutive, word-for -word condensations of metaphor with “ the very mechanism by which symptoms, in the analytic sense, are determined.”

Between the enigmatic signifi er of sexual trauma and the term it comes to replace in a signifying chain, a spark fl ies that fi xes in a symptom — a metaphor in which fl esh or function is taken as a signifying element— the signifi cation, that is inaccessible to the conscious subject, by which the symptom may be dissolved. (1966e/2006: 431)

Moreover, Lacan associates the “word -to -word nature” of metonymy with “ literal ” desire. He writes that “ the enigmas that desire . . . poses for any sort of ‘ natural philosophy’ are based on no other derangement of instinct that the fact that it [desire] is caught in the rails of metonymy, eternally extending toward the desire for something else ” (1966e/2006: 431). Desire taken literally is always desire for something else because meaning always lacks being, because “ no signifi cation can be sustained except by reference to another signifi cation” (1966e/2006: 415), because “ in language there are only diff erences without positive terms” (Saussure 1959: 120), etc. “ Whence we can say that it is in the chain of the signifi er that meaning [emptily] insists , but that none of the chain ’ s elements [positively] consists in the signifi cation it can provide at that very moment ” (Lacan 1966e/2006: 419). Mixing, then, the adventures of metaphor and metonymy with the insistence of the letter in the unconscious, Lacan insists that “ there is no other way to conceive of the indestructibility of unconscious desire” than to imagine that “ it is the truth of what this desire has been in his history that the subject cries out through his symptom ” (1966e/2006: 431). And that , for crying out loud, is why Lacan imagines that the unconscious is structured like a language. But for Lacan the “ crying game ” of the “ talking cure ” involves a fundamental question — a question of the relation between the idea that the unconscious is structured like a language and the history of a subject who has conventionally been expected to posture like a boy or a girl, to signify as a boy or a girl, to take its place in one line or the other whenever two diff erent lines form. Like linear language for Saussure, sex for Lacan is

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a form and not a substance; for him, linguistic structure always involves this “ binary ” question of sexual diff erence, the metaphorical/metonymical “ question of being and . . . its lack” (1966e/2006: 439). As we’ ll see in the next section (another word, come to think of it, like “ sex, ” derived from secare ), the question of sexual diff erence is in Lacan’ s view the question of being versus meaning , of being versus having something infamously called . . .

III. “ the phallus” — for lack of a worser word

Th e fi rst thing one wants to say about the phallus is that it isn’ t the penis. It’ s not an anatomical “ object ” of any kind, and “ still less is it the organ— penis or cl*tor*s— that it symbolizes.” Rather, as Lacan insists in “ Th e Signifi cation of the Phallus,” “ the phallus is a signifi er . . . the signifi er that is destined to designate meaning eff ects as a whole, insofar as the signifi er conditions them by its presence as signifi er” (1966f/2006: 579). Th e phallus stands for what “ meaning eff ects as a whole ” are destined to stand for: namely, that

man cannot aim at being whole (at the “ total personality ” . . .) once the play of displacement and condensation to which he is destined in the exercise of his functions marks his relation, as a subject, to the signifi er. Th e phallus is the privileged signifi er of this mark in which the role of Logos is wedded to the advent of desire. (1966f/2006: 581)3

In other words, what “ the phallus” means is that Freud’ s “ anatomy is destiny” can pretty much go hang. For the phallus designates the fact that anatomy isn ’ t “ destiny ” for any subject of human reality, whether possessed of penis or cl*tor*s; it “ means ” that whatever any of us has or doesn ’ t, none of us can ever “ aim at being whole, ” at being all there, in the “ exercise ” of our “ functions ” within the domain of articulation. Because there is no “ natural history ” of human desire, because our destiny is forever subject to the play

3 “ Logos is Greek for ‘ word, ’ as well as truth, reason, logic, law. Since Plato, logos has stood as the transcendent grounding principle of order and reason that confers meaning on discourse. It constitutes the origin of truth” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 172– 3). Correspondingly, logocentrism is “ a word coined by Jacques Derrida . . . to describe the form of metaphysics that understands writing as merely a representation of speech, which is privileged because the utterance is present simultaneously to both speaker and listener, a situation that seems to guarantee the transmission of meaning” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 172). Now, because Lacan couples “ the phallus ” as a “ privileged signifi er ” with “ the Logos ” as “ origin of truth, ” he stands accused, by Derrida and others, of being phallogocentric , a term which Eagleton suggests that “ we might roughly translate as ‘ co*cksure ’ ” (1983/1996: 164). We will, to be sure, have more to say about phallogocen- trism later on.

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of metaphorical condensation and metonymical displacement, the only “ wholes ” we can ever “ aim at” are grammatically completed sentences — even if no single, fully predicated sentence (and certainly not this one) can ever really satisfy its speaker ’ s desire for completion. Th e phallus thus not only “ isn ’ t the organ — penis or cl*tor*s — that it symbolizes ” but “ stands for ” nothing other than the fact that it isn’ t . Signifying nothing but its own disappearance, the phallus isn ’ t anything and isn ’ t everything but “ stands for” the fact that “ everything in language is negative” (Saussure 1959: 120). Without actually being “ a natural fact,” the phallus stands for the fact that language is by nature fi ctional; it really symbolizes nothing but the fact that the symbolic isn ’ t the real. In the most obviously “ sexual ” terms, the phallus not only isn’ t the penis but signifi es the fact that the signifi er “ penis ” isn ’ t the signifi ed “ penis ” any more than the word “ cl*tor*s ” gets to be a real cl*tor*s. If words like “ penis ” and “ cl*tor*s ” were really penises and cl*tor*ses, then one could caress, kiss, lick and perchance excite and/or arouse them; one could erotically rub the words together, like sticks, and make a sort of fi re. Th e phallus signifi es the fact that one can’ t . Th e phallus signifi es the hard fact that the word “ penis ” lacks a real penis, that the word “ cl*tor*s ” lacks the actual organ. But the phallus also signifi es the ostensibly “ non-sexual ” fact that a phrase like, say, “ stick of butter ” isn ’ t really a stick of butter. In other words, for Lacan, the shadow of the phallus extends across the entire fi eld of signifi cation, designating “ meaning eff ects as a whole” whether any real organs or buttered holes are involved in the signifying act or not— the ostentatiously “ sexual ” word “ phallus ” signifi es the seemingly “ non-sexual ” fact that “ the signifi er ” qua signifi er lacks “ t h e signifi ed,” that the word qua word lacks “ the real thing,” that the subject qua subject lacks the undiff erentiated real. Lacan’ s phallus is thus the specifi cally privileged “ signifi er of lack ” in general . Th e idea that the Lacanian phallus signifi es these linguistic negations, these sad-assed “ facts of life ” — it isn ’ t, one can ’ t— means that the phallus is “ not unrelated,” as Lacan puts it, to the bar that separates signifi er from signifi ed in the Saussurean algorithm —

S — s

— which “ is to be read, ” Lacan writes, “ as follows: signifi er over the signifi ed, ‘ over ’ corresponding to the bar separating the two levels ” (1966e/2006: 415). But while Saussure reads the algorithm ’ s horizontal line as uniting signifi er with signifi ed, comparing “ the two levels ” to the recto and verso of a single sheet of paper, Lacan likens the same line to a bar of prohibition, a signifi cant

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barrier instantiating the aforementioned negations — it isn ’ t, one can ’ t . To show the diff erence between Saussure’ s paper-thin “ line ” and his own thicker and longer “ bar, ” Lacan pulls out what he calls Saussure ’ s “ faulty illustration ” of the signifi er/signifi ed dispensation — the signifying word tree suspended over a horizontal line that joins the word to what’ s below it— an arboreal icon representing the signifi ed concept of a tree — and he “ replace[s] this illustration with another, which can be considered more correct ” (1966e/2006: 416) — the words gentlemen and ladies situated above a horizontal bar that separates them from “ the image of two twin doors” below, the fl oating words indicating alternative entrances on the nether side of the bar, the twin doors themselves marking the physically identical but “ sexually diff erentiated ” places where “ gentlemen ” and “ ladies ” are supposed to go, whenever they really “ have to go. ” As Lacan announces:

the image of two twin doors . . . symbolize[s], with the private stall off ered Western man for the satisfaction of his natural needs when away from home, the imperative he seems to share with the vast majority of primitive communities that subjects his public life to the laws of urinary segregation” (1966e/2006: 417).

Still shaking the Saussurean tree, Lacan goes on to play “ scrabble ” with the French word arbre , anagrammatically transforming it into a barre and thus laying bare human reality as the “ meaning eff ect” of primal repression, the laboriously primordial sacrifi ce of the real (and the arboreal ) to the socio- symbolic order— the domains of articulation, incest prohibition, urinary segregation, and so on. In Lacan’ s view, the social imperatives of language universally bar our way to any simple and undiff erentiated “ satisfaction ” of “ natural needs,” so that we “ castrated ” subjects of the signifi er, constitutively sawed off from merely animal nature, can’ t, like lemurs, simply live in, swing from, or piss under trees. Lacan ’ s saw is that everything in language is negative, based on this primordially prohibitive bar, and so everyone who wants to be anyone in our world of words must be made to mean, must consent to “ castration ” as “ sexual diff erence ” from the real, must abide by the laws of urinary segregation separating ladies from gents , must take his or her place in one line or the other in front of the “ really identical ” twin doors — this is what the phallus, as the “ privileged ” signifi er of lack, signifi es for Lacan. But hold on here— even if we accept linguistic anthropogenesis as radical antiphysis; even if we grant that language must be articulated and therefore necessarily involves an inaugural separation of the speaking subject from the undiff erentiated real; even if we swallow the line that being a speaking

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subject necessarily involves a haunting sense of incompletion, of never really being fully here nor there, why in God ’ s name must we think of articulation, separation, incompletion, etc., in the specifi cally “ sexuated ” terms of “ castration ” ? Moreover, if we must select a single signifi er to signify the fact that the signifi er isn ’ t the signifi ed; if we must privilege one symbol to symbolize the fact that symbols aren ’ t real; if we must designate one unit of meaning to designate “ meaning eff ects as a whole, ” why the f*ck does it have to be “ the phallus” ? Lacan in fact addresses these questions with a winking nod toward “ the f*ck, ” toward copulation , both “ real ” and “ literal. ” As he puts it:

One could say that this signifi er [the phallus] is chosen as the most salient of what can be grasped in sexual intercourse [copulation ] as real, as well as the most symbolic, in the literal (typographical) sense of the term, since it is equivalent in [discursive] intercourse to the (logical) copula [the “ linking ” form of the verb “ to be ” —is — is of course called the copula ]. One could also say that, by virtue of its turgidity, it is the image of the vital fl ow as it is transmitted in generation. All of these remarks still merely veil the fact that [the phallus] can play its role only when veiled, that is, as itself a sign of the latency with which any signifi able is struck, once it is raised ( aufgehoben ) to the function of the signifi er. Th e phallus is the signifi er of this very Aufh ebung, which it inaugurates (initiates) by its disappearance. (1966f/2006: 581)

What we can take this strikingly Hegelian language to mean is that language itself never means anything except by virtue of the real ’ s being stricken with signifi cation. When the symbolic order strikes, signifi cation removes itself from and erects itself above “ the real” which disappears from it, which is “ primally repressed” or driven into “ latency ” by it. Once language cuts into the signifi able real, “ everything ” becomes no longer simply signifi able but irrevocably signifi cant . Once language cuts in, “ everything ” must split along one side or the other of the horizontal bar separating the signifi er from the signifi ed, and for Lacan this symbolic segregation is “ not unrelated” to the conventional social imperative that “ everybody ” must fl ock to the left or the right of the vertical line separating urinating ladies from gents. Once language cuts in and we ’ re made to “ stand in line ” in the public domain of articulation/urination, every erstwhile “ total whole” and every formerly “ oceanic feeling” sexually divides into signifi ers and signifi eds — signifi ers that are barred from being signifi eds, signs that are separated from formlessly immediate experience,

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words that bar us from any simple satisfaction of any of our “ natural needs when away from home. ” Granted, none of the preceding fully answers the question of why “ the phallus” must be “ the privileged signifi er ” of the real ’ s necessary disappearance from signifi cation, but that ’ s because the phallus ensures that nothing can ever fully answer that question or fully satisfy anyone who asks. Lacan, however, does lay out some strategically unsatisfying answers in “ Th e Signifi cation of the Phallus,” using his “ privileged signifi er” to rewrite Freud’ s basic Oedipal scenario. To employ a couple of titles, let ’ s say that in Freud ’ s account “ Th e Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex” is brought about by “ Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes.” In Freud’ s terms, “ dissolving ” one ’ s Oedipus complex involves letting go of one ’ s desire to possess the mother and dispatch the father. Initially , all of us polymorphously perverse little children— blithely oblivious to the aforementioned anatomical distinction and its possible psychical consequences— share this same desire, “ boys ” and “ girls ” alike (both, that is, want to “ be ” with the mother, which means that the little boy’ s pleasure principle is from a certain perspective already conveniently “ heterosexual, ” the little girl’ s not so much). Eventually , both of “ the sexes ” will be led to “ dissolve ” their complexes, albeit for distinctly diff erent reasons, and these contrasting dissolutions pave the way for us to arrive at our “ normal ” heterosexual masculinity or femininity. On the one hand, dissolving the Oedipus complex “ like a boy” involves castration anxiety— perceiving a body anatomically distinct from his own, misrecognizing absence as violent deprivation (the price paid for some infraction of the rules), fearing similar punishment for his own unruly impulses, the little boy gives up on his mother to safeguard his bodily totality and represses his aggression against the father in favor of a self-protective identifi cation, anxiety thereby assuaged. On the other hand, in Freud ’ s narrative, dissolving the Oedipus complex “ like a girl” involves penisneid or “ penis envy ” — perceiving a body anatomically distinct from her own, falling for an unfavorable comparison between her cl*tor*s and the other ’ s more impressive appendage and thus feeling corporeally slighted, the little girl is supposed to disinvest libidinally in her own active (i.e., “ masculine ” ) cl*toral self-stimulation in favor of passive (i.e., “ feminine ” ) vagin*l receptivity to outside intervention; she is supposed to give up on her likewise “ defi cient ” ma ma, who doesn’ t seem to have what she lacks either, and turn instead to the fantasy father-fi gure who apparently is better equipped to give her what she really wants— which , as it happens, is less a penis per se than what that real organ ’ s “ turgidity ” and “ vital fl ow” might one fi ne day spell out — the

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baby (albeit preferably with a penis attached) as the ultimate indexical sign of the big girl ’ s “ womanly ” fulfi llment. Now, Freud ’ s accounts are obviously quite problematic and have been attacked from a number of fronts, not all of them feminist. But as some feminist theorists have come to recognize, Freud’ s accounts do possess the great virtue of being accounts. In other words, despite that unfortunate “ anatomy is destiny ” slogan, Freud demonstrably views normative heterosexual masculinity and femininity not as biologically determined outcomes but rather as complicated and fragile “ formations of fantasy ” for which speculative accounts are precisely what need to be given, even if the accounts themselves are inevitably incomplete and unsatisfactory, no less “ fantasmatic ” than that which they purport to explain. Lacan, in any case, rewrites and revises Freud ’ s Oedipal narratives, focusing less on the child’ s longing for the mother and more on its eff orts to ascertain and somehow to be what it imagines the mother desires. In the Lacanian scenario, the child— boy or girl— still wants its mother, wants her to be its everything , but the child also wants to position itself to be the mother’ s one and only thing, to be the sole object of the mother ’ s desire, without any annoying competition. Th e child’ s desire to be the mother ’ s desire, however, presupposes that the mother in fact desires , that she wants or lacks something, and the phallus is potentially “ not unrelated” to the child ’ s pressing question regarding the mother ’ s “ enigmatic ” desire — what does she want (me to be)? Signifi cantly, the phallus enters the picture if and when this “ emotionally necessary ” presupposition of maternal lack (she must want something if she is to want anything like me ) gets mapped onto the “ standard interpretation ” of anatomical distinction that takes the mother to be “ castrated ” (she seems not to have a thing like that thing down there). Of course, the “ standard interpretation” is not the only interpretation available even among perverse little children (or male psychoanalysts); this conjectural reading of maternal “ castration ” is neither inevitable nor universal— not even for Lacan, who stresses the fantasmatic dimension of the “ presupposition of lack ” and who fully understands that female bodies aren ’ t “ non-fi ctionally ” incomplete (they really lack lack, as he puts it). Nonetheless, Lacan suggests that if maternal lack is presupposed, and “ if the mother’ s desire is for the phallus, the child wants to be the phallus in order to satisfy her desire ” (1966f/2006: 582). Now, before we jump to any ludicrous suppositions about what being the mother ’ s “ little thing ” might entail — the child as some sort of supplemental “ strap-on ” joyously jutting out from maternal loins, for example — let ’ s examine the logic of this “ phallic fantasy” more closely. Th e child in

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question, boy or girl, in wanting to be what the mother wants, supposedly wants to “ complete ” the mother by becoming what she seems (in fantasy) to lack. Again, this fantasy must presuppose a wanting mother in order to generate the corresponding fantasy of the wanted child. On the one hand, the opposing fantasy of the unwanting mother— the “ phallic ” mother as “ total personality” — is basically unsupportable for the child, simply because there’ s no comforting or desirable place for the child to be in that fantasy. On the other hand, the fantasy that “ the mother ’ s desire is ” for a single thing that the child can somehow be “ in order to satisfy her desire ” isn ’ t going to pan out very well either, at least not if the phallus ends up being her supposed desire, because another player’ s putative possession of this desideratum must spoil the child’ s fantasy of completion. In other words, if “ the father” already seems to have it, “ I ” can ’ t possibly be it. My bitter recognition that “ the father” seems to have what the mother seems to lack pretty much rules out the possibility of my ever being the sole object of her desire, rules out her being “ my everything ” and my being her only thing. And this exclusive rule, if I manage to accept it, ensures that “ the phallus” will have functioned metaphorically as a veritable law of “ the father. ” Th is is why Lacan thinks of the “ phallic function ” in terms of paternal metaphor and why I have placed the name of the paternal spoiler in ironic or “ de-realizing ” quotation marks above. For it isn’ t the real father or anything involving that swell fellow ’ s actual “ apparatus ” that ’ s decisive here. Rather, “ the name of the father” fi gures as a structural position, as the third term that seems to bar dyadic “ completion ” in the Oedipally “ incestuous ” sense, that seems to block any real sexual reunion of mother and child or any “ oceanic ” merger of the ego with the real. Strictly and metaphorically speaking, no “ real father ” or “ real man ” ever need occupy that structural position. Not the real father but the “ name of the father ” (nom du p è re ) functions as if it were the “ law of the father,” as if it were the “ no of the father” (non du pè re ), as if the primordial “ no to the real” that makes naming necessary and hence human reality possible issued from the loins and the lips of “ the father ” at the same time , the paternal metaphor thus condensing what “ the father ” seems to have (the “ right answer ” to the question of the mother ’ s desire) with what “ he ” seems to say about the child’ s bid to satisfy the mother ’ s desire ( no f*cking way! ). It ’ s by virtue of this metaphorical condensation of “ seeming to have” with “ seeming to say ” that the nom/non du pè re is “ not unrelated ” to the phallus that is “ not unrelated” to the bar that separates signifi er from signifi ed in Saussure ’ s triadic algorithm. So the phallus in its “ poetical function ” as paternal metaphor substitutes itself for the mother’ s desire. Th is substitution leaves the child, boy or girl, with nothing to be (for the mother) and everything to mean (including the

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mother). For if she herself respects the law of the father, the mother will no longer want the child to be her little thing; she will no longer want the child (to want) to be with her in a comfortably closed circle of mellifl uous sound and sense, homeostatically pleasurable to those two alone but meaningless to the “ outside world. ” Rather, she will want the child not to be but to mean , to make intelligible sounds that “ he ” — and the “ larger system” that he “ stands for” — will be able to understand, to recognize; she will not want the child to be her thing but to substitute words for things, even if the very fi rst of those things was really her. Th e phallus, then, is not a thing but seems to substitute itself for the deprivational fact that words must substitute for missing persons and lost objects. In other words, the phallus— for lack of a worser word— is nothing but the word that seems to stand for the fact that “ we must accept castration” (Lacan 2008: 41). And what it means “ to accept castration” in Lacan’ s teaching is to accept the fact that we must be made to mean , that none us of can ever be (with or in) or have “ the real thing” ever again. All of which would seem to take us back to the question of “ the sexes. ” For apparently, the symbolic order has never allowed all of us boys and girls ever to mean equally “ as one. ” Or at least no symbolic order on record has ever exactly encouraged us to understand our anthropogenetic diff erence from the real except in terms of some putatively “ real diff erence” between “ the sexes ” — whether the diff erence be enforced by conventional laws compelling urinary segregation or by other myths that attempt to transform “ the history of sexuality” into an essentialized nature. Compelling us to perform cultural contingencies as if they were absolute necessities, the regnant symbolic order orders each and every one of us to mean “ as ” ladies or gentlemen , “ like ” boys or girls, in the positive or negative terms of purely masculine or feminine “ subject positions.” Addressing the question about Lacan ’ s position on these matters involves determining whether his rethinking of Freud through structural linguistics supports or suspends the regnant symbolic order, whether his work critically describes or forcefully prescribes phallogocentrism and the workings of the patriarchal unconscious. In “ Th e Signifi cation of the Phallus, ” Lacan writes that:

one can indicate the structures that govern the relations between the sexes by referring simply to the phallus ’ function. Th ese relations revolve around a being and a having which, since they refer to a signifi er, the phallus, have contradictory eff ects: they give the subject reality in this signifi er, on the one hand, but render unreal the relations to be signifi ed, on the other.

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Th is is brought about by the intervention of a seeming [para î tre ] that replaces the having in order to protect it, in one case, and to mask the lack thereof, in the other, and whose eff ect is to completely project the ideal or typical manifestations of each of the sexes ’ behavior, including the act of copulation itself, into the realm of comedy. (1966f/2006: 582)

Here, Lacan would seem to disabuse us of the notion that the projected ideals of masculinity or femininity should ever be taken seriously or that he himself reads any “ typical manifestations ” of sexuated behaviors as absolute necessities rather than as broadly comic contingencies . In stipulating the way those manifestations “ revolve ” around a being, a having, a seeming, etc., Lacan, as I take it, means that when the child “ accepts castration,” accepts that it cannot “ be ” (the phallus) for the mother but must make meanings instead, the child is also made to understand that it must eventually make “ a man ” or “ a woman ” of itself, that it must “ mean ” or send itself through one “ door ” or the other, “ like ” a boy or a girl. Th e child accepts, however gradually or grudgingly, that it can ’ t want to end up being the phallus for the mother any longer, but the available and acceptable avenues of meaning are such that the child must either (a) want to want to be like the one who seems to have the phallus, like the one who always seems “ to have what it takes” (“ masculine ” identifi cation with the actively possessive social position of the husband/father) or (b) want to want to be like the one who seems to be the phallus for another, who always seems “ to be there for the taking ” ( “ feminine ” identifi cation with the passively possess-able social position of the “ trophy ” wife/mother). Regarding “ plan b,” Lacan writes, “ Paradoxical as this formulation may seem, I am saying that it is in order to be the phallus— that is, the signifi er of the Other’ s desire— that a woman rejects an essential part of femininity, namely, all its attributes, in the masquerade ” (1966f/2006: 583). He also writes that “ Th e fact that femininity fi nds refuge in this mask . . . has the curious consequence of making virile display in human beings seem feminine” (1966f/2006: 584) — a clear enough object lesson for anyone who wants to follow “ plan a. ” 4 In Lacan’ s view, however, the anatomically male child isn’ t biologically destined to opt for “ plan a” any more than the biologically female child is anatomically destined to go for “ plan b. ” Th ere’ s nothing (but fear) to stop a man from wanting “ to be” (or) a woman (from) wanting “ to

4 For more on the “ feminization ” of virile display, take a look, so to speak, at my Male Matters (1996).

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have.” Lacan, that is, concurs with Freud’ s great line from Civilization and its Discontents — “ Civilized man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities for happiness for a portion of security” (1931/1989: 752). And given the way our civilization still tends to withhold its love, recognition, and protection from those who deviate from its identifi catory rules, it is, for Lacan, “ understandable ” (albeit anything but “ natural ” ) that most “ boys ” will desire to seem to securely have and most “ girls ” will desire to seem to securely be what he, Lacan, seems all too happy to call the phallus. Whether or not this happy calling makes Lacan a friend of phallogocen- trism is a question that we can address by briefl y considering the diff erence, in Lacan’ s writing, between necessities and contingencies . Clearly, Lacan views the primordial separation from the real as a necessary and transhistorical condition for any human reality whatsoever, and he sees “ the signifi er” as the necessary and transhistorical mark of that separation or deprivation. Just as clearly, Lacan states that “ we must accept castration, ” allowing “ castration ” to designate the mark of “ primal repression” that always necessarily calls or cuts us away from the real. Somewhat less clearly, however, Lacan will suggest that while this “ being called away ” from the real is structurally necessary for all of human reality, the “ fact ” of our having to keep calling that casting call “ castration ” is historically contingent and could conceivably even be dispensed with. Such, at any rate, is what I take Lacan to mean in Seminar XX when he writes that for his money “ the apparent necessity of the phallic function turns out to be mere contingency ” (1975/1998: 94). Not that it ’ s easy to understand what Lacan “ really ” means in any of his writings— of all the writing called theoretical, Lacan’ s is perhaps the most diffi cult. But Lacan’ s specifi c diffi culty — so productive of his reader ’ s feelings of baffl ement, malaise, and non-self-identity— could be what fi nally undermines the argument that Lacan not only diagnoses but endorses phallogocentrism or unambiguously wants to enforce the patriarchal law of the father. For if “ phallogocentrism ” can be taken as a fairly recent word for that “ image of perfectly self-present meaning ” which has long constituted “ the underlying ideal of Western culture” (Johnson 1981: ix); if, as Donna Harraway puts it, the ideal of “ perfect communication” and of “ one code that translates all meaning perfectly” is in fact phallogocentrism’ s “ central dogma” (1985/2008: 345), then, however “ co*cksure ” he may have been of himself as a man, it would seem hard to justify tagging Lacan’ s writing as phallogocentric, given the ostentatious imperfection and incompletion that pervades his every é crit . Perhaps the “ fact ” that we fi nd nothing but resolute indetermanence at the center of Lacan’ s purportedly “ modern ” or “ structuralist ” thought can metonymically displace it (and us) into some sort of anti-phallogocentric

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postmodernism— perhaps even into “ a queer poststructuralism of the psyche” (Butler 2004: 44).5 Maybe the fact that Lacan ’ s “ center [is one we] cannot hold” is what makes his theoretical writing neither dogmatically rigid nor relativistically limp but rather excessively rich — if not, at the end of the day, “ t h e r i c h e s t . ”

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Eight:

iconic , indexical , and symbolic signs , signifi er/signifi ed, syntagmatic/ paradigmatic , horizontal/vertical axes, synecdoche, metalanguage, condensation/displacement, symptom, cathexis, the phallus, logos, logocentrism, phallogocentrism, castration anxiety, penisneid , paternal metaphor, indetermanence

5 Th e word indetermanence is used by Ihab Hassan “ to designate two central tendencies in postmodernism, indeterminacy and immanence ” (Woods 2009: 73). See Hassan, Th e Postmodern Turn (1987). As for Judith Butler’ s phrase, I use it archly, since for Butler Lacanian psychoanalysis is the last place one should look for “ a queer poststructuralism of the psyche. ” My irony has at least one strong queer ally, however — namely, Tim Dean, who in Beyond Sexuality argues convincingly against Butler’ s numerous misreadings of Lacan and persuasively for the thesis that “ in its most fundamental formulations psychoanalysis is a queer theory” (2000: 268). We will be discussing poststructuralism and postmodernism in the next lesson and exploring queer theory in the last.

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— or, fear of the proliferation of meaning

I. Given to excess

One of the larger canards in the received wisdom about poststructuralism and postmodernism is that their proponents don’ t believe in “ meaning, ” don’ t think it’ s possible for anyone ever to “ mean ” anything at all. Both modes of theoretical writing have been branded as “ trendy nihilisms ” that deny life, language, or literature any signifi cance whatsoever. But this charge of “ nihilism ” rather badly misses its mark, for, as we will learn in this lesson, poststructuralist and postmodernist writers actually fall quite short of affi rming that life, language, and literature have “ no meaning.” Rather, such writers examine our fear that human reality generates far too many meanings, produces way too much interpretation. Th ey trace and engage — but attempt never to assuage — our pervasive anxieties about semiotic excess . For, to return to a key fi gure who we haven’ t mentioned in a while, these writers have read their Nietzsche , who thought that we should neither “ wish to divest existence of its rich ambiguity ” nor ever “ reject the possibility ” that the world “ may include infi nite interpretations” (1887/2006: 378, 379). Post- Nietzschean writers hope to preserve and enhance this exceedingly “ rich ambiguity,” but they also attempt, as did Nietzsche at his diagnostic best, to bring out into the light our persistent “ metaphysical ” wish to “ divest ” ourselves of interpretive overabundance; they examine our “ imperialist ” tendency to reject multiple possibilities and to suppress alternative intelligibilities, our desire to control and contain diff erence and alterity in “ others ” and in ourselves. Far from espousing some lame “ disbelief in meaning, ” then, these writers attempt to expose all the “ ideological fi gure[s] by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning” (Foucault 1969/1998: 222). Chief among those fear-based “ ideological fi gures” is arguably “ meaning ” itself, a word that has been used quite routinely in the “ history of metaphysics” to police rowdy proliferation, an interpretive police-action allowing certain

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readers to imagine that post-Nietzschean infi dels “ don ’ t believe” in any “ meaning ” simply because they don’ t buy any one “ fi xed ” interpretation of what “ meaning ” means. But other looming fi gures of fi xity include reason, order, origin, essence, presence, unity, universality, purpose, being, identity, totality, God, man, center, truth, concept, science, enlightenment, history, progress, modernity, author, structure, the unconscious, and so on. Th e general poststructuralist/postmodernist argument is that these fi gures — each of which has been purported or relied upon to guarantee “ meaning, ” to enable and enrich (or at least secure and stabilize) our understanding— have also worked to impede and impoverish creative thought, to limit “ the play of signifi cation ” (Derrida 1966/1978: 280), to constrict the “ liberation of symbolic energy ” (Barthes 1971/1977: 158), to curtail “ the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fi ction ” (Foucault 1969/1998: 221), to deny, restrict, or otherwise de-vivify what Nietzsche himself might have simply called “ art.” 1 Th e more specifi cally postcolonial infl ection of this argument (for our lesson here will also concern postcolonial theory) is that these master tropes of Western metaphysics have enriched and empowered themselves at the considerable expense of others— not simply other tropes, but also, and oft en brutally, other people — all those who have been “ othered ” (colonized, subordinated, abjected, marginalized, exoticized, silenced, exploited, enslaved) by the dominant “ fi rst-world ” orders of knowledge, power, and truth. Th us, Homi Bhabha begins his essay “ Th e Other Question ” by asserting that “ an important feature of colonial discourse is its dependence on the concept of ‘ fi xity’ in the ideological construction of otherness” (1983/1996: 37). We can ’ t adequately demonstrate here how each and every one of the fi gures listed above has participated in “ the violence of metaphysics”

1 Because Derrida can be playful when writing about play, the play of his writing is frequently misinterpreted. Niall Lucy writes that “ When Derrida writes about ‘ play ’ , he doesn’ t mean ‘ freeplay ’ or wanton ‘ playfulness ’ . He doesn’ t mean, ‘ playing around with— for the heck of it.’ ” Rather, writes Lucy, Derrida “ makes it clear that ‘ play ’ means something like ‘ give ’ or ‘ tolerance ’ . . . which works against ideas of self-suffi ciency or absolute completion ” (2004: 95). But Lucy also contends that some “ US literary critics ” off er wrong-headed readings of Derrida “ based on a misinterpretation of Derrida’ s ‘ play ’ as ‘ freeplay ’ or a kind of quasi-Nietzschean ‘ creativity ’ ” (2004: 94– 5). Now, by associating Derrida ’ s “ play ” with Nietzsche ’ s “ art, ” as I have above, I would seem to be guilty of just such a misreading as Lucy describes; I insist upon this overly “ free association ” anyway, mainly because, despite Lucy’ s correction, I remain persuaded that Derrida’ s “ play ” would not have been possible, or givable, or tolerable, without Nietzsche’ s “ quasi- Nietzschean creativity, ” or at least without what Derrida himself calls the “Nietzschean affi rmation . . . the joyous affi rmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin which is off ered to an active interpretation ” (1966/1978: 292).

