Monday, May 28, 2012

Transcript: We Need Thinking Today More than Ever


Slavoj Žižek: More than ever we need philosophy today.  Even the most speculative (in the sense of reflecting on itself) science has to rely on a set of automatic  presuppositions, like a scientist simply presupposes in his or her very approach to nature a set of implications of how the nature functions, what's the causality in nature and so on and so on.  And philosophy teaches us that.  Philosophy teaches us what we have to know without knowing it in order to function, even in science -- the silent presuppositions.

I claim that what is happening, for example, in quantum physics in the last 100 of years -- these things which are so daring, incredible, that we cannot include into our conscious view of reality -- that Hegel’s philosophy, with all it’s dialectical paradoxes, can be of some help here.  I claim that reading quantum physics through Hegel and vice versa is very productive.

What I really want do is rehabilitate classical philosophy today.  That is to say, Hegel was a child of his time.  We are 200 years later.  How to repeat Hegel, not to do the same things as he did but repeat in new circumstances the same gesture?  And even here more for Hegel than for Marx.  I think we should even return from Marx back to Hegel.  So this is the focus of my work.  Then come all the things for which I’m unfortunately better known, for example, my dealings with critique of capitalism, analysis of popular culture and so on and so on.  But frankly, to use the not very appropriate metaphor known from today’s military adventures, all this, my writings on politics, on analysis of Hollywood and so on, is more or less collateral damage of my basic work.  

I think this is also what has to be done today.  The danger today is precisely a kind of a bland, pragmatic activism.  You know, like when people tell you, oh my God, children in Africa are starving and you have time for your stupid philosophical debates.  Let’s do something.  I always hear in this call there are people starving.  Let’s do something.  I always discern in this a more ominous injunction.  Do it and don't think too much.  Today, we need thinking. 

Signs from the Future

On Australian Radio

Friday, May 25, 2012

Today we need thinking more than ever

Acclaimed Intellectual Slavoj Žižek Waxes Philosophical About God

by Trevor Laurence Jockims
Posted Thursday, May 24, 2012 5:57 PM

God In Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse
Slavoj Žižek, Boris Gunjevic (authors)
Seven Stories Press

Slavoj Žižek has earned himself a reputation as something of a philosophical wild man, an epithet derived at least as much from the way he inhabits a room as it is from the content of his books. When I heard him speak, a few years back at a lecture he gave during the Sarajevo Film Festival, he was in true oracular form, a kind of mangy apostle of sharp, caustic philosophical insight. The threadbare brown T-shirt he wore—for those of the correct age, think early Seattle grunge—darkened steadily with rings of sweat that moved out in widening crescents from each armpit, eventually meeting in the middle. His hair was fully adrift. Eyes wild. Arms swinging beneath an enormous screen that projected clips of the films he was “reading” — themselves a delightful mix, running through classic Hitchcock, Stalinist propaganda films, They Live (starring Rowdy Roddy Piper), Schindler’s List, andJurassic Park. About those final two Žižek memorably, and rightly, quipped:  Schindler’s List is a remake of Jurassic Park. . And Jurassic Park is the better film.

The four of us who saw the lecture went out afterwards for coffee. We were divided over what we’d heard in pretty much the way critics remain divided about Žižek. One of us thought he was brilliant, one of us wasn’t so sure, one thought he was a total huckster, the other just enjoyed the show.  The next day my friend who hadn’t been sure (a journalist in Sarajevo), was assigned to interview Žižek. He arrived at 10 a.m. at Žižek’s hotel, as instructed. Žižek emerged in the courtyard wearing the same brown T-shirt, sat down rapidly, and declared that he had very little time, really just a minute or two. Two-and-a-half hours later, my friend’s recorder long since dead, Žižek was soaked in sweat, swinging his arms, still filling my friend’s ear. 

Following this session, my not-sure-about- Žižek friend was now my very-sure-about- Žižek friend.

In reading Zizek’s new book, God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse, written with Boris Gunjevic, I feel like I get close to the euphoria my friend witnessed while talking to—well, really, listening to— Žižek up close. The book is written in a very direct manner, and if Žižek can sometimes suffer from being a paradoxicalist, he (usually) means what he says. In God in Pain he is also able to say what he means (usually). 

The crux of the book is a good one, and although tempting to see it as a corrective to Hitchens and Dawkins-esque writings on atheism, the latter group is so thoroughly outweighed by the sheer force of Žižek’s brain—I’m reminded of a comment made by another politician when Žižek ran for the presidency of Slovenia: Look, we all know you’re the smartest one in the room—that the comparison is sort of pointless.  Still, Žižek is running in the same milieu, and his response to the wild rush of atheism, especially in the more privileged regions of the West, is to say, Not so fast:

“If, once upon a time, we publicly pretended to believe while privately we were skeptics or even engaged in obscene mocking of our public beliefs, today we publicly tend to profess out skeptical, hedonistic, relaxed attitude while we privately remain haunted by beliefs and severe prohibitions.”

For Žižek, the fundamentalist and the cynic both drink from the same well. It’s a compelling argument, and Žižek is particularly apt in discussing a timely issue without falling into t clichés: He has no interest in any so-called war on religion (from either “side), and he has no interest in the virtues or vices of atheism (again, from either “side”). What he is interested in doing—and this is more or less Žižek’s bread and butter as a thinker—is to think clearlythrough  a topic that is so pervasively thought about and discussed as to be nearly unthought. Said another way, everyone is able to take a position on the God question; Žižek isn’t so much interested in taking a position as he is in pointing out what the positions are — and aren’t.

The entire book might be reduced to Žižek’s reading of the aphorism, (mistakenly) first attributed to Doestoevsky by Sartre, that “If God is dead, everything is permitted.” Žižek works with this phrase, turning it into the opposite assertion Lacan saw in it — If God is dead, everything is prohibited.” This, argues Žižek, is the real dilemma faced by the death of God.

As is the usual case in Žižek and, really, most insightful thinkers, not only are the widely accepted positions wrong — they’re actual veils preventing any possibility of insight. Morality, for instance, has nothing to do with the loss of God. God never made anyone good. (But that’s too easy, and it isn’t really Žižek’s point). At best, under God the good stay good. (Also, too easy). The bad also stay bad. (Too easy, still).

In the Shadow of Hegel: How Does Thought Arise out of Matter?

What's the Big Idea?
Before neuroscience and quantum physics, there was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The 19th century German idealist revolutionized Western thought, and every great thinker since has been working in his shadow, says Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic.


Often seen as a precursor to Marxists and existentialists, Hegel believed that knowledge is not static, but dynamic. In the Hegelian framework, history is a process in which many paradoxes interact and are then synthesized into a unified whole. Reality is mind, and the universe is spirit objectified. It's one analysis of existence and being.

But what does it mean in a world where cognitive scientists can see brain function on an fMRI scan, capture the visual data, and reassemble it into videos using quantitative modeling? Now that physicists have the god-like power to accelerate tiny particles of matter and throw them at each other just to see what happens, is metaphysical philosophy dead?

What's the Significance? 
Reductionists like Stephen Hawking may give the impression that contemporary science is uniquely capable of answering the big questions, like Does the world have an end? or Where does thought come from? but that's not the case, says Žižek. Our deep empirical understanding of the material world hasn't displaced the study of philosophy. It's made it more relevant.

Which is why he's calling for the rehabilitation of classical philosophy: for contemporary philosophers to engage with the work of scientists and vice versa. "What is happening, for example, in quantum physics, in the last 100 of years, these things which are so daring, incredible, that we cannot include into our conscious view of reality -- Hegel's philosophy, with all it’s dialectical paradoxes, can be of some help." 

What does philosophy teach us that empirical science does not? The things we know without knowing it, says Žižek, the silent presuppositions that constantly shape and inform our perception. It's important to be able to observe our surroundings and act on them, but we also need to understand what we're seeing and why we're seeing it. "The danger today is precisely a kind of a bland, pragmatic activism. You know, like when people tell you, oh my God, children in Africa are starving and you have time for your stupid philosophical debates. Let’s do something.  I always hear in this call there are people starving. I always discern in this a more ominous injunction. Do it and don't think too much. Today, we need thinking."   

