Commentaries, Contemplation

On Jean Baudrillard: Seduction, Hyperreality, and the Murder of the Real

“Philosophy leads to death, sociology leads to suicide” —Jean Baudrillard

Today, we shall enter the desert of the real and examine Jean Baudrillard’s ideas on simulation, hyperreality and their relationships with his concept of seduction. It will address various topics such as nuclear deterrence, gender roles, feminism, sexual liberation, photography, and the death of universities. Many people have trouble reading Baudrillard due to his prose and borderline insane ideas. His works are written with a very distinctive style that happens to be declarative, hyperbolic, provocative, and obscure. Personally, I think Baudrillard is an incredible critical thinker in his own right—even if he does not have his own school of thought. This might be due to how he sort of just quits academia at one point and stops associating himself with any academic disciplines. It may also have something to do with how he grew up in a peasant rural family who was, at first, never considered as part of the 20th century French intellectual elites. 

Baudrillard was one of the first philosophers that I read closely back in my undergraduate days when I studied photography. His books left a lasting impact on the way I think. In many ways, Baudrillard’s ideas on simulation and hyperreality is a reinterpretation of the Platonic cave. Some of his ideas gained so much fame that his work was featured in the film, The Matrix. One of the biggest mistakes people make when they read Baudrillard is to think he is a postmodernist because he isn’t. Baudrillard is a big critic of postmodernism. He is also a sharp critic of Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, and many other thinkers of his time. Some contemporary scholars believe Baudrillard is Manichean—someone who breaks everything down into dualisms such as good and evil. While others believed he leaned towards being a pataphysician who was heavily influenced by Marcel Mauss.

Baudrillard became well known when he wrote a book called Forget Foucault (1977). At the time of publish, he even sent a copy to Foucault—who was one of the world’s most renown philosophers at the time—and asked him to read it (Foucault never responded). While Forget Foucault remains an important book to read, the best books to understand Baudrillardian thought is Seduction (1979) and Simulacra and Simulation (1981) [he has other important works such as Symbolic Exchange and Death, Fatal Strategies and Cool Memories]. These two texts provides two important dimensions of Baudrillardian thought that I will talk about today.

As already cited by many past scholars, Baudrillard was one of the few philosophers who tried to reconcile the incompatible differences between reality and illusion. He sometimes subtly points out how the disappearance of one yields to the destiny of the other. In short, Baudrillard’s method can be summarized with a single line from Friedrich Nietzsche: “We do not believe the truth remains true once the veil has been lifted”. Today, we will place extra emphasis on the word “veil”, which is associated with seduction: the disguise and play of appearance and meanings.

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The first main aspect of his thought lies in how Baudrillard thinks we are living in a world where we no longer know what is real and what isn’t. Simulacra and Simulation provides one of the best examples. The book begins with an apparent quote from Ecclesiastes, a quote that does not exist in the famous Hebrew bible: “The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.” Many people who read this book for the first time often believes the quote as true, even when it isn’t. What is important about this example is not only that the same phenomena happens in contemporary world of simulations, it also occurs from the reader interpreting Baudrillard’s book (this was how I got into Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction). The experience of reading Simulacra and Simulation emphasizes on this constant state of confusion.

One can see something similar in the use of “nuclear deterrence” and how its fundamental goal is to make nuclear weapons so to not use them. You sometimes read news about X country producing nuclear weapons without the intentions for nuclear war, but to protect themselves from other nuclear armed countries. In nuclear deterrence, instead of producing a real nuclear conflict via making nuclear weapons, it produces a simulated mode of conflict between countries. If I remember correctly, Baudrillard used the cold war as an example. This is one of the reasons why, in Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard talks about how people dream of nuclear explosions which result in simulating them in televisions and movies instead of making them a reality.

Baudrillard also brings to point on the emergence of photography and how it was invented at a time where reality was beginning to disappear as it gets usurped by hyperrealities. He sometimes talks about how realist photography does not actually focus on capturing what is real in the situation. If you look at Baudrillard’s own photographic art exhibitions, one might recognize such techniques in his images (often referred as the “vanishing technique”). Regardless, Baudrillard foresaw how the world would eventually be replaced by infinite simulated hyperrealities where people will no longer know what is real.

Baudrillard uses the Borges fable as an example of hyperreality. The story talks about how cartographers mapped their empire that covers the entire land with precision. Yet over time, the empire falls into ruins and new empires establishes new borders. Reality changes, but the map remains intact and exists as the remainder. The territory no longer precedes the map, it is the map that precedes the territory—just like that of media, books, scholarships, and television, for example. In the same way, Baudrillard believes that reality no longer precedes simulation. Instead, simulations precedes reality, where the latter has become more real than real and more false than false.

It can be said that hyperrealities are produced through interpretation and forcing our ideals onto reality—hence the “murder of the real”. Later in Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard introduces hyperrealities as the remainder of society and universities. Unlike gender or reality, the remainder lacks a binary opposition (Masculine/Feminine, Reality/Illusion, Remainder/          ???). The other side of remainder is empty—it is a reflection from a mirror which is the remainder itself. The entire society becomes residual and reality is murdered, but so are universities which produces endless knowledge without finality. For Baudrillard, the real university, just like that of reality, has been long dead. What remains are endless simulation of realities. Even a strike would have the opposite effect, for it can only bring back the ideal of what is possible of a real university, a fiction that is no longer possible within a system of hyperrealities. This is one of the reasons why “sociology leads to suicide”. Sociology, just like that of feminism and sexual liberation (will get to later), seeks to uncover and strip the world naked by producing meaning and simulacrum by declaring what is most real about society. As a result, it produces new realities of the world that often exists independent of our immediate reality and the seductive beliefs people have (then there is also the problem of statistics and induction which plagues the social sciences; Baudrillard often referred statistics as a form of wishful thinking). In other words, sociology is suicidal in the sense that it produces hyperreal discourses that may lead to something like a delusion. Just like that of contemporary media, sociological findings can produce the Borges map that people immediately accept as reality without question. For Baudrillard, we are living in a world where meaning murders other meanings without consequences. Simulacrum versus other simulacra which becomes endless play of simulacra—to the point that everyone within the system becomes simulacrum.

Near the end of Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard points out how he is a nihilist. Since our world is flooded with meanings, discourses, and hyperrealities, the real has been lost in translation. Reality is dead and what remains is an infinite amount of meanings and hyperrealities that replaced reality—sort of like Starbucks which used to make pumpkin spice lattes without pumpkins in it. In the final passage of the book, Baudrillard emphasized on the irony of the situation. He ends the book by addressing how it is within this space of simulation where seduction begins.

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The second aspect of Baudrillard’s thought is more complex and it is best highlighted in his book Seduction. In it, there is a chapter called “Death in Samarkand” which tells a story of a soldier who tries to escape death while inevitably running into it. The point of this story is to show how the more people try to deviate from their fate, the more likely they will encounter it. The story leads Baudrillard into talking about the theme of chance which exceeds beyond causality and probability. Chance serves as a fundamental aspect to seduction (many French philosophers at the time spoke of chance in a similar way). Nevertheless, the “Death in Samarkand” story could resemble something like North Korea trying to build nuclear weapons so to avoid war, but ends up being threatened by other countries of going to war. Hence, what we see is a contradiction that Baudrillard highlights: between producing nukes to prevent real conflict, while inevitably running towards their own fate of going into another “real” (hyperreal) / simulated conflict. As Baudrillard writes, one always runs towards their own fate while trying to escape it.

Just like nuclear deterrence which ends up producing the opposite effects of preventing conflict, Baudrillard takes on the position that people’s emancipations are doing something similar. This can be seen in feminism and the sexual liberation. In the first chapter of Seduction, Baudrillard provocatively asserts to the Freudian view that the stability and production of reality and meaning is only possible due to the dimensions of the masculine, whereas the play of appearance, meanings and signs are only possible due to the feminine—the latter which he refer as “seduction”. Despite appearing on taking the Freudian psychoanalytic position, Baudrillard makes a reverse argument and points out how it isn’t the masculine dimension which produces and defines feminine reality as such (patriarchy), it is the feminine which challenges and produces the masculine certainty by exception via seduction. Baudrillard even points out that, the great theorist of split subjectivity Jacques Lacan, along with the entire field of psychoanalysis, also falls into the realm of seduction.

The irony that Baudrillard saw within the theme song of feminism (as he puts it) and their desire to break down gender roles is that they secretly had the upper hand in our patriarchal society by strategically manipulating it via seduction through a certain mode of challenge and the play of appearance, signs, and meanings. The feminine had always been the secret force of society which undermined all modes of masculine certainty and power. Yet, Baudrillard points out how feminists are depriving of their own strengths as they get caught up in the world of simulations which led them astray (because a lot of them dread seduction). As feminism sought to deviate from such seductive truth, they ended up producing more gender roles. As a result, it created an even more confusing world of simulations and simulacra. This is where Baudrillard criticizes the sexual liberation, which broke down gender roles. For Baudrillard, while the sexual liberation broke down gender roles via the production of new simulated realities (i.e. new realities of gender, etc.), he saw that people are still deeply seduced by / believed in gender roles—including those who sought to break them down.

At this point, it is easy to mistake Baudrillard as some anti-feminist, even when Baudrillard also did not believe in gender roles. But because he saw how people are seduced by it (they believe in it)—an old idea that is incompatible with our increasingly hyperreal world today, Baudrillard thinks gender roles still holds a lot of power in our society. One of the main problems Baudrillard had with the sexual liberation and the production of simulations is how its environment also produced people who can no longer make sense of their world and their roles in society due to the abundance of hyperrealities—a true existential crisis and mass depression of sorts, where people no longer know what is real and what isn’t. The result of this uncertain world would lead people to try and uncover what gender truly is, for example—like what you see in feminist thinker Luce Irigaray (i.e. her idea that “anatomy is destiny”; Irigaray was heavily criticized by Baudrillard in Seduction). Yet, for Baudrillard, it was never about producing or uncovering the truth of sex or gender. Rather, it had been about seduction which reversed and dissolved all gendered power relations via the play of appearances and meanings.

Baudrillard always saw how there was a seductive allure to the feminine “sex object” (via play of appearances) who is able to reverse and dissolve all modes of masculine power. In some of his other books, Baudrillard sometimes referred to this way of thinking as the “triumph of the object” which involves the subject who believes they are in power, even when it is the object who holds the power of the subject. The object holds the subject as hostage. It is for example, not the subject in power who watches the television (object), but the television (i.e. media) who watches the subject to the point that it manipulates and changes the subject—reversing all power relationships and creating a simulacrum subjectivity. This reverse relationship is what Baudrillard categorized as being part of seduction. The object is presented to the subject of power as a form of challenge, seduction, play of appearance and signs.

The confusion lies in the relationship between simulation, which comes from the production of new realities and meanings; and seduction which involves the play of these new simulated appearance of meanings and becoming seduced by them. The two terms lives in an eternal paradox, where the production of different realities will also lead to the inevitable play of seduction. In several places from both books, Baudrillard noted that simulation and seduction shares a similar dimension in the sense that the former seeks to become reality (more real than real, and more false than false), whereas the latter is the play of reality and appearances. For Baudrillard, nothing can triumph over seduction and the play of signs, not even the masculine production of simulation. In Seduction, Baudrillard writes:

“Now surprisingly, this proposition, that in the feminine the very distinction between authenticity and artifice is without foundation, also defines the space of simulation. Here too one cannot distinguish between reality and its models, there being no other reality than that secreted by the simulative models, just as there is no other femininity than that of appearances. Simulation too is insoluble.

This strange coincidence points to the ambiguity of the feminine: it simultaneously provides radical evidence of simulation, and the only possibility of its overcoming – in seduction, precisely.” (11)

Ultimately, Baudrillard’s thoughts provides us with the compatible incompatibilities between reality and illusion (simulation). With the disappearance of reality lies the destiny of simulation—the latter which can be overcome by the force of seduction. For Baudrillard, seduction allows people to accept simulative and hyperreal spaces via disguises and the play of appearances, signs, and meanings. Yet on the other hand, with the disappearance or revelation of simulations (i.e. gender roles) also lies the destiny of reality. While one can simulate some hyperreal truth via production of what is real (i.e. the truth of sex, gender, society, etc.), the desert of the real is recognized once such veil gets removed. For Baudrillard, revealing the truth will only show us that there are no truths because there was never really anything “real” to begin with; since humans had long began imposing their own modes of thoughts, realities, and Borges maps onto reality. This is what Baudrillard refer as “the perfect crime”.

Due to how Baudrillard thinks we are living in a world of simulations, he sometimes points out how he is a believer of seduction. This is because, for him, seduction is the solution to our world of simulation and the loss of what is real, which leads to people losing their purpose in this world. The recognition of “truth” via the realization of simulations would lead people to try and recover what is most real which results in producing more simulations like those found in feminist movements, sociology, literature, and other texts. Yet at the same time, the production of simulation would also lead to the eternal destiny of feminine seduction which seduces the subject into believing these simulations as truth. This is the paradox that lives at the core of Baudrillardian thought.

To simplify the second aspect of Baudrillard’s ideas while retaining the paradoxes, we can put it as such: while Baudrillard believes gender roles are false, he thinks that because people are still seduced by such idea, we should adopt them and take advantage of it as modes of illusions which would blend or erase their differences. Instead of trying to assert or reveal the “truth” of gender and sex like that of sexual liberation and feminism (which produces more simulations), or completely deny it by claiming that gender is not real like postmodernists, Baudrillard thinks we should adopt gender roles as seductive disguises that is more real than real and more false than false.

Reading Baudrillard is like encountering how these paradoxes and contradictions collides and reconcile with each other, between simulation and seduction, reality and illusion, good and evil, man and woman, masculine and feminine. I often admired the ending of Seduction because I always thought it was very thought provoking. In fact, I cited it several times in some of my older posts. It serves as a good summary to Baudrillard’s thoughts:

“The world is naked, the king is naked, and things are clear. All of production, and truth itself are directed towards disclosure, the unbearable ‘truth’ of sex being the most recent consequence. Luckily, at bottom, there is nothing to it. And seduction still holds, in the face of truth, a most sibylline response, which is that ‘perhaps we wish to uncover the truth because it is so difficult to imagine it naked'”.

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Commentaries, Contemplation

The Gift of Death: Love, Agency, and Transgressions Beyond Dualisms

I began writing this last year in October when my dog best friend passed away. At the time, I was particularly inspired and influenced by love, death, and ethics. After long periods of contemplation and thinking about the intricacies of the subjects at hand, I decided to split this post in two. While I won’t label the two posts as Part I and Part II, they are somewhat related to each other in the sense that they both seek to transgress dualisms (in a Cartesian sense) and “binary oppositions”. This post will address the themes of agency, animals, ethics, and love at the face of undecidable events. I will talk about truth and the meaning of life through the philosophers of Jacques Derrida, Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Part II will focus along the lines of postcolonialism. I don’t know when I will finish the second part due to life obligations. With all this said, this post is half analytical and half self-reflective. It is written backwards with the “Foreword” at the very end. 

One last thing. This year, I will be trying to write a variety of posts and topics that I find interesting. Posting too many big philosophy and theory stuff might make this blog a bit overwhelming. They also take a lot of work (they are hard to write because it requires a lot of precision). In fact, I have been trying to do this with my last post where I answered 100 questions about myself. It was pretty enjoyable, probably because I like to give dumb answers to dumb questions. In the future, I might write about my esoteric hobbies and the most loved/hated MBTI personality theory. I might talk about my own personality type (INTJ). I might also share some of my casual thoughts, analysis and daily contemplations about random things like the movies and shows that I recently watched, such as The Queen’s Gambit (actually, Beth Harmon is a good example of a female INTJ). Overall, I will be diversifying the stuff I write on here. 