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or operated in the service of ideology and empire. But we can note, for example, how the appearance on our list of the words “ essence, ” “ God, ” and “ man ” underscores the anti-essentialist , anti-theological , and anti -humanist dispositions of theoretical writing that we fi rst encountered back in our introductory chapter. Th e fact that the word “ truth ” gets listed here would seem to indicate that post-Nietzschean theory is also anti -veridical , “ against truth. ” And that ’ s actually a true story, for these interpretive strategies do in fact follow Nietzsche in holding that there are no facts, only interpretations, and in experimentally calling into question the actual value of what gets called “ truth. ” Th e distinction between “ truth ” and “ what gets called truth ” is crucial here, and for post-Nietzscheans, the operative theoretical assumption is that there ’ s actually none of the former outside of the latter — not that there are no truths at all, but rather that there are no truths outside of particular truth -claims , which are always rendered in language , always put into words . In other words, and again, “ theory begins . . . at the moment it is realized that thought is linguistic . . . and that concepts cannot exist independently of their linguistic expression ” (Jameson 2004: 403). Or, in still other words, “ there is nothing outside the text” (Derrida 1967/1997: 158). Now, an indispensable guide to understanding the paradox of “ anti- veridical truth-claims” would be Nietzsche’ s “ On Truth and Lies in an Extra- moral Sense, ” particularly the following bit of Q&A —

What then is truth? A moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensifi ed, transferred, and embel- lished, and which, aft er long usage, seem to a people to be fi xed, canoni- cal, binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions; they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins (1873/2006: 117). Only by forgetting this primitive world of metaphor can one live with any repose, security, and consistency: only by means of the petrifi cation and coagulation of a mass of images which originally streamed forth from the human imagination like a fi ery liquid . . . in short, only by forgetting that he himself is an artistically creating subject, does man live with any repose, security, and consistency. (1873/2006: 117)

Th ese lines should help us understand the “ anti-veridical ” bent of post- Nietzschean theoretical writing, to grasp why Nietzsche himself interprets

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“ truth, ” or what gets called truth, as the implacable enemy of “ art. ” For again, in all truth, what we call “ truth ” exists only in the form of statements, expressions, or truth-claims, which must be made in language , which is by nature fi ctional . “ Truths ” are those initially experimental fi ctions that have become so sedimented or fi xed for “ a people” as to seem metallically real , canonical, foundational. For Nietzsche, what “ we the people ” actually value in what we call “ truth ” is much less veracity than fi xity , “ repose, ” the binding and comforting sense of security against fi ction, against the wild proliferation of fi ction, that “ knowing the truth ” would seem to provide. If (as Nietzsche ’ s story goes) the “ eternal verities ” could ever be honest about themselves, if “ an honest truth ” weren ’ t a contradiction in terms, then “ truth ” would just have to fess up to being fi ction, simply another form of art , and certain pro - veridical disciplines — religion, philosophy, history, science — would have to acknowledge their own imaginative, rhetorical, performative, or “ literary ” statuses as well. Art can remain luxuriantly artistic while still being completely honest in and about its utter mendacity. But neither “ truth ” nor its attendant discourses can aff ord to be truthful about themselves without becoming truly other than themselves, strangers to themselves. And so, rather like the violent hom*ophobe who attacks in the openly queer individual what he can ’ t admit or abide in himself, the ugly “ truth ” must maintain itself in its rancorous hostility to art, its “ constitutive other” or beautiful semblable — hence the phrase “ the violence of metaphysics. ” But just as “ truth ” operates aggressively against the “ symbolic energy” animating the “ free circulation ” of art, so do concepts function repressively against the freeplay of diff erences , against Derridean diff é rance . 2 But the key to understanding what Derrida means by “ diff é rance, ” or, at least, a key to understanding why he insists that “ diff é rance ” isn ’ t a concept, is found once again in “ On Truth and Lies,” where Nietzsche asks that we critically “ consider the formation of concepts. ”

2 “ Perhaps unhelpfully, ” write Malpas and Wake, “ Derrida claims . . . that diff é rance is ‘ literally neither a word nor a concept’ and that it ‘ has neither existence nor essence’ . What is clear, however, is that diff é rance derives from the Latin verb diff erre and the French diff é rer , which in English have given rise to two distinct verbs: to defer and to diff er. Diff é rance incorporates both of these meanings and thus serves to emphasize two key Derridean concerns: with absence rather than presence (full meaning is never present, but is instead constantly deferred because of the diff é rance characteristic of language); and with diff erence rather than identity . . . In describing diff é rance as the ‘ systematic play of diff erences’ which is built into language . . . Derrida carries Saussure’ s theory of language as a system of diff erences to its most extreme conclusion” (2006: 173). Niall Lucy adds that “ the ongoing movement of diff é rance disturbs the idea of diff erence meaning ‘ a fi xed diff erence’ . . . [T]he disturbance caused by diff é rance [puts] the entire history of metaphysics . . . at risk . . . because diff erence . . . dislodges the security or self- suffi ciency of concepts like truth, presence and identity ” (2004: 26).

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Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things. Just as it is certain that one leaf is never totally the same as another, so it is certain that the concept “ leaf ” is formed by arbitrarily discarding these individual diff erences and by forgetting the distinguishing aspects. Th is [forgetting] awakens the idea that, in addition to the leaves, there exists in nature the “ leaf ” : the original model according to which all the leaves were perhaps woven, sketched, measured, colored, curled, and painted— but by incompetent hands, so that no specimen has turned out to be a correct, trustworthy, and faithful likeness of the original model. (1873/2006: 117)

Here, Nietzsche takes aim at “ conceptual ” targets both political (the egalitarian democratic movements of his day, which he thought were forcing “ the equation of unequal things” ) and philosophical (the arch-idealist Plato, who believed that behind all multifariously existent material realities, like “ leaves, ” there stands a unitary and original form or truly ideal model for those realities— for example, “ leaf ” ; that all material things are just so many sorry copies of the original model; and that mimetic representations of material things are merely copies of copies, many false steps removed from the “ truth ” ). By playing so anti-Platonically in these leaves, however, Nietzsche partially births deconstruction , “ reversing and displacing ” a foundational binary opposition of Western metaphysics — good original vs. bad copy.3 While in

3 Niall Lucy writes that while deconstruction “ is impossibly diffi cult to defi ne, the impossibility has less to do with the adoption of a position or the assertion of a choice on deconstruction’ s part than with the impossibility of every ‘ is ’ as such. Deconstruction begins, as it were, from a refusal of the authority or determining power of every ‘ is ’, or simply from a refusal of authority in general . . . Or, as Derrida puts it in one of many approximations of a defi nition of deconstruction, to say that deconstruction consists of anything would be to say it consists of ‘ deconstructing, dislocating, displacing, disarticulating, disjoining, putting “ out of joint” the authority of the “ is ” ’ [Derrida 1995: 25]” (2004: 11– 12). To “ deconstruct ” is thus “ to open or unsettle the seeming imperviousness of a concept of essence or identity in general, concerning fi xed ideas of politics, being, truth, and so on” (Lucy 2004: 12). As for the binary oppositions that deconstruction tends to have its way with, note how each of the privileged “ master tropes” on our metaphysical list tends to stand over and against its “ other ” in a hierarchical relationship of dominance: reason/madness, order/chaos, purpose/chance, presence/ absence, identity/diff erence, being/nothingness, god/devil, man/woman, center/margin, truth/error, etc. Derrida argues that Western metaphysics has always depended on maintaining these and other hierarchical binaries. He is principally concerned with the binary pair speech/writing , with the way Western metaphysics since Plato has privileged the spoken word, which seems to guarantee the speaker ’ s living presence both to himself and his auditors, over the written trace, which seems to imply absence, spacing, diff erence, and death. For Derrida, however, speech is always already infected by every bad thing that writing seems to represent (including the “ graphic violence” of the representational itself). Derrida reads the metaphysical privileging of speech as a secondary eff ect derived from dysgraphia, the basic fear of writing .

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garden-variety Platonism, “ leaf ” would be held up as the fi rst and original “ cause ” over and against those secondary eff ects called “ leaves, ” Nietzsche here suggests that the putative copies, the leaves — or better, the diff erences among them — actually “ come fi rst, ” and that the concept “ leaf ” is formed only by virtue of specifi c operations of repression (arbitrarily discarding individual diff erences) and amnesia (forgetting distinguishing aspects). It is only aft er these operations are performed that their conceptual eff ect — “ leaf ” — is implanted in our idealist imaginary as the original cause of the infi nitely multifarious leaves. In our ordinary “ metaphysical ” thinking, the singularly “ good ” origin must always causally precede the multiply “ bad ” copies. In Nietzsche’ s “ proto-deconstructionist ” analysis, however, the copies precede and give birth to the origin, which turns out to be a hoary sham — more twilit idol than guiding light. Before leaving Nietzsche’ s leaves, however, let’ s take a brief look at how he treats another prominent fi gure on the metaphysical list— “ reason. ” Nietzsche begins his critique of philosophical rationalism with his fi rst writing, Birth of Tragedy, which diagnoses Greek drama’ s decline from the “ divine ” representation of Apollonian and Dionysian “ dreams and ecstasies ” to the more “ stage-manageable ” realm of Socratic and Euripidean “ ideas and feelings,” a more reasonable kingdom in which “ art is overgrown by philosophical thought and forced to cling closely to the trunk of dialectic ” (1872/2006: 68).4 But if Nietzsche begins his critique of rationalism with Birth of Tragedy, he brings it to a head in Genealogy of Morals , where we fi nd perhaps his pithiest aphoristic truth-claim— “ reasons relieve” (1887/1992: 576). To begin to understand Nietzsche ’ s reasons for making

4 I emphasize the phrase reasonable kingdom here to pave the way for the following “ regicidal ” passage from Derrida: “ Diff é rance is . . . not a present being, however excellent, unique, principal, or transcendent. It governs nothing, reigns over nothing, and nowhere exercises any authority . . . Not only is there no kingdom of diff é rance, but diff é rance instigates the subversion of every kingdom. Which makes it obviously threatening and infallibly dreaded by everything within us that desires a kingdom, the past or future presence of a kingdom ” (1967/1982: 21 – 2). Th e “ nostalgic ” part of us that “ desires a kingdom” is, arguably, the part that dreads diff é rance, that fears the proliferation of meaning, and so wants above all else the stability of fi xed signifi cation, a.k.a. “ truth. ” Th e “ other ” part of us is drawn toward what Derrida calls the “Nietzschean affi rmation ” of “ active interpretation ” (1966/1978: 292). Derrida writes that this “ active interpretation . . . substitutes incessant deciphering for the unveiling of truth as a presentation of the thing itself in its presence, etc.” What results from this incessant deciphering are “ fi gures without truth, or at least a system of fi gures that is not dominated by the value of truth . . .Th us, diff é rance is the name we might give to the ‘ active, ’ moving discord of diff erent forces, and of diff erences between forces, that Nietzsche sets up against the entire system of metaphysical grammar, wherever that system governs culture, philosophy, and science ” (1967/1982: 18).

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this claim, consider that in Nietzsche’ s analysis we have long channeled our overabundant “ symbolic energy ” into a series of tense negotiations with the problem of suff ering . As you ’ ll recall from the discussion in Lesson Four, Nietzsche really couldn’ t argue with the Buddha’ s fi rst noble truth— life is painful. In Nietzsche’ s view, we the living can endure quite a lot of pain for quite a long time, even to no end ; but what we apparently cannot endure, not even for a New York minute, is pain to no purpose, suff ering for no good reason. Th us, a large part of our imaginative activities involves creative rationalization, inventing all the very good reasons we can come up with, but necessarily forgetting our own acts of invention, pragmatically using these fabricated reasons to explain our suff ering to ourselves, blessedly relieving ourselves of the evil of unexplainable sorrow while identifying “ the reasonable” and “ the relieving” both with each other and with “ the good” in and of itself. A rudimentary example: one aspect of reality that we tend to fi nd insuff erable is unfi ghtable injustice— “ life isn’ t fair,” horrible things happen to wonderful but powerless people, despicable creeps get away with heinous crimes, and so on. Over time, we ’ ve devised our own systems of justice to try to deal with this problem, punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent whenever humanly possible. But because we know that the systems that we know that we created don ’ t work perfectly — and can’ t, in any case, medicate the pain we experience when the innocent are slain by “ acts of nature” — we must also fantasize perfect (if mysterious) systems of justice (God’ s will, eternal compensations or penalties in the aft erlife, the ironclad laws of karma, etc.), systems that we can’ t know or acknowledge that we ourselves imagined, simply because if we did know, they wouldn ’ t work, wouldn’ t provide “ relief. ” Nietzsche here joins Marx in thinking of religion as the oldest and most popular opiate in world history. Unlike actual drugs, however, which “ work their magic ” regardless of whatever their users might “ believe ” about them (crystal meth will have its way with me even if I discover that it wasn’ t cooked up by elves), imaginary opiates typically fail to opiate humans who “ come to believe ” that merely human imaginations produced them— “ reasons ” cease to “ relieve ” the non-duped who fi gure out the real reasons behind them. Hence “ God is dead” for the utterly disenchanted, modern, secular, rationalist imagination, which has supposedly left religious fear and superstition behind in the dust of its progress. But Nietzsche ’ s whole argument “ against reason ” is that “ reason ” can operate just as narcotically as does religion, dialectically “ relieving ” its adherents of their suff erings, their pained experience of contradiction, assuaging them of their anxiety that

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scientifi c “ truth ” might relapse into the more ambiguous realities of myth and art. For Nietzsche, the “ fundamental secret of science” is that it constitutively misunderstands its own teleological goal: the scientifi c “ search for truth” has always been

accompanied by a profound delusion , which fi rst came into the world in the person of Socrates— the unshakeable belief that, by following the guiding thread of causality, thought reaches into the deepest abysses of being and is capable not only of knowing but even of correcting being. Th is sublime metaphysical madness accompanies science as an instinct and leads it again and again to its limits, where it must transform itself into art: which is the real goal of this mechanism. (1872/2006: 71)

For Nietzsche, then, the “ reason ” worshipped by both modern and classical metaphysics is at root animated by anxiety, by our fear of “ the dangerous and cancerous proliferation of signifi cations” (Foucault 1969/1998: 222), our fear that metaphysical truth might metastasize into mad fi ction. Like religion, “ reason ” operates analgesically, spreading the salve of coherence on the painful wound of contradiction .

And as always, coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a desire. Th e concept of centered structure is in fact the concept of a play based on a fundamental ground, a play constituted on the basis of a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude, which is itself beyond the reach of play. And on the basis of this certitude anxiety can be mastered. (Derrida 1966/1978: 27)

If, as Nietzsche teaches, “ concepts ” are the “ graveyard of [diff erential] perceptions ” (1873/2006: 121), if “ concepts ” per se express “ the force of a desire” to repress or forget the play of diff é rance, then, as Derrida, to whose text we ’ ve abruptly cut here, might say, “ the concept of centered structure ” has long expressed the coercively orthopedic heart of that desire. In Derrida’ s heartbreaking estimation, such forceful expression/repression is the center ’ s structural function, or the structure ’ s central function, and has been for quite some time, for

the entire history of the concept of structure, before the rupture of which we are speaking, must be thought as a series of substitutions of center for center, as a linked chain of determinations of the center. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the center receives diff erent forms or names. Th e history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. Its

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matrix . . . is the determination of Being as presence in all senses of this word. (1966/1978: 279)

Now, the “ rupture ” of which Derrida speaks in this passage would seem to involve the advent of structuralism, “ the linguistic turn in the human sciences.” Before this turn, before this rupture, “ the notion of a structure lacking any center represents the unthinkable itself” (1966/1978: 279). Aft er the turn, aft er Nietzsche’ s insight that the “ web of concepts is torn by art ” (1873/2006: 121), aft er Saussure ’ s insight that language is a diff erential structure without positive terms, the unthinkable materializes itself, tears us a new one. In other words, the unthinkable rupture occurs when it fi nally dawns upon certain thinkers that human reality is only ever put into writing and that writing neither contains nor emanates from a center. “ Henceforth, ” writes Derrida,

it was necessary to begin thinking that there was no center, that the center could not be thought in the form of a being-present, that the center had no natural site, that it was not a fi xed locus but a function, a sort of nonlocus in which an infi nite number of sign-substitutions came into play. Th is was the moment when language invaded the universal problematic, the moment when, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse . . . that is to say, a system in which the central signifi ed, the original or transcendental signifi ed, is never absolutely present outside a system of diff erences. Th e absence of the transcendental signifi ed extends the domain and the play of signifi cation infi nitely. (1966/1978: 280).

If it was structuralism that fi rst alerted thinkers to this invasion, Derrida thinks that “ modern ” structuralism, still indentured to an ancient metaphysical dream of truth, misread its own diff erential signifi cance. In “ Th e Structural Study of Myth,” for example, Claude Lévi-Strauss asserts that “ whatever emendations the original formulation may now call for, everybody will agree that the Saussurean principle of the arbitrary character of the linguistic sign was a prerequisite for the accession of linguistics to the scientifi c level ” (1963/2007: 860). On the contrary, poststructuralists would agree that Saussure’ s principles necessitated the demotion of almighty science to the merely linguistic level, the displacement of all scientifi c truth into fi gurative language. And this fi gural displacement carries with it not only “ truth ” but any “ pro-veridical ” discourse aspiring to operate on “ the scientifi c level” or purporting to make “ rigorous statements” about any “ central ” objects of analysis. Th ese “ centers ” of science include, obviously, “ structure ” for structuralism, but also “ history ” for Marxist dialectics and “ the unconscious”

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for psychoanalysis. In the essay “ Freud and Lacan,” for example, Althusser avers that

Lacan ’ s fi rst word is to say: in principle, Freud founded a science . A new science which was the science of a new object: the unconscious. A rigorous statement. If psycho-analysis is a science because it is the science of a distinct object it is also a science with the structure of all sciences. (1971/2001: 135)

For Derrida, however, this “ rigorous ” presumption of a distinct object as the prerequisite for any science represents the big problem with big science, betraying the metaphysical hangover affl icting the structure of all sciences as well as the “ science-ism ” of all existing structuralisms. In Derrida ’ s critique of psychoanalysis, then, Lacan remains a facteur de la v é rit é , a scientifi c “ purveyor of truth” (Derrida 1980/1987: 413) in cahoots with every ascetic idealist in the history of metaphysics from Plato and Hegel to Rousseau and Lévi-Strauss. Coupling, as you ’ ll recall, Saussure with Freud to argue that “ the unconscious structured like a language ” always involves a central lack, Lacan “ deprivingly ” dictates that “ we must accept castration” because “ castration ” is the bedrock “ truth ” of desire and the veritable “ centre of analytic experience” (Lacan 2008: 41, 53). Writing against the castrating Lacan, Derrida reads Saussure back through Nietzsche to argue that language “ more radically” involves not a central lack, but a lack of center. Derrida thus more generously advocates a “ joyous affi rmation ” that “determines the noncenter otherwise than as loss of center ” (1966/1978: 292) — a “ playful ” affi rmation that determines the noncenter otherwise than in the Oedipal terms of castration and without any guilt over “ broken immediacy” (1966/1978: 292) with mother/nature or any nostalgia for some lost ontological homeland of the real. Th is “ joyous affi rmation, ” writes Derrida, “ plays without security. ” Th is “ active interpretation ” of interpretation

affi rms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name of man being the name of that being who, through the history of metaphysics or of ontotheology— in other words, throughout his entire history — has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of play. (1966/1978: 292)

One could of course argue with Derrida about the “ central signifi cance” of Lacan ’ s writings. As I suggested at the end of the previous lesson, it ’ s possible to affi rm Lacan otherwise than as phallogocentric, heterosexist, straight- ahead structuralist blowhard. But as should be clear to anyone who might actually bother to read Derrida ’ s most basic writings, his poststructuralist

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affi rmation of “ the noncenter ” hardly amounts to a nihilistic chucking of all “ signifi cance” tout court. Rather, Derrida’ s Nietzschean “ affi rmation of life ” traces what he calls an “ overabundance of the signifi er ” (1966/1978: 290).5 Th is vital excess can only cause trouble in “ a world where one is thrift y not only with one ’ s resources and riches but also with one ’ s discourses and their signifi cations ” (Foucault 1969/1998: 221); excessive diff é rance is thus “ obviously threatening and infallibly dreaded by everything within us that desires [such a world, such] a kingdom ” (Derrida 1967/1982: 21 – 2). Th is overabundance of diff erential signifi cation provokes “ anxious ” interpreters to circle the wagons around the “ fundamental immobility ” and “ reassuring certitude ” of a “ center ” that can “ hold. ” But this overabundance can also spur active interpreters to initiate new methods of paying “ tenacious attention to the materiality of human signifi cation ” (Chow 2002/2007: 1910), to produce “ new concepts to explain how meaning works ” (Lucy 2004: 144), novel ways of reading and writing all the arts of being human aft er the linguistic turn and in the absence of any “ transcendental signifi ed.” 6 Derrida, for his part, attempts to “ affi rm play ” beyond “ man and humanism, ” aft er the closure of metaphysics. But he hardly imagines that, by virtue of this attempt, he or we can ever simply wash our hands of metaphysics, for any claim “ against truth ” is still inescapably a truth-claim, and any attempt to rinse oneself clean of the remains of the metaphysical remains, in itself, a metaphysical gesture.

Th ere is no sense in doing without the concepts of metaphysics in order to shake metaphysics. We have no language— no syntax and no lexicon— which is foreign to this history; we can pronounce not a single destructive proposition which has not already had to slip into the form, the logic, and the implicit propositions of precisely what it had to contest. (Derrida 1966/1978: 280 – 1)

To “ affi rm play ” thus doesn ’ t mean to imagine that one has completely shaken off the last drops of metaphysics. Rather, for Derrida, to “ affi rm play ” means to let go of the idea that there’ s ever going to be any really “ reassuring

5 “ Deconstruction, ” writes Derrida, “ is on the side of the yes, of the affi rmation of life ” (cited in Benjamin 2006: 81). 6 Rather than seeming to support an unproductive “ us ” versus “ them ” interpretation of interpretation, I hope to have suggested here that the “ anxious ” and the “ active ” modes of interpretation can operate simultaneously within the same subject ’ s “ interpretive experience. ” In so suggesting, I am echoing not only points made in note 4 above but also Nietzsche’ s argument in Beyond Good and Evil that “master moralities and slave moralities” aren’ t necessary parceled out to “ masters ” and “ slaves ” respectively, but can be internally juxtaposed in one individual subject ’ s psyche — “ even in the same person, within one single breast ” (1886/2006: 356).

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foundation ” for the signifi cation of human reality, any natural or supernatural locus regulating the proliferation of meaning, any philosophical, political, theological, or poetical “ center ” that isn’ t implicated in the all too human dream of full presence, the magical “ image of perfectly self-present meaning” that is “ the underlying ideal of Western culture ” (Johnson 1981: ix).7 Once play is affi rmed, however, Derrida does indeed attempt to extend its domain ad infi nitum, releasing a swarm of new terms and phrases— diff é rance only one among so many others, like trace and supplement , that Derrida warrants his own personal dictionary (Lucy 2004)— all in the eff ort to examine “ how meaning works” without foundationally fi xing it or transporting it into some transcendental ether.8 Th ese Derridean “ fi gures without truth ” (1967/1982: 18) cannot be absolutely foreign to metaphysics, but they can defamiliarize its history — they can never “ truly ” shake meta- physics off , but they can make its foundational assumptions tremble . Derrida ’ s most infamously tremulous bit of “ averidicality ” is no doubt the axiom that forms the title of this lesson— il n ’ y a pas de hors-texte— there is no outside-text, or “there is nothing outside the text ” (1967/1997: 158). Th is little zinger appears in the section of Of Grammatology called “ Th e Exorbitant. Question of Method,” which concerns both Rousseau’ s writings and

7 Speaking of poetical “ centers, ” one might say that the line from Yeats’ s “ Th e Second Coming ” to which I ’ ve been alluding — “ Th ings fall apart; the center cannot hold” (1920/1983: 187) — rests on the assumption that the very coherence of things depends upon the center’ s absolutely holding. Yeats assumes that for most of his readers it will just make sense— it will be sense itself, as Derrida might say— that if the center cannot hold, things will fall apart. In affi rming the noncenter and the absence of the transcendental signifi ed, however, Derrida is no slouching beast; he is not trying to make things fall apart or let all the falcons fl y away, not letting loose mere anarchy upon the world or drowning the ceremony of innocence in a blood-dimmed tide. Rather, carrying “ Saussure ’ s theory of language as a system of diff erences to its most extreme conclusion ” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 173), Derrida simply proposes an extremely diff erent model of coherence, a radically diff erent way for things to hold together, than that presupposed by “ the underlying ideal of Western culture” and by the centered structure of Yeats’ s poem. 8 Unlike the Saussurean “ sign ” — which presupposes a “ unity ” of signifi er and signifi ed and the maintenance of an “ active – passive ” binary relation between those two components — Derrida ’ s trace “ functions to unsettle the sign ’ s metaphysical determination ” (Lucy 2004: 144). “ Although referred to in the affi rmative, the trace is actually a lack, the presence of an absence or the absence of presence, the antithesis of the sign” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 261). Th e supplement is not unrelated: “ In ordinary language, a supplement is something added to an already complete whole. Th e possibility of something being added, however, reveals a lack in the original it is meant to complete . . . Derrida extends the contradictory logic of the word ‘ supplement ’ in order to interrogate the conventional Western idea that speech, as the original form of language, is merely represented by writing. Derrida argues that the structure of writing is not secondary to, but inextricable from, that of speech itself. Th is challenges the supposed ‘ originality ’ of speech in relation to writing ” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 258).

