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August 13, 2006


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Jodi, I wonder if what you say here isn't a reason to have reservations about your suggestion that the language of conservative pundits isn't organized around a sort of feminine jouissance. Far from seeing this language as having no anchor in the phallic function, I have a difficult time not seeing it as phallic through and through. Each word strikes me as carefully sculpted and crafted to draw divisions and constitute subjectivities, insuring that smooth oppositions can be maintained.

Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I spend a good deal of time on conservative blogs and watching conservative news shows. The symptomatic marker I find in support of the phallic nature of this discourse lies in the shrillness these voices obtain when lines of division establishing identity are undermined or called into question. The most recent example of this would be conservative responses to the upset of Lieberman by Lamont. In response to this occurance, and entire rhetoric machine has been set into action, reinforcing the war on terror and established identities. What is intolerable here is the suggestion that there might be another way and the growing sense, among the American people, that a horrible mistake has been made in choosing a military solution to the problem of terrorism. Terrorism has come to function as a quilting point or phallic signifier for all social problems, thus marking a certain metaphysical or masculine structure of thought that allows the world to be easily comprehended. What sort of response might occur if it were suggested that while terrorism is certainly a problem, it is not the central or even most pressing problem, and certainly shouldn't be the issue around which all other governing problems occur? Given the timeline under which this recent alert has unfolded, it's difficult for me not to see it as aimed at interpellation-- as you say --rather than a real and genuine threat.


Levi--thanks. I see your point re not jouissance of the Other. So, just to make sure I'm clear, you're saying that what makes right wing media an example of phallic jouissance is that ultimately it's aim is to establish divisions, lines between us and them, to attack enemies, to demonstrate strength over weakness etc; and, that even if it is not doing so on the basis of reason, evidence, or rational distinctions, that the general structure is phallic. I will concede that I am wrong with respect to Lacan, but I'm just trying to be clear here: I thought that a firmer link to reason, a master signifier that would establish something more like a consistent discourse, was necessary for the phallic function. Am I simply wrong on this point?


Jodi, I'm still thinking about it and am not suggesting that you're wrong or mistaken, but I take it that the key marker of the masculine side of the graph of sexuation is that all jouissance is phallic jouissance. In Seminar 21, I believe, Lacan also refers to phallic jouissance as "semiotic jouissance". Insofar as identities are symbolic dimensions of the subject, they would thus be phallic. The idea would then be that all jouissance, on the masculine side, is subject to the symbolic or signifier (the exception being the phantasmatic figure of the primal father, who is not limited by the Law but can, as Lacan jokingly says, "really enjoy a woman", unlike the rest of men who can only enjoy objet a as a stand-in for woman (masturbation with a partner)). Reason and rational argumentation would be one way in which this sort of jouissance can manifest itself. However, if we recall that the key feature of the signifier is that it is defined by an oppositional or differential logic, we could imagine many other forms this structure might take as well. All of these identities we witness being so carefully formed on television are oppositional in nature. The jouissance involved in these identities would be the intervention of imaginary dimension, organized around the logic of sameness and difference, into interpersonal relations.

I suspect that we could do a Levi-Straussian analysis of conservative discourse such as the one Levi-Strauss undertakes with regard to plant flora in _The Savage Mind_, and we would discover that there is an immanent logic to this discourse. What I discern as emerging again and again in these discourses is an extreme reaction to any blurring of boundaries and oppositions. Thus, for example, when human rights activists criticized the treatment of prisoners at Guantanimo Bay and Abu Ghraib, there was outrage on conservative blogs for "supporting terrorists". Where one logic would have it that there is a nested series of categorizations going from human --> Middle Easterner ---> Muslim --> Muslim Fundamentalist/Extremists ---> Terrorist, such that each subsequent category included the prior category and there could be a question as to whether someone imprisoned was truly a terrorist or not, the conservative logic discerns a stark contrast of identity between Middle Easterners and Westerners such that rights cannot be commuted to the former. This is a symbolic structure, just of a differing sort.

Similarly, it is not at all unusual to hear conservatives denounce the relativism of the left. I always find this perplexing as the right strikes me as so relativistic in the manner in which it asserts particularist values (American Nationalism, Christocentricism, Rights only being granted to Americans despite the fact that the Declaration of Independence begins with the logical function "all", etc). Here the particular is treated as the universal in a consistent fashion, and any extension of a universal principle independent of qualifiers such as nation or ethnicity comes to be seen as a form of "relativism" because symbolic identities (religion, ethnicity, nation) trump the formulation of the principle. This is akin to treating symbolic predicates of an object such as its color as more basic than number such that only red objects could be counted-as-one, and not blue or green objects. What we have here, then, is a different heirarchy of signifiers where certain symbolic markers are treated as more primitive or basic han other symbolic markers.

One of the things that's struck me on some of the more intellectual conservative blogs I frequent, is a common antipathy towards democracy. Recently I've actually heard calls for a return to Constitutional Monarchy, argued with absolute seriousness and a great deal of passion. This would mirror the masculine logic of exception, where there's the fantasy of at least one subject that is not subject to the phallic function (the monarch).

