The Blank Space of Reality

berlin - chemie in heim und bad

10 August 2008… Berlin, Karl Marx avenue, but it’s 1998… this time, you have to scroll down a whole lot to get to Part Three of this piece…
I’ll be getting to the point for once… at least I’m trying to, hopefully… to explain those blank spaces of reality… the Lacanian concept of the Real and stuff… and how it possibly pertains to art and self and reality…

Part One… 21 July 2008

Hi… it’s been some time ever since I posted my last entry… sorry for that! In fact, this piece doesn’t deserve to be called a “blog” really…That’s a little preposterous for something as random as this… yes, I know… I’d be much happier if this could go maybe under the name of poetry lab or so, rather. Or maybe prose lab… test range… whatever… But the Artdoxa honcho, he would have none of it – Artdoxa ought to sport a “blog”.

So… let’s get it over with, then… You know, I haven’t been idle. I’ve done a lot of reading these days. Just recently I’ve been reading a lot of the stuff I was supposed to have read way back in psychology class, but I just couldn’t bring myself to it there and then, because I thought it was a waste of time. Yep. A rebel to the core. Always at loggerheads with authority. Right. The genuine article (Hi Merrill!). In comparison to painting, sex or doing drugs – not to mention playing the electric guitar! the didgeridoo! the Slobovian bagpipe! or turning knobs on a vintage analog synthesizer! – , reading is a frivolous waste of time. Apart from being way too cerebral, I have to blame reading for infecting my innocent, unsuspecting teenage mind with the most dangerous, outlandish ideas. Anti-authoritarian libertine mind-rot straight from utopian never-never land… Deeply and irreversibly corruptive! And right now this is happening all over again. Would you believe it? I’ve become infatuated with something as dated and obsolete as – psychoanalysis!

It all began a couple of weeks ago. My artist friend Vince and I were watching the semi-finals of the Euro 2008… Portugal vs. Sweden. No wait… Spain vs. Russia? Germany vs. Turkey? I don’t remember. So damn long ago… Have to ask Vince about that… When the game was over I started switching away leisurely from channel to channel… All of an instant the image of a middle-aged, bearded intellectual type in a rancid sweater caught my attention. Standing in the middle of what looked like one of the original film sets of Blue Velvet, he kept rambling frantically about “Frank’s phantasma” and his “object of desire” in a heavy East European accent... This was followed by the infamous Frank and Dorothy scene from Blue Velvet, accompanied by more psychological rambling from the academic type… Turned out this was The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, a two-hour documentary by Sophie Fiennes, scripted and presented by Slovenian psychologist Slavoj Zizek, who’s a hell of a performer. It explores a number of films from a psychoanalytic perspective, drawing heavily on categories of Lacanian thought.My channel-hopping had me landed, of course, on ARTE, the French-German art geek channel which features selected art geek specials only…

It’s 2:16 AM now, I’ll give you the rest tomorrow. Promise! Bear with me – but I’m too tired now to tell you what made me dig into Lacanian thought and why I gave this piece The Blank Space of Reality as a headline. And why I chose to decorate it with the picture above… Later!

Good night!


Part Two… 27 July 2008


…the amazing Slavoj Zizek!

(So I didn’t keep my promise… severe onslaught of… uh… writer’s block… well.. at least it didn’t take me another two weeks to post this…)

The amazing Slavoj Zizek. Always on the go. He’s some kind of intellectual popstar. I have to admit I was impressed when I saw him in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. Not so much by the depth of his analysis but by his passionate one-man-show. I used to think psychoanalysis was a thing from the past, as dead as hot type and Marxism. I was wrong. It isn’t. Here’s something for the art geek faction (Hi Merrill!) The keynote of the ethical life for Zizek is refusing to give in, keeping it stubbornly real! Big deal, huh? So I hope the sorry lot of you art geeks out there is into art not only for the fun of it but for your salvation and redemption proper… – Zizek is a psychoanalyst without clients. He’s not practising. He’s revived PA in a way he’s termed theoretical PA, as a means of social, cultural, and aesthetic analysis. His approach is based on the findings of French psychologist Jaques Lacan. Zizek is fun, Lacan isn’t.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking… Zizek, Lacan… Peter – you’re so September 10… I don’t care. I proudly represent what R.A.Wilson has termed the anti-cyclic intellectual – always ten or twenty years ahead or behind the current intellectual fads… And isn’t that comfortable?

