Judith Butler, “Gender Trouble”



It is in sexual practice that gender is destabilized because “policing gender is sometimes used as a way of securing heterosexuality” xii [Foucauldian?].

“The sexist claims that a woman only exhibits her womannes in the act of heterosexual coitus in which her subordination becomes her pleasure… a feminist view argues that gender should be overthrown, eliminated, or rendered fatally ambiguous precisely because it is always a sign of subordination for women” xiv.

While we assume that gender is “an interior essence that might be disclosed,” this is “an expectation that ends up producing the very phenomenon that it anticipates” xv. This Butler stages as “metalepsis, the way in which the anticipation of a gendered essence produces that which it posits as outside itself” xv. The notion of performativity Butler advances is “a repetition and a ritual… a culturally sustained temporal duration… the gendered stylization of the body” and “an hallucinatory effect of naturalized gestures” xv. This narrativization of performance also interests me in terms of duree. (Interestingly, Butler also asks us not to transpose the theory onto race unproblematically, but to consider what happens when it performativity tries to come to grips with race.)

In a way, this is an advocation of surface reading, for if we see a person in drag and take their assumed gender as the opposite of their performed one, we give the first one priority and call the second one “mere artifice, play, falsehood, and illusion” xxiii [Blade Runner]. Butler’s goal is to explore the vacillation of reading between categories as “the experience of the body in question” xxiv.

“To the extent that gender norms (ideal dimorphism, heterosexual complementarity of bodies, ideals and rule of proper and improper masculinity and femininity, many of which are underwritten by racial codes of purity and taboos against miscegenation) establish what will and will not be intelligibly human, what will and will not be considered to be ‘real,’ they establish the ontological field in which bodies may be given legitimate expression. If there is a positive normative task in Gender Trouble, it is to insist upon the extension of this legitimacy to bodies that have been regarded as false, unreal, and unintelligible. Drag is an example that is meant to establish that ‘reality’ is not as fixed as we generally assume it to be” xxv.

While this implies a history of symptomatic reading (the surface belies depth), it also values surface. It is neither pure surface, self-invention, language, or theatricality xxvi. “Those who are deemed ‘unreal’ nevertheless lay hold of the real” xxviii.


If woman is mystery for de Beauvoir, it might stem from the “trouble” Sartre locates in her ability to return the gaze xxx. For Butler, “power appeared to operate in the production of that very binary frame for thinking about gender” xxx. In a Foucauldian genaeological approach, Butler will look at gender as a set of effects, rather than causes.

“Gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real. His/her performance destabilizes the very distinctions between the natural and the artificial, depth and surface, inner and outer through which discourse about genders almost always operates” xxxi.


Rather than feminism based in identity politics, which glosses over issues of race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and individuality, Butler invites us to consider a coalitional feminism (rather than a universal basis on identity politics, which, as bell hooks suggests, already confronts issues of race) that would undermine the term “woman” and upset the patriarchal linguistic binary. In fact, gender is multiple and unstable 4.

The split between sex and gender is false for Butler, since both, and not just gender, are constructed: “gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which ‘sexed nature’ or ‘a natural sex’ is produced and established as ‘prediscursive,’ prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts” 10. If de Beauvoir sees men constructing their gender against woman’s lack and Irigaray holds that it is One phallogocentric gender that cancels woman altogether, Butler questions the idea of “being” a gender at all, as well as the necessity of being represented as such.

“Gender is a complexity whose totality is permanently deferred, never fully what it is at any given juncture in time. An open coalition, then, will affirm identities that are alternately instituted and relinquished according to the purposes at hand; it will be an open assemblage that permits of multiple convergences and divergences without obedience to a normative telos of definitional closure” 22 [Foucauldian, Deleuze & Guattari]

Gender, instead, is performative. “Intelligible” genders uphold “coherence and continuity among sex, gender, sexual practice, and desire 23.

“The identification of women with ‘sex,’ for Beauvoir as for Wittig, is a conflation of the category of women with the ostensibly sexualized features of their bodies and hence, a refusal to grant freedom and autonomy to women as it is purportedly enjoyed by men. Thus, the destruction of the category of sex would be the destruction of an attribute, sex, that has, through a misogynist gesture of synecdoche, come to take the place of the person, the self-determining cogito” 27 [Isherwood!]

Institutional heterosexuality has created this, since “gender can denote a unity of experience, of sex, gender, and desire, only when sex can be understood in some sense to necessitate gender” 30. [But where does that leave us now, since we can’t all drag and still get laid?] Another issue is language – Wittig claims it is only problematic in its applications, Irigaray in its content. Wittig ends up making polymorphous perversity a “telos” of human sexuality rather than its former state, however. “Woman itself is a term in process” 45.


Gender’s acts of “expression” constitute, rather than reflect, gender [vs. symptomatic reading! Here surface is content.] Both genders are open to resignification. This is where she calls for “gender trouble,” performance that troubles the binary: “a proliferation of precisely those constitutive categories that seek to keep gender in its place by posturing as the foundational illusions of identity” 46.


In this section, Butler challenges a utopian “pre-patriarchal” ideal as it appears in much feminist literature. Structuralist accounts, such as that of Levi-Strauss, depend on an idea of the transformation of sex into gender by means of the incest taboo, which creates a kinship structure around the exchange of women. Joan Riviere’s psychoanalytic approach claims femininity is a masquerade to hide masculine identification and lesbian desire. Finally, Freud’s theory on mourning and melancholia posits cathexis as identification, as the traits of a lost loved one are incorporated.

Butler challenges all three. In the case of incest, she argues that it is the presence of the taboo that incites incestuous desire. In Riviere, mimicry are the essence of gender, not an outward concealment of it. In Freud, we actually internalize the prohibited object via melancholia as we construct our own gender. This involves homosexual cathexis, but “heterosexual melancholy is culturally instituted as the price of stable gender identities.” Heterosexuality depends on homosexuality for its existence (is it Sontag who says this?). Approved heterosexuality and subversive homosexuality only exist after the law, which is generated and regulated via the incest taboo [Foucauldian]. “Not only does the taboo forbid and dictate sexuality in certain forms, but it inadvertently produces a variety of substitute desires and identities that are in no sense constrained in advance, except insofar as they are ‘substitutes’ in some sense” 103. Incest incites desire for the mother or father but also displaces that desire: “the notion of an ‘original’ sexuality forever repressed and forbidden thus becomes a production of the law which subsequently functions as its prohibition” 104.


In this section, Butler addresses Kristeva, Foucault, and Wittig. Recalling Kristeva’s argument that the feminine surfaces in language via the semiotic (vs the symbolic), Butler challenges the notion of writing and womanhood as reclamations of the body, but not homosexuality: “the unmediated cathexis of female homosexual desire leads unequivocally to psychosis” 117. On motherhood: “Kristeva conceptualizes this maternal instinct as having an ontological status prior to the paternal law, but she fails to consider the way in which that very law might well be the cause of the very desire it is said to repress.” In a Foucauldian argument, she claims that ideas of maternity themselves are products of discourse and power. “The female body that is freed from the shackles of the paternal law may well prove to be yet another incarnation of that law, posing as subversive but operating in the service of that law’s self-amplification and proliferation… If subversion is possible, it will be a subversion from within the terms of the law, through the possibilities that emerge when the law turns against itself and spawns unexpected permutations of itself” 127 [faceting!].

Butler examines the journals of the hermaphrodite Herculine who committed suicide when forced to live as a man. Prior to this, Herculine lived in “nonidentity.” Butler sees this idealism as a sort of “confessional” on Foucault’s part of his own (silent) homosexuality, since the idea contradicts what he argues for in History of Sexuality: namely, that there is no sex “prior” to power, and that sex is not a solution to discourse but part of it. “S/he is ‘outside’ the law, but the law maintains this ‘outside’ within itself… the law’s uncanny capacity to produce only those rebellions that it can guarantee will… defeat themselves” 144.

Sex is produced by compulsory heterosexuality – compulsory reproduction. Therefore, the binary of gender only exists in “the heterosexual matrix” and are naturalized there to conceal and reproduce it 150. Butler examines and agrees with Wittig’s formulation of lesbian sexuality. Wittig argues that women carry the burden of sex because they are always identified with/as sex. Thus sex is a way to designate the non-male by absence, and the synecdochic division of the body into parts (which we now feel is fact) fragments what is really a whole. “The body is itself a consequence of taboos that render that body discrete by virtue of its stable boundaries.” In lesbian sexuality, partners might multiply and proliferate signifying parts of the body. Lesbian sexuality must not posit itself all too radically outside heterosexuality, lest it consolidate that hegemony 174.

In the last part of the chapter, Butler asks why bodies are the surfaces on which gender is written. We enforce the boundaries of the body as a means of establishing taboo (thus AIDS being equated with anal sex – a threshold being crossed). Drag is a way to playfully exaggerate and undercut “original” gender.

“If gender attributes, however, are not expressive but performative, then these attributes effectively constitute the identity they are said to express or reveal. The distinction between expression and performativeness is crucial [since the former implies truth, but the latter implies there is no prior truth]… Genders can be neither true nor false, neither real nor apparent, neither original nor derived. As credible bearers of those attributes, however, genders can also be rendered thoroughly and radically incredible” 193.

It’s interesting to use the word incredible – unbelievable – here. It ties this to fiction and narrativization, which she has done all along. )It is also, again, a form of surface reading, at least insofar as it makes surfaces count.)


Butler tries to imagine a feminism free of the binary – the us/them or object/subject divide, as many feminists have thought before, is itself problematic and hegemonic. The subject is formed by repetition as signification (think of Stein!) Drag and other forms of parody destabilize and make apparent hidden assumptions about the “ontological locales” of gender (like Adorno on Beckett!) Butler hopes to have demonstrated how “the signifying practices that enable this metaleptic misdescription remain outside the purview of a feminist critique of gender relations” 202. We have no choice but to repeat the terms – the question is how or “to repeat, and, through a radical proliferation of gender, to displace the very gender norms that enable the repetition itself” 203 [how multiple is gender already, before this, I wonder?] Feminism’s foundationalist frame “presumes, fixes, and constrains the very ‘subjects’ that it hopes to represent and liberate,” in an “internal paradox” 203. The task is to “redescribe those possibilities as they already exist,” but in “unintelligible and impossible domains” 203. Gender’s “present proliferation might then become articulable within the discourses that establish intelligible cultural life, confounding the very binarism of sex, and exposing its fundamental unnaturalness” 203.

Friedrich Schiller, “On the Aesthetic Education of Man”


Schiller’s letters distill a number of concepts from Kant’s ideas on aesthetics. For Schiller, aesthetics are inherently political because Schiller equates beauty with good. Thus, for Schiller, aesthetic training is also political training; this is both wonderfully utopian and rather alarmingly fascist.

Written after the French Revolution, Schiller is responding directly to the political milieu of his time. He defends the study of art in a time of revolution, claiming that it is not trivial, for only beauty shows us the way to freedom. Like Kant, Schiller sees aesthetics as a sort of transitional interest on the way to a utopian politics. Schiller sees a kind of teleological development of history, in which a wholeness of the intellect and Nature has devolved into fragmented and specialized practices (a precursor to how Marx thinks of commodity production). Though we have progressed collectively, Schiller questions whether it has benefited the individual in any way. He wants to have his cake and eat it too – to continue to  progress as a society while aesthetics heals our wounds and relates the individual back to the whole again.

Why has the revolution failed? This failure seems to plague Schiller and other thinkers of the time. “Live with your century, but do not be its creature,” he writes in letter 7 (like Jameson trying to get distance as well). Schiller admires Kant’s ideas, but thinks Kant can only arise in a society so fragmented that it needs to theorize the reading of poetry. He tries to account for both the use and abuse of Reason – for the body and for feeling. If we are only sensuous, we are in complete empiricism and have no self. If we are only intellectual, we are in egotistical solipsism, and we are all self. Beauty is the balanced form of the sensuous and the intellectual (Burke makes a similar mix for love). It takes us to a space between matter and form, feeling and thinking, experience and reason.

How is this political? For Schiller, the individual and the state will parallel each other eventually (or ideally). Either the state imposes this as brutal law or individuals slowly rise to that ideal by a long, slow, reshaping to match state ideology. In a weird way, this maps onto Foucault’s ideas of the contributions of self-fashioning, but it is also creepy and potentially entails brainwashing. Schiller’s ideal swerves dangerously close to Foucault’s concern about the “self-policing” interpellated individual.

