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Irina Boca: The Double-Structured Antithesis of Reality

 

 

The triple structure weakens the polemical punch of the double-structured antithesis. Therefore, soon after a period of order, exhaustion and attempts at restoration, when the battle began again, the simple double-structured antithesis prevailed again.

                                                                       

                                                                   C. Schmitt [1]

 

 

I read in the newspapers of the tragic situation of two European infants who are Siamese twins. The doctors say that, since the twins have one heart and one lung, they can only be separated in such a way that one twin lives and the other dies. The doctors also say that if they do not separate the twins, both will die within months.

 

                                                               I. Wallerstein [2]

 

 

  In less than a century, B. Constant’s impulse sauvage and calcul civilize, which denominated the succession of two diametrically opposed historical periods (war and peaceful exchange), came to denominate two simultaneous orders opposing one other, two adverse perspectives waging a permanent war against each other. C. Schmitt found the Marxist antithesis between the proletariat and the bourgeois the most prominent and most effective historically because it concentrated all the energy on the final battle between two irreconcilable orders. By contrast, G. Dumezil found the antithesis between the god of night (Varuna) and the god of day (Mitra) expressive of the collaborative nature between natural and supernatural orders; he turned their historical succession into their simultaneous coexistence, into the sovereign couple that binds and exchanges, wills and knows, acts and decides, and, most importantly, forms a perfect double with the Roman couple (Romulus and Numa), with the “terrible and the Ordered, the Violent and the Correct, the Magician and the Jurist…”. [3]

           

Succession and simultaneity no longer separate into two diametrically opposed orders, for each has become the mirror image of the other, functioning as a double articulation of conflict and collaboration, war and peace, bonds and exchanges. Two successive orders (i.e., Rome under Romulus and Numa) are simultaneous with the presence of the divine couple (Jupiter Stator and Fides), they “borrow” the collaborative quality of the divine couple, becoming the sovereign (simultaneous) heads of the human order. They become the “twins” living on the same set of organs (same order) for an indefinite period of time. [4] The Hegelian antithesis between master and slave passes through the successive stages of the family, of civil society and the state, bringing them together in the final synthesis. The successive orders fold back upon one another (Foucault’s accordion structure) becoming one indivisible order in which the master-slave antithesis is simultaneously dissolved and (re)composed in ever new configurations (family versus civil society; civil society versus the state, etc.).

 

J. Habermas traces the tensions between these simultaneous, yet successive, materializations of the master-slave antithesis inside the bourgeois family, civil society and the state, emphasizing that all successive transformations of the public sphere were possible by dint of its absorption into the two antithetical orders - the bourgeois family and the state. In the triple structure (family-society-state) the middle term is always absorbed by the other two, forming a new couple, [5] a new reality (or order). The ever changing antithetical couples, backed by the triple structure of their successive transformations, lead to the isolation and absorption of the third element of the structure - it is a closed system in which each element goes from isolation (oneness) to coupling, to tripling, and back, without ever changing its place, but only its function. This is the structural response to the ontological question of being, the middle term between philosophy and science, which is (as all such terms are) both successiveness and simultaneous coexistence of two opposing theses - the middle term is as much a hybrid of the two alternatives as it is the “novelty” directing the process of their simultaneous homogenization. [6]

 

More to the point, the bourgeois-proletarian antithesis gives raise to the war machine (in Deleuze and Guattari); it gives raise to the police (in P. Virilio); or to the public sphere (in Habermas), at the same time at which the war machine, the police, the public sphere, threaten to become the sovereign elements in the system, while simultaneously being reabsorbed by both the bourgeois and the proletarian states. The structural response, while intellectually challenging, falls pray to H. Arendt’s observation that only buildings have structures, that no matter how much we calculate and how many predictions we produce there will always be a human element that remains outside the reach of certainty. The war-machine, the police, the public sphere, are a blend of impulse sauvage and calcul civilize, they are hybrid-machineries acting inside and outside the state, outside society, or outside the family - they are the new machines that have no boundaries and no souls, acting, as S. Zizek tells us “within the space of the death drive.” [7]

 