In Lacan’s system, there’s the triad of the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. Basically, it’s just another elaborate, yet highly speculative attempt to classify and categorize the mysterious machinations of the human mind. In fact, for a number of deeply personal reasons, I’m pretty much fed up with theory, concepts, words. Must have something to do with impending midlife crisis… Okay, words are useful for symbolizing and conceptualizing and stuff. Sometimes they do come in handy, words… Moreover they’re just a pathetic substitute for the real thing – emotion and ecstasy! Or suffering. Sex & drugs & rock’n’roll, so to speak… And the deep existential blues. So leave it to the bards and poets and rock’n’roll singers like Jim Morrison to make proper use of words (Jim Morrison? Jeez… midlife crisis it is, definitely…) But every so often the philosopher – and particularly the self-important philosopher-cum-psychologist is just bound to make a lot of bland words and a nuisance of him or herself by doing so – just like the obnoxious crypto-fascist Sloterdijk, for instance


Lacan striking a pose…

It’s Lacan’s concept of the Real that got me and which I found deeply disturbing. It struck a chord with me, somehow, yes. I got it probably all wrong, but… Have you ever experienced the metaphysical horror inherent in an everyday object? When you’re glancing at it sideways? Out of the corner of your eye? The overwhelming, fear-inducing strangeness in electrical appliances? Or take, for example, the interior of an empty late-night subway train… The seats, the light, the smell… Can you sense the overpowering, all-invading feel of isolation and disconnection? You gotta listen to the Joy Division – and not just because Corbijn did that film on Ian Curtis… The painful vibe of incoherence and dissociation bordering on the psychotic… No, I’m not talking about the effects of dextromethorphan or bipolar disorder… I’m talking about things falling out of their symbolic order… It is here that Lacan’s concept of the Real enters the picture… “a mysterious je ne sais quoi, the unfathomable something that makes an ordinary object sublime…” (S. Zizek). Or ghastly, horrific, one might add… the unfamiliarity and hostility in physical objects…


“But they touch me, it is unbearable. I am afraid of being in contact with them as though they were living beasts.” – Roquentin on physical objects in Sartre’s Nausea…

Sartre’s Nausea is devastating… And while I’m at it – you gotta read The Stranger by Camus again. And all of the Beat poets. Will give you a new zest for life, if your jaded and over-saturated from too much electronic media input. Read! Read! – On reading, I recommend the most sublime and erudite treatment of the subject – a cartoon…, episode 201 “chickenlover”. – You won’t need any links to Zizek or Lacan, there’s loads of info about them in the matrix… Next time I’ll fill you in on the secrets of Karl Marx avenue. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye… well, sometimes.



Part Three… 10 August 2008

In My Studio

In my studio… can you feel the Real closing in… ?

I’m afraid the following is not very original and rather tiresome… But I’ve promised to elucidate… I’ve ripped off most of it from various articles. I’m no cultural anthropologist or philosopher. Much less an original thinker. I’d just like to find possible ways to answer a question most fascinating and most difficult to answer – what is reality? Looking for answers, I stumbled upon Zizek and Lacan.

