Contemplation

An Accumulation of Random Thoughts Upon Random Thoughts #2

Another brain dump post where I write a few paragraphs and stop. Once again, there are zero consistencies to the things I write in between asterisks. It includes insights on the prolific Korean-German philosopher Byun-Chul Han. I also touch on the problem of consciousness and share some other random stories. I reorganized them to flow better, but they can be read in any order. Some of these are pretty long.

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“I heard a lot about you!”

Every time someone says this to me, I laugh and think to myself: “Oh wow, you heard a lot about me? It’s probably not all good” LOL. I am a pretty big weirdo who can be hard to understand sometimes. But once you understand me, everything else will fall into place. I am not as serious as what most people think. Since my early 20s, my friends coined the term “Bobbyism” to imply things that only a Bobby would say and do. I can be pretty goofy once you know me well. I am the person who throws pinecones at my friends during a disc golf round (in the winter, I start snowball fights on the fairway). I am the person with toilet humor while you are eating dinner. I like to sit around the house reading and writing in my underwear. I am also the ultra dry and sarcastic dude where you can’t tell if I am joking or being serious half the time. I also banter quite a bit and may roast someone just because they annoy me (and because it’s funny). Some people probably find me annoying because I can turn almost anything into the butt of my jokes. They probably wish they never knew me so I can go back to the serious stone cold silent killer Bobby LOL.

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The problem of consciousness

The problem of consciousness is really old and has been studied for a really long time. Basically, it revolves around the idea that neuroscientists can study the neural causalities and the maps of our brain when someone is happy or sad, etc., but they cannot explain the actual experience of happiness and sadness. There is something about consciousness that has long believed to be non-tangible. As such, the problem of consciousness (and unconscious) is more often talked about by philosophers than scientists simply because you can’t always empirically prove it.

[Did you know that scientists used to be called “natural philosophers”? Did you know that 95% of all Wikipedia articles eventually leads to the philosophy page? (see here). Philosophy is probably one of the oldest intellectual discipline in human history. A lot of disciplines in universities used to be considered as part of philosophy: art, mathematics, science, law, physics, politics, economics, sociology, psychology, etc.]

If two different person had the same identical patterns of neurons firing in their brains when they are happy, does this mean they experience happiness in the exact same way? How can you know for sure? If our biology is identical—or at least very similar (that is, we all have a brain, heart, lungs, etc.), why are we so different from each other with different personalities and preferences? Shouldn’t we all be the same? Can I ever experience the world outside of my first person perspective so I can truly understand the other person?

The more questions you ask, the more you will realize that there are a lot more things that goes on in our brains than neurons firing in specific ways. Although it is not my intention to downplay the importance of neuroscience, consciousness is very complex which often stretches beyond scientific empiricism and into the metaphysical world (i.e. the idea of an “idea” in our head begins from non-tangibility—something that we may one day make tangible). Things like gender for example. If you ask a scientist, they will often give you a naïve answer like “gender is a choice” which is certainly not wrong, albeit an oversimplified one. Whereas disciplines like psychoanalysis and gender theories can provide much deeper insights on gender and sexuality—even if there are many debates between the two fields. In another sense, one can find the causes and changes of our hormones and nervous systems when someone is depressed and thus, find ways to fix it via medicine, but perhaps depression isn’t simply about the causalities of our bodies, but the way human consciousness functions in relationship with reality.

Just some food for thought.

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You know what I just discovered?

I was at a family BBQ and my cousin told me that one of our cousins is a famous YouTuber with over 700k subscribers.

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Why some leftist scholars are critical of liberalism

It is common for people to think that by favoring liberalism, one is in support of socialism—and even communist values. However in the intellectual world, the term “neoliberal” (contemporary liberalism) is often criticized by various leftist scholars. There are leftist thinkers who believes that contemporary liberalism is not much different to right wing ideologies (this is not to say that liberalism don’t have any leftist values). As such, many of them don’t vote because they see it as right wing conservatism in disguise.

This type of skepticism has a long history which stemmed from Karl Marx (who invented socialism, communism, along with publishing a lengthy critical analysis of capitalism) and people like Sigmund Freud. In general, there are many reasons why these leftist thinkers hold such views and some are more complex than others. Basically, the problem with our capitalist world is that it has snowballed out of control where every aspect of our lives has become commoditized—including the ideology of liberalism, socialism and communism. The explosion of technology made it even easier. Everything in our lives is up for exploitation and consumption where even our identities has become capital. Everything is up for sale so to serve our desires. You see this in the way people become an entrepreneur (self-exploit), turn themselves into a “brand”, or how people “market” themselves in the dating world. Meanwhile, love is reduced to sex, and the intensities of our passions is reduced to comfort and safety. We exploit ourselves and others in the digital world (social media, dating apps, etc.) in exchange for narcissistic pleasures. The effects of capitalism can be felt everywhere in our lives without us realizing it. This is why real change has become really difficult to achieve because some of these people argue that capitalist ideologies has been imprinted into our (unconscious) minds which took over our lives (this idea originates from Slavoj Zizek’s famous book called, The Sublime Object of Ideology).

Other leftist thinkers will talk about dictatorship through digitization of our world where technology (re)organizes everything in our lives. Google predicts and suggests what you will like and what your next holiday destination will be at. It tells you what your favorite restaurant should be, and what websites to visit by putting them on the first page of your searches (an indirect way of censorship). Dating apps will predict what type of person you like and who you should talk to and date. Everything is determined through sameness and similarities. There is not much room left for contingent encounters of love. There is nothing left to risk, possibility, or chance; and for authentic events to occur which may produce real changes, differences and novelties in the world (instead, we have the same shit over and over again, just like your latest iPhones). Everything is revolved around control, safety, comfort; everything is about ourselves, our narcissisms, and desires. Many of them thinks that we are living in an age of digital totalitarianism and mass surveillance while people think they are free as they are enslaved to their desires and the frenzies of capitalism. Such frenzy is discovered from our never-ending productive labour all the way to how we are encouraged to always find constant connection with others and avoid getting stuck in our thoughts. Society wants you to be productive and take action. It doesn’t want you to think. It wants you to be distracted and be afraid of your thoughts. It wants you to endlessly consume and desire.

If you think of it like this, perhaps the cause and proliferation of mental illnesses in 21st century are not unfound. The paradox is that our society has become less about humans producing society as the symptom of their neuroticism. Rather, it is society which produces human neuroticism and narcissisms which feeds into a vicious never ending circle. Modern society has become a breeding ground for all sorts of mental illnesses. We are the products of our society.

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Psychoanalysis and Phenomenology

One major idea that psychoanalysis consistently fails to account for is human intuition of space and time. For those who are familiar with philosophy, intuition and time consciousness is something that big disciplines like phenomenology studies extensively. Jacques Lacan tried to incorporate temporality into psychoanalysis early in his career but ended up disbanding it.

Freud once spoke of how our unconscious mind is timeless, yet nearly all of his patients have a tendency to regress back into their childhood traumas/past, producing all sorts of neurotic tendencies in their adult lives (due to transference). If the unconscious mind is timeless, why would people regress back into their childhood? All of this seem to suggest that psychoanalysis as a discipline appears to resist time. While Jacques Derrida was influenced by psychoanalysis (his wife was a clinical psychoanalyst who passed away from COVID-19), he thinks the discipline is incomplete. The criticism of psychoanalysis is most prominently seen in Derrida’s book called Resistances of Psychoanalysis (I wrote about it hyperlinked here). It is also explored by contemporary philosophers such as Adrian Johnston.

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Essay writing and trolling your professors.

The requirements for research papers in grad school can sometimes be a hinderance due to how they require you to cite 8+ mixture of primary and secondary sources. Profs make you do this because they want you to learn how to write publishable papers and join contemporary intellectual conversations (in grad school, you are learning how to become a “professional scholar”). Back then, I sometimes just want to write essays where I cite 1-4 books but get really deep and create something cool out of them. I am more interested in theory crafting from scratch than joining contemporary conversations that I don’t always care about.

During my undergraduate years, I clashed with one or two of the teachers where I ended up trolling them with my assignments. I admit, it was very funny watching them get annoyed (what can I say? I’m just your everyday sadist). I’m pretty sure they still hate me till this day LOL. The best part was that I technically didn’t break the assignment outline. I went outside the parameters and did what I wanted to do by slipping between the rules (I did it because they had dumb rules that made no sense lol). I think I got a D in one of them. But that’s okay because D stands for Done. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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On Professionalism 

I never liked using this word since my early 20s. Terms like “professional scholar”, “professional philosopher”, or “professional artist” are words that I refrain from using. But it also depends on how you define it. Most people probably associates professionalism with someone who does something for a living. I think there are instances where I am okay with using it—such as a doctor or a nurse. But in the context of art, philosophy, and thinking, I see professionalism as an obstacle to overcome.

In many cases, professionalism can function as a form of authority to make others obey (like some political ideology). You are a professional now. You can’t do this. You can’t say that. You can’t think like this or that. Professionalism can sometimes make us blindly follow rules that makes no sense. Due to this, it may limit our ability to think critically and make us forget who we are. In many cases, I think learning how to be human is much more important. I sometimes hear people talk about wanting to become a “professional philosopher”. Like, wtf does that even mean? It sounds so stupid LOL.

Let me put it this way, there is nothing professional about philosophers like Socrates who walked around Ancient Greece debating with everyday citizens. There is also nothing professional in the way some public intellectuals give their presentations. In many cases, the more professional one tries to be, the further away they are from truth. It’s too proper. Too formal. Too normal. —It’s too boring. Great thoughts and ideas comes from not being afraid to think beyond boundaries, offend others (unintentionally), and challenge dominant modes of thinking. When there is too much structure and filter for the sake of “properness”, there is no room left for truth and the risk for producing anything new. There is no room left for thought and imagination. We need a spark to start a fire. This kind of reminds me of Michel Foucault’s lectures called, The Courage of Truth….Anyways.

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On Byun-Chul Han

Han is a very well known Korean-German philosopher who specializes in deconstruction and Hegelianism. I’ve heard of him several years ago, but only recently got a chance to read some of his works. I was surprised by how well read he is. His work is really accessible by your average readers. Though I think Han’s writing makes intuitive leaps that can make it difficult to follow if you don’t have any background in continental (European) philosophy. I can certainly see why he is so popular. Han is a very creative thinker whose provocative thoughts resembles a lot of counter-intuitive ideas that is found in Jean Baudrillard.

In the first essay/chapter of Capitalism and Death Drive, Han, following Baudrillard’s thoughts, turns the Freudian / psychoanalytic death drive against itself and argues that our system of capitalism deprives our lives from death where people are left to imagine a deathless life which leads to all sorts of mental illnesses. Han points out how our society is oriented towards the death drive where people unconsciously propel themselves towards self-destruction as they become narcissists. For Han, humans are negating their own deaths by producing capital (money) and leaving them behind during their lives. As a result, society produces fitness zombies, Botox zombies, and performance zombies. Everything is about performance, efficiency, and optimization—you must perform and be efficient in every aspect of your life, even when you are sleeping (think of smart watches that tells you how well you slept). People are too alive to die, and too dead to live. By paradoxically negating and avoiding death, capitalism leads itself to self-destruction by making people exploit themselves.

Han suggests that what is causing mental illnesses is through our society that produces endless ideologies of happiness, performance, and efficiency. The idea that one must always strive to be positive and negate any negative feelings and their death leads to people not knowing how to deal with negative emotions. Instead of arguing that negative thoughts leads to depression, Han thinks it is the constant societal pressure that people put in their lives—of always wanting to be happy, positive, efficient, perform, and to achieve something which leads to their self-destruction.

Han points out how our enthusiasm for work is already a symptom of burnouts and depression. Why else would one need things like Monday mantras that seeks to get you motivated? It is as Slavoj Zizek would say: “You don’t hate Mondays, you hate capitalism” (this line became a pretty popular meme lol). You must be enthusiastic about your job! No matter how rough life gets, you must stay positive! Overtime, this positivity becomes overbearing and “toxic”, which induces the feeling of emptiness and guilt (i.e. when you are sad, you feel guilty that you aren’t happy while other people are). Certainly, the experience of guilt is quite famous within psychoanalytic thought since it is produced by the effects of the Other (super-ego) that imposes laws on the subject who must obey them. You must be happy! You must be a productive member of society! Sell yourself! Sell your body! Sell your soul! For Han, work and self-exploitation dominates our life to the point where even on our time off, relaxation becomes part of the job as we focus on mental health management activities (we learn how to be more efficient). We do all of this just so we can continue to produce and perform better at work. All of our time becomes labour time. There is no longer time for the other—or time that is devoted to “otherness”. For Han, capitalism exploits freedom and makes you believe you are free, even when you are shackled by your labour where you are forced to constantly produce.

Han seems to take on similar positions to Baudrillard among other thinkers that the only way to halt capitalism and its frenzies of production is for people to confront symbolic death and encounter “otherness” (foreignness; or death). Han follows Baudrillard’s interpretations of how capitalism challenges and avoids death, which can only end by confronting death itself. He uses an interesting example from the film Melancholia where Justine’s (Kristen Dunst) depression appears to have cured itself near the end of the film when she confronts death as she discovers people around her and cared for them. Melancholia (the celestial body that collides and kills everyone on Earth in the film) arrives in the most untimely fashion. It is a catastrophic event that interrupted her existence.

