on castration: the human condition as lack

(the following is an excerpt from my thesis)

Thus there is ‘nothing’ outside of the metaphysical system. ‘Nothing’ in one sense, that if meta-physika already implies an a priori and ideal abstraction away from the physical and material body, then there can be ‘nothing’ outside of this abstraction since an ideal ‘nothing’ would already be included within such a metaphysical system as just another ideality that exists within it, reduced in quality to the sameness that regulates all meta- physical concepts; concepts that are abstracted away from the physical without reference to the material difference of bodily marks. This would reflect the potency of an ideal eye that is incapable of being met with any form of resistance to its omni-penetrative gaze, for idealizations would know no limits- it knows the limits of ‘no’, of nothing- for by speaking it and re-form-ulating it in language, hence giving ‘form’ to ‘nothing’, ’nothing’ becomes yet another concept reduced to the sameness of all other concepts which receives their quality in representation from the gestalt91 of the phallus.So in one ‘sense’, there is nothing outside of metaphysics by virtue of everything-ideal being inclusive within meta-physics and its boundless imagination. However, in an-other sense, there is ‘nothing’ outside of the metaphysical system, that which is itself physical, that against which the gaze is met with blinding resistance, the barriers of the skin/membrane/hymen that marks the limits of his gaze and the beginnings of her body and blood. ‘Nothing’ would demarcate this inside that is outside metaphysics for it does not give itself to be seen. Within his system “there would be no such thing as woman. She…might be found in the betweens that occur in being…These gaps reopen the question of the ‘void,’ and…give rise to vigorous, horrified rejection and move to plug the hole with speculative… ‘organs.’”92 But even if man’s ideal eye could penetrate woman’s sex organ it would still be only an imaginary survey, an imagination which would be necessary to defer and repress his castration at the over-sight of ‘nothing.’ Thus this ‘nothing to be seen’ that is inside, the inside in which man is born and out of which he comes to-be-seen, would remain outside all metaphysical impositions and imaginings, relegated as refuse to be expelled, a social manifestation of an anal-eroticism that must be controlled, deferred and expunged outside his system, by phallic mandate.93The ‘nothing-to-be-seen’ that constitutes woman, both her lack of a sex organ on the outside and her darkness inside, would be the ‘unconscious’ of man; she would be that which he cannot ‘see’ par excellence, his blindspot. However, the ‘nothingness’ that constitutes woman, both inside and outside, is contingent upon the pre-existence of a passageway, an interval between the inside and out, a passage that permits the ‘coming- to-be’ that man is incapable of specularizing, a memory of his actual beginnings forgotten and expelled from his consciousness, from his metaphysical system, due to the evasion of an obvious paradox that he cannot resolve.94 Hence the imposition of a law, or the myth of law, to negate this truth in favor of an illusion? In her function of being that which allows man to symbolize his ‘unconscious’, woman will serve as a mirror through which man is able to see his backside- never mind that it’s an imaginary or reflected ‘truth’; for the further the abstraction, all the more the idealization holds true, and the closer one is in con-form-ity to the Good, to the Phallus.

It is not that female sexuality isn’t theorizable but that it involves something which can’t be seen (from the perspective of man) and hence not imaginable and without the possibility of being represented, at least not from an exterior position, nor from a distance that the gaze cannot wholly traverse. But the ‘thing’ that can’t be seen by man that woman ‘posseses’, the lack that she possesses, is the phallus, which would be his thing and not hers; in other words, what man cannot see is not her sex organ which is clearly there, but his own sex organ, and since he does not find the same thing there in her, he will label her as ‘other’, lack, absence, and nothing. So it is not that she has ‘nothing’, but only that the ‘nothing’ is what signifies her sex organ- for man- man identifies her sex organ as ‘nothing’, representing her sex organ in the concept ‘nothing’, thereby killing two birds with one stone- simultaneously overcoming his castration anxiety and nothingness. For man in actuality does not see ‘nothing’ but ‘something’ which he is unwilling to admit that he sees- the possibility of a passage between inside and out, a thing which he does not possess nor could ever understand. But instead of submitting to his own castration at the sight of her sex organ as that which he does not have nor can see, he idealizes this otherness into language. Man is able to come to grips with the unknown by naming it in language. The ‘nothing’ that man sees there is indeed something but it is not ‘nothing’ nor is it woman’s sex organ. It is nothing other than his own image- a castrated image, a castrated existence. What man sees there is that which constitutes his Being, a fragmented and disembodied image, a being castrated from itself; a castrated being that can only see his own fragmented and incomplete image, the lack of his own penis there. What he sees, or projects, onto woman is the lack of his penis, his penis missing on her which would only reflect his own lack; which exposes a search for his phallus that has been underway since his violent abortion and abstraction from the primordial m/other, an act of violence perpetrated by the father and maintained by the big Other, acts done in advance of his ‘coming into being’, the truth of his pre-history concealed from him by the repetition of the same phallic myths that society and politics uphold, by law. So man himself is searching for that which would represent himself, and he will delude himself into thinking that he has that which would grant him access to representation, a phallus, confirmed and reflected in the image of woman, albeit a fractured, damaged and disembodied image since woman represents lack. He could thereby only constitute his identity via a negative function, a mirrored inversion, and she will be that against which he can posit himself as presence and substance in opposition to her who has nothing to be seen.

