Sunday, March 29, 2009

From Žižek's Organs without Bodies

"During the shooting of David Lean's Doctor Zhivago in a Madrid suburb in 1964, a crowd of Spanish statists had to sing the 'Internationale' in a scene involving a mass demonstration. The movie team was astonished to discover that they all knew the song and were singing it with such a passion that the Francoist police intervened, thinking that they were dealing with a real political manifestation. Even more, when, late in the evening (the scene was to take place in darkness), people living in the nearby houses heard the echoes of the song, they opened up bottles and started to dance in the street, wrongly presuming that Franco had died and the Socialists had taken power.

This book is dedicated to those magic moments of illusory freedom (which, in a way, were precisely not simply illusory) and to the hopes thwarted by the return to 'normal' reality."

Žižek, Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. xii.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Main Point about Systemic Hypocrisy

From Žižek 's The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), p. 8:

"One commonplace about philosophers today is that their very analysis of the hypocrisy of the dominant system betrays their naivety: why are they still shocked to see people inconsistently violate their professed values when it suits their interests? Do they really expect people to be consistent and principled? Here one should defend authentic philosophers: what surprises them is the exact opposite--not that people do not 'really believe,' and act upon their professed principles, but that people who profess their cynical distance and radical pragmatic opportunism secretly believe much more than they are willing to admit, even if they transpose these beliefs onto (nonexistent) 'others.'"

Friday, March 27, 2009

On Perversion

From An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, by Dylan Evans (London: Routledge, 1996), page 138:

"Perversion was defined by Freud as any form of sexual behaviour which deviates from the norm of heterosexual genital intercourse (Freud, 1905d). However, this definition is problematised by Freud's own notions of the polymorphous perversity of all human sexuality, which is characterised by the absence of any given natural order.

Lacan overcomes this impasse in Freudian theory by defining perversion not as a form of behaviour but as a clinical structure.

'What is perversion? It is not simply an aberration in relation to social criteria, an anomaly contrary to good morals, although this register is not absent, nor is it an atypicality according to natural criteria, namely that it more or less derogates from the reproductive finality of the sexual union. It is something else in its structure.' (S1, 221)

The distinction between perverse acts and the perverse structure implies that, while there are certain sexual acts which are closely associated with perverse structures, it is also possible that such acts may be engaged in by non-perverse subjects, and equally possible that a perverse subject may never engage in such acts. It also implies a universalist position; while social disapproval and the infraction of 'good morals' may be what determines whether a perticular act is perverse or not, this is not the essence of the perverse structure. A perverse structure remains perverse even when the acts associated with it are socially approved. Hence Lacan regards homosexuality as a perversion even when practised in Ancient Greece, where it was widely tolerated (S8, 43). (This is not because homosexuality or any other form of sexuality is naturally perverse; on the contrary, the perverse nature of homosexuality is entirely a question of its infringement of the normative requirements of the Oedipus complex (S4, 201). Thus Lacan criticises Freud for forgetting at times that the importance of heterosexuality in the Oedipal myth is a question of norms and not of nature (Ec, 223). The analyst's neutrality forbids him from taking sides with these norms; rather than defending such norms or attacking them, the analyst seeks merely to expose their incidence in the subject's history.)"

And from page 140:

"While neurosis is characterised by a question, perversion is characterised by the lack of a question; the pervert does not doubt that his acts serve the jouissance of the Other. Thus it is extremely rare for a perverse subject to demand analysis, and in the rare cases when he does, it is not because he seeks to change his mode of jouissance. This perhaps explains why many psychoanalysts have argued that psychoanalytic treatment is not appropriate for perverse subjects, a line which even some Lacanian analysts have taken, comparing the certainty of the pervert with that of the psychotic, and arguing that perverts cannot take the position of 'one who does not know' before a 'subject supposed to know' (Clavreul, 1967). However, most Lacanian analysts do not take this view, since it is a view completely at odds with Lacan's own position."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On Pseudo-Leftist Academics

From Žižek 's Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London: Verso, 2002), pp. 60-61:

"When today's Left bombards the capitalist system with demands that it obviously cannot fulfil (Full employment! Retain the welfare state! Full rights for immigrants!), it is basically playing a game of hysterical provocation, of addressing the Master with a demand which will be impossible for him to meet, and will thus expose his impotence. The problem with this strategy, however, is not only that the system cannot meet these demands, but that, in addition, those who voice them do not really want them to be realized. For example, when 'radical' academics demand full rights for immigrants and opening of the borders, are they aware that the direct implementation of this demand would, for obvious reasons, inundate developed Western countries with millions of newcomers, thus provoking a violent working-class racist backlash which would then endanger the privileged position of these very academics? Of course they are, but they count on the fact that their demands will not be met--in this way, they can hypocritically retain their clear radical conscience while continuing to enjoy their privileged position." [...]