By avoiding and challenging death, Baudrillard saw how capitalism paradoxically becomes a system that commits suicide—to the point where people take their own lives (again, this is due to the Freudian death drive and Capitalism’s endless desire for infinite production and efficiency) [recall in my Baudrillard post where I spoke about the story of “Death in Samarkand”]. The extreme form of this is terrorism where a terrorist makes death a reality. Following Baudrillard, Han points out how terrorists are taking selfies with their deaths as their acts are captured in photographs that gets disseminated in the media (they are narcissists with a bomb). For Baudrillard, terrorism is the product of (the globalization of) capitalism. The collapse of the World Trade Center was the symbolic death of capitalism where its event challenged capitalist structure as it challenged death (this was from Baudrillard’s famous book called, The Spirit of Terrorism). Borrowing from this, Han draws relationships between the terrorist who takes their own life with the person who self harms due to their depression and anxiety. Aside from obvious moral differences, perhaps the two individuals are not so different from each other who follows similar pathologies; for they both have tendencies to self-destruct. A very provocative thought, indeed.

Since people must confront their symbolic deaths, Han also associates love with death—an idea that has a lot of merit. Love is a fatal event. To love someone is to narcissistically die—it is to give up parts of ourselves for the other person we love and care for them (to stop being narcissists where we discover the other person—just like Justine in Melancholia). From that point on, our world is no longer about ourselves (our narcissism), but the other. This position is consistent with Freud who thinks that everyone is a narcissist who must forfeit parts of it (in Han’s term, it is to die; in Lacan’s term, it is to become the split subject). I too, am quite consistent with such view. This is why you may notice that I sometimes talk about how the cure to our contemporary world is love itself. To love is to, in some sense, confront our death. Our world can only be cured through the metaphors of love, which is something that is radically other and foreign. Love is a catastrophic event that shakes our world. It arrives when we least expect it—just like Melancholia that collides with Earth. Love is untimely; and it is our job to keep it as alive as it were on the first day.

Moreover, Han’s interpretation that death is the solution to living a meaningful life is also reminiscent to Jacques Derrida’s famous book called The Gift of Death. I wrote about this shortly after my dog passed away (it can be found here). Although I took a different approach, I think we both arrive at similar conclusions that the gift of death is the gift of life. It is because we will die one day which makes our lives meaningful. Yet, humans live like they will never die and prefers to “not think about it”.

Overall, I think Han offers interesting insights on what is happening in our world today. He is a lively philosopher of doom whose ideas can strike some as optimistically depressing Lol. I’m not surprised that he teaches at an art school rather than a university. He seems too radical and provocative to be a university professor (I sometimes feel like some uni profs are afraid of saying the “wrong things” because they don’t want to get cancelled and lose their jobs). Not to mention that a lot of Han’s ideas are against dominant modes of political ideologies and the facades of contemporary society (i.e. his sustained attacks and criticism of neoliberalism). The works that I read on him are beginner friendly and quite interesting if you approach it with an open mind. Han’s most famous book is called The Burnout Society and is worth checking out.

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I landed my first ace in disc golf

First throw off the tee and into the basket. That’s the story. The end.

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“You don’t look Chinese”

I am Chinese. I was born in Hong Kong and moved to Canada when I was 5 years old. But ever since I grew facial hair, some people started to mistake me as Japanese and sometimes as mixed race. Some people are surprised that I can speak fluent Cantonese. I also used to be able to read a little bit of French and German. I forgot most of it as time went by Lol. I actually want to travel to France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain one day.

In my mid twenties, I went through a transformation where I managed to grow a decent goatee beard that I’ve kept ever since (though I will occasionally do a clean shave just because). Many people really liked my new look compared to my younger boyish Bobby in my early twenties. Others not so much. It definitely makes me look older and more mature. But it makes people take me more (too) seriously. And because they take me more seriously, they can’t detect my quick and dry sarcastic jokes.

Maintaining nice facial hair can take work. You have to know which areas must be longer, shorter and what looks best on you when you trim it (your face shape and hairstyle plays a role). Consistent maintenance and beard oil is essential to having it look nice. Facial hair is genetics. Many of my Chinese friends tried to grow facial hair and most of them ended up with a patchy scraggly pedo stache (LOL sorry). I guess if you really want facial hair, you can always cut some of your armpit hair and tape it on your face. Very sexy.

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Compliments

I was at the hospital with my mom earlier in the year where I had to remove my mask for a COVID-19 screening (had to get a new mask). The nurse asked me how old I was and thought I was handsome. I was like “Uhhhhhhh…thanks?” and she just smiled. My mom didn’t say anything and just started laughing. It was funny because I can be pretty socially awkward and not know how to respond LOL.

Thinking about it, one of the greatest compliments I received was not about my appearance. It was from my professor in grad school who gave me an A+ for my final grade. He was a prof who specialized in deconstruction and doesn’t give out A+ very easily. In fact, I was so flattered by his comment that I saved it in my email. Reading it still makes me smile till this day:

“Reading this essay is not only an extraordinary pleasure, but an intellectually invigorating process of reliving my own moments of thinking through the issues you engage with in the piece. This essay not only exhibits a wide-ranging familiarity on our part with contemporary critical theory and philosophy, but offers an ingenious, original, insightful account about Derrida’s theory of hauntology, his concept of the time to come as the matrix of the absolute infinite Otherness of the Other, the past-future dialectic, the violence and finitude internal to interpretation or any human effort to touch the thing in itself. You not only prove to have the intellectual capacity to explicate difficult concepts with ease, confidence, and clarity, but reveal yourself to be an insightfully innovative reader of imaginative literature as well. What is said about Barton and her relationship with Friday enriches our encounter with her, though you do not provide much space for discussion on the novel. To do full justice to the paper despite its minor insufficiencies, I must say, it deserves an A+; course grade: A+”.

🙂

…Coming to think even more about it, I received a few glowing compliments from one or two other profs. But I can’t find them anymore. One was from my MA supervisor, a Feminist Lacanian British Romanticist, who I learned a lot of psychoanalysis from. I remember I met him while auditing one of his courses where he had been very supportive of me ever since. Back then, it was funny sitting in his lectures on literary theory because I blended in pretty well. Nobody knew there was a random super nerd Derrida guy sitting beside them. I still remember the PhD student who gave the lecture on deconstruction and postcolonialism wasn’t very good—no offense. I still can’t get over it because honestly man, deconstruction does not lead to decolonization LOLLL. Fight me.

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It’s raining right now

Rain is so romantic. Damn, why is rain so romantic? It makes me want to share another tragic story where Bobby was clueless with women, but I have to pee really bad right now (unfortunately, I have quite a few of these stories Lol).

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When will Bobby publish his retracted post on psychoanalysis and death drive?

Those who regularly visits this site got a glimpse of this piece awhile ago. I actually haven’t worked on it since I took it down (too busy being lazy Lol). The death drive (or repetition compulsion) is incredibly influential among various strands of contemporary thoughts and ideas. I don’t know if I will republish it anytime soon, but I will one day. In the future, I kind of want to write more about Jean Baudrillard and maybe a bigger post on Byun-Chul Han. We shall see.

Until next time,

—B.

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Contemplation

An Accumulation of Random Thoughts Upon Random Thoughts

A casual post with zero consistencies to the stuff that I write in between asterisks. This was the post where I write a few paragraphs and stop. It has been sitting around as a draft for the last six months, so I’m just going to throw it out there. Some of these writings includes things that inspires me, random stories, disc golf, philosophy, decolonization, psychoanalysis, my views on academia, and other random things. I reorganized some of the sections so they flow better. I also didn’t spend much time editing because I am too tired from work these days. 🙂

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The Simulations of Bobby’s Identity

The other day, I was thinking about how some people reads this blog as if it completely represents who I am as a person. While much of my writings on here reflects a lot of my internal thoughts and who I am intellectually, I often find it alienated from who I am in reality. It reminds me of Jean Baudrillard’s thoughts on simulacra and simulation, where he spoke about Borges fable and how cartographers mapped out their empire with precision. Yet over time, the empire falls into ruins and new empires are formed. Reality changes, but the map remains the same. Where reality initially functioned as the foundation for the map, it is now the map (simulation) which establishes the foundations for reality (I wrote about this here).

Does this blog function as the foundations for who I am over when you meet me in reality? Does it function as the basis of assumptions about me over what you perceive of me in real life when you talk to me? I often—or sometimes—find this to be the case. I’ve also known people who snoops on this blog and pretend they never read anything, but “knows everything about me” (why are y’all so crEeeeeePy? It’s a joke, I don’t care Lol). In the past, there were people who came to many erroneous assumptions about me through this blog. Other times, they think I am writing about them which is not always an accurate assessment (unless I specifically mention it). It is true that I sometimes write about things that are inspired by people and events that goes on in my life (who isn’t?). But I only do so in a way that is detached from said person or life event in an objective way. I do this because I believe that these events and people are those who taught me certain things in life that are worth thinking about.

Am I everything that I’ve written on here? Partially, yes. But never entirely. I think many people likes to jump to conclusions about me which is a big mistake (jumping to conclusions is the culprit of humanity in general). If people were to read this blog 5 or 10 years from now, will they continue to see all my old posts as the basis for who I am? Not to mention that I don’t 100% embrace everything that I write on here (for example, I don’t embrace myself as an INTJ, MBTI typology; or enneagrams—even if I published a post about the INTJ). To conceive of Bobby’s identity through this blog would be a fatal mistake. Yet, it is also one of the few places where people can understand some of my passions and who I am as a person.

With all this said, I almost never talk about the things I write on this blog with any of my friends and family unless they take interest in them. This is because I know philosophy is not a very good table conversation for most people. It is difficult, complex, which often reveals the darker sides of humanity and truths that no one wants to hear. Instead, I usually try to talk about everyday people topics where my speech is riddled with fluent sarcasm along with a bit of irony, hyperbole, and exaggerations.

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20th Century French Philosophy

20th century France was an intellectual powerhouse where many renown philosophers took over academia. The most well known from the bunch is Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Helene Cixous, Louis Althusser, Jean Baudrillard, Georges Bataille, and Alain Badiou (I missed a few). Together, these people formed an intellectual arena populated by numerous debates while influencing each other at the same time.

Many people take interest in these figures not only because nearly all of them were incredibly influential, but because they had all these dramas that went on between them. Deleuze and Guattari published a book called Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia that Lacan banned from his institution and told his students to not read it (in reality, D&G actually agrees with Lacan on quite a few points; D&G are not as harsh of a critic on Lacan as people say—imo). Lacan was like a cult leader of sorts. At the beginning, his public lectures only had few students which eventually got jam packed with people. He was always like a performer in his lectures which I found hilarious (there are videos of his lectures on YouTube). Lacanian psychoanalysis was really influential which set up the landscape of intellectual thought in 20th century (this is also true for people like Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Friedrich Nietzsche, G.W.F. Hegel, and Sigmund Freud). Slavoj Zizek, a contemporary Hegelian-Lacanian is well known for popularizing Lacan’s works. Meanwhile we have our boy Jean Baudrillard who is still existing through hyperrealities.

The debates that went on between these figures—which continues to exist among their followers—are nuanced and requires specialized skill and knowledge to understand. Not to mention that these people are incredibly hard to read in their own ways which means that learning their ideas are not easy. In order to understand them, it is important that readers have a fluid understanding in the history of modern philosophy which began in 17th century Netherlands (you also need to understand some ancient Greek philosophies).

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Students of Jacques Derrida

Some of the most well known students of Derrida are incredible thinkers in their own right. There is Martin Hagglund, whose reading of Derrida is surprisingly similar to my own. Though I think his attempts at fusing time consciousness and psychoanalysis requires reworking. Geoffrey Bennington is another well known Derridean whose work I enjoy reading—especially his interpretations on Immanuel Kant. Then there is Catherine Malabou, who I think is one of the brightest French intellectuals today. Much of Malabou’s ideas tries to fuse philosophy and science together—particularly neuroscience and various aspects of psychoanalysis while going beyond it (i.e. death drive and unconscious mind). I often find a lot of Derridean inspired themes and allusions in her works, which I enjoy. She is also a great writer who is really clear. One of my mentor who got me into French philosophy, her PhD advisor was Catherine Malabou (they are good friends in real life). Her other two advisors were Geoffrey Bennington and Alain Badiou which was quite an all star line up.

There are a few more well known students of Derrida, such as Barbara Cassin who is really good. I remember reading one of her book where she criticized Google search engine and page rank. Anne Dufourmantelle is also really good and is particularly well known for her book published with Derrida called Of Hospitality. This essay became really famous which talks about the function of hospitality when we confront the other (person). Dufourmantelle’s philosophy privileges taking risks in life. Unfortunately, she died a few years ago from (taking a risk) trying to save two children who got caught in a storm. Finally, there is Jean-Luc Nancy who also recently passed away, but is a really well known student of Derrida. He is super hard to read, but incredibly good. I have only touched on his works here and there during grad school days and may revisit him in the near future.

