Sunday, June 10, 2018

374. The unsaid

Žižek and Harman both discussed the unsaid: what cannot be said (Harman) and what should not be said (Žižek).

From Heidegger, Harman adopted the idea that things, even objects of use, are not completely transparent, cannot be completely paraphrased, enumerated in all their qualities. In German: they are ‘ unhintergehbar’, you cannot get behind them. I adopted this idea, for several reasons. First, one cannot look in all directions at the same time. Even in a given direction one cannot see everything. Looking at the inside of a thing, how far ‘down’ does one go? Down to the level of elementary particles and quanta, and according to what rival view of what goes on down there? And concerning the outside, looking at the use of the thing and one’s experiences with it, its phenomenology, one cannot enumerate all its actual and possible affordances and what would be experienced by whom. As a result, Harman claims, reference is inevitably ‘oblique’: partial and incomplete. Some expressions are ruined when explained, such as jokes, metaphors and poems.

Žižek claimed that whether or not things could be said, they should not always be said. Ideologies, in particular, exert their power precisely by not being explicit, but remaining partly hidden, indirect, implicit, so that they remain invulnerable to argumentative opposition: whatever you object against, they did not explicitly say that. And vice versa, when you are the underdog, the outcast, it may be best to remain silent, because your speaking will be twisted or co-opted by the ruling symbolic order. What does not fit cannot be said.  

Don’t rationalize religious faith: you will lose all rational argument. As Kierkegaard taught: just dive into it, and admit ‘Creo quia absurdum’: I believe because it is absurd.

Žižek mentions the ‘Occupy movement’. The only language game in play is that of the established order, and that is precisely what they wanted to get away from.   

Accusations and threat are most effective when giving no more than innuendo and insinuation. When a Mafia boss tells one of his soldiers ‘I trust you, my son’, what does he mean? Multinational companies in their lobbying, to get their way from government, do not threaten directly to move their business and employment abroad unless they get their way.

Recently the nearest Shell Oil Company got to that with respect to the Dutch government, in pleading for the abolition of dividend tax was ‘We do not make demands, but we do want to be seen as friends …’, and the government gave in, while being able to claim that they were not coerced.

And yet, bad as all this sounds, there is something to be said for such modes of implicit direction. I discussed this, in this blog, as the ‘exemplary cause’, adopted from Aristotle. There, one does not give a direct order, but sets an example to be followed. This move recognizes the condition that professional practices often cannot be fully specified, unable to cover the richness, the context specificity and variability of the practice, so that room must be given to find the locally apt specificities, to adapt, innovate, improvise according to conditions.

This is practical wisdom, in contrast with the hypocrisy of manipulative obliqueness. But can one always tell the difference? Managers presenting exemplars shift the responsibility for execution to the worker. Such ‘participative management’ is in fact shifting the blame of failure.

This is one of the ways in which capitalism gets its way no matter what, as Žižek has repeatedly argued.