Archive for October, 2008

What is Critical Thinking?

Posted in Pure Theory with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

What is critical thinking? How do you conduct philosophy? What does it mean to be a Lacanian cultural theorist, as I claim to be? A while ago I was challenged by a Facebook friend because it seems that I throw names and phrases all too easily. Another day my campus colleagues asked me to enlighten what it means to do a critical thinking. And yet another day another friend asked why I, perhaps unlike most writers in the country, like to drop names and references as to whom I refer my theories to.

Critical thinking for me is not merely looking at things in a way that uncovers hidden oppressions and inner violence, by using the ontologies and methodologies of a certain favorite thinker, as many suggest. Being a Lacanian theorist, therefore, is not merely to look at things the way Lacan does. But it is not also, as yet many others suggest, to build things into something new, to bring new things into realization. What it brings is instead merely a new perspective to look at things that are already familiar to us, and what it brings into realization is the obscene, unpleasant, and sometimes downright disturbing underside of that very familiar thing.

Slavoj Žižek makes an excellent metaphor for critical thinking in one of his introductions to MIT Press’s Short Circuts series [citation needed], which is none other than the name of the series itself. To think critically is to link concepts that are not meant to link together and create a short circuit in the usual mind network of the general public, thereby making it possible to know and speak about things in a new way. The art is not the new theoretical creation itself, but the ingenuity by which old theories are combined — short-circuited — to create these new ones.

To get more specific, my own work is mainly about short-circuiting Lacanian psychoanalysis with posthuman theory. It may be best summed up, to repeat myself, “to question not what, why, or even how we deisre, but where we desire” — which is to say to contextualize desire in embodiment, an experience so fragile today in this age of rapid technological advances, networked knowledge, and disembodied social life.

Obviously, because truth is almost never pleasant, harsh responses and backlashes are only to be expected (I have been accused of being a pervert and an idiot many times). There is a Hegelian-Lacanian lesson I love most, which is that truth is always a dialectical process we create through speech, never a transcendent metaphysical knowledge to which only crazy philosophers have access. Being a Lacanian cultural theorist means that, first and foremost, one must constantly negate the illusion that he knows everything, while maintaining that society itself also understands itself only insofar as the stupid stories it tells about itself.

To put it simply, nobody really understands anything. As Lacan put it, truth has the structure of a fiction. Thus, the philosopher’s job is to create better fiction by challenging its established boundaries, questioning its implicit horizon of understanding. The philosopher the one who ultimately strives to make society suffer less; not become a more normal, healthy, spiritually enlightened society (as there is no such thing), but only to make it suffer less, by guiding it to articulate better truths.

For Whom is This Financial Crisis?

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

For whom is this financial crisis? For us and everyone else in this world, definitely. During this meltdown, hardly any nation is left to flourish by itself, not impacted by the crisis. Then, why ask this question? Is it not already obvious?

Surely, people are losing their jobs, prices are rising, and so on. But what does it all mean? What does it mean, a “$700 billion bailout”? What is exactly $700 billion, do we even naively understand it? Does it not, instead, belong in the same realm of hermeneutics as the distance between stars or the age of the universe — numbers too great to integrate to our stupid daily existence? I am not only speaking for us, the idiotic common people having nothing to do with all the great economic system, but also for the very players of economy themselves — do they not able to understand these numbers, the prices of their stocks, government funding, etc, only through office desks, formal letters, and computer screens?

Such is precisely the point. Do we not, today, rather consider this entire financial crisis as a marvelous tragic spectacle happening before our very eyes? A fascinating common reaction today to this news is how we struggle to relate it to our daily lives: yes, we are suffering from this crisis, yes, prices are going up, yes, people are getting fired, so this must all be a real thing. This spectacle of financial crisis takes effort to relate to, especially because not many of us understand how the economy works. The crisis today is so big and marvelous that the only way to integrate it to our symbolic existence is to take it as an awesome spectacle. There is hardly any other hermeneutics. It feels like a war without a bad guy, a natural disaster without the embarrassing trees falling down. A virtual disaster, a disaster of numbers, a real-life interactive movie.

But what does this all mean?