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Thoughts on Academia

I was someone who went from nearly bombing high school to becoming a straight A student decorated with fancy awards that I don’t care about. In the past, I expressed my distaste for contemporary academia and the way university and institutions do things along with all their politics. Getting a PhD is a huge time investment. I think anyone can do what a PhD does. I’ve met people without degrees who are just as smart and intelligent as any PhD (smarter). While degrees and fancy awards can highlight someone’s achievements (things which they should be proud of), it doesn’t mean much at the end. Back then, I was some random guy who had no academic background and audited random courses (I came from a design degree which was hands on and not research based). When I started my MA degree, some professors thought I was a PhD student who was writing my dissertation due to how much I know (they were surprised that I was only a Masters student). I’m not flexing or saying that I am smart. What I am trying to say is that anyone can get into grad school if they have enough determination, passion, commitment, and will power. Just because someone doesn’t go to school or once failed in school doesn’t mean they are a failure or not smart.

It was grad school which taught me that I can help more people understand really difficult and influential ideas by writing on my blog than a jargony essay that gets published in journals kept behind paywalls. And even if there were no paywalls, people wouldn’t understand any of the jargons most scholars write anyway. People might not know, but I learn just as much writing on here as those who reads it. I see the world very differently from most people. Maybe I will start a really big book project and get it published one day. Though I don’t think I have sufficient knowledge and life experience to start something this big yet.

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Being Ahead of Time

When I was in grad school, I was always 3-4 weeks ahead of all my classes’ reading schedule and workload. I have most of my final research papers done 2-3 weeks in advance (they are long 10000+ word papers). This allows me to “finish school” earlier than the semester actually is. Anyone who gone through grad school knows that the workload is insane. But I often blasted through most of them early in the semester so I won’t have to worry about it later. I was a pretty efficient student. I wasted no time in the beginning of the semester because I want to maximize my free time. This is actually my way of being “lazy” which is to get all the stuff done fast so I can maximize my time doing nothing. Thinking back, I pretty much cruised through my MA degree with relative ease. It was getting into the program that was the most difficult. Everything else was straight forward.

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On Decolonization

In case you want a quick answer as to why I think decolonization is not possible. None of the things we do in our cultures are natural. From the first humans who colonized Nature by producing tribes, cultures, cities, languages, art, technology, or whatever that you can think of. Colonial violence lives at the heart of all human civilizations due to human interpretation of Nature and producing things that are unnatural which usurps the latter (it would be as Rousseau might say where nature denatures itself which makes culture simultaneously natural and unnatural). Colonialism is a subtle, paradoxical, and originary violence that happens every day—even as you read this text. It is embedded deep within the act of interpretation and how external knowledge takes position of the internal subject. People who followed this blog might already understand my position (I hope) because I said this a billion times in different ways. 

I think all of this comes down to the definition of decolonization. For example, if the term means teaching young generations the violence of colonial history and bringing back lost traditions, then I think it’s a good thing—even if I argue that such teachings fundamentally operates as a form of colonial violence—just like any modes of interpretation, or how culture (or science) usurps nature. Furthermore, due to how colonial violence lives at the heart of interpretation, “decolonization” means that there was never anything decolonial about it except by its name. Thus, it makes little sense to call it decolonization despite its intentions to do good. With all this said, I think colonialism is problematic, even if it is impossible to avoid in our world today. Perpetual peace is not possible and violence will always exist. All we can do is minimize it by treating others with respect and understanding. As much as I would like to see colonialism as it is, the world is not as black and white as what most people think.

I still remember back when I was auditing an intro to literary theory course. Some PhD student was giving a lecture on deconstruction and postcolonialism. They pointed out how “deconstruction leads to decolonization”. While this is not a wrong interpretation, it’s a rather inconsiderate one. Personally, I think they were wrong. But that’s just what I think.

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…Tragic?

Back when I was in my final year of undergraduate studies, I had a clueless platonic relationship with a female friend. I’ve known her since I started post-secondary school and I used to have a big crush on her near the beginning when I met her. But she had a boyfriend at the time and I didn’t mind being friends—so I treated her as a friend because we were in the same classes everyday for 3 years. Overtime, she went through a few relationships and we continued to be good friends as we got to know each other. Coming to think about it, she is probably one of the few female friends I know who could finish some of my sentences (there are only a handful of people who can do this). She is one of the few people I know who understands my humor. When I crack my dumb jokes in a group, she would be the only who gets it and laughs. I recall one time when one of our friends was wondering if they should invite me to some party and X was like “Bobby would never show up, so don’t bother inviting him”. She told me afterwards which made me laugh because of how well she understands me. I would never show up because I am not a big party person. I like peace and quiet.

Near graduation, X was single and started showing signs of interest without me realizing. What kind of signs? Accepting my casual invites to take her out and do random things together, and her telling me how she defended me when she spoke to her friends about me, etc. Telling me how well she understands me—which is true. I thought of her as a friend because that is what I thought she just wanted to be.

At the time, there was another guy who was really interested in her. One day, he came up to me and asked: “Why don’t you go for X?”, I shrugged and I was like “What?”. I was confused as to what he meant. One year down the road, I finally understood what he meant and how he was a true gentleman for confronting me about it (I liked him more after that; X probably said something which made him ask me). They started dating shortly after and had been together ever since. I sometimes wish she would be upfront about her feelings. But none of this matters now. I am really happy for them. Even if I sometimes wonder what would happen if she told me how she felt. We are still friends, even if we never talk these days. She is really pretty and smart. She always had people chasing her and sending her flowers at work. But I’m over it. I just think back and have a good laugh at how stupid I was.

I think people should be more direct and say what they want. But nah, people like to use code words like “Netflix and chill”, or “lets hang out” only so they can end up calling you a “buddy”. X was the perfect example where we hung out only for me to realize that she intended them to be dates. I literally thought we were hanging out as friends. It only took me a little over a year to figure it out. Now it only takes me 10 months. Excellent progress!

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“Psychoanalysis is out of date”

I hear people say this a lot sometimes and it is not true. Psychoanalysis is not out of date. There are many organizations around the world that are devoted to psychoanalysis and continues to practice it. The discipline is sometimes considered as “pseudoscience” even when most analysts don’t necessarily consider their discipline as a science. Like philosophers, psychoanalysts are not trying to do science where everything needs to be evidence-based. Instead, psychoanalysis is based on practical experience and observations of people. This is actually what makes psychoanalysis psychoanalysis as such. It’s just about the only discipline that studies the influence and effects of the unconscious mind (there are however, emerging disciplines which seeks to converge science and psychoanalysis together which I find really cool).

Despite its controversial status, psychoanalysis has been influential among modern psychology. It offers a lot of insights that many psychologists would likely agree and build off of. For example, psychologists cannot deny that some of the most important things that occurs in our conscious mind happens outside of it (i.e. within the unconscious; or “subconscious”). This is probably one of the greatest contribution of psychoanalysis: we are thinking when we are not thinking about thinking. Psychoanalytic ideas like repetition compulsion and how people have urges to repeat certain behaviors is also crucial and related to many mainstream psychology disciplines. Then there is attachment theory which is heavily influenced by psychoanalysis (think, Melanie Klein). Furthermore, many psychologists can also agree that much of our current experiences and personalities are shaped by our childhood experiences.

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I am Human. I Have Emotions.

Often times, my feelings are not as important as the truth. I would rather hear a truth that hurts me than to not hear it at all. I feel very deeply—probably much deeper than what most people think or what my face suggests. Sometimes, my emotions are so powerful that they overwhelm me and take control (at that point, I just break down and cry lol). When I feel, it is very intense. And it is either I don’t feel anything, or I feel all of it at once.

I also often have trouble being emotional and logical at the same time, and it’s usually either one or the other. As I got older, I manage to wield both of them and learned to be more emotionally open to people who I would otherwise not be open to. It’s crazy because it sometimes turns me into a contradiction that freaks people out. Everything I say or write about, every single thought becomes reason and passion all at once.

I understand myself much better than most people understand me. Sometimes, I really want to change many core aspects of myself. But I realized that these are things which makes me who I am and I should cherish it—even if most people misunderstand or dislikes me for it. And most importantly, even if people hate or misunderstand me for who I am, I will treat them with infinite respect and forgiveness; because I think this is what we need most in our world today.

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My Disc Golf Endeavors

Last year, my friends took me to the Rocky mountains and introduced me to disc golf. They got me really hooked into the sport because it is really fun. Disc golf is basically ball golf that is played with flying discs. People often overlook how hard throwing these discs can be—especially if you want them to fly far and accurate. Unlike frisbee discs, disc golf discs are not designed to be caught. They are designed to fly (in the right hands and conditions, they can fly incredibly far and fast at over 80km/h). Each disc has its own flight ratings which tells you how it flies when you throw it up to its intended speed. Your form plays a big part on your accuracy and how far you can throw your disc. The distance of the throw is not really determined by strength—it is about speed and good timing. Throwing a disc well is about performing a series of well timed kinetic movements which transfers the energy generated from your legs, hips, shoulders and arms to your disc. You are basically turning your arm into a really fast whip. Having good form takes many years of practice for most people.

Ever since, I bought my own set of discs. I also go golfing in the mornings with a friend whenever I have time off work. I also enjoy golfing solo. I noticed that I play better when I am alone because I am more focused and not chatting with anyone. I still suck, but it’s okay. I’m a little better when not many people are watching me (too much pressure man Lol). I also started following professional disc golf tours and watched how all the pros play. I always try to beat myself every game and improve.

Disc golf can be therapeutic in the sense that it helps me clear my mind or whatever it is that I was thinking of. It helps me focus on the game and stop my mind from wandering too far off into the clouds or the depths of an idea; or forming connections between past, present, and future. It wasn’t until I started playing disc golf where I realized how much concentration and focus is required to make a good throw.

Buying discs became somewhat of an addiction of mine. This is probably because of me constantly wanting to try out new discs and have them fill certain roles throughout the course rounds. But I’ve been trying to limit myself to only getting the discs that I really need and am able to throw. I ended up upgrading my disc golf bag within a month of playing and have a full bag of discs to play with. Eventually, I upgraded again to a very expensive bag. It doesn’t cost much to start disc golfing…until you get addicted.

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About This Blog

Some time ago, Google news recommended my own blog on Derrida’s deconstruction on my phone. I laughed and said to myself, “I wonder who wrote that shit post?”. Thanks to all the random people who clicked on it and probably didn’t read it (and all the bots). My introductory posts on deconstruction and psychoanalysis are by far the most popular on this site. In fact, my writings on psychoanalysis are overtaking my writings on deconstruction. I’m not surprised, because psychoanalysis is a really cool discipline that will constantly make you go, “Oh shit, that is totally me”.

I also receive emails about these posts every once awhile. Sometimes, they are random questions. Other times, they are about how wrong I am or how they want to cite my work (I am flattered). When it comes to communication, I play by a simple rule: I always (eventually) respond to strangers who emails or messages me (except for scammers). For, how could there be meaning when there is no dialogue? How could there be truth when it is only me speaking? With this said, I disabled my comments on my blog to avoid moderating it (I’m lazy).

When I first started this blog a few years ago, I wanted it to be a place where I share my knowledge for free because I am not a big fan of turning knowledge (or anything) into commodities. I make no money from writing anything on here because I think money is dumb (yet I need it lol). I’m just here to provide my batshit crazy interpretations on what I think these philosophers that I am interested in are trying to say. In addition, I also didn’t want this blog to be professional with too much formality. I always wanted it to be casual and write whenever and whatever I want. I don’t like writing formally (yet, I am usually quite formal Lol). I prefer to be myself; even if I sometimes spew out some pretty “Wow, did he just say that?” kind of things because I tend to think without much social filter, rules, and limitations. Keep in mind that just because I write about these philosophical works does not always mean that I embrace their thinking. I adopt parts of their ideas and fit it into my own perspective. —Interpretation is reinvention.

Philosophy has taught me many things, from metaphysics, linguistic turn, the brilliance of art, all the way to the question of love, hospitality, forgiveness and how one should live. I admire those who takes on the challenge to read these difficult philosophical works. I have gone through the same path; and often find myself continuing on such path. It’s not easy and very frustrating at times. I knew several people who gave up reading Derrida and Lacan after the first few pages and I understand why. To be sure, philosophy doesn’t make you smart. It makes you wise and allows you to understand the bigger picture in ways that you have never imagined before. After all, “philosophy” literally translates as “Love of wisdom”. I honestly think that everything great in humanity comes from love. It is as Nietzsche would say, that which that is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.

If this blog helped you understand 20th century continental philosophy and difficult French writers, then I am happy to help. Once you start to unravel their ideas, thinking styles and familiarize yourself with 17th-19th century philosophies, you may recognize how intelligent they are. And once you understand them, you may realize that many of them are producing a “theory of everything”—such as the first principles of how people conceive reality, cultivate perspectives and different forms of truths. It is not just about “facts”, nor the causalities which produces facts as such (i.e. science), but how facts (knowledge), and truths are perceived by our conscious and unconscious mind through the infinite movements of space and time.

Lots to think about.

—B.

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Contemplation

The INTJ: A Guide to Understanding a Bobby

 

“I am no man, I am dynamite!” —Friedrich Nietzsche

I write a lot about philosophy on here, but I never write about MBTI typological theories because I often think it can’t represent the complexities of human consciousness. While I recognize the theoretical limits of MBTI, when typed correctly, it can sketch out various dimensions of a person’s personality with relative accuracy (unfortunately, many people are not typed accurately). I mostly see MBTI as a tool to understand other people and self improvement. This post was written a long time ago (I write a lot but never publish anything lol). As such, I may edit this over time. 

