Archive for divine subject

Okami: Divine Subjects and Image-Instruments

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan


OK, most of you probably know that I’m a hardcore Wii fan by now, so I’m guessing it’s about time to put the gaming geek of myself to elucidate my Lacanian new media theories. One of the core concepts of my thesis is a new subjective experience I call the divine subject. This notion of transcendent subjective experience made possible by technology has its roots in cybernetics and the Macy conferences of the 20th century, as Katherine Hayles has explained in her 1999 book How We Became Posthuman. The postmodern notion of contingent bodies and posthuman transformations is not, as many may argue, a rejection of the liberal humanist subject of Enlightenment (“ethics is deconstructed with biotechnology,” “it’s all about the dehumanizing market,” etc.), but instead, as John Searle is well aware, a faithful move to take the Cartesian subject one step further: a desperate move to preserve the cogito under postmodernity — precisely because thought is the only viable experience, we need no more bodies!

What better piece of literature to illustrate the divinity of the subject than Okami, a game in which you actually take control of God herself? This game in which your avatar is the Japanese sun God, Okami Amaterasu (taking the form of the white wolf avatar, Shiranui), has as its core element the ability for players to create objects in the scenes by painting on them directly — you create suns by painting circles in skies, stars by painting dots, cut enemies by painting slashes, etc. This is a perfect example of what Lev Manovich calls the transformation from image to image-instruments. With the advent of the computer age, signifiers now has a double role: not only a part of the sign, but also something to be acted upon, a portal to another dimension.

What to say of today’s world of signs? It is no longer the Baudrillardian object-dominated world of simulacra in which subjects are fashionably dead, but a world in which the simulacra is an extension of subjective experience. The correct way to read the popular postmodern dystopia in which even our bodies is nothing but a simulacra is not that we are dead, reduced to mere Foucauldian sand imprints, but the opposite one: every simulacra may be our body. (Is this not the ultimate dream of ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, etc?) With Žižek, the (Cartesian) subject is not dead, but preserved through its reflexivity.

Okami perfectly illustrates my thesis: with signifiers evolving from its original purpose to include a role as portals of actions, with subjects depending more and more on avatars (the contingent simulacra body, explained further on my theories of the psychoanalytic monitor phase) both for social interaction and individual enjoyment, it is only prudent to note the possibility that there is an evolution going on in the dialectics of the Symbolic and Imaginary orders. Does the divine paintbrush of Okami not show that the Imaginary self may very well lie outside the visible biological self?

Database and the Absence of Quilting Points

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

It is interesting to note that the Lyotardian postmodern disappearance of grand narratives is celebrated during the rise of the computer age in the 1980s. As media historian Lev Manovich has pointed out (in his The Language of New Media, but also elsewhere), during that time, not only was grand narratives disappearing, but also narratives as a dominant form of media, as they are slowly but surely giving way for the more dominant form of media and culture at large — the database. In database culture, we no longer have the linearity of the cinematic narrative that guide us through. Instead, we have a series of virtually unlimited choices to structure our own experiment. Manovich himself was already very well aware of this, as he notes how the logic of the database mirrors the politically correct logic of democratic freedom and a universal equality of things.

The Lyotardian grand narratives, on the other hand, can in many ways be equated with the Master Signifier of Jacques Lacan, signifiers which open up worlds proper and fixes the other signifiers in place, acting as a means of point de capiton (“quilting points”). But these Master Signifiers work in the paternal logic of strict “yes” and “no”, without attempting to universalize (“Spinozize”, as Žižek would put it) the order. However, we today, in our noisy claims of being politically correct modern societies, reject strict “yes” and “no” answers. The fall of grand narratives is the disappearance of point de capiton.

Many contemporary psychoanalytic philosophers, most notably Alain Badiou, are very aware of this danger — the postmodern global capitalism opens up no world proper. Thus, how can you subvert an essentially worldless condition? Our history so far consists of dialectics between worlds, and we do not yet know how to oppose properly a worldless state of things. (Although, i argue, a dialectics is possible, but would involve radical idealism in which embodiment becomes the terrain of fight, a sort of posthuman-charged Hegelianism I briefly noted here.) This is precisely why capitalism is very tricky and troubling, and seem to only rejoice at its attempts of subversion, as many are already well aware.

I am not opposing capitalism because I am a romantic Left with nostalgic stories of the past and Leninist dreams of a communist future. I am only partly opposing capitalism because I am an intelligent person with a heart. I am opposing it most precisely because I personally think it won’t last long, while too many people have too much faith in it and if we do not change soon, the costs will be detrimental. Already we are in the midst of climate change, and global capitalism is thriving on its very idea.

What would be my spontaneous reaction and ultimate methodology against capitalism? Philosophers like Žižek like to point out that we can only do it by reasserting these quilting points. Here I prefer to take things into a more specific level (and perhaps differ from him in some senses). If you are at all familiar with my writings, you should know I am always researching on the problems of embodiment and subjectivization. For me, the way is not to reassert quilting points as such (points of “yes” or “no” that define the narrative plots of our life), but how to redefine the points and worlds. To me, the answer lies in studying the database logic itself, to generate what Manovich would call “info-aesthetics” (although I prefer a more political idea). What we need now is a radical new philosophy of computer semiotics and cognitive science, not only in regarding AI problems, but also in the political sphere. Do we still need to debate, now, that we have become cyborgs?

The Society of Perversion

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

The cultural shift from modern to postmodern is a curious one: we move away from a society concerned with discipline and routine customs and strict difference of work and home to a society with a disappearing boundary between labor and leisure plus an added bonus of a whole lot of free porn. In other words, if society at large can be seen as a person, the disciplined neurotic has now turned into an irrational pervert.

A lot of reasons should come to mind. A first obvious one would be what I have stated above — the disintegrating boundary of labor and leisure with the advent of computers, and later cyberspace. Does this disintegration not also serve as a symbolic disintegration of the big Other of the work office? Seeing the symptoms apparent in today’s society, I am tempted to claim so. This disintegration, however, both constitutes and is a part of a larger cultural phenomena — the advent of new media (for an explanation on the relationship, please refer to Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media). In other words, the changing structure of media itself changes the psychological sphere of society.

Where do we begin? Let us take the Lacanian position in regards to analyzing perversion: it is essentially the disavowal of the fact that the mother does not posses a phallus. This mother for the society at large is the mother that deep feminism has introduced to us: nature. What is nature? Nature has always been understood as some kind of mystical balance existence itself, something that can only be experienced as mediated by the ultimate big Other of its laws. But what is happening today is precisely the realization that there is no nature: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, chaos theory, economic failures, etc. — the Lacanian “the big Other does not exist” suddenly emerges in most — if not all — intellectual fields. Then there is the added anxiety with our natural biological existence that comes with biotechnology and cybernetics combined — the shadow of the ultimate inefficacy of biology; the Haylesian becoming of the posthuman.

In short, the advent of the posthuman means the traumatic realization that the mother does not possess the phallus (of balanced deterministic progress, benevolence and subordination towards mankind, and so on), and the perversion prevalent in today’s society can be precisely read as a symptom of the disavowal of such realization. This can be confirmed by looking back into the previous mode of society, the neurosis — are we not precisely, by repressing sexuality, repressing our “natural, animalistic” instincts? With postmodernity, our sexuality is no longer repressed — it is let loose, but disavowed of its being a highly emotional and subjective, “uncodable” experience, for we have to treat it as an act of mere casual fun and games (I first blogged this issue here). Recall the notion of the animal signifier — being an “animal” used to be a derogatory remark, but now it means positively sexually aggressive, especially when compared to the now hip derogatory remark of being a “robot” in a relationship. (Curiously enough, the notion of “sex robots” are positive only qua an other we want to have sex with, not as).

As we are about to become near-spiritual beings with biotechnology and cybernetics, we force ourselves to have as much detached sex as possible, because we secretly fear that we could never be posthuman. We have now a perverse injunction to regard oneself as the instrument of the actual bodiless sexual relations, since the body is now a mere prostheses — a phallus of the Other apropos biological strap-on dildos.

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.

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.