Ktismatics

29 June 2007

Wasted Effort

Filed under: Culture, Psychology — ktismatics @ 6:08 am

The main problem of the modern and postmodern capitalist industry is precisely waste. We are postmodern beings because we realize that all our aesthetically appealing consumption artifacts will eventually end as leftover, to the point that it will transform the earth into a vast waste land. You lose the sense of tragedy, you perceive progress as derisive.

– Jacques-Alain Miller, “The Desire of Lacan,” 1999

The pile of wasted product is just the artifact; think about all the wasted effort that goes into making and consuming it. Our memories are vast waste lands, piled up with all the intentionally ephemeral mental energy we’ve put into activities that were never meant to last.

Say you do a consulting project for a big corporate client. The analyses you generate provide competitive advantage for one of the client’s new products within a selected demographic niche. The client uses the information to generate a surge in sales within that niche. The competition, aware of its disadvantage, responds with a subtle product modification or a targeted marketing campaign, closing the gap with its rival. Now the playing field is level again. Your client calls you back in, asking you to do another project in search of another edge, another opportunity.

At the end of a successful consulting career you look back and see — what? Clients come and go, their personnel and products come and go, market shares shift back and forth across the competitive environment. You’ve done some good work, met some nice people and some assholes, acquired a certain expertise, made some money. But the work itself? The most recent stuff fills a row of filing cabinets; the rest of it is long gone. The net impact of all that work is precisely nill.

You lose the sense of tragedy, says Miller. It’s tragic when you try to accomplish something you hope will last, and fail. In a world where nothing lasts tragedy is rendered futile. What do you call it when you purposely set out to accomplish something futile, and succeed?

28 June 2007

Confessions of an Unprincipled Weakling

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:04 pm

Trying to bootstrap myself back into the realms of the psyche, I’m pulling forward a bit of discussion with Jason on my Free Play post, written while I was still in France. In this post I summarized Derrida’s proposition that the structures of our late-modern Western culture have been decentered. Jason, for whom Christ is the center of all structures, agreed that secular decentering has occurred but didn’t share Derrida’s cautious optimism about the potential for free play inherent in structures without centers. Jason referenced the family structure:

But I think its important and “natural” that a man HAVE a “father figure” at all and in the first place in his life. I would actually maybe say that the whole issue is that everyone has the same shitty and impersonal Father Market…and everyone is either stressed out (the “squares”) or pissed off (the hippies) about it.

To which I responded:

As a father I’ve found it important to be able to adapt the way I interact with my kid as she matures. The whole era of “wait till your father gets home” would have forced me into a more rigid disciplinarian role than I’d feel comfortable with, or than seems necessary… Am I a source of security? Sure, I suppose so. But I think a child is also a source of security for its parents: a focus of attention, effort, amusement, etc. So it’s mutual. By the way, in my experience with other parents it’s mostly the mother who’s the authority figure. Dads are just too goofy to be taken seriously.

Jason replied:

So far as the whole father and family thing goes…I resonate with what you are saying… But I do think that some sense of hierarchy and authority, however it plays out (and I’m not entirely sure about that) is basic and foundational to the way God set up the cosmos… A father and mother “gather around” a child, and focus on the things on which it focuses, so to speak, but they don’t “need” the child for “security,” I don’t think (?)… So in that sense, God follows our gaze, and is also the reason for our gaze in a particular direction.

And then through our physical dislocation I lost track of the conversation. But today, in Zizek’s The Fragile Absolute, I read this passage that brought me back to the thread:

The ultimate paradox of the strict psychoanalytic notion of symbolic identification is that it is by definition a misrepresentation, the identification with the way the Other(s) misperceive(s) me. Let us take the most elementary example: as a father, I know I am an unprincipled weakling; but, at the same time, I do not want to disappoint my son, who sees in me what I am not: a person of dignity and strong principles, ready to take risks for a just cause — so I identify with this misperception of me, and truly ‘become myself’ when I, in effect, start to act according to this misperception (ashamed to appear to my son as I really am, I actually accomplish heroic acts). In other words, if we are to account for symbolic identification, it is not enough to refer to the opposition between the way I appear to others and the way I really am: symbolic identification occurs when the way I appear to others becomes more important to me than the psychological reality ‘beneath my social mask,’ forcing me to do things I would never be able to accomplish ‘from within myself.’

