Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Sie wissen es, und sie tun es": How to stop worrying and love VED

In light of the promising strides we have taken of late toward a synthetic grammar encompassing the characteristic operations common to classical symbological narrative, "weak" symbological narrative, and neurosymb(-p)ological discourse, I would like to propose a formula whose resemblance to what Prandleforth recently identified as "the main aporia of neurosymbology" will be obvious. I will call this the First Antinomy of Symb(-p)ological Reason, and phrase it as follows:

: The predictive models of behavior permitted by the presumption of VED as the basic substrate of human motivation render the subject transparent to himself* and to others.
Antithesis: The presumption of VED as the mechanism underlying all human behavior implies a concealed substrate unavailable to the subject through through mere introspection or observation of the phenomenal stratum of his behavior. Therefore, it renders the subject no longer transparent to himself.

In other words, VED is universally used, across the political spectrum, as the basis of policy arguments and marketing strategies alike, and provides the unquestioned basis of most pop sociology and economics. It is therefore understood to provide and widely accepted as providing a sufficient account of human experience and motivation, and in certain spheres this is acknowledged publicly and openly with no apparent discomfort or shame. On the other hand, VED appears in many areas of discourse as a crafty secret sharer, providing the dark, unacknowledged truth of our actions, altruistic or unselfish as they may seem. For example, opponents of everything from vaccines to abortion tend to impute VED motives to their purveyors in order to unmask the secret, craven motives underlying their participation in an allegedly sinister practice. The resonance of such arguments, as indicated by their prevalence, suggests that VED requires a logic of supplementarity: it is taken by the collective social imaginary as as both sufficient and complete, and in need of a supplement, which would be identical with precisely that which is absent in the motives of those we stigmatize with the accusation of VED, even as we unquestioningly proceed as though we assume VED as the unproblematic explanans of all behavior.

At this point, I would like to pause and preface my further considerations with the following hypothesis: symb(-p)ological discourse consists in the elaboration of imaginary resolutions of the aporia deriving from the First Antinomy.

David Brooks's hot-off-the-press essay "Social Animal" provides us with a helpfully succinct illustration of the operation I am attempting to map out. Since Prandleforth has already provided us with an incisive rhetorical analysis of this veritable concrete universal of neurosymb(-p)ological discourse, I would only like to add the following: Brooks's early twenty-first century bourgeois everyman, Harold, recognizes himself as the subject of VED, understands his motives to be fully transparent to introspection, and is distressed by the resulting sense of being "shallower than [he] need[s] to be" because he perceives acquisition of wealth and consumption as the be all and end all of his existence qua homo economicus. "His superhuman equilibrium is marred by an anxiety" because he "is inarticulate about the things that matter most." This is precisely the scenario that demands, here as throughout the body of discourse whose many forms we have been characterizing on this blog, what we might call the symbological supplement: the unveiling of an allegedly previously concealed realm of values, experiences, and motivations that, in fact, result in the reinstatement of the unsatisfactory realm of experience they were supposed to supplant, now understood as necessary and transcendent rather than contingent and accidental. Harold's enlightenment proceeds through the pedagogical project of neuroscience, conceived and presented by Brooks purely in its ideological dimension (that is, what is of value about neuroscience and related areas of research is that they provide the possibility of suturing the gap between the experience of VED as transparency and autonomy and the experience of VED as "shallowness" and mystification). After his conversion at the hands of the motorcycle-riding Russian folk dance enthusiast neuroscientist, Harold can resume being what he has already been. In becoming transparent to himself (through neurosymbology's account of why the things he was doing already constitute the natural and necessary form of his existence, as programmed by evolution and early neurological development), he learns how he may again take satisfaction in his non-transparency to himself (in "situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, and tasks," a.k.a. late capitalism's endless varieties of consumption). The symbological supplement, then, furnishes the subject of late capitalism with a form of imaginary self-transparency adequate to and consistent with his continued acceptance of the sufficiency and normativity of VED.

A further way of explaining the symbological resolution of the First Antinomy proceeds via Prandleforth's recent narrative analyses of the bifurcation of the subject of late capitalism, as represented and interpellated by symbological discourse, into the "subject of symbology" and the "subject of fun." To summarize Prandleforth's conclusions, the "subject of symbology" is, precisely, the subject of VED conceived as entirely transparent to him- or herself**, while the "subject of fun" is the subject of VED for whom the "fun" consists precisely in a supposed temporary suspension of the imperatives of VED and a concomitant loss of the sense of self-transparency continuous with the assumption of VED. It would be tempting to propose that the subject of symbology stands as the desired product of the interpellation carried out by symbological narrative, that is, it serves as the point of identification for the subject in its attempt to fully assume the superego injunction to enjoy, while the subject of fun serves merely as the vehicle for this operation (and this is certainly an important part of the story, as Prandleforth's most recent posts have suggested); and yet, it is important to emphasize that symb-pological discourse, at least in what I have called its (A) iteration, proceeds in precisely the opposite direction, enjoining the reader/viewer to fully abandon the fantasy of transcendent subjectivity known as Orthognosis (whose underlying identity with the self-transparency of the subject of VED I demonstrated with regard to Avatar), and effectively reassume the position of the "subject of fun" who ceases to require of himself the introspective self-transparency at precisely the point at which he remarks: "who cares about all that New Age/conspiracy theory/dream nonsense, it was a good read/entertaining movie." The point here, though, is that VED is revealed to be the truth of OG, just as OG is revealed to be the truth of VED in a kind of mutual transfiguration nicely concretized in the closing scene of Avatar, in which we witness, as I argued previously, the apotheosis of the "deracinated, 'wired' subject of late technoscientific capitalism" in the form of the Na'vi ritualistic mind-meld.

Now, we have already established elsewhere that the symb-pologist's primary task is to articulate the cop-out's implication of strong irrelevance and oblige the reader to adopt the appropriately indifférant (in other words, "fun-loving") stance. The viewer/reader's resumption of his prior position as subject of fun through narrative identification with the subject of symbology, of course, leaves him conveniently ripe for the consumption of more symbological discourse, in which the structuring dialectic of self-transparency and self-opacity can be rehearsed once again. The foregoing has suggested that this "movement of spirit" can proceed by several different and equally effective paths. If, as we have already asserted previously, weak symbological narrative is distinguished in part by the fact that some explicit form of VED retains an explicit presence in the narrative, it allows the reconciliation of the "subject of fun" (unselfaware subject of VED) with the "subject of symbology" (self-transparent subject of VED) to be accomplished efficiently and with a minimum of risk that the concluding OG position be perceived as anything other than the truth of VED. Strong symbological narrative, on the other hand, enacts a more capacious supplementation of VED in its proliferation of idiotic pseudo-knowledge and therefore achieves a more decisive recontainment at the probably worthwhile cost of an increased risk (hence, it is worth noting, the greater potential for strong symbology to generate symb-pology [B], and the greater necessity for particularly strident statements of symb-pology [A]).

