WO ESWAR

A series from Verso edited by Slavoj Zizek
Wo es war, solI ich werden - Where it was, I shall come into being - is Freud's
version of' the Enlightenment goal of knowledge that is in itself an act of
liberation. Is it still possible to pursue this goal today, in the conditions
of late capitalism? If 'it' today is the twin rule of pragmatic-relativist
New Sophists and New Age obscurantists, what 'shall come into being'
in its place? The premiss of the series is that the explosive combination
of Lacanian psychoanalysis and l\t1arxist tradition detonates a dynamic
freedom that enables us to question the very presuppositions of the
circuit of Capital.
In the same series:
Jeremy Bentham, The Panopticon Writings. and introduced by
lVl.iran Bozovic
Alain Grosrichard, The Sultans Court: European Fantasies of the East.
Translated by Liz Heron and introduced by l'vlJaden Dolar
Renata Saled, (Per}l7ersions ifLove and flate
Slavoj Zizek, The Mefastases ifEnjoyment: Six Essays on Women and Causality
Slavoj Zizek, The Indivisible Remainder. An Essay on Schelling andRelatedJlIIalters
Slavoj Zizek, The Plague ifFantasies
Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre ifPolitical Ontology
Alenka ZupanCic, Ethics ifthe Real' Kant, Lacan
Forthcoming:
Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding ofEvil
THE FRAGILE
ABSOLUTE
or,
Why is the Christian legacy
worth fighting for?
"""
....
SlAVOJ ZIZEK
l'
VERSO
London· New York
First published by Verso 2000
© Slavoj Zizek 2000
All rights reserved
Paperback edition first published by Verso 2001
I 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
The moral rights of the author have been asserted
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CONTENTS
Giving Up the Balkan Ghost
2 The Spectre of Capital
3 Coke as obje! petit a
4 From tragi que to moque-comtque
5 Victims, Victims Everywhere
6 The Fantasmatic Real
7 \Vhy is the Truth Monstrous?
8 Of Stones, Lizards and Men
9 The Structure and its Event
10 From the Decalogue to Human Rights
11 The Principle of Charity
12 Christ's Uncoupling
13 'You must, because you can!'
14 From Knowledge to Truth ... and Back
15 The Breakout
Note s
Index
3
11
21
40
54
63
69
82
92
107
113
123
130
135
143
161
177
For nobody and nothing
One of the most deplorable aspects ofthe postmodern era and its
so-called 'thought' is the return of the religious dimension in all
its different guises: from Christian and other fundamental isms,
through the multitude of New Age spiritualisms, up to the
emerging religious sensitivity within deconstructionism itself (so-
called 'post-secular' thought). How is a Marxist, by definition a
'fighting materialist' (Lenin), to counter this massive onslaught of
obscurantism? The obvious answer seems to be not only fero-
ciously to attack these tendencies, but mercilessly to denounce
the remainders of the religious legacy within Marxism itself.
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
Against the old liberal slander which draws on the parallel
between the Christian and Marxist 'Messianic' notion of history
as the process of the final deliverance of the faithful (the notori-
ous 'Communist-parties-are-secularized-religious-sects' theme),
should one not emphasize how this holds only for ossified 'dog-
matic' .M.arxism, not for its authentic liberating kernel?
Following AJain Badiou's path-breaking book on Saint PauI,1
our premiss here is exactly the opposite one: instead of adopting
such a defensive stance, allowing the eneUIY to define the terrain
of the struggle, what one should do is to reverse the strategy by
fully endorsing what one is accused 0/ yes, there is a direct lineage
from Christianity to Marxism; yes, Christianity and Marxism
should fight on the same side of the barricade against the
onslaught of new spiritualisms - the authentic Christian legacy is
much too precious to be left to the fundamentalist freaks.
Even those who acknowledg'e this direct lineage from
Christianity to Marxism, however, usually fetishize the early
'authentic' followers of Christ against the Church's 'institutional-
ization' epitomized by the name of Saint Paul: yes to Christ's
'original authentic message', no to its transformati.on into the body
of teaching that legitimizes the Church as a social institution.
What these followers of the maxim 'yes to Christ, no to Saint
Paul' (who, as Nietzsche claimed, in effect invented Christianity)
do is strictly parallel to the stance of those 'humanist Marxists'
from the mid-twentieth century whose maxim was 'yes to the
early authentic Marx, no to his Leninist ossification'. And in both
cases, one should insist that such a 'defence of the authentic' is the
most perhdIc;;:;;- ni'ode of its betrayal: the;;;Sno' Christ outside Saint
Paul; in exactly
be approached directly, bypassing Lenin. . •
2
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
1 Giving Up the Balkan Ghost
Perhaps the best way of encapsnlating the gist of an epoch is to
focus not on the explicit features that define its social and ideo-
logical edifices but on the .•lhi!Lhic'!.19! it,
in, __
__ Coming from
Slovenia, part of ex-Yugoslavia, I seem to be predestined to
speak about such ghosts today: is not one of the main cliches
about the Balkans that they are the part of Europe which is
haunted by the notorious 'ghosts of' the past', forgetting nothing
and learning nothing, still fighting centuries-old battles, while
the rest of Europe is engaged in a rapid process of globalization7
Here, however, we encounter the first paradox of the Balkans: it
seems as if the Balkans themselves had, in the eyes of Europe, the
peculiar status of' a ghost that haunts it - are not the post-
Yugoslav Balkans, this vortex of (self-)destructive ethnic
passions, the exact opposite, almost a kind of photographic neg-
ative, of the tolerant coexistence of ethnic communities, a kind of
multiculturalist dream turned into a nightmare? Does not the
very indeterminate and shifting geographic delimitation of the
Balkans indicate their spectral status 7 It seems as if there is no
definitive answer to the question 'Where do the Balkans
begin7' - the Balkans are always somewhere else, a little bit more
towards the southeast....
For the Serbs, they begin down there, in Kosovo or in Bosnia,
and they defend the Christian civilization against this Europe's
Other; for the Croats, they begin in orthodox, despotic and
Byzantine Serbia, against which Croatia safeguards Western
democratic values; for Slovenes they begin in Croatia, and we are
3
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
the last bulwark of the peaceful Mitteleuropa; for many Italians
and Austrians they begin in Slovenia, the Western outpost oT
the Slavic hordes; for many Germans, Austria itself: because of
its historical links, is already tainted with Balkan corruption and
inefficiency; for many North Germans, Bavaria, with its Catholic
provincial flair, is not free of a Balkan contarnination;many arro-
gant Frenchmen associate Germany itself with an Eastern
Balkan brutaliW entirely foreign to Frenchfinesse; and this brings
us to the last link in this chain: to some conservative British
opponents of the European Union, for whom - implicitly, at
least - the whole of continental Europe functions today as a new
version of the Balkan Turkish Empire, with Brussels as the new
Istanbul, a voracious despotic centre which threatens British
freedom and sovereignty....2 Is uot this identification of conti-
nental Europe itself with the Balkans, its barbarian Other, the
secret truth of the entire movement of the displaced delimitation
between the two?
This enigmatic multiple displacement of the frontier clearly
demonstrates that in the case of the Balkans we are dealing not
with real geography but with an imaginary cartography which
projects on to the real landscape its own shadowy, often dis-
avowed, ideological antagonisms, just as Freud claimed that the
localization of the hysteric's conversion Syulptoms project on to
the physical body the map of another, imaginary anatomy.
However, it is not only that the Balkans serve as Europes ghost, the
persistent remainder of its own disavowed past; the further -
perhaps even more important - point to be made is that pre-
cisely in so far as 'the Balkans' function as such a spectral entity,
reference to them enables us to discern, in a kind of spectral
analysis, the different modes of today's racism. First, there is the

4
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
rejection of the (despotic, barbarian,
Muslim, corrupt, Oriental ... athe; behalf
. .)
the
as the terraiu ofetlinic

;;:,,1';:t;; Iib;;;;J:J;;mo"1.';;1.i" process
a;;cl

-- -" '. ----,...
Dflwer: it is attributed to we occupy con-
venient, 0 J::>seryqJ:"l.rig,hteously
dismayed at tl:chorroIsgoing on 'down there'. Finally, there is
the reverse racism .:which celebrates the exotic authenticiW of
as notion of Serbs who, in contrast to
anaenlic Western Europeans, still exhibit a prodigious
f()1.;;,;;;{r';;"isl11 plays a. crucial role in the
success of Emir Kusturica's fllms in the West.
The example of Kusturica also enables us to idcnti(y another
feature of the Western perception of the Balkans: the logic of
placed racism.
3
Since the Balkans are geographically part of
Europe, populated by white people, racist cliches
i;:> ()ur)'olitic"lly CorrecUim.es, WQuld tQ "pply to
African or Asian people ,,-a;:> beJr".e!l'..attribllt".? t() people:
are compared to ridiculous
was presented as
reincarnation of Count ,Dracula.... Furthermore, it is as if,
within the Balkan area itself, Slovenia is most exposed to this dis-
placed racisnl, since it is closest to Western Europe: when, in an
interview abont his film Underground, Kustnrica dismissed the
Slovenes as a nation of Austrian grooms, nobody even reacted to
5
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
the open racism of this statement - it was OK, since an 'authen-
tic' exotic artist from the less developed part of ex-Yugoslavia
was attacking the most developed part 01' it.... The Balka!!.J... :':'..'-
stitute!:'1lace ofexception with r'fJard to which the multieulturalist
mili-n
'when-tlleorlsts'Ii1<eAilthony
a.s
ra-erenee to 'the

racism itset/is becoming reJ!exive. -
- '--" __' __ -... ...•.-."'-"" ,_ .. , "'- ,-,-_.,,-
This brings us to another key Feature 01' this reHected racism:
it revolves around the distinction betvveen cultural contempt
towards the Other and downright racism. Usually, racism is con-
sidered the stronger, more radical version 01' cultural contempt:
we are dealing with racism when simple contempt For the other's
culture is elevated into the notiou that the other ethnic group is-
for inherent (biological or cultural) reasons - inFerior to our own.
Today's 'reflected' racism, howeve.r::
ulate itselF in terms of direct respect For the other's culture: was not

black its dissi-
today's Eilropean
howwhat they ask for is only the
same right to cultural identity as Africans and others demand For
themselves? It is too easy to dismiss such arguments with the
claim that here, respect for the other is simply 'hypocritical': the
mechanism at work is, rather, that of the disavowal characteris-
tic 01' the Fetishistic split: '1 know very well that the Other's
culture is worthy of the same respect as my own: nevertheless ...
[1 despise them passionately].'
6
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
The mechanisms 01' this reHexive racism are clearly discernible
even in today's popular culture - for example, in The Phantom
Menace, George Lucas's long-awaited prequel to tkS;;;:--Wars
;;;Jogy. The usual leFtist critical poiut that the multitude 01' exotic
alien (extra-human) species in Star Wars represents, in code, inter-
human ethnic differences, reducing them to the level 01' common
racist stereotypes (the evil merchants 01' the greedy Trade
Federation are a clear caricature of ant-like Chinese merchants),
somehow misses the point: these __ ..
not a cipher: to be penetrated
a;;;;iy;i;;'the;;;;dir;c-;ly as it
the
underwater Naboo people, the comic Jar Jar and the pompously
bossy ruler of the Gungans, rather obviously reFer to the cari-
catural way in which classic Hollywood represented the
non-European (nou-white) figures 01' servant and master: Jar
Jar is a good-hearted, Charmingly ridicolous, cowardly prattling
childish servant (like the proverbial Mexican who prattles and
makes nervous comments all the time), while the ruler also dis-
plays the ridiculously pompous False dignity 01' the non-European
master (again, like the Mexican local warlords in old Hollywood
movies, with their exaggerated sense of pride and dignity); what
is crucial here is that both figures are not played by real actors,
but are ..
t.o cliches.:.. .!is n. o. t.h.,.·.ng
.. .-, .. -- . .. .. '" _..-- .
__ For that reason they arc, in some way, 'flat',
lacking the 'depth' 01' a true personality: the grimaces 01' their
almost infinitely plastic Faces give immediate and direct expres-
sion to their innennost attitudes and feelings (anger, Fear, lost,
pride), making them totally transparent.
7
SLAVOJ ZllEK
The more general point to be made here is the Hegelian lesson
that global rejlexivizationlmediatization generates its own brutal immedi-
acy, whose figure was best captured by Etienne Balibar's notion
of excessive, non-functional cruelty as a feature of contemporary
life
A
a cruelty whose figures range from 'fundamentalist' racist
and/or religious slaughter Lo the 'senseless' outbursts of violence
by adolescents and the homeless in our megalopolises, a violence
one is tempted to call Id-Evil, a violence grounded in no utilitar-
ian or ideological cause. All the talk about foreili\ners stealing
work from us, or about the threat
,
second-
ary· from a
that
thf;lf is
lild""J the most
elementary imhalance in the' relationship between the Ego and
joli!ss';n,e,h"; pleasllreand b<:>dy
. ihemost
elementary'sh<:>rt cIrcllli' in· the subject's. pri-
desiie:whid: 'bothers' us iu
the th;;'t appears to
to the object -- the other either
us

siono[the object:
5
··
What OIle should propose here is the Hegelian 'infinite judge-
ment' that asserts the speculative identity of these 'useless' and
'excessive' outbursts of violent immediacy, which display nothing
but a pure and naked ('non-sublimated') hatred of Otherness,
8
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
with the global reflexivization of society; perhaps the ultimate
example of this coincidence is the fate of psychoanalytic inter-
pretation. Today, the formations of the Unconscious (from
dreams to hysterical symptoms) have definitely lost their inno-
cence, and are thoroughly reHexivized: the 'free associations' of a
typical educated analysand consist for the most part of attempts
to provide a psychoana\ytic explanation for their l:'listurbances, so
that one is quite justified in saying that ,,;:e have n"£!"'zr:1y
Jungian, Kleinictu,LCic,ilnia:n" '_', ?f

Lacanian ... - whose reality involves
_, __• __ ·"__ ._.__ •. ...__ .. . ..._.. .... .' __
The unfortunate result of this global
reHexivization of interpretation (everything becomes interpreta-
tion; the Unconscious interprets itself) is that the analyst's
interpretation itselF loses its performative 'symbolic efficiency',
leaving the symptom intact in the immediacy of its idiotic
JOUlSsance.
What happens in psychoanalytic treatment is strictly homolo-
gous to the response of the neo-Nazi skinhead who, when he is
really pressed for the reasons for his violence, suddenly starts to
talk like social workers, sociologists and social psychologists,
quoting diminished social mobility, rising insecurity, the disinte-
gration of paternal authority, lack of maternal love in his early
childhood - the unity of practice and its inherent ideological

inefficient interpretation. This impotence of interpretation is also
''''' .. ·'',· .. ' .. ,·"' ·... , .. • .... " __ m"__ ·..·__ '·, __ ·".. ,''·'·, ..... ,· ........ , ........,., ...- .. •."='''",._,,'__.',''"
one of the obverses of the universalized reflexiVIty
by risk-society theorists: it is as if our reflexive power
d;;'w; its
on some minimal 'pre-reflexive' substantial support which
,,__ .__..,' __ " __ __ , __...... __.. __ " '''' '''' ,, , ." ' "',__ "",,,,,,.
9
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
eludes the of
i;efGci;;;;:"y,that is, the orihe brute
to
- ,", ---
social theory proclaims the end of Nature
and/or Tradition and the rise of the 'risk society', the more the
implicit reference to 'nature' pervades our daily discourse: even
when we do not mention the 'end of history', do we not convey
the same message when we claim that we are entering a 'post-
ideological' pragmatic era, which is another way of claiming that
we are entering a post-political order in which the only legitimate
conflicts are ethnic/cultural conflicts?
and political discourse, the term has disappeared,
'immigrants [immigrant
". __ .." ' .... _.. ' __ .. .. ,,..
__

is transformed into the multieulturalist problematic of the 'intoler-
..,


clearly draws its energy Fromthe' repressed' class dim",nsion.
"
quickly fell into disrepute, we still silently assume that the liberal-
democratic capitalist global order is somehow the finally found
'natural' social regime; conceive ofconflicts in
Third World countries as a


7)',

••·li.y':es:·For that
10
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
reason, confronted with ethnic hatred and yjolence, one should'
_.. .. _...
thoroughly reject the standard multiculturalist idea that, against

1'0--;' diFferent
is
not through its immediate counterpart, ethnic tolerance; on the

hatred: hatreddirected ,aUl1e comrn,on political enemy.
""''' __ . .__ __ _ __- _ .. ,,__ , .. __ ,. __., ....__.__ _.. .... _
2 The Spectre of Capital
So where are we, today, with regard to ghosts? The first paradox
that strikes us, of course, is that this very process of global reflex-
ivization that mercilessly derides and chases the ghosts of the
past generates not only its own immediacy but also its own ghosts,
its own spectrality. The most famous ghost, which has been
roaming around for the last 150 years, was not a ghost of the
past, but the spectre of the (revolutionary) future - the spectre,
of course, from the first sentence of The Communist Maniftsto, The
automatic reaction to The Maniftsto of today's enlightened liberal
reader is: isn't the text simply wrong on so Iuany empirical
accounts - with regard to its picture of the social situation, as
well as the revolutionary perspective it sustains and propagates?
Was there ever a political manifesto that was more clearly falsi-
fied by subsequent historical reality? Is not The Maniftsto, at its
best, the exaggerated extrapolation of certain tendencies dis-
cernible in the nineteenth century? So let us approach The
Manifesto from the opposite end: where do we live today, in our
global 'post, . .' (postmodern, post-industrial) society? The
11
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
slogan that is imposing itself lllore and more is 'globalization': the
brutal imposition of the unified world market that threatens all
loeal ethnic traditions, including the very form nf the nation-
state. And in view of this situation, is not the description of the
social impact of the bourgeoisie in The Maniftsto more relevant
than ever?
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolution-
izing the instruments of production, and thereby the
relations of production, and with them the whole relations
of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in
unaltered form was, on the contrary, the first condition of
existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolu-
tionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all
social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation
distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All
fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and
venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-
formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All
that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and
man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real
condition in life, and his relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its
products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of
the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere,
establish connexions everywhere.
The bonrgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world
market given a cosmopolitan character to production and
consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of
Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the
12
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
national ground on which it stood. All old-established
national industries have been destroyed or are daily being
destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose
introduction becomes a life and death question for all civi-
lized nations, by industries that no longer work up
indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the
remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed,
not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place
of the old wants, satisfied by the prodnctions of the country,
we find new 'wants, requiring for their satisfaction the prod-
ucts of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and
national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse
in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations.
And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The
intellectual creations of individual nations become cornmon
property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness
becomes more and more impossible, and from the numerous
national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.
6
Is this not, more than ever, our reality today? Ericsson phones
are no longer Swedish, Toyota cars are manufactured 60 per
cent in the USA, Hollywood cultnre pervades the remotest parts
of the globe.... Furthermore, does not the same go also for all
forms of ethnic and sexual identities? Should we not snpplement
Marx's description in this sense, adding also thatsexuarrone-

als{), ." 1S.
m;:lts' int;;
'to normative heterosexuality with a prolifera-
tune
._.,_ .' .••••, _ , , __.•. ,, ' ,, ,, •._" , , .• · ·00·.. ·..' , ,'" , , ...
13
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
to time Marx himself underestimates this ability of the capitalist
universe to incorporate the transgressive urge that seemed to
threaten it; in his analysis of the ongoing American Civil War, for
example, he claimed that since the English textile industry, the
backbone of the iudustrial system, could not survive without the
supply of cheap cotton from the American South rendered pos-
sible only by slave labour, England would be forced to intervene
directly to prevent the abolition of slavery.
So yes, this global dynamism described by Marx, which
causes all things solid to melt into air, is our reality - on condition
that we do not forget to supplement this image from The Manifesto
with its inherent dialectical opposite, the spiritualization' ofthe very
material process ofproduction. While do...e. the
.' .. , - -,"-_.. ,.,.. _""..,",,_•.. ,._-- -" , .. , , , .•..", __....•., " _ ---" ..-.".,,----',--_._-,--- --- ,,', .. - .. " .. .. .. "
power of the old. ghosts of tradition, it generates its own mon-
is to say: on the one hand, capitalism entails
the apart
aura of authentic nobilih,." so on:
It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fer-
vour, of chivalrous enthusiaSlll, of philistine sentimentalism,
in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved per-
sonal worth into exchange value, and in place of the
numberless indefeasihle chartered freedoms, has set up that
single, unconscionable freedom - Free Trade. In one word,
for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it
has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation'?
However, the fundamental lesson of the 'critique of political econ-
omy' elaborated hy the mature Marx in the years after The
Manifesto is that this reduction chimeras to bruta/economic
14
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
reality . the
circulation of Capital, whose solipsistic path

.,,;' ti;,t;
spectre•. path
__ .i.§
a:r:.dthat one shouldnever forget that behind this
··';llwhose

and on which it fe;dslike•. is that
__
__
very structure of material social processes: the
coun-
•••• •• of
Capital, which pursues its goal of profitahility with a blessed
:;;n;;HectsoC:l;;1realio/:-Thatis
_ ,), •._.•. ," _ -,- "',-"--,,"" -','.<--'- ,', .•- ., __ ..•.---- ---•.. ,._".,.__., .•.•-•.• -.,., ,.,._-.-_. __ - •••., _,.. _-_ .. _-_••...,._- ,',',_. ,
the (fundamental systemic violence of caritalism, which is mU!?!t
" .• "",;,., .. _.<._,',_,.,_,_,',',,_, __,' .,..•,._.,.,._, __""•.. _,, __ __.• _,.m_. .... "_' ... "__ .__ .. ,._,
more 'uncanny than direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence:

__ ..
Here we encounter the Lacanian difference betvveen reality
and the Real: 'reality' is the social reality of the actual people
involved in interaction, and in the productive process; while
Real is the inexorable 'abstract' spectral logic of Capital which
___. __. '"•. __ .-.,.,."•. •• __ __ , _.
determines what goes on in social reality. This gap is palpable in
the way the modern of a country is consid-
ered to he good and stable by international financial experts,
even when the great majority of its people have a lower standard
of living than they did before - reality doesn't matter, what
15
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
matters is the situation of Capital.... And, again, is this not truer
than ever today'! Do not phenomena usually described as those
of 'virtual capitalism' (the futures trade and similar abstract
financial speculations) indicate the reign of 'real abstraction' at its
purest, much more radical than it was in lVlarx's tirue? In short,
i,ngetting c"tight NUl' in
ideological, sI'ectrality, forgetting about its, foundations in real
b;{; in this Real
of real people

:;;;hi;:h' ;:';:pG;IlS" stock
but' a])oiltreal

Does this mean, then, that the Marxist' critique of political econ-
omy' provides an adequate account of the process of capitalist
globalization'! l'Vlore precisely: how do we stand today with regard
to the opposition between the standard Marxist analysis of cap-
italism as a concrete social formation, and those attempts - from
Heidegger's to Adorno and Horkheimer's - which view the crazy
capitalist dance as self-enhancing productivity as the expression
of a more fundamental transcendental-ontological principle ('will
to power', linstrumental reason') discernible also in Communist
attempts to overconle capitalism., so that - as Heidegger put it -
Americanism and Communism are metaphysically the same?
From the standard Marxist standpoint, the search for some
transcendental-ontological principle obscures the concrete
socioeconomic structure that sustains capitalist productivity;
while For the opposite side, the standard Marxist approach does
16
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
not see how the capitalist excess cannot be accounted for on the
antic level of a particular societal organization.
One is tempted to claim here that, in a way, both sides are wrong.
Precisely as lVlarxists, in the interests of our fidelity to Marx's
work, we should identify Marx's mistake: he perceived how cap-
italism - selF-enbancing
!low; in capital-
solid melt into thin air', of how capitalism is the
greatest revolutionizer in the entire history of humanity; on the
other hand, he also clearl,r perceived how this capitalist d.)'nam-
ics ,is proI' elled, =its , ..-.
, (of self-propelling capit.Jist produc-
tivity) is Capital itself" that is, the incessant development and
" ..
revolutionizing of capitalism's ovvn rnaterial conditions, the mad
dance of its unconditional spiral of productivity, is ultimately
nothing but a desperate forward flight to escape its own debili-
tating inherent contradiction....
Marx's fundamental mistake was to conclude, from these
' __ .. __ '''' __' ''''' __ .. --.. ---•. --.--- ,.v ", v v .• v .. -. __ ,.
insights,that a new, higher social order (Communism) is poss-
.. even raise to a
higher degree, and effectively fully release, the potential of the
capitalism,' 00
account of its inherent obstacle/contradiction, is thwarted again
and again by socially destructive economic crises. In short, what
Marx overlooked is that - to putit in the standard Derr;;Ian
tenns - inherent

if we abolish the
obstacle, the inherent contradiction of capitalism, we do not get
the fully unleashed drive to productivity finally delivered of its
17
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
impediment, we lose precisely this productivity that seemed to be
generated and simultaneously thwarted by capitalism - if we
take away the obstacle, the very potential thwarted by this
obstacle dissipates ... (here we could envisage a possible
Lacanian critique of Nlarx, focusing on the alnbiguous overlap-
ping between surplus-value and surplus-enjoyment). So, in a
way, the critics of Communism were right when they claimed
that Marxian Communism is an impossible fantasy - what they
did not perceive is that lVlarxian Communism, this notion of a
society of pure unleashed productivity outside of
itself,. thecaJ;italist
fantasy of
by capi-
that
were - as the sad experience of 'actually existing capitalis.m'
",_ _,_. __"_,·v,,,' "·""_"·",,,,,·,,"·_""'_.h " .. "__ '> ",'.'. __ ,." .. , ..•. ',_..•. , ...•.. , •..... _...•'.,.. ,." .. ',',_m,'_,_" ,_,. " " .. " '" ,.,._..• .. ','_" "..... ._,_,_ ......•_ ..
demonstrates - theonlyJ;ossibleframework rftheacn:almatecial existence
ofa society ofpermanent self·enhancingproductivity.
.".- procedure of
supplanting Marxist analysis "\vith reference to some transcen-
dental-ontological foundation (the usual way Western Marxists
tIy to respond to the crisis of lVlarxism) is deficient: what we
need today is not the passage from the 'critique of
ental
. ,---_.."," - ,"._-._---._--_._"."-_._ _--""....q _ _" ..".
reason', but a return to the 'critique of political economy' that

precisely in so far as it was not radical enough - in so far as, in it,
productivity sur-
vived, deprived of its concrete contradictory conditions of
existence. The insufficiency of Heidegger, Adorno and
I-Iorkheimer, and so 011, lies in their abandonment of the concrete
18
social analysis of capitalism: in their very critique or overcoming
of Marx, in!:. they
perceive unbridled productivity as something that is ultimately
.• Capitalism
"Communism are not MO different historical


ing Socialism' failed because it was ultimately a subspecies of


Our answer to the standard philosophical criticism of Marx
(his description of the dynamics of capitalism should be rejected,
since it is meaningful only against the background of the notion
of Communism as the self-transparent society in which the pro-
duction process is directly subordinated to the' general intellect'
of collective planning) is thus that while one accepts the kernel of
this argument, one has simply to take a reflexive step back and
perceive how Marx's notion of Communist society is itself the
inherent capitalist fantasy - a fantasmatic scenario for resolving
the capitalist antagonism he so aptly described. In other words,
our premiss is that even if we remove the nC)tion of
..m (the society
as tl:::irnl'licit the
alie;'ation ofexisting socie_t! the
the self-Eo£elling vicious cycle
.. today';;-ihought is
...<... .. - - •
thus double: on the one hand, how to repeat the Marxist 'critique
of political economy'
.. as __
imagine actually breaking.._."tt!..
.." ......·.." .. ,...·,·.. _
19
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
I falling into the trap of returning to the eminentlypremodern notion
of 'pre:Cartesian' tern1'-
tation to which most of today's ecology succumbs).
So where, precisely, did Marx go wrong with regard to sur-
plus-value? One is tempted to search for an answer in the key
Lacanian distinction between the object of desire and surplus-
enjoyment as its cause. Henry Kripss evokes the lovely example of
the chaperone in seduction: the chaperone is an ugly elderly lady
who is officially the obstacle to the direct goal-object (the woman
the suitor is courting); but precisely as such, she is the key inter-
mediary moment that effectively makes the beloved woman
desirable - without her, the whole economy of seduction would
collapse
9
Or, take another example from a different level: the
lock of curly blonde hair, that fatal detail of Madeleine in
Hitchcock's Vertigo. V/hen, in the love scene in the barn towards
the end of the film, Seottie passionately embraces Judy refash-
ioned into the dead Madeleine, during their famous 360-degree
kiss, he stops kissing her and withdraws just long enough to steal
a look at her newly blonde hair, as if to reassure himself that the
particular feature which transforms her into the ohject of desire
is still there.... Crucial here vortex
that thre"tensto"nglllf Scottie(the 'vertipo' of the filOl's title, the
'I'h:,',,',\ the blonde curl that thevertigo of the
Thing, in, a rniniaturized!,gent;iiiedfo;0.
,. -, awhich' the iml.'0ssible,
deadl,YThing, serving as itsstand-in andthlls us to
a Ii;able relationship with it, >vit!lo;;'th;;;ng svvallowed
aggres.
games: 'Please, bite me, but not too hard ...'. This is the
difference bctvvcen 'normal' sexual repression and fetishism: in
20
THE FRAGltE ABSOLUTE
'normal' sexuality, we think that the detail-feature that serves as
the cause of desire is just a secondary obstacle that prevents our
direct access to the Thing - that is, we overlook its key role;
while in fetishism we simply make the cause ofdesire directly into our
object ofdesire: a fetishist in Vertigo would not care about Madeleine,
but simply focus his desire directly on the Jock of hair; a fetishist
suitor would engage directly with the chaperone and forget about
the lady hersel£: the official goal of his endeavours.
So there is always a gap between the object of desire itself ancl
its cause, the mediating feature or element that makes this object
desirable. What happens in m"lanchol
y
is that ,\Ve get the object of
desire is there,
but what is the specific intermediary featui'efhat
least a
.';;-;1;ve,the;)bj ect ,is not
d,eprived of its cause; it is, rather, that the very d,istance between
•. __· " __ __''_·' __· ·'''·"" ... _. """-.-.""'_-- "',,. -. __"" -',' ',... .... .... .." .... _.' ..
object,.and_cause c",lIapses. Thi§, precisely, is vvh"tclistinguishes
__ ju_stseen, __ 'distil}et
from object; coincide --: I magi,
itg!£ finding inittbe verypoint from
which 1 find it\V0rihy of I"ve. And - back to Marx - what if his
tQassume that
st;;;ined expa';di';g-p;oclucti-;'ity) ';hen it

•. ,'--' -"-'
3 Coke as objet petit a
What is crucial here from the psychoanalytic perspective is the
link between the capitalist dynamics of surplus-value and the
21
It
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
libidinal dynamics of surplus-enjoyment. Let us elaborate this
point apropos of Coca-Cola as the ultimate capitalist merchan-'
dise and, as such, as surplus-enjoyment personified. It is no
surprise that Coke was first introduced as a medicine - its
strange taste does not seem to provide any particular satisfaction;
it is not directly pleasing and endearing; however, it is precisely
as such, as transcending any immediate use-value (unlike water,
beer or wiue, which definitely do quench our thirst or produce
the desired effect of satisfied calm), that Coke functions as the
direct embodiment of' it': of the pure surplus of enjoyment over
standard satishtctions, of the mysterious and elusive X we are all
after in our compulsive consumption of Inerchandise.
The unexpected result of this feature is not that, since Coke
does not satisfy any concrete need, we drink it only as a supple-
ment, after sarne other drink has satisfied our substantial need -
rather, it is this very superfluous character that makes our thirst
for Coke all the more insatiable: as Jacques-A1ain Miller put it so
succinctly, Cokehas you
drink to drink more -
.. __ .. never efIec-
S(),.. the advertising
sle'I;\"j}_ff(0r Coke was 'Coke is it!', we should note its thorough
ambiguiLy: 'that's it' precisely in so as that's11ever actually it,
up,; gap of '1 want
more!'. The paradox, therefore, is that Coke is not an ordinary
commodity whereby its use-value is transubstantiated into an
expression of (or supplemented with) the auratic dimension of
pure (exchange) Value, butac()illlnodity whose very peculiar
use-value is itself
""., ..... "", .•..
sensible aura of the surplus,.a. c91l11l1()dity
22
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
whose very c()mmodity.
to its
.two
for its
case ofcafIeine-freediet Coke, nutriti
911a
lYalu"is
is
also taken away - all an artifi-
_."-, ....,...,',.._.. .. ,..---".." .. ,,.-.... ... ",-". , .. --- - - . .,,,,,.
cial promise of a subst"nce whichneverIIlaterialized, Is it not
'{;'this- we
.
What we are implicitly referring to here is, of course,
Nietzsche's classic opposition between 'wanting nothing' (in the
sense of 'I don't want anything') and the nihilistic stance of
actively wanting Nothingness itself; following Nietzsche's path,
Lacan emphasized how in anorexia, the subject does not simply
'eat nothing' - rather, she or he actively wants to eat the
Nothingness (the Void) that is itself the ultimate object-cause of
desire. (The same goes for Ernst Kris's famous patient who felt
guilty of theft, although he did not actually steal anything: what
he did steal, again, was the Nothingness itself.) So along the
same lines, in the case of caffeine-free diet Cok;;;-'w"drTnk the
__ __ __ __ ,,,-,, __,.,, __ '''''M",. __ ... .. ..... __ • ,,._,,,, .. " .......
the ;11.

This example brings home the inherent link between three
notions: that of Marxist surplus-value, that of the Lacanian objet
petit a as surplus-enjoyment (the concept that Lacan elaborated
with direct reference to Marxian surplus-value), and tbe paradox
of the superego, l:>Y Freud: the more Cok"·You
•. .=.... ----,."" .'. '." .. ,- ',." --. - "". _ .• _.• _."" .. , ".,,,,.
the",
the guiltier
- - - - -, ._--._" -
23
SlAVOJ ZIZfK
you are - iu all three caseS, the logic of balanced exchange is dis-
turh(:clioI'a\'our ofall excessIve logIc of'ihemoi'eyou gIve '(the
moreyou (or 'the more you
for, the I.ll.ore you lack, the greaterY?llI' crav-
......"_"".,.;.....•.."_,, . ,''' ... _ ...., .. , ···d.•·,_" ... ·_ .. "
in:i?/; or - version - 'the more buy, the more
you ..... tospend'): thatis tos'\!',.... the paradox which is the
ve? opposite Ill' put it in her
I, 4'lye'.
'The key'to this disturbance, of course, is' surplus-enjoyment,
the object petit a, which exists (or, rather, persists) in a kind of
curved space - the nearer you get to it, the more it eludes your
grasp (or the more you possess it, the greater the lack). 12
Perhaps sexual difference comes in here in an unexpected
way: the reason why the superego is stronger in men than in
women is that it is men, not women, who are intensely related to
this excess of the surplus-enjoyment over the pacifYing hlnc-
tioning of the symbolic Law. In terms of the paternal function,
the opposition between the pacifying symbolic Law and the
excessive superego injunction is, of course, the one between the
Name-of-the-Father (symbolic paternal authority) and the
'primordial father' who is allowed to enjoy all women; and it is
crucial here to recall that this rapist 'primordial father' is a male
(obsessional), not feminine (hysterical) fantasy: it is men "vho are
able to endure their integration into the symbolic order only
when this integration is sustained by some hidden reference to
the fantasy of the unbridled excessive enjoyment elnbodied in the
unconditional superego injunction to enjoy, to go to the extreme,
to transgress and constantly to force the limit. In short, it is men
in whom the integration into the symbolic order is sustained by
the superego exception.
24
THE fRAGilE ABSOLUTE
This supereg'o-paradox also allows us to throw a new light on
to the functioning of today's artistic scene. Its basic feature
only the (art objects
for the market), but also the less noted but perhaps
•. ".'.--...."--
e"en more crucial the growi?-g 'cu/tura/ization' of
shift
omy (services, cultural goods), cultureis less and less a specific
sphere exempted from the
on;;
.,._",,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,_,,,,,,,,,,,,',,,,,,_,',,,,,""'''''''''''''','''''''','",'," __'''''",.. _''"'" __ .'_"..''h__ '' __ '' __ -'. __ . __ ... ". .. '.".. '."__ ''',,''_'_'' .."''',_. __,,.
the software amusement industry to other media productions).
What this short circuit between market and culture entails is the
--- '---
waning ofthe._. of provocation, of
establishment. Today, more and more, the cul-
",' """",',',."..... ,.. "".. ,,"v"".. __,,''',,''... __ .. , .. ,',',,, ..... ,_.. ''''_,,.. __ '',',.. _,,, __ ,,,,,,,,..... ,,,,,'.-',,.',,.,,,,,H',,_"'" """ ," __ "."" ,,' ",,' , ,_ "".' ,
....economic apparatllsitselC in toreproduce itself in
,but
•. ..effects.. and
ihevisual arts: gone arc
the days when we had simple statues or framed paintings - what
we get now are exhibitions of frames without paintings, dead
cows and their excrement, videos of the insides of the human
body (gastroscopy and colonoseopy), the inclusion of olfactory
efIects, and so on. IS .... __ of sexuality,
perversion is no subversive: such are

this is one possible definition of post-

modern as opposed to modernist art: in postmodernisIll, the
transgressive excess loses its shoek value and is fully integrated
into the established artistic market.
14
Another way to make the same point would be to emphasize
how, in today's art, the gap that separates the sacred space of
25
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
sublime beauty from the excremental space of trash (leftover) is
gradually narrowing, up to the paradoxical identity of opposites:
are not modern art objects luore and more excremental objects,
trash (often in a quite literal sense: faeces, rotting corpses ...)
displayed in - made to occupy, to fill in - the sacred place of the
Thing? And is not this identity in a way the hidden 'truth' of the
entire movement? not to
occupy the sacred place of the Thing by definition ao excremen-
"'rhis
identity of opposite determinations (the elusive sublime object
and/or excremental trash) - with the ever-present threat that the
one will shift into the other, that the sublime Grail will reveal
itself to be nothing but a piece of shit - is inscribed in the very
kernel of the Lacanian objet petit a.
In its most radical dimension, this irnpasse is the impasse
that affects the process of sublilnation - not in the COil1ffion
sense that art production today is no longer able to generate
properly 'sublime' objects, but in a much more radical sense: the
very fundamental matrix of sublimation, that of the central
the the cir-
, __ .. ----_ -',."''', -.. -,,,--.- . ---- ---" --... . '''''--'. - ,_.-- _. ,-- -
cuit of everyday e"onomy, which isthen filled in by apositive

(Lacan's definition of sublimation), seems to be increasingly
under threat; what is threatened is the the
filling it in.lClheii;the
fill in the
sublime Void of the Thing (the pure Place) with an adequately
beautiful object - how to succeed in elevating an ordinary object
to the dignity" of a Thing - the problem of modern art is, in a way,
the opposite (and much more desperate) one: oue can no longer

26
THE fHAGILE ABSOLUTE
count
its;lf s,o the task tosustain
as such, to will 'take
... --' " --... ,." ......---- .....---,
place'-: in other ,,:ords, the problemis no longer thatof borror
01" the Void in
the first an;mpty,
rapidly moving, elusive object, an occupant
without a place, is crucial.
15
The point is not that there is simply the surplus of an element
over the places available in the structure, or the surplus of a
place that has no element to fill it out - an empty place in the
structure would still sustain the fantasy of an element that will
emerge and fIll ont this place; an excessive element lacking its
place would still sustain the fantasy of an as yet unknown place
waiting for it. The point is, rather, that the empty place in the
structure is in itself correlative to the errant element lacking its
place: they are not two different entities, bnt the obverse and
reverse of one and the same entity - that is, one and the san1e
entity inscribed into the two surfaces of a Moebius strip. In other
words, the paradox is that only an element whicb is thoroughly 'out of
place'(an excremental object, a piece of 'trash' or leftover) can
tain the void ofan empty place, that is, the Mallarmean situation in
which rien n'aura eu lieu que le lieu ('nothing but the place will have
taken place') - the moment this excessive element 'fInds its
proper place', there is no longer any pure Place distinguished
from the elements which fill it out. 16
Another way to approach this tension between the Object
and the Void would be through the difFerent modalities of suicide.
First there is, of course, suicide as an act that 'bears a message'
(of protest against political, erotic, and so on, disappointment),
27
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
and is, as such, addressed to the Other (for example, political sui-
cides like public burnings which are supposed to shock aud
awaken the indifferent public). Although it involves the dimen-
sion of the Symbolic, this suicide is, at its most fundamental,
imaginary - for the simple reason that the subject who accom-
plishes it is sustained in it by the imagined seene of the effeet his
or her act will have on posterity, on its witnesses, on the public,
on those who will learn about it; the narcissistic satisfaction pro-
vided by such imagining is obvious.... Then there is suicide in
the Real: the violent passage al'acte, the subject's full and direct
identification with the objeet. That is to say, for Lacan, the sub-
ject ($ - the 'barred', empty subject) and tbe object-cause of its
desire (the leftover which embodies the lack that 'is' the subject)
are strictly correlative: there is a subject only iu so far as there is
some material stainlleftover that resists subjectivizatioll, a surplus
in which, precisely, the subject cannot recognize itself. In other
words, the paradox of the subject is that it exists only through its
own radieal impossibility, through a 'bone in the throat' that for-
ever prevents it (the subjeet) from achieving its full outologieal
identity.
So we have here the strueture of the Moebius strip: the sub-
ject is eorrelative to the object, but in a negative way - subject
and object can never 'meet'; they are in the same place, but on
opposite sides of the Moebius strip. Or - to put it in philosophi-
cal terms - subjeet and objeet are identical in the Hegelian sense
of the speeulative coincidenee/identity of radical opposites: when
Hegel praises the speculative truth of the vulgar materialist thesis
of phrenology 'The Spirit is a bone', his point is not that the
spirit can actually be reduced to the shape of the skull, but that
there is a spirit (subject) only in so far as there is some bone
28
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
(some inert lnaterial, non-spiritual remainder/leftover) that resists
its spiritual sublation-appropriation-mediation. Subject and
object are thus not simply external: the object is not the external
limit with regard to which the subject defines its self-identity, it
is ex-timate with regard to the subject, it is its internal limit -
that is, the bar which itself prevents the subject's full realization.
What happens in the suicidal passage al'acte, however, is pre-
cisely the subject's direct identification with the object: tbe object
is no longer 'identical' to the subject in the sense of the Hegelian
speculative identity of the dialectical process with the very
obstacle that sustains this process - they coincide directly; they
find themselves on the same side of the Moebius strip. This means
that the subject is no longer the pure Void of negativity ($), the
infinite desire, the Void in search of the absent object, but 'falls
into' the object directly, becomes the object; and - vice versa -
the object (cause of desire) is no longer the materialization of
the Void, a spectral presence that merely gives body to the lack
that sustains the subject's desire, but acquires a direct positive
existence and ontological consistency. Or, to put it in the terms of
the minimal gap between the Object and its Place, the
Void/Clearing within which the object appears: what happens in
the suicidal passage al'acte is not that the object falls out of its
frame, so that we get only the empty Frame-void (i.e. so that
'nothing but the place itself takes place'); what happens, rather,
is the exact opposite - the object is still there; it is the Void-Place
that disappears; it is the frame that falls into what it frames, so
that what occurs is the eclipse of the symbolic opening, the total
closure of the Real. As such, not only is the suicidal passage al'acte
not the highest expression of the death drive; rather, it is the
exact opposite of the death drive.
29
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
For Lacau, creative sublimation and the death drive are
strictly correlative: the death drive empties the (sacred) Place,
creates the Clearing, the Void, the Frame, which is then filled in
by the object 'elevated to the dignity of the Thing'. I-Iere we
encounter the third kind of suicide: the (suicide' that defines the
death drive, symbolic suicide - not in the sense of 'not dying really,
just symbolically', but in the more precise sense of the erasure of
the symbolic network that defines the subject's identity, of cut-
ting off all the links that anchor the subject in its symbolic
substance. Here, the subject finds itself totally deprived of its
symbolic identi1y, thrown into the 'night of the world' in which
its only correlative is the minimum of an excrementallettover, a
piece of trash, a mote of dust in the eye, an almost-notbing that
sustains the pure Place-Frame-Void, so that here, finally, 'noth-
ing but the place takes place'. So the logic of displaying an
excremental object in the sublime Place is similar to the way the
infinite judgement 'The spirit is a bone' functions: our
first reaction to Hegel's 'The spirit is a bone' is 'But this is sense-
less - spirit, its absolute, self-relating negativity, is the very
opposite of the inertia of a skull, this dead object!' - however, this

the
. . . the same
ifl .. to
ask i;"dig;"';:':;tly: -
the


And, in effect, as Gerard Wajcman suggests in his remarkable
book L'objet du siecle,17 is not the great effort of modernist art
focused on how to maintain the luinimal structure of sublimation,
30
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
the minimal gap between the Place and the element that fills it
in? Is this not why Kasimir Malevich's 'Black Square on White
Surface' expresses the artistic endeavour at its most elementary,
reduced to the stark distinction between the Void (the white
background/surface) and the element (the 'heavy' material stain
of the square)? That is to say, we should always bear in mind that
the very tense [Jutur anterieur] of Mallarme's famous rien n'aura eu
lieu que le lieu makes it clear that we are dealing with a utopian
state '.vhich, for a
time hich
;;;"Iythat the Place
is aISo that
only V<Jid ()f'the Sacred
some-
it has
."""."''' __ "'''''' __ "'" ' __ __',,,mno_.._,, ....,,.,'__' __ '" --- --- ---- ,',',' " .. -- ----'''---",,,,,, ,---
been In other words, if we sub-
" - - --' - ,,,,, .. ,, ,,--, ", -- .. -".--
tract from the Void the positive element, the 'little bit of reality',
the excessive stain that disturbs its balance, we do not get the
pure balanced Void 'as such' - rather, the Void itself disappears,
is no longer there. So the reason why excrements are elevated
into a work of art, used to fill in the Void of the Thing, is not
simply to demonstrate that 'anything goes', that tbe object is ulti-
mately irrelevant, since any object can be elevated into and
occupy the Place of the Thingi this recourse to excrement, rather,
bears witness to a desperate strategy to ascertain that the Sacred
Place is still there.
The problem is that today, in the double movement of the
progressive commodiFication of aesthetics and the aesthetifica-
tion of the universe of commodities, a 'beautiFul' (aesthetically
pleasing) object is less and less able to sustain the Void of the
31
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
Thing - so it is as it: paradoxically, the only way to sustain the
(Sacred) Place is to fill it up with trash, with an exeremental
abject. In other words, it is today's artists who display excre-
mental ob;,"ts undermining the
And the
Voidof the
1:1;e gap
it; . is 116 symbolic
order. That is to we dwell vvithiilthe symbolic order only in
so"far as every presence appears against the of its

:" ihi;

•• pos;ible
.. -', "-.
. most succinct definition of the modernist break in
art is thus that, through it, the tension between the (art) Object
and the Place it occnpies is reflectively taken into acconnt: what
makes an object a work of art is not simply its direct material
properties, bnt the place it occupies, the (sacred) Place of the
Void of the Thing. In other words, .",ith modernist art "certain
innocence is lost for "th-at we
-
that is to say, independently of the place they occupy - 'are'
works'()£' art: F()r'this split
r;';;';'';en the two extremes represented at its very origins by
Malevich and Marcel Duchamp: on the one side the pure formal
marking of the gap which separates the Object from its Place
('Black Square'); on the otlIer, the display of a common everyday
ready.made object (a bicycle) as a work of art, as if to prove that
32
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
what constitutes art hinges not on the qualities of the art object
but exclusively on the Place this object occupies, so that any-
thing, even shit, can 'be' a work of art if it finds itself in the right
Place. And whatever we do after the modernist break even if it
is the return to fake neoclassicism it la Arno Brekker, is already
'mediated' by that break.
Let us take a twentieth.century 'realist' like Edward Hopper:
(at least) three features of his work bear witness to this media-
tion. First, Hopper's well-known tendency to paint city·dwellers
at night, alone in an overlit room, seen from outside, through the
frame of a window - even if the window framing the object is not
there, the picture is drawn in such a way that the viewer is com-
pelled to imagine an invisible immaterial frame separating him or
her from the painted objects. Second, the way Hopper's pictures, !', .,"
.......-.__....__.. ,h"I.·,
in the very .. lJ.r()clnce in their
.. ,
.. things
in his conntryside paintings). Third, the
fact that his series of paintings of his wife sitting alone in a room
illuminated by strong sunlight, staring through the open window,
is experienced as an unbalanced fragment of a global scene, call-
ing for a supplement, referriug to an invisible off-space, like the
still of a film shot without its counter·shot (and one can in fact
maintain that Hopper's paintings are already 'mediated' by the
cinematic experience).
In this precise sense, one is tempted to assert the contempo-
raneity of artistic modernism with Stalinism in politics: in the
Stalinist elevation of the 'wise leader', the gap that separates the
object from its place is also brought to an extreme and thus, in a
way, reflectively taken into account. Iu his key essay 'On the
33
34
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
problem of the Beautiful iu Soviet Art' (1950), the Soviet critic
G. Nedoshivin claimed:
Amidst all the beautiful material of life, the first place should
be occupied by images of our great leaders.... The sublime
beauty of the leaders ... is the basis for the coiuciding of the
'beautiful' aud the 'true' in the art of socialist realism.
1S
How are we to uuderstand this logic which, ridiculous as it may
seem, is at work even today, with North Korea's Kim Yong IJ,?19
These characterizations do not refer to the Leader's actual prop-
erties - the logic here is the same as that of the Lady in courtly
love who, as Lacan emphasized, is addressed as an abstract Ideal,
so that 'writers have noted that all the poets seem to be address-
ing the Same person.... In this poetic field the feminine object is
emptied of all real substance.'2o This abstract character of the
Lady indicates the abstraction that pertains to a cold, distanced,
inhuman partner - the Lady is by no means a warm, compas-
sionate, understanding fellow-creature:
By Ineans of' a form of sublimation specific to art, poetic
creation consists in positioning an object I can only describe _
as terrifYing, an inhuman partner.
The Lady is never characterized for any of her real,
concrete virtues, for her wisdoll1, her prudence, or even her
competence. If she is described as wise, it is because she
embodies an immaterial wisdom or because she represents
its functions lnore than she exercises them. On the contrary,
she is as arbitrary as possible in the tests she imposes on her
servant. 21
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
And is it not the same with the Stalinist Leader'? Does he not,
when he is hailed as sublime and wise, also' represent these func-
tions more than he exercises them''? Nobody would claim that
Malenkov, Beria and Khrushchev were examples of male
beauty - the point is simply that they 'represented' the function
of beauty.... (In contrast to the Stalinist Leader, the psychoan-
alyst is 'objectively' ugly even if he is actually a beautiful or sexually
attractive person: in so far as he occupies the impossible place of
the abject, of the excremental remainder of the symbolic order, he
'represents' thefunction of ugliness.) In this
the Stalinist Leader as 'sublime' is to be taken literally, in the

-by the
__
partner':: not s,ymbolicauthorityobeying a Law,buta capricious
-is on
.its fot his ele-
vation into sublime object ol'beauty is his radical 'alienation':
as with the Lady, the 'real person' is effectively treated as an
appendage to the fetishized and celebrated public Image. No
was sowidelyusedin oHicial
with a that-is it is
ift,,;;l,ow dialthe


died in a car crash a couple of years
ago, and that in recent years a double has replaced him in his rare
public appearances, so that the crowds Can catch a glimpse of the
object of their worship - is this not the best possible con!lrmation
of the fact that the 'real personality' of the Stalinist Leader is
35
SI.AVOJ ZIZEK
thoroughly irrelevant, a replaceable object, since it does not matter
if it is the 'real' Leader or his double, who has no actual power?)
Is hot this practice of elevating a common vulgar figure into the
ideal of Beauty - of reducing beauty to a purely functional
notion - strictly correlative to the modernist elevation of an 'ugly'
everyday excrelllental object into a "vork of art?22
One of the most illuminating ways of locating this break
hetween traditional and modern art would he via reference to the
painting that in effect occupies the place of the 'vanishing medi-
ator' between the t\"/o: Gustave Courhet's (in)famous 'L'origine
du monde', the torso of a shamelessly exposed, headless, naked
and aroused female body, focusing on her genitalia; this painting,
which literally vanished for almost a hundred years, was finally-
and quite appropriately - found among Lacan's belongings after
his death
23
'Lorigine' expresses the deadlock (or dead end) of
traditional realist painting, whose ultimate object - never fully
and directly shown, but always hinted at, present as a kind of
underlying point of reference, starting at least from Albrecht
Durer's Verweisung - was, of course, the naked and thoroughly
sexualized female body as the ultimate object of male desire and
gaze. Here the exposed female body functioned in a way similar
to the underlying reference to the sexual act in classic Hol\ywood
lllovies, best described in the movie tycoon Monroe Stahr's
famous instruction to his scriptvvriters from Scott Fitzgerald's The
Last Tycoon:
At all times, at all moments when she is on the screen in our
sight, she wants to sleep with Ken Willard.... \Vhatever she
does, it is in place of sleeping with Ken Willard. If she walks
down the street she is walking to sleep with Ken Willard, if
36
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
she eats her food it is to give her enough strength to sleep
with Ken Willard. But at no time do you give the impression
that she would even consider sleeping with Ken Willar'd
unless they were properly sanctified.
24
So the exposed female body is the impossible object which, pre-
cisely because it is unrepresentable, functions as the ultimate
horizon of representation whose disclosure is forever post-
poned - in short, as the Lacanian incestuous Thing. Its absence,
the Void of" the Tbing, is then filled in by 'sublimated' images of
beautiful but not totally exposed female bodies - by bodies which
always maintain a minimal distance towards That. But the crucial
point (or, rather, the underlying illusion) of traditional painting is
that the 'true' incestuous naked body is none the less waiting
there to be discovered - in short, the illusion of" traditional real-
ism does not lie in the f"aithful rendering of" the depicted objects;
rather, it lies in the belief that behind the directly rendered objects
is the absolute Thing which could be possessed if only we were
able to discard the obstacles or prohibitions that prevent access
to it.
\Vhat Courbet accomplishes here is the gesture of" radical
desublimation: he took the risk and simply went to the end by
directly depicting what previous l'ealistic art merely hinted at as its
withdrawn point of reference - the outcome of this operation, of
course, was (to put it in Kristevan terms) the reversal of the sub-
lime object into abject, into an abhorrent, nauseating excremental
piece of" slime. (More precisely, Courbet masterfully continued to
dwell on the imprecise border that separates the sublime from the
excremental: the woman's body in 'Lorigine' retains its full erotic
attraction, yet it becomes repulsive precisely on account of this
37
38
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
excessive attraction.) Courbet's gesture is thus a dead end, the
dead end of traditional realist painting - bnt precisely as such, it
is a necessary 'mediator' between traditional and modernist art-
that is to say, it represents a gesture that hadto he accomplishedif we
were to 'clear the ground' for the emergence of rnodernist
'abstract' art.
With Courbet, the game of referring to the forever absent
'realist' incestuous object is over, the structure of'sublimation
collapses, and the enterprise of modernism is to re-establish the
matrix of snblimation (the minimal gap that separates the Void of
the Thing from the object that fills it in) outside this 'realist' con-
straint, that is, outside the belief in the real presence of the
incestnons Thing behind the deceptive surface ofthe painting, In
other words, with Courhet, :vv:e,l","-E'lJJ1"-L!h'",, is110 Thing
behind its 01:'r way through
the
the abject; sothe only way the
stag7ctheV;rd
z
tSe!j;


as it
may sound - Malevich's 'Black Square', as the seminal painting
of modernism, is the true counterpoint to (or reversal of)
'L'origine': with Courhet, we get the incestuous Thing itself
which threatens to implode the Clearing, the Void in which (sub-
lime) objects (can) appear; while with Malevich, we get its exact
__ _ __ .i;;.__

and backi?rolllld,1:>e,tVieeIla 09}e<:t.. and
the modernist painting
- . .._._--"'---.__._,---- .. _--.,,'
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
..J.h_Q_QygX__
incestuous turns
it into
an
----.. ...
And the task of historical materialist analysis here is to locate
these all too formal deternlinations in their concrete historical
context. First, of course, there is the aestheticization of the uni-
verse of commodities mentioned above: its ultimate result is
that - to put it in somewhat pathetic terms - today, the true
pieces of trash are the 'beautiful' objects with

itse!finto filesacred-place{)fflie'V6id,
However, the situ;ti;;' is ;'ore
is catastrophes (from
ttaumatic

events that take place
Thing is no
long;;; t.he' biidcgJ'ouiid' of
.• ..
of the
syrnbolicspace:biliheothet h;'nd, a global
- so why
dlcrrt'l1a';;;'such an" iiilpacT'preciseJy int.hifcentury, and not
of
aesU;etlcs al
exChailgef (the very terrain of exchange): it
'away "fih" very
CaPi,cityr(nm1Jlim,ate, •• the
Thing-intdlCrusYliptivc'gl"bal the 'end of the world',
"" '-_"_>_ __O'_; __ __
39
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
No wonder, then, that in the work of Andy Warhol, the ready-
tlie. sublime
'of a work of art was none other than a row of Coke
4 From tragique to moque-comique
The intersubjective consequences of this process are no less deci-
sive. Because it is focused on the surplos of objet petit a, capitalism
is no longer the domain of the discourse of the Master. This is
where Lacan takes over and paraphrases in his own terms the old
Marxian theme, from The Manifesto, of how capitalism dissolves
all stable links and traditions; how, at its onslaught, 'all that is
solid melts into air'. Marx himself made it clear that this 'all that
- . -_....-.•. ""-,,", ._..•..•".
.. d<;>es not
fin-
itive identification for subjects. So, on the one hand, instead of
fnr
... ?€.. •...'are
•.• ptoducts :vhich·are· sometimes
obsolete fllllyinto - PCs have to be
replaced every year if one is to keep up with the Joneses; long-
playing records were followed by CDs, and now by DVDs. The
aftermath of this constant innovation is, of course, the permanent
production of piles of discarded waste:
and post.m.odern capi-
t..cJist beings
.-., ..,".' -,.. . ,.. .. .. '''-- ----, "., , '''' ", - ..
appealing con-
sumpti9l1.artifacts.will eventually end point
40
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
that it will transform the earth into a vast waste land. You


The obverse of the incessant capitalist drive to produce new and
newer objects is therefore the growing pile of useless waste,
mountains of used cars, computers, and so on, like the famous
aeroplane 'resting place' in the Mojave desert.... In these ever-
growing piles of inert, dysfunctional 'stuff', which cannot but
strike us with their useless, inert presence, one can, as it were,
perceive the capitalist drive at rest. That is the interest of Andrei
Tarkovsky's films, most vividly his masterpiece Stalker, with its
post-industrial wasteland: wild vegetation overgrowing aban-
doned factories, concrete tunnels and railroads full of stale water
and wild overgrowth in which stray cats and dogs wander. Here
again nature and industrial civilization overlap, but through a
common decay .. .. of
being reclaimed but) by
The ultimate Tarkovskyan landscape is
full of
.. ' . •.. ,." .. " .. ,,-''_.,,--.''''_.. _.• ' ,. '.',,'" . '" --.-- " " "" _--,.,,--, _.. .
the debris "Lhul
ll
,,:n .. or slabs of
The ultimate irony of history is that it "';;
Communist East who displayed the greatest
sensitivity to this obverse of the drive to produce and consume.
Perhaps, however, this irony displays a deeper necessity which
hinges on what Heiner Muller called the 'waiting-room mental-
ity' in 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
41
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
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 Ivlessiah's iUlpending
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.28
The point of this Messianic attitude, howevel; was not that hope
was maintained, but that since the Messiah did not arrive, people
started to look around and take note of the inert materiality of
their surroundings, in contrast to the West, where people,
engaged in permanent frantic activity, do not even properly
notice what is going on around them:
Because there was no acceleration in the culture, DDR citi-
zens enjoyed more contact with the earth on which the
waiting room was bnilt; caught in this delay, they deeply
experienced the idiosyncrasies of their world, all its topo-
graphical and historical details ... while the delays in the
East allowed people to accumulate experience, the inlpera-
tive to travel forward destroyed any such potential in the
West: if travel is a kind of death which renders the world
banal, waiting engenders the accrual of substance. 29
On the other hand - as the last sentence in the quote from
Jacques-Alain Miller indicates - the same goes for interpersonal
relations: Miller formulates this passage in terms of the shift from
Master-Signifier to objetpetit a: in the discourse of the Master, the
subject's identity is guaranteed by Sl' by the Master-Signifier
42
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
(his symbolic title-mandate), fidelity to which defines the sub-
ject's ethical dignity. Identification with the Master-Signifier
leads to the tragic mode
fideIiii-to theM.:;:st';:'-Sig;;ifi-;:;=--;;;;,y;-t;; ;heTI;',sslon
life - to the end, and
his attempt ultimately fails because of the remainder
th;· sllppery:shift:ing
and
••••• the• pure

little wlfh-i:lieleftover; of
existence, the
parodic process of the constant subversion of all firm sy;;;bolic
- ' __
The exemplary case of this shift is the changed status of the
Oedipal trajectory: what in Ancient Greece was still a pathetic
tragedy, with the hero accomplishing the mnrderous act and then
heroically assuming its consequences, turns in modernity into its
o\-vn mocking parody. In his seminar on transference, Lacan
refers to elande!'s Coufontaine trilogy, in which the Oedipal par-
ricide is given a co.mical twist: the son does shoot his father, but
he misses, and the scared, undignified father simply dies of a
heart attack....30 (\Vould it not be possible, in this precise sense,
to claim that it was already Oedipus at C%nus which, with regard
to Oedipus the King, was in a way the first example of the passage
from tragiqueto moque-comique?) As Lacan indicates, however, this

lack of pI"0perparadoxically
thati;; all· the
horror-s, f;';;;;-Cul;;g t;; there

43
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
camps or the victims of the Stalinist show trials were not in a
pred;C-amenfrtKerrs;tiianon-was-nutwithout


be 'sublimated .for that reason
of
- ... ._- - ... .
Here, as many matters, it was Hegel who showed the
way. That is to say, was it not Hegel who, in his famous sub-
section on the 'world of self-alienated Spirit' in the Phenomenology,
provided the defiuitive description of the passage from tragique to
moque-comique, demonstrating how, in the process of dialectical
mediation, every digniGed, 'noble' position turns into its oppo-
site - the truth of the' noble consciousness' dedicated to its
sublime ethical task of serving the Good is the manipulative,
servile, exploitative 'base (knavish) consciousness':
The content of what Spirit says about itself is thus the per-
version of every Notion and reality, the universal deception
of itself and others; and the shamelessness which gives utter-
ance to this deception is just for that reason the greatest
truth. This kind of talk is the madness of the musician 'who
heaped up and mixed together thirty arias, Italian, French,
tragic, comic, of every sort; now with a deep bass he
descended into hell, then, contracting his throat, he rent the
vaults of heaven with a falsetto tone, frantic and soothed,
imperious and mocking, by turns.' (Diderot, Nephew of
Rameau) To the tranquil consciousness which, in its honest
way, takes the melody of the Good and the True to consist in
the evenness of the notes, i.e. in unison, this talk appears as
44
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
a 'rigmarole of wisdom and folly, as a medley of as much skill
as baseness, of as many correct as false ideas, a mixture com-
pounded of a complete perversion of sentiment, of absolute
shamefulness, and of perfect frankuess and truth.' ... This
latter mind perverts in its speech all that is unequivocal,
because what is self-identical is only an abstraction, but in its
actual existence is in its own self a perversion.
31
Two things about this remarkable passage shonld be empha-
sized.First, Marx's famous 'corrective' to H.cgel's notion of
historical repetition with which his Eighteenth Brumaire begins
(history repeats itself, the Grst time as a tragedy, then as a farce)
is already operative in Hegel himself: in his mad dance,
Raulcau's nephc\v repeats in a parodic way the grandeur of his
uncle, the renowned composer, just as Napoleon lII, the
nephew, repeats in the mode of a farce the deeds of his uncle, the
Napoleon. So it is already in Hegel that the two modes of'repe-
tition cornpete in a properly dialectical tension: the 'serious'
repetition through which a historical contingency is 'sublated'
into the expression of a historical necessity (Napoleon had to
lose twice), and the 'COOlie' repetition that subverts the tragic
identification. Secondly, we can see here clearly how the dialec-
tical passage operates in Hegel - how we pass from In-itself to
For-itselF. Although the perverse speech of the 'nephew of
Rameau' vocalizes the truth of the 'noble consciousness', his
candid cynical admission of guilt none the less remaius false - he
is like a crook who thinks that he redeems himself by publicly
acknowledging his crookedness (or, is tempted to ...
" highly paid professor of Cultural §.t"dies in'l{e§!er.Ilac_ademia
;hc,-thinks that his- inces;ant critique of the
.... ..... .. ....__... .._.,. .. ... ",.... _...... _... "....-
45
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
Eurocentrist, etc., bias or "Western academia somehow exempts

The guilt here concerus the tension between the suhject of
the statement and the snbject of the ennnciation (the subjective
positionftom which one speaks): there is a vvay in which one can
lie in the guise of (telling the) truth, that is, in which the full and
candid admission of one's guilt is the nltimate deception, the way
to preserve one's subjective position intact, free from guilt.
short, there is awa.y to avoidresp()nsihilit,yatld!orguilt by, pre-
?E-_ s
ill male PC

and uses this admission of as a to face the way
he, as a 'radical' intellectual, perfectly embodies the existing
thoroughly
Rameau - the problem with
Rameau's nephew is not that his perverse negation of his digni-
fied uncle's 'noble consciousness' is too radical and destructive,
but that, in its very excess, it is not radical enough: the exaggerated
perverse content which seems to explode the uncle's dignified
speech is there to conceal the fact that, in both cases, the subjec-
tive position of enunciation remains the same. The more the
admission is candid, inclusive of openly acknoWIeJg:ing'the
i;;conslstency or one's'
same
details in today's talk shows ih': sub-
ject;s .•• to
tell ...).
To make the counection with the Marxist critique of political
ecouomy even clearer: for Hegel himself, this inherent subversion

46
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
of a
reality (metal) which possesses the
-,-" ---,---_.. _, .. -- -------_......--,-,,'-,,--.,--,-_..--_........._... .. _ ... " .... _--- ... ' ...... ,....... , -

' __ ..

movelnent of the mediation of the
'noble consciousuess', the infinite judgement The S.<4f [das Selbst]
is .. of the infinite jndge-
;;;;';;:;;-f
-dialectic of phrenology as well as the dialectic of wealth, the total
'liquefaction' of every firm determination, the disintegration of
every determinate symbolic feature, culminates in its opposite: in
the dialectical coincidence of pure subjectivity, of this power of
the negative that dissolves ever::y stable determination, with a
meaningless, inert object, a leftover, trash (bone, money). 0
--....
can now see what the Lacanian answer is to the Derridan insls-
t;nce on how th;subject] is
it is

sllbs
id;;;tit,X
;hip;j2
t
his'substantiality' is not that oftbe bnttbat
tal
:substan-
preCisely
a mInImum a
eet is
th;: the
.- - . - ..
famous answer to Napoleon's
47
t
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
'N() man is a hero to his valet': 'not, however, because the man is
not a hero, but because the valet is a valet, whose dealings are
with the ruan, not as a hero, but as one who eats, drinks, and
'Nears clothes'53 - in short, the valet's gaze is unable to perceive
the world-historical dimension of the hero's public deeds. The
lessou of the Lacanian objet petit a as the remainder of the Real
here is that Hegel has to be supplemented: in order for the sub-
jects to have a transferential relationship towards their hero, in
order to venerate a person as a hero, the awareness of the world-
historical dimension of' his deeds is not enough; in order for this
awareness to become a true veneration, it has to be supplemented
by some detail from the 'pathological' domain of the hero's idio-
syncratic fancies - it is only this 'little piece of reality', this touch
of the 'real person' behind the public mask (some personal weak-
ness or similar'endearing foible '), that changes a noncommittal
appreciation into true veneration. So for the hero to function
effectively as a hero, the valet's intimate gaze has to support his
public image - or, in Lacanese, the pathology of the objet petit a
has to support SJ' the Master-Signifier, the symbolic mandate of
the hero. And it is as if, today, this logic is brought to its self-
destructive conclusion: it is no longer that we are simply
interested in the private pathologies of public figures, or that
public figures are directly expected to display signs of' their
'common humani1y' in public - the lesson of exhibitionist talk
shows is that the very act of the public confession of their inner-
most private (sexual, etc.) idiosyncrasies as such can render a
person famous, turning him or her into a public figure....
Today, it is fashionable to search for one's 'true self' - Lacan's
answer is that
On the one hand, there is the Master-Signifier that delineates the
__ __ __ "n_"......
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
contours of' the subject's. Ego:Ideal! hisdigllit,y,. his mandate;
'on the SYIll-
b.·..o.· sustains the
... _"_.",.._,, __ ' '" '.,' ".. '..... ,... .... "....... , ....,._, .. , .. ,.. ,... ,......., ..
s.u.. bject's surplus-enjoyment - and the ultimate goal of psycho-
.' ......_ .... •. ... . ,_·__ __ •__
analysis is to enable the subject-analysand to accomplish the
p;;i;a
secretly



c;;irtcide: objetpetif ais

theII'oiy-c;ail itself is revealed as of
;i;;;t. ·symboli c
identification to identification with the excrementalleftover turns
around - accomplishes in the opposite direction - the process of
symbolic identification. That is to say, the ultimate paradox of the
strict psychoanalytic notion of' symbolic identification is that it is by
definition a misidentification, the identification VJ.i1!l-lI2c.,.SJlay-the
Other(s} 11'le. Let us take the most elementary example:
=.
as a father, I know I am an unprincipled weakling; but, at the
same tiIne, I do not want to disappoint my SOD, who sees in me
what I am not: a person of digni1y and strong principles, ready to
take risks for a just cause - so I identify with this misperception of
me, and truly 'become myself' when I, in effect, start to act
according to this misperception (ashamed to appear to my son as
1really am, I actually accomplish heroic acts). In other words, if
we are to account for symbolic identification, it is not enough to
refer to the opposition between the way I appear to others and
the way I really am: symbolic identification occurs when the way
48 49
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
I appear to others becomes more important to me than the psy-
chological reality 'beneath my social mask', forcing me to do
things I wonld never be able to accomplish 'from within myself'.
How, then, are we to grasp the difference belween the two
gaps that characterize the symbolic process: the gap between the
Master-Signifier and the series of 'ordinary' signiEers (SI and
S2)' and the more radical gap between the very domain of the sig-
niEer (S) and its objectal remainderlleftover, objetpetit a'? There is
an old racist joke, popular in ex-Yugoslavia, about a gipsy being
examined by a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist first explains to the
gipsy what free associations are: you immediately say what is on
your mind in response to tbe psychiatrist's cue. Then the psychi-
atrist proceeds to the test itself: he says 'Table'; the gipsy answers:
'Fucking Fatima'; he says 'Sky'; the gipsy again answers:
'FuckingFatima', and so on, nntil the psychiatrist explodes: 'But
you didn't understand me! You must tell me what crops up in
yonr mind, what you are thinking of; when I say my word!' The
gipsy calmly answers: 'Yes, I got your point, I'm not that stupid,
but I think all the time about fucking Fatima!'
This racist joke, which clearly displays tbe structure of
Hegelian 'abstract universality', has none the less to be supple-
mented by the crucial Enal twist at work in another well-known
joke about a pupil being examined by his biology teacher about
different animals, and always reducing the answer to the deEni-
tion of a horse: 'What is an elephant'?' 'An animal which lives in
the jungle, where there are no horses. A horse is a domestic
mammal with fonr legs, used for riding, working in the fields or
pulling vehicles.' 'What is a fish'!' 'An animal which has no legs,
unlike a horse. A horse is a domestic mammal .. .'. 'What is a
dog?' 'An animal which, unlike horses, barks. A horse is a domes-
50
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
tic mammal .. .' and so forth, until Enally, the desperate teacher
asks the pupil: 'OK, what is a horse'?' Perplexed and totally
thrown off balance, the poor surprised pupil starts to mumble
and cry, unable to provide an answer....
Along the same lines, the psychiatrist should have given the
sex-starved gipsy the cue 'Fucking Fatima', at which, undoubt-
edly, the poor gipsy would have broken down in panic - even
anxiety - unable to generate any association: why? Because, pre-
cisely (and in contrast to Bentham's theory of self-iconicity,
according to which an object is the best icon of itself, that is, it
resembles itself) a horse is a horse; it does not look like or resemble
a horse; just as 'rucking Fatilna' is 'fucking Fatima', not some
association generated by the idea of 'fucking Fatima' - the Marx
Brothers' well-known paradox 'No wonder you look like
Erumanuel Ravelli, since you are Ernmanuel Ravelli' involves an
illegitimate short circuit. (Another homologous structure is that
of a well-known tribe mentioned by Levi-Strauss for whose
members all dreams have a hidden sexual meaning - all, that is,
except those with an explicit sexual content.)
To put it in philosophical terms, what we encounter here is the
obverse of Leibniz's well-known principle accor.c'ing to which, if

are indistinguishable,.tll."Y_al'e"JsoI'-llIllqisilllyicleIl,tisoal::: that is
thing:.tll".i!Jlti:b.eilJIli""an the
:l;'"k
I ::ClIl!E,,:;Y, "the ,0.["on-
accounts for the uncanny effect of
encountering
Or, in Hegelese: the
ofa:'thing'is 'grounded not in its properties, but in the negative
51
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
THE FRAGltE ABSOLUTE
?
\:."
synthesis of a pure 'One' which excludes (relates negative\y to)
all positive properties: this 'one' which guarantees the identity of
a thing does not reside in its properties, since it is ultimately its
signifier.
So here we have the difference between the series of ordinary
siguifiers aud the central element Chorse', 'fucking Fatima')
which has to remain empty in order to serve as the underlying
organizing principle of the series. The hOlllologous structure of
the series and its exception underlies the figure of Kali, the
Hindu goddess of destruction: she is usually portrayed as a
terrifying, Medusa-like entity with dozens of limbs making
aggressive gestures - however, as every Indian knows, the key
point is that, among these limbs, a kind of meta-message is
hidden, a tiny hand stretched out in a pacilJring gesture, as if to
say: 'Do not take all this ridiculous spectacle of horror too seri-
ously! It is just a show of force, while in fact I am not really so
menacing, but actually love you!' This exceptional sign is the
one we have to look for in certain forms of aggressivity....
Ouite different from this gap that separates the exceptional
. ---r;..- .. ,-, '-'''' ,'" '--,-" ",
-- of the
gap thilt the endless process of symbolicdilTerentia-
tion is