So many people today talk about this crisis as the so-called “end of capitalism.” Indeed, the first thing we relate to when dealing with the notion of some global system of important numeric entries we never really understand is this vague blur called capitalism. We talk of its limits, as everybody today champions Keynes over Hayek and Friedman. But at the same time, we have of course all these discussions that all the while we have never really been a true free market capitalist, we have always been state-controlled (“military-imperialistic Keynesian”), etc.

We all know perfectly well that today’s global capitalism runs precisely on its self-distantiation — the you-can-only-get-rich-if-you-do-not-want-to ideology, the spiritualization of global capitalism so trendy even for the Left today. And what better way to strengthen such ideological workings than pretending it no longer works for us, that the system no longer exists, and all that is left to do is to work out a way to do a more humanitarian and spiritual economics? Let us have no illusions: capitalism is a system that thrives on its very crisis. It will emerge stronger than ever. And we know it will.

Yes, of course we do. Is that not why we blindly trust all the government, the big companies, and the banks? Is that not why we take this whole crisis as some kind of (pseudo-)natural disaster without being able to clearly blame people? Is that not why we do not question why the government suddenly has $700 billion to save capitalism, while all these years, as Alain Badiou put it, “at the least demand from the poor, the same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they hadn’t a cent”?

What is the economic system, really? What do we understand of it? It is a giant system of non-people, of desires turned objective numbers, and that is it. It is a system of no clear bad guys and no exact scientific tools. Even the best advice Naomi Klein — today’s possibly most popular icon of the Left — gives is for us to brace ourselves as disaster comes, to be able to resist exploitation. Alain Badiou calls for a politics of grassroots economics, while Mario Tronti suggests us to focus on the problem of worker exploitation. But what to do? Do we understand anything at all? For whom is this financial crisis? Because for those who suffer most, the crisis is not a financial one — it is, first and foremost, a crisis of true democracy, a lack of a system that truly engages.

Pornography Between Pedophilia and Rape

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Airi and Meiri, Japanese pornstar twins famous for their underage look.

Airi and Meiri, Japanese legal pornstar twins famous for their deceivingly underage appeal.

Is it possible that the ban against child pornography condones violent, aggressive, and degrading behavior towards women? Surprising as this may seem, the answer may be a resounding yes.

I have never met anybody in my entire country who is as libertarian, porn-loving, and sexually-positive as myself. That being said, one may find it hard that there are some aspects of pornography that I do not agree with. For one usually accuses me of being incredibly libertarian — so libertarian, in fact, that I am ready to challenge the ban against child pornography.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, by all means I am against pedophilia. I am even ready to go as far as supporting death penalties for sexual assaults towards children. What I challenge in the ban against child pornography is instead its disuse of logic: are we not today, practically, taking the flimsy age line of 18 to decide whether we can enjoy sex or not? Of course, there are all the standard claims: there is logic behind this, it has been deeply researched, and whatnot, but is it not rather more true that we are taking this rule more as a take-it-for-granted societal taboo which does not necessitate logical reasoning? Is it not rather a rule we follow almost religiously and unquestionably in this so-called age of sexual freedom?

Disuse of logic is always harmful. Its apparent protection always serves more as a symbolic gesture with nothing more than structural usages that we do not like to admit or question — more like a neurotic symptom than clear thinking. Furthermore, as the Lacanian lesson, the fundamental promise of the law is not one that bans but one that allows (“If God exists, everything is permitted!”). What, then, does the ban against child pornography allow?

There is no better site to illustrate this than the famous TamedTeens.com (totally NSFW) website, who picture dozens of 18-year-old girls in all sorts of possible sexual degradation imaginable. The tagline says it all — “Teen initiations into porn,” and later, “by having the roughest sex they will ever have.” Another basic question gonzo pornographers today ask is of course the obvious one that tries to figure out how many dicks can go down a woman’s body at a single time, or how to make the next innovation after some hundred continuous insertions (with penises as well as bizarre foreign objects), or several dozen creampies by several dozen men — basically, how to do a better obscenely degrading circus act.

What does this have to do with the ban against child pornography? As the above mentioned website suggests, the ban does not at all say, “Do not harm children and teenagers under 18 since they are too fragile!” Instead, it promises, “Let us make a deal and pretend that we are good people who care about children, and in return you are allowed to degrade and be violent towards women over 18 in any way you like!” Is this not why child pornography is elevated as the ultimate crime in the Western culture today: because we want to continue degrading women, but we disturbingly need to continue to pretend to be an innocent nation with this flimsy, almost religious number of 18?

