CONNECTION 1 - CONFRONTING THE THING The Japanese expression bakku-shan means “a girl who looks as though she

might be pretty when seen from behind, but isn’t when seen from the front.” One of the lessons of the history of religion – and even more of today’s experience of religion – is that the same holds for god himself: he may appear great when he is seen from behind and from a proper distance, but when he comes to close and we have to confront him face to face, spiritual bliss turns into horror. This destructive aspect of the divine, the brutal explosion of rage mixed with ecstatic bliss, is what Lacan aims at with his statement that gods belong to the Real. An exemplary literary case of such an encounter of the divine Real is Euripides’s last play Bacchae, which examines religious ecstasy and the resistance to it. Disguised as a young holy man, the god Bacchus arrives from Asia to Thebes where he proclaims his godhood and preaches his orgiastic religion. Pentheus, the young Theban king, is horrified at the explosion of sacred orgies and prohibits his people to worship Bacchus; the enraged Bacchus leads Pentheus to a nearby mountain, the site of sacred orgies, where Agave, Pentheus' own mother, and the women of Thebes tear him to pieces in a Bacchic sacred destructive frenzy. The play outlines four existential positions towards the sacred orgiastic ritual. First, there is Pentheus himself, an enlightened rationalist and a sceptic in matters religious; he rejects the Bacchic sacred orgies as a mere cover for sensual indulgence and is determined to suppress them by force: “It so happens I've been away from Thebes, but I hear about disgusting things going on, here in the city—women leaving home to go to silly Bacchic rituals, cavorting there in mountain shadows, with dances honoring some upstart god, this Dionysus, whoever he may be. Mixing bowls in the middle of their meetings are filled with wine. They creep off one by one to lonely spots to have sex with men, claiming they're Maenads busy worshipping. But they rank Aphrodite, goddess of sexual desire, ahead of Bacchus.”1 Then, there are the two positions of wisdom. Teiresias, a blind man of pious and reverent soul, preaches fidelity to traditions as our sacred and imperishable inheritance: “To the gods we mortals are all ignorant. Those old traditions from our ancestors,

the ones we've had as long as time itself, no argument will ever overthrow, in spite of subtleties sharp minds invent.” However, his advice is nonetheless sustained by a Marxistsounding notion of religion as opium for the people: Bacchus “brought with him liquor from the grape, something to match the bread from Demeter. He introduced it among mortal men. When they can drink up what streams off the vine, unhappy mortals are released from pain. It grants them sleep, allows them to forget their daily troubles. Apart from wine, there is no cure for human hardship.” This line of thought is radicalized by Cadmus, the wise old counselor to the king who advises caution and submission: “You should live among us, not outside traditions. At this point, you're flying around — thinking, but not clearly. For if, as you claim, this man is not a god, why not call him one? Why not tell a lie, a really good one?” In short, the position of Cadmus is that of Plato in his Republic: ordinary people need beautiful lies, so we should pretend to believe to keep them in check. And, finally, beneath these three positions, there is the wild (feminine) mob itself: while the debate between the three is going on, we hear from time to time the passionate cries and wild ecstatic prayers of the Bacchantes who proclaim their scorn for "the wisdom of deep thinkers," and their devotion to the "customs and beliefs of the multitude." Bacchantes are anti-Platonic to the extreme: against abstract rationalism, they assert fidelity to the customs which form a particular life-world, so that, from their view, the true act of madness is to exclude madness, it is the madness of pure rationality – the true madman is Pentheus, not the orgiastic Bacchantes. Teiresias draws the same conclusion: “You've got a quick tongue and seem intelligent, but your words don't make any sense at all. /…/ You unhappy man, you've no idea just what it is you're saying. You've gone mad! Even before now you weren't in your right mind.”

In other words, the true point of “madness” is not the excess of the ecstatic Night of the World, but the madness of the passage to the Symbolic itself, of imposing a symbolic order onto the chaos of the Real. (In his analysis of the paranoiac judge Schreber, Freud points out how the paranoiac “system” is not madness, but a desperate attempt to escape madness – the disintegration of the symbolic universe - through an ersatz universe of meaning.) Every system of meaning is thus minimally paranoiac, “mad” - recall Brecht's slogan: »What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?« Therein resides the lesson of David Lynch's Straight Story: what is the ridiculously-pathetic perversity of figures like Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart or Frank in Blue Velvet compared to deciding to traverse the US central plane in a tractor to visit a dying relative? Measured with this act, Frank's and Bobby's outbreaks of rage are the impotent theatrics of old and sedate conservatives… In the same way, we should say: what is the mere madness caused by the loss of reason, like the crazy dancing of Bacchantes, compared to the madness of reason itself? The problem of Judaism is precisely: how are we to keep this dimension of the divine madness, of gods as real, at a distance/ The Jewish god is also god of brutal madness, what changes is the believers’ stance towards this dimension of the divine – if we get too close to it, then "the glory of the Lord is like devouring fire"(Exodus 24:17). This is why the Jewish people say to Moses: "You speak to us, and we will listen. But don't let God speak directly to us, or we will die!"(Exodus 20:19) So what if, as Levinas surmised, the ultimate addressee of the biblical commandment »Don't kill« is god (Yahweh) himself, and we, the fragile humans, are his neighbors exposed to divine rage? How often, in the Old Testament, do we encounter god as a dark stranger who brutally intrudes human lives and sows destruction? “On the way, at a place where Moses and his family spent the night, Yahweh met him and tried to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint, cut off her son's foreskin, and covered his genitals with it, saying: ‘This blood will protect you.’ So Yahweh let Moses alone. Then she said, ‘Protected by the blood of circumcision.’"(Exodus 4:24–26) Indeed, when Levinas wrote that the first reaction when we see a neighbor is to kill him, is the implication not that this primarily refers to god's relationship to humans, so that the commandment »Don't kill« is an appeal to god to control his rage? Insofar as the Jewish solution is a dead god, a god who survives only as a »dead letter« of the sacred book, of the Law

