Drinking Coke with Lacan: the quest for THE can

soulmate can

The Coca-Cola company’s recent advertising campaign is nothing short of brilliant. Drink not just any coke, but drink the one made for you, your friends, even your soulmate. Brilliant. Nothing brings the world together like the combination of aluminum, acidic water, and high fructose corn syrup.

In one fell swoop, they have conjured up an attachment to American Corporatism, our own sense of subjectivity, and religion in a singular summer campaign that is as original and as appealing as the primordial stories of the Genesis narrative…stories that we continue to tell ourselves because we are still looking for ourselves.

An attachment to American Corporatism in that this campaign has tapped into the younger generation’ s preference for personalized products that make them feel unique, special and appeals to their sense of self. The brilliance: making us think we had something to do with the design and target of this product. The reality: we’re just having our selves sold to us in the name of our personal preference. The genius continues as nearly everyone from young adulthood to seniorhood can join and not feel excluded. How many advertising campaigns can accomplish this?

An attachment to our subjectivity in that is asks us to pursue the product made just for us. It appeals to a product with which we are familiar, but now wholly unfamiliar because now this familiar taste is labeled with our distinct form of being toward one another, our true identity marker, our name. Find the can that was made for you, then, find your friends can and you are inextricably linked in your bond of sugary, watery, goodness. Its shiny outward appearance doesn’t hurt either.

An attachment to religion because this is the real exploitation going on here. What is life but a quest for ourselves? For Meaning? For finding something that we can tangibly taste and finally find fulfillment within?
We walk into the convenient store, see ourselves pulled toward the façade of the glass covered forest of soft drinks that vie for our attention, even as the colors and wrappers distract us, and we stick our hand in the cooler, foraging around the forest until we find ourselves, our can, the one that will satisfy our thirst. And like religion, we grab the one we want, the one that helps us find ourselves, we drink, and then find we are still thirsty. Looks like we better go back for more because our thirst is never fully satisfied. Coke, the drink that satisfies without quenching. Religion, where we look to satisfy our thirst and locate ourselves in the ocean of creation. Only this coke campaign is so much cooler than religion because Coca-Cola is tapping into this unconscious reality we carry with us, rather than boringly preach it from pulpits.

But what is it that holds all these strings together? Wherein might we combine the corporate, the subject and religion into a coherent understanding that binds them all and makes this campaign so effective?

And make no mistake, it has been effective. We have yet to see the 3rd quarter results of the campaign here in America and Britain, but we know in Australia when the campaign was rolled out (2011) the sale of coke products increased among young adults by 7%, garnered 18.3 million media impressions and injected an 870% increase in Cokes Facebook following. Correspondingly, #shareacoke has been used more than 29,000 times on Twitter and early statistics for the global impact show that sales of Coke are up 6.8% to date.

This is an impressive campaign. So what holds it together?

While many media outlets want to continue to see this phenomenon as a pure marketing gimmick, appealing to the needs of a younger generation of consumers, this fails to consider that a huge spike in impressions, sales, and usage of the product cannot be created by single use/purchase history of consumers. People are not just looking for their Coke once. We are looking for it over and over again, looking for our friends, even looking for the elusive BFF or Soulmate designation that in a single can taps into our inner desire to find happiness and finally suppress our existential angst. What makes this campaign work is something that goes to the core of human constitution; it’s not as simple as “consumers like X so let’s make X.”

It works because at an unconscious level humans are continually looking to fill what Lacan calls the Lack in their own constitution, their own being, the gap created as soon as we are speaking beings born into the symbolic order. The Bible calls this “fallenness,” but perhaps Heidegger’s notion of “thrown” and Tillich’s idea of “Fall” is closer to Lacan’s idea of Lack than the of rottenness of our humanity bequeathed to us from St. Augustine.

The can is something we seek, but the reality is that the real object behind the object that is the can, let’s give Lacan some play and call the can the “O Object” (as he would), is never found. It remains hidden, out of our grasping, yet constitutional of our sense of “we’re missing something” in our life that continues to push us deeper into the field of objects we think can satisfy us yet always keep us thirsty…you know, kinda how you feel after you drink a can of coke and are thirstier than ever.

lacan-object-a

This O Object is central to the constitutionality of us all as subjects. In other words, the Can of coke is always already ontologically linked to who we are and how we create meaning, even as meaning is always still sought. The only thing that changes is the “o,” the object that symbolizes our desire for more than we have, and thus, is representative of the lack. The lack always remains with us, even though the object can change.

Today it is a can of Coke with your name. Tomorrow it may be the ring you give your lover, the car of your “dreams,” the child you’ve always wanted or even the Sports team into which you have poured all your energy. These are just “o” objects, remnants of the eternal symptom of our humanity to want more, be more, and find absolute truth in our lived experience…yet the lack remains. We need a bigger ring, a newer car, a child of a different sex, and one Super Bowl simply begets the desire of another. Nothing fills this lack, not even the living water of Jesus that requires us to return weekly in order to be served perpetually.

But where does this “o” object come from? The O represents the loss we have in our lives, and it’s not the “god shaped hole” if that is what you are thinking.

