Epistemic Closure and the End of Conservatism

David Cameron had his chance last night to show why he would be a good prime minister for this country; to show that in the four and a half years he has been leader of opposition he has the intellectual pounce, the stomach to lead and to tackle the oncoming stresses and strains that this country will have to cope with in the coming years.

And again he fluffed it.

The immediate polls put him in the lead by a two points (and I’m not simply being partisan when I say I really cannot see how he came off best) but he was unable to answer many of the questions put to him (particularly on the question of tax cuts for the richest 3,000 estates), he was unable to swipe away criticism from both the Labour and liberal camp, and constantly appealed to “the last 13 years” as an answer in-itself, to score political points against Gordon Brown’s substantial and perceptive analysis of what has been good in the last few years under a Labour government, and what can be done to ensure nobody needlessly suffers in the future on the frontline.

It is still quite amazing that the Conservative party has not been able to secure the kind of punch that one would naturally assume after 13 years of being out of office – after all this is the safest place to play politics, criticising the incumbent. Cameron’s appeal to “the last 13 years” is obviously his weapon of choice, but he surely ought to be asking himself about the last (nearly) five years on the other side; it ought to be remembered that the most trustworthy polls put Cameron on at 34% – as the Mirror puts it: “almost exactly the vote for the deeply unpopular Michael Howard at the last general election.”

In America at the moment a current turn of phrase, “epistemic closure”, is trending by conservatives to describe the debasing of modern conservatism’s glorious legacy, first used in this context by libertarian writer and Economist blogger Julian Sanchez as short-hand for “ideological intolerance and misinformation”. The idea is to show that conservatism has hit a wall and is appealing to low, base politics of xenophobia or ad hominem attack, as opposed to its rich, great tradition.

British conservatism has had a fair deal of “epistemic closure” in recent years also, and it’s something for the left to consider when we vent our criticisms on the right wing. When we think of conservatism today we might erroneously think of Thatcher and Major – but they were merely leaders of the conservative party. For those that believe the lie of neo-liberal capitalism (that it opens up a space for us all to become a little bit rich, and turns the fixed triangle shaped class system into a flexible circle of freedoms) in the conservative camp would’ve surely hated what Thatcher was doing by listening to those woolly Austrian and Chicago-school libertarians.

We know now they had little to worry about.

But the Thatcher/Major legacy, truth be told, will be less seen in the scheme of things as expressions of conservatism, and seen more as a new and epochal means to counter working class empowerment and intolerance of the foreign other.

For this reason I had some respect for Respublica and Phillip Blond. Aside from all bloated, first year philosophy course, flower eating nonsense that he talks about on virtue and politicians (see Mr. Sagar’s cutting analysis), what Blond did succeed in doing was to show that conservatism in this country was not the sum of the Thatcher/Major epistemic closure, but something that could be committed to community and civic participation, and not simply at the beck and call of the markets (which is rightly seen as a perversion of conservatism of the type Disraeli would have aligned himself to).

Cameron was keen to pal-up with Blond in the early days, with that timeless gag about voting blue was to go green though with Blond to vote blue was to go red. With Blond’s hat-tipping to one nation conservatism, and Cameron’s “progressivism” (by which has always meant an emotional relationship with the NHS, and therefore informing the decision to keep it) the Tories had the chance to sweep up the centre ground and remain Europhobic enough to keep the right from joining the UK Independence party. In short, drop the nasty party image.  Cameron had five years to do that – and he failed. He now sits at same lonely table as the unpopular Michael Howard who may or may not be thinking what we’re all thinking.

If I was interested in politics to score points then I, as a Labour supporter and socialist, would not care a hoot about conservatism. But this is not the case. Conservatism is not the sum total of xenophobia, big business and nastiness; this is its own expression of epistemic closure. But what almost five years of David Cameron as leader of the opposition and leader of the Conservative party has shown is that the return to real conservatism has botched. And this does not bade well considering the conditions in which that project was tested – 13 years out of office, a melee of leaders of all shapes and sizes, a global recession, and still they couldn’t exploit this enough – to think everyone in their camp assumed it would be a walkover.

Cameron himself is the embodiment of conservative closure; and if he is allowed anywhere near office after May 6th, we can only expect stagnancy and immaturity.

Don’t vote Respect

The Respect party bus keeps driving up and down Limeharbour, on the road where I work next to Canary Wharf. I hear the voice of George Galloway bellowing incoherent drool for about three seconds every so often, before turning to look seeing a red blur in motion with the face of their Bethnal Green and Bow candidate Abjol Miah.

A man holding a peace sign waves, but I don’t wave back for two reasons, one serious the other not so serious.

The not so serious reason is that George Galloway recently said to the Wharf newspaper “Tim Archer says Canary Wharf is part of us but there are about 100,000 people working there and just seven per cent live in Tower Hamlets”.