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Agency, Ethics and the Undecidable Event

 

“That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil” —Friedrich Nietzsche

In The Gift of Death, Jacques Derrida engages with religion and the themes of responsibility, irresponsibility and how agency (freedom to choose) produces the human individual. In it, Derrida deconstructs Soren Kierkegaard’s legendary text called Fear and Trembling which analyzes the story, “Binding of Isaac”. The story speaks of Abraham who sacrifices his son for the absolute duty for God. This sacrificial gesture is what Kierkegaard famously refer as the teleological suspension of the ethical. For Kierkegaard, in order for anyone to be religious, one must sacrifice the ethical. In line with Kierkegaard’s interpretation, Derrida points out how each one of us are like Abraham who makes sacrificial choices everyday in our lives. He writes, 

“The concepts of responsibility, of decision, or of duty, are condemned a priori to paradox, scandal, aporia. Paradox, scandal, and aporia are themselves nothing other than sacrifice, the revelation of conceptual thinking at its limit, at its death and finitude. As soon as I enter into a relation with the other, with the gaze, look, request, love, command, or call of the other, I know that I respond only by sacrificing ethics, that is, by sacrificing whatever obliges me to also respond, in the same way, in the same instant, to all others.”

As soon as one encounters the love, command, and the call of the other, they can only respond by sacrificing ethics. In many ways, Derrida was influenced by Nietzsche, who points out how acts of love always takes place beyond good and evil. The things that we choose to do out of love may radically challenge and rewrite what society defines as good and evil (good and evil is a binary opposition). Love may allow us to exceed moral boundaries because it is not something that can be reduced to binary ethics, social standards or political ideologies. To act out of love requires the suspension of the ethical. In fact, this movement of love which may transgress beyond all dualisms, dichotomies and binary oppositions is found all over Derrida’s works from signifier/signified, nature/culture, good/evil, all the way to “deconstruction” and “destruction” (from Heidegger). It is one of the reasons why Derrida always ends up inventing words of his own. By doing so, he is transgressing dualisms and producing something new (this theme plays a crucial part in postcolonial context; it is why I tend to be critical of neoliberals and alike who thinks deconstruction is about “deconstructing binaries” and pitting oppositions “against” each other because that is not exactly how it works).

Under the light of existentialism, religion, and ethics, Derrida uses himself as an example and points out how he chooses to be a philosopher and scholar instead of helping others in need. He goes on further and asks, “How would you ever justify the fact that you sacrifice all the cats in the world to the cat that you feed at home every day for years, whereas other cats die of hunger at every instant?”. In a similar way, how can one choose to save one person over another who may suffer equally as much? How can I choose to love my dog over other dogs who needs love? How can we love only one person and not any other person? For Derrida, our lives are always riddled by these undecidable events which forces us to choose.

It is at this moment where one encounters the undecidable event and the relationship between responsibility and irresponsibility. I would argue that the act of choosing not only destroys ethics, it also summons it in a new way. Derrida reminds us how, while the ethical that is defined by society may deem our choices as unethical (such as choosing to feed one cat and leaving all others to die in hunger), following the ethical formula can also lead to the unethical. For, is not the entire ethical structure produced by society—such as its laws—also causes the death of million others from within? Derrida does not seem to suggest that we should live in accordance to some ultimate formula that is defined by the masses of society (i.e. social norms, institutions, political ideologies, etc.; of what Nietzsche refer as “slave morality”). Instead, he suggests that human beings must interpret (deconstruct) the undecidable events that happens in their lives and discover the contradictions of their actions and choices. It is through such acts where new meanings are produced which could possibly transgress dichotomies and oppositions and teaches us how one should live.

Agency summons and destroys ethics, where the choice one makes could come to challenge dualisms such as good and evil. It is reminiscent to the famous thought experiment of the trolley question on whether one should choose to pull the train lever to save one person and kill five others. One can also discover this metaphor from philosophers today who often forgets how the word “philosophy” translates into “love of wisdom”. Perhaps the very beginning of philosophy—if there is a beginning and origin at all—begins through genuine acts of love. I think the idea that one should always choose and interpret our world and each other out of love (of wisdom) is something that must be revived today.

This reminds me of a series of difficult lectures from 1997 called, The Animal that Therefore I Am. In it, Derrida talks about the notion of “pure life” that is found in animals and alludes it to the themes of agency and sacrifice. He compares the enslavement and genocide of animals with Adolf Hitler who enslaves and murders Jewish people by throwing them into the gas chambers (remember that Derrida is Jewish and survived World War II). Derrida reveals how the world condemns Hitler’s monstrous actions, yet he points out that we are doing something similar to animals. He emphasizes that our society would even organize doctors and scientists to force breed animals only to enslave and slay them. Not only were these lectures incredibly influential and would go on to invent “Animal studies“, the encounter of such lectures likely turned a lot of people into vegans. Hence, just like the encounter of any undecidable events, the lecture invites its readers to make a choice which may come to challenge the ethical norms established by society (i.e. the cultural norms of eating meat). 

But Derrida’s interpretation of Kierkegaard is not only an attempt at addressing how choice relates to our responsibility and irresponsibility. One of the things that Derrida hopes to reveal is how the recognition of responsibility infinitely exceeds our capacities of being human. Such limited capacity, which represents our finite experience of the world, is always overwhelmed by unlimited responsibilities that ruptures out of our lived relationship with the world and our own death. In other words, the fact that we are mortal beings who lives for a limited time in the universe forces us to make decisions. One cannot make a choice without sacrificing something else. Death is a gift given to every human being which allows life to have meaning. It is because one will eventually die which makes our decisions meaningful—such as our choice of friends, significant other, career paths, etc.

The paradox and transgressions beyond finitude/infinitude and responsibility/irresponsibility is introduced at the heart of choice as one interprets the undecidable event. The beginning of the ethical discourse is at once suspended and summoned by the event of the undecidable where one must make a choice as they exist in their own finitude (I wrote about finitude here). Should one choose to eat or not eat meat? Should one choose one cat over another? To choose one lover or another? What constitutes the individual which could possibly change and challenge other values is this act of choosing as each person runs into these undecidable events. Hence, it is not surprising that one can learn a lot about someone from the things that they do in their lives, or from the way they speak, their behaviors, actions, and the choices they make. It is these decisions and their differential relationships with what one chooses and leave aside which defines who someone is. One can perhaps think of Derrida’s most famous concept of differance which suggests how meanings are established by what it is not and how meaning is always differed via the future becoming of time. Here, one can see how Derrida is reapplying this thought into the act of choosing which is determined by what is not chosen (a rather strange paradox).

No doubt, our choices in life would not only invite us to the topic of introspection and self-reflection, it also invites us into the themes of autobiography, confessions, and forgiveness (all of these themes were examined extensively by Derrida). Perhaps this may also explain why scholars debate whether Derrida’s philosophy is based on the thoughts of Levinas, Heidegger, Husserl, Nietzsche, Rousseau, or Freud. One can read Derrida through the discourse of these thinker’s works which would make him appear to be a Heideggarian, Freudian, Nietzschean, etc. The reader must always choose as they read Derrida. It is the subtle shift in meaning, context, and intentionality through time which produces this polymorphous effect—a phenomenon that also occurs in our lives when we interpret undecidable events (this is the famous past/future dialectic which I have explained in many places such as here). This theme of choosing is most prominently found in Plato’s Pharmacy, where Derrida discovers how the ancient Greek word “pharmakon” could translate as remedy and poison. The choice of the former or latter would significantly alter the meaning of the text. The translator must make a choice through the encounter of the undecidable event.

Martin Hagglund’s recent book called, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (2019) heavily borrows from Derrida’s interpretation of Kierkegaard (Hagglund is a famous Derridean scholar). For example, Hagglund points out how, if one had infinite time in their lives, they would not need to choose because they would manage to achieve everything they desire one after another. But because we are finite beings who exists within a limited time in the world, one must always make a choice. This choice, as Derrida and Kierkegaard might say, is where one suspends the ethical; but it may also reintroduce ethics and redefine values which produces the individual. Hagglund takes on an atheist position and favors the finitude of being over anything that seeks for eternal life. The human subject always exists in finitude due to the inevitable fact that one can only experience the world from their own perspective (and how they will die one day). We can never take the position of another person because we are caught within the vehicle of our consciousness and body (this idea which has a very long history is being contested by several other disciplines right now—something that I won’t speak about here).

In addition, Hagglund also argues that those who are religious admits to the finitude of life without recognizing it. There is heaven because we want life to be eternal. Yet, we know that life in the real world is not forever. Perhaps this is where Hagglund’s argument falls short against a psychoanalytic reading where religion exists as the symptom of neuroticism and the negation of the reality principle. People would like to think that life continues in heaven, even when life ends upon their death (perhaps this is why he emphasizes on the notion of secular faith). Hagglund’s thinking leans towards the infamous Nietzschean proclamation that “God is dead”. It is because God is dead where the finitude of life is recognized (i.e. there is no afterlife; no heaven). It is this finitude—this gift of death—where choices are made and produces the meanings in our lives—something which also summons the discourse of ethics, and philosophy. Someone is born and are thrown into this world. They live, choose, produce meanings, and dies. The gift of death is the gift of life. It is this mortal experience which produces the meaning of life. A meaning and truth that one should always cherish and respect, even if it may change in the contingent future. 

Many people often associate Derrida with nihilism and how there is no truth in our world. I would argue that this is not true. Once again, the argument came from how Derrida’s concept of differance which suggests that meaning is always differed. But what Derrida is actually implying is that there are never any meanings that are identical and stable within its own contextual construction within any given modes of time (temporal experience destabilizes meaning). Simply put, meanings always change—like how your perceptions of someone changes after you meet them; or how your younger self is not identical to your current and future becoming self. However, this does not mean that your past self did not exist. Neither does it mean that the past does not exist. If the past did not exist, history will cease to exist, and no knowledge, language, and meaning would be possible in the first place (once again, this has to do with the past/future dialectics). While Derrida rejects our ability to know the absolute truth, it does not mean that we must negate our values, ethics, and moral standards. It also does not mean that truth as recognized through our finitude does not exist (it is fair to say that truth changes over time—like how people once thought that the Earth was flat). 

Derrida’s project on deconstruction grants agency to the individual so they can choose as they play among the meaning of words / and as they encounter undecidable events in their life (Derrida equates this to the “Nietzschean yes“). And it is by making these decisions which could possibly transgress binary oppositions (I speak of it as possibility because one might not always interpret something out of love, for example). Through their existence in space and time (past/future), each individual makes choices, form new meanings, values, cultures, and allow for new possibilities to arise.

Between Life and Death: the Exigency of Self-Reflection

If life and death begins and ends with nothing, then meaning and truths would come into existence through the movement from one end to the other. But what is this movement, this condition which makes meaning that is found in the undecidable event possible? Meaning is important in our finite lives, but its movement which produces meaning is only possible because we exist in finitude through space and time. For is it not inevitable that one must travel and endure the becoming space of time and the becoming time of space? Are we not travelers from the past to the future who makes choices and interpret events that occurs somewhere between our present/past life and our future deaths? And that one chooses even if they choose not to choose? Living consists of the movement of time toward death. And it is between such time where meaning is produced through the choices that we make in our lives (this is also one of Derrida’s most famous argument in Speech and Phenomena and other essays: that our animating intentionalities from self-reflections via temporal consciousness is always divided by the movement of time in an infinite series of repetitions that are never identical to each other).

Thus, people who has come to know me would not be surprised that I am deeply introspective. I can do very little without having time to myself. But this silent gesture did not come from the teachings of Derrida. It came long before my encounter of his writings. By chance or fate, I encountered his works 8 years ago and have come to my own understanding of what he is saying according to my own singularity and interpretation. The meanings that I discover in his writing yields to a lot of contemplation and interpretation—something that has been wholly represented in this blog. In many ways, understanding how I read Derrida (and others) is actually a direct reflection of who I am as a person because it reflects all the choices that I made as I read him. 

Above all else, I choose, write, self-reflect and meditate out of the love for the world and life itself. Yet, none of this is possible without the recognition of my own finitude that is measured against my future destination (death) and the rupture of infinite responsibilities of the world. Here in this life, I make decisions and choices—just as any person would (only that most people do not think about it at an intellectual level). When it comes down to it, Derrida encourages us to self-reflect and deconstruct why we do the things that we do in our lives and why we make certain choices over others. He wants us to understand ourselves and our own human condition; to think hard about our relationship with the world and other people. It is through self-reflection where we not only produce the meanings of life, but recognize our finitude.

Furthermore, since no single choice, writing, or systems of thought can be produced without repression (into unconscious) or forfeiting something else—like choosing one cat over another, one might realize that we always make contradictory choices. And that most importantly, self-reflection may allow us to understand how meaning and perspectives changes over time. What one might refer as their identity, culture, or the meaning of life changes through the infinite rupture of future time and space (hence I find identity politics naïve—sometimes to the point of absurdity). This however, does not mean that there are no truths or identities. But rather, what appears to be stable in meaning (as something that is true) at the present moment could always be challenged by future contingencies. The immanence of events, intentions, and contexts always remains open due to the necessary conditions of existing in the world within space and time.

 

Foreword (From the Future)

An event occurred. I encountered Bullet, a Bernese Mountain and German Shepherd mix. We brought him home when he was 3 months old. My dad chose Bullet because he was the one who went to greet and hugged him by leaning his head on him. My sister gave him the name “Bullet” because he was a fast runner. During our time together, I would sometimes look into his eyes and wonder what he was thinking about. I would analyze his movements and behaviors and try to study him as if I had a huge crush on him (which I did, openly). Bullet witnessed my transformation from a young teenage boy to a 30 year old. He was very disciplined, focused, curious, and smart. He even taught himself how to open doors with his paws, where he would always open my room door in the middle of the night to sleep with me. 

Bullet started to trip down the stairs. This was when he began fighting degenerative myelopathy. At the time, Bullet was still very strong. He continued his daily routines and loved his food. About two years later, he couldn’t get up from laid down position without help. He would lay at the same spot everyday without moving.  Sometimes, he would get nose bleeds by sneezing several times in a row and smash his nose against the floor as his head jerked forward. While it was very difficult to watch, he never gave up and continued to try and go outside for his walks, but couldn’t even make it past the first block. Soon, Bullet could barely walk further than the driveway. He refuses to eat and move anywhere. His breathing got louder and louder. His legs began losing muscle mass. He was also becoming blind and had accidents in the house. He lost 20 pounds in his final two weeks. By then, I knew his time has come. I was the first person who suggested to euthanize him.

Bullet, the dog who travelled faster than light. One cannot say the name “Bullet” without travelling and thinking the infinite within their own finite experiences of the world. That the remembrance of Bullet will always take us beyond good and evil. And that the word “Bullet” is worthy of its name, that it is always first and foremost a name—as someone who pierces the flesh and the movement of the heart. Bullet: the dog who ran faster than the speed of light, exceeding the dualism of space and time! So fast that his life accelerates at lightning pace. Yes, he is a time traveler from the past of the future. He arrives before and after me. If love is the madness of the impossible, then he is the impossible. 

In many ways, the most difficult choice was to offer him the absolute gift: the gift of death. I sometimes wonder, did my choice take place beyond good and evil? Or was it unethical to euthanize him? Should I had gave him the agency to choose whether he wants to keep fighting to live or rest? If so, how will I know his answer? Did he answer me by not eating? Or did he stop eating because he was unhappy? I looked him in the eye, wishing he would respond to me. But I can only see him through my tears, and not a single word needs to be said.

How wisely Nature did decree,
With the same eyes to weep and see!
That having viewed the object vain, 
We might be ready to complain

Open them, mine eyes, your double sluice,
And practice so your noblest use;
For others too can see, or sleep,
But only human eyes can weep,

Thus let your streams o’erflow your springs,
Till eyes and tears be the same things:
And each the other’s difference bears;
These weeping eyes, those seeing tears.

—Tears that see . . . . Do you believe?
—I don’t know, one has to believe . . . .

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Bobby Answers 100 Questions About Himself

Today, I will answer random questions for fun. From my favorite film and music genre all the way to stories of my near death experiences and things that I think most people misunderstands about me. Some answers are short, others are long. Read whatever you like.

I think I accidently shared an unfinished version of this post before and removed it the following day.

1. Are you an introvert or extrovert?
Introvert.

2. What are your hobbies?
I read.
I write.
I think.
I am a music and movie enthusiast.
I am an audiophile who owns too many in-ear monitors.
I enjoy doing simple things like watching sunsets and stargazing.
I enjoy having deep conversations with people.
I enjoy photography.
I like philosophy.
I play video games.
I build custom mechanical keyboards.

