Masturbation, or Sexuality in the Atonal World
Slavoj Zizek

Today’s predominant mode of politics is the post-political biopolitics [1] an expression which is effectively tautological: “post-politics” designates the reduction of politics to the expert administration of social life. Such a politics is ultimately a politics of fear, a politics focused on the defense against a potential victimization or harassment. Therein resides the true line of separation between radical emancipatory politics and the predominant status quo politics: it is not the difference of two different positive visions, sets of axioms, but, rather, the difference between the politics based on a set of universal axioms and the politics which renounces the very constitutive dimension of the political, since it resorts to fear as its ultimate mobilizing principle: fear of immigrants, fear of crime, fear of godless sexual depravity, fear of the excessive State itself (with too high taxation), fear of ecological catastrophes, fear of harassment (which is why Political Correctness is the exemplary liberal form of the politics of fear) – such a (post)politics always relies on the manipulation of a paranoid ochlos – the frightening rallying of frightened men. The zero-level of politics today is the depoliticized expert administration and coordination of interests; the only way to introduce passion into this field, to actively mobilize people, is through fear. At the level of social objectivity, we have mechanisms and processes to be regulated by expert administrators; the subjective counterpart of it is fear, the basic constituent of today’s subjectivity. This is why the big event not only in Europe in the early 2006 was that the anti-immigration politics “went mainstream”: they finally cut the umbilical link that connected them to the far Right fringe parties. From France to Germany, from Austria to Holland, in the new spirit of pride at one’s cultural and historical identity, the main parties now find it acceptable to stress that the immigrants “are guests who have to accommodate themselves to the cultural values that define the host society – it is “our country, love it or leave it.”

This fear is, at its most basic, the fear of the Neighbor. There are two topics which determine today’s liberal tolerant attitude towards Others: the respect of Otherness, openness towards it, and the obsessive fear of harassment – in short, the Other is OK insofar as its presence is not intrusive, insofar as the Other is not really Other… In the strict homology with the paradoxical structure of chocolate laxative, tolerance this coincides with its opposite: my duty to be tolerant towards the other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, not to intrude into his/her space – in short, that I should respect his/her intolerance towards my over-proximity. This is what is more and more emerging as the central “human right” in late-capitalist society: the right not to be “harassed,” i.e., to be kept at a safe distance from the others.

The post-political biopolitics also has two aspects which cannot but appear as belonging to two opposite ideological spaces: that of the reduction of humans to bare life, to homo sacer as the object of the expert caretaking knowledge; [2] and that of the respect for the vulnerable Other brought to extreme, of the attitude of narcissistic subjectivity which experiences itself as vulnerable, constantly exposed to a multitude of potential “harassments.” Is there a stronger contrast than the one between the respect for the Other’s vulnerability and the reduction of the Other to “mere life” regulated by the administrative knowledge? But what if these two stances nonetheless rely on the same root, what if they are the two aspects of one and the same underlying attitude, what if they coincide in what one is tempted to designate as the contemporary case of the Hegelian “infinite judgment” which asserts the identity of opposites? What the two poles share is precisely the underlying refusal of any higher Causes, the notion that the ultimate goal of our lives is life itself. This is why there is no contradiction between the respect for the vulnerable Other and the readiness to justify torture, the extreme expression of treating individuals as homini sacer.

In The End of Faith, Sam Harris defense of torture is based on the distinction between our immediate being- impressed by the suffering of others and our abstract notion of others’ suffering: it is much more difficult for us to torture a singular person than to drop a bomb from a far distance that would cause the even more painful death of thousands. We are thus all caught in a kind of ethical Illusion, parallel to perceptual illusions; the ultimate cause of these illusions is that, although our power of abstract reasoning has developed immensely, our emotional- ethical responses remain conditioned by hundreds of thousands years old instinctual reactions of sympathy to suffering and pain that is directly witnessed. This is why shooting someone point-blank is for most of us much more repulsive than pressing a button that will kill thousand absent persons:

Given what many of us believe about the exigencies of our war on terrorism, the practice of torture, in certain circumstances, would seem to be not only permissible but necessary. Still, it does not seem any more acceptable, in ethical terms, than it did before. The reasons for this are, I trust, every bit as neurological as those that give rise to the moon illusion. /…/ It may be time to take out our rulers and hold them up to the sky. [3]

No wonder that Harris refers to Alan Derschowitz and his legitimization of torture. [4] In order to suspend this evolutionary conditioned vulnerability to the physical display of other’s suffering, Harris imagines an ideal “truth pill,” an effective torture equivalent to decaf coffee or diet coke:

a drug that would deliver both the instruments of torture and the instrument of their utter concealment. The action of the pill would be to produce transitory paralysis and transitory misery of a kind that no human being would willingly submit to a second time. Imagine how we torturers would feel if, after giving this pill to captive terrorists, each lay down for what appeared to be an hour’s nap only to arise and immediately confess everything he knows about the workings of his organization. Might we not be tempted to call it a ‘truth pill’ in the end?” [5]

The very first lines – “a drug that would deliver both the instruments of torture and the instrument of their utter concealment” – introduces the typically postmodern logic of chocolate laxative: the torture imagined here is like a decaf coffee – we get the result without having to suffer unpleasant side-effects. The first reaction: at the notorious Serbsky Institute in Moscow (the psychiatric outlet of the KGB), they already invented a similar drug to torture dissidents, an injection into the prisoner’s heart zone which slowed down his heart beating and caused terrifying anxiety – viewed from outside, the prisoner seemed just dozing, while he was going through a nightmare… The further problem is that Harris violates here his own rule when he focuses on September 11, and in his critique of Chomsky: the point of Chomsky is precisely the hypocrisy of tolerating the abstract-anonymous killing of thousands while condemning individual cases of the violation of human rights – why is Kissinger, when he ordered the carpet bombing of Cambodia that led to the death of tens of thousands, less a criminal than those responsible for the Twin Towers collapse? Is it not that because we are precisely victims of the “ethical illusion”: the horror of September 11 was presented in detail in the media, while – to take another case – when the al-Jazeera TV shows shots of the results of the US bombing of Faludja is condemned for its complicity with the terrorists…

There is, however, a much more disquieting prospect at work here: the proximity (of the tortured subject) which causes sympathy and makes torture unacceptable is not a mere physical proximity, but, at its most fundamental, the proximity of the Neighbor (with all the Judeo-Christian- Freudian weight on this term), of the Thing which, no matter how far away it is physically, is always by definition “too close.” Consequently, what Harris aims at with his imagined “truth pill” is nothing less than the abolition of the dimension of the Neighbor: the tortured subject is no longer a Neighbor, but an object whose pain is neutralized, reduced to a property that has to be dealt with in a rational utilitarian calculus (so much pain is tolerable if it prevents a much greater amount of pain) – what disappears here is the abyss of the infinity that pertains to a subject. It is thus significant that the book which argues for torture is also the book entitled The End. of Faith – not, however, in the obvious sense of “You see, it is only our belief in God, the divine in junction to love your neighbor, that ultimately prevents us from torturing people!”, but in a much more radical sense. Another subject (and, ultimately, subject as such) is for Lacan not something directly given, but a “presupposition,” something presumed, an object of belief – how can I ever be sure that what I see in front of me is another subject, not a depthless flat biological machine?