We usually regard the Other (with a capital “O”) as occupying the central position, defining everything and everyone else in the structure. Our job as peripheral members of the structure is to identify with the Other’s definition of who we are, even if this identification seems to bely who we think we “really are.” In this excerpt Zikek names his son as the Other; Zizek the father comes to occupy the central heroic position by identifying with his son’s (false) image of him. Zizek is prepared to regard this mask he puts on, this Other-imposed image, as who he “really is.”

Where I diverge from Zizek is that I’m more prepared to acknowledge to my daughter, both in words and in deeds, what Zizek wishes to conceal from his son: I really am an “unprincipled weakling.” If my daughter insists on seeing me as a hero it’s her own fault.

Osama’s Thirteen?

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 2:02 pm

We went to see Ocean’s Thirteen last night and had a blast. Nobody gets killed, nobody has sex, the cursing is so infrequent you’re actually startled by it. Just plenty of good clean fun as we watch a lot of rich guys bully, hustle and scam one another.

As Danny Ocean and his crew plan their latest caper, offhand comments about “collateral damage” and “exit strategy” attuned me to something that should perhaps have been obvious: this is a war movie. In the world-within-a-world of Las Vegas, its silhouette marked by the Eiffel Tower and the pyramids, the casino bosses are the heads of state. They control real estate, infrastructure and security systems as they wage perpetual warfare against each other for control of the Strip. Through hostile takeovers, coups, and regime changes the territory is being remapped constantly. Even the territory itself takes on new contours: “I remember when this was the Sands,” Ocean notes wistfully as he overlooks a lagoon.

In a world crammed with nations that are nothing more than money-generating machines Ocean runs a rogue covert operation. Answerable to no-one, seemingly willing to cut a deal with anyone, Ocean and his (now) twelve disciples manage to outwit the swaggering heads of state, to disable the most sophisticated security systems, to rig every game in the joint, to suck every drop of juice out of the wealthiest of the wealthy. With no territory or egos to protect, with no command-and-control hierarchy to bog things down, the nearly-invisible Oceanic network can smoothly and calmly execute its ingenious schemes. They undermine the most impenetrable financial center, lifting the crown jewels right off the top of the tower. Even a third-world workers’ revolt comes to Ocean’s aid. And in the end Ocean funnels, via Oprah, an absurdly huge cut of the take to a sort of refugee camp.

27 June 2007

De-Bourgification

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:25 pm

The day before yesterday Anne and I took our daughter and her old pal to the downtown mall. We parked in front of the Daily Camera building, customary gathering place for the hippies, street musicians and vagabonds who pass through town every summer. We grownups had a couple errands to accomplish, so we told the girls to meet us back at the car in an hour. As we parted ways I wondered aloud whether it was a good idea to set up a rendezvous point in the midst of this crowd. “What’s the matter with this crowd?” Some young dude sitting under a tree clearly took exception to my attitude. Um, er, well, nothing, but they’re young, see? So be nice to them. The dude, smiling, said nothing.

Boulder is a capital of American bobo culture: plenty of liberal-thinking, art-film-watching, tree-hugging, Whole-Foods-shopping, mountain-bike-riding, SUV-driving, skinny-latte-sipping lawyers and entrepreneurs and stay-at-home moms. But this is also a university town that boasts a storied heritage of beat writers, Tibetan Buddhist gurus, ski bums and hippies. Soaring real estate prices have exiled most of the real bohemians. The downtown pedestrian mall is definitely a bourgeois haven, lined with pricey boutiques and trendy restaurants. But every summer the hippies make the pilgrimage to Boulder, where they hang out on the mall and make the locals just a little bit nervous.

Now we’re back in Boulder, artsier, edgier, poorer, more bohemian than our prior bobo incarnations. But our brief exchange with the dude under the tree made clear to us that we’ve still got bourgeois instincts. We should have been attuned to the opportunity of engaging in a possibly fruitful conversation. Or at least we should have been able to see “this crowd” less as a potential menace and more as fellow travelers. It’s time to de-bourgify ourselves.

Change of Scenery

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 5:16 pm

A week ago, ten minutes out my front door I’d be strolling along a topless beach on the Riviera. Those same ten minutes today and I’m walking through the middle of a prairie dog town being dive-bombed by a redwing blackbird.