They no longer operate locally as sovereignty does, but go beyond the borders of the state apparatus, into the open space of empire. Through them, war no longer plays the supportive role it formerly had, but rather betrays and limits the operations of the state: just as Hobbes saw clearly that the State was against war, so war is against the State, and makes it impossible. [8] Even though state and war seem mutually exclusive, they turn into reciprocal formations evolving simultaneously throughout history, limiting and challenging one another. The warrior type, which is an in between type (half military leader, half war-machine) is “at once eccentric and condemned.” [9] He falls in love and betrays by falling in love (e.g., Achilles), he loves and sacrifices himself for love. He is the third element in the structure, the “sacrificial” element, or as Bataille suggests, “the thing - only the thing.” [10]

 

Far from “weakening the polemical punch of the double-structured antithesis”, the third element is always sacrificed, or at least appears to be so since the entire structure could collapse without it and no double-structured antithesis could work indefinitely, without being threatened from within. The passage from the three-dimensionality of power to the double-structured opposition, or to the one-dimensional relation of self to self, is at once threatened and preserved, sacrificed and saved. Because of its “sacrificial” status, the third element tends to become neutral. Some examples are: R. Barthes’ space of the alibi, the neutral zone of the “neither-nor” choices; H. Arendt’s emptiness placed inside the onion-like structure; Foucault’s notion of a human self caught between the strata of the archive; Deleuze’s and Guattari’s smooth war-machine; and so on.

 

What catches our attention is that the third element (each element becomes the “third”) plays both the role of a betrayal and a cathartic sacrifice capable of purging the whole structure of tensions and conflicts. In the last analysis, it is not simply the element that occupies the third dimension that is threatened, but the war within, the “threat” brought about by it in the first place. The third dimension is the dimension of war, the dimension of depth which is given through some tension or conflict and is maintained as such in relation to the other two dimensions - the Mitra-Varuna couple, the complementary, antithetical (and here antithetical means collaborative) couple that maintains itself by “sacrificing” conflict, that is, by turning it into a “thing” to be sacrificed.

 

The double-structured antithesis which had always been a conflicting duality, turns against its own nature as it were, dissolving it into a final battle against one last enemy: itself. This is the extreme alternative, the nihilistic version that remains outside the reach of science precisely because science is an indirect form of nihilism – i.e., it attempts to prove the real by disproving it. The weapon, or nihilism in pure form, enters the domain of science in order to protect it (i.e., from itself); its relation to science is one of mutual collaboration - it cannot destroy the source and scope of its creation, but also it cannot stand its threatening nature. Differently put, the weapon is both the embodiment of conflict and its resolve. It is the neutral space of the alibi, the shell covering up the emptiness inside, but also the exterior materialization of this emptiness, its being projected outside of itself, in the concreteness of a destructive function. The warrior is the bearer of the weapon, at once maneuvering and strategizing its uses even though he is twice removed from real conflict. On the one hand, conflict is equivalent to the use of weapons, on the other, the weapon ceases to be (if it ever was) the embodiment of conflict and becomes its resolve.

 

The warrior is no longer the classical hero throwing spears and cannonballs (the critic of modern society) at the enemy, but the modern technocrat of arsenals and mobility, acceleration and speed. He is no longer the architect of the battlefield but the engineer of the army camp, for whom the victory on the battlefield is only a matter of routine. Classical war, as has been stressed so many times, is at an end. In its place we are dealing with the advent of the “machine”, with its equipment and capabilities, with its range and speed, with every single quality and property that sets it closer to victory, closer to its own end. The war of today is a fabrication of victory, the very process by which the victors lose their ability to engage in a battle otherwise than by manufacturing the source of conflict, the landscape, the enemies and their weapons. Victory itself is nothing more than this process of manufacturing and managing dissenting landscapes and peoples, the very guarantee that any war is a winning war, that, indeed, war and victory are synonymous terms referring to the same process by which man produces and spoils his freedom.

           

            When not turned against itself (which is always perceived as an “end’’), the antithetical structure seems to work in the name of history, peace, freedom, justice, all concepts which no longer have any other real referent except the assembly lines where history and peace, freedom and justice, are produced so that in the end one prevails upon the other - perhaps in the same way in which the proletariat prevailed over the bourgeois state (i.e., by accelerating the process of industrialization). Whether that victory had been won or not is not the subject of the present project, but it does relate to it in a manner much more profound than a simple ironical statement. The present de-acceleration of industrialization plays back the same process by which the proletariat was erected in the first place. It is precisely the folding of the event of proletarianization understood as a class struggle against the bourgeois state, which is not a promise, least of all a manifesto - it is the same victory that troubled us earlier playing itself backwards as if it were nothing more than a conscious production of conflict and neutrality, victory and failure, betrayal and love.

