The other day, I commented on a post over at Larval Subjects.
Someone replied to my last comment:
Racism is socially constructed. Just like gender. They are just signifiers without a signified. Now how do you think you can explain and convince someone who doesn’t even know this kind of thinking exists?
This is a damn good question, so I am offering my take here.
While I disagree with the general form of a “signifier without a signified”, nevertheless
another way of putting her question is “How do I break into the game?”
The short, short answer is, you don’t.
I will try to not make this answer the very involved answer because if I were to do that I would be merely still playing the game, and part of the answer to her question is, indeed, that we are already playing the game. And besides, I could probably write a book answering just this question.
In the short, short answer, and without going into all the verbosity of metaphysical ins and outs, Lacan and Zizek psychoanlysis calls this game the “The Master Signifier”.
The problem with a question such as hers is, as I just said, you , we, are already playing the game. You are already part of the game of the Master Signifier.
It is not “All Good”. Zizek somewhere lately has said (had been saying) that the problem with what he calls “the Left” is that it has no balls; it is disorganized and it is failing because it has no ground, that is, because its members cannot agree on the ground. The problem is inherent to this manner. The problem, basically, is that I can have my “good” morals, but everyone else is allowed to also have what is ‘good’ for themselves: It bends both ways, and then both ways again, and then back upon itself. In short, there is no strict philosophical reasonable manner to overcome this dilemma because what I call conventional philosophy is already a part of the Master Sginifier.
I will try to show what I mean by this through an analogy.
How many of you have ever watched the show “Intervenion”?
Go watch an episode, or one of that type, or go find a freind who is addicted to something. You probably have a friend who is addicted in a bad way, or likely, at least, a freind of a freind.
After the set up and the slice-of-the-day-in-the-life-of-the-addict, the Interventionalist comes in and sits down with the family and loved ones of the addict. What does the Interventionalist do or say everytime? What is the point of meeting with the group of loved ones?
Often, the family is a mess also, over their loved one being an addict and all the nonsense they do. So the Inteventionalist tells them right off that this is not the place to argue among youselves. And then she says that you will not engage with the addict in argument, that this is not the place to deal with whatever direct issues are going on between you and the addict.
The point of the intervention is to disrupt the fantasy in which all the family and loved ones are involved. This is also why if one of the (interventioning) family members has issues like drugs or drinking also, or codependacy, or anger problems, then the Interventionalist will offer help to them also. The point of getting together with the famlily is to get them to behave as if from outside the Master Signifier. The way you do this is to consider the whole situation, not just the ‘subject’ or the addict in this case, and stop interacting in that situation.
While this analogy can only be taken so far, It has some good uses for our philosphical/critical race theory uses. The main thing to notice is that interaction does not cease; only interaction with a certain dynamic. Conventional philosophy would have it that everything is contained under the one rubric of infinite possibility and that this is the domain of philsophy: Everything it sees fit to call unto its own. I generalize this motion into indicting its reason, but again, with the caveat (similar to the family/interventionalist/addict situation), that I am not speaking about a category in which all human beings participate at all times.
The point is not that somehow I get to or am able to get outside of a Master Signifier; that idea merely retains the fantastic frame of the Master Signifer itself, though using the parameters of the fantsy to contruct a fantasy about getting outside of it. The main issue is reason. Here, the reason in question is the crowning government of a body of generalizable anarchists.
Just as a manner of speaking, you cannot make an argument about the problems with anrachy using the terms of anarchy and you likewise cannot effect the anarchists from being chaotic by imposing a ‘sensiblity of government’. Both manners simply play into the scheme of signification that is already occurring. The anarchists will hear such anarchistic rhetoric as supporting thier cause, and they will hear the plea to order as the reason thier ideals are founded in a ‘more correct’, manner of appropriating the situtation.
Catherine Malabou might be onto something with her ‘passionate enagement’ and ‘plasticity’, and even ‘climate change’.
Why do you think the family in the intervention gets all emotional in following the instructions that the interventaionlist gives them? That is, that they must not engage in argument with the addict, that they must have a bottom line beyond which they will not relent?
The intervention is not an arguement with the addict; it is not an attempt to convince through reasonable discussion that addict to get treatment. It simply places boundaries against which the addict is thus able to view the situation that is outside of the fansasy. This outside is ultimatly still part and portion of the Master Signifier, but what the intervention allows for, in L-Z psychanalytical terms, is a viewing of the Real object. Of course, this object is not some sort of “real real object”. It is that object which the Master Signifier signifies to be the impossible case of any condition; these impossible cases are ‘suspended’ in every situation. What the intervention does is allow for a stable platform, a butress perhaps, a wall, against which the addict is able to view the impossible sitation that arises outside of the codependent and fantastic family dynamic.
The family is crying because they too are part of the fantasy of the Master Signifier and they are being asked to stop playing in it. Or rather, to bring about by Being actual subjects the Real object in the play of all possible outcomes, which is to say, “in the last instance”. They themselves must, in effect, lie. In order to be fidelitous to the truth of the situation, they must not tell the truth, which is to say, the ‘truth’ of how they see it, the ‘truth’ of how pissed off they are and why, the ‘truth’ of all the things they ‘know’ and ‘feel’. They must take on faith what the interventionalist is saying to do will reveal the truth of the situation of the fantasy to all participants. They are told to simply talk about the facts, how it used to be between them, how much fun they had together before the addiction, how they love them, and how they will not interact with them at all if they do not walk into the space of the unknown that is being opened for them at this moment.
Again, this analogy only goes so far. But we cannot abide someone destroying our house simply out of love for them. At some point we just accept the facts of the situation despite what argument may ensue about whther or not they are the facts, or what constitutes facts. Indeed, we do not shut them down if they wish to continue in thier way; they can do what they want. But once the facts have spoken, then things becomes really real.
We cannot convince racist or sexist people that their practices are racist or sexist if they are not willing to at least take a step into the unknown. But we also do not simply accept the repercussions of thier destructive activity.