26 June 2007

Please Feel Free

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 3:47 pm

When we began unpacking our bags we found that two of them had been opened, with a Notice of Baggage Inpection tucked inside. The notice reads as follows (boldface added by me for ironic effect):

To protect you and your fellow passengers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is required by law to inspect all checked baggage. As part of this process, some bags are opened and physically inspected. Your bag was among those selected for physical inspection.

During the inspection, your bag and its contents may have been searched for prohibited items. At the completion of the inspection, the contents were returned to your bag.

If the TSA security officer was unable to open your bag for inspection because it was locked, the officer may have been forced to break the locks of your bag. TSA sincerely regrets having to do this, however TSA is not liable for damage to your locks resulting from this necessary security precaution.

For packing tips and suggestions on how to secure your baggage during your next trip, please visit: www.tsa.gov

We appreciate your understanding and cooperation. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact the TSA Contact Center:

Phone: 866.289.9673 (toll free)
Email: TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov

Inasmuch as we did not lock our bags, we did not force the TSA agents into having to do anything they might regret in fulfilling their legal requirements.

The TSA is a division of the Homeland Security Administration, whose long arm has reached out to us at two other points (that we know of) on our return to the States. In applying for private health insurance we signed an agreement acknowledging that the insurer would provide information about our health records to HSA. Likewise when we opened a bank account we agreed that the bank would provide our financial information to HSA.

25 June 2007

Back in the US of A

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:31 pm

No great bloggable insights descended upon me as I stepped onto American pavement for the first time in a couple of years.

Manhattan is fantastic, spectacular, dazzling, overwhelming, turbocharged — but you already knew that. The movies can’t do it justice. Americans generally don’t have as much fashion sense as Western Europeans — but you already knew that too. Even in New York, even among the non-tourists, the attire is pretty ordinary. But collectively the people of Manhattan are extremely colorful: it’s a world city in every respect. And here’s something you might not know: Manhattan isn’t just an aggressive place; it’s also friendly. Manhattan is in your face constantly with such an adrenal outpouring of positive energy that it’s almost too much to bear.

So far everything else about America is just like I remembered it.

19 June 2007

In Transit

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 5:12 pm

Our internet connection is gone as we prepare for American re-entry. So it’ll be catch as catch can for awhile on Ktismatics. Feel free to unfasten your seat belts, stroll around the aircraft, chat amongst yourselves…

18 June 2007

Attuning Self-as-Portal

Filed under: Culture, Psychology — ktismatics @ 6:20 am

Previously I put forward two metaphors for the self. Structurally the self is a membrane, passing vectors of information, desire, and intent and between inside (genes, desires, passions, memories) and outside (phenomena, other people, experiences, culture). Procedurally the self is a portal, actively transforming everything that passes across the membrane, continually creating the self and reality by embedding experience in dynamic networks of meaning. Therapy proceeds by decentering the membrane (as discussed yesterday) and by increasing the power and flexibility of the portal.

Culture and society actively territorialize the world and the selves that occupy it. The self, immersed in culture and society, conforms itself and its awareness to this externally generated territorialization without being consciously aware of it. The territories and their boundary markers operate outside the threshold of conscious awareness in activities like watching television, going to work, driving, participating in ordinary social discourse. Territories are marked by strands of meaning like money, communication, power, pleasure, anxiety, love, respect, lack, choice. Therapy should help the client become attuned to the territorialization in which they’re embedded. It should also help the client understand his/her complicities and resistances to the territorial markers.

The self too is a territorializer, marking phenomena and experience with indicators of meaning. Some of the strands of meaning are transferred across the membrane from the world into the self; other strands assemble themselves from inner drives and desires working their way outward across the membrane into the world. But the self also actively assigns meaning to inner and outer experiences. The self also refines the strands of meaning, converting inner desires and outer affordances into interests, preferences, values, careers, families. These refined strands become integral to the conscious portalic apparatus by which an individual transforms experience into self and reality, but these conscious transformative procedures are themselves shaped and modified by unconscious transformations on both sides of the membrane. Therapy should help the client become aware of how self-as-portal is always transforming the world and is in turn being shaped by phenomena and experience.

Selves are enmeshed in strands of meaning that do not originate in the self. Culture itself is a portal, actively transforming everything and everyone all the time. Therapy should help the client attune to how the cultural portals operate — the trajectories of desire and power and morality, the affordances transmitted by the world and other people, the flows of information and intentionality. In this way the client increasingly recognizes how s/he is always already embedded in the meaning systems stretched across the world, connecting self to world, self to other. At the same time, the client comes to recognize that as an individual s/he has distinct portalic capabilities, able to discern and to assign meanings to experience that are different from those of other people and the larger culture.