Constitutional of humanity is an originary loss. Christian theology talks about this loss as the fall from grace, the irreparable damage done by our pre-diluvian ancestors that marks the lack of God in all of us that has now been filled with a “sin” nature. What Lacan is getting at is a little more exact, observable and more empirically linked to our human relationships. It’s not the story we tell to ourselves to explain ourselves (via Genesis); it is rather the story we have lived.

At first the loss is between child and mother, child and father, as these relationships begin to stretch and sever one another at various points of a child’s development. We have all seen this, as a child moves away from fusion that the child desires to separation. Distance that is the goal of parenting and it begins to be sharpened as we speak and take in the field of objects now available to us in place of the relationship we had with our parents. Loss marks our entrance into the symbolic order of language, custom and construction of the world. Thus, life is marked by this attempt to again find wholeness and oneness that is now taken away from us in that originary unified oceanic experience that brought us into existence and nurtured our lives. Life is marked by trying to bridge that gap, between separation and unity, incomplete and complete, that creates us as subjective entities and a sense wholeness that is now only known because of the lack between ourselves and fulfillment.

Following this line of logic, Alexandre Leupin describes the possibility of “o” objects, objects of desire that fill the lack that cannot be filled, when he states, “Inasmuch as all objects of desire will later be substituted for these primary metonymies (voice, gaze, breast [of mother]) the o object is the cause of desire. Given the infinite number of objects human desire aspires to, o may be almost anything.”

The O object is not real. It is encased in the symbolic order of reality as representation of what we want and are missing in the world; it is masked as a egotistic projection. Thus, the object is both that which is external to us and also created by us as a projection of what sort of desire can actually satisfy us and give us ourselves back to ourselves. As such, these objects are inherently narcissistic. If there is one thing we can say about this Coke campaign, it is certainly that narcissim is central to its success. The objects that attempt to placate our desire, however, are always already partial objects. They can never fully fill the task that creates them. They can never satisfy desire. Or in the words of Lacan, the object is so lacking to fill our lack that it is the alienation of desire itself, pushing it further from its fulfillment. “The object is failure.” You can find your can, but you never really find you can. It’s your name, but not really. It acts to fill a need, yet it exacerbates it.

Desire is the symptom of our larger problem, of a larger truth for which we continually quest. This does not mean that truth can never be found or that the quest for truth always ends in the repetitive cycle of desire. What it does mean, however, is that truth is hidden, its clues given in the object as symptomatic expression of our lack, a lack that makes us human…and even filling the God shaped hole with Jesus won’t keep us from being drawn to cans of coke with our existential names on them.

So what makes us want the “can” with our name…the can that is better than all others and whose contents are more satisfying than any coke before them? It is that these Coke cans, who name us even as we name ourselves through them, are representative of the infinite symptom of what we all lack and are also always seeking. It is the idea that we pursue because this idea both consciously, and unconsciously, helps us construct our sense of selves and give us purpose to navigate the world, at a level of both honesty and dishonesty.

And there is nothing that does this better than finding the can for which we have been looking, only to find that we are still thirsty.

And this is the brilliance of the Coca- Cola Company. It has sold us something old, with something older, and tapped into the need we have to look for it over and over again.

*Statistics for this blog may be found at the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2013/jul/24/share-coke-teach-brands
*Text used as reference Alexandre Leupin, Lacan Today, (Other Press: New York, 2004), 4-8.

Antiques and the Refuse of Capitalism

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A serene sense of dread floods my mind when I peruse the garbage dumps of late capitalism: antique stores.

While many folks peruse the aisle and “booths” of a bygone era and admire the musty, dusty, smell, all I see is a bunch of old stuff that no one else wants…not even the owners of the stuff who rented the booths.  Erstwhile, the joke is on us “shoppers” looking for ways to elevate the National PCE % (Personal Consumption Expenditure) amidst the rubble and refuse of old stuff, stuff not even the owners want to own any longer.

People, consumers, we wade through the refuse of people long gone, passed on to folks trying to peddle their garbage off on others, and we think how “cool” or how “rare” it would be to own this piece of no longer useful material.  Perhaps we can purchase it, set it on the shelf, and admire that we are its new owners: new owners of garbage that will one day be someone else’s after we are gone.

This is the reality that has no given way to the myth, the latter no longer having a firm grip on my understanding of the former.

As a kid, I used to think that antique stores were places that contained deposits of value. Goods that were precious and items that were not to be touched by little fingers who could not consider their real price or worth.  After all, the sign on the glass cabinet did say “DO NOT TOUCH.”  Whatever was behind it must be obsolescently valuable.  Furniture, books, pictures, photos, knives, coins, broaches, etc., are now defined as purposeful and worth the value on their tag because they are old and old means it transcends our present and also its own past.  What used to be considered miniaturized monuments of bygone era are now the relics of my recent past: hello 1985.

Certainly not all “antiques” have just arrived at the antique label.  Some really are “antiques,” memorials to a unique human story that all humans will leave.

My own antique fetish is books.  I love old books, for their stories, their design, and their content that needs to be resurrected.  But even as I love and appreciate old bindings and paper innards, permeated with evanescent ideas only the most stubborn will discover, I acknowledge this is a fetish and the left-over of the productive processes of our economic engine.  For at the end of the day, when the world is replete with books, or things, or “nick nacks,” to what shall we turn them into that might be of value and redeem the castration of resources that had to occur for their very own production?  As we are all on our journey toward a global Easter Island I wonder what it is we will do with all the things our hands have made when our hands desire to no longer make things and we have read all the books that are can read.

