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Through its inevitable disappearance and re-emergence transformed as another technology material technology localises and thereby obscures conflict within the subject. This leads to the second proposition: as part of the capitalist imperative the quest for jouissance is already being played out alongside obscured subjective struggle, spectacularly so in the case of material technology. However, investment in this imperative has an unforeseen cost: in being confronted with excess of jouissance we are overwhelmed and uncertain.

Material technologies command that we integrate excess into our daily lives as a unique discursive network, yet this network is at best opaque. This in turn reconfigures the struggle in which the subject of language is grappling with the connection if any between knowledge and technological devices. In order to throw light on this struggle we could take up the position of disinterest regarding material technology under capitalism.

First, let us take a step back to consider technology from the perspective of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory which situates science in the realm of the Lacanian Real: that which we cannot fully know because it is not completely knowable, but which inserts itself, sometimes confusingly, into our day to day lives.

In the function of speech, we are concerned with the Other [emphasis original]. Of course, the inanimate object does not speak, so we are compelled to speak for it whether it be through mathematical symbols, calculations or theoretical propositions. At the same time and despite not having a mouth, Lacan contends that we demand planets speak a precise language distinguishable only to us.

This is an essential reference point regarding the objects of technology. We trust in our conviction that the scientific method is impartial and independent and that science should therefore not have investment in the social bond. Science must remain autonomous and operate independently within its own logic: this is science par excellence. Although, given its robustness, the scientific method insists that it be afforded scrutiny and subject to critical evaluation, nevertheless, how scientific knowledge becomes accepted is determined not only by peer review but also by its being subject to influence from economic or political conditions and demands.

Here the position of disinterested scientist is no longer a given Footnote 1 - there may be rewards or gifts associated with claims to knowledge and which attempt to subvert disinterestedness.


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  • Because the social bond makes demands, disinterestedness has a price to pay rather than being merely a voluntary position insisted upon by criticality. Herein lies the potential for disinterestedness to orient speech and therefore, arguably language towards symbiosis with particular knowledge investments. Certainly, for Lacan such ambiguity in which the social bond plays a part manifests in language. He further insists that in our relationship with science we are asserting a larger claim: we are demanding that material objects be inscribed into language in order for us to be absolutely certain that we exist in a unified symbolic field, and in this way we are a part of science par excellence.

    This is a logic we can count on. Here Lacan is suggesting that the object does not even have an existence which is autonomous and separate from the speaking subject because speaking subjects are necessarily inscribed into the social world.


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    Such objects afford us language whilst constraining it. It is our questions about objects which demand that we impose upon science a language, because we as subjects rely on language whether we speak or not to represent our existence as interdependent with other subjects and objects. Here, the subject of the statement is closely correlated with what is being enunciated.

    The division between the statement and the enunciation means that, in effect, from the I am lying which is at the level of the chain of the statement — the am lying is a signifier, forming part, in the Other, of the treasury of vocabulary in which the I, determined retroactively, becomes a signification, engendered at the level of the statement, of what it produces at the level of the enunciation—what results is an I am deceiving you.

    The I am deceiving you arises from the point at which the analyst awaits the subject, and sends back to him, according to the formula, his own message in its true signification, that is to say, in an inverted form. He says to him— in this I am deceiving you, what you are sending as message is what I express to you, and in doing so you are telling me the truth S XI , — Lacan is making two important propositions here: firstly that a subject of science exists, and secondly that science operates in conjunction with subjectivisation.

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    For science to be a praxis requires mediation by the subject, usually via a method. Lacan implies that science is an external form for the subject, one which the subject must contend with as a result of being divided. We cannot deny science any more than we can deny the unconscious forces which constitute subjectivity. Science is not singular, it is always an open question usually concerning the ontological and conceptual objects and their relationships. What Lacanian psychoanalysis undertakes is not object oriented in quite the same way: it assumes an unwavering hypothesis from which analysis can be undertaken via the objet a , that is, the object cause of desire.

    This is the object which stands in for desire and which in turn presupposes that we have an unconscious from which these forces impact the subject consciously. Therefore, science per se cannot be undertaken outside the subject because it in part constitutes a subjectivity which pursues the Master. Science constructs but cannot be reduced to its constructions because it is a field which interrogates itself. Science exists beyond those objects which manifest in its thought.

    This is because science is a method from which scientific facts or truths emerge; these may either include or exclude variables deemed most useful for scientific enquiry. Thus science is controlled by the disinterested scientist even if its outcomes are not. In light of this, why do we still consider material technology under capitalism to be still somehow beyond our understanding? Is it because material technology presents as overly esoteric?

    Does such a framing of technology render subjects anxious because they are unable to recognise or know they are products of science, which is itself a confrontation with the limits of knowledge?