3. How many languages do you speak?
Cantonese and English. I can speak both fluently.

4. Where are the places that you will most likely be at?
Home, coffee shop, work, bookstore, or anywhere with good food.

5. What nicknames do you have?
Booby, boobs, bobs, bibby and bibs. I don’t care what people call me.

6. Are you left or right handed?
Left.

7. What’s the most beautiful word in the world?
Your name.

8. What do people think of you?
It depends on how much / well you know me.

For most people, I am weird, hard to read, cerebral, intense, solitary, intelligent, calm, mysterious, and sometimes intellectually dominating. I would also imagine that some people think I am arrogant, which is not true. For those who really knows me: I am a gigantic jokester who drops really dark and stupid humor left and right (for example). I am hard on the outside and super soft in the inside. I also talk too much once people know me well.

9. How difficult is it for you to be honest, even when your words may be hurtful or unpopular?
It is not too difficult for me to say something that is unpopular or hurtful. This is why I make sarcastic jokes. Most of the time, my honesty depends on what is at stake. I always try to be nice, polite, and honest—especially when the situation calls for it.

From personal experience, most people hates my honesty because they think it is rude. While others appreciates the authenticity and finds it nice that I don’t beat around the bush.

10. What did your father teach you?
Do everything with love and passion.

11. What did your mother teach you?
Be realistic.

12. What’s one thing you’re certain of?
Just because you are right does not mean that it is the truth.

13. What are you really good at?
I am pretty good at everything that I put my mind to.

14. What is one thing that people take for granted?
Language.

15. What do you bring most to a friendship?
Loyalty, care, and authenticity.

16. Have you ever had a secret admirer?
Yes, probably. Just remember that I appreciate honesty.

17. Who is your secret crush?
*Insert ambiguous answer.*

18. What is the first thing you notice about a person?
Their mannerisms and behaviors. You would be surprised how much you can learn about someone from watching the way they behave and how they talk.

19. When was the last time you approached a stranger?
I tend to keep to myself. But I am open to random conversations—even if I seem unapproachable.

20. When was the last time you gave someone advice?
I don’t give advice. But I can tell you what I think is true.

21. What are the signs you show when you like someone?
Most people can’t read me well enough to pick up any signs. Luckily, if I like you, I will usually tell you in the most direct way possible and make sure that there are no miscommunication. In fact, if you ask anyone who I had dated / had romantic interest in, they will all tell you the same thing: “Bobby randomly said ‘I like you'” (and sometimes in the weirdest way possible). I must say that this actually worked quite a few times, but also failed miserably other times. Lol.

22. Have you dated two people at the same time?
No.

23. What is your ideal partner like?
Hmm.

24. Are you attractive?
I know I am not ugly. My mom tells me that I am very handsome.

25. What is love?
An absolute singularity.

26. When was the last time you received a compliment?

Few months ago (not a compliment from my mom).

27. Have you written a love letter?
Yes. I am quite good at it. Letter writing is a lost art that not many people appreciate anymore (emails and instant messages don’t count).

28. What songs have you completely memorized?
Darude – Sandstorm.


29. What do people misunderstand about you?
There are lots. The most common one is my communication style. As I said, I tend to be blunt and honest. I usually mean the things that I say word for word. The problem is that people are used to deciphering social cues (AKA jumping to conclusions) without realizing that there are not much to decipher because of how direct I can be. I also don’t make promises that I cannot keep.

I am aware that most people finds me hard to understand (to be fair, I also find myself hard to understand). It is hard for me to explain myself because my mind buzzes through a billion thoughts per second. I can be quite clueless and absent minded. I am also a very observant and curious person. This is why you might often find me scanning around public spaces and catch me staring at you when I am “idling”. It means I am trying to acquire new knowledge about my surroundings. To be sure, I am not judging you when you catch my gaze. Body language and micro expressions are very fascinating phenomena (i.e. things like mirroring, etc.). For example, I can tell when X is attracted to Y just by observing their interaction and learning their body language and behavioral habits (I am usually 80-90% accurate).

If you approach me, I will respond politely, and you might notice that I will be searching your brain for “intelligence” and “knowledge” by asking you questions about yourself, or about random topics. I will sometimes pretend I am stupid and ask you questions that I already know the answer to and see how you respond (I may also say something on purpose). Your responses will help me determine who you are and your level of intelligence and knowledge within certain topics. It also offers “clues” to other things like whether you have been gossiping about me, etc. I know when someone is being authentic, fake, insecure, or lying to me. I know more than what most people think I know about them. I can see through most people and the masks that they put on. Therefore, if you approach me as yourself, I will appreciate you for who you are and you might discover that I will open up myself to you and share my hobbies and interests. Keep in mind that I am really bad at small talk even if I am capable of doing it for a small amount of time because it is a necessary life skill.

Also, I will almost never cold approach or talk to you if I don’t know you. I apologize to the very curious, smart, beautiful, and perceptive women who figured out that I am interested in them, but wondered why I never approach or talk to them. I think the difficult part is to differentiate when I am looking at you for the sake of people watching interest or romantic interest (sometimes I zone out). This is where the exception comes into play where, if I am interested in you, I might try to cold approach you in one way or another—but it usually fails because I can get pretty shy and end up speechless. If you are brave, you can always ask and I will tell you the truth.

30. What are you grateful for?
Life is a long death.

31. What is one thing you wish your younger self knew?
I would tell myself that “everything will be okay”. Honestly, I think I was pretty stupid when I was in my early 20s. But I think this is true for most people. Life experiences changes you. I still do stupid things now, just not as stupid as the stuff that I used to do.

32. What are you like at a party?
I don’t party. The closest thing to a party that I go to every once awhile are cool art show receptions. I am generally better at hanging out with people one on one.

33. Describe a near-death experience.

I had many near death experiences. They were mostly of me getting hit by cars. When I was in elementary school, I almost got hit by a semi truck that literally stopped right in front of my face when I was crossing the road. A few years ago, I was knocked off my bike by a car with no serious injuries.

When I was 18, I had hemopneumothorax where blood and air were strapped outside my left lung. I was in the hospital with a giant tube stuck between my rib cage for a few days which extracted all the gunk in my lung. It was very painful at times because I could feel the tube wiggle between my rib bones. On several occasions, they had to inject morphine through my IV to ease the pain. I don’t get why people like morphine as a drug because I just pass out every time. The room I stayed in was right next to the fridge where I stole apple juice from at night. There were a lot of funny stories during my time at the hospital, like how the doctor told me not to masturbate or do anything physically intense for two months in the most awkward way possible LOL.

34. If you had a clone, what would you have the clone do?
What any ethical person would do: exploit him and turn him into my capitalist slave.

35. What is your favorite genre of music?
I listen to all genres of music. My favorites are classical, indie, alternative, dream pop, tech house, progressive, and micro / minimal house.

36. Can you name a book that changed who you are?
There are lots. But I will stick to my very first theory / philosophy book called All for Nothing by Rachel K. Ward. A relatively unknown author, she was a student of Jean Baudrillard at the European Graduate School.

37. What is the most expensive item you are wearing right now?
My underwear. I am almost naked right now. 😉
Just kidding, my glasses are the most expensive item on me. I am blind without them.

38. What is your Zodiac sign?
Gemini.

39. What is your MBTI type?
INTJ (this is a pretty accurate personality profile of me, but not 100%). I also test as an INFJ. I used to be really into MBTI theory. I can usually type someone from just talking or observing them.

40. If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with the second wish?
Strange question (I am dodging the question because I don’t have an answer).

41. What is your actual superpower?
I can predict the future pretty well because I tend to think in possibilities and filter it through internal logic. Hence, not very many things surprises me when it happens and I can often predict the things people will say to me.

42. If you won 100 million dollars, what would you buy first?
Retire on an island probably.

43. What have you only recently formed an opinion about?
Academia.

44. What’s perfect about your life?
The imperfections.

45. What’s one thing people would never know about you just by looking at you?
I am a highly sensitive person with a poker face.

46. Describe a moment where you were so embarrassed you wanted to disappear.

Too many to count. LOL

47. How many times a day do you think about money?
Once or twice.

48. Who has been the biggest influence on you in your relationship to money?
No idea…Karl Marx? Adam Smith?

49. What’s the best sound in the world?
Rain.

50. Are you usually early or late?
Early.

51. What do you find beautiful?
I find beautiful things beautiful.
Good answer is good.

52. What does your inner voice tell you?
No idea.

53. If you were put into solitary confinement for six months, what would you do to stay sane?
Nothing. I can stay sane in 6 months of solitary confinement.

54. What are you listening to right now?
Scherzo No.2. Op. 31. by Chopin played by Yundi Li.

55. What is your favorite film genre?
I watch a lot of movies. I am a fan of Sci-fi. Ex-Machina, Arrival, Inception, Interstellar and Blade Runner 2049 are among my favorite films of the decade. I also enjoy art films by Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock and Alain Resnais.

56. What is the best thing about science?
General relativity and quantum mechanics. I would totally be an astrophysicist if I was good at math.

57. What’s a bad habit you have?
Sleeping late and waking up early.

58. What do you want people you meet for the first time to think about you?
No clue. Don’t care.

59. When were you most afraid?
Spiders.

60. What are you terrible at but love to do anyway?
Love. I fall hard and love hard.

61. What weapon would you carry during the Zombie Apocalypse?
You (as bait, obviously).

62. Which of your five senses would you keep if you could only keep one?
Sight…or maybe sound because I listen to a lot of music.

63. What’s something you love to make?
Great thoughts and ideas.

64. What do you cook better than anyone?
Uhhh… boiling water? jk. I don’t think I am a very good cook.

65. Name a book that you would like to read?
I recently became interested in Ludwig Wittgenstein. I started reading excerpts of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

66. Whom are you envious of?
No one.

67. What activity do you do that makes you feel most like yourself?
Existing.

68. Where do you want to be right now?
The past of the future.

69. What’s one thing you’re super passionate about?
Truth.

70. What makes you feel powerful?
To not know where I am going.

71. What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said?
Too many to count. I can be very mean if you piss me off. But pissing me off is quite a difficult feat to achieve.

72. What’s the meanest thing someone has ever said to you?
No idea. I am not a gossip girl and I don’t really care. In fact, I almost never gossip and talk about other people.

73. What three words would you have on your grave stone?
“Bobby is dead”.

74. What’s your first thought when you wake up?
Ughhghhgshghghghghghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

75. What’s one thing you wake up to in the middle of the night worrying about?
The only time I wake up in the middle of the night are those “ah ha!” moments.

76. If you could tell someone something anonymously, what would it be?
All writings are anonymous. This is the secret.

77. Whom would you like to forgive and forget?
I don’t hold grudges.

78. If you could get rid of one of your responsibilities today, what would it be?
idk.

79. What type of person angers you the most?
Eh. I hardly get angry. I usually get annoyed. But I tend to avoid debating angry people because it is a waste of energy. It’s strange because I don’t usually shy away from conflicts and debates when the situation calls for it.

80. What does social justice mean to you?
Pretty important. But I am afraid that some of its ideologies might have become regressive.

81. What is your worst weakness?
Honesty. I can be a little too honest sometimes.

82. How do you show your love for others?
I will tell them. I will try to do subtle things that makes their life easier.

83. Why are you here in this room right now?
Because it is my room.

84. When is a time you forgave someone or were forgiven for something?
I forgive people all the time.

85. What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
Truth is a mistake.

86. What are you hiding?
All there is and all there isn’t.

87. What’s your unanswerable question—the question you seem to always be asking yourself?
The question is in itself the unanswerable question.

88. What are you ashamed of?
No idea.

89. What is stopping you?
Me.

90. Do you have recurring dreams?
Sometimes.

91. How do you secretly manipulate people to get your way?
By being honest and telling the truth.

92. When was the last time you apologized?
Recently.

93. What makes you nostalgic?
Time.

94. What’s the moment you left childhood behind?
No idea. I am quite childish. I have the humor of a 5 year old.

95. Would you rather trade intelligence for looks or looks for intelligence?
I prefer to have both.

96. Do you believe in a higher power?
Yes. No. Maybe.

97. What are you ready to let go of?
No clue.

98. Do the people you hang out with add value to your life?
Yes. But I am also very choosy on who I hang out with.

99. What’s an image you’ll never forget?
I remember a lot of images. I have photographic memory and I can remember and reorient a lot of objects visually in my mind. I remember when I did a really lengthy IQ test and scored surprisingly high on spatial IQ (something like top 5% percentile).

100. What gives your life meaning?
The fact that I will die one day is what gives meaning to my life.

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Contemplation

Quick thoughts on Anti-Racist Education: “Intention vs. Effect”

Today, I would like to talk about “intention versus effect” within anti-racist education. This was something that I randomly came across from this website a few months ago.

The argument goes something like this: when it comes to speaking to the other person, the intention does not matter, the effect/impact does. What matters is the effect of what is said towards the person who receives such words because it furthers the oppression of marginalized voices who are situated in relation with power structures.

For those who followed my blog long enough, you will know that intentionality is a big part of my research interests. Anyone who read my intro on Derrida’s deconstruction or Lacanian psychoanalysis will know that I talk about intentionality left and right. Perhaps some of you who are familiar with deconstruction and psychoanalysis can already guess how I will tackle this argument.

Frankly, the argument of intention vs effect/impact lacks any form of critical consideration of what intentionality really is (and if this can somehow be the “law”, then it is a poorly implemented one and deserves criticism). What this argument fails to understand is how the effect and impact of what is said also depends on intentionality. It ignores that intentionality is always a two sided phenomenon. Communication always consists of one pole to the other, i.e. reader –> listener/reader, and vice versa. Obviously, there are times where racism and violence is apparent. But what happens when someone is saying X and the other interprets Y? What happens when someone meant X but is randomly referred as a racist without attempting to understand the other?

In communication, there is always an epistemological/knowledge gap between the one who speaks and the one who listens or reads. To be sure, the knowledge gap that I speak of is not the same as the one expressed on the site here (I am thinking of the long old Kantian problem of the thing-in-itself). With this said, while I agree with some of their claims on the page, their use of the phrase, “deconstructing inaccurate perspectives” contradicts their argument for the irrelevance of intentionality on the other page. In fact, not only is such statement contradictory, it is also hypocritical to disregard intentionality on one hand, and call for the “deconstruction” of “inaccurate perspectives” on the other. This is because the act of “deconstructing inaccurate perspective” requires intentionality. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t listen to marginalized stories (I think they should be heard). Neither am I defending dominant ideologies and people’s apparent amnesia of the violence of colonialism in Canada. I am simply pointing out their logical inconsistencies and their Wikipedia knowledge of Derridean deconstruction (I’m sorry if I sound condescending, but I found it silly).

When I am trying to explain something, there is always a general “direction” (intention) that orients my spoken or written words (I spoke about this in many places in previous posts such as here). Without going into any detail explanations, intentionality can be defined as a form of “pointing”.  To be sure, intentionality is not some physical object that can be seen or touched. It is part of a larger phenomenon that attaches onto our conscious thoughts and words (known as the “noema”). The use of intentionality happens everyday in our lives. In fact, it is happening right now as you interpret my words. Whether or not what I am saying here has an “effect” or “impact” depends on such intentionality. What I point to may never be aligned to the person who is listening or reading my words.

Intentionality is studied as a form of metaphysics via a discipline known as phenomenology (even if phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl reframed from assigning phenomenology as a metaphysics). An example might be how one person finds a book offensive or “triggering” while another person won’t. Or perhaps one can think of something that might be offensive in one culture but isn’t to another, like dining etiquette. The mistake is to think that the reader does not have any intentionality attached to their interpretation of the other person’s words. The argument assumes that, what the reader interprets as racist happens as a “matter of fact”—even when it might not be.

Not spending time to understand the other person can lead to dangerous practices of ignoring other people’s ideas and what they are really trying to say (it also leads to things like political correctness). In fact, by ignoring what the other is trying to really say, one is perpetuating the same form of violence found in colonialism (i.e. the ethnocentrism of interpreting a foreign culture by privileging their own culture—or the privileging of one context and intention over another; I spoke about this in many places on this blog, such as here and here). Hence I always emphasized on how interpretation via intentionality is a form of violence and how we should always have respect for the other. The argument which emphasizes on “what is said” depends on intentionality.

