[-empyre-] Speculative Bonanza

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD mtata at ipublishingllc.com
Thu Apr 16 15:30:56 EST 2009

Thanks for such a detailed and thought-provoking response!  I think all along you have had the most insightful remarks regarding representation, simulation and dissimulation, so I am quite happy to keep our discussion going.  I will number my points and paths, so you can pick and choose which ones you want to push further whenever you have the time.
1.  The heart of our group mini-debate on representation seems to be the nature of reality and how we relate to this dimension in our common lives as subjects of a global everyday (Lacan will spell it dit-mension in order to underscore its basis in a linguistic matrix in Encore).  I know for Lacan, the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary interlock in a Borromean knot determining existence as fundamentally porous: existence does not coincide with itself, as it is tripartite in structure, its rings interlocking to create the illusion of substance.  The Symbolic and the Imaginary seem rather straightforward: the Symbolic defines and creates a social bond, while the Imaginary becomes the way in which the subjects of that social bond find productive modes of sustaining their identities within that network, creating ego ideals and ideal egos with their own respective responses to the desires and demands of Autre and autres.  Here, the true bête noir becomes the Real, which provides a substrate for language, yet exceeds and eludes it.  What is the Real?  We inhabit it and, in our own way, allow it to achieve Realness through the objectivity and facticity of our particular lives, yet are not able to represent it, be represented by it, or identify it, without remainder.  How do we encounter reality outside language and the other systems of representation we invent, presumably to put it to work for ourselves?   In terms of an ethics, aesthetics, or art of living, how do we access the Real, inhabit it, approach it, achieve rapprochement with it?  Materially, is there a there there?  Bertrand Russell vs. Gertrude Stein: does the thingness of things transfer over to the thingness of language?  I can doubt the existence of a shared, objective world, but when I stub my toe against the table, the pain is very real, just as when I use my words to construct a performative utterance and a particular task is executed by the object or audience of that utterance, haven’t I engaged in a pragmatics of the thing making the question of its existence moot, since if it did not exist, how would my command or imperative get anything done?  
2.  As for language and identity, how do we measure difference among all the metonymies we navigate each moment of each day?  Spacing is also a concern as to the structure and mobility of these chains, as it is space which makes difference—and difference—possible, different.  Semiotically, what is a true sign—and how do we judge its veracity?  Are there false signs?   Counterfeit signifiers?  True signifiers pointing to counterfeit signifieds?  Beyond  correspondence theories of language versus pragmatic theories of what words can do—whether or not a signifier corresponds to a signified or to anything at all except its own desire to signify—the world works.  For me, this is because of the “anybodiness” of the intentional object (here I am thinking of Sartre and his loathing of the quelqu’un in Being and Nothingness; in fact, I would be so bold as to argue that it is the QQN that gives Sartre the most nausée, since it serves as proof that I am always a part of another’s hodological map or instrumental complex as object-among-objects even before I enter into the dialectics of any gaze).  Also, since the sign is for all intents and purposes arbitrary, how does that arbitrariness affect truth, which can only be phrased in the language of the arbitrary?  Does arbitrariness create truth, or does it provide the ground of relativism?  Perhaps attempts to mathematize philosophy, such as that of Leibniz, are really a flight from the arbitrariness of the sign, as it is the mathematical symbol (not a sign as such) which shuns caprice and fiat altogether, transcending language and locus as a sort of global Esperanto.    
3.  “Blowing smoke”—how poetic of you to phrase it as such, and to keep the poetics of tobacco in play.  Beyond the general reference to gratuitousness of someone like Derrida at his worst, tobacco and the smoke it produces (unless, of course, one chews and spits—yee haw!) does invoke the possibility of inhalation/exhalation, as well as, metaphorically, the chance that language is not so much stable as volatile, ever changing, evolving, even de-volving (for example, the introduction of neologisms like HLOL, firecrotch).  As a sign of the gratuitous, the frivolous, even the luxurious, tobacco symbolizes the symbolic by virtue of the fact that, ultimately, it is nothing but the residue its absence produces.  On a side note, I think of Sartre’s final renunciation of ciggies and his report of how the lack of that substance changed his worldness in Being and Nothingness, as well as the current visual scandal of the French attempting to erase Sartre’s cigarettes and their smoke from photographs of the philosopher lost in thought: here, a national treasure must be brought into sync with a Law his life retroactively violates (i.e., the French ban on smoking in public venues).