to be interpreted, what dies with the death of god is precisely the god of the real, of destructive fury and revenge. The title of a well-known book on holocaust - God died in Auschwitz – has thus to be turned around: God became alive in Auschwitz. Recall the story from Talmud about two rabbis debating a theological point; the one who is losing the debate call upon god himself to come and decide, and when god effectively comes, the other rabbi tells him that his work of creation is already accomplished, so he has now nothing to say and should leave, which god does – it is as if, in Auschwitz, god comes back, with catastrophic consequences. The true horror does not occur when we are abandoned by god, but when god comes too close to us. Recently, this paradox was succinctly formulated by Juergen Habermas: »Secular languages which only eliminate the substance once intended leave irritations. When sin was converted to culpability, and the breaking of divine commands to an offense against human laws, something was lost.«2 Which is why the secular-humanist reactions to phenomena like shoah or gulag (AND others) is experienced as insufficient: in order to be at the level of such phenomena, something much stronger is needed, something akin to the old religious topic of a cosmic perversion or catastrophe in which the world itself is »out of joint« when one confronts a phenomenon like shoah, the only appropriate reaction is the perplexed question »Why did the heavens not darken?” (the title of Arno Mayor's famous book on shoah). Therein resides the paradox of the theological significance of shoah: although it is usually conceived as the ultimate challenge to theology (if there is a God and if he is good, how could he have allowed such a horror to take place?), it is at the same time only theology which can provide the frame enabling us to somehow approach the scope of this catastrophe – the fiasco of god is still the fiasco of GOD. Judaism provides a unique solution to this threat of the divine over-proximity: while, in pagan religions, the gods are alive, Jewish believers already took God’s death into account — indications of this awareness abound in the Jewish sacred texts. Recall, from the Talmud, the story about the two rabbis who basically tell God to shut up: they fight over a theological question until, unable to resolve it, one of them proposes: “Let Heaven itself testify that the Law is according to my judgment.” A voice from heaven agrees with the rabbi who first appealed; however, the other rabbi then stands up and claims that even a voice from heaven was not to be regarded, “For Thou, O God, didst long ago write down in the law which Thou gavest on Sinai, ‘Thou shalt follow the multitude.’” God himself had to agree: after saying “My children have vanquished me! My children have vanquished me!,” he runs away ... There is a similar story in

the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Metzia 59b), but here, in a wonderful Nietzschean twist, God accepts his defeat with joyous laughter: “Rabbi Nathan met [the prophet] Elijah and asked him, “What did the Holy One do at that moment?” Elijah: “He laughed [with joy], saying, ‘My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me.’” The outstanding feature of this story is not only the divine laughter which replaces the sorrowful complaint, but the way the Sages (who stand for the big Other, of course) win the argument against God: even God Himself, the absolute Subject, is decentered with regard to the big Other (the order of symbolic registration), so that, once his injunctions are written down, he can no longer touch them. We can thus imagine why God reacts to his defeat with joyous laughter: the Sages have learnt his lesson that God is dead, and that the Truth resides in the dead letter of the Law which is beyond his control. In short, after the act of creation is accomplished, God loses even the right to intervene in how people interpret his law. However, the living god continues his subterranean life and erratically returns in multiple forms which are all guises of the monstrous Thing. Let us recall J. Lee Thompson’s The White Buffalo, based on the novel by Richard Sale, definitely “one of the most bizarre curiosities ever released in cinemas.”3 In this strange Western variation on Moby Dick, Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson) is an “Ahab of the West” haunted by the dreams of a giant white (albino) buffalo (also a sacred native American animal). In 1874, Hickok has just returned from play-acting on Eastern stages with Buffalo Bill; now 37, he wears blue-tinted glasses to protect his fading eyes from the "Deep Serene" - the result of a gonorrheal infection - and his various bullet wounds have brought on premature rheumatism. Among his travels, he meets Chief Crazy Horse who is roaming the plains in an obsessive search for a giant white buffalo that killed his young daughter, and Hickok teams up with him to hunt down the beast. Significantly, Bronson wears dark sun glasses, the codified sign of the blinded gaze and of impotence (Bronson's impotence is clearly ascertained in the film: when he meets his old love, Poker Jenny (Kim Novak in her last role!), he is unable to fulfill her expectations and to engage in sexual intercourse with her). However, paradoxically, the same (impotence) holds even more for the White Buffalo itself, so that it would be easy to propose the elementary Freudian reading: the White Buffalo is the primordial father who is not yet dead and who, as such, blocks the hero's sexual potency - his desperate sound is homologous to that of shofar in Jewish religion; the scene the hero endeavors to stage is thus that of the parricide.) White Buffalo thus stands for the dying primordial father whose blind