Through the therapeutic process the therapist encourages the client to make these identifications and differentiations, alternately enmeshing and separating the self from the culture. By becoming aware of the vast web of unprocessed territorial markings in self and world, as well as the multiple portalic procedures that generate and sustain them, the client may acquire greater facility as a portalist of meaning. Both in forming and in breaking personal territorializations and in actively cooperating and resisting collective territorializations, the self moves through the world more interestingly, more uniquely, perhaps also more dangerously.

17 June 2007

Decentering Therapy

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 4:54 pm

Continuing the trajectory of the last two posts, I’m thinking therapy ought to work like this…

Do not reinforce the center. I presume that most people regard their rational consciousness as the center of the self. I would not support this false centrality by continually reflect back statements the client makes with “you feel that…” or “you’re wondering…” or “when did you first…” By holding up a mirror an asking the client to comment on what s/he sees, I’m implicitly colluding with the client’s structural assumptions.

Do not fill the center. By offering interpretations, diagnoses, treatment plans, etc. I place myself at the center.

Do not destroy the center. By refusing to respond to the client’s conscious rational verbalizations, by responding in a seemingly irrelevant fashion, or by criticizing or undermining what the client has to say, I actively attempt to undermine the client’s center. In doing so, however, I’m again filling the center with myself. I can conceivably accomplish this coup d’etat, but to what end? I’ll just have to sabotage my own centrality, or allow the client to do so, which would just result in an endless exchange of placeholders.

Acknowledge the function of rational consciousness. Even if the intent is to decenter it, perhaps even to reduce its structure to that of a thin membrane, rational consciousness is a critical apparatus. Respond to the client’s verbalizations without drawing undue attention to the rational selfhood that generates the thought and speech.

Acknowledge the function of security. The client relies on the center to provide a reliable but immobile base. Forcing consciousness to fill this role is to burden it with goodness and “squareness,” while simultaneously freeing, marginalizing, and corrupting the unconscious and the passions. Is it important to deny or to undermine security? I don’t think so. Security needs to be loosened up in the structure, disconnected from conscious rationality and moved away from the center. Dislodged from the center, security becomes an important consideration in its own right, along with its dark shadow, insecurity, which is always also present at the unstable center.

Actively attend to the other strands that weave the structure together. Security/insecurity is one strand; reason/passion is another. We’ve discussed others in this blog. Hegel’s master/servant dialectic points to the importance of interpersonal power and recognition. Creation as a motive force is counterpoised with mimesis and its attendant manifestations in competition and rivalry. Continuity/rupture. Sorrow and loss, not just as a trauma but as a way of engaging the world.

Follow the strands as they traverse the entire structure. Don’t focus solely on the client’s subjective response to these strands. Explore also how they affect the client’s interpersonal interactions, work, politics, religion.

Follow the strands as they traverse the client-therapist relationship. Don’t ignore or deny transference, and yet don’t make it the centerpiece of therapy. Include it in the conversation as another nexus in the decentralized structure where the strands intersect. This implies a related point…

Decentralize the therapeutic process. Don’t center it on the client, or even on the interpersonal relationship between client and therapist. Instead let therapy traverse the structure freely, tracing all the interconnections and disruptions. Client and therapist agree jointly to engage in an intense and strange interval, with the content and process of that interval determined largely by the client. But if the therapist is to decenter the structures, then it should be acknowledged the structure traverses everything, from the intrapsychic terrain of the client to the transeference-countertransference process to the larger cultural forces in which we all are embedded.

16 June 2007

Decentering the Self

Filed under: Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 2:55 pm

Rational consciousness has long retained its position at the center of the self. Freud drew attention to the unconscious, but it remained marginal, transgressive, frightening. The task of the therapist was to help the client bring unconscious material into awareness, thereby subjecting the unconscious to conscious control. But it turns out that consciousness doesn’t have much substance; it continually reconfigures itself on the fly from material available in the unconscious. It begins to seem as though the unconscious is the center of the self, while consciousness becomes a thin and flexible membrane floating on the periphery. But now we realize that even the unconscious isn’t necessarily inside the self. The self is also immersed inside the unconscious — the various loosely-processed sensory impressions, bits of information, behavior patterns, and social interactions in which our lives unfold. So perhaps reality is central, while the self floats along at the periphery.

