Tuesday, March 30, 2004

I received a letter from Diderik Humble jr. the other day. He's arrived in Uqbar now, and the mysterious story of the life and adventures of hisself, his erstwhile "companion" Sinsemilla, Managing Director Stimos of the TRU Corporation, and Inta, delegate to the Intra-Paracelcist biannual convention at Hotel Rio Grande do Sul downtown Uqbar, will continue. Perhaps we will be offered answers to significant questions like who is Mundt? Is he, indeed, the Master of the Mansion? etc. As I have been swarmed with enthusiastic, and occasionally lewd, mails from devoted readers, urging me to continue the tale of our friends in Uqbar, I have had little time to actually write down the story as its writ. Hence and therefore and without further ado, let me cede the floor to Diderik Humble jr., by way of aforementioned letter.


Umfuweto, phatic,

I hope all is well back in The Specter of Kabool, and that you're managing in your bungalow on the Bagdad Banks. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations, and Sinsemilla sends her regards as well.

Uqbar isn't much like it's rumoured to be. The old buildings are still here, sure, but there's a certain barrenness about them. It's like returning to a future that somehow got lost in the past.

Anyway, the other day I attended a lecture on "The Mirror of Sport, or Couching the Performer" at the Uqbar Institute of Titting and Tatting. I just missed one Prof McEnroy's paper on "Once you Pop you can't Stop: How Nike Changed my Life and Other(ed) Observations." The conference was obviously a success, and, amid the pools of plastic glasses filled with champagne and mini-sandwiches, I managed to lodge myself in Auditorium Terminus, just as one Prof Kingfisher took the podium in elegant strides, his coat whirling about him like the flaps of a bat-costume, briefly disguising his limp. As he turned to face the audience, I realized that he was a rather oldish professor, possibly emeritus, I figured, but with a distinct and forceful voice. Professor Kingfisher wore dark, slim sunglasses, matching his silver-gray mane and black suit. I'll copy some of my lecture notes here. I hope you find some use of them, or not.

Diderik Humble jr's lecture notes

Lacan's Mirror Stage: Alienating armour of identity. To locate identity ("thou art that!") only first step, before journey even begins. What is the world like before mirror stage? No way of knowing, since our knowing is always mediated. No social, shared knowledge without communication, mediation. Could there be knowledge outside the social, shared? We couldn't know: If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is there to hear it, would it still make a sound? We can't know. We can guess. But no way of determining or knowing it. It is a kind of speculative knowledge we're reduced to when trying to speak about the world before communication. It is when we start communicating that we enter into the world of communicating beings, into society. But entering into society also means entering into a structure, a rule-governed practice, and these rules we learn only slowly and through much pain and misunderstanding.

In a sense we could say that the very premise of us communicating is that I can distinguish between myself and others. So the sense of I/other is cruical for it to be communication what so ever. But what is this I? What am I? Today we usually understand this question as a question of identity. What am I becomes "what is my identity". But let's consider some possible identities: Woman, man, racial, classed (poor/rich or worker/capitalist), sportsman, student, Britney Spears fan, YAP, etc. The point is that these classifications and their attendant identities (practices, appearances, technologies, methodologies) are all given. If I want to be a Britney Spears fan there are certain rules I must adher to in order to be recognized as one. And these rules are made before us. So identifying with these identities don't makes us individual, as they may have promised. We thought, somewhere along the line, that we needed some identity that would distinguish us from out parents, friends,
school mates, rivals, etc., and it turns out that we are simply moving from one kind of social constraint to another.

In fact, going "overboard" in a quest for singularity could be one possible characteristic of the obsessional. Perhaps we could say that the obsessional has figured out precisely the logic of individualization: She desires the supreme, total and absolute individuality, but by the same token acquires nothing but confirming the logic of individualism. Confronted with the total scope of individualist isolation, the obsessive could be said to engage in an attempt to subvert it by over-identifying with it.

Let's consider the joke from Monty Python's Life of Brian for a second. "You are all individuals." The crowd repeats in one voice, "We are all individuals." Except one fella who declares: "I'm not." The gist is of course that us being called upon to be different individuals can only lead to that everybody become more of the same, and the only means through which to subvert it is by denying that one is different. It is a paradoxical conclusion, but apparently necessary to the game of "individual identity".

This sense we get, then, of this identity which is not me, is the point of Jacques Lacan's The Mirror Stage. Our call to "identify ourselves" is perhaps precisely one of those requirements we meet when we are engaged in the world of social communication, the game of distinguishing self (friend) from other (foe). The attendant alienation from our selves is a characteristic effect of our passing through the Mirror Stage of childhood development. I will now go through some of the central points in Lacan's argument, and will return in the end with some notes of how we may use these notions to interrogate the meaning and purpose of sport.

- inchoate, disparate, pre-symbolic, fragmented body, imaginary

- indications: dreams, paintings of Bosch, jokes

- stages: hysteria, obsession, paranoiac alienation

- fiction of I (fortress), phantasies, entrance into symbolic order

- primordial jealousy: someone else has something I want (projection, repression, mediated desire of the other, Oedipus)

- imaginary servitude

Sport: symbolizing activity par excellance, symbolizing violence, incoherence, ordering it

- imaginary servitude: Hand of god shows possibility of breaking symbolization, but still not unmediated?

I'm sorry if some of these notes may turn out incoherent. After the lecture I tried to approach Prof Kingfisher for a discussion on the Oedipus complex, but as he was immediately swarmed by young teenage girls aching for an autograph on some explicit limb, I ended up breaching my ideas to one of the conferees, a young lecturer from Ireland.

I asked him if he had ever taught Oedipus Rex in class, and he assured me he did, at least once a year, and we exchanged notes on student responses to various approaches to the play. I inquired about if he'd ever made use of audio-visual material, such as a videogram, and he suggested Guthrie's famous 1954 version.

I didn't want to tell him that I hadn't seen it, or never even heard about it.

"What about Fellini's version?" I proposed.

He asked me how it had worked, and I had to admit that it was less than satisfactory. Students tended to focus on the graphic violence, amplified by Fellini in that he lets Oedipus kill the sphinx. I mean, isn't there a difference between shaving and decapitating, now? Also, while instructive, the framing narrative wasn't really that helpful for our purpose, ie. in that particular class.

"Try Guthrie," the Irishman said, breaking out in a big smile, and slapping me on the back like there was no tomorrow.

Conferences, huh.

Stay well, brother.

Diderik Humble jr.