Other Voices, v.1, n.3 (January 1999)
Copyright © 1999 by Sheila Kunkle, all rights reserved
When Jacques Lacan presented his report, "Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis," in 1948, he had witnessed the construction of modern war machines, and the ensuing post-war expansion of western capitalism. While he could not have foreseen the introduction of the computer and technologies allowing for virtual realities, Lacan could indeed see how the logic of the machine age meant that human beings would have to negotiate their fantasies and fears in different coordinates of space and time. Lacan spoke in this paper on the notion of space as a social construct; as a source from which the subject could locate herself and build relationships with others.(1) In the Lacanian universe, it is the big Other (the symbolic order where language takes place) that gives structure to intersubjectivity and dialectical communication. There is, however, a radical undecidability about this big Other, for as Slavoj Zizek tells us, it becomes in Lacan's later writings, especially, an order of "virtual fictions" (Zizek, The Indivisible, 136). There is a constitutive lack in the subject when she enters language and the object a (the gaze, the voice, the feces, the breast) falls away; and, we can never be certain that shared meanings exist beneath the signifying chain. It is this ambiguity and this lack that both makes a certain relationship to reality possible, and simultaneously creates the conditions for a complete breakdown of the subject's place in the familiar space-time continuum.
When the symbolic fails to structure reality, then the impasse of the Lacanian real may set the subject (now object) on a circular path of repetitive re-enactment.(2) Temporality can become caught in a circular loop, and matter can straddle two uncertain states, as it can dwell in an intermediate spectral domain.(3) It is the psychotic who cannot fix his coordinates of space, time and matter to relate to others. Because he experiences a lack at the level of the signifier, there is no recognizable mediation between thoughts, words, and objects, and the psychotic is unable to separate his body from its representations. The person afflicted may experience a "delusion of Oneness," and he is unable to establish a concept of a bounded self, much less form relationships with others. In Seminar I, Lacan presents the case of the boy Robert, who for a time howled only one semi-symbolic word, "wolf," which sustained him as "merely an image-word," and not as a real entity. Robert wore his clothes as a container and felt that to undress or to excrete would mean certain death. The boy lived (at times, just barely, as he would refuse to eat to the point of wasting), in an unsymbolized and unfamiliar world, in a twilight zone between being human and non-human.(4) Without a language to help delimit boundaries the psychotic may be subject to untraceable voices and delusions; he breaks himself down into "images, phrase fragments, and partial objects that repeat nonsense, strange phrases, neologisms, and inanities" (Ragland, 79). The psychotic often lives, in the words of a now famous description, in a "fantasmagoria of shadows of fleeting-improvised-men." (Lacan, Psychoses, 79).(5)
With the introduction of certain technologies and the advent of the computer as the primary machine in the last decade of 20th century, it is my contention that we are witnessing new and more peculiar psychotic and pre-psychotic dimensions of what William Gibson termed in his 1984 novel, Neuromancer, our "cyberspace" age. It is a case not only of identifying with the machine, but also of the identification of the biological being with the "Thing" that underlies the machine itself: the digital bytes, the pulsing fibers of wire, and the metallic chips of encrypted codes. As in the psychosis described by Lacan, there is a complete lack of consistency and opacity in cyberspace to connect (through the space of a distance) the imagined "materiality" of one's self to others, for the body itself becomes the real, the horrific void now filled with delusional phantasms of replicant others. In cyberspace, the psychotic's body is not just any type of imagined and fragmented encasement, it is that of a cyber clone; a being who exists in the dimension of the real of body horror of the digital world; a being who is compelled by his replicants, who are in turn the excesses of his disoriented sense of self.