In the past, I’ve met MBTI enthusiasts who wanted to get to know INTJs but have no clue how to talk to them in real life. Today, I will offer you a guide on the INTJ personality. I will give you a general idea on how an INTJ’s mind work, their infamous death stare, and reveal some of the secrets of an INTJ’s prophet like abilities for predicting the future and reading people. I will show you the subtle things people miss when an INTJ loves you and offer insights on what to pay attention to when talking to them. My inner circle friends are INTJ, INTP, ENTP, and ENTJs which means I have a lot of insights about intuitive thinkers. Hopefully, this post will give justice to my fellow INTJ comrades on all the misunderstandings people have on them.

INTJ is one of the most mystical personality types that people encounter because it is rare to have Introverted Intuition (Ni) as dominant function. They are authentic, intense, and single minded individuals who have a quiet and cool confidence to them. Similar to INTPs, many INTJs are well known for their intellectual prowess and deep perceptions. Externally, they often appear as formidable big picture thinkers who are emotionally distant and serious. Yet internally, they have a rich emotional world with strong moral values. Treating an INTJ based on their external behaviors will only lead to misunderstandings. INTJs have a playful and soft side to them that only people who they are close to gets to see. There is a 10 year old child and an old wise man who lives in all INTJs. In order to understand them, you have to get a general grasp at how their intuitive world works.

Many INTJs exhibits an aura of mystery that surrounds them. For most people, they will forever remain a mystery. They are known to be incredibly private. It is not uncommon for people to know very little about them even after knowing them for years. When it comes to friends and relationships, they value quality over quantity. They are the type of people who you can only get close to if they let you, or if you are persistent enough to break through their walls and know how to understand them. While not all INTJs are equal, they are insightful individuals who may stun you with their knowledge and intelligence which sets them apart from others (a good chunk of those who tops the IQ charts are INTJs). They are hard people to find because they are one of the rarest personality types in the world. I will tell you where to find them at the end, but the odds of getting to know them are against you if you don’t know how to understand them. From personal experience, it is usually the really outgoing person who unbashfully introduce themselves to me and asks me a ton of questions that befriends me (Lol). 

I am an INTJ with enneagram type 4w5. Since I am a type 4, this makes me one of the more self-aware, self-expressive, emotional, and moody INTJs out there. The tricky thing about me is that I also commonly test as an INFJ where my enneagram also tests as 5w4 (type 5 is commonly found in INTJs; type 4 in INFJ and INFP). My T/F in most tests sits close to 50/50. After much consideration, I think I am an INTJ with a developed Fi, and not an INFJ; even if I can sometimes appear like an INFJ, INFP, and ENTJ. Developed INTJ and INFJs can be difficult to tell apart. Both types have a very deep emotional core who can be very spiritual. 

Famous INTJs: Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla, Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, G.W.F. Hegel, Ayn Rand, Jane Austen, Edward Snowden, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Jay Z, Ludwig van Beethoven, Leopold Mozart.

Famous Fictional INTJs: Bruce Wayne (Batman), Sherlock Holmes, Beth Harmon (Queen’s Gambit), Severus Snape (Harry Potter), Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter), V (V for Vendetta), Magneto (X-Men), Thanos (MCU), Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars), Maleficent, Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption).

INTJ’s cognitive function stack from most to least preferred:

1. Introverted Intuition (Ni) – Ni is a subconscious cognition that happens to be INTJ’s (and INFJ’s) most conscious function. Ni users passively collects information observed from the world and categorizes them into their mind which produces patterned insights over time. This groundless function is what gives INTJs the ability to build very large and complex world models in their heads and how everything relates and work with each other under the surface of reality. Ni is the reason why INxJs are powered by the theoretical, intangible, and ambiguous abstract meanings to the things they see. They will often use Ni to enrich their understandings and experiences of the world. While INTJs uses the letter J (Judging) in their typology, their primary function of Ni is actually a perceiving function. This is why INTJs are not as judgmental as what most people think (will get to this later).

2. Extroverted Thinking (Te) – This is the judging function of an INTJ. Te is used to figure out the validity of the information gathered by Ni, Fi, and Se. Te is the main reason why people often sees INTJ as emotionally distant and serious. Just go on YouTube and watch an interview of Mark Zuckerberg and you will see his highly developed Te when he talks. In general, Te users strives for logic, efficiency, and refinement which explains why many INTJs are precise and direct with their thoughts, words, and actions. This function also seeks out skepticism, application and simplification of an INTJ’s Ni insights and ideas. When Te is combined with Ni (known as the “flow state”), INTJs become really driven, intense, and focused. 

3. Introverted Feeling (Fi) – Types who uses Fi as their dominant or auxiliary (second) function are known for being emotional types who often have strong personal identity, morals and values (ENFP, INFP, ESFP, ISFP). But because INTJs have it in their third function, people sometimes refer INTJs as one of the most sensitive and emotional thinking types despite appearing calculating and cold on the outside. One of the reasons why INTJs are hard to know is because Fi is directed internally where their emotions and feelings are kept to themselves. Due to this, it takes time to figure out what they are actually feeling. There are many occasions where INTJs realizes that they were unintentionally too blunt and rude with their Te, where Fi makes them feel bad (welcome to my life lol).

4. Extroverted Sensing (Se) – Se is INTJ’s weakest function which focuses on physical senses and attunement to their surroundings. This is why they can sometimes appear absent minded and lack attention to what goes on around them. It is also why many INTJs aren’t always action oriented like Se-dominants (ESTP and ESFP) who are people that lives in the moment. Since Se is INTJ’s weakest function, it explains why a lot of them prefers to not leave the house until they develop Se where they want to explore the world.

General Introduction to the INTJ

While INTJs may appear mysterious, they are pretty easy to read if you know what to look for. From the outside, many well developed INTJ’s are exceptionally concise and consistent with their world views, thoughts, morals, and words (INTJs can also be emotionally expressive and empathetic). Many INTJs I know will try their best to not be hypocrites—even if we all are at some point. They always live and act in ways that makes most logical sense to them and true to themselves in the most consistent manner (especially those with a developed Fi). INTJs often won’t make promises they cannot keep. Unlike what most people think, an INTJ’s pragmatic action via Te-Se only comes after processing their Ni.

Since Ni is INTJ’s dominant function, their first and foremost job is to observe, analyze, and understand. They are walking encyclopedias who are often revered experts in their respective fields. Most INTJs are exceptionally good at what they put their mind to which earns respect from their peers. Many INTJs are also actively aware of what they do not know and will admit to it when you ask them something outside of their field of knowledge. They are self-aware and excellent students. It is not uncommon that they will seek those who they think are more knowledgeable in certain areas for advice or to acquire new knowledge.

Many INTJs are self-improvers who don’t compare themselves with others. They like to be around people who can grow with them. INTJs tend to not have much respect for rules and authority of any sorts—especially rules that makes no sense. They won’t blindly follow rules and traditions just because everyone follows them. Most INTJ’s aren’t impressed by identity, social status or credentials. They are hard to impress which is why they rarely give compliments (and when they do, they mean it). What gives an INTJ their quiet confidence is how they simply don’t care what others think of them unless it is someone they value. INTJs are the type of people who are unapologetically themselves. They are steadfast and self-assured who don’t need external validation from others.

INTJs often won’t twist and turn their sentences. When they are required to be less direct due to social expectations, they may use humor to get their point across or straight up ignore them (which may ironically make them humorous due to how honest they can be). INTJ humor is often self-depreciative, sarcastic, dark, and dry (think, The Office). INTJs can train themselves to become really good socializers, teachers, entertainers, and public speakers which makes them appear like an extrovert.

A lot of INTJs are also careless with their appearance and may dress in physically unattractive ways. But if they have a developed Se, they can be really stylish with classy and refined tastes in clothing, music, food, and other Se interests (think of Beth Harmon from Queens Gambit who is really intelligent and stylish). Finally, INTJs behave according to what they think is most true over what a group or society believes to be true. Hence, they may act in ways others do not expect. If the situation calls for it, INTJs may sometimes come off as insensitive to group morality and people’s feelings because they have no problem telling people that they are wrong. Older INTJs tend to be more strategic, mindful, and diplomatic when a situation like this occurs. 

As a result of these contradicting qualities, INTJs tend to only attract specific types of people. They are usually one of the smartest and dumbest people in the room with a talent for disruption. Ironically, what attracts people to them also comes from these contradicting personality traits. Their enigmatic, mysterious, and esoteric character will naturally draw curiosity from others. Not to mention that many INTJs are agents for change who may dazzle you with their wealth of knowledge about the world. Some people can immediately pick up on what type of person an INTJ is and find their preference for truth and honesty a breath of fresh air; whereas others finds it annoying, rude, and intimidating. While INTJs may deter people, those who likes them tends to like them a lot.

The INTJ Mind

“Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” —Immanuel Kant

An INTJ uses Introverted Intuition (Ni) to collect a dense web of information from the world (via Se) where everything gets categorized and stored in the INTJ’s mind. This is what allows an INTJ to connect various pieces of information together which grants them to see the underlying connections and patterns embedded in the world. They are interested in the deeper meanings of everything they perceive with their senses (Se)—particularly the things that they see with their eyes (hence they are often coined as “visionaries”). They tend to be interested in abstract ideas, meanings, symbols, and systems and how things work underneath the surface of the world that they perceive through Ni. INTJs are very good at understanding the fundamental truth, causes, and meanings that exists behind reality and gain insights on how they work together; whether it be society, a building, a computer software, music, video game, the human mind, or people in general. From understanding these complex web of information that Ni gathers from the world, they are able to not only build a complex internal system of the world around them, they can predict what might happen in the future which makes them appear like prophets and mystics.

This is where the INTJ’s “death stare” comes from (it is a real phenomenon; sometimes known as the “Ni-gaze”) which occurs when they are trying to absorb information about someone or something through their Ni. INTJs are well known for their tempered steel gaze that pierces through people’s soul (it is also found in INFJ and sometimes in ESFPs). Many people freak out when an Ni-dom stares at them because it looks like they can see right through you. When you notice an INTJ stare at you, they are analyzing you to your last atom. Through the use of Ni-Se, INTJs are really good observers which allows them to make discoveries about the things they see.

Through the INTJ’s web of information that they subconsciously collect and categorize, they gain “Ni insights” which awaits to be verified by Extroverted Thinking (Te). Te is a pragmatic function which helps INTJs verify their Ni insights and if they are true in the real world. This Ni-Te process is what makes INTJs formidable theorists and analysts. Not only do their Ni have an ability to pick up information and patterns that most people miss, these patterns and insights are often correct—hence giving them a mystical vibe of knowing things before they even happen. Many INTJs with a developed Te may ignore their Ni and rely more on rational systems (in this case, they might be an ENTJ), while other INTJs will trust their Ni more than their Te. INTJs sometimes have a highly developed Te because society privileges the benefits that Te offers (efficiency, pragmatism, etc.).

The reductionism of an INTJ’s thinking style can be recognized when they take two or more events that appear to have nothing to do with each other and somehow sees similarities in them. If you pay attention to some of my writings, you may notice that I tend to draw from a vast range of examples that appear to have nothing to do with each other on the surface, yet find underlying patterns and reconcile them under an originary idea (my last post on psychoanalysis and love is a good example; it can be found hyperlinked here). Reductionism is often related to Ni and is sometimes explained through the metaphor of a magnify glass which focuses many different rays of light (or Ni insights) into a single point.

However complex these insights appear, INTJ’s Te often contradicts and challenges Ni. Where Ni might say, “This person likes me very much”, the skeptical Te will say, “How is this insight correct? There could be many other reasons and possibilities”. Many Te users are about skepticism, application, and simplification. This allows an INTJ to extrapolate, refine, and challenge their Ni insights which helps produce an even sharper and more accurate idea from it. An INTJ will try to approve and disapprove their Ni in an attempt to test its accuracy and relevance in the real world. Yet, it is also between Ni-Te that makes an INTJ play devil’s advocate on themselves which produces self doubt.

But because INTJs are Ni-dominants, they tend to develop their intuitive insights first and verify it afterwards with Te (or sometimes with Fi and Se). Ni-doms have the ability to come to conclusions without knowing how they got there, where they “know without knowing” (until they use Te). Furthermore, Ni users will likely consider numerous possibilities and conclusions before they speak about them. This is why INTJs will talk about conclusions as if they are certain that it is correct; or why they don’t speak unless they know what they are talking about. Many people think INTJs are judgmental, closed minded, and jumps to conclusions, even when this is often far from the case. When people talk about how INTJs are “goal oriented”, they are oriented towards their Ni which consists of achieving some kind of vision, idea, or thought that can be observed and applied to the real world.

The renown intensity of an INTJ comes from trying to get to the core of their insights through Te (they can also display this intensity in silence). As a result, this makes the INTJ’s words come across as a powerful lightning strike. Sometimes when an INTJ speaks, their words become fast and precise where they cut straight to the heart of a problem that they are trying to address. When INTJs are proving a point, their words are meant to be impactful because they are trying to get to the truth of the subject at hand (truth matters a lot to INTJs). This occurance often comes out the wrong way to the other person where they think they are angry, even when it is their focus, temper, and confidence that is going through the roof while having it all under control. This is what gives INTJs their commanding presence when they speak about the things they know. Their words are so full of conviction where they may take over the room and everyone either quietly listens or cowers in fear. During this state, the INTJ becomes one of the most unyielding, passionate, and dominating thinking types. Be prepared for a debate if you challenge them. Unless you hold special status, INTJs will go for your throat in debates.

