Saturday, June 29, 2013

Marcel Duchamp’s Etant Donnés

Here I am, bent over the keyhole; suddenly I hear a footstep. I shudder as a wave of shame sweeps over me. Somebody has seen me.

-Jean Paul Sartre
The Viewer
The Viewer's View
View of the "Other"

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Purified Lamella's

Primarily, it is essential to note that Lacan associates the lamella with a libidinous pure life instinct rather than with drive-proper; as such, while drive implies a certain fixity on the part of the subject, a ‘stubborn attachment’ which is caught in an “infinitely repetitive cycle, endlessly circulating around the void of its structuring impossibility” (Žižek 1997: 31), the lamella (as the mythological representation of the libido) is situated “at the centre of drive” (Lacan 196), as its instrument, but must be conceived “as an organ, in both senses of the term, as organ-part of the organism and as organ-instrument”.

We may note how this relationship manifests in the “Sexuality” lecture of Seminar XI, when Lacan locates the libido between the unconscious and the field of reality. Schematically representing the libido as the intersection between the two ‘lobes’ in his diagram of the interior 8 (ibid: 156), Lacan asserts that the libido exists “at the point at which the lobe defined as field of the development of the unconscious covers and conceals the other lobe, that of sexual reality” – that is, the libido is the ‘supplemental’ lobe that “belongs to both” (ibid: 155-156) biological development and symbolic signification. Lacan concludes, however, that the libido’s determinate existence as a point of intersection is “precisely what it does not mean” (ibid:156), and should rather be conceived as an empty space between the two fields which functions as a lack. Simply stated, the libido – the primordial, prephallic abstraction represented by the unreal organ of lamella – is another manifestation of the agency of the lost object (objet petit a). This lost object is in fact “simply the presence of a hollow, a void, which can be occupied… by any object” (ibid: 180).

Yet it is necessary to trace the lamella’s origin back further than this void to ensure against any indiscriminate materializations; for while the lamella represents the libido and its contingency as void, the lamella’s appearance (contrary to many contemporary interpretations) is not an arbitrary infection/colonization of the subject. Anterior to any symbolic loss which occurs in the signifying chain between child and mother is a primary, essential loss that, as was mentioned earlier, is prephallic. This is the loss of immortality which occurs at the moment of birth, when the infant-organism is initiated into the cycle of sexed reproduction; what is lost in this moment is “immortal life, or irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life” (Ibid 198). While numerous accounts in cultural studies interpret the ‘immortality’ of this life substance as an anthropomorphized persistence or supernatural vitality (the monster that refuses to die, for example), Lacan’s initial distinction is purely biological. Unlike single-celled organisms, clones, and cyborgs, which are capable of infinite asexual reduplication and, by extension, ‘eternal life’, the birth engendered by sexual reproduction is always-already constitutive of death. Here, my invocation of the term ‘engendered’ should be interpreted literally, since the organism’s primordial loss (of immortality) is concurrent with its acquisition of gender or an identity as a sexed individual. This confluence of fundamental loss and identificatory inscription heralds the infant-organism’s necessary initiation into the self-perpetuating cycle of individual death (real lack) and signification (symbolic lack).

Lacan’s myth of the lamella functions to explain this loss which occurs at birth. He illustrates the phenomenon using the following scenario: “Whenever the membranes of the egg in which the foetus emerges on its way to becoming a new-born are broken, imagine for a moment that something flies off, and that one can do it with an egg as easily as with a man…” (Ibid: 197). The ‘thing’ that flies off and is effectively lost to the subject is the lamella/pure life/immortality, and since it is indeed a ‘loss’ in its purest form, it is possible to discern why many contemporary theorists envision the lamella’s incessant anthropomorphized ‘return’ to the gendered subject as a traumatic and disorienting experience. This coincidence of asexual immortality and the physical death of a gendered subject is perhaps best exemplified by the stubborn biological-supernatural fixity of the alien life force which pursues Ripley across the Alien series. As a number of critics (Žižek included) have emphasized in regard to the films, the alien that returns to colonize Ripley’s body in the latter half of the quadrilogy is
just, merely, simply life, life as such: it is not so much a particular species as the essence of what it means to be a species, to be a creature, a natural being – it is Nature incarnate or sublimed, a nightmare embodiment of the natural realm understood as utterly subordinate to, utterly exhausted by, the twinned Darwinian drives to survive and reproduce (Mulhall 2001: 19).
This is precisely why one should endeavour to read the Alien series as a dramatization of the death drive, of the subject’s desire to ‘return’ to the metaphysical fantasy of asexual immortality through biological death - and at the expense of her individuation as a gendered/symbolic/phallic organism.iii

