Deckard to Tyrell: ‘How can it not know what it is?’
Gothic Materialism, Second Principle: There are no subjects, there is only subject-Matter. Selves are no more immaterial than electronic packets. Private persons are […] simulacra.
By now you really shouldn’t expect anything more, but the robust intransigence of Human Security in the face of challenges from Cold Rationalism is astonishing.
Take Freud and psychoanalysis. Everyone thinks they know what Freud says, it’s all about sex*, been there, done that, cognitive psychology has refuted it via empirical research, normal service has been resumed.
Freud himself provided the machinery for understanding this immuno-response.
What Freud’s discoveries – like those of Darwin before him – provoke in the speaking animal is trauma, and the automatic response to trauma is shutdown, anaestheticization. This thing that is happening to me cannot be happening to me. Hence the otherwise inexplicable outbursts of Hot Blooded Males (HBMs) when confronted with Cold Rationalism. You tend to think, ‘My god, can’t they read?’ but then realise that what you are up against is – as, it seems, they will freely admit – not anything rational, but a programmed autonomic response from deep in the Mammalian defence strata.
They might as well just bare their teeth.
What Human Security defends is a species narcissism, a conviction that homo sapiens are special. Psychoanalyis acknowledges that the speaking animal has been cursed by a feeling of its own specialness. But it does more than challenge this notion of specialness, it shows that, yes, there is something unique about human beings, but this uniqueness is above all the source of specifically human miseries.
Speech – in particular in its form of the ‘internal dialogue’ – is the form of our curse. The speaking animal can think, It thinks; unlike other animals, it tells itself, it can reflect upon itself and its condition. And yet, as Schopenhauer realised, we are the unhappy animal precisely because we are incapable of animal narcissism, of living in the present, of just being what we are. For the speaking animal, things – including the animal itself – do not coincide with themselves. This is the Schopenhauerian/ Freudian/ Lacanian version of the Fall (The Fall, incidentally, is the only aspect of Christianity about which Schopenhauer is not contemptuous).
Trapped in the world of Words – or, to be more accurate, the world in which Words and Things do not quite coincide – the speaking animal can either seek to commensurate itself with the arbitrary, Alice-in-Wonderland signifying labyrinth in which it is inserted and identify with the Symbolic order, or else, grotesquely and impossibly, seek to escape back to what preceded signification – the myth of the ‘Continunous’, the pre-separate, the Whole. In Lacanian terms, this means a fixation on the Imaginary.
Crucially, both these options are tragic. Those who identify with the Symbolic order are the neurotics marked by the No/Name of the Father, defenders of a ‘reality principle’ which, far from being generated from any contact with the Real, is a kind of articulation of the Symbolic order itself, the vampiric voice of the big Other, which does not exist, but whose mortifying effects are evident in every human CNS. By contrast, those who identify with the Imaginary refuse the reality principle, but inevitably confirm it, since their bid to be re-united with the maternal body (and hence to cease to be) cannot succeed.
Clearly, this system offers nothing but a the opportunity to select your agony: the famous Hobson’s choice between ordinary misery and anguished insanity that Freud, idenifying with the Name/ No of the Father, famously offered. But, far from being a rejection of Freud, the schizoanalytic critique of psychonalysis – like the one presented simultaneously by Irigaray – proceeds on strictly Freudian principles. Freud has provided us with the Radical Enlightenment description of the Human OS = Anthropol, the speaking animal prison police. The question to be posed, then, is why ally yourself with Anthropol? Why insert yourself in the Symbolic order in this way? Why transcendentalize the arbitrary confections dreamt up by a particular animal’s socio-biotic coding? And these questions are no more than a repetition of the endlessly reiterating starting point of psychoanalysis, which was always, even before Freud wrote the essay of that name, located beyond the pleasure principle.
What Freud had discovered in the consulting rooms of Vienna was essentially a rediscovery of what Spinoza had demonstrated three centuries before in Amsterdam. Far from being a rational agent, the speaking animal is a vicious mammal with a seemingly infinite capacity to devise ways to cause itself damage.