I feel slightly implied in this, but I just generally feel this is a bad move. He follows it up by saying that ASBOs should be rolled out to bankers, which for the ones that gamble and steal our paddles when we drift off into the shit creek might be letting them off lightly, but I can’t see what he means by saying this – are Canary Wharf workers settlers-cum-beneficiaries of imperialist arms deals? Not me sir.

The second reason why I didn’t wave back is because I feel Respect is a symbol of a great deal wrong with the modern left.

The Respect party is still grounded on some very disturbing attitudes and is allied with some disturbing characters.

To go through them all here would be too much like repeating the same old hat, but I will note a few elements that may have been missed or forgotten about while thinking about “bigotgate“:

George Galloway, the firearm of the Respect party, once said:

Hizbollah is leading that resistance [in Palestine]. I do not hesitate to say, and Blair and his law officers may take note, that I glorify that resistance.

I glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement, and I glorify the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

Were this just a SWaPpy flunky then you might simply call him or her stupid for applying that ever-dangerous rule my enemy’s enemy is my friend. But this is Galloway; no idiot – why should he glorify Sheikh Sayed Hassan Nasrallah?

This chap said that implementing Khomeini’s fatwa on Rushdie would have curbed all future insults to the prophet.

He also goes further than most on the subject of Jews. Two examples given on his wikipedia page quote him as saying:

  • According to Shaul Shai, Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech delivered in Beirut and aired on Al-Manar TV in September 28, 2001: “What do the Jews want? They want security and money. Throughout history the Jews have been Allah’s most cowardly and avaricious creatures. If you look all over the world, you will find no one more miserly or greedy than they are.”.
  • In a 1998 speech marking the Day of Ashura, and published in what was Hassan Nasrallah’s official website at that time, Nasrallah referred to Israel as “the state of the grandsons of apes and pigs – the Zionist Jews” and condemned them as “the murderers of the prophets. “The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a pro-Israel media watchdog group, MEMRI, and Shaul Shai interpret this language as broadly antisemitic.

Respect have split ways with Lindsey German now, but not for reasons of extremism. She has said before:

whatever disagreements I have with Hamas and Hezbollah, I would rather be in their camp”. And if she lived in Palestine or Lebanon, she probably would be – quite literally. She condemned the language of imperialism, which pretends that “they want democracy. Democracy in the Middle East is Hamas, is Hezbollah.

This is simply a crazy line; and is not absurd to hear among the ranks of SWaPpies/Respect.

Another that Respect has not made efforts to distance from is Dr Azzam Tamimi. To his credit his support of Hamas is on the condition that they change their anti-Semitic charter. Great. But this is not to justify further comments, namely:

“Killing Civilians is fine if it produces results”

“Dying for your beliefs is just”

“Arab women “ask for” domestic violence, and believes thieves should be punished by cutting off their hands”

Bottom line. Respect is not a party of the left; it is a party of nuts.

Brentwood newspaper cozies up to BNP

Last year I was horrified to see on my local newspaper website an advert by the BNP. This year things are a little more serious for one Essex newspaper.

Martin McNeill, the editorial director for Newsquest, who own Basildon Echo among others, on which website the advert appeared, made the excuse to Jon Slattery that:

We are accepting paid-for advertising from any political parties or candidates standing in the current elections. I appreciate how strongly many people feel about the BNP, but it would be undemocratic and against the principle of free speech to refuse to accept any party’s advertising provided it falls within our guidelines.

It might explain this Essex newspaper having its hands tied – though I think the excuse is rather a lame kop-out. But this article in Brentwood will not be able to carry the same excuse off.

It reads:

“The party operates under a veil of secrecy to protect members from those who oppose their beliefs and did not reveal the location of the meeting until just minutes before it was due to start. With the pub set to become a regular meeting place for the new group, they have asked us not to reveal where it is.

“Christine Mitchell, a 68-year-old grandmother from Chelmsford, will be running the branch from here on in. Mrs Mitchell, who is contesting the newly created Saffron Walden seat in the general election on May 6, said: ‘We are fighting for British jobs for British workers, that is the start but we are standing for other reasons – crime rates, the state of the education system and the fact MPs have stolen from the public.’

The former Conservative leader of Westminster Council, Peter Strudwick, spoke for more than an hour during the meeting, rallying support for what he called “ideologies” for the future…

“Searching faces scoured the room until a man who had until then sat quietly in the corner, put his hand up to pledge £100. Others then thrust crisp £50 notes in the pot before the less well-off handed over their screwed up £10 and £20 notes. There was much applause and hand shaking as the money came flooding in, uniting the room in the campaign to bring about radical change.”

