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← 15. The Postmodern Psyche

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Showing Revision 1 created 08/14/2012 by Amara Bot.

  1. Prof: So today we're
    still focused on individual
  2. consciousness.
  3. "Why?" you might ask.
  4. Well, we can speak of the
    psychogenesis of the text or
  5. film as the site or model for
    symbolic patterning of one sort
  6. or another,
    perhaps in the case certainly
  7. of Žižek,
    to some extent also of Deleuze.
  8. Therefore we can still
    understand today's readings,
  9. unlike Thursday's readings,
    as belonging to the
  10. psychological emphasis in our
    syllabus.
  11. This is actually our farewell
    to the psychological emphasis,
  12. and it is so arranged because
    there are intimations in today's
  13. authors that there are political
    stakes.
  14. That is to say,
    in one way or another we are to
  15. understand their argument about
    the way in which the psyche
  16. functions as having political
    implications.
  17. Žižek is fascinating,
    it seems to me,
  18. in his brilliant reading of
    The Crying Game at the
  19. very end of your essay,
    in the moment when he says in
  20. effect,
    "Look.
  21. This isn't just a kind of
    abdication from responsibility
  22. for the Irish Republican
    Revolution.
  23. The soldier has not merely
    walked away from his role in
  24. revolutionary activity;
    he has discovered in his
  25. private life--that is to say,
    in the erotic dimension of his
  26. consciousness--the need for
    revolution from within.
  27. He has necessarily disrupted
    his own thinking in ways equally
  28. radical to and closely parallel
    to the disruption of thinking
  29. that's required to understand
    one's relationship with the
  30. emerging Republican status of
    Ireland.
  31. And so,"
    says Žižek in effect,
  32. "there are political
    implications for the upheaval in
  33. consciousness that an ultimately
    tragic encounter with the Big
  34. Other entails.
  35. I should say in passing also
    about Žižek that --
  36. and your editor,
    I think, goes into this a
  37. little bit in the italicized
    preface--
  38. that there are temptations,
    political temptations,
  39. entailed in this fascination
    with an obscure or even perhaps
  40. transcendent object of desire
    for the individual,
  41. but also for the social psyche.
  42. In religious terms,
    there is a perhaps surprising
  43. or counterintuitive friendliness
    toward religion in Žižek's
  44. work on the grounds that faith
    or the struggle for faith,
  45. after, all does constitute an
    effort to enter into some kind
  46. of meaningful relationship with
    that which one desires yet at
  47. the same time can't have.
  48. By the same token--and this is
    where,
  49. in certain moments,
    he confesses to a kind of
  50. instability in his political
    thinking,
  51. even though he is by and large
    on the left and partly needs to
  52. be understood as a disciple of
    Marx--
  53. nevertheless,
    he recognizes that in politics
  54. there is a kind of excitement
    but also,
  55. perhaps, potential danger in
    fascination with a big idea.
  56. It could be,
    of course, some form of
  57. progressive collectivity.
  58. It could, on the other hand,
    be the kind of big idea that
  59. countenances the rise of
    fascism.
  60. Žižek acknowledges this--
    that public identification with
  61. a kind of almost,
    or completely,
  62. inaccessible otherness,
    either as a political idea or
  63. as a charismatic political
    leader,
  64. can, after all,
    open up a vertigo of dangerous
  65. possibilities.
  66. I use the word
    "vertigo"
  67. advisedly because I'm going to
    be coming back to Hitchcock's
  68. Vertigo in just a minute,
    but in the meantime there are
  69. also obviously political stakes
    in Deleuze.
  70. Deleuze, of course,
    presents to us in this first
  71. chapter of his book,
    A Thousand Plateaus,
  72. he presents to us a kind of
    thought experiment,
  73. both as something recommended
    to the reader--
  74. see if you can think in this
    new, radically innovative way--
  75. but also providing a model for
    thinking of this kind in the
  76. style and organization and
    composition of the chapter
  77. itself.
  78. So in making a thought
    experiment,
  79. once again, Deleuze has to
    perform in thought what you
  80. might call a revolution from
    within,
  81. but the implications once again
    in politics,
  82. as indeed also for Žižek,
    are somewhat ambiguous.
  83. That is to say,
    the rhizomatic mode of
  84. thinking--
    and we'll come back to the
  85. rhizomatic mode of thinking as
    we go along--
  86. which is radically de-centering
    and which lends itself to
  87. identification with,
    as it were, the mass movement
  88. of collectivity,
    can plainly be progressively
  89. democratic: that is to say,
    democratic beyond even what our
  90. social and cultural hierarchies
    accommodate.
  91. But at the same time it can
    once again be fascistic,
  92. because the organization of
    fascistic culture,
  93. while nevertheless a kind of
    top-down arrangement with a
  94. fervor involved as the mass is
    mobilized,
  95. nevertheless is,
    in this mobilization,
  96. rhizomatic.
  97. Deleuze is careful to point out
    that rhizomes are,
  98. and rhizomatic thinking is,
    as he says repeatedly,
  99. both for the best and
    worst.
  100. >
  101. Rats are rhizomes.
  102. Crabgrass is a rhizome.
  103. In other words,
    everything which organizes
  104. itself in this fashion is
    rhizomatic;
  105. much of it, though,
    as I'll be coming back to try
  106. to explain with a little more
    care, is for the good in
  107. Deleuze's view.
  108. By the way, I say
    "Deleuze"
  109. in the same way I said
    "Wimsatt."
