Newmedia on Wed, 8 Mar 2000 01:12:48 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> symbolic order and its limits


Thank you very much.  That was quite helpful.  You seem to be on an 
interesting track.

I have no idea whether Lacan (or his epigoni) ever read Julian Jaynes' 1976 
"The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" but 
Jaynes also posits that "schizophrenia" (but *not* other "mental-conditions") 
is best thought of as existing inside of the "symbolic order" (although he, 
of course, didn't use that particular jargon) but as a "hold-over" from an 
very different era.  

Indeed, Jaynes -- a now deceased Princeton psychologist with whom I studied 
as probably his final "student" -- suggested that "schizophrenia" is perhaps 
the best evidence we have that there were once other *dominant* mentalities 
which existed in earlier phases of humanity.  Non-"conscious" mentalities.  

This problem of "evidence" results from his further belief that ALL human 
culture today is pervaded with "consciousness" (i.e. "symbolic order") -- 
including those that seem to be somehow "different", which, in fact, largely 
exist as the results of the "collapse" of various "cultures" which were 
themselves within the the larger domain of "consciousness."

Specifically, he addresses the Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies (probably 
best not thought of as "cultures" because the *dominant* mentality was *not* 
"consciousness") which are so often glibbly considered to be the "origin" of 
everything from "philosophy" to "art" to "hermetic thought."  But which, if 
indeed they were characterized by radically different *dominant* mentalities 
(revolving largely around compelling auditory "hallucinations" involving your 
ancestors, others and, in some cases, "gods"), could *not* be simple 
pre-cursors to anything for whcih "consciousness" is *dominant* (i.e. Lacan's 
"symbolic order").

Thus expressing Jaynes in Lacanian terms (I guess?), Ancient Egypt and 
Babylon were "Pre-Symbolic Order" societies which have left their "remnants" 
with us to this day.  One result of this is that trying to "understand" the 
"artefacts" of these societies in terms of some "symbolic order" is utterly 
doomed.  The Egyptian's. according to Jaynes, simply had no art, no 
"culture,"  no emotions, didn't dream, etc.  Since all of this comes along 
with "consciousness."  Trying to describe how they lived in linear, 
narrative, alphabetic terms, would need to completely miss the point.

Obviously(?), "hearing voices" is the key here.  In Jaynesian terms.

So, combining "autism" with "schizophrenia" may be a real apples and oranges 
situation . . . as you've probably considered.  These may all be considered 
by "normal" society as "abnormal" but, most likely, that it exactly the wrong 
categorization to be using here.  Each of these "conditions" are -- as far as 
I can tell -- quite different situations arising for quite different reasons.

Our lives are filled with attempts to "get out" of the "symbolic order" . . . 
all of which are probably quite vain and ultimately futile.  "Altered 
consciousness" exercizes of all sorts -- drugs, meditation, intiations, 
jumping-off-cliffs -- are only briefly effective.  Even after all the 
"Mythology" saturated art, the endless retrievals of the "Tribal 
Unconscious," the rolling around in "Archetypes" and the efforts to launch 
"Synthetic Religions," we still return to the "symbolic order" . . . if we 
return at all.

Our lives are also filled with attempts to study every aspect of "breaking 
down" the "symbolic order" and for various reasons . . . many of which should 
qualify as forms of "programming", "social-engineering" and even 

MK-ULTRA, the famous CIA program which gave us *all* of the early LSD efforts 
in the West (including Tim Leary, etc.) has been mis-characterized as simply 
focussed on training (or defending against) "brain-washed" assassins.  That's 
far too facile and naive.  These folks were attempting to see how "breaks" in 
the "symbolic order" -- even temporary ones -- could be used to permanently 
alter behavior.  It will probably surprise most that a great deal of this 
effort this was very "progressive" -- at least in the minds of those who were 
involved in the work -- and was aimed at ending war, poverty and racism, for 

My own efforts are not focused on "breaking out" or "breaking down" the 
"symbolic order" but rather building something much more dynamic "on top" of 
it, so to speak, for whatever that is worth. <g>


Mark Stahlman

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