Less Than Nothing

Slavoj Žižek has been called "the most dangerous philosopher in the West" for his analysis of the worldwide ecological crisis, the biogenetic revolution, and apocalyptic economic imbalances. But the whole time he was writing about political theory, his heart was with Friedrich Hegel -- a 19th century German idealist philosopher who revolutionized the Western understanding of the mind. (Sartre and Dewey were fans, as is Fukuyama.)

In a recent interview, Žižek told Big Think, "For a long time, I behaved as if I was still young, like the future was ahead of me. I was never a so-called mature normal person. All of a sudden [I went] from pretending to be young to discovering, oh my God, I’m in late 50s... I hate this. I’m now like the proverbial woman who celebrates her 39th birthday five times in a row. I realized I cannot pretend that I will have time to do the big work. If I don't do it now, what I really want to do, I will never do it." That big work is Less Than Nothing.

Here's Verso's blurb:

For the last two centuries, Western philosophy has developed in the shadow of Hegel, whose influence each new thinker tries in vain to escape... Today, as global capitalism comes apart at the seams, we are entering a new transition. In Less Than Nothing, the pinnacle publication of a distinguished career, Slavoj Žižek argues that it is imperative that we not simply return to Hegel but that we repeat and exceed his triumphs, overcoming his limitations by being even more Hegelian than the master himself. Such an approach not only enables Žižek to diagnose our present condition, but also to engage in a critical dialogue with the key strands of contemporary thought-Heidegger, Badiou, speculative realism, quantum physics and cognitive sciences. Modernity will begin and end with Hegel.

This bears repeating

Žižek at OWS (approximately as delivered)

We are all losers, but the true losers are down there on Wall Street. They were bailed out by billions of our money. We are called socialists, but here there is always socialism for the rich. They say we don’t respect private property, but in the 2008 financial crash-down more hard-earned private property was destroyed than if all of us here were to be destroying it night and day for weeks. They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare.

We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath this ground. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street, “Hey, look down!”

In mid-April 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV, films, and novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel. This is a good sign for China. These people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dreaming. Here, we don’t need a prohibition because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.

So what are we doing here? Let me tell you a wonderful, old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: “Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter.

Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: “Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.” This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom— war on terror and so on—falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink.

There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember, carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.” Remember that our basic message is “We are allowed to think about alternatives.” If the rule is broken, we do not live in the best possible world. But there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?

Remember. The problem is not corruption or greed. The problem is the system. It forces you to be corrupt. Beware not only of the enemies, but also of false friends who are already working to dilute this process. In the same way you get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without fat, they will try to make this into a harmless, moral protest. A decaffienated process. But the reason we are here is that we have had enough of a world where, to recycle Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy a Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes to third world starving children is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture, after marriage agencies are now outsourcing our love life, we can see that for a long time, we allow our political engagement also to be outsourced. We want it back.

We are not Communists if Communism means a system which collapsed in 1990. Remember that today those Communists are the most efficient, ruthless Capitalists. In China today, we have Capitalism which is even more dynamic than your American Capitalism, but doesn’t need democracy. Which means when you criticize Capitalism, don’t allow yourself to be blackmailed that you are against democracy. The marriage between democracy and Capitalism is over. The change is possible.

What do we perceive today as possible? Just follow the media. On the one hand, in technology and sexuality, everything seems to be possible. You can travel to the moon, you can become immortal by biogenetics, you can have sex with animals or whatever, but look at the field of society and economy. There, almost everything is considered impossible. You want to raise taxes by little bit for the rich. They tell you it’s impossible. We lose competitivity. You want more money for health care, they tell you, “Impossible, this means totalitarian state.” There’s something wrong in the world, where you are promised to be immortal but cannot spend a little bit more for healthcare. Maybe we need to set our priorities straight here. We don’t want higher standard of living. We want a better standard of living. The only sense in which we are Communists is that we care for the commons. The commons of nature. The commons of privatized by intellectual property. The commons of biogenetics. For this, and only for this, we should fight.

Communism failed absolutely, but the problems of the commons are here. They are telling you we are not American here. But the conservatives fundamentalists who claim they really are American have to be reminded of something: What is Christianity? It’s the holy spirit. What is the holy spirit? It’s an egalitarian community of believers who are linked by love for each other, and who only have their own freedom and responsibility to do it. In this sense, the holy spirit is here now. And down there on Wall Street, there are pagans who are worshipping blasphemous idols. So all we need is patience. The only thing I’m afraid of is that we will someday just go home and then we will meet once a year, drinking beer, and nostaligically remembering “What a nice time we had here.” Promise yourselves that this will not be the case. We know that people often desire something but do not really want it. Don’t be afraid to really want what you desire. Thank you very much.

Žižek original text

Slavoj Žižek at Occupy Wall Street: “We are not dreamers, we are the awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare”

By Sarah Shin / 10 October 2011

Slavoj Žižek visited Liberty Plaza to speak to Occupy Wall Street protesters. Here is the original text of his speech — not a transcript, as originally described in error.

Don't fall in love with yourselves, with the nice time we are having here. Carnivals come cheap—the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. Fall in love with hard and patient work—we are the beginning, not the end. Our basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world, we are allowed and obliged even to think about alternatives. 

There is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions—questions not about what we do not want, but about what we DO want. What social organization can replace the existing capitalism? What type of new leaders we need? The XXth century alternatives obviously did not work.

So do not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is not “Main street, not Wall street,” but to change the system where main street cannot function without Wall street. Beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support us, but are already working hard to dilute our protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, they will try to make us into a harmless moral protest. But the reason we are here is that we had enough of the world where to recycle your Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes for the Third World troubles is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture, after the marriage agencies started to outsource even our dating, we see that for a long time we were allowing our political engagements also to be outsourced—we want them back.

They will tell us we are un-American. But when conservative fundamentalists tell you that America is a Christian nation, remember what Christianity is: the Holy Spirit, the free egalitarian community of believers united by love. We here are the Holy Spirit, while on Wall Street they are pagans worshipping false idols.

They will tell us we are violent, that our very language is violent: occupation, and so on. Yes we are violent, but only in the sense in which Mahathma Gandhi was violent. We are violent because we want to put a stop on the way things go—but what is this purely symbolic violence compared to the violence needed to sustain the smooth functioning of the global capitalist system?

We were called losers—but are the true losers not there on the Wall Street, and were they not bailed out by hundreds of billions of your money? You are called socialists—but in the US, there already is socialism for the rich. They will tell you that you don't respect private property—but the Wall Street speculations that led to the crash of 2008 erased more hard-earned private property than if we were to be destroying it here night and day—just think of thousands of homes foreclosed...

We are not Communists, if Communism means the system which deservedly collapsed in 1990—and remember that Communists who are still in power run today the most ruthless capitalism (in China). The success of Chinese Communist-run capitalism is an ominous sign that the marriage between capitalism and democracy is approaching a divorce. The only sense in which we are Communists is that we care for the commons—the commons of nature, of knowledge—which are threatened by the system.

They will tell you that you are dreaming, but the true dreamers are those who think that things can go on indefinitely they way they are, just with some cosmetic changes. We are not dreamers, we are the awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything, we are merely witness how the system is gradually destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. What we are doing is just reminding those in power to look down...

So is the change really possible? Today, the possible and the impossible are distributed in a strange way. In the domains of personal freedoms and scientific technology, the impossible is becoming increasingly possible (or so we are told): “nothing is impossible,” we can enjoy sex in all its perverse versions; entire archives of music, films, and TV series are available for downloading; space travel is available to everyone (with the money...); we can enhance our physical and psychic abilities through interventions into the genome, right up to the techno-gnostic dream of achieving immortality by transforming our identity into a software program. On the other hand, in the domain of social and economic relations, we are bombarded all the time by a You cannot ... engage in collective political acts (which necessarily end in totalitarian terror), or cling to the old Welfare State (it makes you non-competitive and leads to economic crisis), or isolate yourself from the global market, and so on. When austerity measures are imposed, we are repeatedly told that this is simply what has to be done. Maybe, the time has come to turn around these coordinates of what is possible and what is impossible; maybe, we cannot become immortal, but we can have more solidarity and healthcare?