The phenomena of interpretation and intentionality is further complicated by the ways it relates to the unconscious mind and repression. As I had introduced in my posts on Lacanian psychoanalysis (see my “Popular Posts” menu), language is the symptom of the unconscious (and so are stories written by people). In other words, intentionality—which characterizes the movement of our conscious thoughts—is always influenced by our unconscious mind. Hence, one can also say that, what “triggers” someone is always related to some form of psychoanalytical trauma that brings forth the eternal return of some memory which influences intentionality and the interpretation of words. Readers are always interpreting the world that is measured against their conscious and unconscious experiences.

Hopefully we can begin to see the problem of such argument. If anti-racist education did not consider the intentionality of the reader, then it is something that needs to be looked into because it makes some startling assumptions in regards to the nature of meaning and intentionality.

* * *

While I agree that “white privilege” is true, does this mean that someone in a privileged position can’t be reasonable and cannot reveal something about the truth? Or that the things they say should be ignored because they are not marginalized stories? No. In the same way, just because someone has less privilege doesn’t mean they are wrong—but it also doesn’t mean they are always right. The point is that we should always try to understand what the other person is saying—especially once we recognize that intentionality via communication is always at least two sided. Hence, I always emphasize on treating people with infinite respect. This is why I tend to disagree that ideas have anything to do with power relations, identity or race. Certainly, you can have an idea about race, identity, and power. But every human being is capable of generating ideas.

While I also agree that hierarchies are an inevitable reality in this world (hence privilege and the recognition of power), we should consider whether or not racism has anything to do with power before jumping to the conclusion of thinking that it does 100% of the time. Perhaps it is most fair to say that, depending on context, racism occasionally has something to do with power.

The site points out that racism consists of power relations. This takes us to the other link that talks about “racism = racial prejudice + power” which is an argument that a few sociologists made in regards to anti-racist education back in the 90s (if I remember correctly). Basically, the argument is that since white people have institutional power, they are the only people who can be racist and it is not possible white people can experience racism. This is why reverse racism doesn’t exist because white people cannot experience racism since they are the people in power.

This type of definition of racism is quite different to the common one that most of us know, which is that racism is racism no matter who it is directed at. You can be racist without any power relation. While I am no expert in sociology, I wouldn’t use “racism = racial prejudiced + power” as a universal definition for racism—even if such definition may yield great insights of our system. I think it is easy to use this formula as a way to fit into a particular political narrative. In the same way, it is also easy to throw in terms like “deconstructing binaries” and use deconstruction to reinforce particular political narrative while having little understanding of what deconstruction really “is”.

Nevertheless, I think this opens up an interesting conversation in regards to whether racism is psychological or sociological—a similar question that I tried to propose few posts ago on whether human behavior is constituted by nature or nurture. Since psychology focuses more on the psyche and a sociological approach focuses on the societal system, I would imagine that the difference between the two is how the psychological views of racism would ignore the societal context that sociologists studies; the latter where the perceptions of race, etc. are learned and reinforced by social structures (hence, “systemic racism”).

My take would lean towards the “psychological” only in the sense that interpretation and intentionality always require a first person approach to the world (i.e. phenomenology attempts to study the first person experiences of the world via experiences of phenomena and intentionality). This is to say that sociologists are psychological human beings who interprets the world and thus, are always carrying an intention to interpret society in certain ways. To be sure, I place “psychological” in quotation because intentionality is not really studied under psychology as a discipline because even most psychologists takes intentionality for granted (I speak of psychology not in the same sense as psychoanalysis).

Just as one inevitably sees the world through the representation of language as a structure—it is the question of how sociologists structuralizes society in order to produce any interpretations out of it. This is famously known as “structuralism”, which is often criticized by post-structuralists. Despite such fact, does this render such structural sociological findings pointless? No. To reduce racism to a psychological phenomenon would be as naïve as reducing it to the phenomenon of structures and systems.

The key word that I wish to emphasize on is “phenomena”, something that every individual experiences everyday in their lives. What if neither psychology and sociology can offer sufficient answers to the origin or cause of racism or any psychical and social phenomena? What if the origin of racism is unknown or buried somewhere within the way these scholars interprets the world through X intentionality? And that such intentionality is also influenced by their unconscious mind? Could there be a phenomenon of racism that both psychologists and sociologist had ignored or excluded as they try to categorize these phenomena into coherent institutionalized systems of knowledge? What grants a specific psychology and sociology is the conscious experience of phenomenon—their attempts at describing the way they analyze psychic and social structures; of categorizing such experiences into compartments, languages, and definitions which unfolds as discoveries. Once again, I am not rejecting the findings of psychologists and sociologists. I am attempting to open up the discourse of possibility.

The most intriguing part about phenomenology is that it studies intentionality and how it is influenced by space and time. But even phenomenology negates the unconscious mind. Intentionality is not just something that a sociologist or psychologist produces through their conscious interpretation of the world. Their intentionality is also influenced by their unconscious desires (they are human beings after all). Yet, the relationship between what is repressed, always relies on an outside (society; laws) which influences the inside (i.e. laws that prohibit desires, intentions, thoughts, etc.). In other words, the boundaries between the outside (society; laws) and how it affects the inside (psychological; unconscious which influences intentionality and how we interpret things) is not always clear. The outside influences the inside which influences how we interpret an outside that we perceive as something that affects the inside. Hence, you may notice how I often talk about the outside/inside when I introduce deconstruction, such as how nature becomes culture, etc. (here). This relationship between outside/inside is actually one of the most famous paradoxes that exists in philosophy (it can also be found in different forms, like finitude/infinitude).

Ultimately, there are several things that I am trying to get at. Intentionality is a big contributing factor on how we perceive meaning—whether it is interpreting the effect and impact of the other person’s words, or a psychologist and sociologist interpreting the impact of society, human behavior, nature, etc. Intentionality matters because it determines the effect of words and the meanings produced by the phenomena of the world and society itself. With this in mind, not only does the “effect over intentionality” argument ignore the importance of intention and contradict their own attempts at “deconstructing inaccurate perspectives”, it also ignores the effect of meaning produced by intentionality despite their privilege of such term. When I speak of the word “effect”, I am referring to the way words signify and how they produce meaning (i.e. the movement of structuralization).

This is why racism has different definitions and meanings under different contexts—or that words in general have different meanings depending on context. Not only does the definition change, the epistemological (knowledge) structure of context also changes over time. In many places on this blog, I spoke about how time influences how we interpret texts and events, where contexts changes over time (such as here). Someone who lives in 20th century might interpret a text very differently by someone from 21st century. The fact that intentionality is always at least two sided is the reason why there are many ways one can define the word “racism” (i.e. as a prejudice, ideology; whether psychologically or sociologically, etc).

Furthermore, intentionality is also influenced by the unconscious mind. It is naïve to assume the findings of X as absolute when the root cause lies in the way we interpret the world is always at least two sided. Hence to say that “intentionality does not matter” is to promote a naïve form of education that doesn’t teach people how to think critically.

What I find fascinating in our world today is that people seem to stop thinking once they get into sensitive issues. They suddenly throw all the things they learnt out the window and feel like they must conform to some ideology or to some moral authority without challenging any of its presuppositions. When we want change, we need to think really carefully and critically. If we want to solve a problem, we do not solve it by removing the bad leaf, we must look for its root cause—we must look for its origins (i.e. would defunding the police end police brutality and racism? Can you train someone to not be racist? Is racism sociological or psychological?). If one cannot locate the origin, the issue will just happen again in a different form, like a cancer that refuses to leave someone’s body—despite having surgically removed the tumor.

As much as I would like to solve the problem of racism and oppression, I think the idea of “effect over intentionality” is an inconsiderate argument that needs serious re-examination. To put it nicely, while such argument yields great insight in our imperfect system, it also reveals its own contradictions. Perhaps I could sympathize with the argument more if they are simply saying, “be nice and mindful of others” which I would agree. But this does not seem to be the case.

Okay, Bobby needs to take his beauty nap.
Stay safe everyone.

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Brief Dream Analysis

Sorry that I’ve been away from writing and blogging for the past month or so. I was finishing up my M.A. research project. I am happy to share with you that I have finished my degree and applied for graduation. I will probably not attend the ceremony. I will just get the degree mailed to me. Due to the fact that I will probably try and get my research project published in the near future, I can’t tell you much about it. The project still needs work and revision/re-framing of ideas. It will require time because I am taking some time off from writing. I’m also working again so I don’t have as much time devoted to writing.

Anyways, I had a really weird dream last night and decided that I would share it with you all. It might be a bit hard for me to explain it because I have a very visual memory. There are many characters in the dream that I know or used to know in real life—and it certainly is not surprising that all of them happen to be women. Only one of them was a man who I barely interacted with in the dream. Although I am not sure if these characters matters, I will be using their first names. I mention this now because the characters in most of our dreams are usually not the same person in real life, they all represent something or someone else via latent meaning.

As I pointed out in some of my popular posts on psychoanalysis (found here and here), the conscious subject is always divided and “split”. Consciousness that is recognized through symbolic language conceals unconscious desires (there is always something missing and repressed in language; in what is spoken and written). Something similar happens in dreams. When we dream, we are dreaming through the language of the Other (super-ego). This means that the dreams we have is a representation of our unconscious desires where everything is a symbolic representation of something missing or repressed.

By the way, I would be happy to have anyone who is into psychoanalysis / psychotherapists to analyze me. So feel free to email me if you have anything you want to say or question. I will provide a brief analysis of the dream at the end.



The dream took place through several locations which transformed over time. It happened this morning between 7:10 to 8:10am. I knew because I woke up briefly and checked the time before I fell asleep again.

It began with me walking up the central stair case in my junior high school which had three set of stairs (central, and two side stairs from both ends of the school). As I was walking up to the very top floor, a girl named Cassandra was walking behind me and kept chanting my name, but I ignored her (“Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby!”). Once I got up to the top floor I turned and walked to my right and went towards my locker which was located near my old grade 9 homeroom. Based on the position, the locker that I opened wasn’t mine (I think), but maybe I am wrong because I don’t remember exactly where my locker was back in the days. But I assumed that what was in the locker was mine.

Then I started packing up my stuff into a slim messenger bag and only taking useful things out of the locker which had really weird items in it like my admission photography portfolio from my undergraduate years (I studied photography where it requires a competitive portfolio for admission). I took things from the top part of the locker, and also took things from the bottom of the locker. The photography portfolio was located at the bottom of the locker underneath a pile of junk that I happen to dig up. The portfolio was presented as a stack of 4×6 pictures. The first photo on the top was revealed to me and it was a cliche portrait of a friend of mine named Louise—someone who I actually took photographs of back in the days (she lives in Toronto now, but I still talk to her every once awhile). I also packed up a bunch of other items and documents from the locker that I can’t remember (maybe some of them were already in my bag).

During this time, I asked the girl next to me, Christine, for the time and date, she laughed at me and told me the day and year. She found it ridiculous that I couldn’t remember. This was when I realized that I was from the future who was preparing to leave the school via packing up my old belongings from the locker. Then as the locker empties out and everyone left and went to class, a Chinese / Vietnamese teacher walked by and told me to pack up my stuff at another time because I am late for class (I think she was a teacher from high school, not junior high). She gave me a lecture about it as I continued to stuff things from my locker into my messenger bag into various compartments. But since I realized that I was from the future, I told her to “fuck off” and let me finish. She got mad and walked away to the washroom that was down the hallway. Then I suddenly heard a really loud car behind me and drifted down one of the side stairs (not sure who was driving). As I finished packing up the stuff in my locker, I turned my head and saw the teacher who started walking back from a distance with another male teacher. I don’t know who the male teacher was, but they appeared to be talking about me because the male teacher was looking at me with a side glance as he walked past.

So I got up and started walking down the hallway, my dream transitioned into my local university (where I just did my M.A. degree). I ended up at this popular intersection of the university where different hallways led to different buildings on campus. I decided to walk down this one hallway to visit another girl named Tina, who was someone that I knew in junior high, but no longer talk to; she always flirted with me back in the days.

As I walked towards this hallway, the scene transformed as I went inside this weird biology building to look for her. I recall that I had dreamed about this building before. I cannot remember what this building looks like from the outside. All I know was that this part of the dream always involved me walking up a set of stairs or elevator to the second floor. Only that this time around, I went to visit Tina. When I arrived, the entire class was standing there at a long table as if they were hosting some science fair with a bunch of presentation boards and things glued to them. Behind the long table was a graduation ceremony that was taking place. I couldn’t see the front stage but I saw the back of all the students who were wearing graduation gowns and hats.

In order to get to Tina, I had to make a weird detour around the ceremony to get to the other side of the room. I walked up to Tina. But once I got up to her, it wasn’t actually Tina, but another girl named Kristin who I know in real life that works at Starbucks. She was wearing a bright orange windbreaker jacket. I gave her a casual friendly hug and said “I just want you to know that I love you” and secretively whispered to her, “I am telling you this because I am the Bobby from the future”. She did a very classic and innocent / weird giggle that she does in real life and didn’t believe me. I walked away and exit the building. The scene transformed into me walking out of a double door. As I walked out the door, I hoped Kristin will realize that I was not kidding and that I was from the future once she talks to the “other” (past) Bobby who exists from this time. But it was also during this short moment where I realized that I was dreaming and decided that I should try and control it, but failed to.

I ended up back at the intersection at the university and started walking down another hallway that leads to a big cafeteria. In real life, this hallway has this ramp and it is a usually very high traffic area. In my dream, the hallway was also quite busy, except that the place was modified with three small set of stairs near the end of it. As I approached it, I decided to leap over all of them without walking down the stairs. When I landed on my feet, I realized that my socks were coming off and was under my foot sole / ankle area. This was when I realized that I wasn’t wearing any shoes. As I exit the hallway, I contemplated why I wasn’t wearing shoes this entire time and I woke up.



Due to time constraints, I wish to quickly make a brief analysis of this dream. One of the things that I noticed was the way which this locker from junior high functioned as my mind and reservoir of memories. It is a “locker” which suggests that everything in it was at first “locked up” and kept safe from everyone, including myself. The act of searching through this locker suggest that I was attempting to identify with certain things and items in the locker (i.e. my mind). The fact that I cannot remember or recognize some of the other items that I put in my bag suggests that there are things that I took from the locker that are repressed and cannot consciously recall right now. It is like Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “Purloined Letter” and the ways the characters fails to identify the purloined letter as they searched for it in the room. The idea that I recognize myself from the future who is situated in the past, extracting and searching X memories/items from the locker suggests that there may had been memories and other things that I wish to take with me that are repressed and cannot identify with as I took them and categorized them in my messenger bag. This is emphasized in the next phase of the dream.

The scene where I arrive at the university and the intersection of different hallways suggests how I have the agency to choose (at least it felt that way). Yet, I somehow, in an arbitrary way, decided to visit this girl named Tina who transforms into Kristin. I don’t think the subjects had anything to do with what is actually happening here once I relate it back to the locker scene where I happen to be searching for something that had been lost (the lost object). As mentioned, the weird biology building that I dreamed about had also appeared in my other dreams. The dream always began with me walking up the stairs or taking the elevator. Only that this time, I was actively searching for Tina in the building.

What I wish to draw our attention to is the act of “searching” in the building versus the search that I made in the locker. Could the biology building that I visited function in a similar way to the locker from junior high? Only this time, the form changes from a locker into a building; the latter where I attempt to search for a person who’s identity transforms? Why is it a biology building and not chemistry or some other building? One possible explanation is that biology had been a subject that I was pretty decent at in high school. I also had many memories of my biology classes with a few of my friends.

I think something I had unconsciously extracted from the locker is found in the biology building. Yet, it is concealed in my search in this building via Tina / Kristin. My search for Tina in the building appears to be a more detailed search when compared to the locker scene. Why is it that I search for Tina only to find that I am speaking to Kristin? After all, they are both real people. Why did I secretly emphasize to her that I am from the future? Perhaps I regret not confessing my love to someone from the past which is symbolically concealed by Tina and Kristin (I am thinking about transference; i.e. I am transferring past repressed feelings I had for someone onto Tina / Kristin in the dream). I believe that Tina and Kristin are not the person of who I am actually confessing my love to. This is emphasized by their symbolic metamorphosis. I am actually confessing to someone who is concealed behind them. Could it be my mother? Sister? Or someone from the past? Someone who I had regret not confessing to or cannot confess to?

