Against Analysis

“To produce is to force what belongs to another order (that of secrecy and seduction) to materialize.” (Baudrillard, Forget Foucault, pg. 37)

Preamble

The following is a reflection on a tendency of modern, techno- informational capitalist societies: the tendency to ‘analyse’, become ‘self-conscious’, to ‘decide’ or ‘choose’. It is a tendency which is demonstrated in David Foster-Wallace’s This is Water commencement speech and its character is exampled by the following excerpt:

“’Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” (David Foster-Wallace, This is Water, 8:10)

As a background, it is worth noting that the whole speech is littered with what he considers to be banal platitudes and tired rhetorical conventions which he desperately tries to reanimate for himself and the audience as if trying to raise their meaning from the dead (which is akin to raising their reality from the artificial). Moreover, the speech is full of templates of perception and competing models of reality, postures (once philosophies) now inseparable from any number of other boilerplate, pre-packaged, acted-out sound-bites of cultural wisdom, endlessly resonating through the parodic echo-chamber of information-media. Wallace sets up his speech in a way that sees him fighting for his life in a battle for self-consciousness and yet we might see such self-consciousness as an informational strategy employed to deal with the information that is killing him. To pervert Wallace’s metaphor: there is certainly water, but one cannot kill water with more water.

Information

For Walter Benjamin, it is a characteristic of ‘information’ that it contains no experiential trace of the event about which it informs. Benjamin makes the same observation about ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ memories – that the involuntary memory comes with an experiential trace of the event remembered, whereas voluntary memories have no such trace. Similarly, Benjamin relies on Freud’s view that it is a property of ‘consciousness’ that it neutralizes the effect of what one is conscious of on the nervous system, thus preventing any permanent change to the organism – that is, any lasting trace of the experience. [1] Becoming conscious of an event therefore neutralizes the event and thus connects the qualitative experience of consciousness with that of information.

By this route, we can see the deadening effect of Foster-Wallace’s self-consciousness – choosing what to think, choosing how to confer meaning is the very opposite of ‘thinking as an experience’ or ‘meaningful being’ itself.[2] It is possible to see the same sorts of problem in Sartre’s notions of freedom, a notion in extremis demonstrated in Nausea where Anny, kissing Roquentin whilst sitting in nettles, endures pain in order to try and experience a ‘perfect moment’ (Sartre, Nausea, p. 213) and thus, has to conclude ‘there are no perfect moments’, or, synonymously, ‘to be conscious of the moment is to neutralise any possibility of moments[3]. In the same spirit, Adam Curtis has said of contemporary culture:

“And when everyone is self-conscious you are stuck in your place, because you’re always aware of everything, and you will never make the big leap like falling in love or creating a revolution or doing anything really radical because you are so aware of yourself and all the pressures on you.” (New Statesman ‘We don’t read Newspapers because the Journalism is so Boring’)

Consciousness and self-consciousness; conceptualisation and analysis have caused information – a dead zone – to work as a veil and precede any contact with experience. Thus Foster-Wallace must reanimate meaning from cliché and underwrite it with a down-payment of his own death – potential, then actual.

The Unconscious, Seduction, or Whatever

Freud identifies the unconscious in contrast to consciousness which is the area in which things become visible and their effects on the organism are neutralised; Foucault has his Unreason, that unfathomable sphere of mystery and tragedy (madness) against which Reason would continuously define itself with increasing ‘objectivity’ and make the slow push towards critical mastery (Foucault, History of Madness, p. xiiv–xxv); for McLuhan, the unconscious becomes an object of analysis through electricity’s cultural effects – its ability to extend the nervous system, blend the senses and abolish time and space, the consequence of a universal acceleration of the perception towards a more pattern-based mental fluidity and relativist point of view; and somewhere interleaving this heady mix of models and concepts we can include Baudrillard’s notion of seduction, which runs counter to all the above (yet seems related) in that seduction is antithetical to production and visibility (including that of discourse) and is based on the intense allure of destroying the visible through an attraction to its own reversion:

“Seduction continues to appear to all orthodoxies as malefice and artifice, a black magic for the deviation of all truths, an exaltation of the malicious use of signs, a conspiracy of signs. Every discourse is threatened with this sudden reversibility, absorbed into its own signs without a trace of meaning.” (Baudrillard, Seduction, p. 2)

By contrast, he defines the order of production on which analysis is based:

“The original sense of “production” is not in fact that of material manufacture; rather, it means to render visible, to cause to appear and be made to appear: pro-ducere … To produce is to force what belongs to another order (that of secrecy and seduction) to materialize. Seduction is that which is everywhere and always opposed to production; seduction withdraws something from the visible order and so runs counter to production, whose project is to set everything up in clear view, whether it be an object, a number, or a concept. (Baudrillard, Forget Foucault, p. 37)

There is something synchronous however, in this analysis, with Baudrillard’s contention that at the heart of our culture and all its produce is a system of dislocated, deterritorialised capital and an obsession with production. The concept of seduction has a commonality with the idea of Foucault’s work represented as a ‘discursive toolbox’ or a Deleuzian assemblage – i.e., that discourse is represented in terms as fluid as the capitalist structure from which it is generated:

“This compulsion towards liquidity, flow and an accelerated circulation of what is psychic, sexual, or pertaining to the body is the exact replica of the force which rules market value: capital must circulate, gravity and any fixed point must disappear; the chain of investments and reinvestments must never stop; value must radiate endlessly and in every direction. This is the form itself which the current realization of value takes” (Baudrillard, Forget Foucault, p. 39-40)

The same too can be said for discourse as power-flow (in Foucault) or desire (in Deleuze) and seduction too seems to play into a similar game of repression-liberation: that each discourse contains a seductive reversion and hence carries the potential for a collapse into more discourse and a new order of the visible. And yet seduction goes one step further too – at the same time as discourse is reversible, a socio-structural obsession with production must also be reversible, i.e., that there is seduction in the end of the visible and discourse, a seduction of silence.

End Bit

Foster-Wallace, beleaguered by an informational hyper-visible world tries to resurrect language with a life or death struggle for greater control over how to think. This process – self-consciousness – is merely an extension of the same process by which the modern world is instanced. Self-consciousness is an informational strategy which endeavours to neutralise experience in the informational quality of consciousness.[4] At the other side, there is the seductive property of invisibility and the contents of unreason. This second strategy is a revolt into opacity and contains in itself a different set of values, alien to those of production, with which to order one’s world.

Notes:

[1] See here for a wider discussion of Walter Benjamin’s distinction between information and experiential trace.

[2] We can discuss ‘meaning’ from two perspectives: The semantic meaning – for instance one can read the sentence ‘The Twin Towers fell’ and understand it; then there’s the more cultural, experiential meaning, for instance, a New Yorker reading the same sentence would be very differently effected. My contention is that the former hardly constitutes ‘meaning’ at all – it is of the order of consciousness and analysis.

[3] It is worth considering Nausea (and Sartre) from the perspective of a hyper-consciousness exacerbated by information and production. The hostility between ‘literature’ and ‘existence’ (as if Nausea was not simply ‘modern literature’) being predicated on the fact that with hyper-consciousness, an experiential being has become near impossible.

[4] It is worth here recognising that self-consciousness may also have been employed to mitigate special circumstances – i.e., an extraordinarily negative experience of being (‘depression’). An informational strategy may be preferable under such circumstances to actual being and yet it remains possible to ponder the extent to which post-modernity is involved in producing such states of distressed being. From a McLuhanist perspective, for instance, electricity accelerates the nervous system to the extent the unconscious becomes visible in all its confusion; from a Baudrillardian perspective, production and systematised behaviour, culturally enervating, replace vitality, seduction and its suggestion through ritual. Or perhaps such being reveals a reconfiguration of meaning and death in the energies that comprise subjectivity in a world where people are so remote to that death and meaning.

Bibliography

Baudrillard, J. 2007, Forget Foucault, Semiotext(e).
Baudrillard, J. 2001, Seduction, CTeory Books.
Foucault, M. 2006, History of Madness. ed. Khalfa J, Routledge.
Sartre, J. P.1962. Nausea, London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd.

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