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Slavoj Zizek Collected papers
Zizek: collected papers The Matrix, or the Two sides of perversions THE IRAQ WAR: WHERE IS THE TRUE DANGER? The Fetish of the Party Welcome to the Desert of the Real* The Big Other doesn’t exist Learning To Love Leni Riefenstahl Ideology today
Zizek: collected papers
The Matrix, or the Two sides of perversions
When I saw The Matrix at a local theatre in Slovenia, I had the unique opportunity of sitting close to the ideal spectator of the film - namely, to an idiot. A man in the late 20ies at my right was so immersed in the film that he all the time disturbed other spectators with loud exclamations, like "My God, wow, so there is no reality!"... I definitely prefer such naive immersion to the pseudo-sophisticated intellectualist readings which project into the film the refined philosophical or psychoanalytic conceptual distinctions.(1) It is nonetheless easy to understand this intellectual attraction of The Matrix: is it not that The Matrix is one of the films which function as a kind of Rorschach test, setting in motion the universalized process of recognition, like the proverbial painting of God which seems always to stare directly at you, from wherever you look at it practically every orientation seems to recognize itself in it? My Lacanian friends are telling me that the authors must have read Lacan; the Frankfurt School partisans see in the Matrix the extrapolated embodiment of Kulturindustrie, the alienated-reified social Substance (of the Capital) directly taking over, colonizing our inner life itself, using us as the source of energy; New Agers see in the source of speculations on how our world is just a mirage generated by a global Mind embodied inthe World Wide Web. This series goes back to Plato's Republic: does The Matrix not repeat exactly Plato's dispositif of the cave (ordinary humans as prisoners, tied firmly to their seats and compelled to watch the shadowy performance of (what they falsely consider to be) reality? The important difference, of course, is that when some individuals escape their cave predicament and step out to the surface of the Earth, what they find there is no longer the bright surface illuminated by the rays of the Sun, the supreme Good, but the desolate "desert of the real." The key opposition is here the one between Frankfurt School and Lacan: should we historicize the Matrix into the metaphor of the Capital that colonized culture and subjectivity, or is it the reification of the symbolic order as such? However, what if this very alternative is false? What if the virtual character of the symbolic order "as such" is the very condition of historicity?
Reaching the End Of the World Of course, the idea of the hero living in a totally manipulated and controlled artificial universe is hardly original: The Matrix just radicalizes it by bringing in virtual reality. The point here is the radical ambiguity of the VR with regard to the problematic of iconoclasm. On the one hand, VR marks the radical reduction of the wealth of our sensory experience to - not even letters, but - the minimal digital series of 0 and 1, of passing and non-passing of the electrical signal. On the other hand, this very digital machine generates the "simulated" experience of reality which tends to become indiscernable from the "real" reality, with the consequence of undermining the very notion of "real" reality - VR is thus at the same time the most radical assertion of the seductive power of images. Is not the ultimate American paranoiac fantasy that of an individual living in a small idyllic Californian city, a consummerist paradise, who suddenly starts to suspect that the world he lives in is a fake, a spectatle staged to convince him that he lives in a real world, while all people around him are effectively actors and extras in a gigantic show? The most recent example of this is Peter Weir's The Truman Show (1998), with Jim Carrey playing the small town clerk who gradually discovers the truth that he is the hero of a 24-hours permanent TV show: his hometown is constructed on a a gigantic studio set, with cameras following him permanently. Sloterdijk's "sphere" is here literally realized, as the gigantic metal sphere that envelopes and isolates the entire city. This final shot of The Truman Show may seem to enact the liberating experience of breaking out from the ideological suture of the enclosed universe into its outside, invisible from the ideological inside. However, what if it is precisely this "happy" denouement of the film (let us not forget: applauded by the millions around the world watching the last minutes of the show), with the hero breaking out and, as we are led to believe, soon to join his true love (so that we have again the formula of the production of the couple!), that is ideology at its purest? What if ideology resides in the very belief that, outside the closure of the finite universe, there is some "true reality" to be entered?(2) Among the predecessors of this notion, it is worth mentioning Phillip Dick's Time Out of Joint (1959), in which a hero living a modest daily life in a small idyllic Californian city of the late 50s, gradually discovers that the whole town is a fake staged to keep him satisfied... The underlying experience of Time Out of Joint and of The Truman Show is that the late capitalist consummerist Californian paradise is, in its very hyper-reality, in a way irreal,
Zizek: collected papers
substanceless, deprived of the material inertia. So it is not only that Hollywood stages a semblance of real life deprived of the weight and inertia of materiality - in the late capitalist consummerist society, "real social life" itself somehow acquires the features of a staged fake, with our neighbors behaving in "real" life as stage actors and extras... The ultimte truth of the capitalist utilitarian de-spiritualized universe is the de-materialization of the "real life" itself, its reversal into a spectral show. In the realm of science-fiction, one should mention also Brian Aldiss' Starship, in which members of a tribe leave in a closed world of a tunnel in a giant starship, isolated from the rest of the ship by thick vegetation, unaware that there is a universe beyond; finally, some children penetrate the bushes and reach the world beyond, populated by other tribes. Among the older, more "naive" forerunners, one should mention George Seaton's 36 Hours, the film from the early 60ies about an American officer (James Garner) who knows all the plans for the D Day invasion of Normandy and is accidentally taken prisoner by Gernans just days before the invasion. Since he is taken prisoner unconscious, in a blast of explosion, the Germans quickly construct for him a replica of small American military hospital resort, trying to convince him that he now lives in 1950, that America won the war and that he has lost memory for the last 6 years - the idea being that he would tell all about the invasion plans for the Germans to prepare themselves; of course, cracks soon appear in this carefully constructed edifice... (Did not Lenin himself, in the last 2 years of his life, lived in an almost similar controlled environment, in which, as we now know, Stalin had printed hor him a specially prepared one copy of Pravda, censored of all news that would tell Lenin about the political struggles going on, with the justification that Comrade Lenin should take a rest and not be excited by unnecessary provocations.) What lurks in the background is, of course, the pre-modern notion of "arriving at the end of the universe": in the well-known engravings, the surprised wanderers approach the screen/curtain of heaven, a flat surfaced with painted stars on it, pierce it and reach beyond - it is exactly this that happens at the end of The Truman Show. No wonder that the last scene of the film, when Truman steps up the stairs attached to the wall on which the "blue sky" horizon is painted and opens up there the door, has a distinct Magrittean touch: is it not that, today, this same sensitivity is returning with a vengeance? Do works like Syberberg's Parsifal, in which the infinite horizon is also blocked by the obviously "artificial" rear-projections, not signal that the time of the Cartesian infinite perspective is running out, and that we are returning to a kind of renewed medieval pre-perspective universe? Fred Jameson perspicuously drew attention to the same phenomenon in some of the Raymond Chandler's novels and Hitchcock's films: the shore of the Pacific ocean in Farewell, My Lovely functions as a kind of "end/limit of the world," beyond which there is an unknown abyss; and it is similar with the vast open valley that stretches out in front of the Mount Rashmore heads when, on the run from their pursuers, Eva-Marie Saint and Cary Grant reach the peak of the monument, and into which Eva-Marie Saint almost falls, before being pulled up by Cary Grant; and one is tempted to add to this series the famous battle scene at a bridge on the Vietnamese/Cambodgian frontier in Apocalypse Now, where the space beyond the bridge is experienced as the "beyond of our known universe." And how not to recall that the idea that our Earth is not the planet floating in the infinite space, but a circular opening, hole, within the endless compact mass of eternal ice, with the sun in its center, was one of the favorite Nazi pseudo-scientific fantasies (according to some reports, they even considered putting some telescopes on the Sylt islands in order to observe America)?
The "Really Existing" Big Other What, then, is the Matrix? Simply the Lacanian "big Other," the virtual symbolic order, the network that structures reality for us. This dimension of the "big Other" is that of the constitutive alienation of the subject in the symbolic order: the big Other pulls the strings, the subject doesn't speak, he "is spoken" by the symbolic structure. In short, this "big Other" is the name for the social Substance, for all that on account of which the subject never fully dominates the effects of his acts, i.e. on account of which the final outcome of his activity is always something else with regard to what he aimed at or anticipated. However, it is here crucial to note that, in the key chapters of Seminar XI, Lacan struggles to delineate the operation that follows alienation and is in a sense its counterpoint, that of separation: alienation IN the big Other is followed by the separation FROM the big Other. Separation takes place when the subject takes note of how the big Other is in itself inconsistent, purely virtual, "barred," deprived of the Thing - and fantasy is an attempt to fill out this lack of the Other, not of the subject, i.e. to (re)constitute the consistency of the big Other. For that reason, fantasy and paranoia are inherently linked: paranoia is at its most elementary a belief into an "Other of the Other", into another Other who, hidden behind
Zizek: collected papers
the Other of the explicit social texture, programs (what appears to us as) the unforeseen effects of social life and thus guarantees its consistency: beneath the chaos of market, the degradation of morals, etc., there is the purposeful strategy of the Jewish plot... This paranoiac stance acquired a further boost with today's digitalization of our daily lives: when our entire (social) existence is progressively externalized-materialized in the big Other of the computer network, it is easy to imagine an evil programmer erasing our digital identity and thus depriving us of our social existence, turning us into non-persons. Following the same paranoiac twist, the thesis of The Matrix is that this big Other is externalized in the really existing Mega-Computer. There is - there HAS to be - a Matrix because "things are not right, opportunities are missed, something goes wrong all the time," i.e. the film's idea is that it is so because there is the Matrix that obfuscates the "true" reality that is behind it all. Consequently, the problem with the film is that it is NOT "crazy" enough, because it supposes another "real" reality behind our everyday reality sustained by the Matrix. However, to avoid the fatal misunderstanding: the inverse notion that "all there is is generated by the Matrix," that there is NO ultimate reality, just the infinite series of virtual realities mirroring themselves in each other, is no less ideological. (In the sequels to The Matrix, we shall probably learn that the very "desert of the real" is generated by (another) matrix.) Much more subversive than this multiplication of virtual universes would have been the multiplication of realities themselves - something that would reproduce the paradoxical danger that some physicians see in recent high accelerator experiments. As is well known, scientist are now trying to construct the accelerator capable of smashing together the nuclei of very heavy atoms at nearly the speed of light. The idea is that such a collision will not only shatter the atom's nuclei into their constituent protons and neutrons, but will pulverize the protons and neutrons themselves, leaving a "plasma," a kind of energy soup consisting of loose quark and gluon particles, the building blocks of matter that have never before been studied in such a state, since such a state only existed briefly after the Big Bang. However, this prospect has given rise to a nightmarish scenario: what if the success of this experiment will create a doomsday machine, a kind of world-devouring monster that will with inexorable necessity annihilate the ordinary matter around itself and thus abolish the world as we know it? The irony of it is that this end of the world, the disintegration of the universe, would be the ultimate irrefutable proof that the tested theory is true, since it would suck all matter into a black hole and then bring about a new universe, i.e. perfectly recreate the Big Bang scenario. The paradox is thus that both versions - (1) a subject freely floating from one to another VR, a pure ghost aware that every reality is a fake; (2) the paranoiac supposition of the real reality beneath the Matrix - are false: they both miss the Real. The film is not wrong in insisting that there IS a Real beneath the Virtual Reality simulation as Morpheus puts to Neo when he shows him the ruined Chicago landscape: "Welcome to the desert of the real." However, the Real is not the "true reality" behind the virtual simulation, but the void which makes reality incomplete/inconsistent, and the function of every symbolic Matrix is to conceal this inconsistency - one of the ways to effectuate this concealment is precisely to claim that, behind the incomplete/inconsistent reality we know, there is another reality with no deadlock of impossibility structuring it.
"The big Other doesn't exist" "Big Other" also stands for the field of common sense at which one can arrive after free deliberation; philosophically, its last great version is Habermas's communicative community with its regulative ideal of agreement. And it is this "big Other" that progressively disintegrates today. What we have today is a certain radical split: on the one hand, the objectivized language of experts and scientists which can no longer be translated into the common language accessible to everyone, but is present in it in the mode of fetishized formulas that no one really understands, but which shape our artistic and popular imaginary (Black Hole, Big Bang, Superstrings, Quantum Oscillation...). Not only in natural sciences, but also in economy and other social sciences, the expert jargon is presented as an objective insight with which one cannot really argue, and which is simultaneously untranslatable into our common experience. In short, the gap between scientific insight and common sense is unbridgeable, and it is this very gap which elevates scientists into the popular cult-figures of the "subjects supposed to know" (the Stephen Hawking phenomenon). The strict obverse of this objectivity is the way in which, in the cultural matters, we are confronted with the multitude of life-styles which one cannot translate into each other: all we can do is secure the conditions for their tolerant coexistence in a multicultural society. The icon of today's subject is perhaps the Indian computer programmer who, during the day, excels in his expertise, while in the evening, upon returning home, he lits the candlg to the local Hindu divinity and
Zizek: collected papers
respects the sacredness of the cow. This split is perfectly rendered in the phenomenon of cyberspace. Cyberspace was supposed to bring us all together in a Global Village; however, what effectively happens is that we are bombarded with the multitude of messages belonging to inconsistent and incompatible universes instead of the Global Village, the big Other, we get the multitude of "small others," of tribal particular identifications at our choice. To avoid a misunderstanding: Lacan is here far from relativizing science into just one of the arbitrary narratives, ultimately on equal footing with Politically Correct myths, etc.: science DOES "touch the Real," its knowledge IS "knowledge in the Real" - the deadlock resides simply in the fact that scientific knowledge cannot serve as the SYMBOLIC "big Other." The gap between modern science and the Aristotelian common sense philosophical ontology is here insurmountable: it emerges already with Galileo, and is brought to extreme in quantum physics, where we are dealing with the rules/laws which function, although they cannot ever be retranslated into our experience of representable reality. The theory of risk society and its global reflexivization is right in its emphasis one how, today, we are at the opposite end if the classical Enlightenment universalist ideology which presupposed that, in the long run, the fundamental questions can be resolved by way of the reference to the "objective knowledge" of the experts: when we are confronted with the conflicting opinions about the environmental consequences of a certain new product (say, of genetically modified vegetables), we search in vain for the ultimate expert opinion. And the point is not simply that the real issues are blurred because science is corrupted through financial dependence on large corporations and state agencies - even in themselves, sciences cannot provide the answer. Ecologists predicted 15 years ago the death of our forrests - the problem is now a too large increasee of wood... Where this theory of risk society is too short is in emphasizing the irrational predicament into which this puts us, common subjects: we are again and again compelled to decide, although we are well aware that we are in no position to decide, that our decision will be arbitrary. Ulrich Beck and his followers refer here to the democratic discussion of all options and consensus-building; however, this does not resolve the immobilizing dilemma: why should the democratic discussion in which the majority participates lead to better result, when, cognitively, the ignorance of the majority remains. The political frustration of the majority is thus understandable: they are called to decide, while, at the same time, receiving the message that they are in no position effectively to decide, i.e. to objectively weigh the pros and cons. The recourse to "conspiracy theories" is a desperate way out of this deadlock, an attempt to regain a minimum of what Fred Jameson calls "cognitive mapping." Jodi Dean(3) drew attention to a curious phenomenon clearly observable in the "dialogue of the mutes" between the official ("serious," academically institutionalized) science and the vast domain of so-called pseudo-sciences, from ufology to those who want to decipher the secrets of the pyramids: one cannot but be struck by how it is the oficial scientists who proceed in a dogmatic dismissive way, while the pseudo-scientists refer to facts and argumentation deprived of the common prejudices. Of course, the answer will be here that established scientists speak with the authority of the big Other of the scientific Institution; but the problem is that, precisely, this scientific big Other is again and again revealed as a consensual symbolic fiction. So when we are confronted with conspiracy theories, we should proceed in a strict homology to the proper reading of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw: we should neither accept the existence of ghosts as part of the (narrative) reality nor reduce them, in a pseudo-Freudian way, to the "projection" of the heroine's hysterical sexual frustrations. Conspiracy theories, of course, are not to be accepted as "fact" - however, one should also not reduce them to the phenomenon of modern mass hysteria. Such a notion still relies on the "big Other," on the model of "normal" perception of shared social reality, and thus does not take into account how it is precisely this notion of reality that is undermined today. The problem is not that ufologists and conspiracy theorists regress to a paranoiac attitude unable to accept (social) reality; the problem is that this reality itself is becoming paranoiac. Contemporary experience again and again confronts us with situations in which we are compelled to take note of how our sense of reality and normal attitude towards it is grounded in a symbolic fiction, i.e. how the "big Other" that determines what counts as normal and accepted truth, what is the horizon of meaning in a given society, is in no way directly grounded in "facts" as rendered by the scientific "knowledge in the real." Let us take a traditional society in which modern science is not yet elevated into the Master-discourse: if, in its symbolic space, an individual advocates propositions of modern science, he will be dismissed as "madman" - and the key point is that it is not enough to say that he is not "really mad," that it is merely the narrow ignorant society which puts him in this position - in a certain way, being treated as a madman, being excluded from the social big Other, effectively EQUALS being mad. "Madness" is not the designation which can be grounded in a direct reference to "facts" (in the sense that a madman is unable to perceive things the way they really are, since he is caught in his hallucinatory projections), but only with regard to the way an individual relates to the "big Other." Lacan usually emphasizes the opposite aspect of this paradox: "the madman is not only a beggar who thinks he is a king, but
Zizek: collected papers
also a king who thinks he is a king," i.e. madness designates the collapse of the distance between the Symbolic and the Real, an immediate identification with the symbolic mandate; or, to take his other exemplary statement, when a husband is pathologically jealous, obsessed by the idea that his wife sleeps with other men, his obsession remains a pathological feature even if it is proven that he is right and that his wife effectively sleeps with other men. The lesson of such paradoxes is clear: pathological jealously is not a matters of getting the facts false, but of the way these facts are integrated into the subject's libidinal economy. However, what one should assert here is that the same paradox should also be performed as it were in the opposite direction: the society (its socio-symbolic field, the big Other) is "sane" and "normal" even when it is proven factually wrong. (Maybe, it was in this sense that the late Lacan designated himself as "psychotic": he effectively was psychotic insofar as it was not possible to integrate his discourse into the field of the big Other.) One is tempted to claim, in the Kantian mode, that the mistake of the conspiracy theory is somehow homologous to the "paralogism of the pure reason," to the confusion between the two levels: the suspicion (of the received scientific, social, etc. common sense) as the formal methodological stance, and the positivation of this suspicion in another all-explaining global para-theory.
Screening the Real From another standpoint, the Matrix also functions as the "screen" that separates us from the Real, that makes the "desert of the real" bearable. However, it is here that we should not forget the radical ambiguity of the Lacanian Real: it is not the ultimate referent to be covered/gentrified/domesticated by the screen of fantasy - the Real is also and primarily the screen itself as the obstacle that always-already distorts our perception of the referent, of the reality out there. In philosophical terms, therein resides the difference between Kant and Hegel: for Kant, the Real is the noumenal domain that we perceive "schematized" through the screen of transcendental categories; for Hegel, on the contrary, as he asserts exemplarily in the Introduction to his Phenomenology, this Kantian gap is false. Hegel introduces here THREE terms: when a screen intervenes between ourselves and the Real, it always generates a notion of what is In-itself, beyond the screen (of the appearance), so that the gap between appearance and the In-itself is always-already "for us." Consequently, if we subtract from the Thing the distortion of the Screen, we loose the Thing itself (in religious terms, the death of Christ is the death of the God in himself, not only of his human embodiment) - which is why, for Lacan, who follows here Hegel, the Thing in itself is ultimately the gaze, not the perceived object. So, back to the Matrix: the Matrix itself is the Real that distorts our perception of reality. A reference to Levi-Strauss's exemplary analysis, from his Structural Anthropology, of the spatial disposition of buildings in the Winnebago, one of the Great Lake tribes, might be of some help here. The tribe is divided into two sub-groups ("moieties"), "those who are from above" and "those who are from below"; when we ask an individual to draw on a piece of paper, or on sand, the ground-plan of his/her village (the spatial disposition of cottages), we obtain two quite different answers, depending on his/her belonging to one or the other sub-group. Both perceive the village as a circle; but for one sub-group, there is within this circle another circle of central houses, so that we have two concentric circles, while for the other sub-group, the circle is split into two by a clear dividing line. In other words, a member of the first sub-group (let us call it "conservativecorporatist") perceives the ground-plan of the village as a ring of houses more or less symmetrically disposed around the central temple, whereas a member of the second ("revolutionary-antagonistic") sub-group perceives his/her village as two distinct heaps of houses separated by an invisible frontier...(4) The central point of Levi-Strauss is that this example should in no way entice us into cultural relativism, according to which the perception of social space depends on the observer's group-belonging: the very splitting into the two "relative" perceptions implies a hidden reference to a constant - not the objective, "actual" disposition of buildings but a traumatic kernel, a fundamental antagonism the inhabitants of the village were unable to symbolize, to account for, to "internalize", to come to terms with, an imbalance in social relations
Zizek: collected papers
that prevented the community from stabilizing itself into a harmonious whole. The two perceptions of the ground-plan are simply two mutually exclusive endeavours to cope with this traumatic antagonism, to heal its wound via the imposition of a balanced symbolic structure. Is it necessary to add that things stand exactly the same with respect to sexual difference: "masculine" and "feminine" are like the two configurations of houses in the Levi-Straussian village? And in order to dispel the illusion that our "developed" universe is not dominated by the same logic, suffice it to recall the splitting of our political space into Left and Right: a Leftist and a Rightist behave exactly like members of the opposite sub-groups of the Levi-Straussian village. They not only occupy different places within the political space; each of them perceives differently the very disposition of the political space - a Leftist as the field that is inherently split by some fundamental antagonism, a Rightist as the organic unity of a Community disturbed only by foreign intruders. However, Levi-Strauss make here a further crucial point: since the two sub-groups nonetheless form one and the same tribe, living in the same village, this identity somehow has to be symbolically inscribed - how, if the entire symbolic articulation, all social institutions, of the tribe are not neutral, but are overdetermined by the fundamental and constitutive antagonistic split? By what Levi-Strauss ingeniously calls the "zero-institution," a kind of institutional counterpart to the famous mana, the empty signifier with no determinate meaning, since it signifies only the presence of meaning as such, in opposition to its absence: a specific institution which has no positive, determinate function - its only function is the purely negative one of signalling the presence and actuality of social institution as such, in opposition to its absence, to pre-social chaos. It is the reference to such a zero-institution that enables all members of the tribe to experience themselves as such, as members of the same tribe. Is, then, this zero-institution not ideology at its purest, i.e. the direct embodiment of the ideological function of providing a neutral all-encompassing space in which social antagonism is obliterated, in which all members of society can recognize themselves? And is the struggle for hegemony not precisely the struggle for how will this zero-institution be overdetermined, colored by some particular signification? To provide a concrete example: is not the modern notion of nation such a zero-institution that emerged with the dissolution of social links grounded in direct family or traditional symbolic matrixes, i.e. when, with the onslaught of modernization, social institutions were less and less grounded in naturalized tradition and more and more experienced as a matter of "contract."(5) Of special importance is here the fact that national identity is experienced as at least minimally "natural," as a belonging grounded in "blood and soil," and as such opposed to the "artificial" belonging to social institutions proper (state, profession...): pre-modern institutions functioned as "naturalized" symbolic entities (as institutions grounded in unquestionable traditions), and the moment institutions were conceived as social artefacts, the need arose for a "naturalized" zero-institution that would serve as their neutral common ground. And, back to sexual difference, I am tempted to risk the hypothesis that, perhaps, the same logic of zero-institution should be applied not only to the unity of a society, but also to its antagonistic split: what if sexual difference is ultimately a kind of zero-institution of the social split of the humankind, the naturalized minimal zero-difference, a split that, prior to signalling any determinate social difference, signals this difference as such? The struggle for hegemony is then, again, the struggle for how this zero-difference will be overdetermined by other particular social differences. It is against this background that one should read an important, although usually overlooked, feature of Lacan's schema of the signifier: Lacan replaces the standard Saussurean scheme (above the bar the word "arbre," and beneath it the drawing of a tree) with, above the bar, two words one along the other, "homme" and "femme," and, beneath the bar, two identical drawings of a door. In order to emphasize the differential character of the signifier, Lacan first replaces Saussure's single scheme with a signifier's couple, with the opposition man/woman, with the sexual difference; but the true surprise resides in the fact that, at the level of the imaginary referent, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE (we do not get some graphic index of the sexual difference, the simplified drawing of a man and a woman, as is usually the case in most of today's restrooms, but THE SAME door reproduced twice). Is it possible to state in clearer terms that sexual difference does not designate any biological opposition grounded in "real" properties, but a purely symbolic opposition to which nothing corresponds in the designated objects - nothing but the Real of some undefined X which cannot ever be captured by the image of the signified?
Zizek: collected papers
Back to Levi-Strauss's example of the two drawings of the village: it is here that one can see it what precise sense the Real intervenes through anamorphosis. We have first the "actual," "objective," arrangement of the houses, and then its two different symbolizations which both distort in an amamorphic way the actual arrangement. However, the "real" is here not the actual arrangement, but the traumatic core of the social antagonism which distorts the tribe members' view of the actual antagonism. The Real is thus the disavowed X on account of which our vision of reality is anamorphically distorted. (And, incidentally, this three-levels dispositif is strictly homologous to Freud's three-levels dispositif of the interpretation of dreams: the real kernel of the dream is not the dream's latent thought which is displaced/translated into the explicit texture of the dream, but the unconscious desire which inscribes itself through the very distortion of the latent thought into the explicit texture.) And the same goes for today's art scene: in it, the Real does NOT return primarily in the guise of the shocking brutal intrusion of excremental objects, mutilated corpses, shit, etc. These objects are, for sure, out of place - but in order for them to be out of place, the (empty) place must already be here, and this place is rendered by the "minimalist" art, starting from Malevitch. Therein resides the complicity between the two opposed icons of high modernism, Kazimir Malevitch's "The Black Square on the White Surface" and Marcel Duchamp's display of ready-made objects as works of art. The underlying notion of Malevitch's elevation of an everyday common object into the work of art is that being a work of art is not an inherent property of the object; it is the artist himself who, by preempting the (or, rather, ANY) object and locating it at a certain place, makes it the work of art - being a work of art is not a question of "why," but "where." And what Malevitch's minimalist disposition does is simply to render - to isolate - this place as such, the empty place (or frame) with the proto-magic property of transforming any object that finds itself within its scope into the work of art. In short, there is no Duchamp without Malevitch: only after the art practice isolates the frame/place as such, emptied of all its content, can one indulge in the ready-made procedure. Before Malevitch, a urinal would have remained just a urinal, even if it were to be displayed in the most distinguished gallery. The emergence of excremental objects which are out of place is thus strictly correlative to the emergence of the place without any object in it, of the empty frame as such. Consequently, the Real in contemporary art has three dimensions, which somehow repeat within the Real the triad of Imaginary-Symbolic-Real. The Real is first here as the anamorphotic stain, the anamorphotic distortion of the direct image of reality - as a distorted image, as a pure semblance that "subjectivizes" objective reality. Then, the Real is here as the empty place, as a structure, a construction which is never here, experiences as such, but can only be retroactively constructed and has to be presupposed as such - the Real as symbolic construction. Finally, the Real is the obscene excremental Object out of place, the Real "itself." This last Real, if isolated, is a mere fetish whose fascinating/captivating presence masks the structural Real, in the same way that, in the Nazi anti-Semitism, Jew as the excremental Object is the Real that masks the unbearable "structural" Real of the social antagonism. - These three dimensions of the Real result from the three modes to acquire a distance towards "ordinary" reality: one submits this reality to anamorphic distortion; one introduces an object that has no place in it; one subtracts/erases all content (objects) of reality, so that all that remains is the very empty place these objects were filling in.
The Freudian Touch The falsity of The Matrix is perhaps most directly discernible in its designation of Neo as "the One." Who is the One? There effectively is such a place in the social link. There is, first, the One of the Master-Signifier, the symbolic authority. Even in the social life in its most horrifying form, the memories of concentration camp survivors invariably mention the One, an individual who did not break down, who, in the midst of the unbearable conditions which reduced all others to the egotistic struggle for bare survival, miraculously maintained and radiated an "irrational"
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generosity and dignity - in Lacanian terms, we are dealing here with the function of Y'a de l'Un: even here, there was the One who served as the support of the minimum of solidarity that defines the social link proper as opposed to the collaboration within the frame of the pure strategy of survival. Two features are crucial here: first, this individual was always perceived as one (there was never a multitude of them, as if, following some obscure necessity, this excess of the inexplicable miracle of solidarity has to be embodied in a One); secondly, it was not so much what this One effectively did for the others which mattered, but rather his very presence among them (what enabled the others to survive was the awareness that, even if they are for most of the time reduced to the survival-machines, there is the One who maintained human dignity). In a way homologous to the canned laughter, we have here something like the canned dignity, where the Other (the One) retains my dignity for me, at my place, or, more precisely, where I retain my dignity THROUGH the Other: I may be reduced to the cruel struggle for survival, but the very awareness that there is One who retains his dignity enables ME to maintain the minimal link to humanity. Often, when this One broke down or was unmasked as a fake, the other prisoners lost their will to survive and turned into indifferent living dead - paradoxically, their very readiness to struggle for the bare survival was sustained by its exception, by the fact that there was the One NOT reduced to this level, so that, when this exception disappeared, the struggle fore survival itself lost its force. What this means, of course, is that this One was not defined exclusively by his "real" qualities (at this level, there may well have been more individuals like him, or it may even have been that he was not really unbroken, but a fake, just playing that role): his exceptional role was rather that of transference, i.e. he occupied a place constructed (presupposed) by the others. In The Matrix, on the contrary, the One is he who is able to see that our everyday reality is not real, but just a codified virtual universe, and who therefore is able to unplug from it, to manipulate and suspend its rules (fly in the air, stop the bullets...). Crucial for the function of THIS One is his virtualization of reality: reality is an artificial construct whose rules can be suspended or at least rewritten - therein resides the properly paranoiac notion that the One can suspend the resistance of the Real ("I can walk through a thick wall, if I really decide it...", i.e. the impossibility for the most of us to do this is reduced to the failure of the subject's will). However, it is here that, again, the film does not go far enough: in the memorable scene in the waiting room of the prophetess who will decide if Neo is the One, a child who is seen twisting a spoon with his mere thoughts tells the surprised Neo that the way to do it is not point is not to convince myself that I can twist the spoon, but to convince myself that THERE IS NO SPOON... However, what about MYSELF? Is it not that the further step should have been to accept the Buddhist proposition that I MYSELF, the subject, do not exist? In order to further specify what is false in The Matrix, one should distinguish simple technological impossibility from fantasmatic falsity: time-travel is (probably) impossible, but fantasmatic scenarios about it are nonetheless "true" in the way they render libidinal deadlocks. Consequently, the problem with Matrix is not the scientific naivety of its tricks: the idea of passing from reality to VR through the phone makes sense, since all we need is a gap/hole through which one can escape. (Perhaps, an even better solution would have been the toilet: is not the domain where excrements vanish after we flush the toilet effectively one of the metaphors for the horrifyinglysublime Beyond of the primordial, pre-ontological Chaos into which things disappear? Although we rationally know what goes on with the excrements, the imaginary mystery nonetheless persists shit remains an excess with does not fit our daily reality, and Lacan was right in claiming that we pass from animals to humans the moment an animal has problems with what to do with its excrements, the moment they turn into an excess that annoys it. The Real is thus not primarily the horrifyingly-disgusting stuff reemerging from the toilet sink, but rather the hole itself, the gap which serves as the passage to a different ontological order - the topological hole or torsion which "curves" the space of our reality so that we perceive/imagine excrements as disappearing into an alternative dimension which is not part of our everyday reality.) The problem is a more radical fantasmatic inconsistency, which erupts most explicitly when Morpheus (the African-American leader of the resistance group who believe that Neo is the One) tries to explain to the still perplexed Neo what the Matrix is - he quite consequently links it to a failure in the structure of the universe:
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"It's that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that something was wrong with the world. You don't know what it is but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. /.../ The Matrix is everywhere, it's all around us, here even in this room. /.../ It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. NEO: What truth? MORPHEUS: That you are a slave, Neo. That you, like everyone else, was born into bondage ... kept inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison of your mind." Here the film encounters its ultimate inconsistency: the experience of the lack/inconsistency/obstacle is supposed to bear witness of the fact that what we experience as reality is a fake - however, towards the end of the film, Smith, the agent of the Matrix, gives a different, much more Freudian explanation: "Did you know hat the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. NO one would accept the program. Entire crops /of the humans serving as batteries/ were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.Which is why the Matrix was re-designed to this: the peak of your civilization." The imperfection of our world is thus at the same time the sign of its virtuality AND the sign of its reality. One could effectively claim that the agent Smith (let us not forget: not a human being as others, but the direct virtual embodiment of the Matrix - the big Other - itself) is the stand-in for the figure of the analyst within the universe of the film: his lesson is that the experience of an insurmountable obstacle is the positive condition for us, humans, to perceive something as reality - reality is ultimately that which resists.
