Saturday, September 20, 2008

Linguistics of Violence - Because I Say So!

I’m (finally!) reading Slavoj Zizek. In his new book “Violence” (2008) he deals with the symbolic violence of language, as well as the objective and private violence. His ruminations on language are interesting, I think. Here are a few quotes,

…when we perceive something as an act of violence, we measure it by a presupposed standard of what the “normal” non-violent situation is – and the highest form of violence is the imposition of this standard with reference to which some events appear as “violent”. This is why language itself, the very medium of non-violence, of mutual recognition, involves unconditional violence. In other words, it is language itself which pushes our desire beyond proper limits, transforming it into a “desire that contains the infinite”, elevating it into an absolute striving that cannot ever be satisfied. What Lacan calls “objet petit a” is precisely this ethereal “undead” object, the surplus object that causes desire in its excessive and derailing aspect. One cannot get rid of this excess: it is consubstantial with human desire as such.

What if, humans exceed animals in their capacity for violence precisely because they SPEAK. As Hegel was already well aware, there is something violent in the very symbolisation of a thing which equals its mortification. This violence operates at multiple levels. Language simplifies the designated thing, reducing it to a single feature. It dismembers the thing, destroying its organic unity, treating its parts and properties as autonomous. It inserts the thing into a field of meaning which is ultimately external to it…

Lacan condensed this aspect of language in his notion of the Master-Signifier which “quilts” and thus holds together a symbolic field. That is to say…human communication in its most basic, constitutive dimension does not involve a space of egalitarian intersubjectivity. It is not “balanced”. It does not put the participants in symmetric mutually responsible positions…on the contrary, every concrete, “really existing space” of discourse is ultimately grounded in a violent imposition of a Master-Signifier which is strictu sensu “irrational”…It is the point at which one can only say that “the buck stops here”; a point at which, in order to stop the endless regress, somebody has to say, “It is so because I say it is so!”

As Peter Sloterdijk put it: “More communication means at first more conflict”. This is why he is right to claim that the attitude of “understanding-each-other” has to be supplemented by the attitude of “getting-out-of-each-other’s-way”, by maintaining an appropriate distance, by implementing a new “code of discretion”.
(pp. 50-55)

I hasten to add that this is not a comment or a piece of advice and/or warning as far as this blog goes, but rather a critique of (I guess) the Habermasian love affair with “global communication” and the problematics of coming to terms with the Other.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Linguistics of Violence - Because I Say So!"

Your title shows more wit than excerpts you quoted...

I don't give a rat's ass when a Lacanian jerk reveals to me the "dirty little secret" of language itself. (Which I already know about and have known about for a long, long time--and I'm not denying the existence of the "genealogy of cruelty" of culture,either.) I guess the delight of the priest showing the rest of us that life has been contaminated and is sick is the ultimate joy for them.

That, and criticizing the Master signifier on the basis of them-all not being the Master signifiers.


10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Yusef,

Your comment proves Zizek's point about the violence of langauge, doesn't it?

OF COURSE, we know "the dirty little secret" of language. But I enjoy reading Zizek as the philosophical ESSAYIST he is. He is entertaining and occasionally perceptive. I have no problem with his Lacanian references.

It is a throwback to Nietzschean "perspectivism" coated with "the linguistic turn" of Wittgenstein etc. - and all that.

This still leaves the Kantian question of "das Ding für uns" = how do we construct the (a) world with language? And how do we do it non-violently? Can it even be done?

The whole question of representation needs to be addressed.

We KNOW it is false, but can it be avoided?

Personally, I'm with Derrida in his undermining language through language - in its tautological ramifications.


6:44 PM  
Blogger Christoffer said...

This is some of the most poor crap I have read these days.

Mr. Schantz make a post with just one big citation.

He tells us he thinks this is interesting but not in what sense or why.

8:06 AM  
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