It would be interesting to compare Schiller’s ideas to Benjamin’s argument about “aestheticizing politics” (fascism) vs. “politicizing aesthetics” (communism), as well as to Althusser, who argues that art, too, can interpellate the subject through institutions and ISAs. This also reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go, which both promises artistic expression as a way of conceiving outside ideology, but also demonstrates the way in which art can be subsumed by ideological structures.

dir. Ridley Scott, “Blade Runner”


Ridley Scott’s futuristic post-human adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is set in 2019 in Los Angeles. Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a “blade runner,” an assasin who is neither exactly vigilante nor part of the legal institutional framework, hired to kill “replicants” who have tried to return to Earth to live from the planet where they are slaves. As he falls in love with Rachel and tries to teach (program?) her about love even though he is supposed to kill her, the film leads us to question whether Deck himself, like Rachel, Pris, Zora, and Roy, is himself a replicant. The mixture of film noir and 1980s corporate culture with an imagined ‘future’ another 40 years hence (now almost the present!) suggests a concern not so much with the traditional noir anxiety about gender (though that is present as well), but humanity itself.

The “simulation city” of Scott’s imagination also has the dark, steamy fog and cramping light and space effects of film noir, where Rachel plays Joan Crawford to Dex’s Humphrey Bogart. It is carceral, hierarchized, and Foucauldian in its ‘futurism’ (not only in its surveillance, but in the brief lifespans of the “lower class” of replicants, which reminds me of what Foucault says about the bourgeois “cult of life” and trying to live forever). While the machines breathe and flicker like humans, naturalized, the humans are mechanical, robotic, unrecognizable in their humanity. The presentation of space renders the horizontality of LA as verticality, but often flatly – the opening scenes present the buildings as cutouts against the smog, the flying craft move in gridlike patterns (think of Deleuze & Guattari’s “striated space”), and the advertisements playing on the sides of high-rises are like the opening credits of Mad Men – massive plays on surface and the Jamesonian sublime (many of the products are real, too – like Coke). This LA has illegible foods and surfaces, saturated as it is with a melange of “Asian” cultures – bicycles, noodles, and characters from numerous Oriental languages.

The film engages intertextually with a wide range of other materials. As a reworking of Shelley’s Frankenstein, it at least materializes women (which that novel does not – Dr. Frankenstein throws the component female parts into the sea in a trunk). But it parallels the classic novel in presenting the rejected spawn of the scientist’s mind as “human” – returning in this case to beg for more life. His queer, campy brand of aestheticized violence and superhuman capabilities remind me of Omar in David Simon’s TV series The Wire, and like the gay murderer of Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo, Scott provides another model for homosexual masculinity than effeteness. Many of the female characters are strikingly robotic and, in Pris’ case (Daryl Hannah as a sex slave), unintelligent, suggesting that men have “programmed” them that way, both literally and metaphorically. Like Pynchon’s Pierce Inverarity, who lives on “as a paranoia,” Tyrell’s death fails even to dent the monolith of social change is corporation has wrought.

It would be interesting to think about how the original ending of the film – with the unicorn sequence revealing Deck as a replicant and the fantasy of “driving away” into the country would act in conversation with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, an urban tale focused on the many nodes of city space, as well as its resistant fringes (the underbelly of the city, too). This “resolved” ending is more 50s, or 80s-conservativist, and the more ambiguous end of the origami unicorn and uncertain escape seem more 40s, or noir, in tone.

The film interests me in terms of surfaces in a number of ways. First, it challenges the status and even the value of memory as a source of depth, as it was in many modernist works. Like the “unicorn sequence” that suggests Deckard’s “memory” is false as well, all the replicants are “implanted” with memories from a computer database, which they believe to be their own, but which are fabrications. Deckard’s name also has the ring of Descartes, or “deck-of-cards” – you might connect this to the crisis of the cogito, ergo sum in the film or to Eliot’s The Waste Land and the shuffling of pieces in and out of persona. Pris and Roy’s insistence on styling themselves is a sort of queer-empowered surface rendering of Foucault’s ideas about self-fashioning. Roy speaks largely in song lyrics, and the cheesy, melodramatic flight of the dove at his death makes him (his body) into a work of art in a paradoxically humanizing mode. The replicants also squat in an empty building like artists as well. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go seems to have faith that art is redemptive, whereas that is a subject for contemplation and distress in Scott’s universe.


Jacques Lacan, from Seminars XI & XX



“Today I shall continue the examination of the concept of repetition, as it is presented by Freud and the experience of psychoanalysis…. No praxis is more oriented towards that which, at the heart of experience, is the kernel of the real than psychanalysis… an essential encounter… with a real that eludes us” 53.

In Aristotelian terms, tuche (the encounter with the real), is beyond the automaton (the return to the governance of the pleasure principle). Repetition is “always veiled in analysis” for Lacan 54. This is because the tuche, or “real as encounter,” “first presented itself in the history of psychoanalysis in a form that was in itself already enough to arouse our attention, that of the trauma… the form of that which is unassimilable in [the real]… imposing on [repetition] an apparently accidental origin” 55.

“The encounter, forever missed, has occurred between dream and awakening, between the person who is still asleep and whose dream we will not know and the person who has dreamt merely in order not to wake up… the true formula of atheism is not God is dead… [but] God is unconscious” 59.

“The place of the real… stretches from the trauma to the phantasy… the accident, the noise, the small element of reality, which is evidence that we are not dreaming” 60.

Referring to Kierkegaard’s essay on Repetition, Lacan compares its focus on the old to Freud’s approach:

“Freud is not dealing with any repetition residing in the natural, no return of need, any more than is Kierkegaard. The return of need is directed towards consumption placed at the service of appetite [Tomkins]. Repetition demands the new. It is turned towards the ludic, which finds its dimension in this new… Whatever, in repetition, is varied, modulated, is merely alienation of its meaning… the true secret of the ludic, namely, the most radical diversity constituted by repetition in itself” 61.


Lacan asks how we can “ground this repetition first of all in the very split that occurs in the subject in relation to the encounter. This split constitutes the characteristic dimension of analytic discovery and experience; it enables us to apprehend the real, in its dialectical effects, as originally unwelcome… the primal scene so traumatic” 69. Lacan describes Merleau-Ponty’s The Phenomenology of Perception as the next step from “the regulation of form, which is governed, not only by the subject’s eye, but by his expectations, his movement, his grip, his muscular and visceral emotion… his constitutive presence… his total intentionality” 71. In The Visible & the Invisible, Lacan writes, we see that

“the eye is only the metaphor… of the preexistence of a gaze… it is no doubt this seeing, to which I am subjected in an original way, that must lead us to the aims of this work, to that ontological turning back, the bases of which are no doubt to be found in a more primitive institution of form” 72.

“The split that concerns us is not the distance that derives from the fact that there are forms imposed by the world… the limits that we encounter in the experience of the visible. The gaze is presented to us only in the form of a strange contingency… the lack that constitutes castration anxiety. The eye and the gaze – this is for us the split in which the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field… something slips, passes, is transmitted, from stage to stage, and is always to some degree eluded in it – that is what we call the gaze” 73.

Essentially, the gaze is the anxiety of the loss of autonomy that occurs when a subject realizes he is also an object among objects and can be viewed. It is related to the mirror stage, where the child realizes its external appearance, but as an idealized form of itself. Though it is Sartre’s term, Foucault made it his in applying the self-regulation that results from the gaze to fields of medicine and power structures. It is related to Mulvey’s assertion that the camera’s male gaze makes both men and women see themselves through male eyes.

“That in which the consciousness may turn back upon itself – grasp itself… as seeing oneself seeing oneself – represents mere sleight of hand [Peeping Tom]. An avoidance of the function of the gaze is at work there” 74.

“[In narcissism] can we not also grasp that which has been eluded, namely, the function of the gaze?… we are beings who are looked at, in the spectacle of the world. That which makes us consciousness institutes us by the same token as speculum mundi… that gaze that circumscribes us, and which in the first instance makes us beings who are looked at, but without showing this? The spectacle of the world… appears to us as all-seeing… The world is all-seeing, but it is not exhibitionistic – it does not provoke our gaze [vs woman]. When it begins to provoke it, the feeling of strangeness begins too… in the so-called waking state, there is an elision of the gaze, and an elision of the fact that not only does it look it also shows… In a dream, [a man] is a butterfly. What does this mean? It means that he ses the butterfly in his reality as gaze ” 75.

“Next time, I propose to introduce you to the essence of scopic satisfaction… In so far as the gaze, qua objet a, may come to symbolize this central lack expressed in the phenomenon of castration, and in so far as it is an objet a reduced, of its nature, to a punctiform, evanescent function, it leaves the subject in ignorance as to what there is beyond the appearance, an ignorance so characteristic of all progress in though that occurs in the way constituted by philosophical research” 77.

“Psychology… lead[s] the subject back to his signifying dependence…. the tuche is represented in visual apprehension… the stain… the level of reciprocity between the gaze and the gazed at is, for the subject, more open than any other alibi… we should try to avoid, by our interventions… allowing the subject to establish himself on this level… we should cut him off from this point of ultimate gaze, which is illusory… It is not, after all for nothing that analysis is carried out face to face. The split between gaze and vision will enable us, you will see, to add the scopic drive to the list of the drives… it is this drive that most completely eludes the term castration” 77-8.



“Law does not ignore the bed… what remains veiled in the bed… namely, what we do in that bed – squeeze each other tight” 2-3. “‘Usufruct’ brings together in one word… the difference between utility and jouissance.. you can enjoy your means, but must not waste them. When you have the usufruct of an inheritance, you can enjoy the inheritance as long as you don’t use up too much of it. That is clearly the essence of law – to divide up, distribute, or reattribute everything that counts as jouissance” 3.

“Jouissance is what serves no purpose… the superego is the imperative of jouissance – Enjoy!” 3. “Jouissance of the other… of the body of the Other who symbolizes the Other, is not the sign of love” 4. “Love, of course, constitutes a sign and is always mutual” 4. “Love demands love. It never stops demanding it. It demands it… encore. ‘Encore’ is the proper name of the gap in the Other from which the demand for love stems” 4. “L’amur is what appears in the form of bizarre signs on the body… the sexual characteristics that come from beyond” 5. “Is Eros a tension toward the One?” 5.

“Analysis demonstrates that love, in its essence, is narcissistic, and reveals that the substance of what is supposedly object-like – what a bunch of bull – is in fact that which constitutes a remainder in desire, namely, its cause, and sustains desire through its lack of satisfaction, and even its impossibility. Love is impotent, though mutual, because it is not aware that it is but the desire to be One, which leads us to the impossibility of establishing the relationship between… them-two sexes” 5.

Jouissance is essentially phallic, though there is a specifically feminine jouissance that is the jouissance of the Other, and which both men and women can experience without comprehending it. (Later Lacan will develop surplus jouissance, based on Marxist surplus, to describe pleasure without use value).

“The phallus is the conscientious objection made by one of the two sexed beings to the service to be rendered to the other. Don’t talk to me about women’s secondary sexual characteristics because, barring some sort of radical change, it is those of the mother that take precedence in her. Nothing distinguishes woman as a sexed being other than her sexual organ” 7.

“Everything revolves around phallic jouissance, in that woman is defined by a position that I have indicated as ‘not whole’ with respect to phallic jouissance… the obstacle owing to which man does not come… to enjoy woman’s body, precisely because what he enjoys is the jouissance of the organ” 7.

“Sexual jouissance has the privilege of being specified by an impasse… The intersection… covers or poses an obstacle to the supposed sexual relationship. Only ‘supposed,’ since I state that analytic discourse is premised solely on the statement that there is no such thing…Jouissance, qua sexual, is phallic –  in other words, it is not related to the Other as such” 9.

“What is implied… by the demonstrable finity of the open spaces that can cover the space that is limited and closed in the case of sexual jouissance?… The sexed being of these not-whole women does not involve the body but what results from a logical exigency in speech… language exists and is outside the bodies that are moved by it” 10.

Women can be treated “one by one,” can be named and counted, but Lacan differentiates this from “the One of universal fusion. If woman were not not-whole – if, in her body, she were not not-whole as sexed being – none of that would hold true” 10. “The subject manifests himself in his gap, namely, in that which causes his desire… As for being that would be posited as absolute, it is never anything but the fracture, break, or interruption of the formulation ‘sexed being,’ insofar as sexed being is involved in jouissance” 11.


Lacan moves beyond Freud in that he imagines a jouissance beyond that determined by the phallus. If in the first case the phallus is the axis between the two sexes, in this case there is a One – that sexuality is one in language, and that sexuality is and is constituted by language. This is true because sex is not between subject and Other but subject and object. Masculine sex is therefore (in Freudian terms of polymorphism) always perverse – it always covers the absence of the Other. Therefore the fantasies of women are also masculine. Maternity is made masculine by its relation to the object, which Lacan uses to explain why perversion is ‘unnecessary’ to female sexuality. Femininity is not opposed to masculinity, but ‘supplementary’ to it. This is largely accomplished through Lacan’s belief in the unconscious of language – femininity can exist there outside the male.