Canon Sensei Tobashisugi (probably NSFW)

Canon Sensei Tobashisugi (probably NSFW)

There is a porn sphere in which child pornography is highly popular and tolerated: hentai. Some hentai (from games to anime to manga) are satisfied with portraying underage-looking characters (as most of the live pornography), but some, such as Gorgeous Takarada’s Canon Sensei Tobashisugi (cover pictured right) are ready to go as far as to explicitly state that the age of the main girl character is as young as 12. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, hentai tolerates so much more of what the West — fetishist long tail notwithstanding — does not, such as incest and love). What do statistics say about the rates of rape in such free nation? Well, Japan has 20 times less rape than does the United States.

The ban against child pornography has always been a very suspicious one, but it is almost a sacred taboo today that very few dare to question it. Of course, it may be structurally impossible to live in a society without taboo, as Freud was already well aware. But when we feel better about seeing a 21-year-old getting force-penetrated by six dicks in a double-anal, double-vaginal, and double-oral scene (not to mention the bukkake and forced semen-swallow afterwards) than a 15-year-old having sex lovingly with her partner, we clearly have something wrong in our sexual libertinism. Perhaps we are censoring the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

Ambient Disconnectedness

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

This is disconnectedness at its best

This is disconnectedness at its best.

Blogger AV Flox has a really interesting article in her Love in the Time of Web 2.0 blog, where she writes about the (seeming) paradox of how this so-called age of ambient awareness in fact makes us more disconnected in real life. I think it is not, however, a paradox; already, the Lacanian scopic drive is passive in nature — to put it simply, is not the real promise behind ambient awareness actually to make others aware of us, instead of making us aware of anything?

This logic is not new in Web 2.0. Even in the age of television, do we not like to turn it on all the time even if we do not watch it? The reason, of course, is not the standard one where the TV set is just turned on for some cheap background music or similar reasons, but instead, as some theorists [names needed] have put it, the TV set is turned on to constantly watch us. The gaze is passive, as Lacan was already well aware, and we enjoy films not because we are passive observers, but we have the illusion that the films need us to become properly films. We turn on the TV set because deep down we know it will make the TV set happy.

Likewise, the real problem of the the Web is not this vast overflow of data which we can no longer consume. It’s how we have become obsessed with organizing data as such so that it can properly consume us as proper, visible human beings in all our daily stupidity. Is that not why we developed Web 2.0 in first place — to be sure that we are watched all the time, while we can pretend to watch others while not having to really do it?

Indeed, ambient awareness and being disconnected is not at all paradoxical. It’s not even a matter of which side of the screen we are on — even in online life, I claim, the logic is the same: it is data that watches us, not us consuming data. It is not ourselves, the stupid daily people, that we want to make aware of everything. It is this impossible entity who we assume to have the power to observe everything that has to be pleased. Our role is to provide constant information for this impossible entity, this superego gaze that embody the whole internet. Is this not the reason Twitter is so popular today?

The Web is our Nazca lines to a big Other android. The function of the Internet is not to make each of us connected to everybody else. It is to connect each of us to an impossible, divine entity that we desire to be watched by. Is this not why most of us get anxious when we are offline for too long, as though our entire existence depended on it? To quote Flox, “I think therefore I am, right—but is a thought not really a thought unless it’s a tweet?”

Hentai and the Perverse Core of Japanese Censorship

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Hentai Manga by Fuuga Utsura in TSK

Hentai Manga by Fuuga Utsura in TSK

The Japanese law of censorship has always been a source of fascination to us porn researchers. Clearly, it does not in the least prevent the Japs to be perverts (but by all means I have no Illusions; I am not doing cheap stereotyping to the Japanese since it just applies to those few, most of which I love). One may even say that it takes Japanese porn producers to create such things as zenra Kung Fu (probably NSFW) or the seemingly mechanistic orgy of the famous 500 People Sex (totally NSFW) video.

