Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fetish versus Symptom

Cabinet Magazine
Issue 2 Mapping Conversations Spring 2001

“From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism”
Slavoj Žižek

http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/2/western.php

[….]

The fetish is effectively a kind of symptom in reverse. That is to say, the symptom is the exception which disturbs the surface of the false appearance, the point at which the repressed Other Scene erupts, while the fetish is the embodiment of the Lie which enables us to sustain the unbearable truth. Let us take the case of the death of a beloved person. In the case of a symptom, I "repress" this death and try not to think about it, but the repressed trauma returns in the symptom. In the case of a fetish, on the contrary, I "rationally" fully accept this death, and yet I cling to the fetish, to some feature that embodies for me the disavowal of this death. In this sense, a fetish can play a very constructive role in allowing us to cope with the harsh reality. Fetishists are not dreamers lost in their private worlds. They are thorough "realists" capable of accepting the way things effectively are, given that they have their fetish to which they can cling in order to cancel the full impact of reality. In Nevil Shute's melodramatic World War II novel Requiem for a WREN, the heroine survives her lover's death without any visible traumas. She goes on with her life and is even able to talk rationally about her lover's death because she still has the dog that was the lover's favored pet. When, some time after, the dog is accidentally run over by a truck, she collapses and her entire world disintegrates.3

Sometimes, the line between fetish and symptom is almost indiscernible. An object can function as the symptom (of a repressed desire) and almost simultaneously as a fetish (embodying the belief which we officially renounce). A leftover of the dead person, a piece of his/her clothes, can function both as a fetish (insofar as the dead person magically continues to live in it) and as a symptom (functioning as the disturbing detail that brings to mind his/her death). Is this ambiguous tension not homologous to that between the phobic and the fetishist object? The structural role is in both cases the same: If this exceptional element is disturbed, the whole system collapses. Not only does the subject's false universe collapse if he is forced to confront the meaning of his symptom; the opposite also holds, insofar as the subject's "rational" acceptance of the way things are dissolves when his fetish is taken away from him.

So, when we are bombarded by claims that in our post-ideological cynical era nobody believes in the proclaimed ideals, when we encounter a person who claims he is cured of any beliefs and accepts social reality the way it really is, one should always counter such claims with the question "OK, but where is the fetish that enables you to (pretend to) accept reality 'the way it is'?" "Western Buddhism" is such a fetish. It enables you to fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it; that you are well aware of how worthless this spectacle is; and that what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always with-draw. In a further specification, one should note that the fetish can function in two opposite ways: either its role remains unconscious—as in the case of Shute's heroine who was unaware of the fetish-role of the dog—or you think that the fetish is that which really matters, as in the case of a Western Buddhist unaware that the "truth" of his existence is in fact the social involvement which he tends to dismiss as a mere game.

[….]
Slavoj Žižek – The Wire or the clash of civilisations in one country

Water bills expected to triple in some parts of U.S.

http://money.cnn.com/2012/02/27/pf/water_bills/index.htm

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Many consumers could see their water bills double or even triple, as the country attempts to overhaul its aging water system over the next 25 years.

A new study by the American Water Works Association found that repairing and expanding the U.S. drinking water system between 2011 and 2035 will cost at least $1 trillion, an amount that will largely be paid for by jacking up household water bills.

"The amounts will vary depending on community size and geographic region, but in some communities these infrastructure costs alone could triple the size of a typical family's water bills," the report said. (CNN's Building Up America)

Currently, the average household water bill is about $335 per year, according to the non-profit, which focuses on drinking water quality and supply.

Small, rural communities are likely to be hit the hardest because there are fewer people to share the expenses of infrastructure projects. Families in these areas are likely to see their bills jump between $300 and $550 per year due to infrastructure repairs and expansion costs.

And that doesn't even include added costs of other big projects that may come up like replacing pipes to meet new regulations.

Home repairs: Which jobs come first?

While it's a lot of extra money to pay, delaying the investment could lead to poor water service, pipe breakage and an increase in costly emergency repairs which would lead to higher costs in the long-run, the report states. (U.S. water infrastructure in trouble - CNN)

"We face the need for massive reinvestment in our water infrastructure over the coming decades," the report states. "The pipe networks that were largely built and paid for by earlier generations -- and passed down to us as an inheritance --last a long time, but they are not immortal."

The $1 trillion in water infrastructure costs over the next 25 years includes fixing leaky pipes, replacing pipelines and expanding water systems to accommodate growing populations.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Sirens of Infinite Economic Expansion

by Phil Rockstroh

http://www.pacificfreepress.com/news/1/11031-the-sirens-of-infinite-economic-expansion.html

[….]

In our time, politics as usual has failed to address the most pressing issues of the age: The manner by which neoliberal economic agendas exploit the masses in the service of a corrupt elite, and in so doing, decimating individual hopes and aspirations, as, all the while, the environmental dangers, endemic to the unchecked system, imperil the survival of humankind.

Although, alarmingly, both political parties continue to serve the status quo: Contemporary conservatives promote--in fact, seem to outright revel in--the litanies of a gospel of global-wide destruction (in the case of religious fundamentalists even going so far as to implore the forces of heaven, with fervid prayers, to expedite doomsday's date of arrival) by means of militarist aggression and environmental carnage--while squeamish liberals are devotees of the cliché-worshipping temple of incremental change.

From the right flank of this disastrous cosmology of convenience, Rick Santarium insists that a literal interpretation and societal application of "The Scriptures" i.e., an ad hoc collection of the laws, legends and beliefs of Middle Eastern, Bronze Age, hill country barbarians will remedy our national woes. Accordingly, what is one to make of this lovely bit of wisdom from Isaiah (13:9,15–18)?

"Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger . . . Every one that is found shall be thrust through . . . Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes . . . and their wives ravished. Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them. . . [T]hey shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children."

Lovely, huh? Surely, we've evolved past such barbaric sentiments. What kind of a blood-besotted people would accept such an abomination to the tenets of modern civilization and basic human decency?

Tragically, this is who: Both political parties of U.S. duopoly and their supporters, comprising a nation of people, who by large majorities support, for example, the Obama administration's policy of warfare waged by predator drone attack. Military actions that often result in an Old Testament-style "dashing to pieces" the bodies of children.

What does it matter now to the dead whether the reason given for perpetrating these monstrous acts are based on Santarium's psychotic concretization of religious lore or Obama's slick, national security state rationalizations?

As neocons press the petal to the metal of the war machine, mainstream liberal apologists for the status quo, luxuriating upon the hurtling juggernaut, counsel us that any change in direction and velocity must be incremental, as they proffer other brain-dead, political clichés about the need for "civility" and "political realism" involving the criteria of sausage making.

First, clichés are zombies; they are dead to the novelty of the living moment, and they eat the brains of inspiration. They are worse than lazy thinking--they are putrefied thought. Worse, clichés will not die, because they are already dead. Burn them with fire…reduce them to ashes…let the ash mulch the soil where future inspiration will grow.

Second, an incremental approach is an utterly useless, if not delusional, response to the situation. The U.S., through the decades of the post-war era, has been moving with increasing rapidity towards becoming an outright national security/corporate authoritarian state. At this point, this much is evident regarding mainstream liberals who tout the virtues of "incremental change": they, from their comfortable perch of privilege, do so, because they harbor scant desire to alter the present order.

Still, mainstream liberals are baffled as to why people find them so unbearable, when, in their swoons of self-regard, they believe themselves to be oh-so reasonable sorts who selflessly wish everyone the best.

If you are an advocate of incrementalism, then you co-sign the present order--and the present order consists of corporate/military/police state dominance over almost every aspect of life in the U.S. In short, "reasonable", "well-meaning" liberals--you are complicit in crimes against human dignity when you bandy your incremental change fantasies.

This is what your reasonable, well-meaning, piecemeal approach is worth...Not a drop of blood of the innocent slaughtered in your predator drone-besotted president's wars of imperium whose blood-drenched deeds you co-sign with your casuistry. Your faux civil pose is worth about a handful of dust. Obama apologists you can keep making excuses for dear leader--although, it strains credulity as to how anyone with a working moral compass can continue to defend him, or any leader, who has proven himself to be a stalwart defender of the dominant order.

Regarding which, the defining trait of the financial and corporate elite, who lord over the present system has proven to be an all-consuming lust for riches that an individual could not spend in a thousand lifetimes. Their concept of what constitutes acts of trade and commerce is analogous to what pornography is to erotica. Accordingly, one would regard the greedheads of the one percent with the same compassion that one grants to a porn addict, if not for the fact that acts of autoeroticism are not responsible for climate chaos nor did the activity bring down the global economy.

In contrast, this ongoing, noxious, degrading circle jerk of the elite did.
And this brings us to what is at the root of the current siege mentality of the architects and operatives of the corporate/militarist state: Below the armament-bristling surface, and at the dark heart of the subterfuge of one percenters’ yawns this abysmal psychology: If an individual insists on existing in a fortified tower of the mind, the truths of his own heart, as well as those arriving from the soul of the world, will appear to him to be acts of sedition; the longings of his own heart for compassion will be misinterpreted as signs of weakness and emotionally displaced as a malignant, paranoid fantasy in which his own desire for resonate human contact will seem to be the attack of an invading army of rebels.

