65 Forgotten Interfaces, Imaginary Relations, and the Ideological Performance of Language

Jessica Chretien

When I originally brought up whatever became the question “Does ideology provoke or resolve the uneasiness of the uncanny?,” in our group, I think I had been assuming that it resolves the uncanny–it acts to cover it up or provide reassurance that eases the uneasiness. I’m pretty sure that as soon as I started trying to articulate the idea out loud, I realized that perhaps it was kind of both–or rather, that ideology is a cycle which is constantly provoking AND resolving the uneasiness of the uncanny and cognitive dissonance.

Sometimes it feels like ideologies are almost like a strange, temporary, and reductive interface that we just stuck on top of “reality” (what ever that is), but that we somehow forgot that we did it and are confused when more complex parts show themselves. It is as if we were doing a math problem and had to estimate numerical values, but somehow forgot that we were just estimating, and then we become anxious when something reminds us that our ways of navigating reality are just based on estimates or some strange thing we created ON TOP OF “the thing.” Of course, these are analogies, and of course, no one ever “decided” to create this interface or apparatus on top of The Thing.

Language seems to be a very pervasive, and perhaps fundamental, part of this interface; though I doubt it’s the /most/ fundamental. Language is indeed like an estimation, and an arbitrary one at that (but numbers are also a form of language, interestingly). The ideological practices of our language system (our imaginary relations to our material existence) are enacted, to some extent, constantly. Even when we are not speaking or writing, language affects and shapes our thoughts. We perform utterances daily and in doing so, lend legitimacy to the illusory (and allusion-ary?) system of language, which in a sense causes us to forget that it is just an imaginary relation to material conditions.  We created a system of estimation, representation and then forgot it was just that; and we continue to forget. We perform language, but fight over: taxonomies; labels; the meaning of words; when the “right” situation to use a word is; when the use of a word becomes misuse, appropriation, degradation of meaning; etc.

The performance of this ideological relationship to the world soothes the uneasiness of the uncanny sense that it is just some strange system that is divorced from what we are trying to refer to, understand, communicate about, figure out what to do with, etc. Arguably, language systems seek to soothe the uneasiness of the shifting essence of things–language seeks to freeze the world into stagnation in order to gain a stable sense of our position inside of, and in relation to, it.

When ideological language performances fail us, it creates a sense of unease. When two people don’t agree on the meaning of a word, for instance. Or when two people with opposite views start claiming the other is presenting “fake news.” The agreed upon meaning of “fake” and what qualifies as “fake” becomes suspect. Perhaps what follows is further performance of, and increased belief in, language–attempts to freeze the definition of “fake” and to freeze other things into being always and definitively “fake.”

Or “consent,” for example: the uncanniness that pops up when one attempts to further investigate whether anyone can ever consent to anything, given the restraints that are imposed upon them in all directions–both socially made and potentially essential (the reality of eventual death, for instance). Consent slides into coercion; and the ideology of language and its attempts to transcend a shifting, complex, unstable, incoherent world into tangible objects leads to confusion about the boundaries between labels and about the world itself.

If language is an imaginary relation to material conditions, I wonder what a non-imaginary relationship to material conditions would look like. What would it look like to actually be attuned to the absolutely constant shifts from moment to moment in the state of things? To have a conception of your self and body, is to construct of a stable and reductive interface “on top of” the reality of your body as literally enduring constant flux. Would it be possible to be cognitively attuned to the flux that is existence?

This post and, indeed, my entire desire and attempt to understand this “phenomena,” (if “to understand” is “to create a stable conception,”) lends legitimacy to the ideology of language, even as it tries to disrupt it.


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Chretien is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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