Some people have discussed how the censorship law of not allowing the genitalia to be completely shown gives birth to such things as tentacle hentai. Although further research show that the Japanese have been making tentacle hentai as early as 1820, I would claim that this thesis is not totally wrong. Rather, however, I prefer to read it in the opposite direction: the Japanese have long realized that the phallus could not be adequately symbolized by the genitals alone, so fully showing the genitals would paradoxically reduce the sexuality of sex itself (recalling the Baudrillardian desperation). Is this not the reason many US porn filmmakers today are urged to learn from their Japanese counterparts how to film the non-genital, non-breast parts (lips, hair, back, etc.) in a way not less titillating?

Among the most interesting appropriation of Japanese censorship could be found in hentai manga. The censors are very scanty to such extent that it seems insignificant, only in the form of lines hiding virtually nothing. What catches my attention in particular is how the very texture of the censors above the genitals literally seem to function more to cross out rather than cover up — instead of covered because of some taboo, the genitals are barred, as it were, to prevent them from becoming full signifiers of the phallus.

The Japanese censorship law is already in itself a promise to enable this crossing-out of the real genitals in order to strengthen the imaginary phallus. The law does not at all say, ” You can draw anything but the genitalia because it is harmful!” Instead, it serves as a reminder, “Remember that your sexual potency is much larger than what it looks outside, do not fall into the illusion that the penis is all there is!” The crossing-out of real genitals thus paradoxically strengthens the imaginary phallus. The perverse censorship law does not castrate — it performs merely privation, thus putting pornographic art into the realm of pure fantasy in which castration does not happen (which is why underage-looking porn, rape, and incest is all the more popular theme in hentai manga).

Properly speaking, this makes hentai essentially a psychosis. For its Western counterpart, on the other hand, castration is implied and acknowledged but at the same time denied, making pornographic art in the West essentially a perversion. Literary work as a substitute of psychosis is of course the themes of Lacan’s later works of the Joycean sinthome (analogies can also be drawn between the unfamiliarity of Joycean writing to the more common writing and the strangeness of Japanese fetishes to the more common sexualities for the West), which thus makes it possible to claim that it pornography plays a crucial role in the psychosexual development of the Japanese society, which has family practices rather uncommon to their Western counterparts (the routine of bathing together, etc.). But as for a detailed analysis, I have not yet made it, and so for now I will say that this Japanese-versus-US sexuality difference idea is still questionable.

Another interesting point to note if we are to discuss hentai manga (and, in fact, manga in general) is how highly it treats the object little a, as proven by their extensive use in abstract forms to symbolize the gaze, the voice, the breasts, and the bodily fluids. Perhaps it is only by crossing-out of the genitalia, by putting bars over the real phallus, that Japanese hentai artists (and pornographers alike) can avoid falling into the trap of fetishizing the biological genitals, as the majority of Western pornographers do, and explore more on how to capture the object a in its visualizations. But on the other hand, however, this is also why the fetishistic tendencies of Japanese porn can easily fall into other, often more bizarre objects and situations.

Emoticons Stole Your Passivity

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Yep, these guys did.

Yep, these guys did.

We have today progressed far from what Žižek dubbed as one of the most important inventions of the 20th century, that is Charles R. Douglass’s “canned laughter” of 1950s shows. Robert Pfaller, then adapted by Žižek, was the first to recognize the inherent danger of new media — not interactivity that makes us lazy, but interpassivity that prepares us to do “mindless frenetic work” [citation needed]. When we look at comedy shows on television, the laughter does not function as a mere cue to where we should laugh, but it literally laughs for us — we do not have to laugh to feel good about the show. Likewise, the role of the pornstar today is not merely to enact orgasms that titillate us — they literally reach orgasms for us. The point in watching comedies is not to laugh out loud in front of television sets, but to be able to feel the relief of having laughed without doing the embarrassing, tiring act of real laughter. The point in watching porn movies is not even to masturbate, but to be able to feel good even without having to do all the long, tiring sex/masturbation ourselves.

Emoticons are among the ultimate crystallization of this mode. When we type in the :-)) or :-D symbols, is it not true that we never actually laugh out loud ourselves? But it is not that we are lying to our chat/text message partner/s, since there is already an implicit understanding of this going on (though always an understanding of which is already necessarily denied in the presupposition of the act). And, more importantly, after we type in those icons, is it not true that we, although not having laughed out loud ourselves, nevertheless feel relieved and enjoyed the chat session as though both/all sides laughed and had a good time? Of course, it does not have to be emoticons; it can be all the LOL variations or a simple “hahahaha”. But the point here is clear — we never laugh like that in reality. We do not need to.

