‘Selfhood’ and ‘Subjectivity’ (Part 5: Negative Network)

I’m sorry, but I think I’ll plough into more theoretical territory today: Aside from what I outlined in Part 4, there appears to be another aspect of ‘subjectivity’ aside from how it is ‘subjected-to’ historical techniques and the world views associated with those techniques.  A refresher: The Positive Network can be written ‘S-WV-T [Self – World View – Technique]’. In the Positive Network, the ‘essence’ of any one term: ‘technique’, ‘self/subject’, and ‘world-view’ do indeed exist, but only insofar as it is understood as occurring in a matrix alongside its two other accomplices. But can this really suffice? Can it be the entire story? The Positive Network broadly does explain the ‘body-self’, and ‘subjectivity’, but it seems hardly befitting of what we might call a ‘human-body-self’, or ‘human-subjectivity’. From a bird peering over a city, the Positive Network might suffice; but on the ground, looking at the lines and grooves on the faces of human beings and marking out hardships, losses, and disappointment, the Positive Network no longer suffices. That is not to say it is invalid. It is quite valid, however there is more to the story! Yet we suspect this is not all that needs to be articulated.

The human ‘subject’ possesses a sense of otherness, of negativity, that has – thus far – eluded our examination of the Positive network S-WV-T. Does this negativity call us to re-evaluate our sense of ‘essence’ as wholly historical? The ‘S’ in the S-WV-T betrays a secret: it has a barred element. Perhaps we ought, from hereon to write it as Ss-WV-T, the large ‘S’ referring to the subject of the ‘Positive network’ and the small ‘s’ referring to the subject of a Negative network.

What is it to be in a network? What holds the woven fabric of the network together? What makes the positive-network (WV-T-S) a ‘human‘-Positive-network? I shall introduce another element to answer these questions, an element that provides us with the network WV-T-Ss, rather than WV-T-S. The small (s) that we add to the Positive network refers to a secondary, Negative, network that intersects the Positive network at the specific node ‘self’.

Something else accompanies us through history. And this is what makes us ‘human’. If we were to consider the effect that something like the virtual world of Second Life, a technology of the late modern or postmodern world, has, and indeed continues to have, on ‘subjectivity’, we cannot ignore that while it is “indeed tempting to see this crisis [of subjectivity] as solely the product of a compulsive drive for a rationally designated social-order (a drive intrinsic to modernity itself), or as an outcome of the grand narratives, which tends to be described in terms of the fragmentation or dislocation of postmodern culture…[,these]…tensions of modernity and postmodernity – and this is crucial – are never free from the psychic dispersal of subjectivity, fantasy and sexuality (Anthony Elliot).” Elliot, in his book Subject to Ourselves: Social Theory, Psychoanalysis and Postmodernity, argues: “[f]antasy, as a realm of psychic conflict and division – frames our contemporary social and political worlds from the start, and it is therefore essential for an understanding of the trajectories of both personal and cultural life”. While ‘techniques’, ‘world-views’, and ‘selves’, are certainly historically contingent and in constant flux, there inhere aspects of the human subject (fantasy and psychic conflict etc…) informed by factors notwithstanding these historical contingencies.

I’ll present a curious humanism – one that defines the human by its most distressing qualities: no matter the configuration of ‘subject’ one becomes, they remain subject-of their corporeality, they are still subject-of an eventual death, and they continue to be subject – we will, perhaps controversially, argue – of a psychoanalytic ‘lack’. The ‘subject’, aside from existing within the Positive network (subject, technique, world-view) is impacted by what I call the Negative network (death-lack-corporeality). While the ‘subject’ is molded by, and always molding, the Positive network, it is constrained by the aspects of Negative network. The negativity produced by this later network can be thought of as the charge responsible for the functioning of the former, Positive, network.

This idea, of an ineradicable negativity that sustains the Positive network, the (s) in the Ss, is derived – in part – from Alexandre Kojeve’s reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. In a 1933 lecture Kojeve writes “…by analyzing the specific characteristics of human reality,…Hegel discovers the dialectical structure of Being and the Real, and the ontological category of Negativity that is at the basis of that dialecticity”. (If anyone knows more about this, could they let me know if this connection is unfounded?)

It is also inspired by Freud’s assertion in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, that there are two types of cells (generative-germ and degenerative-soma) in the body co-respondent to the bodies’ life and death instincts. We can, for Freud, never be free from thanatos, or the death-drive. Freud’s assertion that the purpose of all life is death forms the basis for his elucidation of a hidden and seemingly out of place death-drive, whose discovery counters the notion that our drives are fundamentally progressive. The drive to perish always seems to manifest itself, for Freud, albeit in an obscured fashion. (For instance, waking inertia, those feelings we have upon waking in the morning, burrowing our heads deep in our pillows, obscuring the disturbances of daylight, seem almost dictated by a voice in our unconscious that expresses the drive to die.) For Freud, the desire to minimize tension by “mastering” or “binding” excitations arises from the urge to return to some other state. Strangely, he claims this desire is akin to a regression to a primordial state prior to organic life. Prior to being compelled by evolution to transform into an organism, matter was disindividuated, inorganic, and a mere multiplication of cells. (One thinks of Wotan’s unconscious will for self-renunciation in Wagner’s Ring cycle. Beyond all else the God strives to return to a state prior to individuation, a state of quintessence and homeostasis, foreshadowed at the beginning of Rheingold in the orchestra by an undifferentiated E chord, that becomes increasingly more complex and flowing.) Freud articulates the biological functioning of the drive as a yearning by our mortal soma cell to, via repetition-compulsion, return to a state of quiescence.

Lacan, building on Kojeve’s reading of the Hegelian dialectic and Freud’s death-drive, will explain his ‘mirror stage’ firmly within this tradition as recognition of, and attempt to mitigate, an ineradicable negativity at the heart of the Imaginary ego. This primordial lack becomes for the first step of our entry into the Symbolic order and hence becoming a ‘subject’.  The mirror stage is itself haunted by dialecticity. i.e. what Sean Homer calls “the idea of the individual subject – the self (thesis) – only makes sense in relation to another subject – an other (anti-thesis)…[W]e cannot be without the other and have to form a new concept, a collective ‘we’ subject (synthesis)”  Hegel’s Master/Slave [lordship/ bondage] dialectic is read by Kojeve as a “struggle of desire and recognition”, as a struggle to the death that “permeates the Imaginary…Though Lacan never explicitly says what the subject before the mirror stage is, his mirror stage implies a raw subjectivity resembling Hegel’s consciousness. This consciousness, perceiver of the Hegelian Thing, is less than self conscious because it lacks the minimal requirement for the discovery of self – another self. For consciousness to become conscious of an ‘I’, it must be ‘opposed to another’ Hegel says.”

Something else, something Negative, accompanies – and is co-responsible for, the Positive dimension of the ‘human subject’.

To be continued.


~ by dccohen on January 26, 2010.

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