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Metaphysical Neighbors

As long as the metaphysical problem of virtuality is not re-arranged in a more productive way, neighbors will always be a problem.

  • Apr 01 2020
    Lene Vollhardt (GER/USA) is an artist based in London. Through moving image, choreography and performance, Vollhardt addresses rhetorics of political negotiation and performative gaslighting in interpersonal relations. Her works often display scenarios of soft oppression and dissidence in an environment of failed utopian ideals. She has participated in numerous exhibitions and festivals at international institutions such as Nikolaj Kunsthal Copenhagen, Videoloop Art Fair Barcelona, Sharjah Film Forum and Toronto FilmWeek. Her work won several awards such as the Hong Kong Arthouse Filmprize and Fokus Film Award. (

    Veronika Dräxler (GER/ECU) is an interdisciplinary artist, writer and developer of spaces for dialogue. She utilizes websites, language, moving images, installations and performative rituals to create poetic narratives that research digital identity, (re)appropriation and (post)colonialism in relation to the existential pressure of being a human in late capitalism. (

Luce deLire is mostly known as a philosopher, actress and cynic, based between Berlin and Baltimore. She could be seen embodying complex inanimate characters, curating and publishing, while working on and with the metaphysics of treason (vice versa), the seduction of violence (same), post-secular privilege, fascism and the end of critique, the reality of infinity and more – always in mixed media. Most recently, possessed by 'L´ancient regime,' she responded to Paul B. Preciado´s text and the 100 women (including Catherine Millet and Catherine Deneuve) who famously insist on a male 'right to importune.' DeLire is currently working on a publication on violence, virtuality and privilege while also writing on the question: ''What is Reality?''

We asked deLire about you, and the space between us.


The question is not, 'Are you in a long-term relationship?' You've always been in various long-term relationships anyway. You are in long-term relationships with virtual aspects of yourself, experiencing updates and embodiments in other people, but also in things, etc. You consist of clusters and swarms of aspects of swarms of clusters etc. ad infinitum. These are permeable with and for are a mess, a problem right from the start: Something always exceeds you, in yourself and in others, your selves have many covers, many ways – you are transient, surely have been. Maybe you stabilized yourself. But that is already a response to that haunting fragility they make you call 'life.'

Deleuze makes a nice distinction between 'actuality' and 'virtuality:' The 'actual' is that which appears to be present, that which is allegedly on display. The 'virtual' always escapes, it is that which only appears by way of effacing, evading itself. A nice example is the problem of the neighbor. You might think this to be a social problem. But as a matter of fact, neighbors, flatmates, species, planets, neighboring cities, countries etc. have been problematic since the beginning of time. I am hence ready to stipulate, for example and for the moment: The neighbor is a metaphysical problem.

The neighbor is the preferred object of projection, the most proximate virtuality. This, of course, is a specific usage of the term. The neighbor is architecturally staged in an inaccessible space: my flatmate's room, my neighbor's garden etc. Actual neighbors and roommates, however, are rather popular figures in this cluster. That is not to say that every person in the apartment across the floor occurs as that which evades me. Not every adjoining apartment, country or gender identity is a 'neighbor' in this sense. But someone is always annoying, or too loud, or too sensitive – in case of doubt it is you, who in turn complains about the neighbor's narrow mindedness. What is important is that something disintegrates just enough to resist our ignorance, but not enough so as to take an independent shape. These are the perfect conditions for virtual objects: On the threshold to oblivion. That is where the true neighbor lives. However, if you want to say something about virtual reality or cyberspaces, you really have to start with the story of the neighbor. Because that is the natural habitat of projective fantasies, so to speak. "What will the neighbors say?" That actually asks: ''What eludes me (just enough so as to drive me completely crazy)? '' 'I am powerless, constitutively finite within my reach, my intelligence, in my empathy – what do I do with it? ' Or, "What does the externalized superego say?" And all this nonsense. More often than not, the answer is: ''Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.'' If we are lucky, we get cognitive assimilation plus tolerance. ''I don't get it. I don't like it. But let them have their's as long as I can keep mine.'' None of that, however, works: Virtuality, the excess of evasion, inevitably reoccurs. Somewhere, resentment and prejudice sneak in to trip you up, precipitate defeat, spontaneous reaction, an occasional racist slur, sexist thought, the cross in the wrong spot on election day. There are people trying to solve this problem by getting into their neighbor's room or apartment, or installing cameras, or flying drones spying through their windows or something, to become mistresses of their own paranoid imaginations. And that does not work. It does not work, because their neighbors do not find that very funny. But also, tragically, new virtual spaces are continually opened up. Here you face the problem of virtuality, the problem of the constitutive inaccessibility of the 'wholeness of being' or something like that. The virtual cannot be actualized. In our case, however, the whole metaphysical problem of the inevitable incompleteness of reality becomes manifest in an architectural problem: namely, in the adjoining though repulsive dwelling of the neighbor.


