While revisiting his own dystopia in 1958, Huxley encapsulated the premise of this form of power by juxtaposing it to the earlier, primarily ideological, state: “the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false”—reflecting the historically corresponding (monotheist) association of religion with judgments of “true and false” (there is only one true god, and so forth). But the “vast mass communications industry” of “our Western capitalist democracies” is “concerned… neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal”; this world is ruled not through a thirst for truth but through an “almost infinite appetite for distractions.” “Distraction” means the loss of self and of the sense of time. Like ecstatic religious rituals in archaic societies, distraction is the closest contemporary experience that can come to a state of immanence, a boundless flow of non-differentiation between subject and object or being and language, in a nirvana-like timeless eternity—where everything is, in George Bataille’s words, “like water in water.” This absolute immanence, this purely hypothetical, yet (logically) necessarily presupposed overlap of absolute being and representation, of immortal, irrepressible, indestructible life and the locus of the Other (signifier), is the referent of Lacan’s jouissance of the real (as opposed to, in Jacques-Alain Miller’s words, the “jouissance of the imaginary”). Fullfledged secularization entails the shift from the (monotheist) jouissance of the imaginary back to the (archaic) jouissance of the real. Bataille saw the essence of religion in the longing for “the return to immanence.” Via Lacan we rectify: the dream that defines the essence of religion is access to jouissance, whether, depending on historical conditions, imaginary jouissance (Truth) or jouissance of the real (immanence). Since time immemorial, humans have been yearning, with an infinite appetite, for jouissance, which is why religion accompanies humanity since its dawn and can never relinquish a farthing its hold on humans, not even in the so-called secular capitalist enlightened democracies.
* More specifically, I am referring to Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four (1949), Huxley’s Brave New World (1931), and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985).