Academic journal article Tamkang Review

The Zerrissenheit of Subjectivity

Academic journal article Tamkang Review

The Zerrissenheit of Subjectivity

Article excerpt


It is barely six o'clock in the morning in Tokyo and an already jam-packed line commuter train is arcing its way routinely across the massively distributed metropolitan area. Exhausted passengers are jostling for a tiny modicum of personal space so they can play with their portable, piloting devices. Eyes downcast, bodies depleted of energy, yet a collective atmosphere of feverish concentration. While some of the lucky ones are seated, meditating or sleeping, the standing--the immobile desiring machines--are reading books and magazines. Fellow travelers are flailing their fingers across overexposed screens to enter text, read the news or mine information. One identikit salaryman [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is racing through manga on his smartphone, swiping his fingers every few seconds to change the page. But it is a small school boy nearby who catches and commands my attention, for he is repeating traditional kanji drills but with a modern twist. Stretching out a finger, he twirls it to enter a string of letters on his hand-held tablet device that will help him find his way around Google Earth. His handwriting is immediately transformed into text which zips through databases of countries, place names, streets to find the desired search-string. It seems the boy sees this operation aloof, from a third-eye, seeing the earth distant and remote. Utterly engrossed, ripped away from his immediate milieu, he hovers above the digital earth, his hand a dismembered body part.

This vignette perhaps is rather mundane but a most unheimlich and thought-provoking one nonetheless. Given the processes involved in learning a language--mother tongue or otherwise--it has much to do with the Zerrissenheit of subjectivity. In an emblematic sense, the boy is ripped away from a material and affective relation with language. The boy learns but does so extraterrestrially. The earth is no longer his home as Heidegger was apt to say, as language is ripped away as a consequence. As we shall see, this is tantamount to a brutal deterritorialization of language. In learning to write, the boy's use of Google Earth is an example of Zerrissenheit. The question is whether one can engineer "movement" as such from this to discern sober lines of flight (lignes de fuite) and new forms of experimentation in this new form of calligraphy.


In very distinct ways, the thinkers Deleuze (and/or Guattari) and Heidegger address the issue of "tearing" and its relation to learning. Yet both parties present ideas suitable for cross-fertilization in their examination of a particular relationship to calligraphy, writing and contemporary formations and deformations of subjectivity. Moreover, and importantly, they illuminate the construction and articulation of the "abstract machine." From their ruminations, we can ascertain that machines emerging from the machinic phylum, that is to say the technological lineage of machines, may in some circumstances compromise the "processual opening" of plastic and incorporeal universes of references in semio-capitalism. In effect this may stall or petrify the operations of the diagram and of the abstract machine. The sense of tearing thus helps us to rethink the risks involved in what can be perceived as a violent deterritorialization of language, through addiction and obsession with technical devices. Sprawling megacities like Tokyo are a striking, excrescent instance of this tendency. It will be seen that changes in orthography, the art of writing words, fundamentally affect the purity of style in calligraphy and writing in general.


Etymologically, in noting that Riss, used in a derivative sense for tear, cleft, crack is the root of Zerrissenheit, Heidegger indicates a painful originary schism. Riss is grasped in the sense of that which tears (fission) as well as in the sense of the fissure (rift) that the fission opens up. It describes the relation between thinking and poetry. …

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