Such existential angst hits me even as I enter a strip mall just looking for “useful” “antique” décor to reside in my home.  Perhaps I remain in denial that such thoughts will eventually only lead to nihilism or perhaps I have simply let nihilism take up permanent residence.

Walking through the antique store, moving vendor to vender, I came around the corner and discovered that those ugly plastic super hero thermoses that I used to use when I was 7 are now “antique” chemical composites of value.  I’m thinking “seriously…people think someone else wants to buy this?”

The old NASCAR collectibles I purchased back in 1992, over 20 years ago, are now appearing on shelves beside Martha Washington sewing cabinets…time being the great equalizer.  We know who we are by the company we keep and I suppose we know the value of our things by the things we store beside them.  Sorry Martha.

I even saw the Tin Care Bear lunch box my kindergarten sweetheart used to carry to school is now one shelf below 160 year old blue Mason Jars that could have been used to can food for Robert E. Lee’s army.

Something just felt off.

Herein lays the refuse of capitalism…of production that was productive for a period and made things with purpose, yet now there is no repurposing of these things.  All we can do is hope to sell them to someone who might place value upon them because society no longer values these things.  These were produced for them; we will produce things for us.  And what is not appropriated into the present is just refuse, garbage, resources that are now not so resourceful.

The World is our Garbage Dump because we have turned the world into our garbage.

Of course this is a coarse way to view the world and view productivity.  We do not want to think of ourselves as wasteful or manipulative of resources.  We do not want to think of our actions over the long arc of history, our communal human actions, as having a negative impact on the world.  We don’t want to think that humans before us have simply amassed mountains of plastic, iron and glass that is now buried in the ground or left to live immortally in “antique” stores or warehouses where their “value” can be preserved by transient humans.

If we call it antique, it makes us feel better.  Even what we produce today will one day be called antique; our consumptive needs justifying the productive ends of our irrational economic activity.

The leftovers become refuse and the refuse ends up being the old stuff we find in antique stores…the refuse explosion has only just begun I’m afraid.

Now, I am not a big Adam Smith fan.  Regardless of how we appraise his work, my estimation is that Smith was not a modern day venture/vulture capitalist.  He sincerely believed that markets, services, production, consumption, labor, etc., would occur as human sustenance demanded particular economic trajectories.  I do not think he foresaw the wastefulness of mass production for the teleological purpose of profit at all costs, even at the cost of human community.  The sheer scale of our global economy absolves Smith to a degree, even if logically his economics would lead to the unabated “invisible hand” that is now visibly manipulated by government and regulatory body’s.

Simply put: in our economy we make far more than we need and we think the world is the everlasting depository of that production.  We isolate markets for niche products, produce them to the furthest exponent and then sell them to all those looking to fill the emotional needs no longer being filled by a community of other humans.  We create desire by exacerbating the lack in others via our marketing.  We know the lack is there, world religions have know the lack is there for millennia, so now the secular capitalist mantra is to take advantage of that lack and fill it with fetishes of various stripes that will satiate the desire of our hearts while also leaving us feeling emptier than before.  This tension is felt by folks who “feel” like the lack they have will be satisfied in the act of consumption, so we produce and consume, produce and consume, produce and consume.  It’s why capitalism is so brilliant; It preys on our inherent need.

But the stoking of human emotion is not the only seed of this futile and wasteful production.

The other is our inherent desire to be creative and productive creatures.  We want to be able to survive but survive in meaningful ways.  Many times this meaning is derived from what we are able to generate or produce.  It provides us with a sense of worth and fulfillment, even if the consequences of our self-esteem could have national or globally negative consequences.  We isolate needs, find resources that can fill those (or we even create the need and then give people the resources we say they need for that need), produce them and feel accomplished from the valueless paper (money) we receive in exchange for them.  It’s a vicious cycle.

The problem with continuing to find our worth and value around our economic models, capitalism in particular, is that this cannot be sustained forever.  It is a finite impossibility.  We cannot continue to make refuse and chalk it up to human activity, leftovers, garbage.

First, the garbage has to have somewhere to go.  The world can only sustain so many antique stores.

But secondly, and more importantly, for capitalism to work on its continued skewed trajectory, we face major obstacles of capital flow (and capital here can be the things that are refuse, garbage aka products or even current money looking for an investment home, etc.)  Economic theory aside here’s the problem: capital only exists as it is able to flow and find new depositories and the places into which capital can flow are finite because the world is not infinite.  In other words, capital has to keep flowing: newer markets, people, places, countries, ideas, needs, demands, etc., but as developing nations become developed and as the resources to meet those developments continually become tapped, we face a major obstacle: capital hits a dead end.  It has nowhere else to go.

What happens when capital flow hits the Hoover Dam of economic expansion?