In the last post Derrida observed that the center of a structure serves as the source of a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude. So consciousness is stable, reliable, secure, fixed, while the unconscious is unstable, volatile, dangerous, wild. If the unconscious becomes the center, then it’s conceivable that the self becomes marginal at its core. Alternatively, the unconscious must become our reliable source of stability. The first alternative seems frightening; the second, unlikely — but Lacan comes close to this assertion. He offers a double paradox: the center of the self, the source of stability and plenitude and the shaper of Reality, is the Other; however, the Other is always already absent. So the structure of the self is completely inverted and undermined. The unconscious speaks in a language that has not been absorbed into the discourse of the absent Other, so the unconscious speaks for whatever is authentic about the self. The unconscious reveals the truth: our lost sense of security at the center can never be recovered, and so we must carry on as best we can in its absence.

The structural inversion of Lacan sets the stage for Derrida, whose decentering project was discussed in the prior post. Let’s acknowledge that the center was never part of the structure. What we always wanted was the function that the center performed, which was to provide a sense of stability and assurance that gave us confidence to explore and to play. We demand that whatever we put at the center — consciousness, the Other, reality — must serve this function by remaining immobile and stable. Anything we discover about the center that is unstable, transient, different we must disallow, exiling it to the periphery. The center then must maintain vigilant guard against incursions by the periphery. In response the periphery mounts a subversive guerrilla campaign, trying to be recognized by the center. The resulting inner conflict between central authority and peripheral disruption brings sin and guilt, symptoms and shame, self-aggrandizement and self-destruction.

But maybe we can come to an awareness that whatever it is we’ve assigned to the center doesn’t really belong there. We’ve forced our consciousness to be single-minded and repressive, our unconscious to be haphazard and menacing. Or we’ve forced reality to be totalizing and fascistic, ourselves to be criminal or corrupt. If instead we relax our insistence that a stabilizing force remain at the center, then consciousness and unconscious, self and other, self and reality, are freed to establish a variety of relationships with one another. Consciousness can become not only a rational decision-maker and law-enforcer, but also a critic and a creator and a revolutionary. The unconscious can be occupied not just by forbidden urges but by perfectly ordinary desires and perceptions and unformulated experiences. The membrane that separates consciousness and unconsciousness, self and reality, loses its importance. Instead there are filaments and trajectories that pass across the membrane, dynamically crisscrossing each other, creating an ever-changing network of meaning that links us to one another and the world.

Next: implications for therapy.

14 June 2007

The Anxieties of Free Play

Filed under: Culture, First Lines, Ktismata — ktismatics @ 5:41 pm

Perhaps something has occurred in the history of the concept of structure that could be called an “event,” if this loaded word did not entail a meaning which it is precisely the function of structural — or structuralist — thought to reduce or to suspect.

– Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” 1966

Derrida begins by contrasting structure with event, stability with “rupture.” Historically, structures have been constructed around a center, a fixed point of origin. The center serves as the basis for coherence and balance within the structure. Having a fixed center makes it possible to “play” with the elements of the structure, but this play is also limited by needing to remain compatible with the center. The center, while giving shape to both the form and the freedom of the structure that surrounds it, isn’t really part of the structure.

Thus it has always been thought that the center, which is by definition unique, constituted that very thing within a structure which while governing structure, escapes structurality. This is why classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center.

Derrida goes on to say that, as always, coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a desire. What is the nature of that desire? It’s the possibility of safe play, of playing within a framework of a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude. The fixed center is what attachment theorists in developmental psychology refer to as a “secure base,” giving the child a sense of certainty that enables her to master the anxiety inherent in exploring strange situations. What’s important is that there be a reliable presence at the center of the exploratorium.

The rupture, says Derrida, came with the realization that the center was not the center, that the actual center was the desire for security rather than the specific presence on which this desire happened to land. The presence, whether it existed or not, wasn’t part of the structure — it was free of the structure. The center was not a fixed locus but a function. This stabilizing function, rather than being part of the structure, permeates the structure as a system of signs that together constitute the principle of structuration. This was the moment when language invaded the universal problematic, the moment when, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse.

