Tag Archives: Lacan



The body adorned, the body’s metamorphosis into a garmented state – the interactive process – elevated both physically and imaginatively; The fashioned body as locus of reciprocity and individuality. Layering as self-transformation, on the periphery of self-visualization, never fully able to realize this realization in its wholeness. The fashioned body: the sticky tentacle for the other’s gaze and for the imagined representation of one’s self. Fashion: the disappearing-blossoming flesh of creative infusion with the expression of the designer’s work, an assemblage of vortexes surrounding the body, imaginatively composing the social body…The crevice between body and garment, that nether world, the beginning of the body.


Social Media and The Specular Image: The Floating Head


For Jacques Lacan, “the specular image” can be envisioned through the example of one seeing oneself in the mirror. The act of seeing the perceived wholeness of oneself in the reflection of the mirror is captivating for the child. It is this captivating gaze that produces the specular image (Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis). Is it not the same with us in our daily lives: looking in the mirror to make sure that our hair is properly set, brushing one’s teeth and checking to make sure there are no toothpaste stains on the cheek or in the hazy moments upon awaking, looking at oneself in the mirror while wiping away the grime of sleep that sits in the eye.

A Body in the Dark

The specular image is actualized through the imagination. It is imaginary. One can truly experience this by trying the following: dim the lights or stand in a dark room. Look intently at one’s image in the mirror and try to grasp the face in all of its strangeness. Notice the shifting contents of the face, the transformative powers of the imagination come to life in this simple exercise. The body in the mirror reflects back the body’s surface. We cover our body in our imagination. Again, the Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis writes, “The specular image refers to the reflection of one’s own body in the mirror, the image of oneself which is simultaneously oneself and other — the ‘little other’.”

Social Media: The Collectible Friend

In 2004, when I first began using social media for artistic purposes, I realized the oddity of MySpace using the word “friend” as the person who adds you or you can add to your site. Moreover, the visual representation of that “friend” gave me a certain warmth and, at the same time, mixed with hysteria. One’s friend count seemed to be the measure by which others were ranked. The music side of MySpace was blossoming and I quickly sustained hundreds and eventually thousands of collectible “friends,” which is pretty impressive given that what I was creating was pure chaotic analog/digital noise. The specular image of oneself as a collectible” friend to others, reduced to an icon meant that one had to choose one’s visual mode of representation wisely, or at least fashionably…Moreover, the fascination of altering the image, my ‘little other’ increased while I worked to expand my network. What I did admire about those times was the willingness of others to collaborate. MySpace seemed like the perfect place to collaborate, share and establish lasting connections and I believe it was.

I’m Shrinking

How is one’s specular image represented in one’s use of social media? What kind of secret identities, code names, nicknames, aliases emerge and make space. How does the online self, the labyrinthine self navigate and make itself relevant? How is one’s disembodiment experienced through the use of that horrifying device: the web cam? The web cam shrinks one’s specular image to a reversed 2D image. One only needs to adjust the angle in order to transfigure the appearance of the face. NOTE: this was also heavily used in the hand-held Myspace profile shots or in ultra-close-ups, framing the face as point of personality, the floating head.

The Floating Head in Troll 2

In the film Troll 2 (dir. Claudio Fragasso), there is a scene where the young boy, Joshua is trying to communicate with his deceased grandfather’s spirit-body by concentrating on a mirror and willing for his grandfather to appear. The first part of the grandfather’s body which comes into being is nothing but a floating head, which quickly morphs and materializes into a violent goblin. This shift is interesting to me. First, we see the floating head coming from the nether world, but upon materialization there is a rift and the image of the grandfather is overtaken by an ugly monster. Who is the other that one addresses through the specular image of the camera or the web cam? Does it matter? How much do you stake on the online representation of the other? What, to you, is the experience of meeting the flesh-and-blood other after having interacted in a computerized networked environment?