What kind of sexuality fits this universe? On August 6 2006, London was hosting the UK’S first “masturbate-a- thon,” a collective event in which hundreds of men and women pleasured themselves for charity (raising money for sexual and reproductive health agencies), and to raise the awareness of, and dispel the shame and taboos that persist around, this most commonplace, natural and safe form of sexual activity. The formula was invented at Good Vibrations (a San Francisco sex health company) as part of the National Masturbation Month, which they founded and have been hosting since 1995, when the original San Francisco M-A-T took place. Here is how Dr. Carol Queen justifies it:

We live in a society in which sexual expression has always been legislated and restricted and the pursuit of pure pleasure is frequently condemned as selfish and childish. A lot of people who consider themselves free of sexual hang-ups have simply rewritten the equation ‘sex is only good if it involves procreation’ to ‘sex is only good if it involves two loving people.’ /…/ Masturbation is our first sexual activity, a natural source of pleasure that’s available to us throughout our lives, and a unique form of creative self-expression. Each time you masturbate, you’re celebrating your sexuality and your innate capacity for pleasure, so give yourself a hand! /…/ Masturbation can be a radical act, and the culture that suppresses masturbation may suppress many other personal freedoms as well. While celebrating National Masturbation Month and doing your part to bring self love out of the closet, keep in mind that erotic freedom is essential to true well-being, everywhere. [6]

The ideological stance underlying the notion of “masturbathon” is marked by a conflict between its form and content: it builds a collective out of individuals who are ready to share with others – what? The solipsistic egotism of their stupid enjoyment. This contradiction, however, is more apparent than real: Freud already knew about the link between narcissism and immersion into crowd, best rendered precisely by the California phrase “to share an experience.” This coincidence of the opposed features is grounded in the exclusion that they share: one not only can be, one IS “alone in a crowd,” i.e., both an individual’s isolation and his/her immersion into a crowd exclude intersubjectivity proper, encounter with an Other. (This is why, as Alain Badiou deployed in a perspicuous way, today, more than ever, one should insist on the focus on love, not mere enjoyment: it is love, the encounter of the Two, which “transubstantiates” the idiotic masturbatory enjoyment into an event proper.) [7] A minimally refined sensitivity tells us that it is more difficult to masturbate in front on an other than to be engaged in a sexual interaction with him/her: the very fact that the other is reduced to an observer, not participating in my activity, makes my act much more “shameful” – this is why events like “masturbathon” signal the end of shame proper. “Masturbathon” is thus one of the clearest indications of where do we stand today, of the ideology which sustains our most intimate self-experience – it is sufficient to reread the list of reasons “why masturbate” proposed by Queen:

1. Because sexual pleasure is each person’s birthright.
2. Because masturbation is the ultimate safe sex.
3. Because masturbation is a joyous expression of self love.
4. Because masturbation offers numerous health benefits including menstrual cramp relief, stress reduction, endorphin release, stronger pelvic muscles, reduction of prostate gland infection for men and resistance to yeast infections for women.
5. Because masturbation is an excellent cardiovascular workout.
6. Because each person is their own best lover.
7. Because masturbation increases sexual awareness.

Everything is here: increased self-awareness, health benefits, struggle against social oppression, the most radical Politically Correct stance (here, for sure, nobody is harassed), and the affirmation of sexual pleasure at its most elementary – “each person is their (sic) own best lover.” The use of the expression usually reserved for homosexuals (masturbation “brings self love out of the closet”) hints at a kind of implicit teleology of the gradual exclusion of all otherness: first, in homosexuality, the other sex is excluded (one does it with another person of the same sex); then, in a kind of mockingly-Hegelian negation of negation, the very dimension of otherness is cancelled, one does it with oneself.

In December 2006, the New York City authorities declared that the right to chose one’s gender (and so, if necessary, to have the sex-change operation performed) is one of the inalienable human rights – the ultimate Difference, the “transcendental” difference that grounds the very human identity, thus turns into something open to manipulation – the ultimate plasticity of being-human is thoroughly asserted. “Masturbathon” is the ideal form of the sex activity of this trans-gendered subject, or, in other words, of “you,” of the subject elevated into the “Person of the Year” by the December 18 issue of the Time magazine. This annual honor went not to Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Kim Yong-Il, or another member of the gang of usual suspects, but to “you”: each and every one of us… who is using or creating content on the World Wide Web. The cover showed a white keyboard with a mirror for a computer screen where each of us, readers, can see his or her own reflection. To justify the choice, the editors cited the shift from institutions to individuals who are re-emerging as the citizens of the new digital democracy.

