Archive for June, 2008

On Pedophilia and Posthumanity

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , on June 30, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

This lecture of Žižek’s hit something that I have not yet, prior to this realization, developed on my theories of posthuman sexuality. To get right down to it, the question would be this: isn’t it interesting that in a society where almost every consensual sexual act is not only condoned but solicited — and even to the extent of using violence, corpses, and excremental objects — child porn still has to remain as a very strong taboo? Of course I by no means condone pedophilia, but what I find very ridiculous is the flimsy argument of age that is taken as a symbolic line separating those able of having the socio-cognitive function of consensus and those unable. I mean, we are today more than ever very diligent people when it comes to teaching children of consensus and openness — say for determining a weekend trip — and didn’t we say we believe Freud when he said children are really not asexual creatures? So shouldn’t the golden rule of postmodernity of “If all sides agreed, and it will bring pleasure to all sides, it’s only politically correct to do” also apply here? What is going on?

With Žižek, I would assert that this fear of pedophilia is not as much a moral obligation as it is an excuse necessary in the construction of a sacred other. To put it frankly, one is able to commit all sorts of crimes and indulge in all sorts of obscene debaucheries and still mentally function only when one has faith that there is some part of the society that is still pure and innocent. This “sacred other” in today’s society is very well served by, of course, children. This total negation of the notion of child sexuality is precisely the move that enable us to exploit all kinds of perversion within us — as long as we love innocent children and keep them away from these dangers until they reach their 18th birthday, we can feel free to do anything we want to do.

What does this have to do with posthumanity? Extrapolating Žižek’s claim further, I notice that a very much celebrated online way (or perhaps the way) of this protect-the-children movement is — you guessed it — age verification. It is as though human society is allowed to become posthuman only after they reach a certain age. What is going on here? It is easy to dismiss this as logical protective gesture, but when you see the amount of discourse circulating that in essence worry about what effect a world inhabited by subjects of fluid, arbitrary identities will have on human children, you would understand why I prefer to take this as a sign that something highly traumatic is going on in the process of identity (hence sexuality) construction in cyberspace.

What is this trauma, and how should we read the discourses of child protection? I’ll keep you updated with more findings and resources. Stay tuned to The Posthuman Marxist! :)

The Monitor and the Screen: Lacan and Deleuze on the Cyborg

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

In my media studies, I tend to make quite a strong distinction between monitor and screen. The screen implies a cinematic experience, an experience of an observer fluid in embodiment but not in control of that embodiment, in the sense that we cannot choose whose gaze we are to adopt next. The (computer) monitor, on the other hand, implies choice in part of the observer. The gaze returned from the monitor is not only a gaze of the other as in cinema (read Slavoj Žižek’s film studies), but also a gaze of oneself through a kind of a mirror — an evolved mirror of the 21st century, as when one photographs oneself through web cams. However, again as with web cams, and with game avatars, etc, it is a strange mirror — one in which one’s reflection never returns the gaze, making one both a master and a slave of the Imaginary, a subject both perverse and divine.

Friedrich Kittler has observed the evolution of discourse networks and its relation to embodied action (see his essays on the typewriter). Katherine Hayles has also extrapolated media and information theories and theorized her flickering signifier concept. I would claim that a lot of this change come from our experience and interaction with the monitor as such, for, with Lacan, it is the primal misrecognition with the signifier of the self that generates a desiring decentered subject. Thus, I extrapolate from here the Lacanian mirror phase to include a second mirror phase, one I call the monitor phase.

Gilles Deleuze stated that the body is an avatar of the soul — does the very word he chose not ring very familiar in this Postmodern 2.0 society? Further along the Deleuzian line, I would claim that his perception of desiring-production is more relevant today than ever, where the de- and reterritorializations happen more in the realm of the virtual than the physical and the semiotic logic requires a computer/informational layer/s to be taken into mind. All in all, Body-without-Organs dynamics in the Web 2.0 sphere has to be interrogated more critically so as to better understand the workings of a (still?) schizophrenic system of digital capitalism. I would however reject the pseudo-Deleuzian notion that positions him as a prophet of an all-too-permissive capitalism in the name of multitude and so on, and instead would lean more towards his more (in the words of Žižek) “Guattarised” theories to engage in a politically-urgent dissection of digital capitalism.