The last line is of course the most disturbing; this isn’t just an account of the meeting, it ends in a partisan way, not challenging the notion that the BNP are “radical change” – which of course might be true, but not in any way to be celebrated or uncontested.

As just a brief conclusion, I will point out that this is Essex is part of the Essex Chronicle, which in turn is owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust, which of course owns the Daily Mail. Not that that means anything of course.

(H/T left foot forward)

The Fallacy of Sharia Law

As was proven by Sigmund Freud, in his final book on Moses, the best way to undercut someone’s argument is by repositioning that which their critique rests upon; for example Freud had a clear choice when the Nazi’s went from intimidating Jewish households to eliminating them – he could hurl abuse at Nazism, or radically rearticulate the grounds on which Judaism were built upon.

He chose the latter; the writing of one psychoanalyst could not take down a whole army, so he decided to turn the pen on himself, and his race, in order to knock off balance the understanding of Jewish history that the Nazi’s thought they had nailed.

Moses, Freud mentions in his book, written while exiled in Britain before he died, was an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten, and not, as is erroneously assumed, originally Hebrew. As such, he told Arnold Zweig in a letter, “Moses created the Jews” as well as noting that “it was not God who chose the Jews … but Moses.”

Instead of writing antagonistic polemic towards the fascists, like many other exiled Jews had, he aimed to show that everything the Nazi’s thought they knew about the Jews was wrong, instead of accepting the Nazi’s knowledge and arguing from the perspective of justice alone (if there was anyone who could attack the psyche in such a way, it was Freud).

It is one thing simply to put up a defense to someone’s crazy ideas; but the real way in which to throw their argument off course is to show that everything they know is wrong, even by searching from within the tradition that they ascribe themselves to, in order to show that everything they know even about themselves is wrong.

This is what I aimed to do on the subject of the far right within Islam – and what I continue to do with Freud’s method as my mentoring method – throw off the enemy’s argument by creating conditions where they doubt their knowledge, and furthermore their self-knowledge.

But this time it is on sharia law, and how Muslims interact with it in so-called non-Muslim jurisdictions (such as the UK).

In February 2008, in response to Rowan Williams’ comment on the (“unavoidable”) role sharia law has in UK law, Professor Shaheen Ali of Warwick university commented on the “current debate around the place of ‘Islamic Law’ within the UK legal framework“. She noted some very interesting things which I will outline here, but still recommend following the above link and listening to for yourself.

In her introduction to what Sharia law is, to put the argument in its correct context, she pointed out that:

  • sharia by defintion is a code of life; but not legally enforceable rules and principles
  • there are 7 denominations from where the so-called Islamic law can be ascertained; 4 on the Sunni side, as well as the many sets and subsets that exist within the Shia strain of though – and they very much fail to find convergence between themselves
  • there are 57 muslim jurisdictions in the world that appeal to different legal precepts – varying significantly from schools of thought from in Iran to Malaysia to Saudi Arabia
  • to try and introduce all those different perspectives in to the UK legal system by the 10% + of Muslims in UK would be very problematic indeed

And with regard to what the laws have to say about how a Muslim is to conduct oneself in a non-Muslim country, Shaheen Ali contests that:

  • there is already a code of practice on how a Muslim conducts themselves and what  their obligations viz-a-viz the country to which they now call home
  • Britain affords a legal system to all its habitants and is therefore congruent with Islam and social justice
  • Britain does not put a curb on the practice of the 5 pillars of Islam (Shahada – the professing of oneself to be a Muslim; Salat – prayer; Zakat – to give to charity; Sawm – the ritual fasting; Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca), therefore the laws here must be respected by Muslims, stipulated, Professor Ali states, by “Islamic law”.

Bridget Prentice, Justic Minister, at a Westminster Hall debate, said on the subject:

Nothing in the law in England and Wales prevents people from abiding by sharia principles if they wish to do so, provided that it does not conflict with the law in England and Wales. If it did, the law in England and Wales would prevail.

For Professor Ali sharia principles are personal codes regarding religious codes, but the stereotypes of cutting limbs off as punishment, and the social exclusion of women is what is thought of by sharia – a point she blames the media for.

But that is not to say these stereotypes are not perpetuated by some Muslims themselves; only Professor Ali is doing as Freud did and formulating an argument that questions the foundations of the enemy’s knowledge. For those to whom sharia law means Islamicising Europe should have their argument stunted significantly by the words of Shaheen Ali.

Another marker we might also like to look out for is what counts as official Islamophobia (a term subject to much debate and confusion). To want to do damage to one who insults Islam is wrong beyond comprehension and inadvertently suggests the inability of such a person to debate on intellectual terms (it is no coincidence that sentiments such as this one shortly follow views that sharia law replace all existing forms of law – like a pluralistic law which is able to inhabit sharia law closer to how Ali terms it, and how Prentice, above, noted it). For Ali the only time when a Muslim should feel they can’t be a Muslim and respect the law of the country in which they inhabit is when they are unable to practice the 5 pillars as mentioned above.

