Zizek on the cognitive turn.

I found a link to this short piece by Slavoj Zizek in Andrew Sullivan’s blog, of all things (why do I read Andrew Sullivan’s blog? It’s a long story, but I’m sort of fascinated by the crisis of the gay conservative in America – perhaps I suspect that it runs to the heart of the crisis in American thought in the collapse of continuity between its scientific/technological sophistication and its religious/repressive impulses.)

One of the facets of the videogame/new media ascension that strikes me as both elusive and important is its relationship to the cognitive turn itself. Videogame pleasure occurs across of cognitive spectrum that prior forms of discourse – the poem, the novel, the film – left relatively untouched. The function of learning as pleasurable, across a number of cognitive and perceptual systems, is key to the motivation behind the game, and is, along with simulation and other more traditional elements of artistic production, constituent of the game itself (specifically the videogame in this case, and I’m willing to make this case later.) The videogame subject-position in toto, even more than the player position in any game, is explicity cognitive, is articulated by its fluencies, is held accountable for their navigation through the game-text-space by those fluencies.

I’ve seen works that try to exploit superficial aspects of videogame logics by people who simply do not have experience in engaging the variform cognitive demands into a game experience (whether pleasureable or not) to any real extent, and they suggest to me the same kind of crisis in ethics which Zizek discusses in relationship to biological intervention: the impulse is to protect the humanist, holistic conception of the subject against this segmentarity of function and post-humanist demand that the current subject as such is not the end of the story: the player who begins the demanding game is not yet good enough to finish it, and only in navigating through frustration and learning, and often somatizing skills or turning them into rotes outside of conscious awareness, do they become something they were not at the beginning of the experience – a qualified “reader”/player/gamer. The inadequacy returns at the beginning of the next game.

Works could be made the challenge that position, that subjectivity – or can exploit it as a canvas, as the substructural prerequisite to utilize the game-form in another type of discourse act. But that challenge is problematic when it simple comes from exteriority or an impatience with frustration – or simply a defense of older, humanist subjectivities in texts.

I have never been more impressed with Zizek, even if at times he abuses the idea of the cognitive tradition by conflating it with a kind of nativist determinism that doesn’t fit most of the cognitive scientists I know (he himself is repressing the history of his own lineage, I think – Dennett never was opposed to the notion of social relations as fundemental in subjectivity, it is largely a question of scope of analysis.) His own curiousity – too rare a feature among contemporary humanist thinkers – has lead him to a point of breakthrough.


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