I am planning to develop several theses on this extrapolation of Lacanian and Deleuzian concepts that take into mind a cyborg subject with posthuman subjectivity, and in turn should show why this gesture is, as I have always claimed, politically urgent. I would inform you when I get them out, but for now, feel free to comment and discuss.

Islamization of Indonesia and the Deadlock

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , on June 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

I stumbled upon several blog posts today that encouraged me to blog about this myself. This one from Budiawan is of particular interest — it points out how, in fact, Islam is mostly used as a mask, an excuse of economic struggle. Ariel Heryanto has written a great deal on the dynamics of Islamization and non-Islamization of the Indonesian government — a blog post of his can be found here. What I see in today’s so-called post-political era is not that of true post-politics, in which ideologies (in the dualistic Cold War sense) no longer matter as much as civilization/religion/ethnics and so on, but it’s opposite: anti-liberal-capitalist gestures are pervasive throughout the world — only, they do not dare criticize it without using a grand excuse of civilization/religion/ethnics. This is not a conspiracy theory once you look really close at it: the problems that we have and are still trying to solve since the old ages remain the same: that of economic instability and political oppression, as Budiawan so rightly blogged. Raging Muslims are not idiots — they know that a sharia country would not be possible with mere sporadic acts of terrorism. To me, these riots are, fundamentally, civil unrests without so much a religious meaning as a cultural exclamations without real message to protest ideological dominance.

Thus, I think the question we should ask is not why Muslims are doing so many acts of civil unrests, but why so many civil unrests are masked as Muslim religious protests. In response to Huntington’s thesis, I always say, it’s not an actual clash of civilizations — it is dissatisfaction with economic and political injustice masked as a clash of civilizations. Thus, tolerance is not the solution, as many propose, because what we have never is a problem of tolerance, and it never has been — it is, and it has always been, the problem of economic injustice and political oppression.

Why, then, does it need to be presented as a problem of intolerance and fundamentalism rather than social instability at large? Of course, it needs to be presented as such so as to shift the focus of political action, so that the grand framework of capitalism remain untouched, uncriticized. But this is not a conspiracy theory of political manipulation; on the contrary, I think it comes from the bottom up — it is the society who do not want to criticize capitalism. First of all, we have always been brainwashed about how its archenemy — communism, as it were — is the archenemy. We are scared to criticize capitalism intellectually, so much so that we need to take a truistic position and use the grand metaphysical reasons of God to proclaim our dissatisfaction with the grand system of the world. Second, we have no alternatives to capitalism other than a sharia economic model. No wonder Allah becomes the main excuse of civil unrests.

Heryanto’s second post reveals another deadlock: true Islamization in political action will never work. It seems that it has become a silent agreement that an Islamist state is not an ideal one. This has much more cultural significance than to prove how Islam is just an excuse for protesting — it signifies that so many of us somehow silently accept that Islam is only the mode of protest itself. To put it shortly, it seems to me that most of my fellow citizens are now whispering that “Islam is good, but not too much, unless you want to make a demonstration.” The gestures of Islamic parties, the “funky” (“gaul”) language used in every Islamic Youth movements, all testify to such whispers.

Indonesia is not in a state of being Islamized. It is in a state of cultural limbo.

Divine Subjects and Liberal Capitalism’s Collapse

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on June 18, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Let’s face it: every economist who is not an idiot knows very well that today’s global market no longer functions in the standard simple supply and demand chain they teach in high schools. On the contrary, global capitalism relies on inherently unstable speculations. The dark side of this is that, even if they know, not many economist would admit it. Of course, the notion that there is an invisible hand controlling the market is comforting to capitalists. But there is no invisible hand — the tiniest speculation in the capital market can spark a trend that can destroy national economies within hours, as they destroyed mine and so many others in 1998, leaving us with a permanent scar. As Naomi Klein has pointed out, Friedmanite capitalism does not work. But sadly, it is precisely this logic of unfettered market that governs today’s capitalism in the global range.

