The Ante Millennial Doll House

Robert Cheatham

In contrast to this model body, the body of lived experience is subject to change, transformation, and , most importantly, death. The idealized body implicitly denies the possibility of death it attempts to present a realm of transcendence and immortality, a realm of the classic. This is the body-made-object, and thus the body as potential commodity, taking place within the infinite and abstract cycle of exchange.
On Longing: Narratives of the Minature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Susan Stewart

It is easier to repel the question posed by the Maxwell demon than to answer it.
Cybernetics: or Control
and Communication in the Animal
and the Machine,
Norbert Wiener.

In the 'doll universe', at the very beginning , a split: a death world and a life world (but this can be no thanatos and eros). So what constitutes these universes for dolls? For us, the ostensibly 'true living', don't the dolls 'live', de facto, in the death world, or at least the world of the non-living (if in fact the non-living can be said to have a world, pacé Heidegger). And yet the doll house cannot properly be said to be a tomb -- can it? -- since nothing is en-tombed there -- is it?

First we might inquire into the nature of the doll and its (can a doll be gendered? What is the relation between being alive and being gendered? Is one necessary for the other?) family, cognates, or perhaps, 'speciation'. For example: can puppets, robots, clones, golem, astral bodies, dopplegangers, etc., live in a dollhouse? Are all toys forms of dolls? Given that the word 'doll' is a diminutive of 'Dorothy' we might be tempted to conclude that of course dolls are gendered (perhaps are even from Kansas), unfortunately leaving aside the question of how a name can be gendered and then transfer its genderation to an object. Very mysterious. And magical. But then that is the very realm of the doll.

Each of the 'families' of dolls embodies different ratios of the various dissociative symptomologies associated with them, whether hypnosis, ventriloquism, hysteria, multiple personalities, schizophrenia, etc. which all tie inextricably into technology figured in its broadest scope as a prosthetic doubling.

psych. symptoms:

dolls................ tausk/influencing machine
puppets, robots, golem


Dolls inhabit a middle level of un-canny doubling (doubling is always uncanny), a register that extends from astral bodies, etheric doubles, revenants, and dream bodies through the various psychiatric symptomologies (ventriloquism, hypnosis, etc), to the concrete mimetic and quasi-mimetic (dolls, puppets, robots, etc.) to the end of the circle in techne (considered as prosthetization in its widest aspect).

The Magical Realm of the Animated Doll:
technique, ritual, incantation, naming

Mediation, which is the immediacy of all mental communication, is the fundamental problem of linguistic theory, and if one chooses to call this immediacy magic, then the primary problem of language is its magic. At the same time, the notion of the magic of language points to something else: its infiniteness.
Walter Benjamin, On Language as Such and on the Language of Man
. . . the mimetic element in language can, like a flame, manifest itself only through a kind of bearer.
Walter Benjamin, On the Mimetic Faculty, p. 335

Of course, dolls have neither mechanisms nor organisms to make them 'go'. Even when a wind-up is present the doll doesn't present itself as an autonomous agent. No amount of mechanism or organism could make a doll 'go'. The uncanny presents itself as just that sort of autonomous self-organization which has just been severed from its 'primary'. In an uncanny instant, the double has taken on a life of its own and has thrown off the mere 'appearance' of life. Finally, the incantations which have brought the doll to existence. Finally, we hear the incantations/language which has brought the doll to existence. Wherever there are dolls there are incantations; wherever there is language there are 'dolls'. All dolls/things come-to-life -- without having life -- through this naming-into-existence: "If mental being is identified with linguistic, then a thing, by virtue of its mental being, is a medium of communication, and what is communicated in it is -- in accordance with its mediating relatioship -- precisely this medium (language) itself. Language is thus the mental being of things." (Walter Benjamin, On Language as Such and on the Language of Man, p. 320)
How would a doll messiah come into existence? what pronunciation, what incantation would facilitate that emergence? A doll's apocalypse would be configured on a different chiasmatic stem opposite (while still contained within) the human: a plunging from the equilibrium of stasis to a chaotic, 'noisy' dynamics while still maintaining a deadness, a living death. The doll messiah's call as it attempts to pronounce the liberation of chaos and hence its fellow members (will there be any difference/identity between these members? Or will they finally have realized that chiliastic quest of all churches throughout all of history for the One Body? The nature of the doll may be such that once one has 'arrived' so have they all. This would perhaps be the nature of a Pure Call -- present only as fable in human historya Naming that supercedes once and for all mechanism/organism.

