Archives for category: Commentary

Will already has a post up on why psychoanalysis is worthwhile, and this question is something I often grapple with. I love reading Freud, Lacan and Zizek, but I have never undergone psychoanalysis and I’m not sure I ever will. Psychoanalysis is certainly not a science, and it is not really a philosophy either, so what is it? For that matter, what is philosophy, which is not a science, nor is it psychoanalysis. How are psychoanalysis and philosophy different from literary theory or political theory? Is all theory just theory? If they are different, are they different from these fields in different ways? And in what way are psychoanalytic concepts legitimate? Should they be reserved for “the clinic”, can they be exported to other disciplines? What does an analyst do, exactly? These are questions that still bug me. If you’ve got the answers, drop me a line in the comment box, thanks in advance.

Here is Zizek on psychoanalysis’ usefulness, predictably, he takes a Marxist approach:

This is why Lacan claimed that Marx had already invented the (Freudian) notion of a symptom: for both Marx and Freud, the way to the truth of a system (of society, of the psyche) leads through what necessarily appears as a ‘pathological’ marginal and accidental distortion of this system: slips of the tongue, dreams, symptoms, economic crises. (pg. 101, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce)

This “lab” is worth checking out, and it is especially interesting in light of the Lacanian Symbolic. I am thinking these “closed feedback loops” to be analogous with a Symbolic order sans Real. To de-jargonify, can we suppose that a virtual environment is an “ideal language,” a language without a single missing link, without paradox or contradiction?

Such an enclosed virtual Symbolic is wholly ossified and hermetically sealed. Suppose we generated a virtual space and then left the computer that was running the simulation alone for many years. Aside from the consumption of electricity, the virtual space would not have experienced any change because such a closed environment experiences no tension of any kind. The Real, qua disruptive gap, is not present. By being an entirely “dead” space, a virtual space is an entirely “full” space, it is seamlessly completed. Such a space is truely “timeless”, if time, as we experience it,  is simply the measurement of change.

The Paidia Institute also outlines, in their mission statement, the importance of elasticity and play, in its multiple meanings. Their site states, “Ideology itself—as an act of denomination—shares its semantic anatomy with play, ranging from a flexible system of widely accepted values to a rigid, bipolar structure of propaganda.” That is, propaganda is the purified Symbolic, and to extend my argument, it is the virtualization of the Real, rather than the realization of the virtual.

This is why dystopias like the one in The Matrix, despite its terrible script, are so chilling.  They ask the question, what if civilization became a virtual space, what if antagonism itself was completely repressed by a system of technology and authority?

“Antagonism, it’s worth fighting for”; I’m not sure if that phrase could function as a affected motto of the present counter-culture qua reborn Left, or as a cynical take on OWS’s failure to articulate concrete demands. Recalling the eternal Bards themselves, the Beastie Boys, “fight for your right to fight” is both viciously circular and absurdly accurate. Even as its future aims remain unclear, the OWS narrative is that we are currently fighting to be able to fight for that future.

And yet, this is precisely my problem with an attitude of “the alternative for its own sake“, the notion that to “think different”(trademark Apple Corporation) is enough. While I sympathize with Occupy, I am beginning to feel the need for a definitive project that can justify itself on its own grounds, without having to refer to The System in order to justify its “Resistance”. Resistance is, as Foucault thought, merely part of the regulative  functioning of power.  Resistance is not even disruptive in of itself, because its power  is actually predicated on the hegemonic power that it opposes. Part of the problem with OWS is that its future seems contingent on a deepened economic crisis, failing that, OWS may lose its momentum, unless it can tap into a Revolutionary “core”.

Meanwhile, the platform of mainstream politics is simply an attempt to “suture the gap”; to get things running smoothly, to add jobs, neutralize threats to American hegemony, and to otherwise virtualize the traumatic Real.

And I’m back. We’ll see for how long this time.

Los 'indignados' protesting in Barcelona

Al Jazeera ran this article yesterday in which Santiago Zabala argues that being a communist in modern society is possible only because of the failure of the Bolshevik programme. A point I would agree with, however the claim that it is a necessary position is, to my mind, quite shaky. What I think is most important here, and seems likely it represents some background context, which the author mistakenly assumes is mutually held, is that the Revolutionary Act of Soviet communism (that is, Lenin’s revolution), precisely is an act in the sense that it was an impossible performance which, through its having been carried out, altered the very definition of what was possible. This is to say, being a communist is of course not “necessary given the existential threats posed by capitalism.” Rather this only means that one should challenge the hegemonic hold of capitalism over society, and further, even articulating such a problem is, by its very nature, to claim a counter-hegemonic discourse. The existential threats which are posed are not only invisible from within the hegemonic discourse, they constitute the very kernel of the Real, that is, they are the internal negative bounding of hegemony.

