Gaze Instrumentality

Gaze Instrumentality
"Gaze Instrumentality" by wilson hurst 2014

What does Lacan say back to Freud about the Freudian concept of the unconscious?

Lacan’s distinguishing critique of Freud crosses the wobbly structuralistic bridge between actuality and language. “Freud entered what was, in reality, the relations of desire to language and discovered the mechanisms of the unconscious” (Lacan 12). Language is a paramount instrument of thought, essential to what it means to be human. In a philosophical dialogue, Lacan elaborated Freud's ideas of psychoanalysis by stipulating, “the unconscious is structured like a language” (20). More than a primal mental subdivision separate from attentive consciousness, instead the unconscious is a multifarious structural configuration as intricate, or perhaps even more complex, as consciousness itself. “As far as the unconscious is concerned, Freud reduces everything that comes within reach of his hearing to the function of pure signifiers” (Lacan 40). Language functions as an interior classification system within its own rationality comprised of symbolic distinction signifiers.

“It is this linguistic structure that gives its status to the unconscious” (Lacan 21). In a symbolic recognition response to external stimulation, by way of personal interpretation, is the unconsciousness structured like a language as postulated by Lacan? The importance of language in the human condition seems unassailable. Probably not all mental processes, however, are linguistically formed, as thinking percolates below conscious awareness in a mixture of images, notions, and ideas that spark their way across our synaptic complex. Post-structuralism teaches us that the instability of human understanding is a function of the intricacy of humans themselves, associated with the infeasibility of evading structural modalities in order to analyze them.

Where does desire play into this conversation?

One consequence of this Freudian structural reinterpretation shifts desire away from objectification to a temporal relation of deficiency, or symbolic lack. “Thus the unconscious is always manifested as that which vacillates in a split in the subject, from which emerges a discovery that Freud compares with desire - a desire that we will temporarily situate in the denuded metonymy of the discourse in question, where the subject surprises himself in some unexpected way” (Lacan 28). Ensnared in the dialectics of its interactions with others, desire necessarily becomes an unsatisfied repositioned craving. “Man’s desire is the desire of the Other” (Lacan 235). Since desire is essentially a symbolic representation recognized emanating from the other, it becomes a subjective projection of something lacking in the other, a gap of emptiness.

In his emphasis on the other, Lucan’s philosophy is cohesive with that of Levinas, albeit with shifting responsibilities. “It is language that is responsibility” (Levinas 35). Self-identification is a symbolic construction of fundamental responsibility construed from the implicit requirements of the other. “I am recalled to a responsibility never contracted, inscribed in the face of an Other” (Levinas 58). Therefore, our desire is directed at what we believe others need. “What truly belongs to the order to the unconscious, is that it is neither being, nor non-being, but the unrealized” (Lacan 30). The unrealized gap of desire percolating in the unconscious is preeminent. “Discontinuity, then, is the essential form in which the unconscious first appears to us as a phenomenon - discontinuity, in which something is manifested as a vacillation” (Lacan 25). Human life is intelligible through subject/object interrelations and distinctions. “Desire, more than any other point in the range of human possibility, meets its limit somewhere” (Lacan 31). This indicates that desire is never satiated, and any feeling of fulfillment is temporary. There is always another appetite coming, situated on the near horizon.

Lacan’s participation in Kojève's dialogue with Hegel

Hegel built his own overarching philosophical system, characterizing the essence of desire with the declaration that “self-consciousness is desire” (63). Agitated friction of an internal deficiency motivates desire, synthesized from the thesis of itself and the antithesis of an external object. “Self-consciousness, which is absolutely for itself, and characterizes its object directly as negative, or as primarily desire, will really, therefore, find through experience this object's independence” (Hegel 61). Therefore, the object functions as an independent entity in an external existence, something other than the subject, so that the subject may know itself. The self is absolutely interested in all other things relative only to itself. This relative subjective position is further complicated in Kojeve’s expansion of Hegel. “Taken separately, the Subject and the Object are abstractions that have neither objective reality nor empirical existence” (Kojeve 173). Kojeve explicates the subjective through internalized contemplation revealing the object but not the subject. “The object, and not the subject, is what shows itself to him in and by - better, as - the act of knowing” (Kojeve 03). Furthermore, the conscious aspiration of a being in reference to desire constitutes self-awareness. “Desire is what transforms Being, revealed to itself by itself in (true) knowledge, into an "object" revealed to a "subject" by "subject different from the object and “opposed" to it” (Kojeve 4). Because self-identity is formed based on both difference and opposition, all action is “negating” (Kojeve 4). Alterity internalizes the exteriority that it desires, absorbing what is initially other into itself. “Human Desire must be directed toward another Desire” (Kojeve 5). In phenomenological terms, the subject is to be located in the realm of otherness experience, “signification constituted in the relation to the desire of the Other” (Lacan 251).

