The Hacker

by Bruno de Florence on July 26, 2011

As part of a recent cartel session on the symbolic order in the 21st century, I did a presentation commenting on the case of a hacker as portrayed in a press interview.

In this written transcription, I have commented on particular excerpts of the interview (outlined in yellow in the attached  PDF) with respect to the issue of the symbolic order in the 21st century. This is followed by a more general series of comments on the prevalent use of the Internet as a mode of relationship.


In June 2011, a British 19 year old was arrested on suspicion of being the leader of a hackers group. Subsequently released on bail, and diagnosed with Aspergé syndrome, he and his girlfriend were interviewed by The Daily Mail, a populist newspaper with a large circulation.


His mother had to leave his meals at the bedroom door.

The mother does not intervene to put a hole in Ryan’s sphere, but on the contrary, seems complicit in maintaining its integrity. Meals cooked and being brought at the bedroom door is reminiscent of the foetus situation.

We literally don’t know anyone else.

The social other is experienced as unknowable, and as a result, his calls are not heard. The social other is not libidinised/cathexed.

Although it is late afternoon on a sunny day, the curtains are drawn in every room.

The gaze of the other is experienced as unbearable.

They do this to increase their sense of isolation from the world.

Al though this is a common teenager posture, it is not in this case coupled to a reinforcing of social bonds with other teenagers. Ryan and Amy are not part of a group where they (can) tell each other that the world does not understand them.


For legal reasons…I direct my questions at Amy, although Ryan frequently finishes sentences for her and nods to emphasise her points.

For Ryan, signification is partial, perhaps brittle. While he is inside the semiotic, he can only thread a few pearls, not an entire row.

She bridles at the term ‘girlfriend’ … they are ‘fulfilling each other’s sexual needs.

The term girlfriend would imply an actual rapport or relationship. Sexuality remains in the physiological domain (needs). This preserves the omnipotence of the Other: it’s not me, it’s Nature. No desire is formulated, yet both Ryan and Amy seem to take their heterosexuality for granted.

Because I don’t know anybody else, I can’t be unfaithful.

This may well be Amy’s claim to being entirely in the field of phallic jouissance, and therefore in control. This may contribute towards preserving her own “not-­entirely” (pas-­tout).

She has two elder sisters and a brother, who live and work in London, but she has lost touch with them. She does not know her father well.

Both statements seem to reflect that for Amy, Oedipus is a vague nebulous constellation, which was never dramatised.

My mum didn’t mind.

Amy’s mother does not mind her daughter disappearing in her bedroom after school. She too is complicit of her daughter’s choices.

Socialising made me feel awkward.

The awkwardness may well be Nachtraglich. By not having to socialise, the illusion of control is preserved.

We are living in a surveillance society.

The word “surveillance” expresses the weigh of the Other. Here, the mean term of the RSI knot seems to be the real (Cf. Seminar XXI, 18 December 1973).

She is scared about her picture being published in a newspaper.

This is also part of wanting to be in control.


I know quite literally thousands of people on the internet. In the real world I don’t have any friends, but I have thousands of friends online.  So I am a sociable person.

The computer screen is Amy’s gaze. It cannot be interrupted or cut, she cannot therefore be reminded of her own castration.

if you don’t like someone, you can block them off

Part of being in control. Indeed, the software for online chatting (Skype, MSN Messenger, or AIM) allows you to literally “disappear” or turn people off at the touch of a button, without having to give any explanation.

The room’s two windows are covered with foil to keep the light out

Again, the gaze of the other is unbearable, but also unwanted.

Not talking to each other, Amy and Ryan would converse with dozens of users simultaneously online. This is very usual. However, “converse” means talking by typing, not verbal speech. The expenditure of libido is minimal, and thoughts are not re­inscribed.

Ryan would message me to pass the cigarettes rather than turning around and asking for it.

There is a similar scene in the film Wall­E (2008), where 2 characters sitting next to each other talk to one other via instant messenger software.


We are still in our room, and we watch a lot of movies. It is bringing us closer together.

Here, an imaginary relationship is in place, mediated by the television screen.



The Internet is not a space, and as such does not have a topology. Nor is it a signifier, since it does not

arise from a contingent encounter between the real and the imaginary, mediated by the symbolic. From the point of view of Peirce’s semiotics, it is a quasi­sign, because it does not arise from mental life, from a subject’s personal experiences.

If meaning can only arise from a finite horizon, finite at least momentarily, then the use of the Internet as a mode of social relationship is ideal for those for whom the Other remains problematic at best, an insisting enigma at worst. I can surf from link to link, with no obligation to produce meaning. The computer screen replaces the too insistant biological real weigh of others bodies, while at the same time removing any symbolic distance. My actions are of no consequences, and unlike Oedipus, I can kill my father and sleep with my mother in all impunity.

Surfing through thousands, if not millions, of sites, I give myself the impression of having choice and to be in control of my choices.. Yet if all is choice, if there are no limits to my choices, this freedom becomes a burden, soon experienced as claustrophobia, since I cannot make the ONE choice. I must go and check the content of the next link. ALL is available, and differentiation is suspended. The Google ranking engine does not reveal its ranking algorithm, but advise site authors to reference other sites in their content.

What is problematic with the Other is that it knows the secret of my jouissance, while I remain ignorant. That is what is experienced as disturbing, suffocating and unbearable. Further, it is a jouissance which seizes me suddenly, with no warning, a phenomena which I have not constructed through my own efforts. And although it seizes me, it remains alien to me. Here, the analogy of the

1986 film Aliens comes to mind. The film characters have no recollection of having been inseminated, and when the alien foetus gestation has come to term, the jouissance of its exit into the world suddenly tears apart its host.

Against the all pervading desire of the maternal Other, what is there? Lacan suggest the act of “nommer­à” or “to be appointed to” (Seminar 21, les non­dupes­errent, 19 March 1974, English version on the  Lacan in Ireland site.  Nota: in French, “nommer” means to name, and “nommer à” means to be appointed to) can be put in place when to the the Nom du père, something else is preferred, comes before (qui se trouve être préféré, passer avant). It is for the mother to indicate that path. This allows an inscription in the social Other, creating a knot, which a turn creates an iron order. At the same time, that very possibility indicates a “catastrophic breakdown” (une dégénérescence catastrophique) of the social.

Liliane Fainsilber develops that argument further by saying that besides the iron law (academic titles, membership of psychoanalysis groups, but also fame as a writer or pop star), there is also the law of the jungle (criminality), and another law for which she does not have a name, anorexia. I have suggested to her the law of glance. This stems form a private conversation with Julia Evans on anorexia in young males, during which she had pointed out that it could be about disappearing from the maternal glance, thus creating distance from her jouissance, but at the same time, possibly calling for her attention.


Another strategy is simply to withdraw from or avoid any kind of relationship, by directing libido towards the act of de­sexualising the Other. Better to drown in the signifier than in the maternal jouissance.

The Internet is not Kierkegaard’s loneliness, nor is it a dazibao. Kierkergaard maintains the enigmatic and unknowable character of the real (as incarnated in Regine), in order to weave some meaning around it. Ryan and Amy avoid ALL confrontation, reassuring themselves in a “ravage à deux”, throught the screen, as in “We are still in our room, and we watch a lot of movies. It is bringing us closer together”.

Julia Evans notes: The text on which Bruno’s post is based is now available:  The Hacker: a description of his life: 3rd July 2011: Abul Taher