I will close, then with the following propositions:
1) Weak symbology, like most instances of (neuro-)symb-pology, interpellates the subject of symbology through identification with the subject of fun. In other words, it functions by engaging with the supposed introspective self-awareness of the reader/viewer in order to instruct him to enjoy, and presents this "fun"/"immersion directly in the river" as the necessary consequence of the fuller awareness provided by the symbological supplement.
2) Strong symbology interpellates the subject of fun through identification with the subject of symbology. That is to say, the reader/viewer's "fun" consists in his fusion with the fantasy of transcendent subjectivity (distributed in some form along the MGCGOG continuum) pursued in the narrative, a fantasy which he ideally concludes by identifying with the given facts of his existence qua VED subject of late capitalism.
3) These operations are mutually complementary and mutually reinforcing. Indeed, as I believe we are beginning to substantiate, they both form (essential components of) a system of meaning (synchronically) and constitute and deliver forms of experience that require a potentially endless stream of further supplementation via related cultural products drawn from the constellation to which they belong.

In the name of advancing the systematicity of our inquiries, I hope to comment soon on the impressive recent contribution of my colleague Twinglebrook-Hastings to the elaboration of the long-neglected area of paragnosis, particularly in relation to our productive ongoing interrogation of VED.

*I use the masculine pronoun in reference to the subject of fun/symbology advisedly, as the discourse in question makes explicit that the female subject position we have O(f) by definition cannot experience a traumatic gap between her awareness of VED and her assumption of VED. Tom Martin's Kingdom and Julia Navarro's The Bible of Clay are, of course, the most daring treatments to date of the problem of feminine indifférance in symbological discourse.
**On the other hand, I am being gender neutral here because the position O(f) may, in fact, stand in for the subject of symbology qua subject fully transparent to introspection. The O(f), on the other hand, may not respond to the radical gap between this transparency and its concomitant opacity with anything but a sigh of indifférance, and therefore her perspective cannot constitute the point of departure of any symbological discourse (thus, in Kingdom, despite Nancy Kelly's apparent position as protagonist and primary site of readerly identification, I would propose that she must finally be understood as Anton Herzog's symptom [cf. Lacan: "Woman is one of the Names-of-the-Father"]).

Vulgar Economic Determinism and the Subconscious RSA

I want to briefly expand on a few things which were immanent but insufficiently realized in my last post. 

I  realize that I failed adequately to answer Bremselhacker's call for a more thorough analysis of "vulgar economic determinism" (VED) and its relation to "strong" and "weak" symbological narrative, despite some implications of my claims about Nolan's construction of the "subconscious" which in retrospect have rather clear relevance. So let me try to concisely redress that omission by describing strong and weak symbology with reference particularly to the situation of VED in both.

(As an aside, although I believe this is fairly clear from preceding contributions to this forum, it is probably worth saying that by the term VED I understand the content of late capitalist ideology's interpellation of its subjects - i.e, to be a subject of VED is to understand oneself as a generally rational actor most of whose behavior is motivated by the desire for economic gain within a free market economy.)
If we consider Inception and Avatar as examples of weak symbological narrative and contrast them with the stronger forms familiar to us all (Pyramid, The Gaudi Key, Dan Brown's entire oeuvre, etc.) I think a coherent dialectic emerges.  This incorporates the relative presence in the narrative of VED which B'hacker had already pointed out, but also involves the position of the I designated as "S" in my review of Inception and which I agreed with B'hacker is homologous with that of the consumer of symbological narrative (henceforth "the reader").

In strong symbological narrative the reader is absent from the narrative, and VED does not appear explicitly except as a corollary of cacognosis (although classical cacognostics are never solely motivated by VED).  By contrast, VED is given as the default position of the reader, which is suspended by the narrative and re-instated by the cop-out.  For instance, in Pyramid the reader is initially interpellated, via Catherine's conversations with Professor Kent (most noticeably the famous "Electric Juicer Discourse") as in every significant respect a conventional consumer, participating in the circuits of capital as they presently exist in Western Europe and North America.  This position is apparently problematized (by the seemingly impending revelation of information which will fundamentally compromise its basic assumptions) in the body of the novel; but via the denoument (AKA the flagrant cop-out) the bourgeois subjectivity of the protagonists is re-instated having been invested through the drama with a vague air of transcendental significance but unchanged in its particulars.   Catherine Donovan is exactly the same free-range chicken loving, pseudo-environmentalist member of the petite bourgeoisie at end of Pyramid; she just feels a little more spiritual about recycling.  David Brooks offers us a neurosymbological version of this in his recent article, already discussed in this forum, in the biography of his allegorical character "Harold," who returns from a confrontation with the cutting edge of neuroscience newly enabled to decide between different flavors for fru-fru gelato.
By contrast, in weak symbological narrative the reader is foregrounded in the narrative, VED is the primary animating motivation.  In both Avatar and Inception the reader is invoked as neurosymbologically analogous to the subjects of alterior experience - Jake Sully in Avatar and Maurice Fischer in Inception, in the way I described in the previous post. 

Now, what is notable about VED in Inception specifically is that the only character in either the waking or dreaming world who is not solely motivated by VED is Maurice Fischer, who remains in the "S" position for the entire film.  Importantly, it is clearly implied that he is a subject of VED when he does not occupy S, in that he is the heir of the energy dynasty which D/E hope to break up on behalf of Saito.  This corresponds well to our understanding of strong symbological narrative, in that if we are to understand Fischer as analogous to the reader we would expect him to be suspended from determination by VED during the course of his experience of the narrative, in the case, his dream.

Recall that in my previous post I argued that S's subconscious, qua normative regulatory agency, is determined by a logic internal to itself.  This is made evident when Fischer is made to realize that he is dreaming and, rather than being able suddenly to control his "projections," he becomes the object of their aggression.  Based on the foregoing, I advance the hypothesis that the logic of the subconscious in Inception is, very precisely, VED.  This also explains the fact that D/E are characterized by the consubstantiality of their subconscious and conscious minds; they are characters in symbological narrative, and thus they are part of the vocabulary by which VED is expressed.  They can no more contradict it than a word in this sentence can suddenly become Chinese. 

S, on the other hand, stands for an actual interpellated subject capable of construing their worlds in other ways than those prescribed by VED.  And this is precisely what I meant in saying that the subconscious "attempts to make the subject of "fun" more like the subject of symbology."  Maurice Fischer's subconscious is activated by his attempted divergence from VED, and it reconstrains him to its logic by force. 