How is the subject-object relation further complicated in Lacan by the split between the eye and the gaze?

The other identifies with that which is exterior to an original concept under consideration. In the visual domain, this otherness is established by looking and receiving. As an optical function, we develop subjectivity by interpretation of object energy patterns perceived. As a determinant of self-identity, looking relates to visual distinctions between oneself and all other persons and objects. The gaze sanctions the subject to recognize that the other is also a subject. So the gaze interrogates the dialectic of seeing while being seen, a primary reversible dynamic within the scopic drive. The eye/gaze split is the subjective division itself, expressed in the field of vision, “you never look at me from the place at which I see you” (Lacan 103). In a sense, the subject is interpolated into an interrelation supposition that questions identity recognized and symbolized by visual appearance distinctions. “The eye and the gaze - this is for us the split in which the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field” (Lacan 73). Thus, the body is simultaneously both subject and object, here blending effortlessly with additional aesthetic object-offerings presented in the scopic art gallery.

"Utterance" by wilson hurst 2014

The real, the imaginary, and the symbolic comprise a trifecta of Lacanian psychological domains that define developmental modes of mental accommodation, spaces in which subjectivity functions. The real is an ideal, primordial, pre-imaginary, pre-symbolic, chaotic quintessence refusing representation. The imaginary is the internalized representation of this ideal essence. It is self-aware and organized rather than fragmented, a realm of images and illusion. The symbolic involves linguistic signifier formation and the construction of abstract models of understanding. Once the human internalizes a symbolic language, this Symbolic Order controls both desire and communication conventions. “Nature provides ... signifiers, and these signifiers organize human relations in a creative way, providing them with structures and shaping them” (Lacan 20). Reality becomes fantasy in the Symbolic Order, where elements lack material subsistence, but are constituted by virtue of perceptual signification.

The gaze functions to assist in human subjectivity determination, through desire realization. Desire is conceptually reduced to something absent and symbolized. “The function of missing lies at the center of analytic repetition” (Lacan 128). According to Lacan, desire accommodates itself to unconscious drives through repetition. “Whatever, in repetition, is varied, modulated, is merely alienation of its meaning” (Lacan 61). Repetition thus is a clue penetrating the contents of the unconscious. The repeated gaze causes subject alienation with itself as the object of drives, thus desiring scopic satisfaction. “I see only from one point, but in my existence, I am looked at from all sides” (Lacan 72). The possibility of being observed, while lacking exact understanding of the received image, is the primary dynamic within the scopic field. This condition is especially important in terms of female objectivity. “The spectacle of the world, in this sense, appears to us as .... all-seeing. At the very level of the phenomenal experience of contemplation, this all-seeing aspect is to be found in the satisfaction of a woman who knows that she is being looked at, on condition that one does not show her that one knows that she knows” (Lacan 75). The ever-present potential of being looked upon from all sides strengthens self-awareness of the gaze, emphasizing the active body in space involved with surrounding relationships.

What did Lacan mean by “there is no sexual relationship”?

By entering into the symbolic order, the human subject mentally disconnects from the materiality of physical drives, which Lacan identifies with the term jouissance. “The subject will realize that his desire is merely a vain detour with the aim of catching the jouissance of the other” (Lacan 183). Here jouissance references excessive pleasure associated with the separation and splitting of the subject involved. Desire, therefore, is embeded in social structures and symbolic associations beyond material sexuality. “People forget that the brain is the biggest erogenous zone” (Jackie Treehorn, The Big Lebowski). After symbolic language assimilation, sexual relations become a fantasy version of reality rather than material sexuality. For this reason, Lacan proclaims, “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other” (131). When organized by the linguistic system, even our unconscious desires are never accurately our own.

How does Jacqueline Rose take Lacan’s notion of the gaze to interpret issues of representation, sexual identity and human relations?

When sex becomes an emblematic fantasy, just part of a desire that is lacking in the others recognition, there is no material sexual connection. We live vicariously in the symbolic-order, where nothing is real and “nothing to get hung about. Living is easy with eyes closed, Misunderstanding all you see, It's getting hard to be someone, but it all works out, It doesn't matter much to me” (John Lennon, Strawberry Fields Forever).

