There is a meta non-language — Işık Barış Fidaner

There is a nice Lacanian way of first declaring an inexistence and then deriving a certain dis-being (désêtre) from it. For example, “There is no sexual relation” becomes “There is a non-relation”. “There is no big Other” becomes “There is a non-Other” (Cadell Last).

Let me add one more derivation to this list: “There is no meta language” becomes “There is a meta non-language”.

So what is this meta non-language? Surprisingly, there is a straightforward answer to this question: The meta non-language is the empty speech (parole vide) that opens up the space for full speech (parole pleine). Žižek explains this with the example of a password:

for Lacan the exemplary case of empty speech is the password (mot-de-passage). How does a password function? As a pure gesture of recognition, of admission into a certain symbolic space, whose enunciated content is totally indifferent: if, say, I arrange with my gangster-colleague that the password which gives me access to his hideout is “Aunt has baked the apple pie,” it can easily be changed into “Long live comrade Stalin!” or whatever else. Therein consists the “emptiness” of empty speech: in this ultimate nullity of its enunciated content. And Lacan’s point is that human speech in its most radical, fundamental dimension functions as a password: prior to its being a means of communication, of transmitting the signified content, speech is the medium of the mutual recognition of the speakers. In other words, it is precisely the password qua empty speech which reduces the subject to the punctuality of the “subject of the enunciation”: in it, he is present qua a pure symbolic point freed of all enunciated content. For that reason, full speech is never to be conceived of as a simple and immediate filling-out of the void which characterizes the empty speech (as in the usual opposition of “authentic” and “nonauthentic” speech). Quite the contrary, one must say that it is only empty speech by way of its very emptiness (of its distance toward the enunciated content which is posited in it as totally indifferent) which creates the space for “full speech,” for speech in which the subject can articulate his or her position of enunciation. This is how “only the spear that smote you can heal your wound”: only if you fully assume the void of the “empty speech” can you hope to articulate your truth in the “full speech.” Or, in Hegelese: it is only the subject’s radical estrangement from immediate substantial wealth which opens up the space for the articulation of his or her subjective content. To posit the substantial content as “my own,” I must first establish myself as pure, empty form of subjectivity devoid of all positive content. Insofar as the symbolic wound is the ultimate paradigm of Evil, the same holds also for the relationship between Evil and Good: radical Evil opens up the space for Good precisely the same way as empty speech opens up the space for full speech. (Tarrying With The Negative)

Think of informatics: A password is a meta data that authenticates the data. In other words, it gives the formal aspect that shapes the content. The content can be fully functional only by being authorized by the formal aspect of the empty speech. In a data transmission packet on the Internet, the meta non-language corresponds to the “header” that unlocks the packet’s “payload” [1].

We can also find examples of meta non-language in the so-called “non-verbal communication”. This consists of the conscious or unconscious cues that orient the social interaction in a certain context. These are mostly gestures but they are more semi-verbal than non-verbal: A choice of words can also function like a cue or a gesture by revealing something about the subject of enunciation. There are gestures that are welcoming and unwelcoming. There are also certain gestures that draw a line between the gestures that are welcoming or welcome and the gestures that are unwelcoming or unwelcome in that context. Depending on the situation, such distinctions may signal unconscious repressions or disavowals. In various ways, the meta non-language of empty speech opens up the space for full speech [2].

In our digital age of social media, the meta non-language of (un)welcoming gestures is formalized through the interactive mechanics of the social media websites. To “like” someone’s post is a semi-verbal gesture that functions like the empty speech of a password. To follow someone’s account is a gesture of commitment that is supposed to open up a space for full speech. Direct messaging supplies this separate private space that is reserved for the supposedly full speech that involves the truths of the participants’ subjective positions. But such digital formalizations involve significant amounts of fetishism insofar as the distinct desires and wills expressed in the particular digital gestures (e.g. likes, follows) are aggregated in the indistinguishable anonymous crowds that simply signal the power of an imagined conviction [3]. No wonder that the favourite form of political action on social media is the lynching (pile-on). The fetish of the anonymous crowd is a lure and a trap. We must keep in mind Freud’s views about the primal horde [4].

To liberate ourselves from the fetish of the anonymous crowd’s imagined power, we must reach for a meta non-language that is not fetishistic. For instance, in Žižekian Analysis, we welcome verbal gestures that show a real Žižekian engagement [5]. This is our way of embracing the efforts [6] of knowledges-at-work [7]. This is our symptom [8].


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] See “Decryption and Decipherment”; compare: “The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it.” (Deleuze, Postscript on the Societies of Control)

[2] See the zeroth degree of expectation in “Four Degrees of Acceptance and Rejection”

[3] See “Mirror Stage and Social Media: Authorization and Embodiment”

[4] See “Freud and the Political” by Mladen Dolar

[5] See “Symbolic Engagement and Real Engagement”

[6] See “Effort is engaged labor-power”

[7] See “Knowledge-at-work is an Effort with Real Engagement”

[8] See “Symbolic Authorization of Fetishes and Real Authorization of Symptoms”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s