The Lacanian concept of the Real is not to be confused with reality. Reality, in the Lacanian sense, is a highly symbolic construct, a collectively executed fiction – a collective, fictitious mise-en-scene. Within symbolic order, the Real is the core, the essence;

– that which cannot be totally understood by description;

– that which one cannot fictionalize or put into words;

– that which resists symbolic codification;

– that which has no positive existence, existing only ex negativo as something excluded, visible only at the borderlines of everyday reality – the blank spaces of reality

The Real manifests itself in certain nodes concerning life, death, emotions and sexuality – it is imponderable and unrepresentable in its totality and it is not tangible in a logic, rational way. The Real has a traumatic quality as it is always asking too much of the subject, confusing, unsettling, alienating.

The Real is not a deeper reality, it is not behind or beyond reality.

It consists of blank spaces, which make reality inconsistent.

Bugged. Faulty. Defective. Inchoate. Fragmentary.

In terms of psychoanalysis, reality is not just another narrative or myth. In fact, anyone undergoing PA has to get to the heart of the matter, the core of his or her neurotic maladjustment, and face it – acknowledge and re-narrate the traumatic dimension of one’s inner space.

Here’s the nexus it’s the traumatic quality of both the Real and one’s inner space.

The Real reflects – or rather, it represents – no, it mimicks – on the outside certain properties of the traumatic content of inner space, the Id-world. Could be, of course, that it’s just the other way around… I’m not sure…

The blank spaces of reality open and condense when you perceive there is a gap separating yourself from your identity, from your carefully edited autobiographical narrative – it’s a sense of deviation from your identity… cognitive dissonance, misalignment… a shift in perspective… incongruency… disarray… dissociation… The individual experiences reality as a meaningfully structured totality, a sphere of coherence – the Real resists and defies full absorption into symbolic order.

Zizek argues that reality is fundamentally open and contingent, and the blank space that shows in reality between a materialist’s description of physical reality and one’s personal experience of existence – that’s the very essence of human life and the “crucial domain” and focus of art. For Zizek, the Real is not a thing which is understood in different ways depending on how you decide to look at it, it is in fact a movement – a shift from one perspective to another. The Real is a gap, a difference, a dislocation – in my experience a free-fall sense of the utterly strange and hostile* in familiar disguise. A foreboding, dualistic sense of being cut off.

Jochen – you wrote that the “all-invading feel of isolation and disconnection” has surrounded you since you were fourteen. I hope you can relate to these explanations and ramifications. If not – try dextromethorphan… then read it again… No, seriously… you wanted to know what’s the point…

The point is that Zizek aims to “re-actualize German idealism” (you know… Kant, Fichte, Hegel… the lot…). Fancy that! For Zizek, the basic insight of Kant, Hegel etc. is that the truth of something is always outside of it.

So the truth of our experience is to be found outside of ourselves, in the Symbolic and the Real, rather than to be found within our inner space. We cannot look into our souls and find out who we truly are, because who we truly are is always elsewhere, says Zizek. The Real lies beyond symbolic order. The Real is that which is outside language: “It is that which resists symbolization absolutely” (Lacan – mind, he was friends with André Breton and Salvador Dali…!), because it is impossible to integrate into symbolic order that which originates from the pre-verbal and the pre-conceptual. That lends the Real its traumatic quality… Especially in the shape of the “real Real” – it’s getting really weird here -, a “horrific thing”, that which conveys the sense of horror…

images.jpeg (

Zizek detects an obsession with the Real in postmodern art, a desire of “filling in the gaps”, a way of avoiding the void, the void of subjectivity, the horror vacui...

(Jochen Hein, “Tree Trunk”)

The Real is “always in its place” (Lacan).

The Real is in itself undifferentiated – “it is without fissure” (Lacan), a non-dualistic sphere, similar to certain Hindu concepts. Or is it? Oh, enough – I need a break… The mysteries of Karl Marx avenue have to wait… in any case, have a close look at the picture! It was taken, of course, in what was formerly known as East Berlin… Hauptstadt der DDRChemie in Heim und Bad – chemicals at home and in the bathroomchemical industry was a mainstay of East German economy… they were proud of it… so let’s have loads of Chemie at home and in the bathroom…!