For example, David Harvey powerfully argues that measuring economic success and growth against annual GDP % is a huge mistaken.  First, it is commonly held that 3% growth via GDP supports a healthy economy.  3% is an arbitrary % established whereby economists “know” that the world, and specific countries, are producing a particular level of goods being consumed or being brought to market.  At 3%, it is deemed the economy is healthy and jobs are being produced.  But the problem is that 3% never stays 3%.  As the economy grows or expands that number becomes a compounded number, so that the real measure of growth is a compounded 3% year over year on the entire US economy!  Which means that for our economy to “move” or be “healthy” we have to grow our economy year over year to roughly the size of the ENTIRE US economy in 1970 each year and even further!  And that number just keeps getting bigger.  For us to remain “healthy” politicians incite these numbers as if they are manageable, but the reality is this can only continue to compound so long as capital has a place to go, which is why invisible money was created.  Invisible money, or money that doesn’t exist, allows capital to continually flow and consumption not immediately halt at the very unfortunate event of not having any actual money.

Thus, compounded production and consumption is actually encouraged via the capitalism at work in our present.  For those apologists of capitalism that want to argue its virtues I concur there are several, but these virtues do not change the coming dawn of late capitalism wherein we find ourselves up against the creation of antique malls, ever growing landfills, entire islands in the ocean known as garbage island, and capital overextending itself into non-existence, it’s very life being its very eventual contradiction.

Slavoj Zizek, cultural theorist and critic of the both Left and Right political movements, summarized the inherent contradiction of capitalism and production in his essay “The Prospects of Radical Politics Today.”  Writing on capitalism, its productive nature and critiquing Karl Marx  he says the following:

“What Marx overlooked is that, to put it in the standard Derridean terms, this inherent obstacle/antagonism as the “condi­tion of impossibility” of the full deployment of the productive forces [of capitalism] is simulta­neously its “condition of possibility”: if we abolish the obstacle, the inherent contradiction of capitalism, we do not get the fully unleashed drive to produc­tivity finally delivered of its impediment, but we lose precisely this productivity that seemed to be generated and simultaneously thwarted by capitalism – if we take away the obstacle, the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipates … Therein would reside a possible Lacanian critique of Marx, focusing on the ambiguous overlapping between surplus-value and surplus-enjoyment. (It is often said that the ultimate products of capitalism are piles of trash – useless computers, cars, TVs, and VCRs : places like the famous “graveyard” of hun­dreds of abandoned planes in the Mojave desert confront us with the obverse truth of capitalist dynamics, its inert objectal remainder. And it is against this background that one should read the ecological dream-notion of total recycling – in which every remainder is used again – as the ultimate capitalist dream, even if it is couched in the terms of retaining the natural balance on Planet Earth: the dream of the self-propelling circulation of capital which would succeed in leav­ing behind no material residue – the proof of how capitalism can appropriate ideologies which seem to oppose it.)

Capitalism Enjoy

What Zizek touches on here is that there is no way around the remainder of capitalism.  If we challenge capitalism at its core as a productive force (the very thing about it that is good) then we cease to have capitalism in its raw form and productivity ad infinitum.  Precisely because it is impossible for capitalism to produce enough is why it continues to produce what is possible: it’s own limits being its own drive and failure.  This is where Zizek says Marx missed it: take away the productive drive and the demon you are attempting to exorcise ceases to exist and so too does any economic will.  The notions of surplus value in things and surplus enjoyment have to go hand in hand via production and consumption because desire always creates abject remainder…and if there is a Lacanian dictum it is thus: Desire is Real.

But the negative consequences of the impossible possibility is refuse and production unabated and continual.  Heaps of garbage that we absolve as antiques or recast into a narrative of continual repurpose wherein all things are recycled and nothing is lost or damaged:  The capitalist dream.

The only question is: as you drive by rising man made mountains along interstates and you see your own closets…as you incarnate the 4.6lbs of trash you produce as a human each day and you realize that there are 8 Billion people on the planet doing the same…you have to ask yourself…can we afford to continue to have this dream or should we start dreaming something else for the sake of posterity?

Because one day we will all be forced to wake up.

When Writing is Impossible

Derrida quote

Words, like statuesque monuments of brick and mortar foreclosed by economic eras past, struggle in vain to rise out of the rubble of their origins…stretching to the surface to breath, like Pauline prayers of souls that can only speak with moans.

Recently, I have found that it is difficult to write, difficult to even produce this sentence or write in ways that synergistically combine my passion and intellect with words that can convey more than themselves.  When it’s difficult to write, maybe writing about why it is difficult to write is the right place to start writing.

So I write why it is impossible to write, hoping I may actually write in my non-writing.

There are moments when the subject and object of our writing makes speaking of itself impossible…when the act of writing simply fails to comprise its subject.  To reference theological discourse, these are moments when we speak of silence and tranquility as we stare into the eternal gaze of the numinous object of our incredible urge to speak.  Our words fall short.  We write to transcend our place, seeking to be carried off by words, but words are simply the substitution for something far more mysterious and real that lies underneath them.

At moments like this, when we realize the disconnect between what we write, and what we write about, and that writing about it is an infinite impossibility that will only produce words that continue to mangle our imaginations even as it gets us close enough to never see it…at moments like this we write, we speak, but we know our writing will never get it right.

We write as a response to the infinite; not in an attempt to encase it.