The paranoia and delusional horror that psychosis wreaks on its victims has been exhaustively studied by psychoanalysts, beginning with Freud's and later, Lacan's meticulous study of Daniel Paul Schreber, a judge who in the late 1800s wrote and published memoirs of his psychotic experiences.(6) From this and many other cases, we have a comprehensive analysis of the elements of this affliction. While there are many facets and sub-categories, ranging from pre- psychotic confusion to long term schizophrenia, in its most severe form, psychosis appears as: a failure to distinguish adequately between the real and the imagined, denoting, in Freudian terminology, a dissolution of the ego, which is usually accompanied by delusions and/or inner voices and hallucinations.(7) For Lacan, the hallmark of the diagnosis rests on the inability of the subject to enter language in a dialectical manner; "there must be disturbances of language" (Psychoses, 92). For the psychotic there is no discernable relationship between the signifier and signified and no ability to create metaphor or take a meta-perspective of his own language use, which often appears as disjointed phrases, interrupted sentences, and neologisms. Because of this, we know that the Oedipal is non-existent for the psychotic. For him, the Name of the Father is foreclosed and the big Other turns into the little other (the ego as replicant of the psychotic self). Perhaps the most horrifying thing that happens to the psychotic is that his imaginary world is constituted in the black hole, the abyss of the real of uncontrolled drives.(8)
What we can trace, as well, in the onset of psychotic episodes are the larger contexts that are constructed through delusional fantasies, and which mirror certain traumas of the social world in which they occur; what author Mark Seltzer labels "psychotopographies" in his recent study of serial killers in the machine age.(9) Schreber's psychosis, for example, occurred in the late 1800s when there was a "crisis of symbolic investiture," when he had to confront the responsibility of holding public authority in the judicial system (Santner, 26).(10) Zizek describes Schreber's fear of the underside of symbolic power of this time (and which, in fact, is present in all symbolic structures of power), the "obscene, ridiculous, paternal double," which radically affected Schreber's ability to assume a responsible position in public authority (Plague, 73). Schreber could not, according to Lacan, deal effectively with "success" as he saw it, for he found the symbolic public mandate unbearable; instead, his delusions became a strategy for locating himself in a sexual relationship to God and the regeneration of himself as replicant female (Psychoses, 212).(11) According to Eric Santner, it was no accident that these particular delusions emerged out of the anti- Semitism and misogyny that marked the immediate pre-Nazi period of German society.
As Mark Selzter explains, with the rise of psycho-killers throughout the 20th century, we can trace a disturbing relationship with the phenomenon of bodies identified as machines. He writes, concerning the collapse of the animate and inanimate systems in what he terms our machine culture:
Giving birth to one's self as machine induces two paradoxes: the paradox of time and the machine paradox, for as Seltzer points out, the psycho-killer is caught in a serial re- enactment that circles around cause and effect, for he is confronted with the task of creating the machine that would then create him (222). Similarly, the cyber-clone, or psychotic of cyberspace, is confronted with the same paradoxical situation, and the repetitive re-enactment of self birth becomes either the endless assimilation of the organic, (the classical hardware- interfaced cyborg), or the birthing of the post-classical data- based cyborg (Pesce, 9).(12) In the realm of psychosis, bodily boundaries are not secure and delusional certainty supplants dialectical ambiguity. Whether one is driven, in this state, to do violence to one's self and/or to others, is an open question (for both religious mystics and serial killers have been known to display symptoms of psychosis). Since, according to Bruce Fink, there is little room in the psychotic's universe for guilt, morality, and conscience, he is a being who has no control over his drives and there is no telling just what might set off violent behavior (98). What we can detect, however, are the coordinates in our cyberspace age where beings may find themselves hovering on the brink of the abyss, where the lack makes itself a palpable presence and there is "the feeling that the subject has come to the edge of a hole" (Psychoses, 202).
