Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ineluctable Modality of the Visible*

Hegel is often accused of being the inimitable culprit who has brought into philosophy a non-existing universe of the subject and object, of domination and submission. The difficulty that we find in Hegel is not exactly a problem of philosophy as it is practiced. It is a problem of thought, human thought precisely. And the true formula to end the problems that thought generates is to end thought itself. Hegel himself, if we finished Hegel’s sexual identity for ever, makes a move in philosophy, with an arrow directed at the pure surface. But then Hegel, when it is a question of non-identical tropes and pure difference, as in Gilles Delueze, has always been perceived as a tyrant who actively ruled over his pariahs. Well, why do we need a Hegel to answer the questions that are not his? This question must be addressed in its pure urgency: Hegel cannot actively fight his contemporary enemies because he has become a pure being.

Hegel in three pure beings, precisely.

One, death of Hegel. Even God had to die. So, in Hegel, the tragedy that God faces is that God must know in advance that God will die. Hegel’s point is brilliant: after God’s death, world may happen or may not, that’s the problem of the world, not God’s. So death as the full-unfolding, or the Absolute, or Hegel the pure being, the reason behind his death. Two, Hegel, as pure Being, in the hands of his contemporary acolytes. That Hegel is not so is an excuse, not philosophy. When Hegel becomes a software, he must be formulated in hypertext language which could be copied from one brain to the other. Three, the pure being that Hegel made by his philosophical enemies of all persuasions. They too have the same trouble that the card-carrying Hegelians face, but their fate is that of a mad virus, brilliantly coded, that is created to kill the Hegel software. Hegel is mad enough to evoke the idea that madness is a brilliantly coded rational system.

We should, then, learn something from the scientist Konrad Lorenz. In his beautiful book “King Solomon’s Ring” in a beautiful chapter entitled “Laughing at Animals” he candidly admits: “It is seldom that I laugh at animals, and when I do, I usually find out afterwards that it was at myself, at the human being whom the animal has portrayed in a more or less pitiless caricature, that I have laughed.” People familiar with Hegel would notice that Hegel has made a similar kind of statement: “True evil lies not in the object perceived as evil but in the innocent eyes that perceive evil all around”. But a few lines later Lorenz poses a startling question, which could be thought in a different way: “Can you imagine what it is like when a fish, a real and unmistakable vertebrate fish, first of all sits on a perch, like a canary, then turns its head towards you like a higher terrestrial animal, like anything but a fish, and then, to crown all, fixes you with a binocular stare?” This is real kickass comedy. But Lorenz is sharp enough to point out that it is the observer who plays the comical part in such an imaginary situation.
Now, Jacques Lacan read his Lorenz well. Like Lorenz he knows very well that things were looking at him. And like in Lorenz in Lacan too the ‘binocular stare’ has to be interpreted. It is a question of interpretation, not a correct interpretation but just an interpretation. But Lacan complicates things too far. The difficulty that Lacan brings in is that for Lacan the binocular stare of the fish behaving like a higher terrestrial animal is not imaginary. It is real. The point is emphatically hammered home by Lacan, when, after quoting the Gospel, Lacan says that people have eyes that they do not see that things are looking at them. Therein lies Lacan’s fundamental difference from Lorenz’s. For Lorenz, every funny gesture that animals produce is funny because it is our funny gesture. But for Lacan, we are not even aware that things are looking at us, leave alone the question of it being comical or serious. Then who else does know that things are looking at us? Not the participant. But the participant observer. The difference is clear if we go through that chapter of “Anti-Oedipus”, where Deleuze and Guttauri abundantly laugh at Freud, Lacan and other participant-observers. Lacan’s answer to such laughter would have been: “Okay, you have saved Wolfman from us. But he is still trapped in yet another hermeneutics. And that’s what my whole point is. You cannot save Wolfman from hermeneutics even if you leave him in forest.”

The scopic field that Lacan has in mind has two components: the look and gaze. When I look at an object, the object, without my knowledge, gazes at me. At a personal level, Lacan experienced it. While on a fishing expedition as a medical student with his friends, who were illiterate fishermen, Lacan was told by one of them that the bottle of sardine that was then floating in the sea did not see him. All of them laughed. But Lacan did not find that joke so amusing. It was rather insulting. In fact, most of the underdogs and marginalized of the society, on a day-to-day basis, have to undergo such humiliating experience. In this case, one could console, there was a tinge of admiration for the extremely learned intruder. It was his superior learning that made him different and hence invisible in the eyes of the bottle.

The difficult question: how did the fisherman know that the bottle of sardine did not see Lacan?

*Joyce, James."Ulysses." Delhi: Jainco Publishers. p. 37.

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