  110. Guattari is an important
    colleague and ally.
  111. They wrote many books together
    including one that I'll mention
  112. later.
  113. They also wrote things
    separately, but
  114. "Deleuze,"
    simply because his oeuvre
  115. is more ample and people
    feel somehow or another that
  116. he's more central to this work,
    is a synecdoche for
  117. "Deleuze and
    Guattari."
  118. So I'll be saying
    "Deleuze,"
  119. but I don't mean to slight
    Guattari.
  120. In any case,
    so we'll be examining the
  121. Deleuzian rhizome a little bit
    more closely,
  122. but in the meantime,
    as to its political
  123. implications--
    and we are moving closer to the
  124. political as we begin to think
    about figures of this kind--
  125. they're really on the admission
    of both of them somewhat
  126. ambiguous.
  127. In other words,
    they're introducing new
  128. possibilities of thought and
    they're very different from each
  129. other, as we'll see.
  130. They're introducing new
    possibilities of thought,
  131. but they are candid enough to
    admit that they don't quite know
  132. where these possibilities are
    going--
  133. that is, what the implications
    or consequences of successfully
  134. entering the thought world of
    either one of them might be.
  135. All right.
  136. So yes, they certainly have
    very different ideas.
  137. I wouldn't blame you for
    saying, "Why on earth are
  138. we reading these two texts
    together?"
  139. The overlap isn't altogether
    clear.
  140. I'm going to suggest what it is
    in a minute, but in the meantime
  141. they are certainly on about very
    different things.
  142. Deleuze is concerned with,
    as I say,
  143. introducing a kind of thought
    experiment which has to do with
  144. the de-centering of thought,
    getting away from the tree or
  145. arboresque model of thought--
    we'll have more to say about
  146. that;
    and Žižek,
  147. on the other hand,
    following Lacan's distinction
  148. between the object,
    ready to hand,
  149. that you can have if you want,
    and the object of desire
  150. which--such is the chain of
    signification--
  151. is perpetually something that
    exceeds or outdistances our
  152. grasp--
    in developing this idea,
  153. and thinking about what the
    object of desire,
  154. in all of its manifold forms,
    might be,
  155. he develops this curious idea,
    which is at the center of his
  156. thinking,
    of the blot--the element
  157. in narrative form,
    the element in the way in which
  158. our storytelling capacities are
    organized,
  159. which really can't be narrated,
    which really can't lend itself
  160. to meaning.
  161. That sort of meaning is,
    of course, concrete,
  162. specific meaning,
    that which can be tied down to
  163. an accessible object.
  164. So the central idea that
    Žižek is attempting to develop
  165. in his essay has to do with this
    notion of the relationship
  166. between the Big Other and the
    blot,
  167. as we'll see.
  168. So these strike one as being
    extremely different ideas,
  169. and as I say I wouldn't blame
    you for wondering just what
  170. overlap there can be.
  171. Well, at the same time I would
    think that as you read the
  172. somewhat bouncy and frantic
    prose of both of these texts,
  173. you did see that they had a
    kind of mood,
  174. stance, or orientation toward
    the critical and theoretical
  175. project in common.
  176. They seem, in other words,
    to be of the same moment.
  177. Even though their ideas seem to
    be so very different--
  178. that is, the basic ideas
    they're trying to get across
  179. seem to be so very different--
    you could perhaps imagine these
  180. two texts as being written,
    if it was just a question of
  181. considering their style,
    by the same person.
  182. Actually, I think that's not
    quite true,
  183. but at the same time the kind
    of high-energy,
  184. too-caffeinated feeling that
    you get from the prose of both
  185. is something that might give you
    pause and make you wonder:
  186. well,
    just what moment does this
  187. belong to?
  188. The answer is important and,
    in a way, obvious.
  189. I'm sure all of you are ready
    to tell me what moment it
  190. belongs to.
  191. It belongs to Postmodernism.
  192. These are two exemplars of what
    is by far the most slippery--if
  193. one likes it,
    one wants to say versatile,
  194. >
  195. and if one doesn't like it,
    one wants to say
  196. murky--concepts to which we have
    been exposed in the last twenty
  197. or thirty years.
  198. I think that,
    in a way, we can bring both
  199. essays into focus as a pair a
    little bit if we pause somewhat,
  200. simply over the concept
    "Postmodernism."
  201. Maybe that's one of the things
    you wanted to learn in taking a
  202. course like this,
    so I'm just providing a
  203. service.
  204. >
  205. So Postmodernism.
  206. What is Postmodernism?
  207. I think we know what it is in
    artistic expression.
  208. We have encountered enough
    examples of it.
  209. We have, perhaps,
    even taken courses in which,
  210. in the context of artistic form
    and expression,
  211. it has come up.
  212. Postmodernism in artistic
    expression--
  213. particularly in the visual
    arts, but I think this is true
  214. of certain movements in both
    narrative and poetry as well--
  215. postmodernism is an eclectic
    orientation to the past.
