“That empty, forever empty”

Louis CK was on Conan the other night and he brought up an issue that I had touched on briefly in a former post– technophobia and Harraway’s theory of the “cyborg.” He says that he feels children are growing up in an era of technological apathy, where a sense of “empathy” for others is disregarded in favor of the handheld device, or as I like to call it, “the omniscient screen.” Again, though, Harraway’s theory suggests that our concerns about technology are rather superficial, and that the paradigmatic essence of the contemporary human experience is inextricable from our technological developments. It’s at this point that Louie so elegantly, albeit coincidentally, is able to correctly identify the deeper nuance of technophobia– Lacan’s notion of desire:

“…you know, underneath everything in your life, there’s that thing, that empty, forever empty. You know what I’m talkin’ about?…That knowledge that it’s all for nothin’, and you’re alone. And sometimes, when things clear away, and you’re not watching it, you’re in your car, and your start going ‘Oh no, here it comes, that I am alone,’…it starts to visit on you…just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad just by being in it. And so you go [and reach for your phone]…but people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t wanna be alone for a second…you never feel completely sad, or completely happy. You just feel kind-of satisfied, and then you die” (teamcoco)

In short, Lacan’s theory of desire is that we seek to recapture the sense of wholeness and unity we had when we were in, what he calls, the imaginary stage, or, essentially, the psychological state we were in before we discovered language, which he calls the symbolic order. The problem is that, because language is self-referential (a closed system) and incapable of directly referring to anything outside of itself, we essentially shed our subjectivity–our concept of ourselves–as we enter this symbolic order. This creates a sense of lack, or, as Louie says, “that empty, forever empty.” This is the void that’s associated with solitude precisely because we don’t have Others to give us our self-definition (names and sense of identity here being associated with basic unit of the symbolic order, words which only have a context through their association to other words). In other words, we reach for our phone as if our receiving a text message from someone validates and reconstitutes our subjectivity giving us the sense that we are fixed in a stable, consistent identity. However, as Louie suggests, this is only an illusion because we are losing the more important exchange of a complex emotion, empathy, in favor of a simplistic few seconds of apathy. Yet, an illusion is all that it remains, and there is “no new self, except as the endlessly receding horizon of desire” (Mansfield 46).

Still, even though I have the iPhone 5…I kinda feel like less of a person because I don’t have the iPhone 5s. Look at me in my lower-upper-lower-middle class squaller…where I should be…because I don’t have the 5s…I’m so alone.


teamcoco. Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube. 2013. Film.

Mansfield, Nick. Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway. New York: New York University Press, 2000. Print.

“Resistance is Futile”

In 2008 The Kennedy Center posthumously awarded George Carlin the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. His witty analysis of the “7 Words You Can’t Say” and his Joycean list of contemporary vernacular in “Modern Man” are only two examples of why he earned such a prestigious award.

A quick copy-and-paste of the transcript for “Modern Man” into Wordle yields a surprising yet perfectly appropriate analysis of the underlying theme within this absurd yet breathtaking piece of comic poetry: “personal.”

Writer and blogger James Aquilone has collected 101 of his favorite George Carlin quotes. Again, a copy-and-paste of these quotes also points in the same thematic direction: “people.”

To summarize what we’re looking at here, Wordle generates “word clouds” which give prominence to words used most often in a given text. In other words, from this snapshot of his work, we can see that people, personal, persons, etc. are the focus of Carlin’s work. Personhood, or the relationships that develop between those people, as well as the subject “I” (in the Cartesian sense), are the themes that reoccur and act as the glue that binds the otherwise absolutely absurd to the rational and that amalgamates the two into one pluralistic, unfixed essence.

On the surface, though, there’s something almost horrific about this modernized list of the modern man. The language itself, these turns of phrase, are playful yet daunting, inviting yet consuming, direct yet ambiguous. It is this very ambiguity that is the nature of apprehension and skepticism towards new technologies and new forms of culture, such as social networking. The fear is that technology is anti-human in that it collaborates with capitalists interests in order to accelerate the “economy and society into ever less human dimensions, where the hands and eye of the individual worker are thrown on the junk-heap by their inability to compete with the speed of microelectronic interfaces” (Mansfield 158). This is a position that Donna Haraway–and by extent, George Carlin–argue against. Haraway posits that humans and technology have advanced into a new paradigm of interconnectivity, that we have become cyborgs. In the post-modern sense, the line of distinction between organic and cybernetic has broken down, or as GC says it, humans are “[a] diversified… post-modern deconstruction that is anatomically and ecologically incorrect…a high-tech low-life” (Carlin). This new paradigm is “not an image of the individual body as a self-sustaining  system, but as a set of shifting signifying surfaces turned not inwards towards a mysterious, untouchable and sublime essence, but outwards towards an ever multiplying number of possible interconnections” (Mansfield 159-160).

It’s no surprise, then, that this theme of interconnectivity, or interrelationship, underlies the discourse about technology, and more importantly, its integration into the great existential questions of humanity. We can apply this same precursory Wordle test to articles from the field of Digital Humanities. By copying and pasting three articles by Matt Krischenbaum, Patrik Svensson, and Vannevar Bush into Wordle we can see from the generated word clouds that the pluralistic nature of the new paradigm, the cyborg, is represented in the two most used words: “Humanities” and “Digital.”

The theme is reinforced as we look at each successive layer of words where “academic” and “media” are juxtaposed as well as the pairing of “history” and “computing.” In other words, we see that analogue and digital are inextricably linked. When we do the same with the bibliographies of these and a few more essays regarding the Digital Humanities, we see that the words “live” and “site” are by far the most used words indicating the importance of active beacons inviting a connection with a user to their website.

