Reality of the Virtual, or Virtual of the Real

I just spent some time watching the Zizek ‘documentary’ (I use the term loosely, it was more like ‘private lecture’) ‘The Reality of the Virtual’. I stumbled on Zizek a little more than a year ago as I was working on my zombie walk materials. I’ve recent submitted a copy of that project for publication in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.

In honor of Mr. Zizek, I wanted to post this segment from an earlier draft of the essay. It, unfortunately, was editted out (for sake of going a different direction), but still makes an interesting assertion about the relation between metaphor, pretend, and the real. Cheers:


Before converging on the ways in which the context of the zombie walk shapes the experiential text (or, in light of the ethnography, its absence as a conscious text), I find it necessary to introduce the concept of metaphor- the stimulus that causes the move into trance states. I will then outline the ways in which metaphor acts as a gateway for the unconscious to seep into the conscious realm by way of Lacanian psychoanalysis.
A metaphor, semiotically speaking, is the transference of a quality of one object to another, unaffectually related object- that is, the carrying over of characteristics of a source to an intended target.
To privilege metaphorics in the zombie walk is not to some how obscure the zombie walk itself, but rather to insist that our experience of the zombie walk, that unconscious statewhich most participants attest to, is the result of networks of dense metaphorical meanings. Metaphors in this sense are not simply codings of experience; they are the reality of the lived experience. To claim that the zombie walk is metaphorical, is not to claim that it is overlaid with what Jakobson (DATE) calls ‘poetic codes’- that is, not messages, but frames through which messages are given meaning; poetic codes being the realm through which meaning is given body- that can be deconstructed to prove the ‘true experience’ of the event. The metaphor of death, the staged cannibalism, and the birth metaphors inherent in zombies and the zombie walk itself are not just literary devices, picked up by my superior analytical mind, rather they constitue part of the material out of which we experience the zombie walk. The zombie walk does not simply exist in the physical environment, but also in its material imaginary- the tropes of zombiedom and the unconscious desires associated with them. The ‘truth’ of the zombie walk lies in its lived metaphoricity.
This harkens back to the theoretical prop of this essay- the figuration of the zombie walk, its existence as a network of metaphors, metonyms, symbols, and so on, is a crucial aspect of its physical experience. Simply put, the metaphysical and the physical are dialectically implicated. To purse the zombie walk as a performance of figuration is to liberate the figuration and the participation from their seemingly separate boxes. Poetics is not the ornamental efferevesence of a more fundamental reality; it is the reality in its totality.
From this understanding of metaphor, I move on to employ Lacanian psychoanalysis to understand better how the metaphor activates this collision of experience and poetics such that it causes a state of unconsciousness. Throughout the rest of this paper, I will argue that the state of trance is the result of the metaphor bridging what Lacan refers to as the Imaginary and the Symbolic.
Lacan believed psychoanalysis to be more than a ‘talking cure’ (some might argue that he understood it to be no cure at all), it was a method for reading written, oral, and visual texts. This is not to say that he was not a psychoanalyst in the traditional sense- as Zizek (DATE) notes, “Lacan was first of all a clinician, and clinical concerns permeate everything he wrote or did. Even when he reads Plato, Aquinas, Hegel, and Kierkegaard, it is always to elucidate a precise clinical problem… the clinical is everywhere,” (pg). Lacan’s approach, its central place in the world, is its ability to concentrate on the ways in which the mind colors everything that appears non-clinical. It need not be on a couch, and we need not adhere to the process of therapy, to concentrate on the effects it has on society, and how society, in turn, acts on it.
For Lacan (DATE), the metaphor was directly connected to the symptom. “if the symptom is a metaphor, it is not a metaphor to say so… the symptom is a metaphor,” (Ecrits 175). This is so, because the symptom, associated with the Freudian concept of condensation, is a message which returns to the subject a truth about a specific desire. This message generally arrives in a symbolic form, as a kind of aphasia. The symptom is a sign of a breakdown in the process of Symbolizing the imaginary.
We can turn to the work of Zizek (DATE) to understand the ways in which this could cause a trance state. For Zizek, Lacan’s realms take on a relational meaning defined by dialectic process: the Real is the arena of the dialectic, where opposing terms can coincide; the Imaginary is where two terms can be reconciled in harmonious synthesis, and the Symbolic is where two terms are defined differentially, where one is something because it is not something else. If, as I intend to show in the next sections, a metaphor of death is constantly present as a symptom, we know that the realm of the imaginary has been breached. Death in simultaneous occupation as life, created through the living inhabiting death, negates the differential definition of the two, collapsing much of the Symbolic realm. What is remaining is the realm of the dialectic, which is the Real, in which the oppositional terms exist in one body only insofar as both exists mutually exclusive. However, Lacan nor Zizek’s system allows for a total knowing of the Real, which is always mediated to the Symbolic by becoming symbolic. The only way in which to gain access to the real, debatably, is through death. It is the only Real. But because the zombies are only performing death, and because this performance is mediated through the body, we are only dead in so far as we are performing. Following this, we are only tranced by the foreground of realm of the Real. Whereas it might enter the symbolic, it can never fully be the symbolic.
A visual analogy is one of poking a hole in the bottom of a glass of water, which represents the symbolic. As the water runs out, it is not necessarily empty- there is air in the room- but it is not full of water. The Real enters the consciousness in much the same way that the air occupies the glass- the water may all leave, but this does not cause the glass to disappear.
This occupation of the real, I hypothesize, introduces the trance state. The ways in which it is fueled is in the successive metaphors for death which constantly arise throughout the zombie walk, and the ways in which these metaphors fuel their own transference by reconstructing the phenomenal world in terms of the bodies that are present, that is, the zombie bodies that mask the human bodies of the zombie walkers.
If the real comes both before and after the Symbolic Order, is this not a contradiction in terms? The anser is ‘yes!’ and for those who have been faitfully following this chapter so far, it will remind them of Hegel’s dialectic.” This is because, for Zizek, the Real is the arena of the dialectic, where opp
osing terms can coincide. In distinction to this, the Imaginary is wher two terms can be reconciled in a harmonious synthesis, and the Symbolic is where two terms are defined differentially, where one is something because it is not something else.
Lacan (DATE) shows how this is possible, by positing that the emotions that are performed in wearing a mask, or taking on an identity, are not simply ‘false’. The social mask matters more than the direct reality of the individual who wears it. As Derrida is quoted as saying, based on Lacan’s understandings of the relationship between the trichotomy of consciousness, “To pretend, I do the thing,”
We extend this, given understandings of play and performance (Bateson, etc.) to suggest that more than ‘do the thing in pretend’, we also ‘become the thing that does the thing’ in pretense- in anticipation of being dead someday, we pre-tend to death as our imaginations understand it. With that we take on all characteristics of the zombie, our symptom. As I will argue for the remainder of this essay, the pretending of the body as the zombie directly impacts the performance of metaphor, which returns to fuel the trance state of the Toronto Zombie Walk.


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