Theorizing the Negative

It is a practice of Glenn Gould’s to not play for a few weeks before a recording. It makes it much better (at least, that is what he believes). Recently I had the uncanny experience of playing the piano after a week of abstention and feeling it flow better than before (the specific piece is Chopin’s Étude Op.10 No.1). I have no answer for why this is the case, but I think this is the interesting question of consciousness: to theorize the negative.

What is the negative of consciousness? Žižek gave two examples. First, is the difference between Coffee without milk, Coffee without cream, and Coffee (or, for Freud: Woman without Penis and pure Woman). It is the virtual symbolic field with regards to which everything positive defines their position. Second, is the object (a)—the object that is picked out in a sea of noise and from which everything else is understood—this negative simplification that grasps the totality better than if you treat all data the same.

Somehow, I believe, this must be connected to the phenomenon of forgetting (and this can be thought in relation to the Glenn Gould phenomenon of playing better in forgetfulness). Perhaps there are two types of memory loss. The first is just the complete/total loss, from Coffee with milk to Coffee. The second is a partial loss that alters the symbolic structure of the unconscious (because “the unconscious is structured like a language”)—the forgetfulness that goes from Coffee with milk to Coffee without milk—or even, the storage of some information that could not yet be comprehended and is then integrated symbolically and endowed with meaning (like the young child seeing copulation without understanding, thereby seeming to forget).

How does this relate to piano? The mind operates on two levels, the purely mechanical (hitting the right keys at the right volume with the correct tempo and rhythm), and the real (the virtual field of the negative, the line of music that is beyond mere notes, the playing of what is absent, the lack). The real is what one has to theorize, and the more interesting part about consciousness as such.

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