"hyphos is the tissue and the spider’s web"

Tag: Meaning

The Life and Death of a Subject: On Dance Gavin Dance’s Instant Gratification

Who are you? What are you all about? Tell me about yourself.

In these and many other colloquial requests, what is interrogated is none other than the “self.” The self is what each one of us has, but no two are exactly alike. Your self makes you a unique individual, although the structure of selfhood is common to all. This structure is what I would call subjectivity. One has subjectivity (meaning, one is a subject) by virtue of being a unique individual (that is, having a self). While the notion of self may not be controversial in itself, its precise domain has eternally been unsettled ground.

There are those who maintain that the self is what stays constant amidst our changing experiences. For our entire lives, we harbor the same self within us through to the end. However, there are experiences that chip away at our faith in an eternal self. A common experience is looking back at ourselves as we were in the past. Who has not seen a picture from their childhood and thought: “Was that really me?” Yet the past is not the only realm in which one’s self seems precarious. The experience of the “uncanny” in the present can lead one to feel out of step with oneself. This feeling of being at odds with oneself can also occur in our anticipation of future events. The anxiety associated with an imminent break in routine can make one feel the poverty of one’s current self. Nevertheless, each self adjusts, in one way or another, to every novelty.

The occasion for these comments on subjectivity is the recent release of Instant Gratification, the latest album from Dance Gavin Dance. The album provides a timeless meditation on the manifestation and annihilation of subjectivity. The “you” referenced in many of the songs is none other than the subject’s dialogue with itself as it struggles to make sense of the world. While the lyrics are conceptually dense (contrary to what one popular critic believes), they resonate with the form and style of the instrumental sound.

Our current task is two-fold. First, we must clarify how Instant Gratification deals with selfhood and subjectivity in general. Second, we will underscore the contribution that the album makes toward a new theory of subjectivity. Given the fact that the album follows the chronological life and death of a subject, I have chosen to follow the same order from the first to the last track. The album reveals no less than the transcendental structure of subjectivity as it is grasped from the subject’s point of view.

Album Art

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The Death of Sisyphus (Part 2)

We had previously arrived at King Midas as the ultimate existential hero. Meaning is impossible to produce ex nihilo and by attempting this we only find ourselves lost in a meaningless world. Yet, is there a place to go after this? Is it true that—as we previously concluded—any existentialism necessarily ends in anxiety and despair? Indeed, it would appear that the conclusion was premature. King Midas does not exist in a vacuum, but is only part of a more complex continuum. Closely related, but on the opposite side, one finds Hermes. It is somewhere between the perilous Midatic-Hermetic chasm that we may find an answer to Camus’ fundamental question.

Unlike primitive aesthetic assessments (e.g. Apollonian-Dionysian), the Midatic-Hermetic is grafted onto a parabola. The inflection point signifies a tectonic shift from absolute meaninglessness to equivocal encryptions of meaning. At this point, which is, itself, always already an origin splitting apart from itself (attempting to generate what-it-is by becoming-what-it-is-not), one finds the precarious scaffolding for a theory of meaning. Scaffolding, to be sure, is of terminological importance. Whereas previous theories have failed at the very beginning by attempting to locate a foundation (arche), the aporias of meaning have suggested that any theory of meaning will be without foundation (an-arche). Thus, the indeterminacy of this inflection point cannot be under-determined.


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Automobile Advertising

[This is an excerpt from Open Structuralism: An Answer to Derrida, a project that attempts to find a third position between structuralism and post-structuralism.]

There is a unique phenomenon that is particular to the advertising of automobiles. Commercials portray their product in motion. Cars drive through fields, deserts, mountains, and cities, which are all completely empty. Even in the cities, there is not a single car or person around. Trucks are magically loaded with heavy objects to show off their suspension, but there is no one doing the loading. Even the driver is often totally occulted. When the driver is revealed, it is usually a masked professional or only the hands. The question arises: why is the automobile always presented in isolated environments? What can a synchronic analysis tell us?

