“The articulation, and I mean the algebraic articulation, of the semblant-and because of this we are only dealing with letters-and its effects, this is the only apparatus which enables us to designate what is real. What is real is what opens up a hole in this semblant, in this articulated semblant which is the scientific discourse. The scientific discourse progresses without even worrying if it is a discourse of semblance or not. All that matters is that its network, its texture, its lattice, as one is used to say, makes the right holes appear at the right place. The only reference reached by its deductions is the impossible. This impossible is the real. In physics, we aim at something which is real with the help of the discursive apparatus which, in its crispness, encounters the limits of its consistency.” *
* : Jacques Lacan, Le seminaire, Livre XVIII: D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant, Paris: Seuil 2006, p. 28. My thanks to Alenka Zupancic, who drew my attention to this passage.
quoted in Slavoj Žižek 2012 Less Than Nothing, p.780
Nonetheless, the Freudian form of the unconscious is not the same as the Hegelian one. But, more importantly, instead of automatically taking this gap that separates Freud from Hegel as an indication of Hegel’s limitation (“Hegel could not see that …”), one should reverse the underlying question: not only “Can Hegel think the Freudian unconscious?” but also “Can Freud think the Hegelian unconscious?” It is not that there is something “too radical for Hegel” missing from his thought, something with regard to which Freud is more consistent and “goes further,” but the very opposite: like Hegel, Freud is a thinker of conflict, struggle, of “self-contradiction” and inherent antagonisms; but, in clear contrast to Hegel, in Freud, a conflict is not resolved by a self-contradiction being taken to an extreme and, with its self-cancellation, a new dimension emerging. On the contrary, the conflict is not resolved at all, the “contradiction” is not brought to its climax, but is rather stalled, brought to a temporary halt in the guise of a compromise-formation. This compromise is not the “unity of opposites” in the Hegelian sense of the “negation of negation,” but a ridiculously failed negation, a negation which is hindered, derailed, distorted, twisted, sidetracked, a kind of clinamen of the negation (to use the neat formulation proposed by Mladen Dolar) In other words, what eludes Hegel (or what he would have dismissed as trifling or accidental) is overdetermination: in the Hegelian dialectical process, negativity is always radical or radicalized, and consistent-Hegel never considers the option of a negation that fails, so that something is just half-negated and continues to lead a subterranean existence (or, rather, insistence). He never considers a constellation in which a new spiritual principle continues to coexist with the old one in an inconsistent totality, or in which a moment condenses (verdichten) a multiplicity of associative causal chains, so that its explicit “obvious” meaning is there to conceal the true repressed one.
Slavoj Žižek 2012 Less Than Nothing, p.487
Hegel’s Absolute Knowing does involve a “less”: it refers to a constitutive lack, the lack in the Other itself, not in our knowledge. Hegel’s Absolute Knowing is not an open field of endless progress, and it is the overlapping of the two lacks (the subject’s lack of knowing and the lack in the Other itself) that accounts for its “closure.”
To explain the mode of functioning of the objectless knowing, Milner evokes the TV series Dexter, in which a father who knows his son is genetically determined to become a serial killer tells him to become a cop and thus satisfy his innate urge to kill by killing only the killers themselves. (Jean Claude Milner, Clartes de tout, Paris: Verdier 2011) In a homologous way, Milner’s aim is to operate like a bird flying high up in the air, with no attachment to any particular object on the land; from time to time, the bird dives and picks out its victim-like Milner who, in his work, picks on one particular knowledge after another and tears it apart by displaying its inconsistency. But is this not precisely the mode of functioning of Hegel’s own Absolute Knowing which moves from one to another shape of knowing, touching it in its Real, i.e., bringing out its immanent/constitutive antagonism?