So here is a simple question: why all the fuss? Why do we need our emoticons to laugh for us — can’t we just be happy without all the exaggerated digital laughters (even rolling on the floor!)? Of course, when you chat without enough emoticons, you will simply be perceived as cold, distant, etc. So, there is a necessity demanded by a digital big Other to use emoticons, to indicate that we are somehow always laughing out loud when interacting with another.

The worst thing about emoticons is that they do not only indicate laughter, but almost every expression imaginable; from waving hands to that miserable dancing banana. Of course, we have all the explicit promise of being able to express ourselves more, to compensate (warmth, understanding, etc.) for the loss of voice intonations, etc. But is it not rather the implicit promise that seduce us; the promise to be able to stay distant without any presupposed other knowing it? Rather than “You can show the other how you are now laughing out loud!” is it not more precise to say “You can now let go of all the tiring idle banter and moral injunction to be continuously friendly without the other knowing about it!” Let’s face it: laughing and smiling all the time when we meet people — the standard American big Other — is tiring.

Emoticons, I believe, with all its so-called interactive dimensions, is a much greater invention than canned laughter due to its direct role in multiple-way communication. We can now maintain the posture of being friendly and still obey the standard superego of self-expression and individuality without having to really do it. We do not have to laugh, or cry, or blush, or wave hands, or dance in jubilation. We do not even have to listen (feel free to work and read and not really listen as long as you do not close the chat window!). We only need to be active in texting back, with no more necessity for real passive response. The computer is already passive in our place.

Sarah Palin: When Politics Go “Aawww!”

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Sarah Palin as Miss Wasilla

Sarah Palin as Miss Wasilla

So I’m finally writing about Sarah Palin! But if you expected to hear more of the standard Palin-bashing, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Of course, I have nothing in favor Palin and I have no illusions whatsoever that would make me support her as VP. Disclaimer being said, let us move on.

For me, the most fascinating phenomena is how so many of the polemic surrounding Palin becomes directly a philosophical demand for us to rethink our political sphere. Take websites like Gawker, for example, which on this post tries to map out the reasons behind why people vote for Republicans. Even the downright sexual dimension of Palin was, among first, recognized by Cracked.com, who was honest enough to tell us that the first thing about Sarah Palin is that we want to see her naked. We have plenty of videos showing her time when she served as pageant (pictured above), such as her gorgeous swimsuit walk and talented flute play, not to mention her in the evening gown. Other people claim that the real terror behind Palin is not her sheer incompetence, but how her running diverts us from the real political issues we need to addess — such as pressuring Obama to live up to his claims, as Naomi Klein frequently warns. The point? The way we deal with politics is changing radically. We know it’s a problem, but we don’t know how to deal with it.

For us Lacanians, the real problem is of course how this Palin political structure is possible at all. Slavoj Žižek has often mentions that the real question of Palin is how she becomes the first truly feminine character to enter the political sphere — were Hillary Clinton, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, etc. not in fact strong, masculine leaders in a female body? It is Palin that is the first to truly mock the phallocentrism of politics — mocking not only the dominance of men but also the masculinity of the field of politics itself. It is here that the Democrats failed and let the Republicans play left. I would even go as far to claim that the Palin phenomenon is an insult to the much-celebrated rise of Obama and Hillary: not only that African-Americans and women can now run for president, but even a totally inexperienced ex-beauty pageant can now run for vice president! Perhaps it is not us getting more open and tolerant; perhaps it is only the US politics that are polished to look as if that is what is happening by the Democrats… Palin just manifested such paranoia in a single blow.

Which is — and now I’m getting to my point — what makes Palin such a big deal. Inexperienced as she is, I would claim that it is she and McCain that is the much more honest pair of presidential candidates. Not in the sense that they outwardly tell the truth, but in the sense that they are, implicitly, honest at being not honest, that the political sphere is corrupt, and that it is other people behind the screen that is going to do the work — the “back room boys,” as Žižek put it. Of course they are lying; but they themselves implicitly acknowledge the lie. There are two layers of lies: we have the practical lie, and we have the obscene meta-lie, which is a set of modes on how to conduct a lie that may make the lie obvious (one implicitly lets the other know that he is lying, and paradoxically becomes less guilty) or one that would make the lie mysterious (one that maintains the secret concealed without letting a clue slip to whether they are lying or not — a haunting paranoia).

