“And is not this dispositif – the frame through which one can glimpse the Other Scene – the elementary dispositif of fantasmatic space from the prehistoric Lascaux paintings to computer-generated Virtual Reality? Is not the interface of the computer the last materialization of this frame? What defines the properly “human dimension” is the presence of a screen, a frame, through which we communicate with the “suprasensible” virtual universe to be found nowhere in reality.” (Zizek, 1999, p 98)
Plato notoriously criticised the act of writing as a substitute to speaking, since it reduces the effectiveness of speech in inter-personal communications. He believed that in writing the physical posture and speaker’s voice are absent and moreover, other human interactions such as agreement on a specific topic or the memory of particular events are affected when man’s form of communication is a long distance communication instead of having face to face interactions. For Plato, today’s form of communication via cyberspace was not even imaginable. He could not conceive cyberspace as a facilitating tool for a number of affairs such as communication (Dreyfus, 2001). We live in the twenty first century which is famous for its information and communication technologies. Social interactions have become different from face to face communications by the introduction of such technologies. Facilitated, immediate, effective and efficient, transgressing, intrusive, anxiety inducer etc can be considered as the descriptions of the new form of cyber communication. In the era of ICTs, the concept of time and space has differed broadly and instead ‘integration’ of people and communities in different contexts of a society (social, cultural, political, governmental and economical) is possible without the limitation of time and space, by utilising new communicative technologies (Lyon, 2002, p 30). Furthermore, the dominance of computer mediated communication, in particular internet mediation, does not necessarily mean a total substitution of face to face interactions: “Again, this does not mean that face to face interactions or even agency extended interactions are replaced or diminish in number; rather, new relations are superimposed upon them.” (Lyon, 2002, p 30) In fact, nowadays face to face relationships are interwoven with online communications in our today society and moreover, the subject’s tendency towards technology can be conceived as a desire for merging with it in order to experience unlimited cultural expression (Springer, 1996). It would not be an exaggeration if we assume that the relationship between the subject and computer is like two best friends or lovers. As such, this relationship is full of ambivalent feelings such as feeling horror and enjoyment at the same time; fear from getting addicted to it or fear from the boundary disruption between one’s self and the others (Lupton, 2000).
“Computer users, therefore, are both attracted towards the promises of cyberspace, in the utopian freedom from the flesh, its denial of the body, the opportunity to achieve a cyborgian seamlessness and to connect with others, but are also threatened by its potential to engulf the self and expose one’s vulnerability to the penetration of enemy others.” (Lupton, 2000, p 487)
In this chapter, the dimensions of the subject’s desire for virtual communication in the era of instant availability and non-stop communication, will be argued to realise what is really at stake which motivates the subject to surf in the ocean of zeros and ones continuously. Has the Real offered a complete pleasurable sensation to the subject, a pleasure which cannot be found through the communication in the real world or on the contrary, such promise is far reached for the subject either in the real world or in cyberspace?
In the following paragraphs, the concept of the communication between subjects will be elaborated from a Lacanian perspective in order to illustrate the fact that makes the subject use cyberspace for his inter-personal relationships.
Communication between two subjects, according to Lacan, happens by means of speech: “But I call the person to whom I am speaking by whatever name I like, I notify him of the subjective function he must take up in order to reply to me, even if it is to repudiate this function.” (Lacan, 1966a, p 247) Moreover, in the earlier work of Lacan, speech has intentionality aspect which goes beyond the conscious, since it is not merely address to another subject and the speaker himself is the receiver as well as the audience: “One of the essential dimensions of the phenomenon of speech is that the other isn’t the only person who hears you. The phenomenon of speech can’t be schematized by the image that serves a number of what are called communication theories – sender, receiver and something in between. It seems to have been forgotten that among many other things in human speech the sender is always the receiver at the same time, that one hears the sound of one’s own words. It’s possible not to pay attention to it, but it’s certain that one hears it.” (Lacan, 1955-6, p 24) On the other hand, the concept of social relations is founded on language: “By language, we mean the structure that emerges from the language we speak under the effect of the routine of the social bond.” (Miller, 2007, p 5) In fact, the social routines let the Signified employ meaning and sense. This sense has arisen from the subject’s emotion in a society where he lives in (Miller, 2007). Therefore, our social interactions and communications have been resulted from a reciprocal exchanging of Signifier and producing the Signified which have relation to the social norms and routines. This is how the subject’s communication with others has been shaped. On the other hand, according to Lacan, what the subject desires cannot be fully articulate through speech. There are the aspects of the truth that are not possible to be expressed by means of language. Therefore, in the real world, there is not such a thing as a perfect communication between two subjects since a subject cannot fully address what he means to another subject and there is always something missing. Now the question can be raised here is: How is it that a subject desire for online communications with other subjects or in other words, what is causing the subject’s desire to choose communication in cyberspace?
