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<nettime> Slavoj Zizek: The Matrix, the two sides of Perversion
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<nettime> Slavoj Zizek: The Matrix, the two sides of Perversion

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Slavoj Zizek

When I saw The Matrix at a local theatre in Slovenia, I had the unique 
opportunity of sitting close to the ideal spectator of the film - 
namely, to an idiot. A man in the late 20ies at my right was so 
immersed in the film that he all the time disturbed other spectators 
with loud exclamations, like "My God, wow, so there is no reality!"... 
I definitely prefer such naive immersion to the pseudo-sophisticated 
intellectualist readings which project into the film the refined 
philosophical or psychoanalytic conceptual distinctions.(1)

It is nonetheless easy to understand this intellectual attraction of 
The Matrix: is it not that The Matrix is one of the films which 
function as a kind of Rorschach test [ http://rorschach.test.at/ ] 
setting in motion the universalized process of recognition, like the 
proverbial painting of God which seems always to stare directly at you, 
from wherever you look at it - practically every orientation seems to 
recognize itself in it? My Lacanian friends are telling me that the 
authors must have read Lacan; the Frankfurt School partisans see in the 
Matrix the extrapolated embodiment of Kulturindustrie, the 
alienated-reified social Substance (of the Capital) directly taking 
over, colonizing our inner life itself, using us as the source of 
energy; New Agers see in the source of speculations on how our world is 
just a mirage generated by a global Mind embodied inthe World Wide Web. 
This series goes back to Plato's Republic: does The Matrix not repeat 
exactly Plato's dispositif of the cave (ordinary humans as prisoners, 
tied firmly to their seats and compelled to watch the shadowy 
performance of (what they falsely consider to be) reality? The 
important difference, of course, is that when some individuals escape 
their cave predicament and step out to the surface of the Earth, what 
they find there is no longer the bright surface illuminated by the rays 
of the Sun, the supreme Good, but the desolate "desert of the real." 
The key opposition is here the one between Frankfurt School and Lacan: 
should we historicize the Matrix into the metaphor of the Capital that 
colonized culture and subjectivity, or is it the reification of the 
symbolic order as such? However, what if this very alternative is 
false? What if the virtual character of the symbolic order "as such" is 
the very condition of historicity?

Reaching the End Of the World 

Of course, the idea of the hero living in a totally manipulated and 
controlled artificial universe is hardly original: The Matrix just 
radicalizes it by bringing in virtual reality. The point here is the 
radical ambiguity of the VR with regard to the problematic of 
iconoclasm. On the one hand, VR marks the radical reduction of the 
wealth of our sensory experience to - not even letters, but - the 
minimal digital series of 0 and 1, of passing and non-passing of the 
electrical signal. On the other hand, this very digital machine 
generates the "simulated" experience of reality which tends to become 
indiscernable from the "real" reality, with the consequence of 
undermining the very notion of "real" reality - VR is thus at the same 
time the most radical assertion of the seductive power of images.

Is not the ultimate American paranoiac fantasy that of an individual 
living in a small idyllic Californian city, a consummerist paradise, 
who suddenly starts to suspect that the world he lives in is a fake, a 
spectatle staged to convince him that he lives in a real world, while 
all people around him are effectively actors and extras in a gigantic 
show? The most recent example of this is Peter Weir's The Truman Show 
(1998), with Jim Carrey playing the small town clerk who gradually 
discovers the truth that he is the hero of a 24-hours permanent TV 
show: his hometown is constructed on a a gigantic studio set, with 
cameras following him permanently. Sloterdijk's "sphere" is here 
literally realized, as the gigantic metal sphere that envelopes and 
isolates the entire city. This final shot of The Truman Show may seem 
to enact the liberating experience of breaking out from the ideological 
suture of the enclosed universe into its outside, invisible from the 
ideological inside. However, what if it is precisely this "happy" 
denouement of the film (let us not forget: applauded by the millions 
around the world watching the last minutes of the show), with the hero 
breaking out and, as we are led to believe, soon to join his true love 
(so that we have again the formula of the production of the couple!), 
that is ideology at its purest? What if ideology resides in the very 
belief that, outside the closure of the finite universe, there is some 
"true reality" to be entered?(2)

Among the predecessors of this notion, it is worth mentioning Phillip 
Dick's Time Out of Joint (1959), in which a hero living a modest daily 
life in a small idyllic Californian city of the late 50s, gradually 
discovers that the whole town is a fake staged to keep him satisfied... 
The underlying experience of Time Out of Joint and of The Truman Show 
is that the late capitalist consummerist Californian paradise is, in 
its very hyper-reality, in a way irreal, substanceless, deprived of the 
material inertia. So it is not only that Hollywood stages a semblance 
of real life deprived of the weight and inertia of materiality - in the 
late capitalist consummerist society, "real social life" itself somehow 
acquires the features of a staged fake, with our neighbors behaving in 
"real" life as stage actors and extras... The ultimte truth of the 
capitalist utilitarian de-spiritualized universe is the 
de-materialization of the "real life" itself, its reversal into a 
spectral show.

In the realm of science-fiction, one should mention also Brian Aldiss' 
Starship, in which members of a tribe leave in a closed world of a 
tunnel in a giant starship, isolated from the rest of the ship by thick 
vegetation, unaware that there is a universe beyond; finally, some 
children penetrate the bushes and reach the world beyond, populated by 
other tribes. Among the older, more "naive" forerunners, one should 
mention George Seaton's 36 Hours, the film from the early 60ies about 
an American officer (James Garner) who knows all the plans for the D 
Day invasion of Normandy and is accidentally taken prisoner by Gernans 
just days before the invasion. Since he is taken prisoner unconscious, 
in a blast of explosion, the Germans quickly construct for him a 
replica of small American military hospital resort, trying to convince 
him that he now lives in 1950, that America won the war and that he has 
lost memory for the last 6 years - the idea being that he would tell 
all about the invasion plans for the Germans to prepare themselves; of 
course, cracks soon appear in this carefully constructed edifice... 
(Did not Lenin himself, in the last 2 years of his life, lived in an 
almost similar controlled environment, in which, as we now know, Stalin 
had printed hor him a specially prepared one copy of Pravda, censored 
of all news that would tell Lenin about the political struggles going 
on, with the justification that Comrade Lenin should take a rest and 
not be excited by unnecessary provocations.) 

What lurks in the background is, of course, the pre-modern notion of 
"arriving at the end of the universe": in the well-known engravings, 
the surprised wanderers approach the screen/curtain of heaven, a flat 
surfaced with painted stars on it, pierce it and reach beyond - it is 
exactly this that happens at the end of The Truman Show. No wonder that 
the last scene of the film, when Truman steps up the stairs attached to 
the wall on which the "blue sky" horizon is painted and opens up there 
the door, has a distinct Magrittean touch: is it not that, today, this 
same sensitivity is returning with a vengeance? Do works like 
Syberberg's Parsifal, in which the infinite horizon is also blocked by 
the obviously "artificial" rear-projections, not signal that the time 
of the Cartesian infinite perspective is running out, and that we are 
returning to a kind of renewed medieval pre-perspective universe? Fred 
Jameson perspicuously drew attention to the same phenomenon in some of 
the Raymond Chandler's novels and Hitchcock's films: the shore of the 
Pacific ocean in Farewell, My Lovely functions as a kind of "end/limit 
of the world," beyond which there is an unknown abyss; and it is 
similar with the vast open valley that stretches out in front of the 
Mount Rashmore heads when, on the run from their pursuers, Eva-Marie 
Saint and Cary Grant reach the peak of the monument, and into which 
Eva-Marie Saint almost falls, before being pulled up by Cary Grant; and 
one is tempted to add to this series the famous battle scene at a 
bridge on the Vietnamese/Cambodgian frontier in Apocalypse Now, where 
the space beyond the bridge is experienced as the "beyond of our known 
universe." And how not to recall that the idea that our Earth is not 
the planet floating in the infinite space, but a circular opening, 
hole, within the endless compact mass of eternal ice, with the sun in 
its center, was one of the favorite Nazi pseudo-scientific fantasies 
(according to some reports, they even considered putting some 
telescopes on the Sylt islands in order to observe America)?

The "Really Existing" Big Other

What, then, is the Matrix? Simply the Lacanian "big Other," the virtual 
symbolic order, the network that structures reality for us. This 
dimension of the "big Other" is that of the constitutive alienation of 
the subject in the symbolic order: the big Other pulls the strings, the 
subject doesn't speak, he "is spoken" by the symbolic structure. In 
short, this "big Other" is the name for the social Substance, for all 
that on account of which the subject never fully dominates the effects 
of his acts, i.e. on account of which the final outcome of his activity 
is always something else with regard to what he aimed at or 
anticipated. However, it is here crucial to note that, in the key 
chapters of Seminar XI, Lacan struggles to delineate the operation that 
follows alienation and is in a sense its counterpoint, that of 
separation: alienation IN the big Other is followed by the separation 
FROM the big Other. Separation takes place when the subject takes note 
of how the big Other is in itself inconsistent, purely virtual, 
"barred," deprived of the Thing - and fantasy is an attempt to fill out 
this lack of the Other, not of the subject, i.e. to (re)constitute the 
consistency of the big Other. For that reason, fantasy and paranoia are 
inherently linked: paranoia is at its most elementary a belief into an 
"Other of the Other", into another Other who, hidden behind the Other 
of the explicit social texture, programs (what appears to us as) the 
unforeseen effects of social life and thus guarantees its consistency: 
beneath the chaos of market, the degradation of morals, etc., there is 
the purposeful strategy of the Jewish plot... This paranoiac stance 
acquired a further boost with today's digitalization of our daily 
lives: when our entire (social) existence is progressively 
externalized-materialized in the big Other of the computer network, it 
is easy to imagine an evil programmer erasing our digital identity and 
thus depriving us of our social existence, turning us into non-persons.

Following the same paranoiac twist, the thesis of The Matrix is that 
this big Other is externalized in the really existing Mega-Computer. 
There is - there HAS to be - a Matrix because "things are not right, 
opportunities are missed, something goes wrong all the time," i.e. the 
film's idea is that it is so because there is the Matrix that 
obfuscates the "true" reality that is behind it all. Consequently, the 
problem with the film is that it is NOT "crazy" enough, because it 
supposes another "real" reality behind our everyday reality sustained 
by the Matrix. However, to avoid the fatal misunderstanding: the 
inverse notion that "all there is is generated by the Matrix," that 
there is NO ultimate reality, just the infinite series of virtual 
realities mirroring themselves in each other, is no less ideological. 
(In the sequels to The Matrix, we shall probably learn that the very 
"desert of the real" is generated by (another) matrix.) Much more 
subversive than this multiplication of virtual universes would have 
been the multiplication of realities themselves - something that would 
reproduce the paradoxical danger that some physicians see in recent 
high accelerator experiments. As is well known, scientist are now 
trying to construct the accelerator capable of smashing together the 
nuclei of very heavy atoms at nearly the speed of light. The idea is 
that such a collision will not only shatter the atom's nuclei into 
their constituent protons and neutrons, but will pulverize the protons 
and neutrons themselves, leaving a "plasma," a kind of energy soup 
consisting of loose quark and gluon particles, the building blocks of 
matter that have never before been studied in such a state, since such 
a state only existed briefly after the Big Bang. However, this prospect 
has given rise to a nightmarish scenario: what if the success of this 
experiment will create a doomsday machine, a kind of world-devouring 
monster that will with inexorable necessity annihilate the ordinary 
matter around itself and thus abolish the world as we know it? The 
irony of it is that this end of the world, the disintegration of the 
universe, would be the ultimate irrefutable proof that the tested 
theory is true, since it would suck all matter into a black hole and 
then bring about a new universe, i.e. perfectly recreate the Big Bang 

The paradox is thus that both versions - (1) a subject freely floating 
from one to another VR, a pure ghost aware that every reality is a 
fake; (2) the paranoiac supposition of the real reality beneath the 
Matrix - are false: they both miss the Real. The film is not wrong in 
insisting that there IS a Real beneath the Virtual Reality simulation - 
as Morpheus puts to Neo when he shows him the ruined Chicago landscape: 
"Welcome to the desert of the real." However, the Real is not the "true 
reality" behind the virtual simulation, but the void which makes 
reality incomplete/inconsistent, and the function of every symbolic 
Matrix is to conceal this inconsistency - one of the ways to effectuate 
this concealment is precisely to claim that, behind the 
incomplete/inconsistent reality we know, there is another reality with 
no deadlock of impossibility structuring it. 

