A Comic Fatalism of Entropy — Işık Barış Fidaner

Entropy

Frank Ruda’s comically fatalist book Abolishing Freedom led him to exchanges of ideas with five other authors about catastrophism that made up an e-book of their own [1]. This philosophical discussion on catastrophism is great for overturning the supposedly progressive train of history. Here I’d like to present a different angle for comic fatalism. Let’s paraphrase Slavoj Žižek’s Sherlock Holmes joke for this occasion:

— Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention about Abolishing Freedom and the exchanges about it?

— To the curious incident of entropy.

— They never mentioned entropy.

— That was the curious incident.

With a list of big slogans Ruda strives hard to convince himself and the readers that, to put it colloquially, we are fucked [2]. But there is already a scientific law that covers the world’s incessant march into disorder: The famous second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of a system can only increase. Moreover, Lacan gives great emphasis to entropy in Seminar 17 and associates it with jouissance, knowledge-at-work and truth [3]. So why not use this already established concept in the context of fatalism?

Entropy is usually interpreted as a measure of disorder. A more intuitive interpretation is that entropy refers to an unusable part of energy that is lost as the cost of getting another part of useful energy. This interpretation suggests that entropy is sacrifice [4]. Entropy is not necessarily a dysfunction, but it can only function under the appearance of a useless waste, a superfluous surplus. This characterization draws a clear parallel between entropy and objet petit a, which also appears as a useless waste as soon as it is separated from the symbolic function [5].

This means that the entropy that we detect in the world is inextricably intertwined with our own desire. Our desire must always take into account this inevitable loss in its calculations (such as dream-work). Moreover, this calculation can only happen after the fact, i.e. entropy can only be taken into account nachträglich [6]. Due to this relation to desire, humanity has reserved a scientific term for “entropy”. I call this relation the desire-malfunction connection, which names the psychoanalytic symptom that disrupts the subjective-objective consistency of will-system [7].

In the context of fatalism, the fact of entropy means that every system necessarily experiences deterioration in each moment of time. The entropic function of desire must distinguish itself from the double temptation of both illusions and enjoyment; so the ‘fact’ of entropy is neither a ‘faked’ nor a ‘fucked’ [8]. So Ruda’s slogans that compel the reader to “Act as if (fake that) you are fucked” miss the mark of the factual status of entropy.

I nonetheless fully agree with Ruda that a move from tragedy to comedy is necessary. So why not speak of a comic fatalism of entropy? What renders this stance comic is that it adopts the perspective of the desire-malfunction that disrupts, in contrast to the tragic stance which would adopt the viewpoint of the will-system that is being disrupted [9]. From the tragic viewpoint, the tragic is serious and the comic is just ridiculous. But from the perspective of the comic, the tragic becomes ridiculous and only comic can be serious.

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

Notes:

[1] Provocations Issue 1 is comprised of Ruda’s exchanges with Alenka Zupančič, Andrew Cutrofello, Mark Pingree, Andrew Pendakis and Aaron Schuster.

[2] For the list of Ruda’s slogans, see “Establishing a Fact is neither Establishing a Faked nor Establishing a Fucked”

[3] See Lacan quoted in “Entropy: Deleuze’s Symptom, Lacan’s Key”

[4] See “Always Afterwards: Entropy and Sacrifice”

[5] Žižek describes this separation as follows: “in Master-Signifier, objet a is coalesced with the signifying function, it is the mysterious je ne sais quoi which confers on the Master-Signifier its aura, while S1 changes into S(Ⱥ) when objet a is subtracted from the signifying space, i.e., when S1 and objet a are separated — through this separation, S1 appears in all its impotence and misery, as a mere filler of the lack.” (Sex and the Failed Absolute) An earlier description: “The power that the King has to fascinate comes from covering over the difference between S1 and a. Hegel separates them and shows us, on the one hand, S1 in its tautological folly as an empty name, without content, and, on the other hand, the monarch’s physical form as pure waste, the name’s appendix.” (The Most Sublime Hysteric) I call this operation real separation: “Symbolic Separation and Real Separation”

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

[7] For the initial description, see “Desire and Malfunction”. For its structural relations, see “Authority, Body, Will, System, Desire, Malfunction and the Coronavirus”

[8] See [2]

[9] See “Theory stages the entropy of the true truth”

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