"If someone accuses a big corporation of particular financial crimes, he or she is exposed to risks which can go right up to murder attempts; if he or she asks the same corporation to finance a research project into the link between global capitalism and the emergence of hybrid postcolonial identities, he or she stands a good chance of getting hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How We Are Believers Today

From Žižek 's Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London: Verso, 2002), p. 71:

[...] "this is how we are believers today--we make fun of our beliefs, while continuing to practice them, that is, to rely on them as the underlying structure of our daily practices.

In the good old German Democratic Republic, it was impossible for the same person to combine three features: conviction (belief in the official ideology), intelligence, and honesty. If you believed and were intelligent, you were not honest; if you were intelligent and honest, you were not a believer; if you were a believer and honest, you were not intelligent. Does not the same also hold for the ideology of liberal democracy? If you (pretend to) take the hegemonic liberal ideology seriously, you cannot be both intelligent and honest: you are either stupid or a corrupted cynic. So, if I may indulge in a rather tasteless allusion to Agamben's Homo sacer, I can risk the claim that the predominant liberal mode of subjectivity today is Homo sucker: while he tries to exploit and manipulate others, he ends up being the ultimate sucker himself. When we think we are making fun of the ruling ideology, we are merely strengthening its hold over us."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Adrian Johnston on Unfinished Reality

From Žižek 's Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity (Evanston: Northwestern U. Press, 2008), p. 65:

"Hence, what both German idealism and psychoanalysis point to is, as developed by
Žižek, a more radical solution to the problems masterfully uncovered (but nonetheless left unresolved) by Kant: the material Real of "nature" (especially human nature) isn't smoothly integrated and free of internal conflicts, but rather is torn apart from within by internal antagonisms.

This absolutely axiomatic Freudian-Lacanian notion of (human) nature as, from the start, a heterogeneous, unintegrated field, instead of as an organically unified set of elements and functions (with this organic unity allegedly being broken up solely by virtue of external intrusions impinging on its inner workings), ought to be recognized as a register complementary to Lacan's "barred" big Other (i.e., the symbolic order as permanently containing, within its own organizational constellations, contradictions, deadlocks, incompleteness, lack, etc.). More specifically, the Lacanian Real, viewed in the context of the preceding analyses, is a barred Real--not only the symbolic order, but the very substance of being is inconsistent and divided against itself."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bruce Fink on Symbolic Castration

From Bruce Fink's The Lacanian Subject (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1995), p. 99:

"In Seminar XIV, Lacan asks,

'What is castration? It is certainly not like the formulations Little Hans puts forward, that someone unscrews the little faucet, for it nevertheless remains in place. What is at stake is that he cannot take his jouissance inside himself.' (April 12, 1967)

Castration has to do with the fact that, at a certain point, we are required to give up some jouissance. The immediate implication of this is that Lacan's notion of castration focuses essentially on the renunciation of jouissance and not on the penis, and therefore that it applies to both men and women insofar as they 'alienate' (in the Marxist sense of the term) a part of their jouissance."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Object a and the Symbolic Dimension of Subjectivity

From Bruce Fink's The Lacanian Subject (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1995), p. 94:

"We could account for the lost object in yet another way. The breast is not, during the first experience of satisfaction, constituted as an object at all, much less as an object that is not part of the infant's body and that is largely beyond the infant's control. It is only constituted after the fact, after numerous vain attempts by the infant to repeat the first experience of satisfaction when the mother is not present of refuses to nurse the child. It is the absence of the breast, and thus the failure to achieve satisfaction, that leads to its constitution as an object as such, an object separate from and not controlled by the child. Once constituted (i.e., symbolized, though the child may as yet still be unable to speak in any way intelligible to others), the child can never again refind the breast as experienced the first time around: as not separate from his or her lips, tongue and mouth, or from his or her self. Once the object is constituted, the "primal state" wherein there is no distinction between infant and breast, or between subject and object (for the subject only comes into being when the lacking breast is constituted as object, and qua relation to that object), can never be re-experienced, and thus the satisfaction provided the first time can never be repeated. A kind of innocence is lost forever, and the actual breasts found thereafter are never quite it. Object (a) is the leftover of that process of constituting an object, the scrap that evades the grasp of symbolization. It is a reminder that there is something else, something perhaps lost, perhaps yet to be found."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Fundamental Lesson of Dialectics

From Žižek 's The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieślowski between Theory and Post-Theory (London: British Film Institute, 2001), p. 8:

"[...] the fundamental lesson of dialectics is that universality as such emerges, is articulated 'for itself', only within a set of particular conditions. (All great historical assertions of universal values, from Ancient Roman Stoicism to modern human rights, are firmly embedded in a concrete social constellation.) However, one should avoid here the historicist trap: this unique circumstance does not account for the 'truth' and universal scope of the analysed phenomenon. It is precisely against such hasty historicisers that one should refer to Marx's famous observation apropos of Homer: it is easy to explain how Homer's poetry emerged from early Greek society; what is much more difficult to explain is its universal appeal, i.e., why it continues to exert its charm even today."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Žižek's "The Lamella of David Lynch"

From Reading Seminar XI: Lacan's Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, edited by R. Feldstein, B. Fink, and M. Jaanus (Albany, SUNY Press, 1995), pp. 214-215:

"Doesn't the elementary structure of subjectivity consist in the fact that not-all of the subject is determined by the causal chain? Isn't the subject the very gap that separates the cause from its effect? Doesn't it emerge precisely insofar as the relationship between cause and effect cannot be accounted for? In other words, what is this feminine depression that suspends the causal link, the causal enchainment of our acts to external stimuli, if not the founding gesture of subjectivity, the primordial act of freedom, of breaking up our insertion into the nexus of causes and effects. The philosophical name for this 'depression' is absolute negativity, i.e., what Hegel called 'the night of the world,' the withdrawal of the subject into itself. In short, woman, not man, is the subject par excellence. And the link between depression and the bursting of the indestructible life-substance is also clear: depression and withdrawal-into-self is the primordial act of retreat, of acquiring a distance from the indestructible life-substance, which makes it appear as a repulsive scintillation."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Žižek on the Process of Symbolic Identification

From Žižek's The Fragile Absolute (London: Verso, 2000), pp. 49-50:

"And it is crucial to note how this passage from symbolic identification to identification with the excremental leftover turns around--accomplishes in the opposite direction--the process of symbolic identification. That is to say, the ultimate paradox of the strict psychoanalytic notion of symbolic identification is that it is by definition a misidentification, the identification with the way the Other(s) misperceive(s) me. Let us take the most elementary example: as a father, I know I am an unprincipled weakling; but, at the same time, I do not want to disappoint my son, who sees in me what I am not: a person of dignity and strong principles, ready to take risks for a just cause--so I identify with this misperception of me, and truly 'become myself' when I, in effect, start to act according to this misperception (ashamed to appear to my son as I really am, I actually accomplish heroic acts). In other words, if we are to account for symbolic identification, it is not enough to refer to the opposition between the way I appear to others and the way I really am: symbolic identification occurs when the way I appear to others becomes more important to me than the psychological reality 'beneath my social mask', forcing me to do things I would never be able to accomplish 'from within myself'."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What We Need Is Even More Hatred

From Žižek's The Fragile Absolute (London: Verso, 2000), pp. 10-11:

"Although Francis Fukuyama's thesis on the 'end of history' quickly fell into disrepute, we still silently assume that the liberal-democratic capitalist global order is somehow the finally found 'natural' social regime; we still implicitly conceive of conflicts in Third World countries as a subspecies of natural catastrophes, as outbursts of quasi-natural violent passions, or as conflicts based on fanatical identification with ethnic roots (and what is 'ethnic' here if not again a codeword for nature?). And, again, the key point is that this all-pervasive renaturalization is strictly correlative to the global refexivization of our daily lives. For that reason, confronted with ethnic hatred and violence, one should thoroughly reject the standard multiculturalist idea that, against ethnic intolerance, one should learn to respect and live with the Otherness of the Other, to develop a tolerance for different lifestyles, and so on--the way to fight ethnic hatred effectively is not through its immediate counterpart, ethnic tolerance, on the contrary, what we need is even more hatred, but proper political hatred: hatred directed at the common political enemy."

From "Slavoj Žižek or How to Philosophize with a Hammer (and a Sickle)"

Article by A. Beilik-Robson, 2008 Apr 1.
International Journal of Žižek Studies [Online] Vol 2:0, "Žižek po Polsku".
Available at

"Assuming an attitude which Alain Badiou, a French philosopher of a similar stripe, called (incidentally also inspired by Lacan) passion du
Réel, Žižek despises all that which he regards as a syndrome of escape from the "tragic" reality of the human psyche. Mere happiness as a goal of the liberal-democratic consensus seems to him a laughable play of appearances, sported by the "Last People" who, in Nietzsche's Zaratustra, are a declining race of Westerners engaged only in the quest of individual illusions of pleasure. Any ethic of heroism is alien to them, they are incapable of sacrifice, they do not want to die for any Cause--they only want to live a comfortable life. Žižek paints such a contemptful portrait of contemporary Westerners, condemning their political indolence and intellectual hypocrisy. And the most blame-worthy culprit here is the New Left, accused by Žižek of being unable to oppose modern capitalism and letting itself be seduced by its trivial pursuits of happiness and gratification."