There is a gap in the world: the world is inevitably incomplete. Western metaphysics is designed to deny this inevitability with claws and teeth. Therefore, she (inevitability) must be assigned a place where she can be properly hated, persecuted, beaten. Some call it 'othering' – but I think we should read it more materialistically: as a story, habitualization and constant practical re-coding of violence. The proper place of 'violence' is – fill the blank – 'the Jew,' 'the wife,' 'the child,' 'poor gay immigrants,' 'black women' etc. This, however, is not so much a structural problem as it is a habituation of violence. My question is this: If the virtuality of the neighbor is inevitable, how then can we rearrange life so as to undo or curb existing traditions of violence?

We could stipulate the following, experimentally: As long as the metaphysical problem of virtuality is not re-arranged in a more productive way, neighbors will always be a problem. That is because the neighbor stages or manifests a metaphysical problem. Unfortunately this can not be solved top-down. It does not help to come up with a better armchair solution. That way we would assume total accessibility of the political or social sphere from the perspective of the philosophical sphere. If we do so, we run into the following problem: We are losing 'virtuality' halfway, yet again. Because within the proposition of an allegedly 'better' idea about the problem that is formally called 'the neighbor,' we do not consider these levels (political, social, philosophical level) in their potential evasive, virtual quality. Rather, we understand them (performatively, in our action) as purely actualized. Only from such a perspective of 'actuality' does it make sense to start a top-down project in the first place: ''Let's imagine a set of rules for virtuality! And now let's apply what we have conceived to the political, economic, social sphere!" The ever shifting virtual, its unavailability, is methodically excluded from the outset. And with that, we go back to square one: a life that virtually denies all virtuality. Even worse: a life that claims a conception of virtuality, though only in its actuality. This is a peculiar reductionism: Reducing the virtual, the evasive, elusive transience of reality to its hard wired, accessible counterpart. And as it happens, that produces its own proper virtuality, its own proper elusion. For our initial question has in fact eluded us. Hence, we need to pose it again: ''If the virtuality of the neighbor is inevitable, how then can we rearrange life so as to undo or curb existing traditions of violence?''

We have stated in the beginning that you have always been in various long-term relationships anyway. You are in long-term relationships with virtual aspects of yourself, experiencing updates and embodiments in other people, but also in things, etc. Now we realize that these virtual aspects appear to be rather unmanageable, in a literal sense. You can know that you are projecting on other people, that you are the object of another's transference, that you cannot solve this top-down. But does that not mean that everything is lost anyway? Does that not mean that we are prey to our virtual selves, forever bound to chatter in eternal monologue?

Let us try something else: If you think this elusion, this transient withdrawal of virtuality to the end, then the withdrawal escapes itself. If the virtual is totally virtual, completely withdrawn, you do not notice the withdrawal as withdrawal. Pure transience fizzles out into oblivion. Consequently, it seems as though this virtual way of dealing with yourself in other people (vice versa) was indeed a characteristic of the other person. This is how transference and projection function: It is because you do not realize that you are talking to your father in me, that it seems as though I was like your father. After all, you have picked me, you have led me this way.

And here a constitutive ambiguity comes into play: We can not know where the withdrawal has escaped, where the other stops, where we begin. This lack of knowledge is so radical that we cannot even recognize its absence, its failure, its non-appearance. Otherwise said: If the monologue is so well done that it sounds like a completely different voice anyway – how could you know that you are not really talking to somebody else? After all, if it walks like another person, swims like another person, quacks like another person – how could it not be another person? Or different yet again: If we universalize withdrawal, if everything is withdrawn, then clearly the withdrawal must withdraw itself. And hence, something other than withdrawal takes shape.