Slavoj Žižek 2012 Less Than Nothing, p.424
Sooner or later, we become aware of inconsistencies in the notional schemes we are using to understand the situation: something which should have been a subordinate species seems to encompass and dominate the entire field; different classifications and categorizations clash, without us being able to decide which is the more “true,” and so on and so forth. We spontaneously dismiss such inconsistencies as signs of the deficiency of our understanding: reality is much too rich and complex for our abstract categories, we will never be able to deploy a notional network capable of capturing its diversity. Then, however, if we have a refined theoretical sense, we sooner or later notice something strange and unexpected: it is not possible to clearly distinguish the inconsistencies of our notion of an object from the inconsistencies which are immanent to the object itself: The “Thing itself” is inconsistent, full of tensions, oscillating between its different determinations, and the deployment of these tensions, this struggle, is what makes it “alive.” … what appears as a conflict between two “abstractions” in our mind reveals itself as a tension in the Thing itself.
Slavoj Žižek 2012 Less Than Nothing, p.396
an advertisement by definition addresses the big other, not as relying on it but as founding it, always arriving at its destination. in other words, an advertisement is that which addresses the anonymous one.
advertisements are when your TV sincerely expresses itself. billboards are where your city sincerely expresses itself. so they are the equivalent of full speech in media.
how about that?
addition: science designates the practice of translating full speech into different languages (hegel translates into hegelese, zizek translates one into another, a physicist translates into physics, a lawyer translates into laws, etc.). technical designates a language from which no further translation is possible. technical therefore designates the limit of science, i.e. science itself in its oppositional determination. so when advertisements or billboards are introduced as technical necessities, they are at the same time the limit of that which necessitates them (media), in the form of a full speech from which no further translation is—currently—possible.
addition: what the technical as the limit of science currently relies on is not a symbolic tautology (like “law is law”, “turks are turks”, “an atom is an atom” etc), but the tautology of a positive quantity: “one gained is one gained”
addition: under this limit, to be a free person is to know which one gained is one gained. this is the technical essence of choice. and science is organized by this technical essence reflected back onto itself: peer-review means those who can choose can choose those who can choose.
Flanagan, P.S.L. (1999) “Cyberspace: The Final Frontier?”, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 115-122
ABSTRACT. The science fiction series of the ’70s, Star Trek, began all its telecastings with the announcement “Space: The Final Frontier.” Star Trek chronicled the voyage of a crew navigating their way through space. For the travelers, space seemed like the last unknown entity that needed to be investigated. As they journeyed, they learned of the boundless nature of space. Each episode portrayed a group of folks encountering new situations, attempting to solve another problem, or strategizing how to overcome an obstacle. While few people will ever have a chance to travel in a spaceship to discover the universe, most have trekked through cyberspace. Cyberspace is the coined term for the computer world. Little would the Star Trek’s producer, Gene Roddenberry, know what expansive limits the computer age would usher in. With the advent of the computer age, we recognize that we have not even begun to identify the powerful magnitude of the computer. At each juncture or moment of discovery a new question is raised, impact is assessed and plans are strategically mapped out. This paper will identify the ways and places computers have impacted our lives and the corresponding ethical questions they raise because they affect human relationships and social institutions. It will then study one particular aspect of computers: electronic mail (email). Email is the normative way of communicating across computer networks. It has its benefits and challenges which will be named and discussed.
I am a recovering Althusserian. For decades now I have been Althusser-free, for the most part, but we all have our lapses. The first step to becoming a recovering Althusserian is to recognize that you have no control and are unconsciously always a little bit Althusserian whether you want to be or not.
The thing about being a recovering Althusserian is that one can’t help remembering the good times. Being on Althusser really does feel great. It makes certain problems disappear.
For example, one is no longer trapped in the oppressive reality of Hegelian Marxism, and yet nor does one have to return to the even more oppressively leaden world of ‘vulgar’ or ‘economistic’ Marxism. One can fly free from all that! (Ah, but as in any addiction narrative, there’s a price to pay…)
Let’s look at two famous Althusser essays from the period 1962-1963.
Contradiction and Overdetermination’ builds on Althusser’s ‘On the Young Marx’ essay, in deciding against the various Hegelian readings of Marx. Althusser rejects the metaphors of ‘turning Hegel right side-up’, or ‘restoring the rational kernel of dialectic without the mystical shell.’ Rather, he thinks of Marxism as replacing Hegel’s dialectic with a different one.