The Body in a Cyberspace Age
In Seminar III, Lacan tells us that "In man the relation to one's own body characterizes, in the final analysis the restricted, but really irreducible, field of the imaginary" (11). In psychosis, the imaginary, since it does not exist in an interplay with the symbolic, is lost and the psychotic's borders and boundaries of the physical body are fragmented and changing. He may harbor the paranoia that others are trying to usurp or displace him (the voices he hears inside his head.)(13) Similarly, the psychotopography of the cyberspace age is marked by hysteria and panic of bodily horrors -- the primary status of the subject's body is treated as "that thing which may be invaded." In "real life" there is always a gap between the real of the body and reality of the body, between the biological flesh and our orientation to its existence. It is the distance (provided by the symbolic of language) from the real (the flesh beneath the skin, the hard kernel in us) that allows us access to reality. This distance from the real, however, is always tenuous, and the subject is forever confronting the trauma of its closeness through all kinds of suffering, anxiety, and pain.(14)
For non-psychotic neurotic people there is the fear that at any moment our bodies, the inner workings of the organs, the chemistry, the hormones, could suddenly send off free radicals, and introduce cancer, killer viruses, unknown infections. These neuroses, fueled by the horrifying specter of killer microbes, the threat of germ warfare, the fear of DNA cloning, and the like, when linked to fantasies in cyberspace and prosthetic technologies, introduce a radical ambiguity of bodily boundaries and subjective limits. It is a predicament that lends itself to the onset of pre-psychotic and full-fledged psychotic paranoia. The news media, the popular press, and television have all increasingly portrayed the underlying panic, anxiety, and fear of the killer bacteria that could appear at any time, of the enemy who could easily deposit canisters of poisonous substances in our subways, and of the next killer flu virus that will claim millions of lives. Popular television shows, in particular, mirror the motif of panic and work to re-work the boundaries between people and machine. Seltzer tells us that we have become a "wound" culture that derives both horror and libidinal excitement at the site (and sight) of opened bodies and machinic interiors. The popular TV series, ER, for example, "is an endless series of torn and opened bodies and an endless series of emotionally torn and exposed bio-technicians. There are the routine hook-ups of bodies and appliances; trauma and techno- speak; cardiac arrest and broken hearts. These are the spectacles of persons, bodies, and technologies that make up a wound culture and the scenes that make up the pathological public sphere...." (22) This radical ambiguity of the body is also increasingly portrayed in scores of blockbuster science fiction films. The alien-monster of this genre is usually the replicant or android (the Borg in Star Trek, or the androids in Blade Runner); an alien growing inside (Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien); DNA gone berserk (Jurassic Park, Species, Mimic, the Fly); and the alien of prosthetic enhancements (Robocop, Terminator).
The paranoia extends to cyberspace in the obvious metaphoric use of the computer virus, and less obviously in the anxiety of some universal eye reading our codes, our electronic submissions behind the screen, somewhere in cyberspace. Because the dimension of the psychotic creates a delusion of Oneness; that is, because there is no Other through which a distance might allow a dialectical language, the container (of the body) becomes indistinguishable from the contained. When, as Zizek finds, the foundational support of our social reality is the digital real of bytes and wires, the new question becomes: "Am I real or machine?" (Plague, 136). Is the alien Borg of the Star Trek series, a post-human entity that is more human or more machine? This question, however, is meaningful only for the neurotic who still attempts to reproduce the certainty of borders of self. In contrast, and for the psychotic, the body of the human and the body of the machine are one in the same thing; there is an absoluteness here that has the "quality of unshakable non-dialectical certainty about it" (Miller, 247). The Borg do not question their existence as human or machine, they have no meta-language; it is a question left only to the humans trying to escape the Borg's frighteningly endless and incremental expansion (through replication) and ultimate assimilation of all organic matter.
For those who believe cyberspace frees us from the weight of physical limitations and opens up a universe of limitless erotic experiences, Zizek provides the insight that with virtual reality comes an "excessive fullness"; that is, it fills in "the gap which separates the symbolic surface texture from its underlying fantasy" (Plague, 155). In virtual reality, the Other is no longer an enigma, and the computer screen, with its boundless images, is actually closing the space of the subject, closing the background for a fantasy, and creating a more radical ambiguity for the ego. Once the being is closed off from the enigmatic quality of the Other, Zizek believes, there will be nothing to sustain desire itself; and as the specter of the screen replaces real life neighbors, there will be an "unbearable closure of being" for the subject (Plague, Chapter Four).
