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the “natural” object, the object that can satisfy a certain need) to the satisfaction itself as an object.15 We are not dealing with substitution, but rather with a “deviation” or “detour.”16 Two questions arise at this point. First, can we simply say that drive equals satisfaction? And second, considering that sublimation covers a much larger field than the field of art, what is the specificity of “artistic sublimation”? In 58 Penumbra reply to the first question, we could say that if the drive is a “headless” procedure, sublimation is not. Sublimation is a kind of “navigator” of the drives, and this is why it plays such an important role in society. Collective, socially accepted sublimations “lead” the drives to certain fields where they can “relax” and “let themselves go.” As Lacan points out, however, it is not simply that society approves of drives only in certain delimited fields, but also that society needs to “colonize the field of das Ding with imaginary schemes”17 that sublimations tend to produce.
In answer to the second question, let us propose some general lines that can account for principal differences between science, religion, and art, as three major fields of sublimation. If we define the core of sublimation (i.e. the
Thing) in terms of the Lacanian notion of the real, we can say that:
1. Science is based upon the supposition that there is no real that could not be formulated within the symbolic. Every Thing belongs to or is translatable into the signifying order. In other words, for science, the Thing does not exist; the mirage of the Thing is only an effect of the (temporal and empirical) deficiency of our knowledge. The status of the real here is the status of something not only immanent, but also accessible (at least in principle). It should be noted, however, that even though—because of this attitude of disbelief—science seems to be as far as possible from the realm of the Thing, it sometimes comes to embody the Thing itself (the “irrepressible,” blind drive that may lead directly to the catastrophe) in the eyes of the public. Suffice to recall Frankenstein’s monster or, from more recent times, Dolly, or the idea of clones in general.
2. Religion is founded upon the supposition that the real is radically transcendent, Other, excluded. The real is impossible and forbidden at the same time, it is transcendent and inaccessible.
3. Art is founded upon the presupposition that the real is at the same time immanent and inaccessible. The real is what always “sticks” to the representation as its other or reverse side. This reverse side is always immanent to the given space, but also always inaccessible. Each stroke always creates two things: the visible and the invisible, the audible and the inaudible, sense and nonsense, the imaginable and the unimaginable. In this manner, art always plays with a limit, creates it, shifts it, transgresses it, sends its “heroes” beyond it. But it also keeps the spectator on the “right” side of it.
In the most general terms, the limit at stake is that between pleasure and pain, the limit of the “pleasure principle.” This limit is in itself a flexible, plastic limit. It can be given many different forms and it can very well include a portion of what lies beyond the pleasure principle. The example The Splendor of Creation of the latter is what Kant calls the sublime: in the sublime, the Thing is not evoked by its veil, by its noticeable presence-in-absence, but instead is present in the excess of the forces (or magnitude) displayed before us. And yet, as Kant is careful to add, we can only enjoy it aesthetically if we are “in a safe place,” if the destructive force that we admire does not reach us “physically.” The distance, the “devoid of all interest,” is the consequence of the fact that the object at stake concerns us at the very core of our being. Art is the very process of creating this distance. But it is crucial not to forget that there is a double movement involved in this creation. The point is not that there is first this unspeakable Thing and that art enters the scene to make it possible for us to relate to it. Art is not simply a mediator between the subject and the Thing, but rather, art is what creates this Thing in the first place. This brings us back to the notion of what is “excluded in the interior”: the arch-gesture of art is precisely that of creating an “excluded interior,” of producing the very void around which it spreads its “net.” Notes
1. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959-1960), ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Dennis Porter (London: Routledge, 1992), 130. (Emphasis added).
2. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 101.
3. See Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1969), III, 6.
4. This point was already made by Heidegger. See his text, “Kant’s Doctrine of the Beautiful: Its Misinterpretation by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche,” in
Nietzsche: A Critical Reader, ed. Peter R. Sedgwick (Oxford and Cambridge:
5. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. W. S. Pluhar (Indianapolis:
Hackett Publishing Company, 1987), 47.
6. See Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche (Paris: PUF, 1965), 34-35.
7. Edgar Allan Poe, The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (New York:
Random House, 1987), 164.
8. This is, of course, Lacan’s well-known definition of sublimation.
9. Ibid., 239.
10. Ibid., 238.
11. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J Hollingdale, ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967).
12. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 161.
13. Ibid., 162.
14. Ibid., 111.
15. Jacques-Alain Miller has pointed out that the object that corresponds to the drive is “satisfaction as object.” Cf. “On Perversion,” in Reading Seminars I and II. Return to Freud, ed. B. Fink, R. Feldstein, M. Jaanus (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 313. So, contrary to the common belief, sublimation does not proceed from some “unnatural,” “depraved,” or “unacceptable” desire to something more “natural” (in the sense of being more acceptable), but rather from something perfectly natural (sucking a nipple in order to be fed) to something “unnatural” (sucking a woman’s breast or a penis for the sake of sucking, for the very pleasure of sucking).
16. One could also say that the logic at stake is that of a supplement.
17. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 99.
I. CULTURAL STUDIES VERSUS THE “THIRD CULTURE”The Struggle for Intellectual Hegemony We are witnessing today the struggle for intellectual hegemony—for who will occupy the universal place of the “public intellectual”—between postmodern-deconstructionist cultural studies and the cognitivist popularizers of “hard” sciences, that is, the proponents of the so-called “third culture.” This struggle, which caught the attention of the general public first through the so-called “de Man affair” (where opponents endeavored to prove the proto-Fascist irrationalist tendencies of deconstruction), reached its peak in the Sokal-Social Text affair. In cultural studies, “theory” usually refers to a mixture of literary/cinema criticism, mass culture, ideology, queer studies, and so on.