The real significance of Althusser is in the transition from a Marxism of the party to a Marxism of the academy. The means via which he got us from one to the other are now moot. It is rather like the fable of Captain Cook’s axe: first the handle was lost and replaced, then the head was lost and replaced, and yet it remains Captain Cook’s axe. The means via which Althusser got us from party to academy has been pretty much lost. And yet here we are.
Some elements of the text ‘On the Materialist Dialectic: On the Uneveness of Origins‘ might help explain this move. It is among other things an ur-text for the notion of a capitalized ‘Theory’. In Althusser this Theory was supposed to be the guarantee of the scientific character of Marxism, of tis break with ideology, and a defense against ideological back-sliding. It was not to be. As Stuart Hall famously said; there are no guarantees.
Indeed: Sartre’s practico-inert, Bataille’s general economy, Bogdanov’s tektology, or what the Marx of Capital vol. 3 called ‘metabolic rift’ seem like better starting points for a critical theory of the Anthropocene. But to be fair: by their results shall we judge them. If the hyper-rationalist theory, late descended from Althusser, proves itself useful in the current conjuncture, far be it for us to judge.
But what strikes me as particularly useful about those examples from Sartre, Bataille, and Bogdanov, or more recent work by Haraway and Barad, is that I find in them that a critical understanding of the Anthropocene is already internally present in their own categories. It does not come as a mystery from without. Hence if one were to perform the Althusserian gesture of a re-orientation of the production of critical knowledge towards the current world-historical situation, I would not start with Althusser. He would rather be one of those well-thumbed tomes to put back in the archive.
The thesis that a man tends to act directly and to take on board his act, while a woman prefers to act by proxy, letting another do (or manipulating another into doing) it for her, may sound like the worst cliché, which gives rise to the notorious image of woman as a congenital schemer hiding behind man’s back.* What, however, if this cliché nevertheless points towards the feminine status of the subject? What if the ‘original’ subjective gesture, the gesture constitutive of subjectivity, is not that of autonomously ‘doing something’ but, rather, that of the primordial substitution, of withdrawing and letting another do it for me, in my place? Women, much more than men, are able to enjoy by proxy, to find deep satisfaction in the awareness that their beloved partner enjoys (or succeeds, or has attained his or her goal in any other way).** In this precise sense, the Hegelian ‘cunning of Reason’ bears witness to the resolutely feminine nature of what Hegel calls ‘Reason’: ‘Look for the hidden Reason (which realizes itself in the apparent confusion of egotistic direct motifs and acts)!’ is Hegel’s version of the notorious Cherchez la femme! This, then, is how reference to interpassivity allows us to complicate the standard opposition of man versus woman as active versus passive: sexual difference is inscribed into the very core of the relationship of substitution – woman can remain passive while being active through her other; man can be active while suffering through his other.***
* : When it is applied to our everyday ideological perceptions of the relationship between women and men, the term ‘cliché’ is theoretically wrong. That is to say; when one denounces these perceptions as ‘clichés’, this is as a rule said in such a way that it allows us to dispense with a close analysis of what, precisely, these ‘clichés’ are. Within the social space, everything is ultimately a ‘cliché’ (i.e. a contingent symbolic formation not grounded in the immediate ‘nature of things’). ‘Clichés’ should therefore be taken extremely seriously, and the problem with the term ‘cliché’ is that it is misleading in so far as one can always hear in front of it an imperceptible ‘mere’ (‘cliché’ equals ‘mere cliché’).
** : In the case of men, the presupposed Other’s enjoyment is, rather, the source of obsessive anxiety, the ultimate goal of compulsive rituals precisely to keep the other mortified, that is, to prevent him from enjoying…
*** : When, in his scheme of four discourses, Lacan puts $(subject) under S1,(the master-signifier), is not one possible way to read this substitution to put Woman under Man – to conceive of man as woman’s metaphorical substitute, as her proxy?(The opposite substitution, $ under objet petit a, would, of course, be woman as man’s substitute.)
Slavoj Žižek 1997 Plague of Fantasies