Monday, March 30, 2015

random thoughts on the symptom

Here is some miscellaneous information about the symptom.
a basic, simple definition to start with:
symptom--something in mind or body which intrudes into your life to bring you misery. The symptom represents a portion of jouissance which has not been dislodged, and which has come back to disrupt your existence.

The symptom is what we (we 'normal' neurotics) complain about. But the symptom can also function as a 'knot' to bind together the three registers of imaginary, symbolic, and Real. So, even though we complain about it, we don't really want to lose it, since it organizes our existence. I had a good friend (who recently died of pancreatic cancer). He used to complain all of the time to me about his wife. According to what he said, he might have been happy, except he was stuck with her. She was (allegedly) the source of all the misery in his life. I told him over and over to leave her. I told him life was too short to be miserable, etc., etc. But nothing I said ever did any good. He just came up with all kinds of elaborate excuses for why he needed to stay with her. I finally realized that he needed her somehow. It was easier for him to keep his symptom than to encounter the Real and be cured.

I think it is significant that many men say this about women: "You can't live with them, and you can't live without them."
This is interesting because, according to Lacanian theory, men would not even BE men without women. This means that when they say this, men are complaining about the very thing that makes them to be what they are.

Here is a Žižek quote: 
"the symptom is the exception which disturbs the surface of the false appearance, the point at which the repressed Other Scene erupts..."

Below is some relevant info I found online at

It is a summary of some ideas from Žižek's first book in English, The Sublime Object of Ideology:

In the first two chapters Žižek explains the psychoanalytical definition of ideology and its connection with Marxism: ideology 'is not simply a 'false consciousness', an illusory representation of reality, it is rather this reality itself which is already to be conceived as 'ideological'' (21) It is crucial to understand the futility of a critical or even cynical standpoint *vis a vis* an ideological problem, say, the condition of our society. The fetishist's 'I know, but nevertheless' is exactly the key to understanding this problem: 'The mask is not simply hiding the real state of things; the ideological distortion is written into its very essence.' (28). We know that the use value of Beanie Babies is next to zero, nevertheless we exchange them for hundreds of dollars. If the object itself (a kitschy bag full of pellets) were the fetish (or the ideology), it could be easily destroyed. We are indeed not fetishizing commodities or money, but actually the fantasy itself.

Lacan's formula for the relation of Subject and Object, equally the formula for the phantasma, is '$ <> a' (see: Lacan, Seminar XI). The Subject, split and 'barred' by language, is directing his desire onto the object a, to retrieve the 'lost', imaginary unity with the mother, situated 'before' the entry into the symbolic order. It is crucial to stress the difference between the fantasy as scenario, inscenating/illustrating the desire of the subject and the impossible gaze onto the 'objet petit a'. The sign '<>' must be read as screen: '[T]he 'object' of fantasy is not the fantasy scene itself, its content (the parental coitus, for example), but the impossible gaze witnessing it'. [1]

The sense of wholeness that ideology extends to one is an imaginary function, connected to the ideal ego. Thus fetish and symptom cannot be destroyed simply by explanation, they have to be analyzed (see here Žižek’s example of the ideological figure of the Jew, starting page 97, especially 125-28). To further illustrate his argument about the quasi-external nature of the symptom Žižek chooses the 'canned laughter' of sitcom: Somebody else (the laughing track) is having a good time for me (35). Though we know about the idiocy and irrelevancy of Seinfeld, we enjoy the show. This jouissance (enjoyment, enjoy-meant) is not a side effect, it is the only driving force, aiming at the fulfillment of an ultimately unsatisfiable desire, like the surplus value that drives capitalism.

