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We are discovered

Author: joe

Wednesday, 01 December, 2010 - 22:06

- on being a puppet

Therein resides the paradox of the notion of the "performative," or speech act: in the very gesture of accomplishing an act by way of uttering words, I am deprived of authorship, the "big Other" (the symbolic institution) speaks through me. It is no wonder then, that there is something puppet-like about the persons whose professional function is essentially performative (judges, kings...): they are reduced to a living embodiment of the symbolic institution, i.e. their sole duty is to "dot the i's" mechanically, to confer on some content elaborated by others, the institutional cachet. The later Lacan is fully justified in reserving the term "act" for something much more suicidal and real than a speech act.
 
This mystery of the symbolic order is exemplified by the enigmatic status of what we call "politeness": when, upon meeting an acquaintance, I say "Glad to see you! How are you today?", it is clear to both of us that, in a way, I "do not mean it seriously" (if my partner suspects that I am really interested, he may even be unpleasantly surprised, as though I were aiming at something too intimate and of no concern to me - or, to paraphrase the old Freudian joke, "Why are you saying you're glad to see me, when you're really glad to see me!?"). However, it would nonetheless be wrong to designate my act as simply "hypocritical," since, in another way, I do mean it: the polite exchange does establish a kind of pact between the two of us; in the same sense as I do "sincerely" laugh through the canned laughter (the proof of it being the fact that I effectively do "feel relieved" afterwards).
 
The Interpassive Subject by Slavoj Zizek

I love Zizek's reversals. I like to call them Zizekian switcheroonies. "Is not your love for Zizek the very condition for your hatred of Zizek?" In this particular switcheroony, the speech act is turned on its head. It is not the speaker who makes the world such by the act of speaking, but the Other which expresses and enacts its will through the speaker - the subject supposed to believe.

Today I was discussing Wikileaks with students, and I was reminded of the interpassive subject, ("Is, however, the other side of this interactivity not interpassivity?"), who in their very participation in the digital realm become the means of the digital realm to "enjoy the show". Wikileaks now knows everything. Wikileaks has every document there is. Wikileaks is the panopticon, the subject supposed to know.

When rumours emerge that Wikileaks will publish the internal documents of a large bank, I half expect every bank immediately to surrender and publish everything, just as one of Arthur Conan Doyle's friends is supposed to have left the country and fled for good upon receiving a hoax message from the author, stating just "We are discovered. Flee now!"

My machine enjoys the show as I perform my part for it, my VCR enjoys watching my TV; we are puppets amongst the arguing objects that populate our environment, and Wikileaks will publish every thought I have ever had, so that you (and I) can realise what I feel.

Categories: Slavoj Zizek, interpassivity, subject, Wikileaks, speech, act, performance,
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Who are you?

Author: joe

Tuesday, 02 November, 2010 - 21:15

- on a mighty entreaty.

We are called into society by a mighty entreaty, "Who art thou, man, that I should care for thee?" And long before our intelligence can help us, the new-born individual survives this tremendous question by his naive faith in the love of his elders. We grow into society on faith, listening to all kinds of human imperatives. Later we stammer and stutter, nations and individuals alike, in the effort to justify our existence by responding to the call. We try to distinguish between the many tempting offers made to our senses and appetites by the world. We wish to follow the deepest question, the central call which goes straight to the heart, and promises our soul the lasting certainty of being inscribed in the book of life.
 
Modern man no longer believes in any certainty of existence on the strength of abstract reasoning. Yet he is dedicated, heart and soul, to man's great fight against the decay of creation. He knows that his whole life will have to be an answer to the call. The short formula which we have proposed ... may be of some use to condense our whole endeavour into a sort of quintessence: "respondeo etsi mutabor" - I respond although I will be changed ...
 
We are swimmers in a buoyant and everlasting medium. The dawn of creation is upon us, and we await our question, our specific mandate, in the silence of the beginnings of time. When we have learned to listen to the question and serve towards its solution, we have advanced to a new day.
 
I am an Impure Thinker by Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy

I love this writer's existential Christian mysticism, even though I shrink form quoting lines about God. Immediately preceding the paragraphs above, Rosenstock-Huessy writes, in refutation of Descartes' exaltation of pure thought in "cogito ergo sum", "We do not exist because we think. Man is the son of God and not brought into being by thinking." But we are called into existence through the calling, the hailing of the world. The words it uses are formed from senses and appetites, imperatives and offers: "who are you?"

With these entreaties the world inserts itself between the mother and child, the individual is formed, and the melancholic yearning begins - for the Other to care for me, a care that manifests itself in the specific question the world asks of us. Central to Rosenstock-Huessy's "metanomic" approach to understanding the world is that dialogic interplay between the self and the "superhuman power" that precedes and interrogates it. We do not discover the world, it addresses us. We do not know the world, we respond to it. We don't just be, we change.

I'm trying to start to form an outline of the gap - the "abyss of nothingness" which separates knowledge from the world, language from reality, consciousness from being. For Rosenstock-Huessy the gap is bridged by speech itself, co-constituting world and self. "Speech conquers all the disintegrations and fissions which abound in nature and of which death is the most drastic form." I don't know if I advance to the new day of speech conquering death, but I do like the thought that the gulf disappears in the dialogue of calling and responding, hailing and hearing, addressing and answering.

Categories: Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy, dialogue, speech,
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