Deleuze & Guattari, Introduction: “One Thousand Plateaus”


Translator’s Note (Brian Massumi): Deleuze “discovered an orphan line of thinkers who were tied by no direct descendance but were united in their opposition to the State philosophy that would nevertheless accord them minor positions in its canon. Between Lucretius, Hume, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson there exists a ‘secret link constituted by the critique of negativity, the cultivation of joy, the hatred of interiority, the exteriority of forces and relations, the denunciation of power'” x. Guattari is a practicing psychoanalyst. Versus phallogocentrism as pointed out by Cixous and Irigaray (“what the most privileged model of rocklike identity is goes without saying”), “Deleuze & Guattari describe it as the ‘arborescent model’ of thought (the proudly erect tree under whose spreading boughs latter-day Platos conduct their class) xii. “Nomad thought does not immure itself in the edifice of an ordered interiority; it moves freely in an element of exteriority” xii.

“The space of nomad thought is qualitatively different from State space. Air against earth. State space is ‘striated,’ or gridded. Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that plane to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points. Nomad space is ‘smooth,’ or open-ended. One can rise up at any point and move to any other. Its mode of distribution is the nomos: arraying oneself in an open space (hold the street), as opposed to the logos of entrenching oneself in a closed space (hold the fort)” xiii.

For Massumi, nomad thought is comparable to Spinoza’s ethics, Nietzsche’s gay science, Artaud’s crowned anarchy, Blanchot’s ‘space of literature,’ or Foucault’s ‘outside thought’ xiii. “On a formal level, it is mathematics and music that create the smoothest of the smooth spaces” xiii. (Philosophy is more “music with content” than the opposite.) The book, then, is more like a record – one can skip tracks, repeat, etc. “Plateau” has its origins in a sexual reference – to a world of “plateaus’ in sexuality, rather than “the West’s orgasmic orientation” xiv.

“A plateau is reached when circumstances combine to bring an activity to a pitch of intensity that is not automatically dissipated in a climax. The heightening of energies is sustained long enough to leave a kind of afterimage of its dynamism that can be reactivated or injected into other activities, creating a fabric of intensive states between which any number of connecting routes could exist” xiv.

Thus, ‘consistency’ or ‘style’ here is a holding together, rather than a homogeneity. The particular dates of particular chapters “correspond to the point at which that particular dynamism found its purest incarnation in matter… that never lasts more than a flash” xiv.

“The reader is invited to follow each section to the plateau that rises from the smooth space of its composition, and to move from one plateau to the next at pleasure. But it is just as good to ignore the heights. You can take a concept that is particularly to your liking and jump with it to its next appearance. They tend to cycle back. Some might call that repetitious. Deleuze and Guattari call it a refrain. Most of all, the reader is invited to lift a dynamism out of the book entirely, and incarnate it in a foreign medium, whether it be painting or politics. The authors steal from other disciplines with glee, but they are more than happy to return the favor” xv.

“Deleuze’s own image for a concept is not a brick, but a ‘tool box.’ He calls his kind of philosophy ‘pragmatics’ because its goal is the invention of concepts that do not add up to a system of belief or an architecture of propositions that you either enter or you don’t, but instead pack a potential in the way a crowbar in a willing hand envelops an energy of prying… read [this book] as a challenge: to pry open the vacant spaces that would enable you to build your life and those of the people around you into a plateau of intensity that would leave afterimages of its dynamism that could be reinjected into still other lives, creating a fabric of heightened states between which any number, the greatest number, of connecting routes could exist. Some might call that promiscuous. Deleuze and Guattari call it revolution” xv.

Interesting how the text enacts “refrain” here! “The question is not: is it true? But: does it work?” xv.


In the process of writing together, “We are no longer ourselves… We have been aided, inspired, multiplied” 3.

“A book has neither object nor subject; it is made of variously formed matters, and very different dates and speeds. To attribute the book to a subject is to overlook this working of matters, and the exteriority of their relations. It is to fabricate a beneficent God to explain geological movements… articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories… lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification… rates of flow… phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity… acceleration and rupture… an assemblage… It is a multiplicity” 3-4.

“One side of a machine assemblage faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signifying totality, or determination attributable to a subject; it also has a side facing a body without organs, which is continually dismantling the organism, causing asignifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate, and attributing to itself subjects that it leaves with nothing more than a name as the trace of an intensity” 4.

“What is the body without organs of a book?… there is no difference between what a book talks about and how it is made… as an assemblage, a book has only itself, in connection with other assemblages and in relation to other bodies without organs… [not] what it means, as signified or signifier… with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs it makes its own converge” 4.

“A book exists only through the outside and on the outside… this literary machine to a war machine, love machine… All we talk about are multiplicities, lines, strata, and segmentarities… writing as always the measure of something else” 4.

“Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come” 5.

The authors describe “the root-book… the classical book, as noble signifying, and subjective organic interiority (the strata of the book)” 5.  ”

“The book imitates the world, as art imitates nature… The law of the book is the law of reflection, the One that becomes two… whenever we encounter this formula, even stated strategically by Mao or understood in the most ‘dialectical’ way possible, what we have before us is the most classical and well reflected, oldest, and weariest kind of thought… [but] in nature, roots are taproots with a more multiple, lateral, and circular system of ramification, rather than a dichotomous one… Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree… this system of thought has never reached an understanding of multiplicity… [but instead a dualism based in] a strong principle unity…” 5.

“The binary logic of dichotomy has simply been replaced by biunivocal relationships between successive circles. The pivotal taproot provides no better understanding of multiplicity than the dichotomous root. One operates in the object, the other in the subject. Binary logic and biunivocal relationships still dominate psychoanalysis… linguistics, structuralism, and even information systems…” 5.

Deleuze & Guattari point to the “radicle-system or fascicular root” (interesting that radical has as its root the word “root,” and that fascicular is the same root, fascista, as gives us fascist) 5 and William Burroughs’ “cut-up method: the folding of one text onto another, which constitutes multiple and even adventitious roots… implies a supplementary dimension… of folding… the most resolutely fragmented work can also be presented as the Total Work or Magnum Opus” 6.

“Most modern methods for making series proliferate or a multiplicity grow are perfectly valid in one direction, for example, a linear direction, whereas a unity of totalization asserts itself even more firmly in another, circular or cyclic, dimension. Whenever a multiplicity is taken up in a structure, its growth is offset by a reduction in its laws of combination. The abortionists of unity are indeed angel makers, doctores angelici, because they affirm a properly angelic and superior unity. Joycce’s words, accurately described as having ‘multiple roots,’ shatter the linear unity of the word, even of language, only to posit a cyclic unity of the sentence, text, or knowledge: 6.

“The fascicular system does not really break with dualism, with the complementarity between a subject and an object… the world has become chaos, but the book remains the image of the world… A strange mystification: a book all the more total for being fragmented… The multiple must be made… Subtract the unique from the multiplicity to be constituted; write at n-1 dimensions. A system of this kind could be called a rhizome” 6.

“The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers… the best and the worst…” 7.

The authors go on to delineate 6 characteristics of the rhizome:

1. & 2. “Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” 7. They want to differentiate this from other systems, including Chomsky’s on language, which holds a central symbol. “Our criticism of these linguistic models is not that they are too abstract but, on the contrary, that they are not abstract enough… A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles… a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages… no ideal speaker-listener” 8. The rhizome decenters and destabilizes language.

3. “It is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, ‘multiplicity,’ that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world” 8.

“Multiplicities are rhizomatic, and expose arborescent pseudomultiplicities for what they are. There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide in the subject. A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature (the laws of combination therefore increase in number as the multiplicity grows). Puppet strings, as a rhizome or multiplicity, are tied not to the supposed will of an artist or puppeteer but to a multiplicity of nerve fibers, which form another puppet in other dimensions… the weave… An assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections. There are no points or positions in a rhyizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines… making the whole piece proliferate.” 8.

“Unity always operates in an empty dimension supplementary to that of the system considered (overcoding). The point is that a rhizome or multiplicity never allows itself to be overcoded, never has available a supplementary dimension over and above its number of lines, that is, over and above the multiplicity of numbers attached to those lines. All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill or occupy all of their dimensions… a plane of consistensy of multiplicities… the dimensions of this ‘plane’ increase with the number of connections… Multiplicities are defined by the outside… the line of flight or deterritorialization according to which they change in nature and connect with other multiplicities… flattening all of the multiplicities on a single plane of consistency or exteriority, regardless of their number of dimensions” 8-9.

“The ideal for a book would be to lay everything out on a plane of exteriority of this kind, on a single page, the same sheet: lived events, historical determinations, concepts, individuals, groups, social formations… a broken chain of affects and variable speeds, with accelerations and transformations, always in a relation to the outside. Open rings [versus] the classical or romantic book constituted by the interiority of a substance or subject. The war-machine book against the State apparatus-book. Flat multiplicities of n dimensions are asignifying and asubjective… partitives… some…” 9.

4. “Against the oversignifying breaks separating structures or cutting across a single structure. A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines… ants… lines of segmentarity… as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees… one can never posit a dualism or a dichotomy” 9.  “Groups and individuals contain microfascisms just waiting to crystallize” 10. ‘We form a rhizome with our viruses, or rather our viruses cause us to form a rhizome with other animals… The rhizome is an anti-genealogy” 10-11.

“The same applies to the book and the world: contrary to a deeply rooted belief, the book is not an image of the world. It forms a rhizome with the world, there is an aparallel evolution of the book and the world; the book assures the deterritorialization of the world, but the world effects a reterritorialization of the book, which in turn deterritorializes itself in the world (if it is capable, if it can). Mimicry is a very bad concept, since it relies on binary logic to describe phenomena of an entirely different nature” 11. (hysterical realism!)

“Always follow the rhizome by rupture; lengthen, prolong, and relay the line of flight; make it vary, until you have produced the most abstract and tortuous of lines of n dimensions and broken directions… Follow the plants: you start by delimiting a first line consisting of circles of convergence around successive singularities; then you see whether inside that line new circles of convergence establish themselves, with new points located outside the limits and in other directions. Write, form a rhizome… extend the line of flight to the point where it becomes an abstract maching covering the entire plane of consistency” 11.

D & G idealize music somewhat because it so often overturns its own structures.

5. & 6. “Cartography… The rhizome is… a map and not a tracing… entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real… does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious… connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs… open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification… Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways… the burrow… performance [vs competence]” 12 (think of Silko and Pynchon, as well as of Jameson’s critice of the Hotel Bonaventure).  Applied to psychoanalysis, this approach pushes against approaches that treat drives as “entryways and exits,” not facile labels and structures to which patients easily adhere 13. “Take a look at psychoanalysis and linguistics: all the former has ever made are tracings or photos of the unconscious, and the latter of language” 13. “Plug the tracings back into the map,” suggest the authors 14.

“If it is true that it is of the essence of the map or rhizome to have multiple entryways, then it is plausible that one could even enter them through tracings or the root-tree, assuming the necessary precautions are taken… one will often be forced to take dead ends, to work with signifying powers and subjective affections, to find a foothold in formations that are Oedipal or paranoid or even worse, rigidified territorialities that open the way for other transformational operations. i tis even possible for psychoanalysis to serve as a foothold, in spite of itself… there are very diverse map-tracing, rhizome-root assemblages, with variable coefficients of deterritorialization… a tree branch or root might begin to burgeon into a rhizome… aggregates of intensities” 15.

(This sounds a lot like Foucault’s suggestion for resisting power structures.) “Accounting and bureaucracy proceed by trancings: they can begin to burgeon nonetheless, throwing out rhizome stems, as in a Kafka novel. An intensive trait… challenging the hegemony of the signifier” 15. The child has freedom in his movements from dominance (think Lolita!).

“To be rhizomorphous is to produce stems and filaments that seem to be roots, or better yet connect with them by penetrating the trunk, but put them to strange new uses. We’re tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, radicles… from biology to linguistics” 15.

“Thought is not arborescent, and the brain is not a rooted or ramified matter. What are wrongly called ‘dendrites’ do not assure the connection of neurons in a continuous fabric… the leap each message makes across these fissures, make the brain a multiplicity immersed in its plane of consistency or neuroglia, a whole uncertain, probabilistic system (‘the uncertain nervous system’). Many people have a tree growing in their heads, but the brain itself is much more a grass than a tree” 15.

D & G differentiate between short-term memory as rhizome and long-term memory as tree:

“The splendor of the short-term Idea: one writes using short-term memory, and thus short-term ideas, even if one reads or rereads using long-term memory of long-term concepts. Short-term memory includes forgetting as a process; it merges not with the instant but instead with the nervous, temporal, and collective rhizome” 16.

“The tree and root inspire a sad image of thought that is forever imitating the multiple on the basis of a centered or segmented higher unity… even if the links themselves proliferate, one can never get beyond the One-Two, and fake multiplicities… even when one thinks one has reached a multiplicity, it may be a false one – of what we call the radicle type – because its ostensibly nonhierarchical presentation or statement in fact only admits of a totally hierarchical solution.. the structure of Power” 16-17.

