Archive for the Zizek Category

Posted in Foucault, KL, Parrhesia, sophists, Stengers, truth, Zizek on April 15, 2008 by untimelymediations

“Because of its absolute immanence to the symbolic, the Real cannot be positively signified; it can only be shown, in a negative gesture, as the inherent failure of symbolization: ‘if what we are talking about are the limits of a signifying system, it is clear that those limits cannot themselves be signified, but have to show themselves as the interruption or breakdown of the process of signification. […] the real as impossible can be shown (rendered) only as the failure of the process which, precisely, aims at signifying it…” (217).

So, this is where we end up this semester—that the Real is actually not really real.  I guess we were bound to get here, and it seems like the perfect circle back to the Sophists. At a basic level, Sophists are tricksters—they can fool their paying audiences into believing that something that is neither Real nor real. Even though Zizek never makes the connection to Sophistry, (probably because he doesn’t have the balls to…) we do see him make the turn to ethics, rather than the truth.  (Question: is Real the same as truth?)  If Zizek says that the Real can only be shown negatively (within, for example, physical, representational after-effects of loss), then is the ethical the positive gesture (the immediate experience)?

Zizek is concerned with representational effects: what happens to me can be caused by something not actually there, but I can actually feel its a/effects here.  I would go to Zizek’s example of online pornography and orgasm, but since I talk about that in my paper, I’d like to talk about belief instead.  When he defines belief as “the shadowy domain between outright falsity and positive truth,” I immediately think of Stengers’ distinction between “cause and reason” (108, 45).  As a researcher, I find myself wanting to know cause and reason, as well as the truth and the false.  But according to Zizek, if truth and reason occur in a delayed realization, then is the opposite of the Foucaudian notion of parrhesiates in which the truth/Real lies in the immediacy of the telling.

Okay, so I realize that I am making interchanging the words truth and Real, and I’m not sure if that’s the right move to make.  Zizek distinguishes between “objective reality” and “subjective reality” in the following:

The true point of idealism is not the solipsistic one (‘there is not objective reality, merely our subjective representations of it’); idealism claims, on the contrary that the In-itself of ‘objective reality’ is definitely to be distinguished from mere subjective representations – its point is only that it is the synthetic act of the transcendental subject which transforms the multitude of representations into ‘objective reality.’ In short, idealism’s point is not there is no In-itself, but that the ‘objective’ In-itself, in its very opposition to subjective representations, is posited by the subject” (215).

I’m not sure that the above passage explains this distinction, but maybe it helps to think about the divide between the two types of reality if we’re looking to define the Real and truth.  What I think Zizek is saying is that ‘objective reality’ is more (R?)real—its experience is in itself, and that’s where the truth lies.  (This could be where we could employ Foucault’s parrhesiates since the truth lies in the telling, In-itself.)  Comparatively, ‘subjectively reality’ might be the telling that happens after an event—one’s vain survival so that s/he can “tell” her/his story.  The subjective reality of this last situation R/real, but is instead a subjective truth (?).

Hmph.  The more I try to differentiate between truth and real, the more confused I become.  Maybe there isn’t much difference between them.  Or, maybe I’m missing it completely.  Anyway, I would like to talk about how, or if, the truth and R/real are different.

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Defecate on my shoes and I’ll pretend that I wanted you to: Zizek and the Phantasmic Field

Posted in DR, Foucault, Nietzshce, Zizek on April 13, 2008 by untimelymediations

As will soon become apparent to any reader, The Plague of Fantasies features a nearly endless repertoire of taboo references.  From pubic hair to soot-laden testicles, Zizek demonstrates an ultimately uncanny ability to draw Lacanian and psychoanalytic theory from the depths of banality, for, as can be seen, even the depth of a toilet bowl propels discourse.  And this, it seems, brings me to my next point.  Before I read this text, I considered the fantasy and phantasm as more of an illusory or physically insubstantial presence or entity.  In essence, what Zizek’s text propels, is a dramatic reconsideration of this approximation. 

