Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Inverted Subject: Lacan, Nietzsche, and the Possibility of The New

"Is that not a reason not to abandon the term 'subject', now that the time finally has come to invert its usage?"

This dramatic cliffhanger marks the final words in Lacan’s lecture entitled "My Teaching, Its Nature and Its Ends". It is tempting to dismiss it as mere rhetoric, but that would be to overlook the structure of the lecture, including a poignant reference to Hegel at the penultimate as "the man who is regarded as the pinnacle of the philosophical tradition" - a reference we should see as a structural or topological reference, and not as a superficial judgement of philosophical rank.

Lacan's aim, in invoking Hegel, is precisely to bring to bear the Spinozist Substance thought also as Subject: "substance is already the subject, before it becomes the subject". This in turn echoes an even earlier meditation in the same lecture on Freud's familiar dictum "Wo Es war, soll Ich werden" [where It was, I shall be]. So what we are asked to consider, beyond doubt,  is a particular configuration of thought, in other words the structure itself.

The reference to Freud is itself echoed backwards, since Hegel, of course, precedes Freud chronologically speaking, but also because this is where we are on the rollercoaster: on the cusp of a descent. In short, it is a kind of unraveling. What we thought was the end is actually a kind of beginning: or perhaps merely a temporal edge in the middle after building up a head of steam.

Computer programmers may be reminded of "popping the stack", but without doubt this is a far more entangled, far less elegant situation. So much so that it is a wonder that a claim can even be made regarding this unique moment. Yet there it is, the question, poised like a ballerina. And here we are, the living audience, full of jouissance, ready to keep on popping and making history, even though we are clearly lost, unable to tell in which direction we will be going. We weren't even there when it started.

Baudrillard says it well when he refers to Elias Canetti, in his lecture "The Murder of the Real", and that unrecoverable moment when we had entered the virtual, a moment that broke History when we entered a virtual that is now the territory of our lives, but which is also a map in which only fragments of the Real are still floating.

The Real hasn't disappeared. Its configuration is mathematical yet imprecise and promiscuous, virile as well as viral. Here, more than anywhere, Truth appears as a discourse, because She has been unveiled and She is completely naked and - can it be - She is not a woman! In the Truth, fragmented, swirling, continually sprouting from an unseen Dark Matter - which is nothing other than our excess - everything is an expression, but every expression is loosened from the mast. The roots are unrecoverable or, at least, interchangeable. Indeed, we ourselves are lost, and with it Truth first overwhelms, then passes over us like a wave that unsettles even further, and reaches no shore.

Let's try to put it differently: Is it not perhaps the case that we are not thinking anymore, but are now heavy with a certain excess that propels us within thought? And here, the map keeps changing. We are moving without knowing which way, and when we encounter the Real, or worship at Her feet, we continue express. But there was another time - the time of History - when we expressed because we did not recognise anything, not even reality. It was all a big surprise, which we expressed. Now, those rituals, those expressions sound empty, and in themselves merely signify ad infitum.

It would be easy to fall into simulated melodrama and imagine that we can reinhabit the hollow left behind by the excess that came before, but in fact thoughts are the very fabric that our jouissance encounters, and jouissance no longer produces anything New, it only configures differently. Or rather, even the new is diverted into the same, and has no effect. Jouissance exceeds every thought and is neutralised in the same instant by the mirror image of its thought. How long can this vortex continue?

It is therefore certain that the libidinal economy is not exhausted, not in the least and it would gross misunderstanding to think so. It has merely been contained, like a hamster on a wheel, with its dangerous remainder. But every thought exists, or at least every thought unto the horizon, and now the horizon also approaches us, it no longer opens onto the unknown.

Everything is already available to us. This is what Kenneth Goldsmith means when he says that we have entered an era of language as material. Of course we are still capable of expression in the traditional sense, and to suppose any differently amounts to a kind of denial. But what has changed is the velocity of our excess. Or rather, the density of what has come before us. We are spoilt for riches, and our riches spoil us.

Our velocity exceeds our ability to anchor our thoughts. Even the slowest movement passes over countless objects in which those who came before have left their living marks. We would have to burn our books, destroy our data, and keep silent for a generation to forget every object, to lull to sleep the serpent of our living past. But considering our infrastructure and architecture, which is the shape of our lives that outlives us, and our dreams, which speaks a language we cannot control, maybe even that is not enough. Besides, wouldn’t it be murder?

In the midst of this reverse pressure, of a “tyranny of knowledge”, this symbolic Matrix of Thought in which everything is composable, can we still find the New? This is the question that Nietzsche seeked to answer. And, as Zupančič asserts, it is in the event Nietzsche, Nietzsche as the event, that we already find a new configuration, a declaration of the Real that blasts a vacuum within thought, to create the possibility for the New.

It may well be that creatures like us cannot cope with the pressure of so many objects inscribed with ourselves, with so much much History, and the only act of forgetting that is equal to the measure of the task, can be found during the most radical shift in which we shake loose this mortal coil in order to redically decentre. An act dictated by our new centre, an act always dreamed of in Religion, but only realizable in the age of Data. A centre outside ourselves and yet ourselves - our future - which is our selves to come. Nietzsche’s dynamite: to become who we are by “staging … the Real by means of the Symbolic” (Zupančič).

To invert the Subject, or turn Freud's dictum upside down, "Wo Ich war, soll Es werden" [where I was, there It shall be] means to disappear completely, and yet to live. Its realisation is the subject extracted from substance. It is Baudrillard's virtual that stands on its own feet, and looks at Us, sees Us as “ein Tod mit wachen Augen”. To become Death staring with waking eyes.