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Rousseau ’ s representative and dysgraphic anxieties about the exorbitances of writing in general. For Derrida, however, the methodological question is one “ not only of Rousseau’ s writing but also of our reading.” Any writer, writes Derrida,

writes in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws, and life his discourse by defi nition cannot dominate absolutely. He uses them only by letting himself, aft er a fashion and up to a point, be governed by the system. And [our] reading must always aim at a certain relationship, unperceived by the writer, between what he commands and what he does not command of the patterns of language that he uses. Th is relationship is not a certain quantitative distribution of shadow and light, of weakness or of force, but a signifying structure that critical reading should produce . (1967/1997: 158)

Derrida attempts to “ produce ” a method or mode of “ reading ” (sometimes called deconstruction) which assumes that writers, even great writers, are never the absolutely dominative commanders of language; deconstructive reading tenaciously attends to the diff erences between command and noncommand that appear in the patterns of language in which all writers, even great writers, participate. As we’ ll soon see, this Derridean production is not unrelated to Roland Barthes ’ autopsy of “ the Author ” and Michel Foucault ’ s interrogation of that august fi gure, all of which (production, autopsy, and interrogation) were published within the same few tremulously anti-authoritarian years (1967, 1968, and 1969, respectively). But before attending those slightly later funerals for authorial authority, let ’ s consider one of Derrida ’ s explanatory comments about il n’ y a pas de hors-texte :

Th e concept of text I propose is limited neither to the graphic, nor to the book, nor even to discourse, and even less to the semantic, representational, symbolic, ideal, or ideological sphere. What I call “ text ” implies all the structures called “ real, ” “ economic, ” “ historical, ” socio- institutional, in short; all possible referents. Another way of recalling, once again, that “ there is nothing outside the text. ” Th at does not mean that all referents are suspended, denied, or enclosed in a book, as people have claimed, or have been naï ve enough to believe or have accused me of believing. But it does mean that every referent, all reality, has the structure of a diff erential trace, and that one cannot refer to this real except in an interpretive experience. Th e latter neither yields meaning nor assumes it except in a movement of diff erential referring. Th at’ s all. (1988: 148)

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Despite, however, this and other lucid explanations of his take on “ the text, ” Derrida is still construed by conventional wisdom to be an “ abstruse ” nihilist who thought that “ all referents are suspended ” and that no “ interpretive experience ” can ever “ yield meaning ” of any kind or of any value to any reader. Derrida is still understood to have “ claimed that language, by its very nature, undermined any meaning it attempted to promote” (Eugenides 2011: 47). But Derrida actually rejects the inherited metaphysical logic that if there’ s no “ center ” for everything there can never be any “ point ” or “ meaning ” to anything, that if “ the center cannot hold” then all arguments must “ fall apart.” Th ere’ s quite a signifi cant diff erence, aft er all, between claiming that all “ meaning ” is always “ undermined ” — whatever that means — and promoting the view that no “ meaning ” ever escapes or transcends its constitutive involvement in “ a movement of diff erential referring.” Th ere ’ s a large and loudly honking diff erence between writing “ Th ere is no simple reference ” (1972/1981: 206), as Derrida did, and asserting that “ there is simply no reference, ” as Derrida didn ’ t. It was always Derrida ’ s problem that certain people read (him) very selectively, if at all, and that certain readers have trouble envisioning any protocols of reading other than those that protect their own certainties. Reasons relieve, and so, oft en enough, does reading. In Of Grammatology , Derrida writes that a productive (rather than protective) way of reading

cannot consist of reproducing, by the eff aced and respectful doubling of commentary, the conscious, voluntary, intentional relationship that the writer institutes in his exchanges with the history to which he belongs thanks to the element of language. Th is moment of doubling commentary should no doubt have its place in a critical reading. To recognize and respect all its classical exigencies is not easy and requires all the instruments of traditional criticism. Without this recognition and this respect, critical production would risk developing in any direction at all and authorize itself to say almost anything. But this indispensible guardrail has always only protected , it has never opened , a reading. (1967/1997: 158)

Th is passage, had it been carefully read, might have quieted certain academic and journalistic rumors that Derridean “ freeplay ” ϭ “ anything goes, ” that deconstruction completely evacuates (itself on) “ traditional criticism” while “ playfully ” authorizing itself to say almost anything, or that Derrida considers all “ critical productions ” equally valid or equally invalid and all “ interpretive experience” simply a “ meaningless ” game. Coincidentally, the passage just

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quoted happens to appear on the very same page of Derrida ’ s text as il n’ y a pas de hors-texte, the phrase that launched a thousand claims that Derrida believed all of reality to be “ enclosed in a book.” Of course, one would have to have actually opened and read a book by Derrida to understand how many of the slings and arrows of academic outrage against deconstruction were quite beside his points. But then again, one would have to have read (and not just heard rumors about) Nietzsche to understand how and why valid points against validity, or truth-claims against truth, or reasonable arguments against reason, might be possible or desirable in the fi rst place; one would need to have read a few key Nietzschean affi rmations to understand how deconstruction can be “ on the side of the yes, of the affi rmation of life” (Derrida, cited in Benjamin 2006: 81), how “ interpretive experience ” can say “ yes ” to “ life ” by affi rming no end of “ fi gures without truth” (Derrida 1967/1982: 18); one would have to have read Nietzsche, as Derrida read Nietzsche, to understand how reading and writing can affi rm “ life ” by experimentally calling the “ value of truth ” into question. As for Barthes and Foucault, their respective titles— “ Th e Death of the Author” and “ What is an Author?” — seemed to distress the late twentieth- century literary cognoscenti even more than Nietzsche’ s “ God is dead” outraged his readers at the previous fi n de si è cle. A possible explanation for this diff erence in distress-levels: most contemporary intellectuals are comfortably atheist or agnostic and either don ’ t very much mind God ’ s being dead or never entertained the notion of one day becoming deities themselves. But many writers (the writer of this very sentence not, in all honesty, exempted) still hold on to the dream of ending up as respected authors or authorities in the dominative and commanding sense that Derrida, Barthes, and Foucault describe and deride. Aspiring masters of meaning may no longer believe in God, but “ they still believe in truth,” as Nietzsche puts it; they still on some level want (every reader) to bow down before the powerful fi gure of “ the author” as both producer and proprietor of “ truth ” ; they still depend upon the idea of “ the author ” to grant them serenity, “ repose, security, and consistency ” (Nietzsche 1873/2006: 119) Barthes ’ move “ to substitute language itself for the person who until [recently] had been supposed to be its owner” and his assertion that “ it is language which speaks, not the author ” (1968/1977: 143) both spell a kind of “ death ” for this patriarchal “ Author-God ” as proprietary commando, “ the father and the owner of his work ” (1971/1977: 160). But Barthes doesn ’ t thereby represent actual writers as mere ventriloquist’ s dummies. Th e “ Author-God ” action-fi gure is arguably dead enough, but for Barthes, this demise hardly means the end of writing. For writing “ can be read without the

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guarantee of its father” (1971/1977: 160); moreover, for Barthes, the writer’ s actual power isn ’ t paternally procreative anyway. Th e writer ’ s actual power is not to originate but to mix.

Th e text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘ theological ’ meaning (the ‘ message ’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. Th e text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture . . . Th e writer can [thus] only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others . . . Did he wish to express himself , he ought at least to know that the inner ‘ thing ’ he thinks to ‘ translate ’ is itself only a ready- formed dictionary, its words only explainable through other words, and so on indefi nitely. (1968/1977: 146)

In Barthes ’ estimation, the actual purpose of this fi gure called “ the Author” is to please and empower the critic , not the active writer or the performative reader. For

to give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a fi nal signifi ed, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the Author . . . beneath the work: when the Author has been found, the text is ‘ explained ’ — victory to the critic. Hence there is no surprise in the fact that, historically, the reign of the Author has also been that of the Critic, nor again in the fact that criticism (be it new) is today undermined along with the Author. (1968/1977: 147)

In the place of “ literature, ” that once-sacred but now fatally compromised cow milked by Author-God and Victor-Critic alike, Barthes proposes “writing , ” which

by refusing to assign a ‘ secret ’ , an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fi x meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases — reason, science, law. (1968/1977: 147)

Barthes goes on to suggest that the “ true place ” of such “ writing ” is “ reading, ” that “ a text’ s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” — namely, the reader, who “ is simply that someone who holds together in a single fi eld all the traces by which the written text is constituted.” Giving a big leg-up

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to reception theory and reader-response criticism , Barthes concludes, “ Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature . . . We [however] know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth; the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (1968/1977: 148).9 Writing a year later than Barthes, Foucault fi nds nothing fresh in the news about “ the disappearance — or death — of the author, ” which he says “ criticism and philosophy took note of . . . some time ago.” He suggests, however, that its “ consequences . . . have not been suffi ciently examined, nor has its import been accurately measured ” (1969/1998: 207). As Foucault puts it, in a barb against Barthes and a dig at Derrida, “ it is not enough . . . to repeat the empty affi rmation that the author has disappeared . . . [or] to keep repeating that God and man have died a common death ” (1969/1998: 209), nor is it enough to use “ the notion of writing” to “ transpose the empirical characteristics of the author into a transcendental anonymity” (1969/1998: 208). Instead, writes Foucault, “ we must locate the space left empty by the author ’ s disappearance, follow the distribution of gaps and breaches, and watch for the openings this disappearance uncovers” (1969/1998: 209). One important historical detail that Foucault uncovers is that “ the author ” hasn ’ t always represented everything it seems to stand for today, that the “ author function” has functioned diff erently at various moments in the history of “ our civilization. ” “ Th e author function,” writes Foucault, “ does not aff ect all discourses in a universal and constant way. ”

In our civilization, it has not always been the same types of texts that have required attribution to an author. Th ere was a time when the types of texts we today call “ literary ” . . . were accepted, put into circulation, and valorized without any question about the identity of their author . . . On the other hand, those texts we now would call scientifi c . . . were accepted in the Middle Ages, and accepted as “ true, ” only when marked with the name of their author. “ Hippocrates said, ” “Pliny recounts ” . . . (1968/1994: 212)

9 Elsewhere, Barthes writes that overthrowing the myth of the Author “ requires that one try to abolish . . . the distance between writing and reading . . . by joining them in a single signifying practice. ” He compares this joining to a moment in “ the history of music” — before the age of mechanical reproduction and hence of music’ s passive consumption — “ when ‘ playing ’ and ‘ listening ’ formed a scarcely diff erentiated activity ” because “ practicing amateurs ” (1971/1977: 162) had to be able to read and play the music on an instrument to be able to listen to it. As for reception theory and reader-response criticism , these are “ concerned with both the aesthetic and the historical aspects of reading, i.e., the ways in which readers use texts for pleasure, and how readings alter and shift through history ” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 245).

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Today, of course, the situation is reversed— while we can’ t tolerate the idea of a great literary work without some illustrious personage designated as its author, we routinely “ impersonalize ” scientifi c discourses in the very gesture of granting their authority (“ evolutionary biology says,” “ according to quantum physics,” etc.) without giving that grant a second thought. Foucault ’ s most characteristic arguments here, however, involve the ideology of the “ author function,” the relationship between, on the one hand, the circulation of discourses that are thought to have “ authors ” and, on the other, the coercively panoptical operations of knowledge and power. When, for example, we read at the beginning of Foucault’ s treatise that “ the coming into being of the notion of the ‘ author ’ constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences” (1968/1994: 205) we should recall that while for some of us “ individualization ” might sound like a sweet deal, for Foucault, it’ s essentially a disciplinary process, a sour means of reproducing power relations. As he admonishes elsewhere, “ Do not demand of politics that it restore the ‘ rights ’ of the individual, as philosophy has defi ned them,” for “ the individual is the product of power” (Foucault 1972/1983: xiv). “ Individualization ” for Foucault is related to (albeit not completely identical with) ideological “ interpellation ” à la Althusser, which, as you’ ll remember, involves turning “ individuals ” into docile bodies who “ work all by themselves,” as if they were centers of rights and initiatives, as if they were free . 10 If, historically, “ discourses ” have become unfree , have become “ objects of appropriation ” or ownership, then their “ authors, ” the “ individuals ” who can be held responsible for them— who “ own ” them or can be made to “ own up” to them— aren ’ t exactly free either but are always already “ subjects ” of discipline and control. In other words, “ authors ” are brought into being so that discourses might be better brought into custody; or, discourses are attributed to “ authors ” so that the latter can more eff ectively be located, incarcerated, and/or killed.

Texts, books, and discourse really began to have authors . . . to the extent that authors became subject to punishment, that is, to the extent that discourses could be transgressive. In our culture (and doubtless in many others), discourse was not originally a product, a thing, a kind of goods; it was essentially an act — an act placed in the bipolar fi eld of the sacred

10 While there’ s no room here for a full explication of the tension between Foucault’ s analytics of power and Althusser ’ s theory of ideology, suffi ce it to say that Foucault associates Althusser with just the sort of “ Freudian-structuralist-Marxism ” from which he wants to free himself: “ I have, ” he proclaims, “ never been a Freudian, I have never been a Marxist, and I have never been a structuralist ” (1983/1998: 437).

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and the profane, the licit and the illicit, the religious and the blasphemous. Historically, it was a gesture fraught with risks before becoming goods caught up in a circuit of ownership. (1969/1998: 212)

Relating Foucault ’ s observation to relatively recent cultural clashes, we might ask against whom the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran could have issued his famous fatwa if Th e Satanic Verses (1988) had been attributed only to “ the anonymity of a murmur” (Foucault 1969/1998: 222) and not to the transgressively blasphemous Salman Rushdie. Foucault of course begins and ends the essay called “ What is an Author? ” with a question attributed to Samuel Beckett— “ ‘What does it matter who is speaking ’ ” ? (1969/1998: 205). Someone like Foucault might reply not simply that it never matters who’ s speaking, that we should never take the question seriously at all, but rather that it is only the Ayatollahs of coercive culture — and culture is always to some degree coercive — who are duty- bound to take the question of “ who is speaking” deadly seriously. For, if we “ keepers of the culture” can’ t ascertain which particular “ who ” is in fact speaking, how can we know exactly which individual we should want to punish or silence or kill? Foucault himself wasn’ t into killing off “ the author.” Nor was he interested in torturing and interrogating that fi gure, forcing it to reveal its inner “ authenticity ” or express its “ deepest self” (1969/1998: 222). But Foucault did want to “ change the subject,” to “ reexamine the privileges of the subject” and call into question “ the absolute character and founding role of the subject.” Foucault didn ’ t want to water-board “ the author, ” but he advocated “ depriving the subject (or its substitute) of its role as originator” and favored “ analyzing the subject as a variable and complex function of discourse” (1969/1998: 220 – 1). Because “ the author ” has long (but not always) functioned as one of the most highly privileged “ substitutes ” for “ the subject” qua originator in “ our civilization,” Foucault thinks that it’ s high time to address “ the ‘ ideological ’ status of the author ” and “ reverse the traditional idea ” of the author function.

We are accustomed . . . to saying that the author is the genial creator of a work in which he deposits, with infi nite wealth and generosity, an inexhaustible world of signifi cations. We are used to thinking that the author is so diff erent from all other men, and so transcendent with regard to all languages, that, as soon as he speaks, meaning begins to proliferate, to proliferate indefi nitely. Th e truth is quite the contrary: the author is not an indefi nite source of signifi cations that fi ll a work; the author does not precede

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the works; he is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses; in short, by which one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fi ction. In fact, if we are accustomed to presenting the author as a genius, as a perpetual surging of invention, it is because, in reality, we make him function in exactly the opposite fashion . . . Th e author is . . . the ideological fi gure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning. (1969/1998: 221 – 2)

As this passage should make crystal clear, Foucault didn’ t scoff at “ meaning ” or fear its proliferation. He obviously didn ’ t completely discount “ the truth, ” either, since he doesn’ t seem to mind telling us what it is.11 And if it ’ s true that we have turned “ the author ” into an overly privileged “ principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning,” Foucault truly feels that we no longer have to be quite so “ thrift y” with our “ discourses and their signifi cations ” (1969/1998: 221), that “ our civilization” can now aff ord to dethrone “ author ” and “ subject ” as original, eternal, transcendent, inexhaustible sources of signifi cation, that it really wouldn ’ t kill us to begin thinking of these fi gures, and of ourselves, as variable and complex functions of discourse. Foucault ’ s proposals are thus remarkably compatible with Derrida ’ s and Barthes’ writings about “ a writing that can know no halt” (Barthes 1968/1977: 147). But maybe it ’ s that very compatibility that makes all their writings about all that writing threatening to and dreaded by all our inner Ayatollahs, by everything within us that fears semiotic excess and wants to fi x meaning, to bring writing to a halt, everything within us that desires to be “ the author ” or to bow down before that seemingly generous and extravagant but actually quite austere fi gure. Just as our inherited metaphysical assumption has been that the center must hold in order for everything to hang together, our traditional literary assumption has been that in order to love language and appreciate great writing, to affi rm fi ction and value its meaning, we pretty much had to believe in “ the author. ” Th e truth, as we for some reason still call it, may be quite the contrary, and the deconstruction of these conventional assumptions might radically renew our appreciation, and our affi rmation, of the fi ction that we write, the fi ctions that we are.

11 Th ough Foucault necessarily speaks of “ the truth ” in a phrase like “ the truth is quite the contrary, ” his thinking about truth remains Nietzschean, which is to say that his thinking remains quite contrary to the idea that the truth exists, that there can ever be one truth for good and for all. For, as he insists in “ An Aesthetics of Existence, ” “ I believe too much in truth not to suppose that there are diff erent truths and diff erent ways of speaking the truth” (1984/1988: 51).

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II. “ What are we calling postmodernity?”

Not that it should matter who’ s speaking here, but it just happens to be Foucault, admitting or perhaps feigning ignorance about postmodernity in a 1983 interview— “ What are we calling postmodernity? I’ m not up to date” (Foucault 1983/1998: 447). Foucault ’ s interlocutor, one Ger á rd Raulet, thus fi nds himself in the ironic position of having to bring Foucault, reputedly one of postmodernism ’ s principle perpetrators, up to speed on the debate between J ü rgen Habermas and Jean-Fran ç ois Lyotard about the viability of the so-called project of modernity and the emancipatory potential of what we ’ re still calling postmodernity. For the German Habermas, the “ project of modernity ” begins with eighteenth-century “ Enlightenment ” rationalism; it involves “ the belief, inspired by modern science, in the infi nite progress of knowledge and in the infi nite advance towards social and moral betterment ” (Habermas 1980/2001: 1749). Th ough he recognizes that “ the 20th century has shattered this optimism, ” Habermas believes that we should still “ try to hold on to the intentions of the Enlightenment, feeble as they may be” rather than “ declare the entire project of modernity a lost cause ” (1980/2001: 1754). Upholding the goal of a transparently “ communicative rationality ” operating within and governing “ all spheres— cognitive, moral-practical, and expressive” (1980/2001: 1754), Habermas thinks that we should want to continue with the “ progressive ” modern project, which he considers “ incomplete ” but still completely worthwhile. He thus labels Derrida and Foucault as postmodern “ young conservatives ” (1980/2001: 1758) who have prematurely abandoned the progressive project out of an irrationalist Nietzschean aestheticist extravagance and a fetishistic investment in the notional expenditures of Georges Bataille. On the French side of the debate, Lyotard also notes “ the disappearance of this idea of progress within rationality and freedom . . . a sort of decay in the confi dence placed by the last two centuries in the idea of progress. ” For Lyotard, “ this idea of progress as possible, probable or necessary was rooted in the certainty that the development of the arts, technology, knowledge and liberty would be profi table to mankind as a whole. ” But Lyotard thinks that contemporary thinking has become deeply distrustful of the very idea of “ mankind ” as a unifi ed “ whole, ” and rightly so. Lyotard fi nds it no longer salutary to sustain the modern “ belief that enterprises, discoveries and institutions are legitimate only insofar as they contribute to the [total] emancipation of mankind” (1986/2001: 1612– 13). Calling this modern faith in the complete emancipation of everybody a metanarrative — a grand or master narrative, overarching and monolithic— Lyotard famously characterizes

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postmodern skepticism as a radical “ incredulity towards metanarratives” (1984: xxiv). For Lyotard, postmodern reality comprises incommensurable “ language games,” a Humpty-Dumpty host of diff erential micro -narratives that the modernist metanarrative can no longer put back together again— “ Only the transcendental illusion (that of Hegel [or of Sartre]) can hope to totalize [these language games] into a real unity ” (1979/1984: 81).12 But Lyotard warns that “ the price to pay for such an illusion is terror, ” and he thus links the transcendental dream of “ completing ” the project of modernity to the totalizing and totalitarian schemes of modern history.

Th e nineteenth and twentieth centuries have given us as much terror [and as much totality] as we can take. We have paid a high enough price for the nostalgia of the whole and the one, for the reconciliation of the concept and the sensible, of the transparent and the communicable experience . . . [and] for the [attempted] realization of the fantasy to seize reality . . . Let us [thus] wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable; let us activate the diff erences and save the honor of the name. (Lyotard 1979/1984: 82)

Having summarized this French– German debate, Raulet explains to Foucault that “ Postmodernity is a breaking apart of reason . . . Postmodernity reveals, at least, that reason has only been one narrative among others in history; a grand narrative, certainly, but one among many, which can now be followed by other narratives” (in Foucault 1983/1998: 447). But Foucault surprisingly responds that he’ s “ never clearly understood what was meant in France by the word ‘ modernity ’ ” in the fi rst place. Nor does he know “ what Germans mean by modernity.”

Neither do I grasp the kind of problems intended by this term— or how they would be common to people thought of as being “ postmodern. ” While I see clearly that behind what was known as structuralism, there was a certain problem— broadly speaking, that of the subject and the recasting of the subject— [I] do not understand what kind of problem is common to the people we call “ post modern” or “ poststructuralist. ” (1983/1998: 448)

Now, at this point, you might very well be thinking — if Michel Foucault himself didn ’ t quite get “ modernity ” or “ postmodernity, ” what fat chances

12 In his 1960 Critique of Dialectical Reason , Sartre stated that his philosophical goal was “ to establish that there is one human history, with one truth and one intelligibility— not by considering the material content of this history, but by demonstrating that a practical multiplicity, whatever it may be, must unceasingly totalize itself through interiorizing its multiplicity at all levels ” (1960/1976: 69).

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for understanding have I? I would answer by saying that whatever is meant by “ modernity ” or “ structure, ” Foucault is essentially correct— they aren ’ t simply diff erent words for the same set of problems. And so while post modernism and post structuralism are “ problematically ” related— both involve “ following ” Nietzsche, questioning science, calling truth ’ s bluff , changing “ the subject, ” interrogating the absolute primacy of “ reason, ” activating the play of diff erences, protecting the proliferation of meaning, and so on — they aren ’ t exactly the same theoretical phenomenon. We ’ ve read that poststructuralism takes the specifi c fi ndings of structural linguistics (the arbitrary and diff erential nature of the linguistic sign) to their most “ extreme ” conclusions. Here, we’ ll see how postmodernism involves a diff erent but related set of dilemmas and extremities. Let ’ s begin by considering three mutually implicated aspects of “ modernity, ” so as to better address the question of what the “ post ” in “ post modernity ” might entail. Let ’ s say that these three aspects — let ’ s call them socioeconomic modernization , philosophical modernity , and aesthetic modernism — all involve new and diff erent ways of coming to terms with the fact that the world must be made to mean. Socioeconomic modernization involves shift s in what a Marxist would call the mode of production — new ways of making wealth, goods, services, tools, machines, technologies, laws, wars, institutions, weapons, governments, nations, states, and empires, what Marx himself calls the “ uninterrupted disturbance of social conditions” (1888/1978: 476). Philosophical moder- nity involves developing new modes of conceptualizing, rationalizing, critiquing and/or justifying the intellectual processes of making sense in and of modernization as uninterrupted social disturbance. And aesthetic moder nism involves new ways of making and responding to the work of art within modernity /modernization . Modernization is the “ oldest ” of these three aspects. Indeed, as Marshall Berman points out, “ vast and increasing numbers of people have been going through it for close to fi ve hundred years ” (1988: 15).13 Berman writes that

Th e maelstrom of modern life has been fed from many sources: great discoveries in the physical sciences, changing our images of the universe and our place in it; the industrialization of production, which transforms scientifi c knowledge into technology, creates new human environments and destroys old ones, speeds up the whole tempo of life,

13 We can avoid undue befuddlement about the word “ postmodern ” by not mistaking “ the modern ” for the contemporary, the present day, or even the twentieth century. Western culture has been in “ the modern” for quite a while. Shakespeare, for example, is an “ early modern ” writer.

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generates new forms of corporate power and class struggle; immense demographic upheavals, severing millions of people from the ancestral habitats, hurtling them half-way across the world into new lives; rapid and oft en cataclysmic urban growth; systems of mass communication, dynamic in their development, enveloping and binding together the most diverse people and societies; increasingly powerful national states, bureaucratically structured and operated, constantly striving to expand their power; mass social movements of people, and peoples, challenging their political and economic rulers, striving to gain some control over their own lives; fi nally, bearing and driving all these people and institutions along, an ever-expanding, drastically fl uctuating capitalist world market. In the twentieth century, the processes that bring this maelstrom into being, and keep it in a state of perpetual becoming, have come to be called “ modernization. ” (1988: 16, my emphases)

Th e “ dynamic ” words that I ’ ve emphasized in Berman ’ s description — changing , hurtling , striving , challenging , driving— can all be summed up in that last phrase, “ a state of perpetual becoming. ” And this state of perpetual(ly) becoming (modern) could be negatively compared to the sense of relatively “ static being” or uninterrupted non-disturbance that we now associate (rightly or wrongly) with the pre -modern or medieval “ life-world, ” in which there really didn’ t seem to be much happening, in which everything and everybody basically seemed to stay put — no great discoveries; no big changes in images of our place in the cosmos or one ’ s place in the “ natural order ” ; no radical transformations in knowledge eff ected or even desired (particularly not by the church); no appreciable social mobility, much less mass demographic upheaval; no moveable type, printing presses, or mass communications; no particularly successful challenges to autocratic rulers; no acceleration, no movement, no change. Or, in a word, no capitalism — Berman is right to say that it’ s “ fi nally ” capitalist markets driving “ the maelstrom of modern life” only in the sense that he lists the capitalist engine last. But it was arguably the transition in Western Europe from feudal agrarianism to mercantile capitalism that got this ball of “ perpetual becoming” or “ uninterrupted disturbance” rolling in the fi rst place. It was arguably the shift from immovable to moveable capital, from arable land to investable money as the primary basis of wealth in Europe, which initiated all the increasingly rapid “ movement and change ” that we now associate with modernization. Th is shift helped precipitate the various revolutions (scientifi c, industrial, and sociopolitical) by virtue of which the rulers of the ancien regime (the titled monarchs of the landed aristocracy and the

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stony patriarchs of the crumbling church) were suddenly or gradually forced to cede power to the more secular and democratic mercantile bourgeoisie. But more than political economy, more than an exchange of money and power, is at stake in the “ modern ” triumph of “ movement and change” over feudal – medieval stability and stasis. Th ere began to dawn, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe, the philosophical sense that perpetual “ movement and change” were revolutionary values in themselves, inherently utopian, leading somewhere pretty good or even supremely good for everybody; in other words, there began to form the optimistic conviction that all these ever-accelerating upheavals were not just aleatory economic transitions profi table for the rising bourgeoisie alone, but morally progressive developments that would turn out to be “ profi table to mankind as a whole” and would, in fact, lead to a fi nal and total “ emancipation of mankind.” In place of the relatively “ frozen ” or cyclical sense of time and history supported by feudal agrarianism (cyclical because still allegorizing seasonal cycles of planting and harvest), modern philosophers began to substitute a linear, dynamic, and dialectically progressive sense of human temporality and historicity. Moreover, in place of the anti-ameliorative ideology of “ original sin” promulgated by a medieval church that condemned all talk of worldly self-improvement as hubristic heresy (no “ redemption ” for the fallen save through God ’ s mercy; no fi nal happiness for select humans except in heaven, and so on), modern philosophy served up the purely secular idea of rational Enlightenment as mankind ’ s “ original destiny ” (Kant 1784/1996).14 We might note a sort of merger between “ acquisitive ” economic modernization and “ inquisitive ” philosophical modernity in a claim made by our old friend Hegel, one of the great promoters of perpetual becoming. In “ Th e Positivity of the Christian Religion,” Hegel suggests that the principle imperative of Enlightenment rationality is to justify “ the human possession of treasures formerly squandered on heaven ” (1795/1948: 159). In the Enlightenment, that is, those who dared to think for themselves began thinking that we should start thinking of ourselves and should keep our most

14 In 1784, Immanuel Kant defi ned Enlightenment as “ man ’ s emergence from his self- incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one ’ s own understanding without the guidance of another. Th is immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. Th e motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude [from Horace: ‘ dare to be wise ’ ]. Have the courage to use your own understanding” (1784/1996: 51). When Kant goes on to say that “ One age cannot enter into an alliance on oath to put the next age in a position where it would be impossible for it to extend and correct its knowledge . . . or to make any progress whatsoever in enlightenment [for] this would be a crime against human nature, whose original destiny lies precisely in such progress ” (1784/1996: 54), the phrase “ original destiny ” seems a rather pointed jab against the doctrine of original sin and against anyone still immature enough to fall for it.

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treasured thoughts to ourselves, in our own orbit, rather than squandering them on exorbitant fantasies like “ God ” and “ heaven. ” Enlightenment humanists thus attempted to give us all permission to start loving, helping, and believing in ourselves directly. Short-circuiting the old other -worldly route, Enlightenment humanist thinkers stopped projecting all the great powers of love and salvation onto the Deity and disinvested in the aft er-life as the only conceivable site for the fi nal acquisition of happiness or the total accomplishment of our own ameliorative goals, all of which could be worked out in this world through the progressive use of Reason.15 And so began for Western Europe the languid and sinister blooming of the dream of a totally rational and totally organized human self-possession. Justifying our complete ownership of treasures once squandered on the divine, hoping to gain a conceptually controlling interest in “ the maelstrom of modern life, ” philosophical modernity attempts a total “ realization of the fantasy to seize reality ” (Lyotard 1979/1984: 82). From the postmodern perspective, however, the end results of this grab at reality’ s fl eeting ring have proven rather mixed. Not that Enlightenment humanism has produced only unmitigated disaster for humans; not that there hasn’ t been some recognizable “ progress within rationality and freedom ” in the Western world in the last 200 – 500 years, but the twentieth century in particular has shattered the blithe assumption that our taking up the dare to think for ourselves would necessarily advance us all toward “ social and moral betterment” ; it has darkened the optimistic view of human history as the inevitably benefi cent upward expansion of Man ’ s Reason. For tooling along in the blind spot of Enlightenment ’ s Sunday morning drive is none other than our friend Th anatos, the good old-fashioned death instinct, which you don’ t have to be a licensed psychoanalyst to discern busily at work in all teleological fantasies indentured to “ nostalgia for the whole and the one,” whether the fantasies be sexual, secular, philosophical, or religious, harbored by political left or right. God knows there ’ s more than a touch of suicidal desire in the fantasy of sending oneself to heaven, else “ the Everlasting” wouldn ’ t have “ fi x’d His canon ‘ gainst self-slaughter,” as Shakespeare had Prince Hamlet complain in the “ early modern ” year 1603. And, as Walter Benjamin observed in 1936, “ mankind ” as the collective subject/object of mechanical modernization has reached such a degree of self-alienation “ that it can experience [even] its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the fi rst order” (1936/1968: 242). But of course the pleasures of totally human

15 Compare Marx — “ Th e criticism of religion disillusions man so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality as a man who has lost his illusions and regained his reason; so that he will revolve about himself as his own true sun. Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve about himself ” (1844/1978: 54).

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destruction, subjective and objective, failed to remain merely aesthetic in the mid-twentieth century; indeed, only a few years aft er Benjamin ’ s suicide, these irresistible urges from “ beyond the pleasure principle ” became real in a substantially “ new and diff erent ” way. If the modern metanarrative involves the fantasy of humanly (not humanely, but humanly) possessing all the treasures formerly squandered on heaven, and if one of the great powers humans had heretofore attributed to the Deity was the capacity to reduce the world to rubble and ash, then one developing plot-line of modernity’ s big story reaches its climax in 1945, when we for the fi rst time held the real power of world-destruction in our own trembling hands. Perhaps the postmodern condition really begins with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Or perhaps it begins somewhere in the “ unpresentable ” distance between Auschwitz as an industrial mode of genocide and Hiroshima as a technological form of mass destruction. To be sure, the new American petard was an inspired scientifi c advance over the old European ovens, but one wouldn ’ t exactly call it progress qua “ social and moral betterment. ” So much, then, for the question of how we got to the “ post ” in philosophical postmodernity — few philosophers whole-heartedly believe in the modern metanarrative any longer, and incommensurable language (and war) games are still proceeding without morally progressing. If pro- modernist stalwarts complain that postmodernity involves all the social fragmentation and malaised alienation of “ the maelstrom of modern life” but without the hope of total reunifi cation and emancipation that alone makes it all bearable, the postmodernist rejoinder is that this totalizing “ hope ” is itself irredeemably implicated in various totalitarian daydreams of a unifi ed “ life-world ” hygienically cleansed of all contaminating “ others ” (Jews, queers, capitalists, immigrants— name your poison). Th e darkest side of the dialectic of Enlightenment is purely instrumental reason, the racist/fascist “ male warrior ” fantasy of global purifi cation in which freedom ’ s just another word for nothing left to kill.16 For philosophical postmodernists, then, the only “ good war ” left is Lyotard ’ s war against totality.17

16 See Klaus Th eweleit (1987). Or read Freud, who in 1930 observed that it was not “ an unaccountable chance that the dream of German world-dominion called for anti- semitism as its complement; and it is intelligible that the attempt to establish a new, communist civilization in Russia should fi nd its psychological support in the persecution of the bourgeois. One only wonders, with concern, what the Soviets will do aft er they have wiped out their bourgeois ” (1930/1989: 752). 17 Bellicosely inscribing “ an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism, ” Donna Haraway writes in her “ Cyborg Manifesto ” that postmodern feminists “ do not need a totality in order to work well. Th e feminist dream of a common language, like all dreams for a perfectly true language, of perfectly faithful naming of experience, is a totalizing and imperialist one. In that sense, dialectics too is a dream language, longing to resolve contradiction ” (1985/2008: 324, 342).

