Object-Disoriented Ontology; or, the Subject of What Is Sex?
Though there are a number of reasons as to why Alenka Zupančič’’s What Is Sex? is a crucial intervention into the fields of contemporary philosophy and psychoanalysis, perhaps none is more crucial, given the current “ontological turn” in critical theory, than its trenchant defense of the necessity of retaining the category of the subject for any ontology that aims to be truly realist or materialist. Proceeding from this premise, in what follows I will be focusing exclusively on what is by far the book’s longest, most complex chapter — one that comprises its entire second half — “Object-Disoriented Ontology.” The first section of the essay consists of a brief overview of Zupančič’s Lacanian rejoinder to the various “new”/“speculative” realisms and materialisms currently seeking to demote and thereby (intentionally or not) expunge the subject from ontology — a rejoinder grounded upon an insistence not merely on the subject’s continued relevance for, but its indispensability to — indeed, its very ineradicability from — properly realist/materialist inquiry. From here, the second and third sections aim to supplement Zupančič’s position by examining the ways in which the tenets of this “Real ontology,” as I term it, are borne out by a third field — one that, as it so often does in Lacan’s own work, helps to suture the two fields that claim the majority of Zupančič’s attention throughout What Is Sex?, philosophy and psychoanalysis: literature. Taking Zupančič’s focus on the death drive throughout “Object-Disoriented Ontology” as my starting point, I look in particular at Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, a novel whose tragic Captain Ahab offers a prime illustration of the role that the death drive plays in rendering material reality “not-all,” ontologically incomplete. Section two begins by doubling back from drive to desire, the latter of which is exemplified by the “intangible malignity” and “inscrutable malice” that Ahab anamorphically ascribes to Moby Dick; it ends by considering the point at which desire crosses into — opens a path onto — drive: the point of “pure desire,” a point exemplified by the figure of Fedallah, the diabolical fourth harpooner of Ahab’s crew who is born of Ahab’s dreams. The third and final section looks more closely at how Fedallah, the surplus-enjoyment produced by pure desire, functions as a literal embodiment of the excessive materiality of the drive. In so using Moby-Dick as a means of attending to the impossible matter generated by the drive’s insistence, my primary aim is to not merely corroborate, but to strengthen — to “double-down” on, as it were — the rationale behind Zupančič’s own insistence on the impossibility of eliminating the subject from materialist thought.
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