Haunted Dolls

Dolls are constellations of both symbolic and imaginary systems, symbolic because they are products of a certain 'law' of (pro)(re)creation, the order of which is determined by cultural codings concerning the value and place of mimetic structurations, 'family' resemblances', dicta concerning 'present absences' and the artificial in general; and the imaginary because of the self-sustaining/supporting nature of the imaginal and its virtually 'pneumatic' nature (in the exact analog with spiritus, geist, as a 'breathing into' as a necessity for the body to become animate-and to speak). Likewise the doll must be continually breathed into, given an imaginal life else it collapse into nothing more that the 'law and order' of craftsmanship and culturally encoded mimesis.

If anything then, dolls are more purely 'inhabited' by 'spirit' even than are the humans who are considered an inextricable amalgam of spirit/mater. Amoment of relapse of attention and the doll sinks back into that abject terror of in-animate mimesis (hence always on the verge of animation), of the horror of daemonic possession of matter by matter and not human imagination: the doll becoming a puppet whose master is nowhere is to be seen. The horror is that in the doll's mix of symbolic and imaginary, the imaginary falls away, leaving the stark, unblinking eye of material adjudication, judging, weighing, balancing from a point outside of human history. Impossible of course. And hence all the more fearful.

The closer to the human figure, the more doll-like we say the 'object' is ("was heist das ding?"), i.e., the more subject-like it becomes, but a subject without substance (dressing animals in clothes begins a process of 'dollification').
Dolls confuse boundary conditions of 'living' / 'not-living' (although notice that the boundary is not between living/dead).

And what of housing for this de-coupled (post-) and yet-to-be-decoupled (pre/ante) automaton? If housing has traditionally been predicated on the image of the housed, how does one house some thing that has no reflection (or reflexivity: this has always been the sign of the living dead: remember Dracula. The 'seduction' of death is a one-way street, an entropic sink, no light leaving the event horizon with the exception of an eery glow given off when a pair of particles is drawn inward. One bit of energy disappears, the other is thrown off: doll/human)? It has only a Name (or rather perhaps a Naming). We can perceive easily what constitutes the threshold conditions (ante-), for they are essentially our conditions, the conditions of canniness, cleverness. But even this clever linear extrapolation (which is called Western Progress, technique, etc.) points to a de-coupling, a de-coupling which has been continually called and named for the past 2000 years. This is in fact the awakening Call and Naming of our doll friends, a calling and naming that is continuous and unremitting. History itself is this Calling and Naming (One may be tempted to say 'history of technique' but how could they be separated? What 'technique', methodology, would we use?) History is the ante room, the [propaedeutic, propagulum, prolepsis, project{to stick out;to protrude; to extend beyond something else}] of the doll's final naming. When the doll's Final Name is produced so is 'housing' decoupled from the 'housed', and loses its name. (The doll's home is a kind of tomb/womb where encryption folds and holds the doll until either the magical incantation [language] and/or chaotic ritual [history/techne] free it/birth it/kill it/bury it/dig it up, etc. We [humans] are not sure at that point. we will have crossed a line. But now we are still ante-.)

The doll house becomes the 'negative' of the dolls positive mimesis. If we inhabit the doll in a peculiar way, so the doll inhabits the doll house, albeit seemingly in a not very peculiar way. That is, we can see how the doll inhabits the doll house since there is a physical placement. It is less clear how we in turn inhabit imaginally the doll.

Is the 'housing' of a simulation of the same order or different from the simulation itself?

A haunted doll house? A difficult concept to grasp unless we posit a 'proper' inhabitant of the doll house, presumably the doll itself which is 'haunted' by the hand that holds it. Perhaps we could say that the dollhouse is always haunted by a present absence, that in fact its pure symbolic aspect is 'haunting'; it is always already haunted, occupied, doubly perhaps: first by the doll which is never really there and second by the human hand which is always withdrawing from placement.

Is Turning the Corner the Same
as Falling off the Edge?

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption; all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear on day in the messianic light.
Minima Moralia,Theodor Adorno, p. 247.