Malebranche in Hollywood The further inconsistency concerns death: WHY does one "really" die when one dies only in the VR regulated by the Matrix? The film provides the obscurantist answer: "NEO: If you are killed in the Matrix, you die here /i.e. not only in the VR, but also in real life/? MORPHEUS: The body cannot live without the mind." The logic of this solution is that your "real" body can only stay alive (function) in conjunction to the mind, i.e. to the mental universe into which you are immersed: so if you are in a VR and killed there, this death affects also your real body... The obvious opposite solution (you only really die when you are killed in reality) is also too short. The catch is: is the subject WHOLLY immersed into the Matrix-dominated VR or does he know or at least SUSPECT the actual state of things? If the answer is YES, then a simple withdrawal into prelapsarian Adamic state of distance would render us immortal IN THE VR and, consequently, Neo who is already liberated from the full immersion in the VR shouls SURVIVE the struggle with the agent Smith which takes place WITHIN the VR controlled by the Matrix (in the same way he is able to stopbullets, he should also have been able to derealize blows that wound his body). This brings us back to Malebranche's occasionalism: much more than Berkeley's God who sustains the world in his mind, the ULTIMATE Matrix is Malebranche's occasionalist God. Malebranche's "occasionalism" undoubtedly was the philosopher who provided the best conceptual apparatus to account for Virtual Reality. Malebranche, a disciple of Descartes, drops Descartes's ridiculous reference to the pineal gland in order to explain the coordination between the material and the spiritual substance, i.e. body and soul; how, then, are we to explain their coordination, if there is no contact between the two, no point at which a soul can act causally on a body or vice versa? Since the two causal networks (that of ideas in my mind and that of bodily interconections) are totally independent, the only solution is that a third, true Substance (God) continuously coordinates and mediates between the two, sustaining the semblance of continuity: when I think about raising my hand and my hand effectively raises, my thought causes the raising of my hand not directly but only "occasionally" - upon noticing my thought directed at raising my
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hand, God sets in motion the other, material, causal chain which leads to my hand effectively being raised. If we replace "God" with the big Other, the symbolic order, we can see the closeness of occasionalism to Lacan's position: as Lacan put it in his polemics against Aristoteles in Television(6), the relationship between soul and body is never direct, since the big Other always interposes itself between the two. Occasionalism is thus essentially a name for the "arbitrary of the signifier", for the gap that separates the network of ideas from the network of bodily (real) causality, for the fact that it is the big Other which accounts for the coordination of the two networks, so that, when my body bites an apple, my soul experiences a pleasurable sensation. This same gap is targeted by the ancient Aztec priest who organizes human sacrifices to ensure that the sun will rise again: the human sacrifice is here an appeal to God to sustain the coordination between the two series, the bodily necessity and the concatenation of symbolic events. "Irrational" as the Aztec priest's sacrificing may appear, its underlying premise is far more insightful than our commonplace intuition according to which the coordination between body and soul is direct, i.e. it is "natural" for me to have a pleasurable sensation when I bite an apple since this sensation is caused directly by the apple: what gets lost is the intermediary role of the big Other in guaranteeing the coordination between reality and our mental experience of it. And is it not the same with our immersion into Virtual Reality? When I raise my hand in order to push an object in the virtual space, this object effectively moves - my illusion, of course, is that it was the movement of my hand which directly caused the dislocation of the object, i.e. in my immersion, I overlook the intricate mechanism of computerized coordination, homologous to the role of God guaranteeing the coordination between the two series in occasionalism.(7) It is a well-known fact that the "Close the door" button in most elevators is a totally disfunctional placebo, which is placed there just to give the individuals the impression that they are somehow participating, contributing to the speed of the elevator journey - when we push this button, the door closes in exactly the same time as when we just pressed the floor button without "speeding up" the process by pressing also the "Close the door" button. This extreme and clear case of fake participation is an appropriate metaphor of the participation of individuals in our "postmodern" political process. And this is occasionalism at its purest: according to Malebranche, we are all the time pressing such buttons, and it is God's incessant activity that coordinates between them and the event that follows (the door closing), while we think the event results from our pushing the button... For that reason, it is crucial to maintain open the radical ambiguity of how cyberspace will affect our lives: this does not depend on technology as such but on the mode of its social inscription. Immersion into cyberspace can intensify our bodily experience (new sensuality, new body with more organs, new sexes...), but it also opens up the possibility for the one who manipulates the machinery which runs the cyberspace literally to steal our own (virtual) body, depriving us of the control over it, so that one no longer relates to one's body as to "one's own". What one encounters here is the constitutive ambiguity of the notion of mediatization(8): originally this notion designated the gesture by means of which a a subject was stripped of its direct, immediate right to make decisions; the great master of political mediatization was Napoleon who left to the conquered monarchs the appearance of power, while they were effectively no longer in a position to exercise it. At a more general level, one could say that such a "mediatization" of the monarch defines the constitutional monarchy: in it, the monarch is reduced to the point of a purely formal symbolic gesture of "dotting the i's", of signing and thus conferring the performative force on the edicts whose content is determined by the elected governing body. And does not, mutatis mutandis, the same not hold also for today's progressiver computerization of our everyday lives in the course of which the subject is also more and more "mediatised", imperceptibly stripped of his power, under the false guise of its increase? When our body is mediatized (caught in the network of electronic media), it is simultaneously exposed to the threat of a radical "proletarization": the subject is potentially reduced to the pure $, since even my own personal experience can be stolen, manipulated, regulated by the machinical Other. One can see, again, how the prospect of radical virtualization bestows on the computer the position which is strictly homologous to that of God in the Malebrancheian occasionalism: since the computer coordinates the relationship between my mind and (what I experience as) the movement of my limbs (in the virtual reality), one can easily imagine a computer which runs amok and starts to act liker an Evil God, disturbing the
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coordination between my mind and my bodily self-experience - when the signal of my mind to raise my hand is suspended or even counteracted in (the virtual) reality, the most fundamental experience of the body as "mine" is undermined... It seems thus that cyberspace effectively realizes the paranoiac fantasy elaborated by Schreber, the German judge whose memoirs were analyzed by Freud(9): the "wired universe" is psychotic insofar as it seems to materialize Schreber's hallucination of the divine rays through which God directly controls the human mind. In other words, does the externalization of the big Other in the computer not account for the inherent paranoiac dimension of the wired universe? Or, to put it in a yet another way: the commonplace is that, in cyberspace, the ability to download consciousness into a computer finally frees people from their bodies - but it also frees the machines from "their" people...
Staging the The Fundamental Fantasy The final inconsistency concerns the ambiguous status of the liberation of humanity anounced by Neo in the last scene. As the result of Neo's intervention, there is a "SYSTEM FAILURE" in the Matrix; at the same time, Neo addresses people still caught in the Matrix as the Savior who will teach them how to liberate themselves from the constraints of the Matrix - they will be able to break the physical laws, bend metals, fly in the air... However, the problem is that all these "miracles" are possible only if we remain WITHIN the VR sustained by the Matrix and merely bend or change its rules: our "real" status is still that of the slaves of the Matrix, we as it were are merely gaining additional power to change our mental prison rules - so what about exiting from the Matrix altogether and entering the "real reality" in which we are miserable creatures living on the destroyed earth surface? In an Adornian way, one should claim that these inconsistencies (10) are the film's moment of truth: they signal the antagonisms of our late-capitalist social experience, antagonisms concerning basic ontological couples like reality and pain (reality as that which disturbs the reign of the pleasure-principle), freedom and system (freedom is only possible within the system that hinders its full deployment). However, the ultimate strentgh of the film is nonetheless to be located at a different level. Years ago, a series of science-fiction films like Zardoz or Logan's Run forecasted today's postmodern predicament: the isolated group living an aseptic life in a secluded area longs for the experience of the real world of material decay. Till postmodernism, utopia was an endeavour to break out of the real of historical time into a timeless Otherness. With postmodern overlapping of the "end of history" with full disponibility of the past in digitalized memory, in this time where we LIVE the atemporal utopia as everyday ideological experience, utopia becomes the longing for the Real of History itself, for memory, for the traces of the real past, the attempt to break out of the closed dome into smell and decay of the raw reality. The Matrix gives the final twist to this reversal, combining utopia with dystopia: the very reality we live in, the atemporal utopia staged by the Matrix, is in place so that we can be effectively reduced to a passive state of living batteries providing the Matrix with the energy. The unique impact of the film thus resides not so much in its central thesis (what we experience as reality is an artificial virtual reality generated by the "Matrix," the mega-computer directly attached to all our minds), but in its central image of the millions of human beings leading a claustrophobic life in a water-filled craddles, kept alive in order to generate the energy (electricity) for the Matrix. So when (some of the) people "awaken" from their immersion into the Matrixcontrolled virtual reality, this awakening is not the opening into the wide space of the external reality, but first the horrible realization of this enclosure, where each of us is effectively just a foetus-like organism, immersed in the pre-natal fluid... This utter passivity is the foreclosed fantasy that sustains our conscious experience as active, self-positing subjects - it is the ultimate perverse fantasy, the notion that we are ultimately instruments of the Other's (Matrix's) jouissance, sucked out of our life-substance like batteries. Therein resides the true libidinal enigma of this dispositif: WHY does the Matrix need human energy? The purely energetic solution is, of course, meaningless: the Matrix could have easily found another, more reliable, source of energy which would have not demanded the extremely complex arrangement of the virtual reality
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coordinated for millions of human units (another inconsusrency is discernible here: why does the Matrix not immerse each individual into his/her own solipsistic artificial universe? why complicate matters with corrdinating the programs so that the entire humanity inhabits one and the same virtual universe?). The only consistent answer is: the Matrix feeds on the human's jouissance - so we are here back at the fundamental Lacanian thesis that the big Other itself, far from being an anonymous machine, needs the constant influx of jouissance. This is how we should turn around the state of things presented by the film: what the film renders as the scene of our awakening into our true situation, is effectively its exact opposition, the very fundamental fantasy that sustains our being. The intimate connection between perversion and cyberspace is today a commonplace. According to the standard view, the perverse scenario stages the "disavowal of castration": perversion can be seen as a defense against the motif of "death and sexuality," against the threat of mortality as well as the contingent imposition of sexual difference: what the pervert enacts is a universe in which, as in cartoons, a human being can survive any catastrophe; in which adult sexuality is reduced to a childish game; in which one is not forced to die or to choose one of the two sexes. As such, the pervert's universe is the universe of pure symbolic order, of the signifier's game running its course, unencumbered by the Real of human finitude. In a first approach, it may seem that our experience of cyberspace fits perfectly this universe: isn't cyberspace also a universe unencumbered by the inertia of the Real, constrained only by its self-imposed rules? And is not the same with Virtual Reality in The Matrix? The "reality" in which we live loses its inexorable character, it becomes a domain of arbitrary rules (imposed by the Matrix) that one can violate if one's Will is strong enough... However, according to Lacan, what this standard notion leaves out of consideration is the unique relationship between the Other and the jouissance in perversion. What, exactly, does this kean? In "Le prix du progres," one of the fragments that conclude The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer quote the argumentation of the 19th century French physiologist Pierre Flourens against medical anaesthesia with chloroform: Flourens claims that it can be proven that the anaesthetic works only on our memory's neuronal network. In short, while we are butchered alive on the operating table, we fully feel the terrible pain, but later, after awakening, we do not remember it... For Adorno and Horkheimer, this, of course, is the perfect metaphor of the fate of Reason based on the repression of nature in itself: his body, the part of nature in the subject, fully feels the pain, it is only that, due to repression, the subject does not remember it. Therein resides the perfect revenge of nature for our domination over it: unknowingly, we are our own greatest victims, butchering ourselves alive... Isn't it also possible to read this as the perfect fantasy scenario of inter-passivity, of the Other Scene in which we pay the price for our active intervention into the world? There is no active free agent without this fantasmatic support, without this Other Scene in which he is totally manipulated by the Other.(11) A sado-masochist willingly assumes this suffering as the access to Being. Perhaps, it is along these lines that one can also explain the obsession of Hitler's biographers with his relationship to his niece Geli Raubal who was found dead in Hitler's Munich appartment in 1931, as if the alleged Hitler's sexual perversion will provide the "hidden variable," the intimate missing link, the fantasmatic support that would account for his public personality - here is this scenario as reported by Otto Strasser: "/.../ Hitler made her undress /while/ he would lie down on the floor. Then she would have to squat down over his face where he could examine her at close range, and this made him very excited. When the excitement reached its peak, he demanded thatr she urinate on him, and that gave him his pleasure."(12) Crucial is here the utter passivity of Hitler's role in this scenario as the fantasmatic support that pushed him into his frenetically destructive public political activity - no wonder Geli was desperate and disgusted at these rituals. Therein resides the correct insight of The Matrix: in its juxtaposition of the two aspects of perversion - on the one hand, reduction of reality to a virtual domain regulated by arbitrary rules that can be suspended; on the other hand, the concealed truth of this freedom, the reduction of the subject to an utter instrumentalized passivity.
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(1). If one compares the original script (available on the internet) with the film itself, one can see that the directors (Wachowski brothers, who also authored the script) were intelligent enough to throw out too direct pseudo-intellectual references, like the following exchange: "Look at 'em. Automatons. Don't think about what they're doing or why. Computer tells 'em what to do and they do it." "The banality of evil." This pretentious reference to Arendt totally misses the point: people immersed in the VR of the Matrix are in an entirely different, almost opposite, position in comparison with the executioners of the holocaust. Another similar wise move was to drop the all too obvious references to the Eastern techniques of emptying your mind as the way to escape the control of the Matrix: "You have to learn to let go of that anger. You must let go of everything. You must empty yourself to free your mind." (2) It is also crucial that what enables the hero of The Truman Show to see through and exit his manipulated world is the unforeseen intervention of his father - there are two paternal figures in the film, the actual symbolic-biological father and the paranoiac "real" father, he director of the TV-Show who totally manipulates his life and protects him in the closed environment, played by Ed Harris. (3) On whom I rely extensively here: see Jodi Dean, Aliens in America. Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspasce to Cyberspace, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press 1998. (4) Claude Levi-Strauss, "Do Dual Organizations Exist?", in Structural Anthropology (New York: Basic Books 1963), p. 131-163; the drawings are on pages 133-134. (5) See Rastko Mocnik, "Das 'Subjekt, dem unterstellt wird zu glauben' und die Nation als eine Null-Institution," in Denk-Prozesse nach Althusser, ed. by H. Boke, Hamburg: Argument Verlag 1994. (6) See Jacques Lacan, "Television", in October 40 (1987). (7) The main work of Nicolas Malebranche is Recherches de la verite (1674-75, the most available edition Paris: Vrin 1975). (8) As to this ambiguity, see Paul Virilio, The Art of the Motor, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press 1995. (9) The notion of this connection between cyberspace and Schreber's psychotic universe was suggested to me by Wendy Chun, Princeton. (10) A further pertinent inconsistency also concerns the status of intersubjectivity in the universe run by the Matrix: do all individuals share the SAME virtual reality? WHY? Why not to each its preferred own? (11) What Hegel does is to "traverse" this fantasy by demonstrating its function of filling in the pre-ontological abyss of freedom, i.e. of reconstituting the positive Scene in which the subject is inserted into a positive noumenal order. In other words, for Hegel, Kant's vision is meaningless and inconsistent, since it secretly reintroduces the ontologically fully constituted divine totality, i.e. a world conceived ONLY as Substance, NOT also as Subject. (12) Quoted from Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler, New York: Harper 1999, p. 134.
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THE IRAQ WAR: WHERE IS THE TRUE DANGER?
by Slavoj Zizek
We all remember the old joke about the borrowed kettle which Freud quotes in order to render the strange logic of dreams, namely the enumeration of mutually exclusive answers to a reproach (that I returned to a friend a broken kettle): (1) I never borrowed a kettle from you; (2) I returned it to you unbroken; (3) the kettle was already broken when I got it from you. For Freud, such an enumeration of inconsistent arguments of course confirms per negationem what it endeavors to deny - that I returned you a broken kettle... Do we not encounter the same inconsistency when high US officials try to justify the attack on Iraq? (1) There is a link between Saddam's regime and al-Qaeda, so Saddam should be punished as part of the revenge for 9/11; (2) even if there was no link between Iraqi regime and al Qaeda, they are united in their hatred of the US - Saddam's regime is a really bad one, a threat not only to the US, but also to its neighbors, and we should liberate the Iraqi people; (3) the change of regime in Iraq will create the conditions for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The problem is that there are TOO MANY reasons for the attack... Furthermore, one is almost tempted to claim that, within the space of this reference to the Freudian logic of dreams, the Iraqi oil supplies function as the famous "umbilical cord" of the US justification(s) - almost tempted, since it would perhaps be more reasonable to claim that there are also three REAL reasons for the attack: (1) the control of the Iraqi oil reserves; (2) the urge to brutally assert and signal the unconditional US hegemony; (3) the "sincere" ideological belief that the US are bringing to other nations democracy and prosperity. And it seems as if these three "real" reasons are the "truth" of the three official reasons: (1) is the truth of the urge to liberate Iraqis; (2) is the truth of the claim the attack on Iraq will help
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to resolve the Middle East conflict; (3) is the truth of the claim that there is a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. - And, incidentally, opponents of the war seem to repeat the same inconsistent logic: (1) Saddam is really bad, we also want to see him toppled, but we should give inspectors more time, since inspectors are more efficient; (2) it is all really about the control of oil and American hegemony - the true rogue state which terrorizes others are the US themselves; (3) even if successful, the attack on Iraq will give a big boost to a new wave of the anti-American terrorism; (4) Saddam is a murderer and torturer, his regime a criminal catastrophe, but the attack on Iraq destined to overthrow Saddam will cost too much... The one good argument for war is the one recently evoked by Christopher Hitchens: one should not forget that the majority of Iraqis effectively are Saddam's victims, and they would be really glad to get rid of them. He was such a catastrophe for his country that an American occupation in WHATEVER form may seem a much brighter prospect to them with regard to daily survival and much lower level of fear. We are not talking here of "bringing Western democracy to Iraq," but just of getting rid of the nightmare called Saddam. To this majority, the caution expressed by Western liberals cannot but appear deeply hypocritical - do they really care about how the Iraqi people feel? One can make even a more general point here: what about pro-Castro Western Leftists who despise what Cubans themselves call "gusanos /worms/," those who emigrated - but, with all sympathy for the Cuban revolution, what right does a typical middle class Western Leftist have to despise a Cuban who decided to leave Cuba not only because of political disenchantment, but also because of poverty which goes up to simple hunger? In the same vein, I myself remember from the early 1990s dozens of Western Leftists who proudly threw in my face how for them, Yugoslavia still exists, and reproached me for betraying the unique chance of maintaining Yugoslavia - to which I always answered that I am not yet ready
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to lead my life so that it will not disappoint Western Leftist dreams... There are effectively few things more worthy of contempt, few attitudes more ideological (if this word has any meaning today, it should be applied here) than a tenured Western academic Leftist arrogantly dismissing (or, even worse, "understanding" in a patronizing way) an Eastern European from a Communist country who longs for Western liberal democracy and some consumerist goods... However, it is all too easy to slip from this fact to the notion that "under their skin, Iraqis are also like us, and really want the same as we do." The old story will repeat itself: America brings to the people new hope and democracy, but, instead of hailing the US army, the ungrateful people do want it, they suspect a gift in the gift, and America then reacts as a child with hurt feelings because of the ingratitude of those it selflessly helped. The underlying presupposition is the old one: under our skin, if we scratch the surface, we are all Americans, that is our true desire - so all is needed is just to give people a chance, liberate them from their imposed constraints, and they will join us in our ideological dream... No wonder that, in February 2003, an American representative used the word "capitalist revolution" to describe what Americans are now doing: exporting their revolution all around the world. No wonder they moved from "containing" the enemy to a more aggressive stance. It is the US which is now, as the defunct USSR was decades ago, the subversive agent of a world revolution. When Bush recently said "Freedom is not America's gift to other nations, it is god's gift to humanity," this apparent modesty nonetheless, in the best totalitarian fashion, conceals its opposite: yes, BUT it is nonetheless the US which perceives itself as the chosen instrument of distributing this gift to all the nations of the world! The idea to "repeat Japan in 1945," to bring democracy to Iraq, which will then serve as model for the entire Arab world, enabling people to get rid of the corrupt
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regimes, immediately faces an insurmountable obstacle: what about Saudi Arabia where it is in the vital US interest that the country does NOT turn into democracy? The result of democracy in Saudi Arabia would have been either the repetition of Iran in 1953 (a populist regime with an anti-imperialist twist) or of Algeria a couple of years ago, when the "fundamentalists" WON the free elections. There is nonetheless a grain of truth in Rumsfeld's ironic pun against the "old Europe." The French-German united stand against the US policy apropos Iraq should be read against the background of the French-German summit a month ago in which Chirac and Schroeder basically proposed a kind of dual Franco-German hegemony over the European Community. So no wonder that anti-Americanism is at its strongest in "big" European nations, especially France and Germany: it is part of their resistance to globalization. One often hears the complaint that the recent trend of globalization threatens the sovereignty of the Nation-States; here, however, one should qualify this statement: WHICH states are most exposed to this threat? It is not the small states, but the second-rate (ex-)world powers, countries like United Kingdom, Germany and France: what they fear is that, once fully immersed in the newly emerging global Empire, they will be reduced at the same level as, say, Austria, Belgium or even Luxembourg. The refusal of "Americanization" in France, shared by many Leftists and Rightist nationalists, is thus ultimately the refusal to accept the fact that France itself is losing its hegemonic role in Europe. The leveling of weight between larger and smaller Nation-States should thus be counted among the beneficial effects of globalization: beneath the contemptuous deriding of the new Eastern European post-Communist states, it is easy to discern the contours of the wounded Narcissism of the European "great nations." And this great-state-nationalism is not just a feature external to the (failure of) the present opposition; it affects the very way France and Germany articulated this
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opposition. Instead of doing, even more actively, precisely what Americans are doing - MOBILIZING the "new European" states on their own politico-military platform, ORGANIZING the common new front -, France and Germany arrogantly acted alone. In the recent French resistance against the war on Iraq, there definitely is a clear echo of the "old decadent" Europe: escape the problem by non-acting, by new resolutions upon resolutions - all this reminiscent of the inactivity of the League of Nations against Germany in the 1930s. And the pacifist call "let the inspectors do their work" clearly IS hypocritical: they are only allowed to do the work because there is a credible threat of military intervention. Not to mention the French neocolonialism in Africa (from Congo-Brazzaville to the dark French role in the Rwanda crisis and massacres)? And about the French role in the Bosnian war? Furthermore, as it was made clear a couple of months ago, is it not clear that France and Germany worry about their own hegemony in Europe? Is the war on Iraq not the moment of truth when the "official" political distinctions are blurred? Generally, we live in a topsy-turvy world in which Republicans freely spend money, creating record budget deficits, while Democrats practice budget balance; in which Republicans, who thunder against big government and preach devolution of power to states and local communities, are in the process of creating the strongest state mechanism of control in the entire history of humanity. And the same applies to post-Communist countries. Symptomatic is here the case of Poland: the most ardent supporter of the US politics in Poland is the ex-Communist president Kwasniewski (who is even mentioned as the future secretary of NATO, after George Robertson), while the main opposition to the participation of Poland in the anti-Iraq coalition comes from the Rightist parties. Towards the end of January 2003, the Polish bishops also demanded from the government that it should add to the contract which regulates the membership of
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Poland in the EU a special paragraph guaranteeing that Poland will "retain the right to keep its fundamental values as they are formulated in its constitution" by which, of course, are meant the prohibition of abortion, of euthanasia and of the same-sex marriages. The very ex-Communist countries which are the most ardent supporters of the US "war on terror" deeply worry that their cultural identity, their very survival as nations, is threatened by the onslaught of cultural "americanization" as the price for the immersion into global capitalism - we thus witness the paradox of pro-Bushist anti-Americanism. In Slovenia, my own country, there is a similar inconsistency: the Rightist nationalist reproach the ruling Center-Left coalition that, although it is publicly for joining NATO and supporting the US anti-terrorist campaign, it is secretly sabotaging it, participating in it for opportunist reasons, not out of conviction. At the same time, however, it is reproaching the ruling coalition that it wants to undermine Slovene national identity by advocating full Slovene integration into the Westernized global capitalism and thus drowning Slovenes into contemporary Americanized pop-culture. The idea is that the ruling coalition sustains pop culture, stupid TV amusement, mindless consumption, etc., in order to turn Slovenes into an easily manipulated crowd unable of serious reflection and firm ethical posture... In short, the underlying motif is that the ruling coalition stands for the "liberal-Communist plot" : ruthless unconstrained immersion in global capitalism is perceived as the latest dark plot of ex-Communists enabling them to retain their secret hold on power. The almost tragic misunderstanding is that the nationalists, on the one hand, unconditionally support NATO (under the US command), reproaching the ruling coalition with secretly supporting antiglobalists and anti-American pacifists, while, on the other hand, they worry about the fate of Slovene identity in the process of globalization, claiming that the ruling coalition wants to throw Slovenia into the global
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whirlpool, not worrying about the Slovene national identity. Ironically, the new emerging socio-ideological order these nationalist conservatives are bemoaning reads like the old New Left description of the "repressive tolerance" and capitalist freedom as the mode of appearance of unfreedom. Here, the example of Italy is crucial, with Berlusconi as prime minister: the staunchest supporter of the US AND the agent of the TV-idiotizing of the public opinion, turning politics into a media show and running a large advertisement and media company. Where, then, do we stand with reasons pro et contra? Abstract pacifism is intellectually stupid and morally wrong - one has to stand up against a threat. Of course the fall of Saddam would have been a relief to a large majority of the Iraqi people. Even more, of course the militant Islam is a horrifying anti-feminist etc. ideology. Of course there is something of a hypocrisy in all the reasons against: the revolt should come from Iraqi people themselves; we should not impose our values on them; war is never a solution; etc. BUT, although all this is true, the attack is wrong - it is WHO DOES IT that makes it wrong. The reproach is: WHO ARE YOU TO DO THIS? It is not war or peace, it is the correct "gut feeling" that there is something terribly wrong with THIS war, that something will irretrievably change with it. One of Jacques Lacan's outrageous statements is that, even if what a jealous husband claims about his wife (that she sleeps around with other men) is all true, his jealousy is still pathological; along the same lines, one could say that, even of most of the Nazi claims about the Jews were true (they exploit Germans, they seduce German girls...), their anti-Semitism would still be (and was) pathological - because it represses the true reason WHY the Nazis NEEDED anti-Semitism in order to sustain their ideological position. And the same should be said today, apropos of the US claim "Saddam has weapons of mass destruction!" - even if this claim is true (and it probably is, at least to some degree), it is still
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false with regard to the position from which it is enunciated. Everyone fears the catastrophic outcome of the US attack on Iraq: an ecological catastrophe of gigantic proportions, high US casualties, a terrorist attack in the West... In this way, we already accept the US standpoint - and it is easy to imagine how, if the war will be over soon, in a kind of repetition of the 1990 Gulf War, if Saddam's regime will disintegrate fast, there will be a universal sigh of relief even among many present critics of the US policy. One is even tempted to consider the hypothesis that the US are on purpose fomenting this fear of an impending catastrophe, counting on the universal relief when the catastrophe will NOT occur... This, however, is arguably the greatest true danger. That is to say, one should gather the courage to proclaim the opposite: perhaps, the bad military turn for the US would be the best thing that can happen, a sobering piece of bad news which would compel all the participants to rethink their position. On 9/11 2001, the Twin Towers were hit; twelve years earlier, on 11/9 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. 11/9 announced the "happy 90s," the Francis Fukuyama dream of the "end of history," the belief that liberal democracy has in principle won, that the search is over, that the advent of a global liberal world community lurks round the corner, that the obstacles to this ultra-Hollywood happy ending are just empirical and contingent, local pockets of resistance where the leaders did not yet grasp that their time is over; in contrast to it, 9/11 is the main symbol of the end of the Clintonite happy 90s, of the forthcoming era in which new walls are emerging everywhere, between Israel and the West Bank, around the European Union, on the US-Mexican border. The prospect of a new global crisis is looming: economic collapses, military and other catastrophes, emergency states... And when politicians start to directly justify their decisions in ethical terms, one can be sure that
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ethics is mobilized to cover up such dark threatening horizons. It is the very inflation of abstract ethical rhetorics in George W. Bush's recent public statements (of the "Does the world have the courage to act against the Evil or not?" type) which manifests the utter ETHICAL misery of the US position - the function of ethical reference is here purely mystifying, it merely serves to mask the true political stakes, which are not difficult to discern. In their recent The War Over Iraq, William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan wrote: "The mission begins in Baghdad, but it does not end there. /.../ We stand at the cusp of a new historical era. /.../ This is a decisive moment. /.../ It is so clearly about more than Iraq. It is about more even than the future of the Middle East and the war on terror. It is about what sort of role the United States intends to play in the twenty-first century." One cannot but agree with it: it is effectively the future of international community which is at stake now - the new rules which will regulate it, what the new world order will be. What is going on now is the next logical step of the US dismissal of the Hague court. The first permanent global war crimes court started to work on July 1, 2002 in The Hague, with the power to tackle genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Anyone, from a head of state to an ordinary citizen, will be liable to ICC prosecution for human rights violations, including systematic murder, torture, rape and sexual slavery, or, as Kofi Annan put it: "There must be a recognition that we are all members of one human family. We have to create new institutions. This is one of them. This is another step forward in humanity's slow march toward civilization." However, while human rights groups have hailed the court's creation as the biggest milestone for international justice since top Nazis were tried by an international military tribunal in Nuremberg after World War Two, the court faces stiff opposition from the United States, Russia and China. The United States says the court would infringe on national
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sovereignty and could lead to politically motivated prosecutions of its officials or soldiers working outside U.S. borders, and the U.S. Congress is even weighing legislation authorizing U.S. forces to invade The Hague where the court will be based, in the event prosecutors grab a U.S. national. The noteworthy paradox here is that the US thus rejected the jurisdiction of a tribunal which was constituted with the full support (and votes) of the US themselves! Why, then, should Milosevic, who now sits in the Hague, not be given the right to claim that, since the US reject the legality of the international jurisdiction of the Hague tribunal, the same argumentation should hold also for him? And the same goes for Croatia: the US are now exerting tremendous pressure onto the Croat government to deliver to the Hague court a couple of its generals accused of war crimes during the struggles in Bosnia - the reaction is, of course, how can they ask this of US when THEY do not recognize the legitimacy of the Hague court? Or are the US citizens effectively "more equal than others"? If one simply universalizes the underlying principles of the Bush-doctrine, does India not have a full right to attack Pakistan? It does directly support and harbor anti-Indian terror in Kashmir, and it possesses (nuclear) weapons of mass destruction. Not to mention the right of China to attack Taiwan, and so on, with unpredictable consequences... Are we aware that we are in the midst of a "silent revolution," in the course of which the unwritten rules which determine the most elementary international logic are changing? The US scold Gerhardt Schroeder, a democratically elected leader, for maintaining a stance supported by a large majority of the population, plus, according to the polls in the mid-February, around 59% of the US population itself (who oppose strike against Iraq without the UN support). In Turkey, according to opinion polls, 94% of the people are opposed to allowing the US troops' presence for the war against Iraq - where is democracy here? Every old Leftist remembers Marx's reply, in The
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Communist Manifesto, to the critics who reproached the Communists that they aim at undermining family, property, etc.: it is the capitalist order itself whose economic dynamics is destroying the traditional family order (incidentally, a fact more true today than in Marx's time), as well as expropriating the large majority of the population. In the same vein, is it not that precisely those who pose today as global defenders of democracy are effectively undermining it? In a perverse rhetorical twist, when the pro-war leaders are confronted with the brutal fact that their politics is out of tune with the majority of their population, they take recourse to the commonplace wisdom that "a true leader leads, he does not follow" - and this from leaders otherwise obsessed with opinion polls... The true dangers are the long-term ones. In what resides perhaps the greatest danger of the prospect of the American occupation of Iraq? The present regime in Iraq is ultimately a secular nationalist one, out of touch with the Muslim fundamentalist populism - it is obvious that Saddam only superficially flirts with the pan-Arab Muslim sentiment. As his past clearly demonstrates, he is a pragmatic ruler striving for power, and shifting alliances when it fits his purposes - first against Iran to grab their oil fields, then against Kuwait for the same reason, bringing against himself a pan-Arab coalition allied to the US - what Saddam is not is a fundamentalist obsessed with the "big Satan," ready to blow the world apart just to get him. However, what can emerge as the result of the US occupation is precisely a truly fundamentalist Muslim anti-American movement, directly linked to such movements in other Arab countries or countries with Muslim presence. One can surmise that the US are well aware that the era of Saddam and his non-fundamentalist regime is coming to an end in Iraq, and that the attack on Iraq is probably conceived as a much more radical preemptive strike - not against Saddam, but against the main contender for Saddam's political successor, a
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truly fundamentalist Islamic regime. Yes in this way, the vicious cycle of the American intervention gets only more complex: the danger is that the very American intervention will contribute to the emergence of what America most fears, a large united anti-American Muslim front. It is the first case of the direct American occupation of a large and key Arab country - how could this not generate universal hatred in reaction? One can already imagine thousands of young people dreaming of becoming suicide bombers, and how that will force the US government to impose a permanent high alert emergency state... However, at this point, one cannot resist a slightly paranoid temptation: what if the people around Bush KNOW this, what if this "collateral damage" is the true aim of the entire operation? What if the TRUE target of the "war on terror" is the American society itself, i.e., the disciplining of its emancipatory excesses? On March 5 2003, on "Buchanan & Press" news show on NBC, they showed on the TV screen the photo of the recently captured Khalid Shakh Mohammed, the "third man of al-Qaeda" - a mean face with moustaches, in an unspecified nightgown prison-dress, half opened and with something like bruises half-discernible (hints that he was already tortured?) -, while Pat Buchanan's fast voice was asking: "Should this man who knows all the names all the detailed plans for the future terrorist attacks on the US, be tortured, so that we get all this out of him?" The horror of it was that the photo, with its details, already suggested the answer - no wonder the response of other commentators and viewers' calls was an overwhelming "Yes!" - which makes one nostalgic of the good old days of the colonial war in Algeria when the torture practiced by the French Army was a dirty secret... Effectively, was this not a pretty close realization of what Orwell imagined in 1984, in his vision of "hate sessions," where the citizens are shown photos of the traitors and supposed to boo and yell at them. And the story goes on: a day later, on another Fox TV show, a commentator claimed that one is allowed to do with
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this prisoner whatever, not only deprive him of sleep, but break his fingers, etc.etc., because he is "a piece of human garbage with no rights whatsoever." THIS is the true catastrophe: that such public statements are today possible. We should therefore be very attentive not to fight false battles: the debates on how bad Saddam is, even on how much the war will cost, etc., are false debates. The focus should be on what effectively goes on in our societies, on what kind of society is emerging HERE as the result of the "war on terror." Instead of talking about hidden conspirative agendas, one should shift the focus onto what is going on, onto what kind of changes are taking place here and now. The ultimate result of the war will be a change in OUR political order. The true danger can be best exemplified by the actual role of the populist Right in Europe: to introduce certain topics (the foreign threat, the necessity to limit immigration, etc.) which were then silently taken over not only by the conservative parties, but even by the de facto politics of the "Socialist" governments. Today, the need to "regulate" the status of immigrants, etc., is part of the mainstream consensus: as the story goes, le Pen did address and exploit real problems which bother people. One is almost tempted to say that, if there were no le Pen in France, he should have been invented: he is a perfect person whom one loves to hate, the hatred for whom guarantees the wide liberal "democratic pact," the pathetic identification with democratic values of tolerance and respect for diversity - however, after shouting "Horrible! How dark and uncivilized! Wholly unacceptable! A threat to our basic democratic values!", the outraged liberals proceed to act like "le Pen with a human face," to do the same thing in a more "civilized" way, along the lines of "But the racist populists are manipulating legitimate worries of ordinary people, so we do have to take some measures!"... We do have here a kind of perverted Hegelian "negation
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of negation": in a first negation, the populist Right disturbs the aseptic liberal consensus by giving voice to passionate dissent, clearly arguing against the "foreign threat"; in a second negation, the "decent" democratic center, in the very gesture of pathetically rejecting this populist Right, integrates its message in a "civilized" way - in-between, the ENTIRE FIELD of background "unwritten rules" has already changed so much that no one even notices it and everyone is just relieved that the anti-democratic threat is over. And the true danger is that something similar will happen with the "war on terror": "extremists" like John Ashcroft will be discarded, but their legacy will remain, imperceptibly interwoven into the invisible ethical fabric of our societies. Their defeat will be their ultimate triumph: they will no longer be needed, since their message will be incorporated into the mainstream.