To really understand the commercial-structure, it must be isolated in time from any transformations that may have existed before it or will exist after it. As Barthes instructs the reader on the last page of Elements of Semiology, this method is infinitely favorable to one that accounts for the evolutionary development of the commercials. (This is also a condemnation of the trace.) So, one is left with a bundle of commercials that share the characteristics described above. A contrast exists between the product and its environment that resembles the figure-ground relation. The car is emphasized by being in an empty field; it draws the viewer’s attention like the eyes of the Mona Lisa. The absence of the driver is an invitation to imagination. (To invite the viewer to the dealership has become common practice. Buying a car is treated like a festival, which should remind the reader of the lyric from the Claude Channes song in La Chinoise (1968): revolution is not a banquet.) One can picture oneself steering the car through the vacant city streets. The commercial allows the viewer to test drive the car in the very best environments. Thus, a synchronic analysis can provide an answer to our question. It has revealed the viewer’s relation to the commercial to be part of the very sign-system established by that commercial, and has also explained the meaning of the isolated environment to be a tactic of emphasizing the product. The quality of this answer will now be weighed against that of an open structuralist analysis. Read the rest of this entry »

The Disavowalist Manifesto

We will never know how many discourses we inhabit at once. Words like “socio-political” must be uttered in an ironic sense because any notion of strict division between discursive spaces is a fiction. One must remember that a “hyphen is never enough to conceal protests, cries of anger or suffering, the noise of weapons, airplanes, and bombs.” Any and all distinctions are contingent, acting like hinges, where one component is not clearly distinguished from the other, but also necessary for the operation of the apparatus. It is not each discourse that produces meaning, as is commonly believed, but is actually that which produces a general meaninglessness. Above all else, the Disavowalist wants meaning. The only path to meaning is away from every black hole of signification. It is the disinterested wandering away from discourse that will be the coalescence of meaning: a complete refusal to avow; a disavowal.

This strategy is sometimes represented in the political realm as anarchism. Is not an-archy a complete disavowal of the State, hierarchy, gods, and masters? An-archists would certainly believe so. Yet it is this strategic disavowal that leads to the ultimate avowal of anarchism. So, it is a similar case with any discourse that introduces itself as a prefix. One finds affirmations and affinities everywhere in anarchism, dormant like razor blades in apples. However, it is not the positive, anarchist projects that adopt a stance of avowal in the sense that we are concerned with. A collective never hurt nor helped anyone. Implicit in the naked disavowal of arche is an impulse that can surface as crude naturalism or frigid utilitarianism or any disease you could imagine on your lunch break. The Disavowalist wants to disavow everything including her own position. The evening news is trite and every book has been read: the Disavowalist is fiending for new intensities.

The first step to making your own disavowal: determine the field! We are not here to vomit three critiques about the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Disavowal is a step away from what is to what is not. Some would call this metaphysics, but those people are not Disavowalists. We do not want to give you philosophy, political theory, self-help, or pornography. You already know where to find them; you already are them. We can only offer a constellation of images. These images will appear to form a coherent structure in an immanent matrix, but, like all constellations, each image is light-years away from the others. The question of structuration, that very event where the constellation becomes what it is, will be left open until the end, where one will rightly find the beginning.

Some philosophers have argued that our relation to the world is innately sexual. Either our bodies are always complicit in a sexualized energy of mechanico-biological connections, or sexuality underlies every thought and action as the genital property of power itself. What is overlooked far too often is that this sexuality always already entails production. The sexualized subject can only exist when it apprehends a sexualizing object. Therefore, sexuality is grafted on to the subject and this procedure has been naturalized throughout history. Yet at every moment, the subject is primarily asexual before encountering the means of sexual production. The desire to spread sexuality as much as the productive localities of sex itself is a discourse of avowal. One must be weary of the counter-attack that posits anti-sexuality or abstinence as solutions; this is not what we are interested in. The Disavowalist becomes becoming by closing his account at the economy of becoming-sexual.

How does one become a Disavowalist linguistically? It should already be clear that the No is a trap. The No is an avowal of the negative; it is inextricable from that which is Yes. We have no pledge or principle. A strong distaste resonates equally from culture and counter-culture. The Disavowalist distrusts language because it affirms being over becoming. Yet, as Cratylus had done, one cannot simply give up language. Even this marks a return to negation. The Disavowalist is a black body radiator in the vacuum of language.