“Psychoanalysis… subjects the unconscious to arborescent structures, hierarchical graphs, recapitulatory memories, central organs, the phallus, the phallus-tree… a dictatorial conception of the unconscious… there is always a leader (General Freud). Schizoanalysis, on the other hand, treats the unconscious as an acentered system, in other words, as a machine network of finite automata (a rhizome), and thus arrives at an entirely different state of the unconscious… and linguistics… never to reduce the unconscious or to interpret it or to make it signify according to a tree model… [but to] produce the unconscious… new statements, different desires: the rhizome is precisely the production of the unconscious” 18.

(How ironic that Saussure came up with the argument for sign, a unity made of the binary signified/signifier, with the arbor/tree example.)

“Transcendence: a specifically European disease. Neither is music [in the East and the West] the same, the music of the earth is different, as is sexuality: seed plants, even those with two sexes in the same plant, subjugate sexuality to the reproductive model; the rhizome, on the other hand, is a liberation of sexuality not only from reproduction but also from genitality. Here in the West, the tree has implanted itself in our bodies, rigidifying and stratifying even the sexes. We have lost the rhizome, or the grass” 18.

“America is a special case. Of course it is not immune from domination by trees or the search for roots. This is evident in the literature, in the quest for a national identity and even for a European ancestry or genealogy… nevertheless, everything important that has happened or is happening takes the route of the American rhizome: the beatniks, the underground, bands and gangs, successive lateral offshoots in immediate connection with an outside. American books are different than European books, even when the American sets off in pursuit of trees. The conception of the book is different. Leaves of Grass. And directions in America are different: the search for arborescence and the return to the Old World occur in the East. But there is the rhizomatic West, with its Indians without ancestry, its ever-receding limit, its shifting and displaced frontiers. There is a whole American ‘map’ in the West, where even the trees form rhizomes. America reversed the directions: it put its Orient in the West, as if it were precisely in America that the earth came full circle, its West is the edge of the East” 19.

“[America] proceeds both by internal exterminations and liquidations (not only the Indians but also the farmers, etc) and by successive waves of immigration from the outside. The flow of capital produces an immense channel, a quanitification of power with immediate ‘quanta,’ where each person profits from the passage of the money flow in his or her own way (hence the reality-myth of the poor man who strikes it rich and then falls into poverty again): in America, everything comes together, tree and channel, root and rhizome. There is no universal capitalism, there is no capitalism in itself; capitalism is at the crossroads of all kinds of formations; it is neocapitalism by nature. It invents its eastern face and western face, and reshapes them both – all for the worst” 20.

This seems relevant again to Foucault’s idea of how to fight fire with fire, so to speak.

“There are knot of arborescence in rhizomes, and rhizomatic offshoots in roots… the root-tree and canal-rhizome are not two opposed models: the first operates as a transcendent model and tracing, even if it engenders its own escapes; the second operates as an immanent process that overturns the model and outlines a map, even if it constitutes its own hierarchies… not a question of this or that place on earth, or of a given moment in history… a model that is perpetually in construction or collapsing, and of a process that is perpetually prolonging itself, breaking off and starting up again… not a new or different dualism… we employ a dualism of models only in order to arrive at a process that challenges all models” 20.

“Arrive at the magic formula we all seek – Pluralism = Monism – via all the dualisms that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging… it is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion… neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the One is always subtracted (n-1). When a multiplicity of this kind changes dimension, it necessarily changes in nature as well, undergoes a metamorphosis” 21.

“Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, with binary relationships between the points and biunivocal relationships between the positions, the rhizome is made only of lines: lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after which the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis… it is a short-term memory, or antimemory… operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots… a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight… an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton… What is at question in the rhizome is a relation to sexuality – but also to the animal, the vegetal, the world, politics, the book, things natural and artificial – that is totally different from the arborescent relation: all manner of ‘becomings'” 21.

“A plateau is always in the middle… a rhizome is made of plateaus… a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end… [Balinese] mother-child sexual games… ‘Some sort of contintuing plateau of intensity is substituted for (sexual) climax’… a book composed of chapters has culmination and termination points. What takes place in a book composed instead of plateaus that communicate with one another across microfissures, as in a brain? We call a ‘plateau’ any multiplicity connected to other multiplicities by superficial underground stems in such a way as to form or extend a rhizome” 22.

“Rhizomatics = schizoanalysis = stratoanalysis = pragmatics = micropolitics. These words are concepts, but concepts are lines, which is to say, number systems attached to a particular dimension of the multiplicities… all we know are assemblages… machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation” 22.

“It’s not easy to see thinkgs in the middle, rather than looking down on them from above or up at them from below, or from left to right or right to left… never is a plateau separable from the cows that populate it, which are also the clouds in the sky” 23.

The authors oppose Nomadology to History – not the sedentary, unified product of the state apparatus, but a moving, diverse one of multiple narratives. “Why is a model still necessary?” 24.

“Rhizomatics = pop analysis, even if the people have other things to do besides read it, even if the blocks of academic culture or pseudoscientificity in it are still too painful or ponderous… any precarious and pragmatic framework is better than tracing concepts, with their breaks and progress changing nothing. Imperceptible rupture, not signifying break” 24.

“A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjuncion, ‘and… and… and…’… proceeding from the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing. American literature, and already English literature, manifest this rhizomatic direction to an even greater extent; they know how to move between things, establish a logic of the and, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings” 25.

Again, this would be an interesting linguistic/national/periodizing gesture to include in the justification of the works I’m choosing – mostly American but also British novels and television series.

Heather Love: “Feeling Backward”



“The history of Western representation is littered with the corpses of gender and sexual deviants” 1. The project of the book is to look back at the painful, moving stories of queerness rather than only “affirming the legitimacy of gay and lesbian existence” 2. “The turn to the negative in queer studies was also the result of a deep intellectual engagement during this period with [Foucault, who] describes the ways that dominated groups may take advantage of the reversibility of power… discourse produces power ‘but also undermines and exposes it'” 2. For example, as homosexuality (“inversion”) was translated from religious taboo and legal violation into the discourse of illness, it became possible for it to ‘speak in its own behalf'” 2.

The contradiction of queerness as “delicious and freak… is lived out on the level of individual subjectivity; homosexuality is experienced as a stigmatizing mark as well as a from of romantic exceptionalism” 3. It also exists between celebrity gays and lesbians and the real violence and inequality of the everyday. Love is concerned with the deep emotions that painful texts (like Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 The Well of Loneliness) stir in us; even if the project of queer studies has to be to affirm, for Love, it seems it also has to be to dwell in the affects of pain and damage, to turn “attention to several late 19th and early 20th century literary texts visibly marked by queer suffering” 4. Whether vague or explicit, the texts of Pater, Cather, Hall, and Warner are all engaged in “feeling backward,” the “painful negotiation of the coming of modern homosexuality… an account of the corporeal and psychic costs of homophobia” 4.

The backward-looking image of the text is drawn from Lot’s wife, who could not but look back at the loss of the city as a consequence of sin 5. Like “trope,” which means a turn of the “word away from its literal meaning,” Love will turn characters and phrases out of context “to create an image repertoire of queer modernist melancholia in order to underline both the losses of queer modernity and the deeply ambivalent negotiation of these losses within the literature of the period” 5. Inherent in modernity’s insistence on progress are also its failures and regressions 5. Aesthetically, too, “the new” is prized alongside nostalgia, primitivism, and melancholia in modernism 6. Queerness is “a backward race,” “a past,” a confrontation with death for Love 6.

“Backwardness has been taken up as a key feature of queer culture. Camp, for instance, with its tender concern for outmoded elements of popular culture and its refusal to get over childhood pleasures and traumas, is a backward art” 7. “I also consider the backward feelings – shame, depression, and regret – that they inspire in contemporary critics” 8. If queer critics seek to “reach back and save” isolated artists, what happens when those texts “resist our advances”? 8. Horkheimer and Adorno “discuss the danger of lookng backward in The Dialectic of Enlightenment… the allure of the Sirens… [is] ‘losing oneself in the past'” 9. What saves Odysseus is that “even as he looks backward he keeps moving forward… an ideal model of the relation to the historical past: listen to it, but do not allow yourself to be destroyed by it” 9. (This also has some kinky implications – the S&M/bondage of history?)

The integration of queer life into the mainstream may come on “the condition that one breaks ties with all those who cannot make it – the nonwhite and the nonmonogamous, the poor and the genderdeviant, the fat, the disabled, the unemployed, the infected, and a host of unmentionable others… the temptation to forget is stronger than ever” 10.

For Love, Raymond Williams “offers a crucial link between cognition and affect” in Marxism and Literature in describing ‘structures of feeling’ – “the idea that feeling flows naturally from the subject and expresses the truth of that subject” 11. Since “literature accounts for experience at the juncture of the psychic and the social,” it is a privileged example for Williams 12. Love also pauses to consider Wendy Brown’s idea of “Left Melancholy,” where a “crisis of political motivation” also entails a focus on traditionally nonpolitical affects like shame and melancholia 12. Love also mentions Ngai, whose affects expressly do not inspire political action, but are rather, as Ngai herself writes, “diagnostic” 13. Critics such as Warner, Sedgwick, and Crimp have suggested the shared experience of shame and the shamed as a potential space for collectivity 14. Love wants to expand the “bad feelings” that seem apolitical and consider how they might be transformed into action regardless.

Love calls on Butler’s questioning of the term ‘queer’ in “Critically Queer,” where Butler suggests that the term queer itself will have always to be turned and queered to remain questioning, relevant, though for Love, it should also be aware of the past it is staging and overcoming 18. In other words, for Butler, we must not linger in the history of injury implied in the word. “D.A. Miller suggests a way to think about the relationship between the queer past and the queer present in terms of continuity rather than opposition or departure” that focuses on “the indelible nature of ideology’s effects” – the “before and after” of gay experience, in which “gay pride is a reverse or mirror image of gay shame,” even for those individuals who did not themselves experience events such as Stonewall 19-20.

Love, like Berlant, calls on Lacan’s description of love as failure, and in Freudian terms, “homosexuality is often seen as a result of a failure of maturation or a failure to overcome primary cathexes, and it has been associated with narcissism and infantilism as well as with incomplete or failed gendering… as selfishness… fleeting and doomed” 21-2. Here, “homosexuality and homosexuals serve as scapegoats for the failures and impossibilities of desire itself” 22. Lee Edelman, “recommends that queers embrace their association with the antisocial, while still pointing to the antisocial energies that run through all sexuality” 22. Rather than the antisocial voiding the future, Love focuses on failures of the social and ambivalence toward the future through a look at the past 23.

Love is skeptical of the systems and structures of psychological readings, and aligns herself instead with Sedgwick’s idea (in Touching Feeling) of “a swerve away from ‘paranoid’ toward ‘reparative’ reading… from exposure as a reading protocol… toward the descriptive rather than the critical” 23.

“Foucault’s legacy to queer studies is most closely allied with his critique of identity and his development of the method of genealogy…[in homosexual love] the best moment of an encounter is when you are putting the boy in the taxi… a historical real that is always receding, always already lost” 24. “Though bad feelings have been central to the history of queer experience and queer feeling, there is little room for them in the contemporary climate… While I do not argue for the political efficacy of any particular bad feeling in this book, I do argue for the importance of such feelings in general. Backward feelings serve as an index to the ruined state of the social world… It is true that the small repertoire of feelings that count as political – hope, anger, solidarity – have done a lot… not nearly enough” 26-7.

Love advocates for the term queer because “rather than disavowing the history of marginalization and abjection, I suggest that we embrace it… Modern homosexual identity is formed out of and in relation to the experience of social damage… it also makes visible the damage that we live with in the present” 29. “It is this disposition toward the past – embracing loss, risking abjection – that I mean to evoke with the phrase ‘feeling backward… It may in fact seem shaming to hold onto an identity that cannot be uncoupled from violence, suffering, and loss. I insist on the importance of clinging to ruined identities and to histories of injury. Resisting the call of gay normalization means refusing to write off the most vulnerable, the least presentable, and all the dead'” 30.

Sigmund Freud, “The Interpretation of Dreams”

transl. 1913

Freud begins, “in the following pages, I shall demonstrate that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that on the application of this technique, every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state” 183. (This is aligned with what Best & Marcus, in “Surface Reading,” identify as Freud’s influence on symptomatic reading – looking for surprising meaning and extrapolating it to larger concepts – like Jameson & the Marxists, too.) He speaks briefly of Aristotle and “the ancients,” who saw the dream, like other aspects of the psyche, as aspects of an external reality or demonic influence 185.

