Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Rock

Rock, Rock
O! My Rock of Gibraltar
You are my heavenly altar
The doves sing, the white clouds dance
And the white waves at sea wave romance

And for the love of chess
Let me humbly confess
The way you move those chess pieces
Can mend anyones hearts broken pieces

Rock, Rock
O! My Rock of Gibraltar
With nature beautiful beyound wonder
The monkeys & birds are at home
They play about and joyously roam

And when I look at you it is clear
You are a breathe of fresh Gibraltar air
You touch my pawns, rook, bishop, queen, king and knight
My heart racing, I think this must be Gilbraltar love Alright!
- Sylvia Chidi, "My Rock of Gibraltar"
This, of course, brings us back to Schelling: the gap between the ethereal image and the raw fact of the - inert, dense - Real is precisely the gap between Existence (ethereal form) and its impenetrable Ground, on account of which, as Schelling puts it, the ultimate base of reality is the Horrible. Crucial for any materialist ontology is this gap between the bodily depth of the Real and the pseudodepth of Meaning produced by the Surface. It is also easy to see the connection with Freud, who defined reality as that which functions as an obstacle to desire: "ugliness" ultimately stands for existence itself, for the resistance of reality, which never simply lends itself effortlessly to our molding. Reality is ugly, it "shouldn't be there" and hinder our desire. However, the situation is here more complicated, since the obstacle to desire is at the same time the site of unbearable, filthy, excessive pleasure - of jouissance. What shouldn't be there is ultimately jouissance itself: the inert stuff is the materialization of jouissance. In short, the point not to be missed is that, in the opposition between desire and the hard reality (bringing pain, unpleasure, preventing us from achieving the balance of pleasure), jouissance is on the side of 'hard reality'. Jouissance as "real" is that which resists (symbolic integration); it is dense and impenetrable. In this precise sense, jouissance is 'beyond the pleasure principle'. Jouissance emerges when the very reality that is the source of unpleasure, of pain, is experienced as a source of traumatic-excessive pleasure. Or to put it another way: desire is in itself "pure", it endeavors to avoid any "pathological" fixation. The "purity" of desire is guaranteed by its residing in the very gap between any positive object of desire and desire itself. The fundamental experience of desire is ce n'est pas ca, this is not that. In clear contrast to it, jouissance (or libido, or drive) is by definition "dirty" and/or ugly, it is always "too close": desire is absence, while libido-drive is presence.

All this is absolutely crucial for the functioning of ideology in the case of our "everyday" sexism or racism: their ultimate problem is precisely how to "contain" the threatening inside from "spilling out" and overwhelming us. Are women's Periods not the exemplary case of such an ugly inside spilling out? Is the presence of African-Americans no felt so threatening precisely insofar as it is experienced as too massive, too close? Suffice it to recall the racist caricatural cliche of black heads and faces: with eyes bulging out, mouth too-large, as if the outside surface is barely able to contain the inside threatening to break through. (In this sense, the racist fantasmatic duality of blacks and whites coincides with the formless stuff and shadowy-spectral-impotent form without stuff.) Is the concern with how to dispose of shit (according to Lacan, is one of the crucial features differentiating human beings from animals) also not a case of how to get rid of the inside that emerges? The ultimate problem of intersubjectivity is precisely the extent to which we are ready to accept the other, our (sexual) partner, in the real of his or her existence - do we still love him when she or he defacates, makes unpleasant sounds? (See the extent to which James Joyce was ready to accept his wife Nora in the "ugly" jouissance of her existence.) The problem, of course, is that, in a sense, life itself is ""ugly": if we want to get rid of the ugliness, we are forced to adopt the attitude of a Cathar, for whom terrestrial life is a hell and the God who created this world is Satan himself, the Master of the World. So, in order to survive, do we need a minimum of the real - in a contained, gentrified condition.