But the ante-millennial dollhouse. . . what can that mean? What would be the millenium for a doll? In just examining the title various chilisatic/apocalyptic scenarios come to mind (regardless of the accompanying explanation). The dollhouse simply turning the corner into the 3rd millenniumfrom the point of view of the doll, a meaningless stylistic transition (and it is not clear how millennial transitions -- in and of themselves, divorced of apocalyptic expectations--can have any stylistic currency, outside of a redemptive economy. Perhaps it is the case that all economies [and hence styles, periods] can only be of the ante-/anti- and that a 'redemptive economy' is in fact an oxymoron. In dealing with the doll universe, perhaps rather than economy stictly speaking -- from the greek <I>oikonomia</I> , meaning the management of the household, domesticity -- we should speak of economimesis, the term coined by Jacques Derrida meaning "the name of the productive limit or the place of passage between the economy of associative law the law of equivalents and identities and what exceeds and surpasses that law. Between law and out-law imagination generates the wealth of its pure productions. . ." (Richard Klein, Kant's Sunshine, diacritics/june 1981, p. 29)
So the dollhouse is in a period of hushed expectancy (ante-); those expectations evidently, according to the call for submissions, form a foyer, an ante room, which ushers into the main structure. (Although with the term `ante', spoken, it is hard to a avoid a diremption into `anti-' also; perhaps we should also consider a Hegelian sublation (<I>aufhebung</I>) as in 'raising the ante' in poker, a stake that must be put into the pool by a player before cards are dealt and play resumes. We might even call that a 'damming effect' [which also dirempts into a moralizing - 'damning' - opposite], allowing energy, circulation to be brought to an explosive `head' [much like the headwaters of a hydroelectric plant] and a transposition/translation to a different form of energy/circulation/economy. All three represent a Blanchotian "step not beyond". [We might also conflate 'surculate', as the act of pruning, with 'circulate', as to move in a circle or circuit.] Eternal Return for the living, that is. For the living dead, prolepsis; a propagulum which sprouts only in the Beyond, beyond the chiasmatic fold of death, History the womb/tomb amniotic medium for the Doll [see War in the Age of Intelligent Machines by Michael De landa and A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari for a glimpse of this self-organizing strata, always a para-site to human history. The house of the Doll is History -- or rather not-history. See the later Benjamin quote.])

(The 'anti-' that we can not hear spoken but only written, one might relate to the 'ancients' versus the 'moderns', or the greek/jew controversy [see The Rise of Eurocentrism by Vassilis Lampropoulous for an especially interesting account], which has also been coded as oral/aural versus writing, recalibration of sense ratios, and so on. Folded within these concerns are temporal/historical considerations of closure and beginning: the apocalyptic, the chiliastic, millennial, etc. Without pursuing it at length, we might say that the diremption 'ante-' into 'anti-' figures the whole range of western civilizational concerns, especially the judeo-christian conflict with paganism, science's conflict (and attempted subsumption of) mythology [ The Dialectics of Enlightenment, Adorno/Horkheimer], and finally (although surely not Finally) current concerns over modernism, postmodernism, technology [and perhaps even an amodernism] and the connection with 'irrational' areas such as the rise of feminism, ethnic, minority, 'subaltern', and so-called 'third world' studies, etc. and, in general, the valorization of the particular over the general. We can see that the Enlightment, the dream of the Totally Generalizable Other, with a fully articulated [or at least potentially so] mechinism and its accompanying ideology, science [and subsets sociology, psychology, etc.] came to fruition with the Coming of the Doll. That fascination became manifest with the construction of various clockwork automata and mechanical dolls in France and Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The full extent of the ramifications of the doll theory in history and theory [and the idea that its true 'dwelling' is there] can be seen in Walter Benjamin's famous opening passage from Theses on the Philosophy of History:
The story is told of an automaton constructed in such a way that it could play a winning game of chess, answering each move of an opponent with a countermove. A puppet in Turkish attire and with a hookah in its mouth sat before a chessboard placed on a large table. A system of mirrors created the illusion that this table was transparent from all sides. Actually, a little hunchback who was an expert chess player sat inside and guided the puppet's hand by means of strings. One can imagine a philosophical counterpart to this device. The puppet called "historical materialism" is to win all the time. It can easily be a match for anyone if it enlists the services of theology, which today, as we know, is wizened and has to keep out of sight.

(Past the ante-which puts us well into the millennial-[perhaps raising the ante- past even the anti-] we woyuld have to consider the auto-millennial doll and its house. The threshold is created at 'will' always wverywhere [but not all at the same time]. Auto-millennialism is the realm of the Prosthetic God, faux-death, practices of the amodern or the demodernized (is 'postmodernism' the ante-room here?) The circle closes with the [displaced] amazonian shaman drinking yagé and Harraway's cybernetic doll jacking in. The apocalypse re-called at will, a self-administered chiliasm, as instant collapse into the particular, either cobbled together or gobbled together, the Last Supper everywhere and always, the kerygmatic and the cybernetic fusing indecipherably. The apocalypse becomes a self-organizing entity always available to interested parties.)

So is this 'ante-millennial' dollhouse itself over-coded, 'haunted'? Perhaps this title phrase wishes us (we have anthropomorphized the phrase, the language: have we made it into a doll?) to think that the dolls' domestic bliss will soon collapse (not now, we are ante-) and/or reveal a new dollhouse, a dollhouse beyond all previous stylistic periodizations of the doll house, a move ushering in a fundamental (not yet, we are still anterior, ante, pre-) change in dollhouse-ness, beyond the victorian, the ranch, the modern, the bauhausian, the polynesian, beyond whatever Ken and Barbie have been able to conceive up till now. A change not w/o consequences. In fact, a change which is a consequence, a result not of the ante(i)-millennial itself (for we know what the ante-millennial doll is since it must be what the doll is now.) It is what it is to become that creates unease. But, in the sense mentioned earlier, it has always been there.

