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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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,



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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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.


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.

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.

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

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

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