  216. In a certain sense,
    it's a return to the past;
  217. it's an opening up of textual
    possibility to traditions and
  218. historical moments of expression
    which Modernism had tended to
  219. suppose obsolete and to have set
    aside;
  220. so that in artistic expression,
    as I say, Postmodernism is an
  221. eclectic return to possibilities
    thrown up by the history of art
  222. and literature;
    in architecture,
  223. many examples are quite
    extraordinary and many,
  224. unfortunately,
    are also hideous.
  225. You know that there was a
    certain point fifteen or twenty
  226. years ago when every strip mall,
    every shopping mall,
  227. was redecorated or--
    what's the word I
  228. want?--renovated.
  229. Every shopping mall was
    renovated, and how did they
  230. renovate it?
  231. They'd been flat.
  232. They'd been sort of Mies van
    der Rohe, sort of sixties-modern
  233. before then.
  234. They just sat there flat,
    and so the renovators came
  235. along and put little gables on
    the shopping mall so that each
  236. little shop in the mall now has
    a gable,
  237. and this is postmodern.
  238. The most awful things were done
    with suburban houses,
  239. also in the name of a kind of
    blind,
  240. completely tasteless return to
    the neoclassical and certain
  241. other aspects of tradition.
  242. So the postmodern in what you
    might call suburban culture has
  243. been pretty awful,
    but at the same time it has
  244. entailed a great deal of
    interesting work in painting.
  245. All of a sudden,
    the New York scene isn't just
  246. one school, and that's the sign
    of it.
  247. It's not just a certain kind of
    abstraction.
  248. It's not just a wholesale
    return, agreed on by everyone,
  249. to Realism.
  250. It's a mixture of everything.
  251. Artists are always just
    completely obsessed with their
  252. place in art history,
    but it's not just groups of
  253. artists together wanting to
    identify a certain place for
  254. themselves in art history.
  255. It's every artist in a kind of
    anarchic independence from the
  256. thinking of other artists coming
    to terms with art history in his
  257. or her own way so that the
    scene--
  258. the art scenes of New York and
    Berlin and Los Angeles and so
  259. on--
    the scene isn't something that
  260. you can identify as having a
    certain character anymore.
  261. It's postmodern precisely in
    that it's gone global,
  262. it has a million influences and
    sources,
  263. and there is very little
    agreement among artists about
  264. how to amalgamate and put these
    sources together;
  265. so that in terms of artistic
    expression,
  266. the postmodern moment--after
    Modernism,
  267. in other words--the postmodern
    moment presents itself,
  268. and I put it deliberately,
    as a medical symptom,
  269. the bipolar way the postmodern
    moment presents itself in
  270. artistic expression.
  271. Now philosophically,
    Postmodernism can be understood
  272. as doubt not just about the
    grounds of knowledge or the
  273. widespread sorts of doubt which
    we have been talking about more
  274. or less continuously in this
    course,
  275. but as doubt in particular
    about the relationship between
  276. or among parts and wholes.
  277. In other words,
    can I be sure that my leg is
  278. part of my body when plainly it
    is at the same time a whole with
  279. respect to my foot?
  280. How is it that I know in any
    stable way what a part or a
  281. whole is?
  282. To take a more interesting
    example--
  283. this is in Wittgenstein's
    Philosophical
  284. Investigations--
    there is the flag,
  285. the French flag,
    which is called the tricolor,
  286. right?
  287. Now the tricolor is made up of
    three strips of color:
  288. white, blue,
    and red.
  289. I'm sorry if I've gotten the
    order wrong.
  290. In fact, I am almost positive
    that I have,
  291. >
  292. but there are those three
    strips of color existing in
  293. relation to each other,
    and plainly those three strips
  294. of color are parts of the flag,
    and they have a certain
  295. symbolic value.
  296. That is to say,
    each color represents something
  297. and enters into the symbolic
    understanding of what the flag
  298. is.
  299. But at the same time red,
    white, and blue--sorry--yes,
  300. red, white, and blue aren't
    confined to this piece of cloth.
  301. The little strip of white is
    obviously part of whiteness.
  302. It can't be understood simply
    in and of itelf.
  303. These strips of color are parts
    of other things as well;
  304. and what's more,
    if you look at the tricolor
  305. without knowing what you're
    looking at, how can you say that
  306. it's the part of a whole?
  307. You say, "Well,
    they're just parts,"
  308. or "They're wholes unto
    themselves which somebody
  309. happens to have laid side by
    side."
  310. By the same token,
    if you look at the part of the
  311. tricolor which is white and you
    say,
  312. "White," well,
    obviously with respect to the
  313. vast universalizing concept
    "white,"
  314. a little flag is simply a kind
    of metonymic relationship with
  315. that sense of white.
  316. But, in short,
    to concretize this idea of the
  317. problematic relationship between
    part and whole in a different
  318. way,
    why are we so confident about
  319. what we see?
  320. As most of you know,
    I'm sure, philosophical
  321. thinking tends to be tyrannized
    by metaphors of vision.
  322. We assume that we understand
    reality because--
  323. not altogether as consciously
    metaphorically in speaking about
  324. this as perhaps we might be--
    we say that we can see it;
  325. but how do you see it?
  326. You see it because of the
    lensing or focusing capacities
  327. of the eye, which exercise a
    certain tyranny over the nature
  328. of what you see.
  329. If you look too closely at
    something, all you can see is
  330. dots.
  331. If you look at something and
    close your eyes,
  332. that, too, becomes a kind of
    vast retinal Mark Tobey
  333. painting.