"The big Other doesn't exist"

"Big Other" also stands for the field of common sense at which one can 
arrive after free deliberation; philosophically, its last great version 
is Habermas's communicative community with its regulative ideal of 
agreement. And it is this "big Other" that progressively disintegrates 
today. What we have today is a certain radical split: on the one hand, 
the objectivized language of experts and scientists which can no longer 
be translated into the common language accessible to everyone, but is 
present in it in the mode of fetishized formulas that no one really 
understands, but which shape our artistic and popular imaginary (Black 
Hole, Big Bang, Superstrings, Quantum Oscillation...). Not only in 
natural sciences, but also in economy and other social sciences, the 
expert jargon is presented as an objective insight with which one 
cannot really argue, and which is simultaneously untranslatable into 
our common experience. In short, the gap between scientific insight and 
common sense is unbridgeable, and it is this very gap which elevates 
scientists into the popular cult-figures of the "subjects supposed to 
know" (the Stephen Hawking phenomenon). The strict obverse of this 
objectivity is the way in which, in the cultural matters, we are 
confronted with the multitude of life-styles which one cannot translate 
into each other: all we can do is secure the conditions for their 
tolerant coexistence in a multicultural society. The icon of today's 
subject is perhaps the Indian computer programmer who, during the day, 
excels in his expertise, while in the evening, upon returning home, he 
lits the candle to the local Hindu divinity and respects the sacredness 
of the cow. This split is perfectly rendered in the phenomenon of 
cyberspace. Cyberspace was supposed to bring us all together in a 
Global Village; however, what effectively happens is that we are 
bombarded with the multitude of messages belonging to inconsistent and 
incompatible universes - instead of the Global Village, the big Other, 
we get the multitude of "small others," of tribal particular 
identifications at our choice. To avoid a misunderstanding: Lacan is 
here far from relativizing science into just one of the arbitrary 
narratives, ultimately on equal footing with Politically Correct myths, 
etc.: science DOES "touch the Real," its knowledge IS "knowledge in the 
Real" - the deadlock resides simply in the fact that scientific 
knowledge cannot serve as the SYMBOLIC "big Other." The gap between 
modern science and the Aristotelian common sense philosophical ontology 
is here insurmountable: it emerges already with Galileo, and is brought 
to extreme in quantum physics, where we are dealing with the rules/laws 
which function, although they cannot ever be retranslated into our 
experience of representable reality.

The theory of risk society and its global reflexivization is right in 
its emphasis one how, today, we are at the opposite end if the 
classical Enlightenment universalist ideology which presupposed that, 
in the long run, the fundamental questions can be resolved by way of 
the reference to the "objective knowledge" of the experts: when we are 
confronted with the conflicting opinions about the environmental 
consequences of a certain new product (say, of genetically modified 
vegetables), we search in vain for the ultimate expert opinion. And the 
point is not simply that the real issues are blurred because science is 
corrupted through financial dependence on large corporations and state 
agencies - even in themselves, sciences cannot provide the answer. 
Ecologists predicted 15 years ago the death of our forrests - the 
problem is now a too large increasee of wood... Where this theory of 
risk society is too short is in emphasizing the irrational predicament 
into which this puts us, common subjects: we are again and again 
compelled to decide, although we are well aware that we are in no 
position to decide, that our decision will be arbitrary. Ulrich Beck 
and his followers refer here to the democratic discussion of all 
options and consensus-building; however, this does not resolve the 
immobilizing dilemma: why should the democratic discussion in which the 
majority participates lead to better result, when, cognitively, the 
ignorance of the majority remains. The political frustration of the 
majority is thus understandable: they are called to decide, while, at 
the same time, receiving the message that they are in no position 
effectively to decide, i.e. to objectively weigh the pros and cons. The 
recourse to "conspiracy theories" is a desperate way out of this 
deadlock, an attempt to regain a minimum of what Fred Jameson calls 
"cognitive mapping." 

Jodi Dean(3) drew attention to a curious phenomenon clearly observable 
in the "dialogue of the mutes" between the official ("serious," 
academically institutionalized) science and the vast domain of 
so-called pseudo-sciences, from ufology to those who want to decipher 
the secrets of the pyramids: one cannot but be struck by how it is the 
oficial scientists who proceed in a dogmatic dismissive way, while the 
pseudo-scientists refer to facts and argumentation deprived of the 
common prejudices. Of course, the answer will be here that established 
scientists speak with the authority of the big Other of the scientific 
Institution; but the problem is that, precisely, this scientific big 
Other is again and again revealed as a consensual symbolic fiction. So 
when we are confronted with conspiracy theories, we should proceed in a 
strict homology to the proper reading of Henry James' The Turn of the 
Screw: we should neither accept the existence of ghosts as part of the 
(narrative) reality nor reduce them, in a pseudo-Freudian way, to the 
"projection" of the heroine's hysterical sexual frustrations. 
Conspiracy theories, of course, are not to be accepted as "fact" - 
however, one should also not reduce them to the phenomenon of modern 
mass hysteria. Such a notion still relies on the "big Other," on the 
model of "normal" perception of shared social reality, and thus does 
not take into account how it is precisely this notion of reality that 
is undermined today. The problem is not that ufologists and conspiracy 
theorists regress to a paranoiac attitude unable to accept (social) 
reality; the problem is that this reality itself is becoming paranoiac. 
Contemporary experience again and again confronts us with situations in 
which we are compelled to take note of how our sense of reality and 
normal attitude towards it is grounded in a symbolic fiction, i.e. how 
the "big Other" that determines what counts as normal and accepted 
truth, what is the horizon of meaning in a given society, is in no way 
directly grounded in "facts" as rendered by the scientific "knowledge 
in the real." Let us take a traditional society in which modern science 
is not yet elevated into the Master-discourse: if, in its symbolic 
space, an individual advocates propositions of modern science, he will 
be dismissed as "madman" - and the key point is that it is not enough 
to say that he is not "really mad," that it is merely the narrow 
ignorant society which puts him in this position - in a certain way, 
being treated as a madman, being excluded from the social big Other, 
effectively EQUALS being mad. "Madness" is not the designation which 
can be grounded in a direct reference to "facts" (in the sense that a 
madman is unable to perceive things the way they really are, since he 
is caught in his hallucinatory projections), but only with regard to 
the way an individual relates to the "big Other." Lacan usually 
emphasizes the opposite aspect of this paradox: "the madman is not only 
a beggar who thinks he is a king, but also a king who thinks he is a 
king," i.e. madness designates the collapse of the distance between the 
Symbolic and the Real, an immediate identification with the symbolic 
mandate; or, to take his other exemplary statement, when a husband is 
pathologically jealous, obsessed by the idea that his wife sleeps with 
other men, his obsession remains a pathological feature even if it is 
proven that he is right and that his wife effectively sleeps with other 
men. The lesson of such paradoxes is clear: pathological jealously is 
not a matters of getting the facts false, but of the way these facts 
are integrated into the subject's libidinal economy. However, what one 
should assert here is that the same paradox should also be performed as 
it were in the opposite direction: the society (its socio-symbolic 
field, the big Other) is "sane" and "normal" even when it is proven 
factually wrong. (Maybe, it was in this sense that the late Lacan 
designated himself as "psychotic": he effectively was psychotic insofar 
as it was not possible to integrate his discourse into the field of the 
big Other.) 

One is tempted to claim, in the Kantian mode, that the mistake of the 
conspiracy theory is somehow homologous to the "paralogism of the pure 
reason," to the confusion between the two levels: the suspicion (of the 
received scientific, social, etc. common sense) as the formal 
methodological stance, and the positivation of this suspicion in 
another all-explaining global para-theory. 