This allows me to phrase the strong/weak dialectic somewhat more concisely.  Strong symbological narrative backgrounds both the reader and VED in order to undertake the ideological operation whereby the subject is re-consolidated in the complex of "obviousnesses," which was apparently suspended during the action of the narrative, by means of the cop-out, i.e. ideological re-containment.  Weak symbological narrative foregrounds both the reader and VED in order to dramatize the operation of ideological re-containment.  Strong symbology enacts the reader's re-containment ot VED; weak symbology narrates that operation to the reader.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Paragnosis Unbound (1)

Unicorns are Real and So Are Postmodern Nihilist Academics

It's difficult to convince our colleagues across the hall in the Serious Business department that they should read Dan Brown in order to better understand themselves and their fellows, but that's what we're saying. The popularity of The Da Vinci Code, its imitations, precursors and prefigurations should be enough to convince everyone that these novels answer to some need that is deeper than the sterile explanation that it is fun, entertaining or the like. When these pseudo-explanations are not obfuscations covering the contents and effects of these books they merely push the question about the existence of these books back to the point where we have to ask ourselves why this particular type of novel is so fun, so entertaining. Why? Why mere fun? Once you drink the Kool-Aid of the critique of symbology you discover first that Dan Brown's novels are representatives of an extremely widely disseminated type we call the symbological novel, the variations of which are both systematic and extremely common. (So common in fact that they stretch out of the airport bookshop and into New-York-Times-style literary criticism and writing about neuroscience and evolutionary biology.)

The statement about the type of story of which The Da Vinci Code is an instance is its generative grammar. The grammar describes the basic attitudes in the narrative toward signs, their referents and their significance for the characters and the world of the novel. As originally formulated by the illustríous and learnéd Dr Bremselhäcker, the generative grammar of the symbological novel looks lika dees:

The labels on the left name character types (subject positions) most famously exemplified by the unappetizing Robert Langdon, who begins every novel sure in the belief that while the symbols he studies refer to real things, places, sects and events, these have no real historical significance except as curiosities or "academic" matters. In the terms of the grid, this means that he believes that the ontology of the symbolic is literal (L), but that it's of epistemologically metaphorical (M). E.g., the holy grail is a real thing in the world, but it's of no real cultural, personal or political significance.

The villains of the symbological novel are generally cacognostics: they believe both that signs point to real things and that knowledge of these signs are relevant. The cacognostic is therefore concerned both with locating what the symbol refers to and controlling it. The action of the basic instance of the Brownian symbological novel surrounds the transformation of the mythognostic into the orthognostic. The orthognostic doesn't believe that it matters whether the things, institutions, conspiracies and people referred to by the symbols that decorate these novels exist or not (metaphorical ontology), nor that the symbols have any serious political, religious or personal significance (metaphorical epistemology). Thus however vast the conspiracy or shocking the revelations about the secret history of the world, every novel ends with the casual reaffirmation of the political and cultural status quo. Being an orthognostic means that nothing really needs to change so we can all go back to work.

Much of our literary-critical fate as detailed in this blog has consisted in filling out our symbological bestiary by identifying novels that are variations of this type. E.g., Matthew Reilly's horrible novels of perpetual cacognosis or Coelho's placid tales of eternal orthognosis. What varies from story to story and movie to movie is what aspects of the status quo appear to be undermined by the book before being confidently reaffirmed (so-called ideological recontainment), what types of subject position are transforming into what and how the various subject positions in the novels are related. Along the way deep and disturbing connections emerged between the symbological novel and colonial Orientalism (as understood by Said), bad science, what was once so delightfully called the military-industrial complex (as though perhaps it were a psychiatric condition) and Ameircan religion.

The astute reader will notice however that the grid as it appears above is not quite complete. The fourth possible subject position in the generative grammar, formerly called awkwardly but accurately Judith-Butler-gnosis and now called paragnosis lacked a novel detailing its exploits. Ladies and gentlemen, the wait for this symbological unicorn is fucking over. Meet Guillermo Martínez's wretched novel of mathematical intrigue, The Oxford Murders (2006) and the even worse deadly movie adaptation by the same title (2008) starring John Hurt and Elijah Wood and directed by the villainous Álex de la Iglesia. The Oxford Murders (henceforth ToM) is the story of a young Argentinian mathematician named Martin who gets caught up in a series of murders that he and the police believe are the work of a serial killer. Each murder is announced as it happens by a note with the time of the murder and a symbol and are we are led to believe delivered to the eminent logician Arthur Seldom, but which are in fact manufactured by Seldom in order to cover up the murder by his spiritual daughter Beth of her doddering old grandmother.
Title page of Martínez's literary abortion. Fans of this blog, Umberto Eco novels and the works of Tom Martin will note that Guillermo is obviously the shadow of Tom Martin, the object-cause of this author's desire, whose majestically and perhaps willfully bad novel Pyramid was the occasion for our collective descent into the literary-critical and metaphysical abyss. Pyramid is a crummy imitation of The Da Vinci Code, which I suppose just proves The Oxford Murders' claim that "repetition leads to desire, and desire leads to obsession." (p. 179)
An Introduction to Paragnosis

Paragnosis was originally referred to as Judith-Butler-gnosis as a sort of nasty joke. The subject position within the generative grammar has an epistemological that believes that the code is meaningful but that its referents in the world are unimportant or arbitrary. What kind of a lunatic thinks only what we say and think matters and nothing else? Why, none other than the academic. Thus as Bremselhäcker has revealed to us through gritted teeth, within his Comparative Literature department at Important University at New England the default critical position of his colleagues is that culture has primacy over biological and physical facts. They would probably not admit this at the doctor, but in their professional lives they act as though for example sex were completely determined by gender. Whoever doubts the seriousness and pervasiveness of this and similar propositions has never attended a LGBT meeting at a liberal arts college or major metropolitan center. Within such groups it is often taken for granted that either sex is ultimately irrelevant with respect to gender, which can be either performed for the on the fly adoption of a different or even novel gender. Failing that, a utopian reliance on the transcendence of biomedicine insures that the body may be reinterpreted surgically.

N.B. To any upstanding young queer theorists reading. The point is not to acquiesce to hegemonic sexual identities, but rather not to underestimate the profoundly complex and mutually determining interactions between individuals, their cultural environments and their biology. We take it that a good deal of theory does this, to say nothing of people's struggles in their civilian lives. What struck us  about the paragnostic position within the generative grammar is that very bad books like The Da Vinci Code which purport to describe the exploits of academics imply another kind of academic, or at least a parody of one, the post-structuralist, postmodern, signifier-obsessed, Francophiliac deconstructionist. This paragnostic is the mirror image of the mythgnositic hero of Dan Brown's novels. While Robert Langdon believes that his symbols refer to real things, his study of them is "merely academic" and so cannot possibly have any serious impact on the world. The tour of the mythognostic hero in the classical symbological novel is one that leads him to entertain briefly the notion that cultural codes might be of cultural significance before settling on the pacific and vapid conclusion that there really aren't any secret societies of any concern and that, in fact, his academic knowledge is unimportant enough than he can retire to Harvard. The paragnostic as exemplified by Seldom begins with the converse belief. He is convinced of the significance of signs, but they are merely arbitrarily arranged and do not have any bearing on the real world.