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The Fetish of the Party
Slavoj Zizek * * The Totalitarian Body At the beginning of the "Pledge of the Bolshevik Party to its Chief Lenin," Stalin says: "We are, us communists, people of a different making. We are cut in a different fabric" (History … 1971, p. 297). Here we immediately recognize the Lacanian name of this "different fabric:" the object small a . The weight of Stalin's sentence comes from the basic fetishist functioning of the Stalinist Party; it comes from the basis that the Party functions as the miracle of an immediate incarnation of an objective and neutral Knowledge that serves as a reference point to legitimate the activity of the Party (the so-called ''knowledge of objective laws"). Marx determines money in its relation to other merchandises as a paradoxical element that immediately incarnates, in its very singularity, the generality of "all," that is to say, as a "singular reality, that includes in itself all the really existing species of the same thing": It is as if, next to and other than lions, tigers, hares, and all the other real animals that constitute in a group different races, species, sub-species, families, etc, of the animal kingdom, existed, furthermore, the animal, the individual incarnation of the animal kingdom. (Dognin, 1977, p. 73) This is the logic of the Party: it is as if, next to and other than classes, social strata, social groups and subgroups, and their economic, political, and ideological organizations, that constitute in a group the different parts of the sociohistorical universe ruled by the objectives of social development, existed, furthermore, the Party—the immediate and individual incarnation of these objective laws, the short circuit, the paradoxical crossing point between the subjective will and objective laws. Therefore, the "different fabric" of the communists is the "objective reason of history" incarnated. Since the fabric in which they are cut is, after all, their body, this body undergoes a true transsubstantiation; it becomes the carrier of another body, the sublime body. It is interesting to read the letters of Lenin to Maxim Gorki on the basis of the logic of the Communists' sublime body, especially those letters of 1913, related to the debate on the "Construction of God/bogobraditel'stvo/" of which Gorki was an advocate (Lenin, 1964). The first obvious thing is an apparently not-so-important trait, lacking theoretical weight. Lenin is literally obsessed by Gorki's health. Here are the ending of a few letters: - "Please write to me about your health./ Yours, Lenin." - "Are you in good health?/ Yours, Lenin." - "Enough of this joking. Stay well. Send me word. Rest more./ Yours, Lenin." When, in the fall of 1913, Lenin hears of Gorki's pulmonary illness, he writes to him immediately: That a Bolshevist, old it is true, treats you by a new method, I must confess that it worries me terribly! God save us from doctor friends in general, and from Bolshevist doctors in particular! … I assure you that one must be treated only by the best specialists (unless for benign cases). It is horrible to experiment with the invention of a Bolshevik doctor on oneself! Unless under the supervision of professors from Naples (at this time, Gorki lived in Capri). If these professors are really knowledgeable. … I would even tell you that if you are leaving this winter, consult without fail the best doctors in Switzerland and in Vienna—You would be unforgivable if you fail to do it! Let us leave aside the associations that a retroactive reading of these sentences of Lenin triggers (twenty years later, all of Russia experimented with the new methods of a certain Bolshevist). Rather, let us set the question of the field of meaning of Lenin's worry for Gorki's health. At first sight, the question is clear and quite innocent: Gorki was a valuable ally, thus worthy of care. But the following letter sheds a different light on the affair. Lenin is alarmed by Gorki's positive attitudes toward the "Construction of God" that should be, according to Gorki, only "postponed" and put aside for the moment but not at all rejected. Such attitudes are for Lenin incomprehensible, an extremely unpleasant surprise. Here are the beginning and the end of this letter: Dear Alexis Maximovitch, /But what are you doing? Really, this is simply terrible!// Why are you doing this? It is terribly unfortunate./ Yours, V.I. And here is the postscript: Take care of yourself more seriously, really, so that you can travel in the winter without catching a cold (in the winter it is dangerous). The true stakes are even more clearly observable at the end of the following letter, sent together with the preceding letter: I enclose my letter from yesterday: do not hold it against me if I got carried away. Perhaps I did not understand
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you correctly? Perhaps you were joking in writing "for the moment?" Concerning the "construction of God," perhaps you were not serious?/ For heavens sake, take care of yourself a little better./ Yours, Lenin. Here, it is stated in an explicit and formal manner that, in the last resort at least, Lenin takes Gorki's fluctuations and ideological confusion for an effect of his physical exhaustion and illness. Thus he does not take Gorki's arguments seriously. Finally, his response consists in saying: "Rest, take care of yourself a little better. …" The foundation of Lenin's procedure is not a vulgar materialism nor an immediate reduction of ideas to body movements. Quite the contrary, his presupposition and implication are precisely that a Communist is a man of a "different fabric." When the Communist speaks and acts as a Communist, it is the objective necessity of history itself that speaks and acts through him. In other words, the spirit of a true Communist cannot deviate, since this spirit is immediately the self-awareness of the historical necessity. Consequently, the only thing that can disturb or introduce disorder and deviation, is his body, this fragile materiality serving to support another body, the sublime body, "cut in a different fabric." Phallus and Fetish Can we also maintain the proposition of the fetishist character of the Party in the analytic use of this term? The fetish is, as we well know, the ersatz of the maternal phallus: it is a question of repudiation of castration. Thus, we should approach fetishism from the phallic signifier. One side of the "meaning of the Phallus" was already developed by Saint Augustine. The phallic organ incarnates the revolt of the human body against mastery by man. The phallic organ is the divine punishment for the arrogance of man who wanted to be God's equal and become the master of the world. The phallus is the organ whose pulsation and erection mostly escape man, his will, and his power. All the parts of the human body are in principle at the disposal of man's will. Their unavailability is always "de facto," with the exception of the phallus, whose pulsation is unavailable "in principle." However, we must relate this aspect to another, indicated by this witticism: "Which is the lightest object in the world? The phallus, since it is the only thing that can be raised by the very thought of it." That is the "Meaning of the Phallus:" the short-circuit where the "inside" and the "outside" intersect, the point where the pure exteriority of the body unavailable to the subjective will passes immediately into the interiority of the "pure thought." We could almost recall the Hegelian critique of the Kantian "chose en soi" where this transcendental "chose en soi," inaccessible to human thought, is revealed being only the interiority of pure thought with the abstraction of each objective content. Such is precisely the "contradiction" that could be described as the "phallic experience:" I can nothing (the Augustinian moment) although everything depends on me (the moment of the above mentioned witticism). The "Meaning of the Phallus'' is the very pulsation between the EVERYTHING and the NOTHING. Potentially, it is "all meanings" or the very universality of meaning (in other words: "in the last instance, we only talk about this"), and for this reason the "Meaning of the Phallus" is effectively without any determined meaning; it is the signifier-without-signified. Naturally, this is one of the commonplaces of the Lacanian theory. As soon as we try to grasp "all" the signifiers of a structure, as soon as we try to "fill" its universality by its particular components, we must add a paradoxical signifier that does not have a particular-determined signified but that incarnates in a way "all meanings" or the very universality of this structure while at the same time, being "the signifier without signified." A passage from Class Struggle in France by Marx is of special interest to us here since it develops the logic of the phallic element precisely relative to the political party. It is a question of the role of the "party of order" during the revolutionary events in the middle of the nineteenth century: The secret of its existence, the coalition in a party of the Orleanists and Legitimists … the anonymous kingdom of the republic was the only one under which the two fractions could maintain with equal power their common class interest without renouncing to their reciprocal rivalry. … If each of their fractions considered separately was royalist, the product of their chemical combination must necessarily be republican. (Marx, 1973, p. 58–59) According to this logic, the republican is a species inside the genus of royalism. Within (the species of) this genus, the republican stands for the genus itself. This paradoxical element, the specific point where the universal genus falls on itself among its particular species, is this very phallic element. Its paradoxical place, the crossing point between the "outside" and the "inside," is crucial for grasping fetishism: it is precisely this place that is lost. In other words, the castrative dimension of the phallic element is repudiated with the fetish, the "nothing" that necessarily accompanies its "all," the radical heterogeneity of this element relative to the universality that it is meant to incarnate (the fact that the phallic signifier can bring the potential universality of meaning only as a signifier-without-signified, that we can be royalist in general only in the form of republicans ). The fetish is the Sl that, by its position of exception, immediately incarnates its Universality, the Particular that is immediately "merged" with its Universal. This is the logic of the Stalinist Party that appears as the immediate incarnation of the Universality of the Masses or the Working Class. The Stalinist Party would be, to speak in Marx's terms, something like royalism in general
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in the very form of royalism, which is also the fetishist illusion. In fetishism, the phallic element, the intersection of the two species ("Orleanists" and "Legitimists") is immediately set as All, "the general line," and the two species whose intersection it is, become two ''deviations" (that of the "right" and that of the "left") of the "general line. In the "short-circuit" between the Universal (the Masses, the Class) and the Particular (the Party), the relation between the Party and the Masses is not dialectized, such that if there is a conflict between the Party and the rest of the working class (as today in Poland), this does not mean that the Party is "alienated" from the working class but that, on the contrary, elements of the working class itself have become "strange" to their own Universality ("the true interests of the working class") incarnated in the party. It is because of this fetishist character of the Party that there is, for the Stalinist, no contradiction between the demand that the Party should be open to the Masses and merged with the Masses, and the Party in the position of Exception, the authoritarian Party, concentrating power in itself. Let us, for example, take up this passage from Questions of Leninism: Speaking of the difficulties of stocking wheat, the communists generally put the responsibility on the peasants, pretending that the latter are guilty of everything. But this is completely wrong and absolutely unjust. The peasants have nothing to do with it. If it is a question of responsibility and guilt, the responsibility falls entirely on the communists, and the guilty ones in all of this are us and only us, the communists. There is no power as strong, and never has been, with as great an authority as ours, as the power of the Soviets. There is no party as powerful, and never has been, with as great an authority as ours, as the Communist Party. Nobody is or can prevent us from leading the Kolkhoz as their interests require, the interests of the State. (Stalin, 1977, p. 659–60) Here, the authoritarian character of the Party is directly accentuated. Stalin insists explicitly that all power, without any division, is in the hand of the Party and that people, the "ordinary" people, "have nothing to do with it," that they are neither responsible nor guilty. However, this exclusive and authoritarian power is set immediately as a truly democratic power, as an effective power of the people. From there a certain "naivety" of the "dissident'' critiques follows. The Stalinist discursive field is organized in such a way that the critique misses its aim; one can guess in advance what the critique bothers to demonstrate (the authoritarian character of power, etc.) in giving to this fact another scope, in taking it precisely for the proof of the effective power of the people. In short, to speak in the usual way: the critique tries to attack the Stalinist at the level of facts within a presupposed common code that plays on the contradiction between effectiveness and ideological legitimation ("in principle, the USSR is supposed to be a democratic society, but effectively …"), while displacing in advance the conflict at the level of the code itself. Here is the "impossible" position of the fetish: a singular that immediately "incarnates" the general, without signifying this with ''castration." It is an element that occupies the position of metalanguage while being part of the "very-thing" itself; it is at the same time an "objective" gaze and an "involved party." In Bananas, Woody Allen's political comedy, there is a scene that perfectly illustrates this point. The protagonist, who is in a nonidentified dictatorship in Central America, is invited to dinner by the ruling general, an invitation that is delivered to him in his hotel room. As soon as the messenger is gone, the protagonist throws himself on the bed in joy, turns his eyes toward celestial heights as the sound of harp is heard. As spectators, we perceive this sound, of course, as a musical accompaniment and not as a real (quasi-) music present in the event itself. Suddenly, however, the protagonist sobers up, rises, opens the armoire and discovers a "typical" Latin American who plays the harp. The paradox of this scene is this passage from outside to inside: what we had perceived as "external" musical accompaniment is affirmed as "internal" to the (quasi) "reality" of the scene. The comical effect comes from the position of the impossible knowledge of the protagonist. He behaves as if he is in a position from where he could hear at the same time what is in the realm of cinematographic (quasi-) "reality" and its "external" musical accompaniment. It is not surprising that we find this same "short-circuit" clue of the position of the fetish in the "totalitarian" discourse, and precisely where it is necessary to affirm at the same time the ideological "neutrality" and the "professional" character of the regions of "culture" (art, science), and their submission to the ruling "doctrine" and to the "people." Let us take up this passage of the famous letter of Joseph Goebbels to Wilhelm Furtwangler of 11 April 1933: It is not sufficient that art be excellent, it should also present itself as the expression of the people. In other words, only an art that takes inspiration from the people can at the end be considered as excellent and mean something for the people it addresses. Here is the pure form of the logic that is in question: it is not only excellent but also an expression of the people, since to tell the ruth , it can be excellent only in being an expression of the people. In replacing art by science, we obtain one of the topics of the Stalinist ideology: "scientificness alone does not suffice, we also need a just ideological orientation, a dialectic-materialistic vision of the world, since it is only through a just ideological orientation that we can achieve true scientific results."
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The Stalinist Discourse The fetishist functioning of the Party guarantees the position of a neutral knowledge, "décapitonné ," that of the agent of the Stalinist discourse. The Stalinist discourse is presented as a pure metalanguage, as the knowledge of "objective laws," applied "on" the "pure" object, S2, descriptive [constatif] discourse, objective knowledge. The very engagement of theory on the side of the proletariat, its ''hold over the party," is not "internal"—Marxism does not speak of the position of the proletariat; it "is oriented to" the proletariat from an external, neutral, "objective" position: In 1889–90, the proletariat of Russia was a minute minority relative to the masses of individual peasants who formed the great majority of the population. But the proletariat was developing insofar as class, while the peasantry insofar as class was disintegrating. Since it was precisely the proletariat that was developing as a class, Marxists founded their actions on them. In this they were not mistaken, since we know that the proletariat, that was only a force of little importance, later became a first rate historical and political force. (History, 1871, p.121–122) At the time of their struggle against the Populists, from where could Marxists speak to be mistaken in their choice of the proletariat? They could of course speak from an external place where the historic process extends as a field of objective forces, where one must "be careful of not being mistaken," and "be guided by just forces," those that will win. In short, one must "bet on the right horse." From this external position, we can approach the famous "theory of reflection:" one must ask the question of who occupies the "neutral-objective" position from where this "objective reality," reflected yet external to reflection can be judged, whence the reflection can be "compared" to the "objective reality" and judged if the reflection corresponds to it or not. We have already touched the "secret" of the functioning of this "objective knowledge": this very point of "pure objectivity" to which the Stalinist discourse is related and by which it is legitimized (the "objective meaning" of facts) is already constituted by the performative. It is even the point of the pure performative, the tautology of pure self-reference. It is precisely there, at the point where, ''in words," the discourse refers to a pure reality outside language, that "in (its own) act," it refers only to itself. Here, we could almost recall the Hegelian critique of the Kantian "chose en soi" where this transcending entity, independent of subjectivity, is revealed to be only the interiority of pure thought, abstraction made of each objective content. In classical terminology, the propositions of validity (just-unjust) take the form of propositions of being. When the Stalinist pronounces a judgment, he pretends to describe and "observe" the "objective" state. In short, in the Stalinist discourse the performative functions as the repressed truth of the descriptive [constatif], as it is pushed "under the bar." Consequently, we could write the relation between S1 and S2 in the following manner: S2/S1. This means that the Stalinist discourse presents a neutral-objective knowledge as its agent, while the repressed truth of this knowledge remains S1, the performative of the master. This is the paradox where the Stalinist discourse finds the victim of the political process. If I insist on the descriptive [constatif] falsehood of the judgment of the party ("you are a traitor!"), in reality I act against the party and "effectively" break its unity. The only way to affirm my adherence to the party "by my acts," at the performative level, is, of course, to confess. What? Precisely my exclusion, the fact that I am a "traitor." Then, what takes the place of the other? At first the answer appears rather easy. The other of the "objective knowledge" is obviously only a subjective knowledge, a knowledge that is only a seeming of knowledge like "metaphysics" and "idealism," relative to which the Stalinist "objective knowledge" ("different from metaphysics that …") is defined. The paradoxical nature of this opposing pole appears as soon as we look more closely at the Stalinist divisive procedure. We can read the four famous "Fundamental Traits of the Marxist Dialectic Method" in opposition to the traits of metaphysics as a process of differentiation, of disjunction, proceeding by a choice in four stages: 1. either we look at nature as an accidental accumulation of objects or we look at it as a unified, coherent all; 2. either we look at the unified All as a state of rest and immobility or we look at it as a process of development; 3. either we look at the process of development as a circular movement or we look at it as a development from the inferior to the superior; 4. either we look at the development from the inferior to the superior as a harmonious evolution or we look at it as a struggle of the opposites. At first sight, we are dealing with a classical case of exhaustive disjunction: at each level, the genus is divided in two species. However, if we look at things more closely, we will immediately perceive the paradoxical character of this division. There is basically an implicit affirmation that all the variants of metaphysics are "by their
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essence," "objectively," "the same thing." We can verify this by reading the scheme "backward.'' The harmonic development, "by its essence," "objectively," is in no way a development from the inferior to the superior, but a pure and simple circular movement. The circular movement, "by its essence," is not at all a movement but a conservation of the state of immobility. This means that there is at the end only one choice: that between Dialectics and M etaphysics. In other words, the diagonal that separates dialectics from metaphysics is to be read as a vertical line. If we choose the harmonious evolution, we lose not only the struggle of the opposites but also the very common genus, the development from the inferior to the superior, since, "objectively," we fall in the circular movement. This vertical reading of the diagonal unifies the "enemy." We can evade the fact that it is a question of a gradual differentiation. First it was Bukharin who, together with Stalin, got rid of Trotsky. The conflict with Bukharin emerged only later, in the same manner that it was first the circular movement that, in connection with the evolutive movement, was opposed to immobility and became its opposite only after the "expulsion" of immobility. With all these oppositions, we construct only one "Bukharin-Trotskiist plot." The "short-circuit" of such a "unification," is, of course, a particular perversion of the "primacy of synchrony over diachrony." We project backward the present distinction, the opposition that determines the present "concrete situation." Thus, the mplicit presupposition of official historians of East Germany is that it was West Germany that began the Second World War. What is thus the "secret" of this process of division? The History of the Communist Party (b) characterizes the "monsters of the Bukharinist and Trotskiist gang" as "scraps of the human kind." This distinction is to be taken literally and must be applied to the very process of differentiation. In this process each genus has only one true and proper species; the other species is only a scrap of the genus, the nongenus under the appearance of a species of the genus. The development from the inferior to the superior has only one species, the struggle of the opposites; the harmonious evolution is only the scrap of this genus. From there, unexpectedly we fall into the scheme of the division encountered in the process of the Hegelian dialectics: each genus has only one species, the other species is the paradoxical negative of the genus itself. Just as in the case of the "limit case" of the logic of the signifier, the All is divided into its Part and a remainder that is not nothing but a paradoxical, impossible, contradictory entity. Metaphysics pretends at the same time that (1) nature is an accidental accumulation and not an All and (2) nature as All is a state of immobility and not a movement. Unlike the Hegelian division, however, instead of including through its specification/determination, the genus excludes its own absence and "negativity." The development from the inferior to the superior as a concretization of the process of development "in general" is not a "synthesis" of initial abstract universality and its negation (of the "circular movement'') but precisely the exclusion of the "circular movement" from the "process of development" in general. Through its specification, the genus is purified of its scraps. Far from "particularizing" it, the division "consolidates" the All as All. If from the All of the genus we subtract its scrap, we subtract nothing and the All remains All. The "development from the inferior to the superior" is no less "all" than the process of development "in general." From there we can grasp the logic of this apparently absurd formulation: "In its immense majority the party wholeheartedly rejected the platform of the bloc." The "immense majority" is equivalent to "wholeheartedly," the rest (the "minority") does not count. In other words, we are dealing with a fusion between the Universal and the Particular, between the genus and the species. This is, in reality, why one does not choose between Nothing and the Party. Each Particular is immediately fusioned with the Universal and we are thrown in this way toward the "ou bien ou bien absolu," between the Nothing and the All . Thus, the Stalinist disjunction is precisely the contrary of the habitual disjunction in two particulars where we can never "catch up with the turtle," (to be understood on the account of the movement of ennunciation itself), to divide in a part and a remainder that would not be nothing, that would come in the place of the ennunciation itself (this division functions as an inaccessible asymptotic point). In the Stalinist disjunction, the problem is rather to get out of "ou bien ou bien absolu:" the inaccessible is a division in particulars, a division where one of the terms would not evaporate in a ''nothing" of pure seeming. "Metaphysics" consequently functions as a paradoxical object that "is not nothing," an "irrational" surplus, a purely contradictory element, nonsymbolizable, that is the "other of oneself," a lack where "nothing is missing," precisely the object-cause of desire or the pure seeming that is always added to S2 and forces us in this manner to continue with the differentiation. Or, in terms of the order of classification and articulation of genuses and species, "metaphysics" functions as a "surplus" that disturbs the symmetrical articulation and as a paradoxical species that "does not want to be limited to being only a species" or the "unilaterally accentuated partial object" ("absolutization of a determined moment," as Lenin used to write). Thus, we can write the relation between the agent of the Stalinist discourse, the "objective knowledge," and its other in the following way: S2->a, the arrow indicating the repetitive differentiation by which knowledge tries to penetrate its "positive" object and grasp it in demarcating it from the "surplus" of the "metaphysical" seeming-object that always prevents the accomplishment
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of the "objective knowledge of reality." In other words, the object of the Stalinist discourse in the sense of "positive object" is of course the so-called "objective reality." It is, nevertheless, far from occupying the place of the object-cause of desire. The plus-de-jouir that "pushes forward" its process of differentiation is to be sought rather in the pure seeming of "metaphysics." The Stalinist political process functions precisely as a hallucinatory "mise-en-scene" of this desire, which the Stalinist renounces and with which he refuses to be identified. The condemned (the "victim") is the one who acknowledges desire (his own desire and thereby, in accord with the hysteric's formula of desire, the desire of the Stalinist other). This function of "victim" in the Stalinist discourse is not at all comparable to the same function in the fascist discourse. For the fascist, the Jew is sacrificed as the object of desire. The logic of this sacrifice is: I love you but since unexplainably I love in you something more than you, the object a, I mutilate you. The Stalinist "traitor" is not at all in the position of the object of desire. The Stalinist is not at all in love with it. Rather, he is $, the desiring divided subject. This division indicates the very confession that is purely unthinkable in fascism. In fascism, the "universal" medium is missing, the medium that the accuser and the guilty would have in common and by which we could "convince" the guilty of his or her fault. One of the fundamental mechanisms of the Stalinist trials consisted in displacing the split between the neutral place of the "objective knowledge" and the hold of the particularity of the ''scraps" over the victim. The victim is guilty and at the same time capable of reaching the "universal-objective" point of view, from which s/he can recognize his or her fault. This fundamental mechanism of "self-criticism" is unthinkable in fascism. In its pure form, we can find it in the self-accusations of Slansky and Rajk during the well known trials. To the question of how did he become a traitor, Slansky responds very clearly, in the style of a positivist observation or of a pure metalanguage, that it was because of his bourgeois milieu and education that he could never be part of the working class. This is the moment where the Stalinist discourse is the heir of the Lumières. They share the same presupposition of a universal and uniform reason that even the most abject Trotskiist scrap has the capacity of "comprehending" and from there confessing. The Real of the "Class Struggle" At this point, we can link all the moments we developed. The Stalinist discourse is presented as a neutral "objective knowledge," S2, whose other is a pure seeming of a "subjective" (metaphysical) knowledge. The reality of this neutral knowledge is the performative gesture of the master, S1, who addresses S, the hystericized-split subject of desire. This result is disenchanting as this is something known for a long time: the formulae of the discourse of the University. The Stalinist discourse is perhaps the purest form of the discourse of the University in the position of the master (a possibility already envisioned by A. Grosrichard). We can add a series of additional distinctions between fascism and Stalinism by examining, for example, The book of Fascism and The book of Stalinism. On the one hand, in My Combat, the immediate speech of the Master presents his vision "in person" with a quasi-"existential" passion; on the other, the History of the Communist Party, Abridged Course (b) is an anonymous "objective" summary whose "academic" character is already revealed by its subtitle. The latter book is not the immediate word of the Master but a commentary. On the other hand, the fascist discourse's medium par excellence is the living speech that hypnotizes by its very performative strength, without taking into account its signified content. To cite Hitler himself: "All great events that have shaken the world have been provoked by speech and not writing.'' In addition, the Stalinist discourse's medium par excellence is really the writing. The Stalinist is almost obliged to read his very discourses in a monotonous voice clearly attesting that we are dealing with the reproduction of a prior writing. In the Lacanian theorization, the real has two principal sides. One is the real as a remainder impossible to symbolize, a scrap, a refuse of the symbolic, a hole in the Other, (it is really a question of the real side of the object a, the voice, the gaze) and the other is the real as writing, construct, number, and matheme. These two sides precisely correspond to the opposition fascism/Stalinism. The hypnotic power of the fascist discourse is supported by the "gaze" and especially by the "voice" of the Chief. The support of the Stalinist discourse is in turn the writing. Which writing? We must consider the decisive difference between the "classical" texts and their "commentaries" and "applications." The impossible-real is the institution of the "classics of Marxism-Leninism" as the sacred-incensed Text, approachable only through the proper-just commentary that gives it its "meaning," and vice versa. It is precisely the reference to the nonsense of the "classical text" (the famous "citation") that "gives sense" to the commentary-application (to take up again the distinction between "sense" and "meaning": sense = meaning + nonsense). We could prolong this ad infinitum but let us rather remain at a general level. In linking what we just said to the fact that the capitalist discourse is that of the Hysteric, we can read the scheme of the four discourses as providing a schema for three types of current political discourses: the capitalist discourse of the Hysteric, the attempt of its suppression by a return to the discourse of the Master in fascism, and the discourse of the University of the post-revolutionary society, that is to say, the Stalinist discourse.