In order to understand the fantasy as it is clearly substantiated in materiality, one need look no further than the second chapter.  As Mike alluded to in his post, jouissance as it emerges within a certain phantasmic field, seems to be the dominating force within the power relation.  In this chapter, Zizek provides, following in line with Lacan, that contemporary intellectuals can be divided into two sub-groups.  First, the “fool,” the deconstructivist cultural critic, intends to subvert the existing order, but actually serves as its “supplement.”  The fool experiences pleasure in snatching pieces of jouissance from the “master” (emphasis mine – 46).  The “knave,” quite divergently, is a title attributed to the right wing intellectual; the neoconservative advocate of the free market.  The rightwing knave rejects social solidarity as counterproductive sentimentalism, and is continually changing gender and racial specific concerns to issues of fate (46).  Note, even here, that the use of the term pieces is, I think, a deliberately materializing choice on Zizek’s behalf.  The phantasm and fantasy is something other than a spectral presence opposed to the very laws of physical behavior.  Instead, it is, as Zizek implies, a very material reality.  If, as Zizek argues, the phantasmic field, as it is associated with jouissance – loss that gives rise to pleasure – is an oppressing force, tan traversing one such field is an effort in subversion (48).  This, though, propels me to reconsider Foucault’s work on biopower.

Biopower, as Foucault suggests, creates suggestive channels of submission.  These channels guide one through the very physicality of existence without regard for material parameters.  Quite simply, the channel that Foucault describes is both physical and immaterial.  While it guides the physical body, it refuses any association with the physical confines of a particular control apparatus (i.e. school, prison).  Biopower is beyond the institution, the prison, or the control apparatus, more generally.  Interestingly, I feel as though Zizek is describing something very similar.  The choices that we make, as Zizek seems to be suggesting, are based on what he refers to as “fantasy’s transcendental schematism.”   We are taught both how to desire, and what to desire as it relates to intersubjectivity (the second issue that he addresses in the introduction).   Here, it seems that Zizek’s assessment of the controlling force is quite similar to that which Foucault describes in relationship to the channel.  In both descriptions there are immaterial matrices that guide physical action and physical desire.  This comparison is validated furthermore by considering of the issue of jouissance as it relates to the phantasmic field.

If jouissance, as discussed previously, emerges within a phantasmic field that must be traversed or resisted, than it must be considered more thoroughly.  As Zizek’s descriptions progress in the second chapter, it becomes clear that jouissance is that which cannot be integrated into one’s life.  Here another very complicating issue of materiality and immateriality arises.  Although Zizek initially describes jouissance as something very material (i.e. the desire for perverse sexual interaction), as the discourse continues it becomes more immaterial, or, more appropriately, jouissance becomes that which one is unable to materialize.  Jouissance is that which cannot be integrated into one’s life.  It is that which is always separated by a gulf; that which can be desired and not approached.  This, as Zizek explains, is an issue of decentrement (49).  Jouissance cannot be integrated.  Furthermore, it exists as what Zizek suggests is the “non-historical kernel” in the process of historicization.   So, if jouissance is that which refuses integration, it is also that which is immaterial to the individual that desires it, for one cannot approach it in the same way that one approaches other very physical objects (i.e. the toilet).   This though, brings up several complications.

If jouissance is both material and immaterial, both physical affecting and absent/distant, how might one traverse the phantasmic field?  Is this not the same issue that one faces with regard to the channel in Foucault’s work?  And, this brings me back to Mike’s discussion of the means of traversing the phantasmic field.  Here, Zizek’s suggestions seem reminiscent of some of Nietzsche’s work.  If the best means to resist the falsity of choice as a controlling force is to revel in that choice as truth, this presents striking parallels.  Though I haven’t had the opportunity to read much Nietzsche, I am reminded of previous discussions I’ve had with Pruchnic.  Perhaps, it would be appropriate to reference Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  If Zarathustra’s comment to the man outside of town is indicative of a mode of action, than if one is dissatisfied it might be best just to turn away.  I don’t know that this fits in exactly, but I can’t help considering it in relation to the arguments that Zizek presents.   Perhaps, a better reference would be the insistence that the best way to fight capitalism is to call for more capitalism.  If, in Zizek’s text, the best way to resist is to assume the false as true, is not this a similar step?

fistful of zizek

Posted in Cost, Deleuze, Foucault, Galloway, MM, Nealon, resistance, theory, Zizek on April 13, 2008 by untimelymediations

I think Žižek presents the most compelling argument thus far for how resistance might be practiced under the regimes of protocol, the control society, and biopower. While Žižek doesn’t offer this theory in terms Galloway, Deleuze, or Foucault and Nealon employ, I think the relationship between Žižek’s work and that of the other theorists I’ve mentioned is fairly clear.