Because the lamella is simultaneously a “profound lost object” (Lacan 198) and “the remainder of the Life-Substance which has escaped the symbolic colonization” (Žižek 2005: 142), its propensity for return in narrative accounts often manifests as transubstantiation. Its absence is felt everywhere as a spectral and undead semblance awaiting (re)materialization. Here we can reimagine Lacan’s initial analogy of broken fetal membranes with a slight but essential difference: when the membrane breaks and the lamella ‘flies off’, it parasitically attaches itself to the subject and (unbeknownst to him) becomes his agalma – the lost object that is ‘in him more than him’, much in the same way that fire in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) becomes somehow ‘stuck’ to the protagonist and cannot be therapeutically exorcized (Žižek 2000: 229). Such libidinal reflexivity is a key feature of science fiction and horror films, wherein a repressed/unknown psychosexual attribute manifests as a positive ontological entity such that “the very repression of (phallic) sexuality is sexualized and mobilizes forms of prephallic perversity” (Ibid: 221). The crucial point not to be missed in this formulation of libidinal reflexivity is its basis in temporality: the anarchic and properly immortal prephallic perversity must necessarily remain concealed until it is ‘awakened’ by a secondary repression of symbolic or phallic sexuality. The lamella here is nothing less than another variant of ‘the return of the repressed’, representing the object-cause of the moment that the façade of contingent reality dissolves to reveal the libidinal and forgotten ‘truth’ of the unbearable pre-ontological Real beneath.
Christine Evans, "M. Hommelette’s Wild Ride: Lamella as a Category of Shame"

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Planting the Mandrake Seed

ESTRAGON:...You stink of garlic!

VLADIMIR: It's for the kidneys. (Silence. Estragon looks attentively at the tree.) What do we do now?


VLADIMIR: Yes, but while waiting.

ESTRAGON: What about hanging ourselves?

VLADIMIR: Hmm. It'd give us an erection.

ESTRAGON: (highly excited). An erection!

VLADIMIR: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That's why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?

ESTRAGON: Let's hang ourselves immediately!
- Samuel Beckett, "Waiting for Godot"

Friday, June 21, 2013

Role Playing with Thanatos

At my side the Demon writhes forever,
Swimming around me like impalpable air;
As I breathe, he burns my lungs like fever
And fills me with an eternal guilty desire.

Knowing my love of Art, he snares my senses,
Apearing in woman's most seductive forms,
And, under the sneak's plausible pretenses,
Lips grow accustomed to his lewd love-charms.

He leads me thus, far from the sight of God,
Panting and broken with fatigue into
The wilderness of Ennui, deserted and broad,

And into my bewildered eyes he throws
Visions of festering wounds and filthy clothes,
And all Destruction's bloody retinue.
Charles Baudelaire, "Destruction"

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Triangles are my favorite shape
Three points where two lines meet
Toe to toe, back to back, let's go, my love; it's very late
'Til morning comes, let's tessellate
Raphael, "The School of Athens"