OilS ,.,- ---
terlnS,?l,.. t-wo parts
of the are?:?long;er two halves,parts previous
',vc no
thillg a;;;;;;;;,: ,," between
something' a
cl
when we reach a division which is no longer the one between
{"a-'I'eHexive" division
'between
S ';oid: the
lack o[thesig':';fiet, 'is' the (barred) subject itself. This
"' __ __'_",__ ,
'bar.\v Ilbject .rneans.. pre.cisely.thaUher.e.. is.. n9.sigiii
C
represeI1tit,.1\Ildthis is ",here the object
psychoaualysis calls the'object'is a
pha
l1
tas;;;ic'fil1;:r' void pro-
vidlngfor: This structur;:is
by a third joke, this time from today's Croatia, about
-- - ....- ....
-Jok;:S-abouiihe Croatian President Franjo Tudjman in gen-
eral display a structure of some interest for Lacanian theory - for
example: Why is it impossible to play 'hide-and-seek' with
Tudjman? Because if he were to hide, nobody would bother to
seek him ... a nice libidinal point about how hiding works only
if people actually want to find you. But the supreme example is
that of Tudjman and his large family in a plane above Croatia.
Aware of the rumours that a lot of Croats lead miserable
unhappyliveS::wtl1e-he--a:Ildllis·cronies·amassweillfh, •• Ttidjman
if
of th;: at least one Croat, who it,
h;"ppy?; t
f<:'rhaIfamilIlon-each,aridihiis
four

happy'! 'andsoo;':,;':;':iilIinal\y,hisgraiidsori .:': Hie proverbIal
in;;;':ce;;ty;;;;th
'B;;t Graiidpa; why of the
52
53
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
window, and Lhus make all the Croats happy?' Here we have it
the impossible limit by sub-
divi Acl;illes, ..
in the logic of 'spurious infinity' is total-
the r;;;dy
. f;r th;-: body, the
does not 'include himself out' but, on the contrary,
:is
in the ';';;p"'QElle'end,
less division.
5 Victims, Victims Everywhere
Postmodern deconstructionists would probably reject such a
direct reference to the Real of the 'logic of Capital' as too' essen-
tialist', as not taking into account the radical openness and
contingency of the struggle for hegemony. So what do we mean
by it'! Take the example of South Africa: of course, the end of
apartheid was not directly conditioned by the objective 'logic of
Capital', by Capital's universalism which tends to subvert and
transgress all natural boundaries - it resulted from the heroic
struggle of thousands of nameless freedom fighters. Nevertheless,
as the current difIiculties of the ANC government demoustrate,
the end of apartheid confronted the black majority with their
true dilemma: should they risk actually disturbing the free func-
tioning of Capital in order to undo the effects of apartheid? Or
should they make a pact with the Devil, and -like Clinton in the
USA or New Labour in the UK - accept the basic depoliticiza-
tion of the econnmy, and limit themselves to the strnggle for
54
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
cultural, ethnic, sexual, etc., rights? The struggle for hegemony
within ,it
tharee
of Capital.'·' - - ...-'--
story of 1998 was that of a secret inter-
national agreement called MAl (the Multilateral Agreement on
Investment). The primary goal of MAl will be to protect the
foreign interests of multinational companies. The agreement will
basically undermine national sovereignty by assigning to these
corporations powers almost equal to those of the countries in
which they are located. Governments will no longer be able to
treat their domestic firms more favourably than foreign firms.
Furthermore, countries that do not relax their environmental,
land-use, and health and labour regulations to meet the demands
of foreign firms may be accused of acting illegally. Corporations
will be able to sue sovereign states if they impose overstringent
ecological or other standards - under NAFTA (the main model
for MAl), Ethyl Corporation is already suiug Canada for ban-
ning the use of its gasoline additive MIVIT. The greatest threat, of
course, is to the developing nations, which will be pressured into
depleting their natural resources for commercial exploitation.
Reuato Ruggerio, director of the World Trade Organization, the
sponsor of MAl, is already hailing this project - elaborated and
discussed in a clandestine manner, with almost no public consul-
tation and media attention - as the 'constitution for a new global
economy'.,'J4
Just as for Marx, market relations provided the true founda-
tion for the notion of iudividual freedoms and rights, this is the
obverse of the much-praised new global morality celebrated even
by some neoliberal philosophers as signalling the beginning of an
55
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
era in ·which the international community ·will be able to enforce
a minimal code preventing sovereign states frorn engaging in
crimes against humanity even within their own territory. In a
recent essay, significantly entitled (Kosovo and the End of the
Nation-State', Vaclav -Havel tries to bring home the message that
the NATO bombing o['Yugoslavia:
places human rights above the rights of the state. The
Federal Republic o['Yugoslavia was attacked by the alliance
without a direct mandate from the UN. This did not happen
irresponsibly, as an act of aggression or out of disrespect for
international law. It happened, on the eontrary, out of
respect for the law, for a law that ranks higher than the law
which protects the sovereignty of states. The allianee has
acted out of respect: for human rights, as both conscience and
international legal documents dictate. 35
Havel further speeifies this 'higher law' when he claims that
'human rights, human fi'eedoms, and human dignity have their
deepest roots somewhere outside the perceptible world ... while
the state is a human creation, human beings are the creation of
God'.36 If we read Havel's two statements as the two premisses of
a judgement, the logical conclusion is none other than that
NATO forces 'were allowed to violate existing international law,
since the,y acted as a direct instrument of the 'higher law' of God
Himself if this is not a dear-cut case of 'religious fundaluental-
ism', then this term is devoid of any minimally consistent
nleanmg.
Havel's statement is thus the strongest assertion of what
Ulrich Beck, in an article in Die Suddeutscbe Zeitung in April 1999,
56
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
called 'militaristic humanism' or even 'militaristic pacifism'. The
problem with this term is not that it is
..
E::;g,bty-Fo;;; belies the truth of'its posi-
this obvious pacifist-liberal criticism, 1 rather think
that killing never
'ihatol1Cshoiildhei'i,i<:'alIy
Tiih';1:,
are of

... ..

purely humanitarian-ethical legitimization (again) thoroughly


..
.. __ not
in but in .. .. ..
is presented as help to the
j()stified d;reetl,y in
rIghts. Consequently, wha.t we
need is nota 'true'(deIililitarizecl) hl!manism/pacil'ism, but it'mil-
itaristic' social intervention divested of' its

A report Steven Erlanger on the suffering of the Kosovo
Albanians in Tbe New York Times
37
perfectly encapsulates this logic
of'victimization. Its title is revealing: 'In One K080VO Woman, an
Emblem of SufFering'; the subject to be protected (b,y NATO
intervention) is identified from the outset as a powerless victim of
circumstances, deprived of all political identity, reduced to stark
57
SLAVOJ ZL1EK
suffering. __
matic experience that blurs all too l11uch,
... . ,-', .... -,."._---------_... ----,-
l\t1eli wants a rest. She wants it to be over.' As such, she
is __ .. .. IS
not on .. her .. __ __ over: II)oes she
favar an independent Kosovo? "You knovv, I don't care if it's
this or that," Meli said. "I just want all this to end, and to feel
good again, to feel good in my place and my house with my
friends and inter-
v.ention is gr:olIIld.ediIl her',Visp f9L<Illtpis_p"r:r:''.r:.!() beover: 'She
',', , .. "_-_'__ '._--"'_-------' ,-", " - ...... ..'- '-_._'-•..... __.__._-_._,._-----
__ .. __
behind are.'
Consequently, she sympathizes with all sides in an all-embracing
says.
and I
feel sorry For my own people. But maybe now there will be a eon-
clusion, a settlement for good, That would be great.'" Here we
__ of the subject..victimin
aid of whom NATO with a
·sympathizing

of ;local the intervention of a
is
....
The ultilIlate the NATO bombing;;[Yugoslavia
-was thus not the one about which Western pacifists cOIllplained
(by bombing Yugoslavia in order to prevent ethnic cleansing of
Kosovo, NATO in effect triggered large-scale cleansing, and thus
created the very humanitarian catastrophe it wanted to prevent),
but a deeper paradox involved in the ideology of victimization:
58
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
the key aspect to note was NATO's privileging of the now-
discredited 'moderate' Kosovar faction of Ibrahim Rugo
va
against the 'radical' Kosovo Liberation Army. This means that
NATO was_ arm.ed. ,;.esistance of the
moment this option was mentiol{ed,
fears started to circulate: the KLA is not really an army, just a
bunch 01' untrained fighters; we should not trust the KLA, sinee
it is involved in drug-trafficking and/or is a J\tlaoist group whose
victory would lead to a Khmer Ronge or Taleban regime in
Kosovo....) After the agreement on the Serb Army's withdrawal
from Kosovo, this distrust of the KLA resurFaced with a
veng·eance: the topic of the day was again the' danger' that, after
the Serb Army's withdraw<Il, the KLA would - as the NATO
sources and the media liked to pnt it - 'filllhe vacuum' and take
over. The message 01' this distrust could not have been clearer: it's
OK to help the helpless Albanians against the Serbian monsters,
but in no way are they to be allowed aetually to cast offthis help-
lessness by asserting themselves as a sovereign and self-reliant
political subject, a subjeet with no need for the benevolent
umbrella of the NATO 'protectorate'....
In short, while NATO was intervening in order to protect the
Kosovar

with a passive populatioll,notan acti,::epolitico-military force
car;-abI';-;{ The NATO· strategy was thus perverse
the Freudian' sense of the term: it was itself (co-)respon-
sible for against

the family house on fIre in order to be able to prove her devotion
to the family by bravely saving the ehildren from the raging
59
SLAVO) ZllEK
flames ...). thq:''':Ea99x of vie-
timi.zati()n: the Other to be protected is good in 50far as it remains a
is why
Kosovar mothers, children and old people, telling moving stories
of their suffering); the moment it no longer behaves like a victim,
butwar:ts .. to a
Other....
__ ... ..•_..--_. __._.._._... -
The crucial point is thus to recognize clearly in this ideology of
• sllbject
that fits
todalSt;lobaJcapitalism. This ideology of victimization is the
..
and for that reason all the more ..theJ'(,ea!(JfGapital
.. ,,- __.__ ._-_._ _._ -,._'"•. " _=..»,',."." .. •._ ..
exerts its rule.
,,,,"..
On the other hand, the properly uncanny appeal of negative
gestures like the spectacular retreat of the German super-minis-
ter Oskar Lafontaine in some leftist circles also bears witness to
the same refusal to confront the Real of today's capitalism: the
very fact that he stepped down without giving reasons for his
action, combined with his demonization in the mass media (from
the front-page headline in The Sun - 'The most dangerous man in
Europe' - to the photo of him in Eild, showing him in profile, as
in a police photo after arrest), made him an ideal projection
screen for all the fantasies of the frustrated Left which rejects the
predominant Third Way politics. If Lafontaine were to stay, he
"fould save the essentials of the welfare state, restore the proper
role of the trade unions, reassert control over the 'autonomous'
financial politics of the state banks, eveu prevent the NATO
bombing of Yugoslavia.... While such an elevation of
Lafontaine into a cult figure has its positive side (it articulates the
60
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
utopian desire for an authentic Left that would break the hege-
monic Third Way stance of accepting the unquestioned reign of
the logic of Capital), suspicions should none the less be raised
that there is something false about it: to put it in very simple
terms, if Lafontaine were actually in a position to accomplish at
least some of these goals, he would quite simPlY not step down, but
go on with his job. The cult of Lafontaine is thus possible only as
a negative gesture: it was his stepping down that created the void in
which utopian leftist energies could be invested, relying on the
illusion that if external circumstances (Schroder's opportunism,
etc.) were not preventing Lafontaine from doing his job, he
would actually accomplish something. The true problem, how-
ever, is: what would have happened ifLafontaine had not beenforced to step
down? The sad but most probable answer is: either nothing of real
substance (i.e. he would have been gradually 'gentrified', co-
opted into the predominant Third Way politics, as had already
happened with Lionel Jospin in France), or his interventions
would have triggered a global economico-political crisis forcing
him, again, to step down, and discrediting Social Democracy as
unable to govern.
38
The deadlock of globalization is felt most strongly in countries
like Russia, which, as it were, got the worst of both worlds:
Commnnist 'totalitarianism' as well as capitalist liberalism. Back
in the 1940s, Theodor Adorno pointed out how, in the late capi-
talist 'administered world', the classical Freudian notion of the
ego as the mediating agency betvveen the two extremes, the inner
drives of the id and the external social constraints of the super-
ego, is no longer operative: what w.=.. encounter in today's

;;;;:J--id at the expense of the ego. The basic lesson of the
61
SlAVOJ ZIZEK
so-called 'totalitarianislns' is that the social powers represented in
superego pressure directly lllanipulate the subject's obscene
drives. bypassing the autonomous rational agency of the ego.
Along the same lines, it is misleading to read today's Russian sit-
uation as one in which a proper balance must be struck between
the two extremes: the Communist legaqy of social solidarity, and
the cruel game of open-market competition: the key feature of the
Russian post-Communist situation is a direct pact (coincidence,
even) hetween the darkest remainders of the past (secret KGB
funds) and the most ruthless of the new capitalists - the emblem-
atic figure of today's Russia is an ex-KGB apparatchik turned
private banker with shady underground connections....
According to the media, when - at a recent meeting of the
leaders of the great Western powers, dedicated to the politico-
ideological notion of the 'Third Way' - the Italian Prime Minister
Massimo d'Alema said that one should not be afraid of the word
'socialism', Clinton - and, following him, Bbir and Schroder -
could not restrain themselves, and openly burst out laughing.
This anecdote tells Us a lot about the problematic character of
today's talk about the Third Way. Crucial here is the curious
enigma of the second way: where is the secondway today? That is
to say: did not the notion of the Third Way emerge at the very
moment when - at least in the developed West - all other alter-
natives, from true conservativism to radical Social l)emocracy,
lost out in the face of the triumphant onslaught of global capital-
ism and its notion of liberal democracy? Is not the true message
of the notion of the Third Way tberefore no
that, in a
this
much-praised'Third Way' brings us back to the first and only
• w" "".,.. __ ,_' ••__ '_ ""__ '_ "._.."" __ __,, •__ •• __"'.• __. _,_ .. .. __ ",,,,
62
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
way _ the Third Wayissirnplyglobalcapitalis"!'VJ
ith
a humanface,
that ;;inirnize. of the global
undisturbed.'
.. ",." ,.,,"_,,_ _"'_'"_, .. , .._".. o,.,._,.,·.-,·.· ..,-•.•",'. -------.. ---- --- ----.--.. - "'--- .. -- .- --- -"," ,.-- ----- .
6 The Fantasmatic Real
Is, however, this fantasmatic spectrality - as opposed to social
reality _ actually identical to the (Lacanian) Real? Eric Santner's
discussion of the Freudian Ggure of Moses provides an excellent
description of the way spectrality operates in ideology:39 what is
in fact traumatic about this figure - about the Jewish break with
the pagan pre-monotheistic cosnlo-religion of One Nature in
which a multitude of deities can coexist - is not simply the
lllonotheistic repression of pagan enjoyment (sacred orgies,
images ...), but the excessively violent nature of the very gesture
of repressing the pagan universe and imposing the universal rule
of the One of Law. In other words, the 'repressed' of Jewish
monotheism is not the wealth of pagan sacred orgies and deities
but the disavowed excessive nature of its own fundamental ges-
ture: that is _ to use the standard terms - the crime that Founds
the rule of the Law itself: the violent gesture that brings abont a
regime which retroactively makes this gesture itself illegal/crim-
inal. Santner refers here to the well-known paradox of 'there are
no cannibals in our tribe, w.e ate the last one yesterday',
ing Moses as the exemplary llgure of such a last
abolishing the condition of cannibalism (and, in contrast, the
figure of ,Jesus as the last meal, the last victim to be slaughtered
and eaten _ following Rene Girard, who has conceived Christ's
crucifixion as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices).4o
63
t
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
Consequently, one should distinguish between symbolic history
(the set of explicit mythical narratives and ideologico-ethical pre-
scriptions that constitute the tradition of a community - what
Hegel would have called its 'ethical substance') and its obscene
Other, tbe unacknowledgeable spectral:jimtasmatic history that effec-
tively sustains the explicit symbolic tradition, but has to remain
foreclosed if'it is to be operative. VVhat Freud endeavours to
reconstitute in Moses and Monotheism
41
(the story of the murder of
Moses, etc.) is such a spectral history that haunts the space of
Jewish religious tradition.
lation which immediately recalls Lacan's definition of the Real
"'"
histoI]! tells the of a traumatic event that 'continues not to
take cannot be inscribed
__ about by, its interventi.on - as Lacan
de ne
doesn'tstop [()r ceas,,]not b"ing",ritten [not to inscribe itself] '43
it continues to
persist; that is, its spectral presence continues to haunt the living).
One becomes a Full member of a community not simply by
",hen one also
that sustains this tradition: the
undeadgh()sts that haunt theliving, the secret history of trau-
lines', through its lacks
tradition, there is a
narrating to a young pupil the legend of a
prophet to whom a Divine vision appeared; when the youngster
eagerly asks him: 'Is this true? Did it really happen?', the rabbi
answers: 'It probably didn't really happen, but it is true.'44 In the
same way, the murder of the primordial father and other
64
THE FRAGILE ABSOtUTE
Freudian myths are in a way more real than reality: they are 'true',
although, of course, they' didn't really take place' - their spectral
presence sustains the explicit symbolic tradition. Referring to
Ian Hacking's recent work,45 Santner draws a fine line of sepa-
ration from the standard notion of the change in the narrative
network which allows us to tell the coherent story of our past:
·when one changes frolll one narrative register to another that in
a way allows us to 'rewrite the past', the emergence of the new
'descriptive vocabulary' has to foreclose/repress the traumatic
excess of its own violent imposition, the 'vanishing mediator'
between the old discursive regime and the new; and this 'vanish-
ing mediator', precisely in so far as it remains non-integrated,
excluded, continues to haunt 'actual' history as its spectral Other
Scene. This foreclosed ('primordially repressed') myth that
grounds the rule of logos is thus not simply a past event but a per-
manent spectral presence, an undead ghost that has to persist all
the time if the present symbolic frame is to remain operative.
One should not confound this' primordially repressed' myth
(this 'fundamental fantasy,) with the multitude of inconsistent
daydreams that always accompany our symbolic commitments,
allowing us to endure them. Let us recall the example of a
('straight') sexual relationship. The success of Peter I-loeg's The
Woman and the Ape indicates that sex with an animal is today's
predominant form 01' the fantasy of full sexual relationship, and
it is crucial that this animal is as a rule male: in contrast to
cyborg-sex fantasy, in which the cyborg is, as a rule, a woman
(Blade Runner) - that is, in which the fantasy is that of Woman-
Machine - the animal is a male ape copulating with a human
woman, and fully satisfying her. Does this not materialize two
standard common daydreams: that of a woman who wants a
65
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
strong animal partner, a potent 'beast', not a hysterical impotent
weakling; and that of a man who wants his female partner to be
a perfectly programmed 'doll' who lulfils all his wishes, not a
living being? What we shonld do in order to penetrate the under-
lying 'lundamental fantasy' is to stage these two fantasies
together: to confront ourselves with the unbearable ideal couple ifa
male ape copulating with afemale cyborg, the fantasmatic support of the
'normal' couple of man and woman copulating. The need for
this redonbling, the need for this fantasmatic supplement to
accompany the 'straight' sexual act as a spectral shadow, is yet
another proof that 'there is no sexual relationship'.
Do we not find somethiug quite similar in the superb final
scene of My Best Friends Wedding, when, at the wedding of
Cameron Diaz, .Julia Roberts (her 'best friend' who, throughout
the lihn, has been trying to abort this wedding in order to win the
bridegroom, her ex-boyfriend, back), resigned to the loss of her
ex-partner, accepts the proposal of Rupert Everett, her close gay
friend, and performs a passionate dance act vvith him in front of
all the wedding guests: they are the true couple, to be opposed to
the' official' real couple of Cameron Diaz and her bridegroom,
engaged in a full 'straight' sexual relationship. Vfhat is 2I:"ccial
here is that .Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett, in contrast to this
a
ill
it is precisely as such that their performance is in a way more real
.•• ln
'§h;;;t, thisd";:'ce is ;""hat the
"-' ... ,""",-,--,-,"""",,-"'" '"',_._-',-"' " ' - "", "",," ' ,--" ',,' --",,-.. -----.., ",,',------ ," .. "", ,,-
two of them ...their act is the
fa"tasy, theirnl.'()§§ible .llt()pia".. of 'perfect
th<lUhe.Qthec'.'!ctual'.. couple will ueYeLQe t.o come
66
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
close to.... So, again, the gestnre of Roberts and Everett is
the impossible fantasy whose spectre accompanies
and redoubles the 'true' couple engaged in 'actual' sex - and the
paradox is that they can do it precisely in so far as they
••
__
,;;;;:;:d: . .. .-.
The lesson of all this is that, in the opposition between fantasy
and reality, the Real is on the side of fantasy. Nowhere is this
clearer than in the standard Hollywood procedure, under the
pressure of the Hayes Code censorship rules, of retroactively
transposing the main narrative into a nightmarish dream, so that
at the end of the film, when the catastrophe is at its peak,
we return to 'normal' everyday reality. To avoid the standard
examples (from Robert Wiene's Dr. Caligari to Fritz Lang's Woman
in the Window), let us turn to Robert Siodmak's The StrangeAffairof
Uncle Harry (1945): in the onlineAII-Movie Guide, this film is qual-
ified as 'OK for Children' but the 'keywords' used to characterize
its plot are 'incest, kill, romance, schemer, sister' - an excellent
example of how the 'innocent' reading can coexist with much
more unsettling undertones.
Even more than Woman in the Window, Uncle Harry plays on the
paradoxes of desire and its realization. John Quincy, an unmar-
ried middle-aged fabric designer (played, in a superb case of
anti-casting, by the sinister George Sanders) lives a dull life with
his two domineering unmarried sisters, the older Hester and the
younger Lettie, who look after him in their family manor in New
Hampshire. He meets Deborah Brown, a visiting fashion expert
from New York City; soon their friendship becomes love, and he
asks her to marry him. When Deborah meets John's family, and
67
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
the sisters are informed of their plan to marry, Hester is happy
for her brother, while Lettie is violently jealous and feigns a heart
attack. Frustrated and angry at Lettie's attempt to spoil his hap-
piness, John plans to murder her by poisoning her regular drink:
through a mistake, however, it is I-Iester who drinks the cup
intended for Lettie, and dies. Although she is aware that the
poison was for her, Lettie assumes the guilt and is condemned to
death for her sister's murder - although John publicly protests
that he did the poisoning, she refuses to corroborate his self-
incrimination, because she knows that her death will prevent
him from marrying Deborah. She tells him: 'I'll give you what
you always wanted, your freedmu from me 1', aware that in this
way she will make him indebted to her for ever, since he will owe
his freedom to her - by taking the guilt upon herself, and letting
him live, she changes the rest of his life into the vegetation of a
living dead. In short, Lettie takes his desire (to kill her) upon
herself, and thus frustrates him by fulfilling it. At the very end of
the film, John wakes up and discovers that the entire cata-
strophic situation of his poisoning his sister has been his dream:
what awakens him is the returning Deborah, and he merrily
elopes with her to New York, leaviug his two sisters behind.
The paradox, of course, is that this very fictionalization of the
murder, to molhfy the censors, introduces an additional element
of pathology - the film's final lesson is that 'the most disturbed
psyche in the film may actually have been that of the protago-
nist':46 does not the fact that instead of simply confronting his
sister like a mature adult, he dreams of an elaborate poisoning
scheme, reveal his 'profound guilt over his sexual attraction to
her"1
47
The retroactive fictionalization engages the subject who
generated this fiction much more fundamentally than if he were
68
·1.
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
really to poison his sister: if we were dealing with a 'real-life'
mu rder case, John would ultimately have been the victim of
some externally imposed situation (of the unfortunate fact of
having a domineering and possessive sister) - that is, it would
have been possible for him (and us, spectators) to put the blame
on circumstances; while the J:lctionalization of the ulurder
attempt anchors the narrative events lunch more strongly in
John's own libidinal tendencies. In other words, is not the under-
lying premiss of this fictionalization that John himself sustains
the privileged intimate relationship with Lettie - that Lettie's
dominant role satisfies John's own libidinal needs, and tbat his
aggressive acting-out (his attempt to murder her) is also directed
at the Real of his own unacknowledged 'passionate attach-
ment'?48 Did he not dream about his murderous act in order to
avoid the 'happy' prospect, rejected by his unconscious, of aban-
doning the incestuous link with Lettie and marrying Deborah?
When, at the end, he wakes up, he does so in order to escape the
horrible prospect of the realization of his desire in all its funda-
meutal ambiguity, since this realization implies that the
fundamental 'passionate attachment' that structured his life is
undone ... (he gets rid of the obstacle, and is simultaneously
even more indebted to his sister).
7 Why is the Truth Monstrous?
So what the ghosts as
on account of their very


69
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
......
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
haunt us as a spectral entity that cannot be fully 'accounted for',
__ __ all
"it on the level of historical facts. Here, however, are we
;'''t;'onf,;;;"gt;;;() that
IS" rse: the
definitely 'did
notreal\y h"ppe;;;- primordial
did..·. happen,
.. -' _ ', , ""'0" ,q,',,, p_ ''''',",'_,._, "'", .".,.,_ _0"' __ ''"' ,,,_•• _.·.·,_,_' ,',."",,,,'.'.. ''' __ __'''' '_'_'''_' __''' __'_"' __ '''''''''' .. ..
but was too traumatic to be integrated into historical memory
(like the so we cannot as rieutral.
'ohjective' observers, and accept it as part of our (past) reality-
is its status is
f'antasmatic, but because of its excess of reality? So it is
between the
•• the
comes,

to deceive the subject by providing the
.. ... ... . ...
With one can precisely define the mysti-
fication of the theosophical mythopoeic narrative which claims to
recount the genesis of the cosmos (of fully constituted reality,
ruled hy logos) out of proto-cosmic pre-ontological chaos. Such
attempts obfuscate the point that the repressed spectral 'virtual
history' is not the 'truth' of the oHicial public history, but the fan-
tasy which fills in the void of the act that brought history about.
On the level of family life, this distinction is palpable in so-
called False !vlemory Syndrome: the 'memories' unearthed
(heing seduced/abused hy the father), the repressed stories that
haunt the imagination of the living, are precise\}' sueh 'primordial
70
lies'destined to forestall the encounter with the ultimate rock of
impossihility, the fact that 'there is no sexual relationship'. And
the same goes, on the level of social life, for the notion of the
primordial Crime that grounds the legal Order: the secret narra-
tive that tells its story is purely fantasmatic. In philosophy proper,
this fantasmatic mystification is at the very core of Schelling's
Weltalter project.
49
What Schelling endeavoured to accomplish in Weltalteris pre-
cisely such a mythopoeic fantasmatic narrative that would
account for the emergence of logos itself out of the pre-Iogical
proto-cosmic Real; however, at the very end of each of the three
snccessive drafts of Weltalter - that is to say, at the very point at
which the passage from mythos to logos, from the Real to the
Symbolic, should have been deployed - Schelling was compelled
to posit an uncanny act of Ent-Scheidung, an act that was in a way
more primordial than the Real of the 'eternal Past' itself. So the
repeated failure of his three successive Weltalter drafts indicates
precisely Schelling's honesty as a thinker: the fact that he was
radical enough to acknowledge the impossibility of grounding the
act/decision in the proto-cnsmic myth. The line of separation
beivveen materialism and obscurantist idealism in Schelling thus
concerns precisely the relationship between act and proto-
cosmos: idealist ohscurantism deduces/generates the act from
proto-cosmos, while materialism asserts the primacy of the act,
and denounces the fantasmatic character of the proto-cosmic
narrative.
That is to say: apropos of Schelling's claim that man's con-
sciousness arises froln the primordial act which separates
present-actual consciousness trom the spectral, shadowy realm of
the Unconscious, one has to ask a seemingly naive, but crucial
71
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
question: what, precisely, is the Unconscious here? Schelling's
answer is unequivocal: the 'Unconscious' is not primarily the
rotary motion of drives ejected into the eternal past; the
'Unconscious'is, rather, the very act of Ent-Scheidung by means of
which drives were ejected into the past. Or - to put it in slightly
different terms -
immediate opposite
__ of
... of decision means of which I 'choose
mv!,:p.lf', that is, combine this of drives into the unity of
my . drives
t(;bc·u-;<ed by activity of the conscious ego;
C,".n'.'. .__ .. ·.'"'_··_,·_,.·_·,·,.. _.. ,·..."."',,',"""'''''.-'-''.'''''"_'''''' ..
the Unconscious' in its Inost radical dimension·
.... __ .....' .... ' ... __ .. ,. ?r.. ., __ tialist'
terms'::'ihe dioice of my ... . ",hich,in order to
unconscious, out of
to qu"tefroJ1lth;admirable of the
second draft a' .... .. ... ..
The deed, once accomplished, sinks immediately into the

It is the same with the will which, once posited at the begin.
-" "_·."' v_·_.. _. .. .. __ .. _._ _ .•, ..•"'=.".. __._."._ __.. ,..,,,,,,,., __ ."_.', ,
nin12 aud led into the outside, to.. sink into
tf,; b';ginninl>' the
• ..
or. the begin-
n':'I>..
d.':'O'e. Th,,_de.sisi2!!.tll,:,.!..is.in any way the true beginning
s.lllJll1
d
be
would amount to its
72
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
recall. tIe :vho,apJCoP?s ofade6sion, reserves for himself
it
50·· ... .
What we encounter here is, of course, the logic of the 'vanishing
mediator': of the founding gesture of differentiation which must
sink into invisibility once the differeuce between the 'irrational'
vortex of drives and the universe of logos is in place. Schelling's
fundamental move is thus not simply to ground the ontologically
structured universe of logos in the horrible vortex of the Real; if
we read him carefully, there is a premonition in his work that this
terriJYing vortex of the pre-ontological Real itself is
us only in the guise of) a fantasmatic narrative, a lure
distract us from the true traumatic cut, that of the abyssal act of
Ent-Scheidullg. And today this lesson is more relevant than ever:
when we are confronted with an image of that deep horror which
underlies our well-ordered surface, we should never forget that
the images of this horrible vortex are ultimately a lure, a trap to
make us forget where the true horror lies.
Let us clariJY this crucial point with a perhaps unexpected
example of two recent films, Roberto Benigui's Lift is Beautiful and
Thomas Vinterberg's Celebration. In Benigni, we have a lather
who aSSUIues an almost maternal protective role, a father who
relies on pure appearance, weaving for his son a protective web
of fictions, a kind 01' ersatz-placeho; while Vinterberg presents
the paternal figure as the monstrous rapist of his children - here,
the obscene father, lar fI·om protecting the children from trauma,
is the very cause of the trauma, the brutaljouisseur. ... It is crucial
here to avoid the trap of conceiving these two opposed poles
(Benigni's protective fatber and Vinterberg's obscene father)
73
t
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
along the axis of appearance versus reality: as if the opposition is
that of pure appearance (the protective maternal father) versus
the Real of the violent rapist that becomes visible once we tear
down the false appearance. Celebration tells us a lot about how
today, with False Memory Syndrome (of being abused by one's
parents), the spectral figure of the Freudian Urvater, sexually
possessing everyone around him, is resuscitated - it tells us a lot
precisely on account of its artificial and fake character. That is to
say: a simple sensitive look at Celebration tells us that there is
something wrong and faked about all this pseudo. Freudian stuff
about autl;rgrity', revealing its
obscene underside: __ and is
false; it functions more and more as an expression of nostalgia for
'the go6dold ""hich it really to experi.
ence . Why?
opposltl()nbetween the appearance (of a benevolent, protective
father) and the cruel reality (of the brutal rapist) that becomes
visible once w!' colltrary, it is
...
tbis horribl" secret ora brutal father behind the polite mask

The recent impasse around Binjamin Wilkomirski's
Fragments
51
points in the same direction: what everyone assumed
to be the blurred but authentic memories of the author who, as a
three. to four.year.old child, was imprisoned in Majdanek,
turned out to be a literary fiction invented by the author. Apart
frmn the standard question of literary tuanipulation, are we
aware how widely this 'fake' revealing of the fantasmatic invest·
ment and jouissance is operative in even the most painful and
extreme conditions? That is to say, the enigma is as follows: usu-
ally, we generate fantasies as a kind of shield to protect us from
74
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
the unbearable trauma; here, however, the very ultimate trau-
matic experience, that of the Holocaust, is fantasized as a shield -
from what? Such monstrous apparitions are 'returns in the Real'
of the failed symbolic authority: the reverse of the decline of
paternal authority, of the father as the embodiment of the sym·
bolic Law, is the emergence of the rapist, enjoying father of False
Memory Syndrome. This figure of tbe obscene rapist father, far
from being the Real b';;-ne-a1:11tJler'especl'able"apj5eafartce, is,
;;;-a,e;;-ltseItaTantasy.:formation;a"prbtectiveshield -against
"riot,
its horrifying the ultimate that some-
there enj"?ytl}etliiiS:?
i';-'the lack of enj oyment itself? )
'What (Benigni's and Vinterberg's) have in
common is that they both suspend the agency of the symbolic
Law/Prohibition - the paternal agency whose function is to intro-
duce the child into the universe of social reality, with its harsh
demands, to which the child is exposed without any maternal
protective shield: Benigni's father offers the imaginary shield

Vinterberg's copsir
ai
ll
ts
ifthe
""These two
l.<>.c.\!nia!1o,IlPositionhetween !!nag\nary
aJ'ld Benigni's ofimaginary safety against
the br,{tality the R;al =-;hat is missing is
s,;;;,;\;oli;:";;lltho;ity,'theN;;;;;e:of:the.
Father, the
su tllusinto"the domaIn
fatI,;;,.,;;" imagii,ary'alld rea!, are what is left
0'_,_', " ',_c""',"" ..• ,_ .. .,' uo_. __• ._'' ._._... __... , ...-
disintegIates.
75
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
So what happens to the fnnctioning of the symbolic order
when the sYlnbolic I..Iaw loses its efficiency, when it no longer
functions properly? What we get,:re su"bjects:"::h" '_'Ee strangely
derealized_ r,:ther, with
robotic __ a__ like
the way they are shooting soap operas in lVlexico: because of the
extremely tight (the studio hasto - -- half-hour
instalment ()f day), actors do not have time to
"learn'their

reads instructions (what are to say, what
acts they are to - actors are trained to enact these
instructions immediately, with no delay....
Another example from war can help us to clarify this point
lurther. The ultimate lesson of the latest American military inter-
ventions, especially Operation Desert Fox against Iraq at the
end of 1998, is that such operations signal a new era in military
history - battles in which the attacking force operates under the
constraint that it can sustain no casualties. (The same point is
repeated in every US discussion about military intervention
abroad, from Somalia to ex-Yugoslavia - one expects a guaran-
tee that there will be no easualties.) This tendency to erase death
the
standard notion that war is rendered less traumatie if it is no
'.>0. __, ,., .." ,._••.,,__ •.. .. _. _,_ _ _" , "",.
longer experienced by the soldiers (or presented) as an actual
-h;;t an
the
of miles

While such a procedure makes the soldier less guilty, it is open
_... ..
76
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
to question if it actually causes less anxiety - this is one way to
explitintlie"sffiinge-factfnafsoldiersoffen"faritasiieaoOtit-killing
..

they even
often 'remenlber' such encounters when they never in fact took
place). ofelevating suchface-to-
face encounters as an authentic war (see the vvritings
of Ernst Junger, who praised them in his Inemoirs of the trench
attacks in World War I). So what if the truly traumatic feature is
not the awareness that I be
o
but, this very
it
.w" .. '· ·.. ",,-- , '.- , -' ' -- ,'" ,.. ,. ," '--,.. .. -- ,
by fantasies of' authentic personal encounters with the enemy? It


of the it is
this fan __ killed
blooclily that we coustruct in order to escape the Real of the


So our thesis should be clear now: the cruel reality of' war
relates to the notion of the virtualized war with no casualties in
precisely the same way as Festen relates to Benigni's Life is
Beautijid: in both cases, we are not dealing with the symbolic fic-
tion (of virtual bloodless warfare, of protective narrative)
concealing the Real of' a senseless bloodbath or sexual
violence - in both cases it is, rather, this violence itself which
already serves as a
.."------
77
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
of the fundamental lessons of psychoanalysis: the images of utter
a
000 0 - the Real, In sex as well as in politics, we
in catastrophic scenarios in order to avoid the actual
deadlocko In short, the true horror is not the rapist Urvater
against whom the benevolent maternal father protects us with his
fantasy shield, but the benign maternal father himself - the truly
suffocating and psychosis-generating experience for the child
would have been to have a father like Benigni, who, with his pro-
tective care, erases all traces of excessive surplus-enjoyment. It is
as a desperate defence measure against this father that one
fantasizes about the rapist father,
And what if this is also the ultimate lesson of Schelling: that the
horror of the ultimate Grund, this monstrous apparition with hun-
dreds of hands, this vortex that threatens to swallow everything,
is a lure, a defence against the ahyss of the pure act? Another way
to approach this same ambiguity and tension in the relationship
between fantasy and the Real would be via Heidegger's theme of
errancy/untruth as the innennost feature of the event of truth
itself The very opening paragrapb of John Sallis's remarkable
essay on the monstrosity of truth tackles this difficult point
directly:
What if truth were monstrous? What if it were monstrosity
•lUon-
-eve;:ythiI1gdefor
IIl
ed? But,. first .. all, itself
essentiaIlydelormed, in its very What if
there were the something
oth,er __ __ a divergence nature within
---.--
78
THE fHAGltE ABSOLUTE
Before jumping to hasty pseudo-Nietzschean conclusions, let us
ponder briefly on what these statements are getting at. S<lI1is's
point is not the pseudo-Nietzschean 'deconstructionist' notion


of
our lifCoenergyo For
as a Heideggerian, Nietzsche, with his famous notion of
truth as 'the kind of error without which a certain kind of living
being could not live',53 remains within the metaphysical opposi-
tion between truth and its other (fiction, error, lie), merely
accomplishing the anti-Platonic inversion of the relationship
between truth and illusion, praising the life-enhancing potential
of fictionso Sallis, rather, follows to the end Heidegger's move
from truth as adequatio to truth as disclosedness: prior to truth as
ade'l';!,'!.!.i.o, (either adequatio of our statements to
really are' - 'There is ascreen in Front of me' is true only iEthere
... __ things
themselves to their essence - 'This is a true hero' if he or she in
fact acts as befits the of the hero), the thing itself must be
disclosed to us as what it iso 'Truth' is the
'clearing', where things appear to us
within a certain horizon of meaning - that is, as part of a certain
epochal 'world'. Truth is neither 'subjective' nor {objective': it

forth i,.,their
of
the disclosure of being is not grounded in any transcendental
ultimate Foundation (divine Will, evolutionary laws of the nni·
verse ...) - it is in its innermost being an 'event', something that
79
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
epochally occurs, takes place, is
now: how does this notion of truth involve an untruth (conceal-
'essential
-'How are we to
of the metaphysical
modi of the untruth qua negative/privative version of truth (lie,
illnsion, fiction, , ,) and, as such, already dependent on truth?
When Heidegger speaks of the untruth as inherent to the truth-
event itself, he has two different levels in mind:
• On the one hand, the way man, when he is engaged in inner-
worldly afIairs, forgets the horizon of meaning within which
he dwells, and even forgets this forgetting itself (exemplary
here is the 'regression' of Greek thought that occurs with the
rise of the Sophists: what was a confrontation with the very
foundation of our Being turns into a trifling play with differ-
ent lines of argumentation, with no inherent relation to truth).
• On the other hand, the way this horizon of meaning itself, in
so far as it is an epochal Event, arises against the background
of - and thereby conceals - the imponderable Mystery of its
emergence, just as a clearing in the Dlidst of a forest is sur-
rounded by the dark thickness of the woods,
Leaving aside the difficult question nf how these two levels are
co-dependent, let us focus on the second, more fundamental
level: is it enough to perceive the Untruth in the heart of Truth as
the imponderable background against which every epochal
truth-event occurs? It seems that even the parallel with Lacan (in
so far as we admit it as legitimate) would justif,y this conclusion:
for Lacan also, in order to lie our speech has already in
80
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
advance to refer to the big Other qua the guarantee of Truth -

to ftign, he can lie in the guise iftruth itself,' like the Jew from the
famous anecdote quoted by Freud ('Why are you telling me
you're going to Lemberg, when you are really going to
Lemberg?')54 So, for this
sense derivative of thedimension of truth would be simply the
as"the
unsurl'assalole__ universe, , , . It
William Richardson who - from his unique knowledge of
Heidegger and Lacan, and in a direct response to Sallis's essay-
drew this conclusion when he said: 'When I hear Heidegger talk
about lethe as "older" than the essence of truth, I hear what Lacan
means by the real. /55
Here, however, one has to venture a further step, the step
whose necessity is indicated hy Heidegger himself when, in the
elaboration of this notion of an untruth older than the very dimen-
sion of truth, he emphasizes how man's 'stepping into the essential
unfolding of truth! is a 'transfonnation of the being of man in the
sense of a derangement [Ver-ruckung] of his position among beings'.56
The cour:se, a
psychol:;g.icXor clinical category: it indicates a mucllmore radi-
;.:,iverse
,a,_ __ off
its
;:;:;;i';:"ihese lines in the years of his intensive reading of SchelJing's
Treatise on Human Freedom, a text which discerns the origin of Evil
precisely in a kind of ontological madness, in the 'derangement' of
man's position among beings (his self-centredness); in his early
writings, Hegel also refers to such an ontological madness (the
81
It
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
'nig'ht of the world', the radical withdrawal of the subject trom
n?f}, a neces-

nature' to'
8 Of Stones, Lizards and Men
Does psychoanalysis, perbaps, enable us to delineate further
the contours of this ontological madness as the traumatic,
properly monstrous ex-rimate kernel of truth, other and older
than truth, and as such its necessary concealed/withdrawn
background/foundation'? My contention is that the Freudian
death drive, which has nothing whatsoever to do with some
'instinct' that pushes us towards (self-)destruetion, is precisely
his name for this' transformation of the being of man in the sense
of a derangement of his position among beings', for this mysteri-
ous/monstrous in-between which is no longer the Real of
prehurnan nature, of the worldless enclosure of natural entities,
and not yet the horizon of Clearing and what comes forth within
it, articulated in speech as the 'house of Being', as Heidegger
put it in his Letter on Humanism, but, rather, the 'deranged'/twisted
withdrawn foundation of the horizon of Clearing itself. 59
And one is tempted to take even a step further along these
lines, taking the word 'derangement' quite literally: what, from
the psychoanalytic perspective, is the very basic form of human
'derangement''? Is it not the so-called 'fundamental fantasy',
this proton pseudos, 'primordial lie', older than truth itself, this
absolutely idiosyucratic pathological scenario which sustains our
being-in-the-world, our dwelling within the symbolic universe,
82
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
and which, in order to be operative, has to remain 'primordially
repressed' - that is, to quote Heidegger, the lethe (conceal-
ment/withdrawal) in the very heart of aletbeia, of the truth as
disclosure. The ontological paradox - scandal, even _ of the
notion ofjanta,y lies in the fact that it subverts the standard oppo-
sition of 'subjective' and 'objective': of course, fantasy is by
definition not 'objective' (in the na'ive sense of 'existing inde-
pendently of the subject's perceptions'); however, it is not
'subjective' either (in the sense of being reducible to the sub-
ject's consciously experienced intuitions). Fantasy, rather,
belongs to the 'bizarre category of the objectively subjective _ the
way things actualbr, objectively seem to you even if they don't
seem that way to you'. 60
When, for example, we claim that someone who is consciously
well disposed towards Jews none the less harbours profound
anti-Semitic prejudices of which he is not consciously aware, do
we not claim that (in so far as these prejudices have nothing to do
with the way Jews really are, only the way they appear to him)
he is not aware howJews really seem to him'? Apropos of commodity
fetishism, Marx himself USes the term 'objectively necessary
appearance'. So, when a critical Marxist encounters a bourgeois
subject immersed in commodity fetishism, the Marxist's reproach
to him is not lA commodity may seeln to you a magical object
endowed with special powers, hut really it is just a reified expres-
sion of relations between people'; the Marxist's actual reproach
is, rather, 'You may think that the commodity appears to you as
a simple emhodiment of social relations (that, for example,
money is just a kind of voucher entitling you to a part of the
social product), but this is not bow things really seem to you _ in your
social reality, by means ofyour participation in social exchange,
83
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
you bear witness to tbe uncanny fact that a commodity really
appears to you as a magical object endowed with special
powers'....
This is also one way of specifying the meaning of Lacan's asser-
tion of the subject's constitutive'decentrement': its point is not that
my subjective experience is regulated by objective unconscious
mechanisms that are 'decentred' with regard to my self-experience
and, as such, beyond my control (a point asserted by every
materialist); but, rather, something much more unsettling - I am
deprived of even my most intimate' subjective' experience, the way
things 'really seem to me', that of the fundamental fantasy which
constitutes and guarantees the core of IUy being, since I can never
consciously experience and assume it. ... According to the
standard view, the dimension which is constitutive of subjectivity is
that of phenomenal )experience - I am a subject the moment
I can say to myself: 'No matter what unknown mechanism governs
my acts, perceptions and tbonghts, nobody can take from me what
I see and feel now.' Say, when I am passionately in love, and a
biochemist informs me that all my intense sentiments are merely
the result of biochemical processes in my body, I can answer him
by clinging to the appearance: 'All that you're saying may be true;
nevertheless, nothing can take from me the intensity of the passion
I am experiencing now ... '.
Lacan's point, however, is that the psychoanalyst is the one
who, precisely, can take this from the snbject - that is to say, his
ultimate aim is to deprive the subject of the very fundamental
fantasy that regulates the nniverse of his )experience. The
Freudian I subject of the Unconscious' emerges only when a key
aspect of the subject's phenomenal (self-)experience (his 'funda-
mental fantasy') becomes inaccessible to him - is 'primordially
84
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
repressed'. is
phenomenon, not the objective mechanism that regulates my phe-
__ - in the .cQillmQugl;:w.?
we-:Cre subjectthemoment an entity displays signs
=_.,.. _,,"-._,,"",.,,- --._, .. ,,_....-.... __.....-...
of 'inner life', ofa fantasmatic self-experienceth"tcantl"tbe
- one should claim that what
the gap that
two: _ _ most
thesttbject;
m"kes 'elllI1l" . .\Y"tllu.".()btain arelationship that totally
SI",,<1Ard.noti()!10f experi-
p
between the empty, non-phenomenal that
.._.- -._,._ __.. "._.. C---··,···- '.',
inaccessible to the subject.
6
thus not the vertiginous abyss of entities
beneath the Clearing in which they appear, but the phenomenon
itself at its most radical, that is, the schema which determines
how things appear to us. This scenario literally'deranges', throws
out of joint, the 'proper order of things': it distorts our approach
to the world by violently imposing upon it a certain partial per-
spective. Therein lies the ultimate scandal: when we are dealing
with an __
te;Cy-of it' way,
. .•• .,."•... '''_'_'.' - ----.-------.,", __._.,. __ '_'0>_•. _ _ , ,_,__ .. "
heldt?gether j,.y this 's.yrnptomaltorsion', by some idiosyncratic
untie this knot (when we
trifling,· poiiltthat· shouldn't
triVial r"rIlark that sh9u:Idn'tbe
falls Now let us
in the guise of Schelling's 'naIve' psycho-cosmic specu-
lations, a kind of ontological hyperbole to this matrix, in which a
85

SLAVOJ ZIZEK
certain (pathological' singular spin, inaccessible to us 'as such',
none our entire the way
"riocthis"the' ill
it on a pre-ontological obscene idiosyncratic
scenario, so that if this scenario is no longer operative, truth itself
disintegrates? The paradox is thus that, far from simply derang-
ing/distorting the 'proper balance of same
__?f.-the .l:>alancedUniverse: fantasy is
not an idiosyncratic excess that deranges COSluic order,butthe
t suchanorder;.
i; how (me canunderstarlclII<';idegger's .notion
endorse this interplay of truth and
kernel at its very heart: the 'illusion' of
!hilt this monstrons foreign body is ultimately
accidental, affecting not the truth itself but only ouraccess to it -
is no! ready to admit that our distortion of
truth is grounded in clist9rti9u constitutive ofthe
. .
How this gap of monstrosity that underlies truth itself
concern the innernlost condition of man? In Part Two of The
Fundamental Concepts ofMetaphysics, his course of lectures from 1929
to 1930, Heidegger gets involved in a detailed discnssion of the
difFerent ontological statns of inert objects (stone), animals
(lizards, bees) and humans, His famous definition is that the
stone is worldless, the animal is poor in world, and man is world-
forming, that is, relating to world as such, Leaving aside the
specifics of these distinctions - and, more generally, the extra-
ordinary natnre of these pages with regard to Heidegger's work
(here, Heidegger engages in detailed descriptions of animal
behavioural experiments in order to prove his point: he describes
86
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
how a bee, when its abdornen is cut off, continues to suck the
nectar from the flowers, since it has no proper experience of
what it means to be satiated, , ,) - one should focus on the prob-
lematic natnre of delining animals as 'poor' with regard to the
world: in contrast to a stone, a lizard does somehow relate to
stones, sun and so all, around it, but not as humans do.
The problem (of which Heidegger is well aware) is that the
designation I poor' involves an implicit comparison with hUlllans:
is it not that an animal appears 'poor' with regard to the world
only ifwe already presuppose the presence of humans as forming
their world? In short, is it not that this determination does not
define an animal inherently, as it is 'in itself', but already From an
anthropomorphic perspective, presupposing humans as the
'measure of all things'? While he acknowledges the problematic
and undecided nature of his rumination, Heidegger, towards the
end of the chapter concerned with these notions, proposes - in a
Schellingian mood - a daring speculative hypothesis that perhaps
aniluals are, in a hitherto unknown way, aware of their lack, of
the 'poorness' of their relating to the world - perhaps there is an
infinite pain pervading the whole ofliving nature: 'if deprivation
in certain forms is a kind of suffering, and poverty and depriva-
tion of world belongs to the animal's being, then a kind of pain
and suffering would have to permeate the whole animal realm
and the realm of life in general',62 I said 'in a Schellingian mood',
because Schelling wrote about the 'infinite melancholy' of all
living in

'':: which is
why the emergence of logos, of the spoken word, in man is not
simply an excess that disturbs the balanced natural circuit but an
87
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
answer to this infinite pain and deadlock of living nature, a
resolution of its unbearable tension; it is as if living nature itself
was secretly pointing towards, waiting and longing for, the
emergence of logos as its redemption.
Before we dismiss this notion as a crazy teleological specula-
tion that belongs to the deservedly forgotten realm of Romantic
Naturphilosophie, we should nevertheless take a closer look at it.
1)0 "Vve not encounter something similar in historical experience?
Let us recall Fellini's Satyricon, with its unique depiction of
Ancient ROluan hedonistic figures permeated by an infinite sad-
ness. Fellini himself clailned that, precisely as a Christian/he
wanted to make a film about a universe in which Christianity is
yet to come, from which the notion of Christian redemption is
totally absent. Does the strange sadness, a kind of fundamental
Inelancholy, of these pagan figures not, then, bear 'witness to the
fact that tbey somehow already bave the premonition tbat the
true God will soon reveal Himself, and tbat they were born just
a little bit too early, so that they cannot be redeemed? And is tbis
not also the fundamental lesson of the Hegelian dialectics of
alienation: we are not dealing with the Paradise which is then lost
due to some fatal intrusion - there is already in paradisiacal
satisfaction (in the satisfaction of the 'naIve' organic community)
something suFfocating, a longing for fresh air, for an opening
that would break the unbearable constraint; and this longing
introduces into Paradise an unbearable infinite Pain, a desire to
break out - lif" ..
melancholy. Perhaps this paradox also accounts for the ultimate
at
•• was
this
88
loss; melancholy proper, rather, designates the attitude of those
who--aresiilliilParadise out olit:
·al;eadypossess
a out"of
th"irreach;·siiice ihejcamea little bit too early. .. :
' .... nonsense,
such a reading offers the only way of avoiding the naIve evolu-
tionist approach which sees historical development as the
gradual disintegration of primordial organic forms oflife (from
Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, etc.). On the contrary, it is the evolu-
""llic), is inherently s;"'ce
c"_ .-- ,., ." ""'" . _..""-.--,.. ,'"",, "",," __ """"".. ,,'''.
it cO"ceivesof thE> higher stages as the result of the deploy-
the inrler potential of the lower In contrast to
an notion ofprogress, stick to the

tensl'oIllu''''ihe "OIa; and"w'as as such-"illieady"ipresent'''·''inthe
Old-;n a In the ··oran lill'initesadness and
lo;:;gmg.
-This is € was
trying to articulate in his explicitly anti-evolutionist notion of
·retro-
will
•• failed
revolution.<l.9' ,,:tteIllpts. What this means is that, in a properly his-
torical perspective as opposed to evolutionist historicism, the past
__
,;r;;- a past epoch
properly, it is not sufficient to take into account the historical
conditions out of which it grew - one has also to take into
account the utopian hopes of a Future that were betrayed and

00"\?I'rV-E
.ri'
f1\rJ
89
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
crushed by it - that which was 'negated', that which did not
happen - so that the past historical reality was the way it was. To
conceive the French Revolution, one has to focus also on the
utopian hopes of liberation that were crushed by its final out-
come, the common bourgeois reality - and the same goes for the
October Revolution. Thus we are dealing not with idealist or
spiritualist teleology, but with the dialectical notion of a histori-
cal epoch whose 'concrete' definition has to include its crushed
potentials, which were inherently 'negated' by its reality.
put it in even clearer terms: wheu,,:,e say
the past itself, that the past signs which
we are not
relatl:;;lst st<J.tement <J.boot is no 'objective' history; how
we always ;;'terpretthe past from our present horizon of' under-
st<J.()diflg;h.ow, in defining past we always - consciously
or no't---imply our present point of view. What we are claiming is
;'hat the proper historical stance
(as opposedio hl;;torlcls,i,)'rel<J.tlvlzes' is not thepast(always
distorted by our present point of view) but, paradoxically, the
present the
(not d' what botals(»· of the
thepa;;t.
In other in
a Nietzschean ;;ftlle ;;ltimately
past
thatindealing
the past VIe are ineffect dealing with the gho';tsof the past
... ..
Itis the'actual'present historical agents, have to
conceive '()f ourJelveJ ;'s the materializ,:tion of the ghosts of past
90
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
generations, as the stage in which these past generations retro-
;:tively r;:-solve

tIoV\!, then, are we to answer the automatic criticism that such
a melancholic presentiment of the future can be perceived only if
we read the past from the perspective of the future - that is, dis-
torted through teleological lenses? Is it not that this melancholic
presentiment was not 'really there', but is just a kind of perspec-
tive distortion, read into the past from our later standpoint? (This
situation is not unlike the well-known circular explanation of
the emergenee of language, one of the elementary matrixes of
ideology: 'people invented language signs because they had
something to say to each other' - as if, before language, there was
already a need for it ...) However, did not Marx show us the
way out of this predicament when he emphasized that it is man
who provides the key to the anatomy of the ape, not vice versa?
In other words, the mistake of the is to
accept the 'obvious' simply
'open'; coJ.liainlng the
.. .
to throw some new light on
a certain fundaluental oscillation in Lacan: what comes first, the
signifier or some deadlock in the Real? Sometimes, Lacan pre-
sents the traumatic colonization of the live body by the parasitic
symbol Order as the primordial fact: it is the 'intervention of the
Symbolic that derails, throws out of joint, the natural organism in
its balanced circuit, transforming natural instincts into a mon-
strous drive that can never be fully satisfied, since it is
condemned to an eternal 'undead' returning to its path, persisting
forever in an obscene immortality. At other times, in a more
speculative-mythical mode, he is searching for some kind of
91
i;; 'f-
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
natural excess or imbalance, a malfunctioning, monstrous derail-
ment, and then he conceives the symbolic Order as a secondary
in(ter)vention destined to 'gentrify' this monstrous excess, to
resolve its deadlock. One is tempted to claim that it is here,
between these tvvo versions, that the line runs which separates
materialism from idealism: the is
new version of Divine interven-
tion in'-{he while the second version - the
._ '. __••....... , .•.'.'".•. , .. _,,_ ' __·.'P
emergence"<;{the symbolic Order as the ansvver to some mon-
solution.
9 The Structure and its Event
This means that the relationship between the Structure and its
Event is indeterminable. On the one hand, the Event is the
impossible Real of a structure:-;;-r;;:s order,
the legal
rele-
gating it to the spectral repres'secl §t"etll§{)f something.t..ha .. t. can
fully In short,
Order is a kind of defence-forma-
ti'on in
narratIve. On the other hand, one
call. •• the .. t
itself (the mythical narrative oftl:e prirn()rdialyi()leIltf()unding
not a fantasy-construction
of the
Order)by concealing, struc-
t-';ral anta.go;;ism (deadlock, impossibility) that the
92
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
structural synchronous Order from achieving its balance? In
a
retroactive 'projection' destined to translate/transpose the syn-
chronous antagonism/deadlock into the diachronous narrative
succession? ..
function only through the occultation of the violence of its
is u.ltimately
Y'
- of the Order. ._
"-',,-' "".""••",,. ".,- ,."" .. ----".:.,- - _-" ., ,' •• , "."·.",,.' .. ·n_·_ "· · ,.. '- ",," ,", ,'"•... «"' ,_ ," .. , .. , .. ,,. '"." le} ,'-\ t \,,'I,lfi1')
So, again, one has to distinguish between the impossible Real of ,.' .
the 'timeless' antagonism and the fantasmatic primordially
repressed narrative which serves as the unacknowledgedyet nec-
essary spectral supplement.
With regard to the notion of the act as real, this means that ":'2.....
authentic actis in betwe.en Time a.
I1
d Eternity. On the one hand,
;;n it, the point at which
'eternity intervenes in time', at which the enchainment of
"" __.. ·,"_".. __H·_'. __ ....... ,._.,.."., ......"
temporal causal succession is interrupted, at which 'something

b; of
th.= (to designates
the direct intervention of the noumenal dimension into phenom-
enality; to put it in Schelling's terms, the act designates the
moment at which the abyssallatemporal principle of identity - 'I
did it because I did it, for no particular reason' - momentarily
suspends the reign of the principle of sufficient reason). On the
other hand, the act is at the same time the moment of the emer-
gence of time i;;7from
[Ent-Scheidung] that represses into
an eternal past the deadlock of simultaneity; it
93
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
deadlock' by disturbing the balance, by 'unilaterally' privileging
some aspect of the undifferentiated Whole over all other
aspects.
63
In short, an,act of the time-
the
of tcmporalitylhistoricity.
. ,-""'- _.. .._--,----_._.. .. .. ,._ .. -._-_.--, ,',,--- -_ __ -
In order to grasp this crucial point, one has to bear in mind
that there is no 'time as such', there are only concrete horizons of
temporalitylhistoricity, each horizon grounded in a primordial act
of' foreclosure, of (repression' of its own founding gesture. To
put it in Ernesto Laclau's terms: antagonism is such a point of
'eteroity' of the social constellation defined by this antagonism,
the point of reference that generates the historical process as the
attempt to resolve it.
64
In Judith Butler's terms, the 'passionate
attachment' would perhaps be a candidate for such a dialectical
'eteroity' - the primordially repressed/disavowed libidinal con-
stellation that is not simply historical-temporal, since its very
repression generates and sustains the multiple modes of histori-
cization.
65
Even such an apparently trivial domain as fashion provides a
nice example of how ideology displaces/conceals class antago-
nisIn: the fashion for stonewashed jeans, for instance, imaginarily
resolves class antagonism by offering jeans which can be
appropriated by those who are 'down' and those who are 'up'-
the upper strata 'wear stonewashed jeans in order to appear in
solidarity with popular strata, while members of the popular
strata wear them in order to look like members of the upper
strata. So when members of the lower strata wear stonewashed
jeans, the seemingly direct coincidence between social status
(poverty) and clothing (worn, torn jeans) masks a double medi-
ation: they are imitating those who are imitating an imagined
94
r
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
popular working-class look. ... The ultimate irony here is that
the company which specializes in such products - destined to
blur/displace the class gap - is called, precisely, Gap. The impc:r-
tant theoretical lesson of Gap for a Marxist is therefore that every
,; .th cli ITerentialldia.logical:
not in the sense that each position· itself" through the
contrast to opposite position, but also - and even primarily -
that the· ()f p()siti()lJ. A
Fll-':'ctions in ". 'i'lay, as akilldO:F pre-emptive
strike - it a.nswers the possible reproach of B (its o.pposite) in
._•...• ,.. _-- "", " , ,."-""",,,,' ..." "...... .. ". .
advan.c.e by displacing/blurring th.. e. gap th.a ..t separates it from B.
.. _ " , .., , --- .
So, with regard to fashion: it is not only that each class or stratum
has its own fashion, which iexpresses' its position; it is not only
that this fashion is not defined intrinsically, but always in contrast
to the fashion of its opposite (French workers wear berets because
their bosses do not wear them); the point is, rather, that the fashion
identified with a certain stratum is always mediated by the
fashion of its structural opposite, endeavouring to displace this
opposition. ReHexivity is prilnordial here: there never was an
original}' ijnno'cent' mo;;;.."ent':;.. .. wore· its'proper'
upper strata
well-pressed black trousers); from the very beginning, the class
opposition \Vas displaced, cau&ht in
strikes and displacemellts. .. .. .. - ..... . - ...........
Now we can the precise formulation of the
dialectical relationship betvveen eternity and time. 'Eternity' is
.... .. ..
rather, the name for the Event or Cut that sustains, opens up,
dimension of t"lllp':?r.ality as the
failed attempts to grasp it. The psychoanalytic name for this
95
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
-
Event/Cut is, of course, trauma. Trauma is 'eternal!; it can never
be.. properly.tem
hJ" siOt.Y!" _

and time' ({n temporalizationlhistoricization) thus
no time
to
the 'eternal' traurna. If traUlua were
to
of timewo;'ld implode/collapse into a Now. This
is the poilinabe ma<!ei%ailis.f?istof'icis.
ll1
,thatit fails to take into
account the reference to some traumatic point of Eternity that
sustains telllpoI:"jityjtself. If; theu, we claim that each concrete

simply gen",rated by
that ",hich is excluded so

consequences of
these considerations. Pre-Christian religions remain at the level
of 'wisdom'; they emphasize the insuHlciency of every temporal
finite object, and preach either moderation in pleasures (one
should avoid excessive attachment to finite objects, since pleas-
ure is transitory) or the withdrawal from temporal reality in
favour of the True Divine Object which alone can provide
Infinite Bliss. Christianity, on the contrary,offers Christ as a
mortal-temporal individual, i,{sistsCihat
C
belief inth€:' temporal
va-
In this
singles-au __
more at
l'
I
I
I
\
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
work in andthe for-
.. is C:. __ __ __
iis;it the
choice by means ofwhich an individual chooses
his eternal character and which therefore, prior to his temporal
existence, delineates in advance the contours of his terrestrial
desti
ny
66 Without the Divine act of Grace, our destiny would
remain immovable, forever fixed by this eternal act of choice; the
'good news' of Christianity, however, is that, in a genuine
Conversion, one can Ire-create' oneself: that is, repeat this act,
and thus change (undo the effects of) eternity itself
Here we approach the crux of the matter, the delicate question
of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Judaism,
with its 'stubborn attachment' (Judith Butler's term again) to the
unacknowledged violent Fonnding gesture that hannts the public
legal order as its spectral supplement, is not only split within
itself between its 'public' aspect of the symbolic Law and its
obscene underside (the 'virtual' narrative of the irredeemable
excess of violence that established the very rule of Law) - this
split is at the same time the split between J udaism and
Christianity. The paradox of J udaism is that it maintains fidelity
to the founding violent Event preciselY by not confessing-sym-
bolizing it: this 'repressed' status of the Event is what gives
Judaism its unprecedented vitality; it is what enabled the Jews
to persist and survive for thousands of years without land or a
common institutional tradition. In short, the ews did not give up
the ghost;. th",Yc.. alltheir
up theirgbost, to. cnt off the link to dis-
a.vo\Vedtr"diti()n. .. other religion


96
97
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
the. th" cri".' dis-
ut Qhrist, the. son. of
Go.d), and thereby betray its traumatic impact/weight, preteIlding
.. - . --,--._,. ,-- . _.. --- - --" -, -,.-. ----, ...- - ._-- ,,-
that it is possible to come to terms witb it.
onecaiipr6perly locate Foucault's
tbesis that psychoanalysis is the last, conclusive term in the
confessionary mode of discourse that began with early
Christianiry:67 if tj,atpsychoanalysis is in
a Jewish attitude, and
that this' Jewishness' continued against all attempts to render it
Gentile and cut its Jewish umbilical cord (including those of
Freud himself, when he designated J ung as his heir), are right,
then one must dra",_!h".llll,rvoidable conclusion that psycho-
analysis, far from being a
and
er', by
._- ,_"<_'H "_,"_"_,,,_ '''_.W' __·__' __' '_·' __ '_'·_·_'' __ r
some traumatic spectral-- cOnfession', that is,

.. c._.' .. .••. .. ...• ';; ... ... d..•• ...•. l.iv.•..e...r:.e.d .... ,.l.a...id. t.'.; re.-st, pac..
The Freudian name for this 'uIldead' remainder is, of
1t'i; the 'implicit' reference -to some

-
.. ..--- ----_.,--'"""'----'----"---,,--_.. _-,--------.--,--.,,-..--."-----
that is to there is no life without the supplement of the
spectral persistence . 'living dead'.
Consequently, isnofthe con-
but the
irivolve a traumatic
bf our being
which forever
- -- ""... '", -
98
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
To put it in yet another way: Judaism stands for the paradox
of Universalism which maintains its universal dimension pre-
cisely by its 'passionate attachment' to the stain of particulariry
that serves as its unacknowledged foundation. Judaism thus not
only belies the common-sense notion that the price to be paid for
access to universality is to renounce one's particularity; it also
demonstrates how the stain of unacknowledgeable particularity
of the gesture that generates the Universal is the ultimate
resource of the Universal's vitality: cut off from
irredeemable/repressed particular roots, the Universal ossifies
and changes into a lifeless, empty, abstract universal form. Or-
to put it in even more specific terms - Judaism, as it were, ironi-
cally reverses the standard Marxist procedure of discerning in the
assertion of some abstract Universal the particnlar content that
actually hegemonizes it ('the universal rights of man are effec-
tively the rights of ... [white male properry owners]'): its implicit
claim is that tbe actual content of Jewish 'particularism', of its
stubborn sticking to a set of arbitrar,y particular prescriptions, is
none other than the assertion of actual Universaliry.
At this precise point, however, things become complicated.
Does Christianiry really stand for the passage from the univer-
sality that continues to maintain the link with the excessive
violence of its particular Ground, the source of its vitaliry, to the
universality that obliterates the traces of this contingent vio-
lence - that achieves Redemption by coming to terms with its
traumatic Origins, by ritualistical\y enacting the founding Crime
and the Sacrifice that erases its traces, by briuging about recon-
ciliation in the medium of the Word? What if the split between
the symbolic Law and. the obscene shadowy supplement of
excessive violence that sustains it is not the ultimate horizon of
99
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
our experience? Vlhat if this entanglelnent of Law and its spec-
tral double is precisely what, in the famous passage from Romans
7: 7, Saint Paul denouuces as that which the intervention of the
Christian agape (love as charity) enables us to leave behind?
What if the Pauline agape, the move beyond the mutual implica-
tion of Law and sin, is not the step towards the full symbolic
integration of the particularity of Sin into the universal domain of
the Law, but its exact opposite, the unheard-of gesture ofleaving
behind the domain of the Law itself, of 'dying to the Law', as
Saint Paul put it (Romans 7:5)? In other words, what if the
Christian wager is not Redemption in the sense of the possibility
for the domain of the universal Law retroactively to 'sublate' -
integrate, pacify, erase - its traumatic origins, but something
radically different, the eut into the Gordian knot of the vicious
cycle of Law and its founding Transgression?
What many people may find problematic in the Pauline agape
is that it seems to superegotize love, conceiving it in an almost
Kantian way - not as a spontaneous overflow of generosity, not
as a self-assertive stance, but as a self-suppressing duty to love
neighbours and care for them, as hard work, as something to be
accomplished through the strenuous dIort of fighting and
inhibiting' one's spontaneous 'pathological' inclinations. As such,
agape is opposed to eros, which designates not so much carnal lust
as, rather, the kindness and care that are part of one's nature, and
whose accomplishment delivers its own satisfaction. But is this,
in fact, Saint Paul's position? Would this stance attributed to
Saint Paul not be, rather, love within the confines ofthe Law, love as
the struggle to suppress the excess of sin generated by the Law?
And is not the true agape closer to the modest dispensing of spon-
taneous goodness?
68
100
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
In the final scene of Kieslowski's Elm Blue, this Pauline agape is
given its ultimate cinematic expression. Vlhile Julie, the heroine,
sits in bed after making love, in one continuous long shot
(accompanied by the choral rendition of'the lines on love from I
Corinthians), the camera covers four different scenes, slowly
drifting from one to the other; these scenes present the persons to
whom Julie is intimately related: Antoine, the boy who witnessed
the fatal car crash in which her husband and children died;
Julie's mother, sitting silent in her room in an old people's home;
Lucille, her young striptease dancer fi-iend, at work on the stage
in a nightclub; Sandrine, her dead husband's mistress, touching
her naked belly in the last phase of pregnancy, bearing the
unborn child of her deceased lover.... The continuous drift
from one set to another (they are separated only by a dark
blurred background across whieh the camera pans) creates the
effect of mysterious synchronici1y which somehow recalls the
famous 360-degree shot in Hitchcock's Vertigo: after Judy is fully
transformed into Madeleine, the couple passionately embrace,
and while the camera makes a full circle around them, the scene
darkens and the background which indicates the setting (Judy's
hotel room) changes to the site of Scottie's last embrace with
Madeleine (the barn of the San Juan Batista mission) and then
again back to the hotel room, as if, in a continuous dreamlike
space, the camera passes from one stage to another within an
indefinite dreamscape in which individual scenes emerge out of
darkness. How, then, are we to read this unique shot from Blue?
The key is provided by the way this shot is related to another
unique shot from the beginning of the film, when, after the crash,
Julie is in her hospital bed, lying silent in the atavistic state of
cOluplete shock. In an extreme close-up, almost the entire frame
101
103-
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
is filled by her eye, and we see the objects in the hospital room
reflected in this eye as derealized spectral apparitions of partial
objects - it seems as if this shot encapsulates Hegel's famous
passage about the 'night of the world':
The human being is this night, this emp1y nothing, that con-
tains everything in its simplici1y - an unending wealth of
many representations, images, of which none belongs to
him - or which are not present. This night, the interior of
nature, that exists here - pure self - in phantasmagorical
representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a
bloody head - there another white ghastly apparition, sud-
denly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches
sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye -
into a night that becomes awfuL69
The parallel with Vertigo imposes itself again here: in the
(deservedly) famous credits sequence, strange graphic shapes
which seem to announce the 'strange attractors' of chaos theory
(developed decades after the film was shot) emerge out of the
darkness of a woman's eye. The close-up of the eye from Blue
stands for the symbolic death of Julie: not her real (biological)
death, but the suspension of the links with her symbolic
environment; 'while the final shot stands for the reassertion of life.
The interconnection of the two shots is thus clear: they both
represent a scene which is fantasmatic - in both cases, we see
partial objects floating in a dark background of the Void (of the
eye in the first case; of the unspecified darkness of the screen in
the second). The tonality, however, is different: from the reduc-
tion of all reality into the spectral rellection in the eye, we pass to
102
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
the ethereal lightness of scenes whose reali1y (of being part of
particular life-situations) is also suspended, but in the direction of
a pure sYllchronicity, of an almost mystical standstill, of a time-
less Now in which different scenes, torn out of their particular
contexts, vibrate in each other. The two shots thus stage the two
opposed aspects of fteedom: the 'abstract' freedom of pure self-
relating neg'ativi1y, withdrawal-into-self, cutting of the links with
reality; and the Iconcrete' freedom of the loving acceptance of
others, of experiencing oneself as free, as finding full realization
in relating to others. To put it in Schelling's terms, the passage
from the first to the second is the passage from extreme egotistic
contraction to boundless expansion. So when, at the end of this
scene, Julie cries (which, until this moment, she has not been
able to do), her work of monrning is accomplished, she is recon-
ciled with the universe; her tears are not the tears of sadness
and pain, but the tearsofagape. of a Yes! to life in its mysterious
synchronic

Another way to approach this same problem would be through
the theme of iconoclasm. The usual argument is that pagan (pre-
Jewish) gods were 'anthropomorphic' (Ancient Greek gods
fornicated, cheated, and engaged in other ordinary human pas-
sions ...), while the Jewish religion, with its iconoclasm, was the
first thoroughly to 'de-anthropomorphize' Divini1y. What, how-
ever, if things are the exact opposite? What if the need to
prohibit man from witn';;:t; the
of
to our likeness' (Genesis 1:
26) prohibition
were
fWhat if the Jewish

SLAVOJ ZIZEK
religion itselfgenerates the very excess it has to prohibit'! In pagan
(And
by asserting llo1.only the
likeness of God and man, but their direct identity in the figure
of Christ: 'no wonder man looks like God, since the man
[Christ] is God'.) According to the notion, pagans were
;;;;i.hr;;p;;;;,;;:;;:phic, Jews were radically iconoclastic, and
Christianity operates a kind of 'synthesis', a partial regression to
paganism, by introducing the ultimate 'icon to erase all other
icons', that of the suffering Christ. Against this argument, one
should assert that it ce.ligimLVlChisllrelnains an
.. ..,,:,,:d,as such
..!"jt!..4':'.!e.,:!"i,!e.4hit.i.'1ii:s."er.Y.4i.':"stne.gation,. whereas
it is onlyChristianit'y that actually 'sublates' paganism.
imagellike-
ness:;r of this:
no face to us.
this prohibition,

tal answer to a child asking what God's htee looks like, a priest
hll;;;an ("ce radiat-
to,
, he catches a glim]?se of His face. The truth of this sentimental
as a
earthlyface. It
.' ._"_."•. _._•. _..•,,, .. '.,," _ .. - -' - .. __ '_'_'_"'_'''''''O''_'_''_''_''''_''''''._",_•.. _
is in this sense (an I appearance' which, as it were, transubstanti-
reality into something that, for a brief mOlllent,
radiates the suprasensihle Eternity) that man is like God: in both
the structure is that of an
or, as L.acan
..........H •• • __•••__ __,"__""·
104
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
puts it, foll"",ing J:Iegel, the is the appearance as
... Butler's critical point that the Lacanian is
merely a hegemonic imaginary71 can therefore be accepted - on
condition that one defines 'hegemony' in the strict Laclauian way,
not merely as the elevation of a certain imaginary matrix into a
global reified/codified rule and/or model. That is to say: the
difference between Imaginary proper and Symbolic qua
Imaginary 'as such' is that of the competition between Zeuxis and
Parrhasios from the Ancient Greek anecdote often cited by
Lacan: one was duped by the image itself; taking the painted
birds for the 'real' ones; while the other, confronted with the
painted veil, told the painter: 'OK, take the veil away, uncover the
painting behind it!' In this second case, the image deceives us not
by seducing us into taking the painted object for the 'real thing',
but by making us believe that there is a 'real thing' concealed
beneath it - and, in this second case, the deception of the image is
properly symbolic. dimension proper is thus that
of to illl"gi;;ary
simlll"crum. In " sublime .. imaginary
,._. . -.......... .. ;0 ....... ...__.. ..... __
S.S,'!!<'DJ;js.1UmmlbinJ.ill:.the...:impussihle'J3eyond (the Thing, God,
Freedom ...) - j\ls,L"§J .•[O,r.k"d"llL'he.ge,!,on,ymeans the
re.p£e.§enj:;ltio.!!J.. impossibletotality
_.
.. __ ... .... €
..j!l..,,.d.i1;\kcJic.gf ygicl"p<l.negativity.73
In philosophy, it was Schelling who revealed how the Christian
Ihumanization' of God in no way involves the anthropomorphic
reduction of God to a human phantasmic creation. Schelling's
direct anthropological texts tend' to be rather boring and
disappointing; however, when he evokes anthropological themes
105
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
(or, rather, insights into the human psyche) as 'illustrations' or
metaphors to explain his most abstract theosophical ruminations
(say, when, in order to explain the Divine pronouncement of the
Word which resolves the deadlock of God's debilitating madness,
he evokes the common psychological experience of how the act of
suddenly 'finding the right word' resolves the preceding pro-
tracted and incapacitating indecision), the result is eye-opening in
a truly breathtaking way. This discrepancy should warn us
against the common reductionist claim that Schelling's
mythopoeic narrative of what went on in God's mind before the
creation of the world is simply a mystified presentation of deep
psychological observations - such a reductive reading of Schelling
as a coded depth psychologist somehow misses the point.
Here one is tempted to repeat Adorno's well-known reversal
of Croce's patronizing historicist question about 'what is dead
and what is alive in Hegel's dialectic' (the title of his most
important work)J4 the question to be raised today is not the
historicist one of 'How does Schelling's work stand with regard
to today's constellation? How are we to read it, so that it will still
say something to us?', but 'How do we today stand with regardto - in
the eyes of - Sche!ling?'. Furthermore, the same reversal must be
applied to the very relationship between God and man:
Schelling's problem is not 'What does God mean in our -
human - eyes? Does He still mean anything? Is it possible to
account for human history without any reference to God? Is
God just a projection of human fantasies?', but the opposite one:
'What does man mean in the eyes olGod?, That is to say: one should
never forget that Schelling's starting point is always God, the
Absolute itself; consequently, his problem is: 'What role does the
emergence of man play in the Divine life? Why - in order to
106
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
resolve what kind of deadlock - did God have to create man?'
Within this context, the criticism of 'anthropomorphism' apropos
of Schelling's use of psychological observations in his description
of the Divine life again misses the point: 'anthropomorphislu' in
the description of the Divine life is not only not to be avoided; it
is, rather, to be openly endorsed - not because man is 'similar' to
God, but because man directly is part of the Divine life, that is,
because it is only in man, in human history, that God fully real-
izes Himself; that He becomes an actual living God.
10 From the Decalogue to
Human Rights
Against today's onslaught of New Age neo-paganism, it thus
seems both theoretically productive and politically salient to stick
to Judaeo-Christian logic. Along these neo-pagan lines, John
Gray, author of Men arefrom Mars, Women arefrom venus, recently
proposed, in a series of Oprah Winfrey shows, a vulgarized
version of psychoanalysis: since we
ultimately 'are' the stories we are telling ourselves about our-
selves, the solution to a psychic deadlock lies in a 'positive'
creative rewriting of the narrative of our past. What Gray has in
mind is not only the standard cognitive therapy of changing neg-
ative 'false beliefs' about oneself into a more positive attitude of
the assurance that one is loved by others and capahle of creative
achievements, but a more 'radical', pseudo-Freudian notion of
regressing back to the scene of the primordial traumatic wound.
That is to say: Gray accepts the psychoanalytic notion of a hard
kernel of some early childhood traumatic experience that forever
107
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
THE FRAGILE ASS,
t
reduced to a Name, to the subjectivity of a pure,
non-substantial enunciator - is that the only terrain on which to
demonstrate your devotion to the Divine Law is that of 'love for
thy neighbour', ofyour social-ethical activity - again, there is no
direct short cut to contact with the Diviue dimeusion through the
'inner path' of mystical spiritual self-realization.) Against this
background, one can also see in what precise sense Lacan is
radically anti-narrativisf'. in his insistence on how the encounter
'with the symbolic Law is the encounter with some traumatic,
impenetrable Real, Lacan directly inscribes psychoanalysis into
the Judaic tradition.
It is also crucial to bear in mind the interconnection
between the Decalogue (the traumatically imposed Divine
Commandments) and its modern obverse, the celebrated 'human
Rights'?5 As the experience of our post_politicalliberal-permis-
sive society amply demonstrates, human Rights are ultimately, at
their core, simply Rigbts to violate the Ten Commandments. 'The right
to privacy' _ the right to adultery, in secret, where no onc sees me
or has the right to probe into my life. 'The right to pursue hap-
piness and to possess private property' - the right to steal (to
exploit others). 'Freedom of the press and of the expression of
opinion' _ the right to lie. 'The right of free citizens to possess
weapons' _ the right to kill. And, ultimately, 'freedom of religious
belief' _ the right to worship false gods. Of course, humau Rights
49 uot directly condone the violation of the Ten Commaudm
ents
-
thJ' point is simply that they keep open a marginal 'grey zone'
which should remaiu out of reach of (religious or secular) power:
in this shady zone, I can violate these commandments, aud if
power probes into it, catching me with my pants down and trying
to prevent my violations, I can cry: 'Assault on my basic human
110
Rights! '. The point is thus that it is structurally impossible, for
Power, to draw a clear line of separation and prevent only the
'misuse' of a Right, while not encroaching upon the proper use,
that is, the use that does not violate the Commandluents.
76
There is a somewhat analogous situation with regard to the
heterosexual seduction procednre in our Politically Correct times:
the two sets, the set of PC behaviour and the set of seduction, do
not actually intersect an.)T\Vhere; that is, there is no seduction
which is not in a way an 'incorrect' intrusion or harassment - at
some point, one has to expose oneself and 'make a pass'. So does
this mean that evel:Y seduction is incorrect harassment through
and through? No, and that is the catch: when you make a pass,
you expose yonrself to the Other (the potential partner), and she
decides retroactively, by her reaction, whether what you have
just done was harassment or a successful act of seduction - and
there is no way to tell in advance what her reaction will be. This
is why assertive wornen often despise 'weak' men - because they
fear to expose themselves, to take the necessary risk. And perhaps
this is even more true in our 'PC times: are not PC prohibitions
rules which, in one way or another, are to be violated in the seduc-
tion process? Is not the seducer's art to accomplish this violation
properly - so that afterwards, by its acceptance, its harassiug
aspect will be retroactively cancelled?
!s not the opposition between the commandments of the
. .
Decalogue and human Rights grounded already in the tension
..
between the Decalogue and the injunction to 'love thy
bour'? This injunction prohibits nothing; rather, it calls for an
- ->
activity beyondthe confines of the Law, enjoininl> us always to do
and more to 'love' QUI' neighqour - merely in *im:g-
inary dimension, (as our semblant, mirror-image, on behalf of the
111