Although what Ali has said won’t stop unpalatable views from far right elements within Islam that the UK is un-Islamic and that “soldiers of Islam” should rise up, it does show how wrong they are, not simply from one meeker opinion to theirs, but is even wrong within the context of Islam, which they are supposedly voicing.

Freud did not simply say to the Nazi’s that they were wrong in his opinion; he showed how the grounds for their knowledge were obscured, and it is precisely this which Professor Shaheen Ali has done to dangerous voices on the conservative and fascistic schools of thought within Islam; for which we on the side of democracy and justice should be grateful.

Be careful when picking on George Galloway

I reminded myself of this clip from 2007 – love him or loathe him, if you’re going to pick a fight with gorgeous George, do a bit of prep, he’s not a soft touch on the subject of Iran (skip to 04.32).

I was also walking through Bow last night; scary looking person running for Respect, weird posters.

The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 5/5

(Written 2008)

This does remain a problematic of cyborg theory; that how do “normal” heterosexual unions exist alongside forms of cyborg enjoyment? Haraway has only described the post-genderedness of the cyborg, and not the transition from a gendered to a post-gendered world. The cyborg manifesto is a guideline for socialist-feminists to embrace an affinity and partial identity due to constant mediation, but at this stage the cyborg is still observed by the laws that pre-date it.

Another example of someone who drives for what I call cyborg enjoyment is a girl called Rebecca as described by Robin B. Hamman in his amusingly named M.A. thesis Cyborgasms: Cybersex Amongst Multiple-Selves and Cyborgs in the Narrow-Bandwidth Space of America Online Chat Rooms. Firstly I will describe Rebecca then I will offer comment after. Rebecca is a third year student and someone who enjoys cybersex, her preferred site for this activity is an AOL chat room. She does not feel that casual sex in the real world is morally appropriate, but presumably, not wanting to deny herself satisfaction she engages in sex online. Rebecca rarely has cybersex with men after she has had phone sex with them. To quote Hamman “she is more self-conscious on the telephone than she is online and feels that cybersex is more pleasurable because she has fewer inhibitions there” (para 58). Rebecca admits that she achieves orgasm faster during cybersex than if she were to engage in solitary masturbation and that she was once pursued by a man who “cyberstalked” her and obtained her phone number.

It is interesting that Rebecca should rarely have cybersex with men after she has had phone sex with them, and that she feels more self-conscious on the telephone. This is where I feel the Multiple-Selves part of Hamman’s title is important, Rebecca is able to hide behind a screen during cybersex and that on the phone the voice attached to her real self is given. What is more, fewer inhibitions during cybersex lead to a more pleasurable experience. What I have mentioned about the deontologicizing aspect of jouissance may apply here to Rebecca. Bearing in mind Rebecca has not admitted to being scared of physical sex, indeed it seems she does partake in it, only it goes against her morals to engage in it casually, but what appeals her to cybersex is that there is little she feels she cannot do, that there are no limits. Indeed when one is multiple-selved as one is online (behind the screen) there are no limits, unlike when there is one self involved, as she feels phone sex is more likely to reveal. If this is the case with phone sex, physical sex must impose these same limits. As I have mentioned before of Erika, she feels she isn’t satisfied when she has inhibitions, when we are given a glimpse of what Erika does do for satisfaction, we only then realize the full weight of those inhibitions. Since there is an element of satisfaction for Rebecca revealed only during cybersex which is prohibited during other forms of sex, we have realized an example of what cyborg enjoyment could be. One who engages in cybersex, it seems, avoids prohibitions encountered elsewhere. Could experiences like this be the future of enjoyment? The only thing obstructing this, perhaps, is the real-world reality principle, characterized in Rebecca’s experience as the ‘cyberstalker’ who obtained her phone number.

In a few years time cybersex will seem like a most outdated form of cyborg enjoyment. On the market there are more gadgets promising pure pleasure than there are promising to simulate the (hetero-)sexual activity in its totality. More electronic products are available that stimulate the body rather than simulate the physical engagement; strange that the market accommodates for those who seek jouissance over plasir substitutes.

But I will avoid being misunderstood as pursuing the argument that cyborg enjoyment is simply a new era of virtual sex toys – this is not my focus at all. My nexus is this: jouissance as the deontological self-enclosed experience perfectly encapsulates Haraway’s notion of the cyborg as partial rather than whole (or, not-all, pastoute). Jouissance is itself a ‘border war’ – at once driven to exceed the pleasure principle as defined by the symbolic order, but also that jouissance requires more (Encore!) than the phallus, that it requires Woman to be more than she is ontologically constituted to be. Indeed the cyborg is the only theory which promises partiality of masculinity, thus an injunction into the symbolic order, which can maintain the guarantee of sanity – the positive element of the symbolic order. Moreover, the cyborg theory is the premise that humans are already bound in their techno-scientific environs, the excess of life that is jouissance is also mediated by these same environmental factors.

