Tagged: mirror stage

A Response to Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

A few weeks ago I Googled my name for the first time in years.

The very first link that appears when you Google my name is a blog post by someone named Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei [sic] in response to a paper I wrote entitled “The Albanian Object”. Curious to read what Mr. Oei might have written about me, I clicked the link.

I learned that Mr. Oei is a Dutch philosopher and conceptual artist living in Tirana. He is roughly my age and appears to be interested in the same things that I am interested in. He may be the single best-qualified person in the world to criticize my paper on Albania, originally posted here and re-posted here.

To Google your own name is to regress temporarily to the mirror stage, i.e. the developmental moment we cede some essential piece of ourselves to an idealized mirror image with which we will never coincide. From this moment on, every other person we ever encounter will find himself, to some extent, haunted by the ghost of the original rival who paradoxically made me whole by stealing a piece of my being. The mirror stage also sets up the structural confusion between the small other (the rival) and the big Other (language as such, the true site of our alienation from ourselves). Once our pact with the mirror has been concluded, our center is no longer located inside us but must be sought out somewhere in the field of the big Other, with a necessary detour through some small other. 

Mr. Oei thus immediately appeared in the mirror of the internet as an alter ego, a double whose existence implicitly threatened my own. In many ways Mr. Oei is like me, only better. He speaks more languages than I do (including Albanian). He has written more than I have. His philosophical references are more diverse, sophisticated, and up-to-date than mine are. His papers are formatted better than mine are. He has a more impressive CV than I do. He has a career. He has participated in artistic interventions in places like Japan. He has an established name, whereas my larval name is only beginning to wriggle around the net. He seems like…a cool guy.

So, what did Mr. Oei have to say about my paper?

He hated it. He didn’t just hate it, he hated me. The tone of his critique is highly personal and full of vitriol. He calls me “boy”, accuses me of racism, insults my father, and makes fun of my name.

I was dumbfounded. After thirty-four years of fleeing the mirror stage, of denying my own alienation in the Other, I had finally found the courage to cede part of myself to this Other, and this was the Other’s first response: hatred and rejection.

I lay down on my bed to think about what Mr. Oei had written. But…but…I’m a nice guy! Maybe he was right. Maybe I was a fraud with a derivative style and nothing to say. No, he was right. What was I thinking, trying to publish my writing?

Philosophically, I am a one-trick pony. I am not as widely read as I “should” be. My principal references are extremely limited: Kierkegaard, Hegel, Beckett, Freud, Lacan, a few others. I have read none of these thinkers exhaustively but they have all changed the way I live my life. When I read a philosopher whose voice does not interest me, I stop reading. Whether or not I should be familiar with his work is immaterial. However, my limitations are also my strengths. I am more interested in the singular truth incarnated by voice than the generic truth expressed by the words themselves. If I have authorized myself to use thinkers whose oeuvre I have not fully digested (as I do in “The Albanian Object”) it is not from the point of view of an academic but from the point of view of a man who has been transformed by his encounters with truth. Here is the only source of my authority. By any other standard, I am not qualified to enter the arena with specialists like Mr. Oei whose voices have been ratified by the Other of the philosophy grad-school circuit.

I thought back to Lacan’s schema L. In this diagram, he contrasts the two axes constitutive of our relationship with the world. The first axis is the imaginary axis, the relationship of the (Freudian) ego to the alter ego, who is by definition a rival. The second axis is the Symbolic axis, the relationship of the (barred) subject to the (barred) big Other.

 

 

My initial reading of the text had been along the Symbolic axis: I had bared my subjectivity and the big Other (the internet, the philosophy establishment as incarnated by Mr. Oei) had not criticized it so much as sodomized it.

But if we look at the schema L, we see that the subject-Other axis is impossible to realize in a direct way. It is blocked by the second axis, that linking the ego and the alter ego. With this in mind, I read Mr. Oei’s text a second time, focusing not on the symbolic Subject-Other axis but rather on the imaginary ego-alter ego axis. Suddenly Mr. Oei’s words were no longer the words of the big Other but rather the voice of a simple alter ego, a small other, a rival, another barred subject with no privileged access to the center of my being (or his own), no privileged access to the real meaning of my words, no privileged access to the truth.