There were fragments in the dreams that I could identify with as I relate to things that regularly happen during the day. For example, near the end of the dream where I realized that I wasn’t wearing shoes reminds me of when I work, I need to take my shoes off to go up stairs and walk on carpet. But every time I take my shoes off, my socks always come off half way. The leap over stair case reminds me of a bike video that I watched a few weeks ago where the rider jumped over a set of stair cases. I used to mountain bike a lot. Moreover, the locations of the dreams are both schools where I am actively searching for things. It reminds me of my search for knowledge and truth via my academic endeavor. It also reminds me of the years I spent auditing interesting courses at school (I wrote about this in my last post here). Could my active search for truth and knowledge in my university endeavor represent my unconscious desire for the search of a mysterious or repressed figure? The act of packing my stuff and leaving the school also sort of represents my departure from academia as well. The fact that I find my photography portfolio in my locker is like how I discovered the influence of my past photography background in philosophy from the future (again, I pointed this out in my last post).

Finally, certain parts of this dream also reminds me of some other dreams that I had, such as when the Chinese / Vietnamese teacher yelled at me and went to the washroom, I think I had dreams about such washroom before. Only that whenever I dream about such washroom, it happens to be nightmarish where the mirrors freaked me out and wakes me up. Coming to think about it, my memory of such washroom dream is quite vague.

Anyways, maybe I will revisit some of the contents of this dream in future dreams and provide further analysis.

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Reflections of a Decade: From Photography to Philosophy

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Untitled. 35mm. 2014.

Today, I would like to share a little bit about myself. In fact, this is probably one of the few posts where I write about myself simply because I turned 30 this year. It will cover many things that not many people know, such as how I went from learning photography all the way to philosophy and how I ended up studying literature. It will cover how philosophy destroyed my world views and mental health. You will also get a glimpse of my internal values in life and my outlook on what I believe to be an increasingly troublesome world. I will share some of my experiences as a graduate student and my views on universities that are pushing “safe space” as default space.

I would like to give a heads up that there are photographs of naked people in this post. All of the images uploaded on here are my own works and were taken when I was 20-25. Also, since I get more views from around the world than Canada, I would like to thank the strangers who stumbled on my blog and those who follows me (even if finding the follow button can be difficult, I will work on fixing this—until then, I usually post on weekends). I hope you won’t take the things I say too personally because they are not directed at anyone (I focus on ideas, not people). This blog is not a safe space and it will never be. Please leave if you are already feeling uncomfortable, but thanks for visiting anyway (no hard feelings). Since I deleted my Facebook, I have plans to open up the comments section once I figure out how to not get spammed by bots.

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I began my photography journey from wanting to be a graphic designer. Actually, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I chose graphic design because my sister studied it at the time. Eventually, my interests shifted and I decided to study photography because I was really into fashion photography at the time (early 20s). I was super knowledgeable in my areas of expertise, I knew a lot of the high fashion runway models, the photographers, make-up artists and stylists. I became somewhat of an intellectual guru of the fashion industry—I even had a fashion blog that I no longer maintain.

When I was an undergraduate student, I was a stuck up little brat who wanted to be the best at what I did with no discipline or patience for anything. I was, and still am the most ambitious person anybody knows—which is probably a bad thing. I pour my heart out in everything that I do and I always try to become the best at everything that I put my mind into. Eventually, I received the “graduating student award” and got to walk the ceremony stage twice. I was of course, very happy. But to be honest, I think a lot of my classmates produced better works. I also didn’t really care much about fancy awards, even if I understand that they reflect my achievements.

What many people did not know is that it was also during my undergraduate years where many things changed. Not only was I interested in fashion, I was also interested in why people do the things that they did. I was naturally curious about everything and how the world works. What is art? What is photography? How does society influence the way we create art or take a photograph? Why are there famous photographic artists who becomes fashion photographers? (i.e. Juergen Teller, Nan Goldin, Corrine Day, Guy Bourdin, etc.). What is the relationship between fashion photographs and sexuality? Where are the boundaries between art and commercial photography?

In addition to all these questions which I will get back to later, I also broke many rules in school, changing the way courses were taught by talking to the head of faculty with a few other classmates. Some teachers definitely did not like me due to the change that I was pushing. During my 4th year, I was at the point where I did not care about my grades. I disobeyed the requirements in some of my assignments which ruined my chances to graduate with distinction (no regrets). Years later, I was at a big photography show where I spoke to a teacher who is now part of shaping the new curriculum of the photo program. He told me that some of my rebelliousness changed the way the photography program is taught today. I was the first person to write a 20 page essay in a studio based photography class—a class that was supposed to hone my photographic skills (if I remember correctly, it was a horribly written essay).

I was very fiery in my early twenties. Not only did I break school rules, I also broke rules in photography and ignored all these “pro” photographer rules on composition, lighting, and their “how-to” because they simply weren’t in my current area of interest at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I respect them. I only followed these rules when they made sense to me. Though sometimes, I didn’t care because I was impatient. At the time, I was a huge critic of other photographers and their ways of doing things. Unfortunately this also included myself where I was a huge critic of the way I approached photography. I was basically deconstructing the idea of fashion photography and rebuilding it in a different way. All of these radical ways of rethinking how we should interpret photographs made me (in)famous in school at the time. It was strange, because I never liked being at the center of attention.

I was particularly close to one teacher from my ethics class who mentored my intellectual curiosities. I saw photography not only as a medium for expression, but as a form of writing (after all photography means “light writing”). She told me where I should look, what books and essays I should read to answer the questions I had. Eventually, she became a long term mentor and friend of mine who I still talk to till this day.

Eventually, I became somewhat of a guru not only in fashion photography, but in photographic theory. I became aware of the social, economical, philosophical impacts of the photograph and how capitalism and other social structures influences the photographer. In fact, I was taken far beyond the discourse of photography. I realized that photography was more than just an image—but more like a language, a piece of writing, or a simulation of reality that is found everywhere regardless of whether we have a camera or not (i.e. the television; our phones, etc.).

People always say that being a good photographer is about having a unique perspective. But we must not take the word “perspective” so literally (as in camera perspective, moving around, etc.). How we see the world influences how we photograph and see everything around us. How we see the world depends on how we think. By changing the way we think, we change the way we take pictures and see the world. This is why I relentlessly pursued photography not only as a photographer, but as a young intellectual who was pursuing truth. The biggest mistake people make is to think that expensive cameras takes good pictures because they don’t. And this is why people who don’t “get” art photography or any visual arts are simply those who has not yet understood these intricate problems that are not related to the image, but to how we see the world—of how we interpret the world / art. In many ways, art trains us to think critically when the viewer tries to figure out what it is trying to say. The image only becomes impactful when it captures an event; a rupture of space and time that challenges viewers radically and contingently. This is fascinating because I just recently read Jacques Ranciere’s book, Dissensus: Politics of Aesthetics which I connected very well with. For Ranciere, art should function as a form of “dissensus” as opposed to “consensus”.

Thanks to my ethics class in 3rd year, my habits of asking questions never stopped. I was like a detective trying to solve and undress the mysteries of photography even when I was unknowingly trying to solve worldly problems. What constitutes a “good” photograph in a world where we fetishize megapixels and clarity? What is a “bad” photograph? What is photography in relationship with history and political thought? What is good? What is bad? I managed to apply the thoughts that I had learnt from ethics and mutate it into other intellectual explorations that had applications far beyond photography.

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Untitled, 120mm.

“The world is naked, the king is naked, and things are clear. All of production and truth itself are directed towards disclosure, the unbearable “truth” of sex being but the most recent consequence. Luckily at bottom, there is nothing to it. And seduction still holds in the face of truth, a most sibylline response, which is that “perhaps we wish to uncover the truth because it is so difficult to imagine it naked.”” —Jean Baudrillard, Seduction (1979).

Soon, I became interested in Jean Baudrillard. My photographic works revolved around many intellectual theories surrounding fashion, sex, and film. Back then, I focused mostly in black and white film photography. I was really interested in situating people into narratives and provoke the question on the relationship between concealment, nudity, sexuality, private and public. Why do humans feel ashamed to be naked when we are animals? Are not all animals naked? What is the function of clothing, aside from warmth, like that of the animal’s fur? For humans, clothing becomes part of our naked bodies, which is how the basics of how Baudrillard’s “seduction” work: through the play of appearance and its relationship with language. But what about nudity? Is nakedness actually naked, or is there something more sublime which conceals it, like the fur that conceals the animal, and clothing that conceals the naked human body?

Through reading Baudrillard, I came to a conclusion that nudity functions like clothing which seduces us. This is because language is everywhere. Being naked is never about nakedness because there is always language—a barrier between the subject and the world. Reality is concealed by language. There is always a concealment, an extra layer which consists of a structure of signs that plays with the viewer and seduces them. In the same way, nakedness is also concealed and revealed by this language. For Baudrillard, seduction is the secret underlying structure of all art and politics.

Certainly, there were people who thought I was being some creep, even when I was far more focused in my intellectual encounters with Baudrillard than my photographs and its contents. I’ve heard it all and I don’t really care that much (from objectifying women all the way to displaying powerful women, etc.). Obviously, sex was a big theme in my work. In fact, this interest had powerfully transformed into my studies of psychoanalysis. As we know, psychoanalysis is all about sex. Freud is about sex. Lacan is about sex in language.

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Arielle in Ballet Shoes, 60×60″, 120mm, 2014. Printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag.

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After I graduated (and as I got older), I realized that my chances of becoming a fashion photographer was next to zero, not only because I wasn’t really taking any fashion photographs, but because I started to dislike how wasteful fashion industry is and how unethical their practices are in treating animals. I must also admit that I got a little bored of the work that I had been doing.

But I also realized what I had been doing along with my photographic work was research. Photography taught me how to think about everything that I see in the world. To see as one thinks and understand its underlying structures, causalities, and possibilities. After close reading many books by Baudrillard, I began my long independent studies on Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology which took me nearly two years to read (lets just say that I read the book very closely. I averaged 5 pages every 6-8 hours of reading). At the time, my interests of the book revolved around language and its relationship with the way we engage with reality. In many ways, I have inherited many ideas from Derrida on communication, time, and the fundamental problems of metaphysics.

The deeper I went into this intellectual journey, the more I became interested, and the more I learnt how the world works—especially when I encountered Karl Marx’s profound analysis of Capitalism (I read 1/4 of Capital). Eventually, I became indifferent to the way our world is moving towards (our ignorance, wastefulness, consumerism, exploitation of workers, endless desires, injustices, etc.). Yet at the same time, due to the level of difficulty of the books that I was reading, I also started to have a hard time trying to explain what I had learnt to other people and connecting with them.

Those who already had been reading my blog posts would know the level of complexity I sometimes get into. This eventually made it really hard for me to connect and communicate with others because I noticed how most people either didn’t care or didn’t understand a thing I said. Most of them are not to blame though, because I was a bit confused myself and I was really bad at explaining things—something that I have gotten better at over time. Regardless, I became really bitter about people—to the point where I did not like people and the society that I was living in. I was stuck in a system that can’t really be fixed unless it completely falls apart. My mid 20s were my darkest and helpless days.

One morning when I went out for breakfast with my father, he asked me about the plans that I had for the future. I broke down and cried right in the middle of the restaurant. I told him that I really wanted to fix all the problems I saw in society, but I can’t because all I see are injustices that no one can escape from; and that I am also contributing to this problem—unwillingly. No matter how hard people tried to protect and preserve something that they believed in, whether they are animals, nature, or people in general, the problem will persist and probably get worse. This is not only the question of systems and structures, it is also the problem of human nature and our desires. Thus, the only way to fix this is from its origins—something that I saw was not possible. Philosophy had taught me that the truth really does hurt. I wondered if it was better to not know how messed up our world is and just remain naive and happy like everyone else around me.

This is one of the reasons why this blog exists. Much of my underlying intention is to show people the limits of knowledge and how we take language and communication for granted. Many people don’t understand that the posts and ideas that I share are directly related to my life and values. While French philosophy is not very accessible due to how incredibly difficult they are to read, learning it had not only taught me about the recognition of my own finitude, it also taught me how I can become a better human being (it also significantly improved my analytic, critical thinking and reading comprehension skills). It had always been a pleasure for me to share my knowledge in an accessible way because it is my duty to do so. You don’t need to thank me because one shouldn’t need to pay for truth or knowledge.

Ever since the day I confessed, I felt a lot better about myself. I understand that there are many things that are out of my control, and whatever happens will happen. The future is always to come. I also learnt that many people around me are aware of these issues. I am not as misunderstood as I thought. And to those who are not aware of these issues, I try to be more understanding and not certify them as stupid right away. I will usually give them 2.5 chances. After that, they are a potato to me (lol jk—or am I?).

During this time, I began to unofficially audit courses at my local university. I went online and looked for classes that I was interested in and emailed the professors to ask if I could quietly listen to their lectures when I had the time. At first, I thought I would get turned down a lot because you normally have to pay to do such thing. Surprisingly, most professors did not mind me attending their classes (though some of them did find my presence to be intimidating which was never my intention because it is my natural state of being). In fact, I became friends with several professors. A few offered to buy me coffee where we got to know each other at a personal level. I attended courses from astronomy all the way to biology lectures, philosophy, film studies and many others.

I was the ghost of the institution. I was someone who haunted every class, as I was never an official student. I audited many high level undergraduate philosophy classes and read a lot of great books. It was during this time where I read most of Friedrich Nietzsche’s works and studied Eastern philosophy. I sat in two semester length English course on literary theory. I was surprised that they taught this course because it was quite difficult (I’m pretty sure that class traumatized a lot of students lol). The course covered a lot of really difficult thinkers like Marx, Hegel, Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, de Beauvoir, Sartre, Butler, Deleuze, Spivak, Said, and many more.

Eventually, I decided to apply for my masters in English. The professor who I audited the literary theory course with offered to write me a reference letter while barely knowing who I was (though my sample essay on Jacques Derrida and Edmund Husserl gave him a lot of confidence in my intellectual abilities). However, due to my background in photography which was not academic at all, my masters application got rejected several times. I was also not a very good writer (to be honest, I’m still not a very good writer Lol). I competed with a lot of English students who had ten times more experience than me. In order to improve my application, I applied as an Open Studies student to show that I can do well in a high level undergraduate course. There was a point where I wanted to give up. But I felt like it wasn’t the right time because I always wanted to prove to myself that I am smart enough for grad school. With the support of my advisor, I decided to apply one last time. I told myself that if I got rejected again, I will do something else with my life. —I got accepted.

I am now near the end of my MA degree. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to read great literature, learn new ideas and acquire new knowledge. I am grateful to have met many incredible people with a very supportive advisor. I had many great courses and professors who are incredibly knowledgeable. Coming to think about it, I had always been an outsider of literature. At heart, I am a thinker of origins and a scholar of French philosophy. But I decided that I will not return to academia (at least not anytime soon). It was during this time where I saw the real problems of political correctness and “safe spaces” which is related to what sociologists refer as “victimhood culture” (here is an article that I suggest you read; Slavoj Zizek also spoke about this here). I still recall when the term “social justice warrior” (SJW) used to stand for something positive. One might think of people like Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi. Today, this term has became derogatory because many SJWs has become what they hate (i.e. valuing free speech, yet condemning it). Obviously, I am not saying that we should all walk around harassing and offending people. I fully support those who fights for freedom, justice, racism, and equality. But one must be careful that, as Nietzsche might say, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”. It is easy to fight monsters using the same tactics and logic as the monster, which turns you into the thing that you seek to destroy. The difficult part is to fight the monster by rising above it. 