This Ni-Te relationship is what gives INTJs their intense drive and focus. When they are determined to achieve or prove an Ni insight (conclusions or visions of a future they see), you better move aside. If you get in their way by trying to enforce useless rules, they will walk over you (think of your stereotypical ENTJ like Tony Stark or Dr. Strange from MCU whose personality have a tendency to walk over everyone). This drive between Ni-Te is what makes them determined and committed individuals. It is the reason why they often become really good at what they do which earns the respect of their peers.

INTJ and People

Due to how the INTJ’s mind work, an INTJ who puts effort into understanding people will likely know who they are before the person gets to know anything about them (very similar to INFJs). While they can read people like a book or as a problem to solve, people will have trouble reading them. INTJs have an excellent judge of character and will likely see through most people’s everyday masks, intentions, and know when they are being insincere and fake. 

INTJs will determine if you are a potential friend or romantic partner by detecting the patterns within the things you say versus the things you do. Many INTJs likes people who are consistent, curious, respect boundaries, and are authentic with them. Some people feel self conscious around INTJs because they have an uncanny ability to analyze people to their last atom. People are afraid of INTJs knowing all their secrets—even when they don’t know anything other than an intuitive hunch (hunches and insights which are often correct). 

INTJs are driven by their curiosity for the unknown. They naturally try to connect the dots and recognize patterns in everything they see. They may form various temporary conclusions about people that changes over time, but they don’t really judge them, even if it appears like it on the surface. It’s more like, “This person likes to drink root beer for breakfast? Cool story bro”. Similar to INTPs, a lot of them are collectors of (useless) knowledge which either serves as their entertainment or curiosity. Not many things phases them because they are really hard to offend.

INTJs are walking lie detectors who can detect the most subtle pattern discrepancies in people if they put their mind to it. The best way to deal with this is to be as open and honest with them as possible. Try not to keep secrets from them. Not knowing is much worse than knowing a truth that an INTJ does not want to hear. If you want a shot at getting close to an INTJ (and INFJ), do not lie because they can tell or will eventually figure it out (if they catch you, they might not call you out on it, but they will keep it in mind). Intentionally hiding things from an INTJ may tell them that you are being inauthentic which will make them question their future relationship with you (especially if you are hiding bad things). In scenarios where they catch you being inauthentic, they will keep you at arms length instead of letting you get close.

While INTJs may appear uninterested in human matters, they can use very little information to determine and predict lots of things about people via Ni-Te. It can be a single word someone says or miniscule shift in their intentionality which disrupts the Ni’s web of information / patterns which makes an INTJ become curious. Sometimes, it can be behavioral and even micro-gestural—such as the tiniest pauses between words or the split second of eye contact, or how a person walks. In some cases, it can be people who are acting normal. It can also be a series of events that happens on the same day which makes an INTJ question why they occurred all at once. Where most people would immediately write it off as coincidence or don’t recognize the pattern at all, an INTJ might theorize what might be happening underneath these chain of events; just like how they analyze the underlying structure of reality. Essentially, INTJs uses their Ni to provide insights about people where they will use Te and Se to verify it.

This is why INTJs can easily distinguish good people from the selfish and manipulative. It is also why an INTJ who chooses to spend time with you is a compliment of the highest order. Not only do INTJs sees time as a valuable resource for their freedom (as do most people), they also see many people as a waste of time due to how superficial and fake some of them can be. While INTJs won’t mind casual conversations with people they regularly see, they are usually only interested in establishing meaningful relationships. This however, does not mean that INTJs don’t know how to have fun. They can be really fun if you can bring them out of their shell—a job best suited for an extroverted type (ENFP, ENTP, ESFP, etc.). 

The first thing you want to do when talking to an INTJ is to forget most of the unspoken social rules you know. Many people likes to communicate through body language and dropping hints between the lines so to maintain social harmony. With INTJs, you can give it to them straight. Your best bet at approaching an INTJ is to go up to them and be as bold, sincere, and direct like you have never before with anyone else. You should be as authentic and upfront with them as you can—even if you can’t read them properly yet. They appreciate people who are open and honest with them. You need to show them that you are a genuine person in order for them to open up to you. INTJs will also like you more if you don’t waste their time and are direct with what you want (Te strives for efficiency). As long as you do these things, a lot of them will accept you for who you are. A mature INTJ understands that no one is perfect and everyone is good at certain things while bad at others, including themselves. If you approach them sideways by lying or playing games, you will run into a brick wall very quickly.

Many INTJs sees social games as a waste of time, so you are dead to them the moment they realize you are playing games—especially manipulative mind games. Their ways of dealing with this can be quite surgical. Some will cut you out of their lives without second thought. Others will call you out on it or ignore you for the rest of their lives (at that point, you might as well not exist). However, this does not mean they won’t play social games or are incompetent at them. They will only do it if they think it somehow fits their master plans or if they think you are “worth it”—which is usually never the case (play stupid games, win stupid prizes).

While INTJs can know too much about anything or anyone they put their mind to, they do good things with their knowledge. This is thanks to their third function of Fi which gives INTJs unbreakable morals codes and standards that they live by. It is why many of them are usually honest people—even if they are honest to a fault—or they say the wrong things at the wrong time. Honesty, authenticity, morality, and truth are things most INTJs value.

The Quest for Truth and Morality

Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings — always darker, emptier, simpler.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

Since INTJ’s third function is Fi, it is easy for people to misread INTJs because of how cold they appear on the surface. Yet, they are quite sensitive and emotional due to Fi. This is why INTJs are considered as one of the most emotional thinkers. Anyone who had the privilege to witness an INTJ’s love will know how much they actually feel. An INTJ experiences very deep emotions. And because they run so deep, they often come from a sacred and authentic place that is heavily guarded.

It is only the more developed INTJs who are able to understand their Fi. An emotionally mature INTJ will understand where, why, and how their emotions affects their decisions and other people. While many underdeveloped INTJs may think they value reason over emotions when they make decisions, the decisions of a well developed INTJ are often driven by a moral compass, internal values, and takes account of their emotions. This is why a lot of things INTJs sets to achieve in their life often have underlying moral implications that they see as very “human” to them. INTJs with a developed Fi might draw them to do things that are—in their view—humanitarian. And when Fi is used in conjunction with Ni and Te, the humanitarian things that they do can be obscure and hard to detect for many people.

Most NTJs won’t be open about their feelings (the developed ones might be a bit more open). Until they open up to you, the only way anyone can get a good grasp of an INTJ’s emotional life is to sift through the things that they are interested in and do in their lives. Many INTJs are private about their feelings where they naturally process them through Ni-Te that gets mixed into the things that they do. When an INTJ opens up, you better be prepared because they have powerful emotions. Fueled with Ni-Te, their emotions for something or someone are often revealed in very intense and passionate ways (they can be really poetic, romantic, and good with their words). It may surprise you at how much they actually feel when compared to their usual cool and aloof exterior that everyone sees.

While INTJs are one of the most private types, once you understand some of their internal world constructs, specialized / esoteric knowledge and how they think, you will begin to see why they do the things that they do in their lives; or why they say certain things or use certain words under specific contexts. A well developed INTJ is exceptionally concise and deliberate who is almost always in line with their Fi morals, values, emotions, and personal philosophies that they have developed over many years. INTJs with a developed Fi live their life on a mission to discover the truth of the world so they can perhaps do something good for humanity—even if the concept of “good” may widely differ between different INTJs.

Since many INTJs values the truth, they are often direct and honest. When an INTJ is honest with their thoughts and emotions with you, it means they care about you. They tell you the truth because the truth is important to them. INTJs don’t just open up to anyone. They are really selective to who they allow in their lives because just like INFJs, they think deep, feel deep, and hurt deep. If you betray or hurt them after they let you in, they may never open up to you again. INTJs are marshmallows covered in tempered steel. Once you understand how their internal world works (which is different for every INTJ), everything they do will immediately make sense, even if they appear contradictory or strange at first.

INTJ and Romance

INTJs are often stereotyped for being clueless in romance. This is not true. Many mature INTJs knows the game, they just choose not to play it or haven’t found anyone worthwhile. And when they play it, they can be really romantic and idealistic. Many INTJs strives to be the best at what they do, this includes relationships and love. When an INTJ becomes aware of their feelings for someone, they will try very hard to manage it—sometimes to the point where they ignore and repress it. Part of growing as an INTJ is learning to manage and understand these emotions in a way that makes sense for them and learn how to properly express them at the right time.

Now that you can see how an INTJ’s mind work, you may see the troubles they will have when they encounter romantic relationships. Since all of their cognitive functions tailors them to become formidable analysts and theorists, INTJs are known for studying and analyzing the people they love. An INTJ reads people like how they read a book or interpret the world around them. While this sometimes comes out the wrong way, in the eyes of an INTJ, they are trying to understand them with their best intentions. Their goal is to not only figure out their beloved, such as their likes and dislikes, but to predict future conflicts and prevent them from happening. As such, they want to know everything about their love. They want to figure out ways to solve their problems and help them achieve their goals.

Many INTJs are generous and have really big hearts when they care about you. They are your silent guardians and the calm of the storms in your life. INTJs are people who will fiercely protect those who they love. An INTJ who loves you will go above and beyond for you. They will do things that they think can make your life better and easier (more efficient). Quality time is a really big sign that they like you because a lot of them prefers to be alone. If they sacrifice their alone time for you, then you must mean something to them. If an INTJ always appear at places where they know you might be, then it is another sign they like you. They want to spend time with you where they can also be by themselves.

INTJs have exceptionally high standards in everything they do. In fact, these standards are so high that even the INTJ cannot reach (this is why they are over achievers). But when it comes to their love, they will be proud of the achievements in their life. An INTJ who loves you will bend their standards that they live by just for you. Since most INTJs are immovable rocks when it comes to these standards and moral values (just like other Fi users). The fact that an INTJ is willing to bend them for someone becomes a grand gesture that not many people notice (people don’t notice it because being proud of someone we love is common among most people). 

Just like every type, the obvious sign that an INTJ loves you is if they tell you. Due to how concise INTJs are, it is safe to say that when an INTJ declares their love for someone, they really mean it (I personally never use the word “love” in my daily vocabulary). There is also a difference between “like” and “love” (among other words). While many people interchange these terms as if they are similar or use them for fun, an INTJ will use words in specific ways. It is from the weight of an INTJ’s words and actions where you may start to recognize the level of depth and implications that they carry, such as how much they mean to them within the inner workings of their mind and heart. Hence in one sense, an INTJ’s concision are literal and direct. Yet in another sense, how literal they are usually derives from a much deeper place that can only be understood once you understand their internal Ni constructs. This depth that they have is what makes them an INTJ which enriches and gives meaning to their experiences in life.

If you do anything that they think may threaten you and their future together, they may question your sincerity and how serious you are with them. Things where you show a lack of boundaries with others while pursuing them; or inauthenticity, inconsistencies etc. will be some of the first things they notice in someone. And because they can be really good at reading people, they will know you better than you know yourself long before you realize. 

When an INTJ decides to date or like you, they will do so as if it was their objective goal. If you want to date an INTJ, your best bet is to ask them directly. INTJs don’t play games. A lot of them approach relationships with reason, understanding, and emotions (once they open up). However, they are also overthinkers—which is why being open, clear, and honest with them is key (this assumes the other party also knows what they want). If you like them, just tell them. If you are interested in them but not sure if you like them, tell them. If there is something you don’t like in their behavior or a need that isn’t being met, tell them. Good communication leads to good understanding which leads to good relationship.

When an INTJ commits to loving someone, they really commit. They are single minded who are “all in” types of people. This takes us to why they are so famous for their loyalty which must not be taken lightly because they are loyal not in a traditional sense. When an INTJ is loyal, they are loyal to a certain big picture Ni vision of you and their future together that they want to achieve (this is where INTJs can be really romantic and idealistic). When an INTJ declares their loyalty, they commit to a future with you. INTJs are fiercely loyal and they will not give up easily. In the eyes of an INTJ, no obstacle between two people can’t be overcome. 

Unfortunately, because INTJs are so loyal, they sometimes won’t get over someone for years and even decades (think of Severus Snape who loved Lilly Potter for all his life in Harry Potter series; Snape is an INTJ 4w5; you see something similar in Bruce Wayne and his love for Rachel Dawes). When an INTJ loves, they love incredibly deep (Fi), and this really needs to be understood because many people think they are heartless. Both INTJ and INFJ can love someone so much that it hurts them; where they remain faithful to said person with incredible faults. Their love is raw, innocent, and pure like a child. It is very real. Don’t take it for granted because they don’t give it out very easily.

What we begin to see is how the single mindedness of an INTJ that they use for their life long passion projects are directed towards one person. An INTJ’s love is as intense as it gets and not everyone can handle it. Recall when I said how Ni is like a magnify glass that focuses different rays of light into a single point. Similar to INFJs, the power of an INTJ’s love is like harnessing all the energy of the sun and focusing it all onto one person with a magnify glass. INTJs do not love broadly. They love absolutely and singularly.