strength is the obverse of its impotence – in a way, the beast’s impotence is the impotence of its raw strength itself. The White Buffalo is thus like the god encountered by Job: omnipotent, but morally insensitive and stupid.4 In the course of the film, both heroes track the sacred beast to a great cave where it lives with its cows. Hickok wants the pelt as a moneymaking display item, while Crazy Horse wants it for wrapping up his dead daughter, to ease her way across the great stars. The whole movie points towards their showdown with the demon, a delirium of action and horror; this showdown is presented as a well-staged and organized climactic scene of the final confrontation, when, on a narrow mountain pass, the buffalo will attack the hero and he will kill him. It is crucial to bear in mind this aspect of the film: there is nothing elementary or spontaneous in the final showdown, it is presented as a carefully staged event (prior to the expected assault of the beast, Hickok and Crazy Horse carefully examine the mountain pass and arrange details here and there). What further strengthens this effect of artificiality is the mechanic nature of the beast (the film was shot before the invasion of digital creatures, and the beast’s movement are clearly those of a clumsy puppet), plus the obvious studio sets for the final confrontation (artificial snow, plastic rocks, etc.). Far from ruining the desired effect, all these features engender the somnambulistic-clumsy quality of a carefully prepared mechanic theatre scene. Such an Event of encountering the Real Thing is brought to extreme when the Thing is no longer an inner-worldly entity but the abyss itself, the void in which inner-worldly things disappear. This abyss exerts a strange mixture of horror and attraction, it pulls us towards itself – in what direction? The famous lines of the chorus mysticus which conclude Faust are Goethe’s “wisdom” at its worst: “Everything transient is just a simile; the deficient here really happens; the indescribable is here done; the eternal-feminine pulls us upwards.” If nothing else, this pseudo-deep bubbling gets the direction wrong: it pulls us DOWN, not up – down in the sense of Maelstrom from Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelström” (incidentally, if there ever was a political regime where the eternal-feminine claims to draw its subjects upwards, it is today’s North Korea). Poe’s story is told by a narrator who reports what an old Norwegian fisherman told him at the edge of a huge cliff that overlooks the stormy see. From time to time, a furious current shapes the smaller whirlpools of the water into a huge mile-long funnel, the “great whirlpool of the Maelström": whenever a ship comes within a mile of the full force, it is carried to the bottom and slammed against the rocks until the Maelström ceases.

Since its sublime strength seems to defy rational explanation, the narrator is drawn to more fantastic explanations that call the center the entrance to the abyss in the middle of the Earth. Years ago, one day in July, a terrible hurricane arrives without warning and tears away the masts of the ship of the old man and his brother who are returning home. When, after being temporarily submerged in the water, the boat recovers and floats back to the surface, the two men discover with horror that they are caught by the Maelström, and they sense their doom. When the waves subside into foam, the old man becomes calm in his despair, thinking of how magnificent it will be to die this way and awaiting his exploration of the Maelström's depths, even if it is at the cost of his life. The man eventually opens his eyes and sees that his boat is hanging in the black walls of the Maelström, and the force of the boat's whirling pins him to the boat. He sees a rainbow in the abyss, caused by the movement of the water, and as they slowly spiral downward, the man observes the wreckage that swirls around him and notices how small shapes and cylinders seem to descend most slowly into the abyss. He lashes himself to the water cask and cuts himself loose from the boat; his brother refuses to move from the boat and is lost. The cask sinks much slower than the boat and, by the time it sinks half of the distance between its moment of detachment from the boat and the center of the abyss, the funnel of the Maelström has become calm. The man finds himself on the surface where a boat picks him up; he has been saved, but, as he tells the narrator, his black hair has turned white and his face has rapidly aged. The old man’s ability to overcome fear and reason that small cylinders provide the most of safety in the Maelström makes him similar to Auguste Dupin, Poe's arch-model of the private detective who is a master in the art of logic and deduction: although “A Descent into the Maelström” is an adventure horror story, it can also be read as one of Poe's mystery stories in which, at the story’s end, the detective reveals how his reasoning brought him the solution of the enigma. The old man has already resolved the enigma (a fact proven by his being still alive) and is now re-telling his thinking process to a rapt listener whose role is analogous to that of the commonsensical narrator friend of Dupin, the forerunner of Sherlock Holmes’s Watson and Poirot’s Captain Hastings: he is honest but lacks the spark that makes Dupin or the old man that survived the descent into the Maelström the hero of their stories. And, effectively, the subtitle of the story should have been something like “The birth of rational thinking out of the spirit of the deadly vortex”: in the story, cold rational thinking and death drive overlap, since death