Toodle-oo! You’re a great audience!


(* Greek “xénos” – alien, hostile)

9 thoughts on “The Blank Space of Reality

  1. Peter thanks for the genuine article art geek shout out! Reading: I am waiting for the day that we can download stuff in to our head like the Matrix (so that we can play the Slobovian bagpipe with the electric guitar while having sex and doing drugs….and channel surfing at the same time)…..but, could you imagine the debates that would go on about what is right to download in to our cranium (morality, politically and culturally correct and all that jack….)

    When I think about it, reading is such a slow form of gathering information. I see it as the most thorough form…..but who needs thorough nowadays…..It needs to be fast and just enough to do the job. Like a McDonalds hamburger…..It tastes just good enough for people not to complain. I have “heard” that fillers such as bugs (could be an urban legend) and kangaroo meat have been used since these are cheaper than beef. But the burgers are “just good enough” for people not to complain…..Or with art, painting….In my opinion NOTHING can compare to the surface beauty (human made opacities and transparencies)of oil paint, but the process is too “organic” and is more like growing a vegetable from a seed than creating an “art”ificial flavor (sorry about all the analogies). I suppose reading is like painting in that it gives you time to think, ponder and digest….Time was a luxury of generations ago and the “tools” and “knowledge” were scarce (as I percieve it)…..quite the opposite of right now……

  2. Merrill: thanks for your feedback! Download stuff into our heads?
    Only a few decades away… We’ll live to see it happen.
    The coming debates? They’re going to be very much like the ongoing debates about the Internet, most likely… No censorship! Free flow of signals!
    Reading is slow, true, but you can set your own pace and that makes the big difference…And it is the most thorough form, definitely. You just have to take your time. Could be my mantra… Take your time! And what you said about about oil paint is true… nothing can compare to its surface beauty… working in marble maybe… but that’s a whole different affair… And if time was a luxury of generations ago – well then it’s about time to reclaim it in the name of human dignity! TAKE – YOUR – TIME!

  3. Yes, Camus and South Park, what more is needed to learn about life? Okay, playing football, falling in love and see it fading away, music, and: Art? Yes, art.
    Wie gesagt: Peace!(Und zwar ein großes…)

  4. Exactly, Vincent!
    Camus.South Park.Football.Love.Music.Art.
    That about sums it up…
    Thanks for your feedback!

  5. For me the “overwhelming, fear-inducing strangeness” lies not only “in electrical appliances”. The “all-invading feel of isolation and disconnection” is surrounding me since I noticed the world outside of me (since the age of around 14).

    My art is the obvious hopeless attempt to reverse this process of “things falling out of their symbolic order” back into one that I could truely accept. That´s why my work is lacking irony,
    trying to “refuse to give in” – ridiculously funereal.

    But, pardon – I got it probably all wrong, but… what was the point between all prospective Sloterdijkism?!

  6. Now, now, Jochen…
    Stands to reason if your attempts are “hopeless” or “ridiculously funereal”.
    Don’t belittle your art like that.
    It’s not in character…

    One recent piece of yours is quite ironic, though.
    The Death Metaphor… you know.

    What was the point?
    There’s an element in Lacan’s theory that has the ring of truth… On a purely intuitive level I feel artistically and emotionally attracted to his concept of the Real.

  7. Thank you a lot, Peter, for putting this all together!
    Maybe I still rather understand intuitively than fully conscious.

    Our truth is outside of us, for example in an artwork? The truth of an artwork is outside of it, it´s in our minds? So art is a vehicle for this shortcut, to bypass the disconnetion? Or am I only romantic again?

  8. Pingback: ARTDOXA blog » Blog Archive » Industrial Poetry

  9. Jochen – be as romantic as you like.
    And don’t worry about any truth… the truth lies in doing what you want to do, what you feel like doing…
    And this applies as much to the the artist as to the serial killer – BUT… :
    Judge not lest ye be judged.

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