  334. It has a relation to what you
    see but is at the same time
  335. something very different.
  336. And if you get too far away
    from objects,
  337. they dissolve.
  338. What you thought was an object
    dissolves into a much vaster,
  339. greater space which seems to
    have another objective nature.
  340. If you're in a jet and you're
    looking down,
  341. what you're seeing certainly
    looks like it has form and
  342. structure,
    but the form and structure is
  343. not at all what you're seeing if
    you're standing on the ground
  344. looking at exactly the same,
    shall we say,
  345. square footage insofar as you
    can.
  346. You're simply seeing different
    things,
  347. and if you recognize what might
    be called the tyranny of focus
  348. in the way in which we orient
    ourselves to the world,
  349. you can see this perpetual
    dissolve and refocus
  350. constituting objects perpetually
    in new ways.
  351. This happens,
    too, in the history of science.
  352. The relationship between
    subatomic particles sometimes
  353. turns itself inside out,
    and the particle that you
  354. thought was the fundamental unit
    turns out,
  355. in fact, to have within it a
    fundamental unit of which it is
  356. a part.
  357. I'm just referring to what
    happened during the golden age
  358. of the linear accelerator when
    all sorts of remarkable sorts of
  359. inversions of what's taken to be
    fundamental seemed to be made
  360. available by the experimental
    data;
  361. so that in all of these ways,
    ranging from scientific to the
  362. most subjectively visual ways of
    understanding the world,
  363. there are possibilities of
    doubt that can be raised about
  364. part-whole relations.
  365. What is a whole?
  366. How do we define a unity?
  367. Should we be preoccupied with
    the nature of reality as a set
  368. of unities?
  369. Obviously, Deleuze is extremely
    upset about this.
  370. He doesn't want anything to do
    with unity.
  371. The whole function of his
    thought experiment is the
  372. de-centering of things such that
    one can no longer talk about
  373. units or wholes or isolated
    entities.
  374. It's the being together,
    merging together,
  375. flying apart,
    reuniting, and kinesis or
  376. movement of entities,
    if they can even be called
  377. entities,
    that Deleuze is concerned with.
  378. Now another aspect of the
    postmodern is what the
  379. postmodern philosopher
    Jean-François Lyotard,
  380. in particular,
    has called "the
  381. inhuman"
    or the process of the
  382. dehumanization of the human.
  383. Now this is a weird term to
    choose because it's not at all
  384. anti-humanistic.
  385. It's really a new way of
    thinking about the human.
  386. Deleuze, you'll notice,
    talks--not just here in this
  387. excerpt,
    but repeatedly throughout his
  388. work,
    which is why he has so little
  389. to say about it here that's
    explanatory--
  390. about "bodies without
    organs."
  391. That might have brought you up
    short, but what it suggests is
  392. that we are, as Deleuze would
    put it, machinic rather than
  393. organic.
  394. If the problem with centered
    thought is that it thinks of
  395. everything as arboreal,
    as a tree, that problem has to
  396. do with the fact that a tree is
    understood in its symbolic
  397. extensions to have organs.
  398. The roots are muscles and
    circulation;
  399. the blossoms are genital in
    nature;
  400. the crown or canopy of leaves
    is the mind of the tree reaching
  401. up to the sky,
    the mentality of the tree.
  402. By the same token,
    if we think of our own bodies
  403. as arboreal,
    we think of certain parts of
  404. those bodies as cognitive,
    other parts of those bodies as
  405. having agency,
    as doing things.
  406. If that's the case,
    then we think of a centered and
  407. ultimately genital or genetic
    understanding of the body as
  408. being productive.
  409. Deleuze wants to understand the
    body as being interactive,
  410. as being polymorphous perverse,
    among other things.
  411. He wants to understand it as
    being everywhere and nowhere,
  412. an un-situated body among other
    bodies.
  413. In order for this to happen,
    its interface with other things
  414. has to be without agency and
    also without cognitive intention
  415. on the model of "I think,
    therefore I am;
  416. the world comes into being
    because I think,"
  417. without any of this in play.
  418. In other words,
    the dehumanization of the
  419. postmodern has to do not at all
    with denying the importance of
  420. the human but with this radical
    way of rethinking the human
  421. among other bodies and things.
  422. Plainly, this emphasis involves
    a kind of dissolving into
  423. otherness,
    a continuity between subject
  424. and object in which the
    difference,
  425. ultimately, between what is
    inside me,
  426. what is authentic or integral
    to my being me,
  427. and what's outside me become
    completely permeable and
  428. interchangeable.
  429. The late nineteenth-century
    author and aesthetic philosopher
  430. Walter Pater,
    in the conclusion to a famous
  431. book of his called The
    Renaissance, had a
  432. wonderful way of putting this:
    he said in effect,
  433. "We are too used to
    thinking that we're in here and
  434. everything else is out there and
    that,
  435. somehow or another,
    our perspective on everything
  436. out there is a kind of saving
    isolation enabling our power of
  437. objectivity."
  438. Then Pater says,
    paraphrased,
  439. "How can this be,
    because we're made up of the
  440. same things that are out there?
  441. We, too, are molecular,
    in other words.
  442. What is in us ‘rusts iron
    and ripens corn' [his words].