There is more than meet the eye in this choice, in more than the usual sense of the term. If there ever was an ideological choice, this is it: the message – new cyber- democracy in which millions can directly communicate and self-organize, by-passing centralized state control – covers up a series of disturbing gaps and tensions. The first and obvious point of irony is that what everyone who looks at the Time cover does not see others with whom he or she is supposed to be in direct exchange – what he sees is the mirror-image of him- or herself. No wonder that Leibniz is one of the predominant philosophical references of the cyberspace theorists: does our immersion into cyberspace not go hand in hand with our reduction to a Leibnizean monad which, although “without windows” that would directly open up to external reality, mirrors in itself the entire universe? Is the typical World Wide Web surfer today, sitting alone in front of a PC screen, not more and more a monad with no direct windows onto reality, encountering only virtual simulacra, and yet immersed more than ever into the global network, synchronously communicating with the entire globe? “Masturbathon,” which builds a collective out of individuals who are ready to share the solipsism of their own stupid enjoyment, is the form of sexuality which fits perfectly the cyberspace coordinates.

Alain Badiou [8] develops the notion of “atonal” worlds (monde atone), worlds lacking a “point,” in Lacanese: the “quilting point” (point de caption ), the intervention of a Master-Signifier that imposes a principle of “ordering” onto the world, the point of a simple decision (“yes or no”) in which the confused multiplicity is violently reduced to a “minimal difference.” That is to say, what is a Master-Signifier? [9] In the very last pages of his monumental Second World War, Winston Churchill ponders on the enigma of a political decision: after the specialists (economic and military analysts, psychologists, meteorologists…) propose their multiple, elaborated and refined analysis, somebody must assume the simple and for that very reason most difficult act of transposing this complex multitude, where for every reason for there are two reasons against, and vice versa, into a simple “Yes” or “No” – we shall attack, we continue to wait… None other John F. Kennedy provided a concise description of this point: “The essence of ultimate decision remains impenetrable to the observer – often, indeed, to the decider himself.” This gesture which can never be fully grounded in reasons, is that of a Master.

The basic feature of our “postmodern” world is that it tries to dispense with this agency of the Master-Signifier- the complexity” of the world should be asserted unconditionally, every Master-Signifier meant to impose some order on it should be “deconstructed,” dispersed disseminated”: “The modern apology of the complexity of the world /…/ is really nothing but a generalized desire of atony. [10] Badiou’s excellent example of such an “atonal” world is the Politically Correct vision of sexuality, as promoted by gender studies, with its obsessive rejection of binary logic”: this world is a nuanced, ramified world of multiple sexual practices which tolerates no decision no instance of the Two, no evaluation (in the strong Nietzschean sense of the term).

Therein resides the interest of Michel Houellebecq’s novels: [11] he endlessly varies the motif of the failure of the Event of love in contemporary Western societies characterized by “the collapse of religion and tradition the unrestrained worship of pleasure and youth, and the prospect of a future totalized by scientific rationality and :oylessness.” [12] Therein resides the dark side of the sexual liberation” of the 1960s: the full commodification of sexuality. Houellebecq depicts the morning after Sexual Revolution, the sterility of the universe dominated by the superego injunction to enjoy. All of his work focuses on the antinomy of love and sexuality: sex is an absolute necessity, to renounce it is to whither away, so love cannot flourish without sex; simultaneously, however, love is impossible precisely because of sex: sex, which “proliferates as the epitome of late capitalism’s dominance, has permanently stained human relationships as inevitable reproductions of the dehumanizing nature of liberal society; it has, essentially, ruined love.” [13] Sex is thus, to put it in Derridean terms, simultaneously the condition of possibility and of impossibility of love.