…and now it’s time to pack my Derrida book into the box because the movers are on their way. I’d wanted to post on this essay for a week but couldn’t quite get around to it, so now it’ll have to be a half-post. (Several hours later…) The movers have come and gone, taking the boxes away with them. And now I see that Derrida’s essay can be found on-line. And so I can finish after all…

Paradoxically, the event of decentering cannot occur without assuming the architecture in which center and structure make sense. When Nietzsche replaces being with play, truth with interpretation, he does so from inside a metaphysics of being and truty. Freud can’t replace consciousness with the unconscious except by consciously accepting the distinction. The opposition is part of the system.

“Human nature” is premised on the idea of universality, that across cultures human beings share certain common features. But what happens when language, education, law, technology, art, are universal? Nature is decentered, displaced by culture. But the conceptual distinction between nature and culture remains useful as a method in studying human societies, even if the truth of this distinction can no longer be sustained. Nature as a concept thus becomes a convenient myth sustained by science. Nature is a myth produced by culture.

This too is a decentering procedure in the human sciences, with truth being displaced by method. Levi-Strauss refers to this particular decentering as bricolage — borrowing techniques on an as-needed basis without regard for their original context or application. He contrasts the bricoleur with the engineer, who presumably follows a systematic and integrated praxis. But all praxes have been assembled from various sources. The engineer is a myth produced by the bricoleur.

Is it possible then to make myth the original condition and the center of all cultural endeavor? No, because there is no way of identifying the original myth, or the original source of myths. Myth is always already part of a structure of discourse that contrasts myth with fact. And the fact of the original myth can never be found, because the whole contrast between fact and myth is also part of this same structure. Neither can ever become the center because each always already presumes the other.

It’s not possible to build an all-inclusive structural discourse on anything because the whole endeavor of structuration is always being undermined and inverted. On the other hand, it’s also impossible to construct a complete empirical description of a phenomenon, because it’s always possible that new data will turn up that overturn the prior findings. Totalization, therefore, is sometimes defined as useless, and sometimes as impossible. The contemporary failure of all totalizing discourses can be lamented as a consequence of the finitude of human perspective. But it’s arguable that totalization is simply inappropriate, that the fields of inquiry simply do not lend themselves to comprehensive and all-inclusive understanding. Language, thought, society, culture — all human activity is characterized by free play: the ability to go outside the collection of all prior empirical instances and every rule of the game. Free play is possible not because of the potentially infinite extension of structures built around a center, but because of the finite and contained flexibility inherent in absence, in lack, in structures without a center. When the elements of the structure are disconnected from the center, then all the interconnections are supplemental to the structure. And human invention insures the continual surplus of supplementarity, the continual ability to restructure the elements in an uncountable number of variants.

One can lament the loss of the center, or one can celebrate it:

As a turning toward the presence, lost or impossible, of the absent origin, this structuralist thematic of broken immediateness is thus the sad, negative, nostalgic, guilty, Rousseauist facet of the thinking of freeplay of which the Nietzschean affirmation — the joyous affirmation of the freeplay of the world and without truth, without origin, offered to an active interpretation — would be the other side. This affirmation then determines the non-center otherwise than as loss of the center. And it plays the game without security…

There are thus two interpretations of interpretation, of structure, of sign, of freeplay. The one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering, a truth or an origin which is free from freeplay and from the order of the sign, and lives like an exile the necessity of interpretation. The other, which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms freeplay and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics or of ontotheology-in other words, through the history of all of his history-has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of the game…
There are more than enough indications today to suggest we might perceive that these two interpretations of interpretation — which are absolutely irreconcilable even if we live them simultaneously and reconcile them in an obscure economy — together share the field which we call, in such a problematic fashion, the human sciences. For my part, although these two interpretations must acknowledge and accentuate their difference and define their irreducibility, I do not believe that today there is any question of choosing — in the first place because here we are in a region (let’s say, provisionally, a region of historicity) where the category of choice seems particularly trivial; and in the second, because we must first try to conceive of the common ground, and the difference of this irreducible difference. Here there is a sort of question, call it historical, of which we are only glimpsing today the conception, the formation, the gestation, the labor. I employ these words, I admit, with a glance toward the business of childbearing — but also with a glance toward those who, in a company from which I do not exclude myself, turn their eyes away in the face of the as yet unnameable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so, as is necessary whenever a birth is in the offing, only under the species of the non-species, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity.

This is already a long summary, and I’m too fatigued right now to think about implications for my own projects.