The Method of Dream-Interpretation: Freud’s desire is to “specify [the dream’s] meaning, to replace it by something which takes its position in the concatenation of our psychic activities as a link of definite importance and value” 188. (This is interesting for criticism – the idea of “replacement.”) Dream-content is not a whole, however, and “symbolic interpretation” thus “goes to pieces” in dreams that are “not only unintelligible but confused” 188-9. He mentions Artemidorus, who accounts not just for symbols, but class and personality 190. This leads to great uncertainty and instability: “the work of interpretation is not applied to the entirety of the dream, but to each portion of the dream-content severally, as though the dream were a conglomerate in which each fragment calls for special treatment” 190. Freud’s key difference is to “impose upon the dreamer himself the work of interpretation… instead of taking into  account whatever may occur to the dream-interpreter” 190.

This may proceed by a “psychic concatenation, which may be followed backwards from a pathological idea into the patient’s memory… to treat the dream itself as a symptom, and to apply to it the method of interpretation which had been worked out for such symptoms” 192. (Thus the interest in the solution is less a focus than the detection of the narrative symptoms!) The patient must be made “attentive” and less critical of “such thoughts as come to the surface,” dismissing nothing and relating everything 192. (Again, this suggests that surface observation is blinkered and dismissive. It also feeds into the “confessional” mode Foucault identifies.) Freud distinguishes between reflection and observation of one’s own psychic process, with reflection showing “a greater play of psychic activity… critical… tension [vs] tranquillity” 192. The latter is superior in that it imitates phases before sleep and hypnosis 192. “Undesired ideas are thus changed into desired ones” 193. Freud actually compares this to Schiller, in an idea like Kantian disinterestedness, where the mind allows ideas to rush in before judging or dismissng them 193.

Because “the theme to which these dreams [of neurotics] point is, of course, always the history of the malady that is responsible for the neurosis,” Freud will analyze his own dreams first to demonstrate the method on a “normal” person 194. His first example is a dream in the summer of 1895 after writing the case of a mostly-cured Irma and feeling judged by her brother Otto, who perhaps believed his sister was not fully cured or had been promised a too full recovery 196. In the dream, he examines Irma’s throat, as she complains of pain, and finds a number of white scabs all over the interior of her mouth, probably stemming from an injection of propyls with what Freud and other doctors fear must have been a dirty syringe 197. As he analyzes it, Freud determines that he perhaps wishes he has misdiagnosed her so as not to be to blame for her partial recovery 198. He also wonders if he has replaced her with her dear friend, who suffers from hysterical choking, and whom Freud has wanted a chance to cure 197. He respects this woman more and her mouth opens easily, so it must be that she would yield more easily. (Interestingly, Freud is close reading specific syntactic structures of his own verbal rendering of the situation, as if they were foretold!) He reads the supposition of dysentery as his belief of the other doctor’s foolish prognoses 202. In blaming Irma and jesting at the doctor, he sees that he has “revenged himself on two persons” already 202. Freud connects the mention of propyls to an ill-smelling liquer and trimethylamin to “the products of sexual metabolism” studied by a friend of his 203.

“This substance thus leads me to sexuality, the factor to which I attribute the greatest significance in respect of the origin of these nervous affections which I am trying to cure. My patient Irma is a young widow… in what a singular fashion such a dream is fitted together! The friend [of Irma’s] who in my dream becomes my patient in Irma’s place is likewise a young widow” 203.

The turbinal bones, according to Freud’s friend, has also noted “several highly remarkable relations betweent the turbinal bones and the female sexual organs” 204. The syringe fear is another way of blaming Otto, since Freud prides himself on clean utensils 204. Now he extrapolates a meaning of this dream: its content and its motive are the fulfillment of the wish that Otto, and not he, is to blame for Irma’s incomplete recovery 205. (Interesting that content and motive are the same, though form is not!) He also replaces his patient with “a more sensible and a more docile one” 205 (ew, misogyny). This is “a plea” for “professional conscientiousness” in Freud’s mind 206. “The material is apparently impartial, but the connection between this broader material, on which the dream is based, and the more limited theme from which emerges the wish to be innocent of Irma’s illness, is, nevertheless, unmistakeable… dreams do really possess a meaning, and are by no means the expression of a disintegrated cerebral activity, as the writers on the subject would have us believe. When the work of interpretation has been completed the dream can be recognized as a wish-fulfillment” 206.

The Dream as Wish-Fulfillment: Freud gives the example of a drink about thirst as “a dream of convenience,” where he suggests not that the dream is designed functionally to wake the dreamer and to satisfy the thirst, but instead “if I succeed in appeasing my thirst by means of the dream that I am drinking, I need not wake up in order to satisfy this” 209. (This is a perfect example of symptomatic reading – where the dream is actually capable of sufficing for the real!) He addresses the cliche “in my wildest dreams” to suggest that dreams are an act of anticipation and wishing 216.

Distortion in Dreams: “Wish fulfillment is the meaning of every dream” 217. (And here we see the grounds of the paradigm that will lead to such things as the death drive; if we die in our dreams, it must be a wish.) “Let us compare the manifest and the latent dream-content” 218. “That the dream actually has a secret meaning, which proves to be a wish-fulfillment, must be proved afresh in every case by analysis” 225. Freud notes that almost all his patients try to stump him with dreams that run contrary to wish-fulfillment, such as an “intelligent lady patient” who wishes to give a dinner but has nothing available but salmon, and must give up the dinner because the market is not open on Sunday 225. He asks her for the stimulus from the preceding day that led to this dream. He presses beyond the teasing relationship she has with her husband and the latter’s idea that he is getting fat and shouldn’t go to any more dinners 226. Freud finds that she has a thin friend (lucky for her, her husband prefers plumper women) who wishes to be plumper and wants to come to dinner for the patient’s good food 226. Now Freud is able to read this as the wish-fulfillment of preventing her friend from getting rounder and thus more attractive to the patient’s husband, and she has learned that one gains weight this way through her husband’s refusal of more invitations 227. The friend’s favorite food is salmon, so this is also a “hysterical identification” on the patient’s part with her friend 227.

“In hysteria identification is most frequently employed to express a sexual community. The hysterical woman identifies herself by her symptoms most readily – though not exclusively – with persons with whom she has had sexual relations, or who have had sexual intercourse with the same persons as herself. Language takes cognizance of this tendency: two lovers are said to be ‘one.’ In hysterical phantasy, as well as in dreams, identification may ensue if one simply thinks of sexual relations; they need not necessarily become actual… she expresses her jealousy of her friend… by putting herself in her friend’s place in her dream, and identifying herself with her by fabricating a symptom (the denied wish)… she would like to take her friend’s place in her husband’s esteem” 228.

The Material and Sources of Dreams: “in every dream we may find some reference to the experiences of the preceding day”  – “the experiences on which one has not yet slept” 239-40. (Think narrative, Genette.) Freud considers a) The Embarrassment-Dream of Nakedness, b) Dreams of the Beloved’s Death, and c) Dreams of Examination for source material. In the first case, he wonders why we are embarrassed if our dream-spectators are indifferent 293. Here, “the impostor is the dream, the Emperor is the dreamer himself, and the moralizing tendency betrays a hazy knowledge of… the latent dream-content, of forbidden wishes” 294. Freud claims that children love to expose themselves, and that exhibitionism makes a large part of the history of neurotics and paranoids. The “strangers” are “the counter-wish” to the one person who remains absent, the “objects of our sexual interest in childhood” who never appear in the dream, though paranoids remain “fanatically xonvinced of their presence” 295.

In b), if “a painful affect is felt,” it means that at some point, the dreamer wished that person to die, thought maybe not at present (competition with family members, like siblings or the same-sex parent, may engender this) 297. According to Freud, all women have this dream 301. (Groan. Although it’s interesting that the sense of injustice, competition, and the anguish of being replaced would be more pronounced in women at this point in history.)  This is of course related to “the sexual wishes of the child… in their nascent state,” where “the earliest affection of the girl-child is lavished on the father, while the earliest infantile desires of the boy are directed upon the mother,” making the same-sex parent a sexual rival 304. He goes into the analysis of Oedipus, unable to avoid his fate, which he of course reads as the wish-fulfillment and subsequent castration (eyes) of the ‘hero’ 308. He mentions the sex-dream with one’s mother (as does Artemidorus, who details all the different positions and possibilities), and then moves on to Hamlet 309. In Freud’s reading, Hamlet’s hesitation to kill Claudius shows that his uncle has actually fulfilled his wish, and his aversion to Ophelia is furnished as proof of his desire for his own mother 310. This becomes symptomatic of “the poet’s own psychology” 310. In sum, our affects of concern and sympathy often conceal egotistical concerns and desires 313.

In c), we simply fear the burden of responsibility suggested by exams, usually by someone who has already passed a similar trial, so that it serves to allay our fears by fulfilling the wish that it will be as ridiculous to be afraid as the last time 317. For Freud, somehow, it also has to do with sexual maturity, though he doesnt explain how.

The Dream-Work: “the dream-thoughts and the dream-content present themselves as two descriptions of the same content in two different languages… the dream-content appears to us as a translation of the dream-thoughts into another mode of expression, whose symbols and laws of composition we must learn by comparing the origin with the translation. The dream-thoughts we can understand… the dream-content is, as it were, presented in hieroglyphics, whose symbols must be translated, one by one, into the language of the dream-thoughts” 319. (Recall Pynchon in Lot 49 – Oedipa’s hierophany a critique of this?) The dream is “a work of condensation” – dream-content is laconic, dream-thought is prolix 320. (Again, poetry?)

“The psychic activity in dream-formation resolves itself into two achievements: the production of the dream-thoughts and the transformation of these into the dream-content. The dream-thoughts are perfectly accurate, and are formed with all the psychic profusion of which we are capable; they belong to the thoughts which have not become conscious… on the other hand we have the process which changes the unconscious thoughts into the dream-content, which is peculiar to dream-life and characteristic of it… much farther removed from the pattern of waking thought than has been supposed” 466-7.

“the dream has above all to be withdrawn from the censorship, and to this end the dream-work makes use of the displacement of psychic intensities… the regard of the dream-work for representability… condensation… the logical relations of the thought-material… ultimately find a veiled representation in the formal peculiarities of the dream. The affects of the dream-thoughts undergo slighter alterations than their conceptual content… they are suppressed” 467.

The Psychology of the Dream-Processes: “Is the ethical significance of the suppressed wishes to be lightly disregarded, since, just as they now create dreams, they may some day create other things? … I believe that the Roman Emperor was in the wrong in ordering one of his subjects to be executed because the latter had dreamt that he killed the Emperor. He should first of all have endeavored to discover the significance of the man’s dream; most probably it was not what it seemed to be. And if a dream of a different content ahd actually had this treasonable meaning, it would still have been well to recall the words of Plato – that the virtuous man contents himself with dreaming of that which the wicked man does in actual life” 548. (vs. ancient idea of prophecy, also vs. idea of control of thoughts, conscious or otherwise.) “Psychic reality is a special form of resistance which must not be confounded with material reality” 548.  For Freud, we should accept the immorality of our dream lives because when we understand how the psychic apparatus works, it abolishes us of much that is offensive – in Sachs’ words, “the monster in the magnifying glass… is a tiny little infusorian” 548. Rather than predicting the future, dreams for Freud are projections of fulfilled wishes that are nevertheless always based on information from the past 549.

Jonathan Crary, “Techniques of the Observer”


Chapter 1: Modernity & the Problem of the Observer

Crary identifies the medieval/Renaissance split, the mid-19th century, and the present as moments of “a transformation in the nature of visuality” 1. The first improves mimesis, the second perfects it, and the third surpasses it. The focus of the book is on the “reorganization of vision” that created “a new kind of observer” in the first half of the 19th century, vis a vis new relations between the body and institutional/discursive power (re: Foucault) 3. Crary calls “the myth of the modernist rupture” the narrative that aligns Manet and the “end of perspectival space” with what would become modernist art, severing it from visual technologies like photography that are considered as a “continuous unfolding of a Renaissance-based mode of vision” 4. For Crary, however, a fundamental shift in modes of vision took place before these changes in art or technology, so that the two realms are “overlapping components of a single social surface” 5. The observing subject is “both the historical product and the site of certain practices, techniques, institutions, and procedures of subjectification” 5.

It’s useful to consider that Crary deliberately uses “observer,” rather than “spectator,” emphasizing the individual’s role in “complying” with certain codes of seeing, whereas the latter is more commonly used to emphasize the passivity of “looking” on as the passive recipient of the mass spectacle 5. In terms of faceting,

“What determines vision at any given historical moment is not some deep structure, economic base, or world view, but rather the functioning of a collective assemblage of disparate parts on a single social surface. It may even be necessary to consider the observer as a distribution of events located in many different places” 6. (Note: read Paul Feyerabend, Problems of Empiricism, vol 2 p 5).