On the other hand, the idea of “safe space” is the antithesis of a university. If I were to define university space, it would be an intellectual space (even if I would refrain from defining any “spaces” because that would summon the question of time since space is in time). The prohibition of specific discussions and rejection of information runs against intellectual inquiry. I recall an article that spoke about why law professors stopped teaching sexual assault laws because it is not worth the trouble of having students complain about getting triggered (here). I understand that safe spaces are useful under specific contexts (i.e. in psychologist or counselling offices) and that we all have our safe spaces without it being labeled as such. But when universities tries to transform and govern their entire space, including those outside of the institution, such as what a student or professor might say on social media (Facebook, etc.), then we have a serious problem. Can you imagine a university that is so safe that nothing new gets produced? Are universities going to start inventing speech laws and tell people what to say and how to think? What is the difference between this and authoritarianism? When students and professors are too busy policing what they say and write because they don’t want to offend others or risk their jobs, they are defeating the purpose of a university and the idea of intellectual inquiry and free speech.

If you may allow me to speak freely in a direct and insensitive way: either buy a helmet or grow thicker skin because the world is not safe. In fact, nothing in life is safe. Risk is a fundamental condition of life. Is nature safe? Is driving safe? Is it safe to open up to the other person? To fall in love or to forgive? I think our world is a little too safe where people are unwilling to take risks. Do you think any scientists would had succeeded without taking risks? Or that great ideas were conceived by staying safe and policing their thoughts, without any wild and controversial speculation? That you can be a lawyer for sexual assault cases who is afraid of its laws? Or become a doctor who is afraid of blood? My answer to the way many universities are trying to turn into safe spaces is a solid no. But do I think that there are appropriate places for safe space to help those who really needs it (i.e. extreme cases such as victims of sexual assault, abuse, etc.)? Absolutely. But if the idea of safe space is to establish an echo chamber and protect someone’s opinion bubble or from getting offended by differing views because it makes them uncomfortable, then these people might not be ready for university—let alone the “real world” where nobody gives a damn what anyone thinks or feel. Unfortunately, as much as I understand that life is really unfair, brutal, and violent, it is what it is at its current state and it probably won’t change anytime soon. It is not as simple as changing the laws (even if it may produce change) when the root cause of the problem may very well exist within human nature. Why do you think history repeats itself?

While the recognition of the problems in our world changed who I am, I hesitate to call myself a victim of the system because I am not a victim. I am responsible for my own existence in this world. I don’t get to choose when I am born or the things that already happened to me. Sitting there pitying myself, asking for sympathy and complaining won’t help. I think it is not only important to help others and make the world a better place (despite that our efforts might be futile—and if anything, make things worse), it is even more important to learn how to think and become a stronger human being. Working on ourselves as an individual is equally important to making our collective society a better place.

This is basically one decade of my life. I learnt how our world works and the human condition. I also learnt humility and how to be an optimist. I think it is true that behind all optimists lies a pessimist because I am one of them. I am a man of paradoxes and contradictions. I am the most idealistic, yet most cynical. My decision to not return to academia might be sad because it had always been a dream of mine. But if universities (especially humanities in academia) are going to turn into a circlejerk, then I will not take part of it. I can always do something else with my life.

I enjoyed writing this because it is very different from what I normally post. I basically spent a decade to figure out my values through introspection, research, tears, and many other things. In fact, I don’t think this figuring out will ever end. I wonder if I will write another post like this when I turn 40. I can only imagine that it will be very different.

The present moment is the future of my past. To tell you the truth, I wrote most of this post last year. I had in fact, anticipated its own becoming as I think back to it from this present moment. Sometimes, I wonder what it means to write about myself in the present—to constitute myself in the present by acknowledging my younger self who haunts and contaminates my being. Certainly, nothing is more violent than this eternal return of the past. I believe that many things in life will reanimate my past and bring some of these memories back into the present. Does this mean that I should avoid them at all costs so I can remain safe? No, just as the future might change who I will become, the past constitutes who I am today. The future is contingent and full of risks. As Jean-Paul Sartre would say, freedom is what you do with whats been done to you. You don’t live by naively ignoring or forgetting your past, you live by embracing all aspects of it—good and bad. I still recall when Nietzsche once famously asked: if life and memories are to constantly repeat itself, would you re-live your life in the exact same way? With all the mistakes, violence, joy, sorrow, and pain? To be able to say yes to eternal return—to affirm what happened to me and who I was in the past—of who I am today and who I might become tomorrow is the most powerful form of human will. This is the affirmation of life and the love of one’s fate (amor fati). Say yes to life. 

When it comes down to it, I am a student of time. This is something that cannot be learnt, but always already come naturally to all of us as an immutable condition of existence. I am always moving through time, aging every moment of my life. I am always constituted by my past which marks the beginning of my life. But I am also produced by the future becoming of myself which leads to my inevitable death. Past, future, life, death—the unity of these conditions moves together in repetition as I exist. Or as Derrida would say, “Living like dying is not something one can learn. All one can really do is see it coming. Together.”

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Contemplation

The Perfect Crime: Community, Radical Thought, and Creativity

I would like to reiterate on the relationship between radical thought and impossibility. What makes something radical is the idea that it is “impossible”. When I speak of this impossibility, I am always relating it to the theme of infinitude—something from a future that exceeds all our expectations, laws, and conditions. A radical thought is controversial—it is a scandal, an event, or philosophy that radically changes how we see the world. Radical thought can appear at any moment. It can rupture from the events of George Floyd; it can occur from the encounter of someone you love, or when you are forgiven by someone you care about. The radical appears through the act of thinking and interpreting about something or someone. It is the recognition of an impossibility from interpreting the impossible which marks the finitude of being human (wrote about it here; important to read for this post).

While I spoke about the impossibility of unconditional forgiveness in my last post, I think these impossibilities happens at individual levels more than we think. It happens without recognition because we don’t think about them. Last time, I asked: Can the family member of the victim forgive the criminal who murdered their son? I recall a few years ago that this actually happened in the court as the family embraced the person who was convicted of crime (I remembered seeing it on the news). It was a courageous moment where law and power were dissolved by something much more sublime. —Beauty only happens once.

Today, I want us to think about this relationship between radical thought with our finitude and community. For those who are unfamiliar with my thinking style, I tend to move back and forth between expansive and intensive examinations of ideas. Hence, the first part of this post will seek to understand the community under a big picture where the second part will seek to understand this large scale thinking at an individual level.

I would like to begin by talking about the famous dialogue that went on between Maurice Blanchot, Giorgio Agamben, and Jean-Luc Nancy where they questioned whether a real community is possible when individuals are caught in the dilemma between “avowal”, which threatens “community” (i.e. to speak what they think is true), and the notion of “unavowal”. When they speak of “community”, they are not just talking about community in a practical sense, they are talking about the “communal” as in the possibility of “communism” (which I think brings up a lot of interesting thoughts in relationship with some of the ideas I brought up last time). This dialogue is famously found in books called, The Unavowable Community (1983), The Coming Community (1983), The Inoperative Community (1986), and The Disavowed Community (2014) [warning: they are very difficult to read].

Their dialogue began with Blanchot’s use of Georges Bataille’s notion of “negative community” which he defines as a “community without community” (and perhaps, if community should be thought under “communism”, one can think of Alain Badiou, who argued for the resurrection of the idea of communism; i.e. “communism without communism”). For Blanchot, the absence of community is not a failure of community because absence belongs to community. Taking part of a community is not as simple as people participating in communities in the pragmatic sense, but to recognize those who are absent from a community are also part of the community (otherwise, a community might be similar to tribalism—for example). What threatens community and force people to depart from it is the difference of thought. Yet, what grants a true community is also the recognition of differences in thought which may create a “community without community”. In relationship with this absence and the risk of losing friendship, Blanchot writes:

“It is in life itself that the absence of someone else has to be met. It is with that absence—its uncanny presence always under the prior threat of a disappearance—that friendship is brought into play and lost at each moment, a relation without relation or without relation other than the incommensurate. Such would be the friendship that discovers the unknown we ourselves are, and the meeting of our own solitude which, precisely, we cannot be alone to experience.” (25) (my emphasis)

Let us emphasize on the word “solitude” because of how it relates to the finitude of our existence that we experience everyday in our lives. Solitude signifies this recognition of impossibility with other people in the community (whether this is someone you talk to in the community or a complete stranger you walk past on the street). Blanchot later talks about how the experience of death is the true community. Death is the “impossible” commonality that we all have. Without a doubt, Blanchot is borrowing heavily from Martin Heidegger.

Perhaps one can think of the commonality of death in relationship with Heidegger’s notion of Dasein (being-there). For Heidegger, Dasein is the primary mode of existence which seeks to make sense of the world via our relationship with space and time (think, existentialism with phenomenology). The encounter of the world grants Dasein infinite possibilities of actions and interpretations. Hence, Dasein is always a being-in-the-world, or being-with (mitsein) [i.e. being-with community / other people]. The only thing that can stop the movement of Dasein and its throwness into the world is death (being-toward-death). Death is the destiny of all living beings. The future is always marked by death which serves as the commonality between all of us. It is the recognition of death where Dasein sees its own finitudeThis is why, for example, Derrida always speaks about the “future to come” in relationship with death. It is also why he was interested in the psychoanalytic concept of the death drive which has a similar function with the movement of time. Heideggerian themes like “destruktion” which Derrida translates as “deconstruction” also carries this theme of death. Nevertheless, it is our relationship with Dasein, of existing in the world, which allows us to recognize our own finitude.

One of the questions that this invites us to think about is whether or not a society can have a community of finite individuals without sacrificing their individuality and singular views of truth. Can there be a community without community? Once again, when I speak of community, I am not thinking about joining some book club or local community, I am thinking about community in the biggest picture which includes the stranger that you see on the street, or even your “enemy”. Such community includes people who are not part of the community. Our commonality of solitude (finitude) and death allows us to recognize that there is a community without community.

What I wish to draw our attention to is once again our finite relationship with the community—of other people around us in general. Can one speak what they believe is true while still belong to the community in face of the Other? In other words, can one express individualism in a community? Can we maintain individualism and speak the truth while being part of a community? I think this comes down to what “community” means (and that this meaning is the sharing of Being—as Nancy would say). Does a community involve specific individuals who signifies sameness (i.e. same ideologies and beliefs)? Is sameness always the same once we consider our own finitude of being human and the phenomena of communication? (a rhetorical question; I spoke about the problem of communication in many places; the most recent one was here). Or does a community always involve difference? I tend to favor the latter over the former. But if a community is constituted by difference, then will people disagree with each other and leave the community? If no one belongs to the community due to differences, could it still be considered as a community? Or are we establishing a community without community?

On second account (and to go off on a thought tangent), I would like to quickly reiterate what I said in my last post in regards to “political correctness” (PC) that I subtly contextualized as a form a censorship that occurs within “communities” (whatever this word can mean). While my stance holds firm that PC does more harm than good, I can see why it can be useful when dealing with sensitive issues (i.e. someone who experienced trauma). Yet at the same time, I think the fundamental idea of PC will take us no where. History has shown us that political correctness will often lead to totalitarianism through censoring other people’s words and ideas. Once there are words that you cannot say, there will soon be books that you cannot read which will eventually get banned from libraries. Then the next thing you know, books will get thrown into the fire. Starting with political correctness will lead us back to political correctness. All of this reminds me of the works of Jewish mathematician and philosopher Edmund Husserl where his followers prevented the Nazis from burning his books (Husserl invented phenomenology). I think it would be very hard to imagine 20th century European philosophy without Husserl, since nearly every continental philosopher of the time were influenced by him.

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Let us once again recall the theme of 20th century thought on the finitude of being human. It is the idea that we are always caught in our own finitude in relationship with the objective world. That we can never know anything in itself because we are never these objects or people that we seek to interpret (we must be cautious to not conceive of this as solipsism and ignore “objective truth”—objective truth still exists as a paradox within this “relation without relation”). In my last post, I had bluntly pointed out the logic of exclusion (ethnocentrism / logocentrism) and how radical inclusions of specific texts are—pragmatically speaking—a form of exclusion. What I wish to do is to not expand, but look closer at this act of exclusion / inclusion. The act of interpreting the Other (the foreign or marginalized) is the site of originary violence.

The “problem” is much more delicate than it appears. While I think it is very important for us to learn new ideas written by other cultures and individuals, the problem lies in our very own interpretation of such ideas. It is the question of whether or not we can completely understand the Other and whether we can do it in an ethical manner. Let us think of a human being who is interpreting another human being. It doesn’t matter if I am yellow and the person that I am interpreting is of another skin color—the problem remains the same. But let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that I am interpreting someone who is radically and racially different than me—someone who was raised from a radically different space and time than me. How should I interpret their language when I am always caught in my own finitude as I confront their language? I will provide a personal example momentarily. Now, suppose that I am reading a text written by someone who is from the same culture as me. What guarantees that my interpretation of their language is identical to what they are trying to say? Nothing. In fact, this is the main problem of interpretation and translation. For example, Chinese scholars have trouble translating legendary texts like Tao Te Ching from ancient Chinese into contemporary Chinese because the two languages are really different from each other (it is even harder when you translate it again into English); the same problem happens for Indian texts like the Upanishads. There is always a difference involved when one interprets and translates a work or the words of the Other (due to the problem of idioms and other things which are all cultural specific—a culture that changes over time; will get to this). Hence, an interpretation always consists of a truth that is always more than one. It is here where we recognize the mark of finitude and what I referred as the infinite interpretations to any language.

Last time, I mentioned how Fred Moten was the perfect example of a radical thinker. My first encounter of Fred Moten’s book, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition was similar to my first encounter of Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology. The only difference was that I have a lot more experience in reading these type of impenetrable texts. I realized that what I was really encountering in Moten’s work was a foreign language that was not my own (just as when I first read Derrida). I was encountering the impossible. How can I ethically interpret the Other (Moten) without imposing my own history onto his works? I was like the anthropologist who is trying to avoid ethnocentrism when they interpret another foreign culture or language (i.e. trying to avoid interpreting a foreign culture through our own cultural views). How can I inherit Moten’s thoughts as I did for Derrida?

In many ways, I think Moten is more radical than Derrida and all the other European thinkers that he talks about; even if I think that Moten’s ideas still falls into certain areas of Derridean thought, such as the notion of free play. But by claiming that Moten is associated with Derrida, am I not reading Moten through Derrida (i.e. through my own history and my inheritance of Derridean thought) and not through the Black tradition, say, jazz music and improvisation? Am I not committing an act of violence by categorizing him through my own history? And if Derrida is considered as an “European”, even if he was born in Algeria, would I be performing Eurocentrism? But if Derrida is Algerian, would Derrida’s interpretation of Saussure, Husserl, Heidegger, Marx, Rousseau, Warburton, etc. be “Algeriancentrism”? What would my own reading of Moten be called once you consider my history of being Chinese who goes on to inherit Derridean thought?

To interpret Moten’s difficult writing style is to recognize the impossibility of fully understanding his thoughts because I come from a radically different background. I will never have the same language as Moten even if I fully situate myself into his culture (and by doing so, the outside becomes the inside; will get to this). To interpret is to recognize my own finitude that is measured against Moten’s writing in infinitude—it is to recognize Moten as the Other. But does this mean that I should stop interpreting Moten’s black rhetoric? Absolutely not. It is as I had said, my duty to understand the Other, even if this effort is marked by the impossible.

Does inheriting and interpreting marginalized works allow us to challenge hegemonic Western systems? Absolutely. But by expanding marginalized cultural inheritance, one is still caught in their own inheritance of such cultures. Even those who ends up inheriting the meanings of such cultures from the future are never identical from the ones of the past. This is why culture is never static, but is always subject to change over time (whatever reasons and causes this might entail, i.e. cultural diffusion) [think about the problem of translating Tao Te Ching or Upanishads].

To borrow from Jean Baudrillard, this phenomenon of inheritance and interpretation is the perfect crime. To claim that the interpretation of the Other is the perfect crime is to say that we always unknowingly perform such crime and violence when we interpret the Other. We even do this when we are not giving justice, but are simply interpreting the words of another person in the cafe or on Facebook messenger. But one could also say that, in the opposite view, a marginalized individual interprets the West and European thought through their history. Is this not what Moten does which leads to the radical impossibility of his work for me? This act of interpretation of the Other, of giving justice to the Other, or of being inspired by the Other—but also as the violence conducted towards the Other, is where creativity begins.