Yet, this is what makes writing impossible as an act.  Writing feels impossible at moments, at seasons, because it is our attempt to span the chasm of the genesis of our internal echoes into paradigms of symbolic exchange that might somehow bring meaning from the abyss of our deepest subjectivity.  And this is impossible.  It feels impossible because it is.  Nothing can be written only because the only thing we can write is nothing. This is why theological, philosophical, lyrical, and narratival imagination is necessary for the writer.  Without imagination the subject and object of writing is betrayed by prose that falls empty and shoddy, derelict of any contoured image that might make writing worth writing at all.  Writing comprehends itself as the inability to satisfy the imagination with traces of its content, even as it leaves its true meaning behind, lost in the relation of its symbols.  The only way to suppress writings urge to speak nothing is to imaginatively portray the place from where it comes…to look back on itself via a linguistic inversion and see from where it was thrown.

But this conundrum of writing is inherent in the task.  The theory and nature of language is one that refuses its purpose, and thereby, becomes its purpose.

Martin Heidegger in his On The Way To Language delicately describes the balancing act of language and its inability to speak.  He writes, “There is some evidence that the essential nature of language flatly refuses to express itself in words – in the language, that is, in which we make statements about language.  If language everywhere withholds its nature in this sense, then such withholding is in the very nature of language.  Thus, language not only holds back when we speak it in the accustomed ways, but this its holding back is determined by the fact that language holds back its own origin and so denies its being…”

What Heidegger is so accurately portraying and defining is that language itself always holds itself back by its very nature.  It can never contain the whole of its occasion, of its purpose.  Writing occurs at the intersection of origin and community, an originary act to create community and speak within the boundaries of language games yet also knowing that the game is that what we speak will never be spoken because our own medium of speaking, language, is never capable of speaking past its own medium; its very nature does not allow it to say what it means to say.  It is only capable of being a trace of an expression that seeks to be said but as soon as the expression, idea or passion is seen via words or heard via language it loses itself as it enters the symbolic order in which language and words make sense.

To draw illusion to Lacan, one could say that language, writing it, speaking it, is not real; yet language is because the real exists.

And this is not to be nihilistic about language; rather it’s just a simply discussion about the very nature of language itself.

Writing language further confounds the writer because the real of its subject matter, whether it be God, beauty, meaning, truth, passion, story, etc., is always ahead of the medium in which it is communicated.  Just because writing is never occurring as an act of definition that actually says what it means to say, does not mean that what precedes writing is not real or truthful; it doesn’t mean that which gives language and writing occasion doesn’t exist.

But our speaking, our writing, the incessant drive to communicate something that swells within us and claws at our insides peering outside our pores into a world it thinks longs to receive it, always follows what we are saying.  The said is not what is trying to be said but it is all that can be said.  It is always removed from it as said.  Not only does language (& its medium of speaking or writing) itself refuse encapsulation to speak itself, but it is most clearly the incarnation of following language.  The said never catches up to language because language cannot “overtake” what it is attempting to take into itself via its speaking.  To do so would mean to remain in silence because silence would be the only thing that puts us close to saying anything without removing ourselves from it.

So writing doesn’t just seem impossible at times, but it is impossible, the most ludicrous act in which humanity engages.  Our prose fails us.  Our sentences languish.  We rewrite and re-edit.  We try to say it just right knowing that can never happen.  All that can happen is a vacillation around the kernel of the originary moment from which writing comes, a place so deep within the speaking and writing subject that access to its recesses is to plumb depths that are too real to even exist.

The revelation of the revelatory nature of language leaves us hapless.  No wonder speaking is so difficult.  No wonder meaning is so elusive.  No wonder that intense moment inside of us never satisfactorily emerges into a meaningful expression.  The very nature of language, of the things we attempt to speak about, not to mention the hearing and reading part of our language, is to disrupt and betray itself…to exist in wistful repetition hoping that saying it repetitively will take it from there to here.

This reality is what manifests itself when writing is impossible.  This is what happens when one simply can’t write.  This is what is happening when your hands and your mind do not make the agreement that is necessary to produce something worth reading or worth saying.  We are coming up against the very nature of language and we are not able to transgress it and extract our demands from it.

These are the moments when you stare at your screen…screaming in silence words you want to commit to the page, but when you go to write you are trapped in your own ideas of saying nothing because you have everything to say, which means, of course, that nothing is what you have wanted to say all along.  And at the end of the day we will have said nothing as we must say it again and again, hoping that speaking it often enough will affirm its illusory nature.

Writing mocks us because we are bound to language, even as we think we have tamed it with our crafty literary techniques.

This is what is happening when writing becomes impossible.  In dialectical fashion, it is this existential angst rolled up in our inability to write, or speak, which is also a manifestation of writing itself, communication turning in on itself an becoming incommunicable writing that communicates everything it cannot say by saying it.  We stand in the face of our unspeaking, of writing chasing language and language that cannot be harnessed that says more than we can ever say by wishing we could say it.  This negation of language that is language is the speaking of truth even as it must first speak a lie…since lies are all that can be spoken via words that never speak truthfully.