SLAVOJ ZIZEK
notion of Good that we impose on h I so that even when we act
and help lID ·or IS own Good', i is of what is g:'ood
for n that we follow); not merely in hIs symbolic dimension
.- .. ..
(the abstract symbolic subject of Rights), but as the Other in the
very abyss of its ReaL the Other as a properly inhuman part:ler,
radically evil, capricious, revolting, disgusting ..
the Good. This enemy-Oth should not be
punishe'V (as the Decalogue demands), but accepte ,:s a
""ii:etgirtrour'77 (Tim Robhing's outstanding filrii DeadMan Walking
st::£es thIS very deadlock oftbe 'lpve for one's neighbour': Sister
t1elen goes to the end, accepting the humanity of the Other, who
is the most worthless racist and murderous rapist scum.) There is
a double defence against this thorough 'love of tby ;eighbour':
rationalist/humanist 'understanding' (we try to reduce the
Other's traumatic abyss by explaining it as tbe result of social,
ideological, psychological, etc. conditioning ...), or the fetishiza-
tion of the radical Evil of our neighbour into the absolute
Otherness (say, of the Holocaust) which is thus rendered
untouchable, unpoliticizable, impossible to be accounted for in
terms of a power struggle.
can see ho'" ni an rights 'l'nd '1 ve for thy neighbour"-
qua Re are tf, two as same oing beyoW'
t e Deca : the ultimate 'su )ect 0 g ts is precisely
the Neighbour as the real/impossible Ding eyond the reac of
the Law the' (hnman) right' is the mhmte rIght of the abyss of
beyoud the Law. The JeWlsh refusal to assert love for
t'lie neighbour outside tfie confines of the Law aims at preventing
this love trom degrading into a narcissistic (mis)recognition of my
111.irror-in"lage - is it possibltr. however, to conceive of love For
the Other qua Thing which simnltaneously avoids narcissistic
112
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
regression andremains outside the confines of the Law? The ulti-
mate answer of the .injunction 'love thy neighbour' is Yes.':
imaginary mirror relationships and the symbolic Law are pre-
cisely the two definces against the Neighbour qua Real. One can
also see, however, how human Rights are uot simply opposed to
the Ten Commandments, but are the 'inherent transgression'78
generated by those Commandments - there is no space for human
Rights outside the terrain of" the Decalogue. Here one should
recall again Saint Paul's famous passage on the interconnection
between Law and sin - on how Law itself generates sinful desires.
As Laca]' pointed out, the very text of the Decalogue is ambigu-
ous here: 'You will adore no God befire my countenance': 'Does it
mean that beyond the countenance of' God, i.e., outside Canaan,
the adoration of other gods is not inconceivable for a faithful
Jew'! '79 In other words, does it mean that the important point is
simply to maintain appearances - you can do it in private, where
the big Other cannot see yon'! Does it mean that the jealous God
of the Decalogue was like a wife whose message to her unfaithful
husband is: 'Do it, just do it so that I won't learn anything about
it!' And what does Christianity do here'! Does it simply'close up
the space' by eVen the inherent transgTession: by
demanding that we foUo") God's commandments not only 'before
Iiis countenance', but also deep in our hearts? Or does it endeav-
our to break the very vicious cycle of Law/sin'!
11 The Principle of Charity
So, again: in what, precisely, does the elementary Christian ges-
ture - best designated by Pauline agape - consist'! In Inquiries into
113
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
Truth and Interpretation, Donald Davidson developed what he calls
the Principle of Charity, a 'charitahle assumption about human
intelligence that might turn out to be false':8o 'disagreement and
agreement alike are intelligible only against a background of
massive agreement'Sl - that is to say: 'what makes interpretation
possible is the fact that we cau dismiss a priori the chance of
massive error' .82 As Davidson emphasizes, this assumption is not
simply a choice we can make or not make but a kind of a priori
of speech, a presupposition we silently adopt and follow the
Illoment we engage in communication with others:
Since charity is not an option, but a condition of having a
workable theory, it is meaningless to suggest that we might
fall into massive error by endorsing it. ... Charity is forced
on us; whether we like it or not, if we want to understand
others, we must count them right in most rnatters.
83
Davidson's Principle of Charity is therefore another name for the
Lacanian 'big Other' as the ultimate guarantee of Truth to which
we have to make reference even when we arc lying or trying to
deceive our partners in communication, precisely in order to be
successful in our deceit. One should bear in mind, however, that
Lacan, in the last decades of his teaching, severely qualil"ied this
status of the big Other twice:
• First when, as early as the late 1950s, he emphasized the fact
that the 'quilting point', the quasi_transcendental Master-
Signil"ier that guarantees the consistency of the big Other, is
ultimately a fake, an empty signil"ier without a signil"ied. Suffice
it to recall how a community functions: the Master-Signil"ier
114
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
which guarantees the community's consistency is a signifier
whose signified is an enigma for the nlelubers themselves -
nobody really knows what it means, but each of them some-
how presupposes that others know, that it has to mean 'the
real thing', so they use it all the time.... This logic is at work
not only in politico-ideological links (with different terms for
the cosa nostra: our nation, revolution ...), but even in some
Lacanian communities where the group recognizes itself
through common use of some jargonized expressions whose
meaning is not clear to anyone, be it 'symbolic castration' or
'divided suhject' - everyone refers to them, and what binds the
group together is ultimately their very shared ignorance.
Lacan's point, of course, is that psychoanalysis should enable
the subject to break with this safe reliance on the enigmatic
Master-Signifier.
• Secondly - and even lllore radically - when, in Seminar XX:
Encore, Lacan developed the logic of 'non-all' and of the excep-
tion constitutive of the universa1.
84
The paradox of the
relationship between the series (of the elements belonging to
the universal) and its exception does not lie only in the fact that
'the exception grounds the [universal] rule', that every univer-
sal series involves the exclusion of an exception (all men have
inalienable rights - with the exception of madmen, criminals,
primitives, the uneducated, children ...). The properly dialec-
tical point lies, rather, in the way a series and an exception
directly coincide: the series is always the series of 'exceptions', of
entities which display a certain exceptional quality that qualilies
them to belong to the series (of heroes, of members of our com-
munity, of true citizens ...). Recall the standard male seducer's
list of female conquests: each of them is 'an exception!, each was
115
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
seduced for a particularje ne sais quoi, and the series is precisely
the series of these exceptional figures....85
This same matrix is also at work in the shifts of the Lacanian
notion of the symptom. That is to say: what distinguishes the last
stage of Lacan's teaching from the previous stages is best
approached through the changed status of the notion of the symp-
tom: previously, the symptom was a pathological formation to be
(ideally, at least) dissolved in and through analytic interpretation:
an indication that the subject somehow and somevvhere compro-
mised his desire, or an indication of the deficiency or
malfunctioning of the symbolic Law that guarantees the subject's
capacity to desire. In short, symptoms were the series of exceptions,
of disturbauces, malfunctionings, measured by the ideal of full
integration into the symbolic Law, the big Other. Later, however,
with his notion of the universalized symptolTI, Lacan accom-
plished the paradoxical shift from the' masculine' logic of Law and
its constitutive exception towards the 'feminine' logic in which
there is no exception to the series of symptoms - :in which there are
oniysymptoms, and the symbolic Law (the paternal Name) is ulti-
mately just one (the most efficient, the most established ...) in the
series of symptoms. This, according to Jacques-Alain l\t1iller, is
Lacan's universe in Seminar XX: a universe of radical split
(between signifier and signified; between jouissance or drives and
jouissance of the Other; between masculine and feminine) in which
no a priori Law guarantees the connection or overlapping between
the two sides, so that only partial and contingent knots-symptoms
(quilting points, points of gravitation) can generate a limited and
fragile co-ordination between the two domains. In this perspec-
tive, the 'dissolution of a symptom', far from bringing abont the
116
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
non-pathological state of fUll desiring capacity, leads, rather, to a
total psychotic catastrophe, to the dissolution of the subject's
entire universe.
86
There is no 'big Other' to guarantee the consis-
tency of the symbolic space within which we dwell: there are only
contingent, local and fragile points of stabiliiy.
The difference between these two notions of the symptom _ the
particular and the nniversalized ('sinthome) - accounts for the two
opposed readings of the last shot of Hitchcock's Vertigo (Scottie
standing at the precipice of the church tower, staring into the
abyss into which ,Judy-Nladeleine, his absolute love, vanished
seconds ago); some interpreters see in it the indication ofa happy
ending (Scottie has finally got rid of his agoraphobia and is able
fully to confront life), while others see in it utter despair (if Scottie
survives the second loss of Judy-Madeleine, he will survive as a
living dead). It all hinges on how we read Lacan's statement that
'woman is a symptom of man'. Ifwe use the term 'sylnptom' in its
traditional sense (a pathological formation which bears witness to
the fact that the subject has betrayed his desire), then the final
shot does imply a happy ending: Scottie's obsession with
Madeleine was his'symptom', the sign of his ethical weakness, so
that when he gets rid of her, his rectitnde is restored. Jfwe use the
term 'symptom' in its more radical sense, however _ if
Juc\y/Madeleine is his sinthome - then the final shot implies a
catastrophic ending: when Scottie is deprived of his sinthome, his
entire universe falls apart, loses its minimal consistency.
How does this shift, this undermining of the quasi-transcendental
statns of the big Other, affect charity? What survives this nnder-
mining is a charity much closer to the Christian meaning of this
117
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
term (this Christian charily is 'love', of which Lacan speaks in
Seminar )(X). So how is l)avidsou's semantic charity related to
Christian charity? On a first approach, it may seem that they are
to he opposed along the axis Imaginary-Symbolic: does not
Christian charity operate at the level of' imaginary compassion for
our neighbour, wilh whom we identify, while Davidson's charity
is clearly more formal, designating a purely symbolic (or, more
precisely, semantic) function of trust, that is a priori presup-
posed in our communicative engagement? What, however, if
there is another dimension at work in Christian charity, much
closer to the dimension of the Other (snbject) qua real? The key
formal distinction between the two is that while semantic charity
is a kind of a priori of language, formal and universal, always-
already there, Christian charity is rare and fragile, something to
be fought for and regained again and again. Even among
Christians, confusion about its nature abounds. For that reason,
perhaps the best way to define it is to proceed a con/rario: to start
by focusing on precisely those apparently Christian orientations
which today threaten the proper Christian stance.
As is well known, the myth of the Grail is the exemplary case
of religious-ideological 'ex-aptation' (to use the term developed
by Stephen Jay Gould apropos of his criticism of orthodox
Darwinism): it reinscribes into the Christian domain the pagan
notion of a magical object that provides abundance and brings
about seasonal rebirth and regeneration. In Parsifal, his last opera,
Richard Wagner accomplishes the same process backwards: he
interprets Christ's death and the Good Friday miracle as a pagan
myth of seasonal death and rebirth. This gesture is profoundly
anti-Christian: by breaking with the pagan notion of cosmic
Justice and Balance, Christianity also breaks with the pagan
118
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
notion of the circular death and rebirth of the Divinity - Christ's
death is not the same as the seasonal death of the pagan god;
rather, it designates a rupture with the circular movement of death
and rebirth, the passage to a wholly different dimension of the
Holy Spirit. One is tempted to claim that, for this reason, Parsifal
is the model For all today's 'fundamentalist' Christians who, under
the guise of returning to authentic Christian values, do precisely
the opposite, and betray the subversive core of Christianity.
At what level does Christianity actually provide the founda-
tion of human rights and freedoms? To put it in a somewhat
simplified way, two basic attitudes are discernible in the history
of religions, along the axis of the opposition between the global
and the aniversal. On the one hand there is the pagan Cosmos, the
Divine hierarchical order of cosmic Principles, which, applied to
society, produces the image of a congruent edifice in which each
member has its own place. Here the supreme Good is the global
balance of Principles, while Evil stands For their derailment or
derangement, for the excessive assertion of one Principle to the
detriment of others (of the masculine Principle to the detriment
of the feminine; of Reason to the detriment of Feeling ...); the
cosmic balance is then re-established through the work of Justice
which, with its inexorable necessity, sets things straight again by
crushing the derailed element. With regard to the social body, an
individual is 'good' when he acts in accordance with his special
place in the social edifice (when he respects Nature, which pro-
vides food and shelter; when he shows respect for his superiors,
who take care of him in a fatherly way); and Evil occurs when
some particular strata or individuals are no longer satisfied with
this place (children no longer obey their parents, servants no
longer obey their masters, the wise ruler turns into a capricious,
119
SLAVOJ ZllEK
cruel tyrant ...). The very core of pagan \Visdom lies in its
insight into this cosmic balance of hierarchically ordered
Principles - more precisely, into the eternal circuit of the cosmic
catastrophe (derailment) and the restoration of Order throngh
jnst pnnishment. Perhaps the most elaborated case of snch a
cosmic order is the Ancient Hindn cosmology, applied first to the
social order, in the guise of the caste system, and then to the
individual organism itself, in the guise of' the harmonious
hierarchy of its organs (head, hands, abdomen ...); today, such
an attitude is artificially revived in the multitnde of New Age
approaches to natnre and society.
Christianity (and, in its own way, Bnddhism) introduced into
this global balanced cosmic Order a principle that is totally for-
eign to it, a principle which, measured by the standards of pagan
cosmology, cannot but appear as a monstrous distortion: the
principle according to which each individnal has immediate access
to nniversality (of nirvana, of the Holy Spirit, or, today, of hnman
Rights and freedoms): I can participate in this universal dimen-
sion directly, irrespective of my special place within the global
social order. For that reason, Buddha's followers form a commu-
nity of people who, in one way or another, have broken with the
hierarchy of the social order and started to treat it as fundamen-
tally irrelevant: in his choice of disciples, Buddha pointedly
ignored castes and (after some hesitation, true) even sexual d i f ~
ference. And do not Christ's scandalous words from Saint Luke's
Gospel point in the same direction: 'If anyone come to me and
does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and children, his
brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my
disciple' (14: 26)'1 Here, of course, we are not dealing with a
simple brutal hatred demanded by a cruel and jealous God:
120
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
family relations stand here metaphorically for the entire socio-
symbolic network, for any particular ethnic 'substance' that
determines our place in the global Order of Things. The 'hatred'
enjoined by Christ is not, therefore, a kind of pseudo-dialectical
opposite to love, but a direct expression of what Saint Paul, in
Corinthians I 13, with unsurpassable power, describes as agape,
the key intermediary term between faith and hope: it is love itself
that enjoins us to 'unplug' from the organic community into
which we vvere born - Of, as Paul puts it, for a Christian, there
are neither men nor women, neither Jews nor Greeks.... No
wonder that, for those fully identified with the Jewish 'national
substance', as well as for the Greek philosophers and the propo-
nents of the global Roman Empire, the appearance of Christ was
a ridiculous andlor tranmatic scandal.
We can see here how thoroughly heterogeneous is the
Christian stance to that of pagan wisdom: in clear contrast to the
ultimate horizon of pagan wisdom, the coincidence of opposites
(the universe is the abyss of the primordial Ground in which all
'false' opposites - of Good and Evil, of appearance and reality, up
to the very opposition between wisdom itself and the folly of
being caught in the illusion of maya - coincide), Christianity
asserts as the highest act precisely what pagan "wisdom condemns
as the source of Evil: the gesture of separation, of drawing the
line, of clinging to an element that disturbs the balance of All.
The pagan criticism that the Christian insight is not 'deep
enough', that it fails to grasp the primordial One-All, therefore
misses the point: Christianity is the miraculous Event that dis-
turbs the balance of the One-All; it is the violent intrusion of
Difference that preci....,ely throws the balanced circuit ofthe universe off
the rails.
121
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
From this standpoint, it would be interesting to approach the
barely concealed ideological ambiguities of George Lucas's Star
Wars L The Phantom Menace, one of whose few points of interest as
a film is the way it endeavours to outline the answer to the ques-
tion of the 'origin of Evil': how did Darth Vader become Darth Vader,
that is, how did Anakin Skywalker, this sweet boy, turn into the
monstrous instrument of cosmic Evil? Two hints are crucial
here: first, the' Christological' features of the young Anakin (his
mother hints that she became pregnant with hiIn in an immacu-
late conception; the race he wins clearly echoes the famous
chariot race in Ben Hur, this 'tale of Christ'); second, the fact
that he is identified as the one who has the potential to 'restore
the balance of the Force'. Since the ideological universe of Star
Wars is the New Age pagan nniverse, it is qnite significant that its
central figure of Evil shonld echo Christ - within the pagan
horizon, the Event of Christ is the nltimate scandal.
Furthermore, what if - along Hegelian lines - we take the pre-
monition that Anakin will' restore the balance of the Force' not
as the fateful misapprehension, but as a correct insight? What if
the suffocating character of the pagan universe lay precisely in
the fact that it lacked the dimension ifradical Evil- that, in it, the bal-
ance was too much in favour of the Good? So the emergence of
Christianity did in a way effectively' restore the balance of the
Force' precisely in so far as it was the intervention of radical
Evil (the power of unheard-of negativity) that derailed the pallid
and anaemic, self-satisfied, tolerant peaceful daily life of the late
Roman Empire? Was this not - implicitly, at least - Schelling's
thesis when, in Weltalter, he interpreted the emergence of Christ
as the event of Ent-Scheidung (differentiating decision) which dis-
turbs the balance of the pagan universe, of the vortex of its
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THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
eternal circuit in which all differences are ultimately engulfed by
the same abyss?
12 Christ's Uncoupling
It is preciselY in order to emphasize this suspension of the social
hierarchy that Christ (like Buddha before him) addresses in
particular those who belong to the very bottom of the social hier-
archy, the outcasts of the social order (beggars, prostitutes ...) as
the privileged and exemplary members of his new commnnity.
This new community is then explicitly constructed as a collective
of outcasts, the antipode to any established' organic' group.
Perhaps the best way to imagine such a community is to locate it
in the lineage of other 'eccentric' communities of outcasts that we
know from past and present, from lepers and circus Ereaks to
early computer hackers - groups in which stignlatized individu-
als are united by a secret bond of solidarity. In order to speci(y
these communities further, one L.., tempted to risk the reference to
Freud himself - in his Crowd Psychology he provides two examples
of crowd formation: the Church and the Army. Usually, one
takes them as equivalent, without considering the difference
between the two. What, however, if this difference is crucial,
along the lines of Laclau's opposition between the structure of
differences and the antagonistic logic of eqnivalences? The
Church is global: a structured Institution, an eneompassing net-
work of hierarchically differentiated positions, basically
ecumenical, tolerant, prone to compromises, all-inclusive, divid-
ing its spoils among its subgroups; while in the Army the
emphasis is on antagonism, on Us versus Them, on egalitarian
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SLAVOJ ZIZEK
universalism (we are all ultimately equal wheu we are confronted
with Them, the Enemy), so that the Army is ultimately exclu-
sionary, prone to annihilate the other. Of course, this is a notional
opposition: empirically, the line can well be blurred, and we often
have a militant Church, or, on the contrary, an Army that
functions as a Churchlike corporate social institution.
The fundamental paradox here is thus that with regard to
empirical institutions, the two communities often exchange their'
proper places: it is the Church which is often close to the antag-
onistic functioning of the Army, and vice versa. Suffice it to recall
the tension in the twelfth aud thirteenth ceuturies between the
Church qua institution and the emerging monastic orders as
subversive counter-communities endangering the Church's
established place within the social order, aud all the difficulties
the Church had iu containing this excess and reinscribing this
properly religious Event (such as the early movement founded
by Saint Francis) within the confines of the order of Being....
Does not this opposition characterize the way Lacanians relate to
the Internatioual Psycho-Analytical Association? The IPA is the
psychoanalytic Church, excommunicating people from its ranks
only when it feels actually threatened, prone to endless debates
and compromises; Lacanians, on the contrary, are the psychoan-
alytic Army: a combative group working towards an aggressive
reconquest, defined by the antagonism between Us and Them,
avoiding and rejecting the tolerant olive branch of the IPA (come
back, we accept you - but only if you also make a compromise
and change slightly not the substance, but the form ofyour activ-
ity ...). With regard to the political struggles, Freud's wo es war,
soil ich werden can thus also be read as: where the Church was, the
Army should arrive.
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THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
This is also the sense in which one should read those of
Christ's statements which disrupt the circular logic of revenge or
punishment destined to re-establish the balance of Justice:
instead of 'An eye for an eye!', we get 'If sorneone slaps your
right cheek, turn to him also your left cheek!' - the point here is
not stupid masochism, humble acceptance of one's humiliation,
but simply to interrupt the circular logic -;fre-establishing balance. It is
interesting to observe how, even when Saint Paul does refer to
the organicist metaphor of the religious community as a living
body, he subverts it by turning it around: 'God has so arranged
the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member' (I
Corinthians 12: 24) - that is to say, in the religious community,
social hierarchy is reflected in an inverted way, so that the lowest
deserve the greatest honour.
Of course, one should be careful here to avoid what psycho-
analjS'iSC'il!s the perverse temptation: this 'unpluggIng' h'om the
social body should not turn into perversion, in which we love the
1O;;;;;t outcast because he is the lowest outcast (thus secretly wantIng
hi;;;to remain so) - in this way, we do not actually' unplug' fr:;m
hierarchic social order, but merely turn it aroun(f,SetltoniIs
h;ad, and thus continue to parasitize on it (this logic
brought to its extreme by the medieval sects whose mefilbers-
went so far as to eat the excrement of their fellow men in order-to
emphasIze theIr
;nan) And is not (on a different lever of course) aSliililar
at work in passionate sexual love? Is not such love
of the greatest pulverizers of social hierarchy? When, in the-
balcony scene, Romeo and Juliet pathetically proclaim their
;';unciation and hatred of their own family names (Montagu"e,
c:;.pulet), and thus 'unplug' themselves particular
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SLAVOJ ZIZEK
(family) social substance, do they not provide the supreme
of 'hatred of paFento' as the- direot qf
Furthermore, do we not encounter something similar in

collective, our

---Uoes--;;;;;-Christianity, however, g-;' fnrther and.
enjoin us not only to hate our parents on behalf of the beloved
one, but, in a dialectical inversion of love for one's enemy, 'to hate
the helaved out of love and in love'?87 The proper way to under-
stand this is to ask a precise question: what dimension in the
beloved other am I enjoined to hate? Let us take the hatred
towards one's father in Oedipal family tension: as we see again
and again, this hatred disappears, and a new understanding for
the father emerges, the moment the son, in effect, gets rid of the
shadO'w of paternal authority - in short, it disappears the moment
the son perceives his father no longer as the embodiment of his
socio-symholic function, but as a vulnerable suhject 'unplugged'
from it. It is in this sense that, in true love, I 'hate the beloved out
of love': I 'hate' the dimension of his inscription into the socio-
symholic structure on behalf of my very love for him as a unique
person. However, to avoid a crucial misunderstanding that might
arise here: this 'unplugging' of agape has nothing whatsoever/to do
with the common 'humanist' idea that one shoufcl forget about
'artificial' symbolic predicates and perceive one's neighbours in
their unique hUlllanity, that is, see the 'real human person'
beneath their 'social roles I, their ideological mandates and
lllasks - here Saint Paul is quite firm in his 'theoretical anti-
humanism':
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THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human
point of view; even though we Once knew Christ from a
human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So
if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old
has passed away; see, everything has become new! (II
Corinthians 5: 16-17)
In this 'uncoupling', the neighbour is thus reduced to a singular
member of the community of believers (of the 'Holy Ghost') - to
use the Althusserian-Lacanian opposition, it is not the symbolic
subject who is reduced to the 'real' individual, it is the individual
(in all the wealth of his 'personality') who is reduced to the sin-
gularpoint ofsubjectivity; as such, 'uncoupling' does actually involve
a 'symbolic death' - one has to 'die for the law' (Saint Paul) that
regulates our tradition, our social 'substance'. The term 'new
creation' is revealing here, signalling the gesture of sublimation, of
erasing the traces of one's past ('everything old has passed away')
and beginning afresh from a zero-point: consequently, there is
also if terri(ying violence at work in this 'uncoupling', that of the
death drive, of the radical 'wiping the slate dean' as the condition
of the New Beginning.
Such an 'unplugging' as the direct expression oflove has noth-
ing whatsoever to do with the escape into an idealized Romantic
universe in which all concrete social difFerences magically disap-
pear - to quote Kierkegaard again: 'love believes everything - andyet
is never to be deceived',88 in contrast to the mistrust which believes
nothing and is nevertheless thoroughly deceived. The person who
mistrusts his others is, paradoxically, in his very cynical dishelief,
the victim of the most radical self-deception: as Lacan would
have put it, les non-dupes errent - the cynic misses the
127
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
eHiciency/actuality of the appearance itself, however fleeting,
fragile and elusive it is; while the true believer believes in
appearances, in the magic dimension that 'shines through' an
appearance - he sees Goodness in the other where the other
himself is not aware of it. Here appearance and reality are no
longer opposed: precisely in trusting appearances, a loving- person
sees the other the way shelhe effectively is, and loves her for her
very foibles, not despite them. With regard to this point, the
Oriental notion of the Absolute Void-Substance-Ground
beneath the fragile, deceptive appearances that constitute our
reality is to be opposed to the notion that it is the ordinal)' real-
ity that is hard, inert, stnpidly there, and the Ahsolute that is
thoroughly fragile and fleeting. That is to say: what is the
Absolute? Something that appears to us in fleeting experiences -
say, through the gentle sluile of a beautiful woman, or even
through the warm, caring smile of a person who may otherwise
seem ugly and rude: in such miraculous but extremely fragile
moments, another dimension transpires through our reality. As
such, the Absolute is easily corroded; it slips all too easily through
our fingers, and must be handled as carefully as a butterfly.
In Lacanian terms, the difference here is the one between
idealization and sublimation: false idolizing idealizes, it blinds itself
to the other's weaknesses - or, rather, it blinds itself to the other
as such, using the beloved as a blank screen on to which it projects
its own phantasmagorical constructions; while true love accepts
the beloved the way she or he is, merely putting her/him into the
place of the Thing, the unconditional Object. As every true
Christian knows, love is the work of love - the hard and arduous
work of repeated 'uncoupling' in which, again and again, we
have to disengage ourselves from the inertia that constrains us to
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THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
identifY with the particular order we were born into. Through
the Christian work of compassionate love, we discern in what
was hitherto a disturbing foreign body, tolerated and even mod-
estly supported by us so that we were not too bothered by it, a
subject, with its crushed drealns and desires - it is this Christian
heritage of 'uncoupling' that is threatened by today's 'fundamen-
talisms', especially when they proclaim themselves Christian.
Does not Fascism ultimately involve the return to the pagan
mores which, rejecting the love of one's enemy, cultivate full
identification with one's own ethnic community?
\Ve are now also in a position to answer the ultimate counter-
argument: is it not that Christianity none the less supports
participation in the social game (obey the laws 01' the country,
even ifyour ultimate fidelity is to God), and thus generates ideal
subjects of the existing order? In other words, is not the
Christian 'uncoupling' ultimately the same as the old Hindu
'action with an inner distance' (the virtue of accomplishing acts
with an indifference towards their goal) from the Bhaghavad-Gita,
as the following passage seems to imply:
the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even
those who have wives be as though they had none, and those
who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who
rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as
though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the
world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present
form of this world is passing away. (I Corinthians 7: 29-31)
The answer is that the Christian 'unplugging' is not an inner con-
templative stance, but the active work of love which necessarilY
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SLAVOJ ZIZEK
leads to the creation of an alternative community. Furthermore, in
clear contrast to the Fascist carnivalesque 'unplugging' from the
established symbolic rules, which fonctions as the inherent trans-
gression of the existing order, theproper Christian uncoupling suspends not
so much the explicit laws but, rather, their implicit Jpectral obscene supplement.
13 'You must, because you can!'
Let us specify this crucial point by reference to a well-known
tasteless defence of Hitler: 'True, Hitler did some horrible
things, like trying to rid Germany of Jews, but we should not
forget that he none the less did some good things, like bnilding
highways and making the trains run on time!' The whole point
of this defence, of course, is that although it formally denounces
anti-Semitic violence, it is covertly anti-Semitic: the very gesture
of comparing the anti-Semitic horrors to building highways,
and putting them together in a statement 'whose structure is
that of 'Yes, I know, but none the less .. .', makes it clear that
praising Hitler's construction of highways is a displaced way
of praising his anti-Semitic measures. The proof is that the cri-
tique of Hitler which turns around the terms of the first one
(popular in SOIile extremely conservative ecological circles) is no
less acceptable, but implies an even stronger defence of Hitler,
albeit in the form of criticism: 'True, Hitler did some good
things, like trying to rid Germany of Jews, but we should not
forget that he none the less did some horrible things, like build-
ing highways and thus ruining . Germany's environment . . .'.
And is not a similar reversal also the true content of the standard
defence of the perpetrators of extreme-Right racist violence:
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'True, he did participate in lynchings of African-Americans, but
we should not forget that he was also a good and honest family
man who went regularly to church .. .' - instead of this, one
shonld read: 'True, he did do some good things, like trying to get
rid of the nasty African-Americans; none the less, we should not
forget that he was just a common family man who went regularly
to church .. .'. The key to this reversal is that in both cases we are
dealiug with the tension bet-veen the publicly acknowledged and
acceptable ideological content (building highways, going to
church) and its obscene disavowed underside (Holocaust, lynch-
ings): the first, standard, version of the statement acknowledges
the public content and disavows its obscene underside (while
secretly endorsing it); the second version openly dismisses the
pnblic aspect and endorses the obscene underside.
So, in so far as, with regard to the duality of 'official'
pu blic symbolic narrative space and its spectral double,
the public symbolic space is regnlated by the symbolic Law,
what kind of law is operative in the uncanny domain of its spec-
tral double? The answer, of course, is: superego.
89
One sbould
bear in mind here that the tension bei'\veen the symbolic Law
and the impossible/real Thing access to which is prohibited by
the Law (ultimately, the maternal Thing prohibited by the
paternal Law) is not Lacan's ultimate horizon - what lies
beyond (or, rather, beneath) it is the uncanny Thing which
itself 'makes the Law':
Das Ding presents itself at the level of unconscious experience
as that which already makes the law.... It is a capricious
and arbitrary law, the law of the oracle, the law of signs in
which the subject receives no guarantee from anywhere.
90
131
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
So we no longer have das Ding as the dark beyond, constituted
by the prohibitory Law: the ultimate borror is that of the
real Thing itself which directly' makes the law'. And in so far
as the Thing stands for jouissance, this Lawwhich is the Law of the
Thing itself is, of course, none other than the superego, the law
whose injunction is the impossible command 'Enjoy!'. This is
also the dimension that is the obverse of the Kantian logic of the
infinite approach to the impossible goal: in Kant's horizon, the
Thing remains inaccessible, a void beyond the Law, while the
Law-Thing displays as it were the Sadeian obverse/truth of
Kant, a perverse Law that is the Law of the Thing itself.
The superego suspension of moral prohibitions is the crucial
feature of today's 'postmodern' nationalism. Here, the cliche
according to which passionate ethnic identification restores a
firm set of values and belicfs in the confusing insecurity of a
modern secular global society is to be turned around: nationalist
'fundamentalism' serves, rather, as the operator of a secret, barely
concealed You may! It is today's apparently hedonistic and per-
missive postmodern reflexive society which is paradoxically more
and more saturated by rnles and regulations that allegedly pro-
mote our well-being (restrictions on smoking and eating, rules
against sexual harassment ...), so that the reference to some pas-
sionate ethnic identification, far from further restraining us,
functions rather as the liberating call 'You may J' - you may vio-
late (not the Decalogue, but) the rigid regulations of peaceful
coexistence in a liberal tolerant society; you may eat and drink
whatever you like; engage in patriarchal mores prohibited by
liberal Political Correctness; even hate, light, kill and rape....
Without the full recognition of this perverse pseudo-liberating
effect of today's nationalism - of how the obscenely permissive
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superego supplements the explicit texture of the social-symbolic
law - we condernn ourselves to a failure to grasp its true d
ynam
-
ics.
91
This is hovv Aleksandar Tijanic, a leading Serb columnist
who was for a brief period even Milosevics Minister for
Information and Public Media, describes 'the strange kind of
symbiosis between Milosevic and the Serbs'o
Milosevic generally suits the Serbs. In the time of his rule,
Serbs abolished the time for working. No one does anything.
He allowed the Honrishing of the black market and smug-
gling. You can appear On state TV and insult Elair, Clinton,
or anyone else of the 'world dignitaries'.... Furthermore,
Milosevic gave us the right to carry weapons. He gave us the
right to solve all our problems with weapons. He gave us also
the right to drive stolen cars.... Milosevic changed the daily
life of Serbs into one great holiday and enabled us all to feel
like high-school pupils on a graduation trip - which means
that nothing, but really nothing, of what you do can be pun-
ishable.
92
The superego is thus the properly obscene reversal of the per-
missive 'You may!' into the prescriptive 'You must1', the point at
which permitted enjoyment turns into ordained enjoyment. We all
know Kant's formula of the unconditional ethical imperative Du
kannst, denn du sollst! (You can [do your duty] becauseyou must [do it]!; the
superego inverts this Kantian You can, because you musti into You should
[you must], because you cani. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case
of the unfortunate VIagra, the potency pill that promises to restore
the capacity of male erection in a purely biochemical way, bypass-
ing all problems with psychological inhibitions: now that Viagra
133
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
takes care of the erection, there is no excuse: you should enjoy sex;
ifyou don't it's your fault! At the opposite end of the spectrum, the
New Age wisdom of recovering the spontaneity of your true Self
seems to offer a way out of this superego predicament -what,
however, do we actually find there? Is this New Age attitude of
wisdom not again secretly sustained by the superego imperative:
'You must [do your duly of achieving your full self-realization
and self-fulfilment], because you can!'? Is this not why we ofLen
reel a real terroristic pressure beneath the compliant tolerance of
New Age preachers?93 To put it in somewhat simplified terms: the
elementary authoritarian (wisdom' is that Inan is a weak, cor-
rupted being who needs a strong Master to control his dangerous
antisocial impulses; this is why the traditional authoritarian Master
tells us: 'No matter what you think deep in yourself, no matter
how difficult and against your nature you fmd it, obey [my orders],
repress and renounce your inner urges!'; the totalitarian Master's
message in contrast is: 'I know better than you do yourself what
you really want, what is in your best interests, so what I order you
to do is what you, deep within yourself: really unknowingly desire,
even if you seem superficially to be opposed to it!'
This external opposition betweeu 'pleasure and duly' can be
overcome in hvo ways. On the onc hand, we have the paradox of
the extremely oppressive 'totalitarian' power which goes even
further than traditional 'authoritarian' pOV\Ter - it does not only
tell you: 'Do your duly: [ don't care if you like it or not!', it tells
you: 'Not only must you obey my orders and do your duty, you
must do it with pleasure, you must enjoy doing it!' (This is how
totalitarian populist democracy works: it is not enough for the
subjects to follow their Leader, they must actively love him ...).
On the other hand, we have the obverse paradox of the pleasure
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whose ve.IY pursuit turns into duty: in a 'permissive' society, sub-
jects experience the need to 'have a good time', really to enjoy
themselves, as a kind of duly; consequently, they feel guilty if
they fail to be happy.... And my point is that the concept of the
superego desiguates precisely the interzone in which these two
opposites overlap: in which the command to enjoy doing your duty
overlaps with the duty to enjoyyourself
Here, again, the role of Christianity is ambiguous: 'You have
heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say
to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already
committed adultery with her in his heart' (Matthew 5: 27-8).
Does this gesture of going a step further with regard to the
Decalogue, and prohibiting not only sinful deeds but sinful
thoughts themselves, designate the shift from the Jewish symbolic
PrOhibition to its superego elaboration (not ouly should you not
act upon your sinful desires, you should fight them - these desires
themselves, even ifyou successfully resist them, are already equiv-
alent to committing the sin, so you should renounce/transform
your desires themselves, and desire only what is permitted)? Or
does Christianily, on the contrary, endeavour to break the very
vicious cycle of prohibition that generates the desire to transgress
it, the cycle described by Saint Paul in Romans 7: 7'!
14 From Knowledge to Truth. , .
and Back
Let us approach this dilemma from another perspective, that of
the dialectical tension between Knowledge and Truth. Usually,
psychoanalysis operates in the domaiu of the opposition betweeu
135
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
factual 'objective' knowledge and 'subjective' truth: one can lie in
the guise of truth (this is what obsessionals are doing when, in
statements which are factually entirely accurate, they conceal or
disavow their desire); one can tell the truth in the guise of a lie
(the hysterical procedure, or a simple slip of the tongue which
betrays the subject's true desire). In Darwins Dangerous Idea,
Daniel Dennett evokes the following mental experiment: You
and your hest friend are about to be captured by hostile forces,
who speak English but do not know much about your world.
You both know Morse code, and hit upon the following
impromptu encryption scheme: for a dash, tell the truth; for a
dot, lie. Your captors, of course, listen to you talking to each
other: 'Birds lay eggs, and toads By. Chicago is a city, and my feet
are not made of tin, and baseball is played in August,' you say,
answering 'No' (dash-dot; dash-dash-dasb) to whatever your
friend has just asked. Even if your captors know Morse code,
unless they can determine the truth and falsity of these sentences,
they cannot detect the properties that stand for dot and dash
94
Dennett himself uses this example to make the point that mean-
ing cannot be accounted for in purely inherent syntactic terms:
the only way ultimately to gain access to the meaning of a state-
ment is to situate it in its lifewodd context, that is, to take into
account its semantic dimension, the objects and processes to
which it refers. My point is rather different: as Dennett himself
puts it, in this case, the tV/a prisoners use the world itself as a
'one-time pad' - although the truth-value of their statements is
not indifferent but crucial, it is not this truth-value as such, in
itself, that matters; what matters is the translation of truth-value
into a differential series of plnses and minuses (dashes and dots)
which delivers the true message in Morse code.
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Does not something similar also go on in the psychoanalytic
process? Although the truth-value of the patient's statements is
not indifferent, what really matters is not this truth-value as such,
but the way the very alternation of trnths and lie discloses the
patient's desire - a patient also uses reality itself (the way he
relates to it) as a 'one-time pad' to encrypt his desire. When a
patient claims that she has been molested by her father, one
should, of course, establish if this harassment really took place or
not; what ultimately matters, however, is not this harassment as
such, but the role it plays in the patient's symbolic economy, the
way it was' subjectivized'. If we learn that the act of harassment
did not take place in reality, then the fact that the patient fanta-
sizes intensely about it acquires a different symbolic value, while
still telling us a lot about her desire.
However, this notion of authentic subjective Truth as opposed
to mere 'objective' knowledge is not Lacan's last word. In Lacan's
late work there is a certain knowledge (equivalent to drive) more
fundamental than (subjective) Trnth itself. At the Lacanian con-
ference The Subject - Encore at UCLA in March 1999, one of the
participants discussed a recent medica-legal case of a woman who,
on religious grounds, unconditionally rejected the transfnsion that
wonld have saved her life. The judge before whom she was
brought asked her: 'What ifyou were to be submitted to transfu-
sion against your will? Would this also condemn you to damnation
and hell in your afterlife, or not?' After a brief deliberation, the
woman answered: 'I guess the answer is no.' Vlhen he heard this,
the judge took the responsibility upon himself: in order to save the
woman's life without putting her in an unbearable moral predica-
ment, he proclainled her irresponsible, and ordered the transfusion
against her will. What is the etmcal status of this decision?
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SLAVOJ ZIZEK
The participants hailed the judge's intervention as a model of
the inventive approach. Such an approach can also serve as a
prate-type of a successful analyst's intervention: how to enable the
patient to assert his fundamental will-to-life without harming his
ideological and symbolic identifications. From the standpoint of
psychoanalytic ethics, however, such a solution is false. It is a
neat practical solution - in the judge's position I would probably
do the same thing - but it does not force the subject to confront
the truth of her desire. Rather, it involves the helpful-compas-
sionate procedure of proposing a beneficial protective fiction -
or, to put it somewhat bluntly, of a lie. Because ultimately, this
solution is a lie: when the poor woman was asked: 'What if you
were to be submitted to transfusion against your will? Would this
also condemn you to damnation aud hell in your afterlife, or
not?', she knewperfectly well that ifshe answered 'No; thejudge would order
enforced transfusion. To make the fact that the choice of having a
transfusion or not was actually in her own hands clear, one
should introduce here the Lacanian distinction between the sub-
ject of statement and the subject of enunciation: by answering
truthfully on the level of statement (she truly believed that
enforced transfusion does not count as a mortal sin), she sinned
(she lied and endorsed transfusion) on tbe level of her subjective
position of enunciation -that is to say, the true content of her 'no!
was 'yes, please, do give me a transfusion' (like the proverbial
male chauvinist figure of a hypocritical woman who can enjoy
sex only if she is half forced into it, so that she can pretend that
it is happening to her against her will). So, again, paradoxically,
the only way for her to be true to herselfon the level of subjective
Truth (the position of enunciation) would have been to lie at the
level of statement - to answer 'Yes!' even if she really thought
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that transfusion against one's will is not a mortal sin - only in this
way could she have prevented the transfusion.
Does this alternative, however, really cover all the options?
Is it not possible to imagine the poor woman answering accu-
rately (the way she did: 'No') without sinning? What if we
simply imagine a subject who escapes the tension between
objective knowledge and subjective Truth by suspending the
very dimension of Truth, and sticking to cold impersonal
Knowledge? That is to say: what if the poor woman were to
answer 'No' not in order secretly to save herself, but out of a
radical disregard for subjective consequences? (In this case, it
would be totally inappropriate to claim that the judge, as a
good analyst, detected in her a disavowed desire to live, and
gently, through the beneficial lie, allowed her to realize this
desire without breaking her religious code.) Here, one should
recall Jacques-Alain Miller's precise point that the aim of ana-
lytic discourse is to practise a language which does not deceive or
conceal, does not use its direct meaning as part of' some hidden
rhetorical strategy of argumentation. Oswald Ducrot
95
devel-
oped the thesis that in our language all predicates are
ultimately jnst reified argumentative procedures - in the last
resort, we use language not to designate some reality, some
content, but to dupe the other, to win an argument, to seduce
or threaten, to conceal our true desire.... In ordinary lan-
guage, the truth is never fully established; there are always
pros and cons; for each argument there are counter-arguments;
there is 'another side' to every point; every statement can be
negated; undecidability is all-encompassing - this eternal vac-
illation is interrupted only by the intervention of some quilting
point (Master-Signifier). According to Lacan, however, psy-
139
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
choanalytic discourse is part of modern science in that it aims
at breaking this vicious cycle of all-pervasive argumentation,
but not in tbe mode of the quilting point: the signifiers do not
need such a point in order to be stabilized because they are
already.. in their very functioning, not vacillating, not caught in
the eternal sliding of meaning.
So, on this level, the subject breaks out of the vicious cycle of
interpretation - her 'No!' is no longer to be interpreted, since
what she actually desires is simply irrelevant. And maybe this is
also the way to answer the standard Christian criticism that the
Jews, by seeking ways of obeying God's commandments and
prohibitions literally, while none the less retaining what they
desire, in effect cheat Him. (There is a religious institution in
Israel which deals specifically with issues of how to circumvent
prohibitions; significantly enough, it is called The Institute for
]udaism and Science.) This criticism is meaningful within the con-
fines of the standard Christian attitude where what matters is the
spirit, not the letter - where you are guilty if the desire was in
your heart, even ifyou did not break any letter of the law by your
deeds. When, in order not to break the injunction that no pigs
should be raised on the holy land of Israel, pigs are raised today
on plateaus three feet above tbe ground, the Christian interpre-
tation would be: 'See how hypocritical the Jews are! The
meaning of their God's command is clear - simply do not raise
pigs! And the .Jews, in a profoundly hypocritical way, take the
Divine statement literally, fncusing on the totally unimportant
specification "on the land of Israel", and thus find a way of vio-
lating the spirit of the injunction, while keeping to its letter. For
us Christians, they are already guilty in their hearts, because
they spend all their energy not on internalizing God's prohibition,
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THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
but on bow to have their cake and eat it, that is, on how to eir-
cumvent the prohibition.'
The answer to this would be simply to suspend the entire
dOluain of interpretation: what if the poor woman, in answering
'No', was not hypocritically eounting on the fact that her desire to
live would be fulfilled, that she would get her transfusion, with-
out being responsible for it, and thus having to pay the price for
it? What if her stance was, rather, that of radical indifference
towards the entire domain of the possible pathological (in the
Kantian sense of the term) effects of telling the truth? What if
ber implicit ethical axiom was the exact inversion of the standard
'You should tell the truth, even if it hurts you! ' - 'You should tell
the truth, even ifit helps you!'? The funda.mentallesson of the psy-
choanalytic notion of superego is that - pace the neoconservatives
who bemoan the allegedly hedonistic narcissism of our age -
there are Few things more difficult than to enjoy, without guilt,
the fruits of doing one's duty (in this case, the duty of telling the
truth). While it is easy to enjoy acting in an egotistic way against
one's duty, it is, perhaps, only as the result of psychoanalytic
treatment that one can acquire the capacity to enjoy doing one's
duty; perhaps this is one of the definitions of the end of psycho-
analysis.
One can easily see how this solution enables us to break the
vicious cycle of the superego: the Christian logic of 'even if you
only thought of it, you are already as guilty as if you had com-
mitted the act' relies on the guilt feeling: it involves the superego
paradox of 'the nlore you repress your transgressive desire in
order to obey the Law, the more this desire returns in your
thoughts and obsesses you; consequently, the guiltier you are'.
From this Christian perspective, of course, the Jewish literal
141
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
obedience to the Law cannot but appear as the ultimate oppor-
tunistic Iuanipulation which ilnplies a totally external
relationship towards the Law as the set of rules to be tweaked so
that one can nevertheless achieve one's true aim - what bothers
Christians is the fact that the Jews do not see the cheap trickery
of their procedure, so that when they succeed in having their
cake and eating it, in realizing their goal without disobeying the
letter of the Law, they do notftel any guilt. But what if this lack of
guilt demonstrates precisely that the Christian criticism accord-
ing to which the Jews cheaply manipulate the Law without
renouncing their pathological goals misses the point: I can tell
the truth without guilt, even if it helps me, because it is only truth
that matters, not IllY desires invested in it. So, far from being the
'religion of guilt', the Jewish religion precisely enables us to
avoid guilt - it is Christianity that manipulates guilt much more
effectively96
The superego dialectic of Law and transgression does not lie
only in the fact that Law itself invites its own transgression, that
it generates the desire for its own violation; our obedience to the
Law itself is not' natural', spontaneous, but always-already mediated
by the (repression ofthe) desire to transgress the Law. When we obey the
Law, we do so as part of a desperate strategy to fight against our
desire to transgress it, so the more rigorously Vl.re obey the Law,
the more we bear witness to the fact that, deep within ourselves,
we feel the pressore of the desire to indulge in sin. The superego
feeling of guilt is therefore right: the more we obey the Law, the
morc we are guilt;yJ because this obedience, in effect, is a defence
against our sinful desire: and in Christianity, the desire (inten-
tion) to sin equals the act itself - if you simply covet your
neighbour's wife, you are already committing adultery. This
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THE FRAGILE ABSOLU"
Christian superego attitude is perhaps best expressed by
T.S. Eliot's line from Murder in the Cathedral: 'the highest form of
treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason' - even when
you do the right thing, you do it in order to counteract, and thus
conceal, the basic vileness ofyour true nature.... It is this super-
ego dialectic that is successfully avoided by the Jews: their
obedience to the Law is not mediated by the repressed desire to
sin, which is why they can stick to the letter of the Law and
none the less find ways of realizing their desire without any guilt
feelings.... However, this superego dialectic of the transgressive
desire engendering guilt is not the ultimate horizon of
Christianity: as Saint Paul makes clear, the Christian stance, at its
most radicaL involves precisely the suspension of the vicious
cycle of Law and its transgressive desire. I-Iow are we to resolve
this deadlock?
15 The Breakout
Our answer is that the passage from J udaism to Christianity
ultimately obeys the matrix of the passage from the' masculine' to
the 'feminine' formulae of sexuation. Let us clarify this passage
apropos of the opposition ben.veen the jouis.I'ance of drives and. the
jouissance of the Other, elaborated by Lacan in Seminar XX· Encore;
this opposition is also sexualized according to the same matrix.
On the one hand we have the closed, ultimately solipsistic, circuit
of drives which Iind their satisfaction in idiotic masturbatory
(autoerotic) activity, in the perverse circulating around objet petit
a as the object of a drive. On the other hand, there are subjects
for whom access to jouissance is much more closely linked to the
143
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
domain of the Other's discourse, to how they not so much talk, as
are talked about: say, erotic pleasure hinges on the seductive talk
of the lover, on the satisfaction provided by the speech itselt; not
just on the act in its stupidity. And does not this contrast explain
the long-observed difference in how the two sexes relate to
cyberspace sex? Men are luuch more prone to use cyberspace as
a masturbatory device for their solitary playing, immersed in
stupid repetitive pleasure, while women are more prone to par-
ticipate in chatrooms, using cyberspace for seductive exchanges
of speech.
Do we not encounter a clear case of this opposition betvveen
the masculine phallic/masturbatoryjouissance of the drive and the
feminine jouissance of the Other in Lars von Trier's fIhn Breaking the
Waves? Crippled and confined to his hospital bed, Jan tells his
wife Bess that she must make love to other men and describe her
experiences to him in detail- in this way, she will keep his will-
to-life alive: although she will be performing the act physically
with other men, the true sex will occur in their conversation....
J an's jouissance is clearly phallic/masturbatory: he uses Bess to
provide him with the fantasmatic screen he needs in order to be
able to indulge in solipsistic masturbatory jouissance, while Bess
findsjoui.rsance on the level of the Other (symbolic order), that is,
in her words - for her the ultimate source of satisfaction is not
the sexual acts themselves (she commits them in a purely
mechanical way, as a necessary sacrifice) but the way she reports
on them to Jan. More precisely, Bess's jouissance is that 'of the
Other' in more than one sense of the term: enjoyment not only in
words, but also (and this is ultimately just another aspect of the
thing) in the sense of utter alienation - her enjoyment is totally
alienated/externalized in Jan as her Other: that is, it lies entirely
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THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
in her awareness that she is enabling the Other to enjoy. (This
example is crucial in so far as it enables us to dispense with the
standard misreading of Lacan according to whichjouissallcefemi-
nine is a mystical beatitude beyond speech, exempted from the
symbolic order - quite on the contrary, it is the woman ""ha is
immersed into the order of speech without exception.)97
So how does all this allow us to throw a new light on the
tension between J udaism and Christianity? The first paradox to
note is that the vicious dialectic of Law and its transgression
elaborated by Saint Paul is the invisible third term, the 'vanish-
ing mediator' between the Jewish religion and Christianity - its
spectre haunts both of them, although neither of the two religious
positions actually occupies its place: on the one hand, the Jews
are not yet there, that is, they treat the Law as the written Real
which does not engage them in the vicious superego cycle of
guilt; on the other, as Saint Paul makes clear, the basic point of
Christianity proper is precisely to break out of the vicious superego
cycle of the Law and its transgression via Love. In his Seminar
on the Ethics of PsychoanalyJis, Lacan deals extensively with the
Pauline dialectic of the Law and its transgression - perhaps one
should therefore read this Pauline dialectic together with its
corollary, Saint Paul's other paradigmatic passage, the one on love
from I Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not
have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I
have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all
knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my pos-
sessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast
145
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
[alternative translation: to be burned], but do uot have love,
I gain nothing.... Love never ends. But as for prophecies,
they wilt come to an end; as for tongues, they will ceasei as
tor knowledge, it ·will come to an end. For we know only in
part, and we prophesy only iu part, but wheu the complete
comes, the partial will COlue to an end.... For now we see in
a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I
know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been
fully known. And noW faith, hope, and love abide, these
three; and the greatest of these is love.
Crucial here is the clearly paradoxical place of Love with regard
to All (to the completed series of knowledge or prophecies). First,
Saint Paul claims that love is there even if we possess all knowl-
edge _ then, in the second part of the passage, he claims that love
is there only for incomplete beings, that is, beings who possess
incomplete knowledge. When I 'know fully ... as I have been
fully known', will there still be love? Although, in contrast to
knowledge, 'love never ends', it is clearly only 'now' (while I am
still incomplete) that 'faith, hope, and love abide'. The only way
out of this deadlock is to read the two inconsistent claims accord-
ing to Lacan'sfeminine formulae of sexuation: even vvhen it is 'aU'
(complete, with no exception), the Field of knowledge remains in
a way non-all, incomplete -love is not an exception to the All of
knowledge, but precisely that 'notbing' which makes even the
complete serieslfield of knowledge incomplete. In other words,
the point of the claim that even if I were to possess all knowledge,
without love I would be nothing, is not simply that with love, I
am 'something' - in love, I am also nothing but, as it were, a
Nothing humbly aware of itself, a Nothing paradoxically made
146
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
rich through the very awareness of its lack. Only a lacking, vul-
nerable being is capable of love: the ultimate mystety of love is
therefore that incompleteness is in a way higher than complet-ion. On
the one hand, only an iluperfect, lacking being loves: we love
because we do not know all. On the other hand, even if we were
to know everything, love would inexplicably still be higher
than completed knowledge. Perhaps the true achievement of
Christianity is to elevate a loving (imperfect) Being to the place
of God - that is, of ultimate perFection. Lacan's extensive
discussion of love in Encore should thus be read in the Pauline
sense, as opposed to the dialectic of the Law and its transgres-
sion: this second dialectic is clearly 'masculine'/phallic; it involves
the tension between the All (the universal Law) and its constitu-
tive exception; while love is 'feminine', it involves the paradoxes
of the non-All.
Consequently, there are two ways of subverting the Law, the
'masculine' and the 'feminine', One can violate/transgress itsprohibi-
tions: this is the inherent transgression which sustains the Law,
like the advocates ofliberal democracy who secretly (through the
CIA) train murderers-terrorists for the proto-Fascist regimes in
Latin America. That is false rightist heroism: secretly doing the
'necessary but dirty thing', that is, violating the explicit rnling
ideology (of human Rights, and so on) in order to sustain the
existing order. Much more subversive than this is .limply to do what
is allowed, that is, what the existing order explicitly allows,
although it prohibits it at the level of implicit unwritten prohibi-
tions. In short - to paraphrase Brecht's well-known crack abont
how mild robhing a hank is in comparison with founding a
bank - how mild transgressing the Law is in c{)lnparison with
obeying it thoroughly - or, as Kierkegaard put it, in his unique way:
147
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
'We do not laud the son who said "No," but we endeavour to
learn frmu the gospel how dangerous it is to say, "Sir, I will."'98
What better example is there than Hasek's immortal 'good
soldier Schweik', who caused total havoc in the old Imperial
Austrian Army simply by obeying orders all too literally?
(Although, strictly speaking, there is a better example, namely
the 'absolute example' [Hegel], Christ himself: when Christ
claims that he is here merely to fulfil the [,J ewish] Law, he
thereby bears witness to how his act eflectively cancels the Law.)
The basic paradox of the relationship between public power
and its inherent transgression is that the subject is actually 'in' (caught
in the web of) power only andprecisely in sofar as he does rIOtfidly identifY
with it but maintains a kind ofdistance towardr it; on the other hand, the
system (of public Law) is actually undermined by unreserved
identification with it. Stephen King's 'Rita Hayworth and the
Shawshank Redemption' tackles this problem with due
stringency apropos of the paradoxes of prison life. The cliche
about prison life is that I am actually integrated into it, ruined by
it, when IUy aCCOTI1IDodation to it is so overwhelming that I can no
longer stand or even imagine freedom, life outside prison, so that
my release brings about a total psychic breakdown, or at least
gives rise to a longing for the lost safety of prison life. The actual
dialectic of prison life, however, is somewhat more refined. Prison
in effect destroys me, attains a total hold over me, precisely when
I do not fully consent to the fact that I am in prison but maintain
a kind of inner distance towards it, stick to the illusion that' real
life is elsewhere' and indulge all the time in daydreaming about
life outside, about nice things that are waiting for me after my
release or escape. I thereby get caught in the vicious cycle of fan-
tasy, so that when, eventually, I am released, the grotesque
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THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
discord between fantasy and reality breaks me down. The only
true solution is therefore fully to accept the rules of prison life aud
then, wlthin the universe governed by these rules, to work out a
way to beat them. In short, inner distance and daydreamiug
about Life Elsewhere in efIect enchain me to prison, whereas £1.111
acceptance of the fact that I am really there, bound hy prison
rules, opens up a space for true hope.
What this means is that in order eflectively to liberate oneself
fi'om the grip of existiug social reality, one should first renounce
the transgressive fantasmatic supplement that attaches us to it. In
what does this renunciation consist? In a series of recent (com-
mercial) films, we find the same surprising radical gesture. In
Speed, when the hero (Keanu Reeves) is confronting' the terrorist
blackmailer who is holding his partner at gunpoint, the hero
shoots not the blackmailer, but his own partner in the leg - this
apparently senseless act momentarily shocks the blackmailer,
who releases the hostage and runs away.... In Ransom, when the
media tycoon (Mel Gibson) goes on televisiou to answer the
kidnappers' request for two million dollars as a ransom for his
son, he surprises everyone by saying that he will offer two million
dollars to anyone who will give him any information about the
kidnappers, and announces that he will pursue them to the end,
with all his resources, if they do not release his son immediately.
This radical gesture not only stuns the kidnappers - immediately
after accomplishing it, Gibson himself almost breaks down, aware
of the risk he is courting.... And, finally, the supreme case:
when, in the flashback scene from The Usual Suspects, the mysteri-
ous Keyser Soeze returns home and finds his wife and small
daughter held at gunpoint by the members of a rival mob, he
resorts to the radical gesture of shooting his wife and daughter
149
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
themselves dead - this act enables him mercilessly to pursue
Inembers of the rival gang, their families, parents and friends,
killing them all .... What these three gestures have in common is
that in a situation of forced choice, the subject makes the 'crazy',
inlpossible choice of, in a way, striking at himself, at what is most
precious to himself This act, far from amounting to a case of'
impoteut aggressivity turned against oueself, rather changes the
co-ordiuates of the situatiou in which the subject finds himself:
by cutting himselfloose from the precious object through whose
possession the enemy kept him in check, the subject gains the
space of free action. Is not such a radical gesture of t striking at
oneself' constitutive of subjectivity as such?
Was not such a gesture already that ofAbraham, commanded
by God to sacrifice !saac, his only son, that which mattered more
to him than himself? In his case, of course, an angel intervened at
the last moment, staying Abraham's hand. (In the Christian read-
ing, one could claim that the actual killing was unnecessary, since
the only thing that mattered was inner intention, just as one has
already committed a sin jf one simply covets one's neighbour's
wife.) But here, precisely, we can draw the line that separates the
classical hero from the modern hero: if Abraham were a modern
hero, no angel would appear at the last moment; he would actu-
ally have to slaughter his son. And - closer to our own time - is
not such a gesture also the crux of Freud's late book Moses and
Monotheism? How did he react to the Nazi anti-Semitic threat?
Not by joining the ranks of the beleaguered .Jews in the defence
of their legacy, but by targeting his own people, the most precious
part of the Jewish legacy, the founding figure of Moses - that is,
by endeavouring to deprive the Jews of this figure, proving that
i'vioses was not a Jewat all: in this way, he effectively undermined
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THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
the very unconscious foundation of anti-Semitism. Furthennore,
did not Lacan himself accomplish a similar act of 'shooting at
himself' when, in 1979, he dissolved the Ecolefreudienne de Paris, his
agalma, his own organization, the very space of his collective life?
He was well aware that only such a 'self-destructive' act could
clear the terrain for a new beginning.
The fact that all the above-quoted examples refer to male acts
might lead to the conclusion that snch a gesture is inherently mas-
culine: in contrast to the masculine readiness to cut links, a WOman
remains rooted in her specific substance.... What, however, if the
lesson of psychoanalysis is not only that such an act is gender-
neutral, but even that the opposite is the case? So how can a
woman subjectivize herself through such an act of 'shooting at
herself"! The first association here, of course, is the standard fem-
inist point: in order to become a subject, a "vornan has to eschew the
very core of her (femininity', that mysterious je ne sais quoi, some-
thing 'in her more than herself, the secret treasure [agalma] that
makes her the oI:iect of male desire. However, there is another _
perhaps more radical- point to be made here. That is to say: Lacan
proposed as (one of) the definition(s) of 'a true woman' a certain
radical act: the act of taking from man, her partner, of obliterating-
even destroying - that which is 'in him more than himself', that
which 'means everything to him' and which is more important to
him than his OWn life, the precious agalma around which his life
revolves. As the exemplary figure of such an act in literature, of
course, Lacan cites Medea who, upon learning that Jason, her
husband, plans to abandon her for a younger woman, kills their
two young children, her husband's most precious possession _ it is
in this horrible act of destroying that which matters most to her
husband that she acts as une vraiefimme, as Lacan put it. 99
151
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
So perhaps it is time, against the overblown celebration of
Antigone, to reassert Medea/ her uncanny, disturbing counter-
part, as the subject of an authentic act - in a tradition that comes
right down to Toni Morrison's Beloved, the novel about the
unbearably painful birth of African-American subjectivity. As is
well known, Beloved focuses on the traumatic desperate act of:'
the heroine, Sethe: alter she has escaped slavery with her four
children, and enjoyed a month of calm recuperation with her
mother-in-law in Cincinnati, the cruel overseer of the plantation
from which she escaped attempts to capture her by appeal to the
Fugitive Slave Law. Finding herself in this hopeless situation,
without any prospect of escaping a return to slavery, Sethe
resorts to a radical measure in order to spare her children a
return to bondage: she cuts the throat of bel' eldest daughter,
tries to kill her two sons, and threatens to dash out the brains of
her infant daughter ~ in short, she commits a Medean act
of trying to exterminate what is most precious to her, her
progeny. lOO In an unsurpassed piece of cruel irony, this desperate
assertion of freedom is interpreted by the white schoolteacher as
proof that if African-Americans are given even a little too much
freedOlu, they regress to African savagery - as if precisely such
an act were not totally unthinkable within the mores of the
African tribes from which the slaves were descended....
Crucial to an understanding of Sethe's desperate measures
are her later apparently paradoxical mnsings, where she declares:
'If I hadn't killed her she would have died, and that is something
I could not bear to happen to her.'lOl Killing her daughter was
the only way to preserve the minimal dignity of her lif'e - or, as
Morrison herself put it in an interview apropos of Beloved - by
what may seem the ultimate cruelty of killing her offspring,
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THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
'Sethe is claiming her role as a parent, claiming the autonomy, the
freedom she needs to protect her children and give them some
dignity.'102 In short, in a radical situation of forced choice in
which, because of' the relations of slavery, Sethe's children
'weren't hers at all',103 the only way open to her to act effectively
as a parent, protect her children and save their dignity, is to kill
them.
This radical character of' Sethe's act becomes apparent if we
compare it with what is perhaps one of its literary models,
Williams Styron's Sophies Choice, in which the heroine, confronted
with the choice of saving one of her two children f'rom the gas
chamber and renouncing the other, concedes to this blackmail by
the Nazi oHicer and surrenders her older child, a daughter, in
order to save her young son - with the predictable result that the
guilt for this choice haunts her to the end of her life, driving her
to suicide years later.
Although Sethe's traumatic act also continues to haunt her
for decades (the 'Beloved' of the novel's title is none other than
the ghost of the murdered daughter, who claws at the family's
nerves like a relentless harpy, playing emotional and sexual
games with all of'them), what we are dealing with here is of' pre-
cisely the opposite nature to Sophies Choice: while Sopbie's guilt
results from her compromising attitude of accepting the terms of
the Nazi officer's impossible choice, and choosing one child
against the other, Sethe is haunted because she did not compro-
mise her desire, but fully assumed the impossible-traumatic act
of 'taking a shot at herself, at what was most precious to herself.
Only at the end of the novel does the Beloved's withdrawal signal
Sethe's ability to come to terms with the properly ethical mon-
strosity of her act. 104
153
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
Sethe's act is an exemplary case of the properly modern ethical
act which, according to Lacan, displays the structure of what
Freud called the gesture of abstaining [Versagung].105 In the tracli-
tional (premodern) act, the subject sacrifIces everything (all
'pathological' things) for the Cause-Thing that matters to him
more than life itself: Antigone, condemned to death, enumerates
all the things she will not be able to experience because of her
premature death (marriage, ehildren ...) - this is the 'bad infI-
nity' one sacrifices through the Exception (the Thing for which
one acts, and which, precisely, is not sacrificed) . Here the struc-
ture is that of the Kantian Sublime: the overwhelming infinity of
sacrificed empirical/pathological objects brings home in a nega-
tive way the enormous, incOIuprehensible dimension of the Thing
for which one sacrifices them. So Antigone is sublime in her sad
enumeration of what she is sacrif:1cing - this list, in its enormity,
indicates the transcendent contours of the Thing to which she
retains her unconditional fidelity. Is it necessary to add that this
Antigone is a masculine fantasy par excellence?
In ethical constellation, on the contrary, one sus-
j;!'.,ds this exception ofthe Thing: one bears witness to one's fidelity to
the Thing by sacrificing (also) the Thing itself' (in the same way,
.-Kierkegaard enjoins a true Christian believer to hate the
-h.imself out oflove). :\nd is this not the very unbear-:'ble of
Sethe's act _ that she killed her children out ifher very fidelity to
them, not as a 'primitive' act of brutal sacrificing to some obscure
superego gods? Without this suspension, there is no ethical act
proper106 So claim that the ethical act 'as such'
the structure of feminine subjectivity, and, furthermore, that the
subject' as such' is ultimately feluinine, this does not involve
the standard cliche about how men are involved in political
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THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
power struggles, while women are inherently apolitical-ethical
(as in the usual misreading of Antigone as the defender of ethical
family values against masculine political manipulations): this
very elevation of Woman into the protect,ress of
power - who, as such,_
holds these struggles back, prevents them from exploding into
limitless search for power that violates every human_
consideration - is masculine in its inherent lQgic. In con.tr.a.st tQ,
tl:is Cmasculine') universality of for power that
relies on the ethical figure of Woman as its inherent exception,
the Cfeminine') ethical act proper involves precisely the suspension
of this exception: it takes place in the intersection of ethics and pol-
in the uncanny d::'main in which ethics is