It is here that we may be able to understand the Palin phenomenon on a deeper level. She is a fake — but at least she openly lets us all know that! Obama and Biden? How could we ever be so sure? “Time for Change,” “Audacity of Hope,”… Change what? Hope for what, exactly? We have nothing new and concrete.

It seems that after Bush, 9/11, and Iraq, we can never be sure of politics anymore. We have all the paranoiac fantasies akin to that of The Da Vinci Code haunting us in our everyday lives. Sure, Obama may have everything — but it is “everything” that is now slipping away from being politically relevant. That many people still support Palin proves that the political sphere is changing, from a terrain of intellectual and social strength to a terrain of total “Aawww!” We may be mocking Palin politically as we like, but there are always moments where we just have to pull back and know when to stop and tolerate her as a woman: “Look at her when she was young! Look at her flute play! Look at her as a mother! Aawww, isn’t she adorable?” To repeat Naomi Klein, “Palin is Bush in drags.” But if we have nothing else we can firmly believe, would it not be better for the eyes if it is Palin sitting there instead of Biden?

Here is the worst nightmare: it is not only that Palin’s popularity will not go down even in the midst of such harsh mockery from virtually every side. My thesis here is much more pessimistic: she would paradoxically gain more popularity after every mock! Is it not common to fall in love with a little pretty girl who gets bullied all the time in our elementary school? Even if she does not win this election, I would say that she, and other people like her, will undoubtedly gain popularity for the next election, if Obama does not deliver perfectly. The Democrats have a lot to learn.

And if she does get elected? Well, I’m guessing it will be something like this:

Sarah Palin after putting Kim Jong Il to bed (click for more)

Sarah Palin after putting Kim Jong Il to bed

And Mary Carey (probably NSFW) should run again and succeed Arnold.

The Posthuman Marxist YouTube Channel!

Posted in Announcements! on October 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Due to demands, it has been decided that the blog will be undergoing a lot of upgrades and redesigns very soon. So, one of the first things I decided to do was to create TPM Television, The Posthuman Marxist’s very own YouTube channel. Right now it only features my talk from Arse Elektronika last September, but as many of you should guess, a channel being created means that there will be lots and lots of videos to come! Expect more filmed lectures, interviews, art projects, and hopefully some documentaries as well from The Posthuman Marxist, all coming for your cognitive mapping needs in our apocalyptic world.

As for the blog itself, it will be undergoing a total redesign within this month or the next to increase readability and comment discussions, plus other things that I believe will make the blog more productive and conducive for a more critical atmosphere. Plus, gossips have it that there will be podcast and expert guests interviewees! *gasp*

If you’re a reader of The Posthuman Marxist, consider subscribing to the channel! I’ll be waiting! ;)

Oversharing, or, the Anxiety of Inverted Fantasy

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

There is a new phenomenon in today’s information society, the anxiety of which becomes pervasive when one realizes the dangers and fragility brought upon by the interconnected Web 2.0 sphere. This is the problem of online oversharing: the tension in finding the right balance of what parts of one’s subjective identity should be put online. This is an anxious search, because, at first, it is understandably hard to realize that the internet is a totally new space with its own novel dynamics; any attempt to categorize it as public or private sphere or any of the classical categories would fail just as miserably as any attempt to introduce old-market commodity dynamics to the remix culture of intellectual property. As such, adapting to the new big Other of the internet becomes even harder.

How much should our online avatar, our novel cyber-embodiment, resemble our stupid, abrupt, physical identity of existence? Of course, we have all the big postmodern theories about how everything is no more than a simulacra, how reality and fantasy becomes blurred, that we live in a state of hyperreality, etc. But I think this idea is a little too naive for today’s society — rather than the blurring of fantasy and reality, is it not more true that the condition of our second embodiment, one I dubbed the monitor phase, calls for an inversion of fantasy? What I mean is quite simple: as our lives are today more and more lived on the other side of the screen, is it not, then, only logical that when the simulation is more real than the reality itself, reality becomes more and more like our fantasies?