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As far as the idea that the capitalist discourse is the discourse of the Hysteric, we should add the proposition I have suggested elsewhere: it was Marx who discovered the symptom. What does hysterical-capitalism "produce" as its symptom? The proletariat, of course, as its "own gravedigger," the "irrational'' element of the given totality, the "class whose very existence is the negation of the rationality of the existing order," S2, the place of a knowledge (the "class awareness") that later (after the revolution) will take the place of the agent. Lacan precisely links this to the Marxian discovery of the symptom: the existence of the proletariat as pure subjectivity, freed of the particular links (of states, corporations, etc.) of the Middle Ages. We also recall the connection established by Lacan between plus-de-jouir and the Marxian surplus value. Capitalism, really the common ground of historical materialism, is different from preceding formations in that an internal condition of its reproduction is to surpass itself constantly, revolutionize the given state, and develop the productive forces. The reason should be sought in surplus value as a "driving goal" that pushes the mechanism of social reproduction. In short, in the place of the "truth" of the capitalist discourse we find the plus-de-jouir. And the fourth moment, the analytic discourse? Is it really the destiny of the political field to wander between the three positions of the Master, who constitutes the new social contract (the "new harmony") of the Academic, who elaborates it in a system, and of the Hysteric, who produces its symptom? Should the void in the place of the fourth discourse be read as a mark of the very fact that we are at the political level? We are tempted to suggest some indications that go a different way. Marx writes in a letter that The Capital must conclude with class struggle as the "dissolution of all this shit." It is of course precisely this dissolution that "does not stop from not being written," and that is lacking in the very text. The third book of The Capital is interrupted, as we know, at the beginning of the chapter on classes. In this manner, we could say that class struggle functions in a strict sense as the "object" of The Capital, that which precisely cannot become the "positive object of research" and that which necessarily falls outside and thus makes of the totality of the three books of The Capital a "not-all" totality. This "object" never arrives "at the end," as some "subjective expression of objective economic processes." Rather, it is an agent always at work at the very heart of the "positive content" of The Capital. All the categories of The Capital are already "colored" by class struggle, all "objective" determinations (labor value, the degree of surplus value, etc.) are already achieved ''by struggling." If we say that an aspect of class struggle is of the real, we are only reiterating the Lacanian formula of the impossibility of the sexual relation. "There is no class relation"; classes are not "classes" in the usual or logicalclassificatory sense; there is no universal medium. The "struggle" (the relation that is precisely a nonrelation) between classes has a constitutive role for the very same classes. In other words, class struggle functions as this "real" because of which the socioideological discourse is never "all." Consequently, class struggle is not some "objective fact" but rather the name (one of the names) of the impossibility for a discourse to be "objective," to be at an objective distance and to tell "the truth on truth," the name of the fact that each word on class struggle falls into class struggle. From this logic it follows that the Stalinist discourse dissimulates the essential dimension of class struggle. The "objective knowledge" is presented as a neutral discourse on society, stated from an excluded place, a place that is not in itself split or marked by the separating line of class struggle. That is why one could say that for the Stalinist discourse "all is politics," or "politics is all," which is different from the Maoist discourse where, for example, politics is inscribed on the "feminine" as "not-all." However, it is here that we must be most careful of the paradoxes of not-all. Precisely because "all is politics," the Stalinist discourse always needs exceptions , "neutral" foundations in which politics is invested from outside such as the innocence of technology, language as the neutral-universal tool at the disposition of all classes, and so forth. These traits are not at all indices of some "de-Stalinization" process but precisely the internal condition of Stalinist "totalitarianism." Stalinism Versus Fascism Class struggle today seems, of course, like something outmoded. However, the reasoning by which we reach this conclusion is very much homologous to that which leads us to affirm (in the era of the so-called "permissive sexual morals") the obsolescence of the object of psychoanalysis (the repression of sexual desire). During the "heroic" epoch of psychoanalysis, it was believed that the "unleashing of sexual taboos'' would bring or at least contribute to a life without anxiety, without repression, a life full of free enjoyment. The experience of this socalled "sexual liberation" helps us rather to recognize the dimension proper to the constitutive law of desire, of a "crazy" law that inflicts jouissance. Likewise, at the "heroic" epoch of the labor movement, it was believed that with the abolition of private ownership, classes and their struggles would be abolished and that we would arrive at a new solidarity. The experience of so-called "Stalinism" helped us rather to recognize, in "real socialism, the realization of the very concept of class struggle in its "distilled" form, no longer clouded by the difference between the "civil society" and the State. Here again "real socialism" differs radically from fascism. Let us start with the latter: how can we link class
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struggle (insofar as the core of an "impossible" difference) to the fact that, in the fascist discourse, a is really the Jew? The answer is that the Jew functions as a fetish that masks class struggle and comes in its place. Fascism struggles against capitalism and liberalism, which are supposed to destroy and corrupt the harmony of the society as "all organic" where particular "states" have the function of "members," that is to say, where "each and everyone has his natural and determined place" (the "head" and the "hands"). Fascism thus tries to restore a harmonious relation between the classes in the framework of an organic all, and the Jew incarnates the moment that introduces a discord "from outside." The Jew is the surplus that "disturbs" the harmonious cooperation of the "head" and the "hands," of "capital" and "labor." The "Jew" suits this in multiple ways by his historical "connotations." He is there as a "condensation" of the "negative" traits of the two poles of the social scale. On the one hand, he incarnates the "exorbitant," nonharmonious behavior of the ruling class (the financier who "drains" his workers), and on the other, the "dirt" of the lower classes. Moreover, the Jew appears as the personification of the mercantile capital that is (according to the spontaneous ideological representation) the true place of exploitation and thereby reinforces the ideological fiction of capitalists and "honest" workers, of the "productive" classes exploited by the "Jewish" merchant. In brief, the "Jew," in playing the role of the "disturbing" element and introducing "from outside" the "surplus" of class struggle, is really the "positive" repudiation of class struggle and of ''there is no class relation." It is for this reason that fascism, as distinct from socialism, is not a sui generis discourse, a global social contract, determining the whole social edifice. We could say that fascism, with its ideology of corporativism, of returning to the prebourgeois Master, causes in some way interference on the capitalist discourse without changing its fundamental nature, with the proof being precisely the figure of the Jew as enemy. To grasp it, we should start from the decisive cut in the relation of domination that occurs with the passage from the prebourgeois society to the bourgeois society. In the prebourgeois order, the "civil society" is not liberated yet from the "organic" links, that is to say, we are dealing with "the immediate relations of domination and servitude" (Marx). The relation of the master to his subject is that of an "interpersonal" link, of a direct subjection, paternal concern on the part of the master and veneration on the part of the subject. With the advent of bourgeois society, this rich network of "affective" and "organic" relations between the master and his subjects is tattered. The subject frees himself from tutelage and stands as an autonomous and rational subject. Now, Marx's fundamental lesson is that the subject remains nevertheless subjected to a certain master, that the link to the master is only displaced. The fetishism of the "personal" Master is replaced by the fetishism of the merchandise. The will of the person of the Master is replaced by the anonymous power of the market or this famous "invisible hand" (A. Smith) that decides the destiny of individuals behind their back. It is in this framework that we must place the fundamental stake of fascism. While preserving the fundamental relation of capitalism (that between "capital" and "labor"), fascism wants to abolish its "organic," anonymous, and savage character. That is to say, to make of it an "organic" relation of patriarchal domination between the "hand" and the "head," between the Chief and his "escort," and replace the anonymous "invisible hand" by the Will of the Master. Now, insofar as we stay in the fundamental framework of capitalism, this operation does not work. There is always a surplus of the "invisible hand" that contradicts the design of the Master. The only way of recognizing this surplus is (for the fascist whose "epistemic" field is that of the Master) to again "personalize" the "invisible hand" and imagine another Master, a hidden master who in reality pulls all the strings and whose clandestine activity is the true secret behind this anonymous "invisible hand" of the market, i.e., the Jew. As to "socialism," it should be conceived as a paradox of the class society with only one class . This is the solution to the question of whether "real socialism" is a class society or not. The so-called "ruling bureaucracy" is not just the "new class''; it comes in the place of or stands for the ruling class. This must be taken literally and not in an evolutionist-teleological perspective (in a way that the "new class" already has some traits of the ruling class and the future will show that it will be consolidated as a ruling class). This "in the place of" is not at all to be seen as a mark of an unfinished, half-way character. In "real socialism" the ruling bureaucracy is found in the place of the ruling class, which does not exist, holding its place empty. In other words, "real socialism" would be this paradoxical point where class difference really becomes differential. It is no longer a question of difference between the two "positive" entities but rather a difference between the "absent" class and the "present" class, between the lacking class (ruling) and the existing class (working). This lacking class can really be the working class itself insofar as it is opposed to actual "empirical" workers. In this manner, class difference coincides with the difference between the Universal (the working class) and the Particular (the empirical working class), with the ruling bureaucracy incarnating its own Universality facing the "empirical" working class. It is this split between The Class as Universal and its own particular-empirical existence that clarifies an apparent contradiction of the Stalinist text. History ends with a long quotation of Stalin against the "varnish of bureaucratism" that reveals for us the "secret of the invincibility of the Bolshevik direction:" <http://emedia.netlibrary.com/nlreader/nlReader.dll?BookID=5181&FileName=tab.gif>
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<http://emedia.netlibrary.com/nlreader/nlReader.dll?BookID=5181&FileName=tab.gif> I think that the Bolsheviks remind us of Antaeus, the hero of the Greek mythology. Just as Antaeus, they are strong because they are attached to their mother, to the masses that gave them birth, fed them, and educated them. And as long as they stay attached to their mother and to the people, they have all the chances of remaining invincible. (History, 1971, p.402) The same allusion to Antaeus is found at the beginning of Marx's 18th Brumaire as a metaphor of the class enemy in the face of proletarian revolutions that "knock their adversary to the ground only for the adversary to regain his strength so he can reemerge in front of them even bigger." We must read these lines in relation to the beginning of this famous "Pledge of the Bolshevik Party to its Chief Lenin who will live through centuries:" "We are, us Communists, people of a different making. We are cut in a different fabric." At first sight, these two passages seem to be contradictory: on the one hand, it is a question of fusion of Bolsheviks with ''masses" as the source of their strength; on the other, they are "people of a different making." We can resolve this paradox (how does the privileged link with the masses separate them from other people, precisely from the masses?) if we take into account the above mentioned difference between the Class (the "working masses") as All and "masses" insofar as "not-all," i.e., an "empirical" collection. The Bolsheviks (the Party) are the only "empirical" representatives, the only "incarnation" of the "true" masses, of the Class as All. (1) From there it is not difficult to determine the place of the "Party" in the economy of the Stalinist discourse. This "striking force of the working class," composed of "people of a different making" and at the same time intimately attached to their mother or the masses, really takes the place of the "maternal phallus," the fetish that rejects the real of class difference, of the "struggle," of the nonrelation between All of the class and its own not-all. While, in the fascist discourse, the role of the fetish is played by the Jew, or the enemy, the Stalinist fetish is the Party itself. Although already in Lenin, we find this logic of the Party, the incarnation of the historic objectivity, the continuity between Leninism and Stalinism should not lead us to an immediate identification of their discursive positions. On the contrary, it is precisely on the basis of this continuity that we can highlight their difference, the decisive "step forward" relative to Leninism accomplished by Stalin. In Lenin, we already find the fundamental position of a neutral-objective knowledge and the "objectivation" of our "subjective intentions" that follows: "the important thing, is the objective meaning of your acts, regardless of your subjective intentions, sincere as they may be." The "objective meaning" is determined, of course, by the Leninist himself from his position of neutral-objective knowledge. Now, Stalin takes a step forward and again subjectifies this "objective meaning," projecting it on the subject himself as his secret desire: what your act objectively means, is what you in fact wanted. We can also deduce the different status of the political adversary: for Lenin, the adversary (of course, always the "internal enemy," the Menshevik, the "social revolutions of the left," the "opportunist," etc.) is, according to the rule, determined as the hysteric who has lost contact with reality, who, unable to be his own master, reacts emotionally when reasoning is required, who does not know what he is talking about, and who is all talk and no action. The elementary figures are Martov, Kamenev, and Zinoviev at the time of October, and Olga Spiridonovna (arrested after the missed coup attempt of the social revolutionaries of the left in the summer of 1918 when, at the Bolshoi Theater where the Constituent Assembly took place, she played the role of the hystericized speaker and was later interned in a psychiatric hospital). The hidden truth of the Leninist is, of course, the fact that he, by his position as holder of the neutral-objective knowledge and a universal and uniform reason, produces the hysteric . This position of the ''objective knowledge" implies that there is basically no dialogue, as it is impossible to have a discussion with someone who has the access to reality itself, with the one who incarnates historical objectivity. Any different position is, in advance, defined as a seeming, as a nothing, and the dialogue is replaced by pedagogy, by the patient work of persuasion (the elegy of Lenin's great art of persuasion is, it is well known, a common place of the Stalinist hagiography). In this climate of total blockage, the only possibility open to the one who thinks otherwise is the hysterical cry that announces a knowledge that escapes this universality. Now, with Stalin, we are done with the hysterical game: the Stalinist adversary, the "traitor," is not at all the one who "does not know what he is talking about" or "what he is doing," but on the contrary, it is precisely the one who, to use a Stalinist turn of phrase par excellence, "knows very well what he is doing." With the menace implied by this syntagm, a conspirator is the one who plots consciously, with intention. In other words, while Leninism remains a "normal" academic discourse (knowledge in the position of the agent produces as its result the barred-hystericized subject), Stalinism takes a step into "madness," the academic knowledge becomes that of the paranoid and the adversary becomes the intentioned and literally "divided" conspirator, the rubbish, the pure scrap, who has nevertheless access to neutral-objective knowledge whence he can recognize the importance of his act and confess. The Totalitarian Phantasm, The Totalitarianism of the Phantasm What is essential here is not to reduce this "psychotization" to a simple "excess" but to grasp it as an immanent
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possibility that brings out the truth of the fundamental position itself. This is already Marx's truth. This allows a new approach to the passage from "utopian" socialism to the so-called "scientific" socialism. Although Marx discovered the symptom and developed the logic of the social symptom (the moment when the fundamental blockage of the given social order emerges and when it seems to call on its own ''revolutionary" practicaldialectical dissolution), he underestimated the importance of the phantasm in the historical process, and the importance of inertia that does not dissolve due to its dialectization and whose exemplary intrusion would be what is called the "negative behavior of the masses," who appear to be "acting against their true interest" and let themselves get entangled in diverse forms of the "conservative revolution." The enigmatic character of such a phenomenon is to be sought in the simple jouissance that they imply through their actions: social theory tries to get rid of what is worrisome in this jouissance by designating it as the "delirium of the masses," its "mindlessness," its "regression," its "lack of conscience." Where is the phantasm here? The phantasmatic scene aims at the realization of the sexual relation, blinding us with its fascinating presence, to the impossibility of the sexual relation. Similarly with the "social" phantasm, the phantasmatic construct supports an ideological field. We are always dealing with the phantasm of a class relation, with the utopia of a harmonious, organic, and complementary relation between diverse parts of the social totality. The elementary image of the "social" phantasm is that of a social body, with which one eludes the impossible, the "antagonism" around which the social field is structured. The anti-"liberal" ideologies of the right that serve as a foundation for the so-called "regressive behavior of the masses" are precisely distinguished by recourse to this organicist metaphoric. Their leitmotif is that of society as a body, an organic totality of members corrupted later by the intrusion of a liberalist atomism. We already find this phantasmatic dimension in so-called "utopian" socialism. Lacan determines the illusion specific to Sade's perverse phantasm as "utopia of desire" (Lacan 1966, p. 775). In the sadist scene, the split between desire and jouissance is suppressed (an impossible operation insofar as desire is supported by the interdiction of jouissance, that is to say, insofar as desire is the structural other side of jouissance), and at the same time the gap that separates jouissance from pleasure is removed. By way of pain, or the "negative" of pleasure, an attempt is made at reaching jouissance in the very field of pleasure. The word "utopia'' should also be taken in the political sense: the famous sadist "One more effort …" (in Philosophy in the Boudoir ) should be placed along the same line as "utopian socialism," as one of its most radical variants since "utopian socialism" always implies a "utopia of desire." In the utopian project from Campanella to Fourier, we are always dealing with a regulated and finally dominated phantasm of enjoyment. With the passage to "scientific socialism," Marx has foreclosed this phantasmatic dimension. We must give to the term "foreclosure" all the weight it has in Lacanian theory: that is to say, not only the repression but also the exclusion and the rejection of a moment outside the symbolic field. And whatever is foreclosed in the symbolic, we well know that it returns in the real, in our case, in the real socialism. Utopian, scientific, and real, socialism thus form a sort of triad. The utopian dimension, excluded by its "scientification," returns in the real, or in the "Utopia in Power," to borrow the well-justified title of a book on the Soviet Union. "Real socialism" is the price paid in the flesh for the mis-recognition of the phantasmatic dimension in scientific socialism. To speak of the "social phantasm" seems nevertheless to imply a fundamental theoretical error insofar as a phantasm is basically nonuniversalizable. The social phantasm is particular, "pathological" in the Kantian sense, "personal" (the very foundation of the unity of the "person" insofar as it is distinguished from the subject and the signifier), the unique way that each of us tries to come to terms with the Thing, the impossible Jouissance. That is to say, the manner in which, with the help of an imaginary construct, we try to dissolve the primordial impasse in which parlêtre is situated, the impasse of the inconsistent Other, of the hole at the heart of the Other. The field of the Law, of rights and duties, on the contrary, is not only universalizable but universal in its very nature. It is the field of universal equality, of equalization effected by exchange in equivalent principal. According to this perspective, we could designate the object a, the plus-de-jouir as a surplus, and that is why the formula of the phantasm insofar as it is nonuniversalizable is written S‹›a, that is to say, the confrontation of the subject with this "impossible," nonexchangeable remainder. There you have the link between plus-de-jouir and surplus value as a surplus that contradicts the equal exchange between capitalism and the proletariat, a surplus that the capitalist appropriates in the framework of the equal exchange of capital for the labor force. Now, there was no need to wait for Marx to experience the cul-de-sac of the equal exchange. In its effort to enlarge the bourgeois form of the egalitarian and universal law, does not Sade's heroism rely precisely on the universal exchange, on the rights and duties of man in the domain of jouissance? Its starting point is that the Revolution stopped midway, since in the domain of jouissance it continued to be a prisoner of patriarchal and theological prejudices, that is to say, the Revolution did not get to the end of its project of bourgeois emancipation. Now, as Lacan demonstrates in "Kant with Sade," the formulation of a universal norm, of a "categorical imperative" that would legislate the enjoyment necessarily fails and ends in an impasse. Thus, we
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cannot, according to the model of formal bourgeois rights, legislate the right to jouissance in the mode of "To each his phantasm!" or "Each has a right to his particular mode of enjoyment!" Sade's hypothetical universal law is reinstated by Lacan as a ''I have the right to enjoy your body, someone may say to me, and this right I shall exercise without any limit stopping me in the caprice of (whatever) exactions I have the fancy to gratify" (Lacan, 1966, p. 768–69). Its impasse is glaring, the symmetry is false: to occupy in a consistent manner the position of the torturer is revealed impossible since each is in the final analysis a victim. How can we, then, repudiate the reproach that speaking of a "social phantasm" is equivalent to an in adjecto contradiction? Far from being simply epistemological, far from indicating an error in the theoretical approach, this impasse defines the thing itself . The fundamental trait of the "totalitarian" social link, is it not precisely the loss of distance between the phantasm that gives the indicators of the enjoyment of the subject and the formal-universal Law that rules the social exchange? The phantasm is "socialized" in an immediate manner as the social Law coincides with the injunction "Enjoy!" It starts to function as a superego imperative. In other words, in totalitarianism, it is really the fantasy (phantasm) that is in power and this is what distinguishes the stricto sensu totalitarianism (Germany in 1938–45, the Soviet Union in 1934–51, Italy in 1943–45) from the patriarchalauthoritarian regimes of law-and-order (Salazar, Franco, Bolfuss, Mussolini until 1943) or from the real "normalized" socialism. Such a "pure" totalitarianism is necessarily self-destructive; it cannot be stabilized; it cannot arrive at a minimum of homeostasis that would allow it to reproduce in a circuit of equilibrium. It is constantly shaken by convulsions. An imminent logic pushes it to violence directed at the external (Naziism) or internal (the Stalinist purges) "enemy.'' The theme of the post-Stalinist "normalization" in the USSR was for good reason that of the "return to the socialist legality." The only way out of the vicious circle of the purges was perceived to be the reaffirmation of a Law supposed to introduce a minimal distance toward a phantasm, of a symbolic-formal system of rules that would not be immediately impregnated with jouissance. This is why we can determine totalitarianism also as the social order where, although there is no law (no positive legality with universal validity, established in an explicit form), all that we do can at any moment pass for an illegal and forbidden thing. The positive legislation does not exist (or if it does, it has a totally arbitrary and nonobligatory character), but despite this we can at any moment find ourselves in the position of the infractor of an unknown and nonexistent Law. If the paradox of the Interdiction that founds the social order consists in forbidding something already impossible, totalitarianism reverses this paradox in putting us in the no less paradoxical position of the infractor who transgresses a non-existent law. In the law-less state, although the law does not exist, we can nevertheless transgress against it, which is the supreme proof that, as Lacan emphasizes in Seminar II , the famous proposition of Dostoevski should be turned around: if God (the positive legality) does not exist, everything is forbidden (Lacan, 1978, p. 156). From there the difference between the fascist chief and the Stalinist chief is also explained. Let us start from the duality of power developed by A. Grosrichard: despot/vizier corresponds approximately to the Hegelian duality monarch/ministerial power. This means that despotism is not at all the phantasm of the "totalitarian" power, which is defined precisely by a "short-circuit" in the relation despot/vizier. If the fascist master wants to rule in his own name, if he does not want to part with the "effective" power but wants to be "his own vizier" (at least in the domain of war as the only domain worthy of the master), he discovers that the impossibility of the operation of integrating the "effective" knowledge, S2, provokes the phantasmatic transposition of this knowledge in the "Jews," who "hold effectively all the lines." The Stalinist chief is by contrast the paradox of the vizier without the despot-master . He acts in the name of the working class itself and constitutes it as a master opposed to the "empirical" class (cf. Grosrichard, 1979). Note * Translated and edited by Aïda Der Hovanessian. References Dognin, P.D., Les "Sentiers Escarpes" de Karl Marx, Tome I: Textes, Paris, 1977. Grosrichard, Alain, La Structure du Serail, Paris, 1979. Histoire …, Histoire du Parti Communiste/Bolchevik/de l'U.R.S.S., Paris, 1971. Lacan, Jacques, Écrits, Paris 1966. Lacan, Jacques. Le Seminaire, Livre II, Paris, 1978. Lenine, V.I., Oeuvres, Tome 36, Paris, 1964. Marx, Karl, "Die Klassenkampfe in Frankreich 1848 bis 1850," in MEW 7, Berlin (Democratic Republic), 1973. Staline, Iosif, Les Questions de Leninisme, Pekin, 1977.