By reflex (mirrored outwardly in the modus operandi of the one percent against a rising, global chorus of political protest and social unrest) he will attempt to block out and silence the admonitions of his own besieged heart, doubling down on his paranoid actions, until the fortifications in and around himself (the mass psychology of a national security state) have grown to titanic proportions.
An inhuman system that has come to stand for little but the empty perpetuation of itself, according to the metaphoric lexicon of the ancient Greeks, is tantamount to approaching existence as a Titan--and they did not mean the metaphoric designation to be taken as laudatory: The Greek poets believed an evincing of titanic traits was an anathema to human life and an affront to the gods.

[….]

According to Greek mythology, human beings could not exist on earth until Zeus banished and imprisoned his father, Cronus, a Titan, and the other Titans to the depths of Hades.

In human terms, we call this an uprising.

At present, daily life has become defined by the caprice of titanic forces (forces that devour our humanity). Fellow human beings, we are long overdue for this: The hour has arrived to demand an end to the destructive reign of these self-serving elites who have proven, time and time again, they care nothing about the suffering they bring to humanity nor the damage they inflict on this living planet.

In our time, when feedback loops of methane gas are melting arctic ice at an exponential rate, yet the powers that be continue their pursuit of ruthless agendas that perpetuate this death-worshiping trajectory, it is evident that politics as usual has failed.

Incremental change will not slow a runaway train. Awareness and action might. In our case, at this late date, if the corporate elite, who control the agendas of the state, are not challenged and brought to heel, and soon, then there is little else left for us to do, other than become hospice workers for our doomed species.

[….]

Monday, February 20, 2012

Santorum’s Gospel of Inequality

By CHARLES M. BLOW

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/opinion/blow-santorum-exalts-inequality.html?_r=1

“Santorum Praises Income Inequality.”

That was Fox News’s headline about Rick Santorum’s speech at the Detroit Economic Club on Thursday. Santorum said, “I’m not about equality of result when it comes to income inequality. There is income inequality in America. There always has been and, hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be.”
Unbelievable. Maybe not, but stunning all the same.

Then again, Santorum is becoming increasingly unhinged in his public comments. Last week, he said that the president was arguing that Catholics would have to “hire women priests to comply with employment discrimination issues.”

Also last week, he suggested that liberals and the president were leading religious people into oppression and even beheadings. I kid you not. Santorum said: “They are taking faith and crushing it. Why? When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution. What’s left is a government that gives you rights. What’s left are no unalienable rights. What’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the guillotine.”

Yet for Santorum to champion income inequality in Detroit, of all places, is still incredibly tone-deaf.

Detroit has the highest poverty rate of any big city in America, according to data provided by Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College. Among the more than 70 cities with populations over 250,000, Detroit’s poverty rate topped the list at a whopping 37.6 percent, more than twice the national poverty rate. And according to the Census Bureau, median household income in Detroit from 2006-10 was just $28,357, which was only 55 percent of the overall U.S. medianhousehold income over that time.

This is a city that last year announced plans to close half its public schools and send layoff notices to every teacher in the system.

This is a city where the mayor’s pledge to demolish 10,000 abandoned structures was seen as only shaving the tip of the iceberg because, as The Wall Street Journal reported in 2010, “the city has roughly 90,000 abandoned or vacant homes and residential lots, according to Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that tracks demographic data for the city.”

This is not the place to praise income inequality. Last week, at a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad, the chairman of that committee,laid out the issue as many Americans see it:

“The growing gap between the very wealthy and everyone else has serious ramifications for the country. It hinders economic growth, it undermines confidence in our institutions, and it goes against one of the core ideals of this country — that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed and leave a better future for your kids and your grandkids.”

This is arguably even more true of people in Michigan than for the rest of us.
Even though income inequality in the Detroit area isn’t particularly high, looking at the issue as an urban one in the case of cities like Detroit is problematic. The whole region took a hit. The comparison for cities like Detroit may be more intra-city than inter-city.

As Willy Staley argued in 2010 in an online column for Next American City magazine: “In richer cities, the inequality is put side-by-side, in an uncomfortable, loathsome way; for cities left in the dust of deindustrialization, the inequality is presents (sic) as existing between cities, not within them. Gone is the city/suburb divide between rich and poor, income inequality manifests itself within wealthy cities and between cities.”

And it is this feeling of being left behind by the American economy and abandoned by Republicans that is pushing Michigan into the blue. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling company, found this week that Obama would handily defeat all the Republican candidates in head-to-head matchups in the state. The company’s president, Dean Debnam, said in a statement: “Michigan is looking less and less like it will be in the swing state column this fall.” He continued, “Barack Obama’s numbers in the state are improving, while the Republican field is heading in the other direction.”

Santorum went on to say about income inequality during his speech on Thursday: “We should celebrate like we do in the small towns all across America — as you do here in Detroit. You celebrate success. You build statues and monuments. Buildings, you name after them. Why? Because in their greatness and innovation, yes, they created wealth, but they created wealth for everybody else. And that’s a good thing, not something to be condemned in America.”
Santorum might want to take a walk around Detroit to see who’s celebrating and to see how many statues he can find to honor people who simply invented something and got rich.

Furthermore, as a newspaperman and a former Detroiter, I’d like to direct him to the James J. Brady Memorial. Detroit1701.org, maintained by a University of Michigan emeritus professor, calls it “one of the more attractive memorials in Detroit.” It pays tribute to Brady, a federal tax collector, who set out to address the issue of child poverty in the city by founding the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellows of Detroit Fund in 1914 — what is essentially a local welfare fund.
The group provides “warm clothing, toys, books, games and candy” to local children every Christmas in addition to sending poor children to summer camps, the dentist and to college.

Then again, charitable giving doesn’t appear to be high on Motor Mouth Santorum’s list of priorities. As The Washington Post pointed out, based on Santorum’s tax return disclosure this week, he has given the least amount to charity of the four presidential candidates who have disclosed their tax returns. (Ron Paul has not.) His charitable giving was just 1.8 percent of his adjusted gross income.

The Obamas were the highest, giving 14.2 percent, even though their income was second lowest.

[....]

Bruce Springsteen: 'What was done to my country was un-American'

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/feb/17/bruce-springsteen-wrecking-ball

The Boss explains why there is a critical, questioning and angry patriotism at the heart of his new album Wrecking Ball

Fiachra Gibbons
guardian.co.uk, Friday 17 February 2012

At a Paris press conference on Thursday night, Bruce Springsteen was asked whether he was advocating an armed uprising in America. He laughed at the idea, but that the question was even posed at all gives you some idea of the fury of his new album Wrecking Ball.

Indeed, it is as angry a cry from the belly of a wounded America as has been heard since the dustbowl and Woody Guthrie, a thundering blow of New Jersey pig iron down on the heads of Wall Street and all who have sold his country down the swanny. Springsteen has gone to the great American canon for ammunition, borrowing from folk, civil war anthems, Irish rebel songs and gospel. The result is a howl of pain and disbelief as visceral as anything he has ever produced, that segues into a search for redemption: "Hold tight to your anger/ And don't fall to your fears … Bring on your wrecking ball."

"I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream," Springsteen told the conference, where the album was aired for the first time. It was written, he claimed, not just out of fury but out of patriotism, a patriotism traduced.

"What was done to our country was wrong and unpatriotic and un-American and nobody has been held to account," he later told the Guardian. "There is a real patriotism underneath the best of my music but it is a critical, questioning and often angry patriotism."

The tone is set from the start with the big, bombastic We Take Care of Our Own – a Born in the USA for our times – where the most sacred shibboleth of Ordinary Joe America is sung with mocking irony through clenched teeth by a heart that still wants it to be true. "From the shotgun shack to the Superdome/ There ain't no help, the cavalry stayed home." It is a typical Springsteen appeal to a common decency beyond the civil war he sees sapping America.

Like Born in the USA, which got pressed into service as the anthem of the first Gulf war, he's aware it has the potential to be hijacked by the angry right. But Springsteen says that to anyone who cares to listen to the lyrics, the message is clear.

"A big promise has been broken. You can't have a United States if you are telling some folks that they can't get on the train. There is a cracking point where a society collapses. You can't have a civilisation where something is factionalised like this."

Springsteen plunges into darker, richer musical landscapes in a sequence of breath-taking protest songs – Easy Money, Shackled and Drawn, Jack of All Trades, the scarily bellicose Death to My Hometown and This Depression with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine – before the album turns on Wrecking Ball in search of some spiritual path out of the mess the US is in.
But it is also an ode to hard work, to the dignity it brings, and the blue-collar values he claims made America:

"Freedom son's a dirty shirt
The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt
A shovel in the dirt keeps the devil gone
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn"

Asked where the fury of this lyric had come from, he talks movingly of his father who had been "emasculated by losing his job" in the 70s and never recovered from the damage to his pride. "Unemployment is a really devastating thing. I know the damage it does to families. Growing up in that house there were things you couldn't say. It was a minefield. My mother was the breadwinner. She was steadfast and relentless and I took that from her.

"Pessimism and optimism are slammed up against each other in my records, the tension between them is where it's all at, it's what lights the fire."

Hope is there. But it is a tempered hope. Land of Hope and Dreams is a plea for America's newest immigrants, those risking their lives to ride the trains up from central America. "This train … carries saints and sinners … losers and winners … whores and gamblers … Dreams will not be thwarted … Faith will be rewarded."

Springsteen, 62, says he is not afraid of how the album will be received in election-year America: "The temper has changed. And people on the streets did it. Occupy Wall Street changed the national conversation – the Tea Party had set it for a while. The first three years of Obama were under them.

"Previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no push back at all saying this was outrageous – a basic theft that struck at the heart of what America was about, a complete disregard for the American sense of history and community … In Easy Money the guy is going out to kill and rob, just like the robbery spree that has occurred at the top of the pyramid – he's imitating the guys on Wall Street. An enormous fault line cracked the American system right open whose repercussion we are only starting to be feel.

