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between hard neutral facts and “values” that we, the judging subjects, impose onto the facts; and so on) which are stricto sensu meaningless in the premodern universe. Of course, a realist can retort that this is the whole point: only with the passage to the modern scientific universe did we get an appropriate notion of what “objective reality” is, in contrast to the premodern outlook that 68 Penumbra confused “facts” and “values.” Against this, the transcendental-hermeneutic philosopher would be fully justified to insist that, nonetheless, we cannot get out of the vicious circle of presupposing our result: the most fundamental way reality “appears” to us, the most fundamental way we experience what “really counts as effectively existing,” is always already presupposed in our judgments of what “really exists.” This transcendental level was very nicely indicated by Kuhn himself when, in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he claimed that the shift in a scientific paradigm is more than a mere shift in our (external) perspective on/perception of reality, but nonetheless less than our effectively “creating” another new reality.
Knowledge and Truth In what, then, does the ultimate difference between cognitivism and cultural studies consist? On the one hand, there is neutral objective knowledge, that is, the patient empirical examination of reality. Cognitivists like to emphasize that, politically, they are not against the Left—their aim is precisely to liberate the Left from the irrationalist-relativist-elitist postmodern imposter;
nonetheless, they accept the distinction between the neutral theoretical (scientific) insight and the eventual ideologico-political bias of the author. In contrast, cultural studies involves the properly dialectical paradox of a truth that relies on an engaged subjective position. This distinction between knowledge inherent to the academic institution, defined by the standards of “professionalism,” and, on the other hand, the truth of a (collective) subject engaged in a struggle (elaborated, among others, by philosophers from Theodor Adorno to Alain Badiou), enables us to explain how the difference between cognitivists and proponents of cultural studies functions as a shibboleth: it is properly visible only from the side of cultural studies. So, on the one hand, one should fully acknowledge the solid scholarly status of much of the cognitivist endeavor—often, it is academia at its best; on the other hand, there is a dimension that simply eludes its grasp. Let me elaborate this relationship between truth and the accuracy of knowledge by means of a marvelous thought experiment evoked by Daniel Dennett in his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: You and your best friend are about to be captured by hostile forces, who know English but do not know much about your world. You both know Morse code, and hit upon Lacan between Cultural Studies and Cognitivism the following impromptu encryption scheme: for a dash, speak a truth; for
a dot, speak a falsehood. Your captors, of course, listen to you two speak:
“Birds lay eggs, and toads fly. Chicago is a city, and my feet are not made of tin, and baseball is played in August,” you say, answering “No” (dash-dot;
dash-dash-dash) to whatever your friend has just asked. Even if your captors know Morse code, unless they can determine the truth and falsity of these sentences, they cannot detect the properties that stand for the dot and dash.5 Dennett himself uses this example to make the point that meaning cannot be accounted for in purely syntactic inherent terms: the only way to ultimately gain access to the meaning of a statement is to situate it in its life-world context, that is, to take into account its semantic dimension, the objects and processes to which it refers. My point is rather different. As Dennett himself puts it, the two prisoners, in this case, use the world itself as a “one-time pad.” Although the truth-value of their statements is not indifferent but crucial, it is not this truth-value as such, in itself, that matters; what matters is the translation of truth-value into a differential series of pluses and minuses (dashes and dots) that delivers the true message in Morse code. And is something similar not going on in the psychoanalytic process? Although the truth-value of the patient’s statements is not indifferent, what really matters is not this truthvalue as such, but the way the very alternation of truths and lies discloses the patient’s desire—a patient also uses reality itself (the way [s]he relates to it) as a “one-time pad” to encrypt his or her desire. And, in the same way, theory uses the very truth-value (accuracy) of post-theoretical knowledge as a medium to articulate its own truth-message.
On the other hand, politically correct proponents of cultural studies often pay for their arrogance and lack of a serious approach by confusing truth (the engaged subjective position) and knowledge, that is, by disavowing the gap that separates them, by directly subordinating knowledge to truth (say, a quick socio-critical dismissal of a specific science like quantum physics or biology without proper acquaintance with the inherent conceptual structure of this field of knowledge). Essentially, the problem of cultural studies is often the lack of specific disciplinary skills: a literary theorist without proper knowledge of philosophy can write disparaging remarks on Hegel’s phallogocentrism, on film, and so on. What we are dealing with here is a kind of false universal critical capacity to pass judgments on everything without proper knowledge. With all its criticism of traditional philosophical universalism, cultural studies effectively functions as a kind of ersatz-philosophy, and notions are thus transformed into ideological universals. In postcolonial studies, for instance, the notion of “colonization” starts to function as a hegemonic notion and is elevated to a universal paradigm, so that in relations between the sexes, the male sex colonizes the female sex, the upper classes colonize the lower classes, and so on. Especially with some “progressive” interpreters of contemporary biology, it is popular to focus on the way the opposing 70 Penumbra positions are overdetermined by the politico-ideological stance of their authors. Does Dawkins’ “Chicago gangster theory of life,” this reductionist determinist theory about “selfish genes” caught in a deadly struggle for survival, not express the stance of a competitive, bourgeois individualist society? Is Gould’s emphasis on sudden genetic change and ex-aptation not a sign of the more supple, dialectical and “revolutionary” Leftist stance of its author?