Concluding Thoughts

While everything suggests that INTJs are masterminds who are not casual people, they are actually very easy going and open minded. Just like ESFPs, INTJs are free spirits and enjoys living life with as little constraints as possible. Where ESFP values freedom for physical experiences, INTJs value the freedom of mind (ESFP uses the same cognitive functions as INTJs, but in reverse order). If you get to know me, you may notice that I am carefree about most things unless it is someone important and they are doing something questionably stupid. Once you know what to look for, you may start to realize that INTJs are real softies inside. Anyone who can break through their fortified walls will discover that INTJs are some of the most nuanced, thoughtful, sensitive, determined, and devoted individuals you will meet. People misunderstand them because there aren’t enough INTJs around for people to understand.

Due to their rarity, they can be really hard to find in the real world. However, there are places where the chances of meeting one is significantly higher. Places such as bookstores, coffeeshops, and other stereotypical INTJ hobbies and interests such as art galleries and museums (I tend to go to these places during odd hours to avoid crowds). Most INTJs are often found by themselves and tend to avoid large social gatherings. If they ever attend parties, they are the ones playing with the host’s pets and checking out what books they read; or having a chat about an obscure topic with some person in a corner. You may also find them in the mountains hiking or camping by themselves; star gazing, and other solitary hobbies such as fishing. INTJs do a lot of things alone. They are your lone wolves—even if they are more like a cat—or a tiger, in all senses of the word. 

INTJs are easy to spot. When you encounter them in public, you may recognize them by their speech patterns which is often civil, short, concise, and direct. They usually aren’t always good at talking in groups and are better at one-on-one conversations where they can be socially awkward. They also carry a piercing death stare which easily gives them away (accompanied by a resting bitch face). You may also catch them observing the room or staring off into the distance thinking about something. An INTJ’s body language often unintentionally screams “Leave me alone” and people can sense it. Some INTJs takes advantage of their unapproachable demeanor as a way to filter out those who are afraid to talk to them. Those who are brave enough to talk are the ones who they know might be friend worthy. While INTJs can be scary to talk to for some people (bro, why is he looking at me like that!?), they are pretty harmless.

INTJs don’t always pass people’s first impressions, but they are usually good people. In fact, just like INFJ and INFPs, they are often morally aware individuals. This is thanks to their great prudence and foresight of what is really going on underneath the surface of the world and everyday life. INTJs usually aren’t the type of people who follows group morality. They prefer forging their own paths. Many experienced INTJs have all the ingredients to be a leader in their field of expertise, yet they will refrain from taking on the role. Due to their large wealth of knowledge that they accumulate throughout their life, they tend to influence those who encounters them. 

INTJs are full of depth and wonder who has the ability to see through many things in the world. Similar to INTPs, they are the bearers of truths and the thinkers of origins. Recall that Ni and Te are contradicting functions. Ni seeks to discover all the underlying structures and patterns that the INTJ observes in the world. Te seeks to challenge, apply, validate, simplify, structure, and refine. Whereas Fi gives INTJs their humanistic values, identity, and powerful emotions that gets mixed into the things that they do in their lives. Finally, Se makes an INTJ understand that every intuitive insight that they acquire must be verified and come from their physical experiences and wonders of the world. When all of these cognitive functions are developed which produces a well rounded INTJ, they become half prophet and half factual. They become mystical visionaries who sees the best and worst of humanity through the wreck and ruins of the world.

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Commentaries, Contemplation, Popular Posts

On Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Metaphors of Love and the Limits of Human Knowledge

 

“Love without risk is an impossibility. Like war without death.” —Alain Badiou

The question of love is one of the oldest living philosophical inquiries in human history. We study it. We mourn for it. We write and sing about it. Most importantly, we experience it. Love in our contemporary world has largely been undermined by our hedonistic culture which teaches us the reality of pleasure (sex). Today, it would only be fair for me do the opposite: emphasize on love and undermine pleasure. I hope this post will forever reshape how you see human passion and your relationship with others. Love is profound because love is infinite. 

This post follows my previous two writings on Lacanian psychoanalysis (hyperlink: part I; part II). You only need to understand part I to read this (you can probably get by without reading it, but you won’t understand what I mean by “split subject”). While I will try to reintroduce some of the old foundational ideas, I will skip through most of them and jump straight into general psychoanalytic approach to love. Due to the length of this post, I won’t have room to talk about the different types of love—namely obsessional and hysterical love. But the general consensus is that love is feminine in nature and obsessional neurosis (masculinity) is a dialectic with hysteria (femininity). I purposely titled this post after Lacan’s Seminar XX (20), On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge. 

Since this might be my only post of 2022, I decided to write about one of the most important topic in the world. Despite its length, this has become one of my favorite post of all time. I don’t write as much anymore due to work. Nowadays, I like to turn my brain off and enjoy the moment because my greatest strength is also my greatest weakness: I think too much. While I am impersonal when it comes to my writings, people might find some of the content overly relatable. So if you think I am talking about you, I am probably not talking about you. And if reading psychoanalysis makes you question your sanity. Let me throw this out there: you are not crazy. We don’t use the word “crazy” in here. 

Happy reading split subjects!


Imaginary, Narcissism, and The One

“Why is love rich beyond all other possible human experiences and a sweet burden to those seized in its grasp? Because we become what we love and yet remain ourselves. Then we want to thank the beloved, but find nothing that suffices. We can only thank with ourselves. Love transforms gratitude into loyalty to ourselves and unconditional faith in the other. That is how love steadily intensifies its innermost secret.”

— Martin Heidegger, Letters (to Hannah Arendt)

Sigmund Freud once famously argued that who we love in our life is influenced by our past relationships. But what is sometimes overlooked is the relationship people establish with themselves: between the ideal-ego and ego-ideal where the split subject recognize parts of themselves in the “other person” that they see in the mirror. As the split subject looks into the mirror reflection of themselves, the symbolic ego-ideal emerges as the Other (i.e. social laws) which interferes with their own ideal-ego (their self image); they begin to recognize that something is missing in the mirror and how their perceptions of themselves are never complete.

Let us use an example that may appear to have nothing to do with love, but emphasize on the fundamental separation between the imaginary ideal-ego and the symbolic ego-ideal. Consider the influence of social media platforms which functions as the Other and forms the ego-ideal. Recall in my previous post, I spoke about how it is not enough for me to recognize myself as an ideal person because you need the approval of the Other. You must live up to the Other’s expectations. It is like looking at yourself in the mirror, but recognizing that there is also the other Other person who is unknowingly standing behind you and sees who you are in a certain way. The symbolic ego-ideal is the recognition of an outside beyond who you are as you evaluate yourself. You judge yourself; recognize your insecurities because the Other sees you in certain ways since they are the one who represents the laws. As split subjects, we are trying to satisfy the desires of the Other. 

Think of how people struggle with self image due to social media pressuring them to have impossible body standards (it doesn’t always have to be social media, it can be many things—but we will use social media as an example). It is common for people to think that going to the gym and building their bodies would make them feel more secure. Certainly for most people, working out is a healthy activity. Such endeavor would only be problematic if the split subject starts living in the gym 24/7 and avoids other obligations. For the sake of simplicity, let us refer to this man as patient X: someone who desires to become a veiny hulk due to the effects of social media. As a result, this drives him to neglect his daily obligations so he can work out 24/7. His desires to obsessively workout (symptom) becomes a form of addiction. Let us also say that their desire to workout is to avoid confronting the truth that they are insecure (the Real).

In such case, I would imagine that the analyst’s job is to help the analysand (patient) reduce their trust of the Other (social media)—or reduce the impositions of the Other’s effects on the subject. The analyst’s job is to help the analysand touch the Real and discover the truth of their desires for obsessively working out is caused by their insecurities. As such, they must learn to do something else for a change. The truth of such desire can only be produced if patient X desires to discover the reason behind their symptoms (of why they are so obsessively working out). Certainly, by helping the analysand touch the Real does not free the subject from the tyranny of the Other. The Other will still impose the law onto them—and they may still recognize their insecurity. Only this time hopefully, it leads to a healthier relationship between how the split subject conceives of their ideal-ego and ego-ideal (their self-image).

Whatever a split subject perceive as lacking in the mirror is never what they originally lack. The human mind is deceptive in the sense that it always attempts to protect itself from trauma. The object cause of desire (object a; lack) which resides in the Real is like a blackhole that the subject can never fully grasp. While patient X may think they are concealing their lack by going to the gym and neglecting other obligations, their initial recognition of their lack is always a misrecognition or a wishful projection. In other words, while patient X may perceive that they are lacking big arms (due to influence of social media), even when what they are lacking is a lost object that is radically excluded from their consciousness (his insecurities). The solution of touching the Real where patient X recognizes the truth of his desires (symptoms) is caused by insecurities could be a mere invention in his mind. This is to say that their symptom may have nothing to do with their insecurities even if patient X believes to be the case. Yet, it would be as Lacan said on how speaking the entire truth is impossible, but it is through the speech of what the subject perceives as truth which holds onto the Real. Therefore, by helping patient X recognize the truth of his desires of working out 24/7, patient X may change the way he relates with the Real. The goal of psychoanalysis is to reorient patient X’s relationship with the Real (their lack; their insecurities) so they can dissolve their symptoms and change or interrupt how they desire. 

While this is an oversimplification of such matter, the point I wish to make is that the convergence between ideal-ego and ego-ideal is an impossible task. Perhaps one might think that by achieving big arms, one removes what they perceive to be missing in the mirror. But this is almost never the case because, as already mentioned, getting big arms is a misrecognition of their lack. This is why you sometimes meet really attractive people who are still insecure about something—things that might not have anything to do with their appearance. One can be insecure about their intelligence, work, social skills, and lots of other things. In fact, some may find that the more attractive the person is, the more insecure they are. While this is not always true, sometimes, the more someone recognizes their lack, the more they will try to hide it by throwing on 50 pounds of make-up or become a veiny hulk, etc. At the end, everyone has insecurities regardless of how attractive they are. And no matter how hard one tries to conceal it, there will always be this lack because our ideal-ego is imposed by our laws of society (we are split subjects).

Think of all the things people do in their lives: addiction (gambling, partying, drugs, alcohol, smoke, sugar), people who work too much, play too much video games, people who repetitively does too much of something. While you can’t necessarily cure their symptoms since they are always a split subject, you can change and interrupt the way they experience these symptoms. I speak of this repetition compulsion in a similar way to my last post when I provided an example on how people enjoy listening to their favorite songs over and over again; just like patient X who repeatedly lives in the gym. Our daily lives are riddled by these unconscious repetitive symptoms that we are unaware of. Most of these symptoms are harmless and healthy when kept in check, while others are harmful when done to the extreme. We repeat them because we can never get enough pleasure from it since we are split subjects. Enjoy your symptoms!

The experience of narcissism is where the self attempts to unify with their ideal mirror image as One. The movement between the ego-ideal and ideal-ego causes the recognition of a lack when the split subject looks at themselves in mirror or at other people (i.e. I lack big arms due to the effects of the symbolic Other, therefore I produce the fantasy of becoming a veiny hulk). The desire to converge the ego-ideal and ideal-ego together is often referred as “the One”. Such term is also used in the same sense on how couples sometimes refer to their significant other as the One—an illusionary One that is produced by the effects of the imaginary. Perhaps our desire to converge with the One also explains why we live in a self-obsessed culture where people are constantly fascinated by their own image. 

Now you know why you sometimes see couples wear matching clothes. They are attempting to converge with the other person into their ideal image (they see “parts of themselves” in the other). Rightly so, many couples end up resembling each other in some ways, whether it be their world views, personality, appearance, or habits; something that is normal until it reaches a point where the image of the One remains as the One and does not go through the symbolic which makes us recognize that the other person is actually different from us. 

At the fundamental level, love is an imaginary and narcissistic phenomenon. Just as the child who looks into the mirror and says “This other person in the mirror is me!”, people also associate their beloved as someone who is similar to themselves. At the imaginary level, love between two people is about sameness so to turn the other into the One. Yet, the image of the One is always stopped short by the symbolic. Furthermore, while all relationships are based on past relationships, imaginary love steals over us before we recognize that this person turns out to be different from our past relationships. In this sense, love truly is blind (and friendship closes its eyes; this famous saying is from Friedrich Nietzsche). Now you know why Freud once said that “Love is temporary psychosis”. It is temporary because it is only a matter of time where we realize that the One is never quite “the One” since the other person is different from us. For Lacan, it is not enough for love to exist within the imaginary dimension through sameness. Any forms of love that are stuck within the imaginary are always doomed to fail. In extreme cases, it may lead to psychosis, delusions, and paranoia. This can be seen in the famous real case of Aimee who externally projected her ideal-ego onto an actress and murdered her. Lacan argued that Aimee’s love for her ideal-ego that she projected onto the actress turned into hate. When Aimee struck a knife at the actress, she struck an image of herself. After the crime was committed, Aimee goes through a meltdown and began crying where her psychotic symptoms were relieved. 