It is worth quoting here the surprised reaction of Dawkins:
I noticed, the other day, an article by a literary critic called “Theory: What Is It?” Would you believe it? “Theory” turned out to mean “theory in literary criticism.”…The very word “theory” has been hijacked for some extremely narrow parochial literary purpose—as though Einstein didn’t have theories; as though Darwin didn’t have theories.1 Dawkins is here in deep solidarity with his great opponent Stephen Jay Gould, who also complains that “there’s something of a conspiracy among literary intellectuals to think they own the intellectual landscape and the reviewing sources, when in fact there is a group of nonfiction writers, largely from sciences, who have a whole host of fascinating ideas that people want to read about.”2 These quotes clearly stake the terms of the debate as the fight for ideological hegemony in the precise sense this term acquired in Ernesto Laclau’s writings: the fight over a particular content that always “hegemonizes” the apparently neutral universal term. The third culture comprises 62 Penumbra the vast field that reaches from the evolutionary theory debate (Dawkins and Dennett versus Gould) through physicists dealing with quantum physics and cosmology (Hawking, Weinberg, Capra), cognitive scientists (Dennett again, Marvin Minsky), neurologists (Sacks), the theorists of chaos (Mandelbrot, Stewart), authors dealing with the cognitive and general social impact of the digitalization of our daily lives, up to the theorists of auto-poetic systems who endeavor to develop a universal formal notion of self-organizing emerging systems that can be applied to “natural” living organisms and species as well as social “organisms” (the behavior of markets and other large groups of interacting social agents). Three things should be noted here: (1) as a rule, we are not dealing with scientists themselves (although they are often the same individuals), but with authors who address a large public in such a way that their success outdoes by far the public appeal of cultural studies (suffice it to recall the big bestsellers of Sacks, Hawking, Dawkins and Gould); (2) as in the case of cultural studies, we are not dealing with a homogenized field, but with a rhizomatic multitude connected through “family resemblances,” within which authors are often engaged in violent polemics, but where interdisciplinary connections also flourish (between evolutionary biology and cognitive sciences, and so on); (3) as a rule, authors active in this domain are sustained by a kind of missionary zeal, by a shared awareness that they all participate in a unique shift in the global paradigm of knowledge.
As a kind of manifesto of this orientation, one could quote the “Introduction” to The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution, in which the editor (John Brockman) nicely presents the large narrative that sustains the collective identification of the various scientists interviewed in the book.3 According to Brockman, back in the ’40s and ’50s, the idea of a public intellectual was identified with an academic versed in “soft” human (or social) sciences who addressed issues of common interest, took a stance on the great issues of the day and thus triggered or participated in large and passionate public debates. What then occurred, with the onslaught of “French” postmodern deconstructionist theory, was the passing of that generation of public thinkers and their replacement by “bloodless academics,” that is, by cultural scientists whose pseudo-radical stance against “power” or “hegemonic discourse” effectively involves the growing disappearance of direct and actual political engagements outside the narrow confines of academia, as well as the increasing self-enclosure in an elitist jargon that precludes the very possibility of functioning as an intellectual engaged in public debates. Happily, however, this retreat of the “public intellectual” was counteracted by the surge of the third culture, by the emergence of a new type of public intellectual, the third culture author, who, in the eyes of the general public, more and more stands for the one “supposed to know,” trusted to reveal the keys to the great secrets that concern us all. The problem is here again the gap between effective “hard” sciences and their third culture ideological proponents who elevate Lacan between Cultural Studies and Cognitivism scientists into subjects supposed to know, not only for ordinary people who buy these volumes in masses, but also for postmodern theorists themselves who are intrigued by it, “in love with it,” and suppose that these scientists “really know something about the ultimate mystery of being.” The encounter here is failed. No, popular third-culturalists do not possess the solution that would solve the crisis of cultural studies; they do not have what cultural studies is lacking. The love encounter is thus failed: the beloved does not stretch his or her hand back and return love.
The “Third Culture” as Ideology It is thus crucial to distinguish here between science itself and its inherent ideologization, its sometimes subtle transformation into a new holistic “paradigm” (the new code name for “world view”). A series of notions (complementarity, anthropic principle, and so on) are here doubly inscribed, functioning as scientific and ideological terms. It is difficult to effectively estimate the extent to which the third culture is infested with ideology. Among its obvious ideological appropriations (but are they merely secondary appropriations?) one should, again, note at least two obvious cases: first, the often present New Age inscription, in which the shift in paradigm is interpreted as an advance beyond the Cartesian mechanistic-materialist paradigm toward a new holistic approach that brings us back to the wisdom of ancient Oriental thought (the Tao of physics, and so on). Sometimes, this is even radicalized into the assertion that the scientific shift in the predominant paradigm is an epiphenomenon of the fact that humanity is on the verge of the biggest spiritual shift in its entire history, that we are entering a new epoch in which egoistic individualism will be replaced by a transindividual cosmic awareness.
The second case is the “naturalization” of certain specific social phenomena, clearly discernible in so-called cyber-revolutionism, that relies on the notion of cyberspace (or the Internet) as a self-evolving “natural” organism;