drive (in its strict Freudian sense) is not the subject’s willing surrender to the abyss, his acceptance of being swallowed by the deadly vortex, but the very repetitive circulation on the edge of the abyss. In other words, death drive is on the side of reason, not on the side of irrationality. And this brings us back to Hegel’s notion of the abyssal “Night of the World” as the very core of subjectivity: is the abyss of subjectivity not the ultimate Maelstrom? And is rational thinking not the art of circulating on the very edge of this abyss? And as to today’s Bacchantes, it is easy to discern them in today’s popular culture. Project X (Nima Nourizadeh 2012) narrates the birth of an urban legend: Thomas is turning seventeen, and his friends Costa and J.B. are planning to throw a huge birthday bash at Thomas' house to increase their popularity among their schoolmates. As Thomas' parents are going away for the weekend, Thomas' father lays down the rules (a maximum of five people at their house, not to drive his expensive Mercedes, and no one is allowed in his office). Thomas worries that no one will come until, suddenly, cars start pulling up in the neighborhood and the party becomes an instant hit. Gradually, things go out of control: the noise and scope of the party causes televised news coverage; news helicopters fly over the house; the police arrive with a SWAT team, which decides to let the party burn out before moving in. But then an intruder with a flamethrower torches up trees around the neighborhood and cars parked on the road, and the neighborhood is left in flames until fire department helicopters extinguish it. When, next morning, parents do come home, Thomas’s father punishes him by using his college funds to pay for the damages; but he nonetheless commends Thomas for the party – Thomas has shown he has guts, while his father thought he is a coward and looser. This father’s recognition demonstrates how the paternal prohibition functions: “In fact, the image of the ideal Father is a neurotic’s fantasy. Beyond the Mother /…/ stands out the image of a father who would turn a blind eye to desires. This marks – more than it reveals – the true function of the Father, which is fundamentally to unite (and not to oppose) a desire to the Law.”5 While prohibiting son’s escapades, father discreetly not only ignores and tolerates them, but even solicits them. It is in this sense that Father as the agent of prohibition/law sustains desire/pleasures: there is no direct access to enjoyment since its very space is opened up by the blanks of the Father’s controlling gaze. (And does exactly the same not hold for god himself, our ultimate father? The first commandment says: “You shall have no other gods before me.” What does the ambiguous “before me” refer to? Most of translators agree that

it means ”before my face, in front of me, when I see you” which subtly implies that the jealous god will nonetheless turn a blind eye to what we are doing secretly, out of (his) sight… in short, god is like a jealous husband who tells his wife: “OK, you can have other men, but do it discreetly, so that I (or the public in general) will not notice about it and you will not put me to shame!”) The negative proof of this constitutive role of the Father in carving out the space for a viable enjoyment is the deadlock of today’s permissiveness, where the master/expert no longer prohibits enjoyment but enjoins it (“sex is healthy,” etc.), thereby effectively sabotaging it. But more relevant is the quasi-sacred character of the party: when it runs out of control, it explodes into what one cannot but designate as a collective experience of the sacred, an experience of what Bataille called economie generale, the unrestrained expenditure, something like the dance of the Bacchantes reinvented for today, a moment when the lowest stupid adolescent partying turns into its opposite, a new form of the Sacred. And, to avoid a misunderstanding, the point is not to celebrate wild partying but to render visible the amphibious nature of the sacred itself. Sergei Eisenstein saw the production of pathos as a structural issue, not only as a matter of content. In The Old and the New, there is a famous scene which renders the successful testing of a collective farm’s new milk separator, with the enraptured farmers watching how the white liquid starts to flow out – the machine becomes a graillike magic object which “intensifies” their emotions.6 Is it not exactly the same in Project X where a vulgar adolescent party is “intensified” to a sacred orgy? And is an even more extreme case of such “intensification” not the pop-music event of the Summer of 2012: “Gangnam Style” performed by Psy, a South Korean singer? The song is not only wildly popular, it also mobilizes people into a collective trance, with tens of thousands shouting and performing a dance that imitates horse riding, all in the same rhythm with an intensity unseen from the times of early Beatles, referring to Psy as a new Messiah. The music is psydance at its worst, totally flat and mechanically simple, mostly computer-generated (recall that Psy - the singer’s name - is a shortened version of psytrance); what makes it interesting is the way it combines collective trance with self-irony. Words of the song (and the staging of the video clip) obviously poke fun at the meaninglessness and vacuity of Gangnam style, some claim even in a subtly subversive way – but we are nonetheless entranced, caught in the stupid marching rhythm, participating in it in pure mimesis; flash mobs pop up all around the world imitating moments of the song, etc. Gangnam style is not ideology in spite