To recap, for Woman, the death drive can be the drive towards deviating a given ontological constitution, but is hindered by the reality principle. Since for the cyborg there is no gender the cyborg world will not be constituted upon phallocentrism – the Haraway-Lacanian cyborg might be what feminist sexual politics has been searching for. The problem concerning real-world reality principles may be temporary according to cyborg theorists, but nonetheless it remains a problem. Though, on the plus side, the cyborg does provide another shift for the Lacanian-Feminists.


The infamous picture of Donna Haraway and her dog can be found here

Cited Works

Abraham, Karl. Selected Papers on Psychoanalysis. Great Britian: Hogarth Press LTD, 1979.

Anderson, Robert W. “Body Parts That Matter: Frankenstein, or The Modern Cyborg.” [http://www.womenwriters.net/editorials/anderson1.htm] (1 Jun 2008)

Benvenuto, Bice and Roger Kennedy. The Works of Jacques Lacan: An Introduction. Great Britain: Free Association Books LTD, 1986

Brennan, Teresa. Lacan After History. London: Routledge, 1993

Grosz, Elizabeth. Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction. London: Routledge, 1990

Hamman, Robin B. “Cyborgasms: Cybersex Amongst Multiple-Selves and Cyborgs in the Narrow-Bandwidth Space of America Online Chat Rooms.”

[http://cybersoc.blogs.com/cyborgasms.html] (1 Jun 2008)

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The

Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991

____________”The Birth of the Kennel” (Aug 2000 Lecture, European Graduate School) [http://uk.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=C017E496EEE63132] (1 Jun


______________”The Promise of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others” [http://www.egs.edu/faculty/haraway/haraway-the-promises-of-

monsters.html] (1 Jun 2008)

Hayles, Katherine N. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999

Lacan, Jacques. Encore!: On feminine sexuality : the limits of love and knowledge. New York: Norton, 1998

Mahjouri, Nadia. “Techno-Maternity: Rethinking the Possibilities of Reproductive Technologies.” thirdspace 4/1 (month, year) [http://www.thirdspace.ca/vol4/4_1

_Mahjouri.htm] (1 Jun 2008)

World Net Daily (USA) “Texas megachurch minister caught in Internet sex sting” [http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?pageId=64583] (1 Jun 2008)

Zizek, Slavoj. “Hidden Prohibitions and the Pleasure Principle” [http://www.lacan.com/perfume/zizek.htm] (1 Jun 2008)

___________ The Parallax View. Massachusettes: Massachusettes Institute of Technology, 2006b

The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 4/5

(Written 2008)

The Body – A Private Satisfaction Machine

Sally Hacker in her 1989 paper The Eye of the Beholder: An Essay on Technology and Eroticism suggests the term ‘pornotechnics’ as a reference to perverse power relations in the artefactual body, as Donna Haraway notes in her The Promise of Monsters (fn. 2), at “the heart of pornotechnics is the military as an institution, with deep roots and wide reach into science, technology, and erotica.” A product of militarism, the cyborg, as Haraway points out, has an oppositional root and is imbued with the drive to deviate from its ontological foundations. As it is suggested in the cyborg manifesto the cyborg “is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries”, that is to say there is a satisfaction to be gained by de-ontologicizing. And is this not the very foundations of jouissance; the satisfaction or drive to enter out of the vicious realm decreed by the pleasure principle, or rather by phallocratic reality. To be sure the cyborg is founded on a level of erotica.

The notion of the struggle to define a cyborg amounting to a border war here needs its full ontological weight. At an elementary level we may understand this to mean the fragmentation of where organism ends and machine begins. But further to this, on advent of the cyborg, our ontology’s are not limited to our bodily capacities; our ontology’s can be driven further, qualifying Lacan’s own admission Encore!