In mid-April 2011, the media reported that Chinese government has prohibited showing on TV and in theatres films which deal with time travel and alternate history, with the argument that such stories introduce frivolity into serious historical matters—even the fictional escape into alternate reality is considered too dangerous. We in the liberal West do not need such an explicit prohibition: ideology exerts enough material power to prevent alternate history narratives being taken with a minimum of seriousness. It is easy for us to imagine the end of the world—see numerous apocalyptic films -, but not end of capitalism.

In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: “Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink: “Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair—the only thing unavailable is red ink.” And is this not our situation till now?

We have all the freedoms one wants—the only thing missing is the red ink: we feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict—'war on terror,' "democracy and freedom,' 'human rights,' etc—are FALSE terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it. You, here, you are giving to all of us red ink.

worth repeating

Occupy Wall Street: what is to be done next?
How a protest movement without a programme can confront a capitalist system that defies reform

In a kind of Hegelian triad, the western left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called "class struggle essentialism" for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist etc struggles, "capitalism" is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.

The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it: "The present crisis is not crisis of capitalism but the crisis of morality."

Let us recall the famous joke from Ernst Lubitch's Ninotchka: the hero visits a cafeteria and orders coffee without cream; the waiter replies:

"Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk. Can I bring you coffee without milk?"

Was not a similar trick at work in the dissolution of the eastern european Communist regimes in 1990? The people who protested wanted freedom and democracy without corruption and exploitation, and what they got was freedom and democracy without solidarity and justice. Likewise, the Catholic theologian close to pope is carefully emphasizing that the protesters should target moral injustice, greed, consumerism etc, without capitalism. The self-propelling circulation of Capital remains more than ever the ultimate Real of our lives, a beast that by definition cannot be controlled.

One should avoid the temptation of the narcissism of the lost cause, of admiring the sublime beauty of uprisings doomed to fail. What new positive order should replace the old one the day after, when the sublime enthusiasm of the uprising is over? It is at this crucial point that we encounter the fatal weakness of the protests: they express an authentic rage which is not able to transform itself into a minimal positive program of socio-political change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution.

Reacting to the Paris protests of 1968, Lacan said: "What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one."

It seems that Lacan's remark found its target (not only) in the indignados of Spain. Insofar as their protest remains at the level of a hysterical provocation of the master, without a positive program for the new order to replace the old one, it effectively functions as a call for a new master, albeit disavowed.

We got the first glimpse of this new master in Greece and Italy, and Spain will probably follow. As if ironically answering the lack of expert programs of the protesters, the trend is now to replace politicians in the government with a "neutral" government of depoliticized technocrats (mostly bankers, as in Greece and Italy). Colorful "politicians" are out, grey experts are in. This trend is clearly moving towards a permanent emergency state and the suspension of political democracy.

So we should see in this development also a challenge: it is not enough to reject the depoliticized expert rule as the most ruthless form of ideology; one should also begin to think seriously about what to propose instead of the predominant economic organization, to imagine and experiment with alternate forms of organization, to search for the germs of the New. Communism is not just or predominantly the carnival of the mass protest when the system is brought to a halt; Communism is also, above all, a new form of organization, discipline, hard work.

The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them, but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, they will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture. In boxing, to "clinch" means to hold the opponent's body with one or both arms in order to prevent or hinder punches. Bill Clinton's reaction to the Wall Street protests is a perfect case of political clinching; Clinton thinks that the protests are "on balance … a positive thing", but he is worried about the nebulousness of the cause. Clinton suggested the protesters get behind President Obama's jobs plan, which he claimed would create "a couple million jobs in the next year and a half". What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of "concrete" pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in in a proper way, since it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly New. The reason protesters went out is that they had enough of the world where to recycle your Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes for the third world troubles is enough to make them feel good.

Economic globalization is gradually but inexorably undermining the legitimacy of western democracies. Due to their international character, large economic processes cannot be controlled by democratic mechanisms which are, by definition, limited to nation states. In this way, people more and more experience institutional democratic forms as unable to capture their vital interests.

It is here that Marx's key insight remains valid, today perhaps more than ever: for Marx, the question of freedom should not be located primarily into the political sphere proper. The key to actual freedom rather resides in the "apolitical" network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed if we want an actual improvement is not a political reform, but a change in the "apolitical" social relations of production. We do not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory, etc – all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by "extending" democracy into this sphere, say, by organizing "democratic" banks under people's control. In such "democratic" procedures (which, of course, can have a positive role to play), no matter how radical our anti-capitalism is, the solution is sought in applying the democratic mechanisms – which, one should never forget, are part of the state apparatuses of the "bourgeois" state that guarantees undisturbed functioning of the capitalist reproduction.

The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: it reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. The situation is like that of psychoanalysis, where the patient knows the answer (his symptoms are such answers) but doesn't know to what they are answers, and the analyst has to formulate a question. Only through such a patient work a program will emerge.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

“every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution”

The Palestinian Question
the couple Symptom / Fetish
Islamo-Fascism, Christo-Fascism, Zionism
mieux vaut un désastre qu’un désêtre
Slavoj Žižek

What phenomena like Taliban demonstrate is that Walter Benjamin’s old thesis “every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution” not only still holds today, but is perhaps more pertinent than ever. Liberals like to point out similarities between Left and Right “extremisms”: Hitler’s terror and camps imitated Bolshevik terror, the Leninist party is today alive in al Qaida – yes, but what does all this mean? It can also be read as an indication of how Fascism literally replaces (takes the place of) the Leftist revolution: its rise is the Left’s failure, but simultaneously a proof that there was a revolutionary potential, dissatisfaction, which the Left was not able to mobilize. And does the same not hold for today’s so-called (by some people) “Islamo-Fascism”? Is the rise of radical Islamism not exactly correlative to the disappearance of the secular Left in Muslim countries? Today, when Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 30 years ago, it was a country with strong secular tradition, up to a powerful Communist party which took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Where did this secular tradition disappear? In Europe, exactly the same goes for Bosnia: back in the 1970s and 1980s, Bosnia and Herzegovina was (multi)culturally the most interesting and alive of all Yugoslav republics, with an internationally-recognized cinema school and a unique style of rock music; in today’s Bosnia, there are effectively strong fundamentalist forces (like the Muslim fundamentalist crowd which brutally attacked the gay parade in Sarajevo in September 2008). The main reason of this regression is the desperate situation of Muslim Bosnians in the 1992-1995 war, when they were basically abandoned by the Western powers to the Serb guns. (And, as Thomas Frank has shown, the same goes for Kansas, the US homegrown version of Afghanistan: the very state which was till the 1970s the bedrock of radical Leftist populism, is today the bedrock of Christian fundamentalism [6] – does this not confirm again Benjamin’s thesis that every Fascism is an index of a failed revolution?)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The crisis of Europe Slavoj Žižek

The second theoretical part of the program of Subversive Festival started in Zagreb on Sunday with round-table talks called “The crisis of Europe”. The participants were Slavoj Zizek and Tariq Ali.

The next day there was a debate on the topic “The crisis of Europe: What’s wrong with Europe? The European resistance: Is different Europe possible?” Among others there were Samir Amin, Bernard Cassen and Eric Toussaint taking part in the debate. These debates of Subversive Forum are held every day from 10 am to 5 pm in ZKM. All those who are interested are invited to participate in debates and take part in the program.

The main part of program was held in the Europa Cinema where there was a book presentation. The book by Slavoj Zizek was presented in a talk which he gave together with Ankica Cakardic. The book is called “Living at the end of time”. It shows and proves that the capitalism which we live today is not sustainable and that it is time for changes. These changes can only happen by redefining the communism.

After that there was a lecture by Slavoj Zizek called “The signs from the future”. He is one of the best known contemporary philosophers. He thinks that the events like Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, demonstrations in Greece, Spain and other countries should be read as signs from the future. These radical movements of emancipation shouldn’t be analyzed as a part of continuum past/present. The perspective of future should be introduced into the analysis. So, these events should be analyzed as limited, distorted and sometimes even perverted fragments of utopian future. It is lying asleep in the present as its hidden potential.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Not a desire to have him, but to be like him : Beautiful shadow a life of Patricia Highsmith"

 Slavoj Žižek, in: London Review of Books. vol. 25, No. 16, p. 13-15, 21 Aug. 2003. (English).