4.  I love Pound—my background is poetics, so I am thrilled you have dragged him into the fray.  Thanks a mil for turning me on to his poem “Nicotine,” which seems to recapitulate the themes of luxury and dissipation central to Derrida’s analysis of the substance (not to mention Avital Ronell’s identification of a narcopoetics and of the fundamental addictiveness of Da-sein in general in her stunning book Crack Wars).  Of course the problems of Imagism and its offshoot Objectivism (if I have my genealogy correct) will have to be introduced, but we can wait a bit to pursue that little poetic détour.  Overall, your insightful remarks about smoke and magic give me pause: is language primarily incantational, apotropaic, something designed to appease and invoke, or invoke to appease?  The will of the poet intersects the arbitrariness of the sign—or is it the arbitrariness of the poet intersecting the will of the sign, which, if we believe Lacan, has an agency all its own?  John Cayley is another poet I will have to read closer—thanks again for expanding my horizons; I’ll get back to you with deeper reflections on his work in the near future.  Initially, I am spellbound by the transition from L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E to P=R=O=G=R=A=M=M=A=T=O=L=O=G=Y: I instantly think of automatic writing (Dalì’s paranoiac-critical method) and programmaticity (the OULIPO School), as well as Joseph’s favorite topic in our forum, e-lit.  Temporal mismatch, spatial disjunction, a textual morphing introducing the chance of nonsense (in Wittgenstein’s sense): again, these slippages between signifier and signified, self and world, subject and object, subject and subject, text and world, and text and text are riveting and reveal much about the true nature of language and other representational strategies, none of which can ever truly be fixed, riveted.  With the will of the reader, further complications are introduced: post-structurally, what the reader wants, the reader makes, since text belongs to everyone (except, of course, the author, whose intentions vaporize and can only be resurrected to be deconstructed).  Chance operations, like those of John Cage, underscore this fact, as well as the general arbitrariness which makes these kinds of revisionism possible.  And speaking of post-strux: can an author truly die, or is it that death a means of aggrandisement?  For example, as an author, Foucault may be dead, but his fame is very much alive—some might argue too alive.  Asking how the author works may be the best tactic, since even in his or her philosophical eradication, there is an author function which, like any mathematical function, generates a series.
5.  The dialectics of faith and reason may indeed be a false oppositional wavering with no sublation in sight: neither will slide beneath the other in a plate tectonics of semantic value because, ultimately, the two are not in a binary.  William James seems to be the best one to consult on this point, since for him, science and philosophy are both borne up by faith, as belief in anything involves a leap of the sort Kierkegaard envisioned with his identification of an Augenblick during whose impossibly infinitesimal instant—one which both Sartre and Derrida agree is atemporal, outside time—the leap of faith transpires.  Following James, even a belief in something as basic as the omnipotence of DNA involves faith; as he says, we can’t always wait for the truth to come in before we act, and it’s our faith in the facts of our existence which inspire action and in effect generate truth—which, BTW, changes over time, according to the seductive doctrine of fallibilism.  As for problems of reference, what of the icon, or that sign which points to itself?  I think that may be a Wimsatt (The Verbal Icon).  This might also be a fractal question, depending, or even a “highway code” question, to pull in Barthes once again (Système de la Mode).  As for consequence, does the sign create causality, or merely reflect existing causalities through its syntax, organization and articulation?  The Unheimlich, be it Freud’s or Heidegger’s, does connect language and anxiety, perhaps revealing a void which every text in its own way attempts to fill, albeit unsuccessfully, or else neologisms, like “firecrotch,” might never need to be invented.  Language is uncanny because it reveals all we seek to exclude from expression, as well as all we displace, transfer, or mask with the apparent neutrality of the constative: for, like it or not, language expresses everything we forbid it from expressing.  I think of Barthes, and his comparison in “The Third Meaning” of the obtuse with the obvious, as it is via the obtuse that the Unheimlich reveals itself; furthermore, it is the “punctum” of Barthes’ Camera Lucida through which we get a glimpse of the uncanny photographically/visually.  