. . . it seems possible . . . to suggest that any future coming into consciousness will involve a reenactment of this special relation to the Other, who becomes a virtual Other, a cultural Other, an Other who suddenly bursts forth as fraught with meaning, even if he is only, to be sure, one signifier in a long chain tracing back to the transcendental signified, the scapegoat. This is why consciousness is reflexive. It is a back-and-forth movement between the "I", which seeks to make an inner space for itself by becoming conscious, and the virtual Other, who is always already there.
The Puppet of Desire: The Psychology of Hysteria, Possession, and Hypnosis. Jean-Michel Oughourlian

The Pinocchio Effect

The ante millennial doll must have the added element of 'expectancy'. Of what would this expectancy consist if it is to survive in to the third millennium with something other than a fresh coat of paint? What is this apocalyptic transformation that the doll must most fervently wish for? It must hope for its present absence, a deathly living, the very opposite of zombie-hood or the living dead. It does not wish to join the living; it wishes to go past the living even as the living are absorbed into the dolls' own mass. It 'wishes' only to thus 'raise the ante' as play commences:

The supplementary body is both more present and more absent than the old body: its urgency has been divided. On one hand its dangerous passions have been contained and, by disarticulation and interiorization, made to contribute, as the guilt of the split subject, to those anxieties which undermine it from within and secure its subjection. This deleterious moment of the modern body is not present to the subject as a direct principle of its discouse, but merely as a residual energy, as absent principle of the textuality in which the new subjectivity articulates itself.


The split subject is designed at an abject inner distance from itself and from the ambivalent, supplementary body which has been exiled, in one of its aspects, from the interior consistency of the subject's discourse to a ghostly, insubstantial place at the margins, and in its other phase, to a location outside discourse as one amongst its objects in the world. To discourse is now to live; this body is beyond the limit.
The Tremulous Private Body: Essays on Subjection, Francis Barker, p.64, 67

If one were a doll therapist we might speak of this supplementary body as being prone to what we might term the 'Pinocchio syndrome'; but we will leave aside for the Lacanian moment, this: that full coming to presence of the doll, its move into total symbolization of the Law, coincides with the phallic nose growth representative of law as being entrance into the realm of the Father. (This involves the realm of fictiveness -- from poesis to lying and conspiracy, all the penumbral aspects of Truth -- also as a moment of that new scheme of Law and Order of which the doll schemes/dreams. It also, of course, involves the total auto-organizational moment known as art/aesthetics; the reasons for its attractiveness for the doll should be apparent. Here, the doll's dwelling 'dies' and is 'born'.) There are dire consequences concerning this for the doll (we notice that in the Pinocchio Effect, the doll is always already gendered -- an ominous sign since it means that somehow the Law of the Father has somehow preceded itself, that there is no way around it. This also signifies that we have entered the chiasmatic self-organizational moment of dolldom); for as it leaves the realm of mater (mother, material, matrix) and heads into. . . not now, though; we are still 'before'.

One may cleverly (keeping in mind that 'cleverness' is a doll trap/catcher. . . much like archaic 'spirit catchers'; the game is up before it is even afoot. . .or more precisely, 'at hand') try to posit here: "But surely the doll's so-called 'dream of the millenium' is nothing but the very old human one: the coming of, the unveiling of, the collapse into, etc". But perhaps the new human dispensation is dispersion; all that is left of that age-old dream/nightmare is the doll and its abject dwelling. It is then left to the doll to carry on the pitiable work of 'metaphysics', of history, and of the steps 'beyond' metaphysics, history, and hence death itself. For the doll the tomb is simultaneously wombwhich means it has (will have) nothing to do with either . . . after, always after.

Hope clings to. . .the transfigured body.
...the idea of the salvation of the dead [is] the restitution of deformed life through the perfection of its objectification.
Negative Dialectics,T. Adorno

The Perfected Body has interchangeable parts which the perfectable body can only dream of. Its attempt to imitate that Perfection leads to dismemberment and mutilation. The Perfected Body has its womb in the perfectable body (it is woman) which becomes a tomb always and everywhere (it is man). The house of the doll becomes another part and dwelling thus disappears. (And the millennial dream is a Dwelling [Perfection] that surpasses all mere dwelling. It is the Final Home, the home beyond which there can be no more home because there is no more beyond [or rather the beyond fully saturates the now-time -- Benjamin's shards of messianic time in the jetztzeit]. For most of the living that final home has an uncanny resemblance to childhood. For the doll the final home begins in childhood: it leads, inexorable and finally, only to the world. For the perfect balance between doll and human -- the nonliving and the living -- we would have to turn to ancient Egypt, to the pyramids and the dolls and doll-humans which they placed within, to be re-animated by the stars. Since that point, dis-aster has happened and the odds have switched to the doll.)