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Lyotard and Lacan answering the question: what does Postmodernism want? Postmodernism begins in intemperance. Wilfully scorning the solace of good forms, it is seemingly calculated to exceed. Conjuring up an immoderation that knows no trim, each excessive act must trump the previous one. There is almost a desperation to this bacchanal, an exhaustive willingness on the part of postmodernism to delay the onset of sobriety at all costs. For when the party’s over, what the red eyes and shaky hands of postmodernism fear the most is homogeneity. Frantically clinging to an economy of hysteria, a studied recklessness overtakes its work when it is forced to assuage the seductions of synthesis and sameness. There must be something more to everything than what there is. But why? This ‘something more’ has, of course, been given various names, from the ‘unconscious’ through ‘capital’ to the ‘Dionysian’. For post- modernism these names and the projects they signify have congealed, ironically, into the greater task of retaining this tradition of excess at all. What is at stake right now is the very faculty, which expedites the disclosure of ‘excess’ or ‘heterogeneity’ in the first place, the faculty, we might say, of différance. Mostly for the sake of conve- nience, the nemesis of this faculty is called, ‘modernity’. The problem with modernity is its utter perversity. As Henri Meschonnic avers, ‘[t]he term has no referent. No fixed, objective referent. It has only a subject, of which it is full. It is the signifiant [signifying] of a subject."! Here, then, is the dilemma of perversion writ large, for the task of selfmastery is imperilled by its own success, ex-posing itself to the Kantian jeopardy of a boundless subjectivity that is pure self and that thereby fails to secure its own objective condi- tions of existence. Absolute subjectivization paradoxically initiates the disappearance of the subject, just as surely as it lapses into absolute objectivization, Summing up the point, Ernesto Laclau argues, ‘I am a subject precisely because I cannot be an absolute consciousness, because something constitutively alien confronts me’.? There must, in other words, be more than just what there is; there must also be excess. Lyotard and Lacan answering the question: what does Postmodemism want? 85 Taking their bearings from this constellation of issues, we might identify two beneficiaries of the Freudian legacy whose respective oeuvres stand as some of the most instructive attempts to retain and enhance the faculty of différance: Jacques Lacan and Jean-Frangois Lyotard, Viewed from this angle, the work of these theorists can be said to complement each other in the bigger picture, even as they dispute matters at the level of detail. Specifically, we may note that they both begin by defining a position in contradistinction to the processes of homogenization, or, what we might term the problematic of modernity. For Lacan this problematic is most clearly articulated within the order of the imaginary. The imaginary refers, at one level, to the gestatory process of the ego, but also, more ambitiously, it denotes a type of relationship between the subject and its world, as Malcolm Bowie comments: The Imaginary is the order of mirror-images, identifications and reciprocities. It is the dimension of experience in which the individual seeks not simply to placate the Other but to dissolve his otherness by becoming his counterpart. By way of the Imaginary, the original identificatory procedures which brought the ego into being are repeated and reinforced by the individual in his relationship with the external world of people and things.* The ‘original identificatory procedures’ which give birth to the ego are based on the infant’s lack of physical volition which Lacan identi- fies as being the result of the ‘specific prematurity of birth in man’.* This prematuration manifests itself in the infant’s inability to co-ordinate its movements, an inability that is only overcome by identifying with the rather more felicitous Gestalt of its own image in a mirror (of whatever kind). Faced with this apparently more capable collocation of its limbs, the infant finds that ‘in relation to the still very profound lack of co- ordination of his own motility, it represents an ideal unity, a salutary imago’.? This sober picture of itself therefore anticipates the child’s future development and affords it a pleasing sense of coherency, or, in other words, an ego. Whilst seeming a stabilizing fiction, this process of identification actually inheres within the seat of the subject as a desper- ately capricious force, constantly undermining the rectitude it seeks to impart with a kind of invertebral fitfulness. This is because, formed from an identification that precedes itself, the ego is thus constitu- tionally sundered, forever trying to reconcile the other to its same. In its wider application, then, the imaginary designates a restless secking after self, a process of amalgamating more and more instances 86. Paragraph of replication and resemblance in order to bolster up the fable of its unity. As such, the imaginary denotes a condition in which, as Terry Eagleton notes, ‘what “‘self’ we have seems to pass into objects, and objects into it, in a ceaseless closed exchange’.6 The boundaries between the inner and outer world are thus devoid of saliency, each object seamlessly accruing within the aggregation of the subject in a kind of projective empire of the self. Under such conditions, the subject adulterates all objective excess. The operations of the ego then repress heterogeneity by recasting everything within the formal rubric of what Lacan terms ‘the statue in which man projects himself’.” The mirror stage qua genealogy thus becomes the mirror stage qua cosmology, a place of self rather than a passage of rites.* In this sense, then, the imaginary specifies a narcissistic relation with the world, an intrasubjective, as opposed to an intersubjective, condition, and it is thus ofa piece with modernity, which, to recall Meschonnic, ‘has only 4 subject, of which it is full’.? Indeed, the imaginary is, in one sense, a thoroughly historicized concept. We owe this insight particularly to the work of Teresa Brennan who argues that with it ‘Lacan is describing a specific era in history —that of the ego. But the era he is describing is one that curtails historical thinking’.!° This, of course, finds echoes in what we have already identified as the problematic of modernity, the splendid isolation of which abnegates the possibility of a historical referent and forces it into a kind of subjective irredentism. Such expansionism may also, of course, be considered the action of the sublime. However, it is here that Lyotard proves a useful complement to Lacan, for he is careful to distinguish between the authentic sublimity of postmodernism and its ersatz modernist counterpart: [MJodern aesthetics is an aesthetic of the sublime, though a nostalgic one. It allows the unpresentable to be put forward only as the missing contents; but the form, because of its recognizable consistency, continues to offer the reader or viewer matter for solace and pleasure. Yet these sentiments do not constitute the real sublime sentiment, which is in an intrinsic combination of pleasure and pain: the pleasure that reason should exceed all presentation, the pain that imagination or sensibility should not be equal to the concept." Postmodernism, then, is characterised by the ‘proper’ sublimity in whose stead modernism can only offer a tawdry nostalgia for the ‘real’ thing. If nostalgia can please you with its beauty, it is a pastel pleasure that appears all the poorer for it in comparison with the exquisite