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But if the preceding explains the philosophical “ postmodern turn, ” how might we answer the question of “ postmodernization ” ? How do we deal with the idea of human reality “ aft er the end” of modernization when modernization clearly hasn’ t ended? Aft er all, there’ s still a lot of “ perpetual becoming ” qua technological innovation going on in the world, so perhaps the term “ postmodernization ” is descriptive only in regard to certain “ futuristic ” fi ctions like George Miller’ s 1981 fi lm Th e Road Warrior , which depicts the coming exhaustion of petro-industrial society as a bloody struggle between nomadic hordes dueling over the last dribbles of fossil-fuel in a post- apocalyptic wasteland; or James Cameron’ s 1984 fi lm Th e Terminator , which suggests technology ’ s relentless continuation of its own “ project ” even aft er human civilization has ended; or David Foster Wallace’ s 1996 novel Infi nite Jest, which represents the consumer society of the very near future as being so fatally addicted to entertaining itself and so indiff erent to a progressive or even linear conception of time and history that its calendar years are no longer consecutively numbered but corporately sponsored, named aft er illustrious commodities (Year of the Whopper, Year of Glad, Year of the Tuck ’ s Medicated Pad, etc.). But, to think less speculatively about what “ postmodernization ” might mean for us today, we might think in terms of a particular paradigm shift from industrial mechanics to digital technology within the contemporary mode of production itself; we might consider, that is, the way technology seems to have superseded industry as the socioeconomic dominant of our global civilization; and we might ponder the changes in the experiential character of our present “ life-world ” consequent to this transition. Th e transition itself involves not only the specters of mass destruction (as in the Auschwitz to Hiroshima itinerary cited above) but the “ indetermanances ” of mass transportation and mass communication as well. Consider that while the paradigmatic contraption of “ the modern age ” is arguably the engine (steam, locomotive, automobile, jet), the paradigmatic conveyance of the postmodern condition is surely the screen (cinematic, televisual, digital, terminal). Consider as well that the shift from the former to the latter eff ectively and profoundly inverts and compresses human space/time relations. While the modern engine still serves to move bodies (and/as commodities) through space at ever-increasing speeds, the postmodern screen serves to bring commodifi ed images of bodies and commodifi ed information about commodities in ever-quickening tempos to increasingly stationary or stay- at-home bodies. While our engines might still take us to work, or play, or war, our screens bring all of that business back home to us in a hi-def 3D nanosecond. While we still have asphalt highways upon which to drive our fossil-fueled or hybrid automobiles, the “ information superhighway ”

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(to use a now rather dated phrase) is a much more important and culturally dominant thoroughfare. And while we may still want to drive our hybrids really fast , the speed of our hard-drives and search engines has become our infi nitely more vital consideration. Indeed, today, everything vital seems to have gone terminally virtual , which is why Jean Baudrillard considers “ the postmodern ” as the age of the simulacrum , “the desert of the real itself ” (1983: 2).18 But because the “ engine ” driving both modern/industrial and postmodern/technological “ movement and change” is still very much the production of wealth and power for the ruling/owning class— rather than, say, the positive annulment of private property and the dawn of a classless society— the Marxist Fredric Jameson designates and castigates postmodernism as “ the cultural logic of late capitalism ” and laments quite a number of its cultural turns. In addition to mourning “ the death of the subject, ” Jameson bemoans what he calls the “ eclipse ” of lively parody by dead-pan pastiche . Both are forms of stylistic mimicry, but while parody, says Jameson, “ mocks the original” style in a satiric spirit of collectively normative judgment, casting “ ridicule on the private nature of . . . stylistic mannerisms and their excessiveness and eccentricity with respect to the way people normally speak or write, ” pastiche is spiritless “ speech in a dead language. ”

It is a neutral practice of . . . mimicry, without parody ’ s ulterior motive, without the satirical impulse, without laughter, without that still latent feeling that there exists something normal compared with which what is being imitated is rather comic. Pastiche is blank parody, parody that has lost its sense of humor. (1988/2007: 1957, 1958)

A particularly unamusing form of pastiche for Jameson is the “ nostalgia fi lm,” which displays its “ pathological ” indiff erence to developmental social transformation by transporting outdated cinematic styles into contemporary settings (as in Lawrence Kasdan’ s 1981 fi lm Body Heat, which Jameson takes as “ distant remake ” of Billy Wilder ’ s 1944 fi lm -noir classic Double Indemnity ) or by beaming futuristic technologies into a mythic past, as in George Lucas’ s heavily archetypifi ed Star Wars saga (“ Long ago, in a galaxy far far away . . .” ). To Jameson, it seems

exceedingly symptomatic to fi nd the very style of nostalgia fi lms invad- ing and colonizing even those movies today which have contemporary

18 A simulacrum is a copy for which there is no original. Th e term is as old as Plato. But while for Plato, the simulacrum is an aberration, for Baudrillard, it ’ s the order and general rule of the day, for in postmodernity simulation “ is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal ” (1983: 2).

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settings, as though, for some reason, we were unable today to focus our own present, as thought we had become incapable of achieving aesthetic representations of our own current experience. But if that is so, then it is a terrible indictment of consumer capitalism itself— or, at the very least, an alarming and pathological symptom of a society that has become incapable of dealing with time and history. (1988/2007: 1960)

Nor is Jameson amused by postmodern architecture, which, like the nostalgia fi lm, tends to glom together diff erent and incongruent historical styles without any sense of historical progression, and which, like pastiche in general, makes no normative judgments about its contextual urban surroundings and, worse, expresses no particular desire to transform them. For Jameson, the “ great monuments of the International Style ” that epitomized modernist architecture could be critically distinguished from their surrounding cities; moreover, “ the act of disjunction was violent, visible, and had a very real symbolic signifi cance, ” for this stylistic gesture

radically separates the new utopian space of the modern [building] from the degraded and fallen city fabric, which it thereby explicitly repudiates (although the gamble of the modern was that this new utopian space . . . would fan out and transform [the whole urbanized world] eventually by the power of its new spatial language). (1988/2007: 1962)

Th e postmodern building, however, expresses neither critical judgment nor any ameliorative will to power beyond its own design parameters and is “ content ” to let the fallen city lie — “ no further eff ects— no larger protopolitical utopian transformation — are either expected or desired ” (1988/2007: 1962). But if conditions are alarmingly bad with postmodern structures when considered from the outside, things get even worse, even more indiff erent to utopian transformation, when you pass through the entrances into their bewildering interiors. Jameson, that is, has even less fun being lost in the funhouses of consumer capitalism than he does with postmodern pastiche, and he singles out as the worst architectural off ender John Portman’ s Los Angeles Bonaventure Hotel, a “ mini-city ” that “ ideally ought not to have entrances at all (since the entryway is always the seam that links the building to the rest of the city that surrounds it), for it does not wish to be a part of the city ” (1988/2007: 1962). Th e Bonaventure is a “ postmodern hyperspace” in the lobby of which “ it is quite impossible to get your bearings. ” It is also the structure in which Jameson himself lost his bearings (as academic rumor has it) while trying to fi nd his panel at a Modern Language Association convention being held there. Generalizing from his

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own interpretive experience of alienated dislocation, Jameson comes to his “ principal point ” :

that this latest mutation in space — postmodern hyperspace — has fi nally succeeded in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually, and to map cognitively its position in a mappable external world . . . Th is alarming disjunction between the body and its built environment . . . can itself stand as the symbol and analogue of that even sharper dilemma, which is the incapacity of our minds, at least at present, to map the great global, multinational and decentered communicational network in which we fi nd ourselves caught as individual subjects. (1988/2007: 1963)

For Jameson’ s money, then, we have splendid reasons to fear postmodern “ proliferations of meaning” at every level, for they are all driven by the “ ahistoricizing ” logic of late capitalism, in the “ perpetual present” of whose invisible hand we still fi nd ourselves caught. For Jameson, the only intellectually valid way to bite the hand that feeds us postmodern culture is constantly to obey what he calls “ the imperative of all dialectical thought ” and to “ always historicize!” (1981: 9)— a slogan that for minds less dialectically supple than Jameson ’ s (or for that matter Marx ’ s) seems to boil down to constantly diagnosing every cognitively mappable social ill as a symptom of “ the global off ensives of capital ” (Ahmad 1996: 284).19

19 In Th e Political Unconscious, where he designates “ always historicizing” as “ the imperative of all dialectical thought” (1981: 9), Jameson also writes that “ to think dialectically is to invent a space from which to think . . . two identical yet antagonistic features together all at once . . . to identify [the] twin negative [or reactionary/ideological] and positive [or progressive/utopian] features of [any] given phenomenon ” (1981: 224) — even, presumably, the phenomenon of global capitalism itself, for in this description of dialectical thinking Jameson is following and lauding Marx, who in the Communist Manifesto, identifi ed both the positive/progressive/utopian and the negative/ideological/reactionary aspects of the mercantile bourgeoisie’ s ascent. Th ough he, of course, emphasizes the negative, Marx doesn ’ t fail to mention the positive. For example, railing against early capitalism ’ s already global/colonial off ensives, Marx writes that “ the bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization . . . It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world aft er its own image ” (1888/1978 477). But that Marx sees this compulsory creation as simultaneously negative/reactionary/ideological and positive/progressive/utopian is made clear in the very next passage, where Marx writes that “ the bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life ”

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Of course, one might wonder if Jameson himself isn’ t less “ historicizing ” here than overly generalizing about the current “ incapacity of our minds.” Aft er all, not every “ individual human body ” in the world gets hopelessly lost in the Bonaventure or its utopia-indiff erent analogues, and some individual subjects (who are neither venture capitalists nor schizoid consumers) can cognitively map postmodern hyperspace reasonably well. One might think, moreover, that a Marxist with populist leanings (though that ’ s not exactly the sort of intellectual Jameson is) would smile upon certain aesthetic practices of postmodernism, practices which do their best to overturn given hierarchies and to subvert all the regnant “ highnesses ” of “ elitist ” culture. As Jameson notes, aesthetic postmodernisms “ emerge as specifi c reactions against the established forms of high modernism . . . which conquered the university, the museum, the art gallery network and the foundations” ; they eff ace “ key boundaries or separations, most notably the older distinction between high culture and so-called mass or popular culture, ” so that in postmodernism “ the line between high art and commercial forms seems increasingly diffi cult to draw ” (1988/2007: 1956, emphases added). Th is diffi culty in drawing the line, however, which oft en energizes the populist academic left , seems only to distress Jameson, for insofar as he remains within the Frankfurt School tradition of profound suspicion toward mass culture (rather than the Birmingham tradition of cautiously celebrating the popular), Jameson of course wants art and thought to keep their critical distance from commerce. In other words, he would concur with Habermas that “ when the containers of an autonomously developing cultural sphere are shattered, the contents get dispersed. Nothing remains from a

(1888/1978: 477, emphasis added). To think dialectally with Marx here is to see that Marx is simultaneously critiquing and endorsing this anti-idiotic rescue operation— to think dialectically is to hold on to the condemnation of all “ the off ensives of global capital” — including bourgeois imperialism/colonialism— while not losing sight of the fact that Marx actually does prefer civilization, even bourgeois civilization, to feudal barbarity, urbanity to idiocy, science to superstition, and so on; in other words, while he frequently expresses reverence for an earlier “ artisanal ” (as opposed to industrial) mode of production, Marx just isn ’ t all that nostalgic for “ the feudal relations of property” that have been “ burst asunder” or the “ ancient and venerable prejudices” that have been “ swept away ” by the “ colossal productive forces ” unleashed by capitalism ’ s “ uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions ” (1888/1978: 476). To think undialectically, on the other hand, is to imagine that “ Marxism ” always and everywhere equals an unequivocating knee-jerk “ anti-capit alism” ; to think undialectically is to think that if Marx were alive today, he would whole-heartedly endorse the preservation of certain contemporary superstitions, barbarisms, and idiocies on the grounds that the idiots in question are not just being idiots but heroically “ resisting Western hegemony” and fi ghting back against “ the off ensives of global capital.”

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desublimated meaning or a destructured form; an emancipatory eff ect does not follow” (1980/2001: 1756).20 But here, a question of cultural and intellectual authority emerges — who gets to decide what counts as a bona fi de “ emancipatory eff ect” ? An “ eff ect” — a discernible change in the interpretive experience of “ the subject,” a particular activation of diff erence or liberation of symbolic energy or desedimenting shift in cultural innovation — that might well seem emancipatory, salutary, productive, or maybe just interesting to an Ihab Hassan or a Donna Haraway won’ t cut much mustard in a strictly Marxist metanarrative that views any changes as “ legitimate only insofar as they contribute to the [total] emancipation of mankind ” (Lyotard 1986/2001: 1613) or only insofar as they help to bring about “ the revolutionary transformation of social relations as a whole” (Jameson 1988: 53). Emancipatory eff ects in the fi elds of gender and sexuality, for example, will forever register as small potatoes for any

20 In general, popular culture can be understood as culture that is actually produced by “ the people ” and which expresses their “ authentic ” desires. Mass culture, by contrast, is commodifi ed stuff that is mass-produced for “ the people ” by the “ culture industry, ” which reifi es and exploits their desires. We can distinguish mass from popular culture by considering the diff erent attitudes that the Frankfurt and Birmingham Schools take toward them. Th e name “ Frankfurt School ” refers to the Institute for Social Research founded in Frankfurt in 1923. Key members include Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and, in a second generation, Habermas. In the Frankfurt School view, writes John Fiske, “ the industrialization of culture and the development of the mass media had destroyed all traces of authentic popular or folk culture . . . Th e culture industries . . . were crucial in enabling capitalism to saturate people’ s experiences and consciousness so thoroughly as to leave no space in which to experience a noncapitalist identity or consciousness ” — the consciousness of being anything other than a consumer. “ Th e culture industries, then, were the means by which capitalism could erase any possibility of opposition and thus social change . . . Th ey commodifi ed people by erasing their consciousness of all needs or desires except those that could be satisfi ed by commodities ” (1995: 324). Cultural theorists in the Birmingham School tradition (associated with Birmingham University’ s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and with the work of Richard Hoggart, E. P. Th ompson, Raymond Williams, and Stuart Hall) view the Frankfurt School’ s “ critical pessimism” as “ ultimately elitist because it saw people as the helpless, passive victims of the system, and denied them any agency of their own. ” Th e Birmingham “ school of thought agrees with all the criticism of industrial capitalism ” launched from Frankfurt “ but disagrees with the claimed totality of their eff ectiveness.” Th e Birmingham tradition “ rejects the assumption that the people have no resources of their own from which to derive their coping strategies, their resistances, and their own culture.” For Fiske, contemporary popular culture is unproductive but still creative — it “ is typically bound up with the products and technologies of mass culture, but its creativity consists in its ways of using these products and technologies, not in producing them” (Fiske 1995: 325). For Jameson’ s nuanced and dialectical reading of the high/mass culture divide, see his “ Reifi cation and Utopia in Mass Culture” (1979), in which he argues that any given cultural phenomenon, high or mass, negotiates social anxieties by simultaneously staging antagonistic (reifying vs. utopian) desires and by representing imaginary resolutions to real contradictions.

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Marxist meta-narrator in relation to the always much meatier dialectic of history as class antagonism. Indeed, for those who imagine themselves as the fi rmest adherents to the trunk of the Marxist dialectic, steadfast opposition to the predations of late capitalism and Western neo-imperialism sublates all “ other ” considerations, so that any new developments within postmodernity will be suspected as the free market’ s latest ruse, and even the most retrograde and anti -modern practices of sexual oppression in non-Western or “ Th ird World ” regions (female genital mutilation, murderous persecution of gays and lesbians, fatwas against advocates of “ gender mixing, ” “ honor killings ” of young women, compulsory veiling of all women, and so on) can be countenanced, since the religious police or indigenous goon-squads who enforce these traditions can be viewed as defending their cultures against globalization , resisting colonization by the neoliberal West.21 We ’ ll return to this problem in the next section, which attends somewhat more closely to postcolonial theory. Let’ s conclude this section, however, by taking up in greater detail the two aspects of aesthetic postmodernism that Jameson singles out— the reaction against “ high modernism” and the eff acement of the boundary between “ high ” and “ mass ” culture. It ’ s easy enough to cognitively map “ high modernism” in terms of periods and players— its time-frame stretches from just before World War I

21 Globalization is “ a term drawn from economics to refer to the dominant model of contemporary manufacture, consumption and political systems within capitalist societies. Rather than focusing upon the needs of a local or national market, the globalized approach considers the world or ‘ global village’ as its end user. Because such an audience encompasses a wide range of peoples and values, globalized practices inevitably use models of ‘ best fi t ’ . Many times these values refl ect a corporation’ s Western origin, with the result that some critics accuse globalization of favouring Western interests and norms ” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 195). As for “ honor killings,” these “ are widely reported in the Middle East and South Asia, but in recent years they have taken place in Italy, Sweden, Brazil, and Britain. According to Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there are 5,000 instances annually when women and girls are shot, stoned, burned, buried alive, strangled, smothered and knifed to death by fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, even mothers in the name of preserving family ‘ honor. ’ ” ( New York Times, 13 July 2010, A22) Given such fi gures, I, for one, have to confess, in full knowledge that I will not in certain corners of theory-world ever be forgiven, that I read, say, Aim é C é saire ’ s “ searing ” critique of colonialism— his discourse “ about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined . . . religions smashed . . . [and] extraordinary possibilities wiped out” (1955/1972: 21) by colonialism— with somewhat less sympathy than I otherwise might. Given the fi gures on “ honor killings” and other atrocities, I confess to wanting to play a self-consciously Western-devil ’ s advocate and ask about the extraordinary possibilities wiped out by these very societies, cultures, institutions, and religions themselves , to ask why certain traditionally vicious, lethal, and misogynist practices deserve not to be undermined, trampled, and smashed, even if the tramplers are the imperial forces of modernization, colonization, globalization, “ Western interests and norms,” “ hegemonic Western feminism,” and so on. I ask this unforgiveable question, frankly, out of a profound fatigue with the resolutely

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to just aft er World War II (with the greatest wave cresting in the period entre deux guerres). Its most prominent practitioners would include Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Matisse, Rothko, and Pollock in the visual arts; Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg in music; and Eliot, Joyce, Pound, Woolf, Faulkner, Stevens, and Hemingway, etc., in literature. What characterizes all these aesthetic practices at their heights is the relentless will to experimentation and innovation, the need to draw a line between current artistic procedures and those immediately preceding , the imperative (as per Ezra Pound’ s famous slogan) to always “ make it new.” Aesthetic modernism involves “ the vertiginous work” of questioning all the given “ rules of image and narration, ” so that “ all that has been received, if only yesterday . . . must be suspected ” (Lyotard 1979/1984: 79). Aesthetic postmodernism thus involves the work that must be done when modernist practices themselves become the all too given, received, established, when formerly vertiginous work no longer provokes even the slightest unease, much less vertigo, in the viewer, listener, or reader. In other words, postmodernism “ occurs ” when the aesthetic value of experimentation is itself (experimentally) called into question, which is what Lyotard means when he “ preposterously ” says that modernism had to be postmodernist in order to stay modernist— “ A work can become modern only if it is fi rst postmodern. Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant ” (1979/1984: 79).

undialectical sort of anticapitalist postcolonial theorist (see note 19 above) for whom to “ always historicize” means always to blame only Western capitalism/imperialism/ militarism— never indigenous patriarchal religions, never Hindu tradition, never Judeo- Christianity, never Islam— for retrograde misogynist and hom*ophobic violence in and out of the so-called Th ird World. Sara Suleri, for example, in an article published in Critical Inquiry , describes some “ murderous and even obscenely ludicrous ” punishments administered against young women under so-called Hudood Ordinances in Pakistan in the 1980s and then provides the standard “ historicizing ” explanation — “ It is not the terrors of Islam that have unleashed the Hudood Ordinances on Pakistan,” she concludes, “ but more probably the US government ’ s economic and ideological support of [General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq’ s] military regime” (1992: 768). Just to be clear, though: I have no desire to absolve the US government from “ probable ” involvement in the unleashing of the idiotic ordinances in question; I’ m only saying that I consider quite undialectical the claim that Islamic tradition had nothing to do with their issuance. Or let’ s say that I fi nd Suleri and some others (like Chandra Mohanty, to whom we owe the phrase “ hegemonic Western feminism” and whose critique of that phenomenon we’ ll consider in the next chapter) guilty of what Slavoj Ž i ž ek calls “ over-rapid historicization,” which “ makes us blind to the real kernel which returns as the same through diverse historicizations/ symbolizations ” (1989: 50). In this case, the “ real kernel ” is global misogynist violence, which “ returns as the same” in a number of seemingly diverse cultural contexts, and which “ always historicizing ” qua always blaming capitalism never seems to adequately explain or contain.

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But let’ s linger with the question of modernism’ s nascence. Habermas is correct to say that the modernist “ movement ” in painting and literature began “ in the mid-nineteenth century ” when “ color, lines, sounds and movement ceased to serve primarily the cause of representation, ” when “ the media of expression and the techniques of production became the aesthetic object” (1980/2001: 1755). But how do we account for this modernist non servium to the cause of representation? In a sense, Western painting has always served that cause in some form or another, but what Habermas means is that the self-defi ning gesture of modernist art is to abjure verisimilitude , to decline “ realistic ” representation. In terms of the history of painting in the West, we can say that the cause of representational realism was fi rst taken up by Giotto in the fourteenth century, with his development of perspective , the specifi c technique that gives the viewer of a painting the “ realistic ” impression of three dimensions, of depth within the scene depicted in the frame. Before Giotto, European painting, however otherwise vivid, was noticeably “ fl at ” in a number of senses — spatially two-dimensional (and so somewhat “ cartoonish ” from our perspective); temporally anachronistic (for the painter wasn’ t expected to accurately “ frame ” any single moment of historical time); facially expressionless and thematically “ monotonotheistic ” (for the painter ’ s job was not to capture human emotion but to depict identifi able allegorical fi gures from Christian mythology). For some time aft er Giotto, Western art may have remained religiously themed , but it became ever more realistically framed. And European painting continued in its servitude to verisimilitude, obeying the rules of perspective and serving the cause of representation, even as it dropped religious content and joined the party trying to justify the human possession of treasures formerly squandered on heaven. Painting continued to adhere to the rules of spatio-temporal realism, that is, until it entered the age of mechanical reproduction and confronted the new reality of the camera, a little mechanical invention capable of serving “ the cause of representation” much more faithfully and meticulously than painting ever could. Painting, from then on, in order to serve the cause not of verisimilitude but of painting, had to abandon realistic representation, had to perform aesthetic feats of which the camera would be incapable; painting had to distinguish itself from mechanical photography by turning its own autonomy , its own specifi cally painterly “ techniques of production,” into the very content of its self-presentation. What the modern “ abstract ” painting conveys to its viewer is not the artist’ s power to serve up a slice of real life, but rather the essential “ painterliness ” of painting itself. And one of the fi rst steps in establishing painting ’ s autonomy by breaking the rules of pictorial realism was the abolition of perspective (as in Gauguin), followed in short order by

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the conspicuous foregrounding of the brushstroke (Van Gogh, C é zanne), the fl attening out of multiple perspectives eff ected by the cubists (Picasso and Braque), and fi nally the jettisoning of even minimally mimetic content (the pristine geometries of Mondrian, the color fi elds of Rothko, the pure action paintings of Pollock, and so on). All of these painterly breaks with realism (and breaks with the immediately preceding breaks with realism) were precipitated by modernism ’ s fl ight from photography.22 It isn’ t that modernism dismissed photography or cinema as art-forms in their own right; rather, modernist painting staked its autonomy as an art-form on its critical distance from “ the cause of representation ” as served by these new media. Given this steady rejection, however, it should be relatively easy to see what ’ s postmodern in the painterly embrace of photography represented by the “ photorealism ” of Chuck Close or some of the work of Gerhardt Richter— in a sense, both painters paint their rejection of painting ’ s rejection of the photographic image. If, moreover, the “ essential virtue ” of high modernism was its “ staying power ” against the “ spreading ooze of Mass Culture ” (Macdonald 1957/1998: 35) — against advertising jingles, standardized Hollywood schlock, pulp fi ction, kitsch, p*rn, comics, television, rock’ n roll, and so on— then it’ s relatively easy to see what’ s postmodern in “ pop art,” in Andy Warhol’ s promiscuously lithographed Campbell’ s Soup cans, Elvis Presleys, and Marilyn Monroes, the replicated comic book panels of Roy Lichtenstein, or the p*rn-inspired statuary of Jeff Koons. But the “ relative ease” with which postmodern art can be seen, consumed, or “ used ” is, for some, the very heart of its problem. Jameson, again, writes that postmodernism ’ s eff acement of the boundary between high and mass culture “ is perhaps the most distressing development of all from an academic standpoint, which has traditionally had a vested interest in preserving a realm of high or elite culture . . . and in transmitting diffi cult and complex skills of reading, listening and seeing in its initiates” (1988/2007: 1956). And yet, from a radically diff erent academic standpoint— that of the branch of contemporary critical inquiry known as cultural studies — it ’ s a mistake of the highest order to think that “ diffi cult and complex skills of reading, listening and seeing” aren’ t needed to negotiate with mass and/or popular culture or that the consumers of such culture are merely manipulated dupes who don ’ t know how to read, listen, or see. A decidedly postmodern academic phenomenon, cultural studies takes its cues rather indiscrimi- nately from all manner of Marxist social theory (Frankfurtean, Birmingha- mian, Althusserian, Gramscian); from feminism and gender studies; from

22 I rehearse here arguments about modern art fi rst made by Clement Greenberg. See Clark (1982).

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Derridean speculation on diff erence and Foucauldian analytics of power; and, particularly, from the early semiological acrobatics of Roland Barthes, who demonstrated back in his 1957 text Mythologies that “ diffi cult and complex skills of reading ” could be quite productively lavished on such items of contemporary French popular culture as professional wrestling, striptease, Citro ë ns, and soap-powders. But here we can let Barthes be our bridge to the question of postcolonial theory as an “ anti-Western ” extension of European poststructuralism and postmodernism.23 For a major political reality informing Barthes ’ s writing in the 1950s is the French colonial presence in Indochina and Algeria. Indeed, in White Mythologies , Robert Young argues “ that the historical roots of poststructuralism are to be found not in the crisis of European culture associated with the student revolts of 1968, but in the Algerian struggle against colonialism ten years earlier” (cited in Gikandi 2004: 99). So it isn’ t exactly irrelevant that one of Barthes ’ s more dazzling semiotic performances in Mythologies involves deciphering the cover-image of a Paris-Match magazine showing a “ Negro in a French uniform . . . saluting, with his eyes uplift ed, probably fi xed on the tricolor ” (1957/1972: 116). Th e cover is of course operating “ mythologically, ” in Barthes’ s sense, attempting to “ turn history into nature” by imposing a “ depoliticized ” image of social reality upon the very reality of the social. And Barthes says that he sees “ very well ” what this mythic cover attempts to “depoliticizingly ” signify:

that France is a great Empire, that all her sons, without any colour discrimination, faithfully serve under her fl ag, and that there is no better answer to the detractors of an alleged colonialism than the zeal shown by this Negro in serving his so-called oppressors. (1957/1972: 116)

Barthes understands fully well that French colonialism is more than simply “ alleged, ” that French imperialism isn’ t all that great and that the “ so-called oppressors ” are so called for excellent empirical reasons. He understands that Anglo-European colonialism and imperialism are real social structures, the actual socioeconomic sources of “ the steady immiseration of the large majority of the world ’ s population ” (Lazarus 2004b: 27). But later on in his performance, when Barthes insists that what this naturalizing image of the saluting African constitutively occludes is nothing but “ the contingent,

23 In Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction , Robert Young presents postcolonial theory “ as an extension of anticolonial movements in the ‘ Th ird World, ’ arguing that poststructuralism developed as an anti-Western strategy ‘ directed against the hierarchal cultural and racial assumptions of European thought ’ ” (Gikandi 2004: 99; Young 2001: 67).

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historical, in one word: fabricated , quality of colonialism” (1957/1972: 143), that “ one word: fabricated ” turns out to be a fi ghting word, adumbrating postcolonial studies as the site of some particularly diffi cult and complex struggles over the proliferation of meaning in a “ Th ird World” that, like any other world, must be made to mean. As we’ ll eventually see, the agon of postcolonial studies pits “ Th ird World” intellectuals who “ always historicize” from a critical position of epistemological realism against those purportedly less political theorists who take a woefully “ cultural ” approach to the fabrications of empire — and who thus, according to their realist adversaries, end up “ endorsing the cultural claims of transnational capital itself” (Ahmad 1996: 285).

III. “ something strange to me, although it is at the very heart of me”

We ’ ll begin with two quite diff erent theoretical writers, both heavily infl uenced by Foucault, who describe their respective objects of inquiry in such remarkably similar terms that “ the celebrated Foucauldian nexus between knowledge and power becomes clear in the arenas of both colonial relations and gender relations” (Bahri 2004: 205). Th e one, Edward Said, describes his object of analysis as “ a logic governed not simply by empirical reality but by a battery of desires, repressions, investments and projections” (1978: 8); the other, Eve Sedgwick, describes hers as “ an array of acts, expectations, narratives, pleasures, identity-formations, and knowledges” (1990: 29). Said is of course describing Orientalism , “ the imaginative examination of things Oriental . . . based more or less exclusively upon a sovereign Western consciousness out of whose unchallenged centrality an Oriental world emerged” (1978: 8), while Sedgwick is examining “ something legitimately called sex or sexuality, ” something that “ is all over the experiential and conceptual map ” and which represents “ the full spectrum of positions between the most intimate and the most social, the most predetermined and the most aleatory, the most physically rooted and the most symbolically infused, the most innate and the most learned, the most autonomous and the most relational traits of being ” (1990: 29). Both theorists, then, address a certain “ something ” that is not simply empirically real but is so constitutively “ constructed ” or “ fabricated ” as to require constant and complex mapping and remapping. Said assumes “ that the Orient is not an inert fact of nature. It is not merely there , just as the Occident itself is not just there either. We must take seriously Vico ’ s great observation that men make their own history, that what they can know is

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what they have made, and extend it to geography ” (1978: 4 – 5). Sedgwick follows Freud and Foucault in extending Vico’ s great observation to human sexuality; Sedgwick assumes that “ the distinctly sexual nature of human sexuality has to do precisely with its excess over or potential diff erence from the bare choreographies of procreation, ” and she stresses that “ the defi nitional narrowing-down in this century of sexuality as a whole to a binarized calculus of hom*o- or hetero sexuality is a weighty fact but an entirely historical one” (1990: 29, 31). Following Said and Sedgwick, then, we can note that neither Orientalism nor sexuality, neither geographical nor sexual “ orientation, ” is merely empirical, natural, or inevitable; all of our orientations are inextricably caught up in the graphic, the rhetorical, the fabricated, “ the constructed, the variable, the representational ” (Sedgwick 1990: 29); all are inscribed in the sociohistorical nexus of asymmetrical “ knowledge and power ” relations. As Deepika Bahri points out, “ the power of representation as an ideological tool ” is such that “ those with the power to represent and describe others clearly control how those others will be seen” (2004: 205). Hence, for Said, Orientalism is a powerful representational/ideological tool.

Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient — dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short Orientalism is a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient. I have found it useful here to employ Michel Foucault’ s notion of a discourse . . . to identify Orientalism. My contention is that without examining Orientalism as a discourse one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage— and even produce— the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifi cally, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period. (1978: 3)

Sedgwick similarly employs Foucault ’ s notions to consider “ sex/sexuality ” discursively, as a corporate institution for representing and dealing with bodies and pleasures both “ normal ” and “ perverse, ” both within and beyond the “ bare choreographies of procreation. ” For Foucault, human sexuality is not a timeless natural/instinctual force that can be repressed but a historico-discursive deployment that can be systematically managed or even produced. And for Foucault, sex has been produced, particularly “ during the post-Enlightenment period, ” as “ an especially dense transfer point for relations of power ” (1976/1990). For Foucault and Sedgwick, then, sexual identities or orientations are always social representations rather than merely

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empirical facts— like the Occident and the Orient, “ heterosexuality ” and “ hom*osexuality ” are no more “ merely there ” than is the “ binarized calculus ” that produces and reduces them. Now, the point of this mutual articulation of the postcolonial critic Said with the queer theorist Sedgwick is that, precisely in being transfer points for relations of power, colonial and sexual relations are also particularly dense transfer points for each other, and that all these power transfers can be facilitated and contested, analyzed and discussed, in the cultural and political arenas of representation/fabrication. Arguably, all the dominant fi ctions to date have attempted to ensure that Orientalism— as “ a distribution of geopolitical awareness” and an “ elaboration ” of a “ basic geographical distinction ” in which “ the world is made up of two unequal halves, Orient and Occident” (Said 1978: 12)— is wedded to institutional heterosexism and misogyny. In other words, we can observe what Donna Haraway calls “ the close ties of sexuality and instrumentality” (1985/2008: 340) in the ongoing work of culturally constructing both colonial and sexual relations. And we have only to glance at a few scenes from classical Hollywood cinema to see with what success the Occident fabricates itself in and as the sovereign hetero-masculine “ hero ” and constructs the Oriental “ other ” as the passively feminized, the criminally abject, and/or the treacherously queer. Consider, for example, the entrance of dandy criminal Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) — announced by strains of Levantine “ snake-charming ” music simultaneously whimsical and sinister — into the offi ce of detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in Walter Huston’ s 1941 fi lm Th e Maltese Falcon . Cairo’ s calling card reeks of gardenia, while his cane-handling antics none too subtly suggest oral/anal receptivity to penetration. He carries multiple “ false ” passports, and hence has no single “ true ” national origin or identity, but there’ s no mistaking the various global and sexual “ regions ” we should suppose Mr Cairo to represent. Nor should we doubt that the violence our Western hero and straight arrow Sam Spade infl icts against those “ regions ” — Middle Eastern but fully nether — is justifi ed, if not desired: when Cairo angrily objects to being struck by Spade, the detective coolly responds, “ when you ’ re slapped, you ’ ll take it and like it. ” Or consider Howard Hawks ’ 1946 fi lm Th e Big Sleep . Here, detective Philip Marlowe (Bogart again) fi nds himself having to snoop into a rare bookstore that is actually a front for a criminal ring of blackmailing p*rnographers. To prepare for this reconnoiter, Marlowe conducts research in the Hollywood Public Library, arming himself with knowledge about a “ Chevalier Audubon 1840” and a Ben Hur 1860 “ with an erratum on page one-sixteen. ” When the young bespectacled female librarian tells Marlowe that he doesn’ t “ look like a man who would be interested in fi rst editions, ” Marlowe asserts his

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hard-boiled private dick-iness with the retort that he also “ collects blondes in bottles.” But when he’ s just about to enter his target, Geiger’ s Rare Books, Marlowe realizes that to play his part convincingly he really should look rare and bookish himself, so pushes up the brim of his hat and pulls his sunglasses down his nose and begins behaving in the mincing, eff eminate, and bitchy way that codes him as queer as per the standard performative conventions of 1940s Hollywood fi lm. It ’ s an apt disguise, for it turns out that Geiger is not exactly a “ real man ” himself but rather a hom*osexual with a “ shadow ” (a young male consort and “ gunsel ” named Carol), not to mention a glass eye and a “ Charlie Chan moustache.” But that last detail is only one of the very many that serves to “ Orientalize ” Geiger and his enterprises, for his bookstore is positively saturated with Asian artifacts and decorations. He’ s got Buddhas out the wazoo, so to speak, and all these Oriental motifs are brought into even stronger relief when Marlowe pulls out of Geiger’ s and trots across the street to the opposing and conspicuously Occidentalized “ Acme Book- store. ” Here, our hero drops his queer act, straightforwardly reveals him- self as “ a private dick on a case,” and so gets some straight information and (we infer) some straight sex from the knowledgeable and accommo- dating proprietress (Dorothy Malone)— and all with a presidential seal of approval, for there’ s a legitimizing portrait of, not Buddha, but FDR himself, looking down on these upstanding heterosexual citizens from the Acme Bookstore’ s wall. In the counterfeit presentment of two bookstores, then, we behold a spectacularly “ binarized calculus, ” an active distribution of both geopolitical and eroticized awareness — on the Acme side of the street, we fi nd a stronghold of knowledge and power; we fi nd truth, justice, and the American way (of having sex); while on the Orientalized side, we fi nd only criminal deception, perversion, artifi ce, and ignorance (the “ girl in Gieger ’ s bookstore ” doesn ’ t know anything about books, while glass-eyed Geiger reportedly “ aff ects a knowledge of antiques and hasn’ t any” ). If “ Acme ” is the pinnacle, the very top, then Geiger, like Cairo, is clearly a bottom. Th us, does Hollywood at its heights put the ass in Asiatic, insert itself and its powers of representation into every open orifi ce in the Oriental market, a colonizing gesture if there ever was one.24 If, however, you were to stop me here with the suggestion that I “ get real ” ; if you were to insist upon fi rmly distinguishing cultural or merely repre- sentational colonization from “ the real thing ” ; if you were to point out that no actual Asians were harmed in the making of these fi lms, whereas untold

24 For more on Th e Big Sleep in particular and Hollywood Orientalism, in general, see White (1988).

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numbers are steadily immiserated by the unfabricated onslaughts of capital- ism, then you would be missing Bahri’ s point about “ the power of representa- tion as an ideological tool.” But you might well complain about my using these or any other cinematic examples anyway, citing them as sorry signs of the misbegotten “ culturalist emphasis in postcolonial studies ” (Lazarus 2004a: 9). You might dislike the way I ’ ve chosen to frame this discussion, taking my insistence upon serving up Said and Sedgwick side by side as symptomatic of the standard bourgeois Western male intellectual’ s incapacity to think of “ the Orient ” or “ the Other ” except in the “ exotic ” terms of sex, or the sexy terms of culture. Aft er all, isn ’ t it just like a postmodernist/cultural studies/queer the- ory type to revert, in what should be a serious discussion of postcolonialism, to the relative safety of campy close readings of Humphrey Bogart fi lms to the exclusion of any consideration of history, social context, political economy, or “ the international division of labor ” (Bahri 2004: 201)? And isn ’ t it all too pre- dictably Eurocentric to keep employing the Frenchman Foucault to critically limn Orientalism when that perpetrator of non-Marxist historicism might very well have been not only a “ young conservative,” as Habermas calls him, but even a “ new Orientalist, ” as per the analysis of Ian Almond (2007)? Th ese questions stem from the serious reservations certain Marxist critics hold about some of the most prominent postcolonial theorists, who are perceived as being overly indentured to the poststructuralist/postmodernist idea “ that language (in the broad sense) is not only world-disclosing but also world-constituting” (Lazarus 2004a: 11). Said himself is even a bit suspect for ever having employed the discursive theories of Michel “ I have never been a Marxist ” Foucault. But the main culprits here seem to be Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha — Spivak, the translator of Derrida whose diffi cult representations of the unrepresentability of subaltern speech “ come close to fetishizing diff erence under the rubric of incommensurability ” (Lazarus 2004a: 10), and Bhabha, whose own “ postcolonial perspective resists the attempt at holistic forms of social explanation” (Bhahba 1994: 173)— a resistance considered by Marxists to be “ constitutively anti-Marxist” (Lazarus 2004a: 4)— and whose dense ruminations on hybridity and liminality are thus, according to his adversaries, really only consumerist celebrations com- plicit with the global off ensives of late capitalism.25 Aijaz Ahmad writes that

the entire logic of the kind of cultural ‘ hybridity ’ that Bhabha cele- brates presumes the intermingling of Europe and non-Europe in a

25 Th e term subaltern “ designates non-elite or subordinated social groups. It problematises humanist concepts of the sovereign, autonomous subject, since the subaltern has been overlooked in the accounts of and by the elite. Th e subaltern emerges not as a positive identity complete with a sovereign self-consciousness, but as the product of a network of diff erential, potentially contradictory identities” (Woods 2009: 49). Hybridity and

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context already determined by advanced capital, in the aft ermath of colonialism . . . Th e underlying logic of this celebratory mode is that of the limitless freedom of a globalized marketplace that pretends that all consumers are equally resourceful and in which all cultures are equally available for consumption, in any combination that the consumer desires . . . Th is playful ‘ hybridity ’ conceals the fact that commodifi ed cultures are equal only to the extent of their commodifi cation. At the deepest level, however, the stripping of all cultures of their historicity and density . . . produces not a universal equality of all cultures but the unifi ed culture of a Late Imperial marketplace that subordinates cultures, consumers and critics alike to a form of untethering and moral loneliness that wallows in the depthlessness and whimsicality of postmodernism — the cultural logic of Late Capitalism, in Jameson ’ s superb phrase. (1996: 290)

For Marxists like Ahmad, however, the main problem with the hybrid intermingling of poststructuralism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism is that this theoretical mash-up seems to demolish the very possibility of intellectual critique in the sense that Marxism inherits from the Enlightenment tradition. Faithfully representing that tradition, Neil Lazarus writes that “ our methodological assumption would be that it is always in principle (and indeed in practice) possible to stand outside any given problematic in order to subject its claims to scrutiny. Th is, of course is the classical notion of critique as encountered in Immanuel Kant and exemplifi ed most signifi cantly for radical scholarship in Karl Marx’ s various critiques ” (2004a: 12). Also privileging radical scholarly exteriority, Ahmad critiques the following formulation from Spivak ’ s Outside in the Teaching

liminality are terms Bhabha uses to “ stress the mutual interdependence and construction of selfh ood that exists between a colonizer and a colonized person.” For Bhabha, hybridity “ refers to a ‘ third space ’ or ‘ in-between space ’ which emerges from a blend of two diverse cultures or traditions, like the colonial power and the colonized culture ” (Woods 2009: 51), though Bhabha insists that hybridity “ is not a third term that resolves the tension between two cultures” (Bhabha 1994: 113), that its purpose is to intervene “ in the exercise of authority not merely to indicate the impossibility of identity but to represent the unpredictability of its presence” (1994: 114), and to terrorize authority “ with the ruse of recognition, its mimicry, its mockery ” (1994: 115). Liminality, writes Woods, “ derives from the Latin word ‘ limen ’ meaning ‘ threshold ’ , and like ‘ hybridity ’ refers to an ‘ in-between space ’ . . . of symbolic interaction, which is distinguished from the more defi nite notion of a ‘ limit. ’ ” Woods also comments that “ Bhabha ’ s concept of hybridity fi ts the poststructuralist attack on totalities and essentialisms” (2009: 52); for Ahmad, however, this “ fi t” links Bhabha’ s postcolonialism to an “ apocalyptic anti-Marxism” that “ playfully ” abolishes “ nationalism, collective historical subjects and revolutionary possibility as such ” (Ahmad 1996: 283).

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Machine — “ Th is impossible ‘ no ’ to a structure which one critiques, yet inhabits intimately, is the deconstructive philosophical position, and the everyday here and now of ‘ postcoloniality ’ is a case of it ” (1993: 281) — by describing Spivak ’ s variance from Said, for whom “ the line of demarcation between the so-called colonial and postcolonial intellectuals was that the ‘ colonial ’ ones spoke from positions imbibed within metropolitan culture while ‘ postcolonial ’ ones spoke from outside those positions” (1996: 277, 278). Now, since “ the deconstructive philosophical position” that Spivak promotes does, in principle and in practice, question all lines of demarcation and all resulting positions or dispositions, deconstruction and the general “ consent to theoretical postmodernity” (Ahmad 1996: 283) would indeed seem to disturb, if not destroy, the Enlightenment ideal of a pure critical exteriority , the traditional scholarly ideal of speaking “ truth ” — even “ truth to power ” — from some absolutely objective outside. But do deconstruction and postmodernism in their exceedingly Nietzschean inheritance truly kill the switch on “ critique ” altogether? Must “ critique ” always establish its Enlightenment bona fi des, its pure exteriority to its problematic, to count as having any resistant or transformative value, any potential for generating any emancipatory eff ects whatsoever? Can scholars not attempt to critique particular structures that they could never help but intimately inhabit? Is there nothing but untethered moral loneliness to be gained from an “ extimate ” critique of (but still in) postmodern indetermanance? Th e postmodern/poststructuralist answer to these questions is that there ’ s no compelling reason, aft er all, why the lack of pure exteriority, the “ interpretive experience ” of liminal hybridity, or the actually lived “ coincidence of utter alterity with absolute proximity ” ( Ž i ž ek 1999/2008: 368) should stop anyone from addressing a problematic, subjecting competing truth-claims to scrutiny, or exposing a particular logic as being “ governed not simply by empirical reality but by a battery of desires, repressions, investments and projections ” (Said 1978: 8). But perhaps, in a spirit of postmodern modesty, a responsible scholar in and of “ the everyday here and now ” really should stop short of imagining that he or she addresses any problematic from some Archimedean point purely exterior to it, much less that the “ subject position ” or cognitive encampment from which one launches one’ s critique is itself anything other than an all-too-human battery of desires, repressions, investments and projections, “ something strange to me, although it is at the very heart of me ” (Lacan 1986/1992: 71). In other words, in the interests of “ getting real, ” of being responsive to (neither completely outside of nor utterly complicit with) our times, one might cease dreaming that one can fi nally hoist one ’ s critical fabrications up the long fl agpole of transcendence and into the

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immaculate ether of some purely exterior “ truth. ” One might call time- out (or even game-over) on this metaphysical dream, this fantasy of truly seizing reality, without thereby sacrifi cing theoretical militancy, without admitting surrender, capitulation, or defeat. Perhaps deconstruction as radically “ extimate ” critique— beginning “ from a refusal of the authority or determining power of every ‘ is ’ ” (Lucy 2004: 11), committed to the cause of “ dislocating, displacing, disarticulating, disjoining, putting ‘ out of joint’ the authority of [any] ‘ is ’ ” (Derrida 1995: 25) — is “ constitutively anti-Marx is t ” or an exercise in “ apocalyptic anti-Marx is m, ” to repeat the words of Lazarus and Ahmad. But such a critique could never hope to remain proliferatively deconstructive while at the same time totally opposing the emancipatory project of modernity or absolutely dispossessing itself from what Derrida calls the “ spiritual inheritance ” of Marx.26 Such, one might say, would be the “ anti-metanarrative ” lesson of deconstruction, the “ extra-moral ” moral of the postmodern story. And “ hence ” — as Foucault did say at the end of an essay called “ Truth and Power ” — “ the [ongoing] importance of Nietzsche ” (1977/2000: 133).

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Nine:

Diff erence, deconstruction, binary opposition, speech/writing, reception theory/reader response, project of modernity, metanarra- tive, simulacrum, parody/pastiche, mass/popular culture, Frankfurt/ Birmingham Schools, globalization, cultural studies, Orientalism, subaltern, hybridity, liminality

26 Derrida speaks complexly, but affi rmatively of this inheritance throughout Specters of Marx (1994). Marxists of various stripes speak complexly but not always affi rmatively of Derrida in Ghostly Demarcations (Sprinker, ed., 1999).

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— on making the world queerer than ever

I. My (male feminist) credo

In her feminist landmark Th e Second Sex , Simone de Beauvoir asserts that “ one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” (1949/1989: 267). One might think that Beauvoir ’ s claim, issued over 60 years ago, would be relatively uncontroversial— at least among educated adults performing something like intellectual work in the public sphere — today. If, that is, one has understood, as per our early lessons, that human reality must be made to mean , and that our species’ prematurity at birth necessitates that no little animal at the mercy of language is ever born already fully humanized , much less “ essentially ” gendered , then the question of whether or not one “ agrees ” with Beauvoir ’ s observation is pretty much a no-brainer. Or if one has grasped Lacan ’ s argument that “ Woman does not exist ” (1975/1998: 7) — that women exist but that “ Woman ” is a product of male fantasy, a symptom of what Roland Barthes calls “ this disease of thinking in essences, which is at the bottom of every bourgeois mythology of man ” (1957/1972: 75) — then one should be able to recognize that a newly born human female hasn ’ t quite yet “ lived up” to the expectations of masculinist fantasy or gotten very far in “ the process of assuming, taking on, identifying with the positionalities and meaning eff ects specifi ed by a particular society’ s gender system ” (De Lauretis 1994: 302). One might well imagine the female infant’ s “ womanly ” potential, but as our old pal Hegel puts it, “ when we want to see an oak . . . we are not satisfi ed to be shown an acorn instead ” (1807/1977: 7). Or one might point out that if “ woman ” is our standard English term for an adult human female, then to call a newborn human female “ a woman, ” to purport that anyone can be born as a fully grown adult , is preposterous , in the literal sense of that word. And yet, “ preposterous ” is exactly the word that an adult female has recently used, in the pages of Th e New York Times Book Review, to describe Simone de Beauvoir’ s signature claim. In her review of a new translation of

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Th e Second Sex , a woman named Francine du Plessix Gray calls Beauvoir ’ s “ one is not born a woman ” a “ preposterous assertion ” which — get ready — “ will be denied by any mother who has seen her toddler son eagerly grab for a toy in the shape of a vehicle or a gun, while at the same time showing a total lack of interest in his sister ’ s cherished dolls ” (2010: 7) — as if any and all mothers everywhere in all of human history had beheld nothing else but this particular scenario of playtime preferences; as if all fort-da games ever played, all eager grabbing or bored letting go of manufactured objects on the part of our littlest animals, were always attributable only to their innate and unmanufactured natures, not to those protocols of “ nurture ” or sociali- zation from which no human playtime has ever been immune; or as if no “ nurturing ” mother had ever done her duty to the reality principles of patriarchy by actively discouraging a toddling son’ s interest in any dolls other than “ G. I. Joe” action fi gures or by vigilantly squelching a barely ambulant daughter ’ s desire, as expressed through the available playthings, to one day drive a car or shoot a gun or use a tool or write a book, her desire to be something other than a cherished doll, plaything, or trophy herself, to do something else with herself, with her life, if she chooses, than make and care for those little living dolls called babies. And of course there ’ s a point — a certain logic and sagacious foresight — to this protective maternal discouragement. Aft er all, there’ s little point in letting little girls actively play with toy trucks in a society (such as Saudi Arabia) where big girls can ’ t legally drive anyway. Th ere’ s little point in letting little girls actively play with their own cl*tor*ses in cultures where even those excessive “ little toys ” are one fi ne day to be taken away from them, so that they might become marriageable young women, the toys and/or tools of men. Th ere ’ s little point in letting a little girl even pretend to be literate or educated, to read or to write, in settings such as Pakistan or Afghanistan, where, reportedly, a little girl might get acid thrown in her face on her way to school as Taliban-style punishment for the “ obscenity ” of being a little girl on her way to school.1 Maybe there ’ s little point in allowing a little

1 “Acid,” reports Declan Walsh, “is the preferred weapon of vindictive men against women accused of disloyalty or disobedience. Common in several Asian countries, acid attacks in Pakistan grew sharply in number in 2011, to 150 from 65 in 2010, although some advocacy workers said the increase stemmed largely from better reporting” (Th e New York Times 10 April 2012: A1). Although acid may be the “preferred weapon” of such men against women and girls, bullets can also produce the desired eff ect, for as Walsh more recently reports from Karachi, Pakistan, “At the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai took on the Taliban by giving voice to her dreams. As turbaned fi ghters swept through her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, the tiny schoolgirl spoke out about her passion for education—she wanted to become a doctor—and became a symbol of defi ance against Taliban subjugation. On Tuesday [9 October 2012], masked Taliban gunmen

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American girl to pretend to be interested in math and science — to play with a toy microscope or a real calculator — in a culture where male presidents of prestigious universities casually attribute the relative scarcity of women in the highest echelons of scientifi c research to “ innate ” diff erences in men’ s and women’ s cognitive abilities.2 Or, as Virginia Woolf suggests with her hypothetical account of “ Shakespeare ’ s sister” in her feminist landmark A Room of One’ s Own, there would be little point for “ a woman in Shakespeare’ s day ” to have had Shakespeare ’ s gift s as a writer, his “ natural ” and “ innate ” talent or genius for writing, for “ any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at ” (1929/1989: 48, 49). One fears that these elementary tutorials in what Toril Moi calls “ sexual/ textual politics” are lost on the likes of Francine du Plessix Gray, or on anyone who would mockingly call Beauvoir’ s claim that one is not born a woman “ preposterous ” and then trundle out the playpen observations of “ any ” old ahistorical “ mother ” as airtight evidence supporting the charge. Gray, to be fair, also maintains that Beauvoir’ s claim has been “ disputed by certain feminist scholars, who would argue that many gender diff erences are innate rather than acquired ” (2010: 7) — but she doesn ’ t bother telling us who these “ certain ” feminist scholars are, nor upon what empirical research they base their certainties, nor upon what theoretical premises they base their claims to

answered Ms Yousafzai’s courage with bullets, singling out the 14-year old on a bus fi lled with terrifi ed schoolchildren, then shooting her in the head and neck . . . Doctors said that Ms Yousafzai was in critical condition at a hospital near Peshawar, with a bullet possibly lodged close to her brain. A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, confi rmed by phone that Ms Yousafzai had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an ‘obscenity’. ‘She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,’ Mr Ehsan said, adding that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. ‘Let this be a lesson.’ ” (Th e New York Times 10 October 2012: A1). 2 I refer to comments made in 2005 by Lawrence Summers, then president of that great “symbol of Western culture” called Harvard University. And yes, following Walter Benjamin’s “Th ere is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (1950/1968: 256), I am “wildly” suggesting a line of continuity between the Taliban’s barbaric assaults against women and girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Summers’ more civilized, but still discouraging words in Cambridge, Massachusetts, taking both the actions and the words as documents of patriarchy as a global structure in dominance, as indications, to quote Virginia Woolf quoting Lady Stephen, of “how few people really wish women to be educated” (1929/1989: 20n1) even now. And, just to be clear, I am not citing the Taliban’s actions as some “hegemonic Western feminist” rationalization for the United States’ continuing military occupation of Afghanistan or its military drone operations in Pakistan—though, to be quite honest, I’ll admit that, while I would likely be saddened by the sheer stupid waste of it all, I wouldn’t exactly be overcome with grief or guilt if I were to read that some sort of American ordnance had taken out Mr Ehsanullah Ehsan.

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being feminist. Of course, one is not born, but rather becomes , a feminist— or then again maybe one doesn’ t. But what does it mean for any individual subject to become not “ a woman” or even a feminist activist but an actively feminist theoretical writer ? What follows here, in answer to this question, is, in warped imitation of Cleanth Brooks, of all people, a sort of “ My Credo ” regarding what feminist theorizing “ means to me.” First of all, though, given the gendered credentials of the “ me ” here in question, given that I was not born female and have thus far completely failed to become a woman, let ’ s stipulate that one need not be, become, or have ever been a woman to engage in feminist theorizing.3 Conversely, let ’ s observe the obvious point that just being female doesn ’ t pre- qualify anyone to be a feminist. Moreover, let ’ s emphasize the second word in the phrase feminist theorizing to indicate that not all theorizing is informed by political feminism any more than all feminism or feminist literary criticism is demonstrably “ theoretically aware. ”4 Of course, one is never born “ theoretically aware, ” either, but I believe that to become theoretically aware as a feminist, and to become responsibly feminist as a theorist, one must learn to negotiate with a few basic critical ground rules. Th us, as per my credo, and to further warp the words of Mr Cleanth Brooks, “ here are some articles of faith I could subscribe to ” (1952/2007: 798). To become a feminist theorist, one must learn: (1): To become relentlessly anti-essentialist, except maybe when it ’ s “ strategi- cally ” productive not to be. As Diana Fuss explains, essentialism in general philosophical terms involves “ belief in the real, true essence of things, the invariable and fi xed properties which defi ne the ‘ whatness ’ of a given entity, ” while essentialism in the cognitive domain of sex and gender involves “ the idea that men and women . . . are identifi ed as such on the basis of transhistorical, eternal, immutable essences.” While theory in general is “ anti - essentialist ” in that it rejects “ any attempts to naturalize human nature ” (Fuss 1989: xi), feminist theory in particular is anti-essentialist in that it rejects any attempts to naturalize and thereby eternalize historical social inequalities and asymmetries of power in the lived experience of sex and gender. Feminist theory assumes that human sex and gender are never essential facts of nature but are only ever materialized in the socio-symbolic, in the social realm of signs , and signs, as you ’ ll recall from our lesson on structuralism,

3 For discussions of the problem of men and/in feminism, see Th omas (2002) and (2007). 4 In Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Th eory, Moi claims that Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, authors of Th e Madwoman in the Attic, are “theoretically aware” (1985: 61)—and then sets about demonstrating that they pretty much aren’t.

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“ do not have essences but are defi ned by a network of relations” (Culler 1975: 4). Hence, for feminist theory, neither “ woman ” nor “ man ” can ever be “ essentially natural” identities; gender itself can never be anything other than “ a socially imposed division of the sexes” (Rubin 1975/2007: 1675), “ a social category imposed upon a sexed body ” (Scott 1988: 32), and no “ body that matters ” can ever have or express a “ gender identity” except by virtue of signifi cation, symbolic practices. But as Gayle Rubin points out in her landmark feminist text “ Th e Traffi c in Women, ” all signifi cant “ expressions ” of gender constitutively involve suppressions, repressions, and oppressions that are anything but naturally ordained:

Far from being an expression of natural diff erences, exclusive gender identity is the suppression of natural similarities. It requires repression: in men, of whatever is the local version of “ feminine ” traits; in women, of the local defi nition of “ masculine ” traits. Th e division of the sexes has the eff ect of repressing some of the personality characteristics of virtually everyone, men and women. Th e same social system which oppresses women in its relations of exchange, oppresses everyone in its insistence upon a rigid division of personality. (1975/2007: 1675)

For Judith Butler, however, this insistence on rigid sexual division works itself out, or doesn’ t, not through “ expression ” as normally understood but rather via performativeness or performativity . Indeed, for Butler, who in the 1990s became anti-essentialism’ s most prominent feminist champion, “ the distinction between expression and performativeness is crucial ” (1990: 192). To understand this crucial distinction, however, we should fi rst “ distinguish ‘ the performative ’ in the linguistic sense from ‘ performance ’ as public exhibition.” We should then observe that “ speech-act theorist J. L. Austin distinguishes performative utterances, which ‘ perform the action they describe, ’ from constantive utterances , which ‘ describe a state of aff airs and may be true or false’ ” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 222). In Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Butler subversively applies the idea of the linguistic performative to articulations of identity, arguing that outright “ expressions ” of identity — such as “ I am a straight white man ” — can never be constative utterances, merely describing some already existing gendered, sexed, and raced “ self, ” but are rather utterly performative , actually bringing into (relatively fragile) social existence that which they purport to describe (in “ my ” case, straight white manliness). In Butler ’ s account, I never substantially am a straight white man; I only ever performatively repeat — and with no small amount of fl op sweat— an approximation of a culturally produced ideal of straight white manliness, an ideal that is itself always only

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a copy for which there was never any “ true original.” For Butler, “ gender is performative, ” by which she means

that no gender is “ expressed ” by actions, gestures, or speech, but that the performance of gender produces retroactively the illusion that there is an inner gender core. Th at is, the performance of gender retroactively produces the eff ect of some true or abiding feminine [or masculine] essence or disposition so that one cannot use an expressive model for thinking about gender . . . Gender is produced as a ritualized repetition of conventions, . . . [a] ritual [that] is socially compelled in part by the force of a compulsory heterosexuality . 5 (1997: 144)

With, however, her analysis of “ drag ” or “ female impersonation ” as a deconstructive imitation of a purportedly “ true gender” that is itself shown to be only ever imitation, Butler in ways collapses the distinction between the linguistic performative and “ performativity ” in the sense of public exhibition.

When a man is [publically] performing drag as a woman, the “ imitation ” that drag is said to be is taken as an “ imitation ” of femininity, but the “ femininity ” that he imitates is not [ordinarily] understood as being itself an imitation. Yet if one considers that gender is acquired, that it is assumed in relation to ideals which are never quite inhabited by anyone, then femininity is an ideal which everyone always and only “ imitates. ” Th us, drag imitates the imitative structure of gender, revealing gender itself to be an imitation. (1997: 145)

For Butler, in other words, when it comes to gender, it’ s all drag all the time, not only “ when a man is performing drag as a woman,” but whenever “ a man is ” or “ a woman is ” — period. Given the imitative structure of all gender, whenever a man is , whenever a man ’ s a man, that man is only ever “ caught in the act” of male impersonation, performing drag as a man, so that “ a man is ” is not a constative utterance (any more than, say, crossing one ’ s legs in a specifi c manner while sitting is the “ natural expression ” of some “ inner gender core” ). Given gender’ s imitative structure, there’ s never any real diff erence between being a man or a woman and acting like a woman or a man, whether we men and/or women like it or not. And in fact Butler ’ s performative theories are not to everyone ’ s liking. Some see her work as symptomatic of a baleful move within the academy

5 Compulsory heterosexuality is a term used by Adrienne Rich (1980) “to suggest that heterosexuality, though commonly understood as a natural and personal ‘preference,’ is actually shaped and imposed upon women by society” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 53).