Fractured and damaged, his is a his-torical condition that reflects the ‘lack’ inherent to masculinity, a lack that is the lack of a relation to the place of his actual origin, a relation to the m/other that has been prohibited by the father. Such is the necessary result of an abstraction that distorts, mirrors, and idealizes his own origin. Thus man finds his origin not at the sight of his thing, but at the sight of her thing reflect his, that refracts and confirms his image back to him. So then not only would woman constitute a lack (for man), but man himself would also be signified by an underlying lack that exposes the facade of that which supposedly represents his presence- the phallus, representative of the mask that conceals his lack.So long as both man and woman are constituted by lack, they will perpetually elude each other. So long as lack is determined by a privileged pole of subjectivity that itself is lacking, the interval and sexual-difference by which man and woman come to be without reference or reduction to the other will remain concealed. Sexual-difference can help us think through the ‘ideals’ that man values most, and temper these phallic ideals with a less nihilistic form of political discourse; and perhaps that which would resist such nihilism would not constitute a discourse at all. Intersubjectivity would remain possible only if reducing the other to the self-same is impossible; impossible due to the ‘nothing’ of the other that swallows up and renders impotent any gaze. Thus reducing alterity to the self-same would be impossible if two poles of subjectivity exist, and exist outside the purview of the metaphysical gaze.

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phallic myths upon which societies are erected

nearly every culture has its phallic myth upon which a civilization is founded and sustained. a civilization that valorizes imaginary phallic ideals of symbolic representation over and against what is other to it, which in this case is the public representation of feminine sexuality. these phallic myths are never negated nor overcome, but unconsciously re-incorporated and appropriated over time that reveals a nihilistic repetition of the phallic same (here’s looking at you ‘christianity’). in the west we have plato and the greeks, and in japan…they have steel penises. and the video below simply makes all the more evident how sexual indifference and a prevailing symbolic order continues to condition and inform governance, law and politics.

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the politics of parody: jesus christ, drag queen

i’ve been thinking about performativity and what that could mean existentially. by performativity, i dont mean the ways in which we imitate or mime certain roles that society imposes upon us such as acting out or reproducing masculine-heteronormative values. by performativity, i mean the embodied re-enactments which parody and thereby challenge and problematize normative assumptions. a prime example is the drag queen. where a man takes on the appearance of a woman. we see the outer performance of femininity but the body underneath the fabrication is male. but are we so sure? what we see is the representation of a woman, but clearly it is not, for it is a man dressed as a woman. and yet, the man who is compelled to dress as a woman may appear as a man insofar as his body visually refers to masculine biology, but ‘inside’ (whether emotionally or psychically), he is a woman- meaning, this man identifies with femininity. so we have a paradox or tension of two separate dichotomies. the man dressed as a woman and the woman embodied as a man. so which is it? preliminary answer: undecidable. at least for the one that stands outside the performance. and that’s the point to the performance, to render normative assumptions problematic. to subvert and interminably delay objectification, categorization, socialization and petrification.