Monday, June 17, 2013

...and Then the Walls came Tumbling Down

. . . the advent of Law entails a kind of ‘disalienation’: in so far as the Other itself appears submitted to the ‘absolute condition’ of Law, the subject is no more at the mercy of the Other’s whim, its desire is no more totally alienated in the Other’s desire. . . In contrast to the ‘post-structuralist’ notion of a law checking, canalizing, alienating, oppressing ‘Oedipianizing’ some previous ‘flux of desire,’ Law is here conceived as an agency of ‘disalienation’ and ‘liberation’: it opens our access to desire by enabling us to disengage ourselves from the rule of the Other’s whim.
- Slavoj Zizek, "For They Know Not What They Do"
Of course, once one discovers that the Other is NOT bound by these same laws, the alienation inherent in the process of civilization returns.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Limits of Desire

I wanted relief
From wanting
A moment beneath
Nothing at all

Just a cold wind
Gingham flap
The streak of the shore

Yes I fled him,
He who I had loved
Too much

Limits of desire

I listened for news
Of the road
I tried to love
But it keeps me home

Other lives droned
Far from the grass where I lay
Each eye stared out
The opposite way

Limits of desire
Limits of desire


Is there no
Is there no
Is there no
Is there no
Is there no
Is there no
Is there no
Is there no
The final twist in this initial relation between law and superego is that the external law liberates the subject from the pressure of that very superego demand always part of law. Superego is totally unrelenting, placing all sorts of contradictory, impossible demands on us. Law enables the subject to escape from its self-torture, from the plague of conscience, by providing regulations and guidelines. “The external law regulates pleasures in order to deliver us from the superegotistical imposition of enjoyment which threatens to overflow our daily life.”
- Jodi Dean, "Zizek on Law"

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


While men sacrifice themselves for a Thing (country, freedom, honor), only women are able to sacrifice themselves for nothing. (Or: men are moral, while only women are properly ethical.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"England Expects Every Man to Do His Duty"

His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, 'Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY' and he added 'You must be quick, for I have one more to make which is for close action.' I replied, 'If your Lordship will permit me to substitute the confides for expects the signal will soon be completed, because the word expects is in the vocabulary, and confides must be spelt,' His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, 'That will do, Pasco, make it directly.'
—John Pasco

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The "Progressive" Nature - "Following the Drive"

The commonplace wisdom today is that "our extraordinary power to manipulate nature through scientific devices has run ahead of our faculty to lead a meaningful existence, to make human use of this immense power." Thus, the properly modern ethics of "following the drive" clashes with traditional ethics whereby one is instructed to live one's life according to standards of proper measure and to subordinate all its aspects to some all-encompassing notion of the Good. The problem is, of course, that no balance between these two notions of ethics can ever be achieved. The notion of reinscribing scientific drive into the constraints of the life-world is fantasy at its purest--perhaps the fundamental fascist fantasy. Any limitation of this kind is utterly foreign to the inherent logic of science--science belongs to the real and, as a mode of the real of jouissance, it is indifferent to the modalities of its symbolization, to the way it will affect social life.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Desire: Drive = Truth: Knowledge"

Ma-ma-ma-MY Lamella

Man is sick because he is badly constructed. We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally, god, and with god his organs. For you can tie me up if you wish, but there is nothing more useless than an organ. When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom. Then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out as in the frenzy of dance halls and this wrong side out will be his real place.
- Antonin Artaud, "Selected Writings" (1976)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Detached Living

As I go forth from fair to mart
With racket ringing,
Who would divine that in my heart
Mad larks are singing.
As I sweet sympathy express,
Lest I should pain them,
The money-mongers cannot guess
How I disdain them.

As I sit at some silly tea
And flirt and flatter
How I abhor society
And female chatter.
As I with wonderment survey
Their peacock dresses,
My mind is wafted far away
To wildernesses.

As I sit in some raucous pub,
Taboo to women,
And treat myself to greasy grub
I feel quite human.
Yet there I dream, despite the din,
Of God's green spaces,
And sweetly dwell the peace within
Of sylvan graces.

And so I wear my daily mask
Of pleasant seeming,
And nobody takes me to task
For distant dreaming;
A happy hypocrite am I
Of ambiance inner,
Who smiling make the same reply
To saint and sinner.
- Robert William Service, "Detachment"