8 June 2007

Joining the Sorry Parade

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 10:39 pm

At Church and Postmodern Culture, Dr. Carl put up a post about Deleuze and Globochrist. Dominic Fox was the first to comment, calling the post “a sorry parade of solecisms.” Now that I’ve submitted to Dominic’s stern discipline, now that I’ve naughtily whispered the blasphemy (“Badiou is a PoMo heeheehee”) without getting caught, I think maybe it’s safe for me to come out from under the covers.

I’m looking at the article that Dominic tossed in before slamming the door behind him (“and don’t make me have to come back in here…”), where Badiou sets up a contrast between himself and Deleuze with respect to THE EVENT. I’m not wondering about whether Badiou is a disciple of Deleuze or whether Badiou is “taking Deleuze from behind,” producing a monstrous offspring that is no longer purely Deleuzian. I’m not even yet prepared to decide whether Deleuze or Badiou is right, or which position I agree with more. I’m wondering about the question they’re asking and why it’s important.

Here is Deleuze’s Axiom 1: Unlimited becoming becomes the event itself.

In contrast, here is Badiou’s Axiom 1: An event is never the concentration of a vital continuity, or the immanent intensification of a becoming. It is never coextensive with becoming. It is, on the contrary, on the side of a pure break with the becoming of an object of the world, through the auto-apparition of this object. Correlatively, it is the supplementation of apparition by the emergence of a trace: what formerly inexisted becomes intense existence.

By staking out his position Badiou answers a prior question: is an “event” continuous or discontinuous with the conditions that precede and lead up to it? I ask whether this question is interesting to me. What is an “event”? I don’t mean the “Christ event,” or even Biblical events more broadly, but events in contemporary life. If every event is an outgrowth of the conditions that led up to it, does this imply a continual and deterministic unfolding of whatever was present “in the beginning”? If, on the other hand, an event is a “pure break,” does it imply that every event is something like a miracle?

In contemplating human creation I wonder whether the creative act is natural “from the ground up,” an eventual manifestation of nature transforming itself, or whether the creator has to transform nature by some other power. If it’s the former, can we really call it creation; if the latter, is it still strictly human?

I’m also interested in psychological practice. In unblocking the passage between inside and outside, between desire and fulfillment, does the self become so thin as virtually to disappear? On the other hand, if the self transforms everything, both inside and outside, does the self become a “pure break,” something radically other than nature?

Even though I’m not well-read in Deleuze or Badiou, the question they ask about THE EVENT and the contrasting answers they offer are directly relevant to my ongoing projects of creation and therapy. It’s possible to conduct a broad and aimless survey, but at some point you have to have something of which you’re trying to make sense. Having this question of meaning puts you in collaboration with others who also are trying to make sense of the same thing.

Th emerging Christians have recruited the PoMos in their critique of Modernism and in exploring new Biblical hermeneutics. Sometimes it seems that the Christians merely want to plug these thinkers into predetermined slots — Badiou sees event as pure break, Badiou sees the Christ Event as paradigmatic, therefore Badiou supports the Christian story. That approach seems like a distortion and a waste of time — the Christians ought to be able to mount their own cultural critique and their own apologetics. But if the Christians can think about the questions that are being asked and decide whether these are also questions a Christian might ask, then these writers become colleagues in the search for an answer, or at least for a trajectory. Is THE EVENT immanent or transcendent — not just the Christ event but any event, regardless of its religious significance or whether Christians are involved in it? If this is an interesting question to Christians, then it should be possible to mount a project and a series of focused readings. The PoMo engagement becomes something more substantial and meaningful.

7 June 2007

Self as Portal

Filed under: Culture, Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 9:40 pm

Individual creatures are suspended between the twinned determinisms of the genes and the world. In nature the individual is a carrier of genetic variation, a test case for the survival value in the environment of a specific randomly-generated genomic combination manifesting itself phenotypically. For any individual the environment includes conspecifics. But a pack or herd isn’t just a collection of individuals; the individual is genetically and irreducibly a social creature, capable of surviving and reproducing only among its fellow creatures. So the individual is thrice decentered: the genes, the world, the others.