Screening the Real

>From another standpoint, the Matrix also functions as the "screen" that 
separates us from the Real, that makes the "desert of the real" 
bearable. However, it is here that we should not forget the radical 
ambiguity of the Lacanian Real: it is not the ultimate referent to be 
covered/gentrified/domesticated by the screen of fantasy - the Real is 
also and primarily the screen itself as the obstacle that 
always-already distorts our perception of the referent, of the reality 
out there. In philosophical terms, therein resides the difference 
between Kant and Hegel: for Kant, the Real is the noumenal domain that 
we perceive "schematized" through the screen of transcendental 
categories; for Hegel, on the contrary, as he asserts exemplarily in 
the Introduction to his Phenomenology, this Kantian gap is false. Hegel 
introduces here THREE terms: when a screen intervenes between ourselves 
and the Real, it always generates a notion of what is In-itself, beyond 
the screen (of the appearance), so that the gap between appearance and 
the In-itself is always-already "for us." Consequently, if we subtract 
from the Thing the distortion of the Screen, we loose the Thing itself 
(in religious terms, the death of Christ is the death of the God in 
himself, not only of his human embodiment) - which is why, for Lacan, 
who follows here Hegel, the Thing in itself is ultimately the gaze, not 
the perceived object. So, back to the Matrix: the Matrix itself is the 
Real that distorts our perception of reality.

A reference to Levi-Strauss's exemplary analysis, from his Structural 
Anthropology, of the spatial disposition of buildings in the Winnebago, 
one of the Great Lake tribes, might be of some help here. The tribe is 
divided into two sub-groups ("moieties"), "those who are from above" 
and "those who are from below"; when we ask an individual to draw on a 
piece of paper, or on sand, the ground-plan of his/her village (the 
spatial disposition of cottages), we obtain two quite different 
answers, depending on his/her belonging to one or the other sub-group. 
Both perceive the village as a circle; but for one sub-group, there is 
within this circle another circle of central houses, so that we have 
two concentric circles, while for the other sub-group, the circle is 
split into two by a clear dividing line. In other words, a member of 
the first sub-group (let us call it "conservative-corporatist") 
perceives the ground-plan of the village as a ring of houses more or 
less symmetrically disposed around the central temple, whereas a member 
of the second ("revolutionary-antagonistic") sub-group perceives 
his/her village as two distinct heaps of houses separated by an 
invisible frontier...(4) The central point of Levi-Strauss is that this 
example should in no way entice us into cultural relativism, according 
to which the perception of social space depends on the observer's 
group-belonging: the very splitting into the two "relative" perceptions 
implies a hidden reference to a constant - not the objective, "actual" 
disposition of buildings but a traumatic kernel, a fundamental 
antagonism the inhabitants of the village were unable to symbolize, to 
account for, to "internalize", to come to terms with, an imbalance in 
social relations that prevented the community from stabilizing itself 
into a harmonious whole. The two perceptions of the ground-plan are 
simply two mutually exclusive endeavours to cope with this traumatic 
antagonism, to heal its wound via the imposition of a balanced symbolic 
structure. Is it necessary to add that things stand exactly the same 
with respect to sexual difference: "masculine" and "feminine" are like 
the two configurations of houses in the Levi-Straussian village? And in 
order to dispel the illusion that our "developed" universe is not 
dominated by the same logic, suffice it to recall the splitting of our 
political space into Left and Right: a Leftist and a Rightist behave 
exactly like members of the opposite sub-groups of the Levi-Straussian 
village. They not only occupy different places within the political 
space; each of them perceives differently the very disposition of the 
political space - a Leftist as the field that is inherently split by 
some fundamental antagonism, a Rightist as the organic unity of a 
Community disturbed only by foreign intruders.

However, Levi-Strauss make here a further crucial point: since the two 
sub-groups nonetheless form one and the same tribe, living in the same 
village, this identity somehow has to be symbolically inscribed - how, 
if the entire symbolic articulation, all social institutions, of the 
tribe are not neutral, but are overdetermined by the fundamental and 
constitutive antagonistic split? By what Levi-Strauss ingeniously calls 
the "zero-institution," a kind of institutional counterpart to the 
famous mana, the empty signifier with no determinate meaning, since it 
signifies only the presence of meaning as such, in opposition to its 
absence: a specific institution which has no positive, determinate 
function - its only function is the purely negative one of signalling 
the presence and actuality of social institution as such, in opposition 
to its absence, to pre-social chaos. It is the reference to such a 
zero-institution that enables all members of the tribe to experience 
themselves as such, as members of the same tribe. Is, then, this 
zero-institution not ideology at its purest, i.e. the direct embodiment 
of the ideological function of providing a neutral all-encompassing 
space in which social antagonism is obliterated, in which all members 
of society can recognize themselves? And is the struggle for hegemony 
not precisely the struggle for how will this zero-institution be 
overdetermined, colored by some particular signification? To provide a 
concrete example: is not the modern notion of nation such a 
zero-institution that emerged with the dissolution of social links 
grounded in direct family or traditional symbolic matrixes, i.e. when, 
with the onslaught of modernization, social institutions were less and 
less grounded in naturalized tradition and more and more experienced as 
a matter of "contract."(5) Of special importance is here the fact that 
national identity is experienced as at least minimally "natural," as a 
belonging grounded in "blood and soil," and as such opposed to the 
"artificial" belonging to social institutions proper (state, 
profession...): pre-modern institutions functioned as "naturalized" 
symbolic entities (as institutions grounded in unquestionable 
traditions), and the moment institutions were conceived as social 
artefacts, the need arose for a "naturalized" zero-institution that 
would serve as their neutral common ground.

And, back to sexual difference, I am tempted to risk the hypothesis 
that, perhaps, the same logic of zero-institution should be applied not 
only to the unity of a society, but also to its antagonistic split: 
what if sexual difference is ultimately a kind of zero-institution of 
the social split of the humankind, the naturalized minimal 
zero-difference, a split that, prior to signalling any determinate 
social difference, signals this difference as such? The struggle for 
hegemony is then, again, the struggle for how this zero-difference will 
be overdetermined by other particular social differences. It is against 
this background that one should read an important, although usually 
overlooked, feature of Lacan's schema of the signifier: Lacan replaces 
the standard Saussurean scheme (above the bar the word "arbre," and 
beneath it the drawing of a tree) with, above the bar, two words one 
along the other, "homme" and "femme," and, beneath the bar, two 
identical drawings of a door. In order to emphasize the differential 
character of the signifier, Lacan first replaces Saussure's single 
scheme with a signifier's couple, with the opposition man/woman, with 
the sexual difference; but the true surprise resides in the fact that, 
at the level of the imaginary referent, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE (we do 
not get some graphic index of the sexual difference, the simplified 
drawing of a man and a woman, as is usually the case in most of today's 
restrooms, but THE SAME door reproduced twice). Is it possible to state 
in clearer terms that sexual difference does not designate any 
biological opposition grounded in "real" properties, but a purely 
symbolic opposition to which nothing corresponds in the designated 
objects - nothing but the Real of some undefined X which cannot ever be 
captured by the image of the signified?

