Monday, 27 April 2015

What happens on the other side of an interdiction?

Spending so much time preoccupied with the surplus of the predecessor, the need to annihilate the ancestor, and the abusive superiority of the precedent, made me think of interdictions. All of the above are – aren’t they? – founded on things prohibited in a past that I am compelled to observe without questioning, since that past (along with its multitude of predicaments) belongs in a tradition that is my home, my identity, my Self.

By the judgment of this tradition, not allowing the antecedent to lodge in the present tense is an act of rebellion, and therefore it must be prescribed under the rubrics of the verboten.

Cycles, circles

We take interdictions to be denials, and this assumption generates desire packed-up with a lot of pressure: the pressure of temptation. The biblical apple tells precisely this story of the will to act posed against the directive to halt agency. And as there, the least permissive the interdiction, the more we want to be there, on the other side of it: to be part of the elite that is allowed to roam freely on the other side.
But then there’s something about that interdiction that’s not quite denial but precisely the contrary of it: permission, invitation, authorisation. This is what causes the enthusiasm and the pleasure that come with the forbidden fruit. We bite into it and we close our eyes in bliss. That's the positive side of things, the beautiful dream of ours. But that's not where the problem is. The problem is precisely on the other side. Once we’re there, once we’ve been granted access, the initial attitude changes. The initial euphoria turns, quite quickly, into habit. The habit of being the possessor of a formerly interdicted object dilutes the object’s value a great deal. That’s how ancestors become issues of little interest. When, virtually and practically, anybody can be the ancestor, there’s no point trying to defend the axiom of uniqueness.
Miracles are no longer miracles if they take place every day. Imagine a world where everybody has acquired the ability of walking on water. The fact, while certainly providing everyone with a much-cherished skill, will, at the same time, downplay the same skill. There will be no more excitement in a world of Jesuses strolling on the surface of a river on their way to work. I’d take this hypothesis even further and say I’m quite sure most of us would return to catching a bus for the same purpose. There would be more excitement there: at least the surprise of meeting forgotten friends or seeing the intricate unfolding of life in real-time.
On the other side of an interdiction we would reconsider the limits of rebellion. Every revolution requires a focus, but every focus requires objects of desire. When the desired object has been acquired, out goes the revolution too. And most inevitably, every revolution is followed (or so history is teaching us) by long massacres, when the most viciously executed victims are the most fervent among the former supporters. So, on the other side of an interdiction a gap is created, where new insurgencies become possible, indeed desired.

Source: Wikipedia
In other words, on the other side of an interdiction there will be another interdiction. The story goes full circle; it will never reach a point of no return. Like Ouroboros eating its own tail, there is never an end to our desire to want.

Desire without fulfillment

Maybe the acquisition of a desired object is, then, not the best thing to do. In any case, not the one to guarantee satisfaction. Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière, in their conversations on the past and future of the book, point out this thing about collectors: many of them are not interested in the enjoyment that comes with possession. They’re more excited at the thought of the acquisition itself. As soon as a new entrant occupies a place in their collection, they are willing to sell it, and for a price sometimes lower than the initial payment. Such are the pleasures of those who see their desires fulfilled. And such is the extent of the desire to desire: the need to be forever short of something crucially important.
Jacques Lacan was able to develop (via Melanie Klein, via Freud) an entire theory of the so-called objet petit a. The unfulfillable desire that comes with an object that, once lost, will never be acquired again (ever!) – this is what the theory is about at its most basic. There is always an object (degradable yet renewable) that requires our immediate wish to possess. There is always an object, that is, which appears to the subject as an expression of the Other: exterior, independent, exceptional, different. This object is not static. It is not given as an absolute. On the contrary, it is subjected to a perpetual process of transformation – a process of becoming.
Interdictions fit very well this attempt at a definition, insofar as interdictions are always conceived of in relation to objects that cannot be attained – that mustn’t be attained. So that all the work the subject is capable of doing is reducible to a continuous projection towards a fantasy, towards a fiction that tantalizes the self.
Production of a surplus, generation of an event, redistribution of the once-known/once-had, invention of a predecessor…


The acquired object suddenly becomes redundant. What was once the apple of paradise is now peanut butter on any preschooler’s sandwich. The object reaches this stage of democratization through a moment of crisis with a double ramification. On the one hand, the object is found be on a deviant course, advancing farther and farther away from its centre of significance (i.e. it is less and less important). On the other hand, the possessor of this object discovers that the world of interdicted objects is much larger than it was believed to be, and that the appeal of that new world is as great as it has always been, if not catastrophically greater. This awakening is the revelation of one’s fundamental ignorance. But it’s tempting to be there, where one is embarrassed by one’s own lack of knowledge, because being there promises the acquisition of some knowledge: one’s knowledge of one’s own lack of knowledge. The Socratic paradox: scio me nihil scire.
That’s how interdictions work. They promise and, by promising, prohibit. They make room for error because it’s in errors that the desire to try again resides.

Source: Jeroen van Honk
Saint Augustine, the guardian of interdictions, once said that if a man were able to rise above humanity he would find himself in an even more horrible situation, being alone in a stratosphere where the universe reveals itself to be even larger, more threatening than it was while he was among his fellow humans. In a sense, this is a metaphorical pronouncement of the same principle: what lies on the other hand of an interdiction is an even larger set of interdictions. Only Saint Augustine wanted this to be the mother of all interdictions. He wanted it to persuade us of the futility of all things human. He posed the temporal imperfection of humanity against the eternity of the divine. And, for many centuries, we believed this to be the case.
Gradually, though, we have come to see that the pleasure acquired from challenging interdictions is just as infinite as the paradise that lies untouchable beyond the borders of our world. That’s how we ended up writing to acquire a sense of accomplishment from words, the most elusive objects of language.