Knowledge and the Mechanics of Desire

Knowledge as a mechanism to realise desire

Knowledge as a mechanism to realise desire

As covered previously, meta-paradigms of knowledge structure our understanding of reality. In the modern understanding, narratives and images convey a sense of totalizing unity and integrated connection which would transcend its own historical genesis. In other words, what is believed is in essence posited as eternal and absolute. The Newtonian, Darwinian, Marxist, Christian, or other such paradigms can be used as examples of such an understanding. Absolute spacetime, natural selection, world communism, or the resurrection of Jesus are not “historically contingent” in nature, but necessary.

In contrast, the post-modern understanding is much more “open” to “difference” and less interested in any narratives and images that would attempt to situate themselves outside of their own historical genesis. For the post-modern mind the Newtonian, Darwinian, Marxist or Christian paradigm are not eternal and absolute in any rigid sense, but more pragmatic tools which should be situated within their “context” and in relationship to the subjective dimension of their belief structure. For the post-modern mind paradigms are instantiated locally, embedded in relationality, and reflectively critiqued as one option within a field of other knowledge tools which may also serve the same or a better purpose.

This may all sound very confusing but it is essential to understand in order to grasp how it may be possible to synthesise or unite these two meta-paradigms in a higher order understanding of what knowledge is all about in the first place. What the modern understanding often tends to ignore is the very intimate space of knowledge which is necessary for the genesis of knowledge in the first place. As a consequence the modern understanding can often “fall in love” with its own intellectual abstraction, and may be why certain knowledge paradigms are often (unconsciously) presupposed as eternal and absolute.

However, what the post-modern understanding often tends to ignore is that knowledge is deeply involved in mediating desire and love, and that far from delegitimising them, may in fact reveal a “meta-structure” of knowledge which is related to how desire and love can be maintained across time. In other words, although one particular paradigm of knowledge may not be in-itself eternal and absolute, it may nonetheless reflect some structural determination which is eternal and absolute for that subject in that moment: a pure coincidence and oppositional determination between time and eternity.

Approaching this topic with sophistication requires a certain introduction to the foundations of phenomenology and psychoanalysis. For phenomenology we do not start our investigation of knowing with an external outside (physical world), but rather with the inside of our own sensations. In other words, for phenomenology, the narrative of cosmic genesis cannot start with the big bang, but with birth itself. Cosmic genesis starts with sight, sound, hearing, touch, and smell. Cosmic genesis starts with the first sensations of reality and then builds itself up into a (somewhat) coherent and consistent perception in relation to a network of other such forms-figures of consciousness.

From sensation and perception consciousness eventually reaches a stage of understanding (the domain where knowledge of the world will be organised). For phenomenology, at the level of the understanding we may say that something like a “big bang” appears and can become integrated into a formula of symbolic knowledge (equations about inflation or other such dynamics relevant to the external reality). The important point is that any knowledge of an external reality is always already being mediated by processes of sensation, perception and understanding which are very much internal and irreducible (you can never “step outside” (as it were) your own phenomenal experience).

What we add to phenomenological investigation with psychoanalysis is taking very seriously the problems of this conscious genesis and development at the level of desire and love. For a conscious entity there is never simply a passive and indifferent mediation of externality. Externality is always actively and differentially engaged with certain preferences, certain wants, certain aims, certain directives. Externality is always demarcated with “yes” or “no”, “good” or “bad”, “this” or “that”, and throughout the course of this process a consciousness can become frustrated that its desires are not being achieved, that a sense of love is at a distance. In other words, a consciousness can start to become frustrated that it doesn’t have the knowledge to actualize its desire, or doesn’t have the knowledge to make a loving connection.

All of this requires an understanding of the level of the unconscious. The unconscious is not merely the opposite of consciousness since it is itself a form of knowledge. However, the unconscious is something that is the opposite of consciousness in the sense that the unconscious creates and performs itself, and is not created and performed by a consciousness. This means that there is no conscious knowledge (whether it be modern or post-modern) that could “integrate” (in the modern context) or “deconstruct” (in the post-modern context) the unconscious. The unconscious may be in-itself “eternal” and “absolute”.

The result of this line of thinking is at once simple and radical. It is simple because it invites us to ask our self to contemplate how our knowledge is reflecting and mediating our desires for love. In other words, the point is not to take our knowledge so seriously as “this knowledge framework is the only possible knowledge framework” or to simply “play in the differences of all possible knowledge frameworks”. Instead of these options the phenomenological and psychoanalytic relation to knowledge is one that always asks how a knowledge framework is helping a form of consciousness to cope with its knots of desire and love. The knowledge is in-itself a true reflection of this, both in its genesis and in its development.

Consequently, a knowledge framework could be understood to function as a “hole filler” (of a lack of fulfilled desire) and could be internally “in battle” with a “real” that a form of consciousness perceives as “in the way” of its desire. For example, and perhaps most obviously, the Marxist notion of “world communism” would be “filling the hole” of the “lack of global community and connection”; and the Christian notion of the “resurrection of Jesus” would be “filling the hole” of the “lack of union with the creator God of the universe”. Perhaps less obviously, but no less psychoanalytic, the Newtonian notion of “spacetime” would be “filling the hole” of our “lostness” in the universe, and the Darwinian notion of “natural selection” would be “filling the hole” of our “form battle with death” itself.

When we think on this level we may see the outlines for an approach to knowledge which is gives us a “meta-understanding” of why certain forms of knowledge appear on our horizon. They are not merely forms that are naively “eternal” and “absolute” in the modernist sense, but they are nonetheless representative of deep core problems of the understanding consciousness. The understanding consciousness does have a drive to global community and connection, or a drive to being surrounded by an all-knowing and all-loving presence. The understanding consciousness does sometimes become disoriented in the world and is in need for clear orientation and direction, or does something feel overwhelmed by the brutal harshness that produces new form and function.

In short, when we can think our knowledge in relation to the mechanics of desire, we can perhaps open a new meta-paradigm of what is really going on when we say we “know” or, more importantly, when we share our “knowing” with others, or need to understand why an other “knows” in the form that they do.