Rodents and the entanglement of authorization and embodiment — Işık Barış Fidaner

The deepest split of subjectivity is the one between authorization and embodiment. This is the split in Descartes’ statement “I think therefore I am” between “I think” and “I am”: “I think” is his authorization as an interlocutor insofar as his thinking prepares a speech addressed to others and “I am” is his embodiment as a person, as a man, as an adult male human [1]. The symbolic nature of human existence usually involves an integrated union of authorization and embodiment, but we can experience the split between these two components by focusing on the image of a rodent.

If we think of the rodent as a mouse or rat that invades one’s house, then it’s an “unauthorized embodiment”, it’s like a “monster” insofar it’s scary and repulsive [2]. In Pink Floyd’s The Wall, there is a scene where the protagonist Pink is forcibly removed from his chair (in the clip for the song Comfortably Numb). This forced removal is montaged with other scenes where Pink was a child, he found a rat and brought it home and scared his mother. When the authorities force Pink away from his chair, his body gradually takes on a monstrous appearance, echoing the monstrosity of the rat that scared his mother. This clip stages an entangled split between authorization and embodiment. The monstrosity of the rodent is due to its repulsiveness as a negative force, a negative authorization.

rat1

If the rodent is instead perceived with the indifference of zero authorization, it can become a pure embodiment that is fully disentangled from authorization, i.e. it becomes a “critter” instead of a monster. In Kieślowski’s Blue, there is a scene where the protagonist finds a group of mice in the closet. Slavoj Žižek describes this scene in Pervert’s Guide to Cinema: “In a wonderful short scene the heroine of Blue after returning home finds there on the floor a group of newly born mice crawling around their mother. This scene terrifies her. She is too excessively exposed to life in its brutal meaninglessness.” The rodent in this encounter is not a monster but a critter. This scene stages a pure embodiment that is fully separated and disentangled from authorization. The rodent has zero authorization and zero meaning.

rat2

In the next step, the emptiness of zero authorization can be filled by positive authorization: The rodent can become a pet rat with a name. In Friends S09E12, Phoebe’s boyfriend is shocked to see a rat in her cupboard. Phoebe says the rat is called “Bob” and that she is feeding him crackers. Then they find Bob’s several rat babies and keep them in a box. They thereby realize that Bob was in fact female. The ridiculousness of naming and feeding a family of rats provides the comical element in this sitcom episode.

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So if we follow these three examples, we see that the tragic drama escalates during the process of disentanglement in which one removes the monstrous negative authorization and reaches the meaninglessness of zero authorization. But when the emptiness of pure embodiment is filled in with a positive authorization, we immediately fall into ridiculousness and comedy.

To complete this picture let us also think of the rodents that are used for scientific medical experiments. In their case there is a positive authorization where each rodent is named by systematic code numbers which is no longer comedic as in Phoebe’s pet rats. In the case of lab rats, authorization is entirely separated from the embodiment of the animals and abstracted to form an “objective” system. Such a systematic separation of authorization from embodiment is a typically masculine gesture. The feminine gesture would instead emphasize the dependency on the animals’ embodiment, challenge the clear-cut splitting between authorization and embodiment and underline their complex entanglement.,

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] See “Separation of Authorization from Embodiment” , “The Conflict About Sex”

[2] See “The disruption of fetishes produces gods and monsters”

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