(would not this impossible hermeneutic of the ‘drag queen’ open up an entirely new horizon against which one could understand the person of christ? of performativity par excellence perhaps? the same paradox and question can be posed when inquiring about the nature of this god-man. is it the god embodied as a human or the human clothed as god? i suspend these thoughts for now)

the question that i raise is: to what extent can performance be resistance, and to what extent self-deception? without a doubt the performance can call into question socio-political norms that have been petrified (all my references to petrification are allusions to the stone tables of the mosaic law, the divine, frozen in stone, cold and dead), like male heteronormativity, and privilege certain bodies over and against others. violence is always violence against the body. more specifically, against one’s own body. violence against another is violence against one’s own body. while it is not within the scope of this post to spell out just what the intimate relation between violence and the body is, i’ll simply say that at the root of violence is a primordial sado-masochism that is the result of our being disembodied the moment we enter into language (it might help to read this). performativity challenges such violence against the body by projecting a counter-body, one that doesn’t conform to norms and that dissimulates the prevailing linguistic order and sexual-symbolic representation.

however, part of me is not so sold on the efficacy of performativity just yet. when i consider dressing in drag, the question that arises is: why? sure, dressing as a woman while i give a public presentation on masculine totalitarianism may be comic, ironic, subversive and all (which is also why it is frustrating how comedies are never nominated for best picture) but wouldnt dressing in drag just as equally mask over the fact that i’m…for the sake of argument, ‘chinese’? but of course, neither am i just simply chinese either. the platitude ‘just be yourself’ comes to mind…and i mean to appropriate it not in a way where being oneself is simply being however culture has conditioned one to behave, but a being-yourself in the authentic sense, prior to colonization by capitalistic forces, prior to the identification with phallic language. indeed, not so easy when ‘yourself’ is written over by said culture. however, when that self is other than what is normative, things get interesting.

being chinese, or more generally being asian, in non-asian contexts is all too often associated with passivity, which is also associated with femininity in contrast to masculine aggressivity. in regards to the passivity mentioned in the jeremy lin message above, it’s not passivity.. only the appearance of it. for one, passivity, is a desire to listen before speaking. it can also be respect or reverence or hospitality. sure there’s pros and cons depending on situations. but within a masculine context, passivity will always represent a certain ‘lack’ or absence of a phallic signifier. but we should not be so quick to equate passivity with deficit, for it is only in the mode of passivity that we can ever come to know an Other or hear a Call. one cannot speak oneself into existence. prior to our self-assumption to the nominative position, we were given into existence by a dative, by a vocative- by being in the mode of passivity. which problematizes performance if performance is always an active phenomenon. can performance be passive? in a way that subverts auto-aggressive tendencies in capitalistic logic? that undermines the aggressivity of the masculine symbolic in general?

to a certain extent i can identify with this experience of being-passive. from what i’ve gathered so far, it seems like philosophy is not all that different from the normal working world where being aggressive goes a long way in networking, upward mobility, gaining social capital, etcetc. the thing is, for me, i cant do that performance and think or be creative at the same time. i cant force myself to be aggressive and simultaneously do philosophy. at least not honest philosophy..or work of a certain academic quality. i ‘lack’ a certain phallic quality that could be recognized and accepted as ‘good’ and ‘philosophy’. so does that mean there’s no future for me in this? unless i embrace a prevailing symbolic order? unless i embrace masculinity and violence against my own body, further disembodying myself? to what extent should i bracket myself and just embrace the act? these, the questions for any feminist academic. but this wouldnt be performativity anymore, it would not be resistance anymore than it’d be compliance. what the hell is performativity other than a form of resistance for the normal against the normal? performativity for minorities would be contrary to the point. but in regards to ‘becoming-minority’ (to borrow from deleuze, sorry for the name-drop) i’m struggling to see the point, if the point is for some of us to just be ourselves when being ourselves sustains the status quo and not being ourselves masks over who we are thus also…sustaining the status quo, the prevailing symbolic order.