The Disavowalist sometimes adopts a name, but only to disavow it in the end, to give it up, to die. Hamlet became Disavowalist in his indecision to kill Claudius. This allowed him to ponder his fate, despise country and capital, and scorn vanity. The decision brought complications. All at once, Hamlet enters bio-chemical, political, social, historical, literary, and militant discourses. He is forced into the conclusion of all avowals: the death of the subject. And so, Hamlet’s dying words solidify his predicament: he voices his opinion on a political election. Hamlet was a great Disavowalist, but Bukowski was greater. In Bukowski, one finds a critique of everything that is both clear and concise. Value-constellations of politics, sexuality, culture, art, etc. are dissolved to their most fundamental contradictions. Beneath it the reader finds a sincerity that is intentionally absent from all other writers. However, in the catacombs of Bukowski’s style, one is bound to realize his hedonism. It is an avowal of the beautiful that takes the form of Mahler, Lawrence, and the woman in 4E. Certainly, we must forgive Bukowski whatever joys he could find under the dirty covers of a rented motel room, but it was his disavowals that made him great, that inched him closer to the divine emptiness and the yawning spirit. We forgive Bukowski to read him again; we read Bukowski to not end up like him. However, Bukowski’s failures are not that far from another great Disavowalist. It is Bartleby’s mantra that could lead any Disavowalist to purified reflection, if such a thing existed: I would prefer not to. Is this not the goal we have been aiming at: to prefer not to do anything? Linguistically, Bartleby discovers a world of disavowal, but it is his practice that is lacking. In his radical disavowal, Bartleby forgets what he is still avowing: a particular spatial position. Bartleby engenders a critique of work and law that would not resurface until more than two hundred years later. He is also a reminder of what radical disavowal encompasses and where the Disavowalist needs to take caution. We do not want to be catatonic! Disavowal is an active becoming; any stasis is a negation of its principle.

Disavowal leads indirectly to a peripheral subjectivity. The subject is a foundational position, which is prior to objectifying apparatuses and discourses. To be clear, if such a thing is possible, we do not desire to reaffirm the classical role of the subject. Individual and pure values are inextricable from the discourses they inhabit. We seek a world beyond value. It is here, at this point of no return and constant return, that the subject becomes identifiable, but only as clearly as a corpse. The subject is not a goal or end; it is what remains after radical disavowal. The subject’s position in the world is always contingent. It involves a coming out (of the closet, of consciousness, etc.) to the Other and the world. One finds multiplicity only in a return to singularity. Radical subjectivity necessarily composes radical alterity. The radical subject is not absolutely present or coherent, but is merely a subject in-and-for-itself. Our goal is to disavow the Other in our-self in order to discover the Other as itself: “We can only remember that seduction lies in not reconciling with the Other and in salvaging the strangeness of the Other.” A disavowal need not lead to any particular configuration, but it is always already a becoming-subject in the face of alterity. The subject is only inherently valuable insofar as it is in relation to the Other. Yet the Other is already everywhere; it is discursively produced in a perverse space overflowing with contradictory values. The Other, in its relation to the subject, which is always already murdered by discourse, is a pure Other for-itself. The Other emerges on a plane of disavowal along with the subject. Disavowal is necessarily a movement: it meanders toward the Other and meaning. One must not remove oneself entirely as Bartleby does. What constitutes this movement is a new topic for each person. Disavowal is a violent conquest directed at parts of the map that do not exist. With every new horizon, one must be cautious of avowals that blossom everywhere like landmines.

Slogans for Walls and Wars:

Don’t Try

I Would Prefer Not To


To Be Or Not

Lego La Nada A Nadie


The Death of Sisyphus

Camus’ appropriation of the myth of Sisyphus is itself a myth. It determines certain conditions for meaning in an atmosphere in which the means of production are always-already at hand. The myth of the myth is that one is able to produce meaning merely by searching it out. The struggle of Sisyphus is the polar opposite of this profound un-struggle in which the event inherits its value. Derrida’s critique of the ends of man in Sartre is incredibly apt here since it is by murdering God that man himself takes on the position of God. Existentialism posits an alternative theology.

It is not “meaning” that man carves out of a meaningless existence, but an endless search for meaning that produces that very meaninglessness. The image of Sisyphus is entirely misleading in this regard. Despite an aversion to hero-worship and all manifestations of iconography, a more adequate myth can be found in King Midas. By desiring gold and only gold, everything becomes gold, thus destroying the very value that was sought after. In Midas’ desperate search for value, everything becomes valueless. It is here that one encounters the true nature of the boulder. It is not merely an obstacle for Sisyphus, an in-itself that represents a given meaning, but the very limits of the for-itself. This asymptotic border between the for-itself and in-itself leads to the only genuine existential position: despair and anxiety. The assumption of any transcendence beyond these categories leads back to the inconsistencies of theological existentialism.