August 2012

Here are some sloppy ideas on Lacan’s influence on subjectivity. Comps are right around the corner, and I’m starting to freak out a little. Today will be spent on literature and fiction though. I’ll get back to the theory this weekend!

Freud and Lacan contributed to a radically new understanding of the subject as decentered, without a fully-present center that the subject controls. Freud took the idea that we are in control of our minds away with his introduction of the unconscious that subject are unaware of, and Lacan further complicated the subject by explaining how even “consciousness is structured like a language.” A result of Lacan’s structuralism, he posits that since language structures consciousness, the subject’s understanding of itself gets dispersed over sliding signifiers, never really knowing or understanding itself. This idea of the subject as constructed by language heavily influenced neo-marxist’s, such as Althusser and Zizek, ideas of ideology, as well as gender theorist, such as Irigaray. Lacan’s influence manifest most poignantly in the manner ideology affects the subject, who is constructed by language. These thinkers all use Lacan’s contributions to subject formation to reconfigure ways of thinking about the subject caught in ideology.

Althusser examines capitalism and the ideology at work within the system to explain how ideology (and capitalism) reproduces itself perpetually through Ideological State apparatuses (ISA). While this examination of ideology’s control over a population springs from Marxism, Althusser applies Lacan to Marxism in order to explain how subjects consent to ideology unconsciously. Maintaining the Marxist stress on economic causes, Althusser furthers this analysis to explain how ISAs function with autonomy. Althusser begins with Lacan’s concept of the Imaginary stage, the preverbal stage babies inhabit; at this point, consciousness is not Marx’s “false consciousness” but primordial. For Lacan, the subject then moves into language and the symbolic stages, also the place where the subject identifies with itself in the mirror, at the mirror stage. Althusser uses Lacan’s subject formation to explain how the subject is born into ideology, which, much like the Freudian unconscious, dictates how the subject behaves in society. Althusser posits that a subject’s individuality gets generated through social forces, and he uses Lacan’s mirror stage to explain how the subject identities itself in society.

Althusser states that ideology works on the idea of a Sign, where, in ideology, the sign is always (mis)recognized. While a subject might think that its actions are freely chosen, ideology sees to it that (unconsciously) its acts are pre-chosen. The subject, following Lacan’s subjectivity, sees an idealized version of itself, taught through ISAs and enforced by RSAs, in capitalism, but as it is in the mirror stage, this self is misrecognized; the subject puts itself in an idealized position in the capitalist system without realizing that it has no control over the system.

This analysis leaves a very bleak view of subjectivity, for how can a subject escape society’s trap when, as Marx put it “They do not know it, but they are doing it”? Althusser offers no solutions for the subject to escape. In Reading Capital, Althusser posits that more than answers, the questions posed need rethinking because the questions were based on the ideological answers already in misrecognition with the capitalist system. Furthermore, Althusser leaves very little room for critique since any critique arises out of the very ideology that has subjects tapped. More traditional Marxists critique Althusser’s lack of discussing class struggle, but if subjects are born into ideology, then the very idea of class and the structures of society arise out of ideology; therefore, by analyzing ideology, Althusser does—even if not directly—examine social structures. Lacan, through Althusser, contributes to rethinking Marxism, generally, and to thinking of ideology on the subject, specifically. Another problem to contemplate is who deploys this ideology? If subjects are all born into language, then the people in charge of ideology are also part of ideology and the analysis becomes a never-ending Russian doll or mirrors reflecting each other. Although, keeping Althusser’s idea about asking the correct questions in mind, Zizek examines ideology and the way it works in society as well, acknowledging that philosophy’s job is not to give answers but to ask the right questions.