"Nobody had talked about income inequality in America for decades – apart from John Edwards – but no one was listening. But now you have Newt Gingrich talking about 'vulture capitalism' – Newt Gingrich! – that would not have happened without Occupy Wall Street."

Having previously backed Obama, Springsteen says he would prefer to stay on the sidelines this time. "I don't write for one side of the street … But the Bush years were so horrific you could not just sit around. It was such a blatant disaster. I campaigned for Kerry and Obama, and I am glad I did. But normally I would prefer to stay on the sidelines. The artist is supposed to be the canary in the cage."

Obama hasn't done bad, Springsteen says. "He kept General Motors alive, he got through healthcare – though not the public system I would have wanted – he killed Osama Bin Laden, and he brought sanity to the top level of government. But big business still has too much say in government and there has not been as many middle- or working-class voices in the administration as I expected. I thought Guantanamo would have been closed but now, but he got us out of Iraq and I guess we will soon be out of Afghanistan."

The album is the last on which Clarence Clemons, the legendary saxophonist from the E Street Band, played on before he died last year. "When the sax comes up on Land of Hope and Dreams," Springsteen says, "it's a lovely moment for me."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Billionaire Bully

http://politics.salon.com/2012/02/19/billionaire_romney_donor_uses_threats_to_silence_critics/

Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics
BY GLENN GREENWALD

Frank VanderSloot is an Idaho billionaire and the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc., a controversial billion-dollar-a-year company which peddles dietary supplements and cleaning products; back in 2004, Forbes, echoing complaints to government agencies, described the company as “a pyramid selling organization, built along the lines of Herbalife and Amway.” VanderSloot has long used his wealth to advance numerous right-wing political causes. Currently, he is the national finance co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, and his company has become one of the largest donors ($1 million) to the ostensibly “independent” pro-Romney SuperPAC, Restore Our Future. Melaleuca’s get-rich pitches have in the past caused Michigan regulators to take action, resulting in the company’s entering into a voluntary agreement to “not engage in the marketing and promotion of an illegal pyramid”‘; it entered into a separate voluntary agreement with the Idaho attorney general’s office,which found that “certain independent marketing executives of Melaleuca” had violated Idaho law; and the Food and Drug Administration previously accused Melaleuca of deceiving consumers about some of its supplements.

But it is VanderSloot’s chronic bullying threats to bring patently frivolous lawsuits against his political critics — magazines, journalists, and bloggers — that makes him particularly pernicious and worthy of more attention. In the last month alone, VanderSloot, using threats of expensive defamation actions, has successfully forced Forbes, Mother Jones and at least one local gay blogger in Idaho to remove articles that critically focused on his political and business practices (Mother Jones subsequently re-posted the article with revisions a week after first removing it). He has been using this abusive tactic in Idaho for years: suppressing legitimate political speech by threatening or even commencing lawsuits against even the most obscure critics (he has even sued local bloggers for “copyright infringement” after they published a threatening letter sent by his lawyers). This tactic almost always succeeds in silencing its targets, because even journalists and their employers who have done nothing wrong are afraid of the potentially ruinous costs they will incur when sued by a litigious billionaire.
Numerous journalists and bloggers in Idaho — who want to write critically about VanderSloot’s vast funding of right-wing political causes — are petrified even to mention his name for fear of these threats. As his work on the Romney campaign brings him national notoriety, he is now aiming these tactics beyond Idaho. To allow this scheme to continue — whereby billionaires can use their bottomless wealth to intimidate ordinary citizens and media outlets out of writing about them — is to permit the wealthiest in America to thuggishly shield themselves from legitimate criticism and scrutiny.
* * * * *
VanderSloot is a devout Mormon and has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) since 1965. Over the last decade, he has continuously inserted himself into the political realm in all sorts of inflammatory and influential ways, clearly making him a public figure and fair game for scrutiny.

He has a history of virulent anti-gay activism, including the spearheading of a despicable billboard campaign condemning Idaho Public Television for a documentary, entitled It’s Elementary, that was designed to provide “a window into what really happens when teachers address lesbian and gay issues with their students in age-appropriate ways” (the image on the left shows one of VanderSloot’s “homosexual lifestyle” billboards after it was defaced with the word “YES!”). VanderSloot denounced the documentary as a threat to children: “if this isn’t stopped, a lot of little kids will watch this program and create questions they’ve never had . . . little lives are going to be damaged permanently,” he said. In 2008, VanderSloot’s wife, Belinda, donated $100,000 to California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 campaign.

Then there was VanderSloot’s behavior in response to an award-winning investigative series by The Post Register, a small, independently-owned newspaper in Mormon-heavy Idaho Falls, which unearthed the story of a pedophile in the local Boy Scouts troop who had molested dozens of scouts (the national Boy Scouts of America had succeeded in having the subsequent civil case sealed from public view). The Post Register sued to obtain those sealed records, and then detailed how a Mormon bishop knew of his pedophile history yet still recommended him as a Scout master, how he was protected by several Boy Scout lawyers who were aware of more abuse but did not tell the boys’ parents, and how top-level local and national leaders of the Mormon Church had also received warnings. The newspaper then began uncovering the presence of several other scout-master pedophiles. As the Post Register‘s courageous Managing Editor, Dean Miller, detailed here, the backlash against the paper, its editors and reporters was severe: the Boy Scouts in that part of Idaho is associated with and heavily supported by LDS, and “some counties that [the] newspaper serves are more than 70 percent Mormon, and for generations scouting has been the official youth program for Mormon boys.”

In response to this six-part exposé — which won the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment – VanderSloot went on a virtual jihad against the newspaper and the principal reporter who exposed the scandal, Peter Zuckerman. VanderSloot bought numerous full-page newspaper ads in The Post Register that attacked the story and explicitly identified the reporter, Zuckerman, as “a homosexual” (Zuckerman had previously written for a small Florida paper about being gay when he lived in that state, but had kept his sexual orientation largely a secret since he moved to rural Idaho). Vandersloot’s full-page ad expressly described the “speculation” that Zuckerman’s homosexuality had made him hostile to the Scouts and LDS: “the Boy Scout’s position of not letting gay men be Scout Leaders, and the LDS Church’s position that marriage should be between a man and a woman may have caused Zuckerman to attack the scouts and the LDS Church through his journalism.”

While the ad absurdly sought to repudiate the very “speculation” about Zuckerman which it had just amplified (“We think it would be very unfair for anyone to conclude that is what is behind Zuckerman’s motives”), the predictable damage was done. Zuckerman’s editor, Dean Miller, explained: “Our reporter, Peter Zuckerman, was not ‘out’ to anyone but family, a few colleagues at the paper (including me), and his close friends”; but after VanderSloot outed him to his community in that ad, “strangers started ringing Peter’s doorbell at midnight. His partner of five years was fired from his job.”

VanderSloot has also long used his wealth in electoral politics: it was VanderSloot’s LearJet that was rented by the state’s far-right Lt. Governor, Jim Risch, to fly around the state as Risch successfully campaigned in 2008 to replace Larry Craig in the Senate. But he has taken his political activism to a new level this year with his vigorous support for Romney’s candidacy. VanderSloot has become the Romney campaign’s national finance co-chairman; four companies he controls gave a total of $1 million to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney SuperPAC; he “has held Romney fund-raisers at his Idaho Falls ranch in both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns”; and Romney lavishly praised him this way: “Frank’s vision and sense of social responsibility is second to none and he never ceases to amaze me.” It merits much more attention that such a prominent and significant Romney backer is repeatedly using his vast wealth to bully reporters, bloggers, and activists out of writing about him with threats of frivolous though potentially bankruptcy-inducing legal claims.
* * * * *
The examples of VanderSloot’s silencing of critics are numerous. On February 6, Mother Jones posted an article about VanderSloot and Melaleuca by its staff reporter, Stephanie Mencimer, headlined “Pyramid-Like Company Ponies Up $1 million for Mitt Romney.” It detailed VanderSloot’s ties to Romney, the controversial business history of Melaleuca, and the attacks on (and community outing of) Zuckerman by VanderSloot for his Boy Scout/pedophile investigative series. But for the last full week, if one clicked on the link to where that story once was on the Mother Jones website, the article was no longer there, replaced by an “Access Denied” error message.

That’s because Mother Jones – like so many outlets which have written about VanderSloot over the years — quickly received objections and a demand for retractions from Melaleuca’s in-house lawyers (and then received the same thing from Kirkland & Ellis, a large law firm retained by Melaleuca in D.C., where the Mother Jones bureau is located). So alarmed were Mother Jones editors at the prospect of being sued by such deep pockets that they did not edit the piece in accordance with the dictates of Melaleuca lawyers but actually removed the entire article from the Internet, and, until yesterday afternoon, it had been deleted for more than a week. Mencimer’s article was re-posted only late yesterday. The revised article contains numerous tortured edits and corrections (all about trivial issues) designed to placate VanderSloot’s lawyers and to correct what were a couple of minor errors; tellingly, nobody fromMother Jones was willing to be quoted, even anonymously, for this article.
On February 10 — four days after the Mother Jones piece was first posted – Forbes published an article entitled “Meet the Men Behind Romney: Four Contributors Mitt Probably Doesn’t Want You to Know About”. Written by Elliot Suthers – a Forbes blogger and GOP operative (he worked on the campaigns of McCain 2008 and Saxby Chambliss) — the article examined what it called (based on this 2004 Forbes profile and complaints to government agencies) Melaleuca’s “somewhat shady business model,” and also referenced the “number of anti-gay causes” which VanderSloot has funded.