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from a specifi cally feminist focus on “ women ’ s studies ” to an overly general “ gender studies ” or to a not always discernibly feminist “ queer theory ” (both moves facilitating yet more discussion from, about, and between men, not infrequently to the exclusion of women). Others, such as Joan Copjec (1994), Slavoj Ž i ž ek (1999/2008), Tim Dean (2000), and yours truly (2008), disagree with Butler’ s take on Lacan (or think that Butler, who frequently critiques Lacan, seems not to have actually read very much Lacan). Still others attack Butler for being too “ theoretical ” and hence insuffi ciently “ political, ” if not actually immoral , some even going so far as to assert that Judith Butler — brace yourself here — “ collaborates with evil. ” In her assault on Butler in the pages of Th e New Republic, Martha C. Nussbaum pillories the woman she calls “ Th e Professor of Parody,” rips into this evil academic’ s “ hip quietism,” and rather noisily proclaims that “ Hungry women are not fed by this, battered women are not sheltered by it, raped women do not fi nd justice in it ” — with “ this ” and “ it ” here standing for the seemingly “ cheerful ” but actually cynically debilitating “ Butlerian enterprise” of highfalutin theory. “ Feminism, ” says Nussbaum, “ demands more and women deserve better ” (1999: 45) than Butler’ s “ fancy words on paper” (1999: 37). Of course, Nussbaum is technically absolutely correct— hungry women are not fed, etc., by reading the theoretical works of Judith Butler. But then, one might wonder exactly how the hungry, battered, and raped women of the world are substantially assisted or protected by moralistic attacks on the evil Judith Butler published in the pages of Th e New Republic. However, Nussbaum ’ s unfancy if not rather puritan “ words on paper ” allow us to consider more seriously the question of whether feminist anti- essentialism enables or disables political action or agency on the part or behalf of women. Feminism, aft er all, is necessarily, even essentially , a political project — it must be about change . And so, some wonder what in the world “ anti-essentialism ” ever really changes, what politically “ emancipatory eff ects” really follow from buddying up with Butler at theoretical drag bars or lolling around with Denise Riley examining the moniker “ Woman ” and forever asking Am I that Name? (1993). How does all this essence-less inquiry really help get anything politically salutary accomplished for women as an “ identitarian grouping ” (Bahri 2004: 209) of oppressed human beings? If in our desire to avoid “ essentializing, ” we become reluctant to say what or even that “ a woman ” truly is, basing our reluctance on the deconstructive imperative to refuse “ the authority or determining power of every ‘ is ’ ” (Lucy 2006: 11) that there is, then how can “ we ” claim that “ she ” is truly oppressed (hungry, held down, battered, raped) or ever really fi ght against her oppression? Now, the political aim of anti-essentialist feminism is of course to resist patriarchal oppression by refusing to fi x meaning — specifi cally, by

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subverting the purportedly “ biologically determined” meanings of the word “ woman. ” But (if I can begin to tap into some critically queer resources here) there ’ s also a sort of anti-metaphysical ethic of non-violence involved in proliferating the term “ woman ” in the same destabilizing way that queer theorists proff er “ queer ” as “ an identity without an essence” (Halperin 1995: 62). Just as poststructuralists and postmodernists follow Nietzsche in questioning the value of “ truth, ” this queerly anti-identitarian ethic radically questions the value of “ the self, ” even if the “ self ” in question is the vaunted experiential self of collectively feminist identity politics , the sacrosanct “ self ” that, as the saying goes, supposedly “ speaks truth to power.” 6 For, as Leo Bersani argues, “ the sacrosanct value of selfh ood accounts for human beings ’ extraordinary willingness to kill in order to protect the seriousness of their statements.” Th e self, writes Bersani, is actually no more than “ a practical convenience,” a way to get things done; but when “ promoted to the status of an ethical ideal, it is a sanction for violence ” (1990: 4), a way to get people killed. To avoid sanctioning violence, particularly violence against “ the other, ” one must learn to take oneself ironically. Th e ethically ironic trick that one must play or perform on oneself involves utilizing “ the self” only as a “ practical convenience” — not as an essential truth or locus of absolute authenticity but rather as a strategic fi ction, and always without taking identity or identity-statements (or identity politics) seriously enough ever to kill or die for. Even though the queer theorist Bersani and the Marxist feminist deconstructive postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak are far from addressing the same set of problems, perhaps Bersani ’ s ethically ironic stance toward “ the self ” can be productively related to what Spivak famously calls strategic essentialism in relation to “ the group. ” For the principle trick of strategic essentialism would be to remain theoretically anti-identitarian while mobilizing as much essentialist identity as is practically convenient to form a politically eff ective identitarian grouping. As Deepika Bahri explains, Spivak considers it possible for feminists

to avoid the pitfalls of biological determinism or formulaic fi xity while continuing to use essentialism in a self-conscious and meditated fashion. Spivak describes the tactical and deliberate use of essentialist typology as “ strategic essentialism ” : “ a strategic use of positivistic essentialism in a scrupulously visible political interest” (1996: 214). Although it is

6 Th e phrase identity politics is used in contemporary critical debates to capture “the sense of identity off ered by one’s membership in groups that have suff ered oppression on the basis of gender, race, class, or sexual preference” (Childers and Hentzi 1995: 148).

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undesirable to accept any positivistic or deterministic notion of identity, Spivak nevertheless allows for its contingent use in a specifi c and well- defi ned context for the work being undertaken. (2004: 209)

Whether anti-essentialist or strategically essentialist, however, feminist theorists, as feminist theorists, all recognize that there is a great deal of political work still to be undertaken. Even if they grant the possibility of “ performative interpretation, that is, of an interpretation that transforms the very thing that it interprets ” (Derrida 1994: 51), feminist theorists still understand that revolutionary change in human sexual relations isn’ t going to happen simply on Judith Butler’ s or Jacques Derrida’ s interpretive say-so. But as feminist theorists , most also take to heart Donna Haraway ’ s postmodernist point that even “ the feminist dream of a common language, like all dreams for a perfectly true language, of perfectly faithful naming of experience, is a totalizing and imperialist one” (1985/2008: 342, my emphasis). At the very minimum, and unlike Gray’ s purportedly “ feminist scholars,” feminist theorists acknowledge that human sex and gender are performative to the marrow— bodily matters, perhaps, but matters of cultural signifi cation nonetheless, always in excess of “ the bare choreographies of procreation ” (Sedgwick 1990: 29) or the “ bare bones ” of chromosomal variance. Even, that is, if there turn out to be empirically provable “ innate ” diff erences between human males and females, we ’ ll still have to talk about what these diff erences mean and what, if anything, we want to do about them in relation to the question of what sort of world we want to live in. Yes, like non-human animals, human males and females are indeed made of fl esh and blood and X and Y chromosomes and such, but, unlike non-human animals, “ women ” and “ men ” are made of signs, which neither have essences nor grow on trees nor fall from the sky. And the fact that the signs of gender have been to some extent denaturalized and demystifi ed by feminist theory leads me to my credo ’ s next article faith; to wit, that to become feminist in one ’ s theorizing and theoretically aware in one ’ s feminism, one must learn:

(2) To become relentlessly anti-theological: no gods (or goddesses), no masters — no exceptions. “ Man, ” says Marx, “ makes religion ” (1844/1978: 53), but, being a man, he forgot to add— “ in order to maintain systemic male dominance.” For, just as there ’ s no document of civilization that doesn ’ t also document barbarism, there is no documented “ world religion” to date that hasn’ t been invented by men in order to serve oppressively patriarchal purposes. Th is “ radical ” observation— which should be obvious to anyone who’ s not a religious adherent (to the cause of male dominance) — isn ’ t nullifi ed by the fact of

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no few women’ s “ willing participation” in their own “ spiritual ” oppression, much less by the fact that certain people consider themselves “ feminist, ” but nonetheless remain adhered to some patriarchal religious institution or another, no doubt in hopes of “ reforming ” it (i.e., inserting a few tokens of female authority into the overarching structure of male dominance but basically leaving that structure ideologically intact, i.e., with some phallic deity or another fi xed at the fantasized center). I confess that my own powers of sympathy are strained by these remarkable (but not miraculous) powers of adherence, and that I quite frankly see no intellectually respectable way to reconcile feminist theory with any of the available andro-monotono-theisms. In other words— sorry, boys and girls, but if we want to grow up to become real-world feminist theorists, then we ’ ve got to get over “ God, ” even if we can ’ t get rid of grammar. Well, I’ m afraid that I’ ve just alluded to Friedrich Nietzsche yet again, specifi cally to his dig at the “ pitiable God of Christian monotono-theism” (1888b/2006: 491) and to his fear “ that we are not getting rid of [this] God because we still believe in grammar ” (1888a/2006: 464). My allusions aren ’ t at all inappropriate to a discussion of gender, however, for the immediately preceding sentence in Twilight of the Idols reads, “ ‘ Reason ’ in language: oh what a deceitful old woman! ” — by which quip Nietzsche, according to his editors, is not simply being ageist and misogynist but rather “ exploiting the fact that the grammatical gender of the word for reason in German ( die Vernunft ) is feminine ” (Pearson and Large 2006: 464n21). We ’ ll come back to this matter of gender and grammar anon. Here, let ’ s tarry with Nietzsche ’ s point about God and grammar, or “ Reason in language. ” Let’ s observe that every grammatically correct and completely predicated sentence must include a subject and a verb, a subject which is the legible cause of the action that the sentence eff ectively describes. Nietzsche suggests, however, that this arbitrary grammatical rule is the unacknowledged legislator of the “ reasonable ” philosophical assumption that any eff ect must have a cause and for the “ reasonable ” theological assumption that any creation must have a creator . In sum, Nietzsche here ascribes sublime theological belief to mere grammatical prejudice. Of course, this ascription doesn ’ t mean that a prescriptive grammarian can’ t be a howling atheist, any more than my claim that a feminist theorist must be “ anti-t heological ” turns every militant atheist into a feminist. Nietzsche’ s writing does, however, suggest that “ getting rid of God” remains a problem of writing , and a problem of authority , for all animals at the mercy of language. No coincidence, then, that the word “ anti-theological ” hails, as we ’ ve read, from Roland Barthes’ “ Th e Death of the Author.” As you’ ll recall, Barthes calls writing “ an anti-theological activity” that basically bumps off “ God and all his

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hypostases ” by refusing “ to fi x meaning” (1968/1977: 147). But it isn’ t just any old writing that “ deicidally ” refuses fi xity. It certainly isn ’ t “ male writing ” that refuses phallic divinity by refusing to demonize feminine sexuality. It is, rather, “ a new insurgent writing” — a “ writing the body” or écriture feminine — that inscribes this explicitly feminist refusal to fi x meaning. In her feminist landmark “ Th e Laugh of the Medusa, ” H él è ne Cixous writes:

I mean it when I speak of male writing. I maintain unequivocally that there is such a thing as marked writing; that, until now . . . writing has been run by a libidinal and cultural— hence political, typically masculine— economy; that this is a locus where the repression of women has been perpetuated, over and over, more or less consciously, and in a manner that ’ s frightening since it ’ s oft en hidden or adorned with the mystifying charms of fi ction; that this locus has grossly exaggerated all the signs of sexual opposition . . . , where woman has never her turn to speak— this being all the more serious and unpardonable in that writing is precisely the very possibility of change , the space that can serve as a springboard for subversive thought, the precursory movement of a transformation of social and cultural structures. (1975/2007: 1646)

Writing of sexually opposed ways of writing, Cixous celebrates the writing called é criture feminine as “ the very possibility of change,” and she describes its opposite, “ male writing,” as repressive and mystifying fi ction that works against change, that tries to keep all its meanings fi xed, all its canards in a row. But here, we might pause to ask— isn ’ t all this “ writing the body” stuff borderline “ essentialist ” ? Isn’ t Cixous buying into biological determinism, writing as if any writing from any female body is inherently revolutionary while any male script remains innately phallogocentric? On the one hand , Cixous is clearly and intentionally writing about “ writing, from and toward women” (1975/2007: 1647)— she is writing (from and toward) the female body, the masturbating, menstruating, maybe child-bearing (or maybe not— your choice, says Cixous), the literally and fi guratively lactating body of “ woman. ” “ Th ere is always within her at least a little of that good mother’ s milk, ” writes Cixous, “ She writes in white ink ” (1975/2007: 1647). “ By writing her self, woman will return to the body . . . Write your self. Your body must be heard ” (1975/2001: 1646), etc. On the other hand , Cixous doesn ’ t count all writing by any female as automatically écriture feminine by a long shot. Nor does she think that all male bodies are biologically determined to just keep pumping out the custard of phallogocentrically “ male writing.” In “ Th e Laugh of the Medusa,” she notes “ inscriptions of femininity” in the work of “ Colette, Marguerite Duras . . . and Jean Genet” (1975/2007: 1646n4), while elsewhere

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she writes extensively on feminine inscription in her Exile of James Joyce (1968/1980). Despite, then, certain menstrual and milky appearances, there ’ s ultimately nothing biologically essentialist about Cixous’ é criture feminine (in other words, she gets metaphor— she understands that the word “ milk ” isn’ t really milk, that the word “ real ” isn ’ t the real, etc.). I would also suggest that there’ s nothing theologically essentialist about é criture feminine either, for Cixous ’ Medusa, though obviously a conscientiously un-demonized fi gure of mythic resistance, isn’ t exactly “ a goddess.” And neither is Donna Haraway ’ s socialist-feminist sci-fi cyborg . 7 For, at the end of her landmark “ Manifesto for Cyborgs,” having pretty much pulled the plug on certain naturalizing, techno-phobic, and residually religious forms of feminist discourse, Haraway fl at-out claims that she “ would rather be a cyborg than a goddess ” (1985/2008: 349). And to my atheist ear, Haraway also begins the essay on an anti-theological note, calling her manifesto “ an eff ort to build an ironic myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism” and then following with this irreligious (and ungrammatical) fragment — “ Perhaps more faithful as blasphemy is faithful, than as reverent worship and identifi cation ” (1985/2008: 324). She goes on to call her essay

an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction . . . an eff ort to contribute to socialist- feminist culture and theory in a post-modernist, non-naturalist mode and in the utopian tradition of imagining a world without gender, which is perhaps a world without genesis, but maybe also a world without end. Th e cyborg incarnation is outside salvation history. (1985/2008: 325)

Haraway ’ s non-salvational cyborg is a “ cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fi ction.” And yet, it pleases Haraway to confuse the boundary between social reality and fi ction, even science fi ction, for “ Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fi ction ” (1985/2008: 324). What links Haraway ’ s poly-sci-fi cyborg to Cixous ’

7 “A contraction of ‘cybernetic organism’, a cyborg is any self-organizing system which combines organic and mechanical parts . . . Th e word was coined by Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline in their 1960 Astronautics article “Cyborgs and Space’ . . . However, critical theory did not explore the implications of the cyborg until the American socialist-feminist Donna Haraway wrote her seminal ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ (1985). Haraway reinscribed the cyborg as a political and theoretical idea which could disrupt conventional binary oppositions, such as human/animal and organism/machine. Because the cyborg is a hybrid or mixture, it suggests an alternative to unifying, hom*ogeneous concepts, such as ‘Woman’ ” (Malpas and Wake 2006: 166).

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laughing Medusa to Barthes’ anti-theological “ scriptor, ” and perhaps even to Nietzsche ’ s overfl owing Dionysus, is this happy blasphemy against identity, this ironic belief in human reality as world-changing fi ction, in writing as “ the very possibility of change” in and of a world that must be made to mean. And yet, as much pleasure as we might take in the confusion of boundaries, we must, as Haraway observes, also take responsibility for their construction. Th us, as every good boy and girl must tirelessly point out, not everybody in the world— particularly the “ Th ird World” — has the luxury of reading fi ction or writing the body or proliferating sexy theory. And this point leads to my penultimate article of faith, which is that to become feminist in one’ s theorizing, one must: (3) Become relentlessly “ anti-universalizing ” in one’ s radically critical endeavors, except when to do so eff ectively disables one ’ s radically critical endeavors. With apologies to Cixous, we do have to observe that a good bit of the “ ink ” spilt in the name of feminist theory has been pretty “ milky ” (that is, Anglo-Eurocentrically “ white ” ) and that anti-essentialist, anti- identitarian feminism has taken its share of hits from certain critical race and postcolonialist quarters. In “ Postmodern Blackness, ” for example, bell hooks describes (without exactly endorsing) the way she says

black folks respond to the critique of essentialism, especially when it denies the validity of identity politics[,] by saying, “ Yeah, it ’ s easy to give up identity, when you got one.” Should we not be suspicious of postmodern critiques of the “ subject ” when they surface at a historical moment when many subjugated people feel themselves coming to voice for the fi rst time [?] (1989/2007: 2012)

And Gayatri Spivak famously and eff ectively hangs Cixous and (particularly) Julia Kristeva out to dry in “ French Feminism in an International Frame” (1981). But perhaps the most relentless postcolonialist critique of Anglo- Eurocentric feminist theory is Chandra Mohanty ’ s “ Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses, ” which steadily argues against “ a universalist theory of women ’ s oppression, ” rightly insists “ on the heterogeneity of the lives of ‘ Th ird-World’ women,” and passionately “ pleads for an interrelational analysis that does not limit the defi nition of the female subject to gender and does not bypass the social, class, and ethnic coordinates of those analyzed” (Bahri 2004: 213). Mohanty writes that her project involves “ deconstructing and dismantling” what she calls “ hegemonic ‘ Western ’ feminisms ” while “ building and constructing ” what

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she calls “ autonomous, geographically, historically, and culturally grounded feminist concerns and strategies” (1991/2008: 381). Of course, at the time of its writing, Mohanty ’ s essay represented a sorely needed intervention into the overly universalizing, overly generalizing, blinkeredly ethnocentric, and even discernibly racist tendencies of middle-class white Western feminisms.8 And Mohanty helpfully specifi es that even in her non-Western woman’ s eyes, “ Western feminist discourse and political practice is neither singular nor hom*ogeneous in its goals, interests, or analyses ” and that her reference “ to ‘ Western feminism ’ is by no means intended to imply that it is a monolith ” (1991/2008: 381 – 2). But what seems problematic about Mohanty ’ s project — at least to this conspicuously pale male feminist theorist (and please remember that it ’ s “ my credo” you’ re reading here, and that my credo needn’ t necessarily be yours)— is the way the project potentially “ dismantles ” not simply the “ hegemonic Western-ness” but the feminism of purportedly “ hegemonic ‘ Western ’ feminism,” the way its insistence on always historically contextualizing and culturally grounding feminist strategies could work to bring those very strategies crashing to the ground. If, on the one hand, Western feminist theory has been, as Mohanty rightly charges, oft en quite guilty of what Slavoj Ž i ž ek calls “ over-rapid universalization,” which “ produces a quasi-universal Image whose function is to make us blind to its historical, socio-symbolic determination, ” then, on the other hand, Mohanty herself might be indulging in what Ž i ž ek calls “ over-rapid historicization, ” which “ makes us blind to the real kernel which returns as the same through diverse historicizations/ symbolizations” (Ž i ž ek 1989: 50). And if the “ real kernel which returns as the same ” here is, simply put, the systematic oppression of women by men , then a searing critique of “ a universalist theory of women ’ s oppression ” — of the oppression, that is, of women everywhere by men everywhere— can end up eff ectively sparing men, acquitting us (and the socio-symbolic systems we construct and maintain in our own image) of the very charge of oppression, thus inadvertently endorsing patriarchal discourses and oppressive political practices. I’ m not suggesting here that Mohanty intends to endorse male dominance (in fact I ’ m quite sure that she doesn ’ t), but rather that her over-rapid historicizations in the essay called “ Under Western Eyes” might eff ectively blind her readers to what my self-admittedly Western eyes nonetheless take to be the “ real kernel. ” For example, Mohanty writes that we must avoid universally casting “ women as victims of male violence ” and that “ male violence ” itself “ must be theorized and interpreted within specifi c societies, in order both to understand

8 Mohanty discusses the time of the essay’s writing, some of the feminist responses to it, and her current thinking about it, in “ ‘Under Western Eyes’ Revisited” (2003).

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it better and to eff ectively organize to change it” (1991/2008: 386– 7); to more eff ectively organize toward change, says Mohanty, we must “ theorize male violence within specifi c societal frameworks, rather than assume it as a universal fact” (1991/2008: 402). Now, on the one hand, as a subject supposed to be male, and hence supposedly supposed by feminism to be violent, I suppose I should be grateful for the presumption of innocence that Mohanty, in the interests of sociohistorical specifi city, here provides me and my likes, and I suppose I should take full advantage of the opportunity she aff ords me to claim myself as a non-violent exception to the rule. I can also appreciate that her intended motive here is to rescue “ Th ird World women” from their prescribed roles as victims of universal male violence, so as to aff ord these women greater political agency. On the other hand, this feminist man has to ask— are there any societies anywhere in which patriarchy, or systemic male dominance, isn ’ t still pretty much the de facto if not the de jure lay of the land, in which female agency isn ’ t still at least something of a threat to the idea of male authority, and in which authoritarian male violence against women isn ’ t always a strong possibility, an assumed prerogative of “ male identity,” if not a universal then at least a fairly pervasive fact? And if there aren ’ t any such societies, wouldn ’ t that absence suggest that “ male violence against women ” is a big honking part of what Ž i ž ek calls the “ real kernel,” a legitimately “ trans-societal ” concern for “ strategically universalizing ” feminist analysis?9 Mohanty apparently thinks not, for in her analysis, it is not systemic male dominance, but rather universalizing “ Western feminist discourse” that “ ultimately robs ” Th ird-World women “ of their historical and political agency” (1991/2008: 398). Mohanty’ s analysis can thus be read as eff ectively protecting (non-Western) patriarchy while handing “ hegemonic Western feminism ” an enormous amount of power over Th ird World women.10

9 Cf. the “strategically universalizing” gesture in note 2 above, where I focus on a specifi cally “real kernel which returns as the same in diverse historicizations” by suggesting lines of continuity running back and forth between Afghanistan’s vicious Taliban, Harvard’s more genteel Lawrence Summers, and all those who really didn’t want women to be educated back in the days of Virginia Woolf’s Lady Stephen. 10 It might be worth noting that, as represented in Mohanty’s essay, this purportedly quite powerful “hegemonic Western feminist” bloc—powerful enough to “rob” all Th ird World women of all political agency—amounts to a small number of not particularly well-known academics writing for an obscure feminist publishing house called Zed Press. On the one hand, in pointing this out, I’m certainly not suggesting that feminists can’t possibly write in a way that’s complicit with the ideological project of Orientalism, or that “mere” representations don’t have real eff ects on real people’s lived experience; on the other hand, there may be limits to the power and reach of “hegemonic” representation, and while Western feminists may represent Th ird World women in a way that seems to “rob” them of political agency, women in the Th ird World probably have whatever political agency they have or don’t have, regardless of what a handful of Western feminists may be writing about them.

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As for the “ contextualization ” upon which Mohanty unwaveringly insists — she writes that “ while Indian women of diff erent religions, castes, and classes might forge a political unity on the basis of organizing against police brutality toward women . . . an analysis of police brutality must be contextual. ” But one wonders exactly which explanatory contextual details a feminist analyst really needs to know to “ better understand” and better oppose such “ complex realities” (1991/2008: 396) as state-sanctioned male brutality against women. Th ere can be little doubt that Mohanty both opposes and wants to render more “ understandable ” statist/misogynist/masculinist violence in India and elsewhere, and yet, there are times when the defi nitional line separating “ the understandable ” from “ the justifi able ” can seem precar- iously thin— or again, there are times when an overly contextualized analysis of “ complex realities ” might blind us to the “ real kernel. ” One (male) feminist analyst of masculinity (and organizer against male violence) has written that “ under patriarchy, the cultural norm of male identity consists in power, prestige, and prerogative as over and against the gender class women. Th at’ s what masculinity is. It isn’ t something else” (Stoltenberg 1974/2004: 41). And yet, Mohanty oft en writes as if patriarchal masculinity (at least in “ the Th ird World ” ) really were “ something else. ” She rather astoundingly argues against the “ universalizing ” feminist theory in which “ patriarchy is always necessarily male dominance” and in which “ religious, legal, economic, and familial systems are implicitly assumed to be constructed by men” (1991/2008: 397). But again, this anti-theological male feminist wants to know— who or what else does Mohanty think “ constructed ” these “ systems ” ? God? Does she think they grew on trees or fell from the sky? If Mohanty demonstrably doesn’ t want (us) to consider “ male violence against women ” as a universal problem, a “ real kernel which returns as the same through diverse historicizations ” ( Ž i ž ek 1989: 50), or if she really doesn’ t (want us to) see how “ patriarchy ” really has and still does equal systemic “ male dominance ” everywhere and always (even if not all men get to be dominant, even if not all men are treated equally in or by this system), then her project, for all its vaunted and welcomed anti- universalist value, arguably falls short of the basic minimum requirements of radical feminist critique (which, in order to be radical, should, in my view, neither over-urgently universalize nor over-hastily historicize). Moreover, if Mohanty really doesn’ t think patriarchal “ religious, legal, economic, and familial systems” are constructed by men (to serve the purposes of systemic male dominance), then her discourse falls somewhat short of what Said in Orientalism calls “ Vico ’ s great observation that men make their own history, [and] that what they can know is what they have made ” (1978: 4 – 5). Finally, particularly invested, as she seems to me, in denying that religious systems are

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“ constructed by men ” (she lets the adjective “ religious ” appear fi rst on her list of systems), Mohanty seems to disregard even Marx ’ s most basic historical materialist observations that “ Man makes religion” and that the “ criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism ” (1844/1978: 53, my emphases). One suspects, in other words, that unlike Donna Haraway ’ s radically ironic cyborg myth, Mohanty ’ s sincere crusade against hegemonic Western feminist universalism may on some fundamental level be more “ faithful ” to religion, and hence to patriarchy, than to “ feminism, socialism, or materialism ” (Haraway 1985/2008: 324). But look, I ’ m not an idiot — I am quite fully aware of the fact that Gayatri Spivak has “ famously described British intervention in the Sati [or wife- burning] practice in India as ‘ white men saving brown women from brown men’ ” (Bahri 2004: 200; Spivak 1988: 297). And so I also understand quite well that my intervention into Mohanty ’ s scorchingly critical practices in “ Under Western Eyes” opens me to charges of just being a white man attempting to save white women (and white theory) from a brown woman, if not of being nothing more at the end of the day than a violently identitarian masculinist posing as a feminist, a man all too willing, if not to kill, then at least to kick discursive ass in order to protect the seriousness of his own ethnocentrically and anti-religiously biased statements — statements, like “ real feminism sees no use-value in religion, ” to paraphrase what I ’ ve asserted above, that may themselves have no real use-value for feminists, and which may indicate that my most fundamental political commitment is to Nietzschean atheism (or to my own cleverness) rather than to feminism, postcolonial critique, anti-capitalist struggles, or even, for that matter, social justice. All I might say in response to these quite serious charges is that if I truly believe that social justice entails my attempting to read and write theory as a feminist, and that if I discern what I take to be a non-feminist or potentially anti- feminist undercurrent in anyone ’ s otherwise sympathetic critique of feminist theory, then I feel duty-bound to point it out— a feminist man’ s gotta do what a feminist man ’ s gotta do to expose over-hasty historicization and to try to keep all our eyes peeled for the “ real kernel. ” Or I might stress once again that this is aft er all only my credo— you ’ ll have to get your own, and, just as Mohanty’ s critique hasn’ t become a particularly valuable part of mine, mine might very well not become a credible part of yours. But rather than attempting to support my charges against Mohanty with further evidence that I could draw from “ Under Western Eyes,” or further refute what I imagine would be her charges against me, I will veer away from the problem of feminism ’ s ethnocentrism (which I think white Western feminist theory, aft er Spivak, Mohanty, bell hooks, and others, has basically bent over backward to politically correct) and turn instead to that

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of feminism ’ s heteronormativity . 11 And this turn leads me to the end of my credo and to my last remaining article of faith — to wit, that in order to live up to its most radically and globally transformative promises, in order to keep writing (as) the very possibility of change, feminist theory must (4) Do its part to help “ make the world queerer than ever. ”

II. “ Th e future is kid stuff ”

In her other feminist landmark “ Th inking Sex, ” Gayle Rubin compares the analytical limitations of feminism to those of Marxism and concludes that “ Feminism is no more capable than Marxism of being the ultimate and complete account of all social inequality. ” She writes that “ Marxism is probably the most supple and powerful conceptual system extant for analyzing social inequality ” but that “ attempts to make Marxism the sole explanatory system for all social inequalities have been dismal exercises. ” While Marxism best confronts class antagonisms, Rubin writes, “ Feminist conceptual tools were developed to detect and analyze gender-based hierarchies,” and “ to the extent that these [hierarchies] overlap with erotic stratifi cations, feminist theory has some explanatory power. ”12

But as the issues become less those of gender and more those of sexuality, feminist analysis becomes irrelevant and oft en misleading. Feminist thought simply lacks angles of vision which can encompass the social organization of sexuality. Th e criteria of relevance in feminist thought

11 Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner write that “by heteronormativity we mean the institutions, structures of understanding, and practical orientations that make heterosexuality not only coherent—that is, organized as a sexuality—but privileged. Its coherence is always provisional, and its privilege can take several (sometimes contradictory) forms; unmarked, as the basic idiom of the personal and the social; or marked as a natural state; or projected as an ideal or moral accomplishment. It consists less of norms that could be summarized as a body of doctrine than of a sense of rightness produced in contradictory manifestations—oft en unconscious, immanent to practice or institutions. Contexts that have little visible relation to sex practice, such as life narrative and generational identity, can be heteronormative in this sense, while in other contexts forms of sex between men and women might not be heteronormative. Heteronormativity is thus a concept distinct from heterosexuality” (1998/2007: 1722). 12 We can best consider what Rubin means by erotic stratifi cations by considering the diagram she provides in “Th inking Sex,” which charts the way heteronormativity separates “Good” sex from “Bad.” Th e “best” sex is “normal, natural, healthy, holy, heterosexual, married, monogamous, and reproductive” while the “worst” is “abnormal, unnatural, sick, sinful, ‘way out,’ ”—anything involving “transvestites, transsexuals, fetishists, sadomasoch*sts,” and/or the exchange of money. Th e point of Rubin’s diagram is that “most people mistake their sexual preferences for a universal system that will or should work for everyone. Th is notion of a single ideal sexuality characterizes most systems of thought about sex . . . including feminism and socialism” (1984/2008: 294).