for in terms of fidelity to
some pre-existing Cause, since it redefines the very terms of this
Cause.
fu short, the two opposed ways to read the relationship
between ethics and politics precisely fit the Lacanian opposi-
tion bctvveen masculine and feminine 'formulae of sexuation':
the very elevation of the Feminine stance into an apolitical ethical
stance, safeguarding the male world of power politics from
criminal excess, is inherently masculine; while the 'feminine' ethical
act involves precisely the suspension of this boundary - that is to
say, it has the structure of a political decision.
I07
Yes, what makes
Sethe's act so monstrous is the 'suspension of the ethical' involved
in it, and this suspension is 'political' in the precise sense of an
abyssal excessive gesture that can no longer be grounded in
'comulon human considerations'. In his reading of Antigone,
Lacan emphasizes how, after her excommunication from the
155
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
community, Antigone enters the domain of ate, of the unspeak-
able horror of dwelling 'between the two deaths', still alive yet
excluded from the symbolic community - does uot the same hold
for Sethe? Morrison herself, in an interview, claimed that
she has stepped across the line, so to speak. It's understand-
able, but it is excessive. This is what the townspeople in
Cincinnati respond to, not her grief, but her arrogance....
They abandon her because of what they felt was her pride.
l-Ier statement about what is valuable to her - in a sense it
damns what they think is valuable to them. They have had
losses too. In her unwillingness to apologize or bend ... she
would kill her child again is what they know. That is what
separates her from the rest of her community. J08
In short, what makes Sethe so monstrous is not her act as such,
but the way she refuses to 'relativize' it, to shed her responsibil-
ity for it, to concede that she acted in an unforgivable fit of
despair or madness - instead of compromising her desire by
assuming a distance towards her act, qualifYing it as something
'pathological' (in the Kantian sense of the term), she insists on
the radically ethical status of her monstrous deed.
Would not an adequate example of the same gesture from
today's political life be the way the Serbs relate to Kosovo as their
precious object-treasure, as the cradle of their civilization, as that
which matters to them more than anything else, and which they
are never able to renounce? Therein lies the final limit of the large
majority of the so-called 'democratic opposition' to the Milosevic
regime: they unconditionally endorse Milosevics anti-Albanian
nationalist agenda, even accusing him of making compromises
156
THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE
with the West and 'betraying' Serb national interests in Kosovo.
For this very reason, the sine qua non of an authentic act in Serbia
today would be precisely to renounce the claim to Kosovo, to sacri-
fice the substantial attachment to the privileged object. (What
we have here, therefore, is a nice case of the political dialectic of
democracy: although democracy should be the ultimate goal of
political activity in today's Serbia, any advocacy of democracy
which does not explicitly renounce nationalistic claims to Kosovo
is doomed to fail - the issue apropos of which the struggle for
democracy will be decided is that of Kosovo.)
And - to go to the limit - is not the nltimate example of such
a gesture of (shooting at oneself', renouncing what is most
precious to oneself, again provided by Christianity itself: by the
Crucifixion? As Hegel emphasized, it is totally misleading to
reduce the death of Christ to a sacrificial gesture in the exchange
between God and man - to claim that by sacrificing that which is
most precious to HimseU: his own son, God redeems humanity,
ransoming its sins. If we adopt this traditional stance, the ques-
tion arises immediately: jor whom - for which authority above
Himself - is God Himself forced to sacrifice his son'! Or is He
playing perverse games with Himself - and, consequently, with
us humans? So when the Bible proclaims that God sacrificed
His only-begotten son to redeem humanity from its sins, there
are only two ways to explain this strange act: 109
• God as omnipotent is a perverse subject who plays obscene
games with hUluanity and His own son: He creates suffering,
sin and imperfection, so that He can intervene and resolve
the mess He created, thereby securing for Himself the eternal
gratitude of the human race;
157
SLAVOJ ZIZEK
• God is not omnipotent; He is like a Greek tragic hero sub-
ordinated to a higher Destiny: His act of creation, like the fateful
deed of the Greek hero, hrings ahout unwanted dire conse-
quences, aud the only way for Him to re-estahlish the balance of
\Justice is to sacrifice what is most precious to Him, His own
son _ in this sense, God Himself is the ultimate Ahraham.
The traditional reading thus ohliterates the ultimate mystery of
the Crucifixion: the Crucifixion, the death of the son of God, is a
happy event - in it, the very structure of sacrifice! as it were, sub-
lates itself, giving hirth to a new suhject no longer rooted in a
particular suhstance, redeemed of all particular links (the 'Holy
Spirit'). From this supreme example, it should also be clear that
the necessity of renunciation inherent to the notion of' act in no
way entails that every utopian imagination gets caught in the
trap of inherent transgression: when we abandon the fantasmatic
Otherness which makes life in constrained social reality bearable,
we catch a glimpse of Another Space which can no longer he dis-
missed as a hmtasmatic supplement to social reality.
The duet from The Marriage 0/Figaro in The Shawshank Redemption
(the cinema version of King's story) is an exemplary case of the
effect of the sublime which relies on the contrast between the
poverty and horror of real life and the sndden intrusion of this
Other Space. The black convict (Morgan Freeman), whose com-
mentary we heal; claims that he doesn't know what the two ladies
are singing about, and it is perhaps better that he doesn't know,
bnt all the men listening to them were, for a brief moment,
free.... Wbat we have here is the effect of the sublime at its
purest: the momentary suspension of meaning which elevates the
subject into another diulcnsion in which the prison terror has no
158
THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE
hold over him. It is deeply significant that the duet is from Mozart
(and, incidentally, a rather trifling oue: the dnet from Act In in
which the Countess dictates to Snsanna the letter destined to trap
her unfaithful husband) - can one imagine a more startling
contrast than the one betvveen mid-twentieth-century American
prison life and the universe oflate-eighteenth-century aristocratic
love intrigue? So the true contrast is not simply behveen the
prison horror and the 'divine' Mozart's music but, within music
itself; between the sublime dimension of music and the trifling
character of its content. More precisely, what makes the scene
sublime is that the poor prisoners, unaware of'this trifling content,
directly perceive the sublime beauty of the music. In other words,
iF we were to hear an overtly 'sublime' piece of music (like the
fonrth movement of Beethoven's Ninth), the efIect would
undonbtedly be pathetic in an extremely vulgar way.
The last words of the dying Tristan in Wagner's opera are
'What, hear I the light? '. This paradoxical short circuit between the
two senses is what happens to the prisoners in this scene: in lis-
tening to Mozart's aria, they also hear the light - a proper
revolutionary utopia always involves such a short circuit, in
opposition to the reactionary obscene call of the superego in
which, in the figure of the Leader, we see the voice. It should thus
be clear how the standard notion of artistic beauty as a utopian
false escape From the constraints of reality falls short: one should
distinguish between ordinary escapism and this dimension of
Otherness, this magic moment when the Absolute appears in all its
fragility: the man who puts on the record in the prison (Tim
Robbins) is precisely the one who rejects all false dreams about
escaping from prison, about life Ontside.... 110 In hearing this
aria from Figaro, the prisoners have seen a -ghost - neither the
159
5LAVOJ ZIZEK
resuscitated obscene ghost of' the past, not the spectral ghost of'
the capitalist present, but the brief' apparition of' a f'uture utopian
Otherness to which every authentic revolutionary stance should
cling.
This, then, brings us back to our starting point: the third
modality of' ghosts is none other than the Holy Ghost itself', the
community of' believers qua 'uncoupled' outcasts f'rom the social
order _ with, ideally, authentic psychoanalytic and revolutionary
political collectives as its two main f'orms. And if' there is of'ten
something monstrous about encountering such ghosts (since, as
we know from Rilke, beauty is the last veil that envelops the
Monstrous) - if, after such encounters, we actually look as ifwe
have seen a ghost - we should remember Heiner Muller's f'amous
motto: 'The first appearance of'the new is the dread'.
160
NOTES
1. See Alain Badiou, Saint Paul ou la naissance de l'universalisme, Paris: PUF
1998.
2, See Vesna Goldworth, Inventing Ruritania, New Haven, eT and
London: Yale University Press 1998.
3. Ibid.
4, See Etienne Balibar, 'La Violence: idealite et cruaute', in La crainte des
masses, Paris: Editions Galilee 1997.
5. For a more detailed development of this theme, see Chapter 3 of Slavoj
Zizek, The Me/astases ofEly'oyment, London and New York: Verso 1995; and
Chapter 6 of The Ticklish Subject, London and New York: Verso 1999.
6. Kart .J.\!larx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto,
Harmondsworth: Penguin 1985, pp. 83-4.
7. Ibid., p. 82.
8. See Henry Krips, Fetish: An Erotics if Culture, Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press 1999.
9. And does not the same often go for the parents themselves? Recall the
proverbial suitor who, in order to impress his future father-in-law, engages
in such intense conversation with him that at a certain point his poor fiancee
explodes: 'Where am I in all this? I feel like a disturbing element - why
don't the two of you just go away and forget about me?'
10. In the last years of Communism in F...r<.1.stern Europe, for example,
democracy was desirable, but through the intermediary of Communist con-
straints - once this intermediate obstacle fell, we got the object of our desire,
but deprived of its cause.
161
NOTES TO PAGES 22-5
11. And is not something similar taking place, on a wholly different level,
with the IMF's help to developing Third \Vorld nations? Is it not true that
the morc such a state accepts Il'vlF help, and obeys its conditions or takes its
advice, the more it becomes dependent on the IMg and the morc help it
needs?
12. The notorious Iraqi 'weapons of mass destruction' offer another
example of the ohjet petit a: they arc an elusive entity, never empirically
specified, a kind of Hitchcockian MacGuffin, expected to be hidden in the
most disparate and improbable places, from the (rather logical) desert to the
(slightly irrational) cellars of presidential palaces (so that when the palace is
bombed, they may poison Saddam and his entire entourage); allegedly pres-
ent in large quantities, yet magically moved around all the time by workers;
and the more they are destroyed, the more all-present and all-powerful they
are in their threat, as if the removal of the greater part of them magicaHy
heightens the destructive power of:' the remainder - as such, by definition
they can never be found, and are therefore all the more dangerous. , , .
13, This tendency often leads to the comic confusion whereby a work of
art is mistaken for an everyday object, or vice versa, Recently, in
Potsdamerplatz, the largest construction site in Berlin, the co-ordinated
movement of dozens of gigantic cranes was staged as an art performance -
doubtless perceived by many uninformed passers-by as part of an intense
construction activity... ' I myself made the opposite blunder during a trip
to Berlin: I noticed along and above all the main streets numerous large blue
tubes and pipes, as if the intricate cobweb of water, phone, electricity, and
so on, was no longer hidden beneath the earth, but displayed in public. My
reaction was, of course, that this was probably another of those postmodern
art performances whose aim was, this time, to reveal the intestines of the
town, its hidden inner machineI)', in a kind of equivalent to displaying on
video the palpitation of our stomach or lungs - I was soon proved wrong,
however, when friends pointed out to me that what I saw was merely part
of the standard maintenance and repair of the city's underground service
network,
14. It is worth noting that it is Lacanian theory, with its link between
surplus-enjoyment and surplus-value, which offers the best theoretical
frame for grasping this new trend, with respect to the fact that one of the
162
NOTES TO PAGES 25-34
standard criticisms of Lacan is that his theory is abstract, proto-Kantian,
dealing with the ahistorical symbolic system, unaware of the concrete socio-
historical conditions of its subject matter. We can see apropos of our
example how, in clear contrast to this criticism, the cultural studies which
celebrate new multiple perverse forms of artistic production do not take suf-
ficiently into account how these phenomena are grounded in global
capitalism, with its accelerated commodification - it is Lacanian theory that
enables us fully to conceptualize this link, effectively to rehistoricize the
topics of cultural studies.
15. GiUes Deleuze, The Logic f.?fSense, New York: Columbia University
Press 1987, p. 41; see also Chapter 5 of' Zizek, The Metastases f.?fEnjoyment.
16. Perhaps one way to imagine this notion of 'nothing but the place
taking place' is the experience of seeing that the paper spewed out by the fax
machine is blank: does this blankness mean that the machine has simply
maljimctiolled, that the text typed on the paper at the other end was not
transmitted, or that the person at the other end (by mistake, in all probabil-
ity) put a blank piece ofpapa into the machine (01' inserted the paper with the
wrong -- blank - side down)? Do we not encounter here a kind of m e e h a n ~
ieal counterpart to the Nietzschean distinction between 'willing nothing' and
'[actively] willing the nothingness itself': the blank paper can mean 'the
message didn't get through' 01' 'the void we see is the message the sender put
in'? So how do we decide? By looking closely at the paper: if there are tiny
stains on it, meaningless material leftovers, it means that the void is the
message, that is, that 'nothing but the place took place' - it was not that
'nothing took place', since, in a way, the empty place itself took place... ,
17. See Gerard Wajcman, L'objet du siecle, Lagrasse: Verdier 1998.
18. Quoted from Julia Hell, Post-Fascist Fantasies, Durham, NC: Duke
University Press 1997, p. 32.
19. Kim Yong Il is hailed by the official propaganda as 'witty' and
'poetic' - an example of his poetry: 'In the same way as sunflowers can
blossom and thrive only if they are turned up and look towards the sun,
people can thrive only if they look up towards their leader!'
20. Jacques Lacan, The Ethics ofPsychoanalysis, London: Routledge 1992,
p.149.
21. Ibid., p. 150. Translation corrected.
163
NOTES TO PAGES 36-41
22. It is against this background that one should appreciate the early
(Soviet) paintings of Komar and Melamid, as exemplified in their 'Stalin
and the Muses': they combine in onc and the same painting two incompat-
ible notions of beauty: 'real' beauty - the classicist notion of Ancient Greek
beauty as the lost ideal of organic innocence (the Muses) - and the purely
'functional' beauty of the Communist leader. Their ironically subversive
effect does not lie only in the grotesque contrast and incongruity of the hvo
levels, but - perhaps even more - in the suspicion that Ancient Greek
beauty itself was not as 'natural' as it may appear to us, but conditioned by
a certaIn functional framework.
23. In this reference to Courbet, I draw extensively On Charity Scribner,
'Working Memory: Mourning and Melancholia in Posilndustrial Europe',
dissertation, Columbia University, 2000.
24. Francis Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon, Harmondsworth: Penguin
1960, p. 51.
25. Another way to approach the dead end of premodernist art is perhaps
embodied in the movement: the sublime beauty in their
paintings which is dangerously close to kitsch, is, as it were, undermined
from within by the excessive accent on detail- the tlrst effect of sublime and
ethereal beauty starts to disintegrate as one gradually becomes a,\vare of the
intense details that seem to lead a life of their own, and thus somehow
duce a note of voluptuous overripe vulgarity- into the whole of the painting.
26. This passage from the direct expression of the incestuous object-
tmued-abject to abstraction is most evidently at work in the artistic
development of Mark Rothko, whose famous intensely coloured abstract
paintings were preceded by a series of direct portraits of his mother. One is
tempted to conceive of Rothko's late abstract paintings as a kind of
of Malevich's 'Black Square': the basic spatial
are the same (central square against background); the key Jj.f-
ference is simply that in Rothko's work colour does not simply shade the
contours of the drawn objects but, rather, functions directly as the medium
of drawing, of presenting these contours - Rothko does not colour drawn
shapes, he draws shapes directly (or rather, sees shapes) with colours.
27. 1\1.iller, 'The Desire of Lacan', Lacanian ink 14, Spring
1999, p. 19.
164
NOTES TO PAGES 42-65
28. Heiner Muller and Jan Hoet, 'Insights into the Process of Production:
A Conversation', documenta IX vol. 1, Stuttgart: Edition Cantz 1992, pp. 96-7.
29. Scribner, 'Working Memory', p. 150.
30. See Jacques Lacan, Le Seminaire, livre VIIL Le trangert, Paris: Editions
du Seui11991.
31. C.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford: Oxford University
Press 1977, pp. 317-18.
32. Jacques Derrida, OjGramnJatology, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins
University Press 1976, pp. 68-9.
33. Hege!' Phenomenology o/Spirit, p. 404.
34. See Carl Jensen, Censored 1999: The News That Didn't Make the News,
New York: Seven Stories Press 1999.
35. Vaclav Havel, 'Kosovo and the End of the Nation-State', New York
Review o./Books, vo!. XLV), no. 10 (10 June 1999), p. 6.
36. Ibid.
37. Steven Erlanger, 'In One KosovoWoman, an Emblem of Suffering',
The New York Times, 12 May 1999, p. A 13.
38. In this respect, Lafontaine's fall is a phenomenon parallel to the
demise ofthe leaders of the Prague Spring of 1968: the Soviet intervention,
in a way, saved their face - saved the illusion that, if allowed to stay in
power they would actually have created 'socialism with a human face', an
authentic alternative to both Real Socialism and Real Capitalism.
39. See Eric Santnel; 'Traumatic Revelations: Freud's Moses and the
Origins of Anti-Semitism', in Rena"k. Saled, ed., Sexuation, Durham, NC:
Duke University- Press 2000.
40. See Rene Girard, The Scapegoat, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins
University- Press 1989.
41. See Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, Pelican Freud Library
voL 1.3, The Origins oJReligion, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1983.
42. Santner, 'Traumatic Revelations', p. 78.
43. Jacques Lacan, Seminar XX: Encore, New York: Norton 1998, p. 59.
44. I owe this story to George Rosenwald, University of Michigan, Ann
Arbor.
45. See Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul, Princeton, NJ: Princeton
Universi1y Press 1995.
165
NOTES TO PAGES 68-81
46. [it/m Noir, cd. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, London: Seeker &
Warburg 1980, p. 297.
47. Ibid., p. 298.
48. I take this term from Judith Butler - see The Psychic Life of Power,
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 1998.
49. See EW.J. von Schelling, Ages of the Wodd/Slavoj Zizek, The Abyss of
Freedom, Ann Arbor: University of l\I1ichigan Press 1997.
50. Ibid., pp. 181-2.
51. See Binjamin \Vilkomirski, ]-;'ragments: Memories ofa Wartime Childhood,
New York Schocken 1996.
52. See John Sallis, 'Deformatives: Essentially Other Than Truth', in
John Sallis, cd., Reading Heidegger, Bloomington: Indiana University Press
1993.
53. Friedrich Nietzsche, Der Wille zur Macht, Stuttgart: Alfred Kroner
1959, para. 493.
54. See .Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, Paris: Editions du Seuil1966, p. 807.
55. William Richardson, 'Heidegger among the Doctors', in Sallis, ed.,
Reading Heidegger, p. 62. Here, incidentally, Richardson dearly contradicts
his own claim two pages earlier that 'Lacan's question about the structure of
the unconscious in psychoanalysis is clearly an existential/ontic one (i.e. on
the level of beings) , (p. 60) and, as such, unable to render theluatic the fun-
damelltal-ontologieal question of the Sense of Being: how can a term which
concerns the very kernel of the essence of truth (the Lacc:mian 'Real') not
bear upon this ontological question?
56. lVlartill Heidegger, Reitrage zur Philosophie, in Gesamtausgabe, Frankfurt:
Vittorio Klostermann 1975-, vol. 65, p. 338.
57. In a broader context, one should approach here the general theme of
'East versus West' ~ of the global difference between 'Eastern' and
'Western' elementary symbolic matrixes. In the 'Eastern' perspective at its
most radical, the ultimate 'reality' is that of Emptiness, of the 'positive Void',
and all Gnite/determinate reality is inherently 'illusory' - the onl;y authentic
way to ethico-epistemological Truth is to renounce desire as the condition
which chains us to finite objects, and is thus the ultimate cause of suffering-
that is, to enter the impassive bliss of nirvana. In contra..;;t to this stance, the
innermost core of the 'Western' matrix is that there is a third way: to put it in
166
NOTE TO PAGE 81
Kantian-Nietzschean terms, the alternative between' not desiring anything'
and the 'pathological' desire that chains us to positive empirical objects is
not exhaustive, since there is in humans a desire which is not 'pathological',
but a 'pure' desire for nothingness itself. Or -to put it in Heidegger's terms
(since in his notion of primordiallethe, Heidegger is ultimately getting at the
same point) - a 'pre-ontological derangement' is consubstantial with the
human condition itself, more 'original' than the alternative between blissful
immersion in the Void and enslavement to 'pathological' desires.
The Lacanian position on the Oriental notion of nirvana is therefore
clear and unequivocal: the ultimate choice we, desiring humans, are facing
is not the choice between desire (for something within false reality) and
renunciation (extinction) of desire, not desiring, immersion in the Void;
there is a third option: the desire for Nothingness itself, for an object which
is a stand-in for this Nothingness. The Lacanian position is not that
Buddhism is 'too strong', that it is onl.y for those who are able effectively to
extinguish their desire; while for us Western subjects, caught in the dialec-
tic of desire, psychoanalysis is as far as we can go - it is that the 'desire for
Nothingness itself' is the 'vanishing mediator', the third, more primordial
option, which becomes invisible once we formulate the opposition as that
between desire for something and not desiring. The existence of this third
option is discernible in the difficulty a Buddhist position has in explaining
the emergence of desire: how is it that the primordial Void wa,<; disturbed,
and that desire emerged; that living beings got caught up in the wheel of
karma, of attachment to false reality? The only solution to this deadlock is
to posit a kind ofpre-ontological perturbation/inversion/disturbance within
nirvana itself-that is to say, prior to the split between nirvana and false
appearance - so that the Absolute itself (the cosmic Force, or whatever it is
called) gets radically pelverted. The traCes of this inversion are discernible
even in pop-cultural New Age icons like Darth Vader from Star Uilrs: in the
idea that the truly evil people are those who have gained access to the Force
that enables us to reach the true realm bey-ond false material reality, but then
perverted/misused this Force, employing it for bad, evil ends. What, how-
ever, if this fall into perversion is original, the original monstrous cut/excess,
and the opposition between nirvana and desire for false appearances is
there to conceal this monstrosity?
167
NOTES TO PAGES 82-3
58. I have dealt with this problem in detail in The Indivisible Remainder
(London and New York: Verso 1996) and in The Ticklish Subject. The point
to emphasize here is that Heidegger's attempt to 'pass through'
subjectivity has nothing whatsoever to do with the New Age cliche, accord-
ing to which the original sin of modern Western civilization (or, indeed, of
the .Judaeo-Christian tradition) is man's hubris, his arrogant assumption
that he occupies the central place in the universe and/or that he is endowed
with the Divine right to master all other beings and exploit them for his
own benefit. The idea is that this hubris which disturbs the delicate balance
of cosmic powers forces Nature sooner or later to re-establish this bal-
ance: today's ecological, social and psychic crisis is interpreted as the
universe's justified answer to man's presumption. Our only solution thus
consists of a shift in the global paradigm, in adopting the new holistic atti-
tude in which we humbly accept our subordinate place in the global Order
of Being.... In clear contrast to this notion that underlies all returns to
'ancient wisdom', Heidegger is fully aware that the 'derangement of man's
position among beings', the fact that man's emergence somehow 'derails'
the balance of entities, is in a way older than Truth itself, its very hidden
foundation. One should therefore reject entirely Reiner Schiirmann's read-
ing according to which the Heideggerian 'forgetting of Being' - the
metaphysical oblivion of ontological difference, that is, confusion between
the event-horizon of Being as such and the Supreme Entity -" equals the
disturbing of cosmic balance, the privileging of one aspect of the cosmic
antagonism in favour of its opposite, thus elevating it into a universal
Principle (see Reiner Schtirmann, 'Ultimate Double Binds', Graduate Faculty
Philosophy Journal, New York: New School for Social Research, val. 14,
no. 2): for Heidegger, the Truth-Event can occur only within such a fun-
damental 'ontological imbalance'. The truly problematic and central point
is that Heidegger refuses to call this 'ontological imbalance' or 'derange-
ment'subject.
59. For a more detailed elaboration of the concept of the death drive, see
Chapter 5 of Zizek, The Ticklish Subject.
60. Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained, New York: Little, Brown
1991, p. 132. (Dennett, of course, evokes this concept in a purely negative
way, as a nonsensical contradictio in ac/jecto.)
168
NOTES TO PAGES 85-100
61. For a more detailed account of this notion of fundamental fantasy, see
Chapters 1 and 4 of Slavoj Zizek, The Plague ofFantasies, London and New
York: Verso 1997.
62. Martin 11eidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics,
Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1995, p. 271.
63. On this notion of the act, see Chapter 1 of Zizek, The Indivisible
Remainder.
64. See Ernesto Laclau, Emancipation(s), London and New York: Verso
1995.
65. One is tempted to interpret Heidegger's passage from his early proto-
transcendental 'anal;ytic of Dasein' to his later concept of the History of
Being along the same lines: is not the non-historical kernel of this historicity
Heidegger's unresolved trauma of his Nazi political engagement? As for
Heidegger's silence after the war, his persistent refusal to settle his accounts
with his past in public, unambiguously to condemn Nazism and his role in
it _ is this silence not telling, bearing unequivocal witness to his remaining
traumatic 'passionate attachment' to the Nazi dream, to the fact that he
never really got over it, acquired a distance towards it, 'put his Nazi past at
rest'? No, Heidegger did not simply 'repress' or 'erase' his past political
engagement: his withdrawal from public life in his later years proves, rather,
that the wound was still raging, that the subject was still hot and extremely
touchy, that is to say, the only imaginable political engagement for him was
the Nazi engagement, the only alternative being withdrawal into pure
thought (rather like a deceived lover who, disappointed when he is betrayed
by his mistress, abstains from any further sexual contact, that is, cannot
move on to other women, and thus, in his very universal hatred of sexual rela-
tions, bears witness to the fact that he is still traumatically scarred by the one
railed contact).
66. See Book One of Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits ifReason
Alone, New York Harper & Row 1960.
67. See IVlichel Foucault, The History ofSexuality, VOlume L An Introduction,
Harmondsworth: Penguin 1981. Again, I owe this point to Eric Santner
(private conversation).
68. In the history of Christianity we have, in the unique spiritual moment
of the twelfth century, two interconnected subversions of this opposition
169
NOTES TO PAGES 100-105
between erGS and agape: the CathaI' version of Christianity and the emergence
of courtly love. It is no wonder that, althoug-h opposed, they arc part of the
same historical movement - they both involve a kind of short circuit which,
from the strict Pauline standpoint, has to appear as illegitimate. The basic
operation of courtly love was to retra1151ate agape back into eros: to redefine
sexual love itself as the ultimate, unending ethical Duty, to elevate eras to the
level of the sublime agape. The Cathars, in contrast, thoroughly rejected eras
as such - For them, the opposition between eras and agape was elevated into
a cosI?ic polarity: no 'moderate' permissible sexuality is
possible; every sexual act, even with a legitimate spouse, is ultimately
incestuous, since it serves the propagation and reproduction of terrestrial
life, and this world is the work of Satan - for the Cathars, the God who, at
the very beginning of the Bible, says 'Let there be light!' is none other than
Satan himself.
69. G.W,F. HegeL 'Jenaer Realphilosophie', in Frilhe politische Systeme,
Frankfurt: Ullstein 1974, p. 204; translation quoted from Donald Phillip
Verene, Hegel's Recollection, Albany, NY: SUNY Press 1985, pp. 1.-8, For a
closer reading of this passage see Chapter 1 of Zizek, The Ticklish Subject.
70. In this reading of Kieslowski's Blue, I draw again on Scribner,
'Working Memory',
71. See Butler's systematic critical reading of Lacan in Bodies That Matter,
New York; Routledge 1993, pp, 57-91.
72. Ernesto Laclau, The Politics ofRhetoric, intervention at the conference
'Culture and Nlateriality', University of California, Davis, 23-25 April 1998.
73, Lacan's concept of sublimation is the result of a very simple yet radical
operation: he brings together the Freudian problematic of 'sublimation'
(which, to put it in somewhat simplified terms, involves shifting the
libido from an object that satisfies some immediate material need to an
object that has no apparent connection to this need: destructive literary
criticism becomes sublimated aggressivity; scientific research on the human
body becomes sublimated voyeurism ...) and the Kantian notion of the
'Sublime' (an empirical object/event which, through its very failure
adequately to represent the noumenal Idea, evokes this trans-phenomenal
Idea, as in the famous notion of extreme natural phenomena like storms and
earthquakes which, in their very majesty, fail to represent the noumenal free-
170
NOTES TO PAGES 105-14
dam adequately, and thus give birth to the reasoning: 'even Nature at its
mightiest is infinitely les..c; than my freedom').
Lacan replaces the Kantian noumenal Thing with the impossible/real
Thing, the ultimate object of desire - the primordial movement of'sublima-
tion' is thus not from concrete material sexual, etc., needs to 'spiritual'
concerns, but the shifEng of the libido from the void of the 'unserviceable'
Thing to some concrete, material object of need which assumes a sublime
quality the moment it occupies the place of the Thing. This is why Lacan
detlnes sublimation as the elevation of an object into the dignity of the
Thing: 'sublimation' occurs when an object, part of everyday reality, finds
itself in the place of the impossible Thing. This Thing is inherently ana-
morphic: it can be perceived only when it is viewed from the side, in a
partiaL distorted form, as its own shadow - if we look straight at it we see
nothing, a mere void. (In a homologous way, we could speak of temporal
anamorphosis: the Thing is attainable only by an incessant postponement, as
its absent point-oF-reference.) The Thing is therefore literally something
that is created _ whose place is encircled - through a network of detours,
approximations and near-misses.
74. See Theodor W. Adorno, Drei Studien zu liege!, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp
1963, p, 13,
75, Here I draw on Julia Reinhard Lupton (UC Irvine) and Kenneth
Reinhard (UCLA)'s unpublished paper 'The Subject of Religion; Lacan
and the Ten Commandments'.
76. In this context, Lacan himself draws attention to the resistance to the
use of lie-detectors in crime investigations - as if such a direct 'objective'
verification somehow infringes on the subject's right to the privacy of his
thoughts.
77. See Paul Moyaert, 'Lacan on Neighborly Love', Epoche no. 1, 1996,
Providence (UT), pp. 1-31.
78. On this notion, see Chapter 3 of Zizek, The Metastases ofEnjoyment,
79. Lacan, The Ethics ofPsychoanalysis, p. 8 L
80. See Donald Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, Oxford:
Clarendon Press 1984, p, 137,
81. Ibid.
82. Ibid" pp. 168-9.
171
NOTES TO PAGES 114-33
83. Ibid., p. 197.
84. See Lacan, Seminar XX: Encore.
85. I owe this point to a conversation with Alenka ZupanCic. To give
another example: that was also the deadlock of the 'open marriage' rela-
tionship between Jean-Paul Sartre and SilUone de Beauvoir: it is clear from
reading their letters that their 'pact' was in fact asymmetrical and did not
work, causing de Beauvoir many traumas. She expected that although
Sartre had a series of other lovers, she was none the less the Exception, the
one true love connection; while for Sartre, it was not that she was just onc
in the series, but that she was precisely one ofthe exceptions -- that his series
was a series of women each of whom was 'something exceptional' to him....
86. Does not this passage from the external tension between the Law and
the series of 'pathological' symptoms as the indices of the failure of'the Law
to the space in which there are only symptoms repeat the basic matrix of the
Hegelian criticism of Kant, in which the condition of impossibility (the
'pathological' obstacle that forever prevents the realization of the Law)
coincides with the condition of possibility: what the Law perceives as the
obstacle to its full actualization is the very condition of its functioning, so
that, the Law, by fighting the symptoms too strongly, undermines its own
foundation? In other words, the gap between the Law and its symptoms is
now posited as internal to the symptoms themselves (just as, in Begel's
logic, the Universal itself is one of its own particular species).
87. S0ren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, New York: Harper Torchbooks
1962, p. II4.
88. Ibid., p. 22 I.
89. I have dealt with this opposition in practically all my latest books; see,
for example, Chapter 3 of Zizek, The Metastases oJEnjoyment.
90. Lacan, The Ethics ojPsychoanalysis, p. 73.
91. The Frankfurt School tradition discerned this key feature of the libid-
inal structure of 'totalitarianism' in the guise of the h;ypothesis of repressive
desublimatioll; on the difference between the Frankfurt School approach and
the Lacanian approach with regard to this feature, see Chapter 1 of Zizek,
The Metastases ofEnJoyment.
92. Aleksandar Tijani6, 'The Remote Day of Cbange', M/adina (Ljubljana),
9 Angust 1999, p. 33.
172
NOTES TO PAGES 134-51
93. The next step here would be to oppose the 'totalitarian' to the liberal-
permissive You may!. In both cases, the message is: 'You may ... possess the
object without paying the properpricefrlT desire,for desiring it.' And in both cases,
this avoidance of paying the price for desire exacts a price of its own. In per-
missive liberalism, the 'You mayl' of freely inventing your Self becomes
entangled in the intricate web of prohibitions concerning the well-being of
yourself and your neighbours (what not to eat and drink, the rules of safe
sex, the prohibition against injuring the Other ...); in a precisely symmet-
rical way, the totalitarian 'You may ...' (ignore your own and your
neighbour's well-being) demands subordination to the figure of the l\1aster.
94. Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, New York: Simon &
Schuster 1996, p. 421.
95. See Oswald Ducrot, Le dire et le dit, Paris: l < ~ i t i o n s du Seui11977.
96. We can see how the triad ISR (Imaginary-Symbolic-Real) is opera-
tive in these three readings of the transfusion example: the judge's
procedure is Imaginary (providing a lie legitimized by the other's well-
being); the second procedure, demanding subjective truth, relies on the
Symbolic; while the third procedure generates a kind of knowledge in the
Real.
97. For a closer reading of Breaking the Waves, see Slavoj Zizek, 'Death and
the Maiden', in The Ziiek Reader, Oxford: Blackwelll998.
98. Kierkegaard, TVorks ofLove, p. 102.
99. In his version of'Medea (see '\Vaterfront Wasteland Medea lVlaterial
Landscape with Argonauts', in Theatremachine, London: Faber & Faber
1995), Heiner Muller recognized in Medea the ultimate figure of excessive
revolutionary revenge against oppressive rulers. Furthermore, in his unique
attempt to think together the necessity of revolutionary violence and the
basic humanity that demands that we recognize the dignity of the dead, he
proposed the unique phantasmic combinationlcondensation of Medea and
Antigone: .i\!ledea, who first kills and dismembers her brother (in order to
enable herself and Jason to escape their pursuers) and then - as Antigone
does with her own brother - gently holds him in her arms. Here we have the
image of the agent/executioner who,after accomplishing his terrible deed on
behalf of the Revolution, takes upon himself the burden of guilt, and gently
buries the dead. (Another such paradoxical I\tluUerian figure is that of
173
NOTES TO PAGES 1S1-3
'Christ the Tiger' - of the Christ who first slaughters his enemy, then gently
takes care of him.) The point to be noted here is that if the figure of' Medea
is to be reappropriated for the radical tradition, one should retain and
scribe the very act which makes her so unpalatable to decent humanist
consciousness: her ruthless killing of her own children (in contrast to
Christa \Volf's otherwise outstanding Medea, in which she redeems Medea
by reinterpreting her killing of her brother and children as a malicious
rumour spread by her enemies in order to discredit her).
100. As is well known, the comparison between Sethe and Medea was
introduced by Stanley Crouch as a problematic feature in his 'Aunt Medea',
a negative review of Beloved; 1\'10rrison herself rejected the comparison,
claiming that Sethe 'didn't do what Medea did and kill her children because
of some guy' (quoted from Toni Morrison: Belo'ved, [Icon Critical Guides], ed.
Carl Plasa, Cambridge, MA: Icon Books 1998, p. 36). One is none the less
tempted to claim that Morrison's dismissal of' the comparison relies on a
superficial reading of Medea's gesture.
101. Toni Morrison, Beloved, New York: Knopf 1987, p. 217.
102. Quoted from T'oni Morrison: Beloved, p. 43.
103. Ibid.
104. On the level of narrative technique, this monstrosity of the act is sig-
nalled by the fact that the text approaches it only gradually: Sethe, with her
murdered daughter, is first described from the perspective of'the slave-
catchers (who see in the murder the ultimate proof of' her barbarity); then
through the perspectives of other African-American witnesses (Baby Suggs,
Stamp Paid); and even when the story of infanticide is finally told by Sethe
herself, she finds it diHicult to convey - well aware that she will be
understood - that her act is not something that can be integrated into
'common knowledge', that it is too monstrous to be narrated as a heroic
mythical event. And, as Sally Keenan has suggested (see Toni Morrison:
Beloved, p. 129), the same delayed encounter with the trauma is at work in
the fact that it has only recently become possible to tell such a story: it was
the modern emotional and political resonance of the theme of abortion that
finally provided the proper background for it - with the additional twist, of
course, that the infanticide in Beloved precisely subverts the standard
sition between the rights of the mother and those of the fetus, the opposition
174
NOTES TO PAGES 153-9
which provides the for abortion debates: in Beloved, the infan-
ticide is paradoxically justiGed by the rights of the child herself.
105. Here I draw on a conversation with Alcnka ZupanCic.
106. For a more detailed analysis of this structure of versagung, see
Chapter 2 of Zizek, The Indivisible Remainder.
107. And, incidentally, this structure of versagung also provides an answer
to the naiVe, but necessary, question 'What does one actually learn in
Brecht's learning plays?' _. one learns the art of versagung. This is why those
interpreters of Brecht who claim that it is wrong to focus on the final act of
forcedly chosen self-sacrifice of the young actor/person in DerJasager or Die
Massnahme miss the point. They emphasize that such a focus neglects the
proper learning function of these plays, and reinscribes them in the standard
tragic dramaturgy. versagung, however, is the gesture of such a radical self'-
obliteration that it goes beyond the standard notion of what is 'tragic'.
108. Quoted from Toni Morrison: Beloved, p. 34.
109. If, of course, we take this statement at its face value ... if we discard
the standard Gnostic reading according to which the God who created our
world was a half-impotent, slightly sadistic imbecile who made a botched
job of creation, bringing about an imperfect world full of suffering; conse-
quently, Christ expired in order to pay not for the sins of humanity but for
the sins of his Father, of the Creator Himself.
110. The key dimension of Stephen King's story on which the film is
based is indicated by its title: 'Rita I-Iayworth and the Shawshank
Redemption'. Does not the apparently ridiculous plot (for long years the
hero digs a hole in the wall - his escape tunnel .- beneath a large poster of
Rita Hayworth and other later film stars) provide the minima! matrix ofthe
sublime: an image ofbeaut,y (the pin-up poster) which serves as the screen
concealing the hole, the gap, which opens up a passage to freedom, out of the
prison universe?
175
Ahraham 150
Adorno, Theodor 18, 105
late capitalism
African National Congress 54
d' Alema, .Massimo 62
Antigone 152, 154-6
Badiou, Alain
Saint Paul ou la naissance de
l'universalisme 2
Balibar, Etienne
excessive,
cruelty 8
Beck, Ulrich 6
militaristic humanism 56-7
Beloved (Morrison) 152--6
Benigni, Roberto
Lije is Beautiful 73·-5, 77-8
Benjamin, Waiter
Messianic promise 89
Bentham, Jeremy
self-iconicity 51
Bhaghavad-Gita 129
Blade Runner (film) 65-6
Blair, Tony 62
Blue (film) 101-3
INDEX
Breaking the Waves (film) 144
Brecht, Bertolt 147
Brekker, Arno 33
Buddha 120
ButIcl; Judith
eternity 94
Lacan's hegemonic imaginary
105
Nicolae 5
Celebration (fihn) 7:\.-5
Christianity
Marxist lineage 2
Claude!' Paul
Coo.fontaine trilogy 43
Clinton, Bill 54, 62
The Communist Manifesto (jViarx and
Engels) 11-16
capitalism dissolves links 40
Courbet, Gustave
'L'origine du monde' 36, 37-8
Croce, Benedetto 105
Crowd Psycbology (Freud) 123
Dar'l.Vin's Dangerous Idea (Dennett)
136-7
177
IN DEX
Davidson, Donald
Principle of Charity 114,118
Dead Man Walking (film) 112
Dennett, Daniel
Darwin's Dangerous Idea 136-7
Derrida, Jacques 47
Diaz, Cameron 66
Diderot, Dents
Nephew ofRameal' 44-5, 46
Duchamp, Marcel 32
Ducrot, Oswald 139
DUrer, Albrecht 36
Ewll!Feudienne de Paris 15]
Eighteenth Brumaire (Marx) 45
Eliot, T. S.
Murder in the Cathedral 143
The End ofHistory (Fukuyama) 10
Engels, Fricdrich
The Communist Manifesto (with
Marx) ] 1-16
Erlanger, Steven
'One Kosovo Woman, an
Emblem of Suffering'
57-8
Ethics o/pJychoanalysis (Lacan) 145
Ethyl Corporation 55
Everctt, Rupert 66-1
Fellini, Federico
Satyricon 88
Fitzg"crald,E Scatl
The Last Tycoon 36-7
Foucault, Michel 90
confessionary discourse 98
l-?ragments (Wilkomirski) 74-5
St Francis 124
Freeman, l'v\organ 158-9
178
Freud, Sigmund
abstaining/versagung 154
Crowd Psychology 123
death drive 82
going to Lemberg 81
id and ego 6]-2
and Jung 98
location of hysteric's symptoms
4
/l:losex and Monotheism 64, 97-8,
]50..·5]
subject of the Unconscious
84-5
Fukuyama, Francis
The End ofHisto,y 10
Fundamental Concepts ofMetaphysics
(Heidegger) 86
Gap (company) 95
Gibson, Md ] 49
Giddens, Anthony 6
Girard, Rene 63
Good Soldier Srhweik (Hasek) ]48
Gou1d, Stephen .Jay ] 18
Gray, John
Men arefrom Mars, Women arefrom
Venus 107-8
Hacking, lan 65
Hasek, Jaroslav
Good Soldier Schweik 148
I-lavel, Vaclav
'Kosovo and the End of the
Nation-State' 56
Hayes Code 67
Hege!' Georg W.E
death of Christ and sacrifice
]57-8
Hege!, Georg W.E (cont.)
ethical substance 64
the hero's valet 47-8
historical repetition 45
money 46-7
the night of the world
]02
oneness 51-2
Phenomenology ofSpirit 43..-4
the Spirit is a bone 28-9, .30,
47
Beidegger, Martin 18
Americanism and Communism
16
errancy/untruth 78, 80, 81-2
Fundamental Concepts ofMetaphysics
86
illusion of metaphysics 86-7
Letter on Humanism 82
Heroine (Highsmith) 59-60
Highsmith, Patricia
Heroine 59-60
Hitchcock, Alfred
Vertigo 20-21
Hitler, Adol!
defended ]30-3]
Hoeg, Peter
The Woman and the Ape 65-6
Hopper, Edward 33
110rkheimer, Max 18
Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation
(Davidson)
Principle of Charity ]] 4
The Institute for Judaism and
Science 140
International Psycho-Anal;ytical
Association (]PA) ]24
Christ
family relations 120-21
fulfilling the Law 148
identity as Cod 104
sacrifice in death 157--8
speaks to the outcasts 123
temporality/eternit;y 96-7
Jospin,Liol1el 61
Carl Custav 98
Ernst 77
Kant, Immanuel
ethical imperative 133
law 132
time and eternity 93, 97
Kierkegaard, S0ren 127, 147-8
Kieslowski, Krzysztof'
Blue 10]-3
Kim Yong Jl 34, 35-6
King, Stephen
'Rita Hayworth and the
Shawshank Redemption'
148-9, 158-60
'l{osovo and the End or the
Nation-State' (Havel) 56
Kosovo Liberation Army 59
Krips, Henry 20
Kris, grnst 23
Kusturica, gmir
popularity in West 5-6
Lacan, Jacques
all that is solid 40
anti-narrativism 110
appearance 127-8
the big Other 114-18
death drive 30
the Decalogue 113
INDEX
179
INDEX
Lacan, Jacques (cont.)
dissolves Ecolefreudienne de Paris
151
eating nothing 23
Ethics ofPsychoanalysis 145
fantasy and self-experience
84-5
hegemonic imaginary 105
ideal Lady of courtly love 34
law 131-2
Master-Signi!,er 48-50, 114-15
Medea and women's acts
Pauline love 146-7
phailie signifier 32
proper tragedy 43
psychoanal;ytic discourse 140
reality and the Real 15
SeminarXX:Encore 115,116,118,
143
subject and object-cause of
desire 28
sublimation 26, 30
surplus-value and surplus-
enjoyment 18,20
the Symbolic 91-2
traumatic events 64
truth 80--81, 137-9
Laclau, Ernesto 105
eternity 94
oppositions 123
Lafontainc; Oskar 60-61
The Last Tycoon (fIlm) 36-7
Le Pen, Jean-LVlarie 6
Leibniz, Gottf'ried Wilhelm
identity 51
Lenin, Vladimir Ilych
ossification of Marxism 2
Letter on Humanism (Heidegger) 82
180
Letter to the Corinthians (St Paul)
129, 145-6
Claude 51
Life is Beautiful (film) 73-5, 77-8
L'objet du siecle (V/ajcman) 30-31
Lucas, George
The Phantom A1enace 7, 122
St Luke 120
lYlalevich, Kasimir 32
'Black Square on White Surface'
31, 38--9
l'v1allarme, Stephane 31
The Marriage ofFigaro (Mozart)
158-50
Marx, Karl
Christian lineage of Nlarxism
1-2
commodity fetishism and social
reality 83-4
The Communist Manifesto (with
Engels) 11-16,40
Eighteenth Erumaire 45
evolutionist perspective 91
mistaken about higher social
order 17-21
51
Medea 151-2
Men arefrom Mars, vVomen arefrom
Venus (Gray) 107--8
Mercier, Louis Sfbastien
(Rameau's nephew)
Miller, Jacques-AJain 22,42
analytic discourse 139
Lacan's universe 116
Milosevic, Slobodan 133, 156
lVlorrison, Toni
Beloved 152-6
Moses and Monotheism (Freud) 64,
97--8, 150-51
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
The Marriage ofFigaro 158-60
Mliller, Heiner
East European anticipation
41-2
Multilateral Agreement on
Investment 55
Murder in the Cathedral (Eliot) 143
My Best Friend' Wedding (film) 66-7
Napoleon Bonaparte 45, 47-8
Napoleon III 45
Nedoshivin, G.
'On the Problem of the Beautiful
in Soviet Art' 33-4
Nephew ofRameau (Diderot) 44-5,
46
Nietzsche, Friedrich
truth 80
wanting nothing 23
Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell) 57
North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) 55
North Atlantic Treaty"
Organization (NATO)
Kosovo war 56-7, 58-60
'On the Problem of the Beautiful in
Soviet Art' (Nedoshivin)
33-4
'One Kosovo Woman, an Emblem
of Suffering' (Erlanger) 57--8
Operation Desert Fox 76
Orwell, George
oxymorons in Nineteen Eighty-
Four 57
IN D EX
Panifal(VVagner) 118-19
St Paul
agape 100, 113, 121
institutionalization of
Christianity 2
law and sin 113, 143
Letter to the Corinthians 129,
145-6
living body of community 125
theoretical antihumanism
transgression and love 14
The Phantom Menace (film)
Anakin's conversion to evil 122
racism 7
Phenomenology ofSpirit (Hegel)
43-4
Rameau, Jean-Philippe
and nephew, Mercier 45
Ransom (fIlm) 149-50
Reeves, Keanu 149
Richardson, William 81
Rilke, Rainer Maria 160
'Rita Hayworth and the
Shawshank Redemption'
(King) 148-9
Robbins, Tim
Dead Man Walking 112
Roberts, Julia
Romeo and]uliet (Shakespeare)
125-6
Ruggerio, Renato 55
Rugova, Ibrahim 59
Saint Paul ou la naissance de
l'universaEsme (Badiou) 2
Sallis, John 81
monstrous truth 78-9
181
IN D EX
Santner, Eric
Freudian Moses 63, 64, 65
Satyricol1 (Film) 88
Saving Private Ryall (film) 77
Schelling, Friedrich \VJ. VOn 78
hmnanization of God 105-7
infinite melancholy of nature 86
ontology 85
relating to others 103
time and eternit;y 93--4
Treatise Oll Freedom 81
HIe/talter project 122
Schrodcr, Gerhard 61, 62
Seminar.xx· Encore (Lacan) 115,
116, 118, 143
Shakespeare, \Villiam
Rameo and]uliet 125-6
The Shawshank Redemption (fllm)
158-60
Siodmak, Robert
The Strange Affair ofUncle Harry
67
Sophie's Choicc (Styron) 153
Speed (film) 149-50
Spielberg, Steven
Saving Private Ryan 77
Stahr, Monroe
instructs scriptwriters 36-7
Stalin, .Joseph
leaders 33-6
Stalker (fIlm) 41
Star Wars (Glm series) 7, 122
182
The Strange Aj/air oJUncle Harry
(fIlm) 67
Styron, William
Sophie's Choice 153
The Subject- Encore (Lacan)
Tarkovsky, Andrei
post-industrial wasteland 41
Tijanic, Aleksandar 133
Treatise on Freedom (Schelling) 81
Trier, Lars van
Breaking the Waves 144
Tristan und IsoMe (Wagner)
Tudjman, Franjo 53-4
Th, Usual Suspects (f,lm) 149-50
Virtigo (f,lm) 20-21, 101-2, 117
Vinterberg, Thomas
Celebration 73-5
FUchard
Parsifal 118-19
Tristan und Isolde 159-60
\Vajcman, Gerard
L'objet du siicle 30-31
Warhol, Andy 40
Wilkomirski, Binjamin
Fragments 7
Winfrey, Oprah 107, 108
The Woman and the Ape (Hoeg) 65-6
U10man in the Window (mm) 67-9

CONTENTS

First published by Verso 2000 © Slavoj Zizek 2000
All rights reserved

Giving Up the Balkan Ghost 2 The Spectre of Capital

3
11

3
4

Coke as obje! petit a
From tragi que to moque-comtque

21 40
54 63 69 82 92

Paperback edition first published by Verso 2001

I 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
The moral rights of the author have been asserted Verso UK: 6 MeaI'd Street, London WIF OEC US: 180 Varick Street, New York, l\ry 10014--4606
Verso is the imprint of New Left Books

5
6

Victims, Victims Everywhere
The Fantasmatic Real

7

\Vhy is the Truth Monstrous?

8
9

Of Stones, Lizards and Men
The Structure and its Event

10 11 12
13

From the Decalogue to Human Rights The Principle of Charity Christ's Uncoupling
'You must, because you can!'

107
113

ISBN 1-85984-326-3
British Lihrary Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Lihrary of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Libraly of Congress

123 130
135 143

14

From Knowledge to Truth . . . and Back The Breakout

15

Note s

161

1yPeset by M Rules in Cochin lO.5pt Printed and bound in the USA by R.R. Donnelley & Sons Ltd

Index

177

For nobody and nothing

One of the most deplorable aspects ofthe postmodern era and its so-called 'thought' is the return of the religious dimension in all
its different guises: from Christian and other fundamentalisms,

through the multitude of New Age spiritualisms, up to the
emerging religious sensitivity within deconstructionism itself (so-

called 'post-secular' thought). How is a Marxist, by definition a 'fighting materialist' (Lenin), to counter this massive onslaught of
obscurantism? The obvious answer seems to be not only fero-

ciously to attack these tendencies, but mercilessly to denounce the remainders of the religious legacy within Marxism itself.

and we are 3 What these followers of the maxim 'yes to Christ. a kind of multiculturalist dream turned into a nightmare? Does not the of the struggle. in exactly t~. in Kosovo or in Bosnia.-"~?. of the tolerant coexistence of ethnic communities. and they defend the Christian civilization against this Europe's Other. the peculiar status of' a ghost that haunts it ."I~gl9g.1 our premiss here is exactly the opposite one: instead of adopting such a defensive stance. part of ex-Yugoslavia.9.:th~1SnoaUffientiCf\!rarx"tThate1tn be approached directly. there is a direct lineage from Christianity to Marxism. ~ _lT1'y~~ed?. very indeterminate and shifting geographic delimitation of the Balkans indicate their spectral status 7 It seems as if there is no definitive answer to the question 'Where do the Balkans begin 7' .ni'ode of its betrayal: the.lJ~flfi. usually fetishize the early 'authentic' followers of Christ against the Church's 'institutionalization' epitomized by the name of Saint Paul: yes to Christ's 'original authentic message'. they begin in orthodox. still fighting centuries-old battles. against which Croatia safeguards Western democratic values. Even those who acknowledg'e this direct lineage from Christianity to Marxism..~. while the rest of Europe is engaged in a rapid process of globalization7 Here. • . the exact opposite. we encounter the first paradox of the Balkans: it seems as if the Balkans themselves had. yes. no to his Leninist ossification'.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE Against the old liberal slander which draws on the parallel between the Christian and Marxist 'Messianic' notion of history as the process of the final deliverance of the faithful (the notorious 'Communist-parties-are-secularized-religious-sects' theme). however.~_~. forgetting nothing and learning nothing.§!-"•lhi!Lhic'!. for the Croats. what one should do is to reverse the strategy by fully endorsing what one is accused 0/ yes. n~~~:~~~~I~~it~~~!:~_.. this vortex of (self-)destructive ethnic passions.Sno' Christ outside Saint Paul. as Nietzsche claimed.~h~.the Balkans are always somewhere else.=.~_!9 _ ~:'f~rtth~ir-~f£i£q~'y~ d~e_l~i~~_ in. however.are not the postYugoslav Balkans.§t~l:)J_~~~t~!i~§ _ . in the eyes of Europe.'.. allowing the eneUIY to define the terrain 1 Giving Up the Balkan Ghost Perhaps the best way of encapsnlating the gist of an epoch is to focus not on the explicit features that define its social and ideological edifices but on the disavo~~(Lgh9. in effect invented Christianity) do is strictly parallel to the stance of those 'humanist Marxists' from the mid-twentieth century whose maxim was 'yes to the early authentic Marx.c. a little bit more towards the southeast..Q. should one not emphasize how this holds only for ossified 'dogmatic' .. And in both cases. 2 . despotic and Byzantine Serbia.arxism. Christianity and Marxism should fight on the same side of the barricade against the onslaught of new spiritualisms .:. no to Saint Paul' (who.-. .Ln.. one should insist that such a 'defence of the authentic' is the most perhdIc. no to its transformati. For the Serbs... for Slovenes they begin in Croatia...!i~...h Coming from Slovenia.19! it. not for its authentic liberating kernel? Following AJain Badiou's path-breaking book on Saint PauI.. almost a kind of photographic negative. bypassing Lenin.on into the body of teaching that legitimizes the Church as a social institution.M.. they begin down there. I seem to be predestined to speak about such ghosts today: is not one of the main cliches about the Balkans that they are the part of Europe which is haunted by the notorious 'ghosts of' the past'.the authentic Christian legacy is much too precious to be left to the fundamentalist freaks.

often disavowed.::1.. ideological antagonisms.:.i~ti~~'.many arrogant Frenchmen associate Germany itself with an Eastern old-fa~~ed_.l::~0!J0dy todax!~ i..I...:t. at least .rlst~p.p()st:.t.. since it is closest to Western Europe: when...t. in a kind of spectral interview abont his film Underground.P~()!.'.~~ffYC~.hteously 0 version of the Balkan Turkish Empire. it is not only that the Balkans serve as Europes ghost.. "-'~-"'--" opponents of the European Union..t~..~. )B~lkan ~n behalf athe...'as inth~ notion of Serbs who.~.attribllt". Slovenia is most exposed to this displaced racisnl.. However.~~..-~d. within the Balkan area itself.pi:l. the Western outpost oT the Slavic hordes.-a.e!l'. Finally..g.1. for many North Germans.<'i.-" Dflwer: it is attributed to '.'~I''''~i~ifi. mutuirresp~'a':'--'fle:re'racis~m"ls~--as"Tt'wei. crucial role in the success of Emir Kusturica's fllms in the West.-'-. Oriental ... the secret truth of the entire movement of the displaced delimitation between the two? This enigmatic multiple displacement of the frontier clearly demonstrates that in the case of the Balkans we are dealing not with real geography but with an imaginary cartography which projects on to the real landscape its own shadowy. there is the reverse racism ..rCeaUf~escuwas presented as th~ 'c~'nt~-~p~~ary reincarnation of Count .:> beJr"."isl11 plays a.t~.implicitly. .fli...J~"n people: p()Eti~:'T .:t~.es. it is as if... First.rig...g.().... of the (despotic. .) var. 2 Is uot this identification of continental Europe itself with the Balkans.Ilt J::>seryqJ:"l..~t. just as Freud claimed that the localization of the hysteric's conversion Syulptoms project on to dismayed at tl:chorroIsgoing on 'down there'.!l!li\Q.:. barbarian.§h~cl rejection ~f-~~tI~~~~ti~"(W~-~-t~.the whole of continental Europe functions today as a new -. in contrast to It.?J1?.~iti~~'"'i... the further perhaps even more important . for whom .. the different modes of today's racism. there is the "-"'---'-~ 4 .. for many Italians and Austrians they begin in Slovenia. a voracious despotic centre which threatens British freedom and sovereignty.=thi. WQuld d"r~ tQ "pply to African or Asian people .--cl~~~~'~~~ti'~. racist cliches wh_i':....tr:.. Bavaria.i~.t~~ii!~s~nt.mo"1..f~~tf()1. 3 Since the Balkans are geographically part of Europe. still exhibit a prodigious the physical body the map of another.the~.... corrupt. the persistent remainder of its own disavowed past. nobody even reacted to 5 analysis.:> ()ur)'olitic"lly CorrecUim.e:1?-.'.:s:itE.J:J. with Brussels as the new Istanbul.point to be made is that pre- The example of Kusturica also enables us to idcnti(y another feature of the Western perception of the Balkans: the logic of dis~ placed racism.t.---Ch. is not free of a Balkan contarnination.. ----.{r'.:. .~ti~~..1'...Pt~~.Dracula. in an cisely in so far as 'the Balkans' function as such a spectral entity.:. Kustnrica dismissed the Slovenes as a nation of Austrian grooms.~~g--pa:ss-l()nsl p t()be-()pp()sedt()-th.....~ff. --~- venient..of i:he~Balk~aus as the terraiu ofetlinic horrors'ancr~n'toTerance:'.:'I. p~~ition()f... and this brings us to the last link in this chain: to some conservative British ors. anaenlic Western Europeans. reference to them enables us to discern.: the l11ulti~ult... for many Germans.t-.. Iib.~.1.~'" elevated'to--the--second ~--_.:-ati~.:..e:Y9J~. populated by white people..gh... ~ox.cl .. .? t() B. Muslim.tiif'.. .:r:. with its Catholic provincial flair. .. Furthermore..... ::~I11proIllise a.p~i.'.t. Austria itself: because of its historical links.-i..f~i. imaginary anatomy.. is already tainted with Balkan corruption and inefficiency. its barbarian Other.....:.i" process we occupy con- Balkan brutaliW entirely foreign to French finesse.:which celebrates the exotic authenticiW of theB~fk~-.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE the last bulwark of the peaceful Mitteleuropa.1:l..h"I3"I~ans are compared to ridiculous O~~I:~!~~~'.'~Oth.~tf.

inFerior to our own.~i'.. -. racism is considered the stronger.~. rather obviously reFer to the caricatural way in which classic Hollywood represented the non-European (nou-white) figures 01' servant and master: Jar Jar is a good-hearted.1!r.iy..r:: is!'...e!i.~~ ~.. somehow misses the point: these reference_~_to ~th1!~.l'_clir:<::.. howeve. -...- .-.~~i:?::~. racism itset/is becoming. it revolves around the distinction betvveen cultural contempt -~~~~. ~_.gi~.e.._d2J'Y. what is crucial here is that both figures are not played by real actors.ph.o cliches.gi~b~I.Er:"~.:...t.....PPI.' 6 7 .'~.f-ith<.. Charmingly ridicolous.<. like the Mexican local warlords in old Hollywood movies.c-.·.a:ad~"ic<tlll.h~i.. The usual leFtist critical poiut that the multitude 01' exotic alien (extra-human) species in Star Wars represents.the ra-erenee to 'the B..~i'.m.-.t-h~~/h~.This brings us to another key Feature 01' this reHected racism: '--" ' ."-. b~.. that of the disavowal characteris- underwater Naboo people.'"~~t"'~.. ... reJ!exive...'..-d by.ns': 'when-tlleorlsts'Ii1<eAilthony ·G{dJe...."-~.:i.·.. with their exaggerated sense of pride and dignity).... lacking the 'depth' 01' a true personality: the grimaces 01' their almost infinitely plastic Faces give immediate and direct expression to their innennost attitudes and feelings (anger.}..~. Usually.ng .'.c ..tY.o. __ __ tod~y. .....~·Uki~h-B~::k··<kt. -. pride). since an 'authentic' exotic artist from the less developed part of ex-Yugoslavia The mechanisms 01' this reHexive racism are clearly discernible even in today's popular culture ..~~. but are E~~"..~."~t--it!Ei~£~~"~~~"F~th~~~-.for example.tk".g:pof?'D6n6t'even today's Eilropean .i.out h~.-'~fthe ~ not a cipher: to be penetrated throu~h'. .. in The Phantom was attacking the most developed part 01' it.:--Wars .£!I. cowardly prattling childish servant (like the proverbial Mexican who prattles and makes nervous comments all the time)..t~. "'- '-"""'~""'.it was OK._ .. George Lucas's long-awaited prequel to tkS.Q.~i. lost.._~.'..Jk~..~...r.._9igi!~Lc~".wedt... '".._"~.illtillg.. Today's 'reflected' racism. rather...."._.:ilm"li:i.~d -..~~.~i~e how what they ask for is only the same right to cultural identity as Africans and others demand For themselves? It is too easy to dismiss such arguments with the claim that here.." t.~tific~i~ni~...ly ...".letoa:tic­ ulate itselF in terms of direct respect For the other's culture: was not th-~off. stitute!:'1lace ofexception with r'fJard to which the tole~ant multieulturalist is-~all.J~.gt<::2..o. in some way.etical a.~i...ab.Jl~~.~IJ'si.Y.~. respect for the other is simply 'hypocritical': the mechanism at work is. a'ri~k a...ii~~~:::~ l!~k..:~_~!..n'theWe~te. _.~'·~ll~~~~.dir.~d~. .Barka."'-"" ..-~-.i..~_~~_<:re __ ·~~i.:.··'..Y'.h. [1 despise them passionately]. The Balka!!.-_..'l'h'~~.. interhuman ethnic differences. making them totally transparent.tag...s Menace.•...i.tY'...~ii..J :':'._.... Fear.'the.likeC:p.~-..YclQ._. while the ruler also displays the ridiculously pompous False dignity 01' the non-European master (again...".r.~'th'~~~~-~~-~b~.:. ~..SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE the open racism of this statement .. in code.Il.!is n.'-apartheidin 'fheo1d~SouTIlArricathat black ~~l~~.~.....~in-' li~~"the' mili-n id~.E!'J!J..~. .... more radical version 01' cultural contempt: we are dealing with racism when simple contempt For the other's culture is elevated into the notiou that the other ethnic group isfor inherent (biological or cultural) reasons ._-~".t._.t'To. the comic Jar Jar and the pompously bossy ruler of the Gungans..-. .. reducing them to the level 01' common racist stereotypes (the evil merchants 01' the greedy Trade Federation are a clear caricature of ant-like Chinese merchants). 'flat'. it as towards the Other and downright racism.'.-.~P.ikdedt.~s'th..>~ sh~~id'b~"'~re'~'erved'i~ its u~iqu~~'~~'~~ ~~t dissi- pa'te. <:li~.~~: For that reason they arc.t.blP.tm-"r:-"IYrder .h~..-_.Jo gy..9...irid..~et~r. _ tic 01' the Fetishistic split: '1 know very well that the Other's culture is worthy of the same respect as my own: nevertheless ..~t~s.~~i.cii~-.

Pi.. typical educated analysand consist for the most part of attempts to provide a psychoana\ytic explanation for their l:'listurbances... • .:'_~~~::y.tlldt)ish.'__..· . when he is really pressed for the reasons for his violence.l. or about the threat th~~~~~~~~~~t-t~-....~y--'f~~m s u The unfortunate result of this global reHexivization of interpretation (everything becomes interpretation. rising insecurity.rl~p<:>~ses­ t siono[the What OIle should propose here is the Hegelian 'infinite judgement' that asserts the speculative identity of these 'useless' and 'excessive' outbursts of violent immediacy. that thf.'-_~!.:att.:. b<:>dy ..~~sh.<:>ti". so that one is quite justified in saying that . 8 one of the obverses of the universalized reflexiVIty by risk-society theorists: it is as if our reflexive power c~. suddenly starts to talk like social workers.:......'w. This ' ' ' ' ' ... ..'. th"ie.. leaving the symptom intact in the immediacy of its idiotic JOUlSsance..t5:..~:j~~fJ~_~~~19~iEi~n...ld:B.'~~~ri~ho~. . __ ·" ." __ '"~"' " '''' '''' ..'ll<pro.n..L~~~~-d.. . . int~rpret~tions ?f sY~t>t?_??:s.. _..:.:e have n"£!"'zr:1y Jungian.... · " ' ·.:. Today.~h i~ ~hy~~d. ~ _ _..~..i. ...l"eferenc~"tq_~op:1e . sociologists and social psychologists...:. " __ m" __ ·.~~.'.. whose figure was best captured by Etienne Balibar's notion of excessive..."""'''' ""'_'~"_""_'_"'.n_al. its st~~. .~e'nt. impotence of interpretation is also '"..What:..~~~-We-~tern valu~s ~~K. . a violence grounded in no utilitarian or ideological cause.:<:>...h. ·''...!...h".tp<:>~~~~ht.the unity of practice and its inherent ideological (:.. perhaps the ultimate example of this coincidence is the fate of psychoanalytic interpretation.__ ."·.....nlS~l.....__ .:.in~pli_~it. ..)Ttic. non-functional cruelty as a feature of contemporary with the global reflexivization of society.:.nat~[y<:>btai[l from a sklI1..'t t appears to erlj<:>Y<lp~i. ..[ti...tedby most the elementary imhalance in the'relationship between the Ego and joli!ss'.~'".'""~.:.· .SLAVOJ ZllEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE The more general point to be made here is the Hegelian lesson that global rejlexivizationlmediatization generates its own brutal immedi- acy.:.~~_.:..~~---~.h~aJisih~tit.". which display nothing object:5 ·· ~. All the talk about foreili\ners stealing work from us.'__" __ ."r.Jap. ~'N~.'-it-~-oon ...eatth" .~:.!~gi~~i~L~i?'. quoting diminished social mobility...__.. ~"=. and are thoroughly reHexivized: the 'free associations' of a life A a cruelty whose figures range from 'fundamentalist' racist and/or religious slaughter Lo the 'senseless' outbursts of violence by adolescents and the homeless in our megalopolises.~i:~!i~"~_.li\thfr<:>~~r:d r~l~s on some minimal 'pre-reflexive' substantial support which .j~~~th~tth. inefficient interpretation.rJ:~i~_~~-f.:~··:..''" but a pure and naked ('non-sublimated') hatred of Otherness..~~•.'~~..A"~ __ '~_.~Ta"~~t-"d-~~~-{~~---~~":-"~.."_"""""'~"+'~_.T..n<lke.:.9:i~i~.._ .~rs.c..rlc~c:AII'~ca."='''".E"il~tr\l~t~. .:.... lack of maternal love in his early childhood ...h~.LCic. .."1 g<:>odt<:>b.__• .st.' __ £s..e is Lacanian __ ·"__ whose reality involves .~.n:. 9 .:._. a violence one is tempted to call Id-Evil. ..''·'·...lf p.:..:.lrthusstages ihemost elementary'sh<:>rt cIrcllli' in·the subject's.of]~u!sstln.:..edaI1.... . lild""J Id-Evil:thatis.~ryh"a~t<:>TIt.te.~.~{<:>[lhet:. the disintegration of paternal authority. Kleinictu. the formations of the Unconscious (from dreams to hysterical symptoms) have definitely lost their innocence. .~._. the Unconscious interprets itself) is that the analyst's interpretation itselF loses its performative 'symbolic efficiency'.. b~.dI.relat. .~+"_·_·"_·_'U_·h ·~ ··~_·_·_·'_~"· .__ "".:e[l.~~". ......:-~i~j.....idesarathersup~ai~ial secondary· ·rai1ona]izat{on:Th~..' __.ilnia:n" '_'. ._.een pleasllreand th"f'<:>~.:at.~hs hl...g<:>bJect:causeofhisdesiie:whid: 'bothers' us iu the 'other'(Jew.g. What happens in psychoanalytic treatment is strictly homologous to the response of the neo-Nazi skinhead who..~gi~~.:....__ •...a." ' "'...th~:.!?. ' .pf<:>.h~e....the other either possesse~--'the-o-bT~-~t'~-t.'.. ..g.i~-~ti~~-.)T.~~~~~l~~s.t.~~~~~~~---ha~l~g---s~-at~h~a---{t--~:.:....".pt~th~ primOI'dIal1y.y._..~l~.~. ·__ '·. b~t ~i. .~.~§J~X~~~:~~~~::X!~::::~~p~.:.-hl..-d.ilcg"drelatl<:>nshIp to the object -. ~"'_.."..e.

SLAVOJ ZIZEK

THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE

'~eaI-_-·or'.'-tl~_r;tA;;~:~I"::,'Yi-~l'~'~'~'~';-"-i'~-,p-~_:i~:~-~~~~'_. '~~"~,":{:~'~~'~~iti~'~ to
~~fk~i~~-i~1t~~p~~t~ti~~~~"~---~-------"

eludes it~, gra~p,"_§g_t'h?:t,.it~_J1JliY~E§,~~~a~io~,comes_~~he ~,~i~~, of t i;efGci;;;;:"y,that is, the paradoxicalr~-'~~~;:genceorihe brute

- ,",

~,'

---

,~-, .~~-,

reason, confronted with ethnic hatred and yjolence, one should' _ _... thoroughly reject the standard multiculturalist idea that, against eth;:,i~;;-t;;l~t~;;c-;:;-;;-;;-;:-;i~;-;Idl~"rnto ,;:~;-P;;~t·~-;;Jri~~'~lil1ihe 6the~;;-~~~-~rth;:-Other,tod;~el~~-;tol~;ance· 0--;' diFferent 1'
..
_ ~ ~

..

S;;'tr~~';;;:;;;:e'tod;;y's social theory proclaims the end of Nature

life~t.Yj~;;~~d~~~;;?::=:the~~yt9.figllt~thni~hat:.e.deffecti"ely is
not through its immediate counterpart, ethnic tolerance; on the

and/or Tradition and the rise of the 'risk society', the more the
implicit reference to 'nature' pervades our daily discourse: even
when we do not mention the 'end of history', do we not convey the same message when we claim that we are entering a 'post-

C~~!~~,~Y~~~h~!.~~·~~~_~~2~~~~.I§:~~~~f;_~:m~-~~_·':b: «t;~d,-::hui:_pr~p~r::p-9Ht~cal
hatred: hatreddirected ,aUl1e comrn,on ,political enemy. ""''' __ . .__ __ _ __ - _ .. ,,__ .. __ ,. __., ....__.__ _.. .... _
'''~_~ '_~_~_-"~''-_ ~_,_ ~_~.u.,~ ~.,,

ideological' pragmatic era, which is another way of claiming that
we are entering a post-political order in which the only legitimate

2

The Spectre of Capital

conflicts are ethnic/cultural conflicts? Typic"ll.l:'.i.I1.1:~~~~,s:r:itical and political discourse, the term 'w~;ker' has disappeared, s;;ppl;;'~~t;:~r~~;_;;~;2r:,~~lit~;_;;t;:"d-by'immigrants [immigrant ".__ .." ' .... _.. ' __ .. ..,,..
._"._'~,"~ '~'.-'_ -""""'-_"_"""~'''' '_~'_' '_''"_~'~_~~"'~"" _·_""_ '·b_",.,,_~_

~_~:!~_~:~s:Al~~E~j!?:,,!:E~E,~e2-_Tur.k~.i!l_.g~!~m~!.1.YLM:::~i~~_~ __~1?_.!~~, IJ~i\I::~r1..t!>!s~a~!h~cla,:spr(JbJ"rn!:ti"of:':()I'~,:,rs~""J)loit,"tion is transformed into the multieulturalist problematic of the 'intoler~~-~~ o{-Oth~~7J:~~~':-~;:~~f;~-';~:-~~d-·th~"·exce-ssive-;'lnv'est'iiie-n:C-6f

So where are we, today, with regard to ghosts? The first paradox that strikes us, of course, is that this very process of global reflexivization that mercilessly derides and chases the ghosts of the
past generates not only its own immediacy but also its own ghosts,

.,

;"?lti~~i!~i';'j;~;]i,!;~;:i;J~,ig:Rr:2i~~!i~g~~"~;g;:~gts'"th@9rlghts
clearly draws its energy From the'repressed' class dim",nsion. " 'A!thollghF;';-;;~i~''i<~~k;;:Y';'';;;-'sth-;:;;~~~th;:'~';:ci'~{history' quickly fell into disrepute, we still silently assume that the liberaldemocratic capitalist global order is somehow the finally found 'natural' social regime; w~,.'!till i~}icitly conceive of conflicts in Third World countries as a subspecies-;;Tna;;;;:Jc;'t~t;:;;phes,as
outbu;:~t~-orq;,;;,s;~;~i:ur~l\';;;leutpassions-:·or. asco-nnicfSb~sed

its own spectrality. The most famous ghost, which has been roaming around for the last 150 years, was not a ghost of the past, but the spectre of the (revolutionary) future - the spectre, of course, from the first sentence of The Communist Maniftsto, The automatic reaction to The Maniftsto of today's enlightened liberal
reader is: isn't the text simply wrong on so Iuany empirical accounts - with regard to its picture of the social situation, as

;;;;1;;;;t;~;J'id~-;:;tifi~~t;~;~ith ~'th;icroots(andwhat'is'ethnic'
he;:~;r;;;t;':g;':i;;';':'~;;d~~:;;:d'f:;t;;;':t;';r~ 7)', 'X;:;d;;g;;;;'-:'th~key

p~I~t-i~'th~t--thi;-;:II=p-~';;~~'i;~~;~~';t~~-';{I~'~'atlo -ulSstIictlycorrela­

t;~~:~;;~tE~~KI;;!:.~Li::~il~~!;':li~i;Qr!2C2Y;:(l~ilY • ·li.y':es:·For that
10

well as the revolutionary perspective it sustains and propagates? Was there ever a political manifesto that was more clearly falsified by subsequent historical reality? Is not The Maniftsto, at its best, the exaggerated extrapolation of certain tendencies discernible in the nineteenth century? So let us approach The Manifesto from the opposite end: where do we live today, in our global 'post, . .' (postmodern, post-industrial) society? The
11

SLAVOJ ZIZEK

THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE

slogan that is imposing itself lllore and more is 'globalization': the

national ground on which it stood. All old-established
national industries have been destroyed or are daily being

brutal imposition of the unified world market that threatens all loeal ethnic traditions, including the very form nf the nationstate. And in view of this situation, is not the description of the social impact of the bourgeoisie in The Maniftsto more relevant
than ever? The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolution-

destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up

indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the
remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed,

izing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form was, on the contrary, the first condition of
existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolu-

not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the prodnctions of the country,
we find new 'wants, requiring for their satisfaction the prod-

ucts of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and
national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations.

tionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all
social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation

And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The
intellectual creations of individual nations become cornmon

distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all newformed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and
man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real

property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness
becomes more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature. 6

Is this not, more than ever, our reality today? Ericsson phones
are no longer Swedish, Toyota cars are manufactured 60 per

condition in life, and his relations with his kind. The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere,
establish connexions everywhere.

cent in the USA, Hollywood cultnre pervades the remotest parts of the globe.... Furthermore, does not the same go also for all forms of ethnic and sexual identities? Should we not snpplement
Marx's description in this sense, adding also

thatsexuarrone1S.

siJ~d'~~'~'~-" and"-~~~~;~~=~~i~'d~d~~'~~"'-h~~~';~--'''~~'~'~'''~~d'--'~~re

The bonrgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world
market given a cosmopolitan character to production and

consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of

Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the
12

m;:lts'int;; ~i~~~lLtQ~tI§hQl¥~\iP:r;;:[;;:~~d::~~.t4~t~~p~t"li~';t~I)ds 'to r-;:pra:~;;tandard normative heterosexuality with a proliferat;~;;;{;;;;~t~bT~~hii~;;;g";d~;titi;~;;:;d?;;;;;;i~;;t~t;;;;;~;?l'l'om une ; t
._.,_ .' .•••• , _ , , ,,,~ __.•. ,, ' ,, ,, •._" , ,.•~. · ·00·.. ·.. ' , ,'" , , ...

i~~~,~·~~;,;·."t~~t~~.~~~.~~i·;.g:~~~~~;rrra~t~ces

als{), ."

13

SLAVOJ ZIZEK

THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE

to time Marx himself underestimates this ability of the capitalist
universe to incorporate the transgressive urge that seemed to

~;;'d~-;;lf-~nhancing circulation of Capital, whose solipsistic path

reality gener{l~e,-,asp~'fzqlityojOitLQv'm,.Wh~IlMaxx .g~§Gribes th e

threaten it; in his analysis of the ongoing American Civil War, for example, he claimed that since the English textile industry, the backbone of the iudustrial system, could not survive without the supply of cheap cotton from the American South rendered possible only by slave labour, England would be forced to intervene directly to prevent the abolition of slavery. So yes, this global dynamism described by Marx, which
causes all things solid to melt into air, is our reality - on condition

,;C;~~ltfe~;:;;;d~ti~;:;;:~;,~h~;jt~~;,p,;~~~~;;;'t~d;;..Yi;··0eia:reflexive

~,~~~~,?_~~~S,_'_?_~'_~~~_~_~~~~_-_?i~~_!~~_~~_?~_~_~_~_!~_~_~!l5?~E~, ~~ ~1~_?J~g_ .i.§

spec;;lati~ns.,,;' fllt;:;r~;:;tisfa~·toosi~~listi;,t; ~l;'imthatthe spectre•. ()fth;sself-e;;ge;,·d~;illg·IIl9~~t~it.ll~tp~~~u,,,~it~ path

icalahstracti~n, a:r:.dthat one shouldnever forget that behind this ah;i;;;ch();:;th~;~·;;;~·t~.,,-l·p~~pI~~;:;d;:;~t;l;~r~b)~ct;··';llwhose

p~~d~:~~~~~_:-~~p~c-~-~~~.~-._-~~;:~;-:~:~,~:?·~~~'?-~'-~~pI~~i;~---~i;·~~-~~~~_?'~:_i~_-_~~~~d,

that we do not forget to supplement this image from The Manifesto with its inherent dialectical opposite, the spiritualization' ofthe very material process ofproduction. While capitali~;;' do.. e.~.-·.~;;;r~-;'~d the .' .. .. •.. ....•. -.".,,----',--_._-,--- --.. power of the old. ghosts of tradition, it generates its own mon~tt;;;;:~-gh;;~t;.-;rhat is to say: on the one hand, capitalism entails the radit~l ~~~~i~ti;.~ti~;,~f~~;,i~llif~=itfll~tcil~sslytears apart aura of authentic nobilih,." s~c;~dn~s~, ho~~ur,- ;'-~d so on:
, -,,-"--~

tli.L~:~_~li~ii~~i~Q~:-:~SlQ;~=~~l~~_~i~!_~"~~;Jy~i~~_~~1![ {fiIl~[tqi;[§R~CU _

and on which it fe;dslike•.~giia~tic~ar;sit~~Theproblem is that

-,"-_

"._"'~-".,_

,., .. _"" ..,",,_ ,._-- -" , .. ,

,

,

.•.. ",

__

,

"

_

---" ..

,,',

-

..

"

..

..

..

"

t;I~s,• • t~~k; • ~;~l~;~.b.Y.th,,~;()liI'~i~ti~'=;p~~~I~ti"~d~;'c~· of
Capital, which pursues its goal of profitahility with a blessed iIldif~ f;;~;;~~t;;th~';;~yit;;;;~"c;;;;:;'t :;;n;;HectsoC:l;;1realio/:-Thatis
_ ,), •._.•.
,~"-,, ~

t~r:~~)_~isl2=E~~P!~~?: _ 9f§S!5;!eL,~,~§!Et.YL~!d!.§,,,'E~.~r _i!~"lh~_p!:,~<;5~t?",~t?1:_~_e o(d;t~;;~iningthe very structure of material social processes: the f~t;;;;f;h;i;;tt~t;'()fp;;p;;:l~ti;:;;;~,~;:;d~~;;:;~ti;;;~~~f'wh~Iccoun-

," _ -,- "',-"--,,"" -','.<--'- ,', .•- ., __ ..•.---- ---•.. ,._".,.__., .•.•-•.• -.,.,

,.,._-.-_.__

- •••., _, .. _-_ .. _-_ ••...,._-

,',',_. ,

the (fundamental.,..•,._.,.,._, __""•.._,,__ systemic violence of. . caritalism, which is mU!?!t " .• "",;,., .._.<._,',_,.,_,_,',',,_, __,' __.• _,.m_. ...."_' "__ .__ . ,._,
.'"_._~"._. ._._,~ ~'_.'.,_ _._.~'_ "'_~~'_'" ~_.,._"_ ,"~_._>'O>._._

It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiaSlll, of philistine sentimentalism,

more 'uncanny than direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence:

in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasihle chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom - Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation'? However, the fundamental lesson of the 'critique of political economy' elaborated hy the mature Marx in the years after The
Manifesto is that this reduction chimeras to bruta/economic

~'~~.i,~~_~~i~~'_ I~_~_~;.~~_?;~,~·,·i~}~~:'E~i~[Y~,~.?~l~_~,~Y~~ . ~~t~~!~~~";~~~~()_~s)
Here we encounter the Lacanian difference betvveen reality

th;~~;;;I~;;c~i~;;~T~;,i~;~tt;ibttt;;blct;;"co;;c;.etc:-,lldiv,dllaIs.;;lld

and the Real: 'reality' is the social reality of the actual people
involved in interaction, and in the productive process; while t~e

Real is_ _ _'"•. the inexorable 'abstract' spectral logic of Capital which __ . . __.-.,.,."•. __ , _. determines what goes on in social reality. This gap is palpable in
_~._. ~~_.,.·,''"'"''''~·_.·_.-_·'.'m''_.-. w.,,-.,'_. ,'".'<_,_._.,,,._."~_.,,.,~,.,~_,,.,._

•• __
~,

~~.<.,,._._,.,,. _·.,,"·.,·,_,·_,_"·_W'

,,~,·.·,_

the way the modern eCOl;~-r~'-~~t~~tio~of a country is consid-

ered to he good and stable by international financial experts, even when the great majority of its people have a lower standard of living than they did before - reality doesn't matter, what
15

14

that the Marxist'critique of political economy' provides an adequate account of the process of capitalist dance of its unconditional spiral of productivity..IIl (of self-propelling capit.r::ar~rj)r'Od~c.heI~1I~4~1:.that a new.. In short.. i~~~~~~~v~E.vv_'v".. we should identify Marx's mistake: he perceived how capitalism -unlea-'. ~~~tai~" \.---ihifis'id~()[()gy..1. both sides are wrong. on the other hand...which view the crazy capitalist dance as self-enhancing productivity as the expression of a more fundamental transcendental-ontological principle ('will to power'. foundations in real p~~pj~... is ultimately nothing but a desperate forward flight to escape its own debilitating inherent contradiction.?fe-:.~it()rs-()-tIl~'L()Ildo~St()ckExchange t '.~.' 00 account of its inherent obstacle/contradiction.. r~la:tio.... ..r~gi~~.. the mad Does this mean. the inherent contradiction of capitalism..IlS" toth~mthat' th~ stock ~.-Ctrj-' people real \V.'a:1..:h'.:...)' =its ..~. -....hi.-~-th-~---.--..'nd ~llei.alit.l?. what Marx overlooked is that .~!'t=g[Rrst4g.~tl~ll.v ".-~t~)i.... than ever today'! Do not phenomena usually described as those of 'virtual capitalism' (the futures trade and similar abstract financial speculations) indicate the reign of 'real abstraction' at its purest....' but'a])oiltreal r~()pE'.4-~~_.i~. we do not get while For the opposite side. And. from these insights.Ta:~.as Heidegger put it Americanism and Communism are metaphysically the same? higher degree.to putit in the standard Derr.gd'ynanllcs-oF selF-enbancing prod'.v.~~is~[y in ov~rl()()kiIlg this Real of sp-.~-Ca:bou£'some-myste-ri(.t...Ian tenns inherent obstacle/~~t'~g~~i-s..daescripiionsor!low.~"·.ai. v v . again.:=r.:p G.is proI' elled...'~ii-'thi~gs solid melt into thin air'.~k.'~.s~a. th~ .-..~lt..!...h't..js S!.h-thei.-ii~~L""pit"iis. -.. the incessant development and " ~~' ..._~ V_'. in a way. the search for some transcendental-ontological principle obscures the concrete socioeconomic structure that sustains capitalist productivity..{.:iD. he also clearl. and those attempts .- .lltag~~~rn.h~d~th~b.Y:-. is thwarted again and again by socially destructive economic crises...even raise to a Heidegger's to Adorno and Horkheimer's . the potential of the s.)'namics . the standard Marxist approach does 16 the fully unleashed drive to productivity finally delivered of its 17 .~lt. One is tempted to claim here that..diiit.'''2n£!tigD()LI?Q§§i!?ility':f we abolish the i obstacle..• v .:t:.---•.~-...~~~~~~t...tspur~si.. b.:<i:~h=J!. ''''' __ .?~~~-_~?~. __ . higher social order (Communism) is poss' ~"' __ V"'~""V"V""·""V"'·· "~"'V'" __ '''' __ ' .rllL()fi<leo!()gyNli"~Nnot i.k. Ofimp...Y=~~~-hi.r1..4~~~.tivitiwhichin capitalism. p.-t1~~. so that . t~ highe"!i(.~~-~-dl.. forgetting about its. .~.:'.eaI~o....from Marx's fundamental mistake was to conclude. Precisely as lVlarxists. ~.~"v·..a:-r. linstrumental reason') discernible also in Communist attempts to overconle capitalism..".SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE matters is the situation of Capital...~~~-~:fiti~n From the standard Marxist standpoint.-a:dd..rpreD. of how capitalism is the greatest revolutionizer in the entire history of humanity.us~Uuctiia1ioiis.. in capitall~".~tj~i.Jist productivity) is Capital itself" that is. globalization'! l'Vlore precisely: how do we stand today with regard to the opposition between the standard Marxist analysis of capitalism as a concrete social formation.t.:a:Il..i~s'.Yg.()dt~_~i.Y:~:(Qr.-~~I.. is this not truer not see how the capitalist excess cannot be accounted for on the antic level of a particular societal organization...~?~~..:rf:i~~r~e~Sl~~sp.n[t..r perceived how this capitalist d.. in the interests of our fidelity to Marx's work. much more radical than it was in lVlarx's tirue? In short. then.:.. and effectively fully release. sI'ectrality..:t.. revolutionizing of capitalism's ovvn rnaterial conditions.ngetting c"tight NUl' in ideological.