Back to Levi-Strauss's example of the two drawings of the village: it 
is here that one can see it what precise sense the Real intervenes 
through anamorphosis. We have first the "actual," "objective," 
arrangement of the houses, and then its two different symbolizations 
which both distort in an amamorphic way the actual arrangement. 
However, the "real" is here not the actual arrangement, but the 
traumatic core of the social antagonism which distorts the tribe 
members' view of the actual antagonism. The Real is thus the disavowed 
X on account of which our vision of reality is anamorphically 
distorted. (And, incidentally, this three-levels dispositif is strictly 
homologous to Freud's three-levels dispositif of the interpretation of 
dreams: the real kernel of the dream is not the dream's latent thought 
which is displaced/translated into the explicit texture of the dream, 
but the unconscious desire which inscribes itself through the very 
distortion of the latent thought into the explicit texture.)

And the same goes for today's art scene: in it, the Real does NOT 
return primarily in the guise of the shocking brutal intrusion of 
excremental objects, mutilated corpses, shit, etc. These objects are, 
for sure, out of place - but in order for them to be out of place, the 
(empty) place must already be here, and this place is rendered by the 
"minimalist" art, starting from Malevitch. Therein resides the 
complicity between the two opposed icons of high modernism, Kazimir 
Malevitch's "The Black Square on the White Surface" and Marcel 
Duchamp's display of ready-made objects as works of art. The underlying 
notion of Malevitch's elevation of an everyday common object into the 
work of art is that being a work of art is not an inherent property of 
the object; it is the artist himself who, by preempting the (or, 
rather, ANY) object and locating it at a certain place, makes it the 
work of art - being a work of art is not a question of "why," but 
"where." And what Malevitch's minimalist disposition does is simply to 
render - to isolate - this place as such, the empty place (or frame) 
with the proto-magic property of transforming any object that finds 
itself within its scope into the work of art. In short, there is no 
Duchamp without Malevitch: only after the art practice isolates the 
frame/place as such, emptied of all its content, can one indulge in the 
ready-made procedure. Before Malevitch, a urinal would have remained 
just a urinal, even if it were to be displayed in the most 
distinguished gallery. 

The emergence of excremental objects which are out of place is thus 
strictly correlative to the emergence of the place without any object 
in it, of the empty frame as such. Consequently, the Real in 
contemporary art has three dimensions, which somehow repeat within the 
Real the triad of Imaginary-Symbolic-Real. The Real is first here as 
the anamorphotic stain, the anamorphotic distortion of the direct image 
of reality - as a distorted image, as a pure semblance that 
"subjectivizes" objective reality. Then, the Real is here as the empty 
place, as a structure, a construction which is never here, experiences 
as such, but can only be retroactively constructed and has to be 
presupposed as such - the Real as symbolic construction. Finally, the 
Real is the obscene excremental Object out of place, the Real "itself." 
This last Real, if isolated, is a mere fetish whose 
fascinating/captivating presence masks the structural Real, in the same 
way that, in the Nazi anti-Semitism, Jew as the excremental Object is 
the Real that masks the unbearable "structural" Real of the social 
antagonism. - These three dimensions of the Real result from the three 
modes to acquire a distance towards "ordinary" reality: one submits 
this reality to anamorphic distortion; one introduces an object that 
has no place in it; one subtracts/erases all content (objects) of 
reality, so that all that remains is the very empty place these objects 
were filling in.

The Freudian Touch

The falsity of The Matrix is perhaps most directly discernible in its 
designation of Neo as "the One." Who is the One? There effectively is 
such a place in the social link. There is, first, the One of the 
Master-Signifier, the symbolic authority. Even in the social life in 
its most horrifying form, the memories of concentration camp survivors 
invariably mention the One, an individual who did not break down, who, 
in the midst of the unbearable conditions which reduced all others to 
the egotistic struggle for bare survival, miraculously maintained and 
radiated an "irrational" generosity and dignity - in Lacanian terms, we 
are dealing here with the function of Y'a de l'Un: even here, there was 
the One who served as the support of the minimum of solidarity that 
defines the social link proper as opposed to the collaboration within 
the frame of the pure strategy of survival. Two features are crucial 
here: first, this individual was always perceived as one (there was 
never a multitude of them, as if, following some obscure necessity, 
this excess of the inexplicable miracle of solidarity has to be 
embodied in a One); secondly, it was not so much what this One 
effectively did for the others which mattered, but rather his very 
presence among them (what enabled the others to survive was the 
awareness that, even if they are for most of the time reduced to the 
survival-machines, there is the One who maintained human dignity). In a 
way homologous to the canned laughter, we have here something like the 
canned dignity, where the Other (the One) retains my dignity for me, at 
my place, or, more precisely, where I retain my dignity THROUGH the 
Other: I may be reduced to the cruel struggle for survival, but the 
very awareness that there is One who retains his dignity enables ME to 
maintain the minimal link to humanity. Often, when this One broke down 
or was unmasked as a fake, the other prisoners lost their will to 
survive and turned into indifferent living dead - paradoxically, their 
very readiness to struggle for the bare survival was sustained by its 
exception, by the fact that there was the One NOT reduced to this 
level, so that, when this exception disappeared, the struggle fore 
survival itself lost its force. What this means, of course, is that 
this One was not defined exclusively by his "real" qualities (at this 
level, there may well have been more individuals like him, or it may 
even have been that he was not really unbroken, but a fake, just 
playing that role): his exceptional role was rather that of 
transference, i.e. he occupied a place constructed (presupposed) by the 

In The Matrix, on the contrary, the One is he who is able to see that 
our everyday reality is not real, but just a codified virtual universe, 
and who therefore is able to unplug from it, to manipulate and suspend 
its rules (fly in the air, stop the bullets...). Crucial for the 
function of THIS One is his virtualization of reality: reality is an 
artificial construct whose rules can be suspended or at least rewritten 
- therein resides the properly paranoiac notion that the One can 
suspend the resistance of the Real ("I can walk through a thick wall, 
if I really decide it...", i.e. the impossibility for the most of us to 
do this is reduced to the failure of the subject's will). However, it 
is here that, again, the film does not go far enough: in the memorable 
scene in the waiting room of the prophetess who will decide if Neo is 
the One, a child who is seen twisting a spoon with his mere thoughts 
tells the surprised Neo that the way to do it is not point is not to 
convince myself that I can twist the spoon, but to convince myself that 
THERE IS NO SPOON... However, what about MYSELF? Is it not that the 
further step should have been to accept the Buddhist proposition that I 
MYSELF, the subject, do not exist?