6.  Representation vs. Reality continues to be a theme for our forum.  My question for you is not the representation of reality, which clearly exists extra-discursively outside any and every language, and can only enter it obliquely at best, but rather the representation of representation.  This is why I am drawn to the representing-representation of Freud and Lacan, as this concept makes it clear that representation itself must somehow “show its hand.”  For Lacan, it is the mythical originary Signifier, the one which inaugurates the metonymic chain, that first and foremost represents representation; even a visual artist like Duchamp represents representation in his Êtant Donnés, as it places our own gaze within the brackets of an epoché, revealing a certain lust for the pornographic image. As for the “life of the mind,” as Hannah Arendt so poetically termed it, your remarks on consciousness and money (yet not “capital” or “credit”) make it sound that you ascribe a subjectivity to the market.  This idea fascinates me, and I’d love to hear more.  Is the market an autopoetic entity?  Self-organizing, self-sustaining, homeostatic?  Is money consciousness?  Is consciousness-of-money separable from consciousness proper, or is there always an economic structure or inflection to the mind and the subjectivity housed there?  Overall, I wonder if instead of money, you are talking about capital, as it seems to me that something more mystical than the empirical realities of currency and exchange are at stake.  
7.  Subjectivity and intersubjectivity are satellite problems to those of language, mind and money, and I wonder how these concepts will figure in our future discussions.  The circuitry of minds and the special form of group consciousness they generate through linkage and language poses critical problems for community-building, consensus, and the possibility of communication and/or “communicative reason” in general (even if we take “spending” or “investing” as forms of communication).  I agree with your remark that, subjectively or intersubjectively, language should take as its primary task not the banalities of matching a signifier with a signified, nor the frictionless slide from one signifier to another, but rather the vitality of life itself, an effusiveness whose overflow might very well be the root of language we have all tried to seek since Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of Language and other Enlightenment expositions of the famous State of Nature (including, of course, Freud’s pseudo-anthropological Totem and Taboo).  Vitalism is also the problem of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as it is the mysteriousness of the principle of life and how it is able to animate anything which culminates in the creation of the Monster: might language be our Monster?
8.  Writing like a man?  That is very rich indeed, and I would love to hear more, or read more, if you ever blow that up into a full-fledged essay.  It resonates in every way with gender and écriture.  
9.  Lastly, The Quilting Point works because it spans great distances, producing meaningless meaning which is able to knit together communities who cluster around nonsense categories (for example, “Gay Pride”).  Neoliberalism may be another QP; for Laclau, “democracy” is also a QP.  Hegemonically, these QPs are quite adroit at naturalizing power relations, as they motivate behavior and incite action through the simple invocation of empty categories, like “the people” or “freedom.”  Imagining a world without money seems like a huge challenge, at least for me, who feels the constant tug of commodities.  Which other forms of exchangism might survive in the absence of money?  Bartering?  Potlach?  Freeganism?  In fact, as a society and a world, we have gone far beyond mere coins and dollar bills—all of which Jeff refers to quite astutely as fiat currency—to the dematerialized phenomenon of credit.  Oddly, debit and debt materialize, becoming exotic and risky investment vehicles for the privileged.  Who could have guessed that credit creates debit creates investment-in-debt creates economic disaster when that debt remains debt?  If China makes out like a bandit, at least somebody wins!  I’ll have to bone up on my Mandarin.    
All in all, thank you infinitely for getting me to think so deeply about these linguistic and economic issues.  I realize that I have written a huge bolus of text, so please take your time responding, as I assume you have a life.
Shantih, Michael Angelo

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA


> Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2009 13:21:23 -0400
> From: davinheckman at gmail.com
> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Magma
> Thank you Michael for pushing my a little further.