Zabala then proceeds to argue that, “Instead of pursuing once again the contest against capitalism for unfettered development, weak communism can now embrace the cause of economic degrowth, social distribution and dialogic education as an effective alternative to the inequity that global capitalism has submitted us to.” This call to throw away the positive proscriptions of the communist project, in order to take up the claims of anarchism and deconstructionism is an obvious expansion of the model of Marxism. In fact it represents a bloating of communism which expands its claims until the ever larger number of demands inscribed within the signifier ‘communism’ causes it to become an empty signifier that is less and less able to represent the particular claims of Marxism. Ultimately this model means abandoning the Marxist project in order to hold out the signifier communism as that which would represent the perceived lack of fullness of society. The very idea of communism is abandoned in order to represent a counter-hegemonic discourse of expanded inclusion, built upon the idea of social equality. This new signifier ‘communism’ no longer “aspire[s] to construct another Soviet Union,” because it has shed its proscriptive project and abandoned its material aims. It has embraced the Lacanian (r)evolution of Freud by abandoning material condition for psychic power.



Well, where is that Cody when you need her…

Is it possible for us, as secular philosophers, to overstep the boundaries that liberalism has so neatly drawn for us and perform a critique of religion? I would argue that yes, it is, and in these conservative times such an engagement is not only possible but necessary.

It is possible because we have cast aside mysticism. We hold that the Godly, the Sacred, and the Holy are not ineffable. Religion, like science, like literature, and like politics, takes the form of a discourse. It is qua discourse that a religious tradition is approachable. Having granted that something like, “I accept the Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,” is a speech act, we can begin a dialogue and an analysis. Religion is structured like a language, that is it is not an ex nihilo Absolute Faith and Total Inwardness, but another encounter between the Symbolic order and the Real kernel as we have been working to define those terms here on this blog.

Crucially, we do not have to formulate our critique along the two false paths of secular thinking (rationalism and empiricism). Religion is neither a structure that can be rationally calculated, nor a set of goods, services, and norms that could be empirically aggregated. It is an embodied, libidinally charged praxis that takes place in a certain Symbolic state of affairs and with reference to a traumatic and indigestible Real around which that Symbolic is structured.

And so with the introduction of the Real we have come full circle back to mysticism, but with a crucial twist. While the Real of God may be ineffable and available only as absent, only through Faith, we do not stop there. We assert that it is the precise goal of analysis to make passes at the Real, the fruit of our labors being a reconfigured Symbolic, a deconstruction of the ego, the ego that asserts knowledge in order to hide ignorance. Mysticism merely asserts ignorance and goes home.

Example of deconstructed ego: he knew he was a God-fearing, family man, but he learned that he was gay.

Or, she knew that God had a plan for everyone, but she learned to face the terrible freedom of decision.

However, the point is not at all to perform a reverse conversion. Analysis of this sort (psychoanalysis) asserts that it has no need to preach or evangelize. This is because the analyst is analogous to the doctor, people go into therapy/philosophy (for here we blur the separation) because they are sick. Their sickness motivates them, not the analyst’s promises of greater happiness.

The love of God is not what concerns us, what concerns us is hatred of the self. There is a Nietzschean point here, Christians are often caught in the masochistic enjoyment of self-flagellation. Why do conservative Christians insist that abortion is murderous and sinful? Do they hate the act, or do they love to hate their own sin? The question we should pose is not, “what about a scientific definition of when a fetus becomes a child?” but rather, “where is your forgiveness and where is your love, why are you blind to the woman in front of you while you obsess over the hidden recesses of guilt?”

I don’t know if this is a perfect argument here, but this is the direction in which to move. As you said Will, meet Christians on Christian terms. As Zizek notes, the Holy Spirit is the egalitarian community of believers, it is the Christian Love that embraces difference rather than violently resisting it. For isn’t it before God that all men (and women) are equal?

I wish to read more of the Bible and Koran and their surrounding Canon in order familiarize myself with the Christian and Islamic traditions, because if there is a message of Love in there then that is where we make our stand against the intolerance and violence of the religious right. We must treat religion not as a system of lies and fables, but as a problematic and sophisticated “case.” Not that we, as “enlightened philosophers,” are tasked with burden of “curing” the religious. Rather, we need to take up the psychoanalytic question, what does a fundamentalist want?