.'. in it..._--_.~lt":. ..'~'.:~~~~~~. ~~~.. .~~~~t'..~~haeret.h " ....l:>y:. the critics of Communism were right when they claimed that Marxian Communism is an impossible fantasy .iL. we lose precisely this productivity that seemed to be generated and simultaneously thwarted by capitalism .d~~d'~."tt!.J...'"<.aEdspr?ductivit~ ge~er~ted by capit~lis..'.:!e."n..t.:i.-f.·....i~~fth~:'()"st.~...·v..~~l~~lsting Socialism' failed because it was ultimately a subspecies of ~~pit~ii~'~~~"id~'~'i~gi~..'.~ .._...pi1:.-~i~.h...p't. " ..~:a:E.t.t~1:~:s~pit~i..gr.t...i~t-!'~F~1:ii~~~topian precisely in so far as it was not radical enough . .Y'1:~'th~transcenae·nra:l'onfologlCarcrifl·ueotmsfrUin.h~~~:.. th~"fund'." . Adorno and I-Iorkheimer.·. lies in their abandonment of the concrete 18 .•_ .rf~t:.'11Ji~kout .'hi.'~nlng ~ts··k~'yTngreaieilt:· Our answer to the standard philosophical criticism of Marx (his description of the dynamics of capitalism should be rejected._-.:J ist--~2P..-. So..... how to repeat the Marxist 'critique of political economy' withou..in..:~ of Capita:C.·. "__ '> ".. ental reason'.'~t~'iha:V~"o~'~'Js' ~ake"an'd'eaf'it'.. _..~~t..i~~ly'ideologicalfantasy of s .t:~.Id~~~~~ih..hS?~"..a fantasmatic scenario for resolving re._ _.!1P.. __ .Eii~ji~t:~g!~!i~4-. " .~..":!. .tical ~~on-. .._.'_.~~ns._.'sl. __ "_..~Ila. •. one has simply to take a reflexive step back and perceive how Marx's notion of Communist society is itself the inherent capitalist fantasy .~h. they perceive unbridled productivity as something that is ultimately i~~~p'.... ..L!:el'!~~lVl"E:x~~rni~t"ke=li!<eJVlarx.y in!:.h... - as tl:::irnl'licit s~n. .SLAVOJ ZIZEK impediment.• ' .~ti.~:..·."-_.theonlyJ. thecaJ..4:~:£.".q _ _" .'.ni~ms that were . ~ ~ _.' "·""_"·"..tJL~Q!h~!'L.".._...~.. as~J~~jE:Peren~L.:. to'b~-.·=.d~~t..~nt...~? __ _ 19 .!_!h~~I()P5..._.if we take away the obstacle...-i...'. " " . society of pure unleashed productivity outside '~k1ra.li..• _.t. ·..~.sighti~to the self-Eo£elling vicious cycle ~fcap­ ~1:..:~~s..as the sad experience of 'actually existing capitalis.. .~~tY) . .italist icl.-ihought is .~...f~~pit. .1.eE~.:.'Capitalism .':~s"~~ch i~. but a return to the 'critique of political economy' that the capitalist antagonism he so aptly described...'~:.:...th~~t:..-'....." .·"W.::?~~~!!~~~ sur~.~tal.'th~~b~~~~~~ntioned " procedure of supplanting Marxist analysis "\vith reference to some transcen- dental-ontological foundation (the usual way Western Marxists tIy to respond to the crisis of lVlarxism) is deficient: what we need today is not the passage from the 'critique of politic~: ~......E":. . '. ..-m.·_~~_<"'~_·..:-~f.hic.m' demonstrates .. ...~~. (here we could envisage a possible Lacanian critique of Nlarx.l."q..---_...."1()@."~"~~"~~i~~~'~..". and so 011.~Jg1!g9:L~l_>Q.si~~~~it..•.. _ . '..:."~t~i~!t~l~t._ .t~~'t"~r~..."c.:~lled productivity survived..:r • imagine actually breaking....T.~_>~_" <..In~asuresthe alie.....<.. ' .m (the society of~letely unbridied-p-.r"r~a'~~~'..sy'i:.~I~~.'.':"." .._"._.•.~. focusing on the alnbiguous overlap- social analysis of capitalism: in their very critique or overcoming a:~d "Communism of Marx.l:£.... since it is meaningful only against the background of the notion of Communism as the self-transparent society in which the production process is directly subordinated to the'general intellect' of collective planning) is thus that while one accepts the kernel of this argument... " '" ..c!!12.~~·-~"~.._---..._m..~k.I~'._" . thus double: on the one hand..italisL~().• are not MO different historical ping between surplus-value and surplus-enjoyment).·.... The insufficiency of Heidegger.~~~.."·_""'_. In other words.:iz_ofl...r~~pit.. t~e...'y.~~..·p..'re.li~t-t1'..:-Th~ t~~kof today'..Y. ".'ation ofexisting socie_t! the _bull~()fhis~qiti'ltl~::..!L.r~t't~.t.E·~~t1. in a way.._ _--"". .'t. the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipates ._"..t't~~.~hEustto".~£2Eh~~s. our premiss is that even if we remove the tel~ologic~ nC)tion of ~mm.. this notion of a ~~-~I?e~i~·.:.•.in so far as.....:.....·a~!"g~.what they did not perceive is that lVlarxian Communism.._.._" .~..ossibleframework rftheacn:almatecial existence ofa society ofpermanent self·enhancing productivity. deprived of its concrete contradictory conditions of existence.. ()L!!l£"~. itself.:'~1:.'_" ".

. is vvh"tclistinguishes ~~.is 'distil}et from object...able relationship with it.o tQassume that th~. What happens in m"lancholy is that . ~ ...:'-F. a fetishist suitor would engage directly with the chaperone and forget about the lady hersel£: the official goal of his endeavours.that is.-----......t~k'. that fatal detail of Madeleine in Hitchcock's Vertigo. we think that the detail-feature that serves as the cause of desire is just a secondary obstacle that prevents our direct access to the Thing .~-.id-...~rf:)..rth~.~.~YedQnejOritg!£ finding inittbe verypoint from which 1 find it\V0rihy of I"ve.' the~bject is there.di'. that ..~ object._-_~_l?:_ 45:.. So there is always a gap between the object of desire itself ancl its cause.I~-~.. as if to reassure himself that the particular feature which transforms her into the ohject of desire is still there. . >vit!lo.'.and _ cause c"..'y.. while~nlo\.~. deadl. precisely..the very _.-.lIapses. Seottie passionately embraces Judy refashioned into the dead Madeleine. Henry Kripss evokes the lovely example of the chaperone in seduction: the chaperone is an ugly elderly lady who is officially the obstacle to the direct goal-object (the woman the suitor is courting).p.~!:5?~~~!jie.the!...~~.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGltE ABSOLUTE I falling into the trap of returning to the eminently premodern notion of..~.gent..g-p.' '.__"" -'..... And . This is the difference bctvvcen 'normal' sexual repression and fetishism: in 20 desirable. b~lt in.-.seth. 'Th.1t1.'.~rl. but precisely as such.'--' -"-' ~---' 3 Coke as objet petit a What is crucial here from the psychoanalytic perspective is the link between the capitalist dynamics of surplus-value and the 21 .~c~rl'i~~h~' . did Marx go wrong with regard to surplus-value? One is tempted to search for an answer in the key Lacanian distinction between the object of desire and surplus- enjoyment as its cause..~i~~d~~"i"o/(the ' pre:Cartesian' tern1'tation to which most of today's ecology succumbs).''.~'y.:j.. but what is il1i~siniis the specific intermediary featui'efhat ..lo~~th~k.. a rniniaturized!.ng svvallowed .::~:.th~t-.. we overlook its key role.)bj ect .enthe vortex that thre"tensto"nglllf Scottie(the 'vertipo' of the filOl's title.'.~-" •.t.'. precisely.i'.~~I~~~d~{..\ ~~d the blonde curl that imit~tes thevertigo of the Thing.~.. So where.i~it(sn.is not d.~ i~..t."'.j~. ju_stseen.ve..'d.k. .__calJ$~.~-._~.". . the mediating feature or element that makes this object mediary moment that effectively makes the beloved woman desirable . she is the key inter- 'normal' sexuality.iiiedfo. while in fetishism we simply make the cause of desire directly into our object ofdesire: a fetishist in Vertigo would not care about Madeleine.'.T07.'.-... Crucial here .tp...J'.'th.-_. bite me....~. ~ ~'_M"''''_' .r-the~el.-. the whole economy of seduction would collapse 9 Or..what if his r'ni.. awhich' conde:"se~."~_...i~b~hild.~-~~ _~.--. serving as itsstand-in andthlls ~rl~bIiIlg us to ~ntertain a Ii.at least a tr~S'.Td.. '._-~. games: 'Please. -...s~l.._Qfffi'.have.~..1..:.ined expa'...istance between its it •.\Ve get the object of desire depriv~.~'d~p~i"ed -.. __''_·'__· ...-bi~TO-i~." .""'_-....plu~-vahl~e)? -"-"--. -....~ (un~on­ st.it-..~... V/hen. ·'''·"" is. he stops kissing her and withdraws just long enough to steal a look at her newly blonde hair..§ir~Las_we..Y aggres.~.'._~.tlt_e. the 'I'h:.h~I'y. Thi§..'..'0ssible. during their famous 360-degree kiss. """-. but not too hard .~.YThing..'ity) '~..oclucti-.'~l..the iml. . rather.without her.opp"~iti"nbe~.hen it :..back to Marx ... caJ}'.~'.A~·j....t. _ ~ _"_""_'~""~~ eprived of __· " __ cause.th~..the.~ojnexplicablycoincide --: I magi..0.pntltwhentheyplaygeJ.pby. but simply focus his desire directly on the Jock of hair.bject. take another example from a different level: the lock of curly blonde hair._..~---". . in the love scene in the barn towards the end of the film.~ch~lic.'..

~~~..~q~~~..need drink more to ::V.R.'y()id. .~ll S(). .=elygll~rl..-~ ".artifitaken ---".11k·Q~k~:-~r:~~.~~=. th~."~~~-~'-of-~~ff~'in. ...".~~-di~t C~keJ we al~':~ti.~. it is precisely It as such.:~Ir_e·~~1~~~f~~~~t~i~~'? .a...• y':. _ _. m~. was the Nothingness itself."" . since Coke does not satisfy any concrete need.~~~~""='7~='_"_"'~_'''~'''''_'~' - dri._.. ._""_. .. . is also .~P-for its d t~~t~.. "..th.~~~~t. . thi. It is no surprise that Coke was first introduced as a medicine ... _ _ "~" _ _.~... after sarne other drink has satisfied our substantial need rather.es~"r~alr:eadyth()s~of.=' .. as transcending any immediate use-value (unlike water. __'~i~_~t:E. although he did not actually steal anything: what he did steal. of course..~ki~k:-JQ~ ..''.g.. '.. Is it not .·pr. .~p~. This example brings home the inherent link between three !.'hY?3\T~51[... sensible aura of the iIl~ffaQkspiritual. ". .. _!!~~!_w~!~~~g~!..._--... following Nietzsche's path. .th-i!:~~.~.. _. beer or wiue. ..yth"tthemore you drink l.~!Y..n:10re .~thi'.~!c"ive<. th~'.LJ().t~~:. of the mysterious and elusive X we are all after in our compulsive consumption of Inerchandise.) So along the same lines.....ty:.-.. itself already~di".'t'{." .nv~I()E~()E!.. The paradox....he-thir1'tieryouget.. that of the Lacanian objet petit a as surplus-enjoyment (the concept that Lacan elaborated expression of (or supplemented with) the auratic dimension of pure (exchange) Value.\0: the advertising sle'I. we drink it only as a supplement. Cokehas t~eparad0J<i~"lp.two re~o... .~g. sOillexe"r~al..brought to its c()nclusioninth~case~fc~ff"ine­ fre~-di~t·C~k~=... .. .~--.el.~. Lacan emphasized how in anorexia. .e. ?~. N. .t. we should note its thorough ambiguiLy: 'that's it' precisely in so as that's11ever actually it._~.. .9~~.~ . surplus. _ _ _~~_..i.~~.~ • __ .cial promise of a subst"nce whichneverIIlaterialized.~.._~~t~!k~. _ '_--""'~--~--_ .''w:9.~--~.:g()l:>Y Freud: the more Cok"·You ----..- . .~.•.-i._J]}.. and tbe paradox •... Nietzsche's classic opposition between 'wanting nothing' (in the sense of 'I don't want anything') and the nihilistic stance of actively wanting Nothingness itself. c()mmodity. whose very .?.. . therefore. ""_~. ""~~.~s. ..~!~.~". .. .r:e_§~IIl.~lltQrtliesLIprais "".~L. is that Coke is not an ordinary commodity whereby its use-value is transubstantiated into an notions: that of Marxist surplus-value.."-. _ _"~" " ..r~~~~elyill~~f~I'~~~~~i~~ti~f~~t. .~".che~~.cL~~b~di.'..prs~f~. What we are implicitly referring to here is... ~ . (The same goes for Ernst Kris's famous patient who felt guilty of theft.jIll>r:!'4.its strange taste does not seem to provide any particular satisfaction.. nutriti911alYalu"is it is not directly pleasing and endearing.... of the superego.r:.away . __ ._·.._~~. .()f.~.n~"..SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE libidinal dynamics of surplus-enjoyment.. " --. which definitely do quench our thirst or produce the desired effect of satisfied calm). butac()illlnodity whose very peculiar use-value . as surplus-enjoyment personified. ..!.t.~_!?..':I1opens up. " .the.'this.. ...11a}ld! the guiltier ~""~7~~_=~. .. s~sl"'. however. ..!b"s..."..~triti9P:eJ. the subject does not simply 'eat nothing' .\"j}_ff(0r Coke was 'Coke is it!'.f~£j!~_"."" ._". Thi....I1~~cl ~~cl!~~""ftei.r.:.a."._'-"'~ __ ' ' ' ' ' M " .~~·.~. _ _ .. ~.' . p. the"."~~E£.. .c~Jf~.is ~flect . --. _ ... it is this very superfluous character that makes our thirst for Coke all the more insatiable: as Jacques-A1ain Miller put it so succinctly. gap of '1 want more!'. an ..1?-s:. she or he actively wants to eat the Nothingness (the Void) that is itself the ultimate object-cause of desire.2.ili·..'.all tha!r:"l11ill11sj£<lp_urJ'~~IIllilanse..i~~~~t~~IliI."P~E~go"£()IIlI...~! .i. Let us elaborate this point apropos of Coca-Cola as the ultimate capitalist merchan-' dise and.101ar:!!''. ""... tr~-th..!fJ'!esJit!ejf..• _--..5:."""· with direct reference to Marxian surplus-value). in the case of caffeine-free diet Cok.!ier:You a£~.~~thirst never efIecti."~.~"" .._" - 22 23 .-'w"drTnk the ~~" The unexpected result of this feature is not that.... ....11.. th~. ~ _ . i~tbe case ofcafIeine-freediet Coke.-i~ '~h..mate~i~EE()l'er:t.4.th"gT~at"Ll'()".lt..~\Vhen.-".. as such. c91l11l1()dity ~"w~·.Y. .rather.-.-.~~~.'_-~--"""""_'_--'"--''''''' _ _. again. that Coke functions as the direct embodiment of' it': of the pure surplus of enjoyment over standard satishtctions.-~..4.. .=.!)t9f itst<l~te.Ilg."".L":.Ly..·.

. .----... What this short circuit between market and culture entails is the grasp (or the more you possess it.'. way: the reason why the superego is stronger in men than in women is that it is men.'''.~JI1(J...'. the inclusion of olfactory efIects.'...... of sh~~~r.but i.::~-K<:i!l.... " . .:d~~. ' . '....·.yollrde~ts2!tl.. the paradox which is the ve? opposite Ill' th~par::cl..economic apparatllsitselC in o~der toreproduce itself in ~?~p~t'iti.:j~.._". 14 Another way to make the same point would be to emphasize how.~.:'~._." .._.:f.:.~.f... perversion is no long~r subversive: such sh~~ki~g~~~~ss'esare able to endure their integration into the symbolic order only when this integration is sustained by some hidden reference to the fantasy of the unbridled excessive enjoyment elnbodied in the unconditional superego injunction to enjoy.aiye-coil. omy (services.. __!~...-~~."lg. the gap that separates the sacred space of 25 .~g~t~I'ld •. the greater the lack).tt..! ~§"~?s_~~~~e~_'ii.."~~~'".".-'.~_-.~. _'~~""'<-"-'-'. not women.~()rr:ain of sexuality.'.....~.... the more it eludes your iin~o.~~~..'. __ . dead cows and their excrement.eme~t:the growi?-g 'cu/tura/ization' of ....'<. . '..-.'. Its basic feature is_~~t ha~e-.<:. the logic of balanced exchange is disturh(:clioI'a\'our ofall excessIve logIc of'ihemoi'eyou gIve '(the moreyou repa. __ . __.5'~derto .__ . .. __ .... 24 transgressive excess loses its shoek value and is fully integrated into the established artistic market..._i~~_--_~~_~~~.L_~~«. persists) in a kind of curved space . " " ._..!':l<:h-~.. to go to the extreme.. IS Her:~....~t(y·t-...._..'.. .. . ' '--- .....'_''.t. it is men l'~i=~~~!~~~. Today..'.s-. and so on. the software amusement industry to other media productions). rather..< -'-~ only the II. and tioning of the symbolic Law._~~l~:.~"~".:...tthi~k-... the more you ... ... ''''_..what we get now are exhibitions of frames without paintings.....SlAVOJ ZIZfK THE fRAGilE ABSOLUTE you are ...~~}'ha~" ~?t~··.[del~gic of provocation..:..the nearer you get to it.k-.. and it is crucial here to recall that this rapist 'primordial father' is a male (obsessional)._ " " ....'-.. to spend'): thatis tos'\!'.._" .~~~l..~.. more and more.•.:~b~titS~~I'l. the .'..dsin ihevisual arts: gone arc di~."~.-J:n9~._"'" """ ..~I.effects .....~G'~t-y~~-longfor..".''_'_'' ..LI}.:'p'...Ig.'".. the one between the the days when we had simple statues or framed paintings . In short.... .. .-...~.d~~'~d for the market).ust on.iu all three caseS.. videos of the insides of the human Name-of-the-Father (symbolic paternal authority) and the 'primordial father' who is allowed to enjoy all women. the in whom the integration into the symbolic order is sustained by the superego exception.dj. .~.'_".=With-the shift t~..._~~~ reproduceit~~IL.eeositemov.ll. is' th~ surplus-enjoyment.m ....t.''..''''''''....'...4'lye'. to transgress and constantly to force the limit.i..~-. "". ···d. __ ''.:. In terms of the paternal function..." __ " .'shocking .'. cultural goods)..."_"".l1diti~. which exists (or.Pl"':e.._.:il~-~_......_...tt~I'lge..l~!~~~t~~ffll~_syst:'eII. " th~consulnerist version .."'''..i~e~' ~... .r~'.:."_..illQ.J~ th-..'the more buy.e--._...' ".. . " __ '''.-()Tth~. the object petit a.'...~k~.mi§L"y"gkg.~~..". 12 Perhaps sexual difference comes in here in an unexpected waning ofthe._:\f?r~..""''''''''''''''.:..:t~rti.H'..._t()_Ro_w-~9. _ . .." __'''''". ..... or - p. not feminine (hysterical) fantasy: it is men "vho are body (gastroscopy and colonoseopy).S.~'or 'the more you ( This supereg'o-paradox also allows us to throw a new light on to the functioning of today's artistic scene.'.'!1Il?_o~&<:"tl()p_~f<:lllture objects (art •...-----~".._~" .h~..' """".' ' h __ '' __'' __ -'..o~q'!'lj!seif...s}~li~t pu t it in her in:i?/..~'"'~~.. ....~.~ii. of course..'.. --.. who are intensely related to this excess of the surplus-enjoyment over the pacifYing hlnc- t~ral.._. __ .~~he establishment. of course."v"". the greaterY?llI' crav..Tth~~Ph. culture is less and less a specific sphere exempted from the market.-d..:. _.""-"'--.t(f."-- 'The key'to this disturbance....~f[~v:..--. _''"'" __ . I.. the cul"..~..~e1Jla~k!!_.':_..' . the opposition between the pacifying symbolic Law and the excessive superego injunction is... in today's art.:...•·. ·_ .~.....e:Y:2~~.. I..:~'..~.. ore you lack..'''. '''.perhapsthis is one possible definition of post- modern as opposed to modernist art: in postmodernisIll..'...ii~. but also the less noted but perhaps e"en more crucial o..

not in the COil1ffion without a place...-'(p~~It~veY~Ieme.-g~pb~hve~c...that is.. elusive object. a piece of 'trash' or leftover) can WS~ tain the void ofan empty place.lf tol:>~()ccllpiecll>yj.. or the surplus of a place that has no element to fill it out . what is threatened is the ~'. ..~~~d.:~rh:.:{t. in a way.. bnt the obverse and reverse of one and the same entity .---.Tpj. rather..an empty place in the structure would still sustain the fantasy of an element that will emerge and fIll ont this place.. In its most radical dimension.r.) displayed in ..-_.Et.~.---- '--'--~. .J(p~em()derI1)aiTwashowto in the fill sublime Void of the Thing (the pure Place) with an adequately beautiful object .the '-"_'~_' ""_-~"..Et~oI1..... ..~"--~~_ _~-~._.:.e§lJnUhaLthisJ:'J'Ic~itself ill 'take w place'-: in other . seems to be increasingly under threat.~-_. .---.s th.o the task i~ to sustain s th~-Pl~ce as such.bjh~i:£~~:~~. ....:n. the .k"i "'rhis identity of opposite determinations (the elusive sublime object and/or excremental trash) ._--'" .:.-.-. .how to succeed in elevating an ordinary object to the dignity" of a Thing .'th~t 01" ~.:h... .~----.i~.' an.'-"----..... which isthen filled in by apositive objectth~tisj~eteby~~le~ate~to_t!lidi~Ilit'y~ofthe"_Thing' (Lacan's definition of sublimation). and so on. 16 Another way to approach this tension between the Object and the Void would be through the difFerent modalities of suicide. occupy the sacred place of the Thing by definition ao excrement.....rtef. this irnpasse is the impasse that affects the process of sublilnation .~ftl~. that of the central V~-...the sacred place of the Thing? And is not this identity in a way the hidden 'truth' of the entire movement? I~~ not ever~~gl~Dj:~... ---" --..made to occupy.r~the.._~-~---_..--..-._"_"_"""'--"'''"'''_'''"«'----'---''"''. ._.:ptedfrom cir.the f p~~bl. erotic. ----_ ... there is no longer any pure Place distinguished from the elements which fill it out. trash (often in a quite literal sense: faeces.i'. cuit of everyday e"onomy. an excessive element lacking its place would still sustain the fantasy of an as yet unknown place waiting for it. __ .. '''''--'. the paradox is that only an element whicb is thoroughly 'out of place'(an excremental object..-pty(.ll".d!-b.."'''. to mak. the opposite (and much more desperate) one: oue can no longer ~. disappointment)..Ypl~~~-.with the ever-present threat that the one will shift into the other.ra rapidly moving..)1'cing:h~XeLQff~ring t its.the problem of modern art is. the problem is no longer thatof borror va. up to the paradoxical identity of opposites: are not modern art objects luore and more excremental objects..:ords.the moment this excessive element 'fInds its proper place'.~ffilli~.. 27 26 . The point is.~'~." ..l"~"bj~~~:Pi~~ultr. .~d'5pl.t. -'.th_~~<::l~_i_~s th~ I~~q'ht to count on!.. 15 The point is not that there is simply the surplus of an element over the places available in the structure.t. that is. the Mallarmean situation in which rien n'aura eu lieu que le lieu ('nothing but the place will have taken place') . of course. to fill in ..-. that the empty place in the structure is in itself correlative to the errant element lacking its sense that art production today is no longer able to generate place: they are not two different entities._..lClheii.. In other words..SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fHAGILE ABSOLUTE sublime beauty from the excremental space of trash (leftover) is gradually narrowing.:... --' " --.. an occupant "~""-"_~"_"""'._-_.~--~.~:~_E~. unoc~ c~pi. rotting corpses .. is crucial.~{lti.p~~d~~c~ b~hve.Thi. .... one and the san1e properly 'sublime' objects. suicide as an act that 'bears a message' (of protest against political.'g the Void in the first pl~~~~-Th.is inscribed in the very kernel of the Lacanian objetpetit a.-tilling it in.~_YoidgL!hL(Sacg"d)Phtc"J.mpty. that the sublime Grail will reveal itself to be nothing but a piece of shit ..: the e~p.i... .~he V~. but in a much more radical sense: the very fundamental matrix of sublimation.d~._---'...- entity inscribed into the two surfaces of a Moebius strip.-.':g..cts. First there is.

on its witnesses. it is the exact opposite of the death drive.to put it in philosophical terms .. addressed to the Other (for example. precisely. on the public. empty subject) and tbe object-cause of its desire (the leftover which embodies the lack that 'is' the subject) are strictly correlative: there is a subject only iu so far as there is some material stainlleftover that resists subjectivizatioll. So we have here the strueture of the Moebius strip: the subject is eorrelative to the object. the total closure of the Real. it is its internal limit that is. is precisely the subject's direct identification with the object: tbe object is no longer 'identical' to the subject in the sense of the Hegelian speculative identity of the dialectical process with the very obstacle that sustains this process . Or . the sub- its spiritual sublation-appropriation-mediation.. but on the minimal gap between the Object and its Place.they coincide directly. but in a negative way . the infinite desire. Subject and object are thus not simply external: the object is not the external limit with regard to which the subject defines its self-identity. they find themselves on the same side of the Moebius strip. and . That is to say.e. Although it involves the dimension of the Symbolic. non-spiritual remainder/leftover) that resists plishes it is sustained in it by the imagined seene of the effeet his or her act will have on posterity. In other words. however.subject and object can never 'meet'.for the simple reason that the subject who accom- (some inert lnaterial. the Void in search of the absent object. political suicides like public burnings which are supposed to shock aud awaken the indifferent public).. as such. imaginary . so that 'nothing but the place itself takes place'). they are in the same place. rather. but 'falls into' the object directly. rather. so that what occurs is the eclipse of the symbolic opening. the Void/Clearing within which the object appears: what happens in the suicidal passage a l'acte is not that the object falls out of its frame. Then there is suicide in the Real: the violent passage a l'acte. the subject's full and direct identification with the objeet.the 'barred'. so that we get only the empty Frame-void (i.subjeet and objeet are identical in the Hegelian sense of the speeulative coincidenee/identity of radical opposites: when Hegel praises the speculative truth of the vulgar materialist thesis of phrenology 'The Spirit is a bone'. is the exact opposite . the subject cannot recognize itself. As such.the object is still there. the bar which itself prevents the subject's full realization. Or. through a 'bone in the throat' that forever prevents it (the subjeet) from achieving its full outologieal identity. a spectral presence that merely gives body to the lack that sustains the subject's desire. on those who will learn about it.vice versa the object (cause of desire) is no longer the materialization of the Void. it is the Void-Place that disappears. what happens.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE and is. it is the frame that falls into what it frames. at its most fundamental. becomes the object. What happens in the suicidal passage a l'acte. a surplus in which. his point is not that the spirit can actually be reduced to the shape of the skull. This means that the subject is no longer the pure Void of negativity ($). it is ex-timate with regard to the subject. for Lacan. not only is the suicidal passage al'acte not the highest expression of the death drive. the paradox of the subject is that it exists only through its own radieal impossibility. to put it in the terms of ject ($ . the narcissistic satisfaction provided by such imagining is obvious. this suicide is. 29 opposite sides of the Moebius strip. but that there is a spirit (subject) only in so far as there is some bone 28 . but acquires a direct positive existence and ontological consistency.

~bliIl1edigI.. creative sublimation and the death drive are strictly correlative: the death drive empties the (sacred) Place.not in the sense of 'not dying really. the Void.l~~~~it~~ir..~-(. I-Iere we encounter the third kind of suicide: the (suicide' that defines the death drive. 11~_~~". " " " .. as Gerard Wajcman suggests in his remarkable book L'objet du siecle.~.. <Jid ()f'the Sacred V state '.~. thrown into the 'night of the world' in which its only correlative is the minimum of an excrementallettover.~~:~-_·::~!_..~.<~'~lized ~ inth.h.~.-tract from the Void the positive element. a 'beautiFul' (aesthetically pleasing) object is less and less able to sustain the Void of the 31 .ci~~dy~th..'... we do not get the less .. So the logic of displaying an excremental object in the sublime Place is similar to the way the I~Iegelian infinite judgement 'The spirit is a bone' functions: our pri?~i str~ctur.--' -.n.:.?:~<~'. the subject finds itself totally deprived of its symbolic identi1y._.~b~i..17 is not the great effort of modernist art focused on how to maintain the luinimal structure of sublimation. -----'''---". " ' ' ' __ "'''''' __ "'" ' __ "".~..I ti~..rather.1T~~~~~tdk.. ~ae?es ifl ~~~ ... that tbe object is ultimately irrelevant. .~.. creates the Clearing.. the . .~.'iith~.itY.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE For Lacau..~J~~'y~somep .. the Frame.. .--- been disturb~c1I>'y. ..mno_ .'._:?~~~_~P~ ~~~'_::!~~~!. .-~' -------. 'nothing but the place takes place'.i[rtak~plac~'y.~-(th-.~".t_~_ol1_t~_~. bears witness to a desperate strategy to ascertain that the Sacred lines.."_~ __'.rb~. but in the more precise sense of the erasure of the symbolic network that defines the subject's identity.it~..~b'.~..i~gwhi. is not simply to demonstrate that 'anything goes'.-p~~.however. reduced to the stark distinction between the Void (the white background/surface) and the element (the 'heavy' material stain of the square)? That is to say.eeft specificitygf!hi~Rlace...s ld.his. which is then filled in by the object 'elevated to the dignity of the Thing'. used to fill in the Void of the Thing..bJe~t~ust~n~th..Ill~nt.:p~~itiv:e e!:'.. ".ilr~e.t . this ~er~_. pure balanced Void 'as such' ..~ re~so. In other words. in the double movement of the progressive commodiFication of aesthetics and the aesthetification of the universe of commodities. a mote of dust in the eye."dig.:_~~~:~~"'~_~~~<~~~~~~:::..~t.~T. ..... self-relating negativity. rather.i:..it is aISo that only th~pr~~-e~. " .. we should always bear in mind that the very tense [Jutur anterieur] of Mallarme's famous rien n'aura eu lieu que le lieu makes it clear that we are dealing with a utopian piece of trash.tly: 'l~thi. . just symbolically'..an()b}.' " ..??J.:il1_9..th~tth~pL.-"thi~-~~p'~-. Here. '__ ' __ ~'_ '" Pl~c~.. finally.~..and Ibone-f-~~"-tl~.~. a the minimal gap between the Place and the element that fills it in? Is this not why Kasimir Malevich's 'Black Square on White Surface' expresses the artistic endeavour at its most elementary.spirit. -".i~~Z~'--~rth~"-.u_ghiv~~g~grl]ity-.ngruI'iY'h{.~ti~~I..-~. in effect. has it ...:_~:~:.~~~e ~.:':. So the reason why excrements are elevated into a work of art. its absolute. is the very opposite of the inertia of a skull. is no longer there...'_'.hGtw_e_en"~spirit."Iythat the Place it~~c~~~ies-conf~~.. . 30 Place is still there.willha~et~I~~I1pJ~~.bU:titi~pt.art?' ."'. if we sub..vhich. ~u?_li~_~~~~~e-is to ask i. the Void itself disappears.-'.:~fte..'Spi.. for a t1.it'~"i~~~.~'~-:::~h~~"_:-~~!.'t time i~which '~...e... symbolic suicide .~dical the same ~-"'~'->'~""--7""--~ . of cutting off all the links that anchor the subject in its symbolic substance. an almost-notbing that sustains the pure Place-Frame-Void.re~~~.~~it~.~ ~~~ative reacti~~..:'~~.--. the 'little bit of reality'. since any object can be elevated into and occupy the Place of the Thingi this recourse to excrement. .~(the ~ And.avva~ene~s()f the t~()l'<.~:ti~'~r{.a... this dead object!' ...~t. first reaction to Hegel's 'The spirit is a bone' is 'But this is sense- the excessive stain that disturbs its balance. so that here.'. The problem is that today.

IG:.{th~irprop~rt!es that is to say.g~.'bj..~.hit.igI1ifi~t~'{~..l it.'-. And whatever we do after the modernist break even if it is the return to fake neoclassicism it la Arno Brekker... is already 'mediated' by that break.£cou~1.-. through it. . . !'..i~~.''.-.li~~_~-~~th in the very hyp~ealiO'. In other words.r.h"I..~~_ ar~ .r~pot~. P~thaps th~ most succinct definition of the modernist break in art is thus that..~. That is to we dwell vvithiilthe symbolic order only in so"far as every presence appears against the b'ackg~ound of its Ros~ibI~'-'~b~-~~~-~---(thi~'-i.J. on the otlIer.·.~~. '1:h~1:~'.r()clnce in their ... referriug to an invisible off-space.{t~·.'~~n th~. .~j-...'... Second.'..__.~.e Inini~al gap b~... lJ..r.:-. seen from outside. In this precise sense.':""Y_th~.-~t.h~t"L~~~-~'-i~--~i~i~g--~t-:. First.even if the window framing the object is not there.'are' works'()£' art: F()r'this rea~'()~~.ith modernist art "certain innocence is lost for eve.'.'. reflectively taken into account.'~~t'-~l~~-.i~.~~.df.~ it. Hopper's well-known tendency to paint city·dwellers at night.la'::Trom ndermining the u lo'gI~-~r"s"uI.. And the ~o.ible absen~e!l"ck).2r:":"'~ . In other words.-~o~ion hi~- what constitutes art hinges not on the qualities of the art object but exclusively on the Place this object occupies."'ar'e-'aesperafelY--sE:ivin g-t6"save---it. . dea. slgnifi~r : 'i~th~'-ip-~.{']lply is 116 symbolic order.. in a way..t. can 'be' a work of art if it finds itself in the right Place. .!.·th~.th~.~. the dir~~tl.if.~. tsown pos. it is today's artists who display excremental ob. staring through the open window.1:iI1']" ihi..eq'.'tiall'ycat~..l'ptI1dIIce()bject§vvhiSh.~f~..".. as if to prove that 32 Stalinist elevation of the 'wise leader'.. .. calling for a supplement.-.. with an exeremental abject.lli. the way Hopper's pictures.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE Thing .t~ophie.~g.grassin his conntryside paintings).'i-~~-'~~~h. Iu his key essay 'On the 33 .Y.~~t..taryJ ··in.~---~t 'i-t~-'..:~~..~..a! things (l{k.ith-.."~(th~~I~~~I1tiJ:..i6~~:-th~-~ig~ifi-~. even shit.()Il .made object (a bicycle) as a work of art.~i~aetherealthg. bnt the place it occupies. the picture is drawn in such a way that the viewer is com- ~f 'the'~h. the display of a common everyday ready.~ ca'~~~~ l~~g'~~'pr~t~nd "th-at we ~~~:.fi~~. the (sacred) Place of the Void of the Thing.4~~~~_~~:!!~A:tiQDL_~~_>."ts a. the only way to sustain the (Sacred) Place is to fill it up with trash.l()t ..'"~tlon-. like the still of a film shot without its counter·shot (and one can in fact maintain that Hopper's paintings are already 'mediated' by the cinematic experience). Third. the gap that separates the object from its place is also brought to an extreme and thus. alone in an overlit room.without1:1..so it is as it: paradoxically...{th'~:.-:."'~()d~r~~~t'~'rt-"l~"f'orever split fact that his series of paintings of his wife sitting alone in a room illuminated by strong sunlight. is experienced as an unbalanced fragment of a global scene.'.. through the frame of a window .t~the Void of the PI.eff~?t ~~L.p~-.. independently of the place they occupy .. -'. the tension between the (art) Object and the Place it occnpies is reflectively taken into acconnt: what makes an object a work of art is not simply its direct material properties.. pelled to imagine an invisible immaterial frame separating him or her from the painted objects. so that anything.en the two extremes represented at its very origins by Malevich and Marcel Duchamp: on the one side the pure formal marking of the gap which separates the Object from its Place ('Black Square').__.-. Let us take a twentieth.t.SoIl}Il}~il.~tt.century 'realist' like Edward Hopper: (at least) three features of his work bear witness to this mediation.···~~I1k~.~J:.h. "-.".'li.. _~~-.~.r.I1dsf.~ ••·.~..ilf.~t':.~ry·p.. one is tempted to assert the contemporaneity of artistic modernism with Stalinism in politics: in the r.." d.

in the str~~TC~cal1}~n~~~~s. concrete virtues. the Soviet critic G._~~~ri.Ji.':~itf~a1fitsidi. the first place should be occupied by images of our great leaders. is at work even today. photographs~ with a clUIu'.~~~~xi1?~.es.~pi.s~ty. is the basis for the coiuciding of the 'beautiful' aud the 'true' in the art of socialist realism.ymbolicauthorityobeying a Law.'Yh~~_ ~...~tla.~£~.:'~~. as Lacan emphasized.!i".~.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE problem of the Beautiful iu Soviet Art' (1950)...h.~ti'...~-..~_~"~L!~E~i&~~g~... the 'real person' is effectively treated as an appendage to the fetishized and celebrated public Image..p-':~s~.l~.·p. so that the crowds Can catch a glimpse of the object of their worship . If she is described as wise.~'.te.-..'."ii~."ys fot his elevation into sublime object ol'beauty is his radical 'alienation': as with the Lady.bitr~y~.. ~s ift.~'?ci. ridiculous as it may seem.Y"A.i~tL.. the psychoanalyst is 'objectively' ugly even if he is actually a beautiful or sexually attractive person: in so far as he occupies the impossible place of the abject..:."~~~r~b'r~t~~r~i.s-on i ...:~lp.~-.~~i. Beria and Khrushchev were examples of male beauty .?19 These characterizations do not refer to the Leader's actual properties .]. he 'represents' the function of ugliness..~_c!.-.:S!~=~o£:.its servant~.. poetic creation consists in positioning an object I can only describe _ as terrifYing.~ed t it is on~y because she embodies an immaterial wisdom or because she represents its functions lnore than she exercises them.d'~~:'~..:~. an inhuman partner.Thus th.fth.:..~'.l.~.tE..~·il i~··. and that in recent years a double has replaced him in his rare public appearances.'t..~'~~:~..:of the Stalinist Leader as 'sublime' is to be taken literally.:SS that-is ()fte~so()bViousl. 1S How are we to uuderstand this logic which. Nedoshivin claimed: Amidst all the beautiful material of life.the Lady is by no means a warm.~f§~."d~. is addressed as an abstract Ideal.~. understanding fellow-creature: And is it not the same with the Stalinist Leader'? Does he not..is this not the best possible con!lrmation of the fact that the 'real personality' of the Stalinist Leader is b'y-its.tion~f .:.:pri~e-tl~.the logic here is the same as that of the Lady in courtly love who.ow dialthe '.. In this poetic field the feminine object is emptied of all real substance.~_~n_~g!Y. (In contrast to the Stalinist Leader.t-k{m she is as arbitrary as possible in the tests she imposes on her servant.4. or even her competence.'2o This abstract character of the Lady indicates the abstraction that pertains to a cold.(O. with North Korea's Kim Yong IJ.~~.~-it·~"".~~~~~n _ By Ineans of' a form of sublimation specific to art.:t·k·.d~'..... No wond~E!_hepr..u..n~. inhuman partner . compassionate.. Y.IY died in a car crash a couple of years ago.) In this sense:. partner':: not s. for her wisdo ll1.sy..Y['y-.-.<1 the -by L~~d·eJ:'_.~.~b~~. distanced.. her prudence..buta capricious Thinl''Nhi~h-is ~~~._.::t()llchingwas sowidelyused in oHicial The Lady is never characterized for any of her real..ti()!.:~a.'ll~_l?~n w~~~h:~~.t~~t~ti~pos'. also'represent these func- tions more than he exercises them''? Nobody would claim that Malenkov.the point is simply that they 'represented' the function of beauty..:St.t~.'.-is-tabeot.p':. The sublime beauty of the leaders .~~ib[~inth. On the contrary..hatit is dilE~~jtt~b~ii~-.. so that 'writers have noted that all the poets seem to be addressing the Same person. 21 34 35 .~. of the excremental remainder of the symbolic order. when he is hailed as sublime and wise.

whose ultimate object . Its absence. of course. since it does not matter if it is the 'real' Leader or his double. Here the exposed female body functioned in a way similar to the underlying reference to the sexual act in classic Hol\ywood lllovies.was. But at no time do you give the impression that she would even consider sleeping with Ken Willar'd unless they were properly sanctified. this painting. naked and aroused female body. is then filled in by 'sublimated' images of beautiful but not totally exposed female bodies . (More precisely. headless. Courbet masterfully continued to dwell on the imprecise border that separates the sublime from the excremental: the woman's body in 'Lorigine' retains its full erotic attraction.of reducing beauty to a purely functional notion . rather. If she walks down the street she is walking to sleep with Ken Willard.never fully and directly shown. yet it becomes repulsive precisely on account of this 37 . starting at least from Albrecht Durer's Verweisung . the naked and thoroughly sexualized female body as the ultimate object of male desire and gaze.by bodies which always maintain a minimal distance towards That. the torso of a shamelessly exposed. rather. if 36 piece of" slime. present as a kind of underlying point of reference. was finallyand quite appropriately . it is in place of sleeping with Ken Willard.AVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE thoroughly irrelevant.SI. 24 ideal of Beauty . who has no actual power?) Is hot this practice of elevating a common vulgar figure into the she eats her food it is to give her enough strength to sleep with Ken Willard.. which literally vanished for almost a hundred years. was (to put it in Kristevan terms) the reversal of the sublime object into abject. it lies in the belief that behind the directly rendered objects is the absolute Thing which could be possessed if only we were able to discard the obstacles or prohibitions that prevent access to it. the illusion of" traditional realism does not lie in the f"aithful rendering of" the depicted objects.in short.the outcome of this operation..found among Lacan's belongings after his death 23 'Lorigine' expresses the deadlock (or dead end) of traditional realist painting. \Vhatever she does. du monde'. she wants to sleep with Ken Willard. of famous instruction to his scriptvvriters from Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon: At all times. focusing on her genitalia. best described in the movie tycoon Monroe Stahr's the Void of" the Tbing. the underlying illusion) of traditional painting is that the 'true' incestuous naked body is none the less waiting there to be discovered . at all moments when she is on the screen in our course. precisely because it is unrepresentable. functions as the ultimate horizon of representation whose disclosure is forever postponed . a replaceable object.strictly correlative to the modernist elevation of an 'ugly' everyday excrelllental object into a "vork of art?22 One of the most illuminating ways of locating this break hetween traditional and modern art would he via reference to the painting that in effect occupies the place of the 'vanishing mediator' between the t\"/o: Gustave Courhet's (in)famous 'L'origine So the exposed female body is the impossible object which. into an abhorrent. But the crucial point (or. nauseating excremental sight.in short. but always hinted at. \Vhat Courbet accomplishes here is the gesture of" radical desublimation: he took the risk and simply went to the end by directly depicting what previous l'ealistic art merely hinted at as its withdrawn point of reference . as the Lacanian incestuous Thing..

etlcs Jth~·.F~~~_~~<?_~JQ .t~-th~ incestuous .ero.w.. . "'_~'_"'_""'>-""_" ~ct~~I:'~.th"LcQnt"insil. In other words.'pr.i. the structure of'sublimation collapses.'~d-.a.---- red~~~~4t()th~~~I"'.it~J...kin~~~fth...'such an" iiilpacT'preciseJy int.:veryThing is no simpl~ events that take place 'Withi~the-h.sp~c. ~ctual­ "" '-_"_>_ ~ __O'_. the situ..~. it is a necessary 'mediator' between traditional and modernist art- sh()~l~_t~."~cologicar~..ty.:. the true pieces of trash are the 'beautiful' objects with whi~h".. as the seminal painting of modernism.:e.th.t~..ti~g..~~i_IP_~_~~_2I1.:tl..h_Q_QygX__Lpr~§~_n<::~_oJ it int~~-"di.~---~.j..h~IW~"nfQreground oppos..s_u. is 110 Thing behind its sublimeajJpe'..difi~ation (the very terrain of exchange): it isthis()verrapp. ...:'~.tse!finto file sacred-place{)fflie'V6id.~-ob):. p_:~'e_~~-~lt..U'pl~){:QilJb'.with' the Thing-intdlCrusYliptivc'gl"bal cat~ttophe.9"II..~q-.'~.."-E'lJJ1"-L!h'".-. it represents a gesture that had to he accomplished if we were to 'clear the ground' for the emergence of rnodernist 'abstract' art.-.YtheVoidofth~Thing-i..' izeit.~..~t. that is.lltth~'tllll.".~-hidd~..-~". i However.. the game of referring to the forever absent 'realist' incestuous object is over.t2~l.~~esl. and not beror:e?Ag.... is the true counterpoint to (or reversal of) 'L'origine': with Courhet.t i~a..l"..:. First...."...:~ turns t~--~~..h~.-...'t=ili~l=_c~ri':~olo~geJ'"'bec"nceivedofas tai~~db.e.~coii~t.I~.'(~1l~[i!n~=1~~iitY~.:t~aVoid.hana:-iliere is-th~exp-...Ih"~.-.. And the task of historical materialist analysis here is to locate these all too formal deternlinations in their concrete historical context..'phewasnofpectiliartothetwe.ctiQn~.~ta~~ri~h~tp. th~p.~._ :l~e~~~~~x _ ?r.s~llst-.'t~.) Courbet's gesture is thus a dead end.:~tt.~ill~..'ore co:..ph~t. t~e...d"p~~~d~~ lcal as it may sound ..:pt~~.:n:tl'y'-theoD1ywayto ~ e~~.t.. outside the belief in the real presence of the incestnons Thing behind the deceptive surface ofthe painting.-c( 09}e<:t.. ----.-...~.(.h.~~:2b'-·-'-~-"~'"·-' ..ultr~at~-'~?n'~.-ll._.. i.6~~.• ':~:? .'I'E~"-~"~~~.he' biidcgJ'ouiid' of thlsY"id.~f a global ~..a...b~..e~co:.ded'f.". we get its exact th~-Thillg'~' th~'v~id-Pla~e=F.:e-:-~hatif:vv:eforce01:'r way through the suhlim~.g-.~-. ~-bJ~'c..r(reaC.lUy_:..~il'id~.Thin~!\Vh~_.. the Void in which (sublime) objects (can) appear.~..'~t.bnt precisely as such.hifcentury..~...9~!r.~~th~ "~~blime into that is to say.:~.~.~~f~·~~i~~l...:-.t. there is the aestheticization of the universe of commodities mentioned above: its ultimate result is With Courbet.ci l a exChailgef a. • thatc~allgeseveij. __ ...e-c?~e'"'d/~e.e~ti~~I~-to"put-i1.e.....1:>e.i. ~sT:'"re) and the Place..:~-thea~. with Courhet..' is . we get the incestuous Thing itself which threatens to implode the Clearing..-""-""---" .:-~liajJse of the syrnbolicspace:biliheothet h.-... "_. o..__ I?()st'''~r~-~~'~~~tary.'. the 'end of the world'. an e~~r.~sea~i' the abject.e.'£.bli~h the mini.ti. _--.rd ztSe!j.~.tVieeIla Wh<. while with Malevich.~.f~~~~~i~ed)global catastrophes (from n..-~"i~..selflnreality..tleth. of course.~t-:-25·'We can"..:t-..SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE excessive attraction. .n/clea6ngsus­ long.. ~e .:It'-"the-a...Malevich's 'Black Square'.th~m:-th-...'~~~~i"iF.--u~d.of modernist painting ~..:-~-.cityr(nm1Jlim._.so why dlcrrt'l1a'.t:C~.. :vv:e.~t _ .~~.ts.:j~...today.~~ ttaumatic i~R~c!~iii.. "'~ .'nd.:. '..vr~..tjyb.'i..ll~t~..~..~na thilst.h.·l).1:._--"'---.iz.-._~~~--"..hesinthepr()gressive"ovedappiiig of aesU.~.:. sothe only way t~ re-~st....ate._ ~--:.k~ apsychot..~t)._..':.p.i~...~~t\yt~ tag7ctheV.:b)-.~~'t~~~~rt~~ea~e~:s-~o'.1l~dbY-.ast.rJ1iIl~its. s that ...::"ri..-.. __ ....'ti'..i~'d..ie~ed..~~.-~...:ainillg ' away "fih" very CaPi..d.-.-"nthat and backi?rolllld..dist~n-c~.. J.-...ptft..'ov:..t!.r.7.. and the enterprise of modernism is to re-establish the matrix of snblimation (the minimal gap that separates the Void of the Thing from the object that fills it in) outside this 'realist' constraint.t~'. the dead end of traditional realist painting .._~ __ 38 39 .~t-~~th:ti.nter.~u[~ 'foc-.-.to put it in somewhat pathetic terms ..g~~t'ing""..~y=~'..

~'1~.~I~~tll~:st. ". ' are being reclaimed J.. . Because it is focused on the surplos of objetpetit a.~~-fre~~~t-C:~i~_~... '''-- ----.~tal).--.and it never did arrive at 18..!i~~Jh{ltilILQllr":est~etically appealing consumpti9l1. d<. ".~::.'" . ""-..~~_~~~-:·_:::~e" itive identification for subjects. PE~£is.~1.. of course.. then. ~di~ec­ tor···Ir. however. That is the interest of Andrei Tarkovsky's films.:dt..~_d~rt~~!ri~"ides"de fin~.1<s or slabs of r'... longplaying records were followed by CDs..-de~-...20 .ll_S!'Y)S. 27 The obverse of the incessant capitalist drive to produce new and newer objects is therefore the growing pile of useless waste.... Marx himself made it clear.-'l. So.h~to(hu. .-''_.• ptoducts :vhich·are· sometimes obsolete eyenbefor_et~eycgI11efllllyinto us~ .cl~~liz~~11~EI110l1i?lls:t:'atllre. that in the work of Andy Warhol.. .. .hj~..~.. the debris "Lhulll.. sublime tlie.m. 'all that is solid melts into air'.r "na.".. how..~~.~. like the famous The intersubjective consequences of this process are no less deci- aeroplane 'resting place' in the Mojave desert...-_. . and now by DVDs.--. becaus~ FeI~e. that it will transform the earth into a vast waste land..'·-th~· Communist East who displayed the greatest sensitivity to this obverse of the drive to produce and consume..~c~'~-~-.-_--. inert presence.~ ~ ci~:liz~~_. on the one hand..PCs have to be replaced every year if one is to keep up with the Joneses.Cli:t§~lLocct!PYlrlg. ' . '''' ".. and so on.. production of piles of discarded waste: Th~.iJ.tt.artifacts. perceive the capitalist drive at rest..tl.ogress. the readyrIlad. Here again nature and industrial civilization overlap..~~~Q::.!£tion_Qf. ?€..•."..~~"_!~. the permanent •. as it were...i.". full of ...eiery4~X:.·~'y~~~~~s_-_."s.l:j.~tnr generatio~s...15.ll?!!J.:oder.~.~ly:V":8te. -··~?_~?~. i~ ..-.illl..that this._ 'all .:. .~r •...•.(014£on£r~!e!JI().. this irony displays a deeper necessity which hinges on what Heiner Muller called the 'waiting-room mentality' in Communist Eastern Europe: t." ~''''-.... .' Perhaps. concrete tunnels and railroads full of stale water and wild overgrowth in which stray cats and dogs wander.. Then came the next announcement: The train will arrive at 41 40 . at its onslaught. There would be an announcement: The train will arrive at 18..". The aftermath of this constant innovation is...ing . ut) by b naiur·e. of how capitalism dissolves all stable links and traditions...rest.position.re:a-r.t~facts.15 and depart at 18. of ..-.Lprocb. from The Manifesto. which cannot but strike us with their useless. beings . You Pla~e 'of a work of art was none other than a row of Coke b~ttles~ Ios:!h:_~eIls~:()It~~i[~C1. but through a common decay bllt. P:o~~ss ._.t. sive.y~io~E~~s~E. . one can. 4 From tragique to moque-comique mountains of used cars.odern capi..p_~oducts.i12"d~~a~~~.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE No wonder.. The ultimate irony of history is that it "'.The ultimate Tarkovskyan landscape is l.:n . . . '" " " "" _..• ' '. . most vividly his masterpiece Stalker..verorpO:O:I91gs~iQsomefo... with its post-industrial wasteland: wild vegetation overgrowing abandoned factories. ~olid'. capitalism is no longer the domain of the discourse of the Master. computers.-".'.. capital. .~" •. _ -".''''_ .~pr.~IT!t~~~il:~-.. --. In these evergrowing piles of inert..aerisive.trof bo~b~r:~~4bY. instead of st~bl~p~~dll~t~destill-.l. "r."~()li~~'.cJist ill~.\Ve~~~p~.e. This is where Lacan takes over and paraphrases in his own terms the old Marxian theme..• that . dysfunctional 'stuff'.t-th~tJg~.will eventually end ~s left?~~:ctothe point .!!>~_Illoderlland post. . -.>es not concer~ ~~lJ'"_aJ:l?_I?rilna:r~J~ r~:ate_:i.

.his fideIiii-to theM.heTI.as the last sentence in the quote from Jacques-Alain Miller indicates .... 29 he misses. this On the other hand . and ~f exis~ce: tl~~~~bj~-ct e~d...'...~::y--t~-h~~ life ..mical twist: the son does shoot his father..rn~co~di­ t. subject's identity is guaranteed by Sl' by the Master-Signifier 42 ~~~"~~~?I?E~~.w~rds there ~-~~~_.Y_i9i~m§.ti..talis~ o..-...g:~-th~f'.:-.t. and who~."-.:~i... That was the situation. fidelity to which defines the subject's ethical dignity.~h-~.:...'-ct-is. And so on.gnifi.Y~t~bi~ ~~pp..~-~g~i~!lon 43 .w". Lacan graphical and historical details ... in this precise sense.i'~t.. but tive to travel forward destroyed any such potential in the West: if travel is a kind of death which renders the world banal.10. the inlpera- refers to elande!'s Coufontaine trilogy. a state of Messianic anticipation.i. was not that hope was maintained.~~.~.-fn~.-t~-_~~-.:'~t'.~"i~:~!o~~i_~:4~'~:~:::'£E~£~i.. however. parodic process of the constant subversion of all firm sy..-. in which the Oedipal parricide is given a co.ifi-.-Cul.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE 20.heMastercSlgiiifttt.·~~~~~~·.T.k'. in contrast to the West.R~.. 30 (\Vould it not be possible. In his seminar on transference.tl.· sllppery:shift:ing t s~b)-. and you know perfectly well that he won't be coming..~•••••~.:ct·wh-.. where people. howevel. ci'.-t.".g t..7t~~~"h/~.~t.bolic . It's bound to come at 20. do not even properly little bit-.y. DDR citizens enjoyed more contact with the earth on which the waiting room was bnilt.:..ca..ifyi. the lack of tra~edy pI"0perparadoxically make~ thern°cl.ti.:i. they deeply experienced the idiosyncrasies of their world.. and the scared.hati...~~~~~~ t~ arrival... thinking."·..'.·ih~:. f. wlfh-i:lieleftover...:.~.~-ho._"_'_~'~_~" notice what is going on around them: ' __ Because there was no acceleration in the culture.-th-.. ~spite..'.-~~nin-~~nd' con.to the end.st.~t: fr~rn ~a~. people his attempt ultimately fails because of the remainder that--. .=--..[ .. all its topo- The exemplary case of this shift is the changed status of the Oedipal trajectory: what in Ancient Greece was still a pathetic tragedy.. caught in this delay.. engaged in permanent frantic activity.:st'.c'.-!~:::~~..i~-h g.~-'·~·~~ig~if~·~ Inh~r~n~l~-·~~~~.:.ve.~". There are constant announcements of the Ivlessiah's iUlpending (his symbolic title-mandate).s h.28 The point of this Messianic attitude..the same goes for interpersonal relations: Miller formulates this passage in terms of the shift from Master-Signifier to objetpetit a: in the discourse of the Master.~t.15. And yet somehow.:.I...~.. was in a way the first example of the passage from tragiqueto moque-comique?) As Lacan indicates. undignified father simply dies of a heart attack.:'-Sig. Basically. Identification with the Master-Signifier leads to the tragic mode s... of existence. r:I'.'.~i~t':-.:. waiting engenders the accrual of substance.'::s. with the hero accomplishing the mnrderous act and then heroically assuming its consequences.-.~ks~.nt.f all· the t horror-s..-.:db'y.... You went on sitting there in the waiting room. it's good to hear him announced all over again."~·s_...~Y-i.-f~h.~. turns in modernity into its o\-vn mocking parody.eratlonshipto the• pure started to look around and take note of the inert materiality of their surroundings. but that since the Messiah did not arrive.. to claim that it was already Oedipus at C%nus which.ts t~l\1. with regard to Oedipus the King.sslon .'. while the delays in the East allowed people to accumulate experience.'.~. the r~~~i~d~~.

. now repetition through which a historical contingency is 'sublated' into the expression of a historical necessity (Napoleon had to lose twice).tiianon-was-nutwithout co~T. then as a farce) is already operative in Hegel himself: in his mad dance...-thinks that his. .' (Diderot. a. Italian. imperious and mocking. but in its actual existence is in its own self a perversion.. Marx's famous 'corrective' to H.-bl. we can see here clearly how the dialectical passage operates in Hegel . a mixture compounded of a complete perversion of sentiment.. Although the perverse speech of the 'nephew of Rameau' vocalizes the truth of the 'noble consciousness'.~. exploitative 'base (knavish) consciousness': uncle.. .I. servile. ..~'-~_.fi.Ilac_ademia . the renowned composer. French.. Secondly. by turns... --~ _~ _--------~_. _ . in unison. th~:p~r. . 31 - .. as i~~·o many matters. in its honest .~t~~gi~~. on~ is tempted to ~<!i: ~ike " highly paid professor of Cultural §.inces.YtI.First.hc.'M'~t"l~~~~t:"-.~'p·~'~t~~·~~2C-f~~--1J~~t-'reason. This latter mind perverts in its speech all that is unequivocal. _... and the shamelessness which gives utterance to this deception is just for that reason the greatest truth..~deep·thatitcaiillo l~nger be 'sublimated7i~h.C-amenfrtKerrs. 'noble' position turns into its opposite . the .~-h~~r~r.~h eeriepar()aicimitaiionldoubling f ~ o because what is self-identical is only an abstraction. every digniGed. __. the Grst time as a tragedy... in the process of dialectical historical repetition with which his Eighteenth Brumaire begins (history repeats itself. he rent the vaults of heaven with a falsetto tone.. Here. the nephew.. and of perfect frankuess and truth.e. the universal deception of itself and others._~. this talk appears as 44 45 . _.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE camps or the victims of the Stalinist show trials were not in a a 'rigmarole of wisdom and folly.Ji~~~jC- shamefulness...-.~i=:th~~~-i-'. ...tY. as a medley of as much skill as baseness.. in his famous subsection on the 'world of self-alienated Spirit' in the Phenomenology.t"dies in'l{e§!er.. it was Hegel who showed the way...~..the truth of the' noble consciousness' dedicated to its sublime ethical task of serving the Good is the manipulative. "._. just as Napoleon lII..~I1disfor that reason . comic. repeats in the mode of a farce the deeds of his uncle...'idi~'~i~'~~'·='-. contracting his throat. Raulcau's nephc\v repeats in a parodic way the grandeur of his mediation.ant seli:~ondemnato':l'critique. of as many correct as false ideas.. .~~. of. then. . This kind of talk is the madness of the musician 'who heaped up and mixed together thirty arias.. .="~.~~ch-.' ..~. i. frantic and soothed. the Napoleon...g. _".~ _"_. demonstrating how. That is to say.~ ~_ -~ with a deep bass he descended into hell. takes the melody of the Good and the True to consist in the evenness of the notes. .he is like a crook who thinks that he redeems himself by publicly acknowledging his crookedness (or. and the 'COOlie' repetition that subverts the tragic identification. . Nephew of Rameau) To the tranquil consciousness which.-. of every sort. ~~~. his candid cynical admission of guilt none the less remaius false . tragic.. way. . of absolute pro~rly·tragic pred. Two things about this remarkable passage shonld be emphasized.~">----_.~~~E~ti. .cgel's notion of provided the defiuitive description of the passage from tragique to moque-comique.-'aJl tl. . was it not Hegel who.'. So it is already in Hegel that the two modes of'repetition cornpete in a properly dialectical tension: the 'serious' The content of what Spirit says about itself is thus the perversion of every Notion and reality.how we pass from In-itself to For-itselF.

pp~~it-~..'-.3'e"~iri'the same details in today's talk shows reallyt~litt..ess.it'·~viir... ' ..~~ei~e-s.~i~~--..i~t-i~.i~Tt).:f~p~~. The more the admission is candid. w~..'is' the subj~~tit~.. .!~~.:ctiiityiit.~.'''h"...I'~.~ '.~'t~.tita..~i~l:.a~. ·N~"~.npli~~!.th.b.. _--.ef~..j. _?a~..er it is encio~~~d -..t.~J!E-~~_. rnJJ:. .~PtY. To make the counection with the Marxist critique of political ecouomy even clearer: for Hegel himself. - m~~~~p(J:v~r .~!~.~-th.~.IiltQfx"... can now see what the Lacanian answer is to the Derridan insls- t..-. bias hGtlJ!:Qm:b...." tf~~ ~~p~-~.s i~.£..g._.:..~t1:. free from guilt. of the infinite jndge.:LeJ..it~~th.~ 4.:'i ih': subject. short..~:ipi!itisa bo~e... that is..d.._t~.~-c:.-fI~g~i'~ d~~erved~y famous answer to Napoleon's 47 46 .tion­ ...~~-th~. 'noble consciousuess'.:insi!>-tliJi~'illtLPi"se(Jf reality (metal) which possesses the . the dialectical coincidence of pure subjectivity. 0 --.~[So '...th..~bj.~~ _ '-~~~~~ .. . as a 'radical' intellectual.".:r~.. the subjective position of enunciation remains the same...Yb~· b~~~... i·..:. it is not radical enough: the exaggerated perverse content which seems to explode the uncle's dignified speech is there to conceal the fact that. money).hip.ny.the id.~e' ' lie in the guise of (telling the) truth.·~.---_ _..C. in which the full and candid admission of one's guilt is the nltimate deception.ated~a... there is awa.me .y to avoidresp()nsihilit. culminates in its opposite: in .s.-" ---..: p<I.i. .~{~.~es·s ~-~ un~on­ 'b().~J.i-. the way to preserve one's subjective position intact.0r!:h~p~~p"~L§"IXs".X ..i~...[....thing to tell ...~t.s Rameau .--h~~. inclusive of openly acknoWIeJg:ing'the i...~g.l..t..~hh~p.·~~~.~~~~..fth~ \T~idor..yatld!orguilt by..~..i~_"~:!_~~~~~!<~...SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE Eurocentrist....~? inve~! ey~ry~e~ermiIl..:.i_-~~~'~_~~~p~~~~_~_~l~_ty-?E-_ ~_~_() E~_<l:?gy_"q~_s'!:11!irl. Er~s~e~ce -..' ~.~_~_-~_~.~.ist.~p~.l'hi~··obj eet is th.-r_t..f_l1_ey. thoroughly c~iiis~lS~::'-I.:. inert object. with a meaningless. I~I~~~·C~.j ~t~.~~~ i!:"_.-~. .. a iitt!£.:d£t~.-"~~'a.~(...~Et~-. ~oble w~hi~h ~~tl.~:.j2 his'substantiality' is not that oftbe subjectitself~ bnttbat ~f.J~ullt~.:'..i0.". bj....s·~i~-~.~~-d~...d~h~'. a leftover.. perfectly embodies the existing pow':r~... --. ."i~·'~ntire movelnent of the mediation of the .t~·~bJ'.conslstency or one's' own"posit:ioii~'th{t'more"'if'is'~far..ado~ic.{"I:._tl~YY:."~£.~th· .:'t...··.I.-f ph!eIl()I()gL::l:h...i.-.J~ub.• (~..~..m<I~nd'..:-in~bo~h··c~s~s.b.~-'~~---- sllbs ta. the disintegration of every determinate symbolic feature..eCi::': preCisely sci~~~~~"~~·~... " ......--.).nce on how ~~di[f~d......~.I~i~~~().. pre- ~i~~iy:-~~~p~~i~~/_.~- _ .l're""-"S~_(Jf.~e~'~-.t.. ..gi~.---~-. in both cases.. C:S~9:~"~_~~~_~_~_~_~..'ti~...iik-.l{i. -..':'!f. trash (bone..e~al r. _ ..:t.r.i·th-<~c~o~-.ty~f. tr~th~~T~l.~tq~ae~pty/~~id/uon :substant.t~-]lIs~:~-ry:-~to:::~lle t a.ack t~ Did~rot..bF~t.:.--.. in its very excess. -- -------_ . the~ase()f !he~hite male PC and uses this admission of as a stratag~IDl1ot to face the way he.:..ion. ~() In<ltt~~_h()~....:.:-re..tit.:~.t..lMi. etc...r/trash t 'VVI..:'b..:.Il1e~in~th...~or..p~i..... the infinite judgement The S.g_ ()~e's g~ilt ill ~n exagge.''dit''has''''t'o''-he''<su'~t~rn~ "cr--by a mInImum a 'P.t..size~th~gI.ti.~. of this power of the negative that dissolves ever::y stable determination. .th~-·S.-the -dialectic of phrenology as well as the dialectic of wealth...'.."'by tf..-_ --_ .~--... the total 'liquefaction' of every firm determination.g-U£.~l..~l:th.~ii~~-4.the problem with Rameau's nephew is not that his perverse negation of his dignified uncle's 'noble consciousness' is too radical and destructive.:'.~th~.. this inherent subversion .-----The guilt here concerus the tension between the suhject of the statement and the snbject of the ennnciation (the subjective position ftom which one speaks): there is a vvay in which one can or "Western academia somehow exempts of no?~.istph~llogocentrism.Ctti()n.~h.subject] is but that.t..~-~~~~i_i~~·~~-_i~t_~'. ..~bJ~tp.~·~~·--~-(~.t.<4f [das Selbst] is mone~iec..~~ly-.d:.. ....t~..

th~-p~~~g.-I~ve~~(syti~~li~ ~i~...the process of symbolic identification."'".·. The lessou of the Lacanian objet petit a as the remainder of the Real here is that Hegel has to be supplemented: in order for the subjects to have a transferential relationship towards their hero.-f~.' ~ .... in effect.. . Ego:Ideal! hisdigllit.. the valet's intimate gaze has to support his public image .the lesson of exhibitionist talk shows is that the very act of the public confession of their innermost private (sexual.. it is not enough to On the one hand.. ..c. contours of' the subject's..: ·symboli c identification to identification with the excrementalleftover turns ~~ec. the awareness of the worldhistorical dimension of' his deeds is not enough..::t~ide-.. if .<1Jeat'E:et.[-t._ .··ji~'P... who sees in me what I am not: a person of digni1y and strong principles.bJerptirais-nofsiillpljstiblime=elusive..-d·... _~.:tit..·~-.t. around .· trag£q-....eCs} 11'le...~iq~~-=~ith b~t tl.:..<..4irr.~nia:ri:emaillderiha:i secretly ...y.. whose dealings are with the ruan.. it is fashionable to search for one's 'true self' ...~..sustains .....t...e SYIllb.~..._...A~'_·~ ..-. in order to venerate a person as a hero.'iig.1:Erth~~.jr._·__ ~·="'''~~· __ . .accomplishes in the opposite direction ._~' ~~ '_'~"' "'A_'~"_""_"'~"" __ _ _ refer to the opposition between the way I appear to others and the way I really am: symbolic identification occurs when the way 49 "n_".. his mandate....:p.dth-.·f. That is to say. this logic is brought to its selfdestructive conclusion: it is no longer that we are simply interested in the private pathologies of public figures. .v .. I know I am an unprincipled weakling.-.. but because the valet is a valet.:~. .:ity~rh~.::i. that changes a noncommittal appreciation into true veneration...'.·"· th~..~~. the valet's gaze is unable to perceive the world-historical dimension of the hero's public deeds.(-.'~~..""..~i. So for the hero to function whi~h theII'oiy-c.cr~~e~taUefto\l. 'on the other:-th..."" .t. at the same tiIne... there is the Master-Signifier that delineates the ~"~. but as one who eats.ubject's surplus-enjoyment . "~.-.~'is't~~:~.:~:r...g.:.. I do not want to disappoint my SOD.~. etc......c:u.~. drinks..irtcide: objetpetif a is - s~..-'~-.... . ready to take risks for a just cause .-.. ~". ...t.th.. " .hi~h.shQf..:. o_"_.:~-.t·.-it:-tI.".~~ .._.. but... .edtn..hat ...boli~'..so I identify with this misperception of me.. db~~~~~.. not as a hero..Iy-thez~~.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE 'N() man is a hero to his valet': 'not..~~~ of ...:.at.. as a father..l<?ll.._.......~·"w •_ _ ..__ ...::C().:.··s-~~i!:i~i. and 'Nears clothes'53 ..'~=M~A."taile.==". Let us take the most elementary example: =....i1!l-lI2c.g~-i.~. I actually accomplish heroic acts).. ··A.....?~elves'..t.. '..:seqiientl...the .. the pathology of the objet petit a has to support SJ' the Master-Signifier.:!~~~.......l~.. this touch of the 'real person' behind the public mask (some personal weakness or similar'endearing foible ')...ci&-..i. it has to be supplemented t by some detail from the 'pathological' domain of the hero's idiosyncratic fancies .".-.we~t c.. or that public figures are directly expected to display signs of' their 'common humani1y' in public ... ~~. And it is as if.:l..i~t ~t effectively as a hero.~'... In other words.:.i.~." •.and the ultimate goal of psycho.:I..'.~~-iu-e-.g~·f..p-.-=~··"" Today....or...."~:r£Cl...'i.. today. and truly 'become myself' when I..:-6~-th..in short.y.-tl~""S~ontlla:t-.SJlay-the Other(s} miszer~ei7J. ""_~.. them~p... .it is only this 'little piece of reality'.ail itself is revealed as nothin~-but ~-p.'·. start to act according to this misperception (ashamed to appear to my son as 1 really am. turning him or her into a public figure .s<1...d.~. in Lacanese.·. the identification VJ.rThoiiArt lj.' 48 ..) idiosyncrasies as such can render a person famous.. in order for this awareness to become a true veneration. the ultimate paradox of the strict psychoanalytic notion of' symbolic identification is that it is by definition a misidentification. s. however.~. the symbolic mandate of the hero._-". because the man is not a hero.rt~.ijet p..a .:h. ' '" ' .=~~. analysis is to enable the subject-analysand to accomplish the pa~.th~p.".. we are to account for symbolic identification." ~_>~~.. ' ".d~..Lacan's answer is that e ~ ~ . .~~n~~~.

or-.tisoal::: that is t'.. (Another homologous structure is that of a well-known tribe mentioned by Levi-Strauss for whose members all dreams have a hidden sexual meaning .tll...~ch-. pre- cisely (and in contrast to Bentham's theory of self-iconicity.Y.. Along the same lines.'~ne a~dthe-~ame thing:.rP~i~!'~·) r...'"k I ik. in Hegeles e: the ·. what we encounter here is the obverse of Leibniz's well-known principle accor.opeIties ia'elZ-iiiy~-TrhI~paradox accounts for the uncanny effect of encountering ~" d.ni~~logi~.!a1:. A horse is a domestic mammal . then. undoubtedly."the abyss()fhls=othe=.Eh~.!n~qr . the desperate teacher asks the pupil: 'OK.sjgIljfieIjs. nntil the psychiatrist explodes: 'But you didn't understand me! You must tell me what crops up in yonr mind. he says 'Sky'.-.. it does not look like or resemble a horse.all.. what is a horse'?' Perplexed and totally thrown off balance. I got your point. The psychiatrist first explains to the gipsy what free associations are: you immediately say what is on your mind in response to tbe psychiatrist's cue.'. it resembles itself) a horse is a horse. what you are thinking of.c'ing to which.s~~t:l. the poor gipsy would have broken down in panic .SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE I appear to others becomes more important to me than the psychological reality 'beneath my social mask'. working in the fields or pulling vehicles. Then the psychiatrist proceeds to the test itself: he says 'Table'. at which. except those with an explicit sexual content..rf~r~s~~1Jl.even anxiety . but in the negative 51 C.~f the . where there are no horses.~.:..bT~. barks. popular in ex-Yugoslavia.S'~l.?k.!~e ::ClIl!E.. the psychiatrist should have given the sex-starved gipsy the cue 'Fucking Fatima'.) To put it in philosophical terms.. "the g.:.. unlike horses. has none the less to be supplemented by the crucial Enal twist at work in another well-known joke about a pupil being examined by his biology teacher about different animals. .:="i~.~~~~=.0. A horse is a domestic mammal with fonr legs.:T. unlike a horse.[ "on- are indistinguishable. . just as 'rucking Fatilna' is 'fucking Fatima'..~eJ.i!Jlti:b. and always reducing the answer to the deEnition of a horse: 'What is an elephant'?' 'An animal which lives in the jungle. A horse is a domes50 tic mammal ..thiug do. unable to provide an answer.. and so on.eilJIli""an Je~~o'. which clearly displays tbe structure of Hegelian 'abstract universality'. not some association generated by the idea of 'fucking F atima' . 'What is a dog?' 'An animal which..1ess' O ofa:'thing'is 'grounded not in its properties.the Marx Brothers' well-known paradox 'No wonder you look like Erumanuel Ravelli.. about a gipsy being examined by a psychiatrist.' 'What is a fish'!' 'An animal which has no legs.tE~~.thi\t"sj!l~. are we to grasp the difference belween the two gaps that characterize the symbolic process: the gap between the Master-Signifier and the series of 'ordinary' signiEers (SI and S2)' and the more radical gap between the very domain of the signiEer (S) and its objectal remainderlleftover.tll". since you are Ernmanuel Ravelli' involves an illegitimate short circuit.'."Y_al'e"JsoI'-llIllqisilllyicleIl. according to which an object is the best icon of itself. but I think all the time about fucking Fatima!' This racist joke. the poor surprised pupil starts to mumble and cry. How. I'm not that stupid. objetpetit a'? There is an old racist joke.ei\.its-.~y.h~th~r. the gipsy again answers: 'FuckingFatima'. that is._if~alLth-elLP!:.' and so forth. the gipsy answers: 'Fucking Fatima'. used for riding..lik~~~~the. if ~ot~ings_pe~1'~~tIYL~s~~hLe'-. that is.'.. when I say my word!' The gipsy calmly answers: 'Yes. forcing me to do things I wonld never be able to accomplish 'from within myself'. until Enally.unable to generate any association: why? Because..

':'tF..'.~g-"~l~--i-~~-t~-~~~"~Tth~·r~g·i~-~rth~·~l g"niFier. Aware of the rumours that a lot of Croats lead miserable unhappyliveS::wtl1e-he--a:Ildllis·cronies·amassweillfh.: ~i~d'...:h..:is p~..'.··~a:.:-'B..th~.-~]:~..~.. among these limbs... h.__ 'bar.d~'..:t~.'ai~{s{~~~'-h~-t:We-en-soine­ thillg ..~m th~leftover that'f~llsol~t'-='the-siructurehereis one we have to look for in certain ~~bdi"i..I'."ppy?.sig-~{I~~-r~"-~~'~-~h~-~--i-ts--...-i6h it.b'.:q. '-'''' ...':. as every Indian knows..<Why.':.1\Ildthis is "..'~c~~'l~ef~r_"l11il~o~_d~II~.. as if to say: 'Do not take all this ridiculous spectacle of horror too seriously! It is just a show of force..fiet....···th. by hidden.ic'fil1..n...~t~.~ This structur." 52 prog:ressiv:e---'-cri-acriticar-a~.oid: the lack o[thesig':'.thaUher..~-~ cl happy'! 'andsoo.bl~~c. Medusa-like entity with dozens of limbs making aggressive gestures ..':ce.- OilS --"'~ut'-.:..~~~~'~-~[-I~'--~~th-~m-atical ? terlnS. are?:?long. a ~\\ \:.th ~h.i..~g.orH~g~Ii~'~.._"'_.."ys: 'B..'e"re_a£h.: .:t._..{I$.-Hi~-da:..?l.§Ilbject . n9 .:S-abouiihe Croatian President Franjo Tudjman in general display a structure of some interest for Lacanian theory . 'fucking Fatima') which has to remain empty in order to serve as the underlying organizing principle of the series...th.t·t~~ ~h.acl~C[uatel)f represeI1tit. whi~h 'is' the (barred) subject itself.:i.··"'_. ·Hi~fj~tt..I.rneans. while in fact I am not really so menacing.iIl.--.. ---r.. this time from today's Croatia..here the object cOll1esin:."~.ty.O~'ig~~-ifi~.~~j~..b."'..)~s~.:~. tha!v.\v hich.._~.....'.d.plytl~t.e.th~_en_d""..':iiY<J.th~.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGltE ABSOLUTE synthesis of a pure 'One' which excludes (relates negative\y to) all positive properties: this 'one' which guarantees the identity of a thing does not reside in its properties.i.~~ii~j1~it. is.f..aridihiis maketW<J-Cro. But the supreme example is that of Tudjman and his large family in a plane above Croatia.:otour f eh~q.g~~.:': Hie proverbIal in.::... pre.tPe~erie~~L of Qr_cljl?:~J:'Y ~_~g_~i_f~=E~_}_~ th e gap thilt s~I'arates the endless process of symbolicdilTerentiation itselff..vc no l~~~er-h-~~~-.e~~~'...r<J~:aquarter..:.:r' that~ov~rsupthi..ght..---~r...:t~ ·happY?... ~~_~_~_:_~~-~~_g:~~J~~_r_._".t~ ~ake at least one Croat. • Ttidjman saY~:'Wh~t if I~ere_t~ihr~v... " between -Jok.~)tI~.'.'"""~' "_~.. .-" ".ra.~i.. nobody would bother to seek him .:~~ .~out of th..A.~s~Ir{}llt f the o 53 .cls.:h~t psychoaualysis calls the'object'is pre~isely a pha tas....~h ~.hisgraiidsori .k..:....<J." .th--~. . --'----'f-~-~-'-'-"--. a kind of meta-message is S 1~.h~rt ---~ ~~-dde-~.:s~ed a third joke.tth.. Ouite different from this gap that separates the exceptional .. who wili~'..... '... This "' __ __'_".t Graiidpa. a tiny hand stretched out in a pacilJring gesture...'spuri­ ...a:~.:~S(i~.'" ' ...d~n' t y~.er two halves.lr··Cioats something' ~~a-.:..ifl~.y~.~. So here we have the difference between the series of ordinary siguifiers aud the central element Chorse'.:.dI.. a nice libidinal point about how hiding works only if people actually want to find you.. the Hindu goddess of destruction: she is usually portrayed as a terrifying. th~t ~~n .e.... prol1 vidlngfor: ita:~e.... why d..~i1.:~ f<:'rhaIfamilIlon-each. but actually love you!' This exceptional sign is the forms of aggressivity.-.~~l-c..."(i..i"t"h-{t~--'~b~~-~~e--:-nC.~ ~h.the t-wo parts of the divi~ion. since it is ultimately its when we reach a division which is no longer the one between two-'-sig·'j.····a.-. about Presid...for example: Why is it impossible to play 'hide-and-seek' with Tudjman? Because if he were to hide...~~~h'-:..: '...a]~-r~'--~I'"·~'~~g~~ifYing:"dyacC·-hil {"a-'I'eHexive" division bei\Ve-~n-"th..'.parts ?ft~e previous ~le~'c~t '~ ~b~-~ '.:of'being.be.-~.sigiiiC i\..is.t"'~'" a.:akefoi.Ji:Qm ._..~~-(~.e~()~ll~say. '_'_.."..':iilIinal\y.."" '.:.however.fectly expr. void ofs~bjectivity.f~Jj..:radd.cisely. The hOlllologous structure of the series and its exception underlies the figure of Kali...th~--.b~tb.gjybi."longer 'between signifier.:.. the key point is that.

d story of 1998 was that of a secret international agreement called MAl (the Multilateral Agreement on Investment). sexual.n.'-1 sta~ds . t.bl~'. Acl..-..:..'. countries that do not relax their environmental.illes.. which will be pressured into depleting their natural resources for commercial exploitation..· this...elaborated and discussed in a clandestine manner.~.I!.. Reuato Ruggerio..thattills in the '..dy .under NAFTA (the main model for MAl)... the th. the sponsor of MAl.'~~~--~."S-~~~e'... Nevertheless.'J4 Just as for Marx. the end of apartheid was not directly conditioned by the objective 'logic of Capital'. of course.id-.fhis body.lfJj.. So what do we mean by it'! Take the example of South Africa: of course.'..'.ith._4q~!1:~y"e lim. this is the obverse of the much-praised new global morality celebrated even by some neoliberal philosophers as signalling the beginning of an 55 .'![. and Lhus make all the Croats happy?' Here we have it cultural. and health and labour regulations to meet the demands of foreign firms may be accused of acting illegally.d.:is h~~_e -'th~. and -like Clinton in the USA or New Labour in the UK ...dfe-. director of the World Trade Organization. with almost no public consul- tation and media attention ..as the 'constitution for a new global economy'..'~-~.f di~t~~b.~ind~.p"'QElle'end. The primary goal of MAl will be to protect the foreign interests of multinational companies... and limit themselves to the strnggle for 54 land-use.accept the basic depoliticization of the econnmy.r.hersappr6achhe impossible limit by subt window.i.t~slg.'... ' · ' ~ . which they are located. Corporations will be able to sue sovereign states if they impose overstringent ecological or other standards ...~5?_~~E_~_E£!X!~~... The agreement will basically undermine national sovereignty by assigning to these corporations powers almost equal to those of the countries in less division.~~·~th~.thej·~tt.-:~.rhro~gll s~i.ind~f~..:PIlg£9~at~h-llP="".~~. The greatest threat.pl~t~d:bith~f..!h."£tuilli.~'p{)inJ:()f... rights? The struggle for hegemony within tO~_~Y~~J?~~_!. '...~~-... 5 Victims. etc...~~~~~~·. is already hailing this project .g tharee 1'h.i~_: .'t.'.it resulted from the heroic struggle of thousands of nameless freedom fighters... by Capital's universalism which tends to subvert and transgress all natural boundaries .~.-'-- th~R..-li-..~i.!che§. Governments will no longer be able to treat their domestic firms more favourably than foreign firms. f. market relations provided the true foundation for the notion of iudividual freedoms and rights..~j~~~d..J~~en)t. as the current difIiculties of the ANC government demoustrate..-: ~~bje~t does not 'include himself out' but.. Postmodern deconstructionists would probably reject such a direct reference to the Real of the 'logic of Capital' as too'essentialist'. is to the developing nations. as not taking into account the radical openness and contingency of the struggle for hegemony..ebY~~·...~..'fthe r. ethnic..-ght in the logic of 'spurious infinity' is totali~.~Re.a~drn~~?_l~~~~lfiii:"'Th~:--b6~~.12.. on the contrary.r th~s~bj~~t-b}.g of C a p i t a l .se.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE divi di~g:lik.it -e~~~~~t~_~~ _~ f~. Victims Everywhere Furthermore.~':-:~. t~t~::i. Ethyl Corporation is already suiug Canada for banning the use of its gasoline additive MIVIT.~di~i. the end of apartheid confronted the black majority with their true dilemma: should they risk actually disturbing the free functioning of Capital in order to undo the effects of apartheid? Or should they make a pact with the Devil.

reetl.~:~~~{( ~i.d~fi~~J:l-."~{'-~~'b~.:.~arJ.~~"--~ut of J2:~~~...~(()g~~~:.'I~.iIit.~!~~~-J~. This did not happen irresponsibly. human beings are the creation of God'.·I~~·~~.:ifi. It happened..y in Consequently.~iar..flI .i?~.~~~c .g--~~~f·7-p~~ce···1~-··. as an act of aggression or out of disrespect for it is anOrwelhan~oxyiiioi:.g'..y NATO intervention) is identified from the outset as a powerless victim of Ulrich Beck.y acted as a direct instrument of the 'higher law' of God Himself ~ if this is not a dear-cut case of 'religious fundaluentalism'.'.q. significantly entitled (Kosovo and the End of the called 'militaristic humanism' or even 'militaristic pacifism'.~g. in an article in Die Suddeutscbe Zeitung in April 1999.E_cJ.~~~n-~~:~~!~"mo·ral-­ Havel further speeifies this 'higher law' when he claims that 'human rights.~~?~~~~:.i~ Tiih'.f.._-p.?I:J. tl~~ ..~~is~-s~i~ ~r. ·i':!~11:t!!een E::.?.~.. Its title is revealing: 'In One K080VO Woman.§-.!lY_~.1:. 35 (th~lV1.-~~_4'·.~=.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE era in ·which the international community ·will be able to enforce a minimal code preventing sovereign states frorn engaging in crimes against humanity even within their own territory.i~~l?-~~. wha. In a recent essay. human fi'eedoms.!~:~'I~~~~_~~.oil~ reI1~in~1r._~~~~!.e.'y·-~~t~-.~(. problem with this term is not that ~b.wc:!.~b.~d-'.. 1 rather think that i. reduced to stark 57 .ti~p.~.:~at}.in~er~sts international law.C!.i..':_?i~1'iL~~·~:~I4~i~*[~~'.-·-th-~'-".!'!!:.g:... deprived of all political identity.? UJ:a:...~.~~.ifi~tp.'.w~.ilit~.~d~.-~~.k~. The Federal Republic o['Yugoslavia was attacked by the alliance without a direct mandate from the UN..'ll1ilitari~tic· ~·.q!!i!'!!!P. j()stified d.~"!_t}!.t?~ .~..~-f.d~'~-~t are not"a.eco~().:. while the state is a human creation. The -Havel tries to the NATO bombing o['Yugoslavia: Nation-State'.~""t~.'-'-t~-..£e.~ rIghts.i-.:b~~~d killing never b. as both conscience and international legal documents dictate..~. ~:~..ectly belies the truth of'its positi~.J'ihatol1Cshoiildhei'i.itb~.k~. since the.ili~t·~v:~eneer.~~.~_~.~..\!~'ll~i~n(i'-'--th. 56 circumstances. .~~~t~-~~. the subject to be protected (b. .~·t~~ph~·.f. on the eontrary. Havel's statement is thus the strongest assertion of what A report Steven Erlanger on the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians in Tbe New York Times 37 perfectly encapsulates this logic of'victimization.-.~~-~-~~. ..!.· Th"p~'.~~'~~I'y.):-N.tr~ggf~) is presented as help to the . an Emblem of SufFering'.o_.t we need is nota 'true'(deIililitarizecl) hl!manism/pacil'ism.~~ge~.:.':..~:~t~Sl~:.. The allianee has acted out of respect: for human rights.-.ti~i~~)..~-'.36 If we read Havel's two statements as the two premisses of a judgement.:.o. ~tr~~.~~f.E~!~.ismlp~cifisJ1l~:...iti.~t...g.t.=-~hi~bi.--~E~~ gi~g'''''ft''{l~t~-'-an-'-ln:te~r-: ~.:ti~~:~{~~th~.:~ir... out of respect for the law..i.er.. the logical conclusion is none other than that NATO forces 'were allowed to violate existing international law. but it'militaristic' social intervention divested of' its d~politicizedl!l1iversa.}f~~ not in 'militqrifli~' but in 'huma.P!.~ __!!!ili~qT. ~-which.lhllma."t1.~~!~~.!!!~7!:?it. Vaclav bring home the message that places human rights above the rights of the state.~ . and human dignity have their deepest roots somewhere outside the perceptible world .:t.cit!.-(~g~inst this obvious pacifist-liberal criticism. I!:~_~~~ .~~'~.i~-tb'~-p.t~atthis purely humanitarian-ethical legitimization (again) thoroughly d~polit·i.. for a law that ranks higher than the law which protects the sovereignty of states.i()l~()c~.e?:ic . then this term is devoid of any minimally consistent nleanmg.olit.:!b?~.gp~~~~..i.i<:'alIy e~d~..'-.'d . r.'. -~~-~~ch.-.i~~."h~~~~~"it~~{~~-"'~~t.di..~tic._T~.::.5tth~p~.bty-Fo..:..~~~gg~e.b~..~le~~is.[fii9.

"It~~C.h.t:.~... just a bunch 01' untrained fighters.eiits~yr~..~_~Y~ .:.d. The message 01' this distrust could not have been clearer: it's OK to help the helpless Albanians against the Serbian monsters.d~..:._----"_-_' '. ~hosets the family house on fIre in order to be able to prove her devotion to the family by bravely saving the ehildren from the raging 59 .l~~hth.~edt.i~_~_Il~~~_?~".-.!() beover:__._!.ghf..\n.Highs~ith'~ iIer~ine._---------_ ----.'Sh~'ssee!) too l11uch.:. ~osovo IS not on .~b~~.g..Ch~lpI~~~su:ITering._--"' :y_a.~. to feel good in my place and my house with my friends and family.' .~-'>t~~~--takin'g·'very·~good'care red.=_ ~~Il._-Pat..h~!~f~~g~~§.~!!ff~fi.-i~§~iian:tsor~i.victim in aid of whom NATO inte~~n~~:·. "I just want all this to end..:.ention_-------' gr:olIIld. sinee it is involved in drug-trafficking and/or is a J\tlaoist group whose ~. "--"--"~-'-- .[Yugoslavia -was thus not the one about which Western pacifists cOIllplained (by bombing Yugoslavia in order to prevent ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. .ei:woul~~e~~~E~v. __ .n.-'..th~.tt.QJ_"t.l[ The NATO· strategy was thus perverse i~ the pr~~is~ Freudian' sense of the term: it was itself (co-)responsible for thecahI~it...!:!!i'!._~~_':n_~~. is ~~)'~_Il~ ~IllJ_~?~:i~_~_~~~.q£e_ arm.. her ._.tllpillth~.::..<?f. but a deeper paradox involved in the ideology of victimization: 58 tI~fiJ...-.ct~. __~_~~j~~~.:.th~.:I'. but in no way are they to be allowed aetually to cast off this helplessness by asserting themselves as a sovereign and self-reliant political subject.'vastafecl country with a passive populatioll. That would be great.'- '-_.:. she sympathizes with all sides in an all-embracing h~. _~?..ed.._.~ryf..:. NATO in effect triggered large-scale cleansing.J()~~~g.. a subjeet with no need for the benevolent umbrella of the NATO 'protectorate'. she -...:.trau­ __ matic experience that blurs all differenc~s:.!~!: . In short.. this distrust of the KLA resurFaced with a veng·eance: the topic of the day was again the'danger' that.~..y against whichitoffe..t-~. a?:en~~...d~~i.) After the agreement on the Serb Army's withdrawal from Kosovo.1:_~..."'~er~~\l!.{ddied..~~~~~i..~_7§..~~ __ ~.t..ln....l\t1eli wants a rest.~dy (lik~-·th.~Il~_:P:_Il_~~_~t ..l..':Sh~ is. The ultilIlate p~rado~~f..local . the KLA would ..i~..:.:.g~dy~.. This means that NATO was_ actjy~i..ediIl her'.:.'.b~a.~-.i1.."..b}~~t-.J:1g.. She wants it to be over.-~l~t~t~~~~~ii'h~~~l.fi~d~.:!:?:.~~L'!~E1J1_[~£?f!L"(The moment this option was mentiol{ed.'" Here we h~_e__t.' ...IILt...'filllhe vacuum' and take over.:i.' As such.. victory would lead to a Khmer Ronge or Taleban regime in Kosovo .~~.esistance of the A!!!. . while NATO was intervening in order to protect the Kosovar victi~'~ it~ . and thus created the very humanitarian catastrophe it wanted to prevent)..~ry." Meli said..z. the NATO bombing._'.nJ~r.~..'... __ .-b..byhe intervention of a t b~~~~·~T~-~t--"f~.~·:t-th~~'~.~iilldNATQ) interis 'She v. ""~.~_..:.tlsubject ith a w ~1~~t·~g~.::.. .be~.::epolitico-military force car. after the Serb Army's withdraw<Il..~~_::~5:~~j~<.as the NATO sources and the media liked to pnt it .E. we should not trust the KLA.~.gt..~= __ ~orce behind theIu. a settlement for good..:...·.?rror over: II)oes she favar an independent Kosovo? "You knovv. and to feel good again.. ... -.~'-~"·~-~b}~~·i'~h~'~-~-'~nner~~si-desire is \Vith. '~-~"""-"""~"''---'' ... " ..~_..:. ·sympathizing '. .Ui'II:~.-.notan acti..d\ffe[~lltfl1J()tlt'. of .-"..h~t_J?!::ing§..."il..dag....f~~lg.ttl~l]2.YJ)I"Slsi'.~.~.l.th~ S~tb~...Visp f9L<Illtpi s_p"r:r:''.£()rEoftheJ.~.' Consequently.1lf11~t. But maybe now there will be a eonclusion..liti~:.ideol()B:i~a.:.."_':_::'.!~.-abI'.._-_.~ig~~-p~.r:.i~' ..:t.."-" .{ d~f~~di~~:it~'.t-~·p.J:~E~ __h~E~...'...tt.SLAVOJ ZL1EK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE suffering..gl.•.II. and I feel sorry For my own people.nadness this or that.. I don't care if it's the key aspect to note was NATO's privileging of the nowdiscredited 'moderate' Kosovar faction of Ibrahim Rugo va against the 'radical' Kosovo Liberation Army.··~h~ says. H~r bas..'()l1struction of the ide~J subject. fears started to circulate: the KLA is not really an army.Vh()tll~J()reillnersare.

.. to step down. restore the proper role of the trade unions."..) were not preventing Lafontaine from doing his job.SLAVO) ZllEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE flames . __ . This ideology of victimization is the »... eY~.'~--. to strike~back... .t.~-. and discrediting Social Democracy as unable to govern.:i~tif'.':"-isag"ciJl_hq:''':Ea99x of viet timi. he would quite simPlY not step down. in the late capitalist 'administered world'. as in a police photo after arrest).-.i~thisid~I. ~Jl!.__. or his interventions would have triggered a global economico-political crisis forcing him. _.~Il.. . i'dt."... if Lafontaine were actually in a position to accomplish at __ . ._ for"•... got the worst of both worlds: Commnnist 'totalitarianism' as well as capitalist liberalism.~-". Back in the 1940s.~. the properly uncanny appeal of negative gestures like the spectacular retreat of the German super-minister Oskar Lafontaine in some leftist circles also bears witness to the same refusal to confront the Real of today's capitalism: the very fact that he stepped down without giving reasons for his action._.~u'P:~r­ p eg~.()f~h~j~~:il1~~i~le:t~:th~pilhlic . combined with his demonization in the mass media (from etc. but go on with his job..._~.fideQlogythat fits . .4.-~. While such an elevation of Lafontaine into a cult figure has its positive side (it articulates the 60 so-c~lled Il~_~~~sisti~1'''Eso!'.:.:k..... the inner drives of the id and the external social constraints of the superego..~.._ _--~"._"..t._ _._ .:.ilht.~hich_.tifi~._. eveu prevent the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.. the classical Freudian notion of the ego as the mediating agency betvveen the two extremes.~.. least some of these goals.zati()n: the Other to be protected is good in 50 far as it remains a ~.rule.~ -~.J.:.. encounter in today's financial politics of the state banks.... showing him in profile.thp~~t.t!~~t~~. as had already happened with Lionel Jospin in France).·k~~h:~rt-:.'The most dangerous man in Europe' . that reason "all _=.:J--id at the expense of the ego. Theodor Adorno pointed out how... todalSt.--~--." . The true problem.. he would actually accomplish something.talistldrug-traffickiug Other....._.-~. it~~li~~:~~~~..." -'-"'-.~.--."".to the photo of him in Eild. as it were. _. exerts its .-"._ utopian desire for an authentic Left that would break the hegemonic Third Way stance of accepting the unquestioned reign of the logic of Capital)._-'.. he would have been gradually 'gentrified'..e.-.. relying on the illusion that if external circumstances (Schroder's opportunism....• _ --_..--~.._ . and-_..'.e..i~~ti.st.._ ._' -.Jh.theJ'(...(~l~~h is why w.--------_..~~~fb~fpless Kosovar mothers....~IIl~gi~:Jlil~r~~allofa s'.~-.ea!(JfGapital the . he "fould save the essentials of the welfare state."-'--".:e!X~~()~~:i~.-_.iE"ctast~~t\V. is: what would have happened ifLafontaine had not beenforced to step down? The sad but most probable answer is: either nothing of real substance (i.t~~~~-.we.lobaJcapitalism.. coopted into the predominant Third Way politics. made him an ideal projection screen for all the fantasies of the frustrated Left which rejects the predominant Third Way politics. children and old people.'..()~-it~~-~.Yjs.~-b.". butwar:ts .~ On the other hand.~. The basic lesson of the 61 .. telling moving stories of their suffering).rtb~ •(li~ll'afl)..-~.. suspicions should none the less be raised that there is something false about it: to put it in very simple terms..""-.~barJ..~-. If Lafontaine were to stay.~~---. The crucial point is thus to recognize clearly in this ideology of gi2!:J~1~icti.).~-.. reassert control over the 'autonomous' The deadlock of globalization is felt most strongly in countries like Russia. however..__. .. sllbject . is no longer operative: what w.""couut~E-!l.Jd~. •. the moment it no longer behaves like a victim. 38 the front-page headline in The Sun . again...Il.d~.thi~K._.._--". which.=. ._ ..-~. more iuelu~!il!:>I~~. The cult of Lafontaine is thus possible only as a negative gesture: it was his stepping down that created the void in which utopian leftist energies could be invested. ._ -. ..

' _·_~ ~ ".. -------.'-.~ _ _ "'."_.all other alternatives. but the excessively violent nature of the very gesture of repressing the pagan universe and imposing the universal rule of the One of Law.t"Ilsm.."_..V.the Italian Prime Minister Massimo d'Alema said that one should not be afraid of the word 'socialism'.. __ ".'. Clinton ..---. in a ate the last one yesterday'.'C. is:~. and the cruel game of open-market competition: the key feature of the Russian post-Communist situation is a direct pact (coincidence..~l. dedicated to the politicoideological notion of the 'Third Way' ... According to the media. who has conceived Christ's crucifixion as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices). way _ the Third Wayissirnplyglobalcapitalis"!'VJ ith a human face. Bbir and Schroder could not restrain themselves.._' ""~_ ••__ '_ ""__ '_ ".'h~se~fUIldio'.." .and... o.o .as opposed to social even) hetween the darkest remainders of the past (secret KGB funds) and the most ruthless of the new capitalists ... following him.".4o 63 ki~~=~L~?~~.._ _"'_'"_..·.y:--.... when .~. and openly burst out laughing..-----..i~ply that--there~is no seco~d~--..about the Jewish break with the pagan pre-monotheistic cosnlo-religion of One Nature in leaders of the great Western powers. the 'repressed' of Jewish monotheism is not the wealth of pagan sacred orgies and deities but the disavowed excessive nature of its own fundamental gesture: that is _ to use the standard terms ...-...Jesus as the last meal...----." ."" __ ~_.~hi'. this fantasmatic spectrality .{6. t. conce~ ing Moses as the exemplary llgure of such a last canni~ abolishing the condition of cannibalism (and.. in contrast....ii. This anecdote tells Us a lot about the problematic character of today's talk about the Third Way... -.at a recent meeting of the reality _ actually identical to the (Lacanian) Real? Eric Santner's discussion of the Freudian Ggure of Moses provides an excellent description of the way spectrality operates in ideology:39 what is in fact traumatic about this figure . 6 The Fantasmatic Real Is. the figure of ..n.. Santner refers here to the well-known paradox of 'there are no cannibals in our tribe.--. from true conservativism to radical Social l)emocracy.. In other words.. th~~~._. .. global c'... . which a multitude of deities can coexist . images ..'..is not simply the lllonotheistic repression of pagan enjoyment (sacred orgies.....pit...()f.. ~ __ "_. this much-praised'Third Way' brings us back to the first and only • w" ""..the crime that Founds the rule of the Law itself: the violent gesture that brings abont a regime which retroactively makes this gesture itself illegal/criminal.~.:i~~~d~~fl"g"li~~n.t. . it is misleading to read today's Russian situation as one in which a proper balance must be struck between the two extremes: the Communist legaqy of social solidarity.anco~ts of the Along the same lines. w.t~~.. bypassing the autonomous rational agency of the ego. . that ...-•. however.erY''. the last victim to be slaughtered and eaten _ following Rene Girard..."i~>tlo.irigisleftundisturbed.J._.. •_ _ ~ •• _..· ._ .~ __.~--... 62 .·. e lost out in the face of the triumphant onslaught of global capitalism and its notion of liberal democracy? Is not the true message of the notion of the Third Way tberefore .so that. _"~ .gi~b.---".)._.'...t-.p.at least in the developed West . .SlAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE so-called 'totalitarianislns' is that the social powers represented in superego pressure directly lllanipulate the subject's obscene drives.•".n~gati()ii.. _"..inirnize.the emblematic figure of today's Russia is an ex-KGB apparatchik turned private banker with shady underground connections . "'--. Crucial here is the curious enigma of the second way: where is the second way today? That is to say: did not the notion of the Third Way emerge at the very moment when .• _ _ _.ti.

the§pe~tra.) is such a spectral history that haunts the space of Jewish religious tradition.·.hen one also t cyborg-sex fantasy.ati~ f"'I1t~sie~t. One should not confound this'primordially repressed' myth (this 'fundamental fantasy. the emergence of the new 'descriptive vocabulary' has to foreclose/repress the traumatic excess of its own violent imposition. precisely in so far as it remains non-integrated.t"..i£XiI~~\Vit~i.as Lacan wOll_~dh~ve "(~~d~ ~f ~~'~r~e~ Mpr. in which Machine .'. iI1th~ j~"Vish tradition. and this 'vanishing mediator'.i~. in which the (Blade Runner) ... an undead ghost that has to persist all the time if the present symbolic frame is to remain operative.. P~!~~~I"'"t"~~~"~E~~~.~i~efy~ ~~ s~ch: ~s~ n~nexistent.]not b"ing". take cannot be inscribed in:'.45 Santner draws a fine line of separation from the standard notion of the change in the narrative network which allows us to tell the coherent story of our past: ·when one changes frolll one narrative register to another that in reconstitute in Moses and Monotheism 41 (the story of the murder of Moses. excluded.i.X.':"r.ldi!I. Let us recall the example of a ('straight') sexual relationship.":tic histoI]! tells the of a traumatic event that 'continues not to between the old discursive regime and the new.~ll~known .~!~. VVhat Freud endeavours to Freudian myths are in a way more real than reality: they are 'true'.ritten [not to inscribe itself] '43 it continues to persist.~pli~E.~~~.. and fully satisfying her. through its lacks l ~I1ddi.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOtUTE Consequently.~Urnes. The success of Peter I-loeg's The Woman and the Ape indicates that sex with an animal is today's predominant form 01' the fantasy of full sexual relationship. a woman the fantasy is that of Womanape copulating with a human Does this not materialize two standard common daydreams: that of a woman who wants a 65 .the animal is a male woman.on .their spectral presence sustains the explicit symbolic tradition. there is a "..bbi narrating to a young pupil the legend of a prophet to whom a Divine vision appeared. doesn'tstop [()r ceas.'~nsi~n that sustains this tradition: the undeadgh()sts that haunt theliving... as a rule. and it is crucial that this animal is as a rule male: in contrast to One becomes a Full member of a community not simply by t 64 &. its interventi..~~=~h. the rabbi answers: 'It probably didn't really happen.' hi.oIIC de ne ~~"~~~~rire'.~~~~~~~_"~~~~t~~~~~sse s~.. they'didn't really take place' .t~(0)!t~h.t~-.'44 In the same way.y'.'~~j.itt~d\~tw~e~theines'. one should distinguish between symbolic history (the set of explicit mythical narratives and ideologico-ethical prescriptions that constitute the tradition of a community ... Sa~-!~~uses . its spectral presence continues to haunt the living)... Referring to Ian Hacking's recent work.a~~'. but it is true.f?:mu­ lation which immediately recalls Lacan's definition of the Real a way allows us to 'rewrite the past'..~~~ precis~...~?li~t~diti."t'.) with the multitude of inconsistent daydreams that always accompany our symbolic commitments.. but has to remain foreclosed if'it is to be operative. the 'vanishing mediator' "'" -r~p.~I'~~t~":If.bl.~ro_ ~g~_t about by.what Hegel would have called its 'ethical substance') and its obscene Other. etc.~~..t~..:":~.~.~~a. This foreclosed ('primordially repressed') myth that grounds the rule of logos is thus not simply a past event but a permanent spectral presence. the secret history of trau. of course. that is..yll1t. tbe unacknowledgeable spectral:jimtasmatic history that effectively sustains the explicit symbolic tradition. cyborg is.~.~_E~.£<..y~r. allowing us to endure them.ti~I1.."e~. the murder of the primordial father and other ide. when the youngster eagerly asks him: 'Is this true? Did it really happen?'. continues to haunt 'actual' history as its spectral Other Scene. although..that is.

. again. her close gay friend._.oth~. theirnl.------ ..i~1. in contrast to this example of how the 'innocent' reading can coexist with much more unsettling undertones. Vfhat is 2I:"ccial here is that .• ln '§h.and the paradox is that they can do it precisely in so far as they are'.ta.:. . by the sinister George Sanders) lives a dull life with his two domineering unmarried sisters.~f.""hat the .:d: .-.fth~..SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE strong animal partner.... resigned to the loss of her ex-partner. . back). is yet close to. •• {b~~"~~e ~f!h~i.-"'" '"'.t~e.._. the need for this fantasmatic supplement to accompany the 'straight' sexual act as a spectral shadow. ..:'ce is subiim~-i~th~~~.l'}iiitpJ._~~.- .. throughout the lihn. Caligari to Fritz Lang's Woman in the Window). . the older Hester and the younger Lettie. at the wedding of Cameron Diaz.alth()ug_h.'()§§ible .""". soon their friendship becomes love.couple will ueYeLQe . and that of a man who wants his female partner to be a perfectly programmed 'doll' who lulfils all his wishes."""".~2...- '------~ two of them stage.:.'lltiIl1'.. So." ' .~~~_--~~~~_~. and he asks her to marry him..4re. not a living being? What we shonld do in order to penetrate the underlying 'lundamental fantasy' is to stage these two fantasies together: to confront ourselves with the unbearable ideal couple if a male ape copulating with afemale cyborg.r"E~. we return to 'normal' everyday reality.--. kill.. so that another proof that 'there is no sexual relationship'. .K. the Real is on the side of fantasy.liQn § a spectacle.~~"lity. "". a visiting fashion expert from New York City. of retroactively transposing the main narrative into a nightmarish dream.Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett.co:.. in a superb case of anti-casting.:tual~oliple. her ex-boyfriend....[!~ of th". John Quincy.u.~i:t.. not a hysterical impotent weakling.. Nowhere is this clearer than in the standard Hollywood procedure. Do we not find somethiug quite similar in the superb final scene of My Best Friends Wedding.t~e 'perfect cOllpl~' th<lUhe. and 67 . under the pressure of the Hayes Code censorship rules..g~ail1. ." ~"'.keap1'earance. "".'different The lesson of all this is that.~le t.t.ti~~..'~t. To avoid the standard examples (from Robert Wiene's Dr. '.. schemer. "-' ..~~~ . let us turn to Robert Siodmak's The StrangeAffairof Uncle Harry (1945): in the onlineAII-Movie Guide. engaged in a full 'straight' sexual relationship.Qthec'.:~~.. in the opposition between fantasy and reality.t fa"tasy.o come 66 ried middle-aged fabric designer (played.Z'~f th\. the fantasmatic support of the 'normal' couple of man and woman copulating.. a potent 'beast'.. when the catastrophe is at its peak...:areE:ot:~:..-"' " ' " " .yhat)'Pl"ear:§=Jbi!1~sjbrqugh=heir act is the .·p7~~i~~lii. ... it is precisely as such that their performance is in a way more real th~th~... sister' ..'!ctual'. has been trying to abort this wedding in order to win the bridegroom.t~ s~. .J-.g. . when...:~XthQ'iighilie. ". this film is qualified as 'OK for Children' but the 'keywords' used to characterize its plot are 'incest. and performs a passionate dance act vvith him in front of at the end of the film.tianse~~~: . the gestnre of Roberts and Everett is ~~~'.--" '.the impossible fantasy whose spectre accompanies and redoubles the 'true' couple engaged in 'actual' sex . an unmar- '. who look after him in their family manor in New Hampshire.. romance.llt()pia".' --".an excellent all the wedding guests: they are the true couple. _ !~~~~.n~_~:. .~~!~?~-~~~P~::~~_"..E.~'.Pj~~.'.·-?~i. accepts the proposal of Rupert Everett.el'.)fareeng"i>ed ill jJerJi:r~i~$~. When Deborah meets John's family. He meets Deborah Brown._-'. Uncle Harry plays on the paradoxes of desire and its realization...:·~. Even more than Woman in the Window.... ----. thisd".-.~~~~~... The need for this redonbling..Julia Roberts (her 'best friend' who. to be opposed to the'official' real couple of Cameron Diaz and her bridegroom.ple .:.

'~'. In short. of course."'''="'-'''-''''w. is that this very fictionalization of the murder. she refuses to corroborate his selfincrimination. of abandoning the incestuous link with Lettie and marrying Deborah? When. is not the underlying premiss of this fictionalization that John himself sustains the privileged intimate relationship with Lettie .b~. and letting him live.t'-co-n'tin'ues"to very 69 . she changes the rest of his life into the vegetation of a living dead. 7 Why is the Truth Monstrous? So what ab~ut the ghosts whis~~"r_e'00tt?~e_sillll. John wakes up and discovers that the entire catastrophic situation of his poisoning his sister has been his dream: what awakens him is the returning Deborah. at the end.. John plans to murder her by poisoning her regular drink: through a mistake.although John publicly protests that he did the poisoning. The paradox.t~~. aware that in this way she will make him indebted to her for ever. and he merrily elopes with her to New York.by taking the guilt upon herself.r.. while the J:lctionalization of the ulurder attempt anchors the narrative events lunch more strongly in death for her sister's murder . spectators) to put the blame on circumstances."~.th~H~.lily:iik. Lettie takes his desire (to kill her) upon herself..~t?· Aith~. her"1 47 The retroactive fictionalization engages the subject who generated this fiction much more fundamentally than if he were 68 ~-. rejected by his unconscious.'~~~. reveal his 'profound guilt over his sexual attraction to ment'?48 Did he not dream about his murderous act in order to avoid the 'happy' prospect.. however..'~'ti~.. Lettie assumes the guilt and is condemned to really to poison his sister: if we were dealing with a 'real-life' mu rder case... Hester is happy for her brother.. him from marrying Deborah. while Lettie is violently jealous and feigns a heart attack.~. leaviug his two sisters behind... Frustrated and angry at Lettie's attempt to spoil his happiness.-ghth. because she knows that her death will prevent John's own libidinal tendencies. your freedmu from me 1'. he dreams of an elaborate poisoning scheme.-". introduces an additional element of pathology . She tells him: 'I'll give you what you always wanted. it is I-Iester who drinks the cup intended for Lettie.that Lettie's dominant role satisfies John's own libidinal needs.J'di~. and is simultaneously even more indebted to his sister).':bl. In other words.: ~. and tbat his aggressive acting-out (his attempt to murder her) is also directed at the Real of his own unacknowledged 'passionate attach·1. At the very end of the film. since this realization implies that the fundamental 'passionate attachment' that structured his life is undone ...that is. he does so in order to escape the horrible prospect of the realization of his desire in all its fundameutal ambiguity. John would ultimately have been the victim of some externally imposed situation (of the unfortunate fact of having a domineering and possessive sister) ."th~-'~~t1~.':.'-'-~thi-~.t.~~~~. to molhfy the censors.tky'E~~~t'~~on account of their e~~e~sive.l::disIllissed as faJ1t~. Although she is aware that the poison was for her. and thus frustrates him by fulfilling it. and dies..n n. he wakes up.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE the sisters are informed of their plan to marry.the film's final lesson is that 'the most disturbed psyche in the film may actually have been that of the protagonist':46 does not the fact that instead of simply confronting his sister like a mature adult. (he gets rid of the obstacle...~'~~'~~.~.:... it would have been possible for him (and us.'1."'. since he will owe his freedom to her .

.Schelling was compelled to posit an uncanny act of Ent-Scheidung..:t...'''t.... And the same goes.~~h~. _ ~f_~_~_:. d . the fact that 'there is no sexual relationship'. but was too traumatic to be integrated into historical memory (like the so we cannot as rieutral.. are we .. THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE ab-o~t "it on the level of historical facts.'d~sti~~d·to deceive the subject by providing the [mtasI1l~tic f~.d"'i"~?--'?"~i..:...one can precisely define the mystification of the theosophical mythopoeic narrative which claims to more primordial than the Real of the 'eternal Past' itself.. ... the repressed stories that haunt the imagination of the living.'_.g~~t'·~··'·'·i-~'t~-·~-~-~'~"--~y~-b~Ti~'-'~~i rse: the ~e haunt us as a spectral entity that cannot be fully 'accounted for'.. this fantasmatic mystification is at the very core of Schelling's Weltalter project.· -' _ '...-._ •• _.~~Ii~~!. however..:~~~(){...e.. an act that was in a way l.'~tic ~.~~.~.l~~~Il.(lik~ th~F.(~l~?s!) all -iin-po-~-~ibr~-"·'t'~-"·~i. 'a~···.:..~()tth. . one has to ask a seemingly naive.t~J'e':afteE!h~lI)a~i..~~ti~~'~.h.... " ' " . at the very point at which the passage from mythos to logos. '_'_'''~ ''' __ '~''_ _ '''' '_'_'''_' __ ''' __'_"' __ '''''''''' .() ·diff~~~"t~.~.rth..~.. ..()dth~tt:.. .. On the level of family life. .~~'.t... . ."gt... on the level of social life.~p().'..... ruled hy logos) out of proto-cosmic pre-ontological chaos.'~ti~·~~.ishhere between the fa~t~s':. That is to say: apropos of Schelling's claim that man's consciousness arises froln the primordial act which separates present-actual consciousness trom the spectral. however... ""'0" .'l . from the Real to the Symbolic.·~p~~t~~]~~~~tth"t· efinitely 'did · d notreal\y h"ppe. fa._. shadowy realm of the Unconscious. for the notion of the primordial Crime that grounds the legal Order: the secret narrative that tells its story is purely fantasmatic..SLAVOJ ZIZEK ."'-~9~i~:t.'. ...'_ .that is to say.'t~~.'onf.Qir~J'~h"\ltlfuqibecause its status is f'antasmatic. and accept it as part of our (past) realitythe~~· is sOInet4ing~$p.·. but because of its excess of reality? So it is crucialt()distiI~g. are precise\}' sueh 'primordial 70 concerns precisely the relationship between act and protocosmos: idealist ohscurantism deduces/generates the act from proto-cosmos.e~~tf~tg~t th~t the • f~.n.~~f~.~.i~I1D~]£ itseIfa"Iiire. but crucial 71 ...Jit~~lf~:.~ .t._' . Such attempts obfuscate the point that the repressed spectral 'virtual history' is not the 'truth' of the oHicial public history..a~-~~~~-ssion comes.. 'ohjective' observers..~~~f . .)..g. ._'.-':..~~dXa:..':~.". and denounces the fantasmatic character of the proto-cosmic narrative.~-.:~_~_?~. 49 What Schelling endeavoured to accomplish in Weltalteris precisely such a mythopoeic fantasmatic narrative that would account for the emergence of logos itself out of the pre-Iogical proto-cosmic Real. should have been deployed ..'.""..t..i.ct.td.q.. " . _ _0"' __ ''"' . p_ '''''.~a~'priiTI()rdial lies'destined to forestall the encounter with the ultimate rock of impossihility..···tranmathat IS" il'1t~~_~:. With .s-~d't~:a~.':..e -~~i~e/t~.-~:.'()d~i.._... happen. The line of separation beivveen materialism and obscurantist idealism in Schelling thus recount the genesis of the cosmos (of fully constituted reality...·..ld..:.. In philosophy proper..~g~tdt~·th..t. while materialism asserts the primacy of the act. .~i~~-~f~i... this distinction is palpable in socalled False !vlemory Syndrome: the 'memories' unearthed (heing seduced/abused hy the father). . Here.dat.'. at the very end of each of the three snccessive drafts of Weltalter .(Ith~·R~..'Yth~f:the primordial parri~id... So the repeated failure of his three successive Weltalter drafts indicates precisely Schelling's honesty as a thinker: the fact that he was radical enough to acknowledge the impossibility of grounding the act/decision in the proto-cnsmic myth.theil.. but the fantasy which fills in the void of the act that brought history about..(y id..

..admirable lastpa~es of the a' W. And today this lesson is more relevant than ever: when we are confronted with an image of that deep horror which underlies our well-ordered surface.~ss~cl:".Y~.. precisely. weaving for his son a protective web n':'I>..in order to second draft reJn'~i~:'-~R~:~it~~~":""~~. w_~.racter. begin...G$i'lifi9git~j~stillgcha.:p. .nscio:us'.. re~~~t. is the Unconscious here? Schelling's answer is unequivocal: the 'Unconscious' is not primarily the rotary motion of drives ejected into the eternal past. that is. . i~110tthep":s§iy.apJCoP?s ofade6sion..ginninl>' the b.. itseI90':. ". It is the same "_·.sc:i()ll..._ .j~r:'2t.~.!'e~ie..'.~~.....~.dia.~?_. !t~h.~~i..~i~. Or ..git ~~i~t() lighL~iiL~.Thi~is..~. ._..~xisten tialis t' . ..'. lar fI·om protecting the children from trauma.. the very act of Ent-Scheidung by means of which drives were ejected into the past.l1fIl)fjnert drives t(... Schelling's fundamental move is thus not simply to ground the ontologically structured universe of logos in the horrible vortex of the Real.ccomplishthe b"si~~i.g. nin12 aud led into the outside.. ·.:.to qu"tefroJ1lth..:.__. .__. _~_. s. once accomplished."()!_":ppeaJ.". ' .ir: :n~?J~?:o~..he begint recalledto_nlil1~...oill~I>ledepili.n'..".~_~..here.:~~:_--~E~-.'. we should never forget that the images of this horrible vortex are ultimately a lure. .. mediator': of the founding gesture of differentiation which must sink into invisibility once the differeuce between the 'irrational' vortex of drives and the universe of logos is in place..e.sil1"..c"... the brutaljouisseur.io':'~Il. th~~t~llyeternal -_'_--. . a father who relies on pure appearance. of decision mv!.'·---·-'·-'-'--~~"-~·'-'-·-'~ C.t.~e . the logic of the 'vanishing . e5~ ..t~l .to put it in slightly different terms .1:-b~''-. is the very cause of the trauma.h.. of course.the immediate opposite ~t~-._ ~'"..-_Y~:ii. tIe :vho.:.Il()':'.J).lf'.e'..'~.ib:eieb. __ .n\y ".~g:~i. iUlUlediat"lyh~sto. Let us clariJY this crucial point with a perhaps unexpected example of two recent films.. with the -" .·:~~~~!~:~~~-t.c~'ns~. out of th~lightofday. there is a premonition in his work that this terriJYing vortex of the pre-ontological Real itself is (accessible~ us only in the guise of) a fantasmatic narrative.:eciseb:.ri~ht."..·. ~- the Unconscious' in its Inost radical dimension· terms'::'ihe dioice of my fund".". that of the abyssal act of Ent-Scheidullg.ic' activity of the conscious ego. ~.._ .sisi2!!. . ?r. will _which._-."""'''''. ' .ot be b~gi~~.·. sinks immediately into the 'ulifatll.~lJssi]. cea..1~D#alng-_'_:gG_~-t¥'re of E ::o.~y th~ b'. ~. the recall..tll.~~~~: __ '..'"'_··_. a kind 01' ersatz-placeho.:~~~!~~~_:_?I::-~r:iY~~._.~.'''''"_'''''' ..~p'r.·.lllJll1d ..~~lf_ f...:_JQ.I~CF or."'._..ltalt~r: .st.-'-''.l1~":.hich..~i~~¥~ . ._de.':'O'e.." ..in any way the true beginning s. the..:. In Benigni. once posited at__ ."Il"I-"Ee... 50·· . sink into tf.~.~r.~..wh~tis t~uly (~nco..~r'. .~ ..!.. .. . . a trap to make us forget where the true horror lies....._ __.~t()b~·~'."_.."' v_·_. combine this _ means of which I 'choose of drives into the unity of my . if we read him carefully. .__·~ ..".bc·u-. we have a lather who aSSUIues an almost maternal protective role.~r.:c... rather...th~...eA~setern':lly d. .'. It is crucial here to avoid the trap of conceiving these two opposed poles (Benigni's protective fatber and Vinterberg's obscene father) 73 72 . reserves for himself tlie.• "'=.is. a lure destined~ distract us from the true traumatic cut._. '--~-r~'-"~·~~'-'--'~-'.~'~U:d ~onfused What we encounter here is.~~th'~"~b~c~. here~~ls~it~0~~t~at. The deed._tll~s. Th. while Vinterberg presents the paternal figure as the monstrous rapist of his children . Roberto Benigui's Lift is Beautiful and Thomas Vinterberg's Celebration.. unconscious. ould amount to its w of fictions.~ti~e '~y... 'Unconscious'is..SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE question: what. the obscene father.·_..:".•.'..~-.<ed by th'.·_·. .~~~..~rt'-sholild·ii."..gi~ni~~•that~oesnot ..s:.I~':....

tbe colltrary.."lIt..tifyirlgb.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE t if the opposition is that of pure appearance (the protective maternal father) versus the Real of the violent rapist that becomes visible once we tear down the false appearance.'lIll".ror s...."'<" -~-'---"---. Why? We~~~~~td~~li'._~ ."" .'bolicFL.g~.aIlce. here. to four.. is the emergence of the rapist..IlPositionhetween th~ !!nag\nary aJ'ld theR~al: Benigni's is~protector ofimaginary safety against the br. _~. the ultimate ('.toth~~'y.~~....\.rgrity'...h()i... is. are what is left 0'_.lrorit...rFal~eM~rn()rjSjndroiireriot.:t.t~I'I1al utl.. of the father as the embodiment of the sym· bolic Law..th_eris..a"prbtectiveshield -against .:gl~~t~~".Freudian stuff about 'de!"'ys..old child. 75 .lltho.....the paternal agency whose function is to introduce the child into the universe of social reality.".. revealing its a along the axis of appearance versus reality: as the unbearable trauma.c_~~~\!!1_ter_witLs:()ciar""r~afltY. are we aware how widely this 'fake' revealing of the fantasmatic invest· ment and jouissance is operative in even the most painful and extreme conditions? That is to say.{tality ~f the R. the enigma is as follows: usu- '."~~.. " The recent impasse around Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments 51 points in the same direction: what everyone assumed to be the blurred but authentic memories of the author who. the very ultimate trau- matic experience.c.hat is missing is th~ f~th~r . This figure of tbe obscene rapist father.'theN.\!nia!1o.'. protective father) and the cruel reality (of the brutal rapist) that becomes visible once w!' 4"lTlystifutl.~.:l-'.. the pr. tbis horribl" secret ora brutal father behind the polite mask ·-Wh~~h'{~ itselI~ f." imag ii. with its harsh demands...~..ary'alld rea!. ....~stheh~..i.oli.-a.. however. was imprisoned in Majdanek.• ~_. turned out to be a literary fiction invented by the author."-o fatI._..'h~t·~i(t~e-t~ue l-t~rror i'.-~. is fantasized as a shield from what? Such monstrous apparitions are 'returns in the Real' obscene underside: t()9:(lYI~uch.hihit. it is .h.'. ""These two fatb~~~"th~~§tth.~"~'. that of the Holocaust..·. Apart frmn the standard question of literary tuanipulation. ..-a._c""'.)llTll:>()lic.it tells us a lot precisely on account of its artificial and fake character.-ltseItaTantasy..~s il~ ""hich it ""~~~till]J~~~ihle really to experi.yi.~t~m~tic ~onstruction.gu.. That is to say: a simple sensitive look at Celebration tells us that there is something wrong and faked about all this pseudo.- of the failed symbolic authority: the reverse of the decline of paternal authority. Celebration tells us a lot about how today. as a three.t. __.~:ilih~-. enjoying father of False Memory Syndrome..'. Father.uar~~tee that somewh~re there un~on~t~ained enj"?ytl}etliiiS:? ...als<LaJatheL01itsirlLtk~ copsiraill ts ifthe ?sY'.)i._~d~_ID-ystificatiQI1~ $Q"llI~gs and is _ false..:".2tlEg.:t.p":ter~.- ally.e:of:the.I1gac£._..-_. _ ' ' .~:whiie Vinterberg's "r"Ei~J<>. . we generate fantasies as a kind of shield to protect us from 74 oveE'::]'l5. is resuscitated .re<>.-ne-a1:11tJler'especl'able"apj5eafartce. sexually possessing everyone around him. with False Memory Syndrome (of being abused by one's parents).el.'cyth~t ~.~ththe ence sn~h opposltl()nbetween the appearance (of a benevolent.. .e.!~.ity.~ss"to. _ _ • .ther. _.:()rder."bjes-the su bj~~t..tTE"th~-rapistfa. . far from being the Real b'.inst.:formation.!1jQyj.fullenjoyment. .y-·~~~t~~ti~g..' uo_.pp~"E.. to which the child is exposed without any maternal protective shield: Benigni's father offers the imaginary shield "~.-'the lack of enj oyment itself? ) 'What th~~~t""~ f~th~rs (Benigni's and Vinterberg's) have in common is that they both suspend the agency of the symbolic Law/Prohibition ._'.". " c1~spite its horrifying featu~~s.....~.":Wl..year. it functions more and more as an expression of nostalgia for 'the go6dold t~.and tllusinto"the domaIn ord~si._ ._ .al ~f l~~l~s.)' disintegIates.<>.=-. the spectral figure of the Freudian Urvater.?i~p<>.

SLAVOJ ZIZEK

THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE

So what happens to the fnnctioning of the symbolic order when the sYlnbolic I..Iaw loses its efficiency, when it no longer functions properly? What we get,:re su"bjects:"::h" '_'Ee strangely ~r, derealized _ r,:ther, dejJ;ycll;;f;;iized!",sjL:"::~i:'I!~<l-".uingwith robotic i>u:i>pet~()beyi~g_ a__ ~traIlg~lJlin<l]Ile'.'haIli"]Il!I',:ther like the way they are shooting soap operas in lVlexico: because of the extremely tight sch~dule (the studio hasto - - -~--"--- ~ half-hour

to question if it actually causes less anxiety - this is one way to

explitintlie"sffiinge-factfnafsoldiersoffen"faritasiieaoOtit-killing
th~-~ne-~y'-s~ld~;~--i-~-,~t~;;~:·to-f~~~"-~onr;~;;t~h~;:Tooki'IigIilm"i:n .

thee'yes·befo;:e;;t;;;bbi;;gh;IIl:;;i1:h-"h"yo;;~;:(;;;-"kind()rmili­ t;ry'-~~';~-i~~-;f't-h~-~;~'~~T'F;i~~"'M~~~;y-'Syndrom e, they even
often 'remenlber' such encounters when they never in fact took

"learn'their I{'~e~
reads

instalment ()f 1:he~eri~~~~ery day), actors do not have time to
~~"~d~~~~'~',"~'~"'tj;~y'''h,~~~"~o'tT~~y'' v~i~'~--;~~~lver
instructions (what are to say, what

place). Th:.r:ejs_.a_l",~gliter":r.Ytr"clition ofelevating suchface-toface encounters as an authentic war (see the vvritings of Ernst Junger, who praised them in his Inemoirs of the trench

-h{dde~~·{n·--t11-~1~---~~-~~~-CJ.-~d~--~~~--~~~-th~--~~bi~;-b~hi~(rth-~-s~'t:--'~l:mply--

acts they are to

- actors are trained to enact these

instructions immediately, with no delay.... Another example from war can help us to clarify this point lurther. The ultimate lesson of the latest American military interventions, especially Operation Desert Fox against Iraq at the end of 1998, is that such operations signal a new era in military history - battles in which the attacking force operates under the constraint that it can sustain no casualties. (The same point is
repeated in every US discussion about military intervention
abroad, from Somalia to ex-Yugoslavia - one expects a guaran-

attacks in World War I). So what if the truly traumatic feature is not the awareness that I arnk;IIi;;-g--;;:;;;;;:h~; l;~~~;;' b~i;;g(i.O be obE1:e;:-at~dthr:;~ghtl;~;d~h;;;;;~~;~;ti;;;;';;:;;'d ;;;hje':tivi~ation' or~~l:;nt;;~~te~~ll;~;;:lprocedure) but, onthe~;;:Ut;~I',)" this very 'obj~ctivi;ati;;~'!;hi£.4.!11eI1g~ii';i-;'t~sth~ l)e_e"<ltQsl!ppl~mentit by fantasies of' authentic personal encounters with the enemy? It
.w" ..'· ·.. ",,-, '., -' ' -,'" ,.. ,. , " '--,.. .. -,

g,:;~~b~hind_so~put~rssr~,,~,,·_th~iprotec~~_usjr~!"tlrereality
of the f",c~,tQ,Ji:'c~kjlJiJ:lg_gf "llClth~Lp_eI§(}ni()rrth"eontrary, is it this fan !":s,L"L":J'as.":t()~["c-"-"l1S"11_nt"r_~i!4~"''Le!,_e~ __killed blooclily that we coustruct in order to escape the Real of the
d;p~~~~;;~E;"~'d""~~;""·'t~~:n.~"zr'{;t~'"-~~·"~~·~~;Y;'-~~"~·"t~~·h'n~)logical
oi~~~~"~7~~:""","_~'~~'-'--'--~~'~~'-'."--"'~._-'"'-'''--'---"----~--'""-----

;~-1:h{;~"~;tth~l~;;t~~.i;;f~p~r~l;~;ept;c;;:r.~ll;;'a,,-;;;video ;

tee that there will be no easualties.) This tendency to erase death

it~~~~Il.'-~_":,:~11",ulcl."-ot!_1I,,,~~ver,_ s;4uS"-11_;:i;:;t2~ndO:i'§iilgt he standard notion that.."war is rendered less traumatie if it is no '.>0.__ , ,., ,._••.,,__ •.. .. _._,_ _ _" , "",. longer experienced by the soldiers (or presented) as an actual ;;-r:c:;;-';:;;t~t;ith":~;th~-;:~h~~~;;:-ki~g-t;b~kar~d,h;;t ;,,~_. an ;b;;tt;;:~t·;;:~t;~ityi~ft;;;t;;{;;;:~~t~·~·~--';t·-beh;;;'d·agunTarTr()IIl the expl;;;i;;;,lik~"g;;idi;;g~;':'i;;;;ile();;a~arshiphundieds miles of
~ ,,~ ~~., .~~~.,,_,r,.,<~.,~,., ,,"._~ _",.~~

So our thesis should be clear now: the cruel reality of' war
relates to the notion of the virtualized war with no casualties in

precisely the same way as Festen relates to Benigni's Life is Beautijid: in both cases, we are not dealing with the symbolic fiction (of virtual bloodless warfare, of protective narrative) concealing the Real of' a senseless bloodbath or sexual
violence - in both cases it is, rather, this violence itself which

"~~Y!r,~~~ll~reit\VilllIiti~t~rget.
While such a procedure makes the soldier less guilty, it is open
_...
~.,,-~-

..

already serves as a fan.!asize.d_pI:ute<:tiY:e_shi~ld-:-Thetein lie~-;;;;'e
.<>.,~-~_