There is a deliciously, savagely ironic quality to this pain-machine, as
it operates by seeking to reduce tension in the human organism. Since the organism simultaneously experiences the reality principle as an intolerable pressure and also knows, at the level of the unconscious, that its identity nevertheless depends upon submitting to the symbolic order, it will seek to escape the tension that it is by various means of self-destruction. The famous pessimism of Freud’s works of the Twenties and Thirties arose from confronting this hideous machine both on his couch in the form of individual psychopathologies and in the surrounding European culture, which had thrown itself into a hellish war whose only rationale, Freud conjectured, could be found in a libidinal impulse towards auto-annihilation. Micro and macro Thanatos, the death drive manifested in individual neurosis and species level suicide.
Now, in analysing the tendency of human beings to destroy themselves, Freud is much more ready to count himself as the successor of Nietzsche than of Spinoza. Freud was enthused by Nietzsche’s psychology of anthropoid self-laceration, and these analyses, as presented in their most developed form in The Genealogy of Morals, also prove indispensable to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus.
These are the most important passages in Nietzsche’s writings, and certain other of Nietzsche’s most significant ideas – especially his idea of motivational analysis, that we should look to the philosopher for the key to the philosophy – feed into the psychonalytic truism that there is no ‘objectivity’; in other words, there is no libidinal neutrality, everything that we want has designs upon us.
But Nietzsche also lends himself to appropriation by the ideologues of the cultural logic of late capitalism.
The first chapter of Beyond Good and Evil effectively argues that ad hominem attacks are not only justified, they are the only type of legitimate philosophy. But Nietzsche’s assaults on philosophers are not even well-substantiated; they are a kind of a priori ad hominem attacks along the lines of, ‘You MUST be saying this because…..’ Nietzsche presents, for instance, Spinoza as a loner and failure, something that was much more of Nietzsche himself than of Spinoza if we are to believe the biographical accounts.
Nietzsche’s great enemy, the foe to which he keeps returning, is Indifferentistm, as expressed through the philosophies of Spinoza, Kant , Schopenauer and the Stoics. What is his problem with these thinkers for Nietzsche? It is not that he substantively disagrees with them about their philosophical descriptions of the world. It could hardly be that: Nietzsche’s critique of the Cartesian cogito had already been executed by Kant, while his dismissal of anthropomorphic and absolutist conceptions of Good and Evil (along with many other of his major conceptual commitments) had been rehearsed by Spinoza.
You begin to suspect, rather, that it is the proximity of Nietzsche’s thought to the Indiferentists which provokes his agitation. His objections are at a meta-level, and are in essence twofold.
First, the Indifferentists pretend to speak from a truth that exceeds their own embodied perspective. In Nietzsche’s outrage here, you can hear a pre-echo of all the doxas that will be passed off as radical in the liberal academy in the late twentieth century. Nietzsche may well have been the first philosopher to make the disastrous move that has now become a commonplace amongst proponents of the ‘politics’ of difference: from the obvious truth that many philosophies affecting to speak from universality have in fact expressed, albeit unconsciously in many cases, a partial, white male perspective, they conclude that universality is ITSELF white and male. The way is then open to multiplication and marketing of ‘differences’, and the ‘politics’ of solipsism, one of Kapitalism’s greatest ideologoical weapons.
Secondly, Nietzsche complains, the indifferentists are too detached, not EXCITED enough. They believe, erroneously according to Nietzsche, that they can SUBDUE their passions. Such a subduing is not possible, of course (the will to subdue the will is just another will) and, besides, it is undesirable. Indifference is a denial of perspectivity, the very condition of life.
Perspectivity may well be the condition of life, but why be on the side of life? Freud’s painstaking analyses and speculations in Beyond the Pleasure Principle have established that all vital energies are ultimately in the service of death; Thanatos runs the organic show from the very start and up to the very End: life is a deviation on the way to death. Deleuze and Guattari try and save vitalism with the notion of ‘non-organic life’ , but they are avoiding, or at least deflecting, the insight that Spinoza (whose impersonal mechanics had no place for the life-death distinction). Schopehnauer, Freud and Lacan based their work upon: the perception of an anorganic flatline which manufactures the so-called vital as part of its indifferent process of endless production without final cause. Kant called this pursposiveness without purpose, Schopenhauer blind will, Freud, Thanatos.
Nietzsche saw himself breaking away from Schopenhauer’s pessimism by rejecting what he saw as his monism. There is only life, life is only will, we must affirm the will. In other words, we must affirm what we are (=) becoming. Hence Nietzsche’s allegedly impersonal philosophy – which decries subjectivity as a kind of contamination of thought by grammar – ends up as an Egotism alll but indistinguishable from a cult of personality.