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do not allow it to see or assess critical power relations in the area of sexuality. In the long run, feminism’ s critique of gender hierarchy must be incorporated into a radical theory of sex, and the critique of sexual oppression should enrich feminism. But an autonomous theory and politics specifi c to sexuality must be developed. (1984/2008: 314)

And in fact such a theory has been developed by various cultural and political analysts who see their work as not (only) Marxist and not (only) feminist but (also) queer . 13 What is now commonly known as queer theory develops as a “ critique of sexual oppression” qua social normativity — queer theory develops by distilling the lessons of Marxism, feminism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, semiotics, and gay/lesbian studies while at the same time distinguishing itself from those movements by exposing their investments in heteronormativity and/or identity politics. Queer theory advocates a “ thorough resistance to regimes of the normal ” and attempts to “ make the world queerer than ever ” (Warner xxvi, xxvii) through such anti- identitarian resistance. Th us, on the one hand, queer theory

is interested in any and all acts, images, and ideas that “ trouble, ” violate, cross, mix, or otherwise confound established boundaries between male and female, normal and abnormal, self and other. In a limited sense, the goal is to create more space for and recognition of the various actions performed daily in a social landscape blinded and hostile to variety. But the broader goal is a general troubling, and an attempted unfi xing, of the links between acts, categories, representations, desires, and identities. (Leitch 2001: 2487)

On the other hand, queer theory

views with postmodern skepticism the minoritizing conception of sexuality that undergirds gay liberation and women ’ s liberation (and hence academically institutionalized gay studies and women ’ s studies

13 Th e word queer has appeared a number of times already in this book, but I’ve strategically deferred a specifi c gloss until now. Carla Freccero writes that the term queer, “as taken up by political movements and by the academy, has undergone myriad transformations and has been the object of heated defi nitional as well as political debates . . . It is a term that [has] something to do with a critique of literary critical and historical presumptions of sexual and gender (hetero) normativity, in cultural contexts and in textual subjectivities. It also has something to do with the sexual identities and positionalities, as well as the subjectivities, that have come to be called lesbian, gay, and transgender, but also perverse and narcissistic—that is, queer. At times, queer continues to exploit its productive indeterminancy as a word used to designate that which is odd, strange, aslant; in this respect, . . . all textuality, when subjected to close reading, can be said to be queer” (2006: 5). For somewhat “historicizing” accounts of the emergence of the term “queer” in the academy, see Th omas (2000) and (2009).

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too) . . . Feminism and gay liberation based their claims for political participation and radical equality . . . on the foundation of identity . . . By contrast, queer theory and politics begin from a critique of identity and of identity politics, inspired primarily by Foucault ’ s analysis of the disciplinary purposes that sexual identities so easily serve. (Dean 2000: 223)

Th us, taking on what Berlant and Warner call the hard “ labor of ambiguating categories of identity ” (1995: 345), queer theorists off er up the fi ghting words “ queer ” and “ queerness ” as diff ering from not only “ straight ” and “ straightness ” but from gay, lesbian, etc., insofar as these terms function as clear markers of sexual identity . For “ queer ” is “ less an identity than a critique of identity. . .a site of permanent becoming” (Jagose 1996: 131). “ Queerness ” involves “ the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning where the constituent elements of anyone’ s gender, of anyone ’ s sexuality aren ’ t made (or can’ t be made) to signify monolithically ” (Sedgwick 1993: 8). For “ queer, ” writes David Halperin, “ is by defi nition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. Th ere is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence” (1995: 62). “ Queerness, ” writes Lee Edelman, “ can never defi ne an identity; it can only ever disturb one. ” Queerness is “ what chafes against ‘ normalization, ’ ” what “ deliberately sever[s] us from ourselves, from the assurance, that is, of knowing ourselves ” (2004: 17, 6, 5). Queerness is thus “ obviously threatening and infallibly dreaded by everything within us that desires a kingdom, ” a fi xed and knowable identity. I hope that you will recognize not only that but why I just swapped the word “ queerness ” for Derrida’ s dreaded diff é rance. And, I hope that you will understand both that and why diff é rance, like queer, is one of those troubling words that troubles “ is ” itself, that, once again, “ begins . . . from a refusal of the authority or determining power of every ‘ is ’ ” (Lucy 2006: 12) that there is. In this authoritarian and identitarian sense, “ is ” is its own kingdom. But “ there is no kingdom of diff é rance ” (Derrida 1967/1982: 21 – 2); there is no kingdom of the queer.14

14 “Queer, in its deconstructive sense, designates a kind of Derridean diff érance, occupying an interstitial space between binary oppositions . . . Th is use of queer fi nds its energy from the way the term works to undo the binary between straight and gay, operating uncannily between but also elsewhere. Queer—precisely by marking out the space and time of diff érance—can thus show how the two, gay and straight, are inter-implicated and how they diff er from themselves from within . . . Meanwhile, queer can also be a grammatical perversion, a misplaced pronoun, the wrong proper name; it is what is strange, odd, funny, not quite right, improper. Queer is what is and is not there, what disaggregates the coherence of the norm from the very beginning” (Freccero 2006: 18–19).

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Heteronormativity , however, is a big “ f*cking ” kingdom, a vast kingdom in which all real “ f*cking ” is retroactively ruled over by its idealized product or result— “ King Baby,” the ideological fi gure of “ the Child ” through which heteronormativity perpetuates its reign by attempting to ensure that “ the future ” is always “ kid stuff .” Now, the fi rst chapter of Lee Edelman ’ s No Future: Queer Th eory and the Death Drive is called “ Th e Future is Kid Stuff . ” Th ere, speaking for queers, queerness, and queer sexuality— and speaking quite provocatively in favor of associating all three with the death drive— Edelman writes:

On every side, our enjoyment of liberty is eclipsed by the lengthening shadow of a Child whose freedom to develop undisturbed by encounters . . . with an “ otherness ” of which its parents, its church, or the state do not approve, uncompromised by any possible access to what is painted as alien desire, terroristically holds us all in check and determines that political discourse conform to the logic of a narrative wherein history unfolds as the future envisioned for a Child who must never grow up . . . Th at Child, immured in an innocence seen as continuously under siege, condenses a fantasy of vulnerability to the queerness of queer sexualities . . . Th e Child, that is, marks the fetishistic fi xation of heteronormativity: an erotically charged investment in the rigid sameness of identity that is central to the compulsory narrative of reproductive futurism. And so, as the radical right maintains, the battle against queers is a life-and-death struggle for the future of a Child whose ruin is pursued by feminists [and] queers. (2004: 21 – 2)

But Edelman goes on to argue that it isn’ t just the “ radical right” that enforces this “ compulsory narrative of reproductive futurism ” ; it isn ’ t just the “ moral majority” that insists on sacrifi cing everybody’ s libidinal and aesthetic liberty to the future good of the permanent Child (an idealized fi gure of “ imaginary unity” that, as Edelman points out, has little enough to do with actual children); the radical left and even some in the gay/lesbian community also get in on the act, bowing heads to singer “ Whitney Houston ’ s rendition of the secular hymn, ‘ I believe that children are our future,’ a hymn we might as well simply declare our national anthem and be done with it” (2004: 143). For Edelman, moreover, the identity politicians of the gay/lesbian community are never more indentured to the “ pro-procreative ideology” (2004: 12) of reproductive futurism than when they deny the religious right ’ s hysterical slanders against those who engage in non-procreative or queer sex, when they dispute the idea that queers really do embody “ a drive toward death that entails the destruction of the Child ” (2004: 21).

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Now, Edelman isn’ t saying that queers qua queers literally desire to sexually murder real children, as per extremist right-wing fantasy. Nor is he saying that queer politics shouldn ’ t fi ght against hom*ophobic conservative slander and dogma. But what he is saying is perhaps no less startling and abrasive.

Without ceasing to refute the lies that pervade . . . right-wing diatribes, do we also have the courage to acknowledge, and even to embrace, their correlative truths? Are we willing to be suffi ciently oppositional to the structural logic of opposition— oppositional, that is, to the logic by which politics reproduces our social reality— to accept that fi gural burden of queerness . . . of the force that shatters the fantasy of Imaginary unity, the force that insists on the void [that is] always already lodged within, though barred from, symbolization: the gap or wound of the Real that inhabits the Symbolic ’ s very core? Not that we are, or ever could be, outside the Symbolic ourselves: but we can, nonetheless, make the choice to accede to our cultural production as fi gures — within the dominant logic of narrative, within Symbolic reality — for the dismantling of such a logic and thus for the death drive it harbors within. (2004: 22)

What ’ s at stake in Edelman ’ s provocative argument is the oppositional relation between “ the queerness of queer sexuality” and the “ meaning ” of sociality itself. He argues that our current symbolic reality is a “ collective fantasy that invests the social order with meaning by way of reproductive futurism” and “ bestows the imprimatur of meaning-production [only] on heterogenital relations ” (2004: 28. 13). Reproductive futurism depends upon a “ meaningful ” libidinal investment in the ideological fi gure of “ the Child ” and on vigilantly protecting that fi gure from all queer fi gurations. It isn ’ t just “ the Child ” but “ meaning ” itself that must be protected from the queer, who/which embodies the destruction of heteronormative “ meaning. ” But “ the queer ” isn ’ t simply “ the hom*osexual, ” the gay man or lesbian woman, but rather anyone whose gender or sexuality “ can ’ t be made to signify monolithically ” (Sedgwick 1993: 8), anyone for whom “ the distinctly sexual nature of human sexuality has to do precisely with its excess over or potential diff erence from the bare choreographies of procreation” (Sedgwick 1990: 29). Reproductive futurism is a “ pro-procreative ideology” that attempts to reduce not only “ the meaning” of human sexuality, but the meaning of “ meaning ” itself to those bare choreographies. Th is ideology maintains, as the narrator of P. D. James’ s Th e Children of Men puts it, that “ sex totally divorced from procreation” is “ meaninglessly acrobatic” (in Edelman 2004:

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13); this ideology tells us — quite stupidly — that to engage in such “ sterile ” shenanigans is to behave like an animal.15 Reproductive futurism tells us:

“ If there is a baby, there is a future, there is redemption.” If, however, there is no baby and, in consequence, no future, then the blame must fall on the fatal lure of sterile, narcissistic enjoyments understood as inherently destructive of meaning and therefore as responsible for the undoing of social organization, collective reality, and inevitably, life itself. (Edelman 2004: 12 – 13)

Edelman argues that queerness demands something other than simply denying responsibility for the destruction of “ meaning, ” something other than the attempt to earn “ a place at the table ” of heteronormative “ social organization” and become full-fl edged members of a “ collective reality” determined and driven by reproductive futurism. Th ere might be a place- setting waiting for any good hom*osexual who buys into heteronormative “ meaning-production, ” but the “ structural mandate” of reproductive futurism is always that s/he “ who refuses the Child be refused . . . be projectively reviled” (2004: 45), punitively abjected. Edelman thus wants queers to resist the regimes of the normal by accepting “ the fi gural burden of queerness,” by accepting responsibility for the destruction of “ meaning ” and the abject “ undoing of social organization, ” by happily embodying that symbolic reality ’ s inner void and its death drive to the hilt. If “ the sacralization of the Child . . . necessitates the sacrifi ce of the queer” (2004: 28), then for Edelman, a real insistence on queerness by queers— as per the in-your-face AIDS- activist slogan “ we ’ re here, we ’ re queer, get used to it ” — necessitates nothing short of a massive cluster “ f*ck you” to the Child, which obscene discursive gesture Edelman is more than happy to provide (and with which we will rather rudely and abruptly end this lesson). Aft er reviewing some standard antigay-rights sentiments issued by religious representatives of church and state sanctioned sociality, Edelman writes that

Queers must respond to the violent force of such constant provocations not only by insisting on our equal right to the social order’ s prerogatives [i.e., the benefi ts of matrimony], not only by avowing our capacity to

15 Th e situation is, of course, just the opposite, for animals as a lot are pretty much incapable of divorcing sexual activity from reproductive imperatives, while our divorce from nature is what’s anthropogenetic, constitutively humanizing, for us. Ironically, then, the queerest sex is the most productively human/humanizing, and reproductive futurism, which attempts to naturalize sex, to rob sexual activity of its specifi cally human meanings, is actively dehumanizing in its hostility to the queer.

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promote that order’ s coherence and integrity [by serving in the military], but also by saying explicitly what [Cardinal Bernard] Law and the Pope [John Paul II] and the whole of the Symbolic order for which they stand hear anyway in each and every expression or manifestation of queer sexuality: f*ck the social order and the Child in whose name we’ re collectively terrorized; f*ck [“ the sun will come up tomorrow” ] Annie; f*ck the waif from Les Mis; f*ck the poor, innocent kid on the Net; f*ck Laws with both capital ls and with small; f*ck the whole network of Symbolic relations and the future that serves as its prop. (2004: 29)

Coming to Terms

Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Ten:

Gender, performativity, performative/constative utterances, compulsory heterosexuality, identity politics, strategic essentialism, écriture feminine, cyborg, heteronormativity, erotic stratifi cations, queer, queer theory, reproductive futurism

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As you might imagine, not everyone in even the queer academic community applauded No Future ’ s abrasive, antisocial, f-bombing barrage.1 But to me it seems entirely appropriate to bring not only the preceding lesson in gender- troubling queer theory but all 10 of our theoretical lessons to an end with Edelman’ s incomparable negativity. It seems meet and fi tting for us to end our theoretical narrative with Edelman’ s queerly affi rmative nod toward the death drive , for we ’ ve learned a few lessons here about the strange relations between narrative writing and our unconscious desire for “ the end.” In the beginning, we were subjected to some unsettling lessons in “ anthropogenetic ” textuality, alienating interpretations of our polymorphously perverse geneses; if we learned those early lessons suffi ciently, if we read those lessons and all that followed closely enough, then perhaps here, in the end, we can understand what queer theorist Carla Freccero means when she seriously suggests that “ all textuality, when subjected to close reading, can be said to be queer,” why she writes that “ if one were being playfully adjectival . . . one might call English departments departments of queer studies” , why she both seriously and playfully holds theory and literature, or theory as literature, to be “ always already queer” (2006: 5, 18, 13). For like “ queerness, ” theory and literature off er themselves as “ site[s] of permanent becoming ” (Jagose 1996: 131), discursive activities that “ can never defi ne an identity” but “ can only ever disturb one ” (Edelman 2004: 17). And to return one last time to the titles of our identity-disturbing lessons in theory, we might suggest that that in the end they ’ re all kind of “ queer, ” that “ queerness ” in its most current usage eff ectively addresses what ’ s been at stake all along in this strange set of defamiliarizing axioms — that the world must be made to mean; that meaning is only the polite word for pleasure (whether that pleases us or not); that language is by nature fi ctional, as are we, the animals at its mercy; that our desires are thus never purely instinctual or merely biological but must always be taken literally, to the letter; that we are consequently not quite ourselves today, and weren ’ t yesterday, and, bet your bottom dollar, still won’ t be “ tomorrow ” (even if the sun does come up); that restless negativity is therefore the actual substance of our subjectivities, what we anti-essentially are; that even our most highly valued documents of

1 See, for example, Hall (2006), Halberstam et al. (2006), and Dean (2008). But see also Ruti (2008).

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civilization will probably always also document our yawping barbarisms, if only because the unconscious, with all its aggressions, “ desires, repressions, investments and projections ” (Said 1978: 8) is structured like a language; that there ’ s consequently nothing for us outside the text, which means that we are never born human, much less gendered, but always have to become human (though not necessarily always so narrowly gendered or so monolithically sexuated) in a world that, precisely because it always must be made to mean, could always be made to mean more queerly. Maybe “ queerness ” in Edelman’ s “ antisocial ” and “ antifuturistic ” sense can serve for a while as the last best “ critical keyword ” for the occluded but constitutive negativity of all human reality aft er the linguistic turn— the restless force of negativity that pervades the centerless core of “ what theory does” — so that what it means in Edelman’ s “ demeaning ” terms “ to accept the fi gural burden of queerness . . . of the force that shatters the fantasy of Imaginary unity, the force that insists on the void [that is] always already lodged within, though barred from, symbolization: the gap or wound of the Real that inhabits the Symbolic ’ s very core ” could be intimately related to what it means in Lacan’ s terms “ to accept castration” (2008: 41), to accept “ the endless perpetuation of the subject ’ s desire ” (1966d/2006: 262), or to what it means in Adorno and Horkheimer’ s terms to “ negate reifi cation ” (1947/2002: xvii), or to what it means in Culler’ s terms to always take “ meaning as a problem rather than a given ” (2007: 85), or even to what it means in Hegelian parlance to embrace dissolution, to “ tarry with the negative, ” to engage with “ the tremendous power of the negative ” so as to free all of our “ determinate thoughts from their fi xity ” (1807/1998: 59, 60). Th roughout these 10 lessons, I’ ve insisted that theoretical writing— writing about “ writing as the very possibility of change ” (Cixous 1975/2007: 1646) — involves a thoroughgoing refusal to fi x meaning, a perpetual attempt “ to dereify the language of thought” (Jameson 2009: 9). At the risk of seeming to reify this very refusal of fi xity, of letting this “ refusal to fi x meaning ” become the fi xed meaning of theory itself, I will end by stating my own interpretive desire to perpetually connect this “ refusal to fi x ” to whatever “ resistance to regimes of the normal ” we can muster, to perpetually fi x this “ refusal to fi x ” to our ongoing political and aesthetic project of making “ the world queerer than ever” (Warner 1993: xxvi, xxvii). Th e world, let’ s say, is always already queerer than ever, but only because it still always has to be made that way, still has to be written that way — by us. For, to rewrite the words from Jean-Luc Nancy that appeared at the end of our lesson on Hegel, this queerer-than-ever “ world is precisely what . . . manifests itself as a restlessness ” — this globally restless and eternally queer negativity is “ not only ours” but “ is itself ‘ us ’ ” (Nancy 2002: 78), all of us, every single one of us, living or dead— strangely enough.

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For Hegel, let ’ s recall, though no longer living, still writes that “ something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this ‘ here ’ , it at once is and is not” (1812/1998: 239). And Lacan, let’ s remember, though likewise no longer alive, still writes of the written letter not “ that, like other objects, it must be or not be somewhere but rather that, unlike them, it will be and not be where it is wherever it goes ” (Lacan 1966a/2006: 17).2 And so maybe the queerest thing about us animals at the mercy of moving letters will always be that “ we ’ re here” and we ’ re not wherever we end up going. And perhaps “ the activities that have come to answer to the nickname theory ” (Culler 2007: 1) can serve, if only for the passing moment, as our queerest, our strangest, our strongest way of “ coming to terms” with this (no) future, this eternally returning affi rmation, in the present that we ’ re making, of the future of the word — “ no. ” Which is what I think I mean when I write that in the end “ theory is (not — ) forever, ” an inscription I ’ m sure I mean to be taken three ways — theory is forever; theory is not forever; and theory is this perpetual not —is this restlessness of the negative, is this refusal of the authority of every is that there is — forever (or at least for as long as “ human reality ” is still a going concern and not yet a total goner). What I think I mean by writing “ theory is (not — ) forever ” is that all theoretical writing is “ always already queer ” to the extent that “ theory never stops coming back” (Rabaté 2002: 10) as the personal and collective site of our permanent(ly) becoming (undone), so that, at least in theory, “ we never stop losing ‘ the fi xity of [our] self-positing’ ” (Nancy 2002: 79). Like any productive unfi xity, like any “ possibility of change,” like anything that restlessly moves— like “ all textuality,” like all writing, like all of “ us ” — theory is here , and it ’ s queer, and, at the same time, it ’ s not . So I’ m tempted in this penultimate paragraph simply to trot out the old activist taunt “ get used to it! ” once again and consider my work done. But, if theory is indeed (not— ) forever, then this work , our arduous “ attempt to dereify the language of thought,” our protracted “ labor of ambiguating categories of identity, ” can never be quite so tidily fi nished. For any “ terms ” with which we could ever fully “ come to terms ” would not be eff ectively theoretical terms, and any writing that we could ever get comfortably

2 Hegel, Lacan, and basically all the dead writers who ever lived can be said to “ still write, ” to still be writing, by virtue of the literary convention that bids us describe “ what has been written ” in the present tense, as if we ’d just seen a ghost. Th is apparitional aspect of all textuality is more or less what I was getting at back in the introduction when I referred to “ the undead,” to “ everyone who still participates in human reality, if only in the spectral form of writing.”

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“ used to ” would not be specifi cally theoretical writing, would not be the radical “ practice of creativity” (Foucault 1983/1997: 262) to which it’ s been my great pleasure to introduce you here. For, to revisit some rude and radical statements about theory that appeared at the beginning of this introduction, isn ’ t the “ whole point ” of theory not to get used to anything but rather, in Judith Halberstam ’ s words, “ to f*ck sh*t up ” (2006: 824)? Isn ’ t the aim of theory to produce or provoke “ insights which completely shatter and undermine our common perceptions ” ( Ž i ž ek 2006: ix) — those perceptions of the present to which we ’ ve gotten all too commonly accustomed? And isn ’ t “ the task of theory . . . to make the present and thus to . . . invent the subject of that making, a ‘ we ’ characterized not only by our belonging to the present but by our making it” (Hardt 2011: 21)? If our actively and provocatively “ making the present ” is indeed the perpetual “ task of theory, ” as Michael Hardt proposes in “ Th e Militancy of Th eory,” then our having gotten used to any present that presently is could only mean our having gotten off task, our having settled for taking the meanings of the present, the past, and the future, as reifi ed givens rather than as ever-startling problems. So, perhaps we ’ d best get used to not getting used to the activities nicknamed “ theory. ” And perhaps getting used to never getting used to theoretical writing means nothing more or less than taking the full measure of Foucault’ s militant wisdom and joining him in (still) thinking (about thinking) that “ there are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think diff erently than one thinks and perceive diff erently than one sees is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and refl ecting at all ” (1986: 7).

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abjection 37, 78, 78n. 18, 115, 119, antiphysis xiii– xvi, 28n. 2, 29, 31, 142, 187, 202, 241, 269 49, 73n. 11, 77, 87, 108, Achebe, Chinua 147n. 1 117, 121, 130n. 4, 143, 177, Adorno, Th eodor 2n. 1, 6, 21 – 2, 183, 185, 192 24n. 18, 89 – 90, 90n. 3, 108, Arnold, Matthew 155n. 4, 233n. 20, 272 158n. 6, 160 aesthetics xviii, xxi, 2, 4, 20n. 15, asses 35 56, 82 – 3, 86 – 7, 89, 90n. 3, A u fh ebung (sublation) xviii – ix, 115 – 21, 151 – 2, 154 – 5, 162, 99n. 9, 127 – 9, 131n. 5, 133, 165, 168 – 71, 183, 217n. 9, 136 – 8, 193, 234 220n. 11, 221, 223, 226 – 7, aura 93 230, 232, 234 – 6, 267, 272 agon 17– 18, 142, 239 Bahri, Deepika 239– 40, 243, 253– 5, Agrarians 154, 154n. 3 259, 263 Ahmad, Aijaz 231, 239, 243 – 6 Baker, Houston 154n. 3 algae 60 Barthes, Roland xii – xiv, xx, 12n. 8, alienated labor 29n. 3, 89, 144, 16 – 17, 18n. 12, 48 – 9, 148 – 50, 153, 155 48n. 1, 54n. 5, 82, 90n. 1, alienation xiv, 88 – 9, 90n. 3, 93, 108 – 9, 174 – 5, 178, 185, 95 – 6, 99, 99n. 9, 114, 202, 213, 215 – 17, 217n. 9, 129 – 30, 132 – 3, 144, 149, 220, 238, 247, 256 – 7, 259 171, 226 – 7, 231 base/superstructure 158, 158n. 5 Almond, Ian xxi, 243 Baudrillard, Jean 229, 229n. 18 a l t e r i t y see otherness Beardsley, Monroe 157 Althusser, Louis xiv, xvi, xviii, bears 36 18n. 11, 32, 102 – 4, Beauvoir, Simone de xxi, 247– 9 103n. 12, 106 – 7, 109 – 13, Beckett, Samuel xi, 53, 219 112n. 19, 115 – 20, 126, 210, being (ontological) xiii– xviii, 6– 7, 218, 218n. 10, 237 14, 30, 31n. 4, 33n. 6, 36 – 7, ambiguity (aesthetic) 40 – 43, 46, 50 – 1, 53, 55, 160, 160n. 7, 164 57 – 60, 61n. 1, 64, 69 – 70, animals/animality xiii, xvi, 28 – 32, 70n. 9, 78, 80, 83 – 5, 94n. 6, 34 – 6, 39 – 40, 42 – 3, 46, 49, 95 – 7, 101n. 10, 119, 127n. 3, 59 – 60, 61n. 1, 62 – 5, 62n. 1, 129 – 30, 130n. 4, 132, 70, 72, 76 – 7, 140 – 3, 192, 134n. 6, 135 – 6, 143, 149, 255, 258n. 7, 269 150n. 2, 180, 185, 189 – 90, anthropogenesis xiii, 28 – 30, 40 – 2, 196 – 8, 202, 205n. 3, 206n. 4, 44, 46, 51, 59 – 60, 65, 69, 209 – 10, 215, 224, 233n. 20, 76, 87, 94, 142, 149, 192, 239, 250, 252 197, 269n. 15, 271 Benjamin, Andrew 211n. 5, 215

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Benjamin, Walter xix, 90n. 10, 93, cats (kittens) 36, 69, 177– 9 148, 150 – 1, 153, 158, 165, C é saire, Aimé 234n. 21 226 – 7, 233n. 20, 249n. 2 C é zanne, Paul 237 Berg, Alban 235 Childers, Joseph 10n. 5, 11n. 7, Bergman, Ingrid 140n. 9 20, 22n. 16, 27n. 1, 54n. 4, Berlant, Lauren xxii, 264n. 11, 266 78n. 18, 84n. 25, 94n. 6, Berman, Marshall 223– 4 112n. 19, 113n. 20, 133n. 6, Bersani, Leo 254 138n. 8, 155n. 4, 156, Bertens, Hans 154, 158n. 6 158n. 5, 190n. 3, 251, B é rub é , Michael 10 252n. 5, 254n. 6 Bhabha, Homi 9n. 3, 202, 243 – 4, Chilvers, Ian 170n. 8 243n. 25 Chow, Rey 19, 211 binary opposition 190, 205, C h r i s t see Jesus 205n. 3, 212n. 8, 258n. 7, Cixous, H é l è ne xii, xxi, 20, 20n. 15, 266n. 14 87, 257 – 9, 272 birds 36 clarity xv, 2, 15, 20 – 3, 108 – 9, Birmingham School 27, 27n. 1, 232, 109n. 16 233n. 20, 246 Clark, T. J. 237n. 22 Bloom, Harold 16 Close, Chuck 237 Bogart, Humphrey 241, 243 cogito xviii, 93– 6, 94n. 6, 119 Borromean knot 31n. 4 Colette, Sidonie-Gabrielle 257 Braque, Georges 235, 237 commodity fetishism 2n. 1, 4, 6 – 7, Brooks, Cleanth xix, xxi, 154, 12, 93, 111 – 13, 113n. 20, 157 – 65, 160n. 7, 173, 148 – 9, 228, 233n. 20, 244 186, 250 compulsory heterosexuality 102, 252, Brooks, Peter xvii, 73n. 10 252n. 5 Butler, Judith xx, xxin. 1, 58, condensation xx, 186 – 91, 196 89, 90n. 1, 125, 125n. 1, Conrad, Joseph 146 – 8 126n. 2, 200, 200n. 5, contradiction 9, 11– 12, 19n. 14, 251 – 3, 255 99n. 9, 109, 127 – 30, 136 – 7, 147, 159, 204, 207 – 8, Cameron, James 228 227n. 17, 233n. 20 capitalism 6– 7, 29n. 3, 89, 90n. 3, Copjec, Joan 253 105, 112, 112nn. 17 – 18, Critchley, Simon xv, 24n. 18, 121 113n. 20, 115, 118, 149 – 50, Culler, Jonathan xi, xv, 1 – 5, 7, 9 – 15, 154n. 3, 155, 224, 227, 17, 23, 174 – 5, 179, 251, 229 – 32, 232n. 19, 233n. 20, 272 – 3 234, 234n. 21, 239, 243 – 4, cultural studies 3, 27, 27n. 1, 263, 270 233n. 20, 237, 243 castration (symbolic) xvii, 60, cyborg 227n. 17, 258, 258n. 7, 263 74, 87, 192 – 3, 197 – 9, 210, 272 De Lauretis, Teresa 247 castration anxiety 194– 5 Dean, Tim 200n. 5, 253, 265 – 6, cathexis 189 271n. 1

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death xvii– xviii, xxii, 17, 40, 56, diff erence xx, 6, 9, 9n. 1, 23, 59, 66, 66n. 4, 68, 68n. 5, 24n. 18, 43, 50 – 1, 57, 70n. 9, 71– 3, 74n. 13, 61n. 1, 63, 71 – 2, 74n. 13, 75– 6, 75n. 15, 77n. 17, 84, 97 – 8, 101n. 10, 121, 80n. 21, 81– 4, 86n. 26, 130, 140, 161, 166, 173 – 4, 131– 2, 136, 138– 9, 141– 4, 178 – 9, 183, 189 – 90, 192, 163, 205n. 3, 215, 217, 229, 197, 199, 201, 204 – 6, 256, 267 204n. 2, 205n. 3, 206n. 4, death drive xvii, xxii, 66 – 73, 209, 212n. 7, 213 – 15, 66n. 4, 68n. 5, 75, 77, 79, 222 – 3, 233, 238, 240, 243, 80n. 21, 81 – 6, 83n. 23, 226, 249, 251 – 2, 255, 268 234n. 21, 267 – 9, 271 discourse 14, 18 – 20, 18n. 10, 82, deconstruction xx, 23, 23n. 17, 96, 115, 117 – 18, 126, 167, 156, 165, 179, 205, 174, 181, 190n. 3, 202, 204, 205n. 3, 206, 211n. 5, 209, 211, 213, 217 – 20, 240, 213 – 15, 220, 245–6, 252 – 4, 258, 260 – 1, 267 259, 266n. 14 disinterestedness 155, 155n. 4 defamiliarization xiv, xix, 2, 10, displacement xx, 39, 147n. 1, 10n. 5, 16, 22, 65, 89, 185 – 7, 189 – 91 90n. 3, 95, 120, 165, dogs (puppies) 29, 35 – 6, 62, 64, 69, 168 – 71, 173, 183, 212, 271 148, 159 DeLillo, Don xvii, 55, 57 doves 148 Demme, Jonathan 80n. 21 Duras, Marguerite 257 demystifi cation 89 – 90, 90n. 3, 255 Derrida, Jacques xx, 8, 10, 11n. 7, eagles 60 13, 17 – 20, 23n. 17, 24, 64, Eagleton, Terry xi, xix, 151, 153, 70n. 9, 82, 86, 96, 133n. 6, 154n. 3, 157 – 8, 168, 190n. 3, 202 – 4, 202n. 1, 190n. 3 204n. 2, 205n. 3, 206n. 4, earthworms 60 208 – 15, 211n. 5, é criture fé minine 257– 8 212nn. 7 – 8, 217, 220 – 1, Edelman, Lee xxii, 32, 266 – 9, 238, 243, 246, 255, 266 271 – 2 Descartes, Ren é 93, 94n. 6, 119 Ehsan, Ehsanullah 248n. 1, 249n. 2 dialectic xix, 99 – 100, 99n. 9, Eichenbaum, Boris 152 108 – 9, 126 – 7, 127n. 3, 129, elephants xvi, 49 – 50, 55, 57, 77 130n. 4, 131n. 5, 133 – 5, Eliot, T. S. 57, 93n. 5, 235 133n. 6, 137, 137n. 7, 139, Enlightenment xxi, 21, 90n. 3, 138, 141, 144, 149, 206 – 7, 209, 138n. 8, 144, 149, 202, 225, 227, 227n. 17, 231, 221, 225 – 7, 225n. 14, 240, 231n. 19, 233n. 20, 234, 244 – 5 234n. 21 epistemology 83, 94– 5, 94n. 6, diff é rance xiv, 204, 204n. 2, 99n. 9, 119 – 20, 165, 168 – 9 206n. 4, 208, 211 – 12, 266, Erbion, Didier 117n. 21 266n. 14 Eros/Th anatos 66, 66n. 4, 75, 77, 87