It is interesting to take note of the dynamics of anxiety in today’s society compared to the more traditional societies. Oversharing has always been about how one’s speech can uncomfortably alter the other’s coordinates of the Imaginary, much to the discomfort of one or both sides. In the traditional society, oversharing becomes only a problem of how adjusted one is to the big Other, whether one is an idiot, etc. In today’s society, oversharing becomes a pervasive danger, as though one can read another’s mind in a condition where everybody is everybody else’s Big Brother. This is what I call the inversion of fantasy: we have to now struggle harder and harder to create and maintain coherent online profiles that do not tell too much about the truth of our daily, physical being, as we have, as kids growing up, struggled to maintain a coherent social identity with our physical being that does not tell too much about our fantasies. Is not our real, naive, physical self the obscene unconscious of our electronic avatar?

The age of what I dubbed Postmodern 2.0 takes the fantasy-reality dynamics further and more complicated. It is not just blurred, but inverted qua monitor. Of course, this inversion is not a simple one but one that should be noted in a nonlinear function of interactivity (although I do not have the space to develop that here). Slavoj Žižek once noted that we need the excuse of fiction to stage our true identity [citation needed]. A proper move for me is to go one step further and take into account the interactivity of today’s online and digital fiction — Lev Manovich’s move from traditional cinema to digital and “soft” cinema — and question the psychoanalytic dynamics of such processes. Is not today’s anxieties of oversharing the ultimate proof that something radical is going on in the dynamics of our Imaginary order?

Islam, Masculinity, and Homoerotica

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , on October 3, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

The Muslim holy month of Ramadhan is finally over. If there is a bizarre lesson to be learned, I think it is to problematize how the month always becomes the gayest of the year. Now in case you are one of those who would get offended and start imagining hate mail and violent attacks, cool down for a moment and take a look at the category this is posted under. Yes, I am here not talking about Islam in general, but instead of films produced specifically under the Islamic context in Indonesia. Whether this applies to other Islamic films as well will need more analysis on my part (or if you have any info, feel free to comment away!).

In Indonesia, there is every year films produced specifically for the month of Ramadhan. What is of particular interest to me is how in many of those films the entire coordinates of masculinity change. One needs not be an expert to notice how, suddenly, we have all sorts of stupid themes of a friendship of two men who go on an adventure helping people out and finding the meaning of life, etc. We no longer have the standard stereotype of men with all the toughness and individuality that poke fun at friends, women, and life in general. Instead, we have a couple of men that are casual but never poke too much fun at anything if that may cause them to miss out on God’s more important issues — and all the while the two of them go out and do everything (“discover life’s meaning”) together.

Yes, I understand that of course the men are not homosexual, they sometimes depicted having interest in women, even in some cases their friendship is nothing but a cause of them being brothers, etc. But nonetheless the spectacle remains: two men always loyally traveling together in romantic primeval settings (nature, villages, tranquil city spaces, small mosques, etc.) telling their what life and truth means to one another — unless depicting characters who are gay, would one such a setting be possible in a homophobic society such as the United States?

Islam becomes interesting when looked at this way. All the terrorism associated today with Islam in fact could not apply to these “soft male” film personas — for terrorism, one needs a militaristic, dominant masculinity. In many Muslim films, on the other hand, one gets figures of an effeminate, careful male and his couple companion as the main characters.

Who are the audience of the films? Presumably, as with all TV drama series, 80% of them are women. So I am not saying that these are films made specifically for sexually repressed men to secretly fantasize homosexual activities. The phenomena is much more complex — something more resembling homoerotic fanfiction of Japanese manga, more commonly known as yaoi, in the sense that it is women who enjoy them more. Does the Freudian notion of women constantly fantasizing themselves to be men not resonate perfectly in such phenomena?

It turns out that Islamic films give a perfect chance to do this, by giving fiction contexts that enact a romantic, emotional bonding of two men under a search of a transcendent, spiritual mysticism — a perfect female fantasy. And what do we have here? Suddenly, all the gender questions arising within the complicity of Islam, erotica, and film culture becomes much more interesting and problematic. So much for religious homophobia!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.