> > As per your reflections, I am left to inquire if you identify the symbolic
> > as either matter or energy, as well as where we locate it with relation to
> > mc2 and e and their equation.   I think of how Derrida identifies tobacco as
> > the symbol of the symbolic: in his poetics of tobacco, it is the smoke and
> > ash of tobacco which inaugurate a series of questions about the materiality
> > of the symbolic in general, how it, too, seems to evanesce at the touch,
> > leaving almost no trace or residue (except for the “gift of lung cancer,”
> > but that is another issue).
> I think there might be something wrong with my previous ramblings on
> money.... in the sense that difference is "real" and that it does
> need to be accounted for. The question I have is if the informational
> aspects of capital, the place where investors make money without
> adding any matter or energy to the equation, are a legitimately valued
> measure of difference or it they are an artificial measure of
> difference. Of course, on one level, it is all artifice. But a sign
> is true if, in its artifice, it allows someone the sufficient
> information to affect change in the real world.
> As a sidenote on blowing smoke: Another way to think about tobacco is
> by reading Pound's Nicotine, in which Pound talks about "smoke" as a
> metaphor for magic, which is, in turn, a metaphor for language. This
> piece (but if you don't like Pound, there are many other poets who
> write along these lines) on the one hand, moves us towards an
> understanding of the sign that is arbitrary, but on the other hand,
> juxtaposes it with the will of the poet... Another way to look at it
> might be through John Cayley's works <http://www.shadoof.net/>, which
> deal more explicitly with arbitrary signs, material displacements, and
> temporal mismatches... It might be worth reading Cayley's work as a
> companion piece to Pound's. It is much more squarely focused on the
> arbitrary and ephemeral nature of language, but at the same time, the
> pieces work in that the place of the will of the poet, they have (at
> least to me) the odd effect of juxtaposing this with the will of the
> reader. On the other hand, Cayley's work is very well conceived, so
> it would be a mistake to suggest that it is not also very willfully
> created on the part of the poet. Perhaps the thing that I like
> about art is that even deliberate aesthetic moves which try to
> introduce chance into works and erase intention... and deliberate
> critical moves which try to proclaim absolute critical authority by
> way of the many "deaths" (or authors, books, philosophies, etc) we
> celebrate... the artist doesn't just disappear. The artist might not
> "work" in the way that we thought or expected, but it doesn't make the
> work of art any less significant (to me).
> > There is most definitely a perverse holism to our economy, and politics:
> > bomb/rebuild, push/pull (the schizoid moment).  Since my expertise is more
> > pop-cultural, I turn to the case of Britney Spears, and how the press drove
> > her into having a nervous breakdown so that she could confirm their
> > clairvoyance and omniscience by having a nervous breakdown, which then
> > necessitated continual coverage of her nervous breakdown, as well as a
> > “comeback” only possible after she broke down and reconstituted herself: in
> > short, an entire cascade of effects and counter-effects in- and outside of
> > her career.
> >
> > As for credit and value: is it really slippage in the sign itself—i.e., a
> > disengagement of signifier and signified—that produces the relativity of
> > value?  Is the dematerialization of money a semiotic crisis, as much as it
> > is an economic one?  And how do we relate these conjoined crises to Joseph’s
> > initial observation that academic cultures and Wall Street finances are of a
> > piece?  Once again, those Junk Bond Salesman of Camille Paglia appear.  I
> > think we need to push this issue a little further, as it is a highly
> > productive direction facilitating a discussion of economy, creativity and
> > artifice.  Does money still exist?  Clearly it does, but does it feel like
> > it exists from the perspective of the global everyday?  Everything distances
> > me from it: colorful plastic cards, the beeps of a cash register indicating
> > that it is time to enter my digits, even my signature itself, which on so
> > many occasions is my only connection to money proper.  Will money ever
> > re-materialize?  And what other disappearances or disengagements has this
> > dematerialization produced?  Is everything fiat?  Anthropologically
> > speaking, is fiat an advance, the mark of a socius that has had the proper
> > time to “cook”?
> Here is where faith comes into play. And it really is too bad that
> our modern vocabulary sees faith in dialectical terms, as the
> counterpoint to reason. Signs are always different... spatially
> and/or temporally.... from the thing that they point to. They put
> something there, when nothing is there. But we craft narratives and
> understand causality through signs. This is the great source of
> anxiety which Heidegger references in his discussion of the
> Unheimlich, that being itself reveals the anxiety of nothingness.