Let us go to the scene of this nihilistic pseudo-logic. In ToM the academic authority that wears the costume of Seldom's views is Ludwig Wittgenstein. The actual relation of the philosophical gibberish in book and movie to Wittgenstein's actual views is at best tenuous and will perhaps be taken up later, however Seldom likes to dramatically invoke the closing words of Wittgenstein's first major work the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the doctrine of which is that we can't talk about anything really, most especially truth.

John Hurts my feelings with third-hand pseudo-Wittgenstein. Note that holding up the TLP in this matter is in fact a perfect performance of his epistemology since it is the book as signifier that matters insofar as it's capable of his coercing his students into adopting his views, while its contents are completely irrelevant.

[Seldom stands before a transfixed mob of young Oxonians.]
Seldom: There is no way of finding a single absolute truth, an irrefutable argument to help answer the questions of mankind. Philosophy therefore is dead. Because whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.
[Dramatic silence. Seldom paces the room. Martin raises his hand.]
Seldom [mockingly]: ooooo! it seems that someone does wish to speak! It appears that you're not in agreement with Wittgenstein. That means either you have found a contradiction in the argument of the Tractatus or you have an absolute truth to share with us all.
Martin: I believe in the number π!
[The crowd laughs.]
Seldom: I'm sorry I didn't understand you. What was it you said you believed in?
Martin: In the number π! In the golden section! The Fibonacci series. The essence of nature is mathematical. There is a hidden meaning beneath reality. Things are organized following a model, a scheme, a logical series. Even the tiny snowflake includes a numerical basis in its structure. Therefore, if we manage to discover the secret meaning of numbers we will know the secret meaning of reality.
This awful little speech could belong to nothing other than a cacognostic. Martin believes that mathematics refers to actually existing entities in the world and that mathematical signs grant power over that world. It is for this reason that he is so eager to hunt down the serial killer that Seldom feeds him signs of. It is interesting to note here that insofar as the paragnostic narrative is concerned, mathematical Platonism of Martin's type coincides rather neatly with conspiracy theory numerology. The meaning of numbers is a secret, relevant to human affairs and waiting to be discovered all around us. Seldom, master manipulator of the sign, will disabuse him of this notion in the course of leading him on a wild goose chase for the serial killer that is supposedly feeding them clues to his next murder. For the moment, however, let us return to the scene of this idiotic battle between paragnosis and cacognosis, realism and constructivism.

Seldom: Impressive! ... We find ourselves faced with a fresh, rousing defense of mathematics, as if numbers were preexisting ideas in reality! Anyway, this is nothing new. Since man is incapable of reconciling mind and matter he tends to confer some sort of entity on ideas because he cannot bear the notion that the purely abstract only exists in our brain. The beauty and harmony of a snowflake. How sweet! The butterfly that flutters its wings and causes a hurricane on the other side of the world. We've been hearing about that damn butterfly for decades! But who has been able to predict a single hurricane?! Nobody!

To which the viewer is perhaps tempted to answer, Well, lots of people. We call them "meteorologists." But this would be to send us off course as much a dwelling on the actual philosophy of Wittgenstein. The point as always is not whether or not these books and movies have the facts straight but the way in which their mangling of the facts represents a certain kind of attitude toward the world.

Seldom quite clearly does not think that numbers and in fact signs generally refer to real things. Martin appears to be some kind of straightforward Platonist about mathematics and signs generally, so it should strike us as odd that Seldom characterizes this position with a hackneyed example from chaos theory. While systems sensitive to initial conditions (like weather systems) might be hard to know about they are not in principle unknowable. This example of Seldom's epistemology will come back to haunt Martin. In the novel, Seldom is painfully explicit about the extent to which nothing can be known via signs.
The series 2, 4, 8, can be continued with the number 16, but also with the number 10, or 2007. You can always find a justification, a rule, that lets you use any number as the fourth term in the series. Any number, any continuation. (65)
Not even context, pattern and a rule describing the continuation of a pattern is sufficient to license knowledge of the next term in a series because it's always possible to invent a rule justifying any next term. To quote Simon Schaffer, "You say '2,4,6,8,10.' We say '2,4,6,8, who do we appreciate!'"

Over the course of the novel Martin will be brought out of his cacognosis and into a kind of paragnosis. I will detail this fate in a coming post. I will close this post with an alarming figure from the novel, our lives, our novels and the British National Symbolic.

The Victory of Paragnosis, or, The Badger Vanishes

As the natural sign of the sign as such, the badger is a clear choice when you want to playfully figure the endless disappearance of the Transcendental Signified over the horizon of meaning. Throughout  the novel (this sequence is sadly missing from the movie) Martin encounters a series of dead badgers, symbols left there for the likes of us. Martin describes his first encounter with the beast, run over on the road.
I’d never seen such an animal before. It looked like a type of giant rat but with a short tail, around which lay a pool of blood. Its head had been totally crushed, but the black snout remained. Where its belly had once been, the unmistakable bulge of what must have been its offspring protruded as if from a torn sack. (76)
Later he encounters it again and a native informant explains that the superstitious British road workers refuse to touch dead badgers. Then a third time in an extreme state of decay before, after Seldom's deception is revealed, the badger disappears completely. The series of signs, the code woven by Seldom out of nothing but references to itself, covers in the end nothing. There is no serial killer. The conspiracy is a plot laid by one man to cover the fact that there is no conspiracy. The appearance of a conspiracy is only a product of a series of signs that ultimately point to nothing but the more or less ordinary passions, crimes and selfish deeds of ordinary subjects.
I looked down but could see no sign of the badger. The last shred of flesh had disappeared, as far as the eye could see, the road stretching ahead of me was clean, clear, innocent once more. (197)
The victory of paragnosis, a hyperbolic perversion of poststructuralism, is encoded here in the text of The Oxford Murders. It is difficult not to read this erasure of the badger as a figure of what we've come to call the entropy of mythognosis, a basic premise of symbological historiography. All referents fade into the past and our access to them is speculative at best. This specific figuration of the status of the signifier is, however, deeply disturbing and undoubtedly points to a vast conspiracy theory within the publishing industry aimed directly at the authors of this blog. (Why not a dog? Why not a blood stain? Why a badger?)