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Welcome to the Desert of the Real*
Slavoj Zizek Alain Badiou identified as the key feature of the XXth century the "passion of the Real /la passion du reel/"1: in contrast to the XIXth century of the utopian or "scientific" projects and ideals, plans about the future, the XXth century aimed at delivering the thing itself, at directly realizing the longer-for New Order. The ultimate and defining experience of the XXth century was the direct experience of the Real as opposed to the everyday social reality - the Real in its extreme violence as the price to be paid for peeling off the deceiving layers of reality. Already in the trenches of the World War I, Carl Schmitt was celebrating the face to face combat as the authentic intersubjective encounter: authenticity resides in the act of violent transgression, from the Lacanian Real - the Thing Antigone confronts when he violates the order of the City - to the Bataillean excess. As Badiou demonstrated apropos of the Stalinist show trials, this violent effort to distill the pure Real from the elusive reality necessarily ends up in its opposite, in the obsession with pure appearance: in the Stalinist universe, the passion of the Real (ruthless enforcement of the Socialist development) thus culminates in ritualistic stagings of a theatrical spectacle in the truth of which no one believes. The key to this reversal resides in the ultimate impossibility to draw a clear distinction between deceptive reality and some firm positive kernel of the Real: every positive bit of reality is a priori suspicious, since (as we know from Lacan) the Real Thing is ultimately another name for the Void. The pursuit of the Real thus equals total annihilation, a (self)destructive fury within which the only way to trace the distinction between the semblance and the Real is, precisely, to STAGE it in a fake spectacle. The fundamental illusion is here that, once the violent work of purification is done, the New Man will emerge ex nihilo, freed from the filth of the past corruption. Within this horizon, "really-existing men" are reduced to the stock of raw material which can be ruthlessly exploited for the construction of the new - the Stalinist revolutionary definition of man is a circular one: "man is what is to be crushed, stamped on, mercilessly worked over, in order to produce a new man." We have here the tension between the series of "ordinary" elements ("ordinary" men as the "material" of history) and the exceptional "empty" element (the socialist "New Man," which is at first nothing but an empty place to be filled up with positive content through the revolutionary turmoil). In a revolution, there is no a priori positive determination of this New Man: a revolution is not legitimized by the positive notion of what Man's essence, "alienated" in present conditions and to be realized through the revolutionary process, is - the only legitimization of a revolution is negative, a will to break with the Past. One should formulate here things in a very precise way: the reason why the Stalinist fury of purification is so destructive resides in the very fact that it is sustained by the belief that, after the destructive work of purification will be accomplished, SOMETHING WILL REMAIN, the sublime "indivisible remainder," the paragon of the New. It is in order to conceal the fact that there is nothing beyond that, in a strictly perverse way, the revolutionary has to cling to violence as the only index of his authenticity, and it is as this level that the critics of Stalinism as a rule misperceive the cause of the Communist's attachment to the Party. Say, when, in 1939-1941 pro-Soviet Communists twice had to change their Party line overnight (after the Soviet-German pact, it was imperialism, not, Fascism, which was elevated to the role of the main enemy; from June 22 1941, when Germany attacked Soviet Union, it was again the popular front against the Fascist beast), the brutality of the imposed changes of position was what attracted them. Along the same lines, the purges themselves exerted an uncanny fascination, especially on intellectuals: their "irrational" cruelty served as a kind of ontological proof, bearing witness to the fact that we are 41
Zizek: collected papers dealing with the Real, not just with empty plans - the Party is ruthlessly brutal, so it means business... So, if the passion of the Real ends up with the pure semblance of the political theater, then, in an exact inversion, the "postmodern" passion of the semblance of the Last Men ends up in a kind of Real. Recall the phenomenon of "cutters" (mostly women who experience an irresistible urge to cut themselves with razors or otherwise hurt themselves), strictly correlative to the virtualization of our environs: it stands for a desperate strategy to return to the real of the body. As such, cutting is to be contrasted with the standard tattoo inscriptions on the body, which guarantee the subject's inclusion in the (virtual) symbolic order - with the cutters, the problem is the opposite one, namely the assertion of reality itself. Far from being suicidal, far from signalling a desire for self-annihilation, cutting is a radical attempt to (re)gain a stronghold in reality, or (another aspect of the same phenomenon) to firmly ground our ego in our bodily reality, against the unbearable anxiety of perceiving oneself as non-existing. The standard report of cutters is that, after seeing the red warm blood flowing out of the self-inflicted wound, the feel alive again, firmly rooted in reality. So, although, of course, cutting is a pathological phenomenon, it is nonetheless a pathological attempt at regaining some kind of normalcy, at avoiding a total psychotic breakdown. On today's market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol... Virtual Reality simply generalizes this procedure of offering a product deprived of its substance: it provides reality itself deprived of its substance, of the resisting hard kernel of the Real - in the same way decaffeinated coffee smells and tastes like the real coffee without being the real one, Virtual Reality is experienced as reality without being one. However, at the end of this process of virtualization, the inevitable Benthamian conclusion awaits us: reality is its own best semblance. And was the bombing of the WTC with regard to the Hollywood catastrophe movies not like the snuff pornography versus ordinary sado-maso porno movies? This is the element of truth in Karl-Heinz Stockhausen's provocative statement that the planes hitting the WTC towers was the ultimate work of art: one can effectively perceive the collapse of the WTC towers as the climactic conclusion of the XXth century art's "passion of the real" - the "terrorists" themselves did it not do it primarily to provoke real material damage, but FOR THE SPECTACULAR EFFECT OF IT. The authentic XXth century passion to penetrate the Real Thing (ultimately, the destructive Void) through the cobweb of semblances which constitute our reality thus culminates in the thrill of the Real as the ultimate "effect," sought after from digitalized special effects through reality TV and amateur pornography up to snuff movies. Snuff movies which deliver the "real thing" are perhaps the ultimate truth of virtual reality. There is an intimate connection between virtualization of reality and the emergence of an infinite and infinitized bodily pain, much stronger that the usual one: do biogenetics and Virtual Reality combined not open up new "enhanced" possibilities of TORTURE, new and unheard-of horizons of extending our ability to endure pain (through widening our sensory capacity to sustain pain, through inventing new forms of inflicting it)? Perhaps, the ultimate Sadean image on an "undead" victim of the torture who can sustain endless pain without having at his/her disposal the escape into death, also waits to become reality. The ultimate American paranoiac fantasy is that of an individual living in a small idyllic Californian city, a consumerist paradise, who suddenly starts to suspect that the world he lives in is a fake, a spectacle staged to convince him that he lives in a real world, while all people around him are effectively actors and extras in a gigantic show. The most recent example of this is Peter Weir's The Truman Show (1998), with Jim Carrey playing the small town clerk who gradually discovers the truth that he is the hero of a 24-hours permanent TV show: his hometown is constructed on a gigantic studio set, with cameras following him permanently. Among its predecessors, it is worth mentioning Philip 42
Zizek: collected papers Dick's Time Out of Joint (1959), in which a hero living a modest daily life in a small idyllic Californian city of the late 50s, gradually discovers that the whole town is a fake staged to keep him satisfied... The underlying experience of Time Out of Joint and of The Truman Show is that the late capitalist consumerist Californian paradise is, in its very hyper-reality, in a way IRREAL, substanceless, deprived of the material inertia. And the same "derealization" of the horror went on after the WTC bombings: while the number of 6000 victims is repeated all the time, it is surprising how little of the actual carnage we see - no dismembered bodies, no blood, no desperate faces of the dying people... in clear contrast to the reporting from the Third World catastrophies where the whole point was to produce a scoop of some gruesome detail: Somalis dying of hunger, raped Bosnian women, men with throats cut. These shots were always accompanied with the advance-warning that "some of the images you will see are extremely graphic and may hurt children" - a warning which we NEVER heard in the reports on the WTC collapse. Is this not yet another proof of how, even in this tragic moments, the distance which separates Us from Them, from their reality, is maintained: the real horror happens THERE, not HERE? /"2 So it is not only that Hollywood stages a semblance of real life deprived of the weight and inertia of materiality - in the late capitalist consumerist society, "real social life" itself somehow acquires the features of a staged fake, with our neighbors behaving in "real" life as stage actors and extras... Again, the ultimate truth of the capitalist utilitarian de-spiritualized universe is the de-materialization of the "real life" itself, its reversal into a spectral show. Among others, Christopher Isherwood gave expression to this unreality of the American daily life, exemplified in the motel room: "American motels are unreal! /.../ they are deliberately designed to be unreal. /.../ The Europeans hate us because we've retired to live inside our advertisements, like hermits going into caves to contemplate." Peter Sloterdijk's notion of the "sphere" is here literally realized, as the gigantic metal sphere that envelopes and isolates the entire city. Years ago, a series of science-fiction films like Zardoz or Logan's Run forecasted today's postmodern predicament by extending this fantasy to the community itself: the isolated group living an aseptic life in a secluded area longs for the experience of the real world of material decay. Is the endlessly repeated shot of the plane approaching and hitting the second WTC tower not the real-life version of the famous scene from Hitchcock's Birds, superbly analyzed by Raymond Bellour, in which Melanie approaches the Bodega Bay pier after crossing the bay on the small boat? When, while approaching the wharf, she waves to her (future) lover, a single bird (first perceived as an undistinguished dark blot) unexpectedly enters the frame from above right and hits her head.3 Was the plane which hit the WTC tower not literally the ultimate Hitchcockian blot, the anamorphic stain which denaturalized the idyllic well-known New York landscape? The Wachowski brothers' hit Matrix (1999) brought this logic to its climax: the material reality we all experience and see around us is a virtual one, generated and coordinated by a gigantic mega-computer to which we are all attached; when the hero (played by Keanu Reeves) awakens into the "real reality," he sees a desolate landscape littered with burned ruins - what remained of Chicago after a global war. The resistance leader Morpheus utters the ironic greeting: "Welcome to the desert of the real." Was it not something of the similar order that took place in New York on September 11? Its citizens were introduced to the "desert of the real" - to us, corrupted by Hollywood, the landscape and the shots we saw of the collapsing towers could not but remind us of the most breathtaking scenes in the catastrophe big productions. When we hear how the bombings were a totally unexpected shock, how the unimaginable Impossible happened, one should recall the other defining catastrophe from the beginning of the XXth century, that of Titanic: it was also a shock, but the space for it was already prepared in ideological fantasizing, since 43
Zizek: collected papers Titanic was the symbol of the might of the XIXth century industrial civilization. Does the same not hold also for these bombings? Not only were the media bombarding us all the time with the talk about the terrorist threat; this threat was also obviously libidinally invested - just recall the series of movies from Escape From New York to Independence Day. Therein resides the rationale of the oftenmentioned association of the attacks with the Hollywood disaster movies: the unthinkable which happened was the object of fantasy, so that, in a way, America got what it fantasized about, and this was the greatest surprise. One should therefore turn around the standard reading according to which, the WTC explosions were the intrusion of the Real which shattered our illusory Sphere: quite on the contrary, it is prior to the WTC collapse than we lived in our reality, perceiving the Third World horrors as something which is not effectively part of our social reality, as something which exists (for us) as a spectral apparition on the (TV) screen - and what happened on September 11 is that this screen fantasmatic apparition entered our reality. It is not that reality entered our image: the image entered and shattered our reality (i.e., the symbolic coordinates which determine what we experience as reality). The fact that, after September 11, the opening of many "of the blockbuster" movies with scenes which bear a resemblance to the WTC collapse (large buildings on fire or under attack, terrorist actions...) was postponed (or the films were even shelved), is thus to be read as the "repression" of the fantasmatic background responsible for the impact of the WTC collapse. Of course, the point is not to play a pseudo-postmodern game of reducing the WTC collapse to just another media spectacle, reading it as a catastrophy version of the snuff porno movies; the question we should have asked ourselves when we stared at the TV screens on September 11 is simply: WHERE DID WE ALREADY SEE THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER AGAIN? It is precisely now, when we are dealing with the raw Real of a catastrophe, that we should bear in mind the ideological and fantasmatic coordinates which determine its perception. If there is any symbolism in the collapse of the WTC towers, it is not so much the old-fashioned notion of the "center of financial capitalism," but, rather, the notion that the two WTC towers stood for the center of the VIRTUAL capitalism, of financial speculations disconnected from the sphere of material production. The shattering impact of the bombings can only be accounted for only against the background of the borderline which today separates the digitalized First World from the Third World "desert of the Real." It is the awareness that we live in an insulated artificial universe which generates the notion that some ominous agent is threatening us all the time with total destruction. Is, consequently, Osama Bin Laden, the suspected mastermind behind the bombings, not the real-life counterpart of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the master-criminal in most of the James Bond films, involved in the acts of global destruction. What one should recall here is that the only place in Hollywood films where we see the production process in all its intensity is when James Bond penetrates the mastercriminal's secret domain and locates there the site of intense labor (distilling and packaging the drugs, constructing a rocket that will destroy New York...). When the master-criminal, after capturing Bond, usually takes him on a tour of his illegal factory, is this not the closest Hollywood comes to the socialist-realist proud presentation of the production in a factory? And the function of Bond's intervention, of course, is to explode in firecraks this site of production, allowing us to return to the daily semblance of our existence in a world with the "disappearing working class." Is it not that, in the exploding WTC towers, this violence directed at the threatening Outside turned back at us? The safe Sphere in which Americans live is experienced as under threat from the Outside of terrorist attackers who are ruthlessly self-sacrificing AND cowards, cunningly intelligent AND primitive 44
Zizek: collected papers barbarians. The letters of the deceased attackers are quoted as "chilling documents" - why? Are they not exactly what one would expect from dedicated fighters on a suicidal mission? If one takes away references to Koran, in what do they differ from, say, the CIA special manuals? Were the CIA manuals for the Nicaraguan contras with detailed descriptions on how to perturb the daily life, up to how to clog the water toilets, not of the same order - if anything, MORE cowardly? When, on September 25, 2001, the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar appealed to Americans to use their own judgement in responding to the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon rather than blindly following their government's policy to attack his country ("You accept everything your government says, whether it is true or false. /.../ Don't you have your own thinking? /.../ So it will be better for you to use your sense and understanding."), were these statements, taken in a literal-abstract, decontextualized, sense, not quite appropriate? Today, more than ever, one should bear in mind that the large majority of Arabs are not fanaticized dark crowds, but scared, uncertain, aware of their fragile status - witness the anxiety the bombings caused in Egypt. Whenever we encounter such a purely evil Outside, we should gather the courage to endorse the Hegelian lesson: in this pure Outside, we should recognize the distilled version of our own essence. For the last five centuries, the (relative) prosperity and peace of the "civilized" West was bought by the export of ruthless violence and destruction into the "barbarian" Outside: the long story from the conquest of America to the slaughter in Congo. Cruel and indifferent as it may sound, we should also, now more than ever, bear in mind that the actual effect of these bombings is much more symbolic than real: in Africa, EVERY SINGLE DAY more people die of AIDS than all the victims of the WTC collapse, and their death could have been easily cut back with relatively small financial means. The US just got the taste of what goes on around the world on a daily basis, from Sarajevo to Grozny, from Ruanda and Congo to Sierra Leone. If one adds to the situation in New York rapist gangs and a dozen or so snipers blindly targeting people who walk along the streets, one gets an idea about what Sarajevo was a decade ago. When, days after September 11 2001, our gaze was transfixed by the images of the plane hitting one of the WTC towers, all of us were forced to experience what the "compulsion to repeat" ans jouissance beyond the pleasure principle are: we wanted to see it again and again, the same shots were repeated ad nauseam, and the uncanny satisfaction we got from it was jouissance at its purest. It is when we watched on TV screen the two WTC towers collapsing, that it became possible to experience the falsity of the "reality TV shows": even if these shows are "for real," people still act in them - they simply play themselves. The standard disclaimer in a novel ("characters in this text are a fiction, every resemblance with the real life characters is purely contingent") holds also for the participants of the reality soaps: what we see there are fictional characters, even if they play themselves for the real. Of course, the "return to the Real" can be given different twists: one already hears some conservatives claim that what made us so vulnerable is our very openness - with the inevitable conclusion lurking in the background that, if we are to protect our "way of life," we will have to sacrifice some of our freedoms which were "misused" by the enemies of freedom. This logic should be rejected tout court: is it not a fact that our First World "open" countries are the most controlled countries in the entire history of humanity? In the United Kingdom, all public spaces, from buses to shopping malls, are constantly videotaped, not to mention the almost total control of all forms of digital communication. Along the same lines, Rightist commentators like George Will also immediately proclaimed the end of the American "holiday from history" - the impact of reality shattering the isolated tower of the liberal tolerant attitude and the Cultural Studies focus on textuality. Now, we are forced to strike back, to deal with real enemies in the real world... However, WHOM to strike? Whatever the response, it will never 45
Zizek: collected papers hit the RIGHT target, bringing us full satisfaction. The ridicule of America attacking Afghanistan cannot but strike the eye: if the greatest power in the world will destroy one of the poorest countries in which peasant barely survive on barren hills, will this not be the ultimate case of the impotent acting out? Afghanistan is otherwise an ideal target: a country ALREADY reduced to rubble, with no infrastructure, repeatedly destroyed by war for the last two decades... one cannot avoid the surmise that the choice of Afghanistan will be also determined by economic considerations: is it not the best procedure to act out one's anger at a country for which no one cares and where there is nothing to destroy? Unfortunately, the possible choice of Afghanistan recalls the anecdote about the madman who searches for the lost key beneath a street light; when asked why there when he lost the key in a dark corner backwards, he answers: "But it is easier to search under strong light!" Is not the ultimate irony that the whole of Kabul already looks like downtown Manhattan? To succumb to the urge to act now and retaliate means precisely to avoid confronting the true dimensions of what occurred on September 11 - it means an act whose true aim is to lull us into the secure conviction that nothing has REALLY changed. The true long-term threat are further acts of mass terror in comparison to which the memory of the WTC collapse will pale - acts less spectacular, but much more horrifying. What about bacteriological warfare, what about the use of lethal gas, what about the prospect of the DNA terrorism (developing poisons which will affect only people who share a determinate genome)? In contrast to Marx who relied on the notion of fetish as a solid object whose stable presence obfuscates its social mediation, one should assert that fetishism reaches its acme precisely when the fetish itself is "dematerialized," turned into a fluid "immaterial" virtual entity; money fetishism will culminate with the passage to its electronic form, when the last traces of its materiality will disappear - it is only at this stage that it will assume the form of an indestructible spectral presence: I owe you 1000 $, and no matter how many material notes I burn, I still owe you 1000 $, the debt is inscribed somewhere in the virtual digital space... Does the same not hold also for warfare? Far from pointing towards the XXIth century warfare, the WTC twin towers explosion and collapse in September 2001 were rather the last spectacular cry of the XXth century warfare. What awaits us is something much more uncanny: the specter of an "immaterial" war where the attack is invisible - viruses, poisons which can be anywhere and nowhere. At the level of visible material reality, nothing happens, no big explosions, and yet the known universe starts to collapse, life disintegrates... We are entering a new era of paranoiac warfare in which the biggest task will be to identify the enemy and his weapons. Instead of a quick acting out, one should confront these difficult questions: what will "war" mean in the XXIst century? Who will be "them," if they are, clearly, neither states nor criminal gangs? One cannot resist the temptation to recall here the Freudian opposition of the public Law and its obscene superego double: are, along the same line, the "international terrorist organizations" not the obscene double of the big multinational corporations - the ultimate rhizomatic machine, all-present, although with no clear territorial base? Are they not the form in which nationalist and/or religious "fundamentalism" accommodated itself to global capitalism? Do they not embody the ultimate contrafiction, with their particular/exclusive content and their global dynamic functioning? There is a partial truth in the notion of the "clash of civilizations" attested here - witness the surprise of the average American: "How is it possible that these people display and practice such a disregard for their own lives?" Is the obverse of this surprise not the rather sad fact that we, in the First World countries, find it more and more difficult even to imagine a public or universal Cause for which one would be ready to sacrifice one's life? When, after the bombings, even the Taliban foreign minister said that he can "feel the pain" of the American children, did he not thereby confirm the hegemonic ideological role of this Bill Clinton's trademark phrase? It effectively appears as if the split between First World and Third World runs more and more along the lines of the opposition between leading a 46
Zizek: collected papers long satisfying life full of material and cultural wealth, and dedicating one's life to some transcendent Cause. Two philosophical references immediately impose themselves apropos this ideological antagonism between the Western consummerist way of life and the Muslim radicalism: Hegel and Nietzsche. Is this antagonism not the one between what Nietzsche called "passive" and "active" nihilism? We in the West are the Nietzschean Last Men, immersed in stupid daily pleasures, while the Muslim radicals are ready to risk everything, engaged in the struggle up to their self-destruction. (One cannot but note the significant role of the stock exchange in the bombings: the ultimate proof of their traumatic impact was that the New York Stock Exchange was closed for four days, and its opening the following Monday was presented as the key sign of things returning to normal.) Furthermore, if one perceives this opposition through the lenses of the Hegelian struggle between Master and Servant, one cannot avoid noting the paradox: although we in the West are perceived as exploiting masters, it is us who occupy the position of the Servant who, since he clings to life and its pleasures, is unable to risk his life (recall Colin Powell's notion of a high-tech war with no human casualties), while the poor Muslim radicals are Masters ready to risk their life... However, this notion of the "clash of civilizations" has to be thoroughly rejected: what we are witnessing today are rather clashes WITHIN each civilization. Furthermore, a brief look at the comparative history of Islam and Christianity tells us that the "human rights record" of Islam (to use this anachronistic term) is much better than that of Christianity: in the past centuries, Islam was significantly more tolerant towards other religions than Christianity. NOW it is also the time to remember that it was through the Arabs that, in the Middle Ages, we in the Western Europe regained access to our Ancient Greek legacy. While in no way excusing today's horror acts, these facts nonetheless clearly demonstrate that we are not dealing with a feature inscribed into Islam "as such," but with the outcome of modern socio-political conditions. On a closer look, what IS this "clash of civilizations" effectively about? Are all real-life "clashes" not clearly related to global capitalism? The Muslim "fundamentalist" target is not only global capitalism's corroding impact on social life, but ALSO the corrupted "traditionalist" regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. The most horrifying slaughters (those in Ruanda, Kongo, and Sierra Leone) not only took place - and are taking place - within the SAME "civilization," but are also clearly related to the interplay of global economic interests. Even in the few cases which would vaguely fit the definition of the "clash of civilisations" (Bosnia and Kosovo, south of Sudan, etc.), the shadow of other interests is easily discernible. Every feature attributed to the Other is already present in the very heart of the US: murderous fanaticism? There are today in the US itself more than two millions of the Rightist populist "fundamentalists" who also practice the terror of their own, legitimized by (their understanding of) Christianity. Since America is in a way "harboring" them, should the US Army have punished the US themselves after the Oklashoma bombing? And what about the way Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson reacted to the bombings, perceiving them as a sign that God lifted up its protection of the US because of the sinful lives of the Americans, putting the blame on hedonist materialism, liberalism, and rampant sexuality, and claiming that America got what it deserved? The fact that very same condemnation of the "liberal" America as the one from the Muslim Other came from the very heart of the Amerique profonde should give as to think. America as a safe haven? When a New Yorker commented on how, after the bombings, one can no longer walk safely on the city's streets, the irony of it was that, well before the bombings, the streets of New York were well-known for the dangers of being attacked or, at least, mugged - if anything, the bombings gave rise to a new sense of solidarity, with the scenes of young African-Americans helping an old Jewish gentlemen to cross the street, scenes unimaginable a 47
Zizek: collected papers couple of days ago. Now, in the days immediately following the bombings, it is as if we dwell in the unique time between a traumatic event and its symbolic impact, like in those brief moment after we are deeply cut, and before the full extent of the pain strikes us - it is open how the events will be symbolized, what their symbolic efficiency will be, what acts they will be evoked to justify. If nothing else, one can clearly experience yet again the limitation of our democracy: decisions are being made which will affect the fate of all of us, and all of us just wait, aware that we are utterly powerless. Even here, in these moments of utmost tension, this link is not automatic but contingent. There are already the first bad omens, like the sudden resurrection, in the public discourse, of the old Cold war term "free world": the struggle is now the one between the "free world" and the forces of darkness and terror. The question to be asked here is, of course: who then belongs to the UNFREE world? Are, say, China or Egypt part of this free world? The actual message is, of course, that the old division between the Western liberal-democratic countries and all the others is again enforced. The day after the bombing, I got a message from a journal which was just about to publish a longer text of mine on Lenin, telling me that they decided to postpone its publication - they considered inopportune to publish a text on Lenin immediately after the bombing. Does this not points towards the ominous ideological rearticulations which will follow, with a new Berufsverbot (prohibition to employ radicals) much stronger and more widespread than the one in the Germany of the 70s? These days, one often hears the phrase that the struggle is now the one for democracy - true, but not quite in the way this phrase is usually meant. Already, some Leftist friends of mine wrote me that, in these difficult moments, it is better to keep one's head down and not push forward with our agenda. Against this temptation to duck out the crisis, one should insist that NOW the Left should provide a better analysis otherwise, it concedes in advance its political AND ethical defeat in the face of the acts of quite genuine ordinary people heroism (like the passengers who, in a model of rational ethical act, overtook the kidnappers and provokes the early crush of the plane: if one is condemned to die soon, one should gather the strength and die in such a way as to prevent other people dying). When, in the aftermath of September 11, the Americans en masse rediscovered their American pride, displaying flags and singing together in the public, one should emphasize more than ever that there is nothing "innocent" in this rediscovery of the American innocence, in getting rid of the sense of historical guilt or irony which prevented many of them to fully assume being American. What this gesture amounted to was to "objectively" assume the burden of all that being "American" stood for in the past - an exemplary case of ideological interpellation, of fully assuming one's symbolic mandate, which enters the stage after the perplexity caused by some historical trauma. In the traumatic aftermath of September 11, when the old security seemed momentarily shattered, what more "natural" gesture than to take refuge in the innocence of the firm ideological identification? 4 However, it is precisely such moments of transparent innocence, of "return to basics," when the gesture of identification seems "natural," that are, from the standpoint of the critique of ideology, the most obscure one's, even, in a certain way, obscurity itself. Let us recall another such innocently-transparent moment, the endlessly reproduced video-shot from Beijing's Avenue of Eternal Piece at the height of the "troubles" in 1989, of a tiny young man with a can who, alone, stands in front of an advancing gigantic tank, and courageously tries to prevent its advance, so that, when the tank tries to bypass him by turning right or left, them man also moves aside, again standing in its way: "The representation is so powerful that it demolishes all other understandings. This streetscene, this time and this event, have come to constitute the compass point for virtually all Western journeys into 48
Zizek: collected papers the interior of the contemporary political and cultural life of China."5 And, again, this very moment of transparent clarity (things are rendered at their utmost naked: a single man against the raw force of the State) is, for our Western gaze, sustained by a cobweb of ideological implications, embodying a series of oppositions: individual versus state, peaceful resistance versus state violence, man versus machine, the inner force of a tiny individual versus the impotence of the powerful machine... These implications, against the background of which the shot exerts its full direct impact, these "mediations" which sustain the shot's immediate impact, are NOT present for a Chinese observer, since the above-mentioned series of oppositions is inherent to the European ideological legacy. And the same ideological background also overdetermines, say, our perception of the horrifying images of tiny individuals jumping from the burning WTC tower into certain death. So what about the phrase which reverberates everywhere, "Nothing will be the same after September 11"? Significantly, this phrase is never further elaborated - it just an empty gesture of saying something "deep" without really knowing what we want to say. So our first reaction to it should be: Really? Is it, rather, not that the only thing that effectively changed was that America was forced to realize the kind of world it was part of? On the other hand, such changes in perception are never without consequences, since the way we perceive our situation determines the way we act in it. Recall the processes of collapse of a political regime, say, the collapse of the Communist regimes in the Eastern Europe in 1990: at a certain moment, people all of a sudden became aware that the game is over, that the Communists are lost. The break was purely symbolic, nothing changed "in reality" - and, nonetheless, from this moment on, the final collapse of the regime was just a question of days... What if something of the same order DID occur on September 11? We don't yet know what consequences in economy, ideology, politics, war, this event will have, but one thing is sure: the US, which, till now, perceived itself as an island exempted from this kind of violence, witnessing this kind of things only from the safe distance of the TV screen, is now directly involved. So the alternative is: will Americans decide to fortify further their "sphere," or to risk stepping out of it? Either America will persist in, strengthen even, the deeply immoral attitude of "Why should this happen to us? Things like this don't happen HERE!", leading to more aggressivity towards the threatening Outside, in short: to a paranoiac acting out. Or America will finally risk stepping through the fantasmatic screen separating it from the Outside World, accepting its arrival into the Real world, making the long-overdued move from "A thing like this should not happen HERE!" to "A thing like this should not happen ANYWHERE!". Therein resides the true lesson of the bombings: the only way to ensure that it will not happen HERE again is to prevent it going on ANYWHERE ELSE. In short, America should learn to humbly accept its own vulnerability as part of this world, enacting the punishment of those responsible as a sad duty, not as an exhilarating retaliation. The WTC bombings again confront us with the necessity to resist the temptation of a double blackmail. If one simply, only and unconditionally condemns it, one cannot but appear to endorse the blatantly ideological position of the American innocence under attack by the Third World Evil; if one draws attention to the deeper socio-political causes of the Arab extremism, one cannot but appear to blame the victim which ultimately got what it deserved... The only consequent solution is here to reject this very opposition and to adopt both positions simultaneously, which can only be done if one resorts to the dialectical category of totality: there is no choice between these two positions, each one is one-sided and false. Far from offering a case apropos of which one can adopt a clear ethical stance, we encounter here the limit of moral reasoning: from the moral standpoint, the victims are innocent, the act was an abominable crime; however, this very innocence is not innocent - to adopt such an "innocent" position in today's global capitalist universe is in itself a false abstraction. The same goes for the more 49
Zizek: collected papers ideological clash of interpretations: one can claim that the attack on the WTC was an attack on what is worth fighting for in democratic freedoms - the decadent Western way of life condemned by Muslim and other fundamentalists is the universe of women's rights and multiculturalist tolerance; however, one can also claim that it was an attack on the very center and symbol of global financial capitalism. This, of course, in no way entails the compromise notion of shared guilt (terrorists are to blame, but, partially, also Americans are also to blame...) - the point is, rather, that the two sides are not really opposed, that they belong to the same field. The fact that global capitalism is a totality means that it is the dialectical unity of itself and of its other, of the forces which resist it on "fundamentalist" ideological grounds. Consequently, of the two main stories which emerged after September 11, both are worse, as Stalin would have put it. The American patriotic narrative - the innocence under siege, the surge of patriotic pride - is, of course, vain; however, is the Leftist narrative (with its Schadenfreude: the US got what they deserved, what they were for decades doing to others) really any better? The predominant reaction of European, but also American, Leftists was nothing less than scandalous: all imaginable stupidities were said and written, up to the "feminist" point that the WTC towers were two phallic symbols, waiting to be destroyed ("castrated"). Was there not something petty and miserable in the mathematics reminding one of the holocaust revisionism (what are the 6000 dead against millions in Ruanda, Kongo, etc.)? And what about the fact that CIA (co)created Taliban and Bin Laden, financing and helping them to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan? Why was this fact quoted as an argument AGAINST attacking them? Would it not be much more logical to claim that it is precisely their duty to get us rid of the monster they created? The moment one thinks in the terms of "yes, the WTC collapse was a tragedy, but one should not fully solidarize with the victims, since this would mean supporting US imperialism," the ethical catastrophy is already here: the only appropriate stance is the unconditional solidarity will ALL victims. The ethical stance proper is here replaced with the moralizing mathematics of guilt and horror which misses the key point: the terrifying death of each individual is absolute and incomparable. In short, let us make a simple mental experiment: if you detect in yourself any restraint to fully empathize with the victims of the WTC collapse, if you feel the urge to qualify your empathy with "yes, but what about the millions who suffer in Africa...", you are not demonstrating your Third World sympathize, but merely the mauvaise foi which bears witness to your implicit patronizing racist attitude towards the Third World victims. (More precisely, the problem with such comparative statements is that they are necessary and inadmissible: one HAS to make them, one HAS to make the point that much worse horrors are taken place around the world on a daily basis - but one has to do it without getting involved in the obscene mathematics of guilt.) It must be said that, within the scope of these two extremes (the violent retaliatory act versus the new reflection about the global situation and America's role in it), the reaction of the Western powers till now was surprisingly considerate (no wonder it caused the violent anti-American outburst of Ariel Sharon!). Perhaps the greatest irony of the situation is that the main "collateral damage" of the Western reaction is the focus on the plight of the Afghani refugees, and, more generally, on the catastrophic food and health situation in Afghanistan, so that, sometimes, military action against Taliban is almost presented as a means to guarantee the safe delivery of the humanitarian aid - as Tony Blair said, perhaps, we will have to bomb Taliban in order to secure the food transportation and distribution. Although, of course, such large-scale publicized humanitarian actions are in themselves ideologically charged, involving the debilitating degradation of the Afghani people to helpless victims, and reducing the Taliban to a parasite terrorizing them, it is significant to acknowledge that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan presents a much larger catastrophy than the WTC bombings. 50
Zizek: collected papers Another way in which the Left miserably failed is that, in the weeks after the bombing, it reverted to the old mantra "Give peace a chance! War does not stop violence!" - a true case of hysterical precipitation, reacting to something which will not even happen in the expected form. Instead of the concrete analysis of the new complex situation after the bombings, of the chances it gives to the Left to propose its own interpretation of the events, we got the blind ritualistic chant "No war!", which fails to address even the elementary fact, de facto acknowledged by the US government itself (through its postponing of the retaliatory action), that this is not a war like others, that the bombing of Afghanistan is not a solution. A sad situation, in which George Bush showed more power of reflection than most of the Left! No wonder that anti-Americanism was most discernible in "big" European nations, especially France and Germany: it is part of their resistance to globalization. One often hears the complaint that the recent trend of globalization threatens the sovereignty of the Nation-States; here, however, one should qualify this statement: WHICH states are most exposed to this threat? It is not the small states, but the secondrang (ex-)world powers, countries like United Kingdom, Germany and France: what they fear is that, once fully immersed in the newly emerging global Empire, they will be reduced at the same level as, say, Austria, Belgium or even Luxembourg. The refusal of "Americanization" in France, shared by many Leftists and Rightist nationalists, is thus ultimately the refusal to accept the fact that France itself is losing its hegemonic role in Europe. The results of this refusal are often comical - at a recent philosophical colloquium, a French Leftist philosopher complained how, apart from him, there are now practically no French philosophers in France: Derrida is sold to American deconstructionism, the academia is overwhelmed by Anglo-Saxon cognitivism... A simple mental experiment is indicative here: let us imagine someone from Serbia claiming that he is the only remaining truly Serb philosopher - he would have been immediately denounced and ridiculed as a nationalist. The levelling of weight between larger and smaller Nation-States should thus be counted among the beneficial effects of globalization: beneath the contemptuous deriding of the new Eastern European post-Communist states, it is easy to discern the contours of the wounded Narcissism of the European "great nations." Here, a good dose of Lenin's sensitivity for the small nations (recall his insistence that, in the relationship between large and small nations, one should always allow for a greater degree of the "small" nationalism) would be helpful. Interestingly, the same matrix was reproduced within ex-Yugoslavia: not only for the Serbs, but even for the majority of the Western powers, Serbia was self-evidently perceived as the only ethnic group with enough substance to form its own state. Throughout the 90s, even the radical democratic critics of Milosevic who rejected Serb nationalism, acted on the presupposition that, among the ex-Yugoslav republics, it is only Serbia which has democratic potential: after overthrowing Milosevic, Serbia alone can turn into a thriving democratic state, while other exYugoslav nations are too "provincial" to sustain their own democratic State... is this not the echo of Friedrich Engels' well-known scathing remarks about how the small Balkan nations are politically reactionary since their very existence is a reaction, a survival of the past? America's "holiday from history" was a fake: America's peace was bought by the catastrophes going on elsewhere. These days, the predominant point of view is that of an innocent gaze confronting unspeakable Evil which stroke from the Outside - and, again, apropos this gaze, one should gather the strength and apply to it also Hegel's well-known dictum that the Evil resides (also) in the innocent gaze itself which perceives Evil all around itself. There is thus an element of truth even in the most constricted Moral Majority vision of the depraved America dedicated to mindless pleasures, in the conservative horror at this netherworld of sexploitation and pathological violence: what they don't get is merely the Hegelian speculative identity between this netherworld and their own position of fake purity - the fact that so many fundamentalist preachers turned out to be secret sexual perverts is more 51
Zizek: collected papers than a contingent empirical fact. When the infamous Jimmy Swaggart claimed that the fact that he visited prostitutes only gave additional strength to his preaching (he knew from intimate struggle what he was preaching against), although undoubtedly hypocritical at the immediate subjective level, is nonetheless objectively true. Can one imagine a greater irony than the fact that the first codename for the US operation against terrorists was "Infinite Justice" (later changed in response to the reproach of the American Islam clerics that only God can exert infinite justice)? Taken seriously, this name is profoundly ambiguous: either it means that the Americans have the right to ruthlessly destroy not only all terrorists but also all who gave then material, moral, ideological etc. support (and this process will be by definition endless in the precise sense of the Hegelian "bad infinity" - the work will never be really accomplished, there will always remain some other terrorist threat...); or it means that the justice exerted must be truly infinite in the strict Hegelian sense, i.e., that, in relating to others, it has to relate to itself - in short, that it has to ask the question of how we ourselves who exert justice are involved in what we are fighting against. When, on September 22 2001, Derrida received the Theodor Adorno award, he referred in his speech to the WTC bombings: "My unconditional compassion, addressed at the victims of the September 11, does not prevent me to say it loudly: with regard to this crime, I do not believe that anyone is politically guiltless." This self-relating, this inclusion of oneself into the picture, is the only true "infinite justice." In the electoral campaign, President Bush named as the most important person in his life Jesus Christ. Now he has a unique chance to prove that he meant it seriously: for him, as for all Americans today, "Love thy neighbor!" means "Love the Muslims!" OR IT MEANS NOTHING AT ALL. 1. See Alain Badiou, Le siecle, forthcoming from Editions du Seuil, Paris. 2. Another case of ideological censorship: when fireworkers' widows were interviewed on CNN, most of them gave the expected performance: tears, prayers... all except one of them who, without a tear, said that she does not pray for her deceived husband, because she knows that prayer will not get him back. When asked if she dreams of revenge, she calmly said that that would be the true betrayal of her husband: if he were to survive, he would insist that the worst thing to do is to succumb to the urge to retaliate... useless to add that this fragment was shown only once and then disappeared from the repetitions of the same block. 3. See Chapter III in Raymond Bellour, The Analysis of Film, Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2000. 4. I rely here on my critical elaboration of Althusser's notion of interpellation in chapter 3 of Metastases of Enjoyment, London: Verso Books 1995. 5. Michael Dutton, Streetlife China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1998, p. 17. *10/7/01 - Reflections on WTC - an earlier version of the book, Welcome to the Desert of the Real.