Crary’s mode seeks to outline the “hegemonic” transformation of how the “observer was figured” in the nineteenth century, largely from the shift from the camera obscura of the 17th and 18th centuries to the stereoscope of the 19th century 7-8. Oddly enough, the “realism” created by the stereoscope and similar instruments is constituted from “a radical abstraction and reconstruction of optical experience, thus demanding a reconsideration of what ‘realism’ means in the nineteenth century” 9. Further, Crary maps a development of the “subjective vision… the productivity of the observer,” which was suppressed by the 17th and 18th centuries, brought to light by visionary Romantics (see M.H. Abrams – “The Mirror & the Lamp), and brought to bear on the potential for individual “seeing” in the 19th century, making that subject both “a product of and at the same time constitutive of modernity” 9.

Crary cites Baudrillard (“measurable in terms of objects and signs”) and Benjamin (“the phantasmagoria of equality”) on the need to measure and quantify the happiness capitalism was meant to guarantee in visual terms (what Adorno calls “Anschaulichkeit,” the reification of the visible 139 AT) 11. For Baudrillard (like Benjamin in “Mechanical Reproduction”), the serial production of objects creates a world in which there is no longer original and counterfeit, analogy, or reflection, but sheer equivalence 12. Crary goes so far as to make photography and money equivalent as well, in that they “are equally totalizing systems for binding and unifying all subjects within a single global network of valuation and desire. As Marx said of money, photography is also a great leveler, a democratizer, a ‘mere symbol,’ a fiction ‘sanctioned by the so-called universal consent of mankind'” 13.

Crary’s book, however, precedes photography itself, contending that the stereoscope and phenakistiscope entail “an uprooting of vision from the stable and fixed relations incarnated in the camera obscura” 14 (shift from geometrical to physiological optics 16). He cites Foucault on how “dispersed mechanisms of power coincide with new modes of subjectivity” in the 19th century to emphasize the importance of “normality” and “codes of behavior” 15-16. The limits of such “norms” were tested with “retinal afterimages, peripheral vision, binocular vision, and thresholds of attention… imposing a normative vision on the observer” 16. (See Foucault: “Our society is not one of spectacle but of surveillance… we are neither in the amphitheatre nor on the stage but in the Panoptic machine” D&P 217, as well as Deleuze’s Foucault 46 and Rajchman’s “Foucault’s Art of Seeing” 1988.) For Crary, “spectacle” and “surveillance” can coincide before the full emergence of the 20th century spectacle, namely in the “discipline or mode of work” that visual consumption itself becomes in the early 19th century 18.

If, for Debord (18), visuality, the most easily deceived sense, severs itself from touch, once the most precious of senses, this autonomizes sight, isolating vision and giving its objects “a mystified and abstract identity” 19. In The Arcades Project, we see Benjamin, a 20th century observer mapping 19th century developments, observe

“a convergence of new urban spaces, technologies, and new economic and symbolic functions of images and products – forms of artificial lighting, new use of mirrors, glass and steel architecture, railroads, museums, gardens, photography, fashion, crowds. Perception for Benjamin was acutely temporal and kinetic; he makes clear how modernity subverts even the possibility of a contemplative beholder. There is never a pure access to a single object; vision is always multiple, adjacent to and overlapping with other objects, desires, and vectors” 20.

In this world, modernity “coincides with the collapse of classical models of vision and their stable space of representations… observation is increasingly a question of equivalent sensations and stimuli that have no reference to a spatial location” 24. (Think about how this would relate to Jameson & postmodernism.) At the same time, situating visuality in the individual body opens it up for training, control, and prevention from distraction – “disciplinary techniques” through which capitalism resorts vision to “time, to flux, to death” 24.

Chapter 2: The Camera Obscura & Its Subject

“It has been known for at least two thousand years that when light passes through a small hole into a dark, enclosed interior, an inverted image will appear on the wall opposite the hole” 27. But from the 1500s to the 1700s, the artifact itself of the camera obscura “coalesced into a dominant paradigm through which was described the status and possibilities of an observer” 27 – “in both rationalist and empiricist thought, of how observation leads to truthful inferences about the world” 29. (Think about how this relates to Kant’s idealism and the essential unknowability of the object, versus the potential universality of the comprehending subject.)

By the 19th century, for Marx, Bergson, and Freud, the camera obscura becomes a tool to conceal or disguise truth 29. What changed? Well, if the camera obscura defined hegemonic vision as individuation and askesis (isolated, witndrawn from the world into darkness), it is also a representation of a “metaphysic of interiority,” a “free sovereign individual” and a “decorporealize[d] vision” 39. How? As Nietzsche holds in The Will to Power, “the senses deceive, reason corrects the errors; consequently, one concluded, reason is the road to the constant; the least sensual ideas must be closest to the ‘true world.’ It is from the senses that most misfortunes com – they are deceivers, deluders, destroyers” 40. (Again, recall Kant’s disinterestedness.) Newton, Locke experience this, as Descartes does: “solely an inspection by the mind” in a dark, introspective space, for one knows the world “uniquely by perception of the mind” – one can see how this will lead to the cogito, also essentially idealist in nature 41.

Crary calls this “a radical disjunction of eye from observer,” not least because Descartes also advocates making a dead human or animal eye into the lens of a camera obscura through dissection and experimentation, what Crary calls “an infallible metaphysical eye more than… a ‘mechanical’ eye” 48. Knowing that the “cone” or “cylinder” of rays that allows vision fixes on a certain point to create harmony from chaos 51, the camera obscura offers a “monocular aperture,” a “perfect incarnation of a single point,” versus the “awkward binocular body of the human subject” 53.

“By insisting that knowledge… is built up out of an orderly accumulation and cross-referencing of perceptions on a plane independent of the viewer, 18th-century thought could know nothing of the ideas of pure visibility to arise in the 19th century. Nothing could be more removed from Berkeley’s theory of how distance is perceived than the science of the stereoscope. This quintessentially 19th-century device, with which tangibility (or relief) is constructed solely through an organization of optical cues (and the amalgamation of the observer into a componnt of the apparatus), eradicates the very field on which 18th-century knowledge arranged itself” 59.

Interestingly, for Crary, this is deeply tied to the idea of the senses not being severed from one another, but part of the same apparatus: “From Descartes to Berkeley to Diderot, vision is conceived in terms of analogies to the senses of touch” 59 – “the certainty of knoowledge did not depend solely on the eye but on a more general relation of a unified human ssensorium to a delimited space of order on which positions could be known and compared” 60. (Think of the ‘synesthesia’ of Faulkner’s Compsons – Benji smells cold, Quentin sees with his hands, etc.) Chardin’s still lifes, then, are “both the product of empirical knowledge about the contingent specificity of forms” and “an ideal structure founded on a deductive rational clarity” – they are “not about a surface design, but rather a permanent space across which are distributed ‘the non-quantitative identities and differences that separated and united things'” (in-qtd. Foucault The Order of Things 218) 62-3. Interestingly, for Crary this also confirms

“the 18th-century preoccupation with ensuring transparency over opacity… to confirm the unity of a single homogenous field in spite of the diversity of media and possibilities of refraction within it. Dioptrics (science of refraction) was of greater interest to the 18th century than catoptrics (science of reflection)… It was crucial that the distorting power of a medium, whether a lens, air, or liquid, be neutralized, and this could be done if the properties of that medium were mastered intellectually and thus rendered effectively transparent through the exercise of reason… vision and touch work cooperatively… the coidentity of idea and matter and their finely set positions within a unified field discloses a thought for which haptic and optic are not autonomous terms but together constitute an indivisible mode of knowledge… vision performs like the sense of touch, passing through a space of which no fraction is empty” 64.

Chapter 3: Subjective Vision & the Separation of the Senses

Crary begins by Goethe experimenting with retinal after-images in by staring at a bright circle of light allowed through a camera obscura, then sealing the hole and staring at the darkest part of the room for colored circles in a “post-Kantian” mode of experimentation that is both rationalist (empirical) and Romantic (autonomous) 69. Here, “the human body, in all its contingency and specificity, generates ‘the spectrum of another colour,’ and thus becomes the active producer of optical experience” 69. This is related to Kant in that representations do not conform to the things as they are, but to our perception of them as subjects (though it differs from Kant’s universality, as well as his emphasis on outline over color) 69-70. Thus vision itself becomes an object of knowledge rather than a form of knowing 70, and “the kind of separation between interior representation and exterior reality implicit in the camera obscura becomes in Goethe’s work a single surface of affect on which interior and exterior have few of their formare meanings and positions… color… [is] cut off from any spatial referent… the body itself produces phenomena that have no external correlate” 71.

In Foucault’s terms, this means that the body itself is the site of the structures of knowledge, not separate from it – in Maine de Biran’s work, the “immediate awareness of the presence of the body in perception… the simultaneity of a composite of impressions inhering in different parts of the organism” 72.

“Although formed by Kant’s aesthetics and epistemology in fundamental ways, Schopenhauer undertakes what he calls his ‘correction’ of Kant: to reverse Kant’s privileging of abstract thinking over perceptual knowledge, and to insist on the physiological makeup of the subject as the site on which the formation of representations occurs… what Kant called the synthetic unity of apperception, Schopenhauer unhesitatingly identifies as the cerebrum of the human brain” 77.

Adorno will critique this idea for its assumptions that such perceptions are authentic and its avoidance of the instrumentalization of the body, Nietzsche for retreating from the body’s sexual potential 77-8. Schopenhauer followed the scientist Bichat in atomizing the body and its life and death into separate parts and functions (faceting?) 78. This connects back to Foucault – when sovereignty fades in favor of discipline (biopower of populations to be controlled), life is the new object of power (re: History of Sexuality – also, the proliferation of scientific discourse and enumeration here81. The wave theory of light also challenged theological and scientific images of light as rays in earlier, more classical forms of optics, and stimulation of the eye demonstrated “false” reactions to “light,” making man the purveyor and victim of such knowledge 86. “The issue was not just how does one know what is real, but that new forms of the real were being fabricated, and a new truth about the capacities of a human subject was being articulated in these terms” 92.

This gets related to Marx (labor division akin to sense division), though “the problem for Marx under capitalism was not the separation of the senses but rather their estrangement by property relations; vision, for example, had been reduced to the sheer ‘sense of having'” 94. Marx actually anticipates a kind of modernist aesthetic of sheer separation and disinterested perception, where the eye revels in sight free of objects of exchange value 94. This appreciation is similar to Ruskin’s “innocence of the eye,” and Helmholtz holds that “Everything our eye sees it sees as an aggreate of coloured surfaces in the visual field – that is its form of visual intuition” 95. For Crary, this is not so much innocence as

“a vantage point [for the eye] uncluttered by the weight of historical codes and conventions of seeing, a position from which vision can function without the imperative of composing its contents into a reified ‘real’ world. It was a question of an eye that sought to avoid the repetitiveness of the formulaic and conventional, even as the effort time and again to  see afresha dn anew entailed its own pattern of repetition and conventions And thus the ‘pure perception,’ the sheer optical attentiveness of modernism increasingly had to exclude or submerge that which would obstruct its fucntioning: language, historical memory, and sexuality” 96.

The flip side of “liberating sensation from signification” is control:

“a comparable neutrality of the observer that was a precondition for the external mastery and annexing of the body’s capacities, for the perfection of technologies of attention, in which sequences of stimuli or images can produce the same effect repeatedly as if for the first time…”It was the remaking of the visual field not into a tabula rasa on which orderly representations could be arrayed, but into a surface of inscription on which a promiscuous range of effects could be produced” 96.

Chapter 4: Techniques of the Observer

While subjective retinal afterimages were classically reduced to “spectra” or “mere appearance,” Goethe and his generation make them appear less as deceptions than as constitutive of  human vision 97. The “presence of a sensation in the absence of a stimulus” cut sight from its external referent in vital ways, focusing on a process unfolding over itme 98. Schelling argued that “our knowledge is piecework, that is, it must be produced piece by piece in a fragmentary way… a series of processes following one another, in which the later always involves the earlier, brings each thing to maturity” 99. (This sounds a lot like Genette’s theory of narrative.)  Both Goethe and Hegel see perception dialectically, as the interaction of forces and relations, rather than contiguous and stable sensations a la Locke 100. For scientists like Hebart, “the mind does not reflect truth but rather extracts it from an ongoing process involving the collision and merging of ideas,” a concept deeply tied to his somewhat creepy interest in instilling moral ideology pedagogically 101-2. (Jan Purkinje’s drawings of afterimages are strikingly crystallographic 103.)

The afterimage becomes key for the thaumatrope (“wonder turner” c.1825), a disk with an image on each side that is held on two strings and can be twirled to create a coherent picture 105 – a device that “made unequivocally clear both the fabricated and hallucinatory nature of its image and the rupture between perception and its object” 106. Roget demonstrated how this could lead to manipulations of temporal experience itself (train wheels seen moving through a fence) 106. This leads to the phenakistiscope (“deceptive view,” c. 1830),comprised of either one disk (facing a mirror) or two, and acting like a flip book, where the eye comprehends “continuous movement” through a series of slits in the turning viewing disc in the 8 or 16 pictures in the segments of the second disk 109. Horner’s zootrope (“wheel of life,” c. 1834) reproduces this effect in a cylinder, thus enabling multiple viewers (a precursor to spectacle?) 110. Crary would like to consider these not as “nascent forms of cinema” only, striving for “higher standards of verisimilitude,” but as devices with singular features 110. They at least created a feedback loop between entertainment and scientific knowledge-gathering: “This is where Foucault’s opposition between spectacle and surveillance becomes untenable; his two distinct models here collapse onto one another” 112.