This is why Houellebecq’s Les particules elemental [14] is the story of radical DESUBLIMATION, if there ever was one: in our postmodern “disenchanted” permissive world sexuality is reduced to an apathetic participation in ‘ collective orgies. Les particules, a superb example of what some critics perspicuously baptized “Left conservatism,” tells the story of two half-brothers: Bruno, a high-school teacher, is an undersexed hedonist, while Michel is a brilliant but emotionally desiccated biochemist. Abandoned by their hippie mother when they were small, neither has ever properly recovered; all their attempts at the pursuit of happiness, whether through marriage, the study of philosophy, or the consumption of pornography, merely lead to loneliness and frustration. Bruno ends up in a psychiatric asylum after confronting the meaninglessness of the permissive sexuality (the utterly depressive descriptions of the sexual orgies between forty-somethings are among the most excruciating readings in contemporary literature), while Michel invents a solution: a new self-replicating gene for the post-human desexualized entity. The novel ends with a prophetic vision: in 2040, humanity is replaced by these humanoids who experience no passions proper, no intense self-assertion that can lead to destructive rage.

Almost four decades ago, Michel Foucault dismissed “man” as a figure in the sand that is now being washed away, introducing the (then) fashionable topic of the “death of man.” Although Houellebecq stages this disappearance in much more naive literal terms, as the replacement of humanity with a new post-human species, there is a common denominator between the two: the disappearance of sexual difference. In his last works Foucault envisioned the space of pleasures liberated from Sex, and one is tempted to claim that Houellebecq’s post-human society of clones is the realization of the Foucauldian dream of the Selves who practice the “use of pleasures.” While this solution is the fantasy at its purest, the deadlock to which it reacts is a real one – how are we to get out of it? The standard way would be to somehow try to resurrect the transgressive erotic passion following the well-known principle, first fully asserted in the tradition of the courtly love, that the only true love is the transgressive prohibited one – we need new Prohibitions, so that a new Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet will appear… The problem is that, in today’s permissive society, transgression itself is the norm. Which, then, is the way out? One should recall here the ultimate lesson of Lacan concerning sublimation: in a way true sublimation is exactly the same as desublimation. Let’s take a love relationship: “sublime” is not the cold elevated figure of the Lady who had to remain beyond our reach – if she were to step down from her pedestal, she would turn into a repulsive filth. “Sublime” is the magic combination of the two dimensions, when the sublime dimension transpires through the utmost common details of the everyday shared life – the “sublime” moment of the love life occurs when the magic dimension transpires even in the common everyday acts like washing the dishes or cleaning the apartment. (In this precise sense, sublimation is to be opposed to idealization.)

Perhaps the best way to specify this role of sexual love is through the notion of reflexivity as the twist by means that which generated a system becomes part of the system it generates. This reflexive appearance of the generating movement within the generated system, in the guise of what Hegel called the “oppositional determination,” as a rule takes the form of the opposite- within the material sphere. Spirit appears in the guise of the most inert moment (crane, formless black stone); in the later stage of a revolutionary process when Revolution starts to devour its own children, the political agent which effectively set in motion the process is renegaded into the role of its main obstacle, of the waverers or outright traitors who are not ready to follow the revolutionary logic to its conclusion. Along the same lines, is it not that, once the socio-symbolic order is fully established, the very dimension which introduced the “transcendent” attitude that defines a human being, namely SEXUALITY, the uniquely human “undead” sexual passion, appears as its very opposite, as the main OBSTACLE to the elevation of a human being to the pure spirituality, as that which ties him/her down to the inertia of bodily existence? For this reason, the end of sexuality in the much celebrated “posthuman” self-cloning entity expected to emerge soon, far from opening up the way to pure spirituality, will simultaneously signal the end of what is traditionally designated as the uniquely human spiritual transcendence. All the celebrating of the new “enhanced” possibilities of sexual life that Virtual Reality offers cannot conceal the fact that, once cloning supplements sexual difference, the game is over. [15]