Rose points out that “Lacan has taken the relationship between the unconscious and sexuality and has pushed it to its furthest extreme, producing an account of sexuality solely in terms of its divisions - the division of the subject, [and the] division between subjects” (71). In a Symbolic Order, signified desire replaces other signifiers in an unsatisfied chain of longing. The woman as the object becomes a category within language, a construction of fantasy. Many latent frustrations concerning subjective sexual significance exist, as illusionary experience does not measure-up to actuality.

What is the difference between the Hegel’s master/slave relation and Levinas’ face of the other?

In the social hierarchy, authority and the associated exercise of power prevails. In our interrelations with others, we are frequently placed into positions of subordination. Hegel developed a theoretical relationship describing the dynamics of domination with his “master/slave” dialectic, where consciousness is mediated through another individual. Perhaps more properly translated as lordship and bondage, Hegel postulates the encounter between two distinct self-conscious entities is configured by recognition desire. In the quest for absolute knowledge, self-consciousness must recognize the possibility for the other’s self-consciousness. “On approaching the other it has lost its own self, since it finds itself as another being; secondly, it has thereby sublated that other, for this primitive consciousness does not regard the other as essentially real but sees its own self in the other” (Hegel 111). The master is seemingly in the dominant position, demanding labor and recognition from the slave. Being indentured, however, the slave cannot offer recognition from bondage. “The master can be satisfied only by recognition from one whom he recognizes as worthy of recognizing him” (Kojeve 19). Furthermore, the asymmetrical recognition pattern shifts during relationship development. Completely dependent on products created by his slave, over time the master himself becomes confined by slave labor. Meanwhile the slave, through his labor, achieves self-consciousness and self-recognition. The dynamics of the relationship are unstable, but rooted in a dire struggle of selfishness.

Levinas strips domination from this equation and situates responsibility as the activating force in responding to the other. The face of the other demands an innate concern for the other as the quintessential property of self-consciousness. “But this facing of the face in its expression—in its mortality—summons me, demands me, claims me: as if the invisible death faced by the face of the other—pure otherness, separated somehow from all unity - were my business” (Levinas 145). Ethics is the first philosophy, and Levinas maintains it is manifest as an extreme primordial relationship and sensitivity of subject-to-subject. “The face of the other, rises a responsibility for the other to whom I have therefore been dedicated before every vow, before being present to myself or returning to self” ((Levinas 149). According to Levinas, responsibility toward the other offers escape from solipsism and isolation, allowing full self-actuation devoid of reward expectation. In “facing the face of the other person, the primordial sphere loses its priority, subjectivity awakens from the egological - from egotism and from egoism” (Levinas 87). This relationship is preexisting, the starting point of being. Proper respect for the other makes possible and gives rise to self-consciousness. “I am responsible for the other even when he bothers me, even when he persecutes me” ((Levinas 106). Such fundamental responsibility requires no reciprocity and is the opposite of selfishness.

In a direct way, Levinas’s moral position is echoing Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law” (Metaphysics of Morals). In both cases, ethical behavior rests upon a speculative subjective concept of what is in the best interest of the other. Implicit in this universality is the understanding that the “I” is always the other of the other. Unfortunately, as Bakhtin tells us, “the enthusiasm of the one is incapable of visualizing, in an objective and authentically realistic way, a world of other people's consciousnesses” (9). In other words, we cannot escape making assumptions influenced by our own subjectivity about the supposed needs of the other to which we are conscientiously bound.

Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights.” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Works Cited

Bakhtin, M M, and Caryl Emerson. Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. Print.

Coen, Ethan, Joel Coen, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, David Huddleston, and Sam Elliott. The Big Lebowski. Universal City, CA: Focus Features, 2005.

Hegel, Georg W. F, and J B. Baillie. The Phenomenology of Mind. New York: Humanities Press, 1964. Print.

Kant, Immanuel, and Mary J. Gregor. The Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.

Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print.

Lévinas, Emmanuel. Entre Nous: On Thinking-of-the-Other. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. Print.

Lennon, John, and Paul McCartney. Strawberry Fields Forever. New York: Maclen Music, 1967. Musical score.

Kojève, Alexandre, Alan Bloom, and James H. Nichols. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. Print.

Rose, Jacqueline. Sexuality in the Field of Vision. London: Verso, 2005. Print.