For me, the name ‘Patricia Highsmith’ designates a sacred territory: she is the One whose place among writers is that which Spinoza held for Gilles Deleuze (a ‘Christ among philosophers’). I learned a lot about her from Andrew Wilson’s biography, a book which strikes the right balance between empathy and critical distance. Wilson’s interpretations of her work, however, are often vapid. Can one really take seriously remarks such as: ‘Highsmith’s fiction, like Bacon’s painting, allows us to glimpse the dark, terrible forces that shape our lives, while at the same time documenting the banality of evil’? Much more pertinent are the observations he quotes, such as Duncan Fallowell’s perspicuous characterisation of Highsmith as ‘a combination of painful vulnerability and iron will’. Or the anecdotes that illustrate her complete lack of tact, her openness about her fantasies and prejudices (although a leftist, she preferred Margaret Thatcher to the usual feminist bunch). Or the ethico-political grounds – already, in 1954, she was describing the US as a ‘second Roman Empire’ – on which she based her decision to make her home in ‘old Europe’. As Frank Rich put it, she ‘made a life’s work of her ostracisation from the American mainstream and her own subsequent self-reinvention’.

Wilson’s book provides a lot of material for what Freud called ‘wild analysis’. We learn, for example, that five months before Highsmith was born, her mother tried to abort her by drinking turpentine; she later told her daughter about this, with the comment: ‘It’s funny you adore the smell of turpentine, Pat.’ It’s tempting to see Highsmith’s liking for the smell of what might have been the agent of her own extinction as an expression of the Oedipal wish to return to her mother’s womb – in other words, of the wish not to have left the womb in the first place and, therefore, not to exist. Such speculations pale into insignificance, however, when you compare them with the wealth of Highsmith’s fictional universe, which is very much more compelling than any secret that might be unearthed by a pseudo-Freudian search of her own experiences for a key to the morbid world portrayed in her fiction. The greatest challenge for a Freudian reading of Highsmith lies elsewhere: to explain how writing for her was literally what Lacan would have called her sinthome, or the ‘knot’ that held her universe together, the artificial symbolic formation by means of which she preserved her sanity by conferring a narrative consistency on her tumultuous experience. In her masterpiece, Those Who Walk Away, the hero’s wife justifies her suicide with the words: ‘The world is not enough.’ It was her writing that enabled Highsmith herself to endure in such a world.

It’s often said that in order to understand a work of art we need to know the historical context in which it was made. The lesson of Highsmith, however, is not only that too much historical context can prevent you from making proper contact with her work but that, in her case, it isn’t the context that explains the work but the work that enables us properly to understand the context. The task in reading Highsmith is not to understand her novels in the light of her biography, but to explain by reference to her books how she was able to survive in her ‘real’ life.
Even her first published work (the short story ‘Heroine’, the novel Strangers on a Train), displays an uncanny completeness: everything already in place, no further growth needed. Her only conspicuous failure as a writer is her lesbian novel, first published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan as The Price of Salt in 1952, then reprinted in 1991 under Highsmith’s own name as Carol. The cause of this failure is, paradoxically, that the novel comes too close to Highsmith’s real-life traumas and concerns: as long as she was compelled to articulate these obliquely, the result was outstandingly successful; the moment she addressed them directly, we got a flat and uninteresting novel.

In Those Who Walk Away, Highsmith takes the most narrative genre of all, crime fiction, and imbues it with the inertia of the real, the lack of resolution, the dragging-on of ‘empty time’ characteristic of life itself. In Rome, Ed Coleman makes an unsuccessful attempt to murder his son-in-law, Ray Garrett, a failed painter and gallery-owner in his late twenties, whom he blames for the recent suicide of his only child, Peggy, Ray’s wife. Rather than flee, Ray follows Ed to Venice, where he is wintering with Inez, his girlfriend. What follows is Highsmith’s portrayal of the symbiotic relationship of two men inextricably linked by mutual hatred. Ray is haunted by guilt at his wife’s death, and is ready to let Ed’s violent intentions take their course. In accordance with his death wish, he accepts a lift in a motor-boat from Ed; in the middle of the lagoon, Ed pushes him overboard. Ray pretends he has been drowned and assumes a false name and identity, thus experiencing both an exhilarating freedom and an overwhelming emptiness. He roams through a wintry Venice like one of the living dead. Those Who Walk Away is a crime novel with no actual murder, merely a failed attempt at one: there is no clear resolution – except, perhaps, Ray and Ed’s resigned acceptance that they are condemned to haunt each other for the rest of their lives.

Highsmith recognised that true art lies not simply in the telling of stories, but in the telling of how stories go wrong, in rendering palpable the interstices in which ‘nothing happens’. In art, the spiritual and material spheres are intertwined: the spiritual emerges when we become aware of the material inertia, the dysfunctional bare presence, of the objects around us. It emerges after a murder attempt goes wrong and the would-be murderer and his victim are left stupidly staring at each other. Highsmith, more than any of her rivals, was responsible for elevating crime fiction to the level of art.

This feeling for the inert has a special significance in our age, in which the obverse of the capitalist drive to produce ever more new objects is a growing mountain of useless waste, used cars, out-of-date computers etc, like the famous resting place for old aircraft in the Mojave desert. In these piles of stuff, one can perceive the capitalist drive at rest. That’s where the interest of Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece Stalker lies, with its post-industrial wasteland in which wild vegetation takes over abandoned factories, concrete tunnels and railroads full of stale water, and stray cats and dogs wander the overgrowth. Nature and industrial civilisation overlap, but in a common decay: a civilisation in decay is being reclaimed, not by an idealised, harmonious Nature but by nature which is itself in a state of decomposition. The irony is that it should be an author from the Communist East who displayed such great sensitivity towards this obverse of the drive to produce and consume. But perhaps the irony displays a deeper necessity, hinging on what Heiner Mueller called the ‘waiting-room mentality’ of Communist Eastern Europe:

There would be an announcement: ‘The train will arrive at 18.15 and depart at 18.20,’ and it never did arrive at 18.15. Then came the next announcement: ‘The train will arrive at 20.10.’ And so on. You went on sitting there in the waiting-room, thinking, it’s bound to come at 20.15. That was the situation: basically, a state of Messianic anticipation. There are constant announcements of the Messiah’s impending arrival, and you know perfectly well that he won’t be coming. And yet somehow, it’s good to hear him announced all over again.
The effect of this Messianic attitude was not that people continued to hope, but that, when the Messiah never arrived, they started to look around and take note of the inert materiality of their surroundings; in contrast to the West, where people are always frantic and never properly notice what goes on around them. In the East, people were more closely acquainted with the waiting-room and, caught up in the delay, experienced to the full the idiosyncrasies of their world, in all its topographical and historical detail. One can easily imagine Ray or Ed getting stuck at an East German railway station.

Can we imagine a proper hero in this landscape, someone who could walk these decrepit streets and counteract their inertia? Highsmith’s answer is Tom Ripley, the hero of five of her novels. Ripley is a difficult character to swallow; we can tell just how difficult from the failure of the four cinema versions of books in which he appears. First, there was Alain Delon in René Clément’s Plein soleil (1959, based on The Talented Mr Ripley, except that in the film, to Highsmith’s dismay, the police arrest Ripley at the end); next, Dennis Hopper in Wim Wenders’s The American Friend (1977, based on Ripley’s Game); then, in two strangely symmetrical remakes, Matt Damon in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) and John Malkovich in a new Ripley’s Game by Liliana Cavani (2003). Although, on their own terms, all four are good movies, their Ripley is not Highsmith’s Ripley because they somehow humanise his inhuman core: Delon is a demoniac European; Hopper an existentialist cowboy; Damon an emotionally unstable American brat; while Malkovich displays his usual decadent, ironic coldness.