~~~

. " ------

76

77

SLAVOJ ZIZEK

THE fHAGltE ABSOLUTE

of the fundamental lessons of psychoanalysis: the images of utter
prot';~ti;~ o~hi~ido

cat<'lstroR~~,~,_~a~_~~o,~J~·iY~;~J~,"~~E~~,~_,~?,,,!h~~,~,~~l,.~,~~J~'~cti a 6tt'as
000 0 -

Before jumping to hasty pseudo-Nietzschean conclusions, let us ponder briefly on what these statements are getting at. S<lI1is's
point is not the pseudo-Nietzschean 'deconstructionist' notion

the Real, In sex as well as in politics, we

in catastrophic scenarios in order to avoid the actual

iliat'ltruthi'ls-aT~ed, c'~'~'~t;~i-;;:i~'g~~d~~'i;p~;~d'by--~~~-elj " ~wer
o-~;t~-th~''f;~~-thrr~~ng--of-otirl~f~:~~;t;I;U;;g-~~agi~at~on"'~'-thaithe

deadlocko In short, the true horror is not the rapist Urvater
against whom the benevolent maternal father protects us with his

fantasy shield, but the benign maternal father himself - the truly suffocating and psychosis-generating experience for the child would have been to have a father like Benigni, who, with his protective care, erases all traces of excessive surplus-enjoyment. It is
as a desperate defence measure against this father that one

'n:;';;;~t;';~ityi-~rt;:Iltht~~id~~i~th~f;'~tthat ~~~;y ';~gime of trnth'-d~i<:;t;"sandstiflestheFre~fl~\V ~f our lifCoenergyo For
as a Heideggerian, Nietzsche, with his famous notion of

truth as 'the kind of error without which a certain kind of living being could not live',53 remains within the metaphysical opposition between truth and its other (fiction, error, lie), merely
accomplishing the anti-Platonic inversion of the relationship

fantasizes about the rapist father, And what if this is also the ultimate lesson of Schelling: that the horror of the ultimate Grund, this monstrous apparition with hundreds of hands, this vortex that threatens to swallow everything, is a lure, a defence against the ahyss of the pure act? Another way to approach this same ambiguity and tension in the relationship between fantasy and the Real would be via Heidegger's theme of
errancy/untruth as the innennost feature of the event of truth

between truth and illusion, praising the life-enhancing potential of fictionso Sallis, rather, follows to the end Heidegger's move from truth as adequatio to truth as disclosedness: prior to truth as ade'l';!,'!.!.i.o, (either adequatio of our statements to 'th~-~a.y7TIiings really are' - 'There is ascreen in Front of me' is true only iEthere actuallyi~...<t.~sr';;;__i~f;~~~·~T~~=~~·~~I;q~;ti;;;ftll~ things
themselves to their essence - 'This is a true hero' if he or she in

itself The very opening paragrapb of John Sallis's remarkable essay on the monstrosity of truth tackles this difficult point directly: What if truth were monstrous? What if it were monstrosity it~';lrthe-,;er:VcoriCliiioii~'il1everyforrii;oreverythiIlg •lUon;tr<;u~, -eve;:ythiI1gdeforIIl ed? But,. first .. ~f all, itself essentiaIlydelormed, mOI1~tr~I1s in its very ,,~sence? What if there were the something
~n~t~~~,- tru~'~~~-~t~~-sity?52~._~

fact acts as befits the noti~n of the hero), the thing itself must be disclosed to us as what it iso 'Truth' is th';:~~'f;;O>H;i;f;:gger, the (h;;tori~allyaet~;'lU;n';d)'clearing', where things appear to us
within a certain horizon of meaning - that is, as part of a certain epochal 'world'. Truth is neither 'subjective' nor {objective': it

es~erlt~al~Y oth,er t~cm__~~ut_~! _ a divergence

---.--

nature within

~esi_gnates_,simulta_~~~:?:~;~y= o~~~-~~·_~-i~~~;g~~:~~~~-f"-t;~~~ll'~.:ou'r"ex­ st~ti;;-';p~IlIl;~~'t;th~ \V':;;:l£l~tti~gth;~~-' ~~e forth i,.,their c ~~~~t;~~o t"~;th~;rIl~t~;t~th;~-th~ ~p~~h;;liyd~t~~;Il;"';:dlUodeof the disclosure of being is not grounded in any transcendental ultimate Foundation (divine Will, evolutionary laws of the nni·
verse ...) - it is in its innermost being an 'event', something that
79

78

SLAVOJ ZIZEK

THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE

epochally occurs, takes place, 'j,l1,,!,_,~appens', Th~estion is now: how does this notion of truth involve an untruth (conceal~~';;t<~~"~~'F~;~~~~~""'~y~~!~;y~5""':~t"-i!~---":~~'~~"-'-E:~ar'~_""" ~s 'essential co~;~t;;·--~~~-~~c~·;~~;-~it-~"-p;o'p~~"·~o-~~e~~~n~~;? to

advance to refer to the big Other qua the guarantee of Truth thr;'~'~-~hy;'{~' '~~'~tr~;t't~""~'~{mpl~-~;;:{~~1-I~ignlng~mail-caiifeign

-'How are we

th.i;'k';hi;;l;;;;;:;h;;;h;;:;;:t~~d;;:~;;;gitt;;;;:ne the metaphysical of
modi of the untruth qua negative/privative version of truth (lie,

the Jew from the famous anecdote quoted by Freud ('Why are you telling me you're going to Lemberg, when you are really going to Lemberg?')54 So, for L~th,~jt}:,tr",ili-::,::hi,!>isnotillhis t sense derivative of the dimension of truth would be simply the universe, , , . It

to ftign, he can lie in the guise

if truth itself,' like

illnsion, fiction, , ,) and, as such, already dependent on truth? When Heidegger speaks of the untruth as inherent to the truthevent itself, he has two different levels in mind:
• On the one hand, the way man, when he is engaged in inner-

irie-~~~~;;~l;i~~k~~s§-9'Lt1~_pr~:~Y;"bQliGJ~NljtseIL"the as
unsurl'assalole__~":"1:gEo,,ncl,oL~:v:,,rys.YIllbl)lic

w;;-~' William Richardson who - from his unique knowledge of
worldly afIairs, forgets the horizon of meaning within which he dwells, and even forgets this forgetting itself (exemplary here is the 'regression' of Greek thought that occurs with the rise of the Sophists: what was a confrontation with the very foundation of our Being turns into a trifling play with different lines of argumentation, with no inherent relation to truth).

Heidegger and Lacan, and in a direct response to Sallis's essaydrew this conclusion when he said: 'When I hear Heidegger talk about lethe as "older" than the essence of truth, I hear what Lacan
means

by the real. /55

Here, however, one has to venture a further step, the step

whose necessity is indicated hy Heidegger himself when, in the elaboration of this notion of an untruth older than the very dimension of truth, he emphasizes how man's 'stepping into the essential
unfolding of truth! is a 'transfonnation of the being of man in the

• On the other hand, the way this horizon of meaning itself, in so far as it is an epochal Event, arises against the background of - and thereby conceals - the imponderable Mystery of its
emergence, just as a clearing in the Dlidst of a forest is sur-

sense of a derangement [Ver-ruckung] of his position among beings'.56 The 'derangem-"-~!j~.':"hich.!:!~:.1,,,gg".EE<i;;r:~,i§~()t:of cour:se, a psychol:;g.icXor clinical category: it indicates a mucllmore radi-

rounded by the dark thickness of the woods, Leaving aside the difficult question nf how these two levels are co-dependent, let us focus on the second, more fundamental level: is it enough to perceive the Untruth in the heart of Truth as the imponderable background against which every epochal truth-event occurs? It seems that even the parallel with Lacan (in so far as we admit it as legitimate) would justif,y this conclusion: for Lacan also, in order to lie our speech has already in
80

its ~~~li~~5:rWh~t"-is c~-~i~l-_h;-~~'is-'t~-;~'m~~ber~th~t }I~idegger

c;['p;;p~iT,;: on~~~i;;;;T~~;;;~E~~.er;;;;:i~~:. ~~,,:,·t!>-~. ;.:,iverse {~~elIj~~~~.Fs:'~17 f?~~?~~i?!:,_i~_J_~,a,_ vv~~_'?ll~_ of'j?,i_~~', _ t?r-?'~n off
Treatise on Human Freedom, a text which discerns the origin of Evil

;:;:;;i';:"ihese lines in the years of his intensive reading of SchelJing's precisely in a kind of ontological madness, in the 'derangement' of man's position among beings (his self-centredness); in his early writings, Hegel also refers to such an ontological madness (the
81

the lethe (concealment/withdrawal) in the very heart of aletbeia.~ishing ediator') inth~passagef~om ~ 'p~~h~man nature' to' ~u~'~~. 59 And one is tempted to take even a step further along these lines. only the way they appear to him) he is not aware how Jews really seem to him'? Apropos of commodity ous/monstrous in-between which is no longer the Real of prehurnan nature. other and older than truth.:_~:~in n?f}. and as such its necessary concealed/withdrawn background/foundation'? My contention is that the Freudian It death drive.scandal. is the very basic form of human 'derangement''? Is it not the so-called 'fundamental fantasy'. for this mysteri- we not claim that (in so far as these prejudices have nothing to do with the way Jews really are. 82 fetishism. as Heidegger put it in his Letter on Humanism. we claim that someone who is consciously well disposed towards Jews none the less harbours profound anti-Semitic prejudices of which he is not consciously aware. this proton pseudos. for example. of the truth as disclosure. s. Marx himself USes the term 'objectively necessary appearance'.. 83 .that is. hut really it is just a reified expression of relations between people'. So. of the worldless enclosure of natural entities. is precisely his name for this'transformation of the being of man in the sense of a derangement of his position among beings'.~. which has nothing whatsoever to do with some 'instinct' that pushes us towards (self-)destruetion. fantasy is by 8 Of Stones. rather. but this is not bow things really seem to you _ in your social reality. by means ofyour participation in social exchange. rather. Fantasy. but. when a critical Marxist encounters a bourgeois subject immersed in commodity fetishism.~~~r~?~io~!. 'You may think that the commodity appears to you as a simple emhodiment of social relations (that. to quote Heidegger. even _ of the notion ofjanta.b-~li-~~~iverse. the 'deranged'/twisted withdrawn foundation of the horizon of Clearing itself. has to remain 'primordially repressed' . a neces~~q1Ja. objectively seem to you even if they don't seem that way to you'.y lies in the fact that it subverts the standard opposition of 'subjective' and 'objective': of course. 60 When..'. for example. it is not Does psychoanalysis.58 and which. the Marxist's reproach to him is not lA commodity may seeln to you a magical object endowed with special powers.ryinteinied. do properly monstrous ex-rimate kernel of truth.:te-~tep(\. in order to be operative. 'subjective' either (in the sense of being reducible to the subject's consciously experienced intuitions). The ontological paradox . our dwelling within the symbolic universe. taking the word 'derangement' quite literally: what. Lizards and Men definition not 'objective' (in the na'ive sense of 'existing independently of the subject's perceptions'). belongs to the 'bizarre category of the objectively subjective _ the way things actualbr.'. money is just a kind of voucher entitling you to a part of the social product). enable us to delineate further the contours of this ontological madness as the traumatic. the Marxist's actual reproach is.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE 'nig'ht of the world'. this absolutely idiosyucratic pathological scenario which sustains our being-in-the-world. from the psychoanalytic perspective. 'primordial lie'. older than truth itself. perbaps. rather. and not yet the horizon of Clearing and what comes forth within it. articulated in speech as the 'house of Being'. the radical withdrawal of the subject trom t~'~~~~r1~I"~i:~S'-r~~i~al'_'self"e. however.

~ltlCcess~ fI?~.. '.~~.s.-~."".ct~..is 'primordially 84 imaiG~. . ~. ofa fantasmatic self-experienceth"tcantl"tbe red~~-~·.h~n ''. SI"."-.. is phenomenon...that is to say. Lacan's point. by some idiosyncratic p..-..:w.' Say.y.iE~J1i~L~lnner~"states~-:.-:??~sis-~ I am experiencing now ..rt....'~~~.h. .-.T~~~~b~~ti~i~~.i~i~tot hesttbject. his ultimate aim is to deprive the subject of the very fundamental fantasy that regulates the nniverse of his (self~)experience. the dimension which is constitutive of subjectivity is that of phenomenal (self~)experience ... the schema which determines how things appear to us. precisely.·~h.L_~tto the .. consciously experience and assume it.y this 's.~. ' ----.~..-s"'that. ". as such.-p~rti~...I~ho dire~tly experi- be~.__ . .~._..__. gap that the most '~iementary.~..p~l:~~~C~.. The Freudian I subject of the Unconscious' emerges only when a key te.noti()!10f th~s~bY:~. but.Cy-of it' pe'~. _ _ .of 'inner life'.r~.. not the objective mechanism that regulates my phewe-:Cre J~~lirlg~itl. According to the standard view. repressed'. the 'proper order of things': it distorts our approach to the world by violently imposing upon it a certain partial perspective.. something much more unsettling .i:.in COP... when I am passionately in love..seernin:gl'y trifling.la:r.~..:. This scenario literally'deranges'._a~ _ it~ ch~~.~~.gic~ltic.()btain arelationship that totally sub~~rt.?~~i~1l~~-~~~Y~P~?~~'~_f}!~"-·~'tI2~g~~~-ih_~'_:fiIit.. m"kes thesu~j~ct 'elllI1l" .~ljl!:~l!~nack1?:owledg~cl . ' ' ' _ ' _ ' .? _~p:at _ This is also one way of specifying the meaning of Lacan's assertion of the subject's constitutive'decentrement': its point is not that my subjective experience is regulated by objective unconscious mechanisms that are 'decentred' with regard to my self-experience and..:~t~.. that of the fundamental fantasy which constitutes and guarantees the core of IUy being.iz.two: _t~eIil~~~~~t fant~~.~~-!~ ~~if~~~Eerien<:_~i. a kind of ontological hyperbole to this matrix..~? .".~ib~h~viour one should claim that what '-~ ASi~'!8iE.. ...itisJ:hi~L~ilcc"ssib.f~:._...cQillmQugl.tt..thephenomena that .I am deprived of even my most intimate'subjective' experience. 6 between the empty.yrnptomaltorsion'.h. I can answer him by clinging to the appearance: 'All that you're saying may be true."._. perceptions and tbonghts.~'~~~~~._.'-wE?-... signs displays =_.:.". _. _ _ .. "•.~I. in the guise of Schelling's 'naIve' psycho-cosmic speculations.'tb". heldt?gether j. " way... nothing can take from me the intensity of the passion -Th. . the way things 'really seem to me'.1.-. ._..n~k~a triVial r"rIlark that sh9u:Idn'tbe 85 . in which a utter"d:·:2Lth~'pers:~n'sllnivers~li~eralJy ~part.-.~-~:_:~~tationshi : p ~emain inaccessible to the subject. . nobody can take from me what I see and feel now.....~i~:~a:tJ. since I can never . Now let us falls be-touched.'. _ _ '_'0>_ •. Therein lies the ultimate scandal: when we are dealing with an _ i~.. that is.:..~ subjectthemoment an entity --. is that the psychoanalyst is the one who._ __.'~ untie this knot (when we di~turb. . throws out of joint. can take this from the snbject ._.ilitythat s~p~.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE you bear witness to tbe uncanny fact that a commodity really appears to you as a magical object endowed with special powers'.~~~.· poiiltthat· shouldn't aspect of the subject's phenomenal (self-)experience (his 'fundamental fantasy') becomes inaccessible to him .i'~ thus not the vertiginous abyss of entities beneath the Clearing in which they appear... but the phenomenon itself at its most radical. however.an_i~po~~'il~i..th~l. rather.._.hi~l'd.. and a biochemist informs me that all my intense sentiments are merely the result of biochemical processes in my body..t~-l':. nevertheless.•• _ ~ ._. C---··..~nconscious the.. beyond my control (a point asserted by every materialist).it..-------.... . non-phenomenal subjectan.···'.\Y"tllu...I am a subject the moment I can say to myself: 'No matter what unknown mechanism governs my acts.<1Ard..!._.

Heidegger. and man is world- the 'poorness' of their relating to the world .one should focus on the problematic natnre of delining animals as 'poor' with regard to the world: in contrast to a stone.~i6~=~r'-' it on a pre-ontological obscene idiosyncratic what it means to be satiated. continues to suck the nectar from the flowers. a lizard does somehow relate to scenario.) .tthesame ti~e~~~(ju. how (me canunderstarlclII<'. far from simply deranging/distorting the 'proper balance of thing~~fa.~'di's~l~s'ed'-'tous':"IS "riocthis "the' ill timafe-'-monst.?_~_: not an idiosyncratic excess that deranges COSluic stones.notion '.f~~'rs our entire appr~~'a.!"etaphysics is no! ready to admit that our distortion of truth is grounded in an(SI1_h_e.62 I said 'in a Schellingian mood'.l:i--:~:?~i.butthe vi~J~p t sm'g0:..n~~bl~f~llytoendorse this interplay of truth and the'~t.ol~i~'-'t~rision.~~.'strousct..~t. is it not that an animal appears 'poor' with regard to the world only ifwe already presuppose the presence of humans as forming their world? In short. the extra- I1atu~e~--~ln~~~nature"i_s-~ca~gJii'...l.t:_i~."'-t~'B-~ing. Heidegger gets involved in a detailed discnssion of the difFerent ontological statns of inert objects (stone). affecting not the truth itself but only our access to it tha.~ealed kernel at its very heart: the 'illusion' of m~taph'ysic.l. that is. The problem (of which Heidegger is well aware) is that the designation I poor' involves an implicit comparison with hUlllans: _ ?f. and poverty and deprivation of world belongs to the animal's being..sis!hilt this monstrons foreign body is ultimately accidental. around it.l:>alancedUniverse: fantasy is order. because Schelling wrote about the 'infinite melancholy' of all living natu.~~~~e~s"thats-usiai'nseveryri6t1bh()f suchanorder. when its abdornen is cut off. sun and so all. the way how a bee.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE ~ certain (pathological' singular spin.~h. since it has no proper experience of ~'niiti~~-a.fi. His famous definition is that the stone is worldless. proposes . animals (lizards. as it is 'in itself'.-the .perhaps there is an infinite pain pervading the whole ofliving nature: 'if deprivation in certain forms is a kind of suffering. in a hitherto unknown way. truth itself disintegrates? The paradox is thus that.~::bo~t"how'tfiere~iS-aii~infinite"p-ain-~ana-cravl in rig forming. then a kind of pain and suffering would have to permeate the whole animal realm and the realm of life in general'. presupposing humans as the 'measure of all things'? While he acknowledges the problematic and undecided nature of his rumination. ordinary natnre of these pages with regard to Heidegger's work (here.and.ithi~~nabi~~. none the-i~~'~"~~.q.:.in a Schellingian mood .a daring speculative hypothesis that perhaps aniluals are. his course of lectures from 1929 to 1930.idegger's . the animal is poor in world.:l?~-~~~. in man is not simply an excess that disturbs the balanced natural circuit but an 87 . . Leaving aside the specifics of these distinctions . is it not that this determination does not define an animal inherently.thit~~I{) .r~nt clist9rti9u constitutive of the t"'. so that if this scenario is no longer operative.. but not as humans do.s'thi~ i.. towards the end of the chapter concerned with these notions.~it~elf which is '':: why the emergence of logos. Heidegger engages in detailed descriptions of animal behavioural experiments in order to prove his point: he describes 86 t~rn fro~'. bees) and humans. but already From an anthropomorphic perspective. . more generally. aware of their lack. Perh."~~~~i"o~d-. of the spoken word.~..~~-i. . of How do~s this gap of monstrosity that underlies truth itself concern the innernlost condition of man? In Part Two of The Fundamental Concepts ofMetaphysics.in--an'-~'i~_re'~iol~:ed '~5s. inaccessible to us 'as such'. relating to world as such..

