by Peter Rollins
posted July 4, 2011
While exploring the inner workings of language the theorist Lacan once offered a fascinating and deep reflection on the tracks left by different animals. He noted that most animals simply leave tracks in their wake; tracks that can act as a sign that they have passed that way. As such a hunter can look at these traces and work out where the prey will be.
There are however a few animals that cover up their tracks in an effort to efface the sign that would point to their location. In these situations a hunter must look very carefully to try and find the effects of this erasure.
And then there are a select few that make false tracks. Tracks designed to fool a hunter into going the wrong direction. Here only a hunter with a specific knowledge of the prey will know that the tracks they see are a sign that the animal did not pass that way.
However there is another, even more sophisticated, level than this. One in which the real tracks are intended to signal that the animal has not gone in the direction they suggest (a strategy that perhaps only animals of language – e.g. humans – can enact).
These different levels can be listed as such,
- The tracks are real and accurately direct the hunter (erased tracks fall into this category as long as there is some evidence of the erasure)
- The tracks are unreal and attempt to misdirect the hunter
- The tracks are real and attempt to misdirect the hunter
In short the third level refers to the possibility of employing the blatant truth in order to mislead the one looking at the sign.
To understand how this works take the example of a religious leader who is part of a community that actively holds repressive/naive views regarding such things as gender roles, gay and lesbian rights, biblical interpretation and scientific reflection. If the religious leader actually holds such views themselves they will quickly attempt to justify the churches position in a variety of (often contradictory) ways. However there is a more interesting phenomenon whereby the leader fully and freely acknowledges the repressive positions held by their community.
What is interesting about this position is how their willingness to admit that they materially participate in a repressive community operates. For when one speaks to such a person one is generally led to think that they are not what they fully claim to be. The honesty causes one to think that they are other than what they are. We are led to think that their intelligence and ability to admit the dark underbelly of their community means that they are better than the community they are part of, that they should not to be overly identified with that community and perhaps even that they must be trying to influence it for the better.
In such situations we would do well to take Slavoj Žižek’s advice and hold tight to the wisdom of the Marx brothers when they say,
This guy may act like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don’t be fooled; he really is an idiot