In order to further specify what is false in The Matrix, one should 
distinguish simple technological impossibility from fantasmatic 
falsity: time-travel is (probably) impossible, but fantasmatic 
scenarios about it are nonetheless "true" in the way they render 
libidinal deadlocks. Consequently, the problem with Matrix is not the 
scientific naivety of its tricks: the idea of passing from reality to 
VR through the phone makes sense, since all we need is a gap/hole 
through which one can escape. (Perhaps, an even better solution would 
have been the toilet: is not the domain where excrements vanish after 
we flush the toilet effectively one of the metaphors for the 
horrifyingly-sublime Beyond of the primordial, pre-ontological Chaos 
into which things disappear? Although we rationally know what goes on 
with the excrements, the imaginary mystery nonetheless persists - shit 
remains an excess with does not fit our daily reality, and Lacan was 
right in claiming that we pass from animals to humans the moment an 
animal has problems with what to do with its excrements, the moment 
they turn into an excess that annoys it. The Real is thus not primarily 
the horrifyingly-disgusting stuff reemerging from the toilet sink, but 
rather the hole itself, the gap which serves as the passage to a 
different ontological order - the topological hole or torsion which 
"curves" the space of our reality so that we perceive/imagine 
excrements as disappearing into an alternative dimension which is not 
part of our everyday reality.) The problem is a more radical 
fantasmatic inconsistency, which erupts most explicitly when Morpheus 
(the African-American leader of the resistance group who believe that 
Neo is the One) tries to explain to the still perplexed Neo what the 
Matrix is - he quite consequently links it to a failure in the 
structure of the universe:

"It's that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that 
something was wrong with the world. You don't know what it is but it's 
there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. /.../ The Matrix 
is everywhere, it's all around us, here even in this room. /.../ It is 
the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the 
truth. NEO: What truth? MORPHEUS: That you are a slave, Neo. That you, 
like everyone else, was born into bondage ... kept inside a prison that 
you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison of your mind." 

Here the film encounters its ultimate inconsistency: the experience of 
the lack/inconsistency/obstacle is supposed to bear witness of the fact 
that what we experience as reality is a fake - however, towards the end 
of the film, Smith, the agent of the Matrix, gives a different, much 
more Freudian explanation:

"Did you know hat the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human 
world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a 
disaster. NO one would accept the program. Entire crops /of the humans 
serving as batteries/ were lost. Some believed we lacked the 
programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe 
that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering 
and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum 
kept trying to wake up from.Which is why the Matrix was re-designed to 
this: the peak of your civilization." 

The imperfection of our world is thus at the same time the sign of its 
virtuality AND the sign of its reality. One could effectively claim 
that the agent Smith (let us not forget: not a human being as others, 
but the direct virtual embodiment of the Matrix - the big Other - 
itself) is the stand-in for the figure of the analyst within the 
universe of the film: his lesson is that the experience of an 
insurmountable obstacle is the positive condition for us, humans, to 
perceive something as reality - reality is ultimately that which 

Malebranche in Hollywood

The further inconsistency concerns death: WHY does one "really" die 
when one dies only in the VR regulated by the Matrix? The film provides 
the obscurantist answer: "NEO: If you are killed in the Matrix, you die 
here /i.e. not only in the VR, but also in real life/? MORPHEUS: The 
body cannot live without the mind." The logic of this solution is that 
your "real" body can only stay alive (function) in conjunction to the 
mind, i.e. to the mental universe into which you are immersed: so if 
you are in a VR and killed there, this death affects also your real 
body... The obvious opposite solution (you only really die when you are 
killed in reality) is also too short. The catch is: is the subject 
WHOLLY immersed into the Matrix-dominated VR or does he know or at 
least SUSPECT the actual state of things? If the answer is YES, then a 
simple withdrawal into prelapsarian Adamic state of distance would 
render us immortal IN THE VR and, consequently, Neo who is already 
liberated from the full immersion in the VR shouls SURVIVE the struggle 
with the agent Smith which takes place WITHIN the VR controlled by the 
Matrix (in the same way he is able to stopbullets, he should also have 
been able to derealize blows that wound his body). This brings us back 
to Malebranche's occasionalism: much more than Berkeley's God who 
sustains the world in his mind, the ULTIMATE Matrix is Malebranche's 
occasionalist God.

Malebranche's "occasionalism" undoubtedly was the philosopher who 
provided the best conceptual apparatus to account for Virtual Reality. 
Malebranche, a disciple of Descartes, drops Descartes's ridiculous 
reference to the pineal gland in order to explain the coordination 
between the material and the spiritual substance, i.e. body and soul; 
how, then, are we to explain their coordination, if there is no contact 
between the two, no point at which a soul can act causally on a body or 
vice versa? Since the two causal networks (that of ideas in my mind and 
that of bodily interconections) are totally independent, the only 
solution is that a third, true Substance (God) continuously coordinates 
and mediates between the two, sustaining the semblance of continuity: 
when I think about raising my hand and my hand effectively raises, my 
thought causes the raising of my hand not directly but only 
"occasionally" - upon noticing my thought directed at raising my hand, 
God sets in motion the other, material, causal chain which leads to my 
hand effectively being raised. If we replace "God" with the big Other, 
the symbolic order, we can see the closeness of occasionalism to 
Lacan's position: as Lacan put it in his polemics against Aristoteles 
in Television(6), the relationship between soul and body is never 
direct, since the big Other always interposes itself between the two. 
Occasionalism is thus essentially a name for the "arbitrary of the 
signifier", for the gap that separates the network of ideas from the 
network of bodily (real) causality, for the fact that it is the big 
Other which accounts for the coordination of the two networks, so that, 
when my body bites an apple, my soul experiences a pleasurable 
sensation. This same gap is targeted by the ancient Aztec priest who 
organizes human sacrifices to ensure that the sun will rise again: the 
human sacrifice is here an appeal to God to sustain the coordination 
between the two series, the bodily necessity and the concatenation of 
symbolic events. "Irrational" as the Aztec priest's sacrificing may 
appear, its underlying premise is far more insightful than our 
commonplace intuition according to which the coordination between body 
and soul is direct, i.e. it is "natural" for me to have a pleasurable 
sensation when I bite an apple since this sensation is caused directly 
by the apple: what gets lost is the intermediary role of the big Other 
in guaranteeing the coordination between reality and our mental 
experience of it. And is it not the same with our immersion into 
Virtual Reality? When I raise my hand in order to push an object in the 
virtual space, this object effectively moves - my illusion, of course, 
is that it was the movement of my hand which directly caused the 
dislocation of the object, i.e. in my immersion, I overlook the 
intricate mechanism of computerized coordination, homologous to the 
role of God guaranteeing the coordination between the two series in 

It is a well-known fact that the "Close the door" button in most 
elevators is a totally disfunctional placebo, which is placed there 
just to give the individuals the impression that they are somehow 
participating, contributing to the speed of the elevator journey - when 
we push this button, the door closes in exactly the same time as when 
we just pressed the floor button without "speeding up" the process by 
pressing also the "Close the door" button. This extreme and clear case 
of fake participation is an appropriate metaphor of the participation 
of individuals in our "postmodern" political process. And this is 
occasionalism at its purest: according to Malebranche, we are all the 
time pressing such buttons, and it is God's incessant activity that 
coordinates between them and the event that follows (the door closing), 
while we think the event results from our pushing the button...

For that reason, it is crucial to maintain open the radical ambiguity 
of how cyberspace will affect our lives: this does not depend on 
technology as such but on the mode of its social inscription. Immersion 
into cyberspace can intensify our bodily experience (new sensuality, 
new body with more organs, new sexes...), but it also opens up the 
possibility for the one who manipulates the machinery which runs the 
cyberspace literally to steal our own (virtual) body, depriving us of 
the control over it, so that one no longer relates to one's body as to 
"one's own". What one encounters here is the constitutive ambiguity of 
the notion of mediatization(8): originally this notion designated the 
gesture by means of which a a subject was stripped of its direct, 
immediate right to make decisions; the great master of political 
mediatization was Napoleon who left to the conquered monarchs the 
appearance of power, while they were effectively no longer in a 
position to exercise it. At a more general level, one could say that 
such a "mediatization" of the monarch defines the constitutional 
monarchy: in it, the monarch is reduced to the point of a purely formal 
symbolic gesture of "dotting the i's", of signing and thus conferring 
the performative force on the edicts whose content is determined by the 
elected governing body. And does not, mutatis mutandis, the same not 
hold also for today's progressiver computerization of our everyday 
lives in the course of which the subject is also more and more 
"mediatised", imperceptibly stripped of his power, under the false 
guise of its increase? When our body is mediatized (caught in the 
network of electronic media), it is simultaneously exposed to the 
threat of a radical "proletarization": the subject is potentially 
reduced to the pure $, since even my own personal experience can be 
stolen, manipulated, regulated by the machinical Other. One can see, 
again, how the prospect of radical virtualization bestows on the 
computer the position which is strictly homologous to that of God in 
the Malebrancheian occasionalism: since the computer coordinates the 
relationship between my mind and (what I experience as) the movement of 
my limbs (in the virtual reality), one can easily imagine a computer 
which runs amok and starts to act liker an Evil God, disturbing the 
coordination between my mind and my bodily self-experience - when the 
signal of my mind to raise my hand is suspended or even counteracted in 
(the virtual) reality, the most fundamental experience of the body as 
"mine" is undermined... It seems thus that cyberspace effectively 
realizes the paranoiac fantasy elaborated by Schreber, the German judge 
whose memoirs were analyzed by Freud(9): the "wired universe" is 
psychotic insofar as it seems to materialize Schreber's hallucination 
of the divine rays through which God directly controls the human mind. 
In other words, does the externalization of the big Other in the 
computer not account for the inherent paranoiac dimension of the wired 
universe? Or, to put it in a yet another way: the commonplace is that, 
in cyberspace, the ability to download consciousness into a computer 
finally frees people from their bodies - but it also frees the machines 
from "their" people...

Staging the The Fundamental Fantasy

The final inconsistency concerns the ambiguous status of the liberation 
of humanity anounced by Neo in the last scene. As the result of Neo's 
intervention, there is a "SYSTEM FAILURE" in the Matrix; at the same 
time, Neo addresses people still caught in the Matrix as the Savior who 
will teach them how to liberate themselves from the constraints of the 
Matrix - they will be able to break the physical laws, bend metals, fly 
in the air... However, the problem is that all these "miracles" are 
possible only if we remain WITHIN the VR sustained by the Matrix and 
merely bend or change its rules: our "real" status is still that of the 
slaves of the Matrix, we as it were are merely gaining additional power 
to change our mental prison rules - so what about exiting from the 
Matrix altogether and entering the "real reality" in which we are 
miserable creatures living on the destroyed earth surface? 

In an Adornian way, one should claim that these inconsistencies (10) 
are the film's moment of truth: they signal the antagonisms of our 
late-capitalist social experience, antagonisms concerning basic 
ontological couples like reality and pain (reality as that which 
disturbs the reign of the pleasure-principle), freedom and system 
(freedom is only possible within the system that hinders its full 
deployment). However, the ultimate strentgh of the film is nonetheless 
to be located at a different level. Years ago, a series of 
science-fiction films like Zardoz or Logan's Run forecasted today's 
postmodern predicament: the isolated group living an aseptic life in a 
secluded area longs for the experience of the real world of material 
decay. Till postmodernism, utopia was an endeavour to break out of the 
real of historical time into a timeless Otherness. With postmodern 
overlapping of the "end of history" with full disponibility of the past 
in digitalized memory, in this time where we LIVE the atemporal utopia 
as everyday ideological experience, utopia becomes the longing for the 
Real of History itself, for memory, for the traces of the real past, 
the attempt to break out of the closed dome into smell and decay of the 
raw reality. The Matrix gives the final twist to this reversal, 
combining utopia with dystopia: the very reality we live in, the 
atemporal utopia staged by the Matrix, is in place so that we can be 
effectively reduced to a passive state of living batteries providing 
the Matrix with the energy. 

The unique impact of the film thus resides not so much in its central 
thesis (what we experience as reality is an artificial virtual reality 
generated by the "Matrix," the mega-computer directly attached to all 
our minds), but in its central image of the millions of human beings 
leading a claustrophobic life in a water-filled craddles, kept alive in 
order to generate the energy (electricity) for the Matrix. So when 
(some of the) people "awaken" from their immersion into the 
Matrix-controlled virtual reality, this awakening is not the opening 
into the wide space of the external reality, but first the horrible 
realization of this enclosure, where each of us is effectively just a 
foetus-like organism, immersed in the pre-natal fluid... This utter 
passivity is the foreclosed fantasy that sustains our conscious 
experience as active, self-positing subjects - it is the ultimate 
perverse fantasy, the notion that we are ultimately instruments of the 
Other's (Matrix's) jouissance, sucked out of our life-substance like 
batteries. Therein resides the true libidinal enigma of this 
dispositif: WHY does the Matrix need human energy? The purely energetic 
solution is, of course, meaningless: the Matrix could have easily found 
another, more reliable, source of energy which would have not demanded 
the extremely complex arrangement of the virtual reality coordinated 
for millions of human units (another inconsusrency is discernible here: 
why does the Matrix not immerse each individual into his/her own 
solipsistic artificial universe? why complicate matters with 
corrdinating the programs so that the entire humanity inhabits one and 
the same virtual universe?). The only consistent answer is: the Matrix 
feeds on the human's jouissance - so we are here back at the 
fundamental Lacanian thesis that the big Other itself, far from being 
an anonymous machine, needs the constant influx of jouissance. This is 
how we should turn around the state of things presented by the film: 
what the film renders as the scene of our awakening into our true 
situation, is effectively its exact opposition, the very fundamental 
fantasy that sustains our being.