of ironic distance, it is ideology because of it: irony plays the same role as the documentary style in von Trier’s Breaking the Waves in which the subdued pseudo-documentary form makes palpable the excessive content – in a strictly homologous way, the self-mocking irony of “Gangnam style” makes palpable the stupid jouissance of the rave music. Many viewers find the song disgustingly-attractive, i.e., they “love to hate it,” or, rather, they enjoy to find it disgusting, so they repeatedly play it to prolong their disgust. This compulsive nature of the obscene jouissance in all its stupidity is what true art should release us from – how? As is so often, Shakespeare has shown us the way – this time in Richard II, his ultimate play about hystericization (in contrast to Hamlet, the ultimate play about obsessionalization). Its topic is the progressive questioning by the King of his own “kingness” – what is it that makes me a king? What remains of me if the symbolic title “king” is taken away from me? “I have no name, no title, No, not that name was given me at the font, But 'tis usurp'd: alack the heavy day, That I have worn so many winters out, And know not now what name to call myself! O that I were a mockery king of snow, Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke, To melt myself away in water-drops!” In Slovene translation, the second line is rendered as: “Why am I what I am?” Although this clearly involves too much poetic license, it does render adequately the gist of it: deprived of its symbolic titles, Richard’s identity melts like that of a snow king under sun rays. - The hysterical subject is the subject whose very existence involves radical doubt and questioning, his entire being is sustained by the uncertainty as to what he is for the Other; insofar as the subject exists only as an answer to the enigma of the Other's desire, the hysterical subject is the subject par excellence. In contrast to it, the analyst stands for the paradox of the desubjectivized subject, of the subject who fully assumed what Lacan calls "subjective destitution," i.e. who breaks out of the vicious cycle of intersubjective dialectics of desire and turns into an acephalous being of pure drive. With regard to this subjective destitution, Shakespeare’s Richard II has in store a further surprise in store for us: not only does the play enact the gradual hystericization of the unfortunate king; at the lowest point of his despair, before his death, Richard enacts a further

shift of his subjective status which equals subjective destitution: “I have been studying how I may compare This prison where I live unto the world: And for because the world is populous And here is not a creature but myself, I cannot do it; yet I'll hammer it out. My brain I'll prove the female to my soul, My soul the father; and these two beget A generation of still-breeding thoughts, And these same thoughts people this little world, In humours like the people of this world, For no thought is contented. The better sort, As thoughts of things divine, are intermix'd With scruples and do set the word itself Against the word: As thus, 'Come, little ones,' and then again, 'It is as hard to come as for a camel To thread the postern of a small needle's eye.' Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot Unlikely wonders; how these vain weak nails May tear a passage through the flinty ribs Of this hard world, my ragged prison walls, And, for they cannot, die in their own pride. Thoughts tending to content flatter themselves That they are not the first of fortune's slaves, Nor shall not be the last; like silly beggars Who sitting in the stocks refuge their shame, That many have and others must sit there; And in this thought they find a kind of ease, Bearing their own misfortunes on the back Of such as have before endured the like. Thus play I in one person many people, And none contented: sometimes am I king; Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar, And so I am: then crushing penury Persuades me I was better when a king; Then am I king'd again: and by and by Think that I am unking'd by Bolingbroke, And straight am nothing: but whate'er I be, Nor I nor any man that but man is With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased With being nothing. Music do I hear? (The music plays.)

Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is, When time is broke and no proportion kept! So is it in the music of men's lives. And here have I the daintiness of ear To cheque time broke in a disorder'd string; But for the concord of my state and time Had not an ear to hear my true time broke. I wasted time, and now doth time waste me; For now hath time made me his numbering clock: My thoughts are minutes; and with sighs they jar Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch, Whereto my finger, like a dial's point, Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears. Now sir, the sound that tells what hour it is Are clamorous groans, which strike upon my heart, Which is the bell: so sighs and tears and groans Show minutes, times, and hours: but my time Runs posting on in Bolingbroke's proud joy, While I stand fooling here, his Jack o' the clock. This music mads me; let it sound no more; For though it have help madmen to their wits, In me it seems it will make wise men mad. Yet blessing on his heart that gives it me! For 'tis a sign of love; and love to Richard Is a strange brooch in this all-hating world.” It is crucial to properly grasp the shift in modality which occurs with the entrance of music in the middle of this monologue. The first part is a solipsistic rendering of a gradual reduction to nothingness, to the pure void of the subject ($): Richard starts with the comparison of his cell with the world; but in his cell, he is alone, while the world is peopled; so, to solve this antinomy, he posits his thoughts themselves as his company in the cell - Richard dwells in the fantasms generated by a mother (his brain) and father (his soul). (The pandemonium he thus dwells in, in which the highest and the lowest co-exist side by side, is exemplified by a wonderful Eisensteinian montage of two biblical fragments, “Come, little ones” (reference to Luke 18,16, Matthew 19,14, and Mark 10,14) counterposed to “It is as hard to come as for a camel to thread the postern of a small needle’s eye” (reference to Luke 18,26, Matthew 19,24, and Mark 10,25). If we read these two fragments together, we get a cynical superego God who first benevolently call us to come to him, and then sneeringly adds, as a kind of second thought (“Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that…”), that it is almost impossible to come to Him…) The problem with this solution is that, if he with his thoughts