  443. There is a continuousness
    between the inside feeling we
  444. have about ourselves and the
    exteriority with which we are
  445. constantly coming in
    contact."
  446. Deleuze and Guattari,
    of course, have their own
  447. excited,
    jumpy way of putting these
  448. things, but it's not really a
    new idea that we exaggerate the
  449. isolation of consciousness from
    its surroundings.
  450. There is a permeability of
    inside and outside that this
  451. kind of rhizomic,
    or de-centered,
  452. thinking is meant to focus on.
  453. Now you could say that what
    Deleuze is interested in--
  454. if you go back to our
    coordinates that we kept when we
  455. were talking about the
    formalists,
  456. Saussure through structuralism,
    through deconstruction--
  457. if you go back to those
    coordinates,
  458. you could say that what Deleuze
    is interested in,
  459. like so many others we've read,
    is a rendering virtual,
  460. or possibly even eliminating,
    of the vertical axis:
  461. in other words,
    of that center or head or crown
  462. of the tree which constitutes
    everything that unfolds on the
  463. horizontal axis--
    be it language,
  464. be it the unconscious
    structured like a language,
  465. be it whatever it might be.
  466. You could say that the project
    of Deleuze, too,
  467. is the undoing or rendering
    virtual of this vertical axis.
  468. Well, in a way,
    I think that's true,
  469. but then what is the horizontal
    axis?
  470. That is where the relation of
    Deleuze to, let's say,
  471. deconstruction becomes a little
    problematic and where we can
  472. actually see a difference.
  473. I'm going to compare him in
    this one respect with Lacan,
  474. but I want to hasten to point
    out, as I will in a minute,
  475. a divergence from Lacan as
    well.
  476. You remember that in Lacan's
    "Agency of the Letter"
  477. essay,
    he doesn't just talk
  478. about the axis of combination as
    a series of concentric circles,
  479. each one of which is made up of
    little concentric circles.
  480. He doesn't just talk about that.
  481. He also talks about the way in
    which the combinatory powers of
  482. the imaginary in language,
    or desire in language,
  483. take place is like a musical
    staff,
  484. so that the organization of
    signs, in their contiguity with
  485. each other,
    can be either melodic or
  486. harmonic;
    but in any case,
  487. you can't just think of the
    axis of combination as a
  488. complete linearity.
  489. It has dimensionality of
    different kinds.
  490. That's why Deleuze and Guattari
    introduce the concept of
  491. plateau.
  492. The book in which your excerpt
    appears is called A Thousand
  493. Plateaus.
  494. Ultimately, the concept of
    plateau is even more important
  495. to them than the concept of
    rhizome,
  496. but when they introduce the
    concept of plateau they're doing
  497. exactly the same thing.
  498. They are saying,
    "We jump from sign cluster
  499. to sign cluster and not all sign
    clusters are linear and
  500. uniform."
  501. This is where there is perhaps
    a difference from
  502. deconstruction.
  503. Deleuze and Guattari are
    interested in "multiplicity
  504. of coding,"
    as they put it.
  505. They're interested in the way
    in which when I think,
  506. I'm not just thinking in
    language, I'm not just thinking
  507. pictorially,
    and I'm not just thinking
  508. musically,
    but I am leaping around among
  509. codes so that the actual thought
    process is eclectic in this way.
  510. Now you could say that this is
    something actually anticipated
  511. also by Lacan.
  512. You remember also in the
    "Agency" essay
  513. that Lacan reminds us,
    true inheritor of Freud which
  514. he takes himself to be,
    that at the beginning of The
  515. Interpretation of Dreams,
    Freud said that the decoding
  516. of the dream work is like
    figuring out the puzzle of a
  517. rebus--
    a rebus being one of those
  518. trick sentences which are made
    up not exclusively of words but
  519. of the odd syllable or of
    pictures: for example,
  520. "I 'heart' New York."
  521. "I 'heart' New York"
    is a rebus.
  522. The dream work functions
    constantly, in Freud's view,
  523. as a rebus.
  524. So you could say that Lacan
    already introduces for Deleuze
  525. the possibility of thinking of a
    multiple coding that needs to be
  526. decoded on a variety of plateaus
    if it's going to make any sense.
  527. Now Deleuze's relationship with
    all the figures we have been
  528. reading is rather problematic,
    really.
  529. The book preceding A
    Thousand Plateaus was called
  530. Anti-Oedipus,
    and it is a continuous
  531. systematic attack on--
    he always calls Freud "the
  532. General"--
    the idea that Freud feels that
  533. the whole of our psychic lives
    is completely saturated and
  534. dominated by the Oedipus
    complex.
  535. Deleuze with his idea of
    de-centered thinking,
  536. of the rhizome,
    sets out to show in a variety
  537. of ways how limiting and how
    unfortunate for the legacy of
  538. psychoanalysis this kind of
    focus on a particular issue
  539. turns out to be--
    this is Deleuze's critique of
  540. Freud, not mine.
  541. You would think that Deleuze,
    then,
  542. would be a lot closer to Lacan
    just for the reasons that I have
  543. just described,
    but Lacan, too--at the very
  544. bottom of page 034 in your copy
    center reader,
  545. on the right-hand column--he
    says: "…[I]t is not
  546. surprising that psychoanalysis
    tied its fate to that of
  547. linguistics…"
    Now it's impossible to say--
  548. I think quite by design--it's
    impossible to say whether
  549. Deleuze is referring to Freud or
    Lacan in saying that,
  550. because it's Lacan who claims
    that Freud said it:
  551. in other words,
    that The Interpretation of
  552. Dreams is the text in which
    we discover that the unconscious
  553. is structured like a language;
    but at the same time,
  554. posterity has taken Lacan's
    focus on linguistics to be a
  555. massive,
    perhaps inappropriate revision
  556. of Freud and to be a very
    different matter.