I began to cheer up, and I began to get angry too. Had Mr. Oei simply allowed himself politely to rebut my thesis, I would have taken my ass-whipping like a man and gotten back to work. However, the tone of his criticism is so personal that I cannot ignore it. Worse, his slanderous expropriation of my name is not buried in some dark corner of the internet. It is the first thing that appears when my name is Googled, above even my own website!

One of the necessary consequences of inhabiting a name, of speaking from a fixed place, is that you will polarize. To have a voice means to open yourself up to the possibility (even the necessity) of rejection. No sooner had I entered the arena than I had made my first enemy. I have never had an enemy of any sort before, probably because I have never dared attempt to address the Other directly before. (“Many enemies, much honor” was a favorite saying of Freud’s.) I looked at some of Mr. Oei’s other writings. No, Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei was not the Big Other. He’s written a lot of bullshit, in fact. Some of it is bullshit because he’s wrong, some of it is bullshit because it’s boring, some of it is bullshit because it’s choked with opaque fashionable jargon. (Some of what he has written is also very interesting.) I began to enjoy myself as I wrote my response, allowing myself to make my criticisms personal, even scatological. Fuck this joker…after all, if the truth can only be approached through the singularity of our voice, wouldn’t the only truly philosophical rebuttal be one that aims at the voice of the writer, the writer’s voice as object, and not the external content of the words it speaks?

There is a scene in Karate Kid III where Ralph Macchio, under the influence of an evil sensei, begins using karate for evil instead of for good. I wish to channel that evil sensei and use psychoanalysis for evil by attempting to laser down to the unconscious fantasies that emerge here and there in Mr. Oei’s writing in order to mock them. Afterwards, like Macchio, I will repent and return to Mr. Miyagi.

Critic Paul Fussel considered responding to criticism to be the Author’s Big Mistake. That may be true in the case of established fiction authors. However, unlike my enemy, I am an author without readers, and if even one of Mr. Oei’s fans ends up on my website after Googling his name, than I have just increased my readership by a considerable percentage. And what is philosophy if not a dialogue? In any case, the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity trumps Fusselian circumspection in my case. 50 Cent did not hesitate to start beef with more established rappers to gain publicity, baiting them into responding and thus transferring some of their public to him. Let’s see if Mr. Oei will fall into the same trap if I mock him enough…

So, without further ado, here is a link to Mr. Oei’s destruction of “The Albanian Object”, followed by my rebuttal.

My original article: http://timothylachin.com/?p=35

Mr. Oei’s response: http://continentcontinent.cc/blog/2012/11/the-unofficial-view-of-tirana-52/

 

MY REBUTTAL PROPER

I am the author of “The Albanian Object”. Mr. Oei absolutely destroys my paper here, doesn’t he?

Rebutting individual arguments is boring for anyone but the two philosophers waving their dialectics at each other, so I’ll make my niggling brief.

Mr. Oei’s first concrete counter-argument is weak. He contrasts the blitheness of my armchair theorizing about isolation with the horror of the real Albanians for whom “isolation” means being burned, torpedoed, and drowned.

This is an sub-variation of an argumentum ad martyrdom worthy of the hypocritical Mother Teresa, an Albanian so fascinated by suffering that she dedicated her life to propagating it. How dare I speculate about isolation from my comfortable desk when real people are suffering? Taken to its logical conclusion, such an argument invalidates any attempt to theorize anything, inasmuch as thought can never fully explain or evacuate suffering. Why should Mr. Oei’s hysterical identification with the Albanian bodies whose fate he only shares in his imagination (and the enjoyment such an identification procures him) lend his own reflections on isolation any more gravitas?