To further my point I will use a filmic example; Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher: Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert is a piano teacher who becomes rather obsessed with a student of hers Walter (Benoît Magimel). Aside from her very astute professional manner, Erika participates in a whole manner of sexual plights which include sadomasochism, micturition, and the use of pornography booths. She goes to some lengths to keep her Mother innocent from her various exploits. A relationship is forged between her and Walter, during which a written document is produced by Erika detailing her innermost desires. Walter finds himself unable to satisfy Erika’s wildest fantasies that only serves to alienate Erika herself. At the end of the film this estrangement reaches such a stage that Erika stabs herself in the shoulder out of frustration. The importance of the character Erika is that it portrays the possibility of there being at the surface of every person – even one as conformist, middle-class, and stiff, one who appears to take heed of societal expectations of a “lady” – a deep longing for the underbelly of sexual activity, the need to get off, so to speak. Furthermore, Erika finds sexual activity with Walter ineffective, he cannot make her lose herself, or de-ontologicize, that is to say, experience jouissance. Erika realises enjoyment of this kind as self-enclosed, as those things that deviate from the “normal” phallocentric heterosexual union, in acts such as genital slicing (perceived perhaps as actually manipulating her own visual signification), orgasmic urination at an open-top cinema, and smelling used tissues whilst watching pornography.

On the one hand Erika is shown not to be comfortable with herself when she behaves as she is expected to be, when one considers her professional capacity and ontological constitution. On the other hand she is shown to be properly excited and blissful when engaging in activities that drive beyond these principles, when she is experiencing jouissance. Is this not the reality of the cyborg, not being ontologically defined by its visual signification and experiencing bliss as a by-product of this. Erika here is precisely a cyborg – positively because she is subverting the harsh guidelines by which the symbolic order is a by-product of (a curtailing of Woman’s blissful experience), and negatively because, as Robert W. Anderson puts it in his Butler-esque titled Body Parts that Matter: Frankenstein, or The Modern Cyborg, the cyborg is the place “on to which the anxieties of the “normal” are displaced.” (para. 42, my italics)

As The Piano Teacher aims to highlight it is not ‘normal’ in our harsh reality for Woman’s body to be a private satisfaction machine like Erika’s is. Donna Haraway herself expresses concern with the current sexual climate when saying

“the close ties of sexuality and instrumentality, of views of the body as a kind of private satisfaction – and utility-maximizing machine, are described nicely in sociobiological origin stories that stress a calculus and explain the inevitable dialectic of domination of male and female gender roles” (169).

The sociobiological accounts appear at first glance to be positive but insightful of the inevitable domination – we may view the symbolic order as such, as a guarantee of sanity but the key to the inevitability of inequality. The Piano Teacher summarizes Haraway’s own anxiety that Erika is able to experience satisfaction in the style of a cybernetic machine (again, in the words of Grosz, “the circuit of a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism”) but that it eventually leads to dissatisfaction in the (hetero-)sexual domain that is not devious and thus explains the inevitable dialectic of (Man’s) domination.

Part 5 tomorrow

The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 3/5

(Written 2008)

A cyborg body is not innocent… The Cyborg Beginnings and Phases

…”it was not born in a garden”. Alluding to Eden, Haraway tells us the cyborg does not have the same gendered, male doministic origins as the human (man, and of-man-by-rib). Its roots are (perhaps worse) in “militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism” (151). Since the cyborg “doesn’t depend on human reproduction for its existence” (151) and is above gender, it poses limits on Freudian analysis. Evoking images of Plato’s Symposium the cyborg doesn’t seek completeness in sexual union or desire a nuclear family unit. Its essence is to be found in its environs as much as its own self – perpetuated by biotechnology and communication control loop systems.

For her justification, Haraway looks to biology and evolutionary theory, which has “reduced the border” between humans and animals. No matter how one identifies functioning humanism (the so-called pursuit, freedoms and rights for what it is to be human) – be it in an industrial age where humans use their arms and hands as naturally made tools, or thought without thought-simulation aids such as calculators or computers, or be it an age closer to Rousseau’s dream of humans being at one with their surrounding natures – by comparison the human being functions in a different manner, or rather, the human being has been manipulated by a new technological terrain.

In a lecture by the name of Birth of the Kennel given at the European Graduate School Haraway characterizes humans as in a space of ‘artifactuality’ that is, humans as ‘objects of knowledge’ are both prone to learning and being shaped by companion species – humans are artifacts! Her lecture title appears to come as an ironic critique of the essential hubris of the ego, caging dogs as mutts, denying ourselves a teacher of self-knowledge. Haraway aims to dignify learning from companion species against the overbearing pride of the human, content in the fallacy of completion. The image of the dog is one of tameness due to domesticity, of being a product not just of its evolution, but by its surroundings. Can we not recall ever hearing the (Rousseau for dogs?) argument that it is not fair that dogs should be domesticated but rather should be allowed to run wild and feral? It seems that this is not what Haraway is arguing at all, because she embraces the human-dog companionship. In this sense, evolution has erased the line between human and animal, but humans are also a product of their techno-scientific surroundings. As a means of learning to know ourselves, humans need to embrace this partial ontology. Haraway’s appeal seems to be more directed at the notion that for Woman, in order to escape the reality of an of-man existence, organisms and machines need to share companionship.

