November 22, 2019

They don’t have to consult the territory at all

From Larval Subjects

Our metaphysics is based on a distinction between appearance and reality, where appearances are the buzzing confusion of all things that exist in the world and reality is the finite set of principles or laws that both explain those phenomena and that are the grounds of the phenomena.  Here I cannot resist a hackneyed reference to The Matrix.  What is it that distinguishes Neo from everyone else?  Unlike the rest of us that see only appearances– the steak that we are eating, the clothing we are wearing, the car we’re driving in, other people, etc –Neo sees the reality that governs the appearances.  He sees the code that governs appearances.  Neo is the Platonic hero par excellence.  Where everyone else sees shadows on the cave wall taking them to be true reality, Neo has escaped the cave, seen the true reality, and now knows the combinatorial laws that govern all the appearances.  It is this that allows him to perform such extraordinary feats, for like the scientist that has unlocked the secrets of nature, he can manipulate that code to his advantage.

After years of this sort of training in philosophy, literature, and cultural studies courses the student becomes convinced that their questions are the result of a failure to understand, their own insufficiency, rather than an insufficiency of the text.  We Oedipalize our subjects.  In Lacan’s dialectic of alienation and separation, they remain at the level of alienation in the big Other, believing that the big Other is without antagonisms, lack, incompleteness, and insufficiency– Deleuze and Lacan can never be wrong, and certainly not Hegel! –and they are therefore never able to move on to separation so that they might become subjects themselves.  Such is the lesson of Lacan’s university discourse.   The product of that discourse is an alienated subject, a subject trapped in the web of “knowledge” and a master-signifier, whether it be a figure (Lacan, Hegel, Deleuze, Spinoza, Kant, etc.) that is treated as the repository of complete knowledge such that they can never be wrong.  A non-paranoid pedagogy would refuse the move of treating the text and figure as if it is always right, as if any question posed to the text is the result of a failure to understand.

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