No Subject: Lacan
Troll 2

The Extimacy of the Interface

Photo by Late Night Movie

Between the person and the interface of social media, there is a human or humans. In this medium of the blog, I present the reader with static yet increasing snippets from my side of existence and from the zone of other networked friends, bloggers, writers, musicians, designers, critics and thinkers that are blended as a part of me and projected through me into this particular interface. This interface is likely to be one that is quickly passed over in the “stumbling” search for interesting (read: instantly consumable and sharable) web content, or aggregated into a syndicated reader of which one can skim the title for potential after-dinner relevancy. Perhaps this page will appear in a “Google” search for such oddities as “man in mini-skirt” or “Japanese character.” Or, the interface between myself and you could share some kind of interaction in the form of the comment, the email, the mutual subscription to our Twitter feeds.

The New Sky

The human body weakens with time spent sitting in front of one’s computer. Legs become restless, throats parched, yet the fingers and the eyes remain alert, remain active, irking out some yelp to be heard by a random passerby. Although, perhaps the yelp is felt in a close friend who is interfacing with the Web at the same time. Your legs, still growing restless for communication with the Earth outside, disappear from your consciousness, the power of the fingers taking control, the imagined presence of the close friend being delivered to your interface via a network, across multiple networks achieves some kind of satisfaction which stirs within you. Outside, there is the sky and the wind, but the Web has created a new kind of outside for you: the Web is not like gazing into the vast emptiness of the sky, but akin to strolling through the labyrinthine streets of Tokyo. Around this corner, a small restaurant located next to a contemporary art museum. Your options have expanded…you feel connected, but you are merely connected to the symbolic, the imaginary, to the interface of the other, a responsible interface nonetheless.


Psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan coined the word “extimacy,” to express the intersubjective workings of the subject and of the unconscious. For Lacan, the subject is not only within him or herself, but also realized in the other. We could look at the interface of the Web and, moreover, Web 2.0 as a mode of exercising extimacy with other people. A social networking profile is created and within that profile is a blending of various symbols from film, TV, art, others’ photography and so on. Contacting others and “friending” others based on similar web-surfing habits expands one’s online self and entwines within one, the interests and symbolization of another person. Moreover, when looking at the interface of the computer screen, one experiences the decentering of one’s self-image, a fragmented mirroring back of oneself occurs. Desires that are posted by other people, become one’s own desires, desires that one did not even know existed. By expanding one’s network, one comes to see oneself as projected by these other people. Again, there is an intertwining, a conjoining of self and other and in this conjoining, an extimate self is realized.

Meanwhile, you are brought back to your physical body, the body that wishes to move, to temporarily suspend time with this interface. You cannot see your own face, the reflection from the interface is put on “sleep mode” and you step away, into another interface.

A Messy Marco-Analysis of Social Media: The Labyrinthine Self

An example of a social network diagram.Image from WikipediaThe following is a messy macro-analysis of social media and I hope to elucidate these ideas in the coming weeks. Please bear with me. Also, if you have spent time with what is talked about here, please get in touch, suggest links, propose theories, probes, ideas, etc. I support fragmentation.

It seems that the decentralization of the self across a number of social networking sites multiplies and fragments the self while creating what I want to call: the labyrinthine self. A definition of the labyrinthine self could be: the self that is created from the decentralization of one’s identity through the fragmentation of one’s knowledge-networks as existing within various social media platforms.

An easy-to-understand example could be: one creates a Myspace page as a “Film Director,” one then creates a Youtube page as a “Film Director,” in order to extend one’s knowledge-network. In addition, to represent one’s “private” self, one joins Facebook to reconnect with old friends. In order to keep the world updated instantly, a Twitter feed is created, a “film blog” at typepad and finally a Secondlife character is designed in order to further spread one’s “films” or simply just to connect via the virtual world (with other Lindens). In doing this, one has essentially and willingly created the labyrinthine self, that is one’s self has extended to the extent that it has become impossible to fully keep track of and be in control of one’s own knowledge-network. In addition, the self in seeing itself existing across these platforms becomes fragmented. Data that is shared on Facebook is not shared on Twitter or Secondlife and so on. Moreover, even with sites that work to centralize one’s self (Friendfeed), I still see the labyrinthinization of the self. That is to say, even in the centralized space of Friendfeed, there is still a reliance on the labyrinth that one has created or that one is feeding off of. That is, what is Friendfeed apart from the decentralized sites that it allows one to share? Moreover, if anything Friendfeed sustains the fragmented self by willfully encouraging one to put back the puzzle of one’s social media existence.

