Derision Does Not Equal Theory

At the enjoyable, smartly written theory blog Antigram, Daniel has posted a new commentary by Jacques-Alain Miller (one of the executors of Jacques Lacan’s estate) on Google. Here’s an excerpt:

Google serves a meta-function: that of knowing what there is to know.

Our query is without syntax, minimal to the extreme; one click… and bingo! It is a cascade – the stark white of the query page is suddenly covered in words. The void flips into plenitude, concision to verbosity. Every hit a winner.

Organising the Great Enormity, Google follows a totalitarian maxim: voracious and all-consuming.

For several days now, I’ve been thinking about the fact that contemporary social and political philosophy risks becoming vapid and ineffectual, if it is written from within that erudite dream that makes things effortlessly conform to its own post-Marxist despair. Much contemporary critique has done nothing to affect political rhetoric, organizing tactics, or party politics. It should be that effective: political philosophy is not art, and does not have the same claim to a useful indirection.

Consider these statements, for example. While people do look to Google for information, it doesn’t always serve the function of “knowing what there is to know.” We’ve all had the experience of searching fruitlessly for something via Google, perhaps something we knew was out there: every hit is not a winner. Furthermore, the burden of knowledge (even on a symbolic level) is shared by sites like Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database.

“Our query is without syntax.” No, it’s not. It depends on the query. I write queries that have syntax (e.g. phrases) all the time.

“The stark white of the query page is suddenly covered in words.” That depends on where you’re searching from. Lots of times I will use the Google box in the top right of my browser, which means that the screen’s already covered in words.

“All-consuming.” Google mirrors; it caches. It does not consume in any useful sense.

One may, instinctively, still feel that somehow Miller is right, in general if not in the particulars. Somehow his tone of derision, his disillusionment, his sense of aggrieved assault, all refer back to something real, and Google is part of that something.

Doubtless. But we can’t achieve change by summoning miasmas.