Zizek strives to ask the correct questions, examining ideology and furthering what Althusser begins: ideology as the “thing” we participate in without knowing it. The subject’s belief in ideology establishes belief before the belief in ISAs. Again, just as in Althusser’s analysis of Lacan, the subject comes into ideology in the symbolic when the subject comes into language. Language, then, encompasses the subject—the space in which the subject lives (in a Heideggerian way, language is where the subject (Being) dwells). Zizek’s interest lies in the Lacanian Real and in the many manifestations of ideology, and how the Real accounts for language’s failure. The Real lies both within and outside of the subject, resisting the Symbolic’s attempts to describe it but also revealing the Real’s existence. Zizek views fantasy—object a—as a space that conceals the gap, which only proves the existence of the Real. The gap becomes what the subject most desires, imagining the other as possessing the thing that is desired. This “thing,” the gap, the desire of the subject that the other has, gets filled by ideology. Ideology tells the subject what to desire; much in the same manner that Althusser claims subjects follow ideology without awareness, Zizek claims that ideology tells the subject what to desire. Additionally, Zizek conceives of the Big Other as purely symbolic, yet having the power to order the subject’s actions. The Big Other is the institutions (ISAs for Althusser) that order reality, and the Real gets disavowed in favor of the symbolic. The Real, however, is “radically ambiguous…it erupts in the form of a traumatic return, derailing the balance of our daily lives, but it serves at the same time as a support of this very balance” (Zizek, Looking Awry 29). The Real then manifest itself both in ordering the symbloci universe of the subject as well as intruding and collapsing that universe.

Zizek posits that postmodernism claims that we live in an era of post-ideology; while he claims that we are actually more in ideology than ever, only a cynical ideology. Therefore, Zizek explains that the Real causes conflicts that arise because of social reality, the symbolic order. The conflicts that arise from the Real fall outside of language, but the conflicts are seen in the manner ideology works on subjects. Ideology conceals the lacuna opened up by attempts to thematize the Real, which falls outside of language, and leads Zizek to purport that objective truth remains impossible but that ideology must exist since this antagonism exist, which is what Zizek analyzes.

Zizek views subject formation in much the same way as Althusser in that the subject is born into language and language is ideology. For Zizek, ideology hides the real problems and causes the wrong questioning, a notion Althusser already analyzed. For Zizek the way to ask the right questions is to step back and explore the moments of the Real that erupt into reality. Lacan’s influence on Zizek is pervasive; as Zizek explains, he uses Lacan as his theoretical base to analyze everything from Marx, Hegel, and Kant to Hitchcock, film nior, and popular culture. Lacan’s biggest contribution to Zizek is in the former’s later conception of Real and the barrier between the Real and reality. Zizek can be said to contribute to Lacan’s work by continuing this analysis that Lacan start later in his career. Both Altheusser and Zizek build on Lacan’s ideas of the Law of the father to explore ideology. In Lacan’s theory, the child meets the Law of the father to realize its place in a network where its choices in that network are already determined, established by the society it was born into. Just as the subject in ideology is born into ideology and must follow the law of the society it is born into.

The problem of being born into the regulations of society manifest in the manner society determines sexuality, which Irigaray critiques. Lacan’s contribution to Irigaray, again, lies in his theory of subject formation. For Irigaray, however, Lacan excludes women. In the mirror stage, the infant projects an imaginary body that is misrecognized; then in the symbolic stage—entrance to language—the infant further begins to create an ego. Irigaray agrees with Lacan on these points, and with the cultural influence on how the subject sees its body biologically. The problem for Irigaray, emerges in Lacan’s master-signifier being the phallus, thus privileging the male. The imaginary construction of the body holds the male body in higher esteem throughout Western discourses of science, philosophy, and psychoanalysis, leaving women out. The subject, for Lacan, must have a relationship to the phallus to attain social existence.

For Lacan, the infant wants to usurp the Master Signifier and have all of the mother’s attention. When the baby realizes the law of the father prohibits the infant from taking over, the baby begins to realize its place in society, acquiring its own relationship to the phallus. Sexual difference arises out of having or being the phallus. These processes happen through language, which Irigaray explores, especially how gender arises out of cultural constructs bound up with language. Therefore, Lacan’s contributes to Irigaray by establishing her departure point, the gendering of the subject through language (ideology for Althusser and Zizek). She takes a radical step back from Lacan, refusing to categorize or explain female subjectivity, caliming that doing so would interfere with women redefining themselves; she then posits the inability to describe the feminine outside of male hegemony. Her project becomes problematic, in much the same manner as Derrida’s: how can anyone redefine women (even women) if everyone is caught in male vocabulary that has excluded women. Lacan, himself, failed to realize how immersed within ideology he was when he privileged males over females, leaving females out. Nonetheless, Lacan gave Irigaray the vocabulary to begin discussing the exclusion of females from Western thought.

Lacan helps all of these thinkers examine the subject caught up in ideology because of language. Society establishes a language and forgets the power of that language to control culture and thought. Lacan helps Althusser, Zizek, and Irigaray formulate subjects and subjects place within society, and that place is a precarious one since the subject is so radically fragmented form the mirror stage on, and these thinkers focus on that fragmentation and how hegemonic powers take advantage of that fragmentation to control it populous.

And more…

How to Read Marx by Peter Osborne— and Perdue’s modules on theory.

1- Commodity: Fetish and Hieroglyph:

This book begins by looking at how commodities take on the form of a hieroglyph by becoming symbols for society in the manner a hieroglyph is a symbol.

Osborne lets us know that a commodity is, at first sight, a trivial thing, without any special properties other than its use-value. Humanity, through its activities, changes the material of the commodity in order to make it useful. The example given is a wood, which can be altered to make a chair or table (9). The table is merely wood though, until humans make a thing out of it, create it as a commodity. However, “The mysterious character of a commodity does not therefore arise from its use-value” (ibid.).

This explanation leaves me confused, so here is what Marx said:

commodity, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is therefore, so far
as it is a material thing, a use-value, something useful. This 
property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour
required to appropriate its useful qualities. […] Use-values 
become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute
the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of 
that wealth” (my emphasis, Marx 46). A commodity then is separate from its use-value and only acquires value through human consumption. The value is determined only when the object has entered into the system of exchange.

Osborne goes on to explain the commodity-fetishism, which is not a fixed desire on an object, as he claims the term is commonly misread, rather “Marx’s account is not about fetishism as a psychological condition of a subject, whose desrie transforms the significance of particular objects. It is about the fetish character of the commodity itself, a special kind of object: specifically, the fetish character of ‘form’, the commodity-form” (11). The fetish is not on the object but on the value placed on the object, the “value-form of the commodity.”

I must pause here to note that Osborne’s prose, I feel at times, is much more dense than Marx’s prose. The book is sloppily written, but I will try to get out of it what I can, always going back to the original. Anyway—onward…

We have to step back: commodity- all commodities have exchange-value-value of the commodity in relation to other commodities.

All commodities have use-value- a property that satisfies needs.

Marx states that labour also has two characteristics:

Concrete labor: the skills to produce an object, such as planning, hammering, sawing, etc.
Abstract labor: the power put into making something (the man-hours). What happens in capitalist society is that abstract labor gets transformed into concrete labor when abstract labor gets bought and sold as a commodity, which means that abstract labor then has to produce exchange value, and of course, means that the employee will want surplus value from this commodity. (See previous post on Marxism).

Another explanation of use value vs. exchange calue (thanks to Perdue’s modules)

USE-VALUE vs. EXCHANGE-VALUE: The usefulness of a commodity vs. the exchange equivalent by which the commodity is compared to other objects on the market. Marx distinguishes between the use-value and the exchange value of the commodity. Use-value is inextricably tied to “the physical properties of the commodity” (126); that is, the material uses to which the object can actually be put, the human needs it fulfills. In the exchange of goods on the capitalist market, however, exchange-value dominates: two commodities can be exchanged on the open market because they are always being compared to a third term that functions as their “universal equivalent,” a function that is eventually taken over by money. Exchange-value must always be distinguished from use-value, because “the exchange relation of commodities is characterized precisely by its abstraction from their use-values” (127). In capital, money takes the form of that equivalence; however, money in fact hides the real equivalent behind the exchange: labor. The more labor it takes to produce a product, the greater its value. Marx therefore concludes that “As exchange-values, all commodities are merely definite quantities of congealed labour-time” (130).