As with every act of fetishisation, the mechanisms of metaphoric disavowal and metonymic replacements are covering a lack (the absence of the phallus, the void of the real, the desire of the Other/the death drive) and becoming a quasi-entity, that is more in the subject, than the subject itself. In Freudian terminology this paradoxical construction is the 'Vorstellungsrepraesentanz' (see 160-61). In the case of collecting Beanie Babies this might be considered a mere and harmless perversion of taste; the collecting of territory for the grandeur of the (German/Serbian/whatever) nation is something different. Nevertheless both of these symptomatic constructions, as unrelated as they might seem, follow a similar psychic construction, insofar as they 'quilt' our ideological field and in the same instant bind our surplus-enjoyment in this object-cause of desire. This paradoxical 'point de capiton', 'a signifier without the signified' (97) is the tautological, empty signifier, giving consistency to the ideological field: 'I collect Beanie Babies because they are rare. Why are they rare? Because they are collectibles.' Or in the worst case: 'What makes you special? I am a German! What does that mean? I have Aryan blood! Why do you have Aryan blood? Because I am a German!' And so on . . .

In the second part of the book, Žižek traces this paradoxical point-without-location through several fields. My above-mentioned example, fascist ideology, can be explained with the self-referential emptiness of the Fuehrer's claim, that he is the embodiment of the people's will. The fascist 'Leader's point of reference, the instance to which he is referring to legitimize his rule (the People, the Class, the Nation) does not exist -- or, more precisely, exists only through and in its fetishistic representative, the Party and its Leader.' (146) Another example is the post-structuralist dogma 'There is no metalanguage!' The only point of reference for such a statement is indeed the impossible position outside of discourse (see 154-55). Or, in Žižek's words: 'The phallic signifier is, so to speak, an index of its own impossibility.' (157)
 [vanishingmediator’s comment: cf. Jacques Derrida: “By a strange paradox, meaning would isolate the concentrated purity of its ex-pressiveness just at that moment when the relation to a certain outside is suspended.” (Derrida, La Voix et le Phénomène)]
Finally, Zizek outlines Lacan's different approach to the problem of the Real -- is it the 'really real', an untouchable thing-as-such/'Thing-in-itself', is it something resisting symbolization, or is it the subject supposed to know, a cause, that doesn't exist, something like Hitchcock's MacGuffin (see 162-164)? Zizek quickly dismisses the first oversimplifying definition and argues along the lines of his ideas about the founding paradox: the Real 'is nothing at all, just a void, an emptiness in a symbolic structure marking some central impossibility' (173). And this, according to Zizek, is the difference between the so-called 'post-structuralist' position and Lacan's position: The former describes the subject as being the result of a subjectivating processes ('assujetissement'), while the latter conceives of the subject as an 'answer of the Real' -- because the signified can never find a signifier that would fully represent it, this void we call a subject is created (174-75). In the last chapter, Zizek gives another example of these 'impossible' founding things, the Sublime: 'The Sublime is . . . the paradox of an object which, in the very field of representation, provides a view, in a negative way, of the dimension of what is unrepresentable.' (202) Especially the last point, the Sublime, is a good example for how this book (and most of Zizek's work for that matter) can be used for film theory and analysis. The sublime beauty of Rita Hayworth in Gilda and Tippy Hedren in Marnie is not a separate 'entity' (e.g. 'a beautiful actress is portraying this and this character'), it is the impossible object of the male gaze. Both women appear in a similar movement from below the picture frame, throwing their hair back. The whole following story now centers around a man, trying to pin down, to frame their essence. The quintessential stripping away of this futile enterprise is Gilda's famous striptease. Johnny, a 'god of prosthesis' (Freud, Civilisation and its Discontent) in his bureau, equipped with surveillance microphones, can not prevent Gilda from performing her self-referential striptease. While taking the blame for everything, even for natural disasters, she performs the ultimate act of fetishization before the eyes of the nightclub guests (i.e. the big Other). This sequence starts significantly with a prophesy of the police officer that Johnny will fall apart (i.e. become a hysteric), and Johnny's point-of-view shot through the jalousie (sic!) on to the vulgar performance of the woman he is obsessed with. Gilda's subversive act destroys in one movement the illusion that there is 'something to see' and that there is something essential about woman. Her exposition thus exposes the fetish of the sexual arousing 'whore' and the sublime essence of the 'mother' as covering the lack in the Big Other. Or, as Lacan puts it (over and over): woman is the symptom of man.

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