Žižek argues that subversion must take the form of the “empty gesture,” the gesture that is offered only in the expectation that it will be refused. For Žižek, subverting the fantasy of the false choice becomes a real act of subversion and resistance. As he writes, “the truly subversive thing is not to disregard the explicit letter of the Law on behalf of the underlying fantasies, but to stick to this letter against the fantasy which sustains it” (29). That is, to resist means not to avoid the (illusion) of choice in the empty gesture, but to take it at face value; not to deny choice (or argue that it is being denied) but to revel in choice, to exploit the opportunity (falsely) offered as a genuine moment of agency and autonomy. “In other words,” writes Žižek, “the act of taking the empty gesture (the offer to be rejected) literally—to treat the forced choice as a true choice—is, perhaps, one of the ways to put into practice what Lacan calls ‘traversing the fantasy’: in accomplishing this act, the subject suspends the phantasmic frame of unwritten rules which tell him how to choose freely—no wonder the consequences of this act are so catastrophic”. The fantasy of the empty gesture is not the fantasy of having one’s way—if only I could accept the offer!—but rather that of the offer qua offer: it is understood, expected that the offer will be rejected—because that is what one does. One does not say “yes” to the empty gesture without, as Žižek demonstrates, provoking catastrophe.

I think this is a promising mode of resistance. In some ways, it echoes the work done by groups like the Yes Men. The name here is intriguing: rather than resisting through negation (“No!”), the Yes Men have used satire and irony to show up the hypocrisy of governments and NGOs alike. However, their actions are not done through protesting as such, but through infiltrating these bodies and using their own logic against them. In the link above, for example, a Yes Men operative proposes to the WTO that private ownership of labor—i.e., slavery—would benefit African nations in the same way that private ownership and industrialization has already benefited them. Plainly, the plan is abhorrent, but what is abhorrent about it is not the implication of slavery qua slavery, but that the promotion of slavery is made according to the rules of free-market capitalism; the argument of an enslaved workforce is derived from the same logic that urges private investment in African industry and resources. In Žižek’s terms, the Yes Men are “sticking to the letter” of the Law, but the Law in this case is flawed; the forced choice here—privatization of all parts of production, including labor—is made under the empty gesture that no body or organization would accept this choice because it is (ostensibly) so plainly a violation of human/humane ethics and international standards.

What complicates this as a form of resistance, to my eyes, is that it requires an audience or observer who is capable of recognizing the logic of the satire and irony. That is, it demands an audience who is engaged enough with the issues at hand and the modes of resistance being deployed to see these acts as resistance and not simply just a “prank” or, worse yet, as a viable proposal for resolving economic crises in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m not saying that people are dumb, though I have serious questions about whether such acts could work on a large enough scale to be politically productive when many people might not recognize them as being political acts of resistance. Rather, I am more concerned about the second consequence, that tactics like those of the Yes Men will be taken at face value and that, for example, privatized labor will be enacted by overeager capitalism. In this case, Žižek’s qualms about the ethics of such forms of resistance are of utmost importance. The question that needs to be asked, then, is not just one of how to resist power and capital, but rather how can we use the empty gesture effectively—without allowing for the empty gesture to be taken at face value in ways that would be counterproductive to progressive causes?

On one hand, it is tempting to say that no organization, body, or company would be so daft as to accept such a proposal as privatized labor. But . . . it is not a contention I have much faith in. I think it is far more likely that without making plain the emptiness of such empty gestures such proposals as privatized labor could become a reality. What, then, is the cost of such an outcome? If it ultimately leads to greater outcry, resistance, and protest to such practices, can we accept a few thousand (or million) people being enslaved? Or is the cost in human dignity too great?