is a multitude of people, then, caught in this shadowy unsubstantial world, the substantial consistency of his Self explodes, he is forced to play “in one person many people.” And, he concludes, he effectively oscillates between being a king, a beggar, etc., the truth of it and the only peace to be found is in accepting to be nothing. In the second part, music as an object enters, a true “answer of the Real.” This second part itself contains two breaks. First, in his usual rhetorical vein, Richard uses this intrusion to yet again form a metaphor: the playing of the music out of tune reminds him how he himself was “disordered” (out of tune) as a king, unable to strike the right notes in running the country and thus bringing disharmony – while he has great sensitivity for musical harmony, he lacked this sensitivity for social harmony. This “out of joint” is linked to time – the implication being that, not merely is time out of joint, but time as such signals an out-of-jointness, i.e., there is time because things are somehow out of joint. – Then, no longer able to sustain this safe metaphoric difference, Richard enacts a properly psychotic identification with the symptom, with the musical rhythm as the cipher of his destiny: like an alien intruder, music parasitizes, colonizes, him, its rhythm forcing on him the identification with Time, a literal identification, psychotic, where he no longer needs a clock but, in a terrifying vision, he directly BECOMES the clock (in the mode of what Deleuze celebrated as “becoming-machine”). It is as if Richard is driven to such extreme of painful madness with this music that, for him, the only way to get rid of this unbearable pressure of music is to directly identify with it… In one of the episodes of the 1945 British horror omnibus Dead of the Night, Michael Redgrave plays the ventriloquist who becomes jealous of his dummy, gnawing with the suspicion that it wants to leave him for a competitor; at the episode's end, after destroying the dummy by way of thrashing its head, he is hospitalized; after reawakening from psychic coma, he identifies with his symptom (the dummy), starting to talk and contorting his face like it. Here we get the psychotic identification as the false way out: what started out as a partial object (the dummy is a doll stuck on his right hand, it is literally his hand acquiring an autonomous life, like the hand of Ed Norton in Fight Club) develops into a full double engaged in a mortal competition with the subject, and since the subject's consistency relies on this symptom-double, since it is structurally impossible for him to get rid of the symptom, the only way out of it, the only way to resolve the tension is to directly identify with the symptom, to become one's own symptom – in exact homology to Hitchcock's Psycho at the end of which the only way for Norman to get rid of

his mother is to identify with her directly, to let her take over his personality and, using his body as a ventriloquist uses his dummy, speaking through him. This is the gangnam-style-moment of the play, with Richard surrendering to the obscene charm of the music… however, there occurs an additional shift towards the end of the monologue, in the last three lines: music, which first is experience as a violent intrusion that drives Richard to madness, now appears as a soothing “sign of love” - why this shift? What if it simply stands for the return to real music that he hears: it is a “sign of love” when separated from the metaphoric dimension of recalling the disharmony of his kingdom. The designation of music as “a sign of love” has to be understood in its strict Lacanian sense: an answer of the Real by means of which the circular-repetitive movement of drive is reconciled with – integrated into – the symbolic order. It is here that Shakespeare yet again “stole from the future,” providing a proof that he has read Lacan who, in his Encore, uses exactly the same term: “’Jouissance of the Other,’ of the Other with a capital O, ’of the body of the Other who symbolizes the Other, is not the sign of love’.”7 How are we to read this enigmatic statement? Maybe, as is often the case with Lacan, a brutally-simplistic reference to daily (or, rather, nightly) life can be of some help. The most obvious reading is something like: when you (man) make love to a woman (Lacan makes it clear that the Other stands here for woman) and succeed arousing her, her signs of pleasure (groans and moans, the shaking of the excited body, etc.) are not signs of her love for you. Lacan introduces in Encore a distinction between sign and signifier which clearly contrasts his previous one: throughout the 1950s and 1960s, “sign” for Lacan pointed towards the naïve-representational notion of language (a sign stands for the object it represents), while signifier represents the subject through self-relating differentiality (“a signifier represents the subject for other signifier” – for signifiers who fail to represent it, we should add, so that subject is the outcome of the failure of its own representation). In what, then, does the difference between sign and signifier consist, if they both represent? Sign represents a positively (pre)existing object, while signifier represents a subject – and subject is not just another pre-existing object (as is the case in expression, with signs expressing the subject’s inner life). Subject is a paradoxical entity which comes to be only through the failure of its representation, and it is in this radical sense that subject is, as Lacan put it, not object: it is not, say, the wealth of inner life that external signs cannot ever