In Sherry Turkle's research, she recounts the experience of a woman who in real life became an amputee. This woman then created a disabled character in a virtual community, which allowed her a renewed sense of acceptance and feeling of wholeness (Life on the Screen, 263). Zizek's point, however, is that without the social reality of sexual experience with real life bodies, what we are limited to in Tinysex or pseudonymous characterizations in virtual worlds is the disembodied text, the limit of the experience without the supporting fantasies to ground its forms of eroticization, and the reduction, as in pornography, of the body to its excessive parts (now the images and words appearing on the screen). A new "realm" emerges with virtual reality, according to Zizek, which displaces the connection between real things and words, but which is really a new form of the mediating Symbolic Order: one where the ego's limits and location have changed and become radically undecidable (Plague, 139).(15)
When in 1993 an alleged New York University student employed a sub-program of the popular MUD game LambdaMOO, which allowed him to attribute actions and words to others, he proceeded to rape and assault several of the other players, against their "wills." This case revealed something important about virtual violations, pathological behavior in fantasy worlds, and the inability for effective community-building in cyberspace. Moreover, it brought to light that, although fictive scenarios in virtual games have definite repercussions in real life people's emotions, a certain undecidability arises as to the boundaries of the physical body. Julien Dibbell, who researched the incident, writes: "to participate in the disembodied enactment of life's most body-centered activity is to risk the realization that when it comes to sex, perhaps the body in question is not the hysterical one at all, but its body double, the body-like self representation we carry around in our heads" (A Rape in Cyberspace, 4). Thus, the different type of anxiety that arises here, according to Zizek, is due to the uncertainty of who is controlling me: "...it is easy to imagine the paranoic possibility of another computer program controlling and directing my agent unbeknownst to me -- if this happens, I am , as it were, dominated from within, my own ego is no longer mine" (Plague, 142).
The Ego in a Cyberspace Age
The ego, according to Lacan, constitutes the dimension of the imaginary at the mirror stage of development, but it is also the ego where the affliction of psychosis strikes (without the Oedipus to enact a Law of prohibition, the ego establishes no hierarchies, and the subject is flooded with delusional phantasms). The subject here loses his coordinates and is not able to establish a self (a body) separate from others. As Lacan writes, "The subject himself is only a second copy of his own identity" (Psychoses, 97). In the delusional state of Schreber's reality, there were a number of fragmented beings that occupied the location of his existence: "there are those who are apparently alive and who are free to move about, his guards and his nurses, and who are the fleeting-improvised-men....and then there are the more important protagonists, who invade Schreber's body, who are the souls, the majority of souls, and the longer this goes on, the more they are ultimately corpses." There is here no discernable border between self and other, no definite boundary prohibiting death from existing within life; the "souls" of Schreber were multipliable, fragmented, and divisible. Schreber's paranoia of the end of the world, envisioned these multiple beings being "assimilated bit by bit into the grand divine unity, not without having gradually lost their individual characters" (Psychoses, 97).
Here, Lacan tells us something very interesting about the role of the father in psychosis. The father in the real of imaginary relations of the psychotic is a regeneration that populates the universe with his replicant, multiple offspring: the segments of himself. In Schreber's case, "These little men are forms of reabsorption, but they're also the representation of what will take place in the future. The world will be repeopled by Schreber men, men of a Schreberian spirit, small, fantasmatic beings -- procreation after the deluge" (Psychosis, 213). As a possible parallel case in our cyberspace age, we can see certain similarities with the UFO cult "Heaven's Gate." Several of the members chose to have themselves castrated and all of them denied both their separate individualities (noted, for example in their desire to look like clones of each other) and their inferior earthly "containers." The leader of the cult, Marshal Applewhite, was to escape what he thought was his cancer-ridden body by creating the delusion of a more promising place, among aliens flying by in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet, and his psychotic summons was heeded by 38 of his replicant followers who committed suicide in March of 1997. The euphoria on the faces of these followers appeared detached from a content in our "normal" reality. It was the material and earthly body that was already the alien, the corpse; the new life in death was yet to come.