Here gentle reader you must take my hand as I reveal to you secret texts, unpublished and unpublishable. In the following fictional recreation, Matthew Reilly, bad novelist extraordinaire fictionalized in our Tom Martin, explains the secret history of the world.
"Well," Reilly replied in a measured tone, "I have been thinking about what Father Unzátegui told us about Antonio Silva's proposition that the teachings of the ancients – and therefore all accurate, motivated correlations of symbols with their real-world referents – are subject to an inevitable process of entropy.  Silva apparently argued that the recognition of the ability of symbols to refer to iconically and indexically to concrete realities would, in all circumstances, gradually be forgotten and replaced with a conviction that signs operate within self-contained systems and obtain their identity differentially, and he used the degeneration and ultimate total disappearance of the tree-badger symbolism as an example of this process. (Tom Martin in press. p. XX)
Just so. For the paragnostic the decay of efficacious signification is immanent to the sign: you can't say anything about a series from any number of its members.
“But that’s not all!” Said Martin, “That has an important implication for the post-structuralists – the ancient cult of ‘ōmochīhuahua inīn tlahcuiloa mecayōtl cahua’ from which their dark lineage derives, chose as its sacrificial victim the badger – they claimed that this was an arbitrary and unmotivated substitution for human sacrifice, but they claimed simultaneously that the badger’s capricious and arbitrary nature... made it a fitting symbol of their counter-symbological heresy.  This is a flagrant contradiction, because the latter rationalization is clearly motivated by necessary relations of signification...  The victory of symbology is encoded in their most basic narratives!”
To paraphrase Tom Martin, "The victory of paragnosis is encoded in their most basic narratives!" It is difficult not to read this as a shot across our bow: the true author of Pyramid and Kingdom has laid plans for us using nothing but signs. He is our own private Seldom, if he exists at all. No doubt Martínez is simply his latest pseudonym, another mask designed to lead us astray and announce his literary-theoretical victory and the impossibility of ever chasing him down.

David Brooks: American Neurosymb-pologist

At the risk of further ramifying the already intimidating thicket of pseudo-academic jargon I like to dignify with the title "The Language of Symbology," I think that after Bremselhacker's extremely productive theorization of "symb-pology" and subsequent investigations in neurosymbology, we can hardly avoid the inevitable reality of neurosymb-pology.  David Brooks, may God have mercy on his soul, has offered what I predict will stand as the type and figure of this discourse for some time to the New Yorker today, entitled "Social Animal: How the new sciences of human nature can help make sense of a life."  I am going to attempt a brief analyisis in which I will not use the word "nauseating" once, less out of mere politeness than out of a sincere commitment to Bruno Latour's call to avoid accusations of fetishism and respond to the objects of critique "super-critically".

This is Brooks' argument, as I understand it:

Scions of the American upper-middle class "like many Americans generally," often experience a sense that their lives have been "distorted by a giant cultural bias."  His key example, which he returns to in the conclusion, is the anxious indecision provoked by being confronted with a choice between cloudberry and ginger-pomegranate flavored gelatos, and he takes this as emblematic of the ways in which we are conditioned by our culture into patterns of cognition which ill-equip us for the most important things in life.  "In short, these achievers have a sense that they are shallower than they need to be."  He clearly implies that this disconnect has occured because of "the atrophy of theology and philosophy," although he does not analyze this development in detail.  However, we are not to worry because (he says, adopting a tone which would bring a tear to Lynne MacTaggart's eye and I believe corresponds more or less exactly to one of the final lines of The Lost Symbol,) "we are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness." 

Over the past few decades, geneticists, neuroscientists, sociologists, economists, and others have made great strides in understanding the inner working of the human mind.

This work, Brooks tells us, offers the corrective for our "giant cultural bias": "brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy." 

How does this work, exactly?

Brooks prefers to show rather than drily describe how "their work illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom grows" by telling the story of Harold, the child of a wealthy American family, as he grows into manhood and falls in love with his wife Erica.  This biography is a nearly comprehensive chrestomathy of neurosymbological techniques, and I will only draw attention to a few  since I can scarcely hope to do such a prodigious accomplishment justice in a reasonable space.

1) Killing the Father: It has been noted that neurosymbology appears to formally require the mechanical disavowal of psychoanalysis as a species of voodoo.  For Brooks, this gesture (whose Oedipal character was, I think, initially pointed out by Twinglebrook-Hastings) is so obvious as to have become implied.  We learn that "A core finding [of "the cognitive revolution of the past thirty years"] is that "we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking."  The Unconscious, it seems, was discovered in 1980, probably by William Gibson.

2) Producing "Obviousness" from Basic Science: This is probably the basic neurosymbological maneuvre, corresponding more or less exactly to "ideological recontainment" in classical symbology (see Prandleforth, 2010d), and Brooks has learned it well (presumably from the NYT Science & Technology section.)  Consider one of many classic examples:
There's a debate in our culture about what really makes us happy, which is summarized by, on the one hand, the book "On the Road" and, on the other, the movie "It's a Wonderful Life."  The former celebrates the life of freedome and adventure.  The latter celebrates roots and connections.  Research over the past thirty years makes it clear that what the inner mind really wants is connection.  "It's a Wonderful Life" was right.
Nature has decided between Theadore Cleaver and William S. Burroughs, and The Beav won. Case Closed.

3) Justifying the Present with Teleological Evolutionary Psychology: Another basic neurosymbological strategy, which corresponds to the valorization of antiquity as a criterion of truth we have observed in Brown and other exponents of classical symbology, which consists in the assertion that human cognitive development essentially ceased developing or responding to its environment in the stone age, and that consequently it is to this period we must look for rationales for our behavior - as Cosmides and Tooby, the Directors of Anthropology and Psychology, respectively, at UC Santa Barbara put it in their Primer on Evolution Psychology, "our modern skulls house a stone-age mind":

Erica was impressed by him: women everywhere tend to prefer men who have symmetrical features and are slightly older, taller, and stronger than they are. But she was more guarded and slower to trust than Harold was. That’s in part because, while Pleistocene men could pick their mates on the basis of fertility cues discernible at a glance, Pleistocene women faced a more vexing problem. Human babies require years to become self-sufficient, and a single woman in that environment could not gather enough calories to provide for a family. She was compelled to choose a man not only for insemination but for continued support. That’s why men leap into bed more quickly than women. Various research teams have conducted a simple study. They hire a woman to go up to college men and ask them to sleep with her. More than half the men say yes. Then they have a man approach college women with the same offer. Virtually zero per cent say yes.

Brooks later characterizes criteria of discrimination in Erica's selection of sexual partners which are not obviously Pleistocene as "idiosyncratic" (e.g. her rejection of Burberry, although presumably this is referable to the fact that plaid would obviously compromise one's camouflage while hunting antelope on the savannah.)

4) The Production of VED from Basic Science:  This is clearly a subset of 2), but given recent discussion on the subject in the forum I must present this example on its own:
Of course, there are less noble calculations going on as people choose their mates. Like veteran stock-market traders, people respond in predictable, if unconscious, ways to the valuations of the social marketplace. The richer the man, the younger the woman he is likely to mate with. A man’s job status is an outstanding predictor of his wife’s attractiveness. Without being aware of it, Harold and Erica were doing these sorts of calculations—weighing earnings-to-looks ratios, calculating social-capital balances. Every signal suggested that they had found a match.
The body of the story contains numerous further instructive examples which immediately require further elucidation, but in the interest of time and faced with such a Herculean task (I have the Aegean Stables in mind,) I must move on.