  557. So it's interesting that
    Deleuze quite ambiguously seems
  558. to suppose that Freud and Lacan
    are part and parcel of each
  559. other.
  560. The reason he can do that is
    that he is interested in a form
  561. of thinking about language which
    no linguistics has successfully
  562. accommodated,
    as far as he's concerned.
  563. In other words,
    he keeps talking about Chomsky.
  564. Chomsky seems to be,
    in a way, the villain of your
  565. essay.
  566. But I think,
    in a way, that's just a way of
  567. evading talking about Saussure,
    because you wouldn't want to
  568. get in trouble with all those
    structuralists;
  569. because the problem with
    Saussure, too,
  570. is that there is a certain
    tyranny or arboresque tendency
  571. in Saussurean thinking to be
    focused on the binary--
  572. that is, the relationship
    between the signified and
  573. signifier as fixed,
    as inflexible,
  574. and as lacking in what Derrida
    would call "free play"
  575. and therefore,
    too ,a kind of tyranny.
  576. So, very quickly,
    on the rhizome.
  577. How do we know a rhizome when
    we see it?
  578. Whatever frustrations Deleuze's
    essay puts in your path,
  579. I think probably in the long
    run you're pretty clear on what
  580. a rhizome is,
    but if there is any lingering
  581. doubt just think about the flu.
  582. There is what Deleuze calls
    "rhizomatic flu."
  583. That's something we get from
    other people,
  584. the circulation of disease.
  585. As we all come down with it
    around midterm period,
  586. the circulation of disease is
    rhizomatic.
  587. It's a perfect example of--to
    use another instance from
  588. Deleuze--the relationship
    between the wasp and the orchid.
  589. The wasp, like the virus,
    sort of flits about from
  590. blossom to blossom,
    descends, and then constitutes
  591. the flu.
  592. By contrast there is hereditary
    disease--
  593. that is, that which is lurking
    in us because we're programmed
  594. for it,
    we're hard-wired for it,
  595. and it is genetically in our
    nature.
  596. This Deleuze associates with
    the arboresque.
  597. It comes from an origin.
  598. It is something that is a cause
    within us or a cause standing
  599. behind us,
    as opposed to something coming
  600. out of left field in an
    arbitrary and unpredictable
  601. fashion and descending on us--
    perhaps this is also not unlike
  602. Tynjanov's distinction between
    modification and evolution.
  603. The arboresque evolves;
    the rhizomatic is modification.
  604. The give and take of tensions
    among entities--
  605. the rats tumbling over each
    other, the maze of the burrow,
  606. the spreading of crabgrass--all
    of this has a kind of randomness
  607. and unpredictability.
  608. The power of linkage at all
    conceivable points without any
  609. predictability--all of this is
    entailed in the rhizomatic.
  610. Now as to what's being
    attacked--and again,
  611. the value system surrounding
    these things is not absolute,
  612. Deleuze is not going so far as
    to say "arboresque bad,
  613. rhizomatic good."
  614. He's coming pretty close to it,
    but he acknowledges the perils,
  615. as I say, of the
    rhizomatic--but in the meantime
  616. just one point in passing--
    because I'm running out of time
  617. to talk about Žižek--
    just one point in passing about
  618. the arboresque.
  619. There are actually,
    in the first pages of your
  620. essay, two forms of it.
  621. One is what he calls the
    "root book,"
  622. the traditional classical book
    which presents to you a theme:
  623. "I am going to write about
    so-and-so,
  624. and I'm going to do so
    systematically,
  625. one thing at a time in a series
    of chapters."
  626. That's the root book.
  627. Then there is what he calls the
    "fascicle book,"
  628. a book which consists of
    complicated offshoots of roots
  629. but nevertheless entailing a tap
    root.
  630. This is what he associates with
    Modernism, precisely,
  631. in your text.
  632. He says in effect:
    "The fascicle book is like
  633. Joyce's Ulysses.
  634. Everything including the
    kitchen sink is in it.
  635. It looks as though it were
    totally rhizomatic,
  636. but it is, of course,
    controlled by,
  637. unified by, and brought into
    coherence by a single focusing
  638. authorial consciousness so that
    it is not truly rhizomatic;
  639. it's a fascicle book."
  640. And here, now,
    A Thousand Plateaus is
  641. going to be a rhizomatic book.
  642. So you have not just two kinds
    of books in this idea but three.
  643. All right then,
    very quickly about Žižek.
  644. I think he can help us
    understand Lacan.
  645. I hope you agree with this in
    having read it,
  646. but I think in a way,
    it also takes us back to,
  647. or allows us to revisit,
    Peter Brooks.