Then, there is “data portability,” which is the sharing of data across time-space. This means, jumping from node to node along the labyrinthine tunnel, consciously decentralizing oneself, while maintaining one identity, perhaps something like a “master password.” In this way, one jumps from room to room – different rooms are experienced, but you are still you, fragmented nonetheless.

Within both of these examples is the unfolding of one’s knowledge-network and, moreover, the ability for one’s data to float through that network into a hither unknown area only to be re-appropriated by another person. That is to say, the “mash-up” trend in blogging. “Mash-up” is the conjoining of two or more things to create something new. It is kind of like cooking. If I mix one part “silly pet video from Youtube,” one part “crazy New York party pics from Flickr” and one part “book review from my favorite blog,” I create a new way of visualizing and interpreting the data, due to the unique context that I created. This leads to what we could even call “the mish-mash self,” the self that appropriates online symbols (images, music files, viral videos, photographs) and uses them to represent one’s self. In a way, this blog represents facets of my labyrinthine self and my mish-mash self. That is to say, one’s blog is a space where one, through the “mashing” of one’s favorite media, creates a new space, a new context from which to view the data.

Questions for Consideration:

How is the virtual representation of your identity transformed by your use of social networking sites?
How deep does your knowledge-network go?
Do you think that a centralized social media site will fulfill your social media desires? That is, do you prefer centralization or decentralization? What is the relationship of centralization and decentralization in sites like Myspace or Friendfeed?
Where does Secondlife exist in all of this?

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The Publicity Image: Zach Galifianakis and Absolut

Zach Galifianakis

Zach Galifianakis recently made a commercial for Absolut Vodka (featuring the comedic duo “Tim and Eric“). Apparently, Galifianakis was given complete control in the making of this commercial. How are we supposed to react to this video? What is this publicity image saying to us? What creeps in below the radar and why is this such an uncomfortably funny video?

In his book “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger analyzes ‘the publicity image’ in contemporary culture and through the lens of oil paintings. Today, I will try to see the Zach Galifianakis Absolut ad in a different way, paying special attention to it and try to flesh it out a little bit.

First, the visual aesthetic of the commercial is important as this is a highly stylized piece. That is, the first thing we notice is that we are somehow not in the ‘real’ world. What I mean is that, it seems that the commercial takes place in some kind of margin of reality, a zone located somewhere between our common everyday experience and an obscene dream-space where anything can happen. Perhaps, the semblance of reality is just that, a semblance, perhaps we have truly entered into Galifianakis’s fantasy space: the strange wigs blurring the genders of the characters, the white robes, symbolizing purity, comfort and affluence or the modern suburban sterility of the room and talk of the hot-tub seem to transport us to a kind of “soap-opera” realm of intrigue.

And, what role does Absolut play in all of this? Well, it seems that Absolut is portrayed as being an elixir from the Gods, a substance both sublime and terrifying. I like how Galifianakis and crew savor the vodka, smelling its aroma, stirring it, sipping it and fully embracing it as a holy fetishistic object. The whole idea of “Absolut on ice,” simply being enjoyed by itself is unsettling. Moreover, despite the bizarre nature of their conversations, when the Absolut begins flowing, everything is momentarily restored to a deceptive serenity (until Zach’s agressivity is unleashed). What this is saying is twofold, perhaps threefold: First, there is Asolut as decadent fetish object (the smelling, excessive savoring), then there is Absolut as monster (Galifianakis snapping violently about the temperature of the hot tub), third, Absolut as peace-bringer (if only you drink Absolut, harmony will temporarily be restored to your life…a terrifying serenity).