Let us briefly consider the opposite scenario where a person does not seek to turn the other person into the One. Consider an everyday person who says, “I should love my significant other for who they are and I should never love an idealized image of them” (an idealized image that I project onto the other person—my narcissism; the One). Often times, if you continue to ask the same person about their relationship with their significant other, they may also tell you all the things they think are important in a relationship. They might tell you how being faithful is important—something most people would agree. In some cases, this makes a classic example of the One entering into their mind without their conscious recognition. The person who is saying this does not recognize that their love for the other might be their love for the One / ideal self of being faithful to their partner. At times, becoming the ideal One (being a faithful person) is more important than being with their partner. Therefore at times, it is when we believe we are not idealizing the other where we idealize them where we are caught into our own image of the One (our own narcissism). Analysts seem to agree that idealism is an inescapable aspect of human passion. The same phenomena happens when people “love for love sake” where one loves the ideal or idea of love. One of the main differences between animal and human passion is that humans consists of an idealized dimension of love that enters into their minds when they least expect it. We don’t just love the person, we also love to love. Or as James Joyce would say, “Love loves to love love”.

Symbolic, Love, and Lack

“Love is giving what you don’t have.” —Jacques Lacan

As we know, it is impossible to converge with our idealized One that we see in the mirror due to the discourse of the symbolic Other. Thus, it is also impossible to converge with our beloved where we project ourselves onto them. Love can never only exist within the imaginary and must go through the symbolic.

While we may spend much of our lives protecting ourselves from experiencing the full force of what we truly lack (the Real), which leads to establishing healthy or unhealthy ways to deal with it (the symptom). In an ironic way, love does the opposite. This is the most profound insight Lacan offered in regards to the experience of love; which is that love reveals our experience of lack where the subject willingly exposes the truth of their desires and symptoms. To declare our love is to give what we lack. 

By declaring our love, one is proclaiming that they are split subjects. To say “I love you” is to say “I am incomplete”. This is not as simple as saying “I am incomplete and you complete me” so to speak (though it’s not wrong). But rather, the one who declares their love is offering what they recognize as the lack (object a; or object cause of desire) that they locate within their beloved. Lacan refers to the declaration of love as “making love” because one produces love by saying “I love you”. Love is conjured out of thin air through the act of declaration. Perhaps this is what makes these “three special words” so special.

Think of our example of the diagnosis for patient X who must touch the Real by acknowledging their unconscious repetitive symptoms are produced by their insecurities. By confronting the truth of their desires of living in the gym, patient X creates something new in their lives: a difference and dissolves their symptoms (they produce a new relationship with the Real after recognizing their symptoms are due to their insecurities). The recognition of love for the other does something similar. Love also touches the Real which produces a difference to those who declares and experiences it. This is why the encounter of love has the ability to change our lives and who we perceive ourselves to be! 

Just as the person will always see something missing in their mirror image due to the effects of the symbolic Other, they also recognize lack when they encounter their beloved. Hence, to love someone is to unconsciously locate our lack in the other. Love is an exposure of our lack which may halt the lover’s desire of whatever repetitive symptoms they already have. At its core, love has nothing to do with our desires other than the truth of such desires—which is that X loves Y.

Love also has nothing to do with sex. From the psychoanalytic perspective, sex is basically a bundle of drives attempting to achieve satisfaction. Sex teaches us the reality of pleasure. This is why Lacan famously said that “There is no sexual relationship”. There is no sexual relationship other than each person recognizing their own pleasure during intercourse. The only sexual relationship they have is with themselves. To put it vulgarly, sex is mutual masturbation. If someone thinks they love someone because of their butt fetish (for example), then it is not love, but lust. [The popular interpretation is that while there are no sexual relationships, it is love which substitutes or gives meaning to sex].

It is common for us to mistake desire and lust as love. And if such confusion ever arises, it is because desire and love are two sides of the same coin. It is the encounter of the Real or getting too close to object a which stops our desire (it interrupts our repetitive symptoms; when we get too close to object a, we also experience anxiety). The lack that we unconsciously locate in the other (object a) causes our desire while eventually stopping it in its tracks which produces the experience of love. This is why love feels like it cannot be described by any words or reason. Our desire for the other temporarily comes to a halt and love is produced by what is left over through the symbolic (by what is missing in symbolic language). Hence, Lacan points out how love allows us to experience the Real of our desire without the tragic dimension.

We often perceive the beloved as the One via imaginary even if such unity is impossible because love consumes us before we recognize that the One is never quite the One we perceive. Analysts sometimes talk about the whimsical aspects of love that they observe in couples where the things that each person perceives in the other is not always directly felt or recognized by the other person. In this sense, love is a form of misrecognition (just like patient X’s misrecognition of his desire for big arms, even when the truth is that he is insecure). The entire notion of dating involves this unconscious search of the lost object cause of desire (a) or lack. Some people manage to locate object a very quickly and those who are able to find it in the other will perceive them as someone who carries a special “glow”. Some of us are able to locate object a much easier in certain individuals than others because all relationships are based on past relationships. And when object a is located during the first encounter of the other, it sometimes becomes “love at first sight” (I say sometimes because it can also be lust).

Love at first sight is often considered as a short circuit between the imaginary and symbolic where the subject bypasses the Other’s laws (such as the Other’s demand that we must know someone before we can love them). Lacan once spoke of love at first sight as a form of attack that suddenly overpowers the subject. Its experience is often metaphorically described as getting struck by a lightning bolt (hence the French idiom coup de foudre which translates as a flash of lightning or thunderbolt). There are many famous examples of love at first sight in human history. One of them is from Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (father of existentialism) where nearly all of his works were inspired by his love for a woman named Regina (Regine Olsen). Kierkegaard once described his love encounter of Regina as a form of longing which gave him a strong sense of familiarity (this is transference; will get to later).

Nevertheless, just as one always identifies their lack in the mirror (i.e. I am missing big arms), the split subject also identifies the lack or object a that they locate in their beloved. But as we learned, this recognition of lack in ourselves or beloved is always in some ways a misrecognition (i.e. I am not missing big arms as I gaze into the mirror, but something that is unconscious to me; such that I am insecure). Thus, perhaps the moment we think we love the other and recognize them for their good qualities is the moment where we don’t love them for their good qualities. Bruce Fink, a renown clinical psychoanalyst, does a brilliant job at explaining how love functions as a form of misrecognition:

“Can we after all, love someone who seems to be perfect, someone who seems to have everything? Isn’t it often the case that although we may be fascinated or captivated by someone who appears to have only good qualities, we only begin to love him or her from the moment we suspect that he or she is somewhat (if not deeply) unhappy, quite clueless about something, rather awkward, clumsy, or helpless? Isn’t it in his or her nonmastery or incompleteness that we see a possible place for ourselves in his or her affections—that is, that we glimpse the possibility that we may be able to do something for that person, be something to that person? In this case, we perhaps love not what they have, but what they do not have; moreover, we show our love by giving what we ourselves do not have.” 

Perhaps we don’t love the other’s perfections and what they have after all. We love what they do not have. We love what the other lacks and we want to take the place of such lack as much as we would like them to do the same for us. Love is thus, born between givers of what they do not have. As Fink might say, to declare “I love you” is to give what we lack and hope the other will handle it with care. In our materialistic world, it is easy to reveal our love by showering our beloved with what we have, such as a fancy dinner or a big bouquet of roses. But it is much more meaningful and difficult to give what we do not have.

This is why Lacan points out how humans cannot speak about love without sounding like an imbecile. We cannot talk about love without situating it into metaphors which represents its lack. For Lacan, love is always mutual. He uses his own metaphor to describe love:

Imagine you see a beautiful flower. You reach out your hand to grab it. But at the moment you do, the flower bursts into flames. In its place, you see another hand appear, reaching back towards your own.

This famous Lacanian metaphor represents the height of love which occurs when the beloved transforms into the lover. When the lover declares their love by reaching their hand towards the beloved (flower), the beloved bursts into flames as their hand reaches back to the lover. This is what some analysts refer as “the miracle of love”. It is a miracle that your beloved returns your love! Obviously, the idea that our beloved happens to love us back will not always be the case, even if Lacan would disagree, which he has every reason to do so (will get to later). I won’t talk too much about unrequited love today. All I will say is that unrequited love may sometimes make the lover question whether they are lovable or not. “The other does not love me back because I am not good enough to become the One!”. To declare our love is to reveal our narcissistic wound that we are incomplete. This is why the pain of unrequited love is unlike any other.

Alenka Zupancic, a contemporary Lacanian scholar, talks about love as a form of surprise. It is surprising that what we initially perceive as the person of interest often turns out to be completely “different”, even when the other person had been themselves all this time. Zupancic writes a beautiful passage on the love encounter:

“A love encounter is not simply about everything falling into its rightful place. A love encounter is not simply about a contingent match between two different pathologies, about two individuals being lucky enough to encounter in each other what “works for them”. Rather, love is what makes it work. Love does something to us, it makes, or allows for, the cause of our desire to condescend, to coincide with our love. And the effect of this is surprise—only this surprise, and not simply our infatuation, is the sign of love proper. It is the sign of the subject, of the subjective figure of love. It says not simply “You are it!.” but rather: “How surprising that you are it!”. Or, in a simpler formula of how love operates: “How surprising that you are you!”.

Love is about difference, not sameness. Love appears only when something is out of place and misrecognized. The person who is outgoing life of the party turns out to be introspective and thoughtful. The person who appears aloof is just shy. Or the intelligent person turns out to be clueless of social norms. The effect of symbolic love is the surprise of difference.

While the imaginary dimension of love makes us blind to the fact that the One is never quite the One (the imaginary makes us think that the other is the same as us, even when they are different), love at the symbolic level has the ability to traverse differences where two people produces a truth together. Love is what makes differences work. It is where people converge into their imaginary One as they recognize its impossibility through each other’s symbolic differences. Thus, real love must triumph over all the obstacles ruptured from the world—even if it may sometimes involve struggle and pain. For, isn’t it through the hardships of love which makes it meaningful? That our love for the other is worth fighting for and not easily given up on? Imagine two people who goes through thick and thin with unconditional faith in the other and conquers the entire universe! Perhaps Freud was right in that one day, the years of struggle will strike us as the most beautiful. 

But we now also understand what Lacan meant when he asked: “What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them can give you the universe?”. Love always involves difference where our beloved can never completely give us our universe (i.e. idealized relationship; the One). Think of some people who are prone to jumping from one relationship to another from giving up on their love after the first obstacle. Some of them wants to find their ideal love and ideal relationship without recognizing that the convergence of the One is impossible. Love cannot exist solely within the imaginary. Love is about difference, and it is hard work.

In the film Arrival, the relationship between Ian and Louise is a good example of a love encounter. Consider the ending where Ian (Jeremy Renner) declares his love for Louise (Amy Adams) by delivering a magnificent line: “I’ve had my head titled up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me most? It wasn’t meeting them. It was meeting you”. Not only is love a form of surprise, it requires chance to occur (will get to this later). It is by chance that they meet where they begin their relationship through mutual differences. Where Louise thinks language is the foundation of civilization, Ian thinks it is science. And it is only at the end of the film where such difference gets resolved as Ian becomes surprised at how Louise’s character who approached language like a mathematician. Although they end up separating, what makes the ending of Arrival profound and heart wrenching is Louise’s act of love and her acceptance of the finitude of being human. Would you give birth to your daughter knowing that she will die at a young age? Just as, would one adopt a pet companion knowing they will eventually die from their illness? The truth is, everyone dies sooner or later. While it might be sad to know that the person or companion we love dearly will one day leave you (or they already left you), it is because they will leave you which makes the time you spend with them meaningful. Every memory is infinite, every moment is forever.

Recall in my last post, when I introduced one of Freud’s famous patients of the man who was attracted to the shine on a woman’s nose that no one else could see. This is a prime example of transference. We often associate various traits of the other as something familiar to our past relationships. People find and see different things within the other that they love. Hence, not only is love blind, beauty is also in the eye of the beholder. A lot of people tend to think that by achieving ideal body standards set by society, they become the object of desire. While this might be true under the context of desire and sex, people often love characteristics that has nothing to do with these beauty standards because we love what they do not have. This is why everyone has something beautiful and unique about them, even if they don’t fit into any ideal standards. 

Finally, we also have the experience of hate. Quite the contrary to what most people think. Hate is an extension of love. You might notice that people who break up may sometimes end up hating each other. They might talk behind each other’s back and gossip to other people how horrible their ex were. The truth is that nothing annoys us more than the things our lovers do. If we did not love them, we would not care about the things they do because it wouldn’t matter in the first place. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. And those who cannot hate, cannot love.

Love and Transference

“Love is giving what you don’t have…to someone who does not want it.” —Jacques Lacan

Transference is a common phenomenon that happens everyday. It involves the split subject who transfers past experiences, traumas and emotions onto a present object. These past experiences can be applied onto someone or something. Not only is transference central to psychoanalytic therapy, it plays a fundamental role in the experience of love. 

Since all relationships are based on past relationships, love is transference. Humans transfer past emotions and experiences onto the present object without immediately recognizing that the present object that we perceive as sameness—such as the beloved—is actually different from our past. Now we understand how our misrecognitions are often produced by transference (our misrecognitions are a form of wishful projection—our desires). This is why analysts often say that when one is in love, they are unconsciously in love with someone else. Who is the other person that we unconsciously love? Could it be our ex-partners? Our mother or father? Our siblings? Could it be someone who one cannot possibly love due to symbolic influence of the Other? One can only imagine the tragic dimension that is absent from the declaration of love as the love that cannot be accepted by someone else. This is the reason why our beloved often resembles someone in our families or past relationships even when they are a completely different person. And this is exactly why love is about difference.

