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18. Paradoxically, the collapse of the Other, in particular that of its emblem, the Name-of-the-Father, has made it possible for an unlikely alliance such as that between deconstruction and utilitarianism. Indeed, what deconstruction and utilitarianism have in common is the consideration of the social bond, and the sexual relationship with it, simply in terms of semblants. To the extent that, from such a perspective, the subject is ultimately , an empty set condemned to an ever changing series of identifications, all identity, sexual identity included, can only be a provisory stopper of a process of identification that knows no limit. Consequently, all identity is a semblant destined to be deconstructed. Characteristic in this respect is Judith Butler’s radical critique of any politics of identity. See Butler, “Competing Universalities,” Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (London: Verso, 2000), 136-183. Indeed, for her, the path opening new political possibilities is that of a radical critique of the category of identity as such, insofar as no name, no identity, man or woman notwithstanding, is capable of adequately capturing the particular experience of jouissance.
19. Eric Laurent and Jacques-Alain Miller, “L’Autre qui n’existe pas et ses comités d’éthique. Introduction,” La Cause freudienne 35 (1997): 7-14.
20. If Lacan defines the real as that which is impossible, this is, as he emphasizes himself, because “the real—well, I believe, if this is my symptom, tell me—the real is […] without law. The true real implies the absence of the law. The real has no order. ” Lacan, Le séminaire, livre XXIII: Le sinthome (Paris: Seuil, 2005), 137-138.
21. Lacan, Television. A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, trans. Dennis Hollier, Rosalind Krauss, and Annette Michelson (New York: W.W.
Norton, 1990), 32.
23. Miller, L’exprérience du réel dans la cure analytique (1998), unpublished seminar, 25 November 1998.
24. Ibid., 81.
25. See Miller, “Equivalence Between the Other and the Symptom,” Psychoanalytical Notebooks 12 (2004): 9-31.
26. Lacan, Le sinthome, 17.
28. Miller, “The Sinthome, a Mixture of Symptom and Fantasy,” Psychoanalytical Notebooks 5 (2001): 10.
29. Lacan, Encore, 95-97.
30. Miller, Pièces détachées, 26 January 2005.
31. Lacan, “Discours à l’Ecole Freudienne de Paris,” Autres écrits (Paris: Seuil, 2001), 280-1.
32. Lacan, “L’Etourdit, ” Autres écrits, 449-495.
33. Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006).
34. Lacan, Encore, 17.
35. Lacan, Le séminaire, livre XVIII: D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant (1970Miller, “Of Semblants in the Relation Between Sexes,” Psychoanalytical 226 Penumbra Notebooks 3 (1999): 10.
37. Lacan, “Lituraterre,” Autres écrits, 14.
38. Ibid., 16.
39. Ibid., 18.
Utopias do not ordinarily inspire me—except perhaps to want to break open their artificial perfection. Like any thinking person, I naturally feel an obligation to imagine how our condition might be better than it now is, but I am unable to do so without making an analysis of things as they are (including their unconscious aspects). If the implicit claim of a utopia is that it offers a cure for the discontent with civilization that Freud discovered as being endemic to it, this strikes me as at the very least, premature, and possibly dangerously naïve. Thus, I have always preferred Rousseau’s stance in the Social Contract over full-blown utopias: while trying to frame a new relation to the law, Rousseau took men “as they are and the laws as they might be.” His attack on the dream of “perfectibility,” which was driving the cultural developments of his era (in the wrong direction), is still relevant today: witness the many planned-to-be-perfect communities now dotting the globe (such as Disney’s town of Celebration, Seaside in Florida, Orange County China).2 His complaint that we lack sufficient imagination to place ourselves in a different “situation from the one we find ourselves in” should still strike a chord in us.