Berger, in his book writes: “Publicity persuades us of such a transformation by showing us people who have apparently been transformed and are, as a result, enviable. The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour. And publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour (Berger 131).” The transformation that he speaks of is the way we will come to see ourself after buying the new product, after giving in to the publicity image. However, it is very difficult to read the Zach Galifianakis Absolut commercial in terms of envy. We can easily see the glamour image as represented in the decor of the room, the robes, the hairstyles and the music, but there is something absolutely evil underlying this publicity image, which is what I really admire about this commercial. That is, Galifiankis does give us a taste of the transformation, but the transformation is so disconnected from our everyday reality that it is terrifying and uncomfortable. Do we envy Galifiankis’s character? Does the spectator-viewer wish to transform his or her life into this kind of maddening phantasmatic nightmare? I would even go further and ask, are we supposed to think that these are human beings? Are they not portrayed as some kind of perverse angels (spirits) existing in a horrifying zone of fantasy?

However, I think many of us when watching this can easily relate to it on some level. That is, although a bit unsettling and funny, when we hear the empty conversation, the, as Lacan may say “lure” of converation, we understand what is going on. For Lacan, the “lure” is the intentional deceptive conversational game that we play in our everyday life. It is talking about hot tubs when we really want to say something else. What is really being talked about in these empty conversations? In this commercial, I see an underlying aggressivity and unpredictability exuding from these characters: the outburst of anger, the excessive laughter, the opening conversation scene in all its deceptive banality…But, again, Absolut is seen as the elixir, the horrific and calming savior in this vague world of deception.

I admire Galifianakis for making this “commercial,” and it is great to see him able to exercise his genius. Now, where is my absolut on ice?

The Absolut Video by Zach Galifianakis can be seen here: ABSOLUT ZACH

Punch-Drunk Love: Probing Love with Lacan

Barry and Lena kiss in a silhouetteImage from Wikipedia

Punch-Drunk Love” is a film by Paul Thomas Anderson starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) with original music by Jon Brion. I first saw this film while living in South Korea and something about it moved me very much. I later revisited the film while in the United States and finally, I have re-re-discovered this film while living in Japan. This film is about Barry Egan (Sandler) who suffers from the trauma of social interaction while dealing with ‘rage’ issues, which we see is greatly due to the intense pressuring and verbal bullying by his sisters (he has seven sisters). The film unfolds along four lines. First, we see Barry fighting the pressure of his sisters. Second, we find Barry battling a phone sex mattress man along with his goons. Third, we find Barry engaged in a ‘healthy choice’ deal and finally, Barry learning to love as he meets Emily Watson’s character (who we find has grown up an only child). The convergence of these four lines is a celebration of the power of love and Barry’s struggle to overcome his fear of social interaction and channel his rage.

Visually, this film unfolds with great audio and color contrasts. Near the beginning of the film we find a harmonium randomly dropped off in front of Barry’s office building. Suddenly, a truck crashes and rolls over. This scene goes from almost near silence to the deafening crash of twisted metal. Clearly, we are experiencing the scene from Barry’s inner perspective, a world suffering from the intensity of events. Also, when we are in Barry’s office (a warehouse), we are confronted with the stark darkness of his warehouse and the blinding light of the outdoors, a pure white light. Again, we see and feel the intensity of Barry’s world.