But again, if you click on the link to the Forbes site where the article originally appeared — here – you will be greeted by a message error; the only evidence of the article is found from other sites that linked to it. Forbes, too, received complaints from Melaleuca lawyers which caused them to remove the article entirely. The very day the article was published, Melaleuca’s General Counsel, Ryan Nelson, sent an email to Suthers (as well as to various Forbes editors) accusing him of making “defamatory statements” and directing: “We expect immediate action here and no more stonewalling from you.” It warned them that “this is serious business” that “will escalate this quickly if you do not help us resolve these issues immediately.”

These national magazines are encountering what small local journalists and bloggers in Idaho have confronted for years. The website43rdStateBlues is written by a collection of Idaho Democrats and they all write under pseudonyms. In 2007, one of them (“TomPaine”) wrote a critical post about VanderSloot, and then quickly received a letter from Melaleuca’s in-house General Counsel at the time, Ken Sheppard, threatening a lawsuit if the post was not removed within 24 hours. The website complied by removing the post, but wanted their readers to know why the post was removed. So another poster (“d2″) explained that they had received a letter from Melaleuca’s lawyers demanding its removal, and then posted the lawyer’s letter.

Melaleuca responded by obtaining an after-the-fact copyright certificate for that lawyer’s letter, then demanded that the hosting company remove the letter from the website on the ground that it constituted copyright infringement (the hosting company promptly complied), and Melaleuca then sued the website for copyright infringement for having published the now-copyrighted lawyer’s letter without their consent. Worse, as part of that lawsuit, Melaleuca issued a subpoena demanding the identities of both anonymous bloggers — the one who wrote the original post about VanderSloot (“TomPaine”) and the one who posted the lawyer’s letter (“d2″). A district court in Idaho ordered the website to disclose to Melaleuca the identity of the blogger who posted the lawyer’s cease-and-desist letter, but refused to compel disclosure of the identity of the other blogger. It’s almost impossible to imagine any more thuggish attempts to intimidate people from speaking out and criticizing VanderSloot: this was a tiny website being sued for trivial offenses in federal court by a company owned by a billionaire.

There is no journalist or blogger too small to evade VanderSloot’s threats. The Idaho Agenda is a website that covers issues of interest to the state’s LGBT community. On February 2 of this year, one of its bloggers, James Tidmarsh, wrote a piece entitled “Romney Receives Big Money from Idaho’s Not-So-Gay-Friendly Melaleuca Company.” When he received anaccusatory letter from a Melaleuca lawyer, Associate Counsel Michael LaClare, Tidmarsh spoke to friends to decide what to do, but before he could respond, he received a follow-up missive by email from a different company lawyer, General Counsel Ryan Nelson, demanding compliance. When Tidmarsh emailed Nelson to say that he was working on a response, the Melaleuca lawyer responded: “We really need to address this issue today or else we will have to consider escalating this issue to a much more serious level.”

Although Tidmarsh noted what was plainly true — that “the facts included in the post are a matter of public record found elsewhere, including the internet, periodicals and newspapers” — he was afraid of being sued by a billionaire and thus removed the post entirely. This is what one now finds when one clicks on a link to the original article.

What makes this particular threat so outrageous is how plainly frivolous were the accusations of “defamation.” Melaleuca’s letter cited three offending statements by Tidmarsh: first, that VanderSloot “has a pretty solid anti-gay history in Idaho” — a statement that is plainly true in light of his involvement with the nasty campaign against the Public Television documentary, his outing of local reporter Peter Zuckerman to his Idaho community, and his steadfast support for anti-gay politicians such as Romney and Risch (moreover, Melaleuca’s General Counsel, Ken Sheppard, doubled as an official with the “Concerned Citizens for Family Values,” to which Melaleuca and VanderSloot were large donors); in any event, the characterization of VanderSloot’s causes as “anti-gay” is pure political opinion. The threatening letter also complained about Tidmarsh’s statement that VanderSloot “attacked” Zuckerman and “knock[ed] him for his sexuality” — again, also plainly true given the contents of that full-page newspaper ad that outed Zuckerman to his not-very-gay-friendly rural Idaho community in the context of attacking his journalism. And the third complaint — about the mention of VanderSloot’s wife having donated $100,000 to the Prop 8 campaign — is just bizarre: she did exactly that, and there is no suggestion that the claim is false.
The effect, if not the intent, of these frivolous threats, pure and simple, is to intimidate those who cannot afford to defend themselves from criticizing the very public, politicized acts of Frank VanderSloot and his company. That’s why one no longer can even read most of the criticisms that prompted these warnings.
* * * * *
Most of those who have been successfully bullied out of their free speech rights are reluctant to talk about what happened for fear of further retribution. But now, VanderSloot may have picked the wrong person to bully.
Jody May-Chang is an independent journalist and an LGBT spokespersonin Boise. By coincidence, she was one of the local reporters who interviewed me last weekend when I spoke to the annual Bill of Rights dinner of the ACLU in Idaho. At the end of the interview, she mentioned to me the series of threats issued to local LGBT journalists and bloggers by VanderSloot. Unbeknownst to May-Chang at the time, she, too, had been targeted for the crime of speaking critically of the Idaho CEO.

Back in 2007, in the midst of the campaign to replace GOP Sen. Larry Craig, May-Chang wrote aninnocuous post about VanderSloot’s support for Lt. Gov. Risch. In it, she described VanderSloot’s involvement in the campaign against the public television documentary, and wondered aloud if the GOP Senate candidate shared VanderSloot’s anti-gay views. She also included the official photograph of VanderSloot taken from the Melaleuca website: a common practice for journalists when writing about a public figure.

In response, she was sent a letter from LaClare, Melaleuca’s counsel, accusing her of copyright infringement (for use of the photo) and defamation (for, among her things, her “characterizations of Mr. VanderSloot as ‘anti-gay’”). May-Chang never actually received that letter back when it was sent in 2007, and because she soon thereafter moved her website to a different URL, Melaleuca likely assumed she complied with its demands and removed the post. But then the recent Mother Jones article cited and linked to May-Chang’s post at its new URL, and Melaleuca likely learned that way that it was still posted on the Internet. As a result, they immediately sent May-Chang another letter – four years after her original post – demanding removal of what it called “inflammatory rhetoric published as fact” and “false accusations of bigotry.” Company lawyers have subsequently called her several times at home, repeating their standard pattern of badgering their targets until they comply.

But May-Chang is determined not to succumb to this bullying or to relinquish her right to opine and report on the conduct of a very significant political figure in her state. Though she did remove the photograph of VanderSloot, she refuses to relinquish her right criticize his political activism. As she put it to me: “his legal team insists that neither VanderSloot nor his company have an anti-gay position, but when placed up against his actions that assertion is laughable.” She added:
I think the real issue here is about promoting a religious social agenda that fits in with the LDS belief system, and VanderSloot’s connection to the Romney presidential campaign. VanderSloot has been getting a lot of press lately about his $1 million donation to Romney’s super pac, and now Melaleuca attorneys are ratcheting up their efforts to protect what they consider the company’s squeaky clean public image. They do this with threatening letters demanding that news organizations and bloggers scrub their websites of information they consider damaging or face legal action.

Despite her resolve, May-Chang works as an independent journalist and, like most other targets of VanderSloot’s threats, is fearful of the financial consequences of defying his demands. She is nonetheless determined not to permit a highly politicized billionaire to create a Free Speech and Free Press shield of immunity around himself with baseless, bullying legal threats.

Given what a threat this conduct is to free speech, free press and political debate, I assured May-Chang that if she is sued by VanderSloot and/or his company, I would work endlessly to raise the funds she needed for vigorous legal representation. There is no question that there will be ample willing donors ready to support an independent journalist and a stalwart activist for LGBT equality in Idaho who is the target of a steamrolling, intimidation campaign from a right-wing billionaire fanatic and Romney finance co-chair, especially one plagued with the history that VanderSloot has. And it is not hyperbole to say that it is urgent that someone stand up to and stop Frank VanderSloot and his team of subservient lawyers who are abusing the law and their own resources to threaten, bully and silence vulnerable people from engaging in perfectly legitimate political speech.
* * * * *
Threatening journalists and bloggers with baseless lawsuits and trying to suppress free debate is a recognized menace. Close to 30 states in the U.S. have adopted so-called anti-SLAPP statutes — designed to punish “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPP). Those statutes create causes of action against those who abuse the legal system not to vindicate legal rights, but to intimidate and silence critics. Organizations such as The Public Participation Project now exist exclusively to defend those victimized by SLAPP suits or the threat of them. Those anti-SLAPP statutes have repeatedly been used to defeat abusive lawsuits brought to stifle legitimate speech by media outlets and bloggers. As the Project explains: ”such lawsuits turn the justice system into a weapon, and have a serious chilling effect on the free speech that is so vital to the public interest. The lawsuits also cost media organizations thousands of dollars. Even a meritless suit can drag on for months – sometimes even years – and tactics such as aggressive discovery can pile on the costs.” And lawyers — whether working in-house for a corporation or a private law firm — have an independent duty not to threaten frivolous lawsuits for improper ends (Melaleuca did not respond to a message left yesterday for its General Counsel, Ryan Nelson, seeking comment for this article).