I find the list of trash media "journalists" you give interesting, because in one way or another all of them embody voice as objet a. Think, for instance, of Rush Limbaugh's distinctive voice. Similar observations, I think, could be made about Coulter's voice as well, or even Bush or Cheney's voice. And was part of the political failure of both Gore and Kerry simply the materiality of their voice (and perhaps Hillary Clinton as well)? Moreover, there is the angry, Hitler-like animation of voice in figures such as Hannity or O'Reilly. In _Voice and Nothing More_, Mladen Dolar discusses voice as a hypnotic fetish object that remains after all signification is stripped away and which fills the subjects illusion of fullness in response to the alienating absence brought on by the oppositional, differential nature of the signifier. If you examine the lower portion of the graph of sexuation, you see that the masculine side of the graph recoups its submission to castration or the phallic function by relating to objet a. Given the highly symbolic dimension of fascist movements, is it surprising that voice returns with such intensity among the leaders of these movements?

In pondering your observations about megachurches and selling cool, I'm led to playfully wonder whether we do not need a new "voice". This, of course, would be at both the level of the signifier (where's our vision, our grand narrative? why has talk of class struggle, antagonism, and solidarity largely disappeared?), but also at the level of the materiality of voice itself. Where is our MLK?


As an additional remark, that I probably shouldn't make, it's likely that I have an unconscious tendency to see the masculine side of the graphs as "bad" and the feminine side as "good", as I associate the feminine side with a logic that is capable of overstepping oppositional identities in the name of aleatory and singular encounters, whereas I see the masculine side as premised on the Law and a rigid friend/enemy logic. I was thus a bit startled by your "short circuit" ;-) between conservative discourse and feminine sexuation. Of course, this throws me into a self-referential paradox or performative contradiction as it suggests that I'm treating the two sides of the graph according to the friend/enemy logic in trying to think something beyond the friend/enemy logic. I need to think on this more.

Adam Kotsko

Once, while waiting in line at the airport for a trip I didn't want to go on, I hoped that I had somehow erroneously been put on the no-fly list so I wouldn't have to go.

This latest measure is a bummer, though. I have some liquid explosives that I just want to transport, and I don't feel comfortable having them jostled in the cargo hold. I had a similar situation with some hand grenades once, but thankfully that was pre-9/11.


Levi--thanks for the comments. I especially appreciate the second one: in my view, neither the masculine nor feminine formulae are 'good' or 'bad'--they're formulae. Applied politically, they tell us, I think, that law is not-All, but that we still can't escape law (we could say it's not-all bad). And, I think that the feminine formulae might well capture traps of language, seductions and pleasures of language, enjoyments of language that persist beyond the law. With regard to conservative discourse, it may be that an actual discourse analysis is necessary to make the point. Your use of Dolar is interesting, but I'm not sure it quite accounts for Limbaugh and Coulter.


Jodi, I wasn't offering the remarks on voice as an exhaustive account of the likes of Limbaugh or Coulter, just speculating as to where we might find examples of objet a supplementing and operating in these discourses. The question would be that of why one in the same discourse can fall flat when articulated by one person and not fall flat when articulated by another. What is missing despite the identity at the level of message? In observing democrats in the last decade, I've noticed a tendency to ignore or underestimate these non-signify elements of communication; which, I suspect, has something to do with egalitarian assumptions embodied in this politics (the egalitarian being one who pays attention to content, reason, and message, not the appearance of the person delivering it).

I agree wholeheartedly with your remarks about the graphs of sexuation. It would be worthwhile to map some of the traps you refer to with regard to feminine sexuation. I think that one of the reasons I have a tendency to be suspicious of male structures in particular is that I associate them with the tradition of metaphysics organized around transcendent terms (onto-theology) and heirarchical social systems. Naturally this leads to a search for other models of social organization that aren't heirarchialized in this way. Frankly I don't associate these formulae with gender much at all, thinking them instead as different ways in which speaking-beings relate to jouissance. Given that those who are biologically male can be sexuated as feminine and vice versa, there seems to be little reason to call them "male" and "female". In working through Lacan's seminars on sexuation, I haven't yet been able to find any compelling reason for doing so; though I do find that they give a clinically accurate sorting of jouissances.

Amish Lovelock

Interesting satire on 9/11 by Ken Kalfus just came out about a New York couple going through divorce. Here's a bit:

"Many of the roofs in the neighborhood were occupied, mostly by office workers. They had their hands to their faces, either at their mouths or at their temples, but none covered their eyes. They were unable to turn away. Joyce heard gasps and groans and appeals to God's absent mercy. A woman beside her sobbed without restraint. But Joyce felt something erupt inside her, something warm, very much like, yes it was, a pang of pleasure, so intense it was nearly like the appeasement of hunger. It was a giddiness, an elation. The deep-bellied roar of the tower's collapse finally reached her and went on for minutes, it seemed, followed by an unnaturally warm gust that pushed back her hair and ruffled her blouse. The building turned into a rising mushroom-shaped column of smoke, dust, and perished life, and she felt a great gladness.

"Joyce, oh my God!" cried a colleague. "I just remembered. Doesn't your husband work there?"

She nodded slowly. His office was on the eighty-sixth floor of the south tower, which had just been removed whole from the face of the earth. She covered the lower part of her face to hide her fierce, protracted struggle against the emergence of a smile."


Oppose the terrorist

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