What, however, is one to think of techno-scientific responsibility in this context? An infamous picture details Donna Haraway on the steps of her home cuddling her dog Cayenne (see endnote), they both look at each other, she smiling, the dog appearing to flap its ears in glee. This is the imagery of companionship which Haraway aims to construct between organism and machine. She explains “cyborg imagery can help express […] taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology […] reconstructing the boundaries of daily life […] in communication with all our parts” (181). At once this polemic is for responsibility in positive cyborg imagery, standing opposite of Blade Runner’s Rachel who Haraway describes as “the image of a cyborg culture’s fear, love, and confusion” (177-78) which seems not be a reflective picture. Her explanation of a cyborg imagery also expresses the responsibility involved in reorganizing places in everyday life once prohibited, forward into one biotic component (a living organism which exists in a [perhaps communications] system).

These prohibitions apply particularly to females; I will quote at large Haraway as saying

“[u]p till now (once upon a time), female embodiment seemed to be given, organic, necessary […] Only by being out of place could we take intense pleasure in machines, and then with excuses that this was organic activity after all, appropriate to females.”

Also with regards to the economy (although Haraway is keen to show that she is aware that this is not necessarily a progressive statement and can be accommodated for in the White Patriarchal Capitalist circuitry) the ‘homework’ economy – a term borrowed from Richard Gordon who uses it to describe work in electronic assemblage, mainly done by women overseas, and the feminizing of labor in general – has already shaped, to a certain extent, the female cyborg self. For women, Haraway argues, technological advancements were boundaries of daily life, and a given ‘female nature’ had been wrongly ascribed. She calls for this to be a thing of the (Edenic) past.

Indeed, for the future of a cyborg world “what counts as nature – a source of insight and promise of innocence – is undermined, probably fatally”(152-53). To be sure, Haraway does not shy away from exposing the anxieties of some toward a future that embraces the obsoleteness of ‘humanism’.

One key question to this essay is (and indeed is a regular proposal to many written pieces on Haraway’s cyborg theory); if Donna Haraway is so anxious to remind us that a cyborg’s beginnings are far different from a humans, can the cyborg be said to have any Freudian basis at all? Where some might be keen to answer in the negative, I do see an element of Freudian basis to the new cyborg selves. I will stress that a cyborg Freudianism is not inasmuch as a human baby’s drives and desires may be derived from the oral or anal phase. That is to say, when one thinks of Freud, one may be reminded of the baby who as s/he is being breast fed enters into the oral phase, that when being fed, gains an amount of pleasure which emanates from the mouth. When that baby reaches an age where s/he could be fed properly, s/he, even more than before, desires the absent breast – the object of oral pleasure. Or one may be reminded of the baby who is allowed to micturate whenever s/he feels like it, or defecate and enjoy it immensely – a stage known as the anal stage – but as the diaper is replaced for underwear such enjoyable activity must be regulated. As the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham remarked, “instincts, which are allowed free expression in early childhood, are subjected to a considerable measure of repression and sublimation later on” (Abraham 281). The Freudianism applicable to a species which is half organism, half machine will not specifically look like the above description, in short, The American School, or ego psychology. The Freudianism applicable is from the Lacanian School.

Jacques Lacan resumed Freud to the letter, adding a knowledge of semiotics to the mix which Freud himself did not live to see popularize. One of the more important elements to Lacan’s lectures was his rejuvenation of the commonly misunderstood death drive. For Freud, the death drive was not some elementary striving for suicide, but, an act that aimed to go beyond the reality principle. The reality principle is based upon the constitution of society and gender; in the first it is in-keeping with societal expectations, to repress those things which are given free expression in early childhood like living only for bodily satisfaction; in the second it is in-keeping with what is expected of one as a gendered person, for example, since Man carries the phallic signifier of the symbolic order, he dominates over Woman’s so-called ‘lack’. Heterosexual union, necessary to the upkeep of the symbolic order, decrees female pleasure to be at the beck-and-call of male intercourse – this being a component of female ontology. The death drive for Woman, however, is a deviation from her ontological constitution, where her sexual enjoyment is organized in a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism. Lacan has a term for this – jouissance.

The contrast between the pleasure principle and the death drive in Freudian psychoanalysis is formally the same as the contrast between plasir and jouissance – the former can be accommodated within the reality principle, the reality principle allows for a minimum of (phallic) pleasure, but the latter works exactly like a cybernetic machine, as we have mentioned, self-enclosed, along with no consideration of societal expectations or ontological constitution. In other words it is in excess of reality. The reality principle imposes limits on the pleasure principle, whereas the ‘Real’ of jouissance is consequently beyond the pleasure principle. In short, the cyborg is a species of jouissance.