The reality is that most people who threaten to bring defamation lawsuits rarely do so. There are few things more invasive than being a defamation plaintiff. Because one must prove reputational injury, and in most cases must prove that one’s business or financial interests have been harmed by the allegedly defamatory statements, virtually every aspect of a person’s private and business life — anything relating to their reputation and financial activities — is subject to discovery and investigation. That “truth is a defense” allows sweeping discovery into the allegedly defamatory statements. Beyond that, those like VanderSloot who are public figures, suing over articles clearly about matters of public interest, have a very high burden to meet in order to prevail, and proving actual damages is difficult in the extreme.

But many people who threaten to bring such suits — especially those with deep pockets making threats against those who cannot afford to defend themselves — know full well that it will never get that far because the threats themselves will suffice. That’s the dynamic that has to change, and (this is addressed to any lawyers for VanderSloot and Melaleuca reading this) this is the dynamic that will change if someone stands up to these pernicious tactics.

Anyone who is the national finance co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign deserves probing, substantial scrutiny. That’s equally true of someone who continues to use their vast wealth to influence the outcome of our elections and our most inflammatory political debates. And it’s certainly true of someone who has made it a regular practice of threatening journalists, bloggers and activists who shine light on his political and business practices. Journalists like Jody May-Chang who focus their journalistic light on people like Frank VanderSloot provide all of us with a vital public service, and deserve our full-fledged support when they are targeted with threats and retribution.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Everyone is a Ventriloquist

An Interview with Mladen Dolar

http://metropolism.com/magazine/2009-no2/everyone-is-a-ventriloquist/

Aaron Schuster:
One of themes running through A Voice and Nothing More [see above] – perhaps the main theme – is that, from the psychoanalytic viewpoint, the voice is not a form of self-affection or self-presence, but precisely an obstacle to the subject’s identity: it is the objective correlate of what Lacan calls the split subject. Part of the difficulty of grasping the voice lies in its peculiar topology, which you describe as a precarious border between the inside and the outside: while the voice emanates from within the body, it is also a part of the world, an uncontrollable outside, a ‘missile’ with its own trajectory. My voice is never simply my own, but there is always, as you note, a ‘minimum of ventriloquism’; it is not so much I who speaks, but rather I am spoken, the voice speaks in and through me. How strongly do you see this notion linked with psychopathology? Is not the paradigmatic case of the voice in psychoanalysis that of auditory hallucination, an extreme instance in which the voice appears as a form of otherness or hetero-affection?

Mladen Dolar:
‘As far as the general argument of my book is concerned, your question states it very well, and I couldn’t put it better myself. You also point to what I see myself as a certain deficiency of my book, namely the question of the status of the voice in psychosis. This is indeed, as far as the analytic practice is concerned, one of the most frequent and spectacular tell-tale signs of psychosis, presenting probably the most compelling instance of the voice as an intruder, the alien kernel which immediately imposes itself as real. It points to the sheer impossibility of sorting out the inner and the outer, for the voice heard is experienced as more intimate than the inner and more compelling than any exterior voice. In this sense, there is something psychotic in every voice, and psychosis only amplifies, or rather distils something which is usually kept at bay – the difficulty of distinguishing the inner and the outer and the persistent ambiguity of this division.

A simple reason for this lack in my book is that, having no clinical expertise and technical knowledge, I lack the competence to elaborate it, beyond embroidering on what many illustrious clinicians have already said. But this reason is not enough, and it is not enough to confine the voice to psychopathology. This compelling voice beyond one’s power has had a long history as a divine sign, before it became a matter of psychopathology. Consider the paradigmatic figure of Socrates, a man whose ‘hearing voices’ is intimately linked to the very foundation of philosophy (I have dealt with him far too briefly in the book and have tried to remedy this since). Lacan speaks somewhere of 19th century psychography1, which took Socrates as a case of madness (as Lélut put it, roughly, “If a philosopher claimed today to be in direct communication with divinity and to hear its voice—would we appoint him a chair in the University or a cell in Charenton?” Indeed).

The history of hearing voices was intertwined, up to modern times, with the history of divine signs, the authority of wonders and the wonders of authority, which could have the shattering resonance of Joan of Arc, or of the mystic visions (and Lacan had a special predilection for the discourse of the mystics). Hegel says somewhere that the Socratic “daemon stays in the middle between the exteriority of the oracle and the pure interiority of spirit”.2 This puts the question in “ontological” and structural terms rather than in terms of psychopathology, and the point of psychoanalysis is not so much to explain psychopathology, but rather to restore its ‘ontological’ value, as it were. Modern spiritual interiority allows for no divine voices and relegates them to nut-cases, and no doubt Schreber, this great ‘hearer of voices’ [a judge who around 1900 took notes on his mental illness, later interpreted by Freud – ed.], can serve as a paramount modern nut-case, endowed with the value of a harbinger, a token of modernity, a very troubling sign of a transformation of authority, investiture, the function of the father. His “hearing voices” has an emblematic value—this is also taken up by Deleuze, and I will just point out Eric Santner’s “definitive” book on it, My Own Private Germany. Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity 3 So to answer your question properly I would have to write another chapter on the history of hearing voices from Socrates to Schreber, and if Socrates presents the foundational moment of philosophy, then we must bear in mind Schreber’s proximity to the foundational moment of psychoanalysis.’

Aaron Schuster:
One of the main ideas explored in your book is this ambivalence of the voice, at once terrifying and pacifying, siren song and call of conscience, vehicle of the law and its transgression. One could conclude that the voice’s ethico-political significance is strictly ‘undecideable’. However, beyond this ambivalence there also seems to be a ‘good’ voice, which you qualify as ‘mere voice’, ‘pure enunciation’, or the silent voice of the drive. This voice compels us to assume responsibility, but – crucially – without dictating what form our engagement should take. This looks like a mixture of Heideggerian authenticity and Badiousian fidelity, though here what one must assume responsibility for is the unconscious.

Mladen Dolar:
‘The “object voice” is on the edge, at the crossing. It’s not the voice of the Other, nor the subject’s own voice, but emerges in a strange loop between the two. It is unplaceable, yet one has to ascribe it a place and assume it. Speaking schematically, there is one way which turns it into the point which sustains the Other – hence the figure of the superego, or various figures of political authority; and there is another way which turns it into the pledge of one’s own presence and authenticity, “finding one’s own voice”, as the phrase goes. The two can go together, or even structurally support each other, as Althusser’s concept of interpellation tries to show: finding one’s own “authentic” ego by submitting to the call of the Other, assuming the posture of its addressee. But the subjectivity which is at stake here is something very different from the ego and it emerges with tackling the edge and the crossing point.

So how can one show fidelity to something which is neither the subject nor the Other? Or maintain the authenticity of the experience of “inauthenticity”, so to speak, a dispossession or a dislocation? Both Heidegger and Badiou deal with this in certain ways, very different ways – let’s say with an “alien kernel” as the core of “subjectivity”, although neither would be happy with this formulation – and I am aware of the pitfalls which may lie on the way. If you say “the voice compels us to assume responsibility”, this may be understood as the response to the enigmatic call of the Other which exceeds us, in relation to which one is always responsible and also always deficient. This is the logic of Levinasian ethics, and although it maintains the alterity of the Other as an infinite and enigmatic opening, it still strangely reproduces, in a roundabout way, the logic of what psychoanalysis has called the superego. The Other is an enigma and poses a demand – demand as such, not some positive injunction – and one has to respond, although one can never measure up to it. The responsibility is infinite and it grows with its accomplishment: “The better I accomplish my duty, the less rights I have; the more I am just and the more I am guilty.” 4 So the subject responds, but never enough, never adequately, and the Other infinitely exceeds one’s response, one’s permanent responsibility, reproducing one’s permanent guilt. Psychoanalysis differs from this, it doesn’t sustain the enigma of the Other as an infinite demand, but rather works at dispossessing the Other of its enigma. One could say that the object is the limit of the Other, not something perpetuating its infinity, and that the object doesn’t pertain to the Other any more than it pertains to the subject. It is their link, but this link is a practice, a constant renegotiation of the limit. The voice may not be mine, but it has the power to operate in the Other, to dislocate its enigma and its demand, rather than maintain it as the infinite abyss of otherness and transcendence. Response and responsibility is not quite enough to get to what is at stake in the voice.

To give a more cheerful line on this, one could think of the practice of comedy, which hinges on constant renegotiation of the object between the subject and the Other (as opposed to e.g. Heidegger’s complete lack of comedy, to say the least), and which is closer to the psychoanalytic bone than the usual vision of tragic loss and guilt. This line is magisterially developed by my friend Alenka Zupančič in her book The Odd One In (MIT, 2007).

Aaron Schuster:
You warn a number of times against the aestheticization of the voice, and even give the impression that art, as opposed, for example, to philosophy, does not allow access to the voice in its most radical dimension. On the other hand, you turn to literature, Kafka in particular, in order to gain insight into voice – yet even here, in the story of Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk you find a kind of parable of art’s failure. My question is thus, bluntly put, can there be an ‘art of the voice’, and if so, do you see any examples of it in contemporary art?