    Introduction | SpringerLink

    In this way, material technology is the surplus of science, an abundance of objects which obfuscate real questions of knowledge, the most fundamental of which is our desire for a Master. Here the domain of the Imaginary is crucial: for science an idea is not precise unless it is scrupulous in its methodology - refined, tested and verified. For the subject the best proof that an idea is scientific is its recognisable, neutral and utilitarian form.

    Despite the acculturation of technology as a unique subjective form, contemporary material technology is also pragmatic in its repeated use not requiring specialist knowledge although its assemblage certainly does. Little scientific knowledge is required to use material technology, even the sophisticated devices we daily use. Such objective knowledge is reified as real science not needed to be understood by the masses and known only to a few.

    This problematically places technical knowledge within the perceived esoteric domain of science thereby giving material technology a certain masterful appeal, a know-how we can count on despite us not knowing how. Here we might ask, if we understand how it works, how the smart phone for example, stops functioning on the level of the drive.

    Taking into account the caveat that for Lacan the object is never a consistent field but rather an interruption of the Symbolic then this interruption is implicit in our everyday interactions with technology experienced only when its devices are useful. This provides consistency to our material discursivity, a consistency which in turn acts as an interlocutor in understanding such a dimension of social life. Let us address this problem by asking the question, does technology speak? This question directly implicates the subject as one who tries to capture the Other as a precise function and form of speech thereby inviting the further question of whether technology can be affirmed as a modality of science, one in which we have the language and know-how wherewith understand technology were it to speak.

    These questions imply that there is an- other who speaks to us, but instead of this other being another subject, it is a material Thing to which we attribute our desire to think science. Science presents as something potentially knowable, inevitable and a pathway to truth so far as its apparent inseparability from quantification permits. Following scrutiny and interrogation of phenomena and method, science uses analysis and calculation to test hypotheses from which thoughts and meanings, understandings and conclusions result.

    However, as Rado Riha , p 79 states in his discussion of Husserl, the relation between science and meaning is anything but secure:. The presupposition of the Husserlian doctrine of science is thus the equation between thought and meaning : there is thought where there is meaning. Science does not think to the precise extent that it annihilates meaning [emphasis original]. The manifestation of science as method and technique is affirmed through the materiality of objects, some of which we all use.

    Furthermore, both the object and its function are readily graspable despite us not really knowing or caring how these came about. This imperfect knowledge goes hand in hand with technology presenting itself as a science which speaks. As Pierre Bourdieu suggests, scientific capital is based on the negotiation of exchange, power and recognition thereby directly implicating the mechanisms of capitalism into the practice of scientific enquiry. Given this situation how might we understand the role of science and its manifestation as material technology within the framework of capitalism?

    Material technology is in part a result of science, yet because of its utility it functions in the realm of the drive, not that of desire for knowledge. This is somewhat perplexing given that material technology appears to be an inevitable part of progress. A problem with material technology is that it potentially fails, malfunctions or provides only relative responses. It seems that material technology is a discourse which conflicts with the exacting condition of science.

    Our immediate response is to think that science itself has failed and can no longer function as the object for our drive. In a way this failure of technology has stopped us from thinking.

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    However, the failure we ascribe to science in the guise of a technological object is paradoxical because it has not displaced our faith that science can ultimately be counted on. Here, material technology integrates capitalism into a cultural discipline influencing a coding of the self. We are missing something crucial when confusing science with technology in that science, unlike technology, in order to function is not obligated to have an ideological form.

    Technology must have such a form or it would not be the device intended—it would be something else and thus be dependent on something else. Here we have both misplaced technology as an interiority of science and framed it within the capitalist conditions of its production. In the quest for our enjoyment of material technology, our jouissance , we have elevated this technology to the position of what Lacan calls the big Other.

    Footnote 3. The big Other Footnote 4 for Lacan is best described as that which inscribes the subject into the Symbolic Order.

    In this sense, the only subject for whom the big Other does exist is the psychotic, the one who attributes to words direct material efficiency. First, it is important to consider what is meant by material technology under capitalism. Although this covers a very broad range of abundant objects, including the computer, the phone, the MRI, interactive games, the light bulb, the recording machine, the robot and so on, it is important to distinguish between these as consumer objects and technology employed for the purposes of knowledge and for the benefit of humanity and without expectation of profit, for example, research technology Footnote 7 concerning climate change.

    So, we are effectively entering some kind of post human universe where everything, our inner most identity can be reduced to a formula. Yet like the subject, technology is itself ambivalent in handling this excess which it represents and which the subject does not know what do to with. For the subject, it appears that material technology is also an inescapable mediator between itself and the conditions of capitalism in which the subject is situated.

    Technology demands we declare ourselves, yet itself has nothing to declare. It demands that we desire yet it is devoid of desire.