The intimate connection between perversion and cyberspace is today a 
commonplace. According to the standard view, the perverse scenario 
stages the "disavowal of castration": perversion can be seen as a 
defense against the motif of "death and sexuality," against the threat 
of mortality as well as the contingent imposition of sexual difference: 
what the pervert enacts is a universe in which, as in cartoons, a human 
being can survive any catastrophe; in which adult sexuality is reduced 
to a childish game; in which one is not forced to die or to choose one 
of the two sexes. As such, the pervert's universe is the universe of 
pure symbolic order, of the signifier's game running its course, 
unencumbered by the Real of human finitude. In a first approach, it may 
seem that our experience of cyberspace fits perfectly this universe: 
isn't cyberspace also a universe unencumbered by the inertia of the 
Real, constrained only by its self-imposed rules? And is not the same 
with Virtual Reality in The Matrix? The "reality" in which we live 
loses its inexorable character, it becomes a domain of arbitrary rules 
(imposed by the Matrix) that one can violate if one's Will is strong 
enough... However, according to Lacan, what this standard notion leaves 
out of consideration is the unique relationship between the Other and 
the jouissance in perversion. What, exactly, does this kean?

In "Le prix du progres," one of the fragments that conclude The 
Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer quote the 
argumentation of the 19th century French physiologist Pierre Flourens 
against medical anaesthesia with chloroform: Flourens claims that it 
can be proven that the anaesthetic works only on our memory's neuronal 
network. In short, while we are butchered alive on the operating table, 
we fully feel the terrible pain, but later, after awakening, we do not 
remember it... For Adorno and Horkheimer, this, of course, is the 
perfect metaphor of the fate of Reason based on the repression of 
nature in itself: his body, the part of nature in the subject, fully 
feels the pain, it is only that, due to repression, the subject does 
not remember it. Therein resides the perfect revenge of nature for our 
domination over it: unknowingly, we are our own greatest victims, 
butchering ourselves alive... Isn't it also possible to read this as 
the perfect fantasy scenario of inter-passivity, of the Other Scene in 
which we pay the price for our active intervention into the world? 
There is no active free agent without this fantasmatic support, without 
this Other Scene in which he is totally manipulated by the Other.(11) A 
sado-masochist willingly assumes this suffering as the access to Being. 

Perhaps, it is along these lines that one can also explain the 
obsession of Hitler's biographers with his relationship to his niece 
Geli Raubal who was found dead in Hitler's Munich appartment in 1931, 
as if the alleged Hitler's sexual perversion will provide the "hidden 
variable," the intimate missing link, the fantasmatic support that 
would account for his public personality - here is this scenario as 
reported by Otto Strasser: "/.../ Hitler made her undress /while/ he 
would lie down on the floor. Then she would have to squat down over his 
face where he could examine her at close range, and this made him very 
excited. When the excitement reached its peak, he demanded thatr she 
urinate on him, and that gave him his pleasure."(12) Crucial is here 
the utter passivity of Hitler's role in this scenario as the 
fantasmatic support that pushed him into his frenetically destructive 
public political activity - no wonder Geli was desperate and disgusted 
at these rituals. 

Therein resides the correct insight of The Matrix: in its juxtaposition 
of the two aspects of perversion - on the one hand, reduction of 
reality to a virtual domain regulated by arbitrary rules that can be 
suspended; on the other hand, the concealed truth of this freedom, the 
reduction of the subject to an utter instrumentalized passivity. 

(1). If one compares the original script (available on the internet) 
with the film itself, one can see that the directors (Wachowski 
brothers, who also authored the script) were intelligent enough to 
throw out too direct pseudo-intellectual references, like the following 
exchange: "Look at 'em. Automatons. Don't think about what they're 
doing or why. Computer tells 'em what to do and they do it." "The 
banality of evil." This pretentious reference to Arendt totally misses 
the point: people immersed in the VR of the Matrix are in an entirely 
different, almost opposite, position in comparison with the 
executioners of the holocaust. Another similar wise move was to drop 
the all too obvious references to the Eastern techniques of emptying 
your mind as the way to escape the control of the Matrix: "You have to 
learn to let go of that anger. You must let go of everything. You must 
empty yourself to free your mind."

(2) It is also crucial that what enables the hero of The Truman Show to 
see through and exit his manipulated world is the unforeseen 
intervention of his father - there are two paternal figures in the 
film, the actual symbolic-biological father and the paranoiac "real" 
father, he director of the TV-Show who totally manipulates his life and 
protects him in the closed environment, played by Ed Harris.

(3) On whom I rely extensively here: see Jodi Dean, Aliens in America. 
Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspasce to Cyberspace, Ithaca and London: 
Cornell University Press 1998.

(4) Claude Levi-Strauss, "Do Dual Organizations Exist?", in Structural 
Anthropology (New York: Basic Books 1963), p. 131-163; the drawings are 
on pages 133-134.

(5) See Rastko Mocnik, "Das 'Subjekt, dem unterstellt wird zu glauben' 
und die Nation als eine Null-Institution," in Denk-Prozesse nach 
Althusser, ed. by H. Boke, Hamburg: Argument Verlag 1994. 

(6) See Jacques Lacan, "Television", in October 40 (1987).

(7) The main work of Nicolas Malebranche is Recherches de la verite 
(1674-75, the most available edition Paris: Vrin 1975).

(8) As to this ambiguity, see Paul Virilio, The Art of the Motor, 
Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press 1995.

(9) The notion of this connection between cyberspace and Schreber's 
psychotic universe was suggested to me by Wendy Chun, Princeton.

(10) A further pertinent inconsistency also concerns the status of 
intersubjectivity in the universe run by the Matrix: do all individuals 
share the SAME virtual reality? WHY? Why not to each its preferred own?

(11) What Hegel does is to "traverse" this fantasy by demonstrating its 
function of filling in the pre-ontological abyss of freedom, i.e. of 
reconstituting the positive Scene in which the subject is inserted into 
a positive noumenal order. In other words, for Hegel, Kant's vision is 
meaningless and inconsistent, since it secretly reintroduces the 
ontologically fully constituted divine totality, i.e. a world conceived 
ONLY as Substance, NOT also as Subject.

(12) Quoted from Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler, New York: Harper 
1999, p. 134.

10617 words


Inside the Matrix« - International Symposium at the Center for Art and 
Media, Karlsruhe 

In cooperation with EIKK and Bluebox e.V. — October 28, 1999



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