Friday, July 19, 2013

Deleuzian Punks Fuck Off, or, Why I'll be a Lacanian Fascist for Life

Something that has always kind of annoyed me about the Deleuzian defense of Deleuze - and I'd stress that this is just something I have heard or read a lot in relatively non-academic settings, as I've certainly never read a page of the dude - is, well, the whole defense itself. Unless I have just met a very bizarre subset, this is what I'd call the toolbox metaphor; and the consistency of the metaphor leads me to believe that it's drawn directly from the philosopher himself.

On top of being admittedly unfamiliar with Deleuze's work, at least firsthand, I'll happily admit that I'm equally unfamiliar with the conditions that lead to his widespread adoption by people within, or adjacent to, the academy; I have a memory of reading some anecdotes regarding the theoretical hegemony of Derridean deconstruction in the late 90s, from k-punk I believe, so that weird quasi-mythological feud is always somewhere in the back of my mind, but I didn't really experience anything in the academy but a roughly universal disinterest in theory (apart from a few other little pricks like myself and a couple of friends who were brilliant and passionately driven towards a, however nebulous, goal) and so. Which us just to say, in preface, that the war this blog post looks to offer perspective on is radically divorced from the fighting on the ground, or the real abstractions that conditioned them.

For this evening, then, I'll be playing the part of the Baudrillardian Gulf War.

So maybe when Deleuze (presumably) wrote that readers should use his philosophy as a toolbox, or whatever, that they should appropriate useful concepts and discard the useless, maybe that truly was a watershed moment in the history of philosophy, and has had a real lasting impact; I relegate my reaction to the meme to this blog because I don't want to talk shit in person, because obviously that's exactly what should be done. You grab the hammer when you need it, whether for nail or for window; you read to apply and the application reinflects the reading. What confuses me is, not always, but very very often, something buried within the tone of the defense, the way they say that his concepts are particularly well oriented for this approach. They seem so often to be glad, and I inevitably think that this is not at a new approach having been pioneered, but at permission having been granted.

It's in the way that the defense of Deleuze seems to suggest that anyone ever had any other fucking option. Like you could opt, magically, to use a philosopher or theorist exclusively holistically. As though anyone could ever be anything other than a bricoleur of abstractions. To seem, as these Deleuzians do to me, to ask permission for this? It's - well - kind of annoying, I guess.

A few years ago, I made a youtube video I called Autotune Lacan and posted it here; Rob Horning responded to it, although his response was primarily to the article I had made the youtube in response to (or, more accurately, that I had made as an outgrowth of the initial response I had posted on facebook to the article; theory, y'all) than the youtube itself. Some part of this is just a restating of what I was working through when I made the facebook response and the video to begin with. I don't know which part though.

Rob's post I take as I assume it was meant to be taken; it's not really about anything much other than a particular (his) affective response to a form of institutional power. Which is in no way whatsoever to discredit that; my argument from here on is going to be made in the same register, with only a different result, stemming from a different relationship to, and instantiation of, a very similar (if not identical) form of institutional power.

The article makes a common argument against Lacan, and one not at all incorrect as such, likening him to a cult leader. The institutional use of Lacan seems to me to be identical to the individual use of Deleuze; it's finally been granted permission to do the only thing it has ever been capable of doing, and so it treats the permissor with absolute reverence.

The thing about Lacan’s obscurantism - his misdirections, his diffusions, his holistic theory, his cultish presentation - though, is that, for it to even begin to work, the reader has to approach it thinking as an institution. If you stop yourself before you start, and make sure that you don’t fall prey to the desire to categorize, to read as an archivist or a pedagogue or a aspirational student, or as anything other than a person, which is to say, as someone who will apply particularized modes of knowledge to a text that will then affect the way that you will act in the world, then Lacan’s texts are laid bare for you.

That “for you” is very important.

For me, what became infinitely obvious midway through the first seminar I read, and which stayed with me as I read a few more, and has stayed with me since, as I have not read any more, is that Lacan is a thinker who is obsessively engaged with thinking a material space which only functions if it positions itself as an ideal space. Lacan writes endlessly, loopingly, infuriatingly, opaquely, and sometimes beautifully, about a fucking room. This is worth whatever it is worth to you. Furious disengagements with the text, even without engaging them to begin with, are easily worth significantly more than endless interpellated engagements with them, where the reader forfeits their position and becomes scholar.