~1:itseTr the'pr.:adyi~ng.·al.x·oTrnerancholy:melanchoIYis-ii6rpi'iTnaftty·ditettedat i~..lif" i~I. s.i~"Ii.:~e.gmg.l~.i. and"w'as In as such-"illieady"ipresent'''·''inthe Old-.:. Before we dismiss this notion as a crazy teleological specula- loss.~"!-.~i~~ ()rd~rt'.eadypossess a V:ag{ie'--premonltiC.tio.uld stick to the c"_ . : tion that belongs to the deservedly forgotten realm of Romantic Naturphilosophie.'tio_r:.~ist notion ofprogress.nder~tan'd a past epoch properly. a desire to r.~?..di~i~~~CI'.~-:~. in a properly historical perspective as opposed to evolutionist historicism.~)e?:~~~~~hi~ .F~t~r.00"\? I'rV-E a. then. emergence of logos as its redemption. with its unique depiction of Ancient ROluan hedonistic figures permeated by an infinite sad- ness.M.~. _.isoran~i:lleP~~i:..I~ti'.t:is.. failed • revolution.-~.g~.th.'t.. . etc.I.). it is not sufficient to take into account the historical conditions out of which it grew . designates the attitude of those who--aresiilliilParadise butar.one has also to take into ..:.~~.s."'ce it cO"ceivesof thE> higher stages as the result of the deploym~nt~f the inrler potential of the lower stages~ In contrast to an ~~'..9' .:tteIllpts.r~._?.. • ~{ f1\rJ notio'~-"thatthe--New"emergesiii6idef--to-resolve'ahli'fl bearable fact that tbey somehow already bave the premonition tbat the true God will soon reveal Himself.:.'b~eakout olit: onhosewho..:~~i.?.:al~. the past break out ..~():. ... o~._s:.~.. Does the strange sadness..·siiice ihejcamea little bit too early."'~or"aiio'the~r"df~enslOn V1hi~E-'~s"j'ust out"of th"irreach..:...5'!":!!ld_if€'::':~rItl...s'~~'spe'c·uIliive'teleolo gical nonsense. is inherently tel.. 1)0 "Vve not encounter something similar in historical experience? '.'.i.:i~'. What this means is that.-.'-f.:~'.i~~..'. bear 'witness to the such a reading offers the only way of avoiding the naIve evolutionist approach which sees historical development as the gradual disintegration of primordial organic forms oflife (from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft.~~~~_.~~Qf.l'.:ess""llic).E.:-.~t~_. of these pagan figures not. .<ii~.. ""-.<l.U_!. Let us recall Fellini's Satyricon.:et\\.p.a.Rh~i!i~L~5?"L~_~~.''''f.ra-~." __ """"".~~:?p. a longing for fresh air..~t<!~t~~.'"".~?.~~~. and tbat they were born just a little bit too early. .a.~~.:~h'. Perhaps this paradox also accounts for the ultimate pa~d.~~J?:~.~.:. F~.:IY· ~~d..t..tr.:". the ··oran lill'initesadness and -This is what.bythis 88 th~•• p~~... ..~logical. a kind of fundamental Inelancholy.~l''::a.--." ""'" .s"P.ri' something suFfocating. On the contrary. from which the notion of Christian redemption is totally absent. a it is as if living nature itself was secretly pointing towards.~. will . we should nevertheless take a closer look at it.~_~.~ .~.there is already in paradisiacal satisfaction (in the satisfaction of the 'naIve' organic community) tensl'oIllu''''ihe "OIa.:.'"~'~t~~gll-...ary-Actth£will· ·retro.)'"ninfinite melancholy.:i~ p~'. for an opening that would break the unbearable constraint.._9:~~5~~2o~!!.l.:~id~~ptL~~:·. waiting and longing for.ysp''r::'~.alterBt:niamiIl was trying to articulate in his explicitly anti-evolutionist notion of th~.:-.~:?pian J:1.. "".e~i~~5~~s~~~I~"&. and this longing introduces into Paradise an unbearable infinite Pain.t. it is the evolutio:'. Fellini himself clailned that. rather. the resolution of its unbearable tension.'''.r..n a lo..:.<iecl~.'i:g?:g~Si~EiM"ii9:ed}y!l91§!ies~"'!lich was account the utopian hopes of a Future that were betrayed and 89 . ..:-jj.i.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE answer to this infinite pain and deadlock of living nature.:...()fprog:. precisely as a Christian/he wanted to make a film about a universe in which Christianity is yet to come.~gt.although~1:ill irlaclo~ed urli~erse.. melancholy proper.. . so that they cannot be redeemed? And is tbis not also the fundamental lesson of the Hegelian dialectics of alienation: we are not dealing with the Paradise which is then lost due to some fatal intrusion .

as if.'ly~.'gt. read into the past from our later standpoint? (This situation is not unlike the well-known circular explanation of the emergenee of language..:-solve th~. the present itsezj----ourp.gy..:~dj.~difl thepa.:~titnted.~i-Q~i=E_~..~.boot h~~ tl.~tis .. that the past i. since it is condemned to an eternal 'undead' returning to its path..th~t~~..that is.:.Jsothat~e.~k~~···~----·~~--·-~·~_·· -.. have to conceive '()f ourJelveJ .botals(»· of the ~.ti. the mistake of the ~v?l~.t. that which did not happen .:.'s the materializ.---.'terpretthe past from our present horizon of' underst<J. but is just a kind of perspective distortion.~~~ th... no't---imply our present point of view. then.-itlsn()t.~-th~ 'p~~t w~s simply t.~.'ta.. What we are claiming is something-~~~h mor~-. transforming natural instincts into a mon- ~h()~e.'. are we to answer the automatic criticism that such utopian hopes of liberation that were crushed by its final outcome.rd.j..~. To conceive the French Revolution.'.~s~nj< th~t".we are not m~ki~g--~-h~~tori~ist­ a melancholic presentiment of the future can be perceived only if we read the past from the perspective of the future .._---~.. in a more Itis .~..'...ltimately th..~~."'..t.ti~j~-forth~fut:.ow. which were inherently 'negated' by its reality.-'.Tth~ I'...~:s~..J~~y.~~~~?.. persisting forever in an obscene immortality.Jlyh~ppe. ·...jjy. distorted through teleological lenses? Is it not that this melancholic presentiment was not 'really there'...torlcls.:r.) However...~~iiy.~ is no 'objective' history.. how we always ...i.'hat the proper historical stance (as opposedio hl.-~F()..:.shedI'~t~.h.n()t 'open'. paradoxically.~~~~t~~~·b~-~~-~~~i~~d o~ly--~s the o~t~~111e (not d' what acto.<J..consciously or potentials...:Yhi.t·~.liainlng the .:.abl~. thatindealing the past VIe are ineffect dealing with the gho'..'t~. in defining past epo~hs..~~~~ .~.~_~~~!~_-~?!2ft.. one of the elementary matrixes of ideology: 'people invented language signs because they had something to say to each other' . did not Marx show us the way out of this predicament when he emphasized that it is man who provides the key to the anatomy of the ape...tI)reO?c.that which was 'negated'..Nhat~... Thus we are dealing not with idealist or spiritualist teleology.()diflg..:tively r.~?~. there was already a need for it ..e say _~hat~~:p~~sent ~eemsthe past itself.per~~i.~diflthepast... but with the dialectical notion of a historical epoch whose 'concrete' definition has to include its crushed ~To put it in even clearer terms: wheu.us to throw some new light on a certain fundaluental oscillation in Lacan: what comes first.'y . as the stage in which these past generations retro- .tlvlzes' is not thepast(always distorted by our present point of view) but._----~~.:p(). the common bourgeois reality .. he is searching for some kind of 91 90 .~di~~l: .g..rI'r~s~.-:e:---...lst st<J. throws out of joint.~..~-~----". At other times.ltl1kecrt~()"'mpliasize.:~trc:~"r~~~. Lacan presents the traumatic colonization of the live body by the parasitic symbol Order as the primordial fact: it is the 'intervention of the Symbolic that derails..:"rd~-th"'-futu.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE crushed by it . the'actual'present historical agents. -~~~~mas.'.)'rel<J.bj.'~dsigns which relatl:.and the same goes for the October Revolution. ·~·~flt~. one has to focus also on the generations.'.. .~'~()t~!. before language. the natural organism in its balanced circuit. tIoV\!.ftlle p.tsof the past the~~.so that the past historical reality was the way it was..p"tions. in a Nietzschean mod. we always .~~ta!.lf.~. poir.tement <J. coJ.'.urpast withillth~h~r.hi~p~. strous drive that can never be fully satisfied.i.-. In other words.~~?rl~~~)?~~~p_:ctiveis to accept the 'obvious' presuppo~Tti~~"'ti1.~_..t.t. not vice versa? In other words.:t~d-t~~~rd~-th~-I?resent.:tion of the ghosts of past speculative-mythical mode.. the signifier or some deadlock in the Real? Sometimes.

.I o.... to retroactive 'projection' destined to translate/transpose the synchronous antagonism/deadlock into the diachronous narrative resolve its deadlock.a.-orth.---n~tthe-'Ev~"~·t-~f-t11~---p-r{~. one call. On the other hand. authentic actis in betwe.-..~r b~ fully ~cknowled~ed.'P emergence"<...debllitating .."_"..IlEe..I1 d Eternity. One is tempted to claim that it is here.Evetlts u..a.' .the~ealofthe struct-'.."" ..-':~f-~~"thi'~gi~' . .L!he§!~Il::t.. the point at which 'eternity intervenes in time'..ral anta. . .di~gE~~~t ~hi~hcaIl bedi~~erIl'.. .{the symbolic Order as the ansvver to some monstrousexce-~sTn'th~'-R~~T='i.:..E~en t itself (the mythical narrative oftl:e prirn()rdialyi()leIltf()unding gestur~fIlltim~t~ly fanta~~atic.the .""••".....-th.= precedingch~in (to p~titi~K~. [Ent-Scheidung] that represses into an eternal past the deadlock of simultaneity.Td~ci..':Yg~st~~~ r~t~~~~ti~~ly'illegal'..'•• ..t.~'str~~tural Order is a kind of defence-formati'on ag..(). ". and then he conceives the symbolic Order as a secondary structural synchronous Order from achieving its balance? In sh.i:heactisthe pl·i.' ....-' ""._ ..ltimately i ~oth.dotlly in th.".'.tit~gr.'"•.rt~"·-{.··~t··-.'.d~r...~t. this means that ":'2..i'. .~_~" temporal causal succession is interrupted. On the other hand. n~.t.. .:k-..-c(lnfessed..'igins the of Order)by concealing. it 'br~:..3snot..ya new version of Divine intervention in'-{he -'"~~t~~'.'.isit not a fantasy-construction destineat..~~thl~:~·_· :~~es t pl~~e:-Vllich~~nnotb..gr~eris ~l~arly ide:~is..£. impossibility) that pr~"ents the 92 essary spectral supplement..•.·.-r..~.ynchro'~~~-sOrder..Il~4:t£..."·.-. that the line runs which separates materialism from idealism: the prim~sy ol:. at which 'something e~~·~~_~~~\~t~~~.t~. to put it in Schelling's terms..cco'. the-syncl..~~-th~·~.-._ ' __·... for no particular reason' .~t'." Y' le} ...SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE natural excess or imbalance. monstrous derailment......-.. .:s synch. So. On the one hand..' ..n . .ili~i ha~ep'Ilt it.lfi1') -~.-th~--~...~.t. __ ••.~Ilt:y~tth'. at ""which the __enchainment of __ .'." . ----"..:'x~. In short._ '. can . ' " .on~-.tltl")~th~l!..Ythic~~p~~tral narratIve...on/separ.. ~.'I.pC'-i. .. again.~~~t. between these tvvo versions. ·n_·_ "· · ..cti~~'.. relegating it to the spectral repres'secl §t"etll§{)f something.~ta... while the second version ._.ism/in~onsistency of the structuring/.ism (deadlock..-th'.lO..in.I).:. the act designates the moment at which the abyssallatemporal principle of identity .. With regard to the notion of the act as real..~tdesignates the direct intervention of the noumenal dimension into phenom- enality.H~(tE. alist succession? TheJ()£p_.can ..~[.~.:...:~K. .~'.S"Zh~r[i..-sym1Joli~ed..~~<:..'I did it because I did it..~t'. .iyp.~eref()r~ p~d."."._-" .~.~g ." ~"~_"~" '. ".'the 93 .•.Il~()lic..~... tll~..."lt of th. On the one hand..'-\ t \.-a. repressed narrative which serves as the unacknowledged yet nec- 'f- 9 The Structure and its Event This means that the relationship between the Structure and its Event is indeterminable.. function only through the occultation of the violence of its ·f~~IldiIlgE'. .:~~-.:di.en Time a..rt~o.y.i:t i~u_~_~_~n:~~~l. '".Yd~$t.tla.~/res..ymbolic order.:c£ggIlt. «"' .:.gputIt.':...t.:. . the Event is the impossible Real of a structure:-....()pposit'..._ ...'d~rth~t~~Ild~~~thi.hi~h·-'~-.~~.. '".. tl1~e~ge~defl~g~i..~p-~~-~nateri solution.7from et.~J~~r-~~i~~--..r~~hi~h'b~i~gs ~bo~t the legal O. .~d s~h... al~~~lai~ • the ·'.~.. reI1d~riIlgin"isible... one has to distinguish between the impossible Real of the 'timeless' antagonism and the fantasmatic primordially "-'.:-g~.g~i~e of~'~.:..~~~~..hat.. ..l~~tg'. a malfunctioning.··bIlt~f. _.' . i. the act is at the same time the moment of the emergence of time i... .d.Itbl$. __H·_'.~·~~·.tl.." .momentarily suspends the reign of the principle of sufficient reason)..go. '~-~condarYI a in(ter)vention destined to 'gentrify' this monstrous excess..

e by displacing/blurring th e.pposite) in . 'Eternity' is I!5~!". of (repression' of its own founding gesture._Earadoxof the time- popular working-class look. Now we can resolves class antagonism by offering jeans which can be appropriated by those who are 'down' and those who are 'up'the upper strata 'wear stonewashed jeans in order to appear in solidarity with popular strata. which iexpresses' its position..nswers the possible reproach of B (its o. _ " .~~~..~"~~~~P5)E~.. "... there are only concrete horizons of temporalitylhistoricity.cliITerentialldia.. the class opposition \Vas displaced..t .fl~x:i~it... . the name for the Event or Cut that sustains. from the very beginning. So when members of the lower strata wear stonewashed jeans...i~g_~~. I'S~I5~. ?o~JEPt~"I5~!?:_§~". ." . ._-_. -_ __ ..T~~i~~~po~iti'".5?f..~ .and even primarily - l~!?§{~t~T~. rather...9f P~.. i~ .logical: not in the sense that each position· '...... but also .~~" --..:..~~.. with regard to fashion: it is not only that each class or stratum .ll~~the upper strata well-pressed black trousers). an... So.?:rgt?_!?J~t~_. as akilldO:F pre-emptive strike . The ultimate irony here is that the company which specializes in such products .-.. imaginarily mo. ~ill.. To illth~~~ll~e that the· a. .~~. 'eteroity' of the social constellation defined by this antagonism. _.. precisely.. . the point of reference that generates the historical process as the attempt to resolve it...--.._ •. . since its very repression generates and sustains the multiple modes of historicization...-""'_. but always in contrast to the fashion of its opposite (French workers wear berets because their bosses do not wear them). 65 Even such an apparently trivial domain as fashion provides a advan. opens up..~_~E. . ~t()ll'.. . ._ . .' ". (poverty) and clothing (worn... cau&ht in th::t... Gap. ... each horizon grounded in a primordial act of' foreclosure..Y()(pt~~eIll]Jtive strikes and displacemellts. by 'unilaterally' privileging some aspect of the undifferentiated Whole over all other aspects.. keyqrz4.th ()~()()&hl'y.-.----. A always~already Fll-':'ctions in ".-. ...time~rt'1s.ir:g .• _-" .. .'.. .t.(}E~l1~?g_~p.9~Y_~:Ef-<?Ql..U. wore· c!()the~-(tii~ l()'i'l~t~tta.j~~~cession ~f failed attempts to grasp it.-'.----_.~~~rtion ()f p()siti()lJ.!'y~_... while members of the popular strata wear them in order to look like members of the upper strata... . _. .r. it is not only that this fashion is not defined intrinsically..l'r~fleX:i~~ 'i'lay. .destined to blur/displace the class gap .the primordially repressed/disavowed libidinal constellation that is not simply historical-temporal.SLAVOJ ZIZEK r THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE deadlock' by disturbing the balance. rather. .a separates it from B._ . The psychoanalytic name for this 95 . for instance.~~!~~. . 64 In Judith Butler's terms.. 63 In short.'llall.~h~dj~'. one has to bear in mind that there is no 'time as such'..rt. the point is. tcmporalitylhistoricity. the seemingly direct coincidence between social status al~() ri~k the precise formulation of the pro~ dialectical relationship betvveen eternity and time. gap th.ality as the serie...~" put it in Ernesto Laclau's terms: antagonism is such a point of "". ._---~_~.:. .--- In order to grasp this crucial point.:~serts itself" through the contrast to opposite position. ReHexivity is prilnordial here: there never was an original}' ijnno'cent' h~rl-~'~ch-'stratum its'proper' nice example of how ideology displaces/conceals class antagonisIn: the fashion for stonewashed jeans.. that the fashion identified with a certain stratum is always mediated by the fashion of its structural opposite... torn jeans) masks a double mediation: they are imitating those who are imitating an imagined 94 th~ dimension of t"lllp':?r.it a.~_i.c.. .. has its own fashion."-""".act ~.. The impc:rtant theoretical lesson of Gap for a Marxist is therefore that every a:.is called. . the d_~_I_nension of_--... endeavouring to displace this opposition. the 'passionate attachment' would perhaps be a candidate for such a dialectical 'eteroity' .. --- ."ent':.

the _~ ews did not give up • 97 l_~~~~e singles-au t. and preach either moderation in pleasures (one should avoid excessive attachment to finite objects.~iveup theirgbost.~r.t".-~~fnt~I~lt-~'--~o-~'s-fsi:~ncy.~~~hits:_~~I~~~~t~..temporalizedjEi~t()riciz.. In short.~F.T.:~iii iis. it can never be.~d. prior to his temporal existence. disa.hich is excluded so th~t'I~i~t~. is that..~~. Con\l'.ifi<. ~. Pre-Christian religions remain at the level 96 of 'wisdom'. it is what enabled the Jews to persist and survive for thousands of years without land or a common institutional tradition.thatit fails to take into account the reference to some traumatic point of Eternity that If.e~sioIl_ is C:..i"IIIIotion.t~Event I I work in th".F~-t.offers Christ as a C mortal-temporal individual.1:~~fchoice by means ofwhich an individual chooses his eternal character and which therefore.Y!" .:~:1!~ _-~~_(. Judaism.~~ _~s ..'t~f' accessibl~· ~ithi~ tit"~~~i. the 'good news' of Christianity.ti~~itYT~".~?_~ the ghost._~.p~~i. Ch1:i~ti.<! alltheir ordeals2I'~~isel'y.d·saI vat~~.on~ersion andthe forg~_n. ~~':Y.:.i-~.yth gen".id~ol()SicalIIl.~dt'.th~i~5YdiIll~nsion of timewo. properly .vo\Vedtr"diti()n. ·Or..~po~.(. I~eans more than--~-'"-~-~i~.:.it Th~l~t~.~u~~~-"~~:-~-'f!.-d!:it:is~:P~i.~t..'~~. since pleasure is transitory) or the withdrawal from temporal reality in favour of the True Divine Object which alone can provide Infinite Bliss._£~~i~j..:.Yt.Ka:~t-.r~~b)-~-~_t _ i~.~~Tigi~-~-~f-L.be~~tlse~they ..~-Ch. theu.Y' ai~~~. to.of£.ri. is not only split within itself between its 'public' aspect of the symbolic Law and its obscene underside (the 'virtual' narrative of the irredeemable excess of violence that established the very rule of Law) . of course.sihe".'ld implode/collapse into a timel~ss eter~al Now. forever fixed by this eternal act of choice.()n .ity.Ill~..~~i~~ul~t~?.-'the-re'is no time ~t~~Ilit. In this precis~-~~~~.·sllccessfull.~~!.'.~p~i. _ ~:t}!po~t!(._ ~hall?.1:~1:~. they emphasize the insuHlciency of every temporal finite object.~-"t~~-~..§t~n~!~g.leisi~n:~iI"I~q4).-f.this split is at the same time the split between J udaism and Christianity. th".lhist()ri~i. If traUlua were destiny66 Without the Divine act of Grace. ~. in a genuine Conversion..f?istof'icis.e.onotheisrn..'~'. on the contrary.or:"lized..:iialrrufha.~1:i~~.. simply Ine~nthatEternityis.andM.l' SLAVOJ ZIZEK I THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE Event/Cut is.Vpafli-toete.Yc."~~<.rather. that ".e~p.flg~~~~I?:!~~. Christianity.~s. to be. other h~IId:isthe religion ..i::...{sists Cihat belief inth€:' temporal Eve-.rticul~ted the ·~otion ~~rthe n.. one can Ire-create' oneself: that is.jt§_.Eternity and time' ({n 'th~~s~'~~~"of temporalizationlhistoricization) al:~ thus far-Tro-m--being:"-'siinply~opi)osea':'-'in--a-'-~'en' se-..r:s:. This is the poilinabe ma<!ei%ailis.9YY~~~~~~.rated by hi. with its 'stubborn attachment' (Judith Butler's term again) to the unacknowledged violent Fonnding gesture that hannts the public legal order as its spectral supplement.es~_?f ..~~. ~.aiz~dInMQse5. our destiny would remain immovable.t~.~Thi~"-~.-d i. repeat this act. we claim that each concrete ~~~_!?E~..~h~t i~ hJ" siOt. cnt off the link to theirse.th. trauma.~.. The paradox of J udaism is that it maintains fidelity to the founding violent Event preciselY by not confessing-symbolizing it: this 'repressed' status of the Event is what gives Judaism its unprecedented vitality.~c1:h~1:heological onsequences of c these considerations..W:ts~li·~!IP1a... the delicate question of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.t"h~1:~. Trauma is 'eternal!.rit.~.~1{1i_':~§_:-i~~'i~1~~_~~:~~::"~~'~ ""f~ilure to gr~~p/~y~bolize/historicize the 'eternal' traurna.~¥'~~.~-p~~.the... delineates in advance the contours of his terrestrial wiihour"-etern~ty~.:d-~~-is"als~ at Of~?n.. however...r.ll1.. ~Ify~-"!E~~--_--'a~~~""not sustains telllpoI:"jityjtself.~):-~~ \ and thus change (undo the effects of) eternity itself Here we approach the crux of the matter.s _ ~ et....i~~ireality: Et~rnityis.~2n.fitY'-~~..

.-di~~~~l:."ceoCtl:. things become complicated..d spectral persistence .~_"":.~-'.-st.:·h~. .. .e....._ '''_.this..~..d .~r···-. ~.._-that it is possible to come to terms witb it.:.-.--.:e.:.f. .-~-~r~~~-~-?-'-~-?~.. of its stubborn sticking to a set of arbitrar...~I.--'"""'----'----"---. empty.Ch~persistsas·1:he···'6bscerie/m611strous icle&r~_~io.~..~lns.hi~hk~~-~"-. . the obscene shadowy supplement of excessive violence that sustains it is not the ultimate horizon of 99 "".._--- . .~:.~tl. • ... ..4.'. th.~. Judaism thus not only belies the common-sense notion that the price to be paid for access to universality is to renounce one's particularity...-~-"._~_.rps.W' __·__ ' __ ' '_·' __ '_'·_·_'' __ r that is. .--" -.t~dbi.i~e.--.--...n:.y_Sll~§t.pt..:~.-.th~-'~y~b'~ii.-g.'o. of ~~~~s~'...Tbeyond~.--.•l.._"'~ '"... impact/weight..':.'~(int).·~·~-.i.:t.. ~ed.ce and~dmissi()nt1iat-aIrour'-disc-iirsive"for­ m.-.~"_....~n. c..iv."---_..~. abstract universal form. the Universal ossifies and changes into a lifeless. are right.Judaism.. -preteIlding . onecaiipr6perly locate Foucault's tbesis that psychoanalysis is the last.'()L". 'living dead'. then one must dra".."£~£()nti'. ----_..~aind~&'.~~ 1t'i. and that this' Jewishness' continued against all attempts to render it Gentile and cut its Jewish umbilical cord (including those of Freud himself. Consequently..7gentrifica:ti6ii6fthetraurt1a.- cisely by its 'passionate attachment' to the stain of particulariry that serves as its unacknowledged foundation.ar. 'uIldead're..9hristi":'.~ ' . - "'~ 98 ..'~f...~~~-~"~~~-~".:..l.. son.nd. cally reverses the standard Marxist procedure of discerning in the assertion of some abstract Universal the particnlar content that actually hegemonizes it ('the universal rights of man are effectively the rights of .jt.._.thanh~relsa:d.Pt.:. as it were.foL". it also demonstrates how the stain of unacknowledgeable particularity of the gesture that generates the Universal is the ultimate resource of the Universal's vitality: cut off from irredeemable/repressed particular roots.-- To put it in yet another way: Judaism stands for the paradox of Universalism which maintains its universal dimension pre- ----~. is none other than the assertion of actual Universaliry.''!. the... ----.~herb t Qhrist.YchoanaI.ryf'..d. by briuging about reconciliation in the medium of the Word? What if the split between the symbolic Law and.-. ·~'_ ..•....1'~--C:hr_l~t~a~.."-""-".:t.ary-p~~...-int.ti~-k~~.on.-"".._!h"..~- -."r:<lqirlE:Il()Jc_tlte_J".. . traumatic --... far from being a conf~-~-~I~-~arY"-~mode"--oCaiscourse.rvoidable conclusion that psychoanalysis."----- that is to there is no life without the supplement of the ob.sT-~fFiat-'-r-esis'tS" cOnfession'..deliverance: . r.--------.--_ ..name..urlives irivolve a traumatic k. . by ritualistical\y enacting the founding Crime and the Sacrifice that erases its traces.. At this precise point.•~. however. [white male properry owners]'): its implicit claim is that tbe actual content of Jewish 'particularism'.e displac.. --. when he designated J ung as his heir)..-. ~. Ag~i~st thi~b~~kg.~1ti.atpsychoanalysis is in its..~.. by some traumatic spectral-._=~.-pt.llll.''":~_JCe_aclyt{)co_'!tess th" jJrirn()r~ialcri"..~c~pia. to the universality that obliterates the traces of this contingent violence . t.':::"-':':':'.. .'~alIYrnarke~bya Jewish attitude. for remainder is. . ._ . e .--- ~-~--~~"--.-and thereby betray its _."~g~-i~--t..~..~--~'~lv-erse"--'~ilive' ---~ _--'~--~.. .e.:~t~that.r:.. Orto put it in even more specific terms .:... Does Christianiry really stand for the passage from the universality that continues to maintain the link with the excessive violence of its particular Ground.~p).h..illierisi611 our being bf which forever r~ists r..ied/gen' ••. _ . the source of its vitaliry. of u Go. _-.~~:n.:.e.'~.:si:z:etj. '~~d~~d' ~.-.Ysisisnofthe confe-ss. the 'implicit' reference -to some tr~~."_"_..r.d~.but the ~~~.that achieves Redemption by coming to terms with its traumatic Origins.J~. conclusive term in the confessionary mode of discourse that began with early Christianiry:67 if t~h_(). pac.The Freudian._._"<_'H "_...SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE the .m~·indivisibleremairid er'...r.d).aid.:.y particular prescriptions. ironi- ~~~t~~G'-th'~"-.~ti.

the camera passes from one stage to another within an radically different. Sandrine. indefinite dreamscape in which individual scenes emerge out of in fact. as Saint Paul put it (Romans 7:5)? In other words. the heroine. But is this.its traumatic origins. in the famous passage from Romans 7: 7. As such. slowly drifting from one to the other. the unheard-of gesture ofleaving behind the domain of the Law itself. in one continuous long shot (accompanied by the choral rendition of'the lines on love from I Corinthians).SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE our experience? Vlhat if this entanglelnent of Law and its spec- tral double is precisely what. pacify. is not the step towards the full symbolic integration of the particularity of Sin into the universal domain of the Law. sits in bed after making love. of 'dying to the Law'. but its exact opposite. are we to read this unique shot from Blue? The key is provided by the way this shot is related to another unique shot from the beginning of the film... when. bearing the unborn child of her deceased lover. sitting silent in her room in an old people's home. as hard work. lying silent in the atavistic state of cOluplete shock. but as a self-suppressing duty to love neighbours and care for them. rather. love as the struggle to suppress the excess of sin generated by the Law? And is not the true agape closer to the modest dispensing of spontaneous goodness? 68 100 darkness. In an extreme close-up. the boy who witnessed the fatal car crash in which her husband and children died. the camera covers four different scenes. as if. what if the Christian wager is not Redemption in the sense of the possibility for the domain of the universal Law retroactively to 'sublate' integrate. Julie is in her hospital bed. rather. touching her naked belly in the last phase of pregnancy. the move beyond the mutual implication of Law and sin. her young striptease dancer fi-iend. not as a self-assertive stance. almost the entire frame 101 . the eut into the Gordian knot of the vicious cycle of Law and its founding Transgression? What many people may find problematic in the Pauline agape is that it seems to superegotize love. the couple passionately embrace. this Pauline agape is given its ultimate cinematic expression. conceiving it in an almost Kantian way . erase . as something to be accomplished through the strenuous dIort of fighting and inhibiting' one's spontaneous 'pathological' inclinations. Saint Paul denouuces as that which the intervention of the Christian agape (love as charity) enables us to leave behind? What if the Pauline agape. Vlhile J ulie. Julie's mother. and whose accomplishment delivers its own satisfaction. which designates not so much carnal lust as. How. these scenes present the persons to whom Julie is intimately related: Antoine. Lucille.. at work on the stage in a nightclub. agape is opposed to eros. The continuous drift from one set to another (they are separated only by a dark blurred background across whieh the camera pans) creates the effect of mysterious synchronici1y which somehow recalls the famous 360-degree shot in Hitchcock's Vertigo: after Judy is fully transformed into Madeleine.not as a spontaneous overflow of generosity. but something In the final scene of Kieslowski's Elm Blue. the kindness and care that are part of one's nature. her dead husband's mistress. in a continuous dreamlike space. love within the confines ofthe Law. Saint Paul's position? Would this stance attributed to Saint Paul not be. and while the camera makes a full circle around them. then. the scene darkens and the background which indicates the setting (Judy's hotel room) changes to the site of Scottie's last embrace with Madeleine (the barn of the San Juan Batista mission) and then again back to the hotel room. after the crash.

.'..~..f-G. withdrawal-into-self. cheated.. she is reconciled with the universe...d fWhat if the Jewish ~"".SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE is filled by her eye.in phantasmagorical representations. of which none belongs to less Now in which different scenes.70 -"~""'-'''''-'-''''"'''''''-'-'-"-"-''---~'--''-' (developed decades after the film was shot) emerge out of the darkness of a woman's eye.r~. but the suspension of the links with her symbolic environment. The usual argument is that pagan (preJewish) gods were 'anthropomorphic' (Ancient Greek gods fornicated..-". of a time- if this shot encapsulates Hegel's famous passage about the 'night of the world': The human being is this night. of experiencing oneself as free..in both cases. if things are the exact opposite? What if the ve~y need to prohibit man from makin~i!""g. while the Jewish religion.t..or which are not present.-orph. that exists here . torn out of their particular contexts.. with its iconoclasm..~iigi~. but the tearsofagape. This night..-"---.h~t-.:~--b~t:--.. however. was the first thoroughly to 'de-anthropomorphize' Divini1y.'th~opo­ 103- .. her tears are not the tears of sadness and pain. The two shots thus stage the two opposed aspects of fteedom: the 'abstract' freedom of pure selfrelating neg'ativi1y..l~-t.Fp..ti.. Julie cries (which.'. So when.:t. the 'p..rg. as finding full realization in relating to others.~_~~~g_1~:t. cutting of the links with reality.'~~~-.:ji~.. 'while the final shot stands for the reassertion of life. is different: from the reduction of all reality into the spectral rellection in the eye.'. and just so disappears.newlshic()noi:1astic rohibition p . of an almost mystical standstill..~. images." were not-'pr~~l~~~""p~g... at the end of this scene.-~c~.~J.:'~dingo our likeness' (Genesis 1: t 26) =-. that contains everything in its simplici1y .).. her work of monrning is accomplished. suddenly here before it.._"-..there another white ghastly apparition.rthe tr-l... Another way to approach this same problem would be through the theme of iconoclasm. however.CdiscernibleiIlg~eI:.it seems as the ethereal lightness of scenes whose reali1y (of being part of particular life-situations) is also suspended... To put it in Schelling's terms.~th~~'~it. we see partial objects floating in a dark background of the Void (of the eye in the first case.-ri. of the unspecified darkness of the screen in the second). of a Yes! to life in its mysterious synchronic m~ltitu4e. and engaged in other ordinary human passions .-Ji. in which here shoots a others.-ag'. strange graphic shapes which seem to announce the 'strange attractors' of chaos theory able to do). What. The tonality...---.. is night all around it. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye into a night that becomes awfuL 69 The parallel with Vertigo imposes itself again here: in the (deservedly) famous credits sequence. the passage from the first to the second is the passage from extreme egotistic contraction to boundless expansion..lki.. vibrate in each other.~ ake ~ The interconnection of the two shots is thus clear: they both represent a scene which is fantasmatic .e~_o£_Q()~I_bear~ witn'.-. but in the direction of a pure sYllchronicity. The close-up of the eye from Blue stands for the symbolic death of Julie: not her real (biological) death. the interior of nature..-l.. we pass to 102 h~.an unending wealth of many representations. and the Iconcrete' freedom of the loving acceptance of him . and we see the objects in the hospital room reflected in this eye as derealized spectral apparitions of partial objects .pure self .:ti'... until this moment.rs.~~ti~~'of G~. she has not been bloody head .'. this emp1y nothing.

pagans were [Christ] is God'.!::! ....:impussihle'J3eyond (the Thing.!]'..... as L. since the man notion.'ihi.hi~. ..:d.:. that of the suffering Christ.s. the image deceives us not by seducing us into taking the painted object for the 'real thing'. II1-_'.g~p'p.I. ..f~ce)is dis~ernible as a ~~':.. It is in this sense (an appearance' which. .._"_. In " sublime ."er. foll"".:..bl~(G~d'. transubstanti.on...'-C'e'.':"stne. however. ()f.._.. Christianit..I''c':'....()po'!'.'.on condition that one defines 'hegemony' in the strict Laclauian way. God.:-di.:-·J~. .oll. ...an ("ce radiat- ~~t:jtJ~~~~.i1.. __ c<:l":!eIl.. told the painter: 'OK..G.:!"i.~'! .~..g.'.[~.:.4t....lJ. the supr~el1sible is the appearance as su~h .e1.~ .·(And ch.rsth.g...js.e... ..:~r~"su~li~~_~.o~~~t ~~ ....j\ls._..~ha~'~h~S~~.) According to the . as it were.~:..rjQ!)d..h.!e.:::..d."_~_ ' .suchprohibitionwouldhav~b~~.!j~£"1lg..!.S. a partial regression to paganism..:. confronted with the painted veil...~d.. _ earthly ~'~~~~.'!!hr.._•. . one should assert that it i~.73 In philosophy.!e...only the likeness of God and man.~'~i~ngso.~~£~g":!i.h~.:~c!... but their direct identity in the figure of Christ: 'no wonder man looks like God. _ ..~F?~~-. and Christianity operates a kind of 'synthesis'.\kcJic. ()...i... t he catches a glim]?se of His face.gions. .g..ge.. the deception of the image is properly symbolic.<l.•[O. !!Jl_e€...!iS.sallimiiiediaieiiegati6h of this: Yo. _ _ •••_ _ ~ _ _ ._4j..~~. for a brief mOlllent. tal answer to a child asking what God's htee looks like.gXtl~..h·.) .ing J:Iegel.tYi.otpW..4hit..lewisb ce.9~Y~~'..ligimLVlChisllrelnains an puts it.:.. not merely as the elevation of a certain imaginary matrix into a '.. .: by asserting llo1.':.. Butler's critical point that the Lacanian Sy~bolic is merely a hegemonic imaginary 71 can therefore be accepted .~~the~ther\~.~2~.ary ..~~~.r. i.!"jt!."a._..~~d~p. Jews were radically iconoclastic. Freedom .~tent].gie.~~as1..~ltheGce=-r.iJ..:. _~..... Schelling's direct anthropological texts tend' to be rather boring and disappointing.H •• "~ reduction of God to a human phantasmic creation._..~pfll."'..preci~el'y."ti~..~i: _ .. a priest r~pli-':dtl..SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE religion itselfgenerates the very excess it has to prohibit'! In pagan r~I._·~·. ...!!J. hll..'~u~t'.gf ygicl"p<l.Y... take the veil away..L"§J .~aryl~v~C. ~~~_~_~[~. simlll"crum.whereas it is onlyChristianit'y that actually 'sublates' paganism. taking the painted birds for the 'real' ones..""r"I1.!':Pl"'~.."•.4~Q-.~". '~- __ '_'_'_"'_'''''''O''_'_''_''_''''_''''''...t~ry.p.~_.bolic dimension proper is thus that of app.Yin'th~ imagellikeness :.':ll". .~itive imaginary S..~I1sgr.~h_~li.'!!<'DJ.ltio.. .-~_h.!..k"d"llL'he. Th~.~ti.:.:..!>Y.§enj:.__.. radiates the suprasensihle Eternity) that man is like God: in both ~asesJ the structure is that of an appea....Ille~i".g.ill:..0 ~~"' ..\\'h~ch_~ti~_...'1ii:s.~[.~~~~~ 'g~.'.dhas no face a~cessible to us..".hr. - -' .(j!lss:.~~i~n ~~pp.:..•.Th._t.r.negativity.:d. uncover the painting behind it!' In this second case...~.~:~~~.~~on~ i~~~~~~~~'~!~:~~~::~~-4_-g-?'?:9?.:1.h_~·.:~.:.~ . . ... while the other..~~~-~~-i~_~~~:. .4i.i.m.nce...sy...p£e. .. " I ~f£.t!iItl. by introducing the ultimate 'icon to erase all other icons'._•. in this second case.1UmmlbinJ. -.e~tl.1. but by making us believe that there is a 'real thing' concealed beneath it . .iQ_~ry global reified/codified rule and/or model.~~G~J... j!l.. That is to say: the difference between Imaginary proper and Symbolic qua Imaginary 'as such' is that of the competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasios from the Ancient Greek anecdote often cited by Lacan: one was duped by the image itself...st~~"I~~~"~i~~i~-~_~~~'"~~.ofan impossibletotality wi~4.-'.'~.acan o .~pl~' .4':'.gation.~hild~.d~:. The truth of this sentimental platit. ._. when he evokes anthropological themes 105 • ·_. .the-.' ._"..rall~ face.as such att"ch.h~..ibi-.:~is...-'f~'~'~'.(~':..and.~.~..ymeans the re.-t4_~"p.ll.._":l'P..!.E.~~pp~~iq~~:i~"-ln~'~~"se ~~. ·fl... . .t..ceas.~ .ger'lle~ds this prohibition.the..opposed to illl"gi._..._.lJ.r. ..i.'d~i. Against this argument.th~.:.. ."_ _ " " · -'-~"----""'''''-~'--'-''--''---'''---'' 104 ." .. inc.:!.r God.a~str"c..:phic. it was Schelling who revealed how the Christian Ihumanization' of God in no way involves the anthropomorphic afes-a-p~~~"~-'-~ireality into something that.

the solution to a psychic deadlock lies in a 'positive' creative rewriting of the narrative of our past. to be openly endorsed . recently proposed. That is to say: one should never forget that Schelling's starting point is always God. Along these neo-pagan lines.in the eyes of . but the opposite one: 'What does man mean in the eyes olGod?. a vulgarized version of narrativist~deconstructionist psychoanalysis: since we ultimately 'are' the stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves.in order to 106 regressing back to the scene of the primordial traumatic wound. in human history. pseudo-Freudian notion of applied to the very relationship between God and man: Schelling's problem is not 'What does God mean in our human . in order to explain the Divine pronouncement of the resolve what kind of deadlock . the Absolute itself. he evokes the common psychological experience of how the act of suddenly 'finding the right word' resolves the preceding protracted and incapacitating indecision). but a more 'radical'. author of Men are from Mars. What Gray has in mind is not only the standard cognitive therapy of changing negative 'false beliefs' about oneself into a more positive attitude of the assurance that one is loved by others and capahle of creative achievements. that is. in a series of Oprah Winfrey shows. but 'How do we today stand with regard to . but because man directly is part of the Divine life.eyes? Does He still mean anything? Is it possible to account for human history without any reference to God? Is God just a projection of human fantasies?'. This discrepancy should warn us against the common reductionist claim that Schelling's mythopoeic narrative of what went on in God's mind before the creation of the world is simply a mystified presentation of deep psychological observations .SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE (or.not because man is 'similar' to God. it is. because it is only in man. rather. insights into the human psyche) as 'illustrations' or metaphors to explain his most abstract theosophical ruminations (say. the result is eye-opening in of the Divine life again misses the point: 'anthropomorphislu' in the description of the Divine life is not only not to be avoided. the same reversal must be 10 From the Decalogue to Human Rights Against today's onslaught of New Age neo-paganism. rather. that He becomes an actual living God.did God have to create man?' Within this context. Here one is tempted to repeat Adorno's well-known reversal of Croce's patronizing historicist question about 'what is dead and what is alive in Hegel's dialectic' (the title of his most important work)J4 the question to be raised today is not the historicist one of 'How does Schelling's work stand with regard to today's constellation? How are we to read it.Sche!ling?'. Furthermore. Women are from venus. That is to say: Gray accepts the psychoanalytic notion of a hard kernel of some early childhood traumatic experience that forever 107 . that God fully realizes Himself.such a reductive reading of Schelling as a coded depth psychologist somehow misses the point. his problem is: 'What role does the emergence of man play in the Divine life? Why . so that it will still say something to us?'. it thus seems both theoretically productive and politically salient to stick to Judaeo-Christian logic. a truly breathtaking way. John Gray. the criticism of 'anthropomorphism' apropos of Schelling's use of psychological observations in his description Word which resolves the deadlock of God's debilitating madness. when. consequently.

I can cry: 'Assault on my basic human fear to expose themselves. one has to expose oneself and 'make a pass'. rather. 'Freedom of the press and of the expression of opinion' _ the right to lie. its harassiug aspect will be retroactively cancelled? !s not the opposition between the commandments of the .at some point. t heterosexual seduction procednre in our Politically Correct times: the two sets. where no onc sees me and through? No. 76 There is a somewhat analogous situation with regard to the non-substantial enunciator .is that the only terrain on which to demonstrate your devotion to the Divine Law is that of 'love for thy neighbour'. to the subjectivity of a pure. are to be violated in the seduction process? Is not the seducer's art to accomplish this violation properly . Of course. for Power. The point is thus that it is structurally impossible.. enjoininl> us always to do to 'love' QUI' - -> neighqour - n~t merely in * im:g- inary dimension. I can violate these commandments. So does this mean that evel:Y seduction is incorrect harassment through • impenetrable Real. by its acceptance. 'The right to pursue happiness and to possess private property' . human Rights are ultimately.because they or has the right to probe into my life. humau Rights ents 49 uot directly condone the violation of the Ten Commaudm thJ' point is simply that they keep open a marginal 'grey zone' which should remaiu out of reach of (religious or secular) power: in this shady zone. the set of PC behaviour and the set of seduction.)T\Vhere. aud if power probes into it. Lacan directly inscribes psychoanalysis into the Judaic tradition. it calls for an .THE FRAGILE ASS. (as our semblant. at their core. and she decides retroactively.again. SLAVOJ ZIZEK reduced to a self~referential Name. catching me with my pants down and trying to prevent my violations. the use that does not violate the Commandluents. between the Decalogue and the injunction to 'love thy neig~bour'? This injunction prohibits nothing. to draw a clear line of separation and prevent only the 'misuse' of a Right. This is why assertive wornen often despise 'weak' men . Rights! '. in his insistence on how the encounter 'with the symbolic Law is the encounter with some traumatic.so that afterwards. ofyour social-ethical activity . that is.and there is no way to tell in advance what her reaction will be. ~ and more activity beyond the confines of the Law. to take the necessary risk. on behalf of the 111 110 . by her reaction. 'The right to privacy' _ the right to adultery. and that is the catch: when you make a pass. Decalogue and human Rights grounded already in the tension . And perhaps this is even more true in our 'PC times: are not PC prohibitions rules which. that is. whether what you have just done was harassment or a successful act of seduction . do not actually intersect an. 'freedom of religious belief' _ the right to worship false gods. And. there is no seduction which is not in a way an 'incorrect' intrusion or harassment . you expose yonrself to the Other (the potential partner). It is also crucial to bear in mind the interconnection between the Decalogue (the traumatically imposed Divine Commandments) and its modern obverse. 'The right of free citizens to possess weapons' _ the right to kill.) Against this background. in secret. the celebrated 'human Rights'?5 As the experience of our post_politicalliberal-permissive society amply demonstrates.the right to steal (to exploit others). in one way or another. while not encroaching upon the proper use. mirror-image. there is no direct short cut to contact with the Diviue dimeusion through the 'inner path' of mystical spiritual self-realization. simply Rigbts to violate the Ten Commandments. ultimately. one can also see in what precise sense Lacan is radically anti-narrativisf'.

you can do it in private. however.': for. but are the 'inherent transgression'78 should not be punishe'V (as the Decalogue demands). two as e~ same gesture~f oing beyoW' t e Deca : the ultimate 'su )ect 0 g ts is precisely the Neighbour as the real/impossible Ding eyond the reac of the Law the' (hnman) right' is the mhmte rIght of the abyss of ~ubjectivitybeyoud the Law. or the fetishization of the radical Evil of our neighbour into the absolute Otherness (say. precisely. how human Rights are uot simply opposed to the Ten Commandments.. to conceive of love For the Other qua Thing which simnltaneously avoids narcissistic 112 the adoration of other gods is not inconceivable for a faithful Jew'! '79 In other words.best designated by Pauline agape .there is no space for human Rights outside the terrain of" the Decalogue. revolting.:s a ""ii:etgirtrour'77 (Tim Robhing's outstanding filrii DeadMan Walking st::£es thIS very deadlock oftbe 'lpve for one's neighbour': Sister t1elen goes to the end.irror-in"lage .. (the abstract symbolic subject of Rights). impossible to be accounted for in terms of a power struggle. ~iil ~ort. capricious. where the big Other cannot see yon '! Does it mean that the jealous God of the Decalogue was like a wife whose message to her unfaithful husband is: 'Do it. does it mean that the important point is simply to maintain appearances . ~e can see ho'" ni an rights 'l'nd '1 ve for thy neighbour"qua Re are tf. i is our~tion of what is g:'ood regression and remains outside the confines of the Law? The ulti- mate answer of the . disgusting . psychological.eighbour': rationalist/humanist 'understanding' (we try to reduce the Other's traumatic abyss by explaining it as tbe result of social.. Here one should recall again Saint Paul's famous passage on the interconnection between Law and sin . b~{ond the Good. . ideological. a double defence against this thorough 'love of tby ..e. outside Canaan. etc. . One can also see. however. the very text of the Decalogue is ambiguous here: 'You will adore no God befire my countenance': 'Does it mean that beyond the countenance of' God. accepting the humanity of the Other.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE notion of Good that we impose on h I so that even when we act and help lID ·or IS own Good'. . but also deep in our hearts? Or does it endeav- our to break the very vicious cycle of Law/sin '! 11 The Principle of Charity So. of the Holocaust) which is thus rendered untouchable. i. radically evil. conditioning . does the elementary Christian gesture . but as the Other in the very abyss of its ReaL the Other as a properly inhuman part:ler. ~ational'. unpoliticizable.) There is generated by those Commandments . This enemy-Oth imaginary mirror relationships and the symbolic Law are precisely the two definces against the Neighbour qua Real. again: in what.consist'! In Inquiries into 113 .injunction 'love thy neighbour' is Yes. The JeWlsh refusal to assert love for t'lie neighbour outside tfie confines of the Law aims at preventing this love trom degrading into a narcissistic (mis)recognition of my 111.). just do it so that I won't learn anything about it!' And what does Christianity do here'! Does it simply'close up the space' by prohibit~g eVen the inherent transgTession: by demanding that we foUo") God's commandments not only 'before Iiis countenance'.is it possibltr.on how Law itself generates sinful desires. who is the most worthless racist and murderous rapist scum.n that we follow). As Laca]' pointed out. but accepte .. not merely in hIs symbolic dimension .

Davidson's Principle of Charity is therefore another name for the Lacanian 'big Other' as the ultimate guarantee of Truth to which we have to make reference even when we arc lying or trying to deceive our partners in communication.THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE SLAVOJ ZIZEK which guarantees the community's consistency is a signifier Truth and Interpretation. • Secondly . Lacan's point.. that it has to mean 'the real thing'. whether we like it or not.with the exception of madmen. of true citizens . the uneducated.. primitives. he emphasized the fact that the 'quilting point'. The properly dialectical point lies.. severely qualil"ied this status of the big Other twice: • First when.). so they use it all the time .). This logic is at work not only in politico-ideological links (with different terms for the cosa nostra: our nation. if we want to understand 83 'divided suhject' . Suffice it to recall how a community functions: the Master-Signil"ier inalienable rights . a 'charitahle assumption about human intelligence that might turn out to be false':8o 'disagreement and agreement alike are intelligible only against a background of massive agreement'Sl . of members of our community. precisely in order to be tion constitutive of the universa1. as early as the late 1950s. in the last decades of his teaching. of entities which display a certain exceptional quality that qualilies them to belong to the series (of heroes. we must count them right in most rnatters. Lacan developed the logic of 'non-all' and of the excep- others. children .when. this assumption is not simply a choice we can make or not make but a kind of a priori of speech. it is meaningless to suggest that we might fall into massive error by endorsing it. of course. One should bear in mind.. is ultimately a fake. rather... criminals.everyone refers to them.. Recall the standard male seducer's list of female conquests: each of them is 'an exception!. but even in some Lacanian communities where the group recognizes itself through common use of some jargonized expressions whose meaning is not clear to anyone. a presupposition we silently adopt and follow the Illoment we engage in communication with others: Since charity is not an option.. be it 'symbolic castration' or possible is the fact that we cau dismiss a priori the chance of massive error' . each was 115 114 . that Lacan. that every universal series involves the exclusion of an exception (all men have successful in our deceit. the quasi_transcendental MasterSignil"ier that guarantees the consistency of the big Other. an empty signil"ier without a signil"ied.).82 As Davidson emphasizes.. revolution . 84 The paradox of the relationship between the series (of the elements belonging to the universal) and its exception does not lie only in the fact that 'the exception grounds the [universal] rule'. however. Charity is forced on us.and even lllore radically . in the way a series and an exception directly coincide: the series is always the series of 'exceptions'. but each of them somehow presupposes that others know. Donald Davidson developed what he calls whose signified is an enigma for the nlelubers themselves - the Principle of Charity. and what binds the group together is ultimately their very shared ignorance..that is to say: 'what makes interpretation nobody really knows what it means. . in Seminar XX: Encore. but a condition of having a workable theory. is that psychoanalysis should enable the subject to break with this safe reliance on the enigmatic Master-Signifier..

points of gravitation) can generate a limited and fragile co-ordination between the two domains. the big Other. the most established .SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE seduced for a particular je ne sais quoi.:in which there are oniysymptoms. malfunctionings... this undermining of the quasi-transcendental statns of the big Other. vanished seconds ago). is Lacan's universe in Seminar XX: a universe of radical split the fact that the subject has betrayed his desire). the symptom was a pathological formation to be (ideally.. far from bringing abont the 116 How does this shift. while others see in it utter despair (if Scottie survives the second loss of Judy-Madeleine. This. and the symbolic Law (the paternal Name) is ulti- mately just one (the most efficient.Judy-Nladeleine. some interpreters see in it the indication ofa happy ending (Scottie has finally got rid of his agoraphobia and is able fully to confront life). local and fragile points of stabiliiy.accounts for the two opposed readings of the last shot of Hitchcock's Vertigo (Scottie standing at the precipice of the church tower.. Later. Jfwe use the term 'symptom' in its more radical sense. the two sides. and the series is precisely the series of these exceptional figures . he will survive as a living dead). Lacan accom- plished the paradoxical shift from the' masculine' logic of Law and its constitutive exception towards the 'feminine' logic in which there is no exception to the series of symptoms . to a total psychotic catastrophe. 86 There is no 'big Other' to guarantee the consis- This same matrix is also at work in the shifts of the Lacanian notion of the symptom. according to Jacques-Alain l\t1iller. his entire universe falls apart. affect charity? What survives this nndermining is a charity much closer to the Christian meaning of this 117 . the sign of his ethical weakness.then the final shot implies a catastrophic ending: when Scottie is deprived of his sinthome. however. Ifwe use the term 'sylnptom' in its traditional sense (a pathological formation which bears witness to of disturbauces. to the dissolution of the subject's entire universe. In this perspective. or an indication of the deficiency or malfunctioning of the symbolic Law that guarantees the subject's capacity to desire. however _ if (between signifier and signified. In short. loses its minimal consistency. his absolute love. rather.. his rectitnde is restored. symptoms were the series of exceptions. at least) dissolved in and through analytic interpretation: an indication that the subject somehow and somevvhere compro- mised his desire. staring into the approached through the changed status of the notion of the symptom: previously. so that when he gets rid of her. with his notion of the universalized symptolTI. The difference between these two notions of the symptom _ the particular and the nniversalized ('sinthome) . between jouissance or drives and jouissance of the Other. measured by the ideal of full integration into the symbolic Law. It all hinges on how we read Lacan's statement that 'woman is a symptom of man'.) in the series of symptoms. leads. then the final shot does imply a happy ending: Scottie's obsession with Madeleine was his'symptom'. 85 non-pathological state of fUll desiring capacity. between masculine and feminine) in which no a priori Law guarantees the connection or overlapping between Juc\y/Madeleine is his sinthome . That is to say: what distinguishes the last stage of Lacan's teaching from the previous stages is best tency of the symbolic space within which we dwell: there are only contingent. so that only partial and contingent knots-symptoms (quilting points. the 'dissolution of a symptom'. abyss into which .

Christ's death is not the same as the seasonal death of the pagan god. perhaps the best way to define it is to proceed a con/rario: to start member has its own place. servants no longer obey their masters. and betray the subversive core of Christianity. produces the image of a congruent edifice in which each closer to the dimension of the Other (snbject) qua real? The key formal distinction between the two is that while semantic charity is a kind of a priori of language. This gesture is profoundly anti-Christian: by breaking with the pagan notion of cosmic detriment of others (of the masculine Principle to the detriment of the feminine. something to be fought for and regained again and again. the myth of the Grail is the exemplary case of religious-ideological 'ex-aptation' (to use the term developed by Stephen Jay Gould apropos of his criticism of orthodox Darwinism): it reinscribes into the Christian domain the pagan notion of a magical object that provides abundance and brings about seasonal rebirth and regeneration. At what level does Christianity actually provide the foundation of human rights and freedoms? To put it in a somewhat simplified way. One is tempted to claim that.. two basic attitudes are discernible in the history of religions. the cosmic balance is then re-established through the work of Justice which. sets things straight again by crushing the derailed element. much and rebirth. the wise ruler turns into a capricious. confusion about its nature abounds. applied to society. an individual is 'good' when he acts in accordance with his special place in the social edifice (when he respects Nature. under the guise of returning to authentic Christian values. Christianity also breaks with the pagan 118 . semantic) function of trust. however.. Here the supreme Good is the global balance of Principles. Even among Christians. it designates a rupture with the circular movement of death our neighbour. So how is l)avidsou's semantic charity related to Christian charity? On a first approach. rather. of which Lacan speaks in Seminar )(X). his last opera. it may seem that they are to he opposed along the axis Imaginary-Symbolic: does not Christian charity operate at the level of' imaginary compassion for notion of the circular death and rebirth of the Divinity . and Evil occurs when some particular strata or individuals are no longer satisfied with this place (children no longer obey their parents. while Davidson's charity is clearly more formal. when he shows respect for his superiors. formal and universal. always- already there. for this reason. In Parsifal. along the axis of the opposition between the global and the aniversal. while Evil stands For their derailment or derangement. Parsifal is the model For all today's 'fundamentalist' Christians who. for the excessive assertion of one Principle to the by focusing on precisely those apparently Christian orientations which today threaten the proper Christian stance. do precisely the opposite. who take care of him in a fatherly way).SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE term (this Christian charily is 'love'. which. more precisely. if there is another dimension at work in Christian charity.). Christian charity is rare and fragile. wilh whom we identify. the Divine hierarchical order of cosmic Principles. designating a purely symbolic (or. 119 Justice and Balance. As is well known. the passage to a wholly different dimension of the Holy Spirit. On the one hand there is the pagan Cosmos. which provides food and shelter. that is a priori presupposed in our communicative engagement? What. with its inexorable necessity. of Reason to the detriment of Feeling . For that reason. With regard to the social body. Richard Wagner accomplishes the same process backwards: he interprets Christ's death and the Good Friday miracle as a pagan myth of seasonal death and rebirth.

as Paul puts it. the coincidence of opposites principle according to which each individnal has immediate access to nniversality (of nirvana. in Corinthians I 13. with un surpassable power. cannot but appear as a monstrous distortion: the symbolic network. Buddha pointedly ignored castes and (after some hesitation. The pagan criticism that the Christian insight is not 'deep enough'. today. in the guise of' the harmonious hierarchy of its organs (head. No wonder that.). of course. that it fails to grasp the primordial One-All. therefore misses the point: Christianity is the miraculous Event that disturbs the balance of the One-All. Christianity (and.).coincide). and then to the individual organism itself. Christianity asserts as the highest act precisely what pagan "wisdom condemns as the source of Evil: the gesture of separation. have broken with the hierarchy of the social order and started to treat it as fundamentally irrelevant: in his choice of disciples. abdomen . in one way or another.. of hnman Rights and freedoms): I can participate in this universal dimension directly. hands.. does not hate his father and his mother. irrespective of my special place within the global social order.Of.ely throws the balanced circuit of the universe off the rails. we are not dealing with a simple brutal hatred demanded by a cruel and jealous God: 120 121 .. in its own way. describes as agape. today. his brothers and sisters .... Bnddhism) introduced into this global balanced cosmic Order a principle that is totally foreign to it. of clinging to an element that disturbs the balance of All. into the eternal circuit of the cosmic family relations stand here metaphorically for the entire socio- catastrophe (derailment) and the restoration of Order throngh jnst pnnishment.he cannot be my disciple' (14: 26)'1 Here. but a direct expression of what Saint Paul. up to the very opposition between wisdom itself and the folly of being caught in the illusion of maya .yes. measured by the standards of pagan cosmology.. We can see here how thoroughly heterogeneous is the Christian stance to that of pagan wisdom: in clear contrast to the ultimate horizon of pagan wisdom. for a Christian. there are neither men nor women. Buddha's followers form a community of people who. of drawing the line.. The 'hatred' enjoined by Christ is not. of appearance and reality. for any particular ethnic 'substance' that determines our place in the global Order of Things.of Good and Evil. a principle which.more precisely. The very core of pagan \Visdom lies in its insight into this cosmic balance of hierarchically ordered Principles . the key intermediary term between faith and hope: it is love itself that enjoins us to 'unplug' from the organic community into which we vvere born . neither Jews nor Greeks. in the guise of the caste system. the appearance of Christ was a ridiculous andlor tranmatic scandal.. therefore. such an attitude is artificially revived in the multitnde of New Age approaches to natnre and society. And do not Christ's scandalous words from Saint Luke's Gospel point in the same direction: 'If anyone come to me and (the universe is the abyss of the primordial Ground in which all 'false' opposites .. applied first to the social order. or.SLAVOJ ZllEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE cruel tyrant . a kind of pseudo-dialectical opposite to love. for those fully identified with the Jewish 'national substance'. true) even sexual dif~ ference. as well as for the Greek philosophers and the proponents of the global Roman Empire. it is the violent intrusion of Difference that preci. of the Holy Spirit. For that reason.. Perhaps the most elaborated case of snch a cosmic order is the Ancient Hindn cosmology. his wife and children. even his own life .

This new community is then explicitly constructed as a collective of outcasts. tolerant.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE From this standpoint. this sweet boy. an eneompassing network of hierarchically differentiated positions. on egalitarian 123 . one takes them as equivalent.. that is. turn into the monstrous instrument of cosmic Evil? Two hints are crucial 12 Christ's Uncoupling here: first. the'Christological' features of the young Anakin (his mother hints that she became pregnant with hiIn in an immaculate conception. all-inclusive. if this difference is crucial. the race he wins clearly echoes the famous chariot race in Ben Hur.) as the privileged and exemplary members of his new commnnity. prostitutes . what if . tempted to risk the reference to Freud himself . the antipode to any established'organic' group. he interpreted the emergence of Christ as the event of Ent-Scheidung (differentiating decision) which disturbs the balance of the pagan universe.that. tolerant peaceful daily life of the late Roman Empire? Was this not . the balance was too much in favour of the Good? So the emergence of Christianity did in a way effectively'restore the balance of the Force' precisely in so far as it was the intervention of radical Evil (the power of unheard-of negativity) that derailed the pallid and anaemic. Furthermore. however. while in the Army the emphasis is on antagonism. In order to speci(y these communities further. from lepers and circus Ereaks to early computer hackers .along Hegelian lines . without considering the difference between the two. the outcasts of the social order (beggars. of the vortex of its 122 know from past and present. second. on Us versus Them. along the lines of Laclau's opposition between the structure of differences and the antagonistic logic of eqnivalences? The Church is global: a structured Institution.Schelling's thesis when. What. basically ecumenical. one of whose few points of interest as eternal circuit in which all differences are ultimately engulfed by the same abyss? a film is the way it endeavours to outline the answer to the ques- tion of the 'origin of Evil': how did Darth Vader become Darth Vader. the fact that he is identified as the one who has the potential to 'restore the balance of the Force'.we take the premonition that Anakin will'restore the balance of the Force' not as the fateful misapprehension. it is qnite significant that its It is preciselY in order to emphasize this suspension of the social hierarchy that Christ (like Buddha before him) addresses in particular those who belong to the very bottom of the social hierarchy. how did Anakin Skywalker.. it would be interesting to approach the barely concealed ideological ambiguities of George Lucas's Star Wars L The Phantom Menace. this 'tale of Christ'). Perhaps the best way to imagine such a community is to locate it in the lineage of other 'eccentric' communities of outcasts that we central figure of Evil shonld echo Christ . one L. in Weltalter.groups in which stignlatized individu- als are united by a secret bond of solidarity. divid- ing its spoils among its subgroups. in it.. at least . Since the ideological universe of Star Wars is the New Age pagan nniverse. but as a correct insight? What if the suffocating character of the pagan universe lay precisely in the fact that it lacked the dimension if radical Evil.in his Crowd Psychology he provides two examples of crowd formation: the Church and the Army.implicitly. the Event of Christ is the nltimate scandal. self-satisfied. Usually. prone to compromises..within the pagan horizon.

one should be careful here to avoid what psychoanaljS'iSC'il!s the perverse temptation: this 'unpluggIng' h'om the social body should not turn into perversion. in which we love the established place within the social order. Of course. but the form ofyour activity . Freud's wo es war. prone to endless debates and compromises.nateSOllda?ityevenwtflrfh~t('5wesrin . or.unciation and hatred of their own family names (Montagu"e. Lacanians. humble acceptance of one's humiliation.SetltoniIs h. the Army should arrive.. It is interesting to observe how. With regard to the political struggles.ad. in the religious community. an Army that functions as a Churchlike corporate social institution. this is a notional This is also the sense in which one should read those of Christ's statements which disrupt the circular logic of revenge or punishment destined to re-establish the balance of Justice: instead of 'An eye for an eye!'. on the contrary. but simply to interrupt the circular logic -.but only if you also make a compromise and change slightly not the substance. and vice versa.. avoiding and rejecting the tolerant olive branch of the IPA (come back. defined by the antagonism between Us and Them...~upiing' at work in passionate sexual love ? Is not such love ~. Romeo and Juliet pathetically proclaim their . so that the Army is ultimately exclusionary. we get 'If sorneone slaps your opposition: empirically.. social hierarchy is reflected in an inverted way.t outcast because he is the lowest outcast (thus secretly wantIng hi. and thus continue to parasitize on it (this pe~erse logic ~as brought to its extreme by the medieval sects whose mefilbers- the Internatioual Psycho-Analytical Association? The IPA is the psychoanalytic Church.nan) And is not (on a different lever of course) aSliililar 'l~.. in thebalcony scene.. the two communities often exchange their' right cheek. aud all the difficulties the Church had iu containing this excess and reinscribing this properly religious Event (such as the early movement founded by Saint Francis) within the confines of the order of Being. even when Saint Paul does refer to the organicist metaphor of the religious community as a living proper places: it is the Church which is often close to the antagonistic functioning of the Army... Does not this opposition characterize the way Lacanians relate to 1O.).'.. we do not actually'unplug' fr:.. of the greatest pulverizers of social hierarchy? When. Suffice it to recall the tension in the twelfth aud thirteenth ceuturies between the Church qua institution and the emerging monastic orders as subversive counter-communities endangering the Church's body.the point here is not stupid masochism.. turn to him also your left cheek!' . giving the greater honour to the inferior member' (I Corinthians 12: 24) . and we often have a militant Church.that is to say. soil ich werden can thus also be read as: where the Church was. on the contrary. excommunicating people from its ranks only when it feels actually threatened..fre-establishing balance. the Enemy). prone to annihilate the other..SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE universalism (we are all ultimately equal wheu we are confronted with Them.pulet). 124 went so far as to eat the excrement of their fellow men in order-to emphasIze theIr compasslo. c:. but merely turn it aroun(f. and thus 'unplug' themselves fro~eir particular 125 .m ~the hierarchic social order.. we accept you . he subverts it by turning it around: 'God has so arranged the body.in this way. are the psychoan- alytic Army: a combative group working towards an aggressive reconquest. the line can well be blurred. so that the lowest deserve the greatest honour.to remain so) . The fundamental paradox here is thus that with regard to empirical institutions. Of course.

Such an 'unplugging' as the direct expression oflove has nothing whatsoever to do with the escape into an idealized Romantic universe in which all concrete social difFerences magically disappear .to use the Althusserian-Lacanian opposition. enjoin us not only to hate our parents on behalf of the beloved one. gets rid of the shadO'w of paternal authority . 'to hate the helaved out of love and in love'?87 The proper way to understand this is to ask a precise question: what dimension in the beloved other am I enjoined to hate? Let us take the hatred towards one's father in Oedipal family tension: as we see again and again.wesS~Qn qf From now on. we regard no one from a human point of view. it disappears the moment the son perceives his father no longer as the embodiment of his socio-symholic function. we know him no longer in that way. of erasing the traces of one's past ('everything old has passed away') and beginning afresh from a zero-point: consequently. it is not the symbolic ---Uoes--. and a new understanding for the father emerges. les non-dupes errent - the cynic misses the 127 126 . do they not provide the supreme ~ of 'hatred of OJ. as such..:~plugging'. that is.atic collective.to quote Kierkegaard again: 'love believes everything . this hatred disappears. there is also if terri(ying violence at work in this 'uncoupling'.. but. ~~~. in effect. I 'hate the beloved out of love': I 'hate' the dimension of his inscription into the socio- subject who is reduced to the 'real' individual. in a dialectical inversion of love for one's enemy. that of the death drive. in true love. The term 'new creation' is revealing here. however. see the 'real human person' beneath their 'social roles I. However.l'i~'8 paFento' as the..one has to 'die for the law' (Saint Paul) that regulates our tradition.~pec~e-.~theG~tricafe-set of'relafionsthat1Orn1OurrespectiV~eco'friniunlhe-~---~-'-'""-'­ human point of view..88 in contrast to the mistrust which believes symholic structure on behalf of my very love for him as a unique person. It is in this sense that. do we not encounter something similar in J. The person who mistrusts his others is. the moment the son.rtep fnrther and. it is the individual (in all the wealth of his 'personality') who is reduced to the singularpoint ofsubjectivity.andyet is never to be deceived'.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE (family) social substance.n~-. the neighbour is thus reduced to a singular member of the community of believers (of the 'Holy Ghost') .four P1:. signalling the gesture of sublimation.direot iH'f. of the radical 'wiping the slate dean' as the condition of the New Beginning. therefore.-Christianity. see.' ev. everything has become new! (II Corinthians 5: 16-17) In this 'uncoupling'. there is a new creation: everything old has passed away. the victim of the most radical self-deception: as Lacan would have put it. So if anyone is in Christ. to avoid a crucial misunderstanding that might arise here: this 'unplugging' of agape has nothing whatsoever/to do with the common 'humanist' idea that one shoufcl forget about 'artificial' symbolic predicates and perceive one's neighbours in their unique hUlllanity. even though we Once knew Christ from a l~ve? Furthermore. 'uncoupling' does actually involve a 'symbolic death' .-w~m~rdirealymembers-onh" cfe~~~. in his very cynical dishelief.in short. their ideological mandates and lllasks .here Saint Paul is quite firm in his 'theoretical antihumanism': nothing and is nevertheless thoroughly deceived. but as a vulnerable suhject 'unplugged' from it.:~~ G:. g-.. our social 'substance'. paradoxically.~t.

and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing. however fleeting. a subject. rather. especially when they proclaim themselves Christian. using the beloved as a blank screen on to which it projects its own phantasmagorical constructions.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE eHiciency/actuality of the appearance itself. (I Corinthians 7: 29-31) The answer is that the Christian 'unplugging' is not an inner contemplative stance. let even those who have wives be as though they had none. stnpidly there. rejecting the love of one's enemy.the hard and arduous work of repeated 'uncoupling' in which. the Oriental notion of the Absolute Void-Substance-Ground beneath the fragile.person sees the other the way shelhe effectively is. Through the Christian work of compassionate love. in the magic dimension that 'shines through' an appearance . Does not Fascism ultimately involve the return to the pagan mores which. inert. As every true Christian knows. and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. or even was hitherto a disturbing foreign body. from now on. merely putting her/him into the place of the Thing. is not the Christian 'uncoupling' ultimately the same as the old Hindu 'action with an inner distance' (the virtue of accomplishing acts through the warm. it slips all too easily through our fingers. but the active work of love which necessarilY 129 to the other's weaknesses . not despite them. through the gentle sluile of a beautiful woman. while the true believer believes in appearances. and thus generates ideal subjects of the existing order? In other words. and the Ahsolute that is thoroughly fragile and fleeting. With regard to this point. it blinds itself to the other as such. while true love accepts the beloved the way she or he is. For the present form of this world is passing away. again and again. the unconditional Object. it blinds itself with an indifference towards their goal) from the Bhaghavad-Gita. the Absolute is easily corroded. a loving. as the following passage seems to imply: the appointed time has grown short. we have to disengage ourselves from the inertia that constrains us to 128 . and must be handled as carefully as a butterfly. Here appearance and reality are no identifY with the particular order we were born into. even ifyour ultimate fidelity is to God). another dimension transpires through our reality. tolerated and even modestly supported by us so that we were not too bothered by it. and those who mourn as though they were not mourning. That is to say: what is the Absolute? Something that appears to us in fleeting experiences say. cultivate full identification with one's own ethnic community? \Ve are now also in a position to answer the ultimate counter- argument: is it not that Christianity none the less supports participation in the social game (obey the laws 01' the country. with its crushed drealns and desires . deceptive appearances that constitute our reality is to be opposed to the notion that it is the ordinal)' reality that is hard. As such. the difference here is the one between idealization and sublimation: false idolizing idealizes.he sees Goodness in the other where the other himself is not aware of it. In Lacanian terms. and loves her for her very foibles. love is the work of love .it is this Christian heritage of 'uncoupling' that is threatened by today's 'fundamentalisms'. caring smile of a person who may otherwise seem ugly and rude: in such miraculous but extremely fragile moments. we discern in what longer opposed: precisely in trusting appearances.or. fragile and elusive it is. and those who buy as though they had no possessions.

is that although it formally denounces anti-Semitic violence. 'True. lynchings): the first. makes it clear that praising Hitler's construction of highways is a displaced way of praising his anti-Semitic measures.what lies beyond (or. It is a capricious and arbitrary law. he did participate in lynchings of African-Americans. . but we should not forget that he none the less did some horrible things. I know. like bnilding highways and making the trains run on time!' The whole point of this defence. but we should not forget that he none the less did some good things..'. 90 131 And is not a similar reversal also the true content of the standard defence of the perpetrators of extreme-Right racist violence: 130 . of course. .. 89 One sbould bear in mind here that the tension bei'\veen the symbolic Law and the impossible/real Thing access to which is prohibited by the Law (ultimately. the law of signs in which the subject receives no guarantee from anywhere. with regard to the duality of 'official' pu blic symbolic narrative space and its spectral double. going to church) and its obscene disavowed underside (Holocaust.. but implies an even stronger defence of Hitler. So. the maternal Thing prohibited by the paternal Law) is not Lacan's ultimate horizon . Hitler did some horrible things. the law of the oracle. . none the less. like trying to rid Germany of Jews.. . in so far as.'. it is covertly anti-Semitic: the very gesture of comparing the anti-Semitic horrors to building highways. standard. which fonctions as the inherent transgression of the existing order. Hitler did some good things. their implicit Jpectral obscene supplement. but none the less . rather. version of the statement acknowledges the public content and disavows its obscene underside (while secretly endorsing it). beneath) it is the uncanny Thing which itself 'makes the Law': 13 'You must.. one shonld read: 'True. in clear contrast to the Fascist carnivalesque 'unplugging' from the established symbolic rules. he did do some good things.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE leads to the creation of an alternative community. . what kind of law is operative in the uncanny domain of its spectral double? The answer. The key to this reversal is that in both cases we are dealiug with the tension bet-veen the publicly acknowledged and acceptable ideological content (building highways. Das Ding presents itself at the level of unconscious experience as that which already makes the law. like building highways and thus ruining .' .. like trying to rid Germany of Jews.'. Furthermore.instead of this. is: superego. like trying to get rid of the nasty African-Americans. the public symbolic space is regnlated by the symbolic Law. The proof is that the critique of Hitler which turns around the terms of the first one (popular in SOIile extremely conservative ecological circles) is no less acceptable. Germany's environment . albeit in the form of criticism: 'True. but we should not forget that he was also a good and honest family man who went regularly to church . we should not forget that he was just a common family man who went regularly to church . of course. and putting them together in a statement 'whose structure is that of 'Yes. because you can!' Let us specify this crucial point by reference to a well-known tasteless defence of Hitler: 'True. the second version openly dismisses the pnblic aspect and endorses the obscene underside. rather. the proper Christian uncoupling suspends not so much the explicit laws but.

describes 'the strange kind of symbiosis between Milosevic and the Serbs'o Milosevic generally suits the Serbs. because you cani. even hate. rules against sexual harassment . the potency pill that promises to restore the capacity of male erection in a purely biochemical way.we condernn ourselves to a failure to grasp its true dynam 91 ics.... the law superego supplements the explicit texture of the social-symbolic law . of course. because you musti into You should whatever you like. We all know Kant's formula of the unconditional ethical imperative Du kannst. He gave us also the right to drive stolen cars.. a perverse Law that is the Law of the Thing itself. rather. a void beyond the Law. He gave us the right to solve all our problems with weapons.. barely concealed You may! It is today's apparently hedonistic and permissive postmodern reflexive society which is paradoxically more and more saturated by rnles and regulations that allegedly promote our well-being (restrictions on smoking and eating. Without the full recognition of this perverse pseudo-liberating effect of today's nationalism . engage in patriarchal mores prohibited by liberal Political Correctness.you may violate (not the Decalogue. or anyone else of the 'world dignitaries'. which permitted enjoyment turns into ordained enjoyment.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE So we no longer have das Ding as the dark beyond.. kill and rape. far from further restraining us. bypassing all problems with psychological inhibitions: now that Viagra 133 . as the operator of a secret.. a leading Serb columnist who was for a brief period even Milosevics Minister for whose injunction is the impossible command 'Enjoy!'. Furthermore. You can appear On state TV and insult Elair. Milosevic gave us the right to carry weapons. of what you do can be punishable. none other than the superego.of how the obscenely permissive 132 [you must]. 92 The superego is thus the properly obscene reversal of the permissive 'You may!' into the prescriptive 'You must1'. In the time of his rule. but really nothing. you may eat and drink superego inverts this Kantian You can. He allowed the Honrishing of the black market and smuggling.which means that nothing. The superego suspension of moral prohibitions is the crucial feature of today's 'postmodern' nationalism. This is hovv Aleksandar Tijanic.. light. the Thing remains inaccessible. Here. the functions rather as the liberating call 'You may J' . Milosevic changed the daily life of Serbs into one great holiday and enabled us all to feel like high-school pupils on a graduation trip . the point at infinite approach to the impossible goal: in Kant's horizon. while the Law-Thing displays as it were the Sadeian obverse/truth of Kant. constituted by the prohibitory Law: the ultimate borror is that of the real Thing itself which directly'makes the law'.. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the unfortunate VIagra. denn du sollst! (You can [do your duty] becauseyou must [do it]!. No one does anything.. so that the reference to some passionate ethnic identification. And in so far as the Thing stands for jouissance. but) the rigid regulations of peaceful coexistence in a liberal tolerant society.). the cliche according to which passionate ethnic identification restores a firm set of values and belicfs in the confusing insecurity of a modern secular global society is to be turned around: nationalist 'fundamentalism' serves. Serbs abolished the time for working.. this Law which is the Law of the Thing itself is. Clinton. This is also the dimension that is the obverse of the Kantian logic of the Information and Public Media.

that of the dialectical tension between Knowledge and Truth. the role of Christianity is ambiguous: 'You have heard that it was said. the cycle described by Saint Paul in Romans 7: 7'! the extremely oppressive 'totalitarian' power which goes even further than traditional 'authoritarian' pOV\Ter - it does not only 14 From Knowledge to Truth. and prohibiting not only sinful deeds but sinful thoughts themselves. you must do it with pleasure. as a kind of duly. what is in your best interests. consequently. are already equivalent to committing the sin. On the other hand. sub- ifyou don't it's your fault! At the opposite end of the spectrum. Does this gesture of going a step further with regard to the Decalogue. whose ve. psychoanalysis operates in the domaiu of the opposition betweeu 135 134 . and Back tell you: 'Do your duly: [ don't care if you like it or not!'. the totalitarian Master's upon your sinful desires. so you should renounce/transform to do is what you. they feel guilty if they fail to be happy. so what I order you themselves. . obey [my orders]. repress and renounce your inner urges!'. even if you seem superficially to be opposed to it!' This external opposition betweeu 'pleasure and duly' can be overcome in hvo ways. it tells you: 'Not only must you obey my orders and do your duty. do we actually find there? Is this New Age attitude of wisdom not again secretly sustained by the superego imperative: 'You must [do your duly of achieving your full self-realization and self-fulfilment].. we have the paradox of your desires themselves. no matter how difficult and against your nature you fmd it. designate the shift from the Jewish symbolic PrOhibition to its superego elaboration (not ouly should you not act however. even ifyou successfully resist them. again. and desire only what is permitted)? Or does Christianily.. really to enjoy themselves. On the onc hand. endeavour to break the very vicious cycle of prohibition that generates the desire to transgress it. Usually." But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart' (Matthew 5: 27-8). deep within yourself: really unknowingly desire... we have the obverse paradox of the pleasure Let us approach this dilemma from another perspective. you should fight them . cor- rupted being who needs a strong Master to control his dangerous antisocial impulses.). this is why the traditional authoritarian Master tells us: 'No matter what you think deep in yourself. "You shall not commit adultery. And my point is that the concept of the superego desiguates precisely the interzone in which these two opposites overlap: in which the command to enjoy doing your duty overlaps with the duty to enjoy yourself Here.these desires message in contrast is: 'I know better than you do yourself what you really want.IY pursuit turns into duty: in a 'permissive' society. . because you can!'? Is this not why we ofLen reel a real terroristic pressure beneath the compliant tolerance of New Age preachers?93 To put it in somewhat simplified terms: the elementary authoritarian (wisdom' is that Inan is a weak..SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE takes care of the erection. they must actively love him . the New Age wisdom of recovering the spontaneity of your true Self seems to offer a way out of this superego predicament -what. there is no excuse: you should enjoy sex. jects experience the need to 'have a good time'. on the contrary. you must enjoy doing it!' (This is how totalitarian populist democracy works: it is not enough for the subjects to follow their Leader.