Who, then, is the ‘real’ Ripley? The contrast is most perspicuous in Minghella’s film. Tom Ripley, a broke young New Yorker, is approached by the magnate Herbert Greenleaf, in the mistaken belief that Tom was at Princeton with his son Dickie. Dickie is off idling in Italy, and Greenleaf pays Tom to go there and bring him back, so that he can take his rightful place in the family business. Once in Europe, however, Tom becomes more and more fascinated by Dickie, and the easy-going upper-class society he inhabits. Tom should not be thought to be homosexual: Dickie is not an object of desire for Tom, but the ideal desiring subject, the subject who is ‘supposed to know’ how to desire. In short, Dickie becomes Tom’s ideal ego, a figure with whom he can identify in his imagination: the repeated sidelong glances he casts at Dickie betray not a desire to have him, but to be like him. To resolve his predicament, Tom concocts an elaborate plan. On a boat trip, he kills Dickie, assumes his identity and manages things so that he will inherit his money, too. Once this is accomplished, the false Dickie disappears, leaving behind a suicide note praising Tom. Tom can now reappear, throwing any suspicious investigators off the scent, and earning the gratitude of Dickie’s parents. Finally, he leaves Italy for Greece.

The novel was written in the mid-1950s, but in it Highsmith foreshadows today’s rewriting of the Ten Commandments as recommendations which we don’t need to follow too blindly. Ripley stands for the final step in this process: thou shalt not kill, except when there is really no other way to pursue your happiness. Or, as Highsmith herself put it in an interview: ‘He could be called psychotic, but I would not call him insane because his actions are rational . . . I consider him a rather civilised person who kills when he absolutely has to.’ Ripley isn’t an ordinary American psycho: his criminal acts are not frenetic passages à l’acte, or outbursts of violence in which he releases the energy accumulated by the frustrations of daily life. His crimes are based on simple pragmatism: he does what is necessary to attain his goal (a quiet life in an exclusive Paris suburb). What is so disturbing about him is that he seems to lack even an elementary moral sense: in daily life, he is mostly friendly and considerate, and when he commits a murder, he does it with regret, quickly and as painlessly as possible, in the way one performs any unpleasant but necessary task.

Highsmith’s Ripley transcends the stock American motif of an individual’s radical reinvention of himself, his capacity to erase the traces of the past and assume a new identity. Minghella’s movie betrays Highsmith in this respect, Gatsbyising Ripley into a new version of the self-recreating American hero. In a telling difference between the novel and the film, Minghella has Ripley experience the stirrings of a conscience, whereas in the novel such qualms are simply not part of his make-up. This is why making Ripley’s gay desires explicit in the film also misses the point. Minghella implies that while, back in the 1950s, Highsmith had to be more circumspect in order to make her hero palatable to the public at large, today we can be more open about such matters. Ripley’s coldness is not a manifestation of his gayness, however; it is the other way round. In one of the later Ripley novels, we learn that he makes love once a week to his wife, Heloïse, as a regular ritual, with nothing passionate about it. Tom is like Adam before the Fall: according to St Augustine, he and Eve did have sex, but only as an instrumental act, like sowing seeds in a field. One way to read Ripley is as an angelic figure, living in a universe which as yet knows nothing of the Law or its transgression (sin), and thus nothing of the guilt generated by our obedience to the Law. This is why Ripley feels no remorse after his murders: he is not yet fully integrated into the symbolic order.

Paradoxically, the price Ripley pays for this is his inability to experience sexual passion. In one novel, he sees two flies copulating on his kitchen table and squashes them in disgust. Minghella’s Ripley would never have done anything like this. Highsmith’s Ripley is disconnected from the realities of the flesh, disgusted at biological life’s cycle of generation and corruption. Marge, Dickie’s girlfriend, sums him up very effectively: ‘All right, he may not be queer. He’s just a nothing, which is worse. He isn’t normal enough to have any kind of sex life.’ One is tempted to claim that, rather than being a closet gay, Ripley is in fact a male lesbian. Tom Ripley was not a mask for Highsmith so much as her externalised ego; we learn from Wilson’s book that she even changed her name to Patricia Highsmith-Ripley and signed her mail with ‘Tom (Pat)’. It is rather like the old Taoist idea that a man dreaming he is a butterfly is also perhaps a butterfly dreaming it is a man. Was Highsmith dreaming that she was Ripley or was she Ripley dreaming that he was Highsmith the novelist?

Minghella’s Ripley makes clear what’s wrong with trying to be more radical than the original by bringing out its implicit, repressed content. By looking to fill in the void, Minghella actually retreats from it. Instead of a polite person who is at the same time a monstrous automaton, experiencing no inner turmoil as he commits his crimes, we get the wealth of a personality, someone full of psychic traumas, someone whom we can, in the fullest meaning of the term, understand.

The Climate Fixers: Is there a technological solution to global warming?

by Michael Specter

Read more

For years, even to entertain the possibility of human intervention on such a scale—geoengineering, as the practice is known—has been denounced as hubris. Predicting long-term climatic behavior by using computer models has proved difficult, and the notion of fiddling with the planet’s climate based on the results generated by those models worries even scientists who are fully engaged in the research. “There will be no easy victories, but at some point we are going to have to take the facts seriously,’’ David Keith, a professor of engineering and public policy at Harvard and one of geoengineering’s most thoughtful supporters, told me. “Nonetheless,’’ he added, “it is hyperbolic to say this, but no less true: when you start to reflect light away from the planet, you can easily imagine a chain of events that would extinguish life on earth.”

There is only one reason to consider deploying a scheme with even a tiny chance of causing such a catastrophe: if the risks of not deploying it were clearly higher. No one is yet prepared to make such a calculation, but researchers are moving in that direction. To offer guidance, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) has developed a series of scenarios on global warming. The cheeriest assessment predicts that by the end of the century the earth’s average temperature will rise between 1.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius. A more pessimistic projection envisages a rise of between 2.4 and 6.4 degrees—far higher than at any time in recorded history. (There are nearly two degrees Fahrenheit in one degree Celsius. A rise of 2.4 to 6.4 degrees Celsius would equal 4.3 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit.) Until recently, climate scientists believed that a six-degree rise, the effects of which would be an undeniable disaster, was unlikely. But new data have changed the minds of many. Late last year, Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency, said that current levels of consumption “put the world perfectly on track for a six-degree Celsius rise in temperature. . . .

Everybody, even schoolchildren, knows this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.”

Weary warriors favor Obama

By Margot Roosevelt | Reuters – Mon, May 14, 2012

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) - Mack McDowell likes to spend time at the local knife and gun show "drooling over firearms," as he puts it. Retired after 30 years in the U.S. Army, he has lined his study with books on war, framed battalion patches from his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, a John Wayne poster, and an 1861 Springfield rifle from an ancestor who fought in the Civil War.
But when it comes to the 2012 presidential election, Master Sergeant McDowell is no hawk.

In South Carolina's January primary, the one-time Reagan supporter voted for Ron Paul "because of his unchanging stand against overseas involvement." In November, McDowell plans to vote for the candidate least likely to wage "knee-jerk reaction wars."

Disaffection with the politics of shock and awe runs deep among men and women who have served in the military during the past decade of conflict. Only 32 percent think the war in Iraq ended successfully, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. And far more of them would pull out of Afghanistan than continue military operations there.

While the 2012 campaign today is dominated by economic and domestic issues, military concerns could easily jump to the fore. Nearly 90,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Israeli politicians and their U.S. supporters debate over whether to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities as partisans bicker over proposed Pentagon budget cuts.

Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of "a dangerous course" in wanting to cut $1 trillion from the defense budget - although the administration's actual proposal is a reduction of $487 billion over the next decade.

"We should not negotiate with the Taliban," the former Massachusetts governor contends. "We should defeat the Taliban." He has blamed Obama for "procrastination toward Iran" and advocates arming Syrian rebels.
Romney, along with his primary rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, had also accused Obama of "appeasement" toward U.S. enemies - a charge that drew a sharpObama rebuttal. "Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaeda leaders who've been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement," the president shot back. He has reproached GOP candidates: "Now is not the time for bluster."

If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney, higher than his margin in the general population.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Insurrections Series at Columbia University Press–Forthcoming Titles

For the past few years, Slavoj Zizek, Clayton Crockett, Jeff Robbins and I have developed the best new academic book series in the English speaking world.  We have already published 14 titles from such luminaries as Gianni Vattimo, Jack Caputo, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Peter Sloterdijk, Richard Kearney, Catherine Malabou, Stanislas Breton, and Arvind-Pal S. Mandair. 