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erotic stratifi cations 264 fort-da xvii, 67 – 71, 68n. 5, 69n. 7, eschatology 133, 133n. 6 70nn. 8 – 9, 93, 96, 248 essentialism (essence, anti- Foster, Jodie 80n. 21 essentialism) xxi, 9, 9n. 4, Foucault, Michel xii, xviii, xx – xxi, 12n. 8, 17, 23, 109, 129, 5 – 6, 11, 15 – 16, 84 – 7, 155, 168, 175 – 6, 179, 197, 90n. 3, 116 – 21, 118n. 22, 202 – 3, 205n. 3, 243n. 25, 125, 126n. 2, 144, 201 – 2, 247, 250 – 5, 257 – 9, 266 208, 211, 213, 215, 217 – 23, Eugenides, Jeff rey 214 218n. 10, 220n. 11, 239 – 40, Evans, Dylan xiv, 31n. 4, 186n. 2 243, 246, 266 exchange xvi, 18, 36 – 7, 39, 39n. 1, Frankfurt School 232, 233n. 20, 237 40 – 1, 46, 58 – 9, 199, 214, Freccero, Carla xxii, 265n. 13, 225, 251, 264n. 12 266n. 14, 271 Freud, Sigmund xii, xvi– xvii, xx, fabula 54n. 4 6n. 2, 30, 33n. 6, 37 – 8, false consciousness 21, 90n. 3, 103, 39n. 1, 43, 45 – 6, 46n. 5, 103n. 12 53 – 4, 54n. 6, 61n. 1, 63, fantasy/fantasmatic 6, 12, 14, 38 – 9, 63n. 3, 66 – 9, 66n. 4, 60, 67, 74n. 12, 98n. 8, 100, 68nn. 5 – 6, 69n. 7, 70n. 8, 194 – 6, 222, 226 – 7, 246 – 7, 74nn. 12 – 14, 79n. 20, 267 – 8, 272 83 – 4, 95, 98, 100, 101n. 10, Farias, Victor 70n. 9 109n. 16, 172, 172n. 1, Faulkner, William xviii, 1, 79, 235 181, 184, 186 – 90, 194 – 5, feminism ix, xiv, xxi – xxii, 9, 197, 199, 210, 218n. 10, 11 – 12, 91, 195, 227, 234 – 5, 227n. 16, 240 237, 247 – 67, 249n. 2, Fuss, Diana xxi, 9n. 4, 250 250nn. 3 – 4, 258n. 7, 260n. 8, 261n. 10, Gagnier, Regina 18n. 11 264n. 12 Gallop, Jane 94– 5 Fichte, Johann Gottlieb 127, 127n. 3 Garber, Marjorie 13 – 14 fi ctionality xii– xiii, xvi, 12, 48– 9, Garner, Margaret 147 51, 54, 54n. 3, 55, 57 – 8, Gauguin, Paul 236 65, 70, 72, 81 – 3, 85 – 6, 117, gender xiv, xx, 2, 11n. 7, 12, 32, 38, 121, 178, 191, 195, 202, 80n. 21, 84, 97, 97n. 7, 157, 204, 208, 220, 241, 254, 164, 180, 233 – 4, 237, 239, 257 – 9, 271 247 – 70 Findlay, John 99n. 9, 126n. 2 Genet, Jean 257 fi sh 60 – 1, 181 – 2 gerbils 52 Fiske, John 233n. 20 Gibson, Andrew 16 formal alteration 38– 9 G i ff ord, Don 97n. 7 formalism (Russian, Anglo- Gikandi, Simon 238n. 23 American) xiv, xix – xx, Gilbert, Sandra 250n. 4 54n. 4, 90n. 2, 120, 146 – 71, Giotto (di Bondone, Giotto) 173 – 4, 183 170, 236

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globalization 234, 234n. 21, 244 Hentzi, Gary 10n. 5, 11n. 7, 20, God 16, 28n. 2, 86n. 26, 90n. 1, 22n. 16, 27n. 1, 54n. 4, 133, 133n. 6, 135 – 9, 78n. 18, 84n. 25, 94n. 6, 162 – 4, 202 – 3, 205n. 3, 112n. 19, 113n. 20, 133n. 6, 207, 215 – 17, 225 – 6, 138n. 8, 155n. 4, 156, 256, 262 158n. 5, 190n. 3, 251, Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1 252n. 5, 254n. 6 Grass, Gü nter 1 hermeneutics 84 – 5, 84n. 25 Gray, Francine du Plessix heteronormativity 264 – 5, xxi, 248 – 9 264nn. 11 – 12, 267 – 70 Greenblatt, Stephen 90n. 2, 102, Hoggart, Richard 233n. 20 114, 120 Holman, Hugh 152, 154n. 3 Gubar, Susan 250n. 4 hooks, bell 259, 263 Horkheimer, Max 2n. 1, 6, 21– 2 Habermas, J ü rgen xxi, 221, 232 – 3, horses 35, 179 233n. 20, 236, 243 Houston, Whitney 267 Halberstadt, Ernst (Freud ’ s Hughes, Langston 154n. 3 grandson) 67 – 70, 68n. 6, human reality (world) xiii, xv, xx, 69n. 7, 70n. 8, 93 xxii, 3– 6, 16, 18, 19n. 14, 24, Halberstadt, Sophie (Freud ’ s 27– 33, 31n. 4, 35, 37– 41, 46, daughter) 70n. 8 48 – 9, 62, 64 – 5, 70, 72, 76 – 8, Halberstam, Judith xv, 23, 115, 81, 86, 89, 90n. 3, 96– 7, 271, 274 101n. 10, 103, 106, 108– 9, Hall, Donald E. 10, 271n. 1 115 – 17, 121, 140 – 1, 144, Hall, Stuart xii, xv, 16, 27, 149, 174– 5, 179, 185, 190, 27n. 1, 233 192, 196, 199, 201, 209, 212, Halperin, David xxii, 254, 266 228, 247, 259, 272, 273n. 2 Haraway, Donna xxi, 227n. 17, humanism (anti-humanism) 233, 241, 255, 258 – 9, 11, 11n. 7, 16 – 17, 24, 89, 258n. 7, 263 103n. 12, 203, 210 – 11, 226, Hardt, Michael xv, 5 – 7, 16, 108, 243n. 25 108n. 15, 274 Huston, Walter xxi, 241 Harmon, William 152, 154n. 3 hybridity 243 – 5, 243n. 25 Hassan, Ihab 200n. 5, 233 Hawks, Howard xxi, 241 iconic/indexical/symbolic Hegel, G. W. F. xii, xiv, xvii – xix, signs 51, 176 – 8, 180, 195 22n. 16, 99n. 9, 116, identity xx, xxii, 10, 18n. 10, 125 – 45, 126n. 2, 127n. 3, 48– 9, 62n. 2, 78n. 18, 87– 91, 130n. 4, 131n. 5, 133n. 6, 90nn. 1, 3, 97, 99, 99n. 9, 115, 137n. 7, 149, 155, 193, 210, 118, 125, 129 – 30, 142 – 4, 199, 222, 225, 247, 272 – 3 202, 204n. 2, 205n. 3, 217, hegemony 2n. 1, 112n. 19, 154, 233n. 20, 239, 241, 243n. 25, 231n. 19 251, 254– 5, 254n. 6, 259, Hemingway, Ernest 235 261 – 2, 264n. 11, 266 – 7

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identity politics 1, 254, 254n. 6, Johnson, Barbara 50, 199, 212 259, 265 – 7 Johnston, Adrian xiv, 19n. 14, ideological/repressive state 33n. 6, 126n. 2, 130n. 4, apparatuses xvii, 102, 131n. 5, 133n. 6, 134 – 5 112, 112n. 19 Joni (dog) 62 ideology xviii, 2n. 1, 89, 90n. 2, jouissance xii, 75, 75n. 15, 227 101 – 14, 101n. 10, 103n. 12, Joyce, James 54n. 3, 97n. 7, 235 112nn. 17 – 19, 115, 121, 156, 203, 218, 218n. 10, Kant, Immanuel 90n. 3, 138n. 8, 225, 267 – 9 149, 155n. 4, 225, immediacy/mediation 38, 128– 30, 225n. 14, 244 132, 134 – 5 Kasdan, Lawrence 229 indetermanence 199, 200n. 5 Kavanagh, James 103, 106– 7, interpellation xiii, xviii, 110– 13, 110, 115 112n. 17, 115, 118, 180, 218 Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruhollah 219 interpretation xvii– xviii, xx, 17– 18, King, Dr. Martin Luther 141n. 10 20, 24, 54n. 6, 67 – 8, 70, Koj è ve, Alexandre xvii, 59, 70, 72 – 3, 75 – 6, 78n. 19, 79 – 86, 140 – 3 80n. 22, 83n. 23, 84n. 25, Koons, Jeff 237 86nn. 26 – 7, 88, 137n. Kristeva, Julia 78, 78n. 18, 87, 7, 149, 160, 195, 201 – 3, 92, 259 202n. 1, 206n. 4, 210, 211n. 6, 255, 271 labor xiii, xv, xvi, 16, 27, 29n. 3, Inwood, Michael 128, 134 – 5, 138 31, 72, 89, 101, 104 – 5, irony 71, 87, 136, 142 – 3, 150, 108 – 9, 113, 133n. 6, 142, 158 – 65, 160n. 7, 166, 144, 148 – 50, 150n. 2, 153, 200n. 5 155 – 6, 158, 243 Lacan, Jacques xii– xix, 11, 13, 17, Jagose, Annamarie 266, 271 23, 30 – 4, 31nn. 4 – 5, 33n. 6, James, Henry 49, 54 40 – 1, 41n. 2, 43n. 3, 45 – 6, James, P. D. 268 46n. 5, 51 – 5, 59 – 61, 61n. 1, Jameson, Fredric xii, xv, xviii, xxiii, 63 – 5, 70, 72, 74 – 7, 74n. 13, 2n. 1, 3 – 4, 10, 10n. 5, 12, 79 – 80, 82 – 3, 85, 93 – 7, 14, 18 – 19, 19nn. 13 – 14, 97n. 7, 99 – 102, 99n. 9, 27, 28n. 2, 29n. 3, 48, 53, 101n. 10, 113, 119 – 20, 89 – 90, 90n. 3, 99n. 9, 130n. 4, 133, 133n. 6, 104, 112, 112n. 18, 126 – 8, 140, 172, 172n. 1, 180 – 1, 126n. 2, 127n. 3, 131n. 5, 184 – 200, 186n. 2, 190n. 3, 133n. 6, 134, 137n. 7, 144, 200n. 5, 210, 245, 247, 165, 172, 174, 203, 229 – 34, 272 – 3 231n. 19, 233n. 20, 237, lack 60, 61n. 1, 70, 72, 81, 95, 97, 244, 272 99n. 9, 136, 175, 178, Jesus 88, 115, 137 – 9, 148, 162 – 4 180, 185, 189 – 92, 194 – 8, John Paul II (Pope) 270 209 – 10, 212

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Laclau, Ernesto 125n. 1 marxism/marxian xxi, 2n. 1, 22, Laplanche, Jean 63n. 3, 66n. 4 27 – 8, 28n. 2, 29n. 3, 90n. 3, Large, Duncan 17n. 9, 256 104, 115 – 17, 117n. 21, law 7, 18n. 10, 50, 55, 72, 75 – 8, 133n. 3, 140, 144, 153, 77n. 17, 90, 90n. 1, 121, 158n. 5, 209, 218n. 10, 223, 167, 175, 185, 188, 190n. 3, 229, 231n. 19, 232 – 4, 237, 192, 196 – 7, 199, 207, 213, 243 – 4, 243n. 25, 246, 254, 216, 223, 270 264 – 5 Law, Cardinal Bernard mass/popular culture 1, 21, 232, Francis 270 233n. 20, 234, 237 – 8 Lazarus, Neil xxi, 238, 243– 4, 246 materialism/materiality xiii, xv– xvi, Leitch, Vincent 164, 265 19 – 20, 19nn. 13 – 14, lemurs 192 27 – 32, 28n. 2, 104, 108, L é vi-Strauss, Claude 209– 10 117, 133n. 6, 149 – 51, Lichtenstein, Roy 237 158, 227n. 17, 250, liminality 243, 243n. 25 258, 263 lobsters 31 materialist semiotics/semiotic logocentrism 190n. 3 materialism xv – xvii, logos 23n. 17, 77, 190n. 3 xix, 19 – 20, 19nn. 13 – 14, Lorre, Peter 241 27, 31 – 2, 53, 73, 152, 157, love 42 – 3, 68n. 5, 88, 114, 199, 226 211, 250 Lucas, George 229 Matisse, Henri 235 Lucy, Niall 202n. 1, 204n. 2, McLaughlin, Th omas 14, 17, 20 205n. 3 meaning xii, xv – xvi, xx, 2 – 3, Lyotard, Jean-Fran ç ois xxi, 221 – 2, 7 – 19, 19n. 14, 23 – 4, 226 – 7, 233, 235 31 – 47, 49 – 51,53 – 5, 57 – 60, 61n. 1, 62, 64 – 8, Macdonald, Dwight 237 70 – 3, 78 – 81, 80n. 21, Malabou, Catherine 19n. 14, 85 – 7, 90n. 1, 94 – 5, 126n. 2 99n. 9, 104, 107, 109 – 10, Malone, Dorothy 242 109n. 16, 112n. 17, 114, Malpas, Simon 18n. 11, 75n. 15, 121, 126n. 2, 127 – 8, 84n. 25, 118n. 22, 183, 133n. 6, 157, 159, 160n. 7, 204n. 2, 212nn. 7 – 8, 162, 164 – 5, 169, 173, 217n. 9, 234n. 21, 258n. 7 175, 179, 183, 185, Marcuse, Herbert 233n. 20 188 – 93, 197 – 9, 201 – 2, Marx, Karl xii – xiii, 5 – 6, 6n. 2, 8, 204n. 2, 206n. 4, 211 – 16, 20, 27 – 31, 28n. 2, 29n. 3, 219 – 20, 223, 231, 233, 42, 74, 84, 90n. 3, 102, 104, 239, 243n. 25, 247, 253 – 4, 113, 116 – 19, 117n. 21, 257, 266, 268 – 9, 269n. 15, 139, 144, 148 – 50, 150n. 2, 271 – 2, 274 153, 207, 223, 226n. 15, metalanguage 184 231, 231n. 19, 244, 246, metanarrative 221– 2, 227, 255, 263 233, 246

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metaphor xvi – xvii, xix – xx, 6n. 2, negation (negativity) 2n. 1, 6, 22n. 16, 42 – 3, 57, 79, 17, 21 – 2, 44, 49, 51 – 2, 80n. 22, 97n. 7, 103n. 12, 55, 58 – 9, 72, 82, 87, 108, 138 – 9, 159 – 65, 160n. 7, 126, 129, 130 – 2, 131n. 5, 166 – 7, 170, 180 – 91, 196, 134 – 8, 143 – 4, 166 – 7, 203, 208, 258 179 – 80, 182 – 3, 191 – 2, 224, metaphysics xx, 17, 17n. 9, 23, 120, 231n. 19, 271 – 3 133n. 6, 173, 179, 190n. 3, Negri, Antonio 28 201 – 2, 204 – 5, 204n. 2, Nehamas, Richard xiii, 86n. 27 205n. 3, 208 – 12, 214, 220, Nietzsche, Friedrich xii, xvi, 246, 254 xviii – xxii, 6n. 2, 20, 61n. 1, metonymy xix – xx, 80n. 22, 62n. 2, 80 – 6, 80n. 22, 166 – 7, 170, 180 – 91, 199, 83n. 23, 84n. 24, 203, 208 86nn. 26 – 7, 90n. 3, 95, mice 36 98, 116 – 17, 119 – 20, 169, Milani, Farzaneh 97n. 7 201 – 11, 202n. 1, 206n. 4, Miller, George 228 211n. 6, 215, 220n. 11, Miller, Matt 111 221, 223, 245 – 6, 254, 256, Mills, Jon 130n. 4 259, 263 mirror stage xviii, 31n. 4, no to the real xvi– xvii, 49, 52– 3, 55, 93 – 102, 97n. 7, 101n. 10, 58, 72, 73n. 11, 74 – 6, 78, 113 – 14 185, 196 Mohanty, Chandra normativity (anti-normativity) 15, 17, Talpade xxii, 234n. 21, 32, 41, 49, 51, 55, 76, 78, 102, 259 – 63, 261n. 10 114, 119 – 20, 194 – 5, 229 – 30, Moi, Toril 74n. 13, 249, 250n. 4 234, 240 – 2, 247 – 8, 264 – 5, mollusk 64 266n. 14, 267 – 9 Mondrian, Piet 235, 237 nothingness 59, 62, 65, 70 – 1, 84, monkeys 31, 63 86 – 7, 205n. 3 Morrison, Toni 147 – 8, 151 Nussbaum, Martha C. xxi, 253

Nachtr ä glichkeit/deferred oceanic feeling 30, 53, 57, 61, action 100 61n. 1, 72, 74, 80, 80n. 21, Nancy, Jean-Luc xviii, 11nn. 6, 13, 97 – 8, 193 125, 126n. 2, 131n. 5, 139, onto-theology 210 144 – 5, 272 – 3 ontology 94 – 5, 94n. 6, 99n. 9, narrative/narration xvii, 4, 31n. 4, 119 – 20, 134, 210 54, 54nn. 4 – 5, 58, 72 – 3, orientalism xxi, 239 – 41, 242n. 24, 243 79, 99, 112n. 17, 137, 144, otherness (alterity) xiv, 24, 45, 125, 194 – 5, 221 – 2, 227, 233, 127n. 3, 132, 133n. 6, 156, 235, 239, 246, 264n. 11, 171, 178 – 9, 201 – 2, 245, 267 267 – 8, 271 need/demand/desire xvii, 41– 3, panopticism 118, 118n. 22, 180, 218 43n. 3, 60 – 5, 68 – 9, 72, 77 paradox 160, 160n. 7, 162– 4

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Parker, Robert Dale 2n. 1, 157, 160, Pound, Ezra 235 173 – 4 prematurity at birth (human) 32, 34, parody/pastiche 95, 229– 30 61, 97, 103, 115, 247 paternal metaphor 196 – 7 primal scene 79, 79n. 20 Pearson, Keith Ansell 17n. 9, 256 principium individuationis 61n. 1 Peirce, Charles Sanders 176 project of modernity 221– 2, 246 penisneid (penis envy) 194 performative/constative utterances queer (queer theory) ix, xiv, 54n. 5, 251 – 2, 255 xx – xxii, 12, 23, 32, performativity 251 – 2 76n. 16, 200, 204, 227, perspective 170, 236 – 7 241 – 3, 247, 253 – 4, phallogocentrism xx, 190n. 3, 197, 264 – 70, 265n. 13, 266n. 14, 199, 210, 257 269n. 15, 271 – 3 phallus xx, 190– 200, 190n. 3 phenomenology 22, 22n. 16, 116, Rabat é , Jean-Michel xiv, xviii, 126, 133n. 6 xxii, 3, 22n. 16, 121, 125, Phillips, Adam xvi, 37, 41 133n. 6, 145, 273 Picasso, Pablo 93n. 4, 235, 237 Rabinowitz, Peter J. 147n. 1 pigs 25 Ransom, John Crowe 154n. 3 Pillay, Navi 234n. 21 Rasmussen, E. D. 125 Plato (Platonism) 74n. 14, 155, 173, rat 179 190n. 3, 205 – 6, 205n. 3, Raulet, Gerá rd 221– 2 210, 229n. 18 real/imaginary/symbolic xvii, 30– 3, pleasure/reality principles xvi, 34 – 47, 31n. 4, 43, 43n. 3, 51, 60, 39n. 1, 53, 64 – 7, 109n. 16, 62 – 5, 62n. 2, 68 – 9, 69n. 7, 194 86, 95, 97 – 8, 98n. 8, 207, political xiii, xviii– xix, 4, 12, 268, 272 17 – 18, 18n. 12, 20 – 1, reception theory/reader 20n. 15, 32, 41, 88 – 90, response 217, 217n. 9 90nn. 1, 3, 101 – 2, recognition (misrecognition) 29n. 3, 112n. 19, 114 – 17, 121, 40– 3, 65, 76, 90n. 3, 93, 95, 144, 153 – 4, 156 – 8, 98, 107, 109– 10, 113– 14, 165, 170 – 1, 178, 205, 212, 120, 125, 132, 133n. 6, 224 – 6, 227n. 17, 230, 140– 4, 155, 194, 199, 234n. 21, 238 – 43, 250, 243n. 25 253 – 5, 257 – 8, 258n. 7, referent 52, 52n. 2, 169, 177, 183, 260 – 3, 261n. 10, 265 – 7, 213 – 14 265n. 13, 272 reifi cation xii, 2 – 4, 2n. 1, 6 – 8, Pollock, Jackson 235, 237 12, 20 – 2, 22n. 16, 24, 85, polymorphous perversity 74, 74n. 12, 90n. 3, 109n. 16, 121, 114, 194, 271 152 – 3, 157, 165, 272 Pontalis, Jean-Baptiste 63n. 3, 66n. 4 repetition compulsion 66 Portman, John. 230 representational pleasure 36– 8, Potebnya, Alexander 165 – 7 42 – 3, 47

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repression 24, 44 – 6, 62, 89, 100, sex xvii, xx – xxi, 12, 37, 55, 118, 186, 186n. 2, 192 – 4, 59, 62n. 2, 66, 73 – 9, 199, 204, 206, 208, 239 – 40, 73n. 11, 74nn. 12 – 14, 245, 251, 257, 272 76n. 16, 77n. 17, 79n. 20, reproductive futurism xxii, 267– 9, 80n. 21, 81, 83, 100, 102, 269n. 15 104, 117 – 18, 156, 164 – 5, Rich, Adrienne 252n. 5 180, 185, 187, 189 – 98, Richards, I. A. 154, 158n. 6 226, 233 – 4, 239 – 43, Richter, David xi, 23n. 17, 155, 247 – 52, 252n. 5, 254n. 6, 158n. 6 255, 257, 259, 264 – 70, Richter, Gerhardt 237 264nn. 11 – 12, 265n. 13, Riley, Denise 253 269n. 15, 272 Rimbaud, Arthur xviii, 95 Shakespeare 1, 8, 54n. 6, 64, Rivkin, Julie 152 78n. 19, 96, 104, 156, 179, Rothko, Mark 235, 237 186, 223n. 13, 226, 249 Rubin, Gayle xxi – xxii, 251, 264, Shepard, Matthew 77n. 17 264n. 12 Shklovsky, Viktor xix, 10, 90n. 3, Rushdie, Salman 219 120, 165 – 70, 173, 182 – 4 Ruti, Mari 271n. 1 short circuit 6n. 2, 10 Ryan, Michael 152 sign 18, 18n. 10, 23, 32, 51 – 2, 55, 170, 172 – 3, 175 – 80, Said, Edward xxi, 27, 112n. 19, 183 – 5, 191 – 2, 209, 239 – 41, 243, 262, 272 212n. 8, 223 Salih, Sarah 171 signifi er/signifi ed xvii, xx, Sartre, Jean-Paul 116–17, 119, 222 51 – 3, 52n. 2, 75, 96, 176 – 9, Saussure, Ferdinand de xx, 13, 23, 183, 191 – 3, 196 – 7, 211, 48 – 9, 52n. 2, 172 – 4, 176 – 9, 212n. 7 181 – 5, 188 – 9, 191 – 2, simulacrum 229, 229n. 18 196, 204n. 4, 209 – 10, Smith, Jason 23 212nn. 7 – 8 Socrates 208 Schoenberg, Arnold 235 Sophocles 1, 54n. 6, 78n. 19 Schopenhauer 61n. 1 speech/writing 190n. 3, 205n. 3, Scott, Joan 251 212n. 8 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky xxi – xxii, spirit (Hegelian) 130 – 3, 131n. 5, 239 – 41, 243, 255, 266, 268 133n. 6, 136 – 9, 144 sedimentation/de-sedimentation Spivak, Gayatri xxi, 15, 243– 5, 22 – 4, 22n. 16, 23n. 17 254 – 5, 259, 263 semiotics xiv, xix – xx, 18 – 19, 27, Sprinker, Michael 246n. 26 31, 152, 157, 172 – 3, 175, Stevens, Wallace 24n. 16, 235 180, 265 Stoltenberg, John 262 separation 30– 1, 31n. 4, 49– 51, 55, Strachey, James 33n. 6 61 – 2, 61n. 1, 62n. 2, 66, strategic essentialism 254 72, 74 – 80, 80n. 21, 98, 188, Stravinsky, Igor 235 191 – 3, 196, 199 subaltern 243, 243n. 25

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subject xiii, xv, xvii– xviii, 5– 6, 18, temporality 38– 9, 79, 225 18nn. 10 – 11, 27, 30 – 3, tenor/vehicle 161 31n. 4, 33n. 6, 37, 40 – 1, tension 160, 160n. 7, 162 – 4, 169 45, 49, 52, 54 – 5, 60, 62, thing-presentations xvii, 63 – 5 65, 72, 74nn. 12 – 14, 75, Th omas, Calvin 70n. 9, 180, 91, 95 – 103, 98n. 8, 99n. 9, 198n. 4, 250n. 3, 253, 101n. 10, 106 – 7, 108n. 15, 265n. 13 109 – 13, 115 – 20, 125, Th ompson, E. P. 233n. 20 129 – 32, 134, 143, 180, 185, trauma 45 – 6, 46n. 5, 62n. 2, 66, 189 – 93, 197, 203, 211n. 6, 74n. 13, 78, 80n. 21, 88, 218 – 20, 222 – 3, 226 – 7, 229, 185, 187, 189 231 – 3, 243n. 25, 245, 250, 256, 259, 261, 265n. 13 unconscious xix – xx, 12, 18n. 11, sublation see Aufh ebung 33n. 6, 36, 45 – 6, 46n. 5, substance 49– 50, 132, 134, 166, 54n. 6, 55, 60, 66 – 7, 72, 168, 174, 182 – 3, 186, 78n. 19, 79, 80n. 21, 81, 190, 271 83n. 23, 95 – 6, 98n. 8, 103, substitution 37 – 40, 39n. 1, 182, 103n. 12, 119, 160, 167 – 8, 188 – 9, 196 – 7, 208 – 9, 219 172, 179, 181, 185 – 9, 197, substitute gratifi cation see 202, 209 – 10, 264n. 11, representational pleasure 271 – 2 sujet 54n. 4 unity (aesthetic) 152, 154, 157, Suleri, Sara 234n. 21 159 – 60, 160n. 7, 162 – 5, Summers, Lawrence 249n. 2, 168, 173, 202, 222 261n. 9 Surin, Kenneth 1 – 2 Van Gogh, Vincent 237 symbolic compensation see Vico, Giambattista 27 – 8, 28n. 2, representational pleasure 239 – 40, 262 symbolic order xiii, 18n. 11, 31n. 4, Voltaire 21, 146, 148 32 – 3, 36, 40 – 1, 43, 48, 51, vultures 140n. 9 53 – 5, 60, 62n. 2, 65, 74 – 5, 78 – 80, 78n. 18, 95, 119, Wachowskis, the 101n. 10 185, 192 – 3, 197, 270 Wake, Paul 18n. 11, 75n. 15, symptom 21, 46, 111, 153, 186, 84n. 25, 118n. 22, 183, 186n. 2, 189, 229 – 31, 243, 204n. 2, 212nn. 7 – 8, 247, 252 217n. 9, 234n. 21, 258n. 7 synecdoche 183, 185 Wallace, David Foster 54, 228 syntagmat ic/paradigmatic, Warhol, Andy 237 horizontal/vertical, Warner, Michael xxi – xxii, 264n. 11, axes 181 – 4, 187 – 9, 228 265 – 6, 272 Warren, Rick 105n. 13 Tate, Allen 154n. 3 Warren, Robert Penn 154n. 3 Teena, Brandon 77n. 17 Webern, Anton 235 teleology 133, 133n. 6, 208, 226 whales 62

TTenen LLessonesson TTheory.indbheory.indb 229999 44/1/2013/1/2013 11:43:3711:43:37 AMAM 300 Index

White, Susan 242n. 24 Yeats, William Butler 212n. 7 Wilder, Billy 229 Young, Robert 238, 238n. 23 Williams, Raymond 233n. 20 Yovel, Yirmiyahu 127n. 3, 128, Wilson, Dooley 140n. 9 132, 137n. 7 Wimsatt, W. K. 157 Wittig, Monique 12 Ž i ž ek, Slavoj xiii – xv, 2, 6 – 7, 6n. 2, Woods, Tim 200n. 5, 243n. 25 19n. 14, 23, 41n. 2, 43, Woolf, Virginia xix, 156 – 8, 235, 45, 46n. 5, 48, 59, 61n. 1, 249, 261n. 9 62, 70, 72, 84, 87, 97, Woolfreys, Julian 17, 156 99n. 9, 125 – 6, 125n. 1, word-presentations xvii, 64 126n. 2, 130n. 4, 133n. 6, Wordsworth, William 154 172n. 1, 234n. 21, 245, 253, world see human reality 260 – 2, 274

TTenen LLessonesson TTheory.indbheory.indb 330000 44/1/2013/1/2013 11:43:3711:43:37 AMAM

Thomascalvin Ten Lessons in Theory File (2024)
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