Mladen Dolar:
‘I didn’t include a separate chapter in my book on the aesthetics of the voice, along with the ethics, metaphysics, physics, politics of the voice, and in retrospect I am a bit sorry about it, for certain formulations, warning against the inherent fetishization of the voice in music, have given rise to a criticism from various quarters and even raised a suspicion about my hostility to art. Yet, I have co-authored a book called Opera’s Second Death (with Slavoj Žižek),5 where I deal at great length with the problem of the proper aesthetics of the voice, of staging the voice, of operatic voice as the bearer of social fantasies and its capacity for provoking and registering social transformation. And yes, I am a great opera lover, as well as a follower of various contemporary artistic practices which tackle the voice. In the last months, I participated in a strange exhibit at Manifesta 7 and engaged with the work of VALIE EXPORT, Smadar Dreyfus and Katarina Zdjelar, among others. I am not listing these names as model examples, their work is extremely different, just stating that I gladly engage, theoretically and practically, with people working as artists on the voice in various manners.
Is art doomed? Absolutely not, and the parable of the singer Josephine is there as a warning against a certain trap: the confinement of art to a particular glorified place within the social, turning it into a cultural good. One could even roughly say, although this is a bit quick, that culture basically functions as a domestification of art, endowing it with sense, a higher meaning, and allotting it a socially recognized and codified place. To worship art in this way is to condemn it. It only exists as a constant question mark displacing its own boundaries (“a social antithesis to society”, to again quote Adorno), and hence necessarily trespassing on the political.’

Aaron Schuster:
The final chapter of your book Kafka’s Voices ends with a tantalizing suggestion about how we might rethink freedom from a psychoanalytic perspective. As you remark, ‘freedom’ is hardly a word that looms large in Kafka’s universe, and yet there it is at the conclusion of Investigations of a Dog – you even go so far as to call it Kafka’s fin mot, the key term that in its very absence resounds throughout his writing. The same might be said of Freud and Lacan. Both of them rarely speak of freedom, and when they do, it is usually in a dismissive way; Freud denounces free will as a narcissistic fantasy, and Lacan famously stated (inaccurately, I might add) ‘I have never spoken of freedom’, letting it be understood that he considered such talk naïve humanist ideology, a misrecognition of the subject’s radical dependence on the Other. Yet one could argue that the whole wager of psychoanalysis is precisely to create a ‘freer’ relation to those desires and fantasies that move one so inexorably. I wonder if you could elaborate here a little on the conclusion to your book: what is the new conception of freedom you see in the wake of Kafka and Freud?

Mladen Dolar:
‘Lacan was notoriously a man of extremely difficult style, but this arduous side was as if counterbalanced by his great talent to produce a number of short and striking slogans (like “The Woman doesn’t exist” or “There is no sexual relationship”). And one of these slogans is Il n’y a de cause que de ce qui cloche: “There is a cause only in something that doesn’t work”, 6 or “There is a cause only in what limps”. The line is paradoxical and I suppose counterintuitive. For it would seem that causality is what works in a network of causes and effects which constitute the basis of regularity and law, and so that which doesn’t work or doesn’t add up would appear to be a breach of causality, a crack in the causal chain. Yet it is in the place of this break, this glitch, that Lacan places the question of the cause. This is indeed something that has to do with the very origins of psychoanalysis, since the first phenomena that it dealt with were tiny things like slips of the tongue, or dreams as slight slips of conscious life, something appearing in a crack of normal causality, a momentary hitch, which hinted at another kind of cause, irreducible to both the causality of nature or the intentional causality of consciousness.

Yet, Freud insisted on the strict determination of psychic life, so that even such slight phenomena must have a determinist explanation, and therefore it would seem that there is no space for freedom. Still, what is a slip determined by? Is the unconscious the name of another causality determining us behind our backs? If we look at it more closely, we can see that the basic problem is that no such substantive, objective, independent causality exists, that it cannot be spelled out as a latent content or a latent cause simply to be unearthed behind the manifest one. Rather, the spelling out of the latent content makes the paradox of the cause even greater: it shows that the distorted form of the unconscious formations cannot be explained away with the latent content, so that the form itself is endowed with a surplus of distortion which testifies to a glitch, a crack of contingency within the regularity of laws and rules.

This is where the object appears, precisely the object as cause, “object cause of desire”, as Lacan would insist, and the object voice is one of the ways of getting to it. So the object appears as cause at the point of the missing cause, and there is subjectivity only insofar as there is a missing link, a glitch in the seamless chain. And this is the trouble with the talk about freedom in psychoanalysis: it is not to be posed in terms of the freedom of the will or as an abandonment of determinism – relying on sheer will-power or glorifying the decision can easily lead to condoning repression and the self-delusion of the ego. It is only by working through, by repeating, by engaging with the object that one can work towards the point where necessity and contingency overlap, and where one is far more free than one can imagine, or more than it is supposed by the usual theories of subjective freedom. This is where Kafka takes on a special value, for it seems that his universe is the epitome of non-freedom, of total closure and entrapment, yet he works all the time towards an opening in midst of the very closure. One could say that what both Kafka and Freud have in common is the following: to look very closely at the ways of entrapment, and through this to work towards the way where the seemingly objective causality crushing us itself involves contingency and subjectivity, and the way we are inscribed in it gives us more power than we could ever hope for.

Notes
1 Lacan, Jacques, The Four Fundamental Concepts, London: Penguin, 1979, p. 258.
2 TWA 18, p. 495
3 Santner, Eric, My Own Private Germany. Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity, Princeton University Press, 1996.
4 Levinas, Emmanuel, Totalité et infini, Paris: Le livre de poche, 1987, p. 274.
5 Dolar, Mladen, and Slavoj Žižek, Opera’s Second Death, New York: Routledge, 2002.
6 Lacan, op. cit., p. 22.

Mladen Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More, MIT 2006, ISBN 9780262541879

Aaron Schuster is an art critic and philosopher based in Brussels

Conference Object of Comedy

http://www.janvaneyck.nl/tagged/Mladen-Dolar

Conferentie Object of Comedy

Wat brengt ons aan het lachen, en waarom? Welke mechanismen spelen een rol bij komedie? Kan komedie subversief zijn? Wat is de relatie tussen komedie en ideologie? Deze tweedaagse conferentie beoogt het OBJECT van komedie te vatten. En dat is geen grapje.

Met bijdragen van Jamila Mascat, Gregor Moder, Alenka Zupančič, Robert Pfaller, Keston Sutherland, Evan Calder Williams,Luisa Lorenza Corna, Robert M. Ochshorn, Anca Parvulescu, Aaron Schuster,Mladen Dolar, en Tim Etchells.
Voor het volledige programma, zie de agenda.

Object of Comedy
8 & 9 March 2012, 10:30 - 19:00
Jan van Eyck Academie

Conference Object of Comedy
What makes us laugh and why? What kind of mechanisms are at play when it comes to comedy? Can comedy be subversive? What’s the relationship between comedy and ideology? This two-day conference aims to tackle the OBJECT of comedy. And it’s not a joke.

With contributions by Jamila Mascat, Gregor Moder, Alenka Zupančič, Robert Pfaller, Keston Sutherland, Evan Calder Williams, Luisa Lorenza Corna, Robert M. Ochshorn, Anca Parvulescu, Aaron Schuster, Mladen Dolar, and Tim Etchells.
For the full programme, see the agenda.

Object of Comedy
8 & 9 March 2012, 10:30 - 19:00
Jan van Eyck Academie

Interview with Mladen Dolar

http://www.wiegehtkunst.com/?p=599

“I think to make art is to make a break. And to make a cut. There’s a cut in the continuity of being, in the continuity of survival.“

Mladen Dolar is co-founder of the Ljubljana school of psychoanalysis, together with Slavoj Žižek, Alenka Zupančič and Rastko Močnik. Conny Habbel met the Slovenian philosopher in June 2009 in Ljubljana.

WgK: Is there an artwork that had a lasting effect on you?

Dolar: The work of Samuel Beckett – if I have to single out just one. It is both the importance it had for me and for the particular historic moment of the end of the twentieth century. I think he is the one who went the furthest in a certain way. There are various reasons for this, and one of them has to do with an enormous will to reduction. What Beckett did was to create an infinitely shrinkable world.

There is never little enough. You can always take away more.

Take the The Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. In the Beginning there is some sort of plot and some sort of characters. Then in the second novel you have just Malone, who is dying alone in his room and who is inventing stories as he is waiting for death. The space has shrunk, there is no more travel. And then you have the third novel, where you don’t even have this. You don’t even have a space, you don’t even have a character, you just have a voice. A voice which just rambles on and continues, and it doesn’t matter what it says in the end. It’s just the sheer thrust of perseverance, of persistence, which carries the whole thing. So just persist. You have to go on. And you know how this ends, it ends in the most beautiful way: “I must go on, I can’t go on, I will go on“.

I think this is an incredible point, I don’t think literature has ever gone this far this radically. This is so completely reduced to a bare minimum, what Beckett has called ‘the unnullable least’. And extremely powerful.

WgK: So what is art actually?

Dolar: I think to make art is to make a break. And to make a cut. This would be the simplest way of answering your question.

But there are different ways of answering. One of them would go to Freud’s theory, which looks at art through the spyglass of sublimation. I think what Freud conceives as drive, ‘der Trieb’, actually has to do with the transition between something natural and a creation of a separate space, and that everything he describes as the specificity of culture actually has to do with the structure of the drive. The drive is like thwarting of a natural hang, it gets thwarted towards a different sort of end. This is like a supposed initial natural need, but which in the process of its satisfaction actually gets thwarted. It produces something else than merely the satisfaction of a natural need. If you look at the way Freud describes culture in Unbehagen in der Kultur, he defines culture with a list of features.

The first on the list would be the question of tools. We’re getting more and more tools in order to be the masters of nature, so that we can do all the magic things, we can look at far away distances through the telescope, we can see the invisible in the microscope, we can talk through distance with the telephone, we can do absolutely magical things. And Freud uses the wonderful word, he says: “Der Mensch ist ein Prothesengott“. So he’s a god with prostheses. You just need some prostheses to be a god. So you have these extensions of the body. And what actually the drive to master nature produces at the same time – something more than the simple mastering of nature – it produces prostheses, a sort of ‘in between space’, a space which elongates your body, prolongs your body into the world. The eerie space between the inner and the outer is libidinally invested.