There is, as well, the distant echo of psychosis in the practice of Cryonics -- the hope that the dead body, or its parts, frozen in stasis, will be reanimated in the future. It will be the machine, and its ability to clone DNA, that will regenerate the remaining flesh to its new and improved functions and provide defenses over killer diseases and tissue degeneration. Perhaps the most striking case of this type of cyber-relationship to one's body occurred in the disembodied demise of Timothy Leary. Leary chose to have his head cut off and frozen until a time in the future when the DNA revolution might be able to rejuvenate its gray matter. In a kind of cyber-surrealism, not only was anyone allowed to "visit" him in his dying days and read of the morbid details of the condition of his deteriorating body, one could also "listen" to Leary's fantastic attitude about his own personal "euphoria" of his, the first, cyberspace death. Instead of a tombstone, Leary chose to leave his mark and his memory through the machine. The electronic image of Leary has outlived the death of his flesh, for his ashes have been shipped out into space and spread among the particles of the universe, while his website is being actively maintained.
In virtual realities, we note another condition that fuels the radical ambiguity and paranoia of the ego: the loss of a unilinear singular perspective. In the film Strange Days (1996), we are invited, through the use of a virtual reality headset, to experience the effects and emotions of both a real live rapist and killer, and his victim, simultaneously. The foundational support of our reality, the "social reality" that is, or the space of social construction of which Lacan spoke, becomes disoriented and diverges from the foreground, from our imaginary orientation to a certain temporality and spatial "distance." Again, the content of abstract notions, such as ethics, morality, and conscience cannot find a definite existence in such new coordinates of causality, temporality, and subjectivity. An excessive jouissance takes us beyond meaning and morality into a new realm of unleashed partial drives, where circular and repetitive re-enactment takes the place of originality and linear resolution. As in the popular Fox television series, The X Files, the infinite undecidability of what is really "out there" (whether the aliens are a government conspiracy or really from outer space), endlessly deflects us from realizing that the "truth" becomes secondary to sustaining the pleasurable panic of never really knowing. We, the viewers, are consumed in a constant and repetitive cycle of compelling confusion. Similarly, in Strange Days , the merging of the horror and fear experienced by the victim with the feeling of power of the killer in the eyes of the third party, the virtual voyeur, introduces a palpable but ambiguous excitement, and the familiar ego dissolves in such a merger.
Psychotic Jouissance in a Cyberspace Age
In Lacan's framework the subject's mode of jouissance is derived from the formula of sexuation; that is, the symbolic Law emanating from the Oedipal trajectory and castration serves to structure relationships to both the Other (the Name of the Father) and to others. Under psychosis, however, there is no phallic signification -- there is no symbolic mediation through which the body can be identified as either truly male or female. When Schreber submitted to his inner voices, which in his delusion meant that he was turning into a woman, the fiancée of God, it was not because he was projecting a defense against homosexuality or becoming transgendered; it was rather a sign of Schreber's struggle to deal with a body that refused to be written and located in the symbolic.(16)
Similarly the cyborg has no determinant sex; it is considered to be asexual and reproduces as a machine would, by creating a division of sex according to the needs of the machine. The interesting manifestation here arises in the case of the post-humanoid queen of the Borg in the 1996 film, Star Trek: First Contact. She is a manifestation of the collective Borg, who simulates a seduction and commands both the human (Jean Luc Picard) and android (Data) to "assimilate" into the hive of drone-like cyborgs. She is, in the end, infinitely and intricately interconnected with the rest of the Borg and although she appears to speak on her own, we cannot be sure she is developing a feminine persona and a supreme voice of her own that will exist for all time. Her sex and simulated sexuality serve a purpose for further assimilation of the asexual alien horde.(17)
The Borg Queen
Is sexual jouissance possible when delusions override symbolic meanings in the presence of unrepressed drives? The answer is surprising, for one would first think that if the subject has no surface onto which a fantasy may be projected, then the lack of a space for desire and it's attempted fulfillment would also negate the opportunity to feel pleasure, either in one's self, or towards another. However, since the psychotic has no hierarchies where the ego struggles with its master and its slave (and thus a superego and ego-ideal), his entire body is "invaded" by jouissance. At the time when the psychotic's ego dissolves, according to Bruce Fink: "The body, which has been for the most part rid of jouissance, is suddenly inundated with it, invaded by it. It comes back with a vengeance, we might say, for the psychotic may well experience it as an attack, an invasion, or forcible entry" (97). Instead of controlling the drives and the libido through repression and the creation of erogenous zones, as in the case of the neurotic, the entire body of the psychotic experiences a non-specific, non- hierarchical mass of jouissance, which may manifest as either pleasure or pain. This jouissance, however, seems strange and unplaceable, for it appears as euphoria on the faces of the Heaven's Gate members who were about to jettison their earthly bodies; it appears in the words of Timothy Leary, who was about to have every particle of his dead physical body shipped into cosmic "real" space, and his memory coded into cyberspace. It is a jouissance that cannot be readily comprehend outside the imaginary coordinates of the psychotic's world.