In addition to these leading theorists, we published an awarding winning book by Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe.  The renowned artist and film director, Udi Aloni has also contributed an extraordinary book What Does a Jew Want? (featuring Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler). 

Considered the leading Continental philosopher in the United States (in the wake of Jack Caputo’s retirement), Clayton Crockett has published two monographs (Radical Political Theology and the forthcoming Deleuze Beyond Badiou: Ontology, Multiplicity, and Event) and co-edited a volume on Hegel with Slavoj Zizek and myself.  Jeff Robbins, who is emerging as a leading theorist in the United States, has published Radical Democracy and Political Theology. 

My forthcoming book The Contradiction of America: A Meditation on Jefferson’s Monticello (with Alain Badiou) will add to the discussion on the interrelation between America and Radical Politics.  I will also be introducing Antonio Negri’s first of two books in the series, Spinoza for our Time.  Negri’s second book, 33 Lessons on Lenin is also forthcoming.  I will also be introducing the renowned German philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk’s forthcoming book, Philosophical Temperaments: From Plato to Foucault.

Other forthcoming titles include four more by Alain Badiou: The Incident at Antioch/L’Incident d’Antioche: A Tragedy in Three Acts/Tragedie en trois acts, Heidegger: His Life and His Philosophy (with Barbara Cassin), There’s No Such Thing as a Sexual Relationship: Two Lessons on Lacan (with Barbara Cassin),and Political Writings (with Alberto Toscano and Nina Power).  Tyler Roberts has a brilliant book forthcoming entitled, New Models for Post-Secular Study: encountering Religion.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Alenka Zupančič: "Not-Mother: On Freud’s Verneinung"

Alenka Zupančič

Not-Mother: On Freud’s Verneinung

At first sight, and considering its length, Freud’s short essay on Verneinung looks like a fleeting comment, a short note of an observation that is mostly, and in spite of its amusing character, of a technical nature: When in analysis we hear the person utter this and that, we can conclude, with great probability, that what is at stake is this and that.1 Freud’s most famous example is a remark made by a patient, and has since become proverbial: “You ask who this person in the dream can be. It’s not my mother” (Die Mutter is es nicht). In which case, adds Freud, the question is settled; we can be sure that it is indeed her. Moreover, every explicit negation of this sort, every strongly emphasized distancing from a certain content, strongly indicates the truth of precisely this content. This holds, of course, only in cases when the analysand herself “comes out” with this content or intention, yet accompanies it with a preliminary negation. For example: “Now you’ll think I mean to say something insulting, but really I’ve no such intention.”
Yet the more we advance into Freud’s essay, the more the technical unambiguity of examples remains behind, and what comes to the foreground is a fascinating knot of practically all the key problems of psychoanalysis, organized around the peculiar and evading negativity that is its central focus. For it soon becomes clear that the negativity at work in Freud’s witty examples is in no way reducible to the simple opposite of positivity, or affirmation; it is not reducible to the truthfulness of its opposite, and it becomes clear that by translating “It’s not mother” into “It is mother,” we don’t get very far—the symptoms persist, and the real problem, as well as the main part of analytical work, only starts here. What comes to light is a certain crack, or internal interval, that is at work in the relationship between the crucial categorical couples, and that undermines their complementariness and symmetry: inside/outside; pleasure/beyond the pleasure (principle); repression/becoming conscious of the repressed; affective/intellectual; Eros/destructive drive; and so forth.

Apart from this, but also of course related to it, Freud’s paper offers an extremely dense speculation about the very origin of thought, speculation that stupefied the prominent French Hegelian Jean Hippolyte, made apparent in his commentary on the essay, which he delivered upon Lacan’s invitation to his seminar. We are dealing with something like “the birth of thinking out of the spirit of negation” (or rather, from the—signifying—mark of negation). It seems indeed that Freud’s essay on “negation” is also a kind of quilting point between philosophy and psychoanalysis. And this is how we’ll read this essay here: as a way of thinking about the singular and paradoxical negativity outlined, as well as handled, by psychoanalysis, and its relationship to philosophy.

1. The With-Without
Let’s take Freud’s essays step by step. Without being asked who played part in his dream, the patient rushes forward and volunteers the word “mother,” accompanied by negation. It is as if he has to say it, but at the same time cannot; it is at the same time imperative and impossible. The result is that the word is uttered as denied, and the repression coexists with the thing being consciously spoken out. The first mistake to avoid here is to read this in terms of what this person really saw in his dream, and then, because of a conscious censorship, lied about it in his account to the analyst. Crucial to the understanding not only of Verneinung but also of the Freudian unconscious as such is that what is unconscious in the given case is first and foremost the censorship, and not simply its object, “mother.” The latter is fully present in the statement, and introduced by the subject himself, who could have not mentioned her at all. Here, the unconscious sticks to the distortion itself (the negation), and is not hidden in what the subject supposedly really saw in his dream. It could well be that in the dream there actually appeared another person, known or unknown, yet the story of the unconscious that is relevant for analysis begins with this “not my mother” that takes place in the account of the dream. When mother thus appears in this singular “alloy” composition with negation as “not-mother,” it looks as if both terms have irredeemably contaminated each other. As if the “not” marked the mother with the stamp of unconscious desire (“like Made in Germany stamped on the object,” as Freud puts it), and “mother” no less contaminated the formal purity of the negation with “elements in traces,” to borrow what can sometimes be read on the packaging of certain foods.

In other words, the certainty emphasized by Freud in this context is not simply certainty regarding the given unconscious content (“mother”), but first and foremost certainty regarding the fact that we are indeed dealing with the intrusion of the unconscious. On the other hand, Freud’s conclusion “therefore it is mother” is not the conclusion of analysis of the given situation, but rather its starting point, the point where the real problem of the unconscious begins. As a matter of fact, it is only here that things become really interesting, for Freud goes on to say that even though in analysis we can bring this person to withdraw the “not” and accept the (content of the) repressed, “the repressive process itself is not yet removed by this.”2 The negation itself is negated (we could say that we now get something like, “this is not not-mother”), yet something of it persists—the repression, the symptoms persist beyond becoming conscious of the repressed. Here, we come across one of the crucial (and constitutive) discoveries of psychoanalysis, without which the latter would be little more than a hermeneutics of the unconscious, depending entirely on the (correct) interpretation, or translation, of the text deformed by the unconscious into its full and nondeformed version. Soon after his early enthusiasm that things might indeed work this way, Freud came up against the problem that they actually don’t, that the right interpretation (and its acceptance) doesn’t yet eliminate the symptom, and that the real kernel of the unconscious is not to be situated—in the case of dreams, for example—in the latent content, as opposed to the manifest content, and as “deciphered” from it. For our present purposes, and at this stage, this could be formulated as follows: We can accept the (repressed) content, eliminate it, but we cannot eliminate the structure of the gap, or crack, that generates it. This irreducible crack becomes visible precisely through double negation, as its “indivisible remainder.” For we are dealing precisely with something like, “it is not not-mother,” and this double negation circumscribes something that makes it irreducible to simply “mother” (or her absence). “It is not not-mother” is not the same as “(it is) mother,” a difference that is crucial for psychoanalysis, since the unconscious is to be situated precisely in this odd, fragile dimension. Lacan pointed out the flip side that the term “unconscious” has on account of its being negative, that is, the negative opposite of “conscious.” More importantly, it is because the unconscious is to be situated in this “third” and odd dimension that Lacan says at some point that the status of the unconscious is not ontical but ethical:3 

Ontically, the unconscious is the elusive (l’inconscient c’est l’évasif)—“but we are beginning to circumscribe it in a structure, a temporal structure, which, it can be said, has never yet been articulated as such.”4 The unconscious is not an alternative reality into which we could translate the slips and symptoms of our reality. Going back to the discussed example, we could also claim that what the patient wanted to say is precisely what he said. It was neither someone other than mother nor mother; rather, it was the “not-mother,” or “the mother-not.”
There is an excellent joke told at some point in Ernest Lubitsch’s film Ninotchka (1939), which I’ve already used in my paper on “Sexual Difference and Ontology.” Yet it would be difficult to avoid referring to it again here, since there is hardly any better way to get a grip on the singular object “mother-not.”
A guy goes into a restaurant and says to the waiter: “Coffee without cream, please.” The waiter replies: “I am sorry sir, but we are out of cream. Could it be without milk?”