[Side note—again from Perdue: On commodity: “COMMODITY: “an external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind” (Marx, Capital 125) and is then exchanged for something else. When Marx speaks of commodities, he is particularly concerned with the “physical properties of the commodity” (126), which he associates closely with the use-value of an object. However, use-value does not automatically lead to a commodity: “He who satisfies his own need with the product of his own labour admittedly creates use-values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others, social use-values” (131). Commodities, therefore, “possess a double form, i.e. natural form and value form” (138). (See Use-Value vs. Exchange-Value.) The physical body of the commodity is made up of 1) the material provided by nature (e.g. linen, gold, etc.); and 2) the labor expended to create it (see Marx, Capital 133). Note that a commodity can refer to tangilble things as well as more ephemeral products (e.g. a lecture). What matters is that something be exchanged for the thing.” ]

Osborne explains how a commodity acquires “mysterious” or “super-sensual” qualities, becoming “Das Ding” or “Thing” (which relates to Lacan’s use of Thing for the Real, with similar qualities—qualities that cannot be put into words, that are outside of verbalization, with mysterious power). The commodity has both perceptible properties easily seen and non-perceptible properties (14). The super-sensible aspect of a commodity is expressed through price so that we believe that an objects price embodies the object—not the labor. As Osborne explains “When we encounter a car, a computer or a washing machine, we see its price as an expression of the value of the sensible object itself, rather than of the labour it embodies” (15). We fail to notice the labor put into the product and merely look at its price as a reflection of the product. This relationship reveals society: the price arises out of society’s relation between objects, like hieroglyphs, these relations and commodities need special interpretations.

Commodities become a fetish when money gets involved and so the object is imbued with “special power” in the monetary value of the object, rather than on the labor of the object. This relation reveals the exploitation of the workers, who remain mostly invisible. We encounter the objects of our purchases only in a market where we exchange money and with the corporations who sell us our products, and we never really come into contact with the workers who created the product. As the modules explain: “In capitalist society, gold and then paper money become “the direct incarnation of all human labor” (187), much as in primitive societies the totem becomes the direct incarnation of godhead. Through this process, “Men are henceforth related to each other in their social process of production in a purely atomistic way; they become alienated because their own relations of production assume a material shape which is independent of their control and their conscious individual action” (187). Although value ultimately accrues because of human labor, people in a capitalist system are led to believe that they are not in control of the market forces that appear to exist independently of any individual person.

All of this control in capitalist society occurs because of ideology, which is where I will turn my attentions to soon—I think…

I don’t know if I will return to the How to Read Marx book–the writing makes concepts more confusing and I don’t feel I am getting much out of reading it.

More notes on the idea of Marxism–with a nod to neo-marxist:

Althusser believes that capitalism doesn’t solely determine relations. The base and superstructure are engaged in dialectic so that changes in the superstructure can affect the base. For example, changes in the ways we think about marriage can change things at the base, such as sexual relationships, which have changed over time.

Marx (and Engels) invert the Hegelian dialectic—rather than start from abstract ideas (master-slave), Marx starts with material world. The base is the economic base, the modes of production, the relations of production, the forces of production (technology, etc). The superstructure is culture and ideology. The question is: what relationship exist between these two?

Ideology distorts reality, and in a hegemony, ideology operates by way of consent. The distinction in ideology between communist Russia and the U.S.A. is that in Russia people were not free but knew it. In the U.S. people are not free but fail to notice.

The U.S. doesn’t know it isn’t free because, according to Althusser, of ISA-Ideological State Apparatuses that make us think we are free, individual thinkers, when we are not.

Every child goes through a social production, and the ultimate form of production are the conditions for reproduction; that is, social formation that will keep reproducing itself. Soceity reproduces itself through ISA, such as religion, schools, family, legal system—all of culture. All these things that are in place to make you a good, normal, conforming citizen with religion and education as the biggest ones in place to make sure society reproduces itself.

“To be a subject is also to be subjected”

Marx wants to examine this ideology and change it so that the worker is no longer exploited.

Capitalism is built on production, so the people who own the means of production exploit the worker. Perpetually, capitalism builds its wealth on unfair premises: it pays the worker as little as it can get away with—Marx argues this system does not work.

Part of the problem arises out of capitalist practices that determine values in society. For instance:

Use-value: value an object has because of its use—the value an object has that you are willing to put in labor into it to create it.
Exchange-value: arbitrary value placed on object (such as gold). A pound of gold against a pound of iron where iron is useful and gold is not, but someone, somehow, put more value on gold. The ruling class determines the value of an object that has nothing to do with its actual use-value.

These values have ramifications for consciousness in dialectical materialism; for example:

A farmer has a rake and a hose an the land to grow crops, harvest, and sell them. Then trackers are invented, which means less work for the farmer, but you need people to make a tractor. Now you have people working in a tractor factory to make money to buy the food that the tractor is used to harvest, instead of just growing the food yourself. Then to make things go faster, one worker tightens three screws on the tractor, and that is all he does. To save money, the factory makes robots to tighten screws, but now you need factories to make robots to make tractors to make the food that you are making robots for in order to make money to buy the food. One idea creates a need for the next idea, but sometimes the ideas contradict.

This line of ideas create alienation; the worker is alienated from the product and from the original goal. In alienation, all relations among people become monetary and cease to be human, rather merely a relation between labor.

Where the farmer would make food and trade it for goods, now someone makes tightens one screw on a robot that makes a tractor to harvest food, and the factory worker has no idea what his finished product looks like or what it is used for.

On a more specific literary interpretation:

Production and materialism:

For Marx, what sets humans apart from animals is history. We are real individuals, living with real material reality (which reflects the 18th primer). Furthermore, men are distinguished from animals in consciousness—when they begin to produce substances to live for themselves. We, humans, are distinguished because we produce ourselves: 1- in way we keep ourselves alive; 2-through sex, literally reproducing ourselves.

[side note: in terms of animal studies, these views are questionable. Animals have consciousness, produce means to live for themselves, keep themselves alive, and have sex to reproduce themselves. The argument might be made that Marxism can be applied to animals by analyzing animal’s base and superstructures since animals have rituals and “ideology” in a way, especially the more sophisticated primates and mammals]

Marx starts from material history—not ideas. [For example, texts, like everything else, are produced and determined by history and context, not freely shaped by ideas of an author. Those ideas an author has are shaped by his/her material reality and history]. Even the materiality of body affects the manner in which you think. If your body is being tortured, that will shape the way you think. If you are wearing certain clothing—fashionable clothing, tight clothing, comfortable clothing—will shape the way you think].

In terms of literary criticism: Some critics will look at author as if he/she didn’t exist in a certain historical moment. The critic examines the text in an idealist manner or non-materialist manner. Idealism—a way of thinking that divorces consciousness from history; 1-in the realm of which you fall down, scrape your knee, eat dinner, all of material history; 2- in the realm in which you think about this things (in 1) or imagine these things. Idealism believes these two points are separate.

Marxist critic believes, however, that an author is a product of his time and produced in a certain historical moment. The author, furthermore, is a producer of his time. An author takes raw materials (language, old texts, form, style, etc.) and will produce a story by transforming those material, creating a text. As in any production, a surplus remains that in Marxism is Signification: the text says more than the author meant to say because the text uses all these other voices, raw materials in its creation. Also, the text carries a tension between the author’s intention/meaning and the linguistic capacity of these other voices of the text.

A bourgeois critic thinks the author is to be found in the raw materials (the cotton) of the text, but a Marxist critic would say that the tension needs examination. The text becomes fissured, decentered. The text’s historical time dictates what the text can say so that there are certain things the text cannot say or even think. For a Marxist literary critic, the questions to explore are what is impossible for the text to say? What couldn’t the author say because of ideology? How does the text perform society?

Thomas Docherty at the University of Warwick has an excellent ItunesU podcast on literary theory. Here are some notes I got from his lecture, which you can find here:

The class also has a blog:

My notes from the above:

Marxism Notes:

Critique is an investigation into how a form of knowledge is possible, which stems from Kant. Exploration, then, attempts to examine the origins and limitations of a system; for instance, Marx’s critique of capitalism.

Kant attempted a transcendental critique (which is also Hegelian)—In other words, Kant attempted to get outside the system he was exploring. Marx, on the other hand, wanted to examine a system from within.

The whole question of Marxism arises from political commitment. In the 18th primer he states, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly in terms and inherited from the past. The traditions of the old generations of the dead weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the loving.”

We are historically situated so that our possibilities to make our own history are de-limited in certain ways and it is de-limited by our historical situation.

Marxist literary criticism strives to go beyond merely relating a text to society (more than a mimesis: how a text represents something else). Marxist literary criticism reacts against formalism’s wish to look at the words for themselves, outside of historical context; the
bourgeoisie way of looking at a text (since Matthew Arnold) was in objectifying the text, isolating it from its context and attempt a scientific examination.

Marxist views text as produced in a historical context: the environment shapes everything about a text—words, content, form, etc.—, along with the historical and social moment. For Marxist critics, our social, historical juncture defines and determines what it is we can write and how.

Our social moment and historical time determines text since writers do not write in a vacuum; they write in context and are affected by society.

The bourgeois writer is working at the level of the superstructure; Marx wants to find out what makes the superstructure possible.

In classic Marxism the Base means the economic base (mode of production and of economics). The supersctructure is the ideology of society and culture. Economic relations are predominate in a given society and shapes every thing else. The superstructure keeps society in line and reproducing itself.

If our basic human relations are goverened by economic structures—for instance capitalism that shapes and dominates our society—then we can understand how we realte to one another. For instance, through economic terms:

Employer and employee: Employer has a certain amount of capital and wants to make that capital bigger, so he will use the employee to produce more. The employee has no capital so he is beholden to the employer for capital.

[For example: a worker makes shoes by using the employer’s capital; the employer sells those shoes for 200 dollars, but only gives 5 dollars to the worker and keeps the surplus. Thus, we created a system based on exploitation]

That structure shapes everything else in society. Think of all societal interactions: you fall in love, you make an investment of time and emotions hoping for a pay off; you go to school and make an investment in your future and you hope to get a job; you spend time with people and hope it will pay off in friendship, etc… Since we have this economic base, it shapes everything else in society.

Problems arise when my interest as a worker conflicts with your interest as an employer. If we end up acknowledging that conflict, then the worker might feel exploited and tell employer to stop, and the worker would rise up and seize control in order to more evenly spread the wealth. Of course, capitalism suppresses worker revolt.

The employer tells his employee that the surplus needs to go back into the business to invest in material, the factory, and pay other workers so that the workers can keep their jobs. This system ends up creating different classes with different interest; hence, this relation of class struggle affects all relations under a superstructure: non-material or cultural aspects of society. Marx finds this one opposition (class struggle) dominant, “Class struggle is the model of history.” Only through class struggle will tomorrow be different than today; it’s how we are IN history.

History progresses as classes struggle against each other for preeminence or for fundamental survival. Marxism aims for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this way, Marxism is utilitarian: we should be aiming for the greatest happiness for the greatest amount. Marx says we should start from the biggest group—the working class (the small group is the employers/rich class). Therefore, we should pursue working class interest.

The ruling class knows its power, so it tries to convince everyone that we all have the same interest (this point is seen in political discourse and literary criticism alike with phrases such as “it’s common sense that…” “A common reading of the text is…” Discourse that makes appeals to “universal truths”).

Ruling class uses ideology to try to stop history and to control certain institutions. By appealing to universals of common interest, the ruling classes stay in power. For instance, marriage, which is less about equality, love, or sanctity, but hopes people will assume certain roles. By defining marriage, the ruling class contains conflicts because those who agree to marriage agree to following certain rules. [On a side note, one would think that the ruling classes would be all for same-sex marriage since it would inject more capital into the system with weddings and divorces, and would “control gays” because if they want to marry, they would have to follow the marriage rules].

The ruling class uses ideology: a system of beliefs and assumptions, which are dominant and normative in a society at a given moment. Beliefs don’t need to be true; they just need to be believed by all—and normative. For example, why are all priest men? Because that is a man’s job—and we don’t question the assertion but take it for granted. Pink is a girls color and blue a boys—just because, without question—that is ideology.

Marxism wants to question these normative beliefs and ideology and unmask them.

Ideology: the ways in which a social formation represents itself to itself. The way society thinks itself. The way society gains and accepts norms and beliefs that constrain or define it.