 

It is even more than that, for the consciousness of failure is also the consciousness of victory, of another kind of victory than the simple production of its spectacle. In any case, the failure of the bipartite system is not only the failure of the Cold War, though in some respects it is identical with the failure of the proletariat to grasp the importance of wealth, or of wealth as the raison d’être of the state, but also the failure to maintain two equally suited competitors in an ambush very similar to the American rush for gold. The only conclusion to be drawn from the former bipolarity of the world is that the former communist states have gained their right to live at the very limit of subsistence: it is possible to make them poorer, yes, to fabricate their revolutions and coups d’état, or even to propel them into some undesired coalitions, but one can no longer get rid of them, for to get rid of them is to exterminate the very source of wealth. As a matter of fact (or of irony), one seems better off by being a communist rather than a liberal or a conservative - one enjoys the privilege of politics by default, that is, he is moved by the promise of a will to power and not by the will to power as such.

 

What does it mean to be political, then? It means absolutely everything, or at least this is what some of the most important thinkers of the 20th century seem to have suggested. It is not just the polls, the electoral campaign, the seat in the parliament, but the gas price, the ozone layer, the fashion show; they are all connected in a way that is essentially political, essentially will(ing) to power. One does not become political by getting accustomed to the world around him, it is his will to power that moves him from the closed world of the animal to the political condition of being a voter, a member of parliament, or a gas-station owner. Of course, none of this is true - or at least not entirely. Could one leave the animal condition and become a voter by simply willing power? Could he occupy his seat in the parliament by sheer will? Schopenhauer would have said yes; he would have convinced us that everything human is a matter of will and representation, that there is nothing more essential and more desirable than the will: “the will determines itself, and therewith its action and its world also; for beside it there is nothing, and these are the will itself.” [11]

 

But the will is no longer pure and simple willing, it is essentially political, essentially will to power, for to will the world or to act according to one’s will is already power. Power is the world, it inscribes itself as the genesis and raison d’être of everything human, intelligible, forceful. In its realm, conflicting alternatives compose the human horizon by separating it into light and sound layers of the will, into the language and articulation of a powerful self. Such is the power of the present as the most familiar and most abstract formulation of the will. On the one hand, the world as representation, on the other, the world as power, or the power of the world: two mirror images of the same willingness to will. The world as representation exhibits the potential for resistance, but it lacks the potential for a greater will to power, of a will to power decanted through the archival layers of the present - it lacks the in-itself of power, the historical consciousness of being something other than human truth. Conversely, the world as power exhibits the potential for representation, but it lacks the potential for a greater will to represent; it lacks the for-itself of representation, the historical consciousness of being something other than human power. The world as will and representation is the world of power, the completed circle of willing and representing the will or, what amounts to the same thing, of representing and empowering representation.

 

The willing world of subjects as opposed to the representation of their will in the objects, the world of the savage as opposed to the quiet world of the civilized man, two antithetical orders founding the empire of the will, the ephemeral empire of willing and representing power as the omnipotent relation between one’s will and his representation of it. The couple is always a willing couple, an antithesis driven by the will to power, which is to say that each party must will and represent its power in opposition to (or collaboration with) the other. The will does not exist without being first represented (which is difference; negation; transfiguration), just as representation cannot take place without an object of representation. The world is both represented and willed, powerful and weak; it is, for the first time, more than pure negation or pure differentiation, for it is the representation of the will that turns it into a texture of power relations between willing and represented subjects - a relation between two forces unsettled by their will to empower and represent themselves.

 

It is not the desire of another desire that makes man leave the animal world by setting himself in conflict with it, which is a relation impossible to represent, but the desire of representation, of making that desire known by giving a form to it, by placing it in relation to other things and other desires, by confronting them and giving form and meaning to their confrontation. Now, to represent desire is one thing, and to desire the representation of the same desire is another: their conflict arises from the fact that desire and representation have been, for a very long time, equivalent. If man desires something, he represents it, and if he represents something, it means he desires it. This parallelism (or equivalence) of desire and representation, so characteristic of the classical age, is now turned around: man represents what he does not desire and he desires what he does not or cannot represent - both desire and representation belong to him indirectly, by being the negatives of one another.