Human individuals too occupy the genes, the world, and the collective. Human experience is uniquely mediated by intelligence, which transforms the individual expression of the genes into a self, the world into a reality, the collective into a society. The three human domains are yoked together through the uniquely human form of intelligence that is culture. Culture is remarkable in that, while it extends across the entirety of human society, each individual actively configures a personalized version of it and installs it in the brain. Language, understanding, history, tradition, exchange, organization, morality, invention, art — we live inside of culture, and culture lives inside of us. Communal culture is continually updating itself, incorporating countless incremental changes propagated across the species. Individual installations of culture also update themselves continually, emerging from the ongoing stream of encounters with the world and other people, as well as through the active reorganization of the individual mind. Culture is a cumulative installation, repeatedly ratcheting itself up from earlier, simpler iterations of itself — this is true both collectively and individually.

…Which brings us back to psychological practice. I’ve been talking about the self as a membrane, with therapy being a procedure for unclogging the membrane, facilitating the free transport of information, desire, intention, and so on between inside and outside. I wanted to de-emphasize the idea of self-as-entity and replace it with self-as-process. That still seems like the way to go. But the processes engaged in by the self are much more impressive than mere exchange between inside and outside. The self actively and continually transforms everything.

Culture isn’t a vast database stored in the archives of memory. When I want to write something I don’t make a series of selections from a memorized set of all conceivable English-language sentences, nor do I search through my dictionary and grammatical rule book for what I can say. Instead I construct a flow of language on the fly, assembling it from the various bits and pieces that make sense to say next. Language is more like a procedure, a way of transforming experience into communicable information. Similarly, morality isn’t a set of rules governing every possible situation; it’s a procedure for evaluating motives, decisions and actions on the fly, according to criteria that are relevant to the situation at hand.

We experience nothing in the raw. Everything that comes to us from the world, everything that goes out from us into the world, we subject to one or more relevant cultural procedures. This continual process of culturally transforming experience renders our interactions with the world meaningful. Meaning gradually accumulates in our past experiences; gradually our transformative procedures become more sophisticated.

We transform the world as we pass through it, subjecting it to a variety of procedures for embedding it in meaning. Every individual is a portal that opens onto multiple overlapping realities. The task of the practice isn’t just to unclog the flows between inside and outside. It’s to make sure the portal is working smoothly, flexibly, imaginatively, actively creating realities on the fly.

6 June 2007

A Ghost in the Machine?

Filed under: Genesis 1, Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 2:32 pm

On the other hand, the membrane isn’t just a bag of skin.

A couple posts ago I reduced Self and Reality to opposite faces of a membrane between inside and outside. The membrane is flexible, porous, emergent. The job of the practitioner is to unclog the membrane, facilitating the transfer of information between inside and out, seeking ways for desires to achieve fulfillment. Thinking about the membrane this morning, I realize that I may have underestimated its significance. In fact, I think this membrane might be the most important thing.

I agree that Self has gotten entirely too big, as if it contained all of Reality inside itself. At the same time, I’m concernted that Reality also has gotten too big, with its Totalizing Discourses and its Metanarratives, its Globalization and its Merged Hermeneutical Horizons squeezing all the Voids and Differences out of existence.

But now I’m thinking back to the beginning of this blog, when I was still working on Genesis 1. In my reading of that primal narrative, Self and Reality were the twin stars of that show. In embedding the universe in a framework of meaning elohim created a reality. In watching, learning and participating in elohim‘s work of creation, the selfhood of man emerged as part of that creation. Selves create the meaning of realities; realities create the meaning of selves.

A self has no substance of its own; neither does a reality. At the same time, we humans have no direct access to the world or even to our own instincts and drives and desires. All our experiences are mediated by selves interacting with realities. Without the insubstantial two-sided membrane we wouldn’t disappear; we would recede into insignificance, and so would the world we live in.

The membrane isn’t just the least intrusive break in the continuum between inside and outside. The membrane is a break to be sure, a gap that keeps the world from overwhelming us and ourselves from absorbing the world into our own representations of it. But the membrane is also a radically different entity from the substances on the inside and the outside. It might not even be substantial at all, although I’m wary of inserting some sort of transcendence into the gap, a ghost into the machine. The membrane is different from inside and outside. The two-sided membrane is the source and the process of differentiation.

The work of the practice isn’t merely to make the membrane as porous as possible, so that raw desires and raw phenomena pass through it untransformed. It’s the transformative power of the membrane that’s the most important thing. What’s wanted is a limber and dexterous and powerful membrane, a membrane that is itself a portal, continually transforming the raw into reality, pulling meaning out of the chaos and the void.

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