This joke carries a certain real, even a certain truth about the real, which has to do precisely with the singular negativity introduced or discovered by psychoanalysis. A negation of something that is neither pure absence nor pure nothing nor simply the complementary of what it negates. At the moment it is spoken there remains a trace of that which is not. This is a dimension that is introduced (and made possible) by the signifier yet is irreducible to it. It has (or can have) a positive, albeit spectral, quality, which can be formulated in the precise terms of “with without (cream)” as irreducible to both alternatives (cream/no cream).

This has some very interesting consequences for the logic implied in the unconscious, which is neither classical nor (and more surprisingly) simply intuitionist. Let us consider that for a moment. We can say, first, that what is introduced by the Freudian notion of negation is not reducible to the alternative P or non-P (“It is mother”/ “It isn’t mother”). In other words, we are not dealing with negation as it operates in the classical logic, relying on—in addition to the principle of identity— two fundamental principles: 1) The principle of noncontradiction (it is impossible to assert simultaneously, in the same context, the proposition P and the proposition non-P). And 2) The principle of the excluded middle, or the excluded third (if you have a proposition P, P is either true or false; that is, either P is true or non-P is true. We cannot have a third possibility). As a consequence of the excluded middle, there is also the principle of double negation: Negation of negation is equivalent to affirmation. However, the classical negation is not the only logical possibility concerning negation. Philosophically this is evident—it suffices to take not only the “modern” example of Nietzsche, but also the supposedly “classical” example of Hegel, who affirms that negation of negation is not equivalent to the immediate affirmation, and for whom contradiction, far from being excluded, is the very motor of dialectical movement. Within the field of logic itself we have two modern alternatives to classical logic: the intuitionist logic, created by L. E. J. Brouwer and formalized by Arend Heyting (the negation obeys the principle of contradiction, but not the excluded middle); and the paraconsistent logic, created and developed by the Brazilian school, and notably by Newton da Costa (the negation obeys the excluded middle, but not the principle of contradiction). The fourth possibility (the negation obeys neither the excluded middle nor the principle of contradiction) is excluded by logics, on grounds that it amounts to the complete dissolution of all potency of negativity.

But let’s return to Freud and to what the logical frame implied by psychoanalysis might be, that is, if it wants to properly account for this negation that is not reducible to the opposite of affirmation. One could simply say, “Well, Freud seems to be subscribing to the intuitionist logic, as opposed to the classical one.” However—and this is what is most intriguing and far-reaching in the Freudian outline—this is simply not the case. The standard presentation of the intuitionist logic allows for things to exist between the two extremes (or absolutes); between an absolute P and absolute non-P there is the whole world, so to speak, with all kinds of nuances with different shades, or degrees, of intensity. Because it allows for different degrees of intensity, the potency of negation is weaker in this logic than in classical logic. Here is an example of the intuitionist logic presented by Alain Badiou in his paper “The Three Negations”:

So, if the great field of the law is always a concrete world, or a concrete construction, its logic is not classic. If we take “law” in its strict legal sense, we know that perfectly well. If the sentence P is “guilty,” and non-P “innocent,” we have always a great number of intermediate values, like “guilty with attenuating circumstances,” or “innocent because certainly guilty, but with insufficient proof,” and so on … If I say in a concrete world “I am not guilty,” maybe it is true, but it is practically never absolutely true, because everybody is guilty, more or less.5

However, and as we’ve already seen, what is at stake in the Freudian discovery that, when dealing with the unconscious, the alternative “mother/not mother” is not exhaustive (negation of negation doesn’t bring us to the supposedly original affirmation) is something else. It is not a “more or less mother,” nor is it a difference in intensity with regard to two extremes, or absolutes; it is a paradoxical entity of “with-without.” The following is a very important question (and answer) asked by psychoanalysis and brought to the attention of both philosophy and logics: If we admit the non-functioning of the principle of the excluded third, what then is the status of the third that we allow for in this way? Is it something in between, a combination of two, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, a nuance with a certain degree of intensity? Or is it effectively something else (that is, precisely something “third”), with its own ontological status, even if the latter turns out to be very paradoxical? The discovery of the unconscious, and its real, brings forth the second possibility. But this could also imply that the logic introduced by the concept of the unconscious is not actually intuitionist, but rather a paradoxical twist of the classical logic itself: The third term (or third possibility), which is included rather then excluded, is nothing other than the very point of the (onto)logical impossibility of the third. In other words, what is included as something (as an entity) receives the very logical impossibility on which the alternative mother/not-mother is based. The fact that it is included doesn’t mean that the impossible now becomes possible (one of the possibilities, as in the intuitionist logic); rather, it is included in its very onto-logical impossibility—hence its spectral character: as included in reality, the impossible-real can only be a specter.

2. The Birth of Thinking from the Materiality of Negation
Another crucial and related point in Freud’s essay concerns the way in which he links the cut of (the signifier of) negation to the very constitution of thinking (conscious and unconscious). For the not is not only a trick, an instrument, of the unconscious (something that the unconscious “uses” in order to persist side by side with some inadmissible content); it is also its condition, or Grund. It is not only that which, together with other unconscious mechanisms (displacements, condensations …), patches up the gaps of the repression and alerts us to it, but also the condition of the repression as such.

In what is arguably the most intriguing (and highly speculative) part of his essay, Freud develops the hypothesis of the constitution of reality and of the thinking subject as based on the original cut along the lines of appropriation (or, “taking in” as basis of affirmation, Bejahung) and Ausstoßung (“expulsion,” or “pushing out,” as basis of negation). Freud proposes a very dense genealogy of judgment that includes two steps coinciding with the difference between attributive and existential judgments. In the first case, we start with a situation that has pleasure as its only measure, relying on whether what he calls the original Ich takes things in or expels them. “Expressed in the language of the oldest—the oral—drive impulses, the judgement is: ‘I should like to eat this,’ or, ‘I should like to spit it out’; put more generally: ‘I should like to take this into myself and to keep that out.’ That is to say, ‘It shall be inside me’ or ‘it shall be outside me.’ As I have shown elsewhere, the original pleasure-ego wants to introject into itself everything that is good and to eject from itself everything that is bad. What is bad, what is alien to the ego, and what is external are, to begin with, identical.”6

This is then where a first cut is produced, the split between in and out, Innen und Außen, which also and immediately coincides with the dividing lines between good and bad, foreign, or alien, and familiar. In the undoubtedly mythical being (or being of a given theoretical construction) that Freud calls das ursprüngliche Lust-Ich, the original pleasure-ego, these dividing lines simply coincide: the inner–the good–the familiar, on the one side, and the outer–the bad–the alien on the other. But already in the next step things become more complicated and these dividing lines fall out of joint.

“It is now no longer the question of whether what has been perceived (a thing) shall be taken into the ego or not, but of whether something which is in the ego as a presentation can be rediscovered in perception (reality) as well. It is, we see, once more the question of external and internal.”7

In other words, what is at stake here is the famous reality check, or “reality testing, ”Realitätsprüfung, based on the presupposition of an original loss of pleasure.8 The crucial aspect of which is the loss of immediacy: From now on, all pleasure will be a found-again-pleasure. The same goes for all objects of reality: As objects of reality (which is thus constituted as objective reality, that is, constituted through the opposition subjective-objective) they are never simply found, but always refound, found again, wiedergefunden.