Our actions today have so much more consequences than we can imagine. With informatics, we have become so much more powerful, as our embodiments shift towards more fluidity and our private and social spaces are altered fundamentally. Even a simple daily act of seeing and socializing is radically revolutionized with Web 2.0. Now, we are practically divine, viewing ourselves as not only omniscient subjects but also omnipotent ones. The connection? Postmodern 2.0 simply has no room for invisible hands — anybody can do anything and effect everybody else. Its history is not a Hegelian self-correcting history. Capitalism is not built for this. Even today’s intellectual commodities have a radically different structure of reification than its original ones. As Slavoj Žižek has noted, some cultural phenomena today simply could not be solved within the framework of capitalism.

As a theorist, my approach would be a fundamental one I draw from Lacanian psychoanalysis and various branches of informatics. But it does not take a philosopher to understand the fall of capitalism. It does not take an economist to understand how intellectual property is highly problematic to capitalism. It does not take a psychoanalyst to grok our perceived posthuman divinity. The very notion of the subject is changing, and our current economic-political framework has not taken this new subject into account.

This is far from a positive attitude. What will come after a liberal-democratic global capitalism collapses? Following Naomi Klein, I believe we may be, in fact, seeing the answer at this very moment: disaster capitalism. Soon, disaster capitalism may not only be a complex, but a primary mode, since disasters may very well be the only event in which the subject returns to its primal state of non-divinity, a powerless human subject that fits perfectly into the framework of capitalism. If the postmodern is a cultural logic of late capitalism, I see Postmodern 2.0 as a cultural logic of the collapse of capitalism, but which may very well also be a logic of the rise of global disaster capitalism. We already have the scenarios for that — Iran, Palestine, global Muslim rage, climate change…

This time is crucial. We must act fast and think of economic-political alternatives that acknowledge the novel free-flowing, global-reaching, informational subject and, as with Žižek, resist the trap of hasty socio-political actions. We must realize that the implications of our actions in this day and age are great, and a lot of the time, irreversible. Without a clear cognitive mapping of what is going on, wisdom will not be possible.

Fetus Art and Virtual Art

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , on June 17, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

I wrote something like this some time ago for an art magazine, but haven’t received any responses… But anyway, the topic has crossed my mind several times, and I do not recall anyone else discussing this topic. Here by “virtual art” I am not talking about new media art in the strict sense. Instead, I am talking about art that is virtual in the sense that it does not really exist — but nevertheless has real effects. One good example I always mention, and perhaps the only one up to now: Aliza Shvartz’s fetus art. It has been two months since the incident, and people rarely talk about it now, but I think there is a huge aspect that many generally overlook. You would notice how Shvartz finally decided to do another project for her final assignment — and many see this as a loss. I, however, read it as the opposite — it is a major win for Shvartz, precisely because it is through this gesture that she can preserve the fantastic mystery of her so-called fetus art.

Did you notice how much controversy the art has sparked even before it even has an empirical existence? This precisely illustrates my point on what I call the virtuality of art. I claim that every art — in fact, every text — has this domain that could not be precisely put into a certain deterministic discourse (which I would read within the context of psychoanalytic informatics, but not here). What is the strength of this virtuality? Why is this a post in a Marxist blog? The answer, of course, lies in the deadlock of the complicity of art and capitalism — the postmodern lifestyle where aesthetics has replaced ethics, in which every art is thus an instrument of ideology, and so on. I would admit this deadlock otherwise, but the fetus art incident brought a very new phenomenon to the stage. Nobody in their right mind would appropriate such extreme posthuman gesture of art in their lifestyle — our (current) capitalist ideology is not capable of doing so.

Let us go a bit further: for me, the power of fetus art lies precisely and only in its virtuality. If it was enacted, let’s say that Yale permitted her to do it, the entire structure of fantasy would collapse — it would either be fake, which would be simply stupid, or it would be real, which may suggest psychosis and complicate matters further. Like Schrödinger’s cat whose mystery vanish when the box is opened and an observer is introduced, fetus art’s grandeur resides precisely in the virtual pre-empiric realm in which the state of fact and fiction collide.

It is by functioning in this virtual realm that I claim a true subversive art is possible. The ideal (proto-)object of art would be, like fetuses up for exhibition, something that radically fully assume capitalist fantasies of commodification more than the capitalists are ready to assume themselves, to show them what nightmare our current ideology could become. Now think of an idea while I’m writing a proposal for a politically-correct Folsom Fair equivalent for coprophiliacs using pills to produce healthy hygienic shit. And by the way, my group dance performance using twenty voluntary corpses will take place next Sunday — yes, they are gonna be mutilated to five parts each nearing the end.

