March 27, 2006

Research Notes: Akaba is real and not a phantasm

Follow-up to Research Notes: Arabia and the geography of asceticism from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Desire seems to be a paradox. In obtaining that which is desired, the object of desire is fundamentally altered, and consequently unobtainable. Is desire doomed to lack from the outset and in its finality? Is such lack a cruel conditioning sublimated by a deeper originary dialectic? An originary psychic act, a fixation, an unconscious product of a series of acts to be regressively analysed retreating in time to the big fixation: oedipus? In his geophilosophical campaign, T.E.Lawrence discovered an answer to the paradox of desire, one without lack or originary schism. But at the same time one founded on schisms, differences. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I argue, is a work of schizoanalysis fundamentally uanavailable to psychoanalysis.

1. Desire is the production of the different in kind by the different in degree. That which is different in kind is said to be changed in nature by any act of division or analysis. An un-bounding perception or possession of that which is different in kind, an attempt to become materiality continuous with it, serves only to differentiate itself from itself as a qualitative not a quantative difference. It is thus experienced as a discontinuous multiplicity rather than a continuous multiplicity.

A long march through the desert, much negotiation with uncertain tribes, skirmishes with the Turks, and the Arab army entered their goal victorious:

Through the whirling dust we percieved that Akaba was all a ruin. Repeated bombardment by French and English warships had degraded the place to its original rubbish. The poor houses stood about in a litter, dirty and contemptible, lacking entirely that dignity which the durability of their time-challenging bones conferred on ancient remains. Chapter LV page 314
For months Akaba had been the horizon of our minds, the goal: we had had no thought, we had reduced thought, on anything beside, Now, in achievement, we were a litle despising the entities which had spent their extremest effort on an object whose attainment changed nothing radical either in mind or body.

The virtuality or "mind's horizon" that was Akaba as imagined from the desert to the East, was in becoming actual in fact ruined. Consequently, there had been no transcendent unity of the imagination of the army and the body of the city. There were only cold brute facts to be despised.

In the blank light of victory we could scarcely identify ourselves. We spoke with surprise, sat emptily, fingered upon our white skirts; doubtful if we could understand or learn whom we were. Others' noise was a dreamlike unreality, a singing in ears drowned deep in water. Against the astonishment of this unmasked-for continued life we did not know how to turn our gift to account.

The gift then seemed value less, unable to be turned to account. Life continued as it was, a material extension of the desert force down to the sea. No difference in kind, Lawrence's phantasm unveiled:

Especially for me it was hard, because though my sight was sharp, I never saw men's features: always I peered beyond, imagining for myself a spirit-reality of this or that: and to-day each man owned his desire so utterly that he was fulfilled in it, and became meaningless.

The fall in intensity from the heights of the Idea of the revolt follows a multiplicity continuous with the desert geography, camels and the hungered bodies of the warriors. "Hunger called us out of our trance." For the Englishman, it is diverted into patterns ill-atuned to the nomad life:

The asiduous food-habit of a lifetime had trained the English body to the pitch of producing a punctual nervous excitation in the upper belly at the fixed hour of each meal.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a book of hunger. But is it therefore a book of lack? Much later (Chapter CIII) Lawrence reflected upon desire:

When a thing was in my reach, I no longer wanted it; my delight lay in the desire. Everything which my mind could consistently wish for was attainable, as with all the ambitions of all sane men, and when a desire gained head, I used to strive until I had just to open my hand and take it. Then I would turn away, content that it had been within my strength. I sought only to assure myself, and cared not a jot to make the others know it.

The defeat of Akaba is one of the few true thresholds in the book. The slaughter at Tafas is another. Deraa is a third. At these times, differences in kind become naked facts. Akaba is ripped apart by the entrance of the Arab army. Akaba becomes something different again in kind upon the material extension of the nomads through its walls. This is an event or threshold. The virtual is actualised violently. Lawrence states clearly that he is a seeker of limits and not of thresholds. His aim is to reach the edge of the event, assess its force, and then let the intensity fall away. Not a destruction of the different in kind, not a badly analysed composite in which material extension annihilates difference in kind, but rather a careful appreciation of it (he is foremost a writer and creator of concepts). Lawrence seeks to escape the fate of the Idea, forever in lack. His defence is the lightness of the concept. He feels the hunger of the Englishman, the conditioning of the Idea of the meal (breakfast, lunchtime, tea, dinner). But he strives to achieve a more immanent and liminal mode of desiring:

Arab hunger was the cry of a long-empty labouring body fainting with weakness. They lived on a fraction of our bulk-food, and their systems made exhaustive use of what they got.

Concepts are like this "Arab hunger". A concept borders many limits (components), setting them at ease with each other. Whereas the Idea disrupts all components, plunging them across the threshold into catastrophe . In this way the virtual can become repeatedly actualized, nomdadically carried across terrains:

There was a special attraction in beginnings, which drove me into everlasting endeavour to free my personality from accretions and project it on a fresh medium, that my curiosity to see its naked shadow might be fed. The invisible self appeared to be reflected clearest in the still water of another man's yet incurious mind. Considered judgements, which had in them of the past and the future, were worthless compared with the revealing first sight, the instinctive opening or closing of a man as he met the stranger. CHAPTER CIII, Book 9

This is the desire of the nomad (or travelling writer). A desire that extends materially, a continuous multiplicity, whilst at the same time actualizing and refreshing discontinuous multiplicities.

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