Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Paradox of Symbolization

From The Metastases of Enjoyment (London: Verso), p. 47:

When I say 'this is an elephant', however, I thereby confer upon an object its symbolic identity; I add to the bundle of real properties a symbolic unifying feature that changes this bundle into One, a self-identical object.  The paradox of symbolization resides in the fact that the object is constituted as One through a feature that is radically external to the object itself, to its reality; through a name that bears no resemblance to the object.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Paradox of Causality

From The Metastases of Enjoyment (London: Verso, p. 39)

The relationship between cause and effect is dialectically reflected here.  On the one hand, the Cause is unambiguously the product of the subject's activity; it is 'alive' only in so far as it is continually resuscitated by the believers' passion.  On the other hand, these same believers experience the Cause as Absolute, as what sets their lives in motion--in short:  as the Cause of their activity; by the same token, they experience themselves as mere transient accidents of their Cause.  Subjects therefore posit the Cause, yet they posit it not as something subordinated to them but as their absolute Cause.  What we encounter here is again the paradoxical temporal loop of the subject:  the Cause is posited, but it is posited as what it 'always-already was'. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Not Linear Determinism

From The Metastases of Enjoyment, p. 31:

Herein lies the trauma's vicious cycle:  the trauma is the Cause which perturbs the smooth engine of symbolization and throws it off balance; it gives rise to an indelible inconsistency in the symbolic field; but for all that, the trauma has no existence of its own prior to symbolization; it remains an anamorphic entity that gains its consistency only in retrospect, viewed from within the symbolic horizon--it acquires its consistency from the structural necessity of the inconsistency of the symbolic field.  As soon as we obliterate this retrospective character of the trauma and 'substantialize' it into a positive entity, one that can be isolated as a cause preceding its symbolic effects, we regress to common linear determinism. 

Determinism and the Cause

From Žižek's The Metastases of Enjoyment:  On Women and Causality (London:  Verso, p. 30):

The relationship between the cause and the law--the law of causality, of symbolic determination--is therefore an antagonistic one:  'Cause is to be distinguished from that which is determinate in a chain, in other words the law ... there is cause only in something that doesn't work.'  The cause qua the Real intervenes where symbolic determination stumbles, misfires--that is, where a signifier falls out.  For that reason, the Cause qua the Real can never effectuate its causal power in a direct way, as such, but must operate intermediately, under the guise of disturbances within the symbolic order.  Suffice it to recall slips of the tongue when the automaton of the signifying chain is, for a brief moment, disrupted by the intervention of some traumatic memory.  However, the fact that the Real operates and is accessible only through the Symbolic does not authorize us to conceive of it as a factor immanent to the Symbolic:  the Real is precisely that which resists and eludes the grasp of the Symbolic and, consequently, that which is detectable within the Symbolic only under the guise of its disturbances. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Free Will or Determinism? (1)

The "parallax gap" is the Real, which shows itself in fundamental oppositions or antagonisms. For example:

1. Kant's determinate phenomena (appearances, things for us) versus unknowable noumena (things in themselves, e.g. the freedom of the will).

2. The philosophical question about determinism versus free will. For Kant both of these alternatives are true. Žižek points out that the Real is indicated in the opposition between the two types of Kantian antinomy, dynamic versus mathematical.

3. linear time (a causal sequence) versus the hermeneutic circle (interpretation based on memory and tradition);

4. a situation in which the cause determines the effect versus a situation in which the effect retroactively determines its own cause.

The "short circuit," or twist in the Moebius strip (i.e., the qualitative change that apparently emerges out of quantitative developments in complexity) is when linear time "folds back on itself." Assume that a physically determined organism develops memory to the point of accepting symbolic castration, forming abstract concepts, etc. Nonetheless, a speaking animal is not simply determined by reflexes, instincts, etc. For example, a speaking animal retroactively determines which memories "will have been" traumatic for it. Après-coup is one of the ways Lacan described this mode of temporality. But like everything in Lacan, this concept is presented in a way that seems obscure. By contrast, if you research "the hermeneutic circle," you will find many clearer accounts (than Lacan’s) which nonetheless indicate something of what Lacan meant by après-coup or "psychoanalytic time" (i.e., the interpretation of memories and the retroactive formation of what will have been past trauma).

Keep in mind that occasionally Žižek might--in his amusing, provocactive way--just express it all in a form something like this: "Determinism or Free Will? Yes, please!"

Friday, May 22, 2009

Some Other Group Threatens Our Enjoyment!

From Sarah Kay’s Žižek: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press), p. 138:

Žižek's theme of the 'theft of enjoyment' reworks Hegel's dialectic of lord and bondsman (Phenomenology, subsections178-196), exploring its implications for the contemporary political scene, especially racism and nationalism. A thoroughgoing instance of such analysis is the final chapter of Tarrying with the Negative.

This examines how political identifications involve 'a shared relationship toward a Thing, toward Enjoyment incarnated' (Tarrying, p. 201). What we call a 'way of life' is the way a 'community' bases itself on the organization of enjoyment. National feeling arises from a common reference to enjoyment (such as festivals), and national tensions from fear that some other group threatens this enjoyment, or has a perverse relationship to it. Animosity towards other racial groups often concentrates on what they eat, or the smell of their food, or the way they themselves smell. The disgust which such things arouse is itself a form of enjoyment, the surplus enjoyment that arises from the conviction that these groups indulge in excessive enjoyments of a kind which we ourselves have renounced (Tarrying, p. 206). Totalitarian regimes make use of racial minorities as a kind of 'shock-absorber': if all the disgust of enjoyment can be projected onto, and borne by, another group, this helps to preserve the balance of the pleasure principle for the rest. Capitalist regimes are likewise eager to off-load their inherent imbalance and excess on to a racial Other, since this enables them to fantasize themselves as 'communities' rather than as impersonal 'societies' (Tarrying, pp. 209-211). White liberal intellectuals are no more comfortable than racists with other people's enjoyment. They may be 'tolerant' of black community politics, but not of white rednecks (Tarrying, pp. 213-214). Thus they merely reshuffle the cards, but keep the same deck. What is needed is not to embrace some alternative fantasy of enjoyment, but to gain a purchase on the structure which gives rise to fantasies of enjoyment in the first place.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Spectre of Ideology

From Žižek's Introduction to Mapping Ideology (London: Verso, 1994), p. 1:

I Critique of Ideology, today?

By way of a simple reflection on how the horizon of historical imagination is subject to change, we find ourselves in medias res, compelled to accept the unrelenting pertinence of the notion of ideology. Up to a decade ago, the system production-nature (man's productive-exploitative relationship with nature and its resources) was perceived as a constant, whereas everybody was busy imagining different forms of the social organization of production and commerce (Fascism or Communism as alternatives to liberal capitalism); today, as Fredric Jameson perspicaciously remarked, nobody seriously considers possible alternatives to capitalism any longer, whereas popular imagination is persecuted by the visions of the forthcoming 'breakdown of nature', of the stoppage of all life on earth--it seems easier to imagine the 'end of the world' than a far more modest change in the mode of production, as if liberal capitalism is the 'real' that will somehow survive even under conditions of a global catastrophe.... One can thus categorically assert the existence of ideology qua generative matrix that regulates the relationship between the visible and the non-visible, between imaginable and non-imaginable, as well as the changes in this relationship.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lacan on Desire

From Dylan Evans' An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 37:

Need is a purely biological instinct, an appetite which emerges according to the requirements of the organism and which abates completely (even if only temporarily) when satisfied. The human subject, being born in a state of helplessness, is unable to satisfy its own needs, and hence depends on the Other to help it satisfy them. In order to get the Other's help, the infant must express its needs vocally; need must be articulated in demand. The primitive demands of the infant may only be inarticulate screams, but they serve to bring the Other to minister to the infant's needs. However, the presence of the Other soon acquires an importance in itself, an importance that goes beyond the satisfaction of need, since this presence symbolizes the Other's love. Hence demand soon takes on a double function, serving both as an articulation of need and as a demand for love. However, whereas the Other can provide the objects which the subject requires to satisfy his needs, the Other cannot provide that unconditional love which the subject craves. Hence even after the needs which were articulated in demand have been satisfied, the other aspect of demand, the craving for love, remains unsatisfied, and this leftover is desire. 'Desire is neither the appetite for satisfaction, nor the demand for love, but the difference that results from the subtraction of the first from the second' (Ecrits, 287).

Desire is thus the surplus produced by the articulation of need in demand; 'Desire begins to take shape in the margin in which demand becomes separated from need' (Ecrits, 311). Unlike a need, which can be satisfied and which then ceases to motivate the subject until another need arises, desire can never be satisfied; it is constant in its pressure, and eternal. The realisation of desire does not consist in its being 'fulfilled', but in the reproduction of desire as such.

Monday, May 11, 2009

An Effect which Retroactively Posits its own Cause

From the glossary in Sarah Kay’s Žižek:  A Critical Introduction (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press), p. 159.

APRES-COUP:  The psychoanalytical view of time is that it does not progress in a linear way but in a kind of backward loop, so that the crucial tense is the future perfect:  what ‘will have been’.  For example, a childhood experience will reveal itself to have been traumatic if it is reactivated as such--for example, in a neurotic symptom--by some subsequent turn of events.  The concept of après-coup does not mean that the past does not determine the present--it does, but in a way that is itself overdetermined by the present.  Thus significance is always grasped retrospectively.  An elementary effect of après-coup is that it is not until the end of a sentence that the meaning of its beginning can be ascertained.  A more complex instance is that the SUBJECT, which is nothing but the failure of S1 to represent it to S2, is nevertheless perceived as what will have been filled out by S2 (see SIGNIFYING CHAIN).  For this reason, the subject is said to be an effect which retroactively posits its own cause.  There is nothing teleological about après-coup; the point is that what may seem inevitable is a purely contingent state of affairs.  The process of après-coup shapes Lacan’s reading of Freud and Žižek’s readings of both Lacan and Hegel:  each reader reveals from his or her own, contingent viewpoint ‘what’s in the text which could not be written there’ (‘Lacan in Slovenia’, 26).