From the Freudian notion of wish-fulfilment (Freud, 1900), the new technologies of communication can be considered to have a ‘wish-fulfilling aspect’ (Nusselder, 2009, p 11). Whatever the subject is not able to have or cannot experience in reality can have in the screen of the computer. In other words, cyberspace does not merely function as a fantasy to obtain pleasure principle; it acts as a window towards realization of real object of desire. In fact, it offers the subject what he desires and is not able to gain from the real world (Turkle, 2002). Many limitations which exist in the real world for the subject for his relationships do not exist in cyberspace. For instance, the limitations which make the subject to desire for cyber communications can stand for the subject’s shame and social phobia (Skarderud, 2003). From a Freudian view point, cyberspace has fulfilled the wish of the subject who cannot communicate freely in face to face interactions. Since communications in cyber world let subjects with high level of shyness stay anonymous and even invisible, they are able to relate to others quicker and easier rather than in face to face interactions and therefore, they are more satisfied with cyber communications (Sheeks et al, 2007). From a Lacanian perspective, the subject’s desire for online interaction is in fact, a desire for an enjoyment (jouissance) which can never be fulfilled and therefore, he continues to communicate in cyberspace (Dean, 2010). It can be assumed that the subject carries on online interactions in different cyber communities such as communicating via blogs, online social networks, video websites (like YouTube), twitter and so on in order to gain an enjoyment through his communication with others in cyberspace. Such enjoyment goes far that generates a pain of anxiety (Dean, 2010) in the subject which is, in Lacanian language, a suffering coming from jouissance (Lacan, 1959-60). Since there are some limitations and prohibitions in Symbolic order (the limitations of cyberspace applications), a full enjoyment of cyber interactions is not possible. Therefore, the subject wishing to attain the full enjoyment of online interactions carries on cycling through the cyber world: “Blog anxiety, then, expresses our anxiety in the face of our enjoyment. We are captured doing not what we want but what we must.” (Dean, 2010, p 21) Furthermore, Nusselder refers to cyber technologies and their relation to the impossibility of reality; the reality which bears the concept of Real in itself. He conceptualises “On the one hand they virtualize – via the screen (of fantasy) – our subordination to our immediate, real environment. On the other hand they try to restore – on the screen – a sort of virtual immediacy: think, for example, of real time telecommunication.” (Nusselder, 2009, p 29) As such, he considers the subject as a subject who goes beyond his natural limitation in order to gain a pleasure; a pleasure of instantaneousness which does not exist in real world. Putting in to Lacanian words, Nusselder assumes the subject’s continuous surfing in cyberspace as an attempt to attain the ‘ecstasy of Real’ (Nusselder, 2009, p 29).
From a Lacanian perspective, Zizek differentiates the concept of imitation from simulation in order to define the Real nature of cyberspace. According to Zizek, virtuality “does not imitate reality, it simulates it by way of generating its semblance. Imitation imitates a pre-existing real life model, whereas simulation generates the semblance of a non-existing reality.” (Zizek, 2011, p 7) As such, inter-personal relationships in cyberspace can be considered a simulation of face to face form of communications in the real life. Since there is not an “ultimate difference between nature and its artificial reproduction” (Zizek, 2011, p 7-8), the simulation of face to face communications can potentially result in ‘pure computation’ or pure Real (p 8) which means there are no real subjects to relate to each other or in other words, a ‘subjectless’ (p 8) communication. Putting it into Lacanian terms, Zizek argues: “subjectless digital computation is neither the differential symbolic order (the symbolic realm of meaning is part of the pseudo-reality manipulated on the screen) nor reality outside the screen of the interface (in bodily reality behind the screen, there are only chips, electric current, etc.).” (Zizek, 2011, p 8) Therefore, subjectless communications in cyberspace as a Real form of communication has offered the subject a Real subjectivity through the adventure of surfing and plunging into cyber world which is ornamented with the subject’s fantasy. The fantasy helps the subject as a defence (Lacan, 1966b), once the subject is faced with a lack in the Other and moreover, once he is confused with the Other’s desire: “What does the Other want from me?” (Lacan, 1966b, p 693) As such, it can be said that the subject, who has been confused with desire of the confining social laws and orders (the Other) in his offline communications, chooses subjectless communication in cyberspace.
Furthermore, the question concerning the subject’s desire for online communication can be evaluated by Lacanian notion of objet petit a. In fact, the objet petit a, which is influenced by fantasy, causes the subject to desire. In other words, the subject’s fantasies ornaments the objet petit a in order to let the subject desire. From this point of view, cyberspace is the place in which fantasies come true and moreover, such virtual illusionary space lets the subject desire a more appealing form of communication or in other words, a perfect relationship with other subjects. According to Lacan, the objet petit a is what causes the desire of the subject goes on and on but is never attainable: “Here we can clear up the mystery of the zielgehemmt, of that from that the drive may assume, in attaining its satisfaction without attaining its aim – in so far it would be defined by a biological function, by the realization of reproductive coupling. … If the drive may be satisfied without attaining what, from the point of view of a biological totalization of function, would be the satisfaction of its end of reproduction, it is because it is a partial drive, and its aim is simply this return into circuit.” (Lacan, 1964, p 179) From a Lacanian view point, since the subject’s desire is the desire of the Other (Lacan, 1964) which cannot be fulfilled, he is desperately looking for a way to a perfect form of communication but it never becomes possible. Seeking for that missing thing makes him using cyber communication on and on as Turkle calls: ‘cycling through’ in cyberspace (Turkle, 1995, p. 179) In Lacanian language, the subject desires a lack (Lacan, 1964) which is not attainable even in the cyber world. In other words, it can be said that cyberspace is a Real playground for subjectless communication that apparently promises the subject a complete form of enjoyment in his relationships with other subjects but never keeps such promise for guarantee.
From Lacanian perspective, cyberspace gives the subject the authorization of enjoying limitless fantasies but gaining the whole enjoyment from cyber communication is not promising at all; neither in the real world nor in cyberspace. The moment that the subject encounters with the limits of experiencing the whole enjoyment is the moment of experiencing the jouissance. As such he continues to surf in cyberspace to communicate with others. The subject fantasies crossing over all the laws and orders confining him in the real world and therefore, continues to experience cyber communication. On the other hand, keeping such promise of infinitive enjoyment of limitless and complete form of communication in cyberspace is doomed to fail since there is no such a thing as a perfect relationship between subjects either in the real world or in cyberspace.