The danger, the great temptation, is to retain the dualism between the impersonal and the personal that Freud had so expertly dismantled. Ray put this to me very well once: we cannot think in terms of an opposition between the personal and the impersonal, as if granny doing her knitting was the personal, and the impersonal was the remorseless, gleaming wheels of the Kaptitalist megamachine. No. Granny too is impersonal, and the Kapitalist megamachine produces personality alongside cars and computers.
The great Cold Rationalist lesson is that everything in the so-called personal is in fact the product of impersonal processes of cause and effect which, in principle if not in fact, could be delineated very precisely. And this act of delineation, this stepping outside the character armour that we have confused with ourselves, is what freedom is.
Zizek puts this brilliantly in Tarrying with the Negative, in his analysis of Blade Runner:
‘Blade Runner … gives a double twist to the commonsense distinction between human and android. Man is a replicant who does not know it; yet, if this were all, the film would involve a simplistic reductionist notion that our self-experience qua free “human” agents is an illusion founded upon our ignorance of the causal nexus which regulate our lives. For this reason, we should supplement the former statement: it is only when, at the level of the enunciated content, I assume my replicant status, that, at the level of enunciation, I become a truly human subject. “I am a replicant” is the statement of the subject in its purest – the same as in Althusser’s theory of ideology where the statement “I am in ideology” is the only way for me to truly avoid the vicious circle of ideology (in the Spinozean version of it: the awareness that nothing can ever escape the grasp of necessity is the only way for us to be truly free). In short, the implicit thesis of Blade Runner is that the replicants are pure subjects precisely insofar as they testify that every positive, substantial content, inclusive of the most intimate fantasies, is not their own, but already implanted.** In this precise sense, the subject is by definition nostalgic, a subject of loss.’ (40-41)
It is for this reason that Deleuze-Guttari say that the subject arrives ‘at the end’ – the product of a machinic process which misrecognizes itself as the process’s final cause. Kapitalism requires you to identify with yourself as ‘the subject of loss’, the crippled neurotic who lacks the power to act, sentimentally attached to an interiority which was never there.
Theism has retreated, not vanished. The conviction that there is a Factor X, some inexplicable, ineffable residue over and above genetics, neurology and social coding that makes you you – this is the ‘soul supersition’ that Nietzsche rightly exoriated. It is the belief that the human is ultimately explicable in biographical and personal terms which Cold Rationalism emphatically rejects, maintaining, rather, that the personal and the biographical are only explicable in machinic and impersonal terms.
All of which is why ignoring or extirpating references to the so-called personal on k-punk would be very obviously failing to achieve Spinozist rational consistency. Spinoza responds in advance to Nietzsche’s injunction that philosophy must be subordinated to action – it is how we live that matters, not the consistency of our thought (unlike Nietzsche, however, Spinoza recognizes that we cannot just produce Bubble Economic Matrix Bedtime stories at will just to make life better for ourselves). But the scandal of Spinoza’s thought is that it allies LOGICAL consistency with ETHICAL consistency. Human behaviour is explicable using the same geometric grids that have been produced by mathematicians.
It is here that HBMs usually recoil in horror. But part of their antipathy is based upon the Neuromantic misunderstanding of reason and the rational, which it equates with a kind of rigorised commonsense (but, as Kant showed, commonsense is precisely that which cannot be ‘rigorised’). It is this sense of the rational that is invoked when, faced with anomalous phenomena, characters in films proclaim that ‘There must be a rational explanation for this’.
The anomalous is not irrational.
Reason is not commonsense.
Rationality does not disclose a world that fits with the Human OS scanning pattern at all.
Which is why Cold Rationalists are psychotics.
But that’s (the beginning of) another story.
* Freud says the opposite of course. For humans, there is no sex, in the ‘biological’ sense. Sex for speaking animals is nothing but signs. There is no desire for sex with the mother, since the so-called desire for sex with the mother is, in reality, a desire to have done with what both ‘sex’ and ‘the mother’ represent, i.e. organic individuation.
** As if to prove the point that all thought is manufactured, compare this with the sections in my thesis about Blade Runner. Zizek has been the major influence in allowing me to see that psychoanalysis, far from being troubled by what I was saying there, actually argued precisely that. Which is why it is still troubling to Human Security.