The Lacanian proof of the Other's existence is the jouissance of the Other (in contrast to Christianity, for example, where this proof is Love). In order to render this notion palpable, suffice it to imagine an intersubjective encounter: when I do encounter the Other "beyond the wall of language," in the real of his or her being? Not when I am able to describe her, not even when I learn her values, dreams, and so on, but only when I encounter the Other in her moment of jouissance: when I discern in her a tiny detail - a compulsive gesture, an excessive facial expression, a tic - that signals the intensity of real jouissance. This encounter with the real is always traumatic, there is something at least minimally obscene about it, I cannot simply integrate it into my universe, there is always a gap separating me from it. This, then, is what "intersubjectivity" is actually about, not the Habermasian "ideal speech situation" of a multitude of academics smoking pipes at a round table arguing about some point by means of undistorted communication: without the element of real jouissance, the Other remains ultimately a fiction, a purely symbolic subject of strategic reasoning exemplified in "rational choice theory." For that reason, one is even tempted to replace the term multiculturalism with multiracism: multiculturalism suspends the traumatic kernel of the Other, reducing it to an aseptic folklorist entity. What we are dealing here is - in Lacanese - the distance between S and a, between the symbolic features and the unfathonable surplus, the "indivisible remainder' of the real; at a somewhat different level, Walter Benn Michaels made the same point in claiming that
the accounts of cultural identity that do any cultural work require a racial component. For insofar as our culture remains nothing more than what we do and believe, it is impotently descriptive... It is only if we think that our culture is not whatever beliefs and practices we actually happen to have but is instead the beliefs and practices that should properly go with the sort of people we happen to be that the fact of something belonging to our culture can count as a reason for doing it. But to think this is to appeal to something that must be beyond culture and that cannot be derived from culture precisely because our sense of which culture is properly ours must be derived from it. This has been the function of race...Our sense of culture is characteristically meant to displace race, but... culture has turned out to be a way of continuing rather than repudiating racial thought. It is only the appeal to race that makes culture an object of affect and that gives notions like losing our culture, preserving it, stealing someone else's culture, restoring people's culture to them, and so on, their pathos... Race transforms people who learn todo what we do into the thieves of our culture and people who teach us to do what they do into the destroyers of our culture; it makes assimilation into a kind of betrayal and the refusal to assimilate into a form of heroism.
The historicist/culturalist account of ethnic identity, isofar as it functions as performatively binding for the group accounted for and not merely as a distranced ethnological description, this has to involve "something more," some transcendental "kernel of the real." (The postmodern multiculturalist only displaces this pathos onto the allegedly more "authentic" Other: hearing "The Star Spangled Banner" gives no thrill, yet what does give a thrill is listening to some ritual of Native Americans, of African-Americans. What we are dealing with here is clearly the inverted form of racism.) Without this kernel, we remain caught in the vicious cycle of symbolic performativity that in an "idealistic" way, retroactively grounds itself. It is Lacan who - in a Hegelian way - enables us to resolve this deadlock: the kernel of the real is the retroactive product, the "fallout," of the very process of symbolization. The "Real" is the unfathonable remainder of the ethnic substance whose predicates are different cultural features that constitutes our identity; in this precise sense, race relates to culture like real to symbolic. The "Real" is the unfathonable X at stake in our cultural struggles; it is that on account of which, when somebody learns too much of our culture, he or she "steals" it from us; it is that on account of which, when somebody shifts allegiance to another culture, he or she "betrays" us; and so on. Such experiences prove that there must be some X that is "expressed" in the cultural set of values, attitudes, rituals that materialize our way of life. What is stolen, betrayed... is always objet petit a, the little piece of the Real.

Jacques Ranciere gave a poignant expression to the "bad surprise" that awaits today's postmodern ideologues of the "end of politics." It is as if we are witnessing the ultimate confirmation of Freud's thesis, from Civilization and Its Discontents: after every assertion of Eros, Thanatos reasserts itself with a vengeance. At the very moment when, according to the official ideology, we are finally leaving behind the "immature" political passions (the regime of the "political": class struggle and other "outdated" divisive antagonisms) for the postideological pragmatic universe of rational administration and negotiated consensus, for the universe, free of utopian impulses, in which the dispassionate administration of social affairs goes hand in hand with the aestheticized hedonism (the pluralism "ways of life") - at this very moment, the foreclosed political is celebrating a triumphant comeback in the most archaic form of pure, undistilled racist hatred of the Other that renders the rational, tolerant attitude utterly impotent. In this precise sense, "postmodern" racism is the symptom of multiculturalist late capitalism, bringing to light the inherent contradiction of the liberal-democratic ideological project. Liberal "tolerance" condones the folklorist Other deprived of its substance (like the multitude of "ethnic cuisines" in a contemporary magalopolis): however, any "real" Other is instantly denounced for its "fundamentalism," since the kernel of Otherness resides in the regulation of its jouissance; that is, the "real Other" is by definition "patriarchal," "violent," never the Other of ethereal wisdom and charming customs. One is tempted to reactualize here the old Marcusean notion of "repressive tolerance," reconceiving it as the tolerance of the Other in its aseptic, benign form, which forecloses the dimension of the Real of the Other's jouissance.
- Slavoj Zizek, "The Abyss of Freedom"

4 comments:

FreeThinke said...

In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.

Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me.

For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.

Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength.


Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.

I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD.

I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;

And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.

Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.

For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.

I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me.

I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.

For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.

But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.

My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies' sake.

Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.

Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.

Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!

Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.

Blessed be the LORD: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city.

For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.

O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.


~ Psalm 31 - A Psalm of David (King James Version)

FreeThinke said...

Okay, we've explored the Rock, now when are we to get a comprehensive piece on the Roll?

The Rock of Gibraltar versus the Parker House Roll

or maybe

The Rock of Gibraltar versus the Jelly Roll

Wouldn't THAT make a super-duper subject for a treatise by a first-class intellectual to explore in depth?

-FJ said...

I would have laid a "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" video on you about here, just to reflect the intellectual depth you are conversing with here at the Farmers Letters.

FreeThinke said...

Brevity is a great charm of eloquence.

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero