Archive for the Actions Category

Real Truth

Posted in Actions with tags , , , , , on 2013/10/01 by las Pétroleuses

One of the important contributions which Slavoj Žižek has made to contemporary philosophy is his reconceptualization of the category of truth. For decades, there have been two irreconcilable positions regarding this category (and which unsurprisingly line up with the analytic/continental divide): those who hold to the classical correspondence theory of truth, and those who hold to a relativist/perspectival position (usually connected to postmodernism). The former is quite familiar, even commonsensical: truth is a property of statements (by a subject) in relation to (objective) reality, namely whereby they accurately represent it. (In line with this, knowledge is usually defined as justified true belief, where a belief is basically a statement, such that knowledge is not simply true statements but statements whose truth is justified by some argument.) The latter is no less familiar, at least in the academic domain of theory: the truth of a statement is understood to be inseparable from its context, that is, the set of conditions (the “discourse” or “dispositif” or even the “episteme“, even though in Foucault these are not the same) which is the background that allows the statement to be meaningful (the point being that this process of becoming-meaningful precedes that of becoming-true). Žižek occupies a third position with regards to these two, defining a notion of truth which on the one hand avoids the subject/object dualism of the former position while not abandoning truth to the relativism of the latter. We can understand this as a dialectical triad: if the perspectival position is an abstract negation of correspondence, then Žižek’s connection of truth with the Lacanian category of the Real serves as a determinate negation. First, we have objective reality and a multitude of subjective positions which can be true or false; second, we have only this panopoly of subjective positions, insofar as objective reality is inseparable from them (i.e. insofar as such a notion of objective reality is an example of the “metaphysics of presence”); finally, we have the re-definition of truth as connected with that position which can account for this very multiplicity, with that Real antagonism which generates this multiplicity in the first place. Žižek’s classic example is class struggle: we have a multiplicity of positions on this fact which structures our economy (reactionary, conservative, liberal, social democrat, marxist, anarchist, etc.), but only one of these positions (for him, marxist, for us, “communist” in a broader and yet more esoteric sense beyond the marxist/anarchist feud) is true, insofar as it can (here, through [a specifically “intersectional”] class analysis) account for the range of possible positions we encounter.


Posted in Actions with tags , , , , on 2013/07/12 by las Pétroleuses

One of the figures that recurs endlessly in Žižek’s work is the Rabinovitch joke; he uses it to present the way dialectical sublation or “negation of negation” operates as a recognition of success in (an initial) failure. Rabinovitch is a Jew looking to emigrate from the USSR. He informs the immigration official that the reason he wants to leave is his fear that, were the USSR to collapse, Jews would be blamed and rounded up. “But the USSR will never collapse, socialism is here to stay!” responds the official. Rabinovitch responds: “that is my second reason.”

An interesting example of how this process occurs in history is how “Big Bang” came to name the beginning of the universe (or at least, the popular story). Initially, the scientific community was split between the theory of the “primeval atom” and “steady state” theory (that the universe has always existed and will always exist). Fred Hoyle, a proponent of steady state, the story goes, proposed “Big Bang” as a pejorative name of the former theory–to which the scientific community responded as Rabinovitch, “yes, exactly!” (Another good example of this structure from the history of science is the famous thought experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat, which was intended as a reductio ad absurdum of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, and subsequently taken up as a perfect illustration of that interpretation.)

Black Box, Red Spark

Posted in Actions with tags , , , , , on 2013/01/16 by las Pétroleuses

The New York Times Magazine (one of the less shitty things produced by the Times, it should be said) recently ran an article about George Saunders, a writer of the same generation as David Foster Wallace, whom people are apparently taking quite a liking to lately. I’ve never read him, but at the least, his description of the purpose of art (and the reference to Vonnegut!) make me interested to do so:

“I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters,” Saunders wrote in an essay on Vonnegut. “He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what’s inside the box bears some linear resemblance to ‘real life’ — he can put whatever he wants in there. What’s important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit. . . . In fact, Slaughterhouse-Five seemed to be saying that our most profound experiences may require this artistic uncoupling from the actual. The black box is meant to change us.”

Over against another common understanding of art, that art is entertainment, nothing more, that to give to art a purpose beyond some nebulous (surely neuronal) satisfaction is to insult the artist, (because all artists just want to entertain, right?) this notion of art is quite refreshing! Art as a vehicle for change! Creation as a mindfield made by one to pull an other through–after which, moreover, that other will be another other!

Let this place be a collection of such black boxes, with a simple purpose: to incite if not inflame a red spark in and among some other(s), some readers, you, you who are not-all!