The strangeness of the psychotic's relationship to his body and to jouissance in general, is matched by what Lacan terms the "dead love" that emanates from the merged self in psychosis. What distinguishes the neurotic from the psychotic is that for the latter, the "love relation that abolishes him as subject is possible insofar as it allows a radical heterogeneity of the Other" (Psychoses, 253). Many times in Seminar III Lacan refers us back to Freud to see that "the psychotic loves his delusion like himself" and to show that "the psychotic's Eros is located where speech is absent. It is there that he finds his supreme love" (254). I can find nowhere in our cyberspace age where this is more strikingly illustrated than in David Cronenberg's film Crash (1996), based on J.G. Ballard's 1973 novel, for it reveals a perversion that has all of the preconditions for psychosis. Reference in this film to the more "modern" love object of the machine as car notwithstanding, the essential and disturbing representation of this film is the "auto" eroticism of the dead object (the car) as it violently merges with human flesh. Characters appear in this film as automatons who fetishize scarred flesh and broken bones; they libidinize images of mangled and crippled humans encased in prosthetic accoutrements. Not quite fully psychotic, these masochistic perverts attempt to bring the Other into being by re-staging the violent castration of the physical body. Here, the flat and vapid jouissance in the real is sustained by the repetitive and mock-nostalgic staging of the car crash. Here also is shown the undetectable emotion and inexplicable attraction to the machine, which all demonstrate that jouissance in the real works through a kind of flat affect and mindless masochism. Crash demonstrates Zizek's point that when death has no phantasmic screen upon which to project itself and to make it macabre, the object in the real is driven to repeat again and again the affect-less "panic-thrill" of the death drive. It is as if the body becomes the undead double of itself, for it exists in a realm "beyond the cycle of generation and corruption," and "follows its path irrespective of the proper needs of the living body" (Plague, 31). Crash reveals an eroticism of objects that is difficult to comprehend; and a strange lack of "appropriate" fear that is impossible to fathom. But, then, as Zizek tells us, this type of psychotically aggressive and masochistic jouissance occurs in a dimension beyond meaning, where Lacan writes, "feeling is undesirable" (Écrits, 28).
Cyberspace and the Ultimate Contest: Master Machine Versus Organic Slave
In reconsidering Lacan's projection appearing in the epigraph of this paper, the question for the cyberspace age becomes a question of the ego in the ever increasing new realms that exist to work towards its displacement: from virtual realities to bio-prosthetics. The insights of Lacan, Zizek, and others, all allow us to see that the machine/computer age is generating its own unique forms of paranoia, that if not inducing psychotic behavior, at the least bring us to the edge of the abyss. What Lacan reflects upon in his consideration of the species' battle with the machine, is whether the ego, first, will be able to win its own internal battle against the primal masochism and self-punishment of its undead "double."(18) The inherent paradox of the ego, however, is that in order to find its way back to the stability of recognizable coordinates of space and time, the subject must undergo a type of alienation from within: "It is in this erotic relation, in which the human individual fixes upon himself an image that alienates him from himself, that are to be found the energy and the form on which this organization of the passions that he will call his ego is based" (Écrits, 19). Further, the news is more dire for the individual, for it takes a back seat to the regeneration of the species as a whole. "It is clear, in effect, that genital libido operates as a supersession, indeed a blind supersession, of the individual in favour of the species, and that its subjugating effects in the Oedipal crisis lie at the origin of the whole process of the cultural subordination of man" (Écrits, 24). As Lacan further explains, the battle hinges on the realization that the human's fear of death, "the Absolute Master ...is psychologically subordinate to the narcissistic fear of damage to one's own body" (Écrits, 28). When, in our cyberspace age, the body cannot be distinguished from the machine, strange new pathways for the death drive emerge where a paradox unfolds: the machine serves as both a prop (against diseases and to prolong biological life), and as an invader of the original human. On the species level, the machine materializes and externalizes the paradox of the individual ego, and primal masochism has both its micro and macro dimensions.