We all know of Alan Turing’s famous “imitation game” which should serve as the test if a machine can think: we communicate with two computer interfaces, asking them any imaginable question; behind one of the interfaces, there is a human person typing the answers, while behind the other, it is a machine. If, based on the answers we get, we cannot tell the intelligent machine from the intelligent human, then, according to Turing, our failure proves that machines can think. What is a little bit less known is that in its first formulation, the issue was not to distinguish human from the machine, but man from woman, why this strange displacement from sexual difference to the difference between human and machine? Was this due to Turing’s simple eccentricity (recall his well-known troubles because of his homosexuality)? According to some interpreters, the point is to oppose the two experiments: a successful imitation of a woman’s responses by a man (or vice versa) would not prove anything, because the gender identity does not depend on the sequences of symbols, while a successful imitation of man by a machine would prove that this machine thinks, because “thinking” ultimately is the proper way of sequencing symbols… What if, however, the solution to this enigma is much more simple and radical? What if sexual difference is not simply a biological fact, but the Real of an antagonism that defines humanity, so that once sexual difference is abolished, a human being effectively becomes indistinguishable from a machine.

The further thing one should emphasize here is Turing’s blindness to the distinction between doing and saying: as many an interpreter has noticed, Turing simply had no sense for the properly SYMBOLIC domain of communication in sexuality, power politics, etc., in which language is used as a rhetorical device, with its referential meaning clearly subordinated to its performative dimension (of seduction, coercion, etc.). For Turing, there were ultimately only purely intellectual problems to be solved – in this sense, he was the ultimate “normal psychotic,” blinded for the sexual difference. The crucial intervention of the Turing test appears the moment we accept its basic dispositif, i.e. the loss of a stable embodiment, the disjunction between actually enacted and represented bodies: an irreducible gap is introduced between the “real” flesh-and-blood body behind the screen and its representation in the symbols that flicker on the computer screen. Such a disjunction is co-substantial with “humanity” itself: the moment a living being starts to speak, the medium of its speech (say, voice) is minimally disembodied, in the sense that it seems to originate not in the material reality of the body that we see, but in some invisible “inferiority” – a spoken word is always minimally the voice of a ventriloquist, a spectral dimension always reverberates in it. In short, one should claim that “humanity” as such ALWAYS-ALREADY WAS “posthuman” – therein resides the gist of Lacan’s thesis that the symbolic order is a parasitical machine which intrudes into and supplements a human being as its artificial prothesis.

Of course, the standard feminist question to ask here is: is this erasure of the bodily attachment gender neutral, or is it secretly gendered, so that sexual difference does not concern only the actual enacted body behind the screen, but also the different relationship between the levels of representation and enactment? Is the masculine subject in its very notion disembodied, while the feminine subject maintains the umbilical cord to its embodiment? In “The Curves of the Needle,” a short essay on gramophone from 1928. [16] Adorno notes the fundamental paradox of recording: the more the machine makes its presence known (through obtrusive noises, its clumsiness and interruptions), the stronger the experience of the actual presence of the singer – or, to put it the other way round, the more perfect the recording, the more faithfully the machine reproduces a human voice, the more humanity is removed, the stronger the effect that we are dealing with something “inauthentic”. [17] This perception is to be linked to Adorno’s famous “antifeminist” remark according to which a woman’s voice cannot be properly recorded, since it demands the presence of her body, in contrast to a man’s voice which can exert its full power as disembodied – do we not encounter here a clear case of the ideological notion of sexual difference in which man is a disembodied Spirit-Subject, while woman remains anchored in her body? However, these statements are to be read against the background of Adorno’s notion of feminine hysteria as the protest of subjectivity against reification: the hysterical subject is essentially in-between, no longer fully identified to her body, not yet ready to assume the position of the disembodied speaker (or, with regard to mechanical reproduction: no longer the direct presence of the “living voice,” not yet its perfect mechanical reproduction). Subjectivity is not the immediate living self-presence we attain when we shed away the distorting mechanical reproduction; it is rather that remainder of “authenticity” whose traces we can discern in an imperfect mechanical reproduction. In short, the subject is something that “will have been” in its imperfect representation. Adorno’s thesis that a woman’s voice cannot be properly recorded, since it demands the presence of her body, thus effectively asserts feminine hysteria (and not the disembodied male voice) as the original dimension of subjectivity: in woman’s voice, the painful process of disembodiment continues to reverberate, its traces are not yet obliterated. In Kierkegaard’s terms, sexual difference is the difference between “being” and “becoming”: man and woman are both disembodied; however, while a man directly assumes disembodiment as an achieved state, feminine subjectivity stands for the disembodiment “in becoming.” [18]