Cultural Preservation and the Logic of the Zoo

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , on June 13, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

I went to Jawa Timur Park the other day, basically just having a good time with my friends. What struck me most, however, is how this contemporary theme park is laid out. So much can be drawn, as my obsessive inner cultural analyst turned my simple recreational trip into another intellectual analysis of a third world’s nationalist respect for their traditions. I shall expand this elsewhere in Indonesian, but here is my thesis briefly.

The very concept of the educational theme park is of course the standard one in which they strive to preserve Indonesian heritage by showcasing customs and artifacts for people to admire. What strikes me, however, is the very texture of their display, i.e. these certain routes you are supposed to follow from entrance to exit, as it were. Immediately after showcasing cultural artifacts, the track brought us to displays of plants and animals. And then it’s back to cultural heritage, then it’s either fossils exhibition or the reptile zoo. In front of a a giant statue of the Javanese mythical hero Ken Arok as a backdrop of a giant water world, Dipsy and Po from the Teletubbies walk around greeting kids.

I am not merely talking about this crude Marxian notion of how everything becomes commodified and so on, but also, more importantly, of how they need to be presented as some sort of heroic capitalist action to save the national cultural heritage. The mystification is, of course, unconscious, as with other mystifications of commodities as mystical objects — the proverbial model businessman always believes he is doing a good thing. The ultimate anthropocentric gesture for me is not that of ruthlessly killing animals (as this would be too monstrous and against the idea of our superior kindness towards the other) but precisely that of keeping them in cages for us to enjoy. Then, are these acts of preserving cultural heritage not an act of putting ourselves behind bars, treating our cultural heritage as fascinating animals?

This, I think, illustrates the most dangerous trap if we are to preserve cultural heritage. It is a false cultural heritage — a mere visual heritage that can so easily be adopted into today’s capitalist ideology. To be a true traditional-nationalist (for lack of a better phrase), I think we should reject this idea that our cultural legacy is a visual-ornamental one, daring to look for its more ideological sides. The problem is not that our cultural heritage is disappearing and we have to make it appear — it is that our cultural heritage appear too much behind the zoo bars of global capitalism.

For a Posthuman Sexual Theory

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , on June 10, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

I should be delivering this lecture this September at the San Francisco Arse Elektronika 2008 conference, but for the time being I’ll post some stuff here.

The problem I pose is simple: I am doubting all this notion of how the universe of human sexuality is a very vast and unexplored one, that we can never fully understand, and so on. Not in the sense that I am doubting its vastness per se — I am not a total idiot and I know what some people are doing — but in the sense of the “discovery” of such as a natural phenomenon — since when has it been this vast? I am in this sense questioning its very evolution in regards to the experience of embodiment in today’s postmodern bodies that live out more of its social experience in cyberspace. To me, this “vastness” looks more like a postmodern retroactive construction of a larger, almost metaphysical essence our empirical being than a logical scientific deduction. As such, such approach is in fact not grounded so much in openness than in anxiety. Far from being permissive, on the contrary I think it functions greatly as a postmodern mode of sexual control — the shadow of the late capitalist idea for the so-called “unconstrained” consumption. I would even go further and argue that the perception of the “mystery” of human sexuality as such, and the exploitation of this fear of our asexual divinity, is necessary to maintain it as the core of the workings of liberal capitalism. But more on this later.

To me, following Lacan, sexuality is already an effect of this Lacanian primordial difference, and technology a way to handle this difference. With technology, the question is not in what new ways we can have sex, but what having sex means for us — already with cybersex, the line separating porn and sex is blurred more and more. Thus, the proper question to address is not how technology can enhance sexuality, but how it can redefine sexuality, in the crudest way of what we mean when we say the word “sex”. Online paraphilia has always been of interest to me precisely because it is one of the symptoms of the birth of a new 21st century subject. It is not the Internet and Photoshop giving way to perverse desires already inherent in the individual — the perversion is rooted in the very shadow of the system, its own unconcious, structuring the individual’s sexuality from the monitor.