Just as the psycho-killer's activities signal his internal struggle with the paradoxical striking out of the self through violence against its victims, its doubles or others, the psychotic of cyberspace is spawning its own form of survival games. While these themes are mainly being played out in the science fiction genre that works to either "solve" the crises of identity and "win" the battle against the monster machine, or illustrate the uncanny jouissance of the human's death in the horrific car crash, we are witnessing the derealization of the ego in new frontiers that restate the radical undecidability of the human. The drama of the master-slave battle in our cyberspace age is being played out with aliens that emerge from within -- the machinic excess of ourselves, transformed into replicants in our own image.
The predictions from the experts tell us that there are at least two ways out of this contest: either the recapturing of the distance between the self and its undead doubles (i.e. the space wherein a symbolic Law will allow the ego the necessary place to construct, through narcissism, a hierarchy for its drives, and thus make dialectical communication and things like morality and empathy possible); or, the "traversing of the fantasy" that the cyborg finds himself in when he exists in the dimension of the unhierarchical and unrepressed drives. The first idea appears in Lacan's early works in the following example. In Écrits, Lacan writes concerning the increasing individualization of the modern age:
Such rituals would, at the least, according to Lacan, allow the imaginary of the ego to rejoin "the objective space of reality," and this would perhaps give humankind a fighting chance in the oncoming battle of its increasing machinic excesses.
The second idea concerning the oncoming battle at the species level appears in Lacan's later writings, and is best explained by Zizek, who reveals that the way out of the paradoxical pull of the subject's internal masochism might be found in another paradox, the "traversing of the fantasy." There is no blueprint offered as to how the subject would go about transcending itself as object. However, what's necessary, at the least, is a certain awareness of the subject as to his "limits" within and therefore beyond the symbolic Law. Lacan writes: "This is an extreme position, but one that enables us to grasp that man can adumbrate his situation in a field made up of rediscovered knowledge only if he has previously experienced the limit within which, like desire, he is bound" (Four Fundamental Concepts, 276). In the bodily horrors spurred by our cyberspace age, it would appear that in order for the subject to "traverse the fantasy" of her cyber-selves, she would have to find a way to re-set her coordinates of space and time, to create herself ex nihilo, and to find herself on the other side of her original temporal spatiality.(19) Perhaps the most radical "solution" offered comes in the form of Zizek's thought-provoking proposal that all of reality be replaced by complete virtualization. He writes: "Perhaps, radical virtualization -- the fact that the whole of reality will soon be 'digitalized', transcribed, redoubled in the 'big Other' of cyberspace -- will somehow redeem 'real life', opening it up to a new perception...." (Plague, 164) Such an event would, in fact, fulfill Mark Pesce's prediction that the "final amputation" of the human self in three dimensional virtual technologies would introduce a "pathogenic ontology." In Pesce's terminology a type of "holosthetic psychosis" would ensue with the consequent speed-up of certain technologies, which would in turn bring about the complete reversal of "reality" as we know it. He writes: "The extreme of any medium produces reversal; that is, the phenomenon of speed-up, at its outermost limits, reverses the normal effect of the medium. Holosthesia is artifice, synthetic experience, but its reversal through speed-up is the opposite, reality. In this case the form of the medium is reversed from synthetic to physical, from interior experience to exterior reality. Holosthetic psychosis is a pathogenic state of the complete exteriorization of ontology...." (Final Amputation, 12).