Zizek: collected papers
The Big Other doesn’t exist
Why did Freud supplement the Oedipal myth with the mythical narrative of the "primordial father" in Totem and Taboo (T&T)? The lesson of this second myth is the exact obverse of the Oedipus: far from having to deal with the father who, intervening as the Third, prevents direct contact with the incestuous object (thus sustaining the illusion that his annihilation would give us free access to this object), it is the killing of the father, i.e., the very realization of the Oedipal wish, which gives rise to symbolic prohibition (the dead father returns as his Name). And today's much-decried "decline of Oedipus" (of the paternal symbolic authority) is precisely the return of figures which function according to the logic of the "primordial father" from "totalitarian" political leaders to the paternal sexual harasser. But why? When the "pacifying" symbolic authority is suspended, the only way to avoid the debilitating deadlock of desire, its inherent impossibility, is to locate the cause of its inaccessibility into a despotic figure which stands for the primordial jouisseur: we cannot enjoy because HE amasses all enjoyment ... -1In the "Oedipus complex," parricide (and incest with the mother) is the unconscious desire of all ordinary (male) subjects, since the paternal figure prevents access to the maternal object, disturbs our symbiosis with it, while Oedipus himself is the exceptional figure, the One who effectively did it. In T&T, on the contrary, parricide is not the goal of our unconscious wish, but, as Freud emphasizes again and again, a prehistoric fact which "really had to occur", to allow the passage from animal state to Culture. In short, the traumatic event is not something we dream about, but which never really happens and thus, via its postponement, sustains the state of culture (since the consummation of the incestuous link with the mother would abolish the symbolic distance/prohibition which defines the universe of Culture); rather, the traumatic event is that which always already had to happen the moment we are within the order of Culture. If we effectively killed the father, why is the outcome not the longedfor incestuous union? In this paradox lies the central thesis of T&T: the bearer of prohibition preventing our access to the incestuous object is not the living but the DEAD father, who, after his death, returns as his Name, i.e., the embodiment of the symbolic law/prohibition. What the matrix of T&T accounts for is thus the structural necessity of the parricide: the passage from direct brutal force to the rule of symbolic authority, of the prohibitory law, is always grounded in a (disavowed) act of primordial crime. Therein resides the dialectic of "You can only prove that you love me by betraying me": the father is elevated into the venerated symbol of Law only after his betrayal and murder. This problematique also opens up the vaguaries of ignorance not the subject's, but the big Other's: "the father is dead, although unaware of it," i.e., he doesn't know that his loving followers have (alwaysalready) betrayed him. On the other hand, this means that the father "really thinks that he is a father," that his authority directly emanates from his person, not merely from the empty symbolic place that he occupies and/or fills in. What the faithful follower should conceal from the paternal figure of the leader is precisely this gap between the leader in the immediacy of his personality and the symbolic place he occupies, a gap on account of which the father qua effective person is utterly impotent and ridiculous (King Lear, confronted violently with this betrayal and the ensuing unmasking of his impotence, and deprived of his symbolic title, is reduced to an old, raging, impotent fool). The heretical legend according to which Christ himself ordered Judas to betray him (or at least let him know his wish between the lines...) is thus well-founded: in this necessity of the Betrayal of the Great Man, which can only assure his Fame, resides the ultimate mystery of Power. However, there is still something missing in the T&T matrix. It is not enough to have the murdered father return as the agency of symbolic prohibition: this prohibition, to be effective, must be sustained by a positive act of Will. For that reason, Freud, in his Moses and Monotheism (M&M), added a further, last variation to the Oedipal dispositif. Here, the two paternal figures, however, are not the same as that in T&T: the two figures are here not the presymbolic obscene/non-castrated Father-Jouissance and the (dead) father qua bearer of the symbolic authority, i.e. the Name-of-the-Father, but the old Egyptian Moses (who, dispensing with earlier polytheistic superstitions, introduces monotheism, the notion of a universe as determined and ruled by a unique rational Order) and the Semitic Moses (Jehovah [Yahve], the jealous God who displays vengeful rage when He feels betrayed by his people). M&M turns around yet again the dispositif of T&T: the father "betrayed" and killed by his followers/sons is NOT the obscene primordial Father-Jouissance, but the "rational" father embodying the symbolic authority, the figure which personifies the unified rational structure of the universe (logos). Rather than the obscene pre-symbolic father returning in the guise of his Name, of symbolic authority, we have now the symbolic authority (logos) betrayed, killed by his followers/sons, and returning in the guise of the jealous, vengeful and unforgiving superego figure of a God full of murderous rage (1). Only after this second reversal of
Zizek: collected papers
the Oedipal matrix do we reach the well-known Pascalean distinction between the God of Philosophers (God qua the universal structure of logos, identified with rational structure of the universe) and the God of Theologists (the God of love and hatred, the inscrutable "dark God" of capricious "irrational" predestination). The crucial point is that, in contrast to the primordial father endowed by a knowledge about jouissance, this uncompromising God is that He says "No!" to jouissance as Lacan puts it, this God is possessed by a ferocious ignorance ("la féroce ignorance de Yahvé") (2), by an attitude of "I refuse to know, I do not want to hear, anything about your dirty and secret ways of jouissance"; a God who banishes the universe of traditional sexualized wisdom, a universe with still a semblance of an ultimate harmony between the big Other (the symbolic order) and jouissance, and the notion of a macrocosm regulated by some underlying sexual tension of male and female "principles" (yin and yang, Light and Darkness, Earth and Heaven...). This God is the protoexistentialist God whose existence to apply anachronistically Sartre's definition of man does not simply coincide with his essence (as with the Medieval God of St. Aquinas), but precedes it. Thus, He speaks in tautologies not only concerning his own quidditas ("I am what I am"), but also and above all in what concerns logos, the reasons for what He is doing, or, more precisely, for his injunctions (what He asks or prohibits us to do); His inexorable orders are ultimately grounded in "It is like this BECAUSE I SAY IT IS LIKE THIS!". In short, this is the God of pure Will, of its capricious abyss which lies beyond any global rational order of logos, a God who does not have to account for anything he does (3) This is the God who speaks to his followers/sons, to his "people" the intervention of voice here is crucial. As Lacan put it in his unpublished Seminar on Anxiety (from 1960-61), the voice (the actual "speech act") brings about the passage à l'acte of the signifying network, its "symbolic efficiency." This voice is inherently meaningless, nonsensical even, a negative gesture giving expression to God's malicious and vengeful anger (all meaning is already there in the symbolic order which structures our universe); but it is precisely as such that it actualizes the purely structural meaning, transforming it into an experience of Sense (4). This, of course, is another way of saying that, through this uttering of the Voice which manifests his Will, God subjectivizes Himself. The old Egyptian Moses, betrayed and killed by his people, was the all-inclusive One of logos, the rational substantial structure of the universe, the "writing" accessible to those who know how to read the "great book of Nature," not yet the all-exclusive One of subjectivity who imposes his unconditional Will on His creation. This God of groundless Willing and ferocious "irrational" rage is the God who, by means of his Prohibition, destroys the old sexualized Wisdom, thus opening up the space for the de-sexualized, "abstract" knowledge of modern science. The paradox is that there is "objective" scientific knowledge (in the modern, post-Cartesian sense of the term) only if the universe of scientific knowledge itself is supplemented and sustained by this excessive "irrational" figure of the prohibitive father; Descartes' "voluntarism" (his infamous statement that 2+2 would be 5 if such were God's Will, there are no eternal truths directly co-substantial with the Divine Nature) is the necessary obverse of modern scientific knowledge. Pre-modern Aristotelian and Medieval knowledge was not yet "objective," rational, scientific precisely because it lacked this excessive element of God qua the subjectivity of pure "irrational" Willing: the Aristotelian God, directly equal to its own eternal rational Nature, "is" nothing but the logical Order of Things. A further paradox is that this "irrational" God, as the prohibitory paternal figure, also opens up the space for the entire development of modernity, up to the deconstructionist notion that our sexual identity is a contingent socio-symbolic formation: the moment this prohibitory figure recedes, we are back into Jungian neoobscurantist notions of masculine and feminine archetypes which thrive today. This point is crucial if we are not to misunderstand completely the gap which separates the "proper" authority of the symbolic law/prohibition from the mere "regulation by rules": paradoxically, the domain of symbolic rules, to count as such, must be grounded in some tautological authority BEYOND RULES, which says, "It is so because said it so!". One can see, now, why, at the level of individual libidinal economy, Lacan calls this prohibiting God the "real father" as the "agent of castration": symbolic castration is another name for the gap between the big Other and jouissance, for the fact that the two can never be "synchronized." One can also see in what precise sense perversion enacts the disavowal of castration: the pervert's fundamental illusion is that he possesses a (symbolic) knowledge which enables him to regulate his access to jouissance, i.e., put in more contemporary terms, the pervert's dream is to transform sexual activity into an instrumental, purpose-oriented activity which can be projected and executed according to a well-defined plan. So when one speaks today of the decline of paternal authority, it is THIS father, the father of the uncompromising "No!", who seems effectively to be in retreat; in his absence, in the absence of his prohibitory "No!", new forms of the fantasmatic harmony between the symbolic order and jouissance can thrive again. This is what the so-called New Age "holistic" attitude
Zizek: collected papers
ultimately is about, this renewal of the harmony between Reason and Life substance (Earth or macrocosm itself as a living entity) at the expense of the prohibitory "real father" (5). -2These deadlocks indicate that today, in a sense, "the big Other no longer exists" however, in WHAT sense? The big Other is somewhat the same as God according to Lacan (God is not dead today He was dead from the very beginning, except He didn't know it...): it never existed in the first place, i.e., the "big Other's" inexistence is ultimately equivalent to Its being the symbolic order, the order of symbolic fictions which operate at a level different from direct material causality. (In this sense, the only subject for whom the big Other does exist is the psychotic, the one who attributes to words direct material efficiency.) In short, the "inexistence of the big Other" is strictly correlative to the notion of belief, of symbolic trust, of credence, of taking what other's say "at their word's value." What is symbolic efficiency? We all know the old, worn-out joke about a madman who thought he was a grain of corn; after being finally cured and sent home, he immediately returned to the mental institution, explaining to the doctor his panic: "On the road, I encountered a hen, and I was afraid it would eat me!" To the doctor's surprised exclamation, "But what's the problem now? You know you're not a grain but a man who cannot be swallowed by a hen!", the madman answered "Yes, I know I am no longer a grain, but does the hen know it?"... This story, nonsensical at the level of factual reality where you either are a grain or not, is fully sensible if one replaces "grain" with some feature which determines my symbolic identity. Look at what occurs in our daily dealings with the bureaucratic hierarchy? For instance, a high-level office complies with my demand and gives me a higher title; however, it takes some time for the decree to be properly executed and reach the lower-level administration which effectively takes care of the benefits from this title (higher salary, etc.). We all know the frustration caused by a lower bureaucrat who, casting a glance at the decree, indifferently retorts: "Sorry, I have not yet been properly informed about this new measure, so I can't help you...". Isn't this somewhat like telling you: "Sorry, for us you're still a grain of corn, not yet a human being?" In short, there is a certain mysterious moment at which a measure or a decree becomes effectively operative, registered by the "big Other" of the symbolic institution. This mysterious moment can be exemplified by a funny thing which happened during the last election campaign in Slovenia. A friend of mine was approached for help by an elderly lady from his local constituency. She was convinced that the street number of her house (not the standard 13, but 23) was bringing her bad luck the moment her house was assigned this new number due to some administrative reorganization, misfortunes had started to afflict her (burglers broke in, a storm tore through the roof, neighbors began to annoy her...). She kindly asked my friend, a local candidate there, to arrange with the municipal authorities for the number to be changed. My friend made a simple suggestion to the lady: why didn't she do it herself? Why didn't she simply repaint or replace the plate with a different number (say, 23A or 231 instead of 23)? The old lady answered: "Oh, I tried that a couple of weeks ago, I added an A to 23, but it doesn't work, the misfortunes continue you cannot cheat it, it has to be done properly, by the responsible state institution...". The "it" which cannot be duped is, of course, the "big Other" of the symbolic institution. Symbolic efficiency is thus about this minimum of "reification":to become operative, it is not enough for all concerned individuals to know some fact; "it," the symbolic institution, must also know/"register" this fact. This "it," of course, can ultimately be embodied in the gaze of the absolute "big Other," God Himself. Do we not encounter exactly the same problem as that of unfortunate old lady with those Catholics who, in order to avoid unwanted pregnancy, have intercourse only on days with no ovulation? Whom are they cheating, as if God could not know their desire for pleasurable sex without procreation? The Church was always extremely sensitive to this gap between mere existence and its proper inscription/registration: for example, unbaptized children who died were not allowed a proper burial on holy ground, since they were not yet properly inscribed into the community of believers ... In one of the Marx brothers' films, Groucho Marx, when caught in a lie, answers angrily: "Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?" This apparently absurd logic renders perfectly the functioning of the symbolic order, in which the symbolic mask-mandate matters more than the direct reality of the individual who wears this mask and/or assumes this mandate. This functioning involves the structure of fetishist disavowal: "I know very well that things are the way I see them /that this person is a corrupted weakling/, but I nonetheless treat him respectfully, since he wears the insignia of a judge, so that when he speaks, it is the Law itself which speaks through him". So, in a way, I effectively believe his words, not my eyes, i.e., I believe in Another Space (the domain of pure symbolic authority) which matters more than the reality of its spokesmen. The cynical reduction to reality thus
Zizek: collected papers
falls short: when a judge speaks, there is in a way more truth in his words (the words of the Institution of law) than in the direct reality of the person of judge if one limits oneself to what one sees, one simply misses the point. Lacan aims at this paradox with his "les non-dupes errent": those who do not allow themselves to be caught in the symbolic deception/fiction, who continue to believe their eyes, are the ones who err most. A cynic who "believes only his eyes" misses the efficiency of the symbolic fiction, and how it structures our experience of reality. The same gap is at work in our most intimate relationship to our neighbors: we behave AS IF we do not know that they also smell bad, secrete excrements, etc. a minimum of idealization, of fetishizing disavowal, is the basis of our co-existence. Today, new digitalized technologies enable perfectly faked documentary images, not to mention Virtual Reality, so that the motto "believe my words (argumentation), not the fascination of your eyes!" is more actual than ever. It is crucial to keep in sight how the logic of "Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?" (i.e., "I know well, but nonetheless ... /I believe/") can function in two different ways that of the symbolic fiction and that of the imaginary simulacrum. In the case of the efficient symbolic fiction of the judge wearing his insignia, "I know very well that this person is a corrupt weakling, but I nonetheless treat him as if /I believe that/ the symbolic big Other speaks through him": I disavow what my eyes tell me and choose to believe the symbolic fiction. On the contrary, in the case of the simulacrum of virtual reality, "I know very well that what I see is an illusion generated by digital machinery, but I nonetheless accept to immerse myself in it, to behave as if I believe it." Here, I disavow what my (symbolic) knowledge tells me and choose to believe my eyes only ... However, the supreme example of the power of the symbolic fiction as the medium of universality is perhaps Christianity proper, i.e., the belief in Christ's Resurrection: the death of the "real" Christ is "sublated" in the Holy Ghost, in the spiritual community of believers. This authentic kernel of Christianity, first articulated by St. Paul, is today under attack in the guise of the New Age gnostic/dualist (mis)reading, which reduces the Resurrection to the metaphor of the "inner" spiritual growth of the individual soul. What is lost is the central tenet of Christianity: the break with the Old Testament logic of Sin and Punishment, i.e. the miracle of Grace, which retroactively "undoes", erases our past sins. The "good meesage" of the New Testament is that the miracle of creatio ex nihilo a New Beginning, starting a new life "from nothing" is possible. (Creatio ex nihilo, the establishment of a new symbolic fiction which erases the past one, of course is feasible only within a symbolic universe). The crucial point is that this New Beginning is possible only through Divine Grace its impetus must come from outside, and not as the result of man's inner effort to overcome his limitations and elevate his soul above egotistic material interests. In this precise sense, the properly Christian New Beginning is absolutely incompatible with the pagan gnostic problematic of the "purification of the soul." One of the obsessions of the contemporary New Age approach to Plato is to unearth beneath his public teaching at our disposal in his written dialogues his true, esoteric doctrine, Plato's so called "secret teaching". This "secret teaching" exemplifies case of the theoretical obscene Other which accompanies, as a kind of shadowy double, the One of pure theory. But, on a closer look, the positive content of this "secret teaching" reveals itself to be pop-wisdom commonplaces a la Joseph Campbell sold at airport bookstores: the New Age platitudes about the duality of cosmic principles, about how the One, the positive principle of Light, must be accompanied by the primordial Otherness, the mysterious dark principle of feminine matter. Therein resides the basic paradox of Plato's mysterious "secret teaching": the secret we are supposed to discern through the arduous work of textual archeology is none other than the most notorious New Age pop-wisdom a nice example of Lacanian topology in which the innermost kernel coincides with the radical externality. This is simply another chapter in the eternal fight waged by obscurantist Illumination against Enlightenment: insofar as Plato was the first great Enlightener, the obsession with his secret teaching bears witness to the effort to prove that Plato himself was already an obscurantist preaching a special initiatic doctrine. The goal of recent New Age pop-gnostic endeavors to reassert a kind of Christ's "secret teaching" beneath the official Paulinian dogma is the same: to undo, to erase, the radical novelty of the "Event-Christ," reducing it to a continuation of the preceding gnostic lineage. Another important aspect of this gnostic (mis)reading of Christianity is the growing obsession of the popular pseudo-science with the mystery of the Christ's alleged tomb and/or progeny from his alleged marriage with Mary Magdalene. Bestsellers like The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail or The Tomb of God, focusing on the region around Rennes-le-Château in the south of France, weave a large coherent narrative out of the Grail myth, Cathars, Templars, Freemasons, etc., and endeavour to supplant the diminishing power of the symbolic fiction of the Holy Ghost (the community of believers) with the bodily Real of Christ and/or his descendants. The fact that Christ left behind his body or bodily descendants undermines the
Zizek: collected papers
Christian-Paulinian narrative of Resurrection: Christ's body was not effectively resurrected, "the true message of Jesus was lost with the Resurrection" (6). This "true message" allegedly resides in promoting "the path of selfdetermination, as distinct from obedience to the written word" (7): redemption results from the soul's inner journey, not from an act of Pardon coming from Outside. "Resurrection" is to be understood as the inner renewal/rebirth of the soul on its journey of self-purification. For the advocates of this "return of/in the real," their discovery is the unearthing of the heretic and subversive secret long repressed by the Church as Institution; however, what if this very unearthing of the "Secret" serves the "undoing," the riddance of the truly traumatic, subversive core of Christian teaching, the skandalon of Resurrection and retroactive pardon of sins, i.e., the unique character of the Event of Resurrection? -3These vicissitudes signal that, today, "the big Other doesn't exist" is more radical than the usual one, synonymous with symbolic order: this symbolic trust, which persists against all sceptical data, is more and more undermined. The first paradox of this retreat of the big Other is discernible in the so-called "culture of complaint" with its underlying logic of ressentiment: far from cheerfully assuming the inexistence of the big Other, the subject blames the Other for its failure and/or impotence, as if the Other is guilty for the fact that it doesn't exist, i.e. as if impotence is no excuse. The more the subject's structure is "narcissistic," the more he blames the big Other, and thus asserts his dependence on it. The "culture of complaint" thus calls on the big Other to intervene, and to set things straight (to recompense the damaged sexual or ethnic minority, etc., although how exactly this is to be done is a matter of different ethico-legal "committees"). The specific feature of the "culture of complaint" lies in its legalistic twist, in the endeavor to translate the complaint into the legal obligation of the Other (usually the State) to indemnify one for what? For the very unfathomable surplus-enjoyment of which I am deprived, whose lack makes me feel deprivileged. Thus, is not the "culture of complaint" today's version of the hysterical impossible demand, addressed to the Other, which effectively wants to be rejected, since the subject grounds its existence in its complaint:"I am insofar as I make the Other responsible and/or guilty for my misery"? The gap here is insurmountable between this logic of complaint and the true "radical" ("revolutionary") act which, instead of complaining to the Other and expecting it to act (i.e. displacing the need to act onto it), suspends the existing legal frame and itself accomplishes the act. What is wrong with the complaint of the truly deprivileged is that, instead of undermining the position of the Other, they still address It: they, translating their demand into legalistic complaint, confirm the Other in its position by their very attack. Furthermore, a wide scope of phenomena the resurgent ethico/religious "fundamentalisms" which advocate a return to the Christian or Islamic patriarchal division of sexual roles; the New Age massive re-sexualization of the universe, i.e., the return to pre-modern, pagan, sexualized cosmo-ontology; the growth of "conspiracy theories" as a form of popular "cognitive mapping" seem to counter the retreat of the big Other. These phenomena cannot be simply dismissed as "regressive," as new modes of "escape from freedom," as unfortunate "remainders of the past" which will disappear if only we continue more resolutely on the deconstructionist path of historicisation of every fixed identity, of unmasking the contingency of every naturalized self-image. Rather, these disturbing phenomena compel us to elaborate the contours of the big Other's retreat: The paradoxical result of this mutation in the "inexistence of the Other" (of the growing collapse of the symbolic efficiency) is precisely the reemergence of the different facets of a big Other which exists effectively, in the Real, and not merely as symbolic fiction. The belief in the big Other which exists in the Real is the most succint definition of paranoia, so that, two features which characterize today's ideological stance cynical distance and full reliance on paranoiac fantasy are strictly codependent: today's typical subject, while displaying cynical distrust of any public ideology, indulges without restraint in paranoiac fantasies about conspiracies, threats, and excessive forms of enjoyment of the Other. Distrust of the big Other (the order of symbolic fictions), the subject's refusal to "take it seriously," relies on the belief that there is an "Other of the Other," a secret, invisible, all-powerful agent who effectively "pulls the strings" behind the visible, public Power. This other, obscene, invisible power structure acts the part of the "Other of the Other" in the Lacanian sense, the part of the meta-guarantee of the consistency of the big Other (the symbolic order that regulates social life). Here we should look for the roots of the recent impasse of narrativization, i.e., of the "end of large narratives". In our era, when global, all-encompassing narratives ("the struggle of liberal democracy with totalitarianism", etc.) no longer seem possible in politics and ideology as well as in literature and cinema the paranoiac narrative of a
Zizek: collected papers
"conspiracy theory" appears the only way to arrive at a kind of global "cognitive mapping." We see this paranoiac narrative not only in right-wing populism and fundamentalism, but also in the liberal center (the "mystery" of Kennedy's assassination) and left-wing orientations (the American Left's old obsession that some mysterious government agency is experimenting with nerve gases to regulate the behavior of the population). It is all too simplistic to dismiss conspiracy-narratives as the paranoiac proto-Fascist reaction of the infamous "middle classes" which feel threatened by the process of modernization: it would be much more productive to conceive "conspiracy theory" as a kind of floating signifier which could be appropriated by different political options to obtain a minimal cognitive mapping. This, then, is one version of the big Other which persists in the wake of its alleged disappearance. Another version operates in the guise of the New Age, Jungian re-sexualization of the universe ("men are from Mars, women are from Venus"), according to which there is an underlying, deeply anchored archetypal identity which provides a safe haven in the flurry of contemporary confusion of roles and identities. From this perspective, the ultimate origin of today's crisis is not the difficulty to overcome the tradition of fixed sexual roles, but modern man's unbalanced emphasis on the male/rational/conscious aspect at the expense of the feminine/compassionate one. While sharing with feminism the anti-Cartesian and anti-patriarchal bias, this tendency rewrites the feminist agenda into a re-assertion of archetypal feminine roots repressed in our competitive, male, mechanistic universe. Another version of the real Other is the figure of the father as sexual harasser of his young daughters, which stands at the core of the so-called "false-memory-syndrome": here, also, the suspended father as the agent of symbolic authority i.e., the embodiment of a symbolic fiction "returns in the real" (the controversy is caused by the contention of those advocating rememoration of childhood sexual abuses, that sexual harassment by the father is not merely fantasy or, at least, an indissoluble mixture of fact and fantasy, but a plain fact, something that in the majority of families "really happened" an obstinacy comparable to Freud's no less obstinate insistence on the murder of the "primordial father" as a real event in humanity's prehistory.) There is, however, yet another, much more interesting and uncanny assertion of the big Other, clearly discernible in the allegedly "liberating" notion that, today, individuals are compelled to (re)invent the rules of their co-existence without any guarantee of some meta-norm Kant's ethical philosophy was already its exemplary case. In Coldness and Cruelty, Deleuze provides an unsurpassable formulation of Kant's radically new conception of the moral Law: ... the law is no longer regarded as dependent on the Good, but on the contrary, the Good itself is made to depend on the law. This means that the law no longer has its foundation in some higher principle from which it would derive its authority, but that it is self-grounded and valid solely by virtue of its own form. [...] Kant, by establishing THE LAW as an ultimate ground or principle, added an essential dimension to modern thought: the object of the law is by definition unknowable and elusive. ... Clearly THE LAW, as defined by its pure form, without substance or object of any determination whatsoever, is such that no one knows nor can know what it is. It operates without making itself known. It defines a realm of transgression where one is already guilty, and where one oversteps the bounds without knowing what they are, as in the case of Oedipus. Even guilt and punishment do not tell us what the law is, but leave it in a state of indeterminacy equaled only by the extreme specificity of the punishment." (8) The Kantian Law is thus not merely an empty form applied to random empirical content in order to ascertain if this content meets the criteria of ethical adequacy. Rather, the empty form of the Law functions as the promise of an absent content (never) to come. The form is not a kind of neutral-universal mould of the plurality of different empirical contents; the autonomy of the Form rather bears witness to the uncertainty which persists with regard to the content of our acts we never know if the determinate content which accounts for the specificity of our acts is the right one, i.e., if we have effectively acted in accordance with the Law rather than being guided by some hidden pathological motifs. Kant thus announces the notion of Law which culminates in Kafka and the experience of modern political "totalitarianism": since, in the case of the Law, its Dass-Sein (the fact of the Law) precedes its Was-Sein (what this Law is), the subject finds himself in a situation in which, although he knows there is a Law, he never knows (and a priori cannot know) what this Law is a gap forever separates the Law from its positive incarnations. The subject is thus, a priori, in his very existence, guilty: guilty without knowing what he is guilty of (and for that very reason guilty), infracting the law without knowing its exact regulations. For the first time in the history of philosophy, the assertion of the Law is unconscious: Form experienced without content is always the index of a repressed content the more intensely the subject sticks to the empty form, the more traumatic the repressed content becomes.
