A ‘Thank You’ to Ian Parker! for encouraging and listening.
When is a number not a number? Why can number exert force as a cultural power?
The medical industry produces tools for man to use in his work, his productive labour. The tools might be predictive diagnostic tests. This tool is ‘used’ by what we call ‘a patient’ to make a test result, ie a commodity with use-value. The ‘patient’ also consumes this commodity and in the process increases its value by producing an increased faith in his own immortality, or what we could call a growth in the significance of consumption for longer life. The test result is a numerical signifier that signifies the promise of immmortality as long as you keep buying the ‘tools’ from industry, (the tests), using them (having the test), consuming the fruits of your labour (complying with the result), consuming your own body- repetitively, endlessly.
Here goes; this relies on some Sheperdson on Lacan, some Marx in Capital, some Kordela on biopolitics and some Ian Parker in tutorial! Thank you Ian.
The ‘Limit of the Numerical’ does not exist, because it is a signifier, or a specific gaze that to function must entail the presupposition of an infinity of gazes, or signifiers. It has infinite meaning potential.
The signifier signifies the subject for another signifier and the subject, as such, only can be said to exist in a wrinkle of time in between the enunciating act and the retroactive constitution of subjectivity that is torn away the very moment it appears.
So. With number we have a signifier, that like all other signifier’s makes the subject both appear and disappear at the same time.
The number functions, like ‘capital’ to expand its own value as surplus semantic value. But like capital it requires a commodity that increases in use-value as it is consumed. The commodity in mystical terms that achieves this is the labour power in the numerical risk prediction. The x% chance of event ‘y’ in ‘z’ time.
So here we have: industry provides the ‘tool’ which is the pro-diagnostic test, this produces the number ‘x’ as a percentage risk. This number works, as it is consumed, to produce use-value in terms of surplus semantic value – i.e. fosters the impact of the number as a master signifier of the belief in neoliberalised medicine’s promise of immortality. This surplus semantic value is itself a use-value for industry (and perhaps others), that is also consumed and creates more surplus semantic value, like capital or surplus economic value. It functions to ultimately command compliance. A patient – exposed to such a signifier – must make choices, coercive but not absolutely positive, to comply or not comply. There is no subject just a subject’s Total Compliance with the Law of the Number – a castrated masculine subjectivity, or, a subject’s ‘not-all’ compliance – a feminine response. But feminine as in ‘if’ the patient is ‘not-all compliant’ then the patient becomes ‘all-compliant’ to some other Master Signifier or Law, not the Law of the Number, but something else we cannot name, identify or be certain of as ‘analysts’, looking from the outside – our imaginary perspective.
The numerical can be like capital – a self valorising magical signifier that ‘appeals’ to the hard work, thrift and avarice of the capitalist – the all-compliant servant of, and slave to, capitalism. The Limit to the Numerical’ is the taboo for the totem of the risk-addicted capitalist tribe.