The introduction to the book, which outlines the main arguments:


Firmat assesses the “Latinization” of the United States that began, he posits, with Desi Arnez, que tenía tremenda personalidad. Arnez fue el modelo for Cuban (Latin) culture and provided Americans with an image of Cubanness. Firmat explores Arnez’s influence in shaping Cuban identity in order to theorize the immigrant experience and explore the development of what he terms the one and a halfers: los balseros of his generation who are both/neither fully Cubano and/nor fully gringo. His generation was born in and lived its adolescence in Cuba pero grew up in America, so they are able to embrace a Cuban identity while understanding and relating to American identity. These immigrants easily vacillate between both cultures and are able to speak, think, love, and pun, as Firmat puts it, in either English or Espanol, though usually in Spanglish.

While Firmat never uses the term, I would argue that the one and a halfers embody Baudrillard’s idea of simulacra—a copy of a copy, without original. Arnez becomes the copy of Cuban identity based on an empty model without original. Firmat describes one of his students conveying that the young man learned how to be un Cubanaso by watching Arnez. The one and a halfer, likewise, embody an Arnez Cubaness, which is an American constructed Cubanness. His generation’s identity seesaws between Anglo and Cuban cultures; what Firmat describes as neither Anglo nor Cuban but rather Cubanglo.

Firmat addresses three stages that the Cuban-American exile passes, as a group that is neither aquí nor allá. Substitution marks the first stage, and Miami became the Cuban-American simulacra where immigrant Cubans made Miami the substitution of Cuban culture. The nostalgic Cuba de ayer plays out in Miami’s Cuban restaurants and Domino Parkin an attempt to re-root uprooted identity. This recreation dissolves as Cuenica’s “This is not Havana” photograph reproduces the affects of Margritte’s “This is not a pipe,” to illustrate that the substitution is not the thing itself. With the realization of the empty substitution, the immigrant para de comiede meirda and falls into destitution, which Firmat elucidates means “no place to stand on.” The immigrant feels perdido—estranged with “nowhere” to call home. This feeling, after some time of Comiéndose un cable, gives way to institution. A new relationship forms between person and place. With nowhere but here, here becomes home. Firmat dice que the hyphen is not a minus sign but a plus sign; Cuban+Americans of his generation maneuver two identities.

I would argue that Firmat’s identity arises necessarily out of postmodern identity described by Lyotard: with the break down of grand narratives, identity springs from the mix of cultures across the globe. Lyotard describes (in my rough paraphrase) how someone eats Macdonalds, watches British TV, listens to music from Japan, drives a German car, and wears clothes from Italy. I would admit that Firmat’s ideas on identity are more complicated than what Lyotard outlines but there are similarities. Close to twenty years since this book, some of Firmat’s more political questions—the idea of return, the problem of identity in the face of going back to Cuba—might be outdated. Most Cubans in 2012 have given up the illusions of return; however, Firmat’s analysis of the one and a halfers manifest in much of the Cuban-American literature. Actual content aside—Cuban-American writing differs greatly as Borland and Bosch outline in Cuban-American Literature and Art: Negotiating Identities—nonetheless, many writers still write from the hyphen, borrowing aspect from both Cuban and gringo traditions in Firmat’s Cubanglo phrase. Much Cuban-American writing published after Firmat’s analysis, regardless of content, engages in Cubanglo culture: mixing, borrowing, embodying both sides of the hyphen in the manner Firmat states the one and a halfers are able to “give both ends of the hyphen their due.” 

I have been away for a while… I have been reading though; I’ve just been lazy about writing, so I plan to spend the next couple of weeks writing about everything I read so that I can better remember it. This short time is it! I got comps at the end of October, so I really have to get to all this stuff.

With that in mind, I am going to work on narratology and marxism this week, as well as Firmat’s living on the hyphen stuff and Cuban literature. We’ll see how it goes.

Now: M.M. Bakhtin: (doesn’t he look a little like General Zod?