Mr. Oei’s next argument is stronger: he exposes incidental factual inaccuracies in my cursory exposition of Albanian history. Language groups…whatever. In my defense I will say only that these inaccuracies in no way invalidate the larger thesis of my paper; they simply detract from its authority. Yes, I found “cherry poppers” on the internet. So what? Even if it isn’t true, se non e vero, e ben trovato.

Mr. Oei then dismisses my reflections on Albania’s bunkers by saying that no one cares about them anymore, not even artists. I would respond that the seven hundred thousand concrete bunkers, which remain the most bizarre and recognizable feature of Albania’s built environment, are only played out to people who live in Albania. To anyone who has never been there or knows nothing about this insane country, which is to say almost everyone, the bunkers are worth mentioning. His argumentum ad martyrdom has here become an argumentum ad snobbery.

Mr. Oei next invalidates my metaphorical description of the bunkers as random, viral concrete eczema with an appeal to hard military logic: “Nor was their logic ‘viral,’ they are placed according to a well-structured (yet obsolete) strategic defense plan.”

To suggest that the bunkers were placed strategically is implicitly to accept Hoxha’s delusional invasion fantasy as a realistic premise. Of course, once you enter into the psychotic delusion, everything begins to make sense. The delusion, by its very nature, will spread (“virally”) until it has transformed everything into itself. Mr. Oei even gives us an excellent characterization of paranoia without intending to: “a well-structured (yet obsolete) defense plan.”

Mr. Oei next accuses me of…racism. After sanctimony and snobbery thus comes ideology. Within the ideology to which Mr. Oei belongs (leftist intellectual hysterics of the abolish-the-Other variety), there is no more serious charge than that of racism. I have learned to recognize that accusations of racism are never directed towards actual racists but only towards anyone who dares, directly or indirectly, to defend the idea that difference in its most troubling state is a non-negotiable, non-abolishable structural feature of subjectivity. 

The libidinal underpinning of this refusal of difference is a regressive desire never to have to confront loss, or in other words, the unconscious fantasy of a joyful reunion with the Other, finally drained of all troubling Otherness.

I constantly feel the drive of someone who appeals to a Žižek-like sexiness that however is hampered by a writing style and lack of original ideas that only makes one painfully aware of a career that will never really take off.

Mr. Oei is nothing if not slick. His website design, his writing style, even his personal appearance (I watched one of his videos) are smooth, sleek, and fashionable. He is an attractively-packaged consumer product. The tagline of the online journal that Mr. Oei co-edits (www.continentcontinent.com) gives us a foretaste of Mr. Oei’s discursive style:

continent. [sic] maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.

This is the philosophical equivalent of an iPhone: sleek, seductive, full of cool apps, a hot Christmas seller, but ultimately just a cosmetic update on an old technology, one whose only value lies in its ability to mediate our access to some living libidinal object. Compared to Mr. Oei’s iPhilosophizing, my own expressly messy texts can appear only as a sort of organic refuse. I do not consider myself a forger of new ideas. I do not even consider myself a philosopher. My ambition is to share the one central idea whose liberating power I have had the fortune to encounter in my life: the existence of the unconscious. For a dynamic forward thinker like Mr. Oei, however, repetition and restatement have no value inasmuch as they imply the existence of a recalcitrant truth that refuses to get up in those sweet interstices. Mr. Oei’s prizing of glib, hollow “new ideas” must be considered a symptom of his philosophical impotence, his desire to close his eyes and philosophize without objects, without a world, without shit. Fuck new ideas. I like the old ones.

From this point on, Mr. Oei’s attacks begin to get personal. When I mention Enver Hoxha’s house, I receive the following bizarre outburst:

Looking for your daddy, boy?

He makes another reference to my father a little further down.

Where did this man grow up? An all-white upper middle class house with mowed lawn and impotent father?

