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Masturbation, or Sexuality in the Atonal World

Slavoj Zizek
Todays 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 todays 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 ones 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 todays 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 latecapitalist 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 Others
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 beingimpressed 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 others 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 hours 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 prisoners 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 UKS first masturbatea- 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 thats available to us throughout our lives, and a unique form of creative self-expression. Each time
you masturbate, youre 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 individuals 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 persons 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 ones 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 reemerging 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 MasterSignifier- 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] Badious 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 Houellebecqs 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 capitalisms 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 Houellebecqs 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
Houellebecqs 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 todays 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. Lets 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 Turings 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
Turings 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 womans 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 Turings 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 fleshand-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 Lacans
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 Adornos famous antifeminist remark
according to which a womans voice cannot be properly recorded, since it demands the presence of her body,
in contrast to a mans 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 Adornos
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. Adornos thesis that a womans 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 womans voice, the painful
process of disembodiment continues to reverberate, its traces are not yet obliterated. In Kierkegaards 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]
Notes:
[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 Rancire, 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 http://www.masturbate-a-thon.com.
[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 wasnt 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
childrens games.
[16]. Translated by Tom Levine in October 55, Winter 1990, p. 48-55.
[17] The same holds for todays 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 Lacans 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 subjectwas (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 didnt know he was dead (and for that reason remained alive): the subject is also only
alive insofar as it doesnt know (that it is dead)the moment it knows it, assuming symbolic knowledge, it
dies (in the signifier that represents it, the subject).