Rousseau’s urging us toward “an other situation than the one we are in” could be characterized as utopian, even though it does not call for a complete escape from civilization—a wish that clearly underlies some utopian impulses.3 His call is more akin to Walter Benjamin’s “destructive character,” who does not know why but nevertheless knows that s/he must break out of the stifling situation s/he is in—to make a “way through.”4 Into “what else?” 228 Penumbra remains unspecified, and necessarily so if the future is to be granted the freedom to be defined as indefiniteness, as openness to change.
EVERYWHERE: UTOPIA AT THE “END OF HISTORY”Today, the sort of utopian drive I see in Rousseau’s critical fictions and Benjamin’s “destructive character” seems “quaint,” even antiquated—lost to the charms of the “utopia” that, it is claimed, has emerged at (and as) the “end of history” (a utopia many of us experience as suffocating, to be sure). Neo-liberals, neo-conservatives, the “beltway” Hegelians, all have represented this utopia as a post-scarcity economy of plenty, as the end to all serious war (since conflict is no longer the driving force behind history), and as a universal, “global” inclusiveness—an “everywhere” utopia—in which no one need be left out or behind. Not only are we supposedly immersed in this plenty, which has oozed out to coat the entire world like the waste/excess on which it is based (oil), but we are also said to have at last managed to stop time at a particularly propitious, which is to say faultless, utopian moment. It is no accident that utopia today presents itself more directly as instituting the “end of history.” The facts on the ground are not reassuring, as the horrifying and deadly wars which have emerged from this golden age of peace make plain. The articulation of this set of utopian ideals offers, however, an opportunity to reconsider utopia. What is its enduring appeal? Is it the appeal of destructiveness (that is, the success of that primal “hostility” to civilization first noted by Freud)? Or is it the selfish appeal to the notion that we can finally rid ourselves of any obligation to other generations? After all, one precondition of utopia is its timelessness, its break with any real commitment to the past or to the future. Benjamin already perceived this in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” where he quotes Lotze’s comment that the present is remarkably free of envy toward the future.5 Our unconcern for what comes “after” is rooted in our wish to believe ours is an already perfected present with no need of a future that would consist of anything other than its own repetition.
The promise of a permanent Eden or Nirvana quickly puts us in the region of Freud’s pleasure-principled death drive, aimed at eternalizing a moment that will never transform or change; an atemporal state of being, assembled out of bits of mythic pre-history and forged into a controlled, tightly designed post-history with no room for accident, discovery, or chance.6 A nowhereness, then, that is everywhere; a timelessness that contains all time.
We have cause for suspicion regarding the universality of these claims, since no dreamed-of utopia has ever failed to require crucial sacrifices later considered unnecessary. Most often these go well beyond the original sacrifice of libido (Freud’s conception of the problematic insertion of the natural into the cultural); instead, they almost always take the form of a total ban on some Nowhere Else particular element (a person or a passion, a class or a race) which, deemed inimical to a projected harmony, must therefore be radically excised.
By contrast, dystopias are largely constructed out of the opposite impulse towards a future they view with deep consternation. They precipitate out a specific weakness in culture’s here and now and extrapolate this often apparently minor flaw to its catastrophic logical conclusion in a proximal (and not entirely improbable) future. Dystopias are constructed along the faultline they discover underlying a taken-for-granted feature of current culture, a faultline that is then forced open until its extreme expression emerges fullblown in a vile future created by this magnified flaw. Dystopias are intended as a corrective to the distortedly positive view of a culture’s own present.
Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and Michael Bay’s The Island all try to find the flaw in their culture’s pretense to perfection. For Orwell, this feature is the debasing of everyday language in the service of power, resulting in unimaginable totalitarianism. For Atwood, it is our do-good desire (even on the part of the bestintentioned feminism) to rationalize and regulate our disordered, conflictual sexual arrangements, resulting in a theocratic “solution” that assigns women specific functionalities such that the roles of wife, mother, mistress can no longer overlap. For Blade Runner, it is the increasingly vertical structure of our economic arrangements that progressively distance wealthy whites (in high towers or gated communities) from their ethnic and poorer brethren (who are nonetheless the source of their wealth). On the ground, these “others” tear at each other just to get by.