Not too far from the truth, although I can’t answer for my father’s potency. (He does like to mow the lawn.) Mr. Oei, what sort of super-authentic place did you grow up that conferred on you your right to speak? What are your own origin fantasies? You actually use the same metaphor I (and others) use for Albania: the black hole of Europe. I wrote about why I went there. So I will pose the same question to you: why did you go there? In what way is your fascination with Albania, a place where you do not belong, different than mine? Who do you want to be? You use Edward Said elsewhere to accuse a Dutch journalist of “orientalizing” Albania. No wonder this journalist upset you: he was encroaching on your own private orientalizing ground. After all, enjoying one’s exquisite hysterical identification with the victims of orientalization is just as effective a way of maintaining this orientalization in place.

In another post you praise the Albanian conception of honor, one with which you identify. Do you think the average Albanian recognizes his sense of blood honor in your hysterical posturing? Do you not see that it is impossible to marry this kind of honor with your idea of a free society (one that, for example, includes abolishing marriage)? Or are you just there for the beautiful, round, uncorrupted, orientalized asses that you slaver over in another post?

In fact, the specter of ass is all over Mr. Oei’s response to my text. First of all, the destructiveness he displays has a decidedly anal-sadistic character. Second of all, the tone of visceral disgust he employs is generally reserved for the encounter with the anal object. Third, his entire text can be considered a sublimated attempt to establish dominance by bending me over and fucking me in the ass (you wish, buddy!). Let it be noted that psychoanalysis has long recognized that such unconscious fantasies emerge as a defense against the more primordial fantasy of passively submitting to penetration, a fantasy that actually appears elsewhere in an encrypted form on Mr. Oei’s Albania blog.

Mr. Oei is not incorrect to claim that the portrait of Albania that I draw is a mix between reality and my own fantasy. The difference between us is that I make this distinction visible. The gaps in my familiarity with Albania are front and center. Mr. Oei, on the other hand, attempts to hide his fantasy of Albania under the alibi of his real knowledge of life there. “Hey pal…I’m not just some joker who spent a week there on a whim…I LIVE there…I speak the language…I chill with Albanians…I get freaky with Albanians…I have enlightened opinions about Albanians…” The fact is that Mr. Oei still sees Tirana as a black hole and gets off on living there for that reason.

An ugly consequence of the irreducibility of ontological difference is the necessary encounter with the abject it entails. Any honest attempt to understand our experience of the world has to confront our fundamental abjection and impotence, which must be recognized as such. This abjection is the philosophical object that appears nowhere in Mr. Oei’s writing, dedicated as it is to an infantile, polymorophously perverse fantasy of political liberation and an eternal avoidance of the confrontation with difference. Hence his implicit judgment of my supposed misery as an ethical failure. I would on the contrary suggest that Mr. Oei’s endless privileging of flux is the true ethical failure, inasmuch as our first ethical injunction as writers is to attempt to capture and symbolize it, the horrible Freudian das Ding that eternally weighs us down in our attempts to realize immanence, desire and circulation. Where I focus on the abjection and misery that I suggest are visible in the hard faces of Albanian men, Mr. Oei focuses on their beautiful asses. Here I will simply rejoin that, as both Rilke and Lacan observed, beauty is the last veil before horror.

Actually, the horrible, disgusting object at the heart of being does make an appearance in Mr. Oei’s writing. It is my text, my Albanian Object that appears to Mr. Oei as a stain on the internet, one that “makes him want to puke”. Mr. Oei is here projecting repressed content onto an external element that can be symbolically destroyed. For someone who refuses to engage with anything but surfaces, any reference to an object proper can only appear as indecent, old-fashioned, racist, disgusting…

When I suggest that in Albania “S1 and the chain of S2’s, rather than transforming smoothly back and forth into each other, haunt each other without ever meeting halfway”, Mr. Oei responds with…a sex fantasy! “I know of no place on earth where this happens except for my bedroom.” We have here a succinct illustration of how the unconscious, when confronted with the existence of irreconcilable difference (here, between S1 and S2) can only respond with an imaginary fantasy of a beatific sexualized union in which this difference is negated — an operation that forms the core of Mr. Oei’s philosophizing. This is even a possible definition of ideology: a philosophy which ignores Lacan’s dictum that “there is no sexual rapport”.