From the Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, we find an interesting description of “love”: “Love is directed not at what the love-object has, but at what he lacks, at the nothing beyond him. The object is valued insofar as it comes in the place of that lack.” In this film Punch-Drunk Love Sandler and Watson’s characters are near opposites. Again, Sandler grew up with the pressuring of his seven sisters, while Watson an only child. What is it that Watson’s character finds so interesting in Sandler’s character? For Watson, Sandler’s character is visibly suffering. She can see it in his communication with his sisters and with his communication with himself (the restaurant scene where Sandler is so very uncomfortable that he destroys the bathroom). I think that we can easily read the love relationship between Sandler and Watson along Lacanian lines. That is to say, Watson sees in Sandler the insecurity and helplessness that is lacking in her life and the helplessness that is lacking in her own. To connect with Sandler’s character is to connect with that part of herself that is not yet in existence, that part of herself that she wishes to bring into existence. For Sandler, it is the same. He sees in Watson the image of a powerful and secure human being, one who is able to leap off to Hawaii for a business trip and one who is not afraid of giving her keys to a stranger (the beginning of the film). That is to say, one who does not fear social interactions and who is not as powerless as Sandler.

Moreover, the battle between Sandler and the phone sex mattress man situation can be read as Sandler’s struggle to fill this lack of security. He finds his very world shattered by the intrusion of the obscene phone sex situation, however, it is only through this problem that he overcomes his struggles with coming to protect his love with Watson. This mattress man is a necessary obstacle in his battle of fulfillment. To free himself, he must overcome himself.

I am not a master on Lacanian psychoanalysis, so any feedback or references to Lacanian work on “love” is appreciated.

Virtual Hysteria: Cyberspace and Reality

The experience of engaging in cyberspace, of living through this interface, presents one with challenging experiences as to the virtuality of the self and to the virtuality of reality. That is, the ability to create (or have created for you), maintain (be maintained) and, ultimately lose control of one’s internet identity and the greeting of the disconnected other fosters what Slavoj Zizek calls “the hysterical experience” of cyberspace.

In his online interview, aptly entitled “Hysteria and Cyberspace,” Zizek challenges the idea of reality by saying, “What was so shocking about virtual space was not that before there was a ‘real’ reality and now there is only a virtual reality, but through the experience of VR we have somehow retroactively become aware how there never was ‘real reality.'” For Zizek, our experience of “reality” is always caught up in our phantasmatic perceptions of reality. That is, we are constantly seeing things as we interpret-ably experience them to be, how they are talked about and how we phantastically relate to them in terms of what they mean to us. We do not see the other in all of his or her traumatic (and horrifying) intensity, but in our fantasizing as to who we see them to be (perhaps in relation to ‘the big Other’). As he says, “I think a certain dimension of virtuality is co-substantial with the symbolic order or the order of language as such.” That is to say, the idea of “virtual reality” is nothing new, that in fact, our experience via language or via symbols are already immersing us in the virtual.

Also, Zizek speaks of “the undead” horror of cyberspace. That is to say, one’s identity disperses, is present even after one is gone or after one “logs off.” Recently, a vlogger on Youtube passed away and many videos honoring (or criticizing) him were uploaded. Most of the people honoring his death had never met him face-to-face, but only through the interface of Youtube. The horror of the situation is that his videos continue to circulate, they continue to be watched by people who may or may not know that he has passed away.

The idea of hysteria can be readily understood as Zizek points us to the situation of reading/writing emails. He writes, “There is actually a great deal of uncertainty in these forms of communication: You can never be sure who is reading your input or in what way.” It is this absence of the flesh-and-blood other, which has escaped us and we are left with only a trace of the other, a trace void of situational context. One can perceive this horror in the threat of spam mail. That is, what appeared to be an email from a friend or relative turns out to be a meaningless yet threatening virus.

I think that ultimately for Zizek, hysteria arises from the uncertainty of addressing the other via cyberspace. “I don’t know what the other wants from me and thus I try in advance to reflect this uncertainty.”

Does this not adequately reflect the problem which we face in our cyberspatial existences? Who is the other who addresses me and what do they want from me? Is this other a real other or simply a ‘chat bot’ conversing through programmed outbursts of grammar.

This interview can be read in its entirety here: http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/2/2492/1.html
All quotations are taken from this article.