In The Dialogic Imagination, Bakhtin explores the “new genre” called the novel, a new form “that is as yet uncompleted” (3). Other genres, established traditional ones, are complete and have a fixed, pre-existing form that an artistic uses. These established genres (such as the epic and tragedy) live a completed life and present a history that happened. Furthermore, the older genres retain their oral tradition beginnings; where as, the novel “is younger than writing and the book” (ibid.). The novel, however, does have a canon, but a canon that is mutable, growing and changing—older genres have established canons, and Bahktin compares studying older genres with studying dead language as opposed to the novel, which is living and contemporary.

Since the novel is a new genre, it requires a new theory of reading. The novel fails to get along with other genres (although I believe Bahktin’s idea here is outdated: the 21st. century novel adapts to all other genres—it steals from poetry, from epic, from tragedy, from comedy). Bahktin claims that the older genres delimit each other and are interconnected and compliment each other, but the novel goes against them. The older genres have hegemony on poetics: “Their aim is not a living and organic fullness but rather an abstract and encyclopedic comprehensiveness” (5). The completed, older genres can be studied together, but the incomplete novel fails to fit in anywhere. The animosity of the novel arises out of the manner in which the novel parodies other genres. The stuffy language here makes the older genres sound like they have no sense of humor, and the novel comes along and makes fun of them. Bahktin says “Those genres that stubbornly preserve their old canonic nature begin to appear stylized” to the point that they begin to sound like parodies of themselves—an essential, central point for the novel. The novel parodies dominant forms.

The novel incorporates humor, laughter, irony and renews itself with heteroglossia . Since the novel keeps developing, it reflects current reality, reflecting a new world in the making. Additonally, by becoming the dominant genre, the novel infects the other genres because the novel embraces inclusiveness (7). This inclusiveness, along with the newness, reflecting contemporary reality and time creates a problem for theory, which can explore set genres easier because established genres have a set canon and rules to follow. The novel defies any easy classification.

Some common novel characteristics: 1) the novel should not be poetic; 2) employs anti-hero—he should be both high and low; 3) Hero should be a round character; 4) “the novel should become for the contemporary world what the epic was for the ancient world” (10). Through these characteristics, the novel criticizes other genres (critique of hero, for instance), while also attempting to establish itself as a dominant genre. Bahktin makes sure to inform his reader that these definitions/characteristics he explores should not be taken rigidly because the novel is the most fluid of all genres. He goes on to outline characteristics that distinguish the novel from other genres: style, time, and contemporary, all three of which resulted from globalization and Europe’s encounter of other cultures and languages, resulting in a polyglossia unique to the novel. The world mixes knowledge, language, and culture, which makes language distinctions fall apart, and all these factors create a new “polyglot world” where “completely new relationships are established between language and its object (that is the real world)” that creates problems with old genres.

Bahktin then compares the epic: national epic which reflects a nation’s past; national tradition—not personal history—serves as material; distance between epic world and contemporary world. The epic reflects on a past that can never be directly experienced and tells the story of a nation’s history—a history closed, ended, that is reflected upon and is distinct from the present. The epic passes down, already defined to new generations. It also valorizes temporality by reflecting on a romantic (better) past—it privledges the “original” while also relying on memory instead of knowledge. The novel, on the contrary, relies on personal experience and knowledge about contemporary time. Where epic time is sacrosanct, isolated, and finished, the novel’s time is open, ambiguous, and future directed. All completed genres have three charcteristics: 1-same time; 2-role of tradition; 3-hierarchical distance (past on top, present on bottom of hierarchy) (18). The established genres have valorized the past and has established this valorization as official, but the novel lives now, taking everything now and using it, living, growing, changing, including language.

The novel, furthermore, uses humor to familiarize itself with the world and brings the high low. A new attitude emerges. From here, Bahktin explores older forms of “comedic” genres as the precursors to the novel, emphasizing laughter because it breaks down distance and brings subject closer, which makes the object familiar, taking fear away and makes scientific knowledge possible (23). He uses the example of Socrates, a hero who parodies himself (his greatness comes from knowing that he knows nothing), uses irony, multiple styles, etc, and he brings the world closer in order to analyze the world fearlessly. The novel intrudes on the present.

Bahktin then moves on to explore the artistic features related to the novel’s conception of time. – which I will get to later… (31).