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The gap that separates this Kantian version of the subject reinventing the rules of his ethical conduct from the postmodern Foucauldian version is easily discernible. Both assert that ethical judgments ultimately display the structure of aesthetic judgement (in which, instead of simply applying a universal rule to a particular situation, one must (re)invent the universal rule in each unique concrete situation); however, in Foucault, this simply means that the subject is thrown into a situation in which he has to shape his ethical project with no support in any transcendent(al) Law, while for Kant, this very absence of Law in the specific sense of a determinate set of positive universal norms renders all the more sensible the unbearable pressure of the moral Law qua the pure empty injunction to do one's Duty. From the Lacanian perspective, it is here that we encounter the crucial distinction between rules to be invented and their underlying Law/Prohibition: it is only when the Law qua set of positive universal symbolic norms fails to appear, that we encounter the Law at its most radical, the Law in its aspect of the Real of an unconditional injunction. The paradox to be emphasized here resides in the precise nature of the Prohibition involved by the moral Law: at its most fundamental, this Prohibition is not the prohibition to accomplish some positive act which would violate the Law, but the self-referential prohibition to confuse the "impossible" Law with any positive symbolic prescription and/or prohibition, i.e., to claim for any positive set of norms the status of the law. Ultimately, the Prohibition means that the place of the Law itself must remain empty. Put in classic Freudian terms: in Foucault we get a set of rules regulating the "care of the Self" in his "use of pleasures" (in short, a reasonable application of the "pleasure-principle"), while in Kant the (re)invention of rules follows an injunction which comes from the "beyond the pleasure-principle." Of course, the Foucauldian/Deleuzian answer would be that Kant is ultimately the victim of a kind of perspective illusion which leads him to (mis)perceive the radical immanence of ethical norms the fact that the subject has to invent the norms regulating his conduct autonomously, at his own expense and responsibility, with no big Other to take the blame for it as its exact opposite, as radical transcendence, presupposing the existence of an inscrutable, transcendent "big Other" who terrorizes us with its unconditional injunction, and simultaneously prohibits us access to it; we are under compulsion to do our Duty, but forever prevented from clearly knowing what this Duty is. The Freudian answer is that such a solution (the translation of the big Other's inscrutable Call of Duty into immanence) relies on the disavowal of the Unconscious: what usually passes unnoticed is that Foucault's rejection of the psychoanalytic account of sexuality also involves a thorough rejection of the Freudian Unconscious. If we read Kant in psychoanalytic terms, the gap between self-invented rules and their underlying Law is none other than the gap between (consciously-preconscious) rules we follow and the Law qua unconscious: the basic lesson of psychoanalysis is that what is unconscious is, at its most radical, not the wealth of illicit "repressed" desires but the fundamental Law itself. So, even in the case of a narcissistic subject dedicated to the "care of the Self," his "use of pleasures" is sustained by the unconscious, unconditional superego-injunction to enjoy. Is not the ultimate proof of this feeling of guilt which haunts him when he fails in his pursuit of pleasures? According to sociological investigations, people find less and less attraction in sexual activity; this uncanny, growing indifference towards intense sexual pleasure contrasts starkly with the official ideology of our postmodern society as bent on instant gratification and pleasure-seeking. So, we have a subject who dedicates his life to pleasure and becomes so deeply involved in the preparatory activities (jogging, massages, tanning, applying cremes and lotions...) that the attraction of the official Goal of his efforts fades away; a brief stroll today along New York's Christopher Street or Chelsea reveals hundreds of gays putting extraordinary energy into body-building, obsessed with getting old, dedicated to pleasure, yet obviously living in permanent anxiety and under the shadow of ultimate failure... the superego has again successfully accomplished its work: the direct injunction "Enjoy!" is a much more effective way to hinder the subject's access to enjoyment than the explicit Prohibition which sustains the space for its transgression. The lesson of it is that the narcissistic "care of the Self," and not the "repressive" network of social prohibitions, is the ultimate enemy of intense sexual experiences. The utopia of a post-psychoanalytic subjectivity engaged in the pursuit of new, idiosyncratic bodily pleasures beyond sexuality has reverted into disinterested boredom; and the direct intervention of pain (sado-masochistic sexual practices) seems the only remaining path to the intense experience of pleasure. Thus, the fact that "the big Other doesn't exist" (as the efficient symbolic fiction) has two interconnected, although opposed, consequences: on the one hand, the failure of symbolic fiction induces the subject to cling more and more to imaginary simulacra, to sensual spectacles which bombard us today from all sides; while on the other, it triggers the need for violence in the Real of the body itself (cutting and piercing the flesh, or inserting prosthetic objects into the body).
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(1) For a concise description of these shifts, see Michel Lapeyre, Au-delà du complexe d'Oedipe (Paris: Anthropos-Economica 1997). (2) The title of Chapter IX of Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, livre XVII: L'envers de la psychanalyse (Paris: Editions du Seuil 1991). (3) In the history of philosophy, this crack in the global rational edifice of macrocosm in which the Divine Will appears was first opened up by Duns Scotus; but we owe to F.W.J. Schelling the most piercing descriptions of this horrifying abyss of Will. Schelling opposed the Will to the "principle of sufficient reason": pure Willing is always self-identical, it relies only onto its own act - "I want it because I want it!". In his descriptions of horrifying poetic beauty, Schelling emphasized how ordinary people are horrified when they encounter a person whose behaviors displays such an unconditional Will: there is something fascinating, properly hypnotic about it, one is as if bewitched by its sight... Schelling's emphasis on the abyss of pure Willing, of course, targets Hegel's alleged "panlogicism": Schelling wants to prove that the Hegelian universal logical system is in itself stricto sensu impotent it is a system of pure potentialities, and as such in need of the supplementary "irrational" act of pure Will in order to actualize itself. (4) For a more detailed account of this distinction, see Chapter 2 of Slavoj Zizek, The Indivisible Remainder (London: Verso 1996). (5) A sign of how even the Church is not resistant to this shift in the fundamental attitude are the recent grassroot pressures on the Pope to elevate Mary to the status of co-redemptrix: one expects the Pope to render the Catholic Church viable for the post-paternal third millenium by proclaiming a dogma which asserts that the only way for us, sinful mortals, to gain divine mercy, is via our plea to Mary, who serves as mediator, i.e., if we convince her, she will speak in our favor to Christ, her son. (6) Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger, The Tomb of God (London: Warner Books 1997), p. 433. (7) Op.cit., p. 428. (8) Gilles Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty (New York: Zone Books 1991), p. 82-83.
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Learning To Love Leni Riefenstahl
By Slavoj Zizek | 9.10.03 print | email | comment The life and work of Leni Riefenstahl, who died on Monday at age 101, seems to lend itself to a mapping of a devolution, progressing toward a dark conclusion. It began with the early “mountain films” of the 1920s that she starred in and later began directing as well, which celebrated heroism and bodily effort in the extreme conditions of mountain climbing. It went on to her notorious Nazi documentaries in the ‘30s, celebrating bodily discipline, concentration, and strength of will in sport as well as in politics. Then, after World War II, in her photo albums, she rediscovered her ideal of bodily beauty and graceful self-mastery in the Nuba African tribe. Finally, in her last decades, she learned the difficult art of deep sea diving and started shooting documentaries about the strange life in the dark depths of the sea. We thus obtain a clear trajectory from the top to the bottom: We begin with rugged individuals struggling at the mountain tops and gradually descend, until we reach the amorphous teem of life at the bottom of the sea. Is not what she encountered down there her ultimate object, the obscene and irresistibly thriving eternal force of life itself, what she was searching for all along? And does this not apply also to her personality? It seems that the fear of those who are fascinated by Leni is no longer “When will she die?” but “Will she ever die?” Although rationally we know that she has just passed away, we somehow do not really believe it. She will go on forever. This continuity of her career is usually given a fascist twist, as in the exemplary case of the famous Susan Sontag essay on Leni, “Fascinating Fascism.” The idea is that even her pre- and post-Nazi films articulate a fascist vision of life: Leni’s fascism is deeper than her direct celebration of Nazi politics; it resides already in her pre-political aesthetics of life, in her fascination with beautiful bodies displaying their disciplined movements. Perhaps it is time to problematize this topos. Let us take Leni’s 1932 film Das blaue Licht (“The Blue Light”), the story of a village woman who is hated for her unusual prowess at climbing a deadly mountain. Is it not possible to read the film in exactly the opposite way as it usually is interpreted? Is Junta, the lone and wild mountain girl, not an outcast who almost becomes the victim of a pogrom—there is no other appropriate word—by the villagers? (Perhaps it is not an accident that Béla Balázs, Leni’s lover at that time who co-wrote the scenario with her, was a Marxist.) -------------The problem here is much more general; it goes far beyond Leni Riefenstahl. Let us take the very opposite of Leni, the composer Arnold Schönberg. In the second part of Harmonielehre, his major theoretical manifesto from 1911, he develops his opposition to tonal music in terms which, superficially, anticipate later Nazi anti-Semitic tracts. Tonal music has become a “diseased,” “degenerated” world in need of a cleansing solution; the tonal system has given in to “inbreeding and incest”; romantic chords such as the diminished seventh are “hermaphroditic,” “vagrant” and “cosmopolitan.” It’s easy and tempting to claim that such a messianic-apocalyptic attitude is part of the same “spiritual situation” that eventually gave birth to the Nazi final solution. This, however, is precisely the conclusion one should avoid: What makes Nazism repulsive is not the rhetoric of final solution as such, but the concrete twist it gives to it. Another popular conclusion of this kind of analysis, closer to Leni, is the allegedly fascist character of the mass choreography of disciplined movements of thousands of bodies: parades, mass performances in stadia, etc. If one finds it also in communism, one immediately draws the conclusion about a “deeper solidarity” between the two “totalitarianisms.” Such a formulation, the very prototype of ideological liberalism, misses the point. Not only are such mass performances not inherently fascist; they are not even “neutral,” waiting to be appropriated by left or right. It was Nazism that stole them and appropriated them from the workers’ movement, their original site of birth. None of these “proto-fascist” elements is per se fascist. What makes them “fascist” is only their specific articulation—or, to put it in Stephen Jay Gould’s terms, all these elements are “ex-apted” by fascism. There is no fascism avant la lettre, because it is the letter itself that composes the bundle (or, in Italian, fascio) of elements that is fascism proper.
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Along the same lines, one should radically reject the notion that discipline, from self-control to bodily training, is inherently a proto-fascist feature. Indeed, the very term “proto-fascist” should be abandoned: It is a pseudoconcept whose function is to block conceptual analysis. When we say that the organized spectacle of thousands of bodies (or, say, the admiration of sports that demand high effort and self-control like mountain climbing) is “proto-fascist,” we say strictly nothing, we just express a vague association that masks our ignorance. So when, three decades ago, kung fu films became popular, was it not obvious that we were dealing with a genuine working-class ideology of youngsters whose only means of success was the disciplinary training of their bodies, their only possession? Spontaneity and the “let it go” attitude of indulgence belong to those who have the means to afford it—those who have nothing have only their discipline. The “bad” bodily discipline, if there is one, is not the one of “collective training,” but, rather, jogging and body-building as part of the New Age myth of the realization of the self’s “inner potentials.” (No wonder that the obsession with one’s body is an almost obligatory part of the passage of ex-leftist radicals into the “maturity” of pragmatic politics: From Jane Fonda to Joschka Fischer, the “period of latency” between the two phases was marked by the focus on one’s own body.) -------------So, back to Leni: What all this does not mean is that one should dismiss her Nazi engagement as a limited, unfortunate episode. The true problem is to sustain the tension that cuts through her work: the tension between the artistic perfection of her practice and the ideological project that “ex-apted” it. Why should her case be different from that of Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, and other modernists with fascist tendencies who long ago became part of our artistic canon? Perhaps the search for the “true ideological identity” of Leni Riefenstahl is a misleading one. Perhaps there is no such identity: She was genuinely thrown around, inconsistent, caught in a cobweb of conflicting forces. Is then the best way to mark her death not to take the risk of fully enjoying a film like Das blaue Licht, which contains the possibility of a political reading of her work totally different from the prevailing view? Slavoj Žižek, a philosopher and psychoanalyst, is a senior researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, in Essen, Germany. Among other books, he is the author of The Fragile Absolute and Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?
Zizek: collected papers
The repulsive anti-intellectualist relatives whom one cannot always avoid during holidays, often attack me with common provocations like „What could you as a philosopher tell me about the cup of coffee I am just tasting?“ However, once, when a thrifty relative of mine brought to my son the Kinder Surprise egg and then asked me with a patronizing ironic smile „So what would be your philosophical comment on this egg?“, he got a surprise of his lifetime – a detailed long answer. Kinder Surprise, one of the most popular chocolate products on sale all around Central Europe, are empty egg shells made of chocolate and wrapped up in lively-colored paper; after one unwraps the egg and cracks the chocolate shell open, one finds in it a small plastic toy (or small parts from which a toy is to be set together). A child who buys this chocolate egg often nervously unwraps it and just breaks the chocolate, not bothering to eat it, worrying only about the toy in the center – is such a chocolate-lover not a perfect case of Lacan's motto »I love you, but, inexplicably, I love something in you more than yourself, and, therefore, I destroy you«? And, effectively, is this toy not l'objet petit a at its purest, the small object filling in the central void of our desire, the hidden treasure, agalma, in the center of the thing we desire? This material (»real«) void in the center, of course, stands for the structural (»formal«) gap on account of which no product is »really THAT,« no product leaves up to the expectation it arises. In other words, the small plastic toy is not simply different than chocolate (the product we bought); while materially different, it fills in the gap in chocolate itself, i.e. it is on the same surface as the chocolate. As we know already from Marx, commodity is a mysterious entity full of theological caprices, a particular object satisfying a particular need, but at the same time the promise of »something more,« of an unfathomable enjoyment whose true location is fantasy – and all publicity addresses this fantasmatic space (»If you drink X, it will not be just a drink, but also …«). And the plastic toy is the result of a risky strategy to directly materialize, render visible, this mysterious excess: »If you eat our chocolate, you will not just eat a chocolate, but also… have a (totally useless) plastic toy.« The Kinder egg thus provides the formula for all the products which promise »more« (»buy a DVD player and get 5 DVD's for free,« or, in an even more direct form, more of the same - »buy this toothpaste and get one third more for free«), not to mention the standard trick with the Coke bottle (»look on the inside of the metal cover and you may find that you are the winner of one of the prizes, from another free Coke to a brand new car«): the function of this »more« is to fill in the lack of a »less,« to compensate for the fact that, by definition, a merchandise never delivers on its (fantasmatic) promise. In other words, the ultimate »true« merchandise would be the one which would not need any supplement, the one which would simply fully deliver what it promises – »you get what you paid for, neither less nor more.« This reference to the void in the middle of a desert, the void enveloped by a desert, has a long history. In the Elizabethan England, with the rise of modern subjectivity, the difference emerged between the »substantial« food (meat) eaten in the great banquet hall and the sweet deserts eaten in the separate small room while the tables were cleared (»voided«) in the banquet hall – so the small room in which these deserts were consummated was called »void.« Consequently, the deserts themselves were referred to as »voids,« and, furthermore, in their form, they imitated the shape of the void – sugar cakes in the shape of, usually, an animal, empty in its inside. The emphasis was on the contrast between the »substantial« meal in the large banquet hall and the insubstantial, ornamental, desert in the »void«: the »void« was a »like-meat,« a fake, a pure appearance – say, a sugar peacock which looked like the peacock without being one (the key part of the ritual of consumming it was to violently crack the surface to reveal the void inside). This was the early modern version of today's decaffeinated coffee or artificial sweeteners, the first example of the food deprived of its substance, so that, eating it, one was in a way »eating nothing.« And the further key feature is that this »void« was the space of deploying the »private« subjectivity as opposed to the »public« space of the banquet hall: the “void” was consummated in a place where one withdrew after the public ceremony of the official meal; in this separate place, one was allowed to drop the official masks and let oneself to the relaxed exchange of rumors, impressions, opinions, and confessions, in their entire scope from the trivial to the most intimate. The opposition between the substantial »real thing« and the trifling ornamental appearance which envelopped only the void thus overlapped with the opposition between substance and subject – no wonder that, in the same period, the »void« also functioned as an allusion to the subject itself, the Void beneath the deceptive appearance of social masks. This, perhaps, is the first, culinary, version of Hegel’s famous motto according to which, one should conceive the Absolute „not only as Substance, but also as Subject“: you should eat not only meat and bread, but also good
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deserts… Should we not link this use of »void« to the fact that, at exactly the same historic moment, at the dawn of modernity, »zero« as a number was invented – a fact, as Brian Rotman pointed out, linked to the expansion of the commodity exchange, of the production of commodities into the hegemonic form of production, so that the link between void and commodity is here from the beginning. In his classic analysis of the Greek vase in »Das Ding,« to which Lacan also refers in his Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Heidegger also emphasizes how the vase as an emblematic Thing is formed around a central void, i.e., serves as the container of a void – one is thus tempted to read together the Greek vase and the Kinder chocolate egg as designating the two moment of the Thing in the history of the West, the sacred Thing at its dawn, and the ridiculos merchandise at its end: Kinder egg is our vase today… Perhaps, then, the ultimate image condensing the entire »history of the West« would be that of the ancient Greeks offering to gods in the vase… a Kinder egg plastic toy. One should effectively follow here the procedure, practiced by Adorno and Horkheimer in their Dialectics of Enlightenment, of condensing the entire development of the Western civilization into one simple line – from prehistorical magic manipulation to technological manipulation, or from the Greek vase to Kinder egg. ((( Along these lines, the thing to bear in mind is that the Ancient Greek dawn of philosophy occurred at the same time (and place) as the first rise of commodity production and exchange – one of the stories about Thales, the first philosopher, is that, to prove his versatility in »real life,« he got rich on the market, and then returned to his philosophy… The double meaning of the term »speculation« (metaphysical and financial) is thus operative from the very beginning. ))) So, perhaps, one should risk the hypothesis that, historically, the Greek vase to which Heidegger refers already was a commodity, and that it was this fact which accounted for the void in its center, which gives to this void its true resonance - it is as a commodity that a thing is not only itself, but points »beyond itself« to another dimension inscribed inti the thing itself as the central void. Following Beistegui's indications about the secret hegemony of the notion of oikos as closed »house« economy in Heidegger, i.e., about Heidegger's ignorance of the market conditions, of how the market always-already displaces the closed oikos, one could thus say that the vase as das Ding is the ultimate proof of this fact. No wonder, then, that there is a homology between the Kinder egg, today's »void,« and the abundance of commodities which offer us »X without X,« deprived of its substance (coffee without caffeine, sweetener without sugar, beer without alcohol, etc.): in both cases, we seem to get the surface form deprived of its core. However, more fundamentally, as the reference to the Elizabethan »void« indicates, is not there a clear structural homology between this structure of the commodity and the structure of the bourgeois subject? Do subjects – precisely insofar as they are the subjects of universal Human Rights - also not function as these Kinder chocolate eggs? In France, it is still possible to buy a desert with the racist name »la tete du negre /the nigger's head/«: a ball-like chocolate cake empty in its interior (»like the stupid nigger's head«) – the Kinder egg fills in this void. The lesson of it is that we ALL have »nigger's heads,« with a hole in the centre - would the humanistuniversalist reply to the tete du negre, his attempt to deny that we all have »nigger's heads,« not be precisely something like a Kinder egg? As humanist ideologists would have put it: we may be indefinitely different, some of us are black, others white, some tall, other small, some women, other men, some rich, others poor, etc.etc. – yet, deep inside us, there is the same moral equivalent of the plastic toy, the same je ne sais quoi, an elusive X which somehow accounts for the dignity shared by all humans – to quote Francis Fukuyama:
»What the demand for equality of recognition implies is that when we strip all of a person's contingent and accidental characteristics away, there remains some essential human quality underneath that is worthy of a certain minimal level of respect – call it Factor X. Skin, color, looks, social class and wealth, gender, cultural background, and even one's natural talents are all accidents of birth relegated to the class of nonessential characteristics. /…/ But in the political realm we are required to respect people equally on the basis of their possession of Factor X.«
In contrast to transcendental philosophers who emphasize that this Factor X is a sort of »symbolic fiction« with no counterpart in the reality of an individual, Fukuyama heroically locates it into our »human nature,« into our unique genetic inheritance. And, effectively, is genome not the ultimate figure of the plastic toy hidden deep within our human chocolate skin? So it can be a white chocolate, a standard milk chocolate, a dark one, with or
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without nuts or raisins – inside it, there is always the same plastic toy (in contrast to the Kinder eggs which are the same on the outside, while each has a different toy hidden inside). And, to cut a long story short, what Fukuyama is afraid of is that, if we mess to much into the production of the chocolate egg, we might generate an egg without the plastic toy inside – how? Fukuyama is quite right to emphasize that it is crucial that we experience our »natural« properties as a matter of contingency and luck: if my neighbor is more beautiful or intelligent than me, it is because he was lucky to be born like that, and even his parents could not have planned it that way. The philosophical paradox is that if we take away this element of lucky chance, if our »natural« properties become controlled and regulated by biogenetic and other scientific manipulations, we lose the Factor X. Of course, the hidden plastic toy can also be given a specific ideological twist – say, the idea that, after one gets rid of the chocolate in all its ethnic variations, one always encounter an American (even if the toy is in all probability made in China). This mysterious X, the inner treasure of our being, can also reveal itself as an alien intruder, an excremental monstrosity even. The anal association is here fully justified: the immediate appearance of the Inner is formless shit. The small child who gives his shit as a present is in a way giving the immediate equivalent of his Factor X. Freud's well-known identification of excrement as the primordial form of gift, of an innermost object that the small child gives to his/her parents, is thus not as naive as it may appear: the often overlooked point is that this piece of myself offered to the Other radically oscillates between the Sublime and not the Ridiculous, but, precisely - the excremental. This is the reason why, for Lacan, one of the features which distinguishes man from animals is that, with humans, the disposal of shit becomes a problem: not because it has a bad smell, but because it came out from our innermost. We are ashamed of shit because, in it, we expose/externalize our innermost intimacy. Animals do not have a problem with it because they do not have an "interior" like humans. One should refer here to Otto Weininger, who designated volcanic lava as "the shit of the earth." It comes from inside the body, and this inside is evil, criminal: "The Inner of the body is very criminal." Here we encounter the same speculative ambiguity as with penis, organ of urination and procreativity: when our innermost is directly externalized, the result is disgusting. This externalized shit is precisely the equivalent of the alien monster that colonizes the human body, penetrating it and dominating it from within, and which, at the climactic moment of a science-fiction horror movie, breaks out of the body through the mouth or directly through the chest. Perhaps even more exemplary than Ridley Scott's Alien is here Jack Sholder's Hidden, in which the worm-like alien creature forced out of the body at the film's end directly evokes anal associations (a gigantic piece of shit, since the alien compels humans penetrated by It to eat voraciously and belch in an embarrassingly disgusting way). How does Israel, one of the most militarized societies in the world, succeed in rendering this aspect practically invisible and presenting itself as a tolerant secular liberal society? The ideological presentation of the figure of the Israeli soldier is crucial here; it parasitizes on the more general ideological self-perception of the Israeli individual as ragged, vulgar even, but a warm and considerate human being. We can see here how the very distance towards our ideological identity, the reference to the fact that »beneath the mask of our public identity, there is a warm and frail human being with its weaknesses,« is the fundamental problem of ideology. And the same goes for the Israeli soldier: he is efficient, ready to accomplish the necessary dirty work on the very edge (or even beyond) legality, because this surface conceals a profoundly ethical, sentimental even, person… It is for this reason that the image of the crying soldier plays such an important role in Israel: a soldier who is ruthlessly efficient, but nonetheless occasionally breaks down crying at the acts he is compelled to perform. In psychoanalytic terms, what we have here is the oscillation between the two sides of objet petit a, shit and the precious agalma, the hidden treasure: beneath the excremental surface (vulgar insensitivity, gluttony, stealing shovels and ashtrays from hotels, etc. – all the cliches about Israelis propagated by the Israeli jokes), there is a sensitive core of gold. In terms of our Kinder chocolate example, this means that the chocolate brown shit is here at the outside, envelopping the precious treasure hidden by it. The Factor X does not only guarantee the underlying identity of different subjects, but also the continuing identity of the same subject. Twenty years ago, National Geographic published the famous photo of a young Afghani woman with fierce bright yellow eyes; in 2001, the same woman was identified in Afghanistan – although her face was changed, worn out from difficult life and heavy work, her intense eyes were instantly recognizable as the factor of continuity. However, two decades ago, the German Leftist weekly journal Stern made a rather cruel experiment which in a way empirically undermined this thesis: it paid a couple of destitute homeless man and woman who allowed themselves to be thoroughly washed, shaved and then delivered to the top designers and hairdressers; in one of its issues, the journal then published two parallel large photos of each person, in
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his/her destitute homeless habit, dirty and with unshaved faces, and dressed up by a top designer. The result was effectively uncanny: although it was clear that we are dealing with the same person, the effect of the different dress etc. was that this belief of ours that, beneath the different appearance, there is one and the same person was shaken. It is not only the appearance which was different: the deeply disturbing effect of this change of appearances was that we, the spectators, somehow perceived a different personality beneath the appearances… Stern was bombarded by writers' letters accusing the journal of violating the homeless persons' dignity, of humiliating them, submitting them to a cruel joke – however, what was undermined by this experiment was precisely the belief in Factor X, in the kernel of identity which accounts for our dignity and persists through the change of appearances. In short, this experiment in a way empirically demonstrated that we all have a »nigger's head,« that the core of our subjectivity is a void filled in by appearances. So let us return to the scene of a small kid violently tearing apart and discarding the chocolate ball in order to get at the plastic toy – is he not the emblem of so-called »totalitarianism« which also wants to get rid of the »inessential« historical contingent coating in order to liberate the »essence« of man? Is not the ultimate »totalitarian« vision that of a New Man arising out of the debris of the violent annihilation of the old corrupted humanity? Paradoxically, then, liberalism and »totalitarianism« share the belief into Factor X, the plastic toy in the midst of the human chocolate coating… The problematic point of this Factor X which makes us equal in spite of our differences is clear: beneath the deep humanist insight that, »deep into ourselves, we are all equal, the same vulnerable humans,« is the cynical statement »why bother to fight against surface differences when, deeply, we already ARE equal?« - like the proverbial millionaire who pathetically discovers that he shares the same passions, fears and loves with a destitute beggar. Perhaps the most seductive strategie with regard to this Factor X is one of the favored intellectuals' exercises throughout the XXth century, namely the urge to »catastrophize« the situation: whatever the actual situation, it HAD to be denounced as »catastrophic,« and the better it appeared, the more it sollicited this exercise – in this way, irrespective of our “merely ontic” differences, we all participate in the same ontological catastrophy. Heidegger denounced the present age as that of the highest »danger,« the epoch of accomplished nihilism; Adorno and Horkheimer saw in it the culmination of the »dialectic of enlightenment« in the »administered world«; up to Giorgio Agamben, who defines the XXth century contentration camps as the »truth« of the entire Western political project. Recall the figure of Horkheimer in the West Germany of the 50s: while denouncing the »eclipse of reason« in the modern Western society of consumption, he AT THE SAME TIME defended this same society as the lone island of freedom in the sea of totalitarianisms and corrupted dictatorships all around the globe. It was as if Winston Churchill's old ironic quip about democracy as the worst possible political regime, and all other regimes worse that it, was here repeated in a serious form: Western »administered society« is barbarism in the guise of civilization, the highest point of alienation, the disintegration of the autonomous individual, etc.etc. – however, all other socio-political regimes are worse, so that, comparatively, one nonetheless has to support it… One is thus tempted to propose a radical reading of this syndrome: what if what the unfortunate intellectuals cannot bear is the fact that they lead a life which is basically happy, safe and comfortable, so that, in order to justify their higher calling, they HAVE to construct a scenario of radical catastrophy? And, effectively, Adorno and Horkheimer are here strangely close to Heidegger:
»The most violent 'catastrophes' in nature and in the cosmos are nothing in the order of Unheimlichkeit in comparison with that Unheimlichkeit which man is in himself, and which, insofar as man is placed in the midst of beings as such and stands for beings, consists in forgetting being, so that for him das Heimische becomes empty erring, which he fills up with his dealings. The Unheimlichkeit of the Unheimischkeit lies in that man, in his very essence, is a katastrophe – a reversal that turns him away from the genuine essence. Man is the only catastrophe in the midst of beings.« The first thing which cannot but strikea philosopher's eye here is the implicite reference to the Kantian Sublime: in the same way that, for Kant, the most violent outbursts in nature are nothing in comparison with the power of the moral Law, for Heidegger, the most violent catastrophes in nature and social life are nothing in comparison with the catastrophy which is man itself – or, as Heidegger would have put it in his other main rhetorical figure, the essence of catastrophy has nothing to do with ontic catastrophes, since the essence of catastrophy is the catastrophy of the essence itself, its withdrawal, its forghetting by man. (Does this include holocaust? Is it possible to claim, in a non-obscene way, that holocaust is nothing in comparison with the catastrophy of the
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forgetting of being?) The (ambiguous) difference is that while, for Kant, natural violence renders palpable in a negative way the sublime dimension of the moral Law, for Heidegger, the other term of the comparison is the catastrophy that is man himself. The further ambiguous point is that Kant sees a positive aspect of the experience f the catastrophic natural outbursts: in witnessing them, we experience in a negative way the incomparable sublime grandeur of the moral Law, while in Heidegger, it is not clear that we need the threat (or fact) of an actual ontic catastrophy in order to experience in a negative way the true catastrophy that pertains to human essence as such. (Is this difference linked to the fact that, in the experience of the Kantian Sublime, the subject assumes the role of the observer perceiving the excessive natural violence from a safe distance, not being directly threatened by it, while this distance is lacking in Heidegger?) It is easy to make fun of Heidegger here - there is, however, a »rational kernel« in his formulations. Although Adorno and Horkheimer would dismiss these formulations with scathing laughter, are they not caught in the same predicament? When they delineate the contours of the emerging late-capitalist »administered world /verwaltete Welt/,« they are presenting it as coinciding with barbarism, as the point at which civilization itself returns to barbarism, as a kind of negative telos of the whole progress of Enlightenment, as the Nietzschean kingdom of the Last Men: »One has one's little pleasure for the day and one's little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health. 'We have invented happiness,' say the last men, and they blink.« However, at the same time, they nonetheless warn against the more direct »ontic« catastrophies (different forms of terror, etc.). The liberal-democratic society of Last Men is thus literally the worst possible, the only problem being that all other societies are worst, so that the choice appears as the one between Bad and Worse. The ambiguity is here irreducible: on the one hand, the »administred world« is the final catastrophic outcome of the Enlightenment; on the other hand, the »normal« run of our societies is continually threatened by catastrophies, from war and terror to ecological outbreaks, so that while one should fight these »ontic« catastrophies, one should simultaneously bear in mind that the ultimate catastrophy is the very »normal« run of the »administered world« in the absence of any »ontic« catastrophy. The aporia is here genuine: the solution of this ambiguity through some kind of pseudo-Hegelian »infinite judgement« asserting the ultimate coincidence between the subjects of the late capitalist consummerist society and the victims of the holocaust (»Last Men are Muslims«) clearly does not work. The problem is that there is no pathetic identification possible with the Muslims (the living dead of the concentration camps) – one cannot say »We are all Muslims« in the same way ten years ago we often heard the phrase »We all live in Sarajevo,« things went too far in Auschwitz. (And, in the opposite direction, it would also be ridiculous to assert one's solidarity with 9/11 by claiming »We are all New Yorkers!« – millions in the Third World would say »Yes!«…) How, then, are we to deal with actual ethical catastrophies? When, two decades ago, Helmut Kohl, in order to designate the predicament of those Germans born too late to be involved in the holocaust, used the phrase »the mercy of the late birth /die Gnade des spaeten Geburt/,« many commentators rejected this formulation as a sign of moral ambiguity and opportunism, signalling that today's German can dismiss the holocaust as simply outside the scope of their responsibility. However, Kohl's formulation does touch a paradoxical nerve of morality baptized by Bernard Williams »moral luck.« Williams evokes the case of a painter ironically called »Gauguin« who left his wife and children and moved to Tahiti in order to fully develop there his artistic genius – was he morally justified in doing this or not? Williams' answer is that we can only answer this question IN RETROSPECT, after we learn the final outcome of his risky decision: did he develop into a painting genius or not? As Jean-Pierre Dupuy pointed out, we encounter the same dilemma apropos of the urgency to do something about today's threat of different ecological catastrophies: either we take this threat seriously and decide today to do things which, if the catastrophy will not occur, will appear ridiculous, or we do nothing and lose everything in the case of the catastrophy, the worst case being the choice an a middle ground, of taking a limited amount of measures – in this case, we will fail whatever will occur (that is to say, the problem is that there is no middle ground with regard to the ecological catastrophy: either it will occur or it will not occur). Such a predicament would horrify a radical Kantian: it renders the moral value of an act dependent on thoroughly »pathological« conditions, i.e., on its utterly contingent outcome – in short, when I make a difficult decision which involves an ethical deadlock, I can only say: »If I lucky, my present act WILL HAVE BEEN ethical!« However, is not such a »pathological« support of our ethical stance an a priori necessity – not only in the common sense that, if we (most of us, at least) are to retain our ethical composure, we should have the luck of not being exposed to excessive pressures of temptations (a large majority of us would commit the worst betrayal when tortured in a horrifyingly cruel way). When, in our daily lives, we retain our ethical pride and dignity, we act under the protection of the FICTION that we would remain faithful to the ethical stance also under harsh conditions; the point here is not that we should mistrust ourselves and doubt our ethical stance, but, rather, that we should adopt the attitude of the Philosopher Alonzo in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, who advises the two deceived lovers: »Trust women, but do not expose them