As we stare blankly at screens, our minds racing and anger building at the sights of fingers that cannot move to the rhythm of meaning or hands that cannot write otherwise than themselves, we experience first-hand the impossible possibility of language, of speaking or writing it.  Thus, we should not lose heart when we remain speechless.  The very need to use speech at all will render us all speechless at various intervals.  The Gospel of language is this: Language produces its own speechlessness.

So when is writing impossible?  Always.

It’s not that writing ever becomes impossible; it’s that writing is impossible…always already impossible even in the most lucid prose…and it’s in the moments of profound difficulty wherein that impossibility is simply made more acute.

In the Beginning was the Word.

God is Nothing: Lacan Wrestles with Thing 1 & Thing 2

thing one and two

“In the symbolic order, the empty spaces are as signifying as the full ones; in reading Freud today, it certainly seems that the first step of the whole of his dialectical movement is constituted by the gap of an emptiness”

-Jacques Lacan in his “Response to Jean Hyppolite’s Commentary on Freud’s ‘Verneinung.’”

Everyone wants something.  They strive for something…some-thing.  We as a society are fixated on the things, the little ‘beings’ or objects to which our attention is directed and for which our work is given.  When we look at the world we see it through the lens of things, of a bunch of somethings, and we turn all of our ideas, hopes, aspirations and longings into various things that we can pursue, participate in or master.  The world is full of things, and as Hannah Arendt is apt to tell us, we have given the world around us the thing nature that it is; the world and its things are “thing-ified” (if I can so gently make that word up) because we have taken the world from what it is and we have conceived of the contents of the world within the limits of what constitutes thingness…what constitutes possession for only a thing can be possessed.

We work for homes, for cars, for piles of things.  We work to secure our lives through the things of our investments…we secure our relationships by the things we invest in them and we derive all meaning from the fact that we are able to take our ideas, generate an imaginary world and then divest ourselves of what is real in search of the always illusive thing.  This quest keeps us questing, keeps us defining, keeps us pursuing the thing/things.

We have made the world so dependent upon the idea of thingness that we cannot even conceive of anything that is not a thing.

I am here reminded of Dr. Seuss’s story The Cat in the Hat.

In this quaint little tale, all of everything (the state of affairs within the children’s home if you will) are fine.  Everything (which is really nothing if you remember…more on this in a few more paragraphs) is fine.  UNTIL someone comes into the life of the children and begins to give the room a “thing” nature.  The Cat in the Hat releases “things” into the house, which ironically disrupts everything (which was really nothing as the Mother left the children alone).  The Cat brings in the thing nature…even brings in real characters known as Thing 1 and Thing 2…and they do things, they play with things, they value the fun they are having with “every-thing” and it is this chaos of thingness that is valued…that even the children valued.

For a short while the “things” happening were a new creation, a new way of being, a new diversion from the nothing they were really experiencing.  They valued this new “thing” and they did not listen to the goldfish swimming in his bowl that was full of nothing and going nowhere, yet somehow the fish in the nothing place that goes nowhere was able to see what happens when “things” get out of control and usurp the space of nothing.  These things were valued, that is, until after several attempts by the goldfish sternly reminded the children that these “things” need to stop and “everything” needs to be cleaned up and ordered aright once again.  In other words, we need to get back to the real that is nothing.

The releasing of everything and its chaos into the nothingness of the empty home wreaked havoc even as it also preoccupied the children for a short time with new “things” to watch, see and do.  Into a room of nothing, everything was created…and everything that was created was shown to be nothing more than a diversion from the Real of life that happens apart from “thingness”…the  mundane space which conditions who we are…the space that is more determined by nothing than by the false ontology of thingness.  The children thought the “things” were fun and properly teleological in orientation, yet by the end of the story they discover it is a teleology that goes nowhere and does nothing more than distract us from what really conditions the spaces inhabited by our lives.

We have not given the world a thing nature for purely entertaining reasons as these children were so apt to do (though we have done this), but this thing nature has occurred because of our misdirected sense that what is and what will be is constituted more by the presence of a/the thing, than by nothing.  We have filled our worlds with things to rid ourselves of the nothing…yet the joke is on us.  We cannot rid ourselves of nothing even with the thing as Lacan so aptly notes above.

We have done this, not only in regard to the physical things we enjoy, but also into those metaphysical realities to which we give allegiance and service.  Of course, in our late capitalist culture, the world has taken on the very nature of the thing.  That is why we live.  But why has the thing nature also dictated how we think our faith, our God and the meaning of our lives?

Because we have so thoroughly conceived of the nature of reality as the nature of the thing, it seems that God, Jesus, faith, the ecclesiastical community, our salvation, etc., have all become nothing more than a long list of things; a long list of possessions that give us identity.  They are things that are, things that matter, things that will be…God is nothing more than the thing to which I pray or the thing I fear.  The church is the thing I do on Sunday to ensure I am in proper relationship with the Thing I call God so that this God will bless me with another thing.  My faith is the thing that makes me who I am and conditions how I engage the world…and my salvation is the thing I have because so long as I have it this thing is mine…and because I have all these things, I AM SOMETHING.  To be without these ultimate metaphysical things, things that are grossly conceived as all other things in our language and habits, is to mean that I am nothing, no one, not a something.  These things make me who I am.

I can “see” them.

I can “feel” them.

I can experience them.

