philosophy as not philosophy: para-ontology, hauntology, schizoanalysis

"Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was’. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to hold fast that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger. The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, Thesis VI

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."
- Karl Marx, Thesis III

Friday, October 3, 2008

Schizoanalysis 1: Infancy, Ancestrality, and the Non-Signifier

A child is born into language, and is from the outset a speech-being, a speaking thing. The child is not without language, and does not have to be led to language, taught to acquire language, nor does it have already the innate capacity for language that has only to be activated. The child is already a speaking thing, not by virtue of speaking or being able to speak, but by already being claimed by language and in language, by belonging in language, having a place there for it. The name, but also the very noun - a child, a life - impregnates language with the child, and language will carry it to term, developing it in all of its unique predicability.

The paradox is that the child already belongs to and in language, it is already spoken of and awaited as the absent partner of a conversation. The child does not acquire language, we do not acquire language: language has already acquired us from birth. The trauma of this claim of language on the child is that there is no opportunity, no possibility of the pure incarnation of biological life, an unqualified, bare life; life is qualified from its outset, and biological life is overdetermined from the instant of conception by symbolic life, as its mere occasional cause and support.

Ancestrality, as the dimension of an existence unqualified by givenness in language, unfettered by the trappings of the symbolic, is nonetheless held hostage by its pre-appropriation in language. Yet we can say that the ancestrality of a life is, if not pre-given and auto-donated, certainly taken, taken over by and taken over to language, it is stolen, mis-taken and held inappropriately. It inheres in language as the inappropriate, the inappropriateness of language. Not the inadequateness of a representation to its object, but the fact that language now possesses the ancestral as its property, and yet it is not properly of language, it is wrongly taken by language or taken to be of language.

As a dimension not attributable to a relation to language, but that dimension existing absolutely independently of such relation, radically indifferent to such a relation, foreclosed to language, radically left out of and even inexistent for language, it would seem contradictory to call it a 'property' of language, even if this is an illegitimate propriety, a theft. Yet this means precisely that the foreclosure of the ancestral necessary for langauge nonetheless inheres negatively in language, as a hole in the very fabric of the symbolic (differential relations between signifiers). The ancestral inheres in language, but this inherence must be enacted through the circulation of some non-signifier, a symbol deprived of any possible signfying relation (direction toward a concept - signified - even if it be indeterminate or displaced), purely embodying the hole in this fabric, not only 'standing in for it' but enacting it. The hole is not something that cannot be signified by any signifier, but rather, a signifier that cannot signify anything, nor even appear to signify anything. The non-signifier simply explicates this hole of the foreclosure that is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition of the symbolic, radically psychoticizing the symbolic itself. It is the signifier of the fact that it is not a signifier, a kind of symbolic ouroboros.

The ancestral dimension of life, when seized upon by the symbolic, interpellated by it, decided upon by it, devolves into creaturely life (Santner), that life held in exception in law, subject to the force-of-law but unqualified by law. This is, we might say, the ancestral as such, distinct from the ancestral itself (Brassier, Laurelle). What law/language cannot speak to is the indistinction itself, it cannot think the creature/ancestor without its distinction and separation from the legible/legitimate. In other words, the ancestral itself is posited as unthinkable, only thinkable as such, that is, as distinct from the symbolic. It cannot think the radical expropiation undergone here: the ancestral no longer has a proper owner, being stolen and now owned inappropriately by language. We directly posit this necessary expropriation, this foreclosure of propriety to language. This is not to say that there is a proper being of the ancestral apart from language - this is the very decisional operation of language. Rather, what we are saying is that propriety itself is dependent upon determination by langauge, and at the same time the ancestral is necessarily determined in langauage by expropriation, determined as inappropriate.

This expropriation or foreclosure to language of the ancestral is enacted in language through the circulation of non-signifiers, or a-signifying signs that are not signifiers of a loss, even of something that exists qua signified/signifiable only as lost (the signified lost-object is the ancestral itself, the signifier of loss the ancestral as such); rather, the (non)-signifier is directly the loss itself, it embodies the foreclosure of the ancestral, and the hole this leaves in the symbolic, or rather, it enacts them, it brings them into (linguistic) being. This enacting of foreclosure, refusing to forget/overlook it and retaining it as unforgotten, repeating the founding decision of a linguistic social bond and recovering it from abandonment in an eternal past - this is the elementary task of schizoanalysis as an applied non-philosophy. Schizoanalysis accomplishes this task through the proliferation and circulation of non-signifiers or a-signifying signs.

We should see how, in the infant's appropriation by language, we nonetheless can identify a dimension of ancestral time, the time of an absolute anteriority, a time foreclosed to thought. We can take here as our model what Giorgio Agamben calls, in The Time that Remains, operational time. If we only ever experience time as schematized and organized into a past, present, and future, operational time is precisely the time it takes to apply this schema to intuition and hence experience time as such. Because this time is necessarily anterior to schematic time, it is foreclosed to schematic time, but nonetheless inheres negatively within it. The infant, who exists only as already symbolized, nonetheless is submitted to the operation of symbolization, and hence embodies a residual anteriority to the symbolic schematism. This is not pre-symbolic any more than operational time is pre-temporal. It is rather the symbolic itself as separated-without-separation from the symbolic schematized as such, which is to say, in thought.

Here we have, directly embodied in the infant (though negatively embodied), the ancestral dimension of language - the hieroglyph. This is a sign that acts a cipher, a code, but which obscures not some hidden content, but the very fact that nothing is hidden. It is a cipher of a cipher, a sign that disguises the very fact that it is a sign, or disguises the fact that it says anything (or nothing). This is a ruin of language, an artifact, a language without any connection to its ability to communicate. This hieroglyphic character is the original character of infant-speech, which only secondarily gives way to communication. Rather, the infant says language itself, as a pure impartibility without object. It is this character that we seek to recover through the use of the non-signifier, or the transfiguration of signifiers into non-signifiers.


john doyle said...

"The trauma of this claim of language on the child is that there is no opportunity, no possibility of the pure incarnation of biological life, an unqualified, bare life; life is qualified from its outset, and biological life is overdetermined from the instant of conception by symbolic life, as its mere occasional cause and support."

I suspect you don't currently take such a firm stand on this biological/symbolic distinction. The humans evolved their linguistic capabilities through biological processes; language is as much a biologically predicated milieu as is the beehive. Every now and then we hear about a bare-life human raised by dogs or whatever, and they're severely and sadly dysfunctional creatures.

I frankly don't accept the Lacanian idea that language castrates us from the real. As Chomsky made clear vis-a-vis the Saussurean structuralists, although the structure of language may be fixed, language-users have a virtually unlimited capacity to invent unprecedented sentences within that structure. It's not unlike our ability to walk any number of paths without ever being able to fly.

A working schizoanalysis wouldn't, I don't believe, need to tear open and step through a non-symbolic schiz in the flow of language. De-/reterritorializations in the symbolic order are also effective tactics for probing the real and unshackling the ancestral. It's a technique that's salvageable from psychoanalysis I believe: opening up the linguistic channels flowing from unconscious into consciousness. I'd say a schizoanalysis would also re-open the channels flowing from the real into the symbolic, rather than permanently foreclosing the possibility of pointing at the real and saying "there it is."

Re-appropriating the infantile seems regressive to me -- a pilgrimage to Eden in search of lost innocence and authenticity. Is there a moving-forward into full maturity and high-noon clarity of full humanity, or is this progressivism permanently discredited? Something that takes one step backward, forward, to the side, without the long view toward either horizon -- that seems about right for a schizoanalytic praxis.

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