To call interpretation as a crime is to acknowledge a form of originary violence that exists from the very beginning of pre-society (arche-violence). To call it a perfect crime is to not only acknowledge our nonrecognition of such crime, but the fact that it is an unsolvable crime because it is the perfect crime. Derrida highlights this in his reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who saw the radical transformation of nature into culture through the violence of interpretation. What we considered as unnatural becomes naturalized. The outside becomes the inside. Nature becomes culture. Speech becomes writing. Education becomes the supplement for Nature’s deficiencies (I spoke about all of this here).  Interpretation is the violence which becomes a daily task. It becomes normalized in our lives without our recognition. It lurks and haunts us in the background of all intellectual, cultural, and creative endeavors.  

The encounter of a foreign text is like the encounter of a culture or meeting a foreigner  that one will never completely know. For here lies the enigma of the impossible radical thought; of what psychoanalysts might refer as the impasse or deadlock. The Other triumphs over us. They elude us and escapes our own understanding of them. The ethics that is called to arms is to translate the Other, interpret the Other, without murdering, but always murdering, a destruktion and deconstruction, while opening for the Other (i.e. allowing the Other to respond from the future to come—which calls upon the question of faith because the Other may never respond; our relationship with the Other may remind us of our commonality via our finitude and death).

I would like to end our discussion today by thinking about interpretation as a form of violence and radical thought. It is easy to dismiss the impossibility of understanding Derrida’s writing as non-sense even when he is trying to get us to think about this radical supplementary structure of thought that we impose onto the Other (I have plans to do some page by page close reading of Of Grammatology in the future) [similarly, it is also easy to dismiss Moten’s Black rhetoric as non-sense, even when it isn’t]. Often times, I am tempted to explain Derrida to people who don’t “understand” him, correct them, mold them, but that would defeat the teachings of his thoughts. They do not recognize that they are—in a way—practicing deconstruction by interpreting (agreeing / disagreeing) with him. Just like everyone else, they are interpreting, dividing and supplementing; reproducing violence in the subtlest of all ways by creating new meanings and ideas. And that, most importantly, such proclamation is the violence that I impose onto the Other.

The violence of interpretation is where thinking begins. I still recall when one of my teachers taught me that many great philosophers of the past had thought about the relationship between finitude and infinitude (i.e. Buddhism and the concept of impermanence). If interpretation and translation is the beginning of all philosophies, inheritance, and cultural inventions, then the encounter of the Other is the raison d’être for philosophy and all forms of creative inquiries. And without ever wanting to glorify it further, interpretation is—in all senses of the word—the perfect crime.

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Commentaries, Contemplation

Future Space, Future Time, and the Finitude of Being Human

Today, I would like to talk about one of the immutable conditions of human existence: space and time. The fact that human beings along with every object in this universe are always situated within spacetime is not only true in physics, it is also true in philosophy. You are always situated somewhere in the world in time because you live in a certain space in a certain time.

However, space and time should not be conceived as a synthetic concept that is taught. If I tell you to imagine a ball, this ball might be floating in your head, or is sitting on a table. The ball in your mind is always already situated in a certain spacetime without any effort. This is what Immanuel Kant famously refer as “pure intuition”. To say that space and time are pure intuition is to argue that it is not something that is taught to us like other synthetic concepts such as language. Pure intuition is something that comes naturally to humans and animals who are always, in certain ways, aware of their spatial-temporal world around them.

In the history of philosophy, Kant’s notion of pure intuition was profoundly influential. But what Kant was also known for was the relationship between the subject’s experience of spacetime and the empirical appearances of objects around them. Near the end of his famous book called the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant points out how humans can never know any object “in itself”. He asserts that we can only experience the phenomena of the world, but never the noumenal object.

Kant’s idea stems from a very simple fact that the world can only be experienced from our own conscious perspective as spatial-temporal objects appears before our perceptions. As humans, we can only categorize our perceptions of these spatial-temporal objects through our own minds. This is simply because we are never other objects around us. I am never the cup on the table, or I am never your consciousness when I talk to you. For example, when I have a conversation with another human being, I can only communicate with them through language without ever taking the position of the other human being (to communicate is to indicate, to signify or produce words). I can certainly imagine what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes, but this is only possible because I am imagining this perspective through my own consciousness (empathy). It is by categorizing our perceptions of these things-in-themselves from the world where knowledge gets recognized (i.e. the appearance of the cup of water as H2O, etc.). We can even study our own consciousness by detaching ourselves away from it and look at it as an “object”. This new “secondary” consciousness that arises is famously known as “transcendental consciousness” or “transcendental ego”.

Counter-arguing against this Kantian insight of the in itself is not only difficult to achieve, it is also a very ambitious move. The moment one says that we can know an object in itself in the absolute sense, we are already caught in our own categorization of the in itself.

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While maintaining these Kantian insights, I would now like to digress into deconstruction. Many people tend to understand Jacques Derrida through “meaning effects” where the meaning of words are not completely stable (this is a popular American interpretation of Derrida—even renown French thinkers like Bruno Latour falls into this category). Certainly, I have introduced this idea many times throughout my previous posts by showing how the meaning of words depends on context and are always deferred and changes through time. What I would like to add to this argument is the problem of communication and interpretation in relationship with spacetime that Derrida always emphasized on in numerous texts (I wrote about this here). As a reader, the encounter of language is the encounter of the in itself.

Derrida’s emphasizes on communication to point out a misalignment of communication between two people. Language functions like this Kantian in itself where our interpretations of words consists of this categorization of meaning through the play of difference. This is why there are infinite ways of reading a book or interpretation to any events. It is like how you are reading this text trying to understand what I am trying to say. Language is what humans have in common with each other. Yet, language is also the gap that functions as the communication between two people. For Derrida, the way we interpret any forms of language is profoundly influenced by the way the person experiences time (such as their own history).

The experience of time is the most important aspect of Derrida’s thoughts. Famous ideas like “Trace” and “Differance” are situated in relationship with time. This is because it is the differences in the movement of time that constitutes subjectivity and identity. To be is to be in time. But we must not mistake this with Giorgio Agamben’s concept of time (contemporary) where he privileges the subject who is capable of dividing time by recalling the unlivable past into the present. Derrida’s concept of time opposes to Agamben in the sense that it is not the subject who divides time, but time which divides the subject. In short, as a human being, we are always situated in time. It is as Heidegger would refer as a human being who is always thrown into the world—to a being-in-the-world (Dasein; “being-there”). It is our job as a human being to figure out our relationship with the world, such as our relationship with objects around us; the tools, technology, language, other people, etc. We cannot choose the time we are born in. We are simply thrown into the world within a certain time.

Time is strange in the sense that the present moment is always sliding into the past. The present is a gap in relationship between the past and future. The importance is to understand that past and future are not exclusive to each other. The past is influenced by the future becoming of time (the future changes how the past is perceived). It is “becoming” because the future remains contingent and beyond our own finite predictions. Future time is infinite and lies beyond our grasp. I won’t spend much time dwelling on this idea today because I have spoke about this in my other posts (they are in my popular post menu). What I wish to emphasize on is Derrida’s notion of the future—of what he refer as the unconditional encounter of future time which may come to radically change how we interpret the past. Derrida’s conception of past and future consists of a repetition of the same (iterability) that is never identical to each other. The present is never in the past nor the future. Yet it repeats as a form of retentional difference with the future and to infinity.

As Derrida himself had said in Of Grammatology, identity is about the “becoming time of space and the becoming space of time”. The emphasis should be placed on the word “becoming” because it alludes to the infinite future becoming of spacetime which influences the way we interpret language and objects around us. Many people tend to speak of space and time as if they are distinct from each other. But they are not. Space is in time, and time is in space.

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Let us maintain this Kantian insight that we can never know anything in itself and the Derridean idea that to interpret the in itself such as language, one inevitably categorizes meaning in their own unique ways through differential experiences of spacetime (because we all have different histories and experiences). Communication becomes a form of misalignment of meanings because we can never access the in itself (hence, Slavoj Zizek’s essay was called “Philosophy is not a Dialogue” in Philosophy in the Present because a philosopher is essentially talking to themselves via their own solitude). The question that I would like to postulate is whether we can understand the foreigner’s perspective as they express their “language” to us (we find examples of this in novels like Foe by Coetzee, where the protagonist attempts to interpret a black slave who cannot speak). On one hand, if colonizers attempts to understand the foreigner by interpreting them, we are making an attempt to categorize their language into our own systems without ever understanding them in the absolute sense. Yet, on the other hand, the only way to understand the foreigner is through our interpretation and categorizations of their language.

Hence, Emmanuel Levinas would invent an ethics right in between phenomenology and categorization (interpretation) of the other. In many ways, Levinas’ thoughts are paradoxical in the sense that his ethics asks human beings to avoid categorizing and interpreting the foreigner and focus on the phenomenological face to face ethics. Yet on the other hand, the face to face relation between humans consists of bodily acts which are a form of language that is subject to interpretation by the other (i.e. body language, micro expressions, etc.). Nevertheless, it is this interpretation of the other’s language that makes it impossible to understand the other. Thus for Levinas, one must rely on a phenomenological face to face ethical encounter of the other.

But is it possible to understand non-Western ideologies as a Western person? To understand the other (in itself) is to interpret. Interpretation always consists of a form of originary violence where the subject is forced into a temporally contingent and differential relationship with the foreigner’s language (when I say language, I am thinking about speech, writing and acts). This is one of the reasons why deconstruction is about “destruktion” (Heideggerian term)—a “shaking up” of the meaning of texts by the one who interprets the foreign language.

When one cites and makes an interpretation of foreign marginalized language, it is much more than just exposing their work to others and make their voices heard in a hierarchical system that privileges certain individuals over others. The act of interpretation of the other and citing them marks an act of violence because one is categorizing them through their own ontologies and histories. Interpretation is the necessary act of violence towards the other in an attempt to understand them. This is why interpretation (deconstruction) of the foreigner is inevitably tied to spacetime. How we interpret and categorize the object (i.e. the foreigner’s language) depends on how we are situated in space and time, such as our unique history.

Just as Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s natural man interprets nature and uses unnatural ways to produce fire, humans have come to produce writing and technologies as a radical outside which supplements what Nature cannot offer us (wrote about this here). Interpretation is a primordial and originary violation of nature via the interpretative act of humans. It is an act that is forced upon the in itself. For example, if you read Of Grammatology, Derrida will talk about Claude Levi-Strauss and the act of violence that is produced when the anthropologist walks into the Amazon rain forest and interprets the Namibikwara tribe’s language (like how a scholar interprets another culture, for example). The most originary form of violence is found in this “third observer” (anthropologist) who interprets the tribe. By doing so, I am inevitably interpreting the other (foreigner; in itself) and categorizing them in my own way. This is the fundamental problem between humans and the object in itself. We are all mediators and translators (I recommend a book called Of Hospitality by Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle).

But does this mean that we should avoid understanding the other? Absolutely not. It is our ethical responsibility to understand them just as it is our responsibility to understand our own relation with the world—of being-in-the-world. But we must also recognize that our interpretation of the other is a necessary violence (of what Derrida calls, “arche-violence”). The conflicts of the world are born from our play in differences and our misaligned communication of the other—of interpreting the object in itself. This is what produces the discourse of politics, truth, and worldly issues. What I am trying to get at is that we should interpret the other in such a way that allows for the ethical opening of the other from the future—to allow for the other’s response from the future. Such opening up to the future is a risk that the subject takes. It is an open wound that allows for contingencies and possibilities to unfold. Hence, when Derrida was asked about world conflicts, he says:

“An opening up is something that is decided. One cannot force someone to speak or to listen; this is where the question of faith returns…Peace is only possible when one of the warring sides takes the first step, the hazardous initiative, the risk of opening up dialogue, and decides to make the gesture that will lead not only to an armistice but to peace.” [the opening up is decided because one is always situated and divided by the movement of time; we are always situated in spacetime].

* * *

If I have been making detours for so long, juxtaposing Kantian insight of the in itself with Derridean language and the Levinian ethics, what I have been trying to get us to think about is our finitude of being human. Much of 20th century French philosophy is marked by this finitude—this limit of knowledge and our experiences with the world, otherness, and the in itself (“the end of philosophy”). It is through our finite experience of the in itself where we recognize the contingency of the infinite. As human beings, we are very limited to what we are capable of understanding. We are literally—as what one of my professor said—dancing in our shackles. We are dancing in our own finitude and this is what produces the movement of life.

Truths are determined by our finite experiences of the world (i.e. interpreting the world). Truth becomes multiple. Truth is absolute in so far that it is finite, but also as singularity within everyone of us. But it is this very limit where we must recognize the infinite. Not only do we see this limit in Derrida and Levinas, we also see this in Alain Badiou and Jacques Lacan. For example, Lacan’s notion of the “Real” comes from Kant’s notion of the in itself. Much of Lacanian psychoanalysis is a relationship with the subject’s unconscious desires with society (i.e. language). Meanwhile, Badiou clearly sees the encounter of the radical in itself through the event—an event marked by infinite contingencies that ruptures out of the norm; like the infinite contingencies of the future that Derrida speaks. We even see this theme of contingency in Stephane Mallarme’s famous poem, “The Throw of the Dice Does Not Abolish Chance”. The moment I throw the dice and wish for it to land on a six, it actually lands on a four. The future becoming of time is otherly, contingent and infinite—something that the subject is always situated in.

Nevertheless, what I would like to highlight is this influence of Kantianism. To exist is to understand our limits as human beings in relationship with the world and other people. While famous philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche was a huge critic of Kant, he still agreed to Kant’s insight that we can never know anything in itself. Kant is central to many contemporary theoretical debates and to the understanding of many “continental philosophy” in 20th century (European philosophy).

Just look at contemporary movements like Speculative Realism where you see scholars like Jane Bennett, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux who attempts to reverse Kantian ideas. In fact, there is a reason why Meillassoux’s famous book is called After Finitude: an Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (Meillassoux was Badiou’s student). The book was written to challenge 250 years of Kantianism and the recognition of finitude that is found in continental philosophy. Can we know anything in itself? Or are we just finite beings who are always caught in our own consciousness while we create synthetic concepts to represent objects around us?

* * *

Let us conclude by understanding this opening of the future encounter of otherness through Derrida’s notion of forgiveness. If interpretation is an inevitable act of violence, then what can we say about the forgiveness of such violence? If I attempt to understand the other by interpreting them and always produce a misalignment of communication—of never understanding them completely (the Kantian in itself), how could we speak of forgiveness? What does it mean to know something about someone without ever becoming the other? Will the other respond to my words if I write to them? Will they reject my interpretation of their language? Will they consider my interpretation of their language to be violent? How would I know if we understood each other when we are each other’s other? Or will they destroy me through an act of evil? If the other decides to produce acts of violence upon me, can I ever forgive the other? What does it mean to forgive someone unconditionally?

For Derrida, unconditional forgiveness is not found in any finite concepts of amnesty or conditional laws. To forgive is to forgive the unforgivable. Forgiveness is not normal because it is exceptional, infinite, and impossible. True forgiveness is not related to political institutions and any forms of power. Unconditional forgiveness can only be thought through the infinite rupture of the future becoming of space and time. In the lecture, Derrida asks, when we forgive the other, are we forgiving someone, or are we forgiving something about someone? (in the same way that Derrida talks about love here). But unlike his famous argument that meanings are always deferred through differences of time which “never arrives at its destination”, Derrida suggests that unconditional forgiveness is one of the only things that arrives.

Unconditional forgiveness is a rupture from opening up to the future other. Just as one might unconditionally love someone regardless of who they might become in the future. To unconditionally forgive the other is to walk into the future blindfolded—without knowing what the future other will do to us; without ever knowing what the future holds because it is contingent. Thus, true forgiveness is the madness of the impossible.