I can “touch” them.

I can think them.

These things have become concretized into our thing schematization because we can think the world only in relation to the thing.

But this is where we are wrong.

The thing does not make us who we are or create our worlds.  The thing has no ontological purchase of its own; its only purchasing power comes from us who invest the currency of the thing with value.   The thing is not an end and it is not a beginning.  Thingness is not realness and it is not absoluteness.   We think our lives, worlds and faith(s) are all about being properly directed toward the right thing, but what Lacan discloses to us is that it is not the thing that shapes who we are or where we are going; it is the nothing that does all this.  We want to think there is something, yet our lives are all really the result of the reality of the nothing…the nothing that is disguised as some-thing via the thing that is really nothing apart from the nothing that makes it a thing.

All that may sound a bit circular, confusing even.  I promise I am not writing to confuse.  So let me break this down and then argue the point a bit further:

There is not anything other than nothing.  Nothing is…there is no such thing as a thing apart from the nothing which gives rise to the world in our vision, though this is a world that rests its things on nothing; it’s not a world that ends nothing with a world of things.

We have so conceived of the world via a thing nature, or a particular type of ontic character, that we have left behind the role that nothing plays in making us everything we are…even as this idea of absence and nothing is still nowhere to be found.

Nothing conditions how we speak, what we value, what we pursue, those “things” we are fearful to pursue.  Nothing is what places us where we are and it is only relation to that nothing that meaning can be created or generated.  This is one of the main thrusts of nihilistic philosophy.  It is not a philosophy that argues for some sort of black hole abysmal reality where there is no meaning; on the contrary, it is only because nothing is that everything can have meaning for a thing only has meaning in relation to nothing.  Apart from this frame of reference, a thing is lost in itself without any analogous referent from which it may make sense.  Apart from nothing a thing is not even a thing…and therefore, apart from nothing we too are nothing.  Thus, nothing is.  So while we strive to forget nothing by thinking everything, we lost in the process an important part of ourselves and what makes us who we are.

Lacan goes well beneath Heidegger’s own idea of Geworfenheit here…

Lacan notes, “But the subject has a no less convincing sense if he encounters the symbol that he originally excised from his Bejahung.  For this symbol does not enter the imaginary, for all that.  It constitutes, as Freud tells us, that which truly does not exist; as such, it ek-sists, for nothing exists except against a supposed background of absence.  Nothing exists except insofar as it does not exist.”

He goes on to the quote at the beginning of this essay, “it certainly seems that the first step of the whole of the dialectical movement is constituted by the gap of an emptiness.”

What Lacan is observing in his response to the famous psychoanalyst Jean Hyppolite is that our lives are negotiated more from the gaps of nothing than by the imaginary worlds we have built for ourselves.  Nothing is the condition of meaning because the symbolic order rests on this negation of things in order for meaning to be construed.  It is only  because there is an absence that a presence appears.

The bejahung that Lacan mentions is Freud’s term for our original primordial inception into the symbolic order.  It is the original affirmation that we did not affirm.  Our place in this order, an order which does not exist but exists apart from itself, is really nothing…it’s a place we cannot place anywhere, it is nowhere, yet its constitution as nowhere means that it is the nothing that is somewhere.  The bejahung is our inception into that order (language, symbols, sounds, meaning, body language, ideas,etc.), an original inception that is no longer available to us but surfaces in us at moments of repressed desires, visions, déjà vu, dreams, etc.  It is the place into which we are plunged and emerge with the symbolic, with language, yet we cannot recount the making of the symbolic or its highs or lows.  We are people of symbols yet the genesis of the symbols have long been lost in ek-sistence of the bejahung that’s nothingness allows for the existence of other symbolic things, which really do not exist.  Or as Lacan notes, “Nothing exists except insofar as it does not exist.”

Thus, our worlds and the things we fill them with are really nothing and they reside nowhere but the places we have granted them to reside.  The emptiness of our minds, the places where we do not think but where we really are, is more indicative of our condition then are all the things we create and all the imaginary’s we fabricate.

So if our worlds are really conditioned by nothing and the foreclosure of our language into a specific symbolic order, what does this mean for those things that mean most to us…those things that we can place our in our hands, our heart and our minds?

It means that we are not driven from or toward the places we can grasp, but we are perpetually the creation of what has grasped us even as it has nothing to grasp us with.  The gap between there and here, where and there, is the gap and nothing that makes us as much who we are as all the fabricated things we have created to hide from the gap that is nothing, yet has made us everything.

These spaces that are nothing are really the spaces that fill our lives…it is the nothing of the lives we wish we could have that surface in our consciousness and produce the world we think we see.  Only because the fabrications of our worlds do not really exist, because they are nothing, do they present themselves into the symbolic order as an imaginary thing.  The fact that things appear to us in the present and we aim for them in the future, only do so because they are nothing and do not exist anywhere, thus our very “thing” nature of the world is really driven by the world we do not see toward the place we do not know with “things” that aren’t really there…meaning they are the things that are not really us or the real that remains allusive.