Also, the DH theorist most referred to in this selection is Roy Rosenzwieg and the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH) is referenced many times as well, both of whom focus on culture, language, and technology in much the same way that Carlin does.

All this is only to say that I’m entirely over-moderately wholly partially satisfied with my position in the ranks of the Borg because “I’m a hot-wired, heat seeking, warm-hearted cool customer, voice activated and bio-degradable.”


Works Cited:

  1. PBS. “MARK TWAIN PRIZE | Modern Man | PBS.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube 30 Jan 2009. Web. 7 Sep. 2013.
  2. Mansfield, Nick. Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway. NY: New York University Press, 2000. Print.
  3. Carlin, George. When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops. NY: Hyperion, 2005. Print.

Mikhail, it’s your dead uncle Dave.

Bill Cosby’s On Prejudice 1971

The Notion

There are a series of quotes that have been knocking about my head for quite a while now. They have a way of resonating at every frequency, becoming relevant to every situation. These phrases–comments, insights, concerns, indignant rantings–congeal and become the stuff of subjectivity, the skeletal framework which experience molds onto. Yet, according to the duality that is inherent to them, they are plastic, pluralistic. They adopt entirely different meanings with each new dialect that speaks them, and each newly discovered meaning is equally substantial as the previous. They conjure moments like little Stevie’s death in Secret Agent and have us rolling on the ground, clutching our sides in abject pain because we are laughing uncontrollably. They make both the Pope and Adrienne Rich blush.

The Thesis

My simple thesis: in comedy there is only truth. There is no capital “T” here, no grand narrative, no arbiter, no design or creator, no head of state, no house of worship which to gather in on the weekends to sit, kneel, stand, sing, kneel again, stand some more, and compare clothes…none of it. There is simply the collective of words, signifiers which no longer have any pretense of any signified, and thus the Saussurean linguistic cycle is at its most fragile but dialogue at its most vibrant. Bakhtin might chuckle when his predecessor and teacher says, “Jumbo shrimp…? Well, which is it?!” The voice is inextricable from the quote:

  1. George Carlin
  2. Doug Stanhope
  3. Whoopi Goldberg
  4. Jim Jefferies
  5. Richard Pryor
  6. Bill Hicks
  7. Victor Borge
  8. Amy Schumer

They are voices that are strong and loud. These troubadours, players, jesters, clowns, harlequins, willing sophists hold a mirror to moralists (and by extension, ethicists) and there expose a sterile King Midas who is unaware of his curse. What do they say?

  • “I always hope that, no matter how small the original problem is, it’s going to grow into bigger and bigger proportions and get completely out of control, and I’ll give you a concrete example: Let’s say a water main breaks in downtown Los Angeles and it floods an electrical substation, knocking out all the traffic lights, tying up the entire city and emergency vehicles can’t get through. And at the same time, one of those month-long global warming heat waves comes along, but there’s no air conditioning, no water for sanitation, so cholera, small pox, and dysentery, and thousands of people start dying in the streets, but before they die parasites eat their brains, and they go completely fucking crazy, and they storm the hospitals, but the hospital can’t handle all the causalities, so these people start to rape all the nurses and set the hospital on fire, and the flames drive them even crazier so they start stabbing social workers and garbage men, and a big wind comes along and the entire city goes up in flames, and the people who are still healthy, they get mad at the sick people, and they start crucifying them to crosses, trying on their underwear, shit like that, then everybody smokes crack and PCP and they start to march on city hall where they burn the mayor at the steak, strangle his wife, and take turns sodomizing the statue of Larry Flynt, and at this point it looks like pretty soon things are going to start to get out of control…” (Bret A Warshawsky. “George Carlin- Life Is Worth Losing- Show Ending Piece.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 10 May 2011. Web. 1 Sep 2013.)
  •  “Now, you may think you’re a good brother, good sister, good mother, good daughter, whatever the fuck you think you are in this world, but you’re nothing until you’ve washed your disabled brother’s cock to take him to a prostitute.” (Saku E. “Jim Jefferies brothel story.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube 24 May 2013. Web. 1 Sep. 2013.)
  • “Now, I don’t wanna do these people no harm, I wouldn’t do them no harm. But I know one thing, when I see them, I spit, and give a good spit, too. Because ain’t none of them worth nothing, not one single one. And that’s why I’m proud to be what I am. I’m what? I’m a bigot. And there ain’t but two of us left, and I don’t care for him.” (Mike Stratton. “Bill Cosby on prejudice (1971).” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 1 Sep. 2013.)
  • “…terrorists are coming to blow up your Ford Focus in particular. That’s far more palatable for people to buy than to accept the reality, which is that, probably, at statistical high Vegas odds probability, is that nothing of any significance will ever happen to you in your entire, boring life.” (Stanhopetv. “Doug Stanhope: Voice of America – FEAR IN THE U.S. NEWS MEDIA.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 1 Sep 2013.)
  • “The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, round and around, it has thrills and chills, it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud. And it’s fun, for a while. Some people have been on a ride for a long time. They begin to question, ‘Is this real, or is this just a ride?’ Other people have remembered. They come back to us and they say, ‘Hey, don’t worry, don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.’ And we kill those people.” (Ifctomo123. “Bill Hicks – It’s Just a Ride.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube 28 Feb. 2010. Web. 1 Sep 2013.)

I look forward to exploring this thesis with greater detail in further blog posts.