in a world that reduces all images to the mirror-likeness reflected on our computer screens…what form of resistance is really possible anymore? form or fluidity? when drag queens are no longer shocking. when war is no longer shocking. when nothing is shocking anymore. at least… not when these are mediated via mirrors and screens. or stone tablets. or even the myth of a pre-reflective consciousness. what does it mean to have a body marked up and down by what is deeply personal/private? and is its representation in the public/political possible without simply being reduced to the phallic-same, reduced in reference to the masculine? are we so transitivistic that we need to wage war against our own bodies just to feel..what is searing to the touch, the other’s objectivizing gaze? for a brief second i had pinned some hopes on the concept of performativity. or problematicity. before realizing these were just empty conceptual veils reduplicating the minoritized experience for a majority. perhaps thats stating it rather crudely. and its always too early to abandon any idea. but seeing this ‘jeremy lin is a joke’ post triggered a dose of hyperreality for me. he IS passive. as am i. always as such relative to big brOther. who takes up the law of the father to repress the m/other. so now what? withdrawl? make war for signification? for an impossible equal representation? are we back at hegel and economy? is it really all just about an either/or of.. either master signifier or state of nature? either we assimilate ourselves into masculine/capitalistic logic or we descend into an anarchic war of all against all? is there no way out of this oedipal matrix?

relative to big brOther- for example, the capitalistic logic of the modern welfare state that imposes its normative values upon civil society- there can be no possibility of intersubjectivity, of any notion of ‘equal’ representation. the best we can hope for is difference in representation. a difference that is absent from washington. the left and right speak the same language- the language of the phallic-same- and reference the same symbolic order- that of economy. what performance then, can subvert, challenge or call into question in a public/political space this logic of the same? if we return to the dissimulating phenomenon of the drag queen, we realize that this figure is irreducible to any one category, indeed for this figure there can be no form of representation or re-presentation for the drag queen is herself already a re-presentation, an embodied representation. distinct from phallic representation that requires an object posited at a distance, the drag queen’s representation is one that is not spatially defined but immanently constituted. she is, insofar as she references her own bodily tension. and it’s important to remember here that perhaps what is at the root of human self-awakening is the realization that one’s bodily existence has been shackled and imprisoned, that it’s not until we feel our very own bodies confined and restricted that we begin to struggle against ‘evil’. it is embodiment that is at issue. the drag queen establishes her own counterpublic, her own party of governance in her performance and draws all queers together in resistance to the prevailing phallic regimes of power. precisely because of the outrage that one’s sex and one’s body can be regulated by some moral/political/phallic law. the drag queen- an undecidable performance that undermines preconceived categories of man/woman, straight/gay (however, the same performativity is also found in the maternal figure, she who is in space but also carries space within her body. but perhaps this is a topic better suited for another post when i write about architecture more explicitly).

but of course, when i speak of the drag queen, of resistance against a logic of capitalism that imposes petrified cultural norms upon everyone thereby reducing difference to the same, essentially rendering democracy a relationship between the government and itself as opposed to with the people…when i speak of these things is it not the figure of christ, the paradox of the ineffable with the embodied, that queers, indeed, queries, calls into question, calls into queeriness all of the above assumptions? if we re-read all i’ve written up to this point, have i not problematized the naive and superficial christian ideology of a personal relationship, not with christ, but with one’s self? christianity should never find itself so comfortable and normative with itself. it should always feel a bit queer, if not overwhelmingly so. if performativity seems self-defeating it is only when there is no more mystery left to keep private, keep secret, keep elusive to the phallic gaze. was it not the embodiment of a divine performance some two thousand years ago that was meant to deconstruct a prevailing symbolic (mosaic) order and reconstruct one anew? but our fatal mistake was in thinking christ a man. thus neutered. by assimilation, incorporation, and sublation into the very masculine economy s/he was meant to overcome. indeed, did we not crucify him/her? repetition of an oedipal drama? violence against the body that embodied the divine performance simply because we could not understand the performance? its hidden femininity? its inversion of space? of public space? political space? and architecture? of fluidity over form? an archi-texture? the first-material, the maternal fluidity? but ‘G_D’ had promised never to hit the reset button via another flood. indeed, this is what christ would have unveiled, another, perhaps final flood. the inversion of masculine form by feminine fluidity. of the external by the internal. death and rebirth by fluidity. not form. but we murdered him, and called it a sacrifice. thus the primary myth of sacrifice that represses a more primordial sacrifice- that of the mother. the closing of the womb. thus barred from rebirth, man must settle for death.

that last paragraph could be fleshed out into another thesis entirely. or two or three. there’s a lot of packed symbolic references that i have not explained. the point is, yet again, that sexual indifference, or the indifference towards sexual difference, represents for me, the end of human freedom, is the banner of nihilsm’s reign under which we’ve been living since time immemorial.

to be continued…

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