“The first and immediate aim, therefore, of reality testing is not to find an object in real perception which corresponds to the one presented, but to refind such an object, to convince oneself that it is still there.”9

So the moment we begin dealing with thinking and with certain relation to reality, both our pleasure and the existence of things are no longer immediate, but bear the mark of repetition and of the gap the latter implies. The second repartition of the dividing lines doesn’t simply replace the first, however, but adds to it with a twist, resulting in a gap, or a third dimension, that haunts from then on the very consistency of the distinction between inner and outer, and blurs the subject-object division and relation. We could also recapitulate the movement described by Freud like this. The first mythical difference between inside and outside is not yet a real difference, but a process of differentiating the indifferent, or the indistinct, led by the primary process of the pleasure principle. The latter operates, so to speak, with its head on in the indifferent that it separates, but the difference itself, the furrow that it leaves behind, at no point enters its horizon. The Ich only first encounters it in the second step, when it returns in its footsteps, but no longer finds the world as it has been “before.” Now there is difference, the difference between inside and outside, yet it no longer coincides with the difference between good and bad (or pleasant and unpleasant); for the condition of the good, and of experiencing pleasure, is now precisely in finding the object outside (in reality). The object of representation has to be found outside or else it is of no use to us. What has once been inside needs to be found outside. This outside is hence very much subjectively mediated, which is why psychoanalysis situates the real in neither this (subjective) outside nor in the pure inside, but precisely in the impossible space created by their twist and torsion.
We could also say that this first cut into the indifferent does not only produce two slopes of reality (inside/outside) but is itself also material and occupies some space. The metaphor that first comes to mind here is of course that of a crack or gap, separating and connecting the two sides, while at the same time figuring itself as something. (Freud’s key term here, Ausstoßung, or pushing out, suggests an emptying of some space that has already been occupied, and with it the constitution of an empty space in-between.) The cut between inside and outside, between affirmation and negation, does not produce two things but three: 1) affirmation (some positivity); 2) negation (absence, what is not); and 3) the place, or locus, of their difference.10 My point would be that the step from the (mythological) original Lust-Ich, or pleasure-ego, to subjectivity proper (and to the constitution of objective reality) is the step of including, of “taking in”—not simply some exteriority, but precisely the difference (crack or gap) that separates “me” from the outside, from what is not me. In other words: The negativity included in the subject at its very affirmative constitution is not this or that negativity (exteriority), but the very form of negation which reveals here its real structure, namely and precisely that of with-without. The cutting off (of the future outside reality) leaves a mark, a trace, which is precisely what the subject relies upon in its constitution. The constitutive affirmation, Bejahung, (inevitably) also takes in this supplement, the materialization of its own limit. And it is this limit that constitutes that peculiar third dimension, which is neither outside nor inside, neither subject nor object, neither something nor absence; rather, it has the precise structure of the “with-without,” and of the curve that this expression indicates or traces. This is what henceforth curves the given structure or space, magnetizes it.

And this has some bearing for the question of being and of ontology. We could say that all being is (a) being with-without—this is the “hole” referred to before: the hole in the order of being that curves its space. Ontology, or the science of being qua being, corresponds to the gesture of cutting off, or obliterating, the “with-without.” The latter is taken for nothing; it doesn’t count in the ontological space where one nothing (no cream) equals another (no milk). Yet, according to psychoanalysis, this is precisely a nothing that cannot be cut off as if it were nothing—at least not without consequences.

Returning to the questions with which we started this investigation, we can now say: The something (third) that remains between the fingers of the negation of negation (that is, as long as the negation of negation doesn’t simply bring us back to the inaugural affirmation) is nothing other than the constitutive portion of negativity of the inaugural affirmation itself.

Crucial in this respect is another point that Freud quickly makes at the end of the article. As a symbol of negation, and by enabling a certain freedom from repression (and from the limitations it imposes), “no” also enables some freedom from the “compulsion of the pleasure principle.” This is to say, if we sharpen things a bit, it marks the precise place of the death drive and of its constitutive function in thinking. Thanks to this “not,” we can now perform certain mental operations that would be otherwise blocked by the compulsion of the pleasure principle.

One could of course raise the following objection: This might be true, yet this freedom from the compulsion of the pleasure principle remains utterly abstract or de-realized in the discussed case (it remains a kind of mental experiment), which is why repression persists beyond becoming conscious of the repressed. But this is precisely not what is at stake, and this understanding is far too simplistic. For in all its “abstractness,” the symbol of negation effectively contributes to the successful analysis of repression, and it does so in two steps. First, it makes the “symptomatic” formation possible; that is to say, it makes a certain articulation of the repression possible, and hence also its inscription in reality. This is the first step, marked in our case by the statement “It’s not my mother.” It enables the subject to introduce “mother,” without the discomfort of preventing it in a context that strongly resists this introduction. But it s also crucial in the next step, which is beyond the point where “it is not mother” is simply reversed into “it is mother” (which, as we’ve seen, doesn’t bring us very far). As a matter of fact, it is only here that we arrive at the abstraction that befalls the repressed object itself; that is, mother. If the patient accepts this interpretation “intellectually,” but the repression persists, he has accepted the “mother” without that structural negativity that gives her her difficult status in his unconscious (as well as in the symbolic reality as such). For the end of analysis does not consist simply in the subject finally discovering what “personal pathology” is responsible for his having “problems with his mother,” and why the latter functions for him as a problematic figure, demanding repression. What must also be asked is what is it in the mother herself that enables, or generates, her repression. And by this I don’t have in mind this or that characteristic of the mother, but the point of impossibility that determines her in her structural reality.

Returning to Freud’s example we could say that, when it first appears, the “not-mother,” or negation, functions as the stopgap concealing the inconsistency of the entity called mother. At this first level, and with a surprising spin, the “it is not mother” could actually be read to imply not only “it is mother” but also, and more emphatically, “Mother is,” or “there is Mother.” It could be read as affirmation of the ontological fullness of Mother “in herself”—a fullness, or consistency, which, on account of and in comparison with the person appearing in my dream, could obviously not be the Mother, even if it was (my) mother. This could relate back to Freud’s genesis of judgment in its two steps. It enables a reading according to which the second step, the reality testing (in which we are supposed to check whether the object [of former satisfaction] can be found in the outside reality), is not actually about the question of the objective existence of things, but about something far more ambiguous. We could say that the crucial and fundamental problem of this level does not so much concern the objects that are not (or are no longer) to be found in reality; it concerns the fact that, in relation to objects that he or she does find in reality and that do really exist, the subject can only say “this is not it” (in comparison to the presupposed fullness of primary satisfaction). This is key to the Freudian emphasis on refinding, rather than finding, objects in reality.11 In other words, what is at stake is not simply whether the object of my representation also exists in (objective) reality, but rather, the question of the reality of satisfaction that it can give me as object of reality. In this context, the inaugural “this is not mother” contains a (involuntary?) dimension of truth; it indicates that whatever I can refind in reality is never IT. This is the constitutive “subjective distortion”: from the subjective perspective, existence as such is marked by a fundamental lack (or privation): If something exists (in objective reality) it cannot live up to its notion. And we are not speaking about the real thing as opposed to its idealization (nor about the state of full satisfaction being real in any meaningful sense); the point is that the existence of things is marked, for the subject, by a lack of something (which was never there to begin with) that forms (or obliterates) the perspective on what is there. (This would be the Freudian version of the transcendental constitution of reality: It doesn’t involve the a priori forms of sensibility but instead a “speculative” subtraction of something that was never “objectively” there, yet the hole involved in its absence functions as the armature of objective reality.)

One could say that the split of reality between the “appearance” (the phenomena) and the “thing in itself” is the philosophical equivalent of this structure, and if this were so, one could be able to detect a certain dimension of desire (and its eternal this is not IT) at work in this split. Formulated in philosophical terms, the end of analysis would be precisely the abandoning of the thing in itself, while preserving that gap that separates IT from the phenomenal reality, articulating this gap as function of an immanent transcendence. This is the function of the object a in psychoanalysis.

Relating this to Freud we can say that the end of analysis could finally, and indeed, be formulated in terms of “therefore it is mother.” Yet this now refers neither to a simple opposite of mother as denied nor to the emphatic “Mother is” implying her fullness “in herself” beyond her appearance in the world. Instead it refers to what one might formulate as follows: “THIS, and nothing else, is mother.” The accent is thus on the fact that it is precisely this individuum, unequal to its notion, that is the actual notion of mother. In other words, it is not simply that no mother is ever equal to her notion/task, or that we have to reconcile ourselves with this painful split (and inadequacy). We must make one more step and recognize in this configuration precisely that which makes mother mother, that is, what accounts for her being equal to her notion. “THIS, and nothing else, is the notion of mother.”