Towards the end of the piece, Harold and Erica go to see Harold's parents at their house in Aspen. 

They went riding and rafting and they attended an ideas festival. They sat through panel discussions on green technology and on how to adopt a charter school, and they spent a few hours immersed in the “China: Friend or Foe?” debate. One morning, they attended a talk by a neuroscientist. He was a young man in black jeans and a leather jacket, and he came to the session carrying a motorcycle helmet, as if he’d just escaped from a Caltech revival of “Grease.”
Although the allusion is clearly to to Pirsig, the simultaenous evocation of Tom Robbins' oeuvre is probably more apposite to the tissue of New Age platitudes which follows.  The alternative to theology, philosophy and "giant cultural biases" in general offered by this avatar of the Cognitive Revolution turns out to be an unexamined fusion of some particularly jejune strains of late-twentieth century American mysticism which is basically uninformed by anything any of the laundry list of disciplines he cited at the outset would admit to producing, mainly relating to the profound interconnection of all people and the "rush he got from riding his motorcycle in the mountains".

However, his testimony sparks a "life-altering epiphany" in Harold (Erica, presumably, is already Orthognostic and thus does not require such intervention,) who resolves to "use this science to cultivate an entirely different viewpoint" and, sure enough, returns to his favorite gelato shop and "confidently" chooses the cloudberry.

These moments in Brooks analysis evince a thorough internalization of the principles of neurosymbology, but there is more here than that:  Brooks' apologia roundly confirms the centrality what I had previously postulated as the main aporia of neurosymbology (Prandleforth, unpublished manuscript 2010),

1) The mind is a messy tissue of evolutionary contingency without a self-evident relationship to reason
2)The mind orders the messy contingency of evolution through its self-evident investment by reason

and it even does so in order. The biographical narrative consists of a collage of claims all purporting (after the demise of "theology and philosophy," - and by "philosophy" I assume we are to understand "all the disciplines traditionally associated with humanism") to fill the explanatory void with neurosymbology (viz. "discourse about the mind which demands that phenomenological expeirence subsist in, and be sufficiently accountable for by, anatomo-physiological mechanisms in the brain and that hermeneutic discrimination privilege indexically correlative relations, univalence and antiquity").  But the motorcycle-riding, fMRI loving neuroscientist who transforms Harold's life and makes him a whole person insists precisely that:
"...though history has made us self-conscious in order to enchance our survival prospects, we still have deep impulses to erase the skull lines in our head and become immersed directly in the river.  I've come to think that flourishing consist of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people..."
Moreover, Brooks' piece makes blindingly obvious the ideological mechanics which are to some extent implicit but not articulated in my original formulation in ways which should be obvious to the most casual student of symbology; it is precisely the engagement of neuroscience as an object potentially challenging to VED, bourgeois subjectivity, hegemonic ideology or whatever you want to call it which enables one's original complex of unexamined predjudices and half-assed naturalizations of historical phenomena to be reconsolidated. 

Just as symbology invests recycling, feminism and the patronage networks of the Federal Government with an appealingly vague air of transcendental magic, Brooks asks us to celebrate neurosymbology's ability to re-package vulgar economic determinism, twentieth-century American gender stereotypes and the war of the sexes as features of a newly sacralized Nature, unpolluted by "giant cultural bias". 

Have a pomegranate-ginger gelato, Mr. Brooks, and pat yourself on the fucking back.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Unconscious is Structured Like the Stasi: an attempt to pin down the "subconscious" in Christopher Nolan's "Inception"

Bremselhacker's recent analysis of Nolan's Inception  has significantly extended the frontiers of our understanding of what we have been calling "neurosymbology," and its relationship to symbology generally.  He elaborates from the trenchant observation that "symbology is that discourse for which there can be no unconscious, properly understood," a number of immediately interesting implications both for the relations of desire available to the subjects of symbological narrative, and those which are presupposed for the reader/viewer of symbological narratives (i.e. the "subject of fun"). 

I was recently able to consult the work in question, for the first time, and have a few thoughts in both of these areas. 

First, regarding the potential effects of neurosymbological products on their consumers and apologists (the subjects of "fun,") I would like briefly to draw attention to a stunning confirmation of Bremselhacker's insight that Jonah Lehrer's account of the near-equivalence of dreaming and movie-watching represents the interpellation of the "subject of fun" as symb-pologist (A).  I am referring to the (aptly named) Joe Minnion's post on the film, charmingly entitled "Dream a Little Bigger: why Freud would have loved the blockbuster movie, Inception..."  Minnion, a "Sport and Performance Psychologist," roundly confirms the efficacy of this interpellation, with a charming twist. It will be recalled that the animating proposition of symb-pology (A) was initially stated as being, in essence, that is is the formal efficacy of the work which is the object of "fun," not its explicit  content:

"...symb-pologist A's basic move is to assume the symbological work's own disavowal of its ostensible driving commitment to the pursuit of some potent knowledge (about the Grail, suppressed matriarchies, ecology, etc.) - that is, the cop-out - at face value, and moreover, to position himself as a petulant defender of the work's right to engage in this disavowal. Implicit in symb-pologist A's discourse is what we might call a superego injunction to enjoy."
Thus, of Inception, symb-pologist A might say, "Sure, Nolan's understanding of the unconscious mind seems endearingly innocent of any acquaintance with psychoanalysis per se, but it's still a total mindfuck, dude!"  Minnion is a step ahead, however, and accomplishes this "basic move" in a surprising and innovative way.  He enjoins us to enjoy Inception's formal coherence with Freud's actual work on dream analysis:  "...a movie was made that is arguably a postcard tribute to [Freud's] beliefs about dreams. That movie is, of course, Inception." 

He achieves this startling feat through two still more basic moves.  First, he constructs Freud in terms which are clearly mythognostic and in fact strongly reminiscent of Brown's descriptions of Robert Langdon in his pedagogical flashbacks: "Not only does he joke with his students, he describes some of his theories as metaphors at best..."  Second, he restricts the discussion to the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, which he effectively reduces to a duo of characteristically neurosymbological precepts: 1) dreams enact wish-fulfillment, which reduces stress and increases fitness and 2) dreams keep you asleep, and "this sleep protection benefits our health."  Thus, by enacting symb-pology A (i.e. mythognostic symb-pology) and  by reading Freud as a mythognostic, he is able to claim that what is enjoyable about Inception is its formally effective citation of the Introductory Lectures

I take this as a dramatic and instructive example of what symbology makes possible.