If the thing nature of the world we have created is merely that which has taken us away from the place of nothing, and nothing…or that which is no longer available to us, is that which constitutes our moving, thinking and being, than what does that say for our faith and its objects if we continue to call them things?  Perhaps, to begin this conversation aright…we should begin not by saying all those things that are things and then seek about defining them in our possession…but perhaps with Lacan, we should take a more apophatic approach.

For if as a people of faith we claim that God is where we come from, where we are and where we are going…perhaps we are not discussing a thing known as God…

Perhaps what we are saying is that God is nothing

God of the ParanormalChrist: A Definition of Real

Graph of Lacan’s 3 primary registers: Real, Symbolic, Imaginary

I will frequently be using illusively symbolic language on this blog.  While many folks have an aversion to philosophical language, sometimes words like “being” “real” “truth” “virtue” simply can’t be defined in any plain, simple, way.  To do so is to tame them, domesticate them, and to trade in a thoughtful life for one that makes us comfortable, or what Plato would have called, “the unreflective life.”  Meaning, however, is lost in definition…just as paranormalchrist is here taking on a totally different meaning than popular parlance might suggest, so too some redefintion of terms is necessary at the origins of this blog.

One of the interesting terms I will employ is the term Real.  One should not misunderstand my usage of Real with what is ordinarily “real”.  In fact, what is ordinarily “real” is precisely not the Real that is guiding the ParanormalChrist.  It is not the real of ordinary usage of which religion and faith speak.  When one says “God is Real” this is not to confuse God with what we know of the “real” world; rather we are describing another paranormal form of reality…a REAL alongside what we live as real.  Religion and faith testify to “otherness” that profoundly shapes who we are.  We attempt to be in relation to such “otherness” via ritual expressions of faith…but we NEVER see the Real that initiates our liturgy; God is Real, but the Real God is never “found” or “harnessed”…so the rituals continue, the worship is endless, our bodies find brief connection with the Real through these things…but not really getting any closer to the reality that instigates the act or belief.  The Real is what stands behind the symbols, on the other side of the imaginary world built through symbols, but cannot be confused with those symbols.  So it is this Real, this primal Cause of our being, our speaking, our praying, that I wish to define.   I will define Real via the neo-Freudian reading of Lacan.

My usage is predominately taken from the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan (please see the menu link for contemporary Lacanian theory).  I make no claims to originality here.  But I find Lacan’s theory of how reality is structured via the psyche as the most probable way to speak about languages, and their byproducts: human relationality and the subsequent construct we call culture/soceity/religion, etc.  I will also give brief explanation as to how the idea of Real is also related to the concept of God.

The real is that which is unattainable.  It is the part of life that is no longer near due to ones introduction to the symbolic order via the imaginary.  However, the Real is always that which shapes one’s behavior and drive.  It is, to use an ancient philosophical symbol, the primal Mover of being, yet without being bound to the category of being.  It is an is that is not.  Thus, it is always located beyond being, yet near enough to being to impact it.  It is that which intrudes into our existence, almost without notice, yet non-localizable. It is the only part of existence that is unadulterated by the symbolic order.  Precariously, however, it is the Real that gives rise to the symbolic order.  It is that which needs to be signified, but that which always escapes signification in the process of discourse.  Its naming is its loss.

Lacan, in an interesting theoretical turn, equates that which needs to be signified as the subject’s lack (which is expressed in the subject’s desire to “fill-in” the gap of lack that is an inherent byproduct of using a universal medium language) to express a repressed desire that can never fully be attained because it is not fully present-able.  Hence, its presence is the incarnated forms of dreams, intonations, and slips.  In this respect, Lacan can talk about the Real in a fashion that is similar to the unconscious.

The unconscious is not Real; what is beneath it and resides therein IS.  The real, then, is that which is beyond and may exist and function on several planes.  It will be necessary to focus on the real as that which commences the drive, pursuing one in one’s quest to fill the gap of lack represented by the symbolic order; In other words, the Real commences the drive and quest for belief and faith.   The Real may be likened to an Nietzschen eternal return of repetition, wherein the drive continues to reel in the subject but the real of the drive is never found.  To use Mark Taylor’s language, one could say we are always after what’s Real, After God.  The drive perpetually returns to its secondary position creating substitutive objects (objet petit a) rather than catching the reel/real thing. It will be argued that this real is that which is not only beyond, but the place from which ultimate otherness arrives.  The place from which this comes is the unconscious.  The real, then, is the repressed unconscious reality that seeps outside the bounds of the psychic self and makes its invisible self visible…shaping our world.  The concept of Real gives representation to that which cannot be re-presented or presented.

In Christian grammar, this is not called real, but God.  God is the symbol that is used to represent what is beyond, but creatively brings one into the symbolic discourse of the subject.  It is the symbol that controls the grammar of lack as humanity searches for the bridge that never was.  The supreme example of a substitutive object that sits in the place for the real, that represents the lack,  pacifying our religious symptom is the Eucharist; the body we break without ever accessing the body…Sorry Aquinas.  For Lacan, however, God is unconscious, residing as the master of the “horrible house of truth” wherein signification is the true and only form of sovereignty.  And as such, only God is Real…and the real is God.  This sounds awefully familiar to a famous Bible verse in the Gospel of John, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and what God was, the Word was” [my translation]  The Word is God, God is the Word…and the Real is because we speak, we speak because God is Real.