Saturday, May 11, 2013

Anamorphic Visions

And, back to sexual difference, I am tempted to risk the hypothesis that, perhaps, the same logic of zero-institution should be applied not only to the unity of a society, but also to its antagonistic split: what if sexual difference is ultimately a kind of zero-institution of the social split of the humankind, the naturalized minimal zero-difference, a split that, prior to signalling any determinate social difference, signals this difference as such? The struggle for hegemony is then, again, the struggle for how this zero-difference will be overdetermined by other particular social differences. It is against this background that one should read an important, although usually overlooked, feature of Lacan's schema of the signifier: Lacan replaces the standard Saussurean scheme (above the bar the word "arbre," and beneath it the drawing of a tree) with, above the bar, two words one along the other, "homme" and "femme," and, beneath the bar, two identical drawings of a door. In order to emphasize the differential character of the signifier, Lacan first replaces Saussure's single scheme with a signifier's couple, with the opposition man/woman, with the sexual difference; but the true surprise resides in the fact that, at the level of the imaginary referent, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE (we do not get some graphic index of the sexual difference, the simplified drawing of a man and a woman, as is usually the case in most of today's restrooms, but THE SAME door reproduced twice). Is it possible to state in clearer terms that sexual difference does not designate any biological opposition grounded in "real" properties, but a purely symbolic opposition to which nothing corresponds in the designated objects — nothing but the Real of some undefined X which cannot ever be captured by the image of the signified?

Back to Levi-Strauss's example of the two drawings of the village: it is here that one can see it what precise sense the Real intervenes through anamorphosis. We have first the "actual," "objective," arrangement of the houses, and then its two different symbolizations which both distort in an amamorphic way the actual arrangement. However, the "real" is here not the actual arrangement, but the traumatic core of the social antagonism which distorts the tribe members' view of the actual antagonism. The Real is thus the disavowed X on account of which our vision of reality is anamorphically distorted. (And, incidentally, this three-levels dispositif is strictly homologous to Freud's three-levels dispositif of the interpretation of dreams: the real kernel of the dream is not the dream's latent thought which is displaced/translated into the explicit texture of the dream, but the unconscious desire which inscribes itself through the very distortion of the latent thought into the explicit texture.)

And the same goes for today's art scene: in it, the Real does NOT return primarily in the guise of the shocking brutal intrusion of excremental objects, mutilated corpses, shit, etc. These objects are, for sure, out of place — but in order for them to be out of place, the (empty) place must already be here, and this place is rendered by the "minimalist" art, starting from Malevitch. Therein resides the complicity between the two opposed icons of high modernism, Kazimir Malevitch's "The Black Square on the White Surface" and Marcel Duchamp's display of ready-made objects as works of art. The underlying notion of Malevitch's elevation of an everyday common object into the work of art is that being a work of art is not an inherent property of the object; it is the artist himself who, by preempting the (or, rather, ANY) object and locating it at a certain place, makes it the work of art — being a work of art is not a question of "why," but "where." And what Malevitch's minimalist disposition does is simply to render — to isolate — this place as such, the empty place (or frame) with the proto-magic property of transforming any object that finds itself within its scope into the work of art. In short, there is no Duchamp without Malevitch: only after the art practice isolates the frame/place as such, emptied of all its content, can one indulge in the ready-made procedure. Before Malevitch, a urinal would have remained just a urinal, even if it were to be displayed in the most distinguished gallery.
- Zizek, "The Matrix or Two Sides of a Perversion"

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