ken kenneth.mackendrick at utoronto.ca
Thu Aug 5 16:37:45 PDT 1999

On Thu, 05 Aug 1999 12:34:30 -0700 Sam Pawlett wrote:

Since we're dancing, I hope no one minds if I cut in...

> This kind of global scepticism asks for a kind of certainty
that is unnecessary for constructing theories that predict and explain the world.

Of course it is unnecessary, such certaintly would certainly be pathological.... but it in instructive because consciousness must presuppose its own positive content...

> As Descartes asked in his 1st meditation "How do you know
that we all aren't just brains in a vat being controlled by an evil demon?" You don't. Scepticism asks too much and is really quite boring.

What Descartes reveals here is the imaginary structure of reality. "I think, therefore I am" - "I am not where I think." The substance of the I is an imaginary construction of an unknown position - the position of the Big Other. In effect, I am an Other. This is important because it relates to how all ideological forms work. Take the above example: How do you know that we all aren't just brains in a vat being controlled by an evil demon? Look at the bait and switch here - how do *you* know what *we* aren't... Descartes assumes an imaginary standpoint outside of the you and the we - but he places the burden of proof on the Other (the you) - a perspective that "sees" the demon and the brains. In other words, the I relies on an Other to determine 'our' reality. To drawn this into capitalism - how do you know that we aren't just workers in a huge factory system. Well, we are. I know this because I'm able to take a self-reflective postion outside of myself that sees you and me in this factory. But this position doesn't exist! I am in the factory. You are in the factory. But how do we know this? We imagine it. We create a vantage point outside of ourselves and look in through the windows. And having this vantage point is precisely what permits the critique of ideology - which really means - the critique of ideology is a perspective issuing straight from the Other. "Look, I see myself and I don't like what I'm doing." But it works both ways. This vantage point is also what permits capitalism to work. Because where I think, I am not, I'm not obligated to identify with the system in which I'm caught (because I see both sides of the fence). So one watches from a safe distance. The fantasy screen makes "reality" visible and it serves as the quilting point of any ideological construction. The problem emerges precisely when one identifies directly with the I - directly with the machine in which one is entangled - like the solider "doing his duty" for God and Country. So Descartes was almost smack on when he "saw" the demon and the brains. We live within history (the vat), but this reality (the demon) entails an excess.

This excess is precisely the contradictory position of the self (as Other) looking at oneself from afar. Both from within and without - the fact that Descartes postulates the demon is an indication that there isn't a lid on the vat (history is open ended). The determinist (postmodernist) resigns themself to stewing. The skeptical hysteric questions everything... which is a precise definition of modernity, and precisely what facilitates the fascinating and repulsive vision of the demon. Ever ideological construction relies on this, this traumatic excess. If we can see the world from the viewpoint of this excess, then we can change what we're looking at. But let's not be fooled, this change in perspective marshalls no guarantee that what we see next is going to be any rosier.

> Nietzsche himself was a realist and believed in objective

Sure, after all, he was one of the first theologians to figure out that God was dead.


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