There are ways out, of course, no matter the supposedly labyrinthine structure of the texts, no matter the scholarly imperative to read as an institution. What Lacan’s vertical organization of his texts does (as against Deleuze’s (again, in my understanding) horizontal organization) is to refuse the permission to bricolage them. Which, unfortunately, is as impossible as the Deleuzian organization’s permission is tautological. That’s just not how shit works.

If Lacan is endlessly working to theorize a material space, in order to provide it with an idealistic holism necessary for it to be effective for a particular end - and he is, because I fucking said so, and what the fuck is he going to do about it - then his project is of importance to my own thinking and action in the world. The fact that he does this in a way that can be easily recuperated to reproduce one of the forms that systemic oppression takes is not something I (would like to think) I take lightly; that his concept of the phallus can be theoretically constructed in such a way as to support ostensibly liberatory ends is not at all an excuse for its use as an oppressive tool.

Excepting, perhaps, reproductive labor, I would put space at the center of the concepts around which my thinking organizes itself. Space, whether as encampment, haunt, or digital metaphorization, seems to me crucial. And when the Lacanian body of work is read as some fuckhead trying desperately to instrumentalize space through theory, with a very specific (if often incredibly shitty) goal in mind (if this has been unclear so far, I am talking about the psychoanalyst's office as the space and the cure - even as it functions as a horizon - as the goal), it becomes obvious, to me at least, why it is useful, despite the apparent impenetrability. That I can then steal from these texts, and fight with them, and force them to fight for me, is my goal, and the goal of anyone, I would hope, who engages with the shit; the added benefit of not having to genuflect to the motherfucker who wrote them in order to do this is only a slight bonus, but an important one.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blogging the Caine: Chinelo Okparanta's "America"

"America" is a really good story.

I could talk about that, I guess. I've certainly had enough training to write a couple thousand words, pulling exemplary quotes and talking about the structure. If this was a different context I could talk about its discursive positioning, stuff like that. Maybe even emotional content or something. I don't really know.

Before I finish this thought -- because, if you can't tell already, this thought is very much an ending thought, and this very much an excuse of a post -- though, there's one thing that I think the story does really wrong. By which I mean that it is far and away my favorite thing about the story, the one thing that gets under my skin; the fact that, for a moment at least, it seems that the story suddenly reveals itself to have been entirely a setup for a retelling of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.

When Okparanta writes,
A person wishes for something so long that when it finally happens, she should be nothing but grateful. What sympathy can we have for someone who, after wanting something so badly for three long years, realizes, almost as soon as she’s gotten it, that perhaps she’s been wrong in wanting it all that time?
And then launches into the retelling, I was very excited. And when this diversion ends with,
And I think that even when all the gold is gone, there will always be the hens to produce more gold. But what happens when all the hens are gone, when they have either run away or have been destroyed? Then what?
I was still pretty excited. Mostly because I have no idea what the hell this moral is intended to convey, honestly. Unlike "The Whispering Trees," or even "Miracles," where the didacticism at the end forced me to basically ignore the awkwardly inserted message to keep the story as something productive and interesting rather than just illustrative, this is a moral that wraps back in on itself through it's confusion and doesn't really provide closure, unless I'm just not particularly capable of grasping it.

Maybe part of that has to do with the particular story being told; I actually kind of have no idea what the moral of Jack and the Beanstalk is actually supposed to be. I hadn't ever really thought of that before; I know it, I grew up with it, but I couldn't tell you with any honesty that I ever learned anything from it, or even knew what it was I was supposed to learn. It almost seems like an anti-Odyssey, where cunning is valued at almost nothing against persistent naiveté, which leads to a lot of peril that doesn't really get rewarded, but neither is it punished.

That aside: there's something really interesting about taking this very straightforward, well written story, and derailing it into this weird retelling of a folk tale with no real discernible spin and to no concrete didactic or discursive end.

But then, the story itself is just so good, so much a story, that I can't really do much with it. I'd like for it to win, I guess.