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Zizek With Intro of Lacan

Zizek With Intro of Lacan

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Psychoanalysis and the Post-Political: An Interview with Slavoj ŽižekAuthor(s): Slavoj Žižek and Christopher HanlonReviewed work(s):Source:
New Literary History,
Vol. 32, No. 1, Views and Interviews (Winter, 2001), pp. 1-21Published by:
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Psychoanalysisand the Post-Political:AnInterviewwithSlavojZizek
ChristopherHanlon
Formany,JacquesLacanrepresentspostmodern theoryatitsheight?thatis,atitsworst.Lacan,sosayhisdetractors,madeacareeroutofobscurantism,andmaynotevenhavebelievedverymuch of what he said. NoamChomskyonceindicatedsuchahypothesiswhenheexplainedthat"myfrankopinionis that[Lacan]wasaconsciouscharlatan,andhewassimplyplayinggameswith the Parisintellectualcommunitytoseehowmuchabsurdityhe couldproduceandstillbetakenseriously."1EvenLacaniansmightfinditintheir heartstoforgive Chomskysucharemark,sinceitwasChomskywho,afteraskingLacanaquestion concerningthought(atthe latter's 1968presentationatMIT),received thereply,"Wethinkwethinkwithourbrain;personally,Ithink withmyfeet. That'stheonlywayIcomeintocontactwithanythingsolid.Idooccasionallythink withmyforehead,whenIbangintosomething."2Asiftocondense theauraofcontrarinessandenigmahecultivatedinsuchexchanges,Lacan oftenrelayedhisteachings throughnow-infamousmaxims andmathemes,thoseZenkoans of theFrenchpostmodernera:"Desireis desireoftheOther,"
"Thereisnosexualrelation,""The Woman doesnotexist."3Nowonder
Chomskyandmanyothersturntheirheadsinexasperation.The bestcounterpointtosuspicionssuchasChomsky'smaywell befoundintheworkofSlavojZizek,whose freneticendorsements ofLacaniantheoryachieveadensecomplexityevenastheyprovidemomentsofstartling(andtypicallyhumorous)clarity.TakeZizek'swayofexplainingwhyeven oneof themostbanal features oflate twentiethcenturyculture,thelaugh-trackof situationcomedy,isitselfanillustrationof theLacanianthesisthat"desireis desireoftheOther":
...letusremindourselves ofaphenomenonquiteusual inpopulartelevisionshowsorserials:"cannedlaughter."Aftersomesupposedlyfunnyorwittyremark,youcanhear thelaughterandapplauseincluded inthesoundtrack oftheshowitself?herewehavetheexactoppositeofthe Chorusinclassical
tragedy;itishere thatwehavetolook for"livingAntiquity."Thatistosay,why
thelaughter?The firstpossibleanswer?that itservestoreminduswhentolaugh?isinterestingenough,sinceitimpliestheparadoxthatlaughterisaNewLiteraryHistory,2001,32: 1-21
 
2
NEWLITERARYHISTORYmatterofdutyandnotofsomespontaneousfeeling;but thisanswerisnotsufficient becausewedonotusually laugh.Theonlycorrectanswerwould bethat theOther?embodiedinthe television set?isrelievingus evenofourdutytolaugh?islaughinginsteadofus.Soevenif,tired fromahardday'sstupidwork,alleveningwedidnothingbutgazedrowsilyintothetelevisionset,wecansayafterwardsthatobjectively,throughthe medium of theOther,wehadareallygoodtime.4
Whimsical andyettheoreticallyearnestsolutionstoeverydayconundrumssuchasthiscanhavethe effectofseducingevenZizek'smostskepticalreaders,but thisisnottosaythatZizek's work hasn't earnedhimopponents.Formany,Zizek'sLacaniananalysesofcontemporaryculturecannotquiteshed the burdensofclassicalpsychoanalysisitself:inanacademyhappilyenamored ofhistoricism andoften disinclinedtowarduniversalismsofanykind,Zizek'smostlyahistorical,psychoanalyticdefenseof theEnlightenmentdrawscriticism from variousepiste
mologicalcamps.Oneof themostpersistent reproaches,forinstance,
has been voicedby JudithButler,who asksrhetorically,"Can Zizekianpsychoanalysisrespondtothepressuretotheorizethehistoricalspecificityoftrauma,toprovidetexturefor thespecificexclusions,annihila
tions,and unthinkable lossesthatstructure...socialphenomena...?"5
Othershave raisedsuspicionsabout thepoliticalimplicationsof theZizekiansubject:"[Zizek]views themodernindividualascaughtinthedichotomybetween hisorheruniversalstatusas amemberof civilsociety,and theparticularisticattachmentsofethnicity,nation andtradition,and thisdualityisreflectedin hisownambiguouspoliticalprofile?marxisantculturalcriticontheinternationalstage,memberofaneo-liberalandnationalisticallyinclinedgoverningpartyback home."6Irecendymetwith Zizekinordertodiscuss suchcomplaints,aswellastoelicithisopinionsontheongoingcrisesintheex-Yugoslavia,Zizek'scountryof birth. The lattertopichasbecomeaheatedsubjectforZizek,whoran aclosecampaignforthepresidencyof Sloveniain1990,andwho views theresurgenceof nationalismintheBalkanstatesasaphenomenonthathasgonecompletelymisunderstoodbytheWest.SincetheBosnian conflictbeganneartheoutsetofthe lastdecade,exYugoslavpoliticshavetakenupmorespaceinZizek'sthinking,butstill,thereisprobablynodominantfeaturewithinthecontemporarylandscapeheanalyzes.ForZizek,onequicklyrealizes,life isessentiallyanexcusetotheorize; hence,his Lacaniancommentaryonthepsychopathologyofeverydayexistencerarelyceases.AswepackedintoacrowdedelevatorinNewYork's St.Moritzhotel,forinstance,thepanelof controlbuttonscaughtZizek'seye,provokinganexcursus onthefaulty logicbehind the hotel'ssymbolicexclusion ofthethirteenthfloor.'You

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