And, to cut it short, this is also the area where culture comes in.

WgK: Do you have any idea of what good art is? Which art do you regard as good?

Dolar: Well, this is not a subjective question. There is a strong tendency to reduce art to the question of taste. And the question of taste is kind of dangerous because it always goes down to the question of narcissism. There is something profoundly narcissistic in the judgement of preference. ‘I prefer this, I am a connoisseur, I prefer the late Beethoven quartets against symphonies.’ The difference which means difference as such and which means that you are distinguished and that you can distinguish yourself from the common lot of people by being the man of refined taste, to see all these differences that the others don’t see.

I have this conception of art, which is that art has to do with universality and infinity. It introduces something into the continuity of being, into the continuity of our survival. A break. Which is a universal break. A break to universality. It can speak universally. What is important in art is not a question whether it is an expression of a certain individual or whether it is an expression of a certain ethnic group or nation or of a certain age.

I think that the break is such that it makes the universal out of particularities.
But the problem is how to do this with the subjective means at your disposal, within the nation to which you belong, or language, or culture, within a particular type of civilization, within this historic moment – which are all very finite and singular things. How to produce universality and infinity out of this? And this I think is the moment of art. This is not a production of spirit, this is a material production of the break. I like very much this saying, which is on t-shirts like: “Art is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it“. You have to get your hands dirty. This is a very material thing. You produce the idea with the material, with the matter. Art has always worked with the sensual. If one tries to get immediately to universality or the infinity of a beyond, an idea, the sublime or whatever – this is, I think, a big mistake. You cannot do this. You just have to produce it the hard way. But it depends on being able to produce a break.

And this sets the standard by which it can be judged. I don’t think it can be judged on the basis of taste, it’s not just a question of whether I like it or not. It has the power to produce universality. It creates a potential virtual audience which goes far beyond this audience here. And I think the awareness that it goes beyond this, beyond my particular taste and reaction, is what makes good art.

WgK: Is art a benefit for society? Why does there have to be someone who does this dirty job?

Dolar: Well, I think that in the question with which I started, the question of drawing a line, making a cut in the continuity of our animal or social being, of our finite being, that this is what defines humanity. I’m not saying that art is the only way to do this. I think thought is something which does this also, it breaks with the conditions of its own production. This is the practice of philosophy. I think philosophy, similarly, but also very differently, makes a conceptual break in the continuity of particular received ways of thinking.

We have the definition of man as homo sapiens, the thinking animal, but the trouble is that thought is very rare. It’s not that men think all the time, it happens very rarely. There are very few occasions when thought happens and when it does, it seriously changes the very parameters of the ways we conceive the world, ourselves, whatever. There’s a handful of thinkers. This is a strange thing in the history of philosophy, there’s only a handful of thinkers with which we have to deal continually. But I don’t think – this is important – that thought is some sort of prerogative of philosophy, that philosophers are very special because they have this specialisation in thought. I don’t think that at all. I think thought can happen anywhere. In silence and…

WgK: Does it also happen in art?

Dolar: Oh yes. It does most definitely. It has a different way and the question of art working with the sensual, with sensuous material means is very important, this is a materialised thought. It’s the thought which works within the matter and shapes the matter. It is attached to matter, and matter thinks in art. This is very important, the materiality of thought. I think thought actually happens in a number of areas of human endeavour. And art is one of the most reflected.

WgK: Which are the others?

Dolar: Do you know the work of Alain Badiou? He has made a list of four truth procedures, four areas where truth emerges.

These are: Science, and above all the completely constructed science like mathematics. It doesn’t refer to anything in the world, it just creates its own entities, pure entities. Then: Poetry and art as such. Then politics. Politics not of opinions but politics of truth. There’s an opposition between the two. Democracy basically is a democracy of opinions. Anybody is free to hold any kind of opinion and then you count the votes. This is not a politics of truth. There is a sort of truth at stake in politics which has to do with justice and equality, it has to do with an idea. And then there is the question of love, which is the emergence of a truth event. A subjective truth event.

Badiou lists the four areas as the areas in which this break happens. I am not sure that this list is the best, exhaustive or conclusive. Maybe this list is too neat in some way. I think things are messier in life. In many everyday situations, even trivial ones, there may be a sudden and unexpected break, people show an inventive creativity and do something very unexpected, and actually change the parameters of the situation and their own lives and the lives of others. I would leave this field open.

WgK: I just had this spontaneous thought if humour might be one of those areas too?

Dolar: Well, you have an old suggestion which goes back to Aristotle, that the man is a laughing animal. You have various proposals for the definitions of man, one is the thinking animal, another one is the tool-making animal, which goes back to Benjamin Franklin. Marx takes this up that one can define the man through the tool which conditions his capacity for work. And then you have Aristotle’s suggestion: Man is a laughing animal. The only animal that can laugh – laugh at what? To laugh, precisely, at being able to produce a certain break.

The break in meaning, in the very parameters of making sense. One way of describing this could be where I started – to make a break, to make a cut – which is also to make a break in meaning in order to produce sense, if I may use this Deleuzian opposition between meaning and sense. And sense is the sort of unexpected thing which emerges. In order to produce this you have to cut down the usual expectation of meaning. The very horizon of meaning in which you move, in which you live your life. And this is the capacity of art.

As far as humour is concerned, I would just point out that there’s a question of humour and there’s a question of ‘Witz’. Freud has written a book on ‘Witz’ and a different paper on humour and he says that those things are absolutely not to be confused. Additionally there’s a question of comedy and there’s a question of irony. So we have four different things which are not the same. We may laugh as a result, but there is laughter and laughter. Laughter itself does not have to be subversive. It can also be very conservative.

WgK: Who becomes an artist? What is it that makes people become artists?

Dolar: I don’t think there’s a rule. There is the capacity, well, the break-making capacity. The way that we relate to ourselves is always conditioned by a break, there is a question of redoubling. Culture is always a question of redoubling: it redoubles the ‘normal’ life. It reflects it into something else, but redoubling is always already there.

WgK: But still there are some people who don’t become artists or intellectuals.

Dolar: No, no, of course. I think the capacity is there, and it is a capacity which defines humanity and subjectivity. And… how the hell do you become an artist? What particular things have to come together? I think what makes the greatness of art is precisely its singularity. Which means that if you could establish this rule art would stop being art.

WgK: But couldn’t it be that there is some reason why people start to make art? Robert Pfaller once suggested that artists might have some traumatic experience that they – all their lives – try to handle by making art.

Dolar: Don’t we all have to handle some sort of traumatic experience? It’s very hard to say. I mean, the question has been asked many times, so you have art schools which precisely can teach you everything except what is essential.

WgK: Yeah, but art school starts at a moment where you already decided to go to art school. Who is likely to go to art school? So there are two aspects of this question. The one is: How do you become a good artist? The other question – which actually interests me – is: Why does someone want to become an artist? No matter if good or bad, if successful or not: What makes a person take up this way?

Dolar: If you want to become an artist, what do you want to become? If I take some of the greatest musicians of all times, like Bach and Mozart or Haydn. You can see what? Who was Haydn? He was hired by the Esterhazy family as a craftsman. I mean, did he want to become an artist? I don’t think he ever thought of himself in that way actually. He was a paid craftsman. And if you look at Mozart, he was all the time trying to get hired by some court or something. If you look at Bach, he was employed by the St. Thomas church in Leipzig to produce a piece of music for mass every week.

It was not a question of genius or inspiration. You were hired. Because this was another craft and I don’t think anybody would look at themselves this way today. If you want to become an artist you don’t want to become a craftsman. You see yourself as a person with a special vocation, which goes beyond all usual vocations. This is due to the romantic model of art and then to the modernist conceptions.

WgK: Let’s stick to today’s understanding of art: Do you think artists are narcissistic?

Dolar: The question of art and narcissism… I would say that on the one hand it’s profoundly narcissistic. It’s usually linked with a project of profound narcissism of self-expression and the precious treasure I have in me and want to disclose to the world.. But I don’t think that this is what makes art. As I said before: Art is not expression. It’s not an expression of yourself. People may want to do it to express themselves, but what makes the break and what makes the universal appeal, the claim of art, is not a question of whether they express themselves well or not. It’s just not the question by which art is ever judged. So on the one hand I’m sure that the motivation for doing this is in most cases narcissistic.

WgK: Did I understand you right when you say art is not an expression – could you say art is one of the ‘Prothesen’?

Dolar: Yes. Oh yes.

WgK: I really like this picture.

Dolar: The ‘Prothesengott’? Yes. But, well, Freud uses this in the context of technology and tool-making.

WgK: I have the feeling that it’s very good, maybe not only for tools.

Dolar: Yes. It’s a good thing. It’s not just a question of tool. A tool is never a tool. It’s a libidinally invested extension of the body.

WgK: So you could also say art is a libidinal extension of yourself. Of the body.

Dolar: Well, it has something to do with the libidinal extension. The way Freud introduces the notion of prosthesis, it has more to do with technology than with art. But I think it’s nevertheless a useful metaphor also to think about art.

WgK: Could you also call it objet a? Art as an extension towards objet a?