As for my own misery and isolation…once again, that is the not-so-hidden point of the essay. I went to Albania in a moment of deep despair. I wanted to go somewhere miserable, somewhere that would reflect this despair back to me. This is one of the paradoxes of the death drive: it is its own therapy. Was I selfishly using (my fantasy of) Albania to cure myself of my despair? Yes. “Albania” is shorthand across the world for isolation and misery, and that is why I went there. Yes, Albania is full of unique people living lives of dignity. That does not change the uncomfortable fact that Albania sucks. The larger question I attempt to raise without answering in my text is the question of the gratuitous nature of these tumor-like formations of abjection and misery that continue to irrupt no matter how hard we try to reabsorb them into circulation (via the kind of sterile political, intellectual and artistic interventions championed by Mr. Oei and his fellow mappers of unstable confluences).

Since Mr. Oei allowed himself to speculate on my own unconscious identifications (“aspires to a Zizek-like sexiness”) and narcissistic fantasies, I will permit myself the same liberty. Mr. Oei is a hysteric, an erudite and intelligent one who uses his learning and the authority of the philosophical establishment that legitimizes his symptom to conceal the true nature of his jouissance. Behind his sleekly packaged bullshit, he is getting off on rubbing his enlightened progressivism, his hatred and refusal of difference, in the faces of people whose entire identity, one he claims to appreciate, one based on difference, paternity, and honor of the most politically incorrect variety, could never survive the confrontation with his own fantasies.

I allowed myself to go to Albania, take a look, and go home. Where I am a tourist, Mr. Oei is a missionary, one whose disrespect for the local population is so deep that he feels it is his duty to enlighten them.

I’m almost done. This role-playing — the missionary, the victim, the martyr, the engaged philosopher, the liberator — marks the spot where Mr. Oei’s imaginary and symbolic identifications lead down to something deeper. Over the course of a psychoanalysis, the unconscious is explored layer by layer. On top is the ego, composed of imaginary identifications with various ideal egos and symbolic identifications with abstract ego ideals. Below these identifications we begin to approach the fundamental fantasy, the humiliating scene in which the subject is articulated with the horrible (Real) object that forms the support of his being. It is only when we finally arrive at this fantasy that we realize that all of our beautiful symbolic and imaginary identifications are nothing but secondary constructions which derive their consistency from the ugly and meaningless sexualized fantasy that forms the core of our being (cf. Freud’s “A Child is Being Beaten”).

Mr. Oei’s mocking of my filiation (although I suspect that it is not my filiation in particular but the concept of filiation as such that bothers him, inasmuch as it involves a necessary encounter with sexual difference) culminates with an attempt to find a hidden signification in the very letters of my name. Mr. Oei could have at least made the association with “Lacking” — as in, lacking rigor, lacking references, lacking style, lacking novelty, lacking insight, lacking interstices, lacking unstable confluences, lacking tact. Mr. Oei likes poetry and defends the poetic process of generating meaning by allowing the signifier and signified to copulate freely. Turning the tables, can we not detect an unconscious compulsion of the name at work for Mr. Oei as well? What is striking about the name “Oei” is that there are no consonants, nothing stable to give it any shape, just as there are no stable objects in his philosophy. Both are just gaping holes waiting to be filled up. And is not “Oei” similar in sound to the moans of pleasure emitted by someone submitting to penetration? In another post, Mr. Oei mentions going to the post office and buying “stamps showing the European Union flag with its rectum of yellow stars penetrated by the double-headed Albanian eagle.” A curious fantasy image to project onto a postage stamp! Fool, the circle is not a symbol of the rectum but of femininity. The circle is a symbol of a sacred, fertile interior, not a sterile, foul anus. This unconscious confusion between the asshole and the vagina offers us the key to understanding Mr. Oei’s texts. Here is the disavowed unconscious filiation fantasy that has brought the civilized European Mr. Oei to the black hole of Albania: to bend over and have his empty name, his sterile philosophizing, his stinking asshole, fucked and inseminated with hard, brutal, essentialized Albanian cock.

I am happy to have a man like this as an enemy!