The cyborg may well have bypassed any Oedipallic constitution, but it is still subject to the same principles concerning sexual enjoyment. As I have already mentioned, its cybernetic basis makes it perfectly adaptable to Lacan’s understanding of jouissance. At this stage, I will further explain how.

Part 4 tomorrow

The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 2/5

(Written 2008)

The Construction site of Woman

In a seminar called God and the jouissance of Woman which is published in his influential set of seminars Encore! Jacques Lacan explained of feminine enjoyment that since it requires more than just the phallus – the image definition of the symbolic order – it must exceed being. This excess of being, Lacan designates, is on par with God, for what God represents is the ‘other’ of being (the supreme being). Woman, as positioned in the (paternalized) symbolic order is the ‘other’ of Man’s being.

In light of this, how are we to interpret Haraway’s comments at the end of her manifesto ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’?

As both Haraway and Lacan would testify Woman is a socially constructed category. For Lacan, male sexual desire is not fulfilled in Woman, but rather she is his objet petit a (cause of his desire), or object a(-utre); the ‘other’ of Man’s being which, in the dominating world of the visual (which assumes the dominance of the phallus over the so-called ‘lack’ of the female genitals), organizes Man’s fantasy. Further, as Teresa Brennan in her book Lacan After History posits “the idealized woman is the anchor of man’s identity and the guarantee of his ‘Truth’ ” (26). Brennan points out in a footnote that Lacan’s complex position of “idealization” is that it “makes the ‘lady’ into something considerably less than a subject” (26, fn. 1).

For Lacan, the idealization and denigration of women, as Brennan puts it, is a transhistorical inevitability; the symbolic order is necessary for sanity though at the same time it gives rise to the world of the visual, in which the phallus dominates. Brennan quite pessimistically expresses that the idealization, that is the psychical fantasy of Woman, of her as, not subject but simply objet petit a, is forever more, or at least for as long as we are sane.

For a contemporary Lacanian insight on gender, Slavoj Zizek in his book The Parallax View concludes that “there is only One, the gap is inherent to the One itself” (36). So in Lacan’s terminology, feminine ontology functions as pastoute (not-all) “as a part which has to be integrated into the whole” (Benvenuto and Kennedy 1986, 186). For this reason, and again to qualify the Lacanese, ‘there is no sexual relationship’ (il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel) – there is only one identity; whole and partial. Donna Haraway recognizes this and in suit asks “[w]hat kind of politics could embrace partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves and still be faithful, effective – and, ironically, socialist-feminist?” (157)

The answer becomes clear.

“There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female” Haraway claims, “itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices” (155). On this point Haraway criticizes much of the US feminism movement for its second-rate response to domination with identity, and not, preferable to her ‘affinity’. Moreover, since, by Haraway’s own admission, ‘there is nothing about being “female” that naturally binds women’; feminism might be best embracing partial identities. This branch of feminism Haraway goes on to call cyborg feminism, partly against Marxian and socialist-feminism which “totalizes” Woman.

The wider world in which the cyborg feminist must struggle to achieve, according to Haraway, “might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (154). For a feminism which accepts the social construction thesis of Lacan – “nature’s discursive constitution” as Haraway specifies in her essay The Promise of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others (para. 4) – that Woman can never fully be a subject due to the visual nature of the symbolic order, and since sanity rests on their being a symbolic order so it remains, the cyborg theory of Donna Haraway issues a new emancipation in partiality, not wholeness.

Whereas the gendered world configures the sense of sight solely for the phallocrats, the cyborg world marks masculinity as partial.

To answer my question on how to interpret Haraway’s comments; though goddesses are superior beings, they are still mediated through masculinity; they are still so to speak of-god. The cyborg is a superior being, mediated not through the (ph)allacy of gender but by the totality of its environment.

Part 3 tomorrow

The BNP and US Eco-Fascists

The surprising thing for me that the British National Party’s website is linked to the website of an American party called the Libertarian Nationalist Socialist Green Party – which is described as having ‘the National Socialist German Workers Party as its primary ideological inspiration, while also incorporating elements of Libertarianism and the Green movement’, aims for environmental improvement, and is influenced by things as varied as racial supremacy, anarchism and European Pagan movements – is not that the LNSGP are avowedly Nazi (their logo depicts a swastika on a green background to symbolise its so-called Eco-Fascism) which the BNP claim they are not.

What surprises me is that they are linked in spite of the differences of opinion on green policy. I was under the impression that Griffin felt debate on climate change showed the gulf between the “political elite” and “the little people who have to pay the bills” and that “nationalists” could end this so-called gulf.

For the BNP to be linked online to more Nazi’s is no surprise (examples here and here). For them to be linked to a green party (of some description), well there is a surprise.

It would seem the LNSGP are “nationalists” (though I can think of better words for them). Perhaps Griffin is just not pagan enough.