ine gevers on Tue, 7 Mar 2000 16:37:28 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> symbolic order and its limits

Dear Josephine, Mark


I have just finished an article (in Dutch) on the symbolic order as the
most dominant model of representation of (many) cultures. It is a
construction which is so penetratingly present that there are only few of
us capable of even experiencing the fact that this order is only a screen
through which we perceive reality. Cause of this is the fact that entering
the symbolic order goes hand in hand with fully subjecting ourselves to
its rules, to the prohibitions of language as the symbolic representation
of reality. Jacques Lacan (among others) has described this process
thoroughly. He even pointed at the fact that the symbolic order as a
screen has a function that is at least twofold: it translates reality
symbolically so that we can keep up the illusion to more or less share the
same world, but it also protects us from 'the gaze of the object', from
the Real. Language and the symbolic order have proved to be perfect tools
of survival among humans in general. 

Fact is, however, that it is impossible to turn things around by stating
that the symbolic order is like a precondition for humanity or of being
human. Language and the symbolic order, in this sense, are very exclusive
systems (read Foucault on this). Because of mental conditions they are
confronted with many people do not self-evidently take part of this
symbolic order, or they drop out of this order occasionally: people with
developmental disorders, autism, schizophrenia etc. Some of them learn to
manage but never will feel fully comfortable within this complex system of
codes, others never speak although that doesn't mean they have nothing to

In short, as a cultural producer and activist I am making an effort to
bring about some disturbances in the symbolic order we all seem to take
for granted. Not to celebrate its implosion (there are persons who
actually think this is happening now cyberspace is about to replace other
- including symbolic- representations of reality) for I wouldn't wish all
of us to become psychotic. But to contribute to a growing awareness of the
limits of language on the one hand (following Wittgenstein, who, due to
his slight autism was able to draw these limits from inside as well as
outside), and to place other, non- or extra-symbolic cultures on the map
as well. All over the world autistics and their cousins (AC's), people
with schizophrenia and other related disorders are representing themselves
as cultures ( following the path already paved by feminists, cultural
minorities and many other movements critiquing the dominance of certain
groups of people over others). It is time that the unbalanced hierarchy
between other cultures (whether due to geographical, ethnical or
neurological differences) is questioned. Those who are interested in this
topic visit


Ine Gevers

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