“Must one not maintain that an act of forgiveness is worthy of its name, if there ever is such a thing, must forgive the unforgivable and without condition? And that such unconditionality is also inscribed, like its contrary, namely the condition of repentance, in ‘our’ heritage? Even if this radical purity can seem excessive, hyperbolic, mad? Because if I say, as I think, that forgiveness is mad, and that it must remain a madness of the impossible, this is certainly not to exclude or disqualify it. It is even perhaps the only thing that arrives, that surprises, like a revolution, the ordinary course of history, politics, and law. Because that means that it remains heterogeneous to the order of politics or of the juridical as they are ordinarily understood. […]

Yet, despite all the confusions which reduce forgiveness to amnesty or to amnesia, to acquittal or prescription of the work of mourning or some political therapy of reconciliation, in short to some historical ecology, it must never be forgotten, nevertheless, that all of that refers to a certain idea of pure and unconditional forgiveness, without which this discourse would not have the least meaning. What complicates the question of ‘meaning’ is again what I suggested a moment ago: pure and unconditional forgiveness, in order to have its own meaning, must have no ‘meaning’, no finality, even no intelligibility. It is a madness of the impossible. […]

Must we not accept that, in the heart or in reason, above all when it is a question of ‘forgiveness’, something arrives which exceeds all institution, all power, all juridico-political authority? We can imagine that someone, a victim of the worst, himself, a member of his family, in his generation of the preceding, demands that justice to be done, that the criminals appear before a court, be judged and condemned by a court—and yet in his heart, forgives.”

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Commentaries, Contemplation

Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek: Philosophy in the Present

Are all truth claims power plays? This post is based on a graduate seminar presentation that I gave. It is from a course called “Otherness and Truth”. Normally, I don’t share my academic work on here. But because I will never publish this anywhere else, I wish to share it with those who are interested. The seminar was on Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek’s Philosophy in the Present which talks about how truths and philosophies are produced through the encounter of events. While this seminar assumes that you have read the book, I think most people will be able to understand it without any background knowledge. Both Badiou and Zizek are very well known in and outside of academia. Badiou is one of the last intellectuals from the famous 20th century French philosophical circle who is still alive today. Zizek is well known for his philosophically infused political commentaries. Zizek studied psychoanalysis with Jacques-Alain Miller who is the son-in-law of Jacques Lacan. He is influenced by a lot Badiou’s ideas. 

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write now (!!)


I still remembered when I was first introduced to Badiou’s works by my mentor a few years ago. She was a teacher who I met in my undergraduate studies where she mentored me when I became intellectually aimless and suffered from personal problems after I graduated. I always thought of her as a woman of possibilities because she showed me how much I did not know and taught me to always keep my mind opened for new ideas. At the time, one of her PhD advisors was Alain Badiou at the European Graduate School, with the others being Catherine Malabou and Geoffrey Bennington (both Malabou and Bennington were students of Jacques Derrida). She told me that when Badiou agreed to supervise her work, she got really excited and engraved “write now” on the back of her watch (write now = write philosophy in the present). My mentor also told me about her experience on defending her PhD thesis at Anne Dufourmantelle’s house—a philosopher and psychoanalyst who died in 2017 from saving two children. She now does peer review for works on Badiou and Malabou in several philosophy and interdisciplinary journals across Canada. I am very proud of her! 

I must say that I had secretly admired Badiou ever since I encountered his works. I find his philosophy to be very all encompassing. His works addresses the problem of discourse and the messiness of our world that is created through different political views and truths. What I find most endearing is how he encourages us to talk about truth and ideas without labeling ourselves with any forms of cultural identity and doctrines (I will talk about this in the presentation). Maybe this is because I never liked labeling myself in anyway. I had held this view since my early 20s. It is very important for me to see things from multiple perspectives and why there are so many different ways of thinking.

Badiou’s philosophy is one of those grand “theory of everything” type of theories. But we also have to understand that Badiou’s philosophy came into existence at a time where many philosophers proclaimed “the end of philosophy”. Perhaps the most famous instance was Martin Heidegger’s essay, “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking”. In it, Heidegger calls for the end of Western philosophy (metaphysics) and wants philosophers to return to the task of thinking—something that Badiou does. Then there was also Jacques Lacan who was an anti-philosopher, and Jacques Derrida who developed a lot of his own thoughts under the context of Heidegger. We also see some of this in Ludwig Wittgenstein and his notion of “language game”. In short, philosophy became a discipline where truth was contextual, multiple, and divergent. The meaning of “truth” depends on how we situate it within different contexts. There is no longer a truth that we can agree on. This takes us to terms like “post-truth” which I personally find problematic. But this is another story.

Badiou’s philosophy wants us to return to the task of thinking and conceive of the conditions that produces thought. He wants to reinvent philosophy. To philosophize in the present is to have a dialogue about truth and engage with thinking. Before we look at any writer’s work, it is important to think about the conditions which motivates them. For me, my interests had always revolved around this question of condition. I became fascinated by this term when I first read the synopsis of Derrida’s book called, The Post Card. I eventually used parts of it at the end of my most popular blog post, “Writing Before the Letter: Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction” (here). In what condition is it possible for us to produce truth? I believe that many thinkers of the past had been occupied by this term. Today, we are going to take a look at what Badiou thinks in regards to the condition of thinking.

Note: this presentation is not the official version that I submitted for grades—which is more formal, shorter, less wordy, and less personal. This is the spoken version where I wrote it in the way that I speak. I share my personal experiences on my encounter of Derrida as an event. This blog version includes additional notes that I had removed from the original version.

 



Seminar Presentation: Philosophy in the Present

On Tuesday, we had many interesting questions in regards to the definition of otherness. Does the cynic function as the other? Is the cynic contemporary? Is the other someone or something? Today, instead of going through Philosophy in the Present section by section, I would like to dwell on the word “condition”. In what conditions allows a human being to encounter the other and establish a truth? Philosophy in the Present presents us a theory that speaks about this very condition—that is to say, for example, the condition of encountering philosophy as otherness. Most of us in this class are students of literature where philosophy functions as a form of otherly foreignness. Today, I would like us to think about the conditions which allows us to agree or disagree with these philosophical ideas.

In the essay “Thinking the Event”, Alain Badiou begins by talking about how philosophers are the inventors of problems who intervenes with the sphere of dominant modes of knowledge. This intervention is constituted by what he refers as “events” or “evental statements”. For Badiou, events are born from the contingencies that underlies our reality. These contingent events are related to the “universal” which creates the subject who thinks. For Badiou, thought is the medium of the universal, where all universals are situated in events. It is not the subject who produces thought, but rather, it is the universal or event which summons the subject as thought (27). Furthermore, the universal event is also related to truth which Badiou characterizes as unconscious. Ultimately, the universal as Badiou points out, originates from an event that is born from the contingency of reality. In a way, Badiou proposes the idea that truth, which at first functions unconsciously, is born and made aware through the encounter of the event. Thus, the event is the place where we encounter otherness. Here, otherness functions in two ways. On one hand, Badiou’s otherness via the event is alluding to Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis and the ways which the split subject encounters their unconscious thoughts (such as figuring out what the “big Other” wants). On the other hand, Badiou is situating the event of otherness beyond Lacanian psychoanalysis.

To understand Badiou, we must familiarize ourselves with some of Lacan’s psychoanalysis. Badiou’s notion of contingent event is related to what Lacan refer as a lack that is found at the heart of reality. For Lacan, reality is constituted by this unconscious void which causes desire and produces meaning and knowledge. This includes philosophy, ontology, literature, and basically everything in society. Simply put, our experiences as conscious subjects are constituted by the unconscious mind. For Badiou, the truth of the unconscious is made aware through contingent events which brings forth unconscious ideas into consciousness. While Badiou is heavily influenced by Lacanian psychoanalysis, he attempts to rethink the ontological problems that psychoanalysis had negated and torn apart. Due to the discovery of the unconscious mind, psychoanalysis broke down the relationship between the subject and the impossibility of constituting any forms of truth through our conscious thoughts. For psychoanalysts, conscious thoughts are the symptom of the unconscious—we create discourses like philosophy and literature because we are neurotic subjects. In Badiou’s famous book, Being and Event, he recalls Lacan’s Seminar XI where Jacques-Alain Miller—who is now the sole editor of Lacan’s seminars—asks Lacan, “What is your ontology?” (Badiou, Being and Event 4). In other words, “Lacan, what is your truth?”, how can there be truth when truth is the product of unconscious thoughts? Badiou’s philosophy began at this moment, where he sought to reconcile the subject with truth and thought—something that psychoanalysis had failed to achieve.

Once again, thought is the medium of the universal which is situated in events. For Badiou, an event consists of a truth that is discovered through the act of thinking. This is what he refers as “truth procedures” which consists of four categories: art, love, politics, and science. However, truth should not be confused with knowledge. Knowledge is produced by being faithful to the encounter of an event which exposes a truth. Simply put, an event is the recognition of radical otherness that appears out of place—something that both Badiou and Slavoj Zizek pointed out as the experience of foreignness. It is like the encounter of Michel Foucault’s notion of the cynic, or the encounter of something that is radically different or new. This otherness can also be recognized when Jacques Derrida emphasized on how he always situates himself in places where he “does not know where he is going” (Structuralist Controversy 267). Simply put, the other that is encountered through the event, does not belong within dominant modes of knowledge. The event is what grants our thoughts to “cut” through established knowledge (26). The event makes us recognize new knowledge and new ways of thinking which changes how we perceive the past. The other could be marginalized people, where their voices are left unheard by the majority until their presence are discovered through the event. Badiou gave many examples, one of them was how illegal workers went unnoticed until they demonstrated their existence at the St Bernard Church (43). For Badiou, philosophy is situated within this evental encounter of otherness. To encounter the other is to be untimely, like the random encounter of love, or the encounter of a new idea, such as the books that we are reading in this class. It is here where I believe that literature also functions as the encounter of otherness.

Now, we must be cautious here because the otherness that Badiou alludes to via the event is not only different to the Lacanian other, it is also different to the Derridean other, which is also different to Levinas’ other. While Badiou, Lacan, Derrida and Levinas emphasizes on the encounter of the other, all of them has different views on what conditions allows for otherness to occur. As Foucault might say, parrhesia does not only consist of telling the truth, it is also about investigating in what conditions allows for such truth or otherness to arise. In a way, I think this is what Badiou is doing. Hence, what Badiou attempts to capture in his philosophy, is this multiplicity of truths and universals that are discovered by encountering the event of the other. For Badiou, truth is founded on difference, not sameness. If everybody believed in the same truth, our world would be pretty boring. It is this play in the differences of thought which creates the universal and the encounters of otherness. Such as the encounter of different cultures, literature, languages, truths, and theories. This is why the universal remains open and incomplete. Thought is this medium of the universal which takes place in an event. Pure thought consists of creating new possibilities.

In the following essay, Zizek expands on Badiou’s notion of universal by addressing the problem of the Same. Zizek points out that virtual reality does not engage us with thought because all it really does is simulate reality. Zizek criticizes postmodernism, Frankfurt school, neo-Kantians and the Continental philosophy departments by alluding to how they are simulating old ways of thinking. He even hilariously criticizes Derrida, who made a list of world disasters in ten points and compares it to torturing dogs and killing spiders (66). The main problem that Zizek has with these disciplines is how they are not really engaging with the universal. This is to say, they are not making us think because they think for us—they are telling us how to think. They function like the contemporary book stores which are full of fast food philosophies that replicates and dilutes philosophical ideas. The point Zizek is trying to make is that, we are not engaged with thinking and confronting the universal. We are too safe. We are not taking the risk to engage with the other. For example, many people who are interested in Derrida would rather read commentaries of him than taking the risk to read him and experience the otherness in his work—they would prefer to not take the risk of getting frustrated by Derrida’s writing. Nevertheless, Zizek highlights that because many contemporary philosophical works are fixed on fast food commentaries and retaining a “symbolic boundary”, philosophy is not found in philosophy departments, but are discovered within literature and comparative literature departments. Zizek ends his remarks by agreeing with Badiou and says that philosophy begins at the point of foreignness; or otherness (70). Intellectuals should engage with this purity of thought which functions as the medium of the universal where anything is possible. We can be human without first identifying ourselves through “particularities” (or doctrines)—such as our nationalities, or defining ourselves as Lacanians, Derrideans, Nietzcheans, and neo-Kantians (72). As Badiou pointed out, in genuine philosophy we can talk about truth without making any power claims. In real philosophy, there is a distance between power and truth (23). In other words, while political particularities consist of a claim to power by asserting a certain truth over others (such as the political left over the political right, etc.), Badiou thinks that truth claims should not be power plays. This is because thought is the medium of the universal. Thought is a universal experience that every human being shares regardless of their economic class, political orientation, race, and so on.

Now, perhaps we have all encountered books that changed the way we see the world. A book that changed our ways of thinking through our unique encounters of them as events. Or perhaps we had fatally encountered the love of our life. For Badiou, it is these radical incalculable contingent ruptures of the norm where we confront the other and produce truths. This confrontation of the other reminds me of myself when I read Derrida’s Of Grammatology seven years ago as my very first Derridean text. At the time, not only did I considered this book as foreign because I knew absolutely nothing about philosophy, I also thought of it as nonsense. All of my ideologies and beliefs were radically challenged by Derrida. Yet this encounter was what allowed me to produce knowledge of Derrida by getting lost in his works, and write about them for years to come. In fact, I have written many embarrassingly bad essays on Derrida and submitted them as grad school sample essays. –Of course, I got rejected.

Thinking of Badiou, I always wondered what led famous figures to write their philosophies. How did Karl Marx write one of the most influential texts in history? Was there an event in his life that allowed him to create his works which he remained faithful to? How did Virginia Woolf write her incredible collection of literature? How did Cedric Robinson write his famous book called, Black Marxism? Was it because he encountered Marx as an event? Some of us might be aware that Derrida was Jewish who survived World War II. In a book called Circumfession, Derrida famously confessed of feeling excluded all his life due to his relationship with his family. No wonder that deconstruction “is”, in a way, all about exclusion and otherness. Coincidentally, Levinas was also Jewish and survived World War II as a war prisoner. While he was in prison, he associated his inmates as the other. Is this why he argues that all philosophies should begin as the ethics of the other? Here, I would like to open up to the class for us to consider our own encounters of otherness, event, and truth. Thus, let us once again ask, is the other someone, or something? In what condition makes our encounters of the other possible?

The end 😊



Notes:

1. When Zizek talks about virtual reality, I believe he is alluding to Jean Baudrillard’s criticism of modernism / postmodernism. Unlike what most people think, Jean Baudrillard was not a “postmodernist”. He was a critic of postmodernism.

2. When Zizek points out how philosophers upholds a “Symbolic boundary”, he is alluding to the Lacanian symbolic Other. Philosophers are trapped in their own symbolic Otherness that governs their philosophies.

3. Jacques-Alain Miller was Zizek’s psychoanalyst. If you wish to become a psychoanalyst, you must get psychoanalyzed.

4. The examples I chose at the end (Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf, and Cedric Robinson) were intentional. They were meant to connect with my classmates’s interests. I could had chosen anyone and it would work.

5. Despite that this book presents Badiou and Zizek as if they agree with each other, they actually disagree with each other’s ideas quite a bit. But they are apparently really good friends in real life (so I was told by my mentor).

6. The example I gave on people reading commentaries on Derrida instead of his work was meant to facilitate Zizek’s argument. While I do encourage people to read Derrida’s works, I think it is fine to look for help. The danger is that you might run into unreliable sources. There are many reliable secondary sources on Derrida (I certainly would not recommend myself Lol): Leonard Lawlor, Peggy Kamuf, Geoffrey Bennington, Alan Baas, Christopher Norris, and Martin Hagglund are all very good choices.

7. While Zizek was trained in psychoanalysis, he has become more of a Hegelian than Lacanian.

8. Near the end, I placed “is” in quotation because this has to do with the way which Derrida developed “deconstruction” under the context of Heidegger’s notion of “destruktion”. Deconstruction has to do with “shaking up” and “solicitation” of the text. Heidegger became interested in the word “is” because it is the third person indicative of the word “be”. I emphasize on the word “indicative” for a reason that is associated with Derrida’s reading of Edmund Husserl (found in a book called Voice and Phenomenon; I spoke about some of this here).

9. While Badiou indirectly covers some of the problems found in deconstruction, there is a fundamental difference in Derrida and Badiou’s concept of “present” which lies in their different takes in phenomenology. I tried to point this out in class once, but I don’t think anyone understood what I was trying to say. I would argue that for Derrida, there is no philosophy in the “present” because the present is always situated in the past which shares a paradoxical relationship with the future. There is no such thing as the present because the present is always divided by the spacing of time (past and future). The present is always “elsewhere” (other). In other words, Badiou emphasizes on the presentation of the present. Whereas Derrida emphasizes on the re-presentation of the present (I spoke about re-presentation here).


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