Other examples include the kaleidoscope (1815), which for Baudelaire dissolved unitary subjectivity, as well as Daguerre’s diorama, which forced the reader to walk or at least turn her head to comprehend its whole 113. By the 1840s, “the multiplicity [of the kaleidoscope] that so seduced Baudelaire was for [Marx and Engels] a sham, a trick literally done with mirrors. Rather than producing something new the kaleidoscope simply repeated a single image… ‘composed entirely of reflections of itself’… symmetrical repetition” 114. Inventor Brewster saw the kaleidoscope as a means of producing natural symmetry for new art – “it will create in an hour, what a thousand artists could not invent in the course of a year… with a corresponding beauty and precision,” but for Marx and Engels it proves “the appearance of decomposition and proliferation,” and the appearance alone 116. The real focus of the chapter is in fact the stereoscope:

“a major mode of experiencing photographically produced images… its conceptual structure and the historical circumstances of its invention are throughly independent of photography. Although distinct from the optical devices that represented the illusion of movement, the stereoscope is nonetheless part of the same reorganization of the observer, the same relations of knowledge and power, that those devices implied” 118.

Again, Brewster helped invent it (also Wheatstone, c. 1830), though it was not popularized until the 1850s and after 118. It focuses on the synthesis in the optical chiasma, “the point behind the eyes where the nerve fibers leading from the retina to the brain cross each other, carrying half of the nerves from each retina to each side of the brain” 119. Thus he focused on an “object placed so near the eyes that to view it the optic axes must converge… a different perspective projection of it is seen by each eye, and these perspectives are more dissimilar as the convergence of the optic axes becomes greater” 120. Thus for Crary “its ‘realism’ presupposes perceptual experience to be essentially an apprehension of differences… the observer to the object… [as] disjunct or divergent images” 120. Again, the fusion takes place as process, over time 120.

More than a simple superimposition, the stereoscope relies on rapid alternation of the optic axes successively, so that there “never really is a stereoscopic image… it is a conjuration, an effect of the observer’s experience of the differential between two other images” 122 (dialectical?). This raised the image, for Brewster, to the level of tangibility – the eye produces depth out of 2 flat images (vs the 2 similar retinal images produced to view 1 flat image or the 2 dissimilar retinal images for 1 solid object) 124. For the full effect of 3D in the stereoscope, there must not be simply a view with natural perspectival recession, but

“objects or obtrusive forms in the near or middle ground; that is, there must be enough points in the image that require significant changes in the angle of convergence of the optical axes. Thus the most intense experience of the stereoscopic image coincides with an object-filled space, with a material plenitude that bespeaks a nineteenth-century horror of the void; and there are endless quantities of stereo cards showing interiors crammed with bric-a-brac, densely filled museum sculpture galleries, and congested city views” 125.

For Crary, the “planar” arrangement of these shapes like “flat cutouts” among one another creates “a vertiginous uncertainty about the distance separating forms… some superficial similarities between the stereoscope and classical stage design, which synthesizes flats and real extensive space into an illusory scene… but… the movement of actors… rationalizes the relation between points” 125.

“In the stereoscopic image there is a derangement of the conventional functioning of optical cues. Certain planes or surfaces, even though composed of indications of light or shade that normally designate volume, are perceived as flat; other planes that normally would be read as two-dimensional, such as a fence in a foreground, seem to occupy space aggressively. Thus stereoscopic relief or depth has no unifying logic or order…. a fundamentally disunified and aggregate field of disjunct elements… a localized experience of separate areas. When we look head-on at a photograph or painting our eyes remain at a single angle of convergence, thus endowing the image surface with an optical unity …[vs] an accumulation of differences in the degree of optical convergence… a patchwork of different intensities of relief within a single image…” 125-6

“…part of the fascination of these images is due to this immanent disorder, to the fissures that disrupt its coherence. The stereoscope could be said to constitute what Gilles Deleuze calls a ‘Riemann space,’ after the German mathematician… ‘Each vicinity in a Riemann space is like a shred of Euclidian space but the linkage between one vicinity and the next is not defined…. Riemann space at its most general thus presents itself as an amorphous collection of pieces that are juxtaposed but not attached to each other'” 126.

Overall, this demonstrates a reorganization of space therefore not unique to painting, though that medium also mixed flat and molded shapes (think Cezanne) 127. Crary calls this literally obscene – scene-shattering of the theatrical setup of the camera obscura, and indicative of Benjamin’s idea that the need to possess the object in the image and its reproduction was increasing all the time 127. “It is no coincidence that the stereoscope became increasingly synonymous with erotic and pornographic imagery… the very effects of tangibility that Wheatstone had sought from the beginning were quickly turned into a mass form of ocular possession… in part responsible for its social demise as a mode of visual consumption… it became linked with ‘indecent’ subject matter” 127. Crary aligns this, like 3D movies, with an uneasy limit of “acceptable verisimilitude,” since the stereoscope presents to each eye the projection on a plane surface of the object as it appears to that eye, rather than the object itself, or its holistic representation 127-8. It is “the technical reconstitution of an already reproduced world fragmented into two nonidentical models, models that preced any experience of their subsequent perception as unified or tangible” 128.

The Wheatstone model, with its mirrors and angles, laid bare the device of fragmentation, while later models enabled viewers to feel they were looking directly in 129. As Marx discusses with the tool, for Crary the new 19th century visual devices make man into a metonym of the machine. “The content of the images is far less important than the inexhaustible routine of moving from one card to the next and producing the same effect, repeatedly, mechanically… transubstantiated into a compulsory and seductive vision of the ‘real'” 132. The ‘real’ becomes nothing more than mechanical reproduction, then.

After 1850, “phantasmagoria” (Adorno, Benjamin) take over – the “magic lantern” shows that emphasize the sui generis mode of the image and efface the machine (suture?) 133. Spectacle and pure perception both entail “a fully embodied viewer,” but ultimately they triumph through the denial of the body “as the ground of vision,” Crary concludes 136.

Chapter 5: Visionary Abstraction

Turner’s paintings problematize the “loss of a fixed source of light, the dissolution of a cone of light rays, and the collapse of the distance separating an observer fromt he site of optical experience” 138. The scientist Fechner sought to quantify sensation and succeeded in measuring it via the external stimulus for the first time 145. Sensation proceeds at regular intervals, and stimulus at first exceeds its capacity. Psychophysics and other sciences “beginning with the prefix psycho are part of this strategic appropriation of subjectivity” 148. As money moved things from qualitative to quantitative, so the real is “less useful” than that produced by a “more adaptable, autonomous, and productive observer… to conform to new functions of the body and to a vast proliferation of indifferent and convertible signs and images” 149. The “immense legacy” of the 1830s and 40s is “all the industries of the image and the spectacle in the 20th century” 150. “What is important is how these paths continually intersect and often overlap on the same social terrain, amid the countless localities in which the diversity of concrete acts of vision occur” 150.

Fredric Jameson, “Culture” (Ch 1, “Postmodernism”)


Jameson begins by stating that the present time (the eighties) is obsessed with “a break…. the waning or extinction of the hundred-year-old modern movement” that occurred in the late 50s or early 60s (significantly a period we still seem to be making ever more movies and TV shows about, in fits of continued ‘nostalgia’) 1. For Jameson, this remains confused in literary and artistic production – a “new aesthetic of textuality,” but is crystallized in architecture (re: Brideshead’s exhausted representations of old architecture?) 2.

Postmodern architecture performs for Jameson: it “stage[s] itself as a kind of aesthetic populism” that effaces the “frontier between high culture and so-called mass or commercial culture… that very culture industry so passionately denounced by all the ideologues of the modern, from Levis and the American New Criticism all the way to Adorno and the Frankfurt School… this whole ‘degraded’ landscape of schlock and kitsch” 2. Whereas modernism “quoted” from pop culture – think Ulysses – postmodern works “incorporate” this “into their very substance,” an odd statement not least because it’s questionable what Jameson would mean by substance here 3. The third stage of capitalism is no longer about industrialism and class struggle, but is purer, so that “every position on postmodernism in culture – whether apologia or stigmatization – is also at one and the same time, and necessarily, an implicitly or explicitly political stance on the nature of multinational capitalism today” 3. Postmodernism, too, should be conceived for Jameson “not as a style, but rather as a cultural dominant” with “the presence and coexistence of a range of very different, yet subordinate, features” (reminiscent of Foucault on sexuality 4.

Though Jameson acknowledges that Stein, Roussel, and Duchamp seem to be postmodern avant-la-lettre, he holds that this does not account for the social history, the canonization of the modern (and even its appropriation), by the bourgeoisie 4. He also acknowledges that the postmodern is already incapable of shocking us with its obscurity and sexual content. This brings to mind Ngai’s idea of “stuplimity,” which both locates Stein and Beckett as “postmodern” writers, but also claims that the alternation between shock and boredom is key to the contemporary affect she describes.

Aesthetics are now fully bound to the economy, and this is one reason Jameson prefers the example of architecture, closely tied in its production to global corporations 5. This leads him to explain why the postmodern must not be swallowed into periodization as “modern” – it is not historically coterminous and  as a system, it does not actually obliterate heterogeneity, though Jameson is willing to interrogate the difficulty of the “‘winner loses’ logic”:

What happens is that the more powerful the vision of some increasingly total system or logic – the Foucault of the prisons book is the obvious example – the more powerless the reader comes to feel. Insofar as the theorist wins, therefore, by constructing an increasingly closed and terrifying machine, to that very degree hloses, since the critical capacity of his work is thereby paralyzed… perceived as vain and trivial in the face of the model itself 5.

The postmodern’s “hegemonic norm” actually highlights “genuine difference” for Jameson, protecting us from the myopic vision of our own time as uniquely ‘random’ or ‘chaotic’ 6. The postmodern is “the force field in which very different kinds of cultural impulses – what Raymond Williams has usefully termed ‘residual’ and ’emergent’ forms of cultural production – must make their way” 6. Its features are 1) a “new depthlessness… both in contemporary ‘theory’ and… the culture of the image or the simulacrum, 2) a flattening or weakening of historicity through ‘schizophrenic’ Lacanian structures of syntax, 3) a “return to older theories of the sublime” in “a new type of emotional ground tone,” 4) a whole new technology tied to globalization, and 5) a mission of political art as it has shifted in multinational capitalism 6.

Jameson begins by discussing Van Gogh’s painting of the peasant’s shoes (over and against its “copiou[s] reproduc[tion] – re: Benjamin), with its “hallucinatory surface of color” as “an act of compensation” for the darkness of labor under capitalism 7. Secondarily, Jameson offers a Heideggerian reading, in which the meaningless material (Earth) is elevated through art to the level of aesthetics, society, and history (World) 7.  This is a kind of “laying bare the device,” through which aesthetic mediation uncovers the truth of the object, and again, this is partly through the materiality of the painting itself (again re: Benjamin) 8. Both readings are hermeneutical, says Jameson – they can be abstracted to larger meaning, whereas Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes” cannot. Warhol’s shoes are not “a heterosexual pair” like Van Gogh’s, but a collection of single, odd “dead objects” 8. They are fetishes, decontextualized from their original materiality and unable to be material in art either, because they are like X-ray photographs, reproduced and flattened and sprinkled with a sealing veil of golden sparkles, expressive of the return of the repressed, “decorative exhilaration,” but also “the waning of affect in postmodern culture” (an idea Ngai resists in “Stuplimity”) 10.

This is not to say there is no emotion here, but that art does not “look back” at us, and that other Warhol subjects “like Marilyn Monroe – …are themeselves commodified and transformed into their own images” (though Jameson does not gender this, he probably should) 11. Essentially, the art of anxiety, such as Munch’s “The Scream,” is predicated on a division of the inner self and the outer world, “the outward dramatization of inward feeling” 12. This is connected to the poststructuralist critique of depth models of hermeneutics: 1) the dialectical essence vs appearance, 2) the Freudian latent vs manifest, 3) the existential divide of authentic vs inauthentic, and 4) the opposition of signifier and signified – itself already unraveled 12. For Jameson:

“What replaces these various depth models is for the most part a conception of practices, discourses, and textual play, whose new syntagmatic structures… [suggest that] here too depth is replaced by surface, or by multiple surfaces (what is often called intertextuality is in that sense no longer a matter of depth” 12.