Do those who emphasize spontaneous cooperation and emerging order (like Lynn Margulis) not express the longing for a stable organic order, for a society that functions as a “corporate body”? Do we thus not have here the scientific expression of the basic triad of Right, Center and Left—of the organicist conservative notion of society as a whole, of the bourgeois individualist notion of society as the space of competition between individuals, and of the revolutionary theorist notion of sudden change? (Of course, the insistence
on a holistic approach and emerging order can be given a different accent:
it can display the conservative longing for a stable order, or the progressive utopian belief in a new society of solidary cooperation where order grows spontaneously from below and is not imposed from above.) The standard form of the opposition is the one between the “cold” mechanist probing into causality, displaying the attitude of the scientific manipulator in the service of the exploitative domination of nature, and the new “holistic” approach focused on spontaneously emerging order and cooperation, pointing toward what Andrew Ross called a “kinder, gentler science.” The mistake here is the same as that of Stalinist Marxism, which opposed “bourgeois” to “proletarian” science, or that of pseudo-radical feminism, which opposes “masculine” to “feminine” discourse as two self-enclosed wholes engaged in warfare. We do not have two sciences, but one universal science split from within, that is, caught in the battle for hegemony.6 Theoretical State Apparatuses The academically-recognized “radical thought” in the liberal West does not operate in a void, but is indeed a part of power relations. Apropos of cultural studies, one has to ask again the old Benjaminian question: not “How does one explicitly relate to power?” but “How is one situated within predominant power relations?” Does cultural studies not also function as a discourse that pretends to be critically self-reflective, to render visible the predominant power relations, while it effectively obfuscates its own mode of participating in them? So it would be productive to apply to cultural studies itself the Foucauldian notion of productive “bio-power” as opposed to “repressive”/ prohibitory legal power: what if the field of cultural studies, far from effectively threatening today’s global relations of domination, fits within this framework perfectly, in the same way that sexuality and the “repressive” discourses that regulate it are fully complementary? What if the criticism of patriarchal/ identitarian ideology betrays an ambiguous fascination with it, rather than a Lacan between Cultural Studies and Cognitivism will committed to undermining it? There is a way to avoid responsibility and/ or guilt precisely by emphasizing one’s responsibility or too readily assuming guilt in an exaggerated way, as in the case of the politically correct white male academic who emphasizes the guilt of racist phallogocentrism, and uses this admission of guilt as a stratagem not to confront the way he, as a “radical” intellectual, perfectly fits the existing power relations of which he pretends to be thoroughly critical. Crucial here is the shift from British to American cultural studies. Even if we find the same themes and notions in both, the socio-ideological functioning is thoroughly different: we shift from the effective engagement with working class culture to the academic radical chic.
However, despite these critical remarks, the very fact that there is resistance to cultural studies proves that it remains a foreign body unable to fit fully into the existing academy. Cognitivism is ultimately the attempt to get rid of this intruder, to re-establish the standard functioning of academic knowledge—“professional,” rational, empirical, problem-solving, and so on.
The distinction between cognitivism and cultural studies is thus not simply the distinction between two doctrines or two theoretical approaches; it is ultimately a much more radical distinction between two totally different modalities or, rather, practices of knowledge, inclusive of two different institutional apparatuses of knowledge. This dimension of “theoretical state apparatuses,” to use the Althusserian formulation, is crucial: if we do not take it into account, we simply miss the point of the antagonism between cognitivism and cultural studies. It is no wonder that cognitivists like to emphasize their opposition to psychoanalysis: two exemplary cases of such non-academic knowledge are, of course, Marxism and psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis differs from cognitivist psychology and psychotherapy in at least three crucial features: (1) since it does not present itself as empirically-tested objective knowledge, there is the perennial problem (in the United States, where psychiatric care is sometimes covered by medical insurance) of the extent to which the state or insurance will reimburse the patient; (2) for the same reason, psychoanalysis has inherent difficulties in integrating itself into the academic edifice of psychology or medical psychiatry departments, so it usually functions as a parasitic entity that attaches itself to cultural studies, comparative literature or psychology departments; (3) as to their inherent organization, psychoanalytic communities do not function as “normal” academic societies (like sociological, mathematical or other societies). From the standpoint of “normal” academic societies, the psychoanalytic society cannot but appear as a “dogmatic” discipline engaged in eternal factional struggles between sub-groups dominated by a strong authoritarian or charismatic leader; conflicts within psychoanalytic communities are not resolved through rational argumentation and empirical testing, but rather resemble sectarian religious struggles. In short, the phenomenon of (personal) transference functions here in an entirely different way than in the “standard” academic community. (The dynamics in Marxist 72 Penumbra communities are somewhat similar.) In the same way that Marxism interprets the resistance against its insights as the “result of the class struggle in theory,” as accounted for by its very object, psychoanalysis also interprets the resistance against itself to be the result of the very unconscious processes
that are its topic. In both cases, theory is caught in a self-referential loop: