On noumenal subjectivity


/1/ – Split being

The core of Shelley Jackson’s text Half Life might be summed up best in the etymology of the word decide. Whereas decision is usually thought of in terms of choice or as a soft act of free will, the meaning of the suffix -cide tells us that the word is far more violent. The suffix -cide is shared by words such as suicide and genocide: it means to cut – to decide then is simply to cut in two.

Jackson’s novel follows the life of Nora who is a conjoined twin whose other half/sister (Blanche) has been asleep for years (arguably since the two went through puberty). In the wake of a stupendous nuclear accident that occurred when Nora/Blanche were conceived – an entire subculture of conjoined twins has emerged and, much to the displeasure of others, Nora has decided to have Blanche surgical excised.

There is an interesting discussion of twoness philosophically – there’s the twoness of movement, the pull and push between stasis and movement, which Badiou discusses aptly in relation to the term anabasis and the twoness of time, which I’ve discussed several times before (perhaps twice?), the relation and contrast between biological time and historical time. The first concept of twoness, the philosophical split – takes us to Nietzsche and his discussion of the noon:

“And it is the great noon when man stands at the midpoint of his course between beast and superman and celebrates his way to the evening as his highest hope: for it is the way to a new morning” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra). One could also take some lines from the last section of Wallace Stevens’ “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction”:

“Soldier, there is a war between the mind
And sky, between thought and day and night
For that the poet is always in the sun,
Patches the moon together in his room
To his Virgilian cadences, up down,
Up down. It is a war that never ends

Yet it depends on yours. The two are one.
They are a plural, a right and left, a pair,
Two parallels that meet if only in
The meeting of their shadows or that meet
In a book in a barrack, a letter from Malay.”

Nietzsche’s quote above, and in many of his texts at large, are haunted by a kind of unsure temporality. In Zupancic’s The Shortest Shadow there seems to be a contest between this temporality necessary for becoming and the circular temporality found in Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal return.

One could read this twoness of temporality in terms of the confusing nature of Trieb (drive) in Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis.

/2/ – Bodies, bodies and bodies

While the novel appears to be fixated on bodies (and in fact Jackson’s other texts, one of which is a story written on tattoos across the skin of other 300 volunteers, are all about anatomies) Jackson, at the day’s end, seems most concerned with the unknown or unacknowledged sense of ourselves – the unconscious, the Real whatever it is that you want to call it. Despite the physicality of Nora and Blanche’s split/unification, the text discusses twin bodies as bodies, very little in comparison to their state(s) of mind.

Jackson, and by relation the narrator Nora, seem far more interested in the linguistic problematics of being conjoined then the day to day difficulties of being literally attached at the hip. Part of this lacked discussion is do to the simple fact that Blanche is unconscious, but the two seem more at odds in the present state then they do in flashbacks where both could be opting for directional control.

Nora encounters various groups that want to celebrate ‘twofers’ by attempting to bring everyone together, to make everyone a twofer. Part of this involves abandoning the first person singular as a way of and accepting that your existence with your brother or sister is actually a singular existence.

This fascination is also the texts’ largest problem in that Jackson can be overly heavy handed with using the twins as a metaphor for our own split subjectivity. Steven Shaviro raves about the novel – interestingly mulling over it’s status as a postmodern texts. In many ways, both implicit and explicit, Jackson’s text screams Lacanian themes – she repeatedly discusses the wound of being and discusses trauma over and over again. The strongest reading of Jackson’s text may be way in regards to Lyotard’s The Inhuman which, while ostensibly postmodern, seems perpetually haunted by both Freud and Lacan.

/3/ – The complexities of extimacy

Extimacy, a concept I have discussed in earlier entries, is the Lacanian idea that something external is deeply internal to our very being, that there is some alien splinter stuck in our bodies that constantly gives us unease.

Trauma as occurring in the in between palace, between the somatic and the psychical. This third space is hinted at in several Lacanian texts. In Mladen Dolar’s A Voice and Nothing More for instance, the voice, as a Freudian ‘partial object’, is what brings together bodies and languages. The voice is the odd link between language as a set of sounds and symbols and the physical structures which allow for the voice to emanate from the mouth.

The partial object or the extimate objet petit a (little piece of the Real) both are the annoying or unpresentable little pieces which cannot be grasped directly. This objects are the things which challenge the statement – When you take everything away, nothing remains.’ This equation takes place in psychoanalysis in terms of desire, need and drive. Drive is exactly that which remains when you subtract need from desire, is is that which one needs simply because it is needed.

To return to Jackson’s circumscribing of the body, Lacan, in several seminars, systematically removes the somatic connections that the Freduian drive has. The connection of the drive to the body may, at first, appear as an issue in the context of translation. Freud’s use of Trieb is often mistranslated as instinct instead of drive, leading to an automatic connection of Trieb (misconceived as an almost biological factor). Adrian Johnston argues that one should not completely cleave the Freudian drive from the body.

To return to the above discussion of historical time vs genetic time, the time of the society versus the time of the organism. Or, in Nietzsche’s terms, the progression towards eternity as opposed to the eternal return of the same.

/4/ – Impossible reconciliation

Michel Tournier’s Gemini follows the life of two twins (not conjoined) known collectively as Jean-Paul (even their mother confuses one for the other). The two enjoy an almost undivided existence until one of them heads off and falls in love with a woman. The other feels wronged and pursues his brother to the ends of the earth. This want to return to a more idealized state is something I have discussed in several other entries. Even in the opening pages of the novel the mother of twins enjoys breast feeding her children fairly late in life, suggesting a sort of inappropriate closeness.

This return to a state of undifferentiated existence can also be discussed in terms of drive and the two forms of time that have already been discussed. In one sense. drive is a force that exists prior to the phenomenal existence of the subject but the object around which it centers can change due to various signifiers in the subjects life – various experiences can bend the object that the drive seeks. The aim of the drive on the other hand, the basic mechanism of the drive, is not affected by exterior forces, the drive remains an essentially self defeating entity.

So to return to Jackson’s novel, Nora eventually rejects having the surgery to remove her sister from her, or at least her sisters head, when she discovers that the organization behind the surgeries is, oddly, the other side of an organization that promotes the rights of twofers. The ‘two sides of the coin’ logic here is prevalent through the whole novel and there is a play on this concept in the end where it becomes unclear whether Blanche or Nora is actually ‘in charge’ of their shared body.

Beyond the fact that the pseudo unconscious Blanche throws objects, writes notes, attempts to sabotage Nora’s attempts to kill her, on a large scale Jackson seems to be using the ‘underside’ of our existence, the noumenal parts of us, the I that thinks instead of the I that speaks, to show the failures of communal identity.

/5/ – Under current

Jackson’s relentless prodding and lampooning of groups based on identity politics in Half Life seems to suggest that more than a ineffectual political strategy, identity, as a communal viable body, something that carries social currency, is inherently flawed because of the discontents of our own minds.

Furthermore what is important to share is less the outward expressions of our existence, sex, race, gender, body type etc, but the deeper more inexplicable threads of our cogitos. Thus, the real danger in giving up on universal Enlightenment ideas, is not because one might diagonally justify the racism and classicism that such proponents had, but that a sense of community might no longer be possible if it is based on something more ethereal than body or identity politics.

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