  648. The best example,
    it seems to me,
  649. of the way in which the tension
    of desire in narrative works for
  650. Žižek is--
    although these are splendid
  651. examples and I think largely
    self-explanatory--
  652. the best example is actually in
    another book by Žižek called
  653. Everything You Wanted to Know
    About Lacan But Were Afraid to
  654. Ask Hitchcock.
  655. In that book,
    of course, you get a lot of
  656. attention paid to
    Vertigo.
  657. Just think about Vertigo
    as an instance of the kind
  658. of plot Žižek is talking
    about.
  659. There is that--I've forgotten
    her name--really nice woman.
  660. You remember,
    the painter,
  661. and Jimmy Stewart just pays
    absolutely no attention to her.
  662. She's right there.
  663. She's available.
  664. She's in love with him.
  665. He doesn't even see her except
    as a confidante:
  666. "Oh yes,
    you;
  667. I'm so glad you're here."
  668. But he is, on the other hand,
    obsessed with a woman whose
  669. identity he can't even be sure
    of.
  670. It's not just that she's
    inaccessible for some reason or
  671. that she's a distant object of
    desire.
  672. Her identity and the question
    of whether or not she's being
  673. play-acted by somebody else
    remains completely unclear--
  674. unclear for many spectators
    even as they watch the ending of
  675. the film,
    completely unclear.
  676. That is an obscure,
    not just a distant but an
  677. obscure object of desire.
  678. Of course, the premise of her
    inaccessibility is what drives
  679. the plot.
  680. Now I think that it's
    interesting to think about the
  681. relationship between the element
    of detour and delay,
  682. as Žižek implies it,
    in understanding narrative and
  683. what Peter Brooks is talking
    about.
  684. Peter Brooks is talking about
    the way in which middles in
  685. plots protract themselves
    through episodes,
  686. all of which manifest some sort
    of imbalance or need for further
  687. repetition in a new key.
  688. Much of this--because the
    characteristic plot of the kind
  689. of fiction Brooks is mainly
    thinking about is the marriage
  690. plot--
    much of this has to do with
  691. inappropriate object choice.
  692. That indeed can also in many
    cases, à
  693. la what I began by
    mentioning in Žižek,
  694. lead to inappropriate political
    object choice.
  695. Think, for example,
    about the plot of Henry James'
  696. Princess Casamassima in
    that regard.
  697. Poor Hyacinth Robinson strikes
    out on both counts in rather
  698. completely parallel ways.
  699. He ends up on the wrong side of
    politics, and he ends up on the
  700. wrong side of love.
  701. In a way, the Princess
    Casamassima is an
  702. exploration of these two sides
    of the issue.
  703. So in any case,
    for Brooks the resolution of
  704. the plot is a way in which
    closure can be achieved.
  705. It is a final moment of
    equilibrium,
  706. as one might say,
    or quiet or reduction of
  707. excitation,
    such that the Freudian death
  708. wish can be realized,
    as we know, in the way we want
  709. it to be realized,
    as opposed to our being
  710. afflicted by something from the
    outside.
  711. So in Brooks,
    whose closest ties are to
  712. structuralism,
    there is an achieved sense of
  713. closure which is an important
    aspect of what's admirable in
  714. fiction.
  715. Žižek is more postmodern.
  716. Žižek sees,
    following Lacan,
  717. the object of desire as
    asymptotic, as being ultimately
  718. and always inaccessible;
    or if it becomes
  719. accessible--
    as, for example,
  720. on page 1193 in the right-hand
    column--
  721. or one might say,
    almost accessible,
  722. this gives rise to as many
    problems as it seems to
  723. eliminate.
  724. At the bottom right-hand
    column, page 1193,
  725. Žižek says:
    … [P]erhaps,
  726. in courtly love itself,
    the long-awaited moment of
  727. highest fulfillment,
    when the Lady renders
  728. Gnada,
    mercy, to her servant is not
  729. the Lady's surrender,
    her consent to the sexual act,
  730. nor some mysterious rite of
    initiation,
  731. but simply a sign of love on
    the part of the Lady,
  732. the "miracle"
    that the Object answered,
  733. stretching its hand out towards
    the supplicant.
  734. The object, in other words,
    has become subject.
  735. In this moment of exchange,
    mutuality of recognition,
  736. or becoming human on the part
    of the lady--
  737. whom of course Žižek has
    associated with the dominatrix
  738. in a sadistic relationship--
    in this moment of becoming
  739. human and of offering love,
    the object becomes more
  740. accessible.
  741. That is to say,
    there is now the possibility of
  742. some form of mutuality,
    but in her becoming more
  743. accessible,
    the energy of desire is
  744. threatened with dissolution.
  745. In other words,
    closure in Žižek is a threat
  746. to the energy of desire.
  747. Desire is something which
    inheres in our very language,
  748. according to Žižek,
    and which, were it to be
  749. understood as brought to
    closure,
  750. the lady--Žižek gives lots of
    examples of the lady,
  751. after all of this sort of
    seeming inaccessibility--
  752. the lady says,
    "Sure, why not?
  753. Of course."
  754. The person is completely upset
    and then refuses the act because
  755. there's nothing more to desire.
  756. All of a sudden,
    the whole structure of that
  757. energy that drives language and
    consciousness comes tumbling to
  758. the ground, and desire has
    become need.
  759. It's become merely a matter of
    gratification through what's
  760. ready-to-hand and no longer a
    question of sustaining a dream.
  761. This, generally speaking,
    is what Žižek wants to focus
  762. on in talking about these plots.