 

This negative coupling (representation of a non-desire and desire of a non-representation) hides its own positivity, its own beginning as it were - its being a representation of representation and a desire of desire, that is, a simple relation of desire and representation (the real and the imaginary). It hides from it, no doubt, in search for something better than the unsettling vacillation between reality and imagination, desire and the thing. Violence is not desire/desired, it is simply unsettling, simply unrepresented - man does not desire another man’s desire, but the object of that desire, which he cannot appropriate without a fight. Fighting promises the violent appropriation of the object of desire - it directs its forces against everything that separates man from the object of his desire. The end of violence is also the coincidence between man and the object (desire and representation; reality and imagination), the victory of science over the world of objects, its complete takeover as the last act in the mythological encounter with and representation of the other.

 

One could no longer speak of any excess, nor of any parallelism between desire and object, but only of victory, coincidence, and speed, each modifying the cardinality of power, its relation to the (in)different productivity of knowledge. From now on, the only relation that power entertains with knowledge is a relation of production, an irreversible process of knowing how to produce and make use of an entire world of objects. To acquire power is no longer an art, nor an ingenious folding of force, but a mere knowledge of production, a knowledge of the object – a technology. It is in this respect that one could no longer speak of excess, for technology is incapable of dealing with the incalculable and the uncertain. It must deal with the limited, the finite and the measurable - anything other than this is already a self-consciousness, already something other than technology.

  

The relation between power and science, or power and technology, is implicit in this “lack” of consciousness, or rather it is based on it to such an extent that it produces its own knowledge and its own world around it. This is the sterile world described by G. Dumezil, the world-object oriented towards infinite growth and destruction - the violent sovereignty operating locally, in the closing space of empire. Without a doubt, its authority is challenged by its “wise’’ counterpart, or at least by the impressive simulation of some kind of wisdom - a ritual by which power is tempered through the remembrance of what it needs to know. This intermittent challenge is never poignant, never capable of rejuvenating culture, the economy, or even power. It is a simulation and nothing more, a reemergence of the powerful during the processes of work, production, or violent creativity. Its essence is characterized by sterility, though it is always invested with the power of truth, with the energy and expectations of real life events.

 

In this case, there is only sterile expectation - the energy to resist, to expect, to dream, but also the excess of not resisting, not expecting, not dreaming. The inequality between the two is the source of even more knowledge, more uninhabitable spaces, more excesses. Without ever growing into a full relation, excess arbitrarily signals prosperity and decadence, politics and the apolitical, knowledge and ignorance. Excess appears as a sign rather than as an entire semiotic environment, as a symptom rather than a diagnosis, but it could never appear so without also becoming the opposite, without shifting and metamorphosing from one phase to the other, without making both sign and semiotics, symptom and diagnosis, disappear in the arbitrariness of excess(ing).

           

The coexistence of diametrically opposed alternatives freezes the moment of choice while also turning everything into an object of choice, into an indifferent object, an indifferent choice. There are innumerable examples: Sartre’s indecision between the Germans and the Americans; Lyotard’s indifference vis-a-vis all possible couples; the indifference of a choice regarding Russia and America, in Bataille. Such “separate/separating” examples make up the body of choice, they map out and modify its constitutions and destitutions, its becoming other than just a body, other than just a corporeal constitution of decision-making. The body itself is nothing but the mirror image of the head – a map perpetually folding back upon itself, folding the real and the unreal, the sign and the signified, the will and its representation - folding folds as it were, folding the body within the mind and the mind within the body, the image within the mirror and the mirror within the image.

 

The double is always the mirroring image of the singular, the different, the distinctive. It follows it everywhere, like a shadow on the ground, mutating and silencing everything in its way. In this sense, the platonic world of shadows is no longer mere visibility, it has never been perhaps, but all the same - it is a mere shadow. It follows something other than itself within the order of the visible, it follows it silently, almost indistinctly, perusing the surfaces of things in an indefinite and indifferent display of movement. There is only performance, surface, spectacle, each emerging out of symbols and realities, scenes and portals, sacrifices and newness, each becoming thing and ghost - a distinct phenomenon: the doubling. 