[1]. For the notion of bio-politics, see Giorgio Agamben, Homo sacer, Stanford; Stanford University Press 1998; for the notion of post-politics, see Jacques Rancière, Disagreement, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1998.

[2]. See Agamben, op.cit.

[3]. Sam Harris, The End of Faith, New York: Norton 2005, p. 199.

[4]. Harris, op.cit., p. 192-193.

[5]. Op.cit., p. 197.

[6]. Available online at

[7]. See Alain Badiou, Logiques des mondes, Paris: Editions du Seuil 2006.

[8]. See Badiou, op.cit.

[9]. For the concept of the Master-Signifier, see Jacques Lacan, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, New York: Norton 2006.

[10]. Badiou, op.cit., p. 443.

[11]. See, exemplarily, Michel Houellebecq, The Possibility of an Island, New York: Knopf 2006.

[12]. Nicholas Sabloff, “Of Filth and Frozen Dinners,” The Common Review, Winter 2007, p. 50.

[13]. Sabloff, op.cit., p. 51.

[14]. Michel Houellebecq, Atomised, London: Heinemann 2000.

[15]. And, incidentally, with all the focus on the new experiences of pleasure that lay ahead with the development of Virtual Reality, direct neuronal implants, etc., what about new “enhanced” possibilities of TORTURE? Do biogenetics and Virtual Reality combined not open up new and unheard-of horizons of extending our ability to endure pain (through widening our sensory capacity to sustain pain, through inventing new forms of inflicting it) – perhaps, the ultimate Sadean image on an “undead” victim of the torture who can sustain endless pain without having at his/her disposal the escape into death, also waits to become reality? Perhaps, in a decade or two, our most horrifying cases of torture (say, what they did to the Chief-of-Staff of the Dominican Army after the failed coup in which the dictator Trujillo was killed – sewing his eyes together so that he wasn’t able to see his torturers, and then for four months slowly cutting off parts of his body in most painful ways, like using clumsy scissors to detach his genitals) will appear as naive children’s games.

[16]. Translated by Tom Levine in October 55, Winter 1990, p. 48-55.

[17] The same holds for today’s prospec of Virtual Reality: the more perfect the digital reproduction, the more “artificial” its effect, in the same way an imperfect black and white photograph is experienced as more “realist” than a color one, although reality is in colors.

[18] Does Lacan’s reading of woe s war sol lich werden not involve the temporality of the failed encounter, of not-yet and no-longer, of It-itself and For-itself? The subject is the vanishing mediator between “where it—what will become a subject—was” (in the state of in-itself, not yet fully realized), and the full symbolic realization in which the subject is already stigmatized into a signifier. Lacan refers here to the Freudian dream of the father who didn’t know he was dead (and for that reason remained alive): the subject is also only alive insofar as it doesn’t know (that it is dead)—the moment it knows “it”, assuming symbolic knowledge, it dies (in the signifier that represents it, the subject).

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