adequately render – it is something which is lost from the very beginning and retroactively emerges as the effect of its loss. In Encore, however, Lacan grounds his use of the term “sign” with the reference to its common use (“something is there”: smoke is the sign that fire was there) – a sign of love means a trace of love which is there. Lacan’s classic example: when a child demands milk from his mother, what he really wants is to display her love for him – the given milk functions as a sign of her love, which is why, if milk is given with displeasure, the child will not be satisfied (while a direct hug from mother can sometimes satisfy him). Love is here no longer merely a narcissistic (mis)recognition (to be opposed to desire as the subject's ”truth”), but a unique case of direct asexual sublimation (integration into the order of the signifier) of the real of drives, of their jouissance, in the guise of the asexual Thing (music, religion, etc.) experienced in the ecstatic surrender. Such a surrender involves what Lacan calls “subjective destitution”: drive is non-subjectivized ("acephalic"); perhaps its paradigmatic expressions are the repulsive private rituals (sniffing one's own sweat, sticking one's finger into one's nose, etc.) that bring us intense satisfaction without our being aware of it - or, insofar as we are aware of it, without our being able to do anything to prevent it. In Andersen's fairy tale The Red Shoes, an impoverished young woman puts on a pair of magical shoes and almost dies when her feet won't stop dancing. She is only saved when an executioner cuts off her feet with his axe. Her still-shod feet dance on, whereas she is given wooden feet and finds peace in religion. These shoes stand for drive at its purest: an “undead” partial object that functions as a kind of impersonal willing: “it wants,” it persists in its repetitive movement (of dancing), it follows its path and exacts its satisfaction at any price, irrespective of the subject's well-being. This drive is that which is “in the subject more than itself”: although the subject cannot ever subjectivize it, assume it as its own by way of saying “It is I who want to do this!”, it nonetheless operates in its very kernel. Lacan's wager is that it is possible to sublimate this dull satisfaction - this is what, ultimately, art and religion are about. And this is what happens in the last lines of Richard’s final monologue: music turns into a sign of love when it no longer haunts the subject as the obscene jouissance, compelling it to surrender blindly to its disgusting rhythm, but when love transpires through its sounds – love as the acceptance of the Other in its radical otherness, a love which is, as Lacan put it in the very last page of his Seminar XI, beyond Law. But one should be very precise here: love beyond Law does not mean wild

love outside all symbolic-institutional coordinates (like Carmen’s “love is a rebellious bird”); it means almost the exact opposite, namely a love which moves beyond the opposition to Law. The discerning feature of this love is indifference - not towards its object, but towards the positive properties of the beloved object. This indifference of love is closely linked to that of the Lacanian "empty signifier": of course, this signifier is never effectively "empty" - a king, for example, is always identified with a series of personal idiosyncratic features which characterize him; however, we, his subjects, are at all times aware that these features are thoroughly indifferent and replaceable, that it is not these features which make him a king. The difference between the "empty" and "full" signifier does not reside in the absence or presence of positive features of the object designated by it, but in the different symbolic status of these features: in the first case, these features are a positive magnitude (the subject's properties), while in the second case, they function as a negative magnitude, i.e., their very "full presence" is a stand-in for - holds the place of - the "emptiness" of the signifier (of the symbolic mandate) "King." "Fullness" and "emptiness" are thus not directly opposed: the very "emptiness" of the empty signifier is sustained by a specific "negative" fullness. And the same goes for love: to say "I love you because... /you have a nice nose, attractive legs/" is a priori false. With love, it is the same as with religious belief: I do not love you because I find your positive features attractive, but, on the contrary, I find your positive features attractive because I love you and therefore observe you with a loving gaze. Consequently, all the "fullness" of the positive features which I adore in the beloved are a stand-in for the "emptiness" which I really love - even if each of them were to be obliterated, I would still love you. The 2012 Nobel prize for economy went to Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley for their elaboration of “matching theory,” the economics of choice when you aren’t the only one choosing. In an interview, Roth explained: "When /people/ get into schools, when they choose careers, when they get married, these are all matching markets. You can't just choose what you want, you also have to be chosen. The utility of matching is that you are defining a relationship and you’re saying to people who either have whatever it is or need it. It’s like online dating." The key phrase is here »defining a relationship«: in matters of love, matching theory endeavors to formulate a kind of axiom, formula, of a successful sexual relationship. But can a love relationship be put on the same level as bringing together a kidney patient with a donor, or a job seeker with a manager ready to hire? The problem is not the one of moral dignity, but

