Leo on: Is the discursive material?

jwalker jwalker at email.unc.edu
Sun Jul 9 20:52:33 MDT 1995

I am continuing to find your posts intriguing, Leo.  I see that Howie has
replied to you about this one, but I have a couple of questions about your
post of a much lower level of sophistication which I'd like to ask.

> First, if Justin is following Geras in his critique of Laclau and Mouffe, and
> suggesting that materialism rests on the proposition that there is an
> independent existence of the object outside of human perception of it, a
> position I would call realist, then there are few, including most idealists,
> who would deny it. But where does that leave us? The discursive theory of
> Laclau and Mouffe claims something quite different -- that the object has no
> 'being', no 'meaning' outside of the discursive. And being is not existence.

What do you mean by "being" and "meaning" here?  Further below you refer
to "social meaning" in a similar context -- what is it that objects don't
have outside the discursive?

Here's a guess, tell me how close I am: objects exist apart from our
perception all right, but we cannot understand or conceptualize or think
about them at all without bringing them into some sort of relationship to
us -- a relationship in which we are not mere passive recipients of
stimuli, but contribute as active subjects of experience, bringing to
bear particular conceptual frameworks, bodies of experience, etc.

 "It is not the consciousness of men which
> determine their existence, but their social existence which determines their
> consciousness." -- and that he finds Laclau and Mouffe and myself wanting on
> this count. I would indeed reject this formula, but not because I would
> invert it, as Justin implies. Rather, I (and Laclau and Mouffe, if I read
> them correctly) reject the categorical separation of the two terms, with
> social existence determining consciousness, and with consciousness clearly
> exterior and posterior to social existence. The discursive disrupts the
> notion of separate consciousness and existence -- there is no being, social
> meaning outside of its relational field.

I'd reject the formula too, if it implies the false proposition that our
ideas and thoughts don't impact causally on social reality.

What I don't see is the rejection of the separation of the terms.  Why
can't we separate them conceptually, even while noting that social
reality and individual consciousness interact causally?  In what does
their non-separation consist?

Final question, then I'll stop my hectoring: what is "the discursive",
anyway?  I'm always confused by the contemporary trick of turning
adjectives into nouns, and here's an instance of that confusion.  Does it
have somehting to do with talking?  To each other?  Or what?  (And, if
you get around to a reply, what is its "relational field"?)

John D. Walker
jwalker at email.unc.edu

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