If we learn that the act of harassment did not take place in reality. in the judge took the responsibility upon himself: in order to save the woman's life without putting her in an unbearable moral predicament. When a patient claims that she has been molested by her father. unconditionally rejected the transfnsion that wonld have saved her life. what matters is the translation of truth-value into a differential series of plnses and minuses (dashes and dots) which delivers the true message in Morse code. then the fact that the patient fantasizes intensely about it acquires a different symbolic value. however. in statements which are factually entirely accurate. which it refers. You both know Morse code. listen to you talking to each other: 'Birds lay eggs. while still telling us a lot about her desire. and hit upon the following impromptu encryption scheme: for a dash. one can tell the truth in the guise of a lie (the hysterical procedure. Chicago is a city. is not this harassment as such. this notion of authentic subjective Truth as opposed to mere 'objective' knowledge is not Lacan's last word. what ultimately matters. At the Lacanian conference The Subject . ing cannot be accounted for in purely inherent syntactic terms: the only way ultimately to gain access to the meaning of a statement is to situate it in its lifewodd context.' Vlhen he heard this. the tV/a prisoners use the world itself as a 'one-time pad' . one of the participants discussed a recent medica-legal case of a woman who.although the truth-value of their statements is not indifferent but crucial. What is the etmcal status of this decision? 137 itself. that is. the woman answered: 'I guess the answer is no.Encore at UCLA in March 1999. and baseball is played in August.a patient also uses reality itself (the way he relates to it) as a 'one-time pad' to en crypt his desire.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE factual 'objective' knowledge and 'subjective' truth: one can lie in the guise of truth (this is what obsessionals are doing when. or a simple slip of the tongue which betrays the subject's true desire). or not?' After a brief deliberation. and my feet are not made of tin. he proclainled her irresponsible. Your captors. to take into account its semantic dimension. lie. unless they can determine the truth and falsity of these sentences. My point is rather different: as Dennett himself puts it. and toads By. of course. tell the truth. one should. Even if your captors know Morse code. what really matters is not this truth-value as such.' you say. In Lacan's late work there is a certain knowledge (equivalent to drive) more fundamental than (subjective) Trnth itself. and ordered the transfusion against her will. in this case. answering 'No' (dash-dot. but the role it plays in the patient's symbolic economy. it is not this truth-value as such. but the way the very alternation of trnths and lie discloses the patient's desire . establish if this harassment really took place or not. the way it was'subjectivized'. In Darwins Dangerous Idea. for a dot. of course. they conceal or disavow their desire). 136 . Daniel Dennett evokes the following mental experiment: You and your hest friend are about to be captured by hostile forces. they cannot detect the properties that stand for dot and dash Dennett himself uses this example to make the point that mean94 Does not something similar also go on in the psychoanalytic process? Although the truth-value of the patient's statements is not indifferent. the objects and processes to on religious grounds. that matters. dash-dash-dasb) to whatever your friend has just asked. The judge before whom she was brought asked her: 'What ifyou were to be submitted to transfusion against your will? Would this also condemn you to damnation and hell in your afterlife. However. who speak English but do not know much about your world.

through the beneficial lie. really cover all the options? Is it not possible to imagine the poor woman answering accu- prate-type of a successful analyst's intervention: how to enable the patient to assert his fundamental will-to-life without harming his ideological and symbolic identifications. please. to put it somewhat bluntly.) Here. to conceal our true desire . she knew perfectly well that ifshe answered 'No. . such a solution is false. the only way for her to be true to herself on the level of subjective Truth (the position of enunciation) would have been to lie at the level of statement . it involves the helpful-compassionate procedure of proposing a beneficial protective fiction - rately (the way she did: 'No') without sinning? What if we simply imagine a subject who escapes the tension between objective knowledge and subjective Truth by suspending the very dimension of Truth. From the standpoint of psychoanalytic ethics. again. it would be totally inappropriate to claim that the judge. Such an approach can also serve as a that transfusion against one's will is not a mortal sin . To make the fact that the choice of having a transfusion or not was actually in her own hands clear. or not?'. we use language not to designate some reality. Because ultimately. to win an argument. one should introduce here the Lacanian distinction between the subject of statement and the subject of enunciation: by answering truthfully on the level of statement (she truly believed that enforced transfusion does not count as a mortal sin). . It is a neat practical solution .SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE The participants hailed the judge's intervention as a model of the inventive approach. do give me a transfusion' (like the proverbial male chauvinist figure of a hypocritical woman who can enjoy guage. she sinned rhetorical strategy of argumentation. thejudge would order enforced transfusion. . there is 'another side' to every point. and gently. for each argument there are counter-arguments. the true content of her 'no! was 'yes. According to Lacan. and sticking to cold impersonal Knowledge? That is to say: what if the poor woman were to answer 'No' not in order secretly to save herself.to answer 'Yes!' even if she really thought 138 negated. so that she can pretend that it is happening to her against her will). however. paradoxically.but it does not force the subject to confront the truth of her desire. Rather. undecidability is all-encompassing . as a good analyst. however. allowed her to realize this desire without breaking her religious code. but out of a radical disregard for subjective consequences? (In this case. some content.in the last resort. Does this alternative.this eternal vacillation is interrupted only by the intervention of some quilting point (Master-Signifier). this solution is a lie: when the poor woman was asked: 'What if you were to be submitted to transfusion against your will? Would this also condemn you to damnation aud hell in your afterlife. every statement can be sex only if she is half forced into it. there are always pros and cons. but to dupe the other. of a lie. detected in her a disavowed desire to live. does not use its direct meaning as part of' some hidden or. one should recall Jacques-Alain Miller's precise point that the aim of analytic discourse is to practise a language which does not deceive or conceal.in the judge's position I would probably do the same thing . So. the truth is never fully established. however.only in this way could she have prevented the transfusion. Oswald Ducrot 95 developed the thesis that in our language all predicates are ultimately jnst reified argumentative procedures . psy139 . to seduce or threaten. In ordinary lan- (she lied and endorsed transfusion) on tbe level of her subjective position of enunciation -that is to say.

the Jewish literal 141 . even ifit helps you!'? The funda. and thus having to pay the price for it? What if her stance was.simply do not raise pigs! And the .) This criticism is meaningful within the confines of the standard Christian attitude where what matters is the spirit. in effect cheat Him. (There is a religious institution in Israel which deals specifically with issues of how to circumvent prohibitions.her 'No!' is no longer to be interpreted. even if it hurts you! ' . that she would get her transfusion. pigs are raised today on plateaus three feet above tbe ground. on how to eircumvent the prohibition. For us Christians. And maybe this is also the way to answer the standard Christian criticism that the Jews. and thus find a way of violating the spirit of the injunction. the subject breaks out of the vicious cycle of interpretation .mentallesson of the psychoanalytic notion of superego is that . fncusing on the totally unimportant specification "on the land of Israel". even if you did not break any letter of the law by your deeds. because they spend all their energy not on internalizing God's prohibition. the more this desire returns in your thoughts and obsesses you. consequently. in order not to break the injunction that no pigs should be raised on the holy land of Israel. the fruits of doing one's duty (in this case. perhaps. it is. only as the result of psychoanalytic treatment that one can acquire the capacity to enjoy doing one's duty. the guiltier you are'. rather. that is. perhaps this is one of the definitions of the end of psychoanalysis.where you are guilty if the desire was in your heart. 140 One can easily see how this solution enables us to break the vicious cycle of the superego: the Christian logic of 'even if you only thought of it.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE choanalytic discourse is part of modern science in that it aims at breaking this vicious cycle of all-pervasive argumentation. was not hypocritically eounting on the fact that her desire to live would be fulfilled. significantly enough. while none the less retaining what they desire. by seeking ways of obeying God's commandments and prohibitions literally. while keeping to its letter. without guilt.pace the neoconservatives who bemoan the allegedly hedonistic narcissism of our age there are Few things more difficult than to enjoy. While it is easy to enjoy acting in an egotistic way against one's duty. in a profoundly hypocritical way. When. not vacillating. From this Christian perspective. you are already as guilty as if you had committed the act' relies on the guilt feeling: it involves the superego paradox of 'the nlore you repress your transgressive desire in order to obey the Law. on this level. in their very functioning. what she actually desires is simply irrelevant. they are already guilty in their hearts. it is called The Institute for ]udaism and Science. not the letter .'You should tell the truth.. So. not caught in The answer to this would be simply to suspend the entire dOluain of interpretation: what if the poor woman. in answering the eternal sliding of meaning.' but not in tbe mode of the quilting point: the signifiers do not need such a point in order to be stabilized because they are already. since 'No'. take the Divine statement literally. but on bow to have their cake and eat it. the duty of telling the truth). of course.Jews. the Christian interpretation would be: 'See how hypocritical the Jews are! The meaning of their God's command is clear . that of radical indifference towards the entire domain of the possible pathological (in the Kantian sense of the term) effects of telling the truth? What if ber implicit ethical axiom was the exact inversion of the standard 'You should tell the truth. without being responsible for it.

. the more we bear witness to the fact that. so the more rigorously Vl. not IllY you do the right thing. I-Iow are we to resolve desires invested in it. spontaneous. the jouissance of the Other. the basic vileness ofyour true nature. that this deadlock? 15 The Breakout it generates the desire for its own violation. we feel the pressore of the desire to indulge in sin.re obey the Law.what bothers Christian superego attitude is perhaps best expressed by T. in effect.. So. On the other hand. Law.even when Christians is the fact that the Jews do not see the cheap trickery of their procedure. ultimately solipsistic. deep within ourselves.veen the jouis.it is Christianity that manipulates guilt much more effectively96 The superego dialectic of Law and transgression does not lie only in the fact that Law itself invites its own transgression. at its most radicaL involves precisely the suspension of the vicious cycle of Law and its transgressive desire.S. you do it in order to counteract. This 142 for whom access to jouissance is much more closely linked to the 143 . our obedience to the Law itself is not' natural'. On the one hand we have the closed. and thus conceal. so that when they succeed in having their cake and eating it. When we obey the Our answer is that the passage from J udaism to Christian ity ultimately obeys the matrix of the passage from the'masculine' to the 'feminine' formulae of sexuation. However. Let us clarify this passage apropos of the opposition ben.if you simply covet your neighbour's wife. The superego feeling of guilt is therefore right: the more we obey the Law. there are subjects against our sinful desire: and in Christianity.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLU" tunistic obedience to the Law cannot but appear as the ultimate opporIuanipulation which ilnplies a totally external relationship towards the Law as the set of rules to be tweaked so that one can nevertheless achieve one's true aim . far from being the 'religion of guilt'. It is this superego dialectic that is successfully avoided by the Jews: their obedience to the Law is not mediated by the repressed desire to sin. you are already committing adultery.. in the perverse circulating around objet petit a as the object of a drive. the desire (intention) to sin equals the act itself . but always-already mediated by the (repression ofthe) desire to transgress the Law. this superego dialectic of the transgressive desire engendering guilt is not the ultimate horizon of Christianity: as Saint Paul makes clear. they do notftel any guilt. in realizing their goal without disobeying the letter of the Law. we do so as part of a desperate strategy to fight against our desire to transgress it.yJ because this obedience. because it is only truth that matters. the morc we are guilt. But what if this lack of guilt demonstrates precisely that the Christian criticism according to which the Jews cheaply manipulate the Law without renouncing their pathological goals misses the point: I can tell the truth without guilt. the Christian stance.. is a defence this opposition is also sexualized according to the same matrix. the Jewish religion precisely enables us to avoid guilt .. circuit of drives which Iind their satisfaction in idiotic masturbatory (autoerotic) activity. Eliot's line from Murder in the Cathedral: 'the highest form of treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason' .. which is why they can stick to the letter of the Law and none the less find ways of realizing their desire without any guilt feelings . elaborated by Lacan in Seminar XX· Encore. even if it helps me.I'ance of drives and.

In his Seminar on the Ethics of PsychoanalyJis. on the satisfaction provided by the speech itselt. and if I hand over my body so that I may boast 145 the masculine phallic/masturbatory jouissance of the drive and the feminine jouissance of the Other in Lars von Trier's fIhn Breaking the Waves? Crippled and confined to his hospital bed. in her words . the one on love from I Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels. as Saint Paul makes clear.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE domain of the Other's discourse. (This example is crucial in so far as are talked about: say. the Jews are not yet there. they treat the Law as the written Real which does not engage them in the vicious superego cycle of guilt. Jan tells his wife Bess that she must make love to other men and describe her experiences to him in detail. as in her awareness that she is enabling the Other to enjoy. that is. it is the woman ""ha is immersed into the order of speech without exception.rsance on the level of the Other (symbolic order). exempted from the symbolic order .quite on the contrary. I am nothing. J an's jouissance is clearly phallic/masturbatory: he uses Bess to provide him with the fantasmatic screen he needs in order to be able to indulge in solipsistic masturbatory jouissance. so as to remove mountains.in this way. and understand all mysteries and all knowledge. I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And does not this contrast explain the long-observed difference in how the two sexes relate to cyberspace sex? Men are luuch more prone to use cyberspace as it enables us to dispense with the standard misreading of Lacan according to whichjouissallcefeminine is a mystical beatitude beyond speech. but do not have love. she will keep his willto-life alive: although she will be performing the act physically with other men. on the other.its spectre haunts both of them.. that is. the true sex will occur in their conversation . And if I have prophetic powers.her enjoyment is totally alienated/externalized in Jan as her Other: that is.. Do we not encounter a clear case of this opposition betvveen elaborated by Saint Paul is the invisible third term. but do not have love. as a necessary sacrifice) but the way she reports on them to Jan.)97 So how does all this allow us to throw a new light on the tension between J udaism and Christianity? The first paradox to note is that the vicious dialectic of Law and its transgression a masturbatory device for their solitary playing. Saint Paul's other paradigmatic passage. Lacan deals extensively with the Pauline dialectic of the Law and its transgression . the 'vanishing mediator' between the Jewish religion and Christianity . the basic point of Christianity proper is precisely to break out of the vicious superego cycle of the Law and its transgression via Love. it lies entirely 144 . while women are more prone to participate in chatrooms. using cyberspace for seductive exchanges of speech. not just on the act in its stupidity.perhaps one should therefore read this Pauline dialectic together with its corollary. while Bess findsjoui. immersed in stupid repetitive pleasure. If I give away all my possessions. but also (and this is ultimately just another aspect of the thing) in the sense of utter alienation .. More precisely. although neither of the two religious positions actually occupies its place: on the one hand.for her the ultimate source of satisfaction is not the sexual acts themselves (she commits them in a purely mechanical way. and if I have all faith. erotic pleasure hinges on the seductive talk of the lover. to how they not so much talk. Bess's jouissance is that 'of the Other' in more than one sense of the term: enjoyment not only in words.

and so on) in order to sustain the existing order. it ·will come to an end. 'love never ends'. lacking being loves: we love a mirror. Love never ends.or. it involves the paradoxes of the non-All.. hope. but then we will see face to face. even if we were to know everything. what the existing order explicitly allows.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE [alternative translation: to be burned]. One can violate/transgress itsprohibitions: this is the inherent transgression which sustains the Law. and love abide. they will ceasei as tor knowledge. vulnerable being is capable of love: the ultimate mystety of love is therefore that incompleteness is in a way higher than complet-ion. Saint Paul claims that love is there even if we possess all knowledge _ then. hope. as for tongues. as opposed to the dialectic of the Law and its transgression: this second dialectic is clearly 'masculine'/phallic. but wheu the complete comes. But as for prophecies. it involves the tension between the All (the universal Law) and its constitutive exception. In short . Crucial here is the clearly paradoxical place of Love with regard to All (to the completed series of knowledge or prophecies). in his unique way: 147 . On the one hand. The only way out of this deadlock is to read the two inconsistent claims according to Lacan'sfeminine formulae of sexuation: even vvhen it is 'aU' (complete. as I have been fully known'. Now I know only in part.in love. even as I have been fully known. beings who possess incomplete knowledge. will there still be love? Although. there are two ways of subverting the Law. that is. violating the explicit rnling ideology (of human Rights. the 'masculine' and the 'feminine'. with no exception). And noW faith. For now we see in rich through the very awareness of its lack. is not simply that with love. like the advocates ofliberal democracy who secretly (through the CIA) train murderers-terrorists for the proto-Fascist regimes in Latin America. while love is 'feminine'. Much more subversive than this is .... only an iluperfect. I gain nothing.. I am also nothing but. Consequently. and the greatest of these is love. but precisely that 'notbing' which makes even the complete serieslfield of knowledge incomplete. and love abide'. that is.. the partial will COlue to an end. but do uot have love. of ultimate perFection. in contrast to knowledge. incomplete -love is not an exception to the All of knowledge.. I am 'something' . without love I would be nothing. it is clearly only 'now' (while I am still incomplete) that 'faith. he claims that love is there only for incomplete beings. First. and we prophesy only iu part. Perhaps the true achievement of Christianity is to elevate a loving (imperfect) Being to the place of God .to paraphrase Brecht's well-known crack abont how mild robhing a hank is in comparison with founding a bank . as Kierkegaard put it. a Nothing paradoxically made 146 because we do not know all. although it prohibits it at the level of implicit unwritten prohibitions. that is. For we know only in part. love would inexplicably still be higher than completed knowledge.limply to do what is allowed. the point of the claim that even if I were to possess all knowledge. as it were. in the second part of the passage. On the other hand. Lacan's extensive discussion of love in Encore should thus be read in the Pauline sense.how mild transgressing the Law is in c{)lnparison with obeying it thoroughly . a Nothing humbly aware of itself. That is false rightist heroism: secretly doing the 'necessary but dirty thing'. then I will know fully. these three. Only a lacking. they wilt come to an end. When I 'know fully . In other words. the Field of knowledge remains in a way non-all. dimly..that is.

This radical gesture not only stuns the kidnappers . who releases the hostage and runs away. finally.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE 'We do not laud the son who said "No. the mysterious Keyser Soeze returns home and finds his wife and small daughter held at gunpoint by the members of a rival mob. in the flashback scene from The Usual Suspects."'98 discord between fantasy and reality breaks me down. with all his resources. The actual dialectic of prison life. so that when. Stephen King's 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption' tackles this problem with due stringency apropos of the paradoxes of prison life. In Ransom. he resorts to the radical gesture of shooting his wife and daughter 149 148 . so that my release brings about a total psychic breakdown. the supreme case: when. we find the same surprising radical gesture. when IUy aCCOTI1IDodation mercial) films. there is a better example. or at least gives rise to a longing for the lost safety of prison life. The cliche about prison life is that I am actually integrated into it. and announces that he will pursue them to the end. ruined by it. about nice things that are waiting for me after my release or escape. he surprises everyone by saying that he will offer two million dollars to anyone who will give him any information about the to it is so overwhelming that I can no longer stand or even imagine freedom. on the other hand. wlthin the universe governed by these rules. "Sir. inner distance and daydreamiug about Life Elsewhere in efIect enchain me to prison. In what does this renunciation consist? In a series of recent (com- in the web of) power only andprecisely in sofar as he does rIOtfidly identifY with it but maintains a kind ofdistance towardr it.this apparently senseless act momentarily shocks the blackmailer. who caused total havoc in the old Imperial Austrian Army simply by obeying orders all too literally? (Although. In Speed. the grotesque kidnappers. . And. I am released. I thereby get caught in the vicious cycle of fantasy. In short. when the hero (Keanu Reeves) is confronting' the terrorist blackmailer who is holding his partner at gunpoint. Prison in effect destroys me.) The basic paradox of the relationship between public power and its inherent transgression is that the subject is actually 'in' (caught way to beat them. Gibson himself almost breaks down. strictly speaking. the system (of public Law) is actually undermined by unreserved identification with it. when the media tycoon (Mel Gibson) goes on televisiou to answer the kidnappers' request for two million dollars as a ransom for his son.immediately after accomplishing it. opens up a space for true hope. I will. bound hy prison rules. namely the 'absolute example' [Hegel]. What this means is that in order eflectively to liberate oneself fi'om the grip of existiug social reality. however. but his own partner in the leg . he thereby bears witness to how his act eflectively cancels the Law. to work out a What better example is there than Hasek's immortal 'good soldier Schweik'.. The only true solution is therefore fully to accept the rules of prison life aud then. life outside prison." but we endeavour to learn frmu the gospel how dangerous it is to say. Christ himself: when Christ claims that he is here merely to fulfil the [. stick to the illusion that' real life is elsewhere' and indulge all the time in daydreaming about life outside. . if they do not release his son immediately. the hero shoots not the blackmailer. aware of the risk he is courting. one should first renounce the transgressive fantasmatic supplement that attaches us to it. attains a total hold over me. precisely when I do not fully consent to the fact that I am in prison but maintain a kind of inner distance towards it. ..111 acceptance of the fact that I am really there. eventually.. whereas £1.J ewish] Law. is somewhat more refined.

is not such a gesture also the crux of Freud's late book Moses and Monotheism? How did he react to the Nazi anti-Semitic threat? Not by joining the ranks of the beleaguered . Lacan cites Medea who. And . far from amounting to a case of' the very unconscious foundation of anti-Semitism. (In the Christian reading. he would actually have to slaughter his son.. parents and friends. her partner. we can draw the line that separates the classical hero from the modern hero: if Abraham were a modern hero. a WOman remains rooted in her specific substance. did not Lacan himself accomplish a similar act of 'shooting at himself' when. kills their two young children.. however. in a way. Is not such a radical gesture of t striking at lesson of psychoanalysis is not only that such an act is genderneutral.. of course. of course.this act enables him mercilessly to pursue Inembers of the rival gang. commanded by God to sacrifice !saac. as Lacan put it. is the standard feminist point: in order to become a subject. that which mattered more to him than himself? In his case. the precious agalma around which his life revolves. What these three gestures have in common is that in a situation of forced choice. staying Abraham's hand. since the only thing that mattered was inner intention. Furthennore. one could claim that the actual killing was unnecessary. an angel intervened at the last moment. the subject makes the 'crazy'. However.that is.that which is 'in him more than himself'. of obliteratingeven destroying . As the exemplary figure of such an act in literature.. his own organization. he effectively undermined 150 husband. but even that the opposite is the case? So how can a woman subjectivize herself through such an act of 'shooting at herself"! The first association here. in 1979. if the impoteut aggressivity turned against oueself. that which 'means everything to him' and which is more important to him than his OWn life.point to be made here. rather changes the co-ordiuates of the situatiou in which the subject finds himself: by cutting himselfloose from the precious object through whose possession the enemy kept him in check. the very space of his collective life? He was well aware that only such a 'self-destructive' act could clear the terrain for a new beginning. her husband's most precious possession _ it is in this horrible act of destroying that which matters most to her husband that she acts as une vraiefimme.Jews in the defence of their legacy. their families.. inlpossible choice of. by endeavouring to deprive the Jews of this figure.) But here. proving that i'vioses was not a Jew at all: in this way. he dissolved the Ecolefreudienne de Paris. the secret treasure [agalma] that makes her the oI:iect of male desire. killing them all . That is to say: Lacan proposed as (one of) the definition(s) of 'a true woman' a certain radical act: the act of taking from man. his agalma. What. plans to abandon her for a younger woman. a "vornan has to eschew the very core of her (femininity'. 99 151 . no angel would appear at the last moment.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE themselves dead .closer to our own time .. there is another _ perhaps more radical. but by targeting his own people. the founding figure of Moses . the subject gains the space of free action. striking at himself. The fact that all the above-quoted examples refer to male acts might lead to the conclusion that snch a gesture is inherently masculine: in contrast to the masculine readiness to cut links. that mysterious je ne sais quoi. some- oneself' constitutive of subjectivity as such? Was not such a gesture already that ofAbraham. at what is most precious to himself This act. his only son. of course. precisely. just as one has thing 'in her more than herself. her already committed a sin jf one simply covets one's neighbour's wife. upon learning that Jason. the most precious part of the Jewish legacy.

who claws at the family's nerves like a relentless harpy.. as the subject of an authentic act . Crucial to an understanding of Sethe's desperate measures are her later apparently paradoxical mnsings. Finding herself in this hopeless situation. Beloved focuses on the traumatic desperate act of:' the heroine. the cruel overseer of the plantation from which she escaped attempts to capture her by appeal to the Fugiti ve Slave Law. is to kill them.with the predictable result that the guilt for this choice haunts her to the end of her life.in a tradition that comes 'Sethe is claiming her role as a parent. at what was most precious to herself.'102 In short. she commits a Medean act of trying to exterminate what is most precious to her. Sethe: alter she has escaped slavery with her four children. but fully assumed the impossible-traumatic act of 'taking a shot at herself. in order to save her young son . playing emotional and sexual games with all of'them). Williams Styron's Sophies Choice. Only at the end of the novel does the Beloved's withdrawal signal Sethe's ability to come to terms with the properly ethical monstrosity of her act. 104 right down to Toni Morrison's Beloved. a daughter. Although Sethe's traumatic act also continues to haunt her for decades (the 'Beloved' of the novel's title is none other than the ghost of the murdered daughter. Sethe is haunted because she did not compromise her desire. without any prospect of escaping a return to slavery. driving her to suicide years later. in a radical situation of forced choice in which. the novel about the unbearably painful birth of African-American subjectivity.as if precisely such an act were not totally unthinkable within the mores of the African tribes from which the slaves were descended. protect her children and save their dignity. disturbing counterpart. against the overblown celebration of Antigone. concedes to this blackmail by the Nazi oHicer and surrenders her older child. As is well known.103 the only way open to her to act effectively as a parent. This radical character of' Sethe's act becomes apparent if we compare it with what is perhaps one of its literary models.. tries to kill her two sons. 152 153 . as Morrison herself put it in an interview apropos of Beloved . and threatens to dash out the brains of her infant daughter ~ in short. and enjoyed a month of calm recuperation with her mother-in-law in Cincinnati. what we are dealing with here is of' precisely the opposite nature to Sophies Choice: while Sopbie's guilt results from her compromising attitude of accepting the terms of the Nazi officer's impossible choice. lOO In an unsurpassed piece of cruel irony. to reassert Medea/ her uncanny.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE So perhaps it is time.or. because of' the relations of slavery. and choosing one child against the other. Sethe resorts to a radical measure in order to spare her children a return to bondage: she cuts the throat of bel' eldest daughter. and that is something I could not bear to happen to her. the freedom she needs to protect her children and give them some dignity. they regress to African savagery . her progeny. where she declares: 'If I hadn't killed her she would have died.by what may seem the ultimate cruelty of killing her offspring. this desperate assertion of freedom is interpreted by the white schoolteacher as proof that if African-Americans are given even a little too much freedOlu. confronted with the choice of saving one of her two children f'rom the gas chamber and renouncing the other. Sethe's children 'weren't hers at all'. in which the heroine. claiming the autonomy.'lOl Killing her daughter was the only way to preserve the minimal dignity of her lif'e ..

!'. safeguarding the male world of power politics from criminal excess. according to Lacan. . ehildren . and which..-r~~its for which one sacrifices them. and this suspension is 'political' in the precise sense of an them. the C feminine') ethical act proper involves precisely the suspension of this exception: it takes place in the intersection of ethics and poli~ics. there is no ethical act proper106 So whe'~e claim that the ethical act 'as such' ha~ the structure of feminine subjectivity.-~sculinepower stru~~les . precisely.{. the subject sacrifIces everything (all 'pathological' things) for the Cause-Thing that matters to him more than life itself: Antigone.this list. and. is not sacrificed) ..~~~~~ed or in terms of fidelity to f some pre-existing Cause.·a short. :\nd is this not the very unbear-:'ble cru~ of Sethe's act _ that she killed her children out if her very fidelity to stance. is inherently masculine.. displays the structure of what Freud called the gesture of abstaining [Versagung]..:.this is the 'bad infInity' one sacrifices through the Exception (the Thing for which one acts. furthermore. this does not involve abyssal excessive gesture that can no longer be grounded in 'comulon human considerations'. indicates the transcendent contours of the Thing to which she retains her unconditional fidelity. enumerates all the things she will not be able to experience because of her premature death (marriage.-.. the two opposed ways to read the relationship between ethics and politics precisely fit the Lacanian opposition bctvveen masculine and feminine 'formulae of sexuation': the very elevation of the Feminine stance into an apolitical ethical fu the Thing by sacrificing (also) the Thing itself' (in the same way.ds this exception ofthe Thing: one bears witness to one's fidelity to g~. since it redefines the very terms of this Cause. in the uncanny d::'main in which ethics is 'politicized. In con._ holds these struggles back.ff. not as a 'primitive' act of brutal sacrificing to some obscure superego gods? Without this suspension. what makes Sethe's act so monstrous is the 'suspension of the ethical' involved in it. prevents them from exploding into ~h~ limitless search for power that violates every human_ consideration .. one susj..-Kierkegaard enjoins a true Christian believer to hate the belo~. as such.. Is it necessary to add that this Antigone is a masculine fantasy par excellence? In theI?~4~rn ethical constellation. in its enormity.. that the subject' as such' is ultimately feluinine.) .. while women are inherently apolitical-ethical (as in the usual misreading of Antigone as the defender of ethical family values against masculine political manipulations): this very elevation of Woman into the protect. tl:is Cmasculine') universality of ~truggle for power that relies on the ethical figure of Woman as its inherent exception.pte'd'-{.th~t-~~~. incOIuprehensible dimension of the Thing power struggles.105 In the traclitional (premodern) act.g.:.?~~"~.. while the 'feminine' ethical act involves precisely the suspension of this boundary . Lacan emphasizes how. Here the structure is that of the Kantian Sublime: the overwhelming infinity of sacrificed empirical/pathological objects brings home in a negative way the enormous..who. So Antigone is sublime in her sad enumeration of what she is sacrif:1cing .--. condemned to death..~~g~:~!~4~EI~?~~~~. after her excommunication from the 155 the standard cliche about how men are involved in political 154 .a. it has the structure of a political decision.~..~fra~_~~ag~"..st tQ.:".rb~-."~~..~k.-'.is masculine in its inherent lQgic.ress of pU£. on the contrary.that is to say.t:-~th7s.:.tr. i~~lermost-~'at~~~~~.THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE SLAVOJ ZIZEK Sethe's act is an exemplary case of the properly modern ethical act which.:-d -h. In his reading of Antigone.§­ e-. I07 Yes.imself out oflove).

the sine qua non of an authentic act in Serbia today would be precisely to renounce the claim to Kosovo. For this very reason. thereby securing for Himself the eternal gratitude of the human race.is not the nltimate example of such a gesture of (shooting at oneself'.) And . If we adopt this traditional stance. This is what the townspeople in Cincinnati respond to. any advocacy of democracy which does not explicitly renounce nationalistic claims to Kosovo They abandon her because of what they felt was her pride. (What we have here.. claimed that she has stepped across the line. Would not an adequate example of the same gesture from today's political life be the way the Serbs relate to Kosovo as their precious object-treasure. They have had losses too.SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE community..to go to the limit . renouncing what is most damns what they think is valuable to them. so to speak. what makes Sethe so monstrous is not her act as such.the issue apropos of which the struggle for democracy will be decided is that of Kosovo.. with us humans? So when the Bible proclaims that God sacrificed His only-begotten son to redeem humanity from its sins. of the unspeak- with the West and 'betraying' Serb national interests in Kosovo. she would kill her child again is what they know. as that which matters to them more than anything else. as the cradle of their civilization. she insists on the radically ethical status of her monstrous deed. l-Ier statement about what is valuable to her . not her grief. qualifYing it as something 'pathological' (in the Kantian sense of the term). still alive yet excluded from the symbolic community . In her unwillingness to apologize or bend . but it is excessive. Antigone enters the domain of ate. J 08 In short. it is totally misleading to reduce the death of Christ to a sacrificial gesture in the exchange between God and man . 157 . It's understandable. but the way she refuses to 'relativize' it. is a nice case of the political dialectic of democracy: although democracy should be the ultimate goal of political activity in today's Serbia.. again provided by Christianity itself: by the Crucifixion? As Hegel emphasized.instead of compromising her desire by assuming a distance towards her act. therefore. consequently. That is what separates her from the rest of her community. fice the substantial attachment to the privileged object..in a sense it is doomed to fail . the ques- ity for it. and which they are never able to renounce? Therein lies the final limit of the large majority of the so-called 'democratic opposition' to the Milosevic regime: they unconditionally endorse Milosevics anti-Albanian nationalist agenda. to concede that she acted in an unforgivable fit of despair or madness . sin and imperfection. in an interview.to claim that by sacrificing that which is most precious to HimseU: his own son.does uot the same hold for Sethe? Morrison herself.is God Himself forced to sacrifice his son'! Or is He playing perverse games with Himself . even accusing him of making compromises 156 tion arises immediately: jor whom . to sacri- able horror of dwelling 'between the two deaths'.and. there are only two ways to explain this strange act: 109 • God as omnipotent is a perverse subject who plays obscene games with hUluanity and His own son: He creates suffering. but her arrogance . God redeems humanity. ransoming its sins. to shed her responsibil- precious to oneself. so that He can intervene and resolve the mess He created.for which authority above Himself .

the prisoners have seen a -ghost .SLAVOJ ZIZEK THE fRAGILE ABSOLUTE • God is not omnipotent. sublates itself. and it is perhaps better that he doesn't know. in the figure of the Leader.. we see the voice. hrings ahout unwanted dire consequences. 110 In hearing this aria from Figaro..a proper revolutionary utopia always involves such a short circuit. incidentally. redeemed of all particular links (the 'Holy Spirit'). this magic moment when the Absolute appears in all its fragility: the man who puts on the record in the prison (Tim Robbins) is precisely the one who rejects all false dreams about escaping from prison. like the fateful deed of the Greek hero. a rather trifling oue: the dnet from Act In in which the Countess dictates to Snsanna the letter destined to trap her unfaithful husband) . . tening to Mozart's aria. whose commentary we heal. His own son _ in this sense. The last words of the dying Tristan in Wagner's opera are 'What. unaware of'this trifling content. in opposition to the reactionary obscene call of the superego in which. between the sublime dimension of music and the trifling character of its content. In other words. we catch a glimpse of Another Space which can no longer he dismissed as a hmtasmatic supplement to social reality. claims that he doesn't know what the two ladies are singing about. The traditional reading thus ohliterates the ultimate mystery of the Crucifixion: the Crucifixion. about life Ontside. the efIect would undonbtedly be pathetic in an extremely vulgar way. within music itself. This paradoxical short circuit between the two senses is what happens to the prisoners in this scene: in lis- way entails that every utopian imagination gets caught in the trap of inherent transgression: when we abandon the fantasmatic Otherness which makes life in constrained social reality bearable.. is a prison life and the universe oflate-eighteenth-century aristocratic love intrigue? So the true contrast is not simply behveen the prison horror and the 'divine' Mozart's music but. It is deeply significant that the duet is from Mozart (and. It should thus be clear how the standard notion of artistic beauty as a utopian false escape From the constraints of reality falls short: one should distinguish between ordinary escapism and this dimension of Otherness. . the death of the son of God. Wbat we have here is the effect of the sublime at its purest: the momentary suspension of meaning which elevates the subject into another diulcnsion in which the prison terror has no 158 . God Himself is the ultimate Ahraham. He is like a Greek tragic hero sub- hold over him. it should also be clear that the necessity of renunciation inherent to the notion of' act in no sublime is that the poor prisoners. The duet from The Marriage 0/Figaro in The Shawshank Redemption (the cinema version of King's story) is an exemplary case of the effect of the sublime which relies on the contrast between the poverty and horror of real life and the sndden intrusion of this Other Space. From this supreme example. free. the very structure of sacrifice! as it were. hear I the light? '. . what makes the scene happy event . aud the only way for Him to re-estahlish the balance of \Justice is to sacrifice what is most precious to Him. they also hear the light .in it. The black convict (Morgan Freeman). directly perceive the sublime beauty of the music. iF we were to hear an overtly 'sublime' piece of music (like the fonrth movement of Beethoven's Ninth). giving hirth to a new suhject no longer rooted in a particular suhstance. More precisely.neither the 159 bnt all the men listening to them were.can one imagine a more startling contrast than the one betvveen mid-twentieth-century American ordinated to a higher Destiny: His act of creation. for a brief moment.

r<. Saint Paul ou la naissance de l'universalisme. Fetish: An Erotics if Culture. Harmondsworth: Penguin 1985. And if' there is of'ten something monstrous about encountering such ghosts (since. See Henry Krips.. p. See Vesna Goldworth. then. New Haven. brings us back to our starting point: the third modality of' ghosts is none other than the Holy Ghost itself'. NY: Corn ell University Press 1999. see Chapter 3 of Slavoj Zizek. in order to impress his future father-in-law. 160 . 4. 82. Ibid.why don't the two of you just go away and forget about me?' 10. 161 NOTES have seen a ghost . pp. but deprived of its cause.5LAVOJ ZIZEK resuscitated obscene ghost of' the past. Ibid. For a more detailed development of this theme. 3. See Etienne Balibar. democracy was desirable. authentic psychoanalytic and revolutionary political collectives as its two main f'orms. ideally. London and New York: Verso 1999. not the spectral ghost of' the capitalist present..we should remember Heiner Muller's f'amous motto: 'The first appearance of'the new is the dread'. eT and London: Yale University Press 1998.. in La crainte des masses. we got the object of our desire. beauty is the last veil that envelops the Monstrous) . 9. Kart .if. 2.once this intermediate obstacle fell. London and New York: Verso 1995. 'La Violence: idealite et cruaute'. 6. and Chapter 6 of The Ticklish Subject. Paris: Editions Galilee 1997. after such encounters. 8.1. See Alain Badiou. In the last years of Communism in F. but through the intermediary of Communist constraints . we actually look as ifwe 1. Inventing Ruritania. 5. Ithaca. engages in such intense conversation with him that at a certain point his poor fiancee explodes: 'Where am I in all this? I feel like a disturbing element .stern Europe.J.\!larx and Frederick Engels. but the brief' apparition of' a f'uture utopian Otherness to which every authentic revolutionary stance should cling. as we know from Rilke. for example. Paris: PUF 1998. the community of' believers qua 'uncoupled' outcasts f'rom the social order _ with. The Me/astases ofEly'oyment. This. 7. And does not the same often go for the parents themselves? Recall the proverbial suitor who. 83-4. The Communist Manifesto.

13.blank . the cultural studies which celebrate new multiple perverse forms of artistic production do not take sufficiently into account how these phenomena are grounded in global capitalism. the co-ordinated movement of dozens of gigantic cranes was staged as an art performance doubtless perceived by many uninformed passers-by as part of an intense construction activity. and are therefore all the more dangerous. Durham.. . effectively to rehistoricize the topics of cultural studies. but displayed in public. however. by definition they can never be found. in Potsdamerplatz. meaningless material leftovers. . proto-Kantian. that this was probably another of those postmodern art performances whose aim was. or that the person at the other end (by mistake. of course. as if the intricate cobweb of water.I was soon proved wrong. that 'nothing but the place took place' . It is worth noting that it is Lacanian theory. 16. on a wholly different level.it is Lacanian theory that enables us fully to conceptualize this link. Lagrasse: Verdier 1998. My reaction was. it means that the void is the message. 41. that is. which offers the best theoretical frame for grasping this new trend. London: Routledge 1992. in a kind of equivalent to displaying on video the palpitation of our stomach or lungs . and so on. New York: Columbia University Press 1987. from the (rather logical) desert to the (slightly irrational) cellars of presidential palaces (so that when the palace is bombed. Perhaps one way to imagine this notion of 'nothing but the place taking place' is the experience of seeing that the paper spewed out by the fax machine is blank: does this blankness mean that the machine has simply IMg and the morc help it needs? 12. expected to be hidden in the most disparate and improbable places. the empty place itself took place. electricity. in all probability) put a blank piece ofpapa into the machine (01' inserted the paper with the wrong -. 14. or vice versa. phone.as such. 18.side down)? Do we not encounter here a kind of meehan~ ieal counterpart to the Nietzschean distinction between 'willing nothing' and '[actively] willing the nothingness itself': the blank paper can mean 'the message didn't get through' 01' 'the void we see is the message the sender put in'? So how do we decide? By looking closely at the paper: if there are tiny stains on it. the largest construction site in Berlin. people can thrive only if they look up towards their leader!' 20. p.?fEnjoyment. 150. with its accelerated commodification . The Ethics ofPsychoanalysis. see also Chapter 5 of' Zizek.149. ' I myself made the opposite blunder during a trip to Berlin: I noticed along and above all the main streets numerous large blue tubes and pipes. with respect to the fact that one of the maljimctiolled.. p. 21. dealing with the ahistorical symbolic system. this time. the more it becomes dependent on the standard criticisms of Lacan is that his theory is abstract. with the IMF's help to developing Third \Vorld nations? Is it not true that the morc such a state accepts Il'vlF help. unaware of the concrete sociohistorical conditions of its subject matter. 15. Translation corrected. never empirically specified. And is not something similar taking place. p. its hidden inner machineI)'.. This tendency often leads to the comic confusion whereby a work of art is mistaken for an everyday object.an example of his poetry: 'In the same way as sunflowers can blossom and thrive only if they are turned up and look towards the sun. that the text typed on the paper at the other end was not transmitted. with its link between surplus-enjoyment and surplus-value. was no longer hidden beneath the earth. Jacques Lacan.. NC: Duke University Press 1997. 19. We can see apropos of our example how. to reveal the intestines of the town.NOTES TO PAGES 22-5 NOTES TO PAGES 25-34 11. since.it was not that 'nothing took place'. Post-Fascist Fantasies. when friends pointed out to me that what I saw was merely part of the standard maintenance and repair of the city's underground service network. .?fSense. p. as if the removal of the greater part of them magicaHy heightens the destructive power of:' the remainder . allegedly present in large quantities. a kind of Hitchcockian MacGuffin. 32. 162 163 . and the more they are destroyed. and obeys its conditions or takes its advice. Quoted from Julia Hell. The notorious Iraqi 'weapons of mass destruction' offer another example of the ohjet petit a: they arc an elusive entity. See Gerard Wajcman. Recently.. Ibid. Kim Yong Il is hailed by the official propaganda as 'witty' and 'poetic' . yet magically moved around all the time by workers. they may poison Saddam and his entire entourage). . The Metastases f. L'objet du siecle. the more all-present and all-powerful they are in their threat. 17. GiUes Deleuze. in clear contrast to this criticism. in a way. The Logic f.

\vare of the intense details that seem to lead a life of their own. is. sees shapes) with colours. Seminar XX: Encore. MD: Johns Hopkins University Press 1976. Le Seminaire. 31. 34.NOTES TO PAGES 36-41 NOTES TO PAGES 42-65 22. NJ: Princeton Universi1y Press 1995. A 13. ed. if allowed to stay in power they would actually have created 'socialism with a human face'. See Eric Santnel. 27. Harmondsworth: Penguin 1983. Scribner. 23. Rewriting the Soul. but . It is against this background that one should appreciate the early (Soviet) paintings of Komar and Melamid. In this reference to Courbet. p. Harmondsworth: Penguin 1960. 'Traumatic Revelations: Freud's Moses and the Origins of Anti-Semitism'. 'Working Memory: Mourning and Melancholia in Posilndustrial Europe'. See Carl Jensen. MD: Johns Hopkins University. Moses and Monotheism. New York Review o. The Last Tycoon. New York: Norton 1998. Vaclav Havel. 25. 6. Baltimore. rather. See Jacques Lacan.. Jacques Lacan. Francis Scott Fitzgerald. 39. C.W. functions directly as the medium of drawing. 45. dissertation.perhaps even more . 150.3. as it were. 1999. 44. vo!. 19. he draws shapes directly (or rather. pp. 404. Lafontaine's fall is a phenomenon parallel to the demise of the leaders of the Prague Spring of 1968: the Soviet intervention. NC: Duke University. Another way to approach the dead end of premodernist art is perhaps embodied in the pre~Raphaelite movement: the sublime beauty in their paintings which is dangerously close to kitsch. 2000.Press 1989. documenta IX vol. 41. 43. Stuttgart: Edition Cantz 1992. 42. 38. whose famous intensely coloured abstract paintings were preceded by a series of direct portraits of his mother. University of Michigan. Censored 1999: The News That Didn't Make the News. XLV). 40. I owe this story to George Rosenwald. In this respect. Hege!' Phenomenology o/Spirit. as exemplified in their 'Stalin and the Muses': they combine in onc and the same painting two incompat- 28. p. 32. OjGramnJatology.saved the illusion that. 'Kosovo and the End of the Nation-State'. of Spirit.f- ference is simply that in Rothko's work colour does not simply shade the contours of the drawn objects but.Rothko does not colour drawn shapes. 164 165 . Heiner Muller and Jan Hoet. 35. 68-9. Princeton.F. an Emblem of Suffering'. 26. livre VIIL Le trangert. 51. 59. p. 317-18. Paris: Editions ible notions of beauty: 'real' beauty . of presenting these contours . Spring Arbor. 33. 78. 10 (10 June 1999). p. Hegel. the key Jj. Durham. I draw extensively On Charity Scribner. One is tempted to conceive of Rothko's late abstract paintings as a kind of trans~ position~into~colour of Malevich's 'Black Square': the basic spatial co~ordinatesare 36. p.and the purely du Seui11991. p. 'The Desire of Lacan'. Jacques~Alain 1\1. The Scapegoat. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1977. Lacanian ink 14. Ibid. Columbia University. 'In One KosovoWoman. 37. saved their face . an authentic alternative to both Real Socialism and Real Capitalism. in a way.in the suspicion that Ancient Greek beauty itself was not as 'natural' as it may appear to us. Baltimore.the tlrst effect of sublime and ethereal beauty starts to disintegrate as one gradually becomes a. See Sigmund Freud. Santner. 'Insights into the Process of Production: A Conversation'.iller. Saled. Ann the same (central square against background). pp. The Origins oJReligion. Jacques Derrida.the classicist notion of Ancient Greek beauty as the lost ideal of organic innocence (the Muses) . 'Traumatic Revelations'./Books. 1.Press 2000. 12 May 1999. See Ian Hacking. 24. p. This passage from the direct expression of the incestuous objecttmued-abject to abstraction is most evidently at work in the artistic development of Mark Rothko. New York: Seven Stories Press 1999. Sexuation. Steven Erlanger. 96-7. and thus somehow intro~ duce a note of voluptuous overripe vulgarity. 'Working Memory'. but conditioned by a certaIn functional framework. The New York Times. undermined from within by the excessive accent on detail. p. 30. in Rena"k. no. pp. Pelican Freud Library voL 1. Phenomenology 'functional' beauty of the Communist leader. Their ironically subversive effect does not lie only in the grotesque contrast and incongruity of the hvo levels.into the whole of the painting. 29. See Rene Girard.

50. (p. employing it for bad. 807. Stanford. Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1993.the onl. See John Sallis. 493. the third. See . Or -to put it in Heidegger's terms (since in his notion of primordiallethe. for an object which is a stand-in for this Nothingness.see The Psychic Life of Power.so that the Absolute itself (the cosmic Force. the innermost core of the 'Western' matrix is that there is a third way: to put it in 166 Kantian-Nietzschean terms. 62. Reading Heidegger. The Abyss of Freedom. Der Wille zur Macht. since there is in humans a desire which is not 'pathological'. William Richardson. the original monstrous cut/excess.it is that the 'desire for Nothingness itself' is the 'vanishing mediator'. p.. See Binjamin \Vilkomirski. the ultimate 'reality' is that of Emptiness. What. Reading Heidegger. cd. while for us Western subjects. Here. Paris: Editions du Seuil1966. desiring humans. but then perverted/misused this Force... The Lacanian position is not that Buddhism is 'too strong'. if this fall into perversion is original. as such. and all Gnite/determinate reality is inherently 'illusory' . lVlartill Heidegger. vol. 57. In a broader context. 52. and that desire emerged. Ecrits.. See EW. or whatever it is called) gets radically pelverted.a 'pre-ontological derangement' is consubstantial with the human condition itself. of attachment to false reality? The only solution to this deadlock is to posit a kind of pre-ontological perturbation/inversion/disturbance within nirvana itself-that is to say. p. of the 'positive Void'. [it/m Noir. 'Heidegger among the Doctors'.J. 297. which becomes invisible once we formulate the opposition as that between desire for something and not desiring. The existence of this third option is discernible in the difficulty a Buddhist position has in explaining the emergence of desire: how is it that the primordial Void wa.t to this stance. in Sallis. In the 'Eastern' perspective at its most radical. London: Seeker & Warburg 1980. I take this term from Judith Butler . ed. caught in the dialectic of desire. in John Sallis. 51. however. Stuttgart: Alfred Kroner 1959. prior to the split between nirvana and false appearance . 65. p. 48.'ragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood. on the level of beings) . evil ends.e. Ibid. psychoanalysis is as far as we can go . Friedrich Nietzsche. 49. The Lacanian position on the Oriental notion of nirvana is therefore clear and unequivocal: the ultimate choice we. 55. ]-. CA: Stanford University Press 1998. immersion in the Void. Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann 1975-. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward. 338...Jacques Lacan. 'Deformatives: Essentially Other Than Truth'. the alternative between' not desiring anything' and the 'pathological' desire that chains us to positive empirical objects is not exhaustive. cd. Heidegger is ultimately getting at the same point) . Reitrage zur Philosophie. 298.<. that living beings got caught up in the wheel of karma. In contra.NOTES TO PAGES 68-81 NOTE TO PAGE 81 46. para. von Schelling. not desiring. in Gesamtausgabe. pp. and the opposition between nirvana and desire for false appearances is there to conceal this monstrosity? 167 . Ages of the Wodd/Slavoj Zizek. but a 'pure' desire for nothingness itself. that it is onl. are facing is not the choice between desire (for something within false reality) and renunciation (extinction) of desire. Ibid. Ann Arbor: University of l\I1ichigan Press 1997. and is thus the ultimate cause of sufferingthat is. 60) and.. p. incidentally. Richardson dearly contradicts his own claim two pages earlier that 'Lacan's question about the structure of the unconscious in psychoanalysis is clearly an existential/ontic one (i. there is a third option: the desire for Nothingness itself.y authentic way to ethico-epistemological Truth is to renounce desire as the condition which chains us to finite objects. The traCes of this inversion are discernible even in pop-cultural New Age icons like Darth Vader from Star Uilrs: in the idea that the truly evil people are those who have gained access to the Force that enables us to reach the true realm bey-ond false material reality. 54. more 'original' than the alternative between blissful immersion in the Void and enslavement to 'pathological' desires. unable to render theluatic the fundamelltal-ontologieal question of the Sense of Being: how can a term which concerns the very kernel of the essence of truth (the Lacc:mian 'Real') not bear upon this ontological question? 56. 53.y for those who are able effectively to extinguish their desire. more primordial option. p. 47. to enter the impassive bliss of nirvana. New York Schocken 1996. one should approach here the general theme of 'East versus West' ~ of the global difference between 'Eastern' and 'Western' elementary symbolic matrixes. disturbed. 181-2.

62. 63. 132. val. the Truth-Event can occur only within such a fundamental 'ontological imbalance'. Martin 11eidegger.NOTES TO PAGES 82-3 NOTES TO PAGES 85-100 58. 65. The Plague of Fantasies. Our only solution thus consists of a shift in the global paradigm. The truly problematic and central point is that Heidegger refuses to call this 'ontological imbalance' or 'derangement'subject. Religion Within the Limits ifReason Alone. I owe this point to Eric Santner (private conversation). Daniel C. and thus.ytic of Dasein' to his later concept of the History of Being along the same lines: is not the non-historical kernel of this historicity Heidegger's unresolved trauma of his Nazi political engagement? As for Heidegger's silence after the war. evokes this concept in a purely negative way.. thus elevating it into a universal Principle (see Reiner Schtirmann. disappointed when he is betrayed by his mistress. VOlume L An Introduction. I have dealt with this problem in detail in The Indivisible Remainder (London and New York: Verso 1996) and in The Ticklish Subject. 14. in his very universal hatred of sexual relations. that is. unambiguously to condemn Nazism and his role in it _ is this silence not telling. rather. (Dennett. Dennett. the only imaginable political engagement for him was the Nazi engagement. One is tempted to interpret Heidegger's passage from his early prototranscendental 'anal.. The idea is that this hubris which disturbs the delicate balance of cosmic powers forces Nature sooner or later to re-establish this balance: today's ecological. is in a way older than Truth itself. London and New York: Verso 1997. The point to emphasize here is that Heidegger's attempt to 'pass through' modern~age 61. Emancipation(s). p. that the subject was still hot and extremely touchy. the only alternative being withdrawal into pure thought (rather like a deceived lover who. For a more detailed account of this notion of fundamental fantasy. to the fact that he never really got over it. social and psychic crisis is interpreted as the universe's justified answer to man's presumption. New York Harper & Row 1960. his persistent refusal to settle his accounts with his past in public. New York: Little. 'Ultimate Double Binds'. 64. 271. Consciousness Explained.) Harmondsworth: Penguin 1981. cannot move on to other women. acquired a distance towards it. Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1995. that the wound was still raging. 59. two interconnected subversions of this opposition 169 168 . indeed. in the unique spiritual moment of the twelfth century. no.the metaphysical oblivion of ontological difference. For a more detailed elaboration of the concept of the death drive. The Indivisible Remainder. The History of Sexuality. See IVlichel Foucault. The Fundamental Concepts subjectivity has nothing whatsoever to do with the New Age cliche.. as a nonsensical contradictio in ac/jecto. 2): for Heidegger. On this notion of the act. see Chapters 1 and 4 of Slavoj Zizek. 68. bearing unequivocal witness to his remaining traumatic 'passionate attachment' to the Nazi dream. of course. In clear contrast to this notion that underlies all returns to 'ancient wisdom'. that is to say. The Ticklish Subject. the fact that man's emergence somehow 'derails' the balance of entities. 66. Brown 1991. Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal. his arrogant assumption that he occupies the central place in the universe and/or that he is endowed with the Divine right to master all other beings and exploit them for his own benefit. confusion between the event-horizon of Being as such and the Supreme Entity -" equals the disturbing of cosmic balance. One should therefore reject entirely Reiner Schiirmann's reading according to which the Heideggerian 'forgetting of Being' . Heidegger is fully aware that the 'derangement of man's position among beings'. the privileging of one aspect of the cosmic antagonism in favour of its opposite. abstains from any further sexual contact. see Chapter 5 of Zizek. bears witness to the fact that he is still traumatically scarred by the one railed contact). see Chapter 1 of Zizek. according to which the original sin of modern Western civilization (or. In the history of Christianity we have. See Book One of Immanuel Kant. of Metaphysics. in adopting the new holistic attitude in which we humbly accept our subordinate place in the global Order of Being.Judaeo-Christian tradition) is man's hubris. p. 'put his Nazi past at rest'? No. 67. Again. London and New York: Verso 1995. See Ernesto Laclau. Heidegger did not simply 'repress' or 'erase' his past political engagement: his withdrawal from public life in his later years proves. 60. its very hidden foundation. that is. of the . New York: New School for Social Research.

see Chapter 3 of Zizek. in their very majesty. The Ethics ofPsychoanalysis. and thus give birth to the reasoning: 'even Nature at its mightiest is infinitely les. For a closer reading of this passage see Chapter 1 of Zizek. HegeL 'Jenaer Realphilosophie'. In this context. The Metastases of Enjoyment. 81. evokes this trans-phenomenal Idea.. 78. they arc part of the dam adequately. the God who.if we look straight at it we see nothing. as its own shadow . The Politics of Rhetoric. I draw again on Scribner. needs to 'spiritual' concerns.-8. See Theodor W.. See Butler's systematic critical reading of Lacan in Bodies That Matter. every sexual act.W. pp. Hegel's Recollection. is ultimately incestuous. 1. 70. even with a legitimate spouse. 57-91. p. Drei Studien zu liege!. G. In this reading of Kieslowski's Blue. but the shifEng of the libido from the void of the 'unserviceable' Thing to some concrete. 75. in a partiaL distorted form. It is no wonder that. has to appear as illegitimate. 71. University of California.as if such a direct 'objective' verification somehow infringes on the subject's right to the privacy of his thoughts. Albany. See Paul Moyaert. See Donald Davidson. Routledge 1993. we could speak of temporal anamorphosis: the Thing is attainable only by an incessant postponement. p. Lacan's concept of sublimation is the result of a very simple yet radical operation: he brings together the Freudian problematic of 'sublimation' (which. NY: SUNY Press 1985.for the Cathars. The Cathars.they both involve a kind of short circuit which. The Ticklish Subject. The basic operation of courtly love was to retra1151ate agape back into eros: to redefine sexual love itself as the ultimate. to elevate eras to the level of the sublime agape. 1996. the opposition between eras and agape was elevated into a Gnostic~dualistic cosI?ic polarity: no 'moderate' permissible sexuality is possible.NOTES TO PAGES 100-105 NOTES TO PAGES 105-14 between erGS and agape: the CathaI' version of Christianity and the emergence of courtly love.. involves shifting the libido from an object that satisfies some immediate material need to an object that has no apparent connection to this need: destructive literary criticism becomes sublimated aggressivity.For them. 171 . finds itself in the place of the impossible Thing. a mere void. the ultimate object of desire . 73. Ibid" pp. in Frilhe politische Systeme. than my freedom'). On this notion. and this world is the work of Satan . says 'Let there be light!' is none other than Satan himself. 'Lacan on Neighborly Love'. p.through a network of detours. 204. as its absent point-oF-reference. Here I draw on Julia Reinhard Lupton (UC Irvine) and Kenneth New York. from the strict Pauline standpoint. since it serves the propagation and reproduction of terrestrial life. Adorno. Frankfurt: Ullstein 1974. thoroughly rejected eras as such . 1.c. 13. approximations and near-misses. Providence (UT). Frankfurt: Suhrkamp same historical movement . as in the famous notion of extreme natural phenomena like storms and earthquakes which. intervention at the conference 'Culture and Nlateriality'. 76. 82. part of everyday reality.. at the very beginning of the Bible. Lacan replaces the Kantian noumenal Thing with the impossible/real Thing. p. etc. 137. unending ethical Duty.) and the Kantian notion of the 'Sublime' (an empirical object/event which. This is why Lacan detlnes sublimation as the elevation of an object into the dignity of the Thing: 'sublimation' occurs when an object. pp. 74. 168-9. in contrast. pp. Lacan himself draws attention to the resistance to the use of lie-detectors in crime investigations . Oxford: Clarendon Press 1984. 'Working Memory'. 79.) The Thing is therefore literally something that is created _ whose place is encircled . Ernesto Laclau. 77. fail to represent the noumenal free170 Reinhard (UCLA)'s unpublished paper 'The Subject of Religion. This Thing is inherently anamorphic: it can be perceived only when it is viewed from the side. to put it in somewhat simplified terms. material object of need which assumes a sublime quality the moment it occupies the place of the Thing. 1-31.F. 23-25 April 1998. 1963. althoug-h opposed. 72. Lacan and the Ten Commandments'. Lacan. 69. scientific research on the human body becomes sublimated voyeurism . translation quoted from Donald Phillip Verene. Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. through its very failure adequately to represent the noumenal Idea. Ibid.the primordial movement of'sublimation' is thus not from concrete material sexual. (In a homologous way. 8 L 80. Davis. Epoche no.

ypothesis of repressive desublimatioll..after accomplishing his terrible deed on behalf of the Revolution. on the difference between the Frankfurt School approach and the Lacanian approach with regard to this feature. the prohibition against injuring the Other .).i\!ledea. 91. in his unique attempt to think together the necessity of revolutionary violence and the basic humanity that demands that we recognize the dignity of the dead. 421. 9 Angust 1999. causing de Beauvoir many traumas. S0ren Kierkegaard. undermines its own foundation? In other words. The Frankfurt School tradition discerned this key feature of the libidinal structure of 'totalitarianism' in the guise of the h. by fighting the symptoms too strongly. for example. 98. Le dire et le dit. p. he proposed the unique phantasmic combinationlcondensation of Medea and Antigone: .' And in both cases. We can see how the triad ISR (Imaginary-Symbolic-Real) is operative in these three readings of the transfusion example: the judge's procedure is Imaginary (providing a lie legitimized by the other's wellbeing). 87. demanding subjective truth. the totalitarian 'You may . See Lacan. 88. relies on the Symbolic. 73. For a closer reading of Breaking the Waves. Lacan. in Begel's logic. The Metastases oJEnjoyment. 93. 90. In permissive liberalism. New York: Harper Torchbooks 1962. this avoidance of paying the price for desire exacts a price of its own. Aleksandar Tijani6. II4. London: Faber & Faber 1995). Heiner Muller recognized in Medea the ultimate figure of excessive revolutionary revenge against oppressive rulers.for desiring it. in The Ziiek Reader. 95.as Antigone does with her own brother .. Chapter 3 of Zizek. 102.gently holds him in her arms. it was not that she was just onc in the series. Does not this passage from the external tension between the Law and the series of 'pathological' symptoms as the indices of the failure of'the Law to the space in which there are only symptoms repeat the basic matrix of the Hegelian criticism of Kant. in which the condition of impossibility (the 'pathological' obstacle that forever prevents the realization of the Law) coincides with the condition of possibility: what the Law perceives as the obstacle to its full actualization is the very condition of its functioning. while for Sartre. 99. 97. See Oswald Ducrot. the message is: 'You may . . 85. ' (ignore your own and your neighbour's well-being) demands subordination to the figure of the l\1aster. In his version of'Medea (see '\Vaterfront Wasteland Medea lVlaterial Landscape with Argonauts'. p. Dennett. 197. Works 94. see Chapter 1 of Zizek. the rules of safe sex. Kierkegaard. in a precisely symmetrical way.. but that she was precisely one of the exceptions -.. the gap between the Law and its symptoms is now posited as internal to the symptoms themselves (just as. p. The Ethics ojPsychoanalysis.NOTES TO PAGES 114-33 NOTES TO PAGES 134-51 83. I have dealt with this opposition in practically all my latest books. Oxford: Blackwelll998.. Paris: l<~itions du Seui11977. . The next step here would be to oppose the 'totalitarian' to the liberalpermissive You may!. 84. 'The Remote Day of Cbange'. p. so that. 89. possess the object without paying the proper price frlT desire.. and gently buries the dead. she was none the less the Exception. 92. M/adina (Ljubljana). 172 . 22 I. while the third procedure generates a kind of knowledge in the Real. The Metastases ofEnJoyment.. the one true love connection. 96. Seminar XX: Encore. see Slavoj Zizek.. see. p. Daniel C. I owe this point to a conversation with Alenka ZupanCic. takes upon himself the burden of guilt. p. the Universal itself is one of its own particular species). the second procedure. 33. Furthermore. She expected that although Sartre had a series of other lovers. Here we have the image of the agent/executioner who.that his series was a series of women each of whom was 'something exceptional' to him. Ibid. In both cases. the 'You mayl' of freely inventing your Self becomes entangled in the intricate web of prohibitions concerning the well-being of yourself and your neighbours (what not to eat and drink. in Theatremachine. who first kills and dismembers her brother (in order to enable herself and Jason to escape their pursuers) and then . p. New York: Simon & Schuster 1996. 86. (Another such paradoxical I\tluUerian figure is that of 173 of Love. the Law. Darwin's Dangerous Idea. To give another example: that was also the deadlock of the 'open marriage' relationship between Jean-Paul Sartre and SilUone de Beauvoir: it is clear from reading their letters that their 'pact' was in fact asymmetrical and did not work.. Ibid. TVorks ofLove. 'Death and the Maiden'.

On the level of narrative technique.) The point to be noted here is that if the figure of' Medea is to be reappropriated for the radical tradition. ed. p. They emphasize that such a focus neglects the proper learning function of these plays.. the comparison between Sethe and Medea was which provides the co~ordinates for abortion debates: in Beloved. p.his escape tunnel . the infanticide is paradoxically justiGed by the rights of the child herself. slightly sadistic imbecile who made a botched job of creation. 104. 129). of course. As is well known. question 'What does one actually learn in Brecht's learning plays?' _. the same delayed encounter with the trauma is at work in the fact that it has only recently become possible to tell such a story: it was the modern emotional and political resonance of the theme of abortion that finally provided the proper background for it . is first described from the perspective of'the slavecatchers (who see in the murder the ultimate proof of' her barbarity). with her murdered daughter. Quoted from Toni Morrison: Beloved. one should retain and rein~ scribe the very act which makes her so unpalatable to decent humanist consciousness: her ruthless killing of her own children (in contrast to Christa \Volf's otherwise outstanding Medea. that the infanticide in Beloved precisely subverts the standard oppo~ sition between the rights of the mother and those of the fetus. This is why those interpreters of Brecht who claim that it is wrong to focus on the final act of forcedly chosen self-sacrifice of the young actor/person in DerJasager or Die Massnahme miss the point. that it is too monstrous to be narrated as a heroic mythical event.NOTES TO PAGES 1S1-3 NOTES TO PAGES 153-9 'Christ the Tiger' . Ibid. and even when the story of infanticide is finally told by Sethe herself. 102. Carl Plasa. 106. which opens up a passage to freedom. 109. For a more detailed analysis of this structure of versagung. Toni Morrison. incidentally. If. p. see Chapter 2 of Zizek. we take this statement at its face value . 217. is the gesture of such a radical self'obliteration that it goes beyond the standard notion of what is 'tragic'. of the Creator Himself.. 105. a negative review of Beloved. 100. p. one learns the art of versagung. consequently. 108. Stamp Paid). 101. And.beneath a large poster of Rita Hayworth and other later film stars) provide the minima! matrix of the sublime: an image ofbeaut. Here I draw on a conversation with Alcnka ZupanCic. p. 110. she finds it diHicult to convey . then through the perspectives of other African-American witnesses (Baby Suggs. [Icon Critical Guides]. in which she redeems Medea by reinterpreting her killing of her brother and children as a malicious rumour spread by her high~ranking enemies in order to discredit her). One is none the less tempted to claim that Morrison's dismissal of' the comparison relies on a superficial reading of Medea's gesture. however. the gap. The key dimension of Stephen King's story on which the film is based is indicated by its title: 'Rita I-Iayworth and the Shawshank Redemption'. New York: Knopf 1987. Christ expired in order to pay not for the sins of humanity but for the sins of his Father. and reinscribes them in the standard tragic dramaturgy. 107. of course. the opposition 174 175 .with the additional twist. The Indivisible Remainder. if we discard the standard Gnostic reading according to which the God who created our world was a half-impotent.y (the pin-up poster) which serves as the screen concealing the hole. And. 103. this structure of versagung also provides an answer to the naiVe. bringing about an imperfect world full of suffering. 34. Does not the apparently ridiculous plot (for long years the hero digs a hole in the wall .that her act is not something that can be integrated into 'common knowledge'. this monstrosity of the act is signalled by the fact that the text approaches it only gradually: Sethe. but necessary. Cambridge. claiming that Sethe 'didn't do what Medea did and kill her children because of some guy' (quoted from Toni Morrison: Belo'ved. out of the prison universe? introduced by Stanley Crouch as a problematic feature in his 'Aunt Medea'. 1\'10rrison herself rejected the comparison. 36). 43..of the Christ who first slaughters his enemy. Quoted from T'oni Morrison: Beloved. then gently takes care of him. versagung.well aware that she will be mis~ understood . as Sally Keenan has suggested (see Toni Morrison: Beloved. MA: Icon Books 1998. Beloved.

37-8 Croce. 154-6 Badiou. . Arno 33 Buddha 120 ButIcl. 62 The Communist Manifesto (jViarx and Engels) 11-16 capitalism dissolves links 40 Courbet. Judith eternity 94 Lacan's hegemonic imaginary 105 Ceaw~escu. Ulrich 6 militaristic humanism 56-7 Beloved (Morrison) 152--6 Benigni.-5 Christianity Marxist lineage 2 Claude!' Paul Coo.Vin's Dangerous Idea (Dennett) 136-7 177 . Gustave 'L'origine du monde' 36.INDEX Ahraham 150 Adorno.Massimo 62 Antigone 152. Theodor 18. Alain Saint Paul ou la naissance de l'universalisme 2 Breaking the Waves (film) 144 Brecht. Jeremy self-iconicity 51 Bhaghavad-Gita 129 Blade Runner (film) 65-6 Blair. Etienne excessive. 105 late capitalism 61~2 African National Congress 54 d'Alema. 77-8 Benjamin.fontaine trilogy 43 Clinton. non~functional cruelty 8 Beck. Bill 54. Bertolt 147 Brekker. Nicolae 5 Balibar. Benedetto 105 Crowd Psycbology (Freud) 123 Dar'l. Waiter Messianic promise 89 Bentham. Tony 62 Blue (film) 101-3 Celebration (fihn) 7:\. Roberto Lije is Beautiful 73·-5.

Md ] 49 Giddens. an Hitchcock. Women arefrom Venus 107-8 Hitler. S0ren 127. Albrecht 36 Ewll!Feudienne de Paris 15] Eighteenth Brumaire (Marx) 45 id and ego 6]-2 and Jung 98 location of hysteric's symptoms 4 /l:losex and Monotheism 64. S. Daniel Darwin's Dangerous Idea 136-7 Freud. Vaclav 'Kosovo and the End of the Nation-State' 56 Hopper. ]02 oneness 51-2 Phenomenology ofSpirit 43. Edward 33 110rkheimer. Carl Custav 98 ~JUngcl~ Ernst 77 Kant. John Men arefrom Mars.30. Oswald 139 DUrer.. 80. Georg W. Francis The End of Histo.-4 the Spirit is a bone 28-9.ytical Hayes Code 67 Hege!' Georg W. 46 Duchamp.118 Dead Man Walking (film) 112 Dennett. Cameron 66 Diderot. ]50. Jacques all that is solid 40 anti-narrativism 110 appearance 127-8 Fitzg"crald.y 10 Fundamental Concepts ofMetaphysics 16 errancy/untruth 78. Stephen 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption' Marx) ] 1-16 Erlanger.IN DEX INDEX Davidson. 35-6 King. Dents Nephew of Rameal' 44-5. Stephen .E Scatl The Last Tycoon 36-7 Foucault. Marcel 32 Ducrot. Immanuel ethical imperative 133 Derrida. grnst 23 Kusturica. . 147-8 Kieslowski. ~Jesus Christ family relations 120-21 fulfilling the Law 148 identity as Cod 104 sacrifice in death 157--8 speaks to the outcasts 123 temporality/eternit. Michel 90 confessionary discourse 98 l-?ragments (Wilkomirski) 74-5 St Francis 124 Freeman. Jacques 47 Diaz.Liol1el 61 ~Jung. l'v\organ 158-9 Hacking.·5 ] subject of the Unconscious 47 Beidegger. Peter The Woman and the Ape 65-6 Krips. Murder in the Cathedral 143 The End of History (Fukuyama) 10 Engels.. Patricia Heroine 59-60 Kim Yong Jl 34. Sigmund abstaining/versagung 154 Crowd Psychology 123 death drive 82 going to Lemberg 81 Hege!.y 96-7 Jospin. Donald Principle of Charity 114. gmir popularity in West 5-6 Lacan. 81-2 Fundamental Concepts ofMetaphysics law 132 time and eternity 93. Fricdrich The Communist Manifesto (with (Heidegger) 86 Gap (company) 95 Gibson. Steven 'One Kosovo Woman.) ethical substance 64 the hero's valet 47-8 historical repetition 45 money 46-7 the night of the world 81~2. Anthony 6 Girard. Krzysztof' Blue 10]-3 Eliot. Federico Satyricon 88 Gou1d. T. Rene 63 Good Soldier Srhweik (Hasek) ]48 86 illusion of metaphysics 86-7 Letter on Humanism 82 Heroine (Highsmith) 59-60 Highsmith.Jay ] 18 Gray. Rupert 66-1 Fellini. 97-8. lan 65 Hasek. Jaroslav Good Soldier Schweik 148 I-lavel.E (cont. Henry 20 Kris. Max 18 Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Davidson) Principle of Charity ]] 4 The Institute for Judaism and Science 140 International Psycho-Anal. Alfred Vertigo 20-21 148-9. Martin 18 Americanism and Communism 84-5 Fukuyama.E death of Christ and sacrifice ]57-8 Association (]PA) ]24 the big Other 114-18 death drive 30 the Decalogue 113 179 178 . 158-60 'l{osovo and the End or the Nation-State' (Havel) 56 Kosovo Liberation Army 59 Emblem of Suffering' 57-8 Ethics o/pJychoanalysis (Lacan) 145 Ethyl Corporation 55 Everctt. 97 Kierkegaard. Adol! defended ]30-3] Hoeg.

Jacques-AJain 22. Keanu 149 Richardson. Mercier 45 Ransom (fIlm) 149-50 Reeves. George The Phantom A1enace 7. Wolfgang Amadeus The Marriage ofFigaro 158-60 St Paul agape 100. 38--9 l'v1allarme. 122 St Luke 120 lYlalevich. 137-9 Laclau. Oskar 60-61 The Last Tycoon (fIlm) 36-7 Le Pen. Louis Sfbastien (Rameau's nephew) 44~S Miller.20 the Symbolic 91-2 traumatic events 64 truth 80--81. Vladimir Ilych ossification of Marxism 2 Letter on Humanism (Heidegger) 82 Mercier. Karl Christian lineage of Nlarxism 43-4 Rameau. Renato 55 Rugova.116. 30 surplus-value and surplusenjoyment 18. George oxymorons in Nineteen EightyFour 57 Sallis. Heiner East European anticipation 84-5 hegemonic imaginary 105 ideal Lady of courtly love 34 law 131-2 Master-Signi!. 150-51 Mozart. 143 Letter to the Corinthians 129. William 81 Rilke. Julia 66~7 Romeo and]uliet (Shakespeare) Lafontainc. Kasimir 32 'Black Square on White Surface' Levi~Strauss. John 81 monstrous truth 78-9 181 180 . Jacques (cont. G. 145-6 living body of community 125 theoretical antihumanism 126~7 transgression and love 14 5~6 The Phantom Menace (film) Anakin's conversion to evil 122 racism 7 Phenomenology ofSpirit (Hegel) 31.) dissolves Ecolefreudienne de Paris Letter to the Corinthians (St Paul) Moses and Monotheism (Freud) 64. Jean-Philippe and nephew. Toni Beloved 152-6 125-6 Ruggerio.INDEX IN D EX Lacan. Rainer Maria 160 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption' (King) 148-9 Robbins. 129. 145-6 Claude 51 Life is Beautiful (film) 73-5.42 analytic discourse 139 Lacan's universe 116 Milosevic. 77-8 L'objet du siecle (V/ajcman) 30-31 Lucas. 58-60 'On the Problem of the Beautiful in Soviet Art' (Nedoshivin) sublimation 26. 47-8 Napoleon III 45 Nedoshivin. institutionalization of Christianity 2 law and sin 113. Ibrahim 59 Saint Paul ou la naissance de l'universaEsme (Badiou) 2 33-4 'One Kosovo Woman.40 Eighteenth Erumaire 45 evolutionist perspective 91 mistaken about higher social order 17-21 ~rxBrothers 51 Medea 151-2 Men arefrom Mars. Panifal(VVagner) 118-19 97--8. vVomen arefrom Venus (Gray) 107--8 46 Nietzsche. 113. 114-15 Medea and women's acts 151~2 41-2 Multilateral Agreement on Investment 55 Murder in the Cathedral (Eliot) 143 My Best Friend' Wedding (film) 66-7 Napoleon Bonaparte 45. an Emblem of Suffering' (Erlanger) 57--8 Operation Desert Fox 76 Orwell. 'On the Problem of the Beautiful in Soviet Art' 33-4 Nephew ofRameau (Diderot) 44-5. Tim Dead Man Walking 112 1-2 commodity fetishism and social reality 83-4 The Communist Manifesto (with Engels) 11-16. 121 151 eating nothing 23 Ethics of Psychoanalysis 145 fantasy and self-experience Mliller.118. Stephane 31 The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart) Pauline love 146-7 p hailie signifier 32 proper tragedy 43 psychoanal. Ernesto 105 eternity 94 oppositions 123 Roberts. Jean-LVlarie 6 Leibniz.ytic discourse 140 reality and the Real 15 SeminarXX:Encore 115. Gottf'ried Wilhelm identity 51 Lenin. 143 subject and object-cause of desire 28 158-50 Marx. Friedrich truth 80 wanting nothing 23 Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell) 57 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 55 North Atlantic Treaty" Organization (NATO) Kosovo war 56-7. 156 lVlorrison. Slobodan 133.er 48-50.

IN D EX Santner. Binjamin Fragments 74~5 Winfrey. Friedrich \VJ. Steven Saving Private Ryan 77 Stahr. Usual Suspects (f. 108 The Woman and the Ape (Hoeg) 65-6 U10man in the Window (mm) 67-9 182 . 122 FUchard Parsifal 118-19 Tristan und Isolde 159-60 \Vajcman. Eric Freudian Moses 63.lm) 20-21. 122 The Strange Aj/air oJUncle Harry (fIlm) 67 Styron. \Villiam Rameo and]uliet 125-6 The Shawshank Redemption (fllm) 158-60 Siodmak. Aleksandar 133 Treatise on Freedom (Schelling) 81 Trier. Oprah 107. Lars van Breaking the Waves 144 Tristan und IsoMe (Wagner) 159~60 Tudjman. William Sophie's Choice 153 The Subject. 65 Satyricol1 (Film) 88 Saving Private Ryall (film) 77 Schelling.Joseph leaders 33-6 Stalker (fIlm) 41 Star Wars (Glm series) 7. 118. Andrei post-industrial wasteland 41 Tijanic.y 93--4 Treatise Oll Freedom 81 HIe/talter project 71~3. 101-2.Encore (Lacan) 137~9 Schrodcr. Gerhard 61. Andy 40 Wilkomirski. . Monroe instructs scriptwriters 36-7 Stalin. Gerard L'objet du siicle 30-31 Warhol. Robert The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry Virtigo (f.lm) 149-50 116. Thomas Celebration 73-5 VVagne~ 67 Sophie's Choicc (Styron) 153 Speed (film) 149-50 Spielberg. VOn 78 h mnanization of God 105-7 infinite melancholy of nature 86 ontology 85 relating to others 103 time and eternit. 62 Seminar. Tarkovsky. 117 Vinterberg.xx· Encore (Lacan) 115. 64. 143 Shakespeare. Franjo 53-4 Th.

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