Now to the implications of Bremselhacker's observation for the characters of symbological narrative (i.e. the subjects of symbology).  While his review focuses on the consequences of the "categorical denial of the existence of anything recognizable as the unconscious," I hope I will not be betraying a confidence if I quote his immediate reaction to the film (private correspondence), which was composed prior to that incisive and and perspicacious offering:
"Apparently, pace Lacan, the unconscious is structured like an action movie. (...) Ack."
Now, the unconscious of Inception is clearly not "properly understood" with reference to any post-Freudian formulation - Leonardo DiCaprio seemed to imply he had run into that problem when he told a journalist, of his attempts to prepare for the role of Dom Cobb:   
"I read books on dream analysis, I read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. None of it was working. Then I realized this was Chris’ dream world. It has its own structure and its own set of rules. So I went to the source and started asking him questions."
However, I cite Bremselhacker's initial response because it reminds us that an unconscious is structurally required by the narrative, and it seems important to find out how, exactly, it is understood since the particulars may be relevant to further efforts to evolve a critical apparatus adequate to symbology. 

Aside from being, as it clearly is, "structured like an action movie," what other determinations shape the unconscious (Nolan prefers "subconscious," which I will use when referring to his formulation) in Inception?  Since Mr. DiCaprio has yet to return my phone calls, we will have to return to the text - fortunately, I think this will be rapidly illuminating. 

To lay some groundwork, it is worth distinguishing between the available subject-positions available to any actor in "Chris' dream world."  There are three: the "dreamer" (D) creates the environment which is "populated" by the subconscious of the "subject" (S), which the "extractors" (E) seek to interrogate.  There is no real difference between D and E (henceforth D/E) except their artistic involvement in the "utterly undreamlike dreamscape."  However, there is a critical difference between S and D/E: their relations to the subconscious which invests the dream.  I will need to qualify this formulation later, but to simplify for the moment this is essentially that D/E are conscious that the world they perceive represents the subconscious, and S is not.

The dream can potentially be populated by the subconscious of any of the actors, but only S's influence is obligatory, and it is so for all actors.  By contrast, it is made repeatedly clear that any incursion of the subconscious of D/E into the dream is strictly voluntary.  Consider the following excerpt from the screenplay:

Two AFRICAN PEDESTRIANS wander into view.
Arthur: Are those yours?
Eames shakes his head.  Cobb turns to Yusuf.
Arthur: Yusuf?
Yusuf: Yup. Sorry.
Cobb: Suppress them. We don't bring our own projections into the dream-we let Fischer's subconscious supply the people.

It might be objected that Cobb spends half the movie negotiating the intrusions of his dead wife, but, as Bremselhacker notes, "even the appearances of Mal...do not represent anything more than Cobb's consciously avowed feelings of guilt about his role in her death," and her existence in the dream is also seen to be voluntary when, through an act of efficacious self-consciousness, he hails her as a projection and thus dispels her.  The D/E subconscious is therefore strongly irrelevant to pretty much everything - they really are without anything which could be meaningfully called an unconscious.  The "subconscious" in Inception is only significant insofar as S populates the world of the dream for all actors, and it is to S we must look for the neurosymbological account of the unconscious mind.

S's subconscious populates the dream (which is determined architecturally by D/E but in no other significant sense,) with objects and "projections."  Both, qua elements of S's subconscious, are understood as signifiers, but they are symbological in the strictest sense; the objects are iconic representations of discrete pieces of information, and the projections are iconic representations of individual people.  Despite Minnion's claims, which are too annoying to rehearse here, the latter have nothing to do with any psychonalytic model of projection.  Rather, Nolan's projections are S's internal representation of named humans who exist in waking life, which can literally speak for the "subconscious," in ordinary, intelligible language:

Ariadne: Who are the people?
Cobb: They're projections of my subconscious.
Ariadne: Yours?
Cobb: Sure - you are the dreamer, I am the subject. My subconscious populates your world. That's one way we get at a subject's thoughts - his mind creates the people, so we can literally talk to his subconscious.
Ariadne: Why are they looking at me?
Cobb: Because you're changing things. My subconscious feels that someone else is creating the world. The more you change things, the quicker the projections converge on you.
Ariadne: Converge?
Cobb: They feel the foreign nature of the dreamer, and attack like white blood cells fighting an infection.

Thus, the "projections" are the reciprocal of the consciousness of subconscious desire which distinguishes D/E by its presence and S by its absence.  D/E can "suppress" theirs and have nothing to fear from them because they are totally self-conscious (i.e., they have no meaningful subconscious,) while S cannot suppress or otherwise control the products of his subconscious, which he mistakes for real objects and real people.

Cobb's last line in the above exchange is one of few explicit characterizations of S's subconscious - the subconscious, pace Sompyrac, is structured like an immune system.  Donna Haraway has resourcefully described the transformation of immune system discourse over the latter half of the twentieth century from constructions participant in the political economy of the postwar period to ones which come increasingly to reflect the investment of molecular biology by elements of postmodernity, on the basis that, as she put it in a 1989 essay,
"..the immune system is an elaborate icon for principal systems of symbolic and material 'difference' in late capitalism.  ...the immune system is a plan for meaningful action to construct and maintain the boundaries for what may count as self and other in the crucial realms of the normal and the pathological."
Let me dispel any suspicion that this is a capricious and purely rhetorical association.  Nolan has divested his "subconscious" of all associations with the psychoanalytic unconscious, by making it fully available in principle to total conscious awareness, populating it with objects and people which behave like and are subject, with a few trivial exceptions, to the same rules as their counterparts in waking life, and in gneneral making its discourse that of the fully realized self rather than the Other.  The one function which is residual to the subconscious in Inception is precisely "to construct and maintain the boundaries for what may count as self and other" for the subject of the dream, because to occupy the position S is to conflate reality with one's subconscious and to be vulnerable to manipulation by D/E.  The subconscious thus functions solely to maintain the distinction between S and D/E, and in properly trained subjects this function is developed to the point where Cobb can say of Fischer that "his subconscious has been miltiarized."  S's subconscious is structured like a repressive state apparatus.  Now, my simplified formulation above suggests that the difference between S and D/E derives from their awareness of the fact that they are dreaming, (i.e. their apprehension of their surroundings as manifestations of their subconscious, which, in the case of their own projections confers total control) this is not the case; when Cobb manipulates Fischer into believing he is in fact in someone else's dream and Fischer thus becomes aware of that the people and objects surrounding him are "projections," he does not gain control over them, and in fact his own subconscious behaves towards him as ithad previously done towards D/E.