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to too many temptations!« It is easy to discern how our sense of dignity relies on the disavowal of the »pathological« facts of which we are well aware, but nonetheless we suspend their symbolic efficiency. Imagine a dignified leader: if he is caught by camera in an »undignified« situation (crying, throwing up…), this can ruin his career, although such situations are parts of the daily life of all of us. At a slightly different level, recall the high art of the skilled politicians who know how to make themselves absent when a humiliating decision was to be made; in this way, they are able to leave intact the unconscious belief of their followers in their omnipotence, sustaining the illusion that, if they were not accidentally prevented from being there, they would have been able to save the day. Or, at a more personal level, imagine a young couple on their first date, the boy trying to impress the girl, and then they encounter a strong bullying male who harasses the girl and humiliates the boy who is afraid to frontally oppose the intruder; such an incident can ruin the entire relationship - the boy will avoid ever seeing the girl again, since she will forever remind him of his humiliation. However, beyond the Brechtian fact that »morality is for those who are lucky enough of being able to afford it,« there is a more radical gray zone best exemplified by the figure of Musulmanen (»Muslims«) from the Nazi concentration camps: they are the "zero-level" of humanity, a kind of "living dead" who even cease to react to the basic animal stimuli, who do not defend themselves when attacked, who gradually even lose thirst and hunger, eating and drinking more out of a blind habit then on account of some elementary animal need. For this reason, they are the point of the Real without symbolic Truth, i.e., there is no way to "symbolize" their predicament, to organize it into a meaningful life-narrative. However, it is easy to perceive the danger of these descriptions: they inadvertently reproduce and thus attest the very "dehumanization" imposed on them by the Nazis. Which is why one should insist more than ever on their humanity, without forgetting that they are in a way dehumanized, deprived of the essential features of humanity: the line that separates the "normal" human dignity and engagement from the Muslim's "inhuman" indifference is inherent to "humanity," which means that there is a kind of inhuman traumatic kernel or gap in the very midst of "humanity" itself - to put it in Lacanian terms, the Muslims are "human" in an ex-timate way. What this means is that, as Agamben was right to emphasize, the "normal" rules of ethics are suspended here: we cannot simply deplore their fate, regretting that they are deprived of the basic human dignity, since to be "decent," to retain "dignity," in front of a Muslim is in itself an act of utter indecency. One cannot simply ignore the Muslim: any ethical stance that does not confront the horrifying paradox of the Muslim is by definition unethical, an obscene travesty of ethics - and once we effectively confront the Muslim, notions like "dignity" are somehow deprived of their substance. In other words, "Muslim" is not simply the "lowest" in the hierarchy of ethical types ("they not only have no dignity, they even lost their animal vitality and egotism"), but the zero-level which renders the whole hierarchy meaningless. Not to take into account this paradox is to participate in the same cynicism that the Nazis themselves practiced when they first brutally reduced the Jews to the subhuman level and then presented this image as the proof of their subhumanity - they extrapolated to the extreme the standard procedure of humiliation, in which I, say, take the belt of the trousers of a dignified person, thus forcing him to hold his trousers by his hands, and then mock him as undignified… In this precise sense, our moral dignity is ultimately always a fake: it depends on our being lucky to avoid the fate of the Muslim. This fact, perhaps, also accounts for the “irrational” feeling of guilt which haunted the survivors of the Nazi camps: what the survivors were compelled to confront at its purest was not the utter contingency of survival, but, more radically, the utter contingency of our retaining the moral dignity, the most precious kernel of our personality, according to Kant. This, perhaps, is also the principal lesson of the XXth century concerning ethics: one should abandon all ethical arrogance and humbly accept the luck to be able to act ethically. Or, to put it in theological terms: far from being opposed, autonomy and grace are intertwined, i.e., we are blessed by grace when we are able to act autonomously as ethical agents. And we have to rely on the same mixture of grace and courage when facing the PROSPECT of a catastrophy. In his »Two Sources of Morality and Religion,« Henri Bergson describes the strange sensations he experienced on August 4 1914, when war was declared between France and Germany: »In spite of my turmoil, and although a war, even a victorious one, appeared to me as a catastrophy, I experienced what /William/ James spoke about, a feeling of admiration for the facility of the passage from the abstract to the concret: who would have thought that such a formidable event can emerge in reality with so little fuss?« Crucial is here the modality of the break between before and after: before its outburst, the war appeared to Brergson »simultaneously probable and impossible: a complex and contradictory notion which persisted to the end«; after its outburst, it all of a sudden become real AND possible, and the paradox resides in this retroactive appearance of probability:
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»I never pretended that one can insert reality into the past and thus work backwards in time. However, one can without any doubt insert there the possible, or, rather, at every moment, the possible insert itself there. Insofar as inpredictable and new reality creates itself, its image reflects itself behind itself in the indefinite past: this new reality finds itself all the time having been possible; but it is only at the precise moment of its actual emergence that it begins to always have been, and this is why I say that its possibility, which does not precede its reality, will have preceded it once this reality emerges.«
The encounter of the real as impossible is thus always missed: either it is experienced as impossible but not real (the prospect of a forthcoming catastrophy which, however probable we know it is, we do not believe it will effectively occur and thus dismiss it as impossible), or as real but no longer impossible (once the catastrophy occurs, it is »renormalized,« perceived as part of the normal run of things, as always-already having been possible). And, as Jean-Pierre Dupuy makes it clear, the gap which makes these paradoxes possible is the one between knowledge and belief: we KNOW the catastrophy is possible, probable even, yet we do not BELIEVE it will really happen. What such experiences show is the limitation of the ordinary »historical« notion of time: at each moment of time, there are multiple possibilities waiting to be realized; once one of them actualizes itself, others are cancelled. The supreme case of such an agent of the historical time is the Leibnizean God who created the best possible world: before creation, he had in his mind the entire panoply of possible worlds, and his decision consisted in chosing the best one among these options. Here, the possibility precedes choice: the choice is a choice among possibilities. What is unthinkable within this horizon of linear historical evolution is the notion of a choice/act which retroactively opens up its own possibility: the idea that the emergence of a radically New retroactively changes the past – of course, not the actual past (we are not in science fiction), but the past possibilities, or, to put it in more formal terms, the value of the modal propositions about the past – exactly what happens in the case described by Bergson.  Dupuy's point is that, if we are to confront properly the threat of a (cosmic or environmental) catastrophy, we need to break out of this »historical« notion of temporality: we have to introduce a new notion of time. Dupuy calls this time the »time of a project,« of a closed circuit between the past and the future: the future is causally produced by our acts in the past, while the way we act is determined by our anticipation of the future and our reaction to this anticipation. This circuit, of course, generates the host of the well-known paradoxes of self-realizing prophecy etc.: if we expect X to occur and act accordingly, X will effectively occur. More interesting are the negative versions: if we expect/predict X (a catastrophy) and act against it, to prevent it, the outcome will be the same if the catastrophy effectively occurs or does not occur. If it occurs, our preventive acts will be dismissed as irrelevant (»you cannot fight destiny«); if it does not occur, it will be the same, i.e., since the catastrophy (into which we did not believe, in spite of our knowledge) was perceived as impossible, our preventive acts will be again dismissed irrelevant (recall the aftermath of the Millenium Bug!). Is, then, this second option the only choice to follow as a rational strategy? One paints the prospect of a catastrophy and then one acts to prevent it, with the hope that the very success of our preventive acts will render the prospect which prompted us to act ridiculous and irrelevant – one should heroically assume the role of excessive panic-monger in order to save humanity… However, the circle is not totally closed: back in the 1970s, Bernard Brodie pointed the way out of this deadlock of the closed circle apropos the strategy of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) in the old War:
»It is a strange paradox of our time that one of the crucial factors which make the /nuclear/ dissuasion effectively function, and function so well, is the underlying fear that, in a really serious crisis, it can fail. In such circumstances, one does not play with fate. If we were absolutely certain that the nuclear dissuasion is one hundred per cent efficient in its role of protecting us against a nuclear assault, then its dissuasive value against a conventional war would have dropped to close to zero.«
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The paradox is here a very precise one: the MAD strategy works not because it is perfect, but on account of its very imperfection. That is to say, a perfect strategy (if one sides nukes the other, the other will automatically respond, and both sides will thus be destroyed) has a fatal flaw: what if the attacking side counts on the fact that, even after its first strike, the opponent continues to act as a rational agent? His choice is now: with his country mostly destroyed, he can either strike back, thus causing total catastrophy, the end of humanity, or NOT STRIKE BACK, thus enabling the survival of humanity and thereby at least the possibility of a later revibal of his own country? A rational agent would chose the second option… What makes the strategy efficient is the very fact that we cannot ever be sure that it will work perfectly: what if a situation spirals out of control for a variety of easily imaginable reasons (from the »irrational« aggressivity of the one part to simple technological failures or miscommunications)? It is because of this permanent threat that both sides do not want to come even too close to the prospect of MAD, so they avoid even conventional war: if the strategy were perfect, it would, on the opposite, endorse the attitude »Let's fight a full conventional war, since we both know that no side will risk the fateful step towards a nuclear strike!« So the actual constellation of MAD is not »If we follow the MAD strategy, the nuclear catastrophy will not take place,« but: »If we follow the MAD strategy, the nuclear catastrophy will not take place, expect for some imprevisible incident.« And the same goes today for the prospect of the ecological catastrophy: if we do nothing, it will occur, and if we do all we can do, it will not occur, expect for some imprevisible accident. This »imprevisible factor e« is precisely the remainder of the Real which disturbs the perfect self-closure of the »time of the project« – if we write this time as a circle, it is a cut which prevents the full closure of the circle (exactly the way Lacan writes l'objet petit a). What confirms this paradoxical status of e is that, in it, possibility and impossibility, positive and negative, coincide: it renders the strategy of prevention effective precisely insofar as it hinders its full efficiency. It is thus crucial not to perceive this »catastrophist strategy« in the old terms of linear historical causality: it does not work because today, we are faced with multiple possibilities of future, and, within this multitude, we chose the option to act as to prevent a catastrophy. Since the catastrophy cannot be »domesticated« as just another possibility, the only option is to posit it as real: »one has to inscribe the catastrophy into the future in a much more radical way. One has to render it unavoidable.« What one should introduce here is the notion of minimal »alienation« constitutive of the symbolic order and of the social field as such: although I KNOW very well that the future fate of me and the society in which I live causally depends on the present activity of millions of individuals like me, I nonetheless BELIEVE in destiny, i.e. I believe that the future is run by an anonymous power independent of the will and acts of any individual. »Alienation« consists in the minimal »objectivization« on account of which I abstract from my active role and perceive historical process as an »objective« process which follows its path independently of my plans. (At a different level, the same goes for the individual agent on the market: while fully aware that the price of a product on the market depends (also) on his acts, his selling and buying, he nonetheless holds the price of a product there for fixed, perceiving it as a given quantity to which he then reacts.) The point, of course, is that these two levels intersect: in the present, I do not act blindly, but I react to the prospect of what the future will be. This paradox designates the symbolic order as the order of virtuality: although it is an order which has no existence „in itself,“ independently of individuals who relate to it, i.e., as Hegel put it apropos of the social substance, although it is actual only in the acts of the individuals, it is nonetheless their SUBSTANCE, the objective In-itself of their social existence. This is how one should understand the Hegelian „In- and For-Itself“: while it is In-itself, existing independently of the subject, it is „posited“ as independent by the subject, i.e., it exists independently of the subject only insofar as the subject acknowledges it as such, only insofar as the subject relates to it as independent. For this reason, far from signalling a simple „alienation,“ the reign of the dead spectres over living subjects, this “autonomization” is coexistent with ethics: people sacrifice their lives for this virtuality. Dupuy is therefore right to emphasize that one should reject here the simplistic Marxist »critique« which aims at »sublating« this alienation, transforming society into a self-transparent body within which individuals directly realize their collective projects, without the detour of »destiny« (the position attributed to the Lukacs of History and Class Consciousness): a minimum of »alienation« is the very condition of the symbolic order as such. One should thus invert the existentialist commonplace according to which, when we are engaged in a present historical process, we perceive it as full of possibilities and ourselves as agents free to choose among them, while, for a retroactive view, the same process appears as fully determined and necessary, with no opening for alternatives: it is, on the contrary, the engaged agents who perceive themselves as caught in a Destiny, merely
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reacting to it, while, retroactively, from the standpoint of later observation, we can discern alternatives in the past, possibilities of the events taking a different path. (And is the paradox of Predestination – the fact that the theology of predestination legitimized the frantic activity of capitalism – not the ultimate confirmation of this paradox?) This is how Dupuy proposes to confront the catastrophy: we should first perceive it as our fate, as unavoidable, and then, projecting ourself into it, adopting its standpoint, we should retroactively insert into its past (the past of the future) counterfactual possibilities (»If we were to do that and that, the catastrophy we are in now would not have occurred!«) upon which we then act today. And is not a supreme case of the reversal of positive into negative destiny the shift from the classical historical materialism into the attitude of Adorno's and Horkheimer's »dialectic of Enlightenment«? While the traditional Marxism enjoined us to engage ourselves and act in order to bring about the necessity (of Communism), Adorno and Horkheimer projected themselves into the final catastrophic outcome perceived as fixed (the advent of the »administered society« of total manipulation and end of subjectivity) in order to solicit us to act against this outcome in our present. Such a strategy is the very opposite of the USA attitude in the “war on terror,” that of avoiding the threat by preventively striking at potential enemies. In Spielberg’s Minority Report, criminals are arrested even before they commit their crime, since three humans who, through monstrous scientific experiments, acquired the capacity to foresee the future, can exactly predict their acts – is a parallel not clear with the new Cheney doctrine, which proclaims the policy of attacking a state or enemy force even before this state develops the means to pose a threat to the US, i.e., already at the point when it MIGHT develop into such a threat? And, to pursue the homology even further, was Gerhard Schroeder’s disagreement with the US plans to preventively attack Iraq not precisely a kind of real-life “minority report,” signaling his disagreement with the way others saw the future? The state in which we live now, in the “war on terror,” is the one of the endlessly suspended terrorist threat: the Catastrophy (the new terrorist attack) is taken for granted, yet endlessly postponed. Whatever will actually happen, even if it will be a much more horrible attack than that of 9/11, will not yet be “that.” And it is crucial here that we accomplish the “transcendental” turn: the true catastrophy ALREADY IS this live under the shadow of the permanent threat of a catastrophy. Terry Eagleton recently drew attention to the two opposed modes of tragedy: the big, spectacular catastrophic Event, the abrupt irruption from some other world, and the dreary persistence of a hopeless condition, the blighted existence which goes on indefinitely, life as one long emergency. This is the difference between the big First World catastrophies like September 11 and the dreary permanent catastrophy of, say, Palestinians in the West Bank. The first mode of tragedy, the figure against the “normal” background, is characteristic of the First World, while in much of the Third World, catastrophy designates the all-present background itself. And this is how the September 11 catastrophy effectively functioned: as a catastrophic figure which made us, in the West, aware of the blissful background of our happiness, AND of the necessity to defend it against the foreigners’ onslaught… in short, it functioned exactly according to Chesterton’s principle of Conditional Joy: to the question “Why this catastrophy? Why couldn’t we be happy all the time?”, the answer is “And why should we be happy all the remaining time?” September 11 served as a proof that we are happy and that others ENVY us this happiness. Along these lines, one should thus risk the thesis that, far from shattering the US from its ideological sleep, September 11 was used as a sedative enabling the hegemonic ideology to “renormalize” itself: the period after the Vietman war was one long sustended trauma for the hegemonic ideology – it had to defend itself against critical doubts, the gnawing worms was continuously at work and couldn’t be simply suppressed, every return to innocence was immediately experienced as a fake… until September 11, when US was a victim and thus allowed to reassert the innocence of its mission. In short, far from awakening us, September 11 served to put us to sleep again, to continue our dream after the nightmare of the last decades. The ultimate irony is here that, in order to restore the innocence of the American patriotism, the conservative US establishment mobilized the key ingredient of the Politically Correct ideology which it officially despises: the logic of victimization. Relying on the idea that authority is conferred (only on) those who speak from the position of the VICTIM, it relied on the implicit reasoning: “We are now victims, and it is this fact that legitimizes us to speak (and act) from the position of authority.” So when, today, we hear the slogan that the liberal dream of the 1990s is over, that, with the attacks on the WTC, we were violently thrown back into the real world, that the easy intellectual games are over, we should remember that such a call to confront the harsh reality is ideology at its purest. Today’s “American, awaken!” is a distant call of Hitler’s “Deutschland, erwache!”, which, as Adorno wrote long ago, meant its exact opposite.
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However, this regained innocence of the American patriotism is only one of the versions of the standard procedure of liberals when confronted with a violent conflict: the adoption of the safe distance from which all sides which participate in the conflict are equally condemned, since “no one’s hands are pure.” One can always play this game, which offers the player a double gain: that of retaining his moral superiority over those (“ultimately all the same”) involved in the struggle, as well as that of being able to avoid the difficult task of engaging oneself, of analyzing the constellation and taking sides in it. In recent years, it is as if the post-WorldWar-II anti-Fascist pact is slowly cracking: from historians-revisionists to New Right populists, taboos are falling down... Paradoxically, those who undermine this pact refer to the very liberal universalized logic of victimization: sure, there were victims of Fascism, but what about other victims of the post-WWII expulsions? What about the Germans evicted from their homes in Czechoslovakia in 1945? Do they also not have some right to (financial) compensation? THIS weird conjunction of money and victimization is one of the forms (perhaps even the “truth”) of money fetishism today: while one accentuates that holocaust was the absolute crime, everyone negotiates about appropriate FINANCIAL recompensations for it… One of the great topoi of the “deconstructionist” critique of ideology is that notion of the autonomous free and responsible subject is a legal fiction whose function is to construct an agent to whom the responsibility for socially unacceptable acts can be attributed, thus obfuscating the need for a closer analysis of concrete social circumstances which give rise to phenomena perceived as deplorable. When an unemployed African-American who suffered a series of humiliations and failures steals in order to feed his family or explodes in an uncontrollable violence, is it not cynical to evoke his responsibility as an autonomous moral agent? However, the old rule about ideology holds here also: the symmetrical inversion of an ideological proposition is no less ideological – are we not dealing today with the opposite tendency of putting the blame (and thus legal responsibility) on external agencies? Here is the Associated Press item from July 26 2002:
“Obesity Cited in Fast Food Suit. A man sued four leading fast food chains, claiming he became obese and suffered from other serious health problems from eating their fatty cuisine. Caesar Barber, 56, filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Bronx Supreme Court, naming McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken. "They said `100 percent beef.' I thought that meant it was good for you," Barber told Newsday. "I thought the food was OK. Those people in the advertisements don't really tell you what's in the food. It's all fat, fat and more fat. Now I'm obese." Barber, who weighs 272 pounds, had heart attacks in 1996 and 1999 and has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He said he ate fast food for decades, believing it was good for him until his doctor cautioned him otherwise.”
The underlying message of this complaint is clear: I am in it for nothing, it is not me, I am just a passive victim of circumstances, the responsibility is not mine – and since it is not me, there HAS to be another legally responsible for my misfortune. This is also what is wrong with the so-called False Memory Syndrome: the compulsive endeavor to ground present psychic troubles in some past real experience of sexual molestation. Again, the true stake of this operation is the subject’s refusal to accept responsibility for his sexual investments: if the cause of my disorders is the traumatic experience of harassment, then my own fantasmatic investment in my sexual imbroglio is secondary and ultimately irrelevant. The question is here: how far can we go along this path? Pretty far, according to recent news. Is it not significant that when the holocaust is lately mentioned in the media, the news as a rule concern financial compensation, the amount the victims or their descendants should get from the legal successors of the perpetrators. And, since Jews are the wronged group par excellence, no wonder that other wronged groups are also making similar claims – see the following AP item from August 17 2002:
“Rally for Slave Reparations - Hundreds of blacks rallied in front of the Capitol on Saturday to demand slavery reparations, saying that compensation is long overdue for the ills of that institution. "It seems that America owes black people a lot for what we have endured," Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan told the crowd. "We cannot settle for some little jive token. We need millions of acres of land that black people can build. We're not begging white people, we are just demanding what is justly ours.”
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And would it not be quite logical to envision, along the same lines, the end of class struggle: after long and arduous negotiations, representatives of the working class and of the global capital should reach an agreement on how much the working class should get as compensation for the surplus-value appropriated by capitalists in the course of history? So, if there seems to be a price for everything, why should we not go to the very end and demand from God Himself a payment for botching up the job of creation and thus causing our misery? And what if, perhaps, He already paid this price by sacrificing his only son, Christ? It is a sign of our times that this option was already considered in a work of fiction: in The Man Who Sued God, a new Australian comedy from 2002, Billy Connolly plays the owner of a seaside caravan park whose boat is destroyed in a freak storm; his insurance people tell him it's an act of God and refuse to pay up. Enter a sharp-witted lawyer (Judy Davis) who comes up with a clever argument: If God destroyed his boat, why not sue God in the form of his representatives here on earth - the churches. Such a lawsuit puts the church leaders in a tight spot: if they deny that they are God's representatives on earth, they all lose their jobs; they can't assert that God does not exist because that would also destroy organised religion, and, furthermore, if God does not exist, what happens to the escape route of the "Act of God" clause that lets so many insurance sharks off the hook? This reductio ad absurdum also makes it clear what is fundamentally wrong with this logic: it is not too radical, but not radical enough. The true task is not to get compensation from those responsible, but to deprive them of the position which makes them responsible. Instead of asking for compensation from God (or the ruling class or…), one should ask the question: do we really need God? What this means is something much more radical than it may appear: there is no one to turn to, to address, to bear witness TO, no one to receive our plea or lament. This position is extremely difficult to sustain: in modern music, only Webern was able to sustain this inexistence of the Other: even Schoenberg was still composing for a future ideal listener, while Webern accepted that there is NO »proper« listener. Contrary to all appearances, this is what happens in psychoanalysis: the treatment is over when the patient assumes the non-existence of the big Other. The ideal addressee of our speech, the ideal listener, is the psychoanalyst, the very opposite of the Master figure which guarantees meaning; what happens at the end of the analysis, with the dissolution of transference, i.e., the fall of the »subject supposed to know,« is that the patient accepts the absence of such a guarantee. No wonder that psychoanalysis subverts the very principle of reimbursement: the price the patient pays for the treatment is by definition capricious, »unjust,« with no equivalence possible between it and the services rendered for it. This is also why psychoanalysis is profoundly anti-Levinasian: there is no face-to-face encounter between the patient and the analyst, since the patient lies on the couch and the analyst sits behind him - analysis penetrates the deepest mysteries of the subject by bypassing the face. This avoiding of the face-to-face enables the patient to »lose his face« and blurt out the most embarassing details. In this precise sense, face is a fetish: while it appears to point towards the imperfect vulnerable abyss of the person behind the object-body, it conceals the obscene real core of the subject. Is, then, Christianity here not the very opposite of psychoanalysis? Does it not stand for this logic of reimbursement brought to its extreme: God himself pays the price for all our sins? Which is why any attempt to paint the Christian God as an undemanding entity of pure mercy whose message is »I don't want anything from you!«, miserably fails – one should not forget that these, exactly, are the words used by the Priest to designate the ourt in Kafka's Trial: »The court wants nothing from you.« When the falsely innocent Christ-like figure of pure suffering and sacrifice for our good tells us »I don't want anything from you!«, we can be sure that this statement conceals a qualification »… expect YOUR SOUL ITSELF.« When somebody insists that he wants nothing that we have, it simply means that he has his eyes on what we ARE, on the very core of our being. Or, to go to the more anecdotal level, is it not clear that when, in a lover's quarrel, a woman answers the man's desperate »But what do you want from me?« with »Nothing!«, this means its exact opposite, a demand for total surrender beyond any negotiated settlement? „Do not look into the mouth of a horse given to you as a gift“ – is this precisely not what one SHOULD do in order to discern if one is dealing with a true gift or with a secretly instrumentalized one? You are given a present, yet a close look quickly tells you that this „free“ gift is aimed at putting you in a position of permanent debt – and, perhaps, this holds especially for the notion of gift in the recent theological turn of deconstruction, from Derrida to Marion. At the very core of Christianity, there is another dimension. When Christ dies, what dies with him is the secret
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hope discernible in »Father, why have you forsaken me?«, the hope that there IS a father who abandoned me. The »Holy Spirit« is the community deprived of its support in the big Other. The point of Christianity as the religion of atheism is not the vulgar humanist one that the becoming-man-of-God reveals that man is the secret of God (Feuerbach et al); it rather attacks the religious hard core which survives even in humanism, up to Stalinism with its believe in the History as the »big Other« which decides on the »objective meaning« of our deeds. In what is perhaps the highest example of the Hegelian Aufhebung, it is possible today to redeem this core of Christianity only in the gesture of abandoning the shell of its institutional organization (and, even more, of its specific religious experience). The gap is here irreducible: either one drops the religious form OR maintains the form, but loses the essence. Therein resides the ultimate heroic gesture that awaits Christianity: in order to save its treasure, it has to sacrifice itself, like Christ who had to die so that Christianity emerged.
NOTES  No wonder, then, that these eggs are now prohibited in the US and have to be smuggled from Canada (and sold at a triple price): behind the official pretext (they solicit you to buy another object, not the one publicized), it is easy to discern the deeper reason – these eggs display to openly the inherent structure of a commodity.  See Chapter 4 („Consuming the Void“) in Patricia Fumerton, Cultural Aesthetics, Chicago: Chicago University Press 1991.  See Brian Rotman, Signifying Nothing, London: MacMillan 1987.  See Martin Heidegger, „Das Ding,“ in Vortraege und Aufsetze, Pfullingen: Neske 1954.  See Miguel de Beistegui, Heidegger and the Political, London: Routledge 1998.  Francis Fukuyama, , Our Posthuman Future, London: Profile Books 2002, p. 149-150. . See Dominique Laporte, History of Shit, Cambridge (Ma): The MIT Press 2000. . Otto Weininger, Ueber die letzten Dinge, Muenchen: Matthes und Seitz Verlag 1997, p. 187. . Op.cit., p. 188. . There is, of course, also the opposite way to exploit the example of Kinder eggs: why not focus on the fact that the chocolate cover is always the same, while the toy in the middle is always different (which is why the name of the product is »Kinder Surprise«) – is this not how it is with human beings? We may look similar, but inside, there is a mystery of our psyche, each of us hides an inner wealth of abyssal proportions. Also, one could use the fact that the plastic toy is to be composed of small part – in the same way we are supposed to form our ego.  In what follows, I rely on a conversation with Noam Yuran, Tel Aviv.  Martin Heidegger, „Hoelderlin’s Hymne ‚Der Ister‘,“ Gesamtausgabe 53, Frankfurt: Klostermann 1984, p. 94.  Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, quoted from The Portable Nietzsche, New York: Viking 1968, p. 130.  Interestingly enough, the same goes for Heidegger’s critique of psychoanalysis: what cannot but attract our
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attention are the two levels at which it operates. On the one hand, there is the easy philosophical game of transcendental dismissal (which can even be accompanied by a patronizing admission of its use for the medical purposes): “Although psychoanalysis can be of clinical use, it remains an ontic science grounded in the physicalist and biologist naïve presuppositions characteristic of the end of XIXth century.” On the other hand, there are concrete rebuttals, concrete attempts to demonstrate its insufficiency – say, how Freud, by focusing all too fast on the unconscious causal chain, misses the point of the phenomenon he is interpreting, etc. How are these two procedures related? Is the second one just an unnecessary surplus or a necessary supplement, an implicit admission that the direct philosophical rejection is not sufficient? Do we not find here, at a different level, reproduced the ambiguity of the notion of catastrophy, at the same time an ontological fact which always-already occurred AND an ontic threat?  See Bernard Williams, Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1981.  See Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Pour un catastrophisme eclaire, Paris: Editions du Seuil 2002, p. 124-126.  Henri Bergson, Oeuvres, Paris: PUF 1991, p. 1110-1111.  Bergson, ibid.  Bergson, op.cit., p. 1340. Dupuy, op.cit, p. 142-3.  There is, of course, also an ideological way of projecting/inserting possibilities into the past. The attitude of many a libertarian Leftist about the disintegration of Yugoslavia is: “The full sovereignty of the ex-Yugoslav republics may be a legitimate goal in itself, but what is worth the price – hundreds of thousands dead, destruction…?” What is false here is that the actual choice in the late 1980s is silently reformulated, as if it was: “Either disintegration of Yugoslavia into separate states – OR the continuation of the old Tito’s Yugoslavia.” With the advent to power of Milosevic, the old Yugoslavia was over, so the only THIRD way with regard to the alternative “Sovereign republics or Serboslavia” was, in a true political AT, to reinvent thoroughly a new Yugoslav project, for which there was no ability and will in any of the parts of Yugoslavia.  Bernard Brodie, War and Politics, New York: Macmillan 1973, p. 430-431, quoted from Dupuy, op.cit., p. 208-209.  Dupuy, op.cit., p. 164.  The difference between the Cold War enemy and today’s terrorist used to justify America’s right to preemptive strikes is the alleged “irrationality” of the terrorist: while Communists were cold rational calculators who cared for their own survival, fundamentalist terrorists are irrational fanatics ready to blow up entire world… Here, more than ever, one should insist that (as Hegel would have put it) such a figure of the “irrational” enemy is a “reflexive determination” of American’s own self-adopted position of the sole hegemonic world power.  See Terry Eagelton, Sweet Violence, Oxford: Blackwell 2003.  And does the same not hold also for anti-abortion campaigns? Do they also not participate in the liberal logic of global victimization, extending it also to the unborn?  The Polish Wedding, a nice melodrama about love life complications in a Detroit working class Polish family, contains a scene which turns around this formula and thus spills out its truth: when Claire Danes‘ exasperated boyfriend asks her „What do you want from me?,“ she answers „I want everything!“ and calmly walks away from him.