Jameson cites the tall, flat Wells Fargo Court in L.A., which “momentarily transforms the solid ground on which we stand into the contents of a stereopticon… as fateful as the great monolith in Kubrick’s 2001,” an idea that really reminds me of Linda Williams’ concept that if the original film was concerned with panorama, the new one is concerned with height (contemporary examples: think Avatar’s cliffs vs. The Master‘s painted-scenery of flat “depths,” as opposed to old Westerns or Abel Gance’s Napoleon) 13. As opposed to Ngai, for Jameson anxiety and alienation are purely modernist affects: “This shift in the dynamics of cultural pathology can be characterized as one in which the alienation of the subject is displaced by the latter’s fragmentation” 14. In other words, it is no longer the world that is fragmented, as in modernism, but the subject. 

Like Benjamin, for Jameson this means the end of individual style, and the “emergent primacy of mechanical reproduction… a liberation from anxiety, but a liberation from every other kind of feeling as well” – not so much the end of feeling as its depersonalization, as well as the accompaniment of euphoria to its expression 15-16. More concretely, this signifies

“the waning of the great high modernist thematics of time and temporality, the elegiac mysteries of duree and memory… we now inhabit they synchronic rather than the diachronic, and I think it is at least empirically arguable that our daily life, our psychic experience, our cultural languages, are today dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time, as in the preceding period of high modernism” 16.

If parody is modern (despite the “inimitable” modern styles  – Faulkner’s long sentences, Lawrence’s natural imagery, Stevens’ evasions of certain syntaxes) because these “ostentatiously deviate from a norm which then reasserts itself” and are “willful eccentricities,” then pastiche is the province of the postmodern (though what about The Waste Land?16. “Modernist styles become postmodernist codes” for Jameson, layered atop the many codes of jargon, idiolect, and regionalism, since “advanced capitalist countries today are now a field of stylistic and discursive heterogeneity without a norm” 17. Pastiche is instead “blank parody” – a “linguistic mask” with no humor or satiric impulse that “cannibalizes” past styles by attaching “neo” to them 17-18. It is characteristic of “consumers’ appetite for a world transformed into sheer images of itself and for pseudoevents and ‘spectacles'” 18. For Jameson, as for Guy Debord, this is where “Plato’s conception of the ‘simulacrum,’ the identical copy for which no original has ever existed,” becomes useful, since “the image has become the final form of commodity reification” 18.

Instead of Lukac’s historical time in the novel, we now face a “libidinal historicism,” seeking to assimilate “a vast collection of images, a multitudinous photographic simulacrum,” leaving us with “nothing but texts” 18. In the nostalgia film,  for example, “the desperate attempt to appropriate a missing past is now refracted through the iron law of fashion change and the emergent ideology of the generation” (he cites George Lucas’ American Graffiti – “for Americans at least, the 1950s remain the privileged lost object of desire”) 19. The nostalgia film sees the past in “stylistic connotation, conveying ‘pastness’ by the glossy qualities of the image… by the attributes of fashion” – he cites Barthes’ Mythologies 19. In this sense – in the “remake,” “retelling” or “historical fiction” of today, “the history of aesthetic styles displaces ‘real’ history” 20. Even stars, then, are flatter – an absence of “personality” makes them more like character actors displaying past styles of acting, and the most common setting is small-town America, eschewing the high-rise features of multinational capitalism as well as older features of civilization. This seems related to the idea of “suture” – it all “conspires to blur its official contemporaneity and make it possible for the viewer to receive the narrative as though it were set in some external thirties, beyond real historical time… the pastiche of the stereotypical past” 21.

“We seem increasingly incapable of fashioning representations of our own current experience,” Jameson claims 21. An exception for him is the work of Doctorow, namely The Book of Daniel. Ragtime, for Jameson is “a seemingly realistic novel” that is “a nonrepresentational work” combining “fatnasy signifiers from a variety of ideologemes in a kind of hologram” 23. Jameson seems to find it positive that the novel “short-circuits” traditional interpretative techniques and “imposes” a reading mode where we must sort out real historical figures from fictional representation (reminds ME of Pynchon… why not Jameson?) 23. Here, history returns as the proverbial Freudian repressed – form replaces content as a means of communicating affect and meaning, since the “waning of content is precisely [Doctorow’s] subject” and the historical novel “can no longer set out to represent the historical past; it can only ‘represent’ our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which thereby becomes ‘pop history'” 25.

In Genette’s terms, if the subject has “lost its capacity actively to extend its pro-tensions and re-tensions across the temporal manifold and to organize its past and future into coherent expereince,” then representation becomes “heaps of fragments… the randomly heterogenous and fragmentary and the aleatory” 25. Ngai will use this image in “Stuplimity,” but one wonders how Jameson’s notion of these “privative features” of postmodern art (more kindly called textuality, ecriture, or schizophrenic wriitng 26) pushes against T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land“I have shored up these fragments against my ruin” – likely in the loss of the subject who still believes in the possibility of a ruin to be staved off? In Lacan’s terms, schizophrenia is “a breakdown in the signifying chain, that is, the interlocking syntagmatic series of signifiers which constitutes an utterance or a meaning” 26.

I’m interested in thinking of this in terms of faceting – not as a chain, but as a three-dimensional structure. In Derridean terms, “Meaning on the new view is generated by the movement from signifier to signifier” – akin to differance 26. The signified is then a “meaning effect… a mirage of signification generated and projected by the relationship of signifiers among themselves” 26. This “rubble of distinct and unrelated signifiers” is for Jameson tied to psychic and linguistic ‘health’ – if we cannot understand and express 3 temporalities in language, “the schizophrenic is reduced to an experience of pure material signifiers, or, in other words, a series of pure and unrelated presents in time” 27. This reminds me not only of Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, but ironically enough, of the slogan Jameson decries: “The medium is the message”! 27. Jameson cites Sechehaye’s Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl, which is where he locates the affect of euphoria in the loss of reality: “illimitable vastness, brilliant light, and the gloss and smoothness of material things” 27. I want to read this! It seems gendered, as well as connected to reading, to surfaces, and to faceting.

Related to such euphoria is the reappropriation of previously clinical terms for humor, irony, and even joy (one thinks of paranoid, schizphrenic, manic, stalker, obsessed) 29. He calls reading a kind of zoom lens, thinks of such verbal change as making meaning into the decorative, and explains photorealism as an effect of a world in which the real objects of art were not the things themselves but photos – the realism is the simulacrum 30. Criticism thus stresses “the heterogeneity and profound discontinuities of the work of art… now a virtual grab bag or lumber room of disjoined subsystems and random raw materials and impulses of all kinds” 31. This seems ripe for considering that we might join but not suture these elements, since Jameson does identify the positive value of collating multiplicity: “In the most interesting postmodernist works, one can detect a more positive concept of relationship, which restores its proper tension to the notion of difference itself… new and original way of thinking and preceiving… an impossible imperative to achieve that new mutation in what can perhaps no longer be called consciousness” 31. (Note: is the very impossibility related to old ideas of the sublime – thin Ngai’s stuplime?)

Jameson locates the euphoria of “the extraordinary surfaces of the photorealist cityscape” in automobile wrecks, new surfaces, and commodified urban squalor (makes me think of Ballard and tours of squatters in Berlin) 33. Art divides the body from space (empty bathrooms as installations vs. simulacra of the body) to form an aesthetic of “derealization,” in which “the world… momentarily loses its depth and threatens to become a glossy skin” 34. Jameson connects this to camp, calling it a “hysterical sublime” 34. Whereas for Kant, the sublime alternates between awe and terror as the mind seeks to comprehend that which is at first beyond comprehension, now he looks at this more as dead objects, as technology turning back against us in its inert forms, haunting us in its covering of nature (Auden, Silko) 35. He periodizes capitalism: 1) 1840s steam power = market capitalism (realism), 2) 1890s electric power = monopoly or imperialist capitalism (modernism), 3) 1940s nuclear power = postindustrial or multinational capitalism (postmodernism) 35. (Even the polyglot words of the third phase are conglomerations!)

Jameson differentiates the potential for movement in the old technology and architecture (think the ships of Le Corbusier – this leftist emphasis on motion reminds me of Lukacs) from the static outer shell of the computer or television, “which articulates nothing but rather implodes, carrying its flattened image surface within itself” 37. These are “machines of reproduction rather than of production… narratives which are about the processes of reproduction and include movie cameras” 37. One can imagine what Jameson would say now abut reality TV, as well as the true flatness of the iPhone and the iPad, the new computer called “Surface” from Microsoft, machines which almost efface themselves visibly as machines. For Jameson in 1984, architecture “remains… the privileged aesthetic language; and the distoriting and fragmenting reflections of one enormous glass surface to the other can be taken as paradigmatic of the central role of process and reproduction in postmodernist culture” 37. (Note: calling it “mesmerizing” and “fascinating” is interesting because repetition/phallus roots.)

This leads to a “high-tech paranoia” – both the feeling that these machines are synecdochic stand-ins for a large, incomprehensible network (connected to the idea of the sublime?), but also the fear that that complexity cannot be overcome or understood by the “normal reading mind” (he cites cyberpnk – William Gibson, I think Neal Stephenson) 38. Our spatial creations, then, have outgrown the capacity of our minds, as if we wish to “expand our sensorium” to “impossible dimensions” (related to Kant’s free beauty?) 39. They speak the vernacular of the city, but do not aesthetically raise its tone? (Re: Adorno and the elitist’s complaint – these buildings do not seek to lift up the rest of the city, as in the modernist project). The Westin Bonaventure in LA reflects the city back, has 3 “backdoor” entrances on 2 different levels, none of which go to the lobby, and seeks to be a miniature city, Jameson argues.  (Think about this in terms of suturing off? Also vs. the arcade – infinitely enterable and exitable, where you always see the structure in the glass as well as through the glass both directions). The reflectivity of the “glass skin” repels all, giving distorted images of surroundings even as you can see out and the Other can’t see in (makes me think of Byatt, and glass/all reflective of other and/or self) 42.

Thinking of elevators and escalators as narrative movements in the building, Jameson claims that these symbolize and institutionalize movement, rather than just allowing it (Nicholson Baker’s “The Mezzanine”?) 42. You are either slowly moving against your own pace or shooting vertically up or down into another contained space, all covered in colors, streamers, and the indecipherable four corners of the hotel, which discourage orientation. In other words, we can never get our Kantian distance, because we are always overwhelmed by the spectacle (one wonders why we are so shamed by our looking and seeing – is it erotic in some way?). This is like the limits of fiction, too? Jameson politicizes this by claiming the inability to talk about war now (always?) 44. Surface and symbol are problematized in that the machine can no longer represent motion when inert, but must actually be represented in motion (video?) 45.

Though Jameson concludes that it would be an ethical mistake to accept the “delirious camp-following celebration of this aesthetic new world,” it is equally problematic to trivialize it in comparison to “the ‘high seriousness’ of the great modernisms” 46. Like Zizek, for Jameson, the world of images erases past and future into images of cataclysm on the personal and social levels 46. Even though the postmodern is essentially negative, we are all embedded in it, and if it is historical, we cannot moralize it away:

“Marx powerfully urges us to do the impossible, namely, to think this development positively and negatively all at once… grasping the demonstrably baleful features of capitalism along with its extraordinary and liberating dynamism simultaneously within a single thought… at one and the same time the best thing that has ever happened to the human race and the worst… dialectically, as catastrophe and progress all together” 47.

(This reminds me to think of Byatt’s “agnosticism” somewhat. Note: weird that Jameson says we are “submerged” if this aesthetic has no depth in his framing of it.) Jameson wonders: if there is no outside the system, and the relative autonomy of the arts is no longer, what can be done? Like Foucault on power & sexuality, the irony of proliferating sexual discourses is somewhat akin here to the irony of proliferating theoretical paradigms 49.  If, for Jameson, the promise of capitalism’s hugeness is the hugeness of potential social change, how is this not like an apology for technology and globalization, which he warned us against 50? He concludes that leftists should be less afraid of the pedagogical function of art, letting go of their fear of the bourgeois reaction to modernism 50.

Jameson ends by imagining “cognitive mapping” 51. If ideology toggles between the imaginary and the real (Althusser, also like Foucault, where sexuality toggles between power and pleasure?), then art needs to be able to situationally represent the individual in relation to the vast totality, and this is cognitive mapping (“to cognitively map our individual social relationship to local, national, and international class realities” as well) 52. It seems Jameson is imagining something that will  toggle experience and knowledge, orienting the individual in her surroundings 53.  If ideology is imagined and science is real (both of which fit into Marx and Althusser’s models), then in Lacan, we also have the symbolic, and Jameson looks to political art to fill this role somehow. Perhaps sadly and ironically, it seems Google Maps or GPS or a smartphone quite literally solves this problem, but in a mode so deeply imbricated in capitalism that it can hardly be seen as a solution. Does it, however, enable the end of postmodernism and the rise of the New Sincerity? And why did Occupy fail if all this is true?