of the immanent logic: when you fall in love, you don’t just know what you need/want and look for the one who has it – the “miracle” of love is that you learn what you need only when you find it. How does all this relate to sex? In Catherine Breillat's Romance, there is a fantasmatic scene which perfectly stages this radical split between love and sexuality: the heroine imagines herself lying naked on her belly on a low small table divided in the middle by a partition with a hole just enough for her body. With the upper side of her body, she faces a nice tender guy with whom she exchanges gentle loving words and kisses, while her lower part is exposed to one or more sexmachine studs who penetrate her wildly and repeatedly. However, the true miracle occurs when these two series momentarily coincide, when sex is "transubstantiated" into an act of love. There are four ways to disavow this impossible/real conjunction of love and sexual enjoyment: (1) the celebration of the asexual "pure" love, as if the sexual desire for the beloved demonstrates the love's inauthenticity; (2) the opposite assertion of intense sex as "the only real thing," which reduces love to a mere imaginary lure; (3) the division of these two aspects, their allocating to two different persons: one loves one's gentle wife (or the idealized inaccessible Lady), while one has sex with a "vulgar" mistress; (4) their false immediate merger, in which intense sex is supposed to demonstrate that one "truly loves" one's partner, as if, in order to prove that our love is a true one, every sexual act has to be the proverbial "fuck of the century." All these four stances are wrong, an escape from assuming the impossible/real conjunction of love and sex; a true love is enough in itself, it makes sex irrelevant but precisely because "fundamentally, it doesn't matter," we can fully enjoy it without any superego pressure... And, unexpectedly, this brings us back to Lenin: when, in 1916, Lenin's (at that point ex-)mistress Inessa Armand wrote him that even a fleeting passion was more poetic and cleaner than kisses without love between man and woman, he replied: "Kisses without love between vulgar spouses are filthy. I agree. These need to be contrasted ... with what? ... It would seem: kisses with love. But you contrast 'a fleeting (why a fleeting) passion (why not love?)' - and it comes out logically as if kisses without love (fleeting) are contrasted to marital kisses without love ... This is odd."8 Lenin's reply is usually dismissed as a proof of his petitbourgeois sexual constraint, sustained by his bitter memory of

their past affair; however, there is more to it: the insight that the marital "kisses without love" and the extramarital "fleeting affair" are the two sides of the same coin - they both shirk from combining the Real of an unconditional passionate attachment with the form of symbolic proclamation. Lenin is deeply right here, although not in the standard prudish sense of preferring "normal" marriage out of love to illicit promiscuity. The underlying insight is that, against all the appearances, love and sex are not only distinct, but ultimately incompatible, that they operate at thoroughly different level, like agape and eros: love is charitable, self-erasing, ashamed of itself, while sex is intense, self-assertive, possessing, inherently violent (or the opposite: possessive love versus generous indulging in sexual pleasures). However, the true miracle occurs when (exceptionally) these two series momentarily coincide, when sex is "transubstantiated" into an act of love - an achievement which is real/impossible in the precise Lacanian sense, and as such marked by an inherent rarity. Today, it is as if the knot of three levels which characterized traditional sexuality (reproduction, sexual pleasure, love) is gradually dissolving: reproduction is left to biogenetic procedures which are making sexual intercourse redundant, sex itself is turned into recreational fun, while love is reduced to the domain of "emotional fulfillment." In such a situation, it is all the more precious to be reminded of those rare miraculous moments in which two of these three dimension can still overlap, i.e., in which jouissance becomes a sign of love.

1 2 3 4

All Bacchae quotes are from Juergen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature, Cambridge: Polity Press 2003, p. 110. Jeff Bond, at

We encounter a similar impotence in the two great sound roles of Erich von Stroheim, both with ironic title of “great”: The Great Gabbo (1929) and The Great Flamarion (1945) – in both films, he plays a circus artist led to self-destruction by his jealousy and arrogance. Note a similar self-humiliation in Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard where Stroheim plays Max, Norma Desmond’s servant and all-around attendant (butler, driver…), who is in reality Max von Mayerling, her director when she was still a star. Sunset Boulevard also contains one of the ultimate dialogue exchanges in the entire history of cinema: when the film’s (un)dead hero Gillis (William Holden) recognizes from a large portrait on the wall that Norma Desmond was a very famous star of the silent films, he tells her: "You used to be big," and she retorts: "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." Is this not true today more than ever? The half-forgotten classics from Eisenstein to Lubitch are still great, it’s the movies that got small…

5 6

Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, New York: Norton 2007, p. 824.

Sergei Eisenstein, “The Milk Separator and the Holy Grail,” in Nonindifferent Nature, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987.
7 8

Jacques Lacan, Encore, New York: Norton 1998, p. 4. Quoted from Robert Service, Lenin, London: Macmillan 2000, p. 232.

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