One way of interpreting this last part of Lacan’s quote is to think of how many of us sometimes fixate on the failures of our past relationships which cast doubts on our current beloved without our conscious recognition. Just as our recognition that we project onto our beloved turns out to be something else (the person who is aloof is just shy, etc.), perhaps the reason we have doubts about them is due to transference. Thus, perhaps the moment we think the other is not returning our love (a projection from our past where someone did not want our love), is the moment where we find love being returned. To love requires us to take risks and embrace the unknown so to be consumed by its magic where the result is surprise. Love requires one to leap across an abyss. If you have to think about it, then you won’t do it (a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre found here).

Another way we can interpret this last part of Lacan’s quote is to think of how the lack that we give to the other are often traits and characteristics that they see as our imperfections and non-masteries. In reality—and as strange as it may sound—it is often these imperfect annoying traits about the other person that we love most. The reason is because they unconsciously remind us of something from past relationships that we have repressed where they consciously appear to us as disgust and annoyance. In this sense, the lack that we give are things that the other does not consciously want, but unconsciously desires.

Consider the film No Time to Die and the scene where Safin visits Madelaine at her psychotherapy office. The setting of her office reveals that Madelaine is a psychoanalyst of sorts. Such view is reinforced by Safin who points out how it is dangerous for the patient to have an attractive psychotherapist. This is true in the sense that the goal of the analyst is to cause desire within the analysand without the analyst becoming their object of desire. And when the analyst is attractive, it becomes difficult to not become the object of desire. This is why the analyst’s desk is located behind the patient’s chair (you see Madeleine’s desk behind Safin during this scene). It is also one of the reasons why you sometimes hear people talk about falling in love with their analysts or therapists.

Within the analytic setting, the “analysand” (patient) basically translates as “the person who analyzes”. When you get psychoanalyzed, it is the patient who does all the hard work by analyzing themselves via free association (i.e. speaking whatever comes to mind). In the perspective of the analysand, the analyst is someone who is “supposed to know” all the answers to their unconscious repetitive symptoms, even when the analyst knows nothing more than what the analysand tells them when they free associate. The analyst’s job is to follow the trail of the analysand’s unconscious as they free associate and help them locate the key to dissolve their symptoms.

I recall reading about a real case of a male patient who did not know why he always treated and dumped his ex-girlfriends in the exact same way. As he went through analysis, he discovered the reason why he treated them in the same way was because this was how his father treated his mother when he was a child. This is a good example of how childhood experiences affects adulthood—or what Freud refer as the “return of the repressed”. It is also a good example of how past relationships influences present relationships (transference). Instead of our made up example of patient X who goes to the gym 24/7, we have a real case of someone who repeatedly treats their girlfriends in the exact same way where the reason is unconscious to them.

This takes us back to the question from my previous post between what the subject wants versus what the Other wants from the subject. Consider Squid Game, where each player is forced into relations with the Other (the show featured a book by Lacan). If you do not conform to the desires of the Other, which is to play by the rules of capitalism (or squid game) so to serve yourself, you will be eliminated from society. Hence, the everyday split subject’s desire is the Other’s desire (to desire for money, social status, wealth, ideal beauty, etc.; or patient X who wants to become a veiny hulk). This is metaphorically paralleled to the film Inception where it implied Robert Fischer as someone who wasn’t sure what his father desired for him. At the end of the film—despite the “inception” that took place—Fischer opens up a safe and realizes that his father does not want him to take his place of owning his business empire. Instead, he wants Fischer to dismantle it and become his own man. One can only assume that the awakened Fischer from the depths of his dreams would live his life satisfying his father’s desire.

This is part of the reason why Lacan thinks love is always mutual and will inevitably be returned (some analysts contests this claim). Not only does Lacan argue that the experience of love does not fully emerge until the lover unconsciously recognizes that love is also emerging within the beloved; at the fundamental level, the declaration of love functions as a form of demand which reveals to the beloved as the desire of the Other. All declaration of love is a demand for love to be returned. In order for the beloved to satisfy the desires of the other (i.e. the lover who declared love), love will be returned. 

Contrary to these examples, in a clinical setting, the analyst’s goal is to not desire the analysand to be like this or like that in the same way the Other would. Rather, the analyst’s job is to give the analysand a chance to produce their own desires as the analyst attempts to reduce the effects of the Other’s impositions. After all, the subject’s desire is the Other’s desire. It is by reducing the effects of the Other where it could yield room for the analysand’s subjectivity to identify the truth of their desires (symptoms). This procedure is referred as the “ethical act of psychoanalysis”. It is not the analyst’s job to determine the analysand’s desires and what they should perceive as the truth of their desires (instead, the analyst guides them by following the crumbs of their unconscious as they free associate in an attempt to resolve their transference). In this sense, one can say that psychoanalysis is the practice of free speech par excellence. The analysand just sits there and speaks whatever comes to mind.

However, just because it is the analyst’s job to give space for the analysand to desire does not mean that the analyst shouldn’t desire anything from the analysand. One of the first things that the analysand demands from the analyst during therapy is for the analyst’s love and care that they listen attentively to what they have to say. The reason is because speech is a demand for love; just like a baby’s cry. Analysts knows they cannot return this type of love—which is why they often speak as little as possible during analysis. The analyst must always be aware of their desires versus the desires from the analysand. What makes psychoanalysis different from other therapies is that the analyst must always try to find something to desire within the analysand. They must try to love and care about something in the analysand in order for psychoanalysis to take place (if this is the case, is the analyst an example of an unrequited lover who must love without expecting anything in return?). After all, how could there be successful psychoanalysis if the patient does not feel like they are being listened to and cared for by the other? 

Lacan once famously pointed out how the analyst’s job is to temporarily function as the analysand’s “right person” (their beloved, but without becoming it). The analyst is the placeholder of the analysand’s love and knowledge (object a; lack) that the analysand unconsciously projects onto as they free associate. By becoming the “right person”, the analyst hopes that the analysand can experience the metaphor of love in a new way which would make them stop repeating their symptoms. The analyst do so by trying to make the analysand recognize that they are split subjects. This is one of the reasons why you cannot psychoanalyze yourself. There must always be an analyst or person who functions as the placeholder of the analysand’s love and knowledge. As we begin to see, psychoanalysis doesn’t just take place within a clinical setting, it happens everywhere through our encounters of love. The experience of love is central to dissolving the analysand’s symptoms because it is what allows difference, interruptions, and new knowledge to emerge. The moment the analysand feels like the analyst does not listen or care about them is usually the moment psychoanalysis fails. 

What is Love?

Love is the wound of our split subjectivity that we locate in the other. No wonder why we feel so vulnerable when we declare our love! Love is what we do not have—or have very little of due to symbolic filtering. Declaring our love for the other exposes our incompleteness (lack). Yet, to produce love through the act of declaration is to speak nothing of it because its experience infinitely exceeds language. 

In the same way patient X must come to the truth of their desires by producing new knowledge that their symptoms are caused by insecurities, the lover must also declare their love so to produce knowledge for the truth of their desires—such that everything they’ve done for their beloved was because they love them. If you are following my metaphors that are structured in the same way but with different content, you now understand why love marks the limits of human knowledge. It is from the revelation of the truth of our desires where new knowledge is produced from our unconscious mind. And it is from this truth or new knowledge that latches onto the Real which may change our perceptions of ourselves and everything around us. In some cases, it may even change the world! The metaphor of love takes infinite forms because love is the letter (or signifier) from our unconscious mind. Can you imagine the first person who desires to walk on the beach everyday (symptom) and suddenly discovers the truth that ocean tides are influenced by the moon? Or one day, Isaac Newton desired to sit under a tree where an apple randomly fell on his head which allowed him to discover gravity? The famous story of Newton is indeed, a love story. Love is the metaphorical representation of infinity that is conceived through symbolic thought. To conceive of love is to become the thinker of infinities.

If you recall when I said that love is fundamentally feminine, we now understand why a hysterics position (mostly found in women) is infinitely more profound than an obsessional neurotic (mostly found in men). Even an obsessional neurotic must temporarily take on the position of a hysteric so to discover new knowledge and declare their love. This is why obsessional neuroticism is a dialectic with hysteria. 

In order for love to arise, there must always be a certain level of risk and contingency. Alain Badiou’s philosophy on love is a great example which circles around psychoanalysis. Badiou is well known for criticizing dating apps which uses advanced algorithms to pair people who are similar to each other. He thinks people today are too safe (conservative) and hedonistic in their approach to love in that they always either look for sameness or they look for sex (food for thought: what is the difference between an algorithm that matches people in a dating app, and the person who arranges blind dates and marriages?). In other words, people want love without chance and risk. They want guaranteed love and make sure that the other is their “best fit”, even when love only occurs when things don’t quite fit. Ultimately, Badiou disagrees with this type of “safe love” and favors love that requires adventure, difference, contingency, and risk.

Regardless of Badiou’s critique on dating apps. Love is an event that is ruptured out of the contingencies of everyday life (like the apple that randomly fell on Newton’s head). The encounter of love arises in the most unexpected places which shakes the foundations of your world (the apple that shook Newton’s world). One day, you walk into a place and encounter a person who challenges your world (this is the “fall” of falling in love). Love becomes an ethical event that is produced out of pure contingency. In face of such event, love requires a risk that two people must take. Your encounter of the other turns into destiny (just as it is Newton’s destiny to encounter the apple which allowed him to discover gravity). It is no longer by chance that you encountered this person, but your destiny to do so. Human fate gives over to another human fate. From this point on, love allows you to see the world not from the perspective of one, but from the perspective of two (difference). And it is through these differences in perspectives where two people produces a truth together. Thus, love becomes a construction of a new life (difference) that is produced over time. As Badiou says, love is a rare experience where on the basis of chance inscribed in a moment, one attempts to declare eternity! 

Love is a catastrophe that interrupts your existence and shakes you out of your comfort zone like stage fright. The encounter of love makes you recognize that your world is no longer about yourself (your narcssisism; the One), but what you lack: your beloved. Love is not fetishism, such as the sexualization of the other’s body parts (breast, butt, penis, muscles, etc.). Love is a form of care for the other’s soul which involves experiencing the world from a different perspective. To love is to want your beloved to be happy. This is love in its purest form. It is what most people refer as “true love” or “unconditional love”. In our hedonistic society which teaches us to serve our own pleasures and happiness, love turns selfish into selfless. Many people often confuse love and desire by thinking that love must always consist of possessing or desiring the other. While loving and desiring to be with our beloved should always be the ideal scenario, we all know it’s not always possible. However difficult it might be, it is perfectly possible that one can love someone without desiring to be with them. Hence, it is also possible that one can love someone while desiring someone else. It is very difficult to love without desire or wanting to be with the other because love and desire are two sides of the same coin. It is not recommended that one should give up on their desires for the other because the truth is, everyone wants to be with the person they love most.

Is the experience of love simply caused by hormones and chemical reactions as science claims? While this answer is sufficient for most materialists, it cannot explain the problem between consciousness and the unconscious mind. Perhaps this highlights the philosophical problem between idealism and materialism (the experience of consciousness is non-physical; one can hold onto their physical brain, but they cannot physically hold onto their experience of consciousness; welcome to metaphysics). Personally, I think this is a cold approach to love, even if it is not a wrong answer. Some contemporary psychologists tries to scientifically universalize the experience of love by arguing what a normal relationship should look like (think of the function of the Other defining an ideal relationship, like social media and advertisements defining ideal beauty). Many of them do so at the expense of ignoring the problem of ideology among other things. In psychoanalysis, there is no such thing as “normal” because every individual is unique with different pathologies and histories. Everyone has a different type of love language. There is always something specific and unique about each love encounter. This is what makes love perilous and profoundly beautiful!

Many of us have a tendency of burdening ourselves to be in love despite the risks that it involves—such that the other might not love us back, that it may lead to pain and suffering, or our love might fail in the future. The truth is, whether it is new knowledge, an animal companion, or someone special, humans can do very little without love. Without its lack which provokes our curiosity and desire, one would not be able to declare or produce the question of love and offer a response. It is here, where we arrive at one of the very first questions in human intellectual history:

What is love?

“The wound can have (should only have) one proper name. I recognize that I love—you—by this: you leave in me a wound that I do not want to replace.”
—Jacques Derrida.

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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 who 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.

* * *

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. The experience of reading Simulacra and Simulation emphasizes on this constant state of confusion between reality and illusion.

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 got 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 also 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. 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 (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. To put simply, in a world of hyperrealities, people can only produce the simulation of change without making any real change.

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 and 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 where we have 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.

* * *

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 [ironically, Baudrillard’s view that masculinity is produced from the challenge of feminine is inline with various Lacanian psychoanalytic approaches].

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 who 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 (think about people who uses their appearance to play on different genders).

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 by love, death, and ethics. 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. With all this said, this post is half analytical and half self-reflective. It is written backwards with the “Foreword” at the very end. 

* * *

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 dualism). 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 enslaved and murdered Jewish people by throwing them into the gas chambers (Derrida was 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 over 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 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. 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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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.

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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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Contemplation

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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