That the subconscious can act as an immune system or RSA with reference to both S and D/E is highly significant if we recall the neurosymbological claim (explained with reference to John Lehrer in B'hacker, ibid.) that movie-viewing and dreaming are neurophysiologically (and thus, for Lehrer, ontologically) equivalent states.  Lehrer's equation (and Inception at large) clearly imply homology between S (in the movie) and the viewer, the "subject of fun."  Likewise, the difference between S and D/E's relationship to the subconscious implies a similar homology between D/E and the "subjects of symbology."  The position D/E is analogous to that of Nancy Kelly in Kingdom:
"All she thought, all her opinions, coincided perfectly with the version of reality that was presented in schools and universities.  She was dimly aware that there were other ways of seeing life and history, but she had never really had to imagine what that might mean"
To occupy D/E is to exist in perfect harmony with one's subconscious by transforming it into fully realized conscious desire, which is perfectly coterminous and coeval with conscious desire; that is, to be a character in a symbological narrative.  By contrast, to occupy position S is to be vulnerable to the addition and subtraction of components of one's self by D/E, i.e., to be in the position of the consumer of symbology.  Thus, by Lehrer's equation, both S (in the movie) and the viewer require the operation of "a plan for meaningful action to construct and maintain the boundaries for what may count as self and other."  To occupy S is to require revision, correction, redaction; to be a mutating cell on the verge of becoming a metastatic tumor; to be a potentially subversive subject of ideology.

An interestin consequence of this is that the 'meaningful plan' that the subconscious follows in directing regulatory action at both D/E and at S (when he attempts to achieve critical self-consciousness) is determined by an unarticulated logic internal to the subconscious itself.  D/E's consciousness of their subconscious' action confers absolute control over it, but the same is not true for S.  He may think he knows the boundaries of self and other, but his subconscious can resist his distinctions, if necessary by killing him.  The subject of symbology is transparent to and in full control of its subconscious because it is inconceivable that it could behave other than by the logic of symbology; it is precisely when the S, AKA the "subject of fun," attempts to depart from that logic, however, that he must be recontained by his subconscious RSA.

Thus, the Nolan's "subconscious" is structured in the manner best suited to ideological recontainment.  Its sole directive is the superego injunction to enjoy, which it prosecutes using the tactics of a police state.  Inception uses the subconscious to narrate, rather than to model or analyze, the action through which symbological narrative attempts to make the subject of "fun" more like the subject of symbology.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Homo symbologicus and homo economicus: Two hypotheses

Recent analyses in this forum of symb-pology, James Cameron's Avatar, neurosymbology, and other cultural products have all, in different ways, brought into focus a notable lacuna in the models of symbological thought, narrative, and production elaborated here and in related media. I refer to a repeatedly evident structural relationship between homo symbologicus (in which I include the entire range of subject positions allowed by the Generative Grammar) and homo economicus, originally defined by John Stuart Mill as "a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end." What follows takes as its starting point the widely accepted assertion that homo economicus functions broadly as the assumed a priori position of the subject of Western capitalist modernity, and that the continued stability of the latter system requires the subject to understand himself and his underlying motives as reducible to the calculation of individual material gain. We should recall that in my review of Avatar, I noted that homo economicus, referred to there as the subject of Vulgar Economic Determinism (for the sake of convenience I will heretofore refer to VED), stands both as the antagonist and secret sharer of the only other available subject position, that of the Orthognostic Other, with weak mythognosis embodied in Sigourney Weaver's Dr. Grace Augustine occupying a merely subordinate position in the film's schema. The most notable contribution of Avatar, I suggested, is the quite explicit identity it establishes between the undisguised VED of the human invaders and the resolute orthognosis of their ostensible opposites, the Na'vi. Cameron's film renders more visible the manner in which the same VED-orthognostic identity is equally evident in the classical symbological novel in the initially not entirely predictable function of orthognosis as the vehicle of ideological recontainment via the protagonist/reader's compulsory adoption of the doctrines of indifférance promulgated by the Orthognostic Other (Poimandres's final interpellation of Rutherford and Catherine being the locus classicus here). If these narrative conventions permit the recognition of a metaphorical-substitutive relationship between VED and the orthognostic/indifférant endpoint of symbological narrative, the discourse of symb-pology exemplified for all time by Gopnik's review of The Lost Symbol establishes a complementary metonymic relationship, insofar as Gopnik locates the truth of the symbological novel, and the obligatory enjoyment its consumption entails, precisely in its profitability. The symbological text, in other words, turns out to be both about VED and a vehicle of VED. While its social instrumentality as a form of narrative interpellation depends on its temporary concealment of this complicity, its critical reception in the form of symb-pology may in fact foreground the VED underlying its production to defend it from any misguided charges of subversiveness, i.e. perverse-cacognostic commitment to its explicit premises.

Proceeding from these observations, I would like to advance the following hypotheses:

1) In the classical symbological narrative (Brown, Martin, Martín), characterized by the deployment of the mythognostic-cacognostic-orthognostic continuum (hereafter MGCGOG), VED is generally concealed except insofar as it functions as the implicit subject position of the reader, suspended during the reading of the novel and renabled by the novel's closing disavowals. If VED appears within the novel as itself, it generally occupies a weak and evanescent position, exemplified nicely by the powerlessness of Secretary Miller and the other VED members of the Corporation before the CG agenda of Senator Kurtz.

2) In weaker forms of symbological narrative, in contrast, VED frequently has an explicit place in the narrative, which posits a dualistic framework in which the abeyance of VED corresponds to the assumption of one of the position drawn from MGCGOG. These weaker forms are generally characterized by the near exclusive prominence of one of the subject positions produced by the GG. Examples:
-In The Rule of Four, in which the narrator and his collaborator Paul never move beyond the mythognostic pole, their antagonists Vincent Taft, Bill Stein, and Richard Curry, differ from them only insofar as they have abandoned disinterested and avowedly irrelevant scholarly pursuits in the name of professional advancement and material gain.
-In Reilly's work, VED and CG constantly bleed into one another and are frequently indistinguishable, since the agon of the various world powers in pursuit of the code is usually explicitly justified in terms of material gain; yet Reilly seems to regard there as being a healthy (because ultimately reducible to VED) version of this pursuit, and a more disturbed, fanatical (and therefore identifiably CG) version of this pursuit, even if the reader may doubt the viability of this distinction.
-Avatar, as has already been suggested, performs the rather remarkable feat of explicitly juxtaposing VED and Orthognosis in a manner that simultaneously disavows and discloses their deep complicity: on the synchronic level, in the form of the implicitly VED subject position of the reader/viewer whose explicit endorsement of OG the film's rhetoric elicits; diachronically, insofar as the endpoint of the film in the narrative resolution of VED/OG antagonism to the benefit of the latter mirrors the indifférant viewer's reinvigorated resumption of VED.

On this basis, I would like to propose: a) a more thorough consideration of the divergence of "strong" and "weak" symbological narratives with regard to the explicitness of their treatment of VED; and b) the revision/expansion of the structural models that we have developed in a manner that will adequately portray the centrality and relevance of VED to all forms of symbological narrative and thought. However, in order to develop the desired synoptic framework, it will first be necessary to extend the interrogations of the heretofore excluded paragnostic/"Judith Butler" subject position, a project recently made necessary by the discovery of Martín(ez)'s The Oxford Murders. I, for one, look forward to this work with great eagerness.