Here, we must grant the possibility to really meet someone. You are in various long-term relationships with virtual aspects of yourself, experiencing updates and embodiments in other people. But that very condition enables you to get to know somebody else for real. This 'reality' of 'getting to know someone' tears down your monologue, stands up against you while still being with you. 'Getting to know somebody' is not really a question of 'knowing,' but of 'becoming,' of being broken by that otherness and re-emerging from it together. This is what shared experiences do, adventures, parties, drug experiences, sex, conflict, fights, tears. They are the reality of 'getting to know somebody else.' And that 'somebody else' is double: It is you and them. And both are as of yet unknown, do not exist yet. Getting to know someone means to reinvent oneself. Everything else is narcissism. That is OK, narcissism exists. The whole Western Society is a society of narcissists. Narcissism, hence, can count as a survival strategy in a hostile environment. It's not pretty, it exists. 

There are moments when I'm genuinely surprised. I am continuously genuinely surprised, positively surprised by people. And that assures me of that contact being possible. First you meet one another in this mirror cabinet, often we are in this echo chamber. But it is the exclusivity of that echo chamber itself that bears the germ for another way of living, tearing down the walls of the echo chamber so as to echo together, share virtualities maybe. ''Let me be your echo.'' Maybe that could be a start.


We are asking: ''If the virtuality of the neighbor is inevitable, how then can we rearrange life so as to undo or curb existing traditions of violence?'' I have been trying for a while to conceptualize this alternative cohabitation (of actuality and virtuality) under the title ''Vanilla.'' Classically, 'vanilla' is the opposite of 'BDSM.' It is a euphemism for boring sex. I would like Vanilla to emancipated from that. And of course that would also rescue it out of an opposition to BDSM. Nobody says that 'virtuality' can not include handcuffs, kinky role play and prepared scenarios. It's more about establishing or emancipating a certain kind of sensitivity for and through virtuality … So what then does 'Vanilla' mean? As of yet, maybe, it is rather a call, a request, a plea for help: ''What would a Vanilla culture look like?'' ''Vanilla culture'' would be short for everything that is entailed by a different approach towards virtuality, in its most pragmatic, material sense: Codes of law, customs, habits, ways of flirting, vanilla war etc. Naturally, 'vanilla' is itself inevitably virtual, a site of constant reinvention. That has a lot to do with ways to integrate virtuality, softer perhaps. Because virtuality keeps coming up, it is inevitable. Earlier, we have said things about the violence of this inevitability in the case of the neighbor – the paranoid urge to control, to purge or sometimes even extinguish. 'Vanilla' would be the name of another practice with these inevitable phenomena like 'neighbors,' for example. To soften this inevitability, to make the softness of inevitability available, that is, so to speak, the metaphysical task of Vanilla.

To integrate this inevitability into practice, so that violence is not reproduced all the time. And of course, this would include having the substitution that takes place in the relationship between people, the projections and transference relations, taken seriously, to operate with and on them actively. It also means understanding that we will not meet for the first time, that I will encounter another part of myself in you. But also – and perhaps that is more important – that I want to be this part of you, that I do not freak out, because you 'do me wrong' or do not see me or something. The point is to acknowledge that we meet only when we have guided one another through a labyrinth without light but with much echo. And sometimes we may not even want to meet, or we can not or should not. And that's ok, too. This encounter can be totally terrible – disturbing. Isn't it mostly? I think that this fetishization of individual cores, individuality in general is totally misguided anyway. Well. It is one of those metaphysical impossibilities staged in the form of violence in real situations. Individuality itself, I think, is pure violence. 'Vanilla' would have to go beyond 'individuality,' without collapsing into some totalitarian dream of collective actuality. The task seems impossible. But the future never happens if you do not repeat it in the present. Hence my call, my request, my plea for help:

''What would a Vanilla culture look like?''



Co-authored by Lene Vollhardt

  • Footnotes
    Stills aus dem Film “Cement X” von Dir. Lene Vollhardt, Co-Author/Actress Luce deLire



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