That is, I think we need to crack open our Bibles and begin a dialogue. Is it possible that religion is really an ally of the Left but it does not yet “know what it knows?”

I had originally intended this as a comment on JJ’s recent critique of Zizek’s theology (which is really a theological critique of ideology, via Marx, Hegel, et al. — the usual players). However, it’s thorough enough that I think it’s more suited for posting. Maybe we can start a ‘conversation’ of sorts this way.

You’re right that there seems something false, self-righteous, self-aggrandizing and even ‘obscurantist,’ ironically, in Zizek’s theological (and other) work. He does make glaring omissions, and he always uses the critique of capitalism as the ultimate excuse to take potshots. It’s a painfully obvious crutch. If he weren’t so good at theory in general, it’d be an embarrassment.

It’s true, as you say, that many on the far-Right use the notion of the supreme, ‘sacred’ right to one’s own (irrefutable) beliefs/opinions in order to avoid criticism. However, they also use this in defense of what they truly believe to be real facts (think of Creationism). The obsession with reading the Bible as fact, regardless of the evidence, does not mean that fundamentalist Christians cling to belief despite facts, despite the inaccuracy of the Bible. They’re still obsessed with facts and not belief. It’s just that they develop their own facts against any reasonable position, and they claim that the Bible is the ultimate source of facts. They’re still very anti-Kierkegaardian. There’s only one way to God, and it’s through their own, bizarre facts.

I think the same could be said of the misogynist, homophobic, etc., strains in fundamentalist Christianity. These beliefs are based on what they assert to be facts. It’s as if anything they don’t like, they can say they don’t like it because they Bible tells them they shouldn’t (the ultimate proof of this false reliance on the Bible as an authority is that, ironically, they add their own ¨facts¨ to the Bible when it doesn’t say something they want it to say about a form of social life that’s alienating to them).

In a way, it’s very risky what Zizek is doing. He’s bypassing the critique of the specific problems with the fundamentalist beliefs in order to critique the basic form they take, their ideological ‘matrix.’ This leaves open the possibility that those specific problems will continue. In other words, the ultimate way to bring down the fundamentalists wouldn’t be to convince them of the ridiculousness of their theories (since obviously that’s failed time and again). It would be, rather, to meet them head-on, on their own terms, take what they believe, and criticize how they themselves do not even follow their own legacy, how they themselves, if they wanted to be good Christians, wouldn’t cling to their ¨facts¨ (see how that’s more appealing to them, to hear a critic who’s ostensibly like them? — even though, yes, Zizek is an atheist). By accepting their terms, he could begin to start a successful dialogue with them (if one can speak this generously about such a confrontational personality). In a way, I think this is what reviewers mean when they say Zizek is ¨the most dangerous philosopher in the West¨ — he’s doing great work, but his ideas are so radical, it’s risky and dangerous for even the Left to follow them.

Of course, then the question becomes, well, is he actually speaking to the Right at all? That is up for debate. I think I’d say he’s actually not at all speaking to them… so, perhaps I’ve just contradicted myself… hmm, maybe Hegel has something to say about that?

But to continue anyway, as far as Zizek’s real audience, here’s my argument for why he’s actually speaking to the Left. The type of rhetoric that goes on in far-Right and fundamentalist Christian discourse is so disturbing, it almost seems hopeless to continue to critique it. It’s just astounding. People won’t listen to reason. And when there’s a new critique, whether an article or a documentary, etc., the author’s always preaching to the choir… no one who needs convincing is actually going to be convinced. So in some ways, frankly, I think that Zizek is right to avoid making criticisms that seem very important to us. He’s said somewhere that the way to triumph is to symbolically ¨castrate¨ the far-Right so that, all of a sudden, ¨their voices will get a little bit higher,¨ meaning that no one will listen to them. It’s like giving someone the cold shoulder. Sometimes that’s more effective, I think, than directly confronting them. So I think  Zizek’s ultimate concern is to help the Left formulate its own project, to convert more and more people already on the Center or the Center-Left to the radical Left. Then, maybe, we’ll be a majority, and the conservatives simply won’t have an effective platform?

I’ve always had suspicions about Zizek’s ‘theories.’ I keep thinking that there’s gotta be a reason for it — that there’s wisdom behind all the weirdness. But my doubts keep lingering. I usually defer to his word because I haven’t done nearly as much study as he has. And sure, he’s just as fallible as anyone else. But I think you’re right on some points. He does seem to misread, or misleadingly read, several philosophers. I haven’t read as much Kierkegaard as you have. And I might dive back into it.