  763. The object of desire must be
    not just distant but also
  764. obscure.
  765. I'm going to make two more
    points.
  766. First of all,
    as you can no doubt tell,
  767. this is a perfect replica of
    Hans Holbein's The
  768. Ambassadors.
  769. I'd be amazed if anyone in
    the room hadn't recognized it,
  770. >
  771. but there it is.
  772. [Gestures to drawing on the
    board.]
  773. There's two guys.
  774. There's a table between them.
  775. They are negotiating probably
    over one of Henry the Eighth's
  776. marriages, and this I think is
    not insignificant.
  777. They are there in the service
    of Henry the Eighth negotiating
  778. one of those extremely
    complicated marriages,
  779. possibly even the one that led
    to the abdication of the
  780. Anglican Church from the Roman
    Catholic Church--
  781. who knows?
  782. But the lore about the painting
    is that it has to do with the
  783. negotiation for an object of
    desire, and that object is
  784. absent.
  785. In other words,
    it's something really only
  786. implied by the painting.
  787. In the foreground of the
    painting, notorious to art
  788. historians, there is this thing.
  789. [Gestures to drawing on the
    board.]
  790. Now this is pretty much what's
    in the painting.
  791. This is not a replica of the
    two guys standing there,
  792. granted but this is
    pretty much what you see when
  793. you look at the foreground of
    the painting.
  794. If you look sort of from the
    side, it turns into something
  795. very much like a skull.
  796. Generally speaking,
    there's a kind of consensus
  797. among scholars that it may be a
    weirdly distorted shadow or
  798. representation of a skull,
    although what a skull is doing
  799. in the foreground,
    of course, causes us to wonder
  800. as well.
  801. Obviously, you can have some
    ideas on the subject,
  802. but it's still not exactly
    realist painting we're talking
  803. about if he sticks a skull in
    the foreground.
  804. Well, it also has a certain
    resemblance to other things we
  805. could mention,
    but the main point about it is
  806. that we don't really know what
    it is.
  807. It is, in other words,
    something we've already become
  808. familiar with in thinking about
    Lacan.
  809. It is that signifier,
    that ultimate signifier,
  810. which is the obscure object of
    desire called sometimes by Lacan
  811. "the phallus,"
    and it seems simply to be there
  812. before us in this painting.
  813. Now both in the book on
    Hitchcock,
  814. where he finds something like
    this in just about every film
  815. Hitchcock ever made,
    and also in Holbein's painting,
  816. Žižek calls this "the
    blot."
  817. We have nothing else to call it.
  818. It's a blot.
  819. What's it doing there?
  820. In fiction, we would call it
    irrelevant detail.
  821. We can find a way of placing
    formally absolutely everything
  822. in fiction.
  823. The weather,
    the flowers on the table,
  824. whatever it might be:
    we can place these formally,
  825. but there may be something in
    fiction which is simply
  826. unaccountable.
  827. We cannot account for it,
    and that's the blot for
  828. Žižek.
  829. All right.
  830. Now finally,
    on desire on language:
  831. there's a part of Žižek's
    essay which you may have thought
  832. of as a digression.
  833. He's suddenly talking about
    J.L. Austin's ordinary
  834. language philosophy.
  835. He's suddenly talking about the
    linguist Ducrot's idea of
  836. predication.
  837. What's important about,
    in the one case,
  838. the element of performance in
    any utterance and,
  839. in the other case,
    the dominance of an entire
  840. sentence by predication--
    what's important in both of
  841. those elements is that they take
    over an aspect of language of
  842. which they were only supposed to
    be a part.
  843. In other words,
    in Austin there are both
  844. performatives and constatives;
    but in the long run,
  845. the argument of How to Do
    Things with Words suggests
  846. that there are only
    performatives:
  847. I thought this was a
    constative,
  848. he says in effect,
    I thought this was just
  849. straightforward language,
    but I can now see an element of
  850. performance in it.
  851. That's the way that there's a
    gradual changing of his own mind
  852. in Austin's book to which
    Žižek is sensitive.
  853. By the same token,
    Ducrot talks about the way in
  854. which the predicate element of a
    subject,
  855. the predicate relation,
    has a kind of energy of agency
  856. that simply takes over the
    grammatical subject and
  857. constitutes a kind of
    performance in the sentence--
  858. performance in both cases
    meaning "desire."
  859. When I promise to do something,
    I also desire to fulfill the
  860. promise.
  861. When I predicate something,
    I'm also evoking a desire that
  862. that something be the case
    possibly through my own
  863. instrumentality.
  864. This is the argument.
  865. That's what Žižek means by
    "desire in language,"
  866. by the inescapability of desire
    in language,
  867. and the way in which it
    permeates everything we can say
  868. to each other--
    most particularly,
  869. the way in which it permeates
    the plot or,
  870. as they say in film studies,
    the "diegesis"
  871. of the kinds of film examples
    that Žižek gives us.
  872. I'd better stop there.
  873. I hope that this somewhat
    rapid-fire survey of some key
  874. ideas in these texts are
    helpful.
  875. I think in the long run
    perhaps, I hope,
  876. mainly that you see these two
    energetic authors as exemplars
  877. of what we call Postmodernism
    and see the relevance of the
  878. concept of the postmodern to the
    study of literary theory.
  879. Thanks.