> Logic, myth, and ethics all rely upon this to get their work done.
> Maybe consciousness might exist outside of this, but it is hard to
> imagine what that would be. Money is one of these signifiers. I
> think the crisis of signification is not "dematerialization" of money
> or other signs. The crisis is when systems of representation are
> taken for reality, and we assume this stance which delegitimates the
> value of the "false" representations. Hence, the market "knows"
> better than any individual. The market can be "hurt" by people. The
> consequence of this thinking is that if the market is a real subject
> (whose subjectivity is more relevant than even our own), then it
> surely must be treated better than the false sovereigns that would
> preserve to govern us. Money is more real than morality. It is more
> real than art. It is more real than your feelings. It is more real
> than anything. And so all other considerations get placed in a
> subservient role.
> This is the real meaning of "investment".
> Now, I am not going to simply say that nothing means nothing, so
> there's no point in believing anything. Because clearly this is the
> goal of philosophy, to look at these various systems of representation
> and try to figure out which of these systems ought to frame the
> others.
> In my mind, the primary ethical consideration is the preservation of
> life, at the most basic animal level. In addition to this, I think it
> is important to preserve consciousness. I realize this is
> narcissistic. And, of course there is plenty of room in here to argue
> about whether consciousness is individual or social, etc. I cannot
> really answer these questions without just making the same old dumb
> historical assumptions... I think it's awesome to be alive, and I
> want to preserve this life in myself, and wherever else I recognize
> it. From here, I can say, "Well, capitalism is OK up until it
> interferes with my ethics."
> >
> > Lastly, to use the Lacanian vocabulary, is “patriarchy” a quilting point, or
> > point de caption?  In other words, does it link together otherwise
> > dispersed, unrelated or abstract terms in a grand gesture of meaninglessness
> > disguising itself as meaningfulness (again, the problem of a counterfeit,
> > double or simulacrum emerges)?  Here hegemony might enter the fray, as well
> > as the work of Laclau and Mouffe (as well as their roots in a Leibnizian
> > tradition of reflection on the nature of contingency)
> A good question. I think patriarchy can be abstracted to the point of
> meaningless... my partner once had a teacher fault her for writing
> "like a man," I guess because she is meticulous, uses lots of
> citations, and is very systematic in her thinking. Of course, I took
> exception to this. There have been historically specific points at
> which women's writing was considered inferior to male writing,
> particularly because women were denied access to many of the same
> "public" venues and resources in which scholarship is created and
> consumed.... but to hang on to this critique seems counterproductive
> unless it is sufficiently particularized. So, I guess all signs at
> some point have to be quilting points... but I would not say that
> this is meaningless. But, the more expansively the particular sign
> communicates... the greater the difference it spans.... the more
> meaningless it is in a sense (otherwise it would be obvious). To
> bring it back to "writing like a man," the particular point of
> criticism is, in my mind, meaningless. But, precisely because it is
> apparently meaningless, it is eminently meaningful as a heuristic.
> Being told one "write's like a man," if it unleashes questions about
> how this could be so, it becomes more meaningful than it would need to
> be had it not been articulated.
> To bring this back to finance. I don't know what this can tell us.
> On the one hand, "Neoliberalism," as a general signifier for
> everything in this age of Neoliberal bullshit does provide occasion to
> wonder just what it is that makes it so. But, on the other hand, if
> the term sort of recedes into just plain noise.... then maybe we
> don't think about it. I do think this has been the case with many of
> the assumptions of capitalism. We have a hard time thinking about a
> world without money. A world without it might seem like a world
> without spirits did in a previous age. How would we live? What would
> we do? Would people work? In the past, people worked under the lash,
> and a world without such coercion was considered dangerous and
> immoral. People have also worked for kings, and imagined life without
> the sovereign to be impossible and doomed to decadence. On the other
> hand, millions of people play video games simply to satisfy various
> compulsions.
> Well... I need to go grade a ton of papers.
> Peace!
> Davin
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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