Monologues of fear
by Maia Damianovic
Pornography is easily recognized, but is often more controversial to conclusively define. The broadest way to define pornography is as a sexually explicit depiction created with the primary, proximate aim, and reasonable hope, of eliciting significant sexual arousal on the part of the consumer of such materials." Specifically including concepts of power and violence or with the subordination of women may be too narrow, although it is clear that many sexual acts regularly depicted in pornography are censored within generally accepted, everyday, sexual behaviour. The definition of fear is quite varied, from feelings of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger, living in fear, to feelings of disquiet and apprehension, to extreme reverence or awe towards someone. Taking the two definitions together, I arrived at explicit depiction with the aim of eliciting significant response on the part of the consumer by provoking feelings of agitation, anxiety, disquiet, apprehension.

An obvious pornography of fear can be seen at work in the present east / west impasse and alienation between the Muslim and non Muslim ‘worlds.’ Both sides exploit the fear equation in the most explicit, one could say, pornographic terms, extending beyond ‘reasonable’ norms. What one side perceives as legitimate resistance, Jihad, resistance and survival, the other side perceives as clear cut terrorism. Holy war or the war against the axis of evil? "It is in the 'name of the father' that we must recognize the support of the symbolic function (fundamental signifier) which permits signification to proceed. From the dawn of history, societies have identified ‘the father’ and /or ‘God’ as the figure of the law [1]. The Name-of-the-Father confers identity on human subjects (by situating them in a lineage and the symbolic order). The “knowing subject” partakes of symbolic knowledge and is intricately tied to ethical exchanges or inter - subjective reciprocity with the Other, subject to laws and prohibitions underlying the social order. But, the problem is: there are many different social and symbolic orders. The question is: can we assume a ‘general social order’ or a ‘general democracy’? Or, as the King of Jordan comments: ‘democracy will mean different things to different people.’ In the current duel of words and violence, ever pushing the limits of the ‘acceptable’ or permitted, is there any ‘legitimate’ perception, based on facts, is there such a thing as a ‘knowing’ subject, or do we all partake in the socially instituted game of deliberately contrived fictions that tow a particular political line – the stories of deception and the radical manipulation of information, fueling war games that serve different cultural, social and economic aims?

Just take the case of ‘profiling’ people boarding airplanes. What is the ‘real’ information to base a ‘real’ assessment? What facts can be gleaned from a face, a name, a passport? ‘9 / 11’, the London and Madrid bombings, Palestinians and Iraquis killed on a daily basis, growing inter-secular violence, Iran’s resistance to pressures to cease it’s atomic research, Israel’s growing arsenal of weaponry in the midst of the ever present possibility of suicide bombings and Hezbolah missile attacks, routine supermarket bag checks in Israel and a devastated Lebanon, the far reaching shadow of the barrier wall….. Knowledge is information of which a person, organization or other entity is aware and is gained either by experience, learning and reasoning, but also through perception, which can often be based on miss representation and miss recognition.

Miss interpretation, miss taken, even false intelligence played a significant role in justifying America’s entry into the Iraq war. Lacan termed "méconnaissance" as an illusory kind of knowledge, based on misunderstanding, misrecognition - a fantasy of self-mastery and unity, belonging to the imaginary register.

Clinically defined, “meconnaissance” is an imaginary knowledge that refers to the self-knowledge of the subject in the imaginary order. It is also often delusional and paranoic. Imaginary knowledge is called "paranoiac knowledge" because it has the same structure as paranoia (both involve the delusion of absolute knowledge and mastery), and because one of the preconditions of all human knowledge is the "paranoiac alienation of the ego." In Lacanian terms, the paranoiac lacks the ‘name-of-the-Father,’ and the delusion is the paranoiac's attempt to fill the hole left in their symbolic universe by the absence of this essential signifier. If all these terms are not interpreted in a strict clinical sense, the world seems deluged by an over production of “meconniassance,” ranging from single ideas to complex networks of beliefs disseminated to the public. According to Kojève, the dialectic of the master and the slave is the inevitable result of the fact that human desire is the desire for recognition. In order to achieve recognition, the subject must impose the idea that they have of themselves on the Other – i.e. the ‘terrorist’ or the ‘non believer,’ the ‘democratic’ and the ‘un democratic’ order. However, since this Other also desires recognition, they also must do the same, and hence the subject is forced to engage in combat with the other. This is certainly the case in the overall mid eastern crisis. Are these delusional discourses and meconnaissance a natural outcome of social function or are they deliberately and strategically instituted fields of signification that organize a certain, very complex signifier of the Other, respectively the terrorist / ‘non believer.’

Meconnaissance and the imaginary are far from inconsequential; they have powerful effects in the real, and are not simply something that can be dispensed with or "overcome." But, they can also be deliberately produced. But who fuels meconnaissance? Who profits from it? Does an increasingly intertwined world require a general social order, an acceptance of general values of humanity? Or, in more cynical terms: to work, does ‘globalization’ demand an integrated ‘general’ social order? Yet regardless of political or ideological allegiance, the ethics of globalization remains safe - sales of arms and temporary liasons and surprising bed fellows are courted for profit and unchecked transactions are made on a global scale on an everyday basis.

Has the underlying information machine spiraled into an endless rhetoric of violence, intolerance and suspicion, when perception and reason have parted company in the name of God or the name of oil or in the name of an institutional organization of fear or simply, in the name of profit? Is there such a thing as the in the name of humanity? Rather than attempting international institutional organization of issues of humanity, we seem to be witnessing an institutional organization of fear. Rather than striving for multi- cultural dialogues of ethics and humanism, we seem to be arriving more and more to unilateral monologues of fear. So, while economic globalization continues in a quite confident and unified manner, particular social orders and likewise social relations are defined in an increasingly narrow sense, working to socialize people through what could be defined as ‘power’ relations with the more or less unilateral ability (real or perceived or potential) to bring about significant change in people’s lives- to deliberately miss lead people and to pornographically exploit fear.


[1] a semi-humorous religious allusion (In nomine patris) and a play on the near-homonyms non and nom: the name-of-the-father (le nom du père)