Dolar: Well, yes. I didn’t want to use the heavily technical Lacanian language for this. I mean this could be described in another language, but what Lacan calls objet a is precisely the object of transition between the interior and exterior, which doesn’t quite fall either into interior or the external world out there; the objective world. I mean it’s neither subjective nor objective. In this sense it’s always in this zone of indeterminacy, in the zone which opens in between. And which is the zone of ‘Prothesen’ if you want, I mean, the Prothesen always fill the zone: you put something between subjects and objects. You extend your body into the world, and at the same time the world extends into you. Still, what Lacan calls the object a doesn’t coincide with any existing object, it has no substance of its own, while art produces existing objects whose task is to evoke this impossible object. To evoke the impossible.

WgK: Would you agree that artists and philosophers share similarities in the realities they live in?

Dolar: Yes. I think there’s a lot of common ground. The tools with which they work are different, but I think they work on a common ground and that they can’t be neatly delineated. One way of differentiation – which I particularly dislike – is to say that artists have the passions and the feelings and they work with this and philosophers have the reason and understanding and they work with this. I don’t think this opposition is worth anything. It never works this way. I think that any human activity has both: indiscriminately passion and reason inscribed into it.

If you look at the history of philosophy – look at Plato, look at Spinoza, look at Augustine, look at Hegel, Marx, Kant, Wittgenstein – there is always a huge passion. This is terrible passion you have in this. They are all passion-driven. To describe this as works of mere intellect is completely misguided. This is the erroneous common conception of philosophy, rationality and concepts. If it doesn’t involve passionate attachment and passionate involvement, then it’s not philosophy. There is very, very serious passion at work in this. And at the opposite end I think there is very, very precise thinking involved in art. If it’s not, it’s just not good art.

WgK: We were talking about passion and reason – do you think artists or philosophers can have a family? Do you think it can be organised to do such an ambitious or passionate work and to have love for people?

Dolar: On the general level I don’t see why it should be exclusive. But this is not a question which concerns only art. I think it’s a question which concerns any sort of passionate attachment to your profession. I mean it could be a lawyer, a politician, a scientist, a teacher, all kinds of things. It can be sport, it can be all kinds of things and it does produce problems, very practical problems, how the hell you then deal with your family, with your love, with your private life. I suppose it very much depends on what kind of person you are. There are people who would somehow erase everything else and there are people who would always find ways, no matter how. They can work twenty hours a day but they will nevertheless find a way to have a private life.

WgK: And what can you tell me about passion? Where does it come from and what can you do to prevent its disappearance?

Dolar: To prevent its disappearance?

WgK: Can anything be done?

Dolar: Have you ever read Ovid? Remedia Amoris, the remedies against love. The question that he asks is the opposite. Not how to keep the passion going but how to prevent it happening.

You can see this through thousand years of antiquity: It’s not the problem how to keep your passion alive. It’s the problem of detachment. “Remedia Amoris“ are rather humorous. Ovid’s advice is: don’t go for it. Keep your mind aloof, otherwise you go crazy. Passion is folly. This is a bad thing for you. It would completely ruin your life. So you have a history of passions. This is a stage of antiquity and then you have a certain stage of Christianity which again is very differentiated in itself. I mean the passion is the passion of Christ. So the passion worth having is the passion in this other sense. There is a passion worth having and which is this suffering you must undergo in order to be worthy of redemption.

The ultimate passion to sacrifice all other passions. This gives the word passion a very different meaning. It comes from ‘patior’, ‘passus’, which means suffering. Like ‘Leidenschaft’ comes from ‘leiden’.

If I put it in this very reduced, simplistic way, the question of passion which drives you, the question of passionate love is a question of romantic love, a certain conception of romantic love which we deal with. It emerged only in the 19th century.

WgK: It’s a very interesting point that you made about the difference between trying to get rid of it or trying to keep it alive. You said before philosophy is always passionate, driven, so in this way it’s actually necessary to keep it. I didn’t only mean passion in private life, also as an activating thing like in your work.

Dolar: Yes, there has to be a passion which drives this. There’s an interesting passage in Helvetius. Helvetius was a philosopher of the French Enlightenment and he has written this book De l’esprit in 1759 – the book was actually burnt at that time and banned. He has a passage there which I always found terribly funny, he says: “Why are passionate people more intelligent than others?” He completely overturns this common view that you either have intelligence – and then you can control your passions – or if you let the passions have the upper hand, then you lose your head. He puts these two together and he says: People never use their intelligence unless they are driven by a serious passion. It’s only the passionate people who are intelligent. Otherwise they are lazy. Come on, why use your head? You can always get along somehow. So it’s only the passion which actually drives you to use your reason. And this is just a funny way of putting it that you can’t see the two as being on opposed sides.

WgK: Do you have an influence on it, can you do something to keep it or to feed it?

Dolar: I think passion is what drives you, drives you towards something. But it’s not that passion as such is enough. It’s not that it just drives you and you let yourself be driven. It actually demands a hell of a lot if you want to pursue this passion! It demands that you put something, everything at stake.

To risk the usual ways of your life, the ‘bequemes Leben’, if you are lucky enough to have a comfortable social position. There is the spontaneous hang to pursue your social survival within a certain slot, the script for your career is waiting for you. And this is where the question of break comes in. The passion is what makes a break. But the break, it demands a hell of a lot of ‘Anstrengung’ and you have to put things at risk. Sometimes drastically at risk. You risk everything for the question of passion, to pursue your passion.

What Freud names ‘Todestrieb’ (death drive) in Jenseits des Lustprinzips (Beyond the Pleasure Principle) is not some striving towards death, but too much of life. There’s too much life, more than you can bear. So this is the excessive moment which derails the usual course of things and in order to pursue this it takes a lot of courage and persistence, perseverance. I think most people give up at a certain point. There are many ways of giving up, also as an artist. One way of giving up is to somehow be content with your role or to… ‘übereinstimmen’. So that you consent to being that role. And this is a socially assigned role which can bring glory and awards. If it started with a break, then the big danger is that the break starts functioning as the institution of the break. The break itself gets institutionalised and highly valued.

WgK: It has a place then.

Dolar: Yes, it has a place then. Freud has this wonderful phrase “people ruined by their own success“. And I think that in art many people are ruined by their own success. Precisely by succeeding in what they wanted to do and then they fit into this. They have made an institution of themselves and somehow started to believe that they are this. You have this wonderful phrase in Lacan: who is a madman? It’s not just an ordinary person who thinks that he’s a king. The definition of a madman is a king who thinks that he’s a king. And you have this madness among artists who believe that they are artists. This is psychosis, in a certain sense, if you really think that you are what you are. You really think that you are an artist. This is the end of art, I think.

WgK: You were saying that one has to be courageous to proceed with passionate work. I have the feeling that there is another big thing, besides from missing courage, which might be a cushion for passion: The desire for containment, for feeling secure. I don’t know the best translation, I mean ‘Geborgenheit’.

Dolar: Geborgenheit?

WgK: Yeah. You know Geborgenheit? Feeling secure.

Dolar: Security, yes. Sicherheit.

WgK: A warm feeling.

Dolar: Feeling at home. Is there a good way to feel at home? I don’t know. I think there’s always an ideological trap in this. What you mostly feel at home with is always ideology because it offers a sort of security. I mean security in the sense of providing a certain status within which you can dwell. And also security of meaning, which means that it provides you with some answers as to ‘What does it all mean?’ ‘We live in parliamentary democracy, we’re a free society, in the aera of progress and prosperity’, etc. I mean the words which fulfil a certain horizon of meaning which situates you within a certain social moment and social structure, within a certain type of social relations. And this is always ideology, ideology is what makes this run. And I think that the break that we are talking about – the break with meaning or the break with the continuity of things – it could be described as a break with ideology. Art and ideology are at the opposite ends. Art always makes a break, a cut into the ideological continuity of what you most feel at home with. And what you feel at home with is entrusted upon you. But this is not to say that art is immune to ideology, it can easily be made into ideology.

WgK: At that point when you feel content.

Dolar: Yes. When you feel content in your role. One could make a certain opposition between art and culture. I think culture is a sort of domestication of art. You establish canonical artworks which you are taught at school. And it’s a question of what comes into the canon and is it a good thing to have a canon or how to include or exclude works. Of course you always have a canon. There’s no escaping this, but at the same time you have to understand that culture is always a domestification of what is dangerous or excessive in art. It domesticates things by giving them a sort of proper place and value. You can say: ‘Well, Shakespeare is the greatest dramatist of all time.’ I mean it’s quite true, but it’s also a very forced statement to domesticate Shakespeare’s work. You glorify it instead of dealing with it.

WgK: It ends their quality of being a break by giving them a place.

Dolar: Yeah. You reinscribe them into a continuity of a tradition, of a cultural identity.

WgK: I have the feeling it’s a regressive desire.

Dolar: For home?

WgK: Yeah. Isn’t it?

Dolar: Yes. Ultimately yes. I think that being at home means being in the ideology and being in the meaning and having some sort of meaning secured. And I think that creating a home as a way of being with yourself – or being with another person – is precisely to try to deal with the unhomely element of it. To keep the unhomely element of it alive. What Freud called das Unheimliche, litterally the unhomely, but with the utter ambiguity where it can be given the comic twist. I think that love is keeping the non-homely element alive. It’s not to finally ‘go home’ with someone, but actually to keep this thing in the air. Keep this thing in the air. And comedy is precisely – to keep the ball in the air. Keep the ball in the air, I mean constantly.

WgK: So then I can come to my last question: How can one become happy in life?

Dolar (laughing): It beats me!

WgK: So this is why I kept it till the end. Is there a good strategy?

Dolar: Ah, god knows! But I am an atheist.