The psychotopography for the psychotic of the cyberspace age already has its larger contexts in place, and perhaps the most recognizable force working to foster paranoia of bodily invasions is the real of medical science. That is, the real of the paranoid psychotic in cyberspace (his utter fascination and compulsion to submit to the Thing beneath the flesh and the workings behind the screen), has its parallel in the real of medical science, which has mechanized the gaze down to the smallest microscopic "byte" of matter.(20) Decapitated heads and body parts are being frozen and held in stasis; bodies are being merged with machines; humans are fantasizing about computer implants; and scientists work to produce artificial intelligence in computer "brains." In the unfolding of radical ambiguities of the cyberspace age, the ultimate question is indeed whether the master/slave conflict of the ego (mirrored by the master/slave conflict of the species) will find its resolution in the service of the machine.
Psychoanalysts tell us that psychosis progresses in stages and pre-psychotic confusion evolves into psychosis when certain conditions are in place and the subject find herself on the edge of the all-consuming abyss. Will there be time to carve out a "third realm," to deal with the alienation and traumas of the cyberspace age; and if not, will subjects be able to find pathways to traverse the fantasies, and get back to familiar physics, wherein egos are constituted, subjectivities exist, and bodies maintain their distance from the real? The gaze of the machinic screen has been compelling us since the beginning of the television age. With the rise of the computer, the screen becomes the extension of the eye; and with the projections of technological advancement into the third virtual dimension, humans await the "final amputation" of their three-dimensional bodies. As with the Borg's slow unstoppable assimilation of organic matter, the machine slowly, quietly, relentlessly and without consciousness, assimilates the subject. Increasingly, there is the loss of a meta-language to reflect back upon ourselves. We are losing the perspective of the limits of our place within the symbolic Law, and we are assimilating to become, in the words of the eerily repetitive White Zombie techno song, "more human than human."
(4)Maire Jaanus, "A Civilization of Hatred: The Other in the Imaginary," (323-355) in Reading Seminars I and II: Lacan's Return to Freud.
(5)In Enjoy Your Symptom, Zizek describes the dynamics of the appearance of the object a and "temporary aphanasis," where the subject becomes erased. He writes, "when the story I have been telling myself about myself no longer makes sense, I no longer have a self to make sense of," or "as Lacan puts it in his Seminar VIII, the big Other (the symbolic order) collapses into the small other, object petit a, the fantasy object. The extraction of objet a from the field of reality confers on this field its consistency: in aphanasis, the objet a is no longer extracted, it acquires full presence--in consequence of this, the symbolic texture which constituted my reality disintegrates" (162).
(6)Freud wrote "Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographic Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)" without ever having met Schreber. Freud based his analysis on Schreber's "Memoirs of My Nervous Illness," published in 1903. But it is Lacan who incorporates the analysis of language and benefits from the field of linguistics to take us beyond Freud in his analysis of Schreber in Seminar III, The Psychoses (1955-1956), even if, as Marcelle Marini claims, it is only a study of texts about other texts (Jacques Lacan, 33).
(11) This failure to take up the Name of the Father, and assume a certain position is also present in Lacan's discussion of the Marquis de Sade's utter failure to become the father and in the analysis of the case of the Papin sister (see Lacan's "Kant avec Sade," Écrits, and Elizabeth Roudinesco's Jacques Lacan for a discussion of the case of the Papin sisters.) In the latter, the Papin sisters, two maids, could not form separate identities without the other (replication of self) and, in a subservient position to their two masters (two women), and they had their psychotic break when, at a certain instance, electricity failed and they literalized the delusion of the self as "other," by gouging the eyes out of their employers.
Cherny, Lynn Elizabeth Reba Weise. Eds. Wired Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle: Seal Press, 1996.
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Fink, Bruce. A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1997.
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_____. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-60. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Russell Grigg. New York: Norton, 1993.
_____. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book I: Freud's Papers on Technique. New York: Norton, 1988.
_____. Four Fundamental Concept of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1981.
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Roudinesco, Elisabeth. Jacques Lacan. Trans. Barbara Bray. New York: Columbia UP, 1997.
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_____. The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the World. An essay by Slavoj Zizek with the text of Schelling's Die Weltater (second draft, 1813) English Trans.Judith Norman. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 1997.
_____.The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters. New York: Verso, 1996.
_____. Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out, New York: Routledge, 1992.
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