 

To go back, to travel backwards towards the split, means to unearth the symbols, to modify reality to such an extent that existence becomes an impossibility (by virtue of being the only possibility). The real [12] is no longer out there, it has been inherited by all the words and nuances, and images, and portraits, by all the things (a piece of advertisement; a love scene; a poem) capable of conveying and annulling their own messages and realities. We encounter a world of fragments, a world of indistinctive things and shadows - an arbitrary spectacle of the double in which nothing happens except the split, the clearing, the death of the real. Death becomes “the symbolic order itself, the structure which, as a parasite, colonizes the living entity.” [13]

 

Or, “there is no meaning without some dark spot,” [14] no possibility for the impossible semblances and betrayals of the real, of life, of love. There is only the indifference of choice, the indifference of wonder, behind which there lies dormant our longing for (an)other. In this longing, there is a negligible difference between the “small Jewish barber and the great dictator (in the Great Dictator),” [15] a difference, or negligence, which results in “two situations as infinitely remote, as far opposed as those of victim and executioner.” [16] The same difference situates and plays itself off in Zizek’s interpretation of Lafayette’s Princess of Cleves: “if she renounces marrying the Duke, she will at least gain and retain him “in eternity” (Kierkegaard) as her only and true love; if she marries him, she will sooner or later lose both, his bodily proximity as well as his eternal passionate attachment to her.” [17]

 

Perhaps between the two negligences, or differences, one could insert J.L. Nancy’s vision of sovereignty: “by condemning herself, Cleopatra liberates herself.” [18] What happens is that “art becomes the sovereign neither of the world nor of souls but the very enigma of sovereignty.…” [19] Imperial sovereignty, far from becoming the “place of a cult of stelae and statues erected as divine presences,” [20] becomes a “celebration of the groundless space opened by a canvas without a depth.…” [21]

 

In this surface without depth, where previously had reigned “the sacrality of a lineage, its majesty and its idols,” [22] now reigns “ the striking brilliance of its eclipse – but it thus reigns in all its splendor, as the splendor of this eclipse itself.” [23] Out of this abyss come all the possibilities, “all the radiant appearances and all the illuminations of an arrival in the world, of a coming into body and flesh, of an incarnation and a birth by which the mystery of potency would have to be clarified – that is, not the mystery of force, but the very different mystery of birth itself, of being-in-the-world and of being-a-world.” [24]

 

Notes

 

1. C. Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995, p. 74.

 

2. I. Wallerstein, The Decline of American Power, New York & London: The New Press, p. 130.

 

3. G. Dumezil, Mitra-Varuna, New York: Zone Books, 1988, p. 64.

 

4. I. Wallerstein’s simile refers explicitly to the European situation, to the present dilemma of European politics.

 

5. Also see R. Barthes, ’’The Two Semiological Chains,” Mythologies, New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

 

6. J.F. Lyotard, The Post-Modern Condition, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

 

7. S. Zizek, The Plague of Fantasies, London/New York: Verso, 1997, p. 89.

 

8. G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Nomadology: The War Machine, New York: Semiotext(e), 1986, p.11.

 

9. Ibid., p. 7.

 

10. G. Bataille, Theory of Religion, New York: Zone Books, 1992, p. 43.  “The thing - only the thing, that is what sacrifice means to destroy in the victim.”

 

11. A. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, New York: Dover Publications, 1969, p. 272.

 

12. In S. Zizek’s sense: “real is that which resists, that which is not totally malleable to the caprices of our imagination,” in On Belief, London & New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 51.

 

13. S. Zizek, The Plague of Fantasies, London/New York: Verso, 1997, p. 89.

 

14. Ibid., p. 160.

 

15. G. Deleuze, L’image-mouvement, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1983, p. 234.

 

16. Ibid., p. 234.

 

17. S. Zizek, On Belief, London & New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 77.

 

18. J.L. Nancy, The Ground of the Image, New York: Fordham University Press, 2005, p. 133.

 

19. Ibid., p. 135.

 

20. Ibid., p. 135

 

21. Ibid., p. 135

 

22. Ibid., p. 133.

 

23. Ibid., p. 133.

 

24. Ibid., p. 135.