Capitalism is Worldless

March 18, 2008

We didn’t get to it in our discussion yesterday… we touched on it… but here ‘it’ is: capitalism is worldless!

In chapter 5 of Parallax, Zizek talks about Badiou’s discussion of ‘world’, or the ‘logic of worlds’ (p. 317).

Zizek says that “the wager of the notion of Truth… is that this obscene-unnameable link, secret channel, between worlds is not enough: there is a genuine ‘universal’ Truth that cuts across the multitude of worlds” (317). I’m wondering where this world might be and if it is more than just the establishing of new Master-Signifiers.

Above that, he mentions that the superego injunction to Enjoy! and capitalism are both worldless. This makes sense to me on the level of the overlap between surplus-jouissance and surplus-value.

In contrast, Nazism, he says, “disclosed reality in a way which allowed its subjects to acquire a global ‘cognitive mapping,’ inclusive of the space for their meaningful engagement” (318). This, as I’m understanding him, relates back to the notion of community, with the figure of the Jew as the objet a – that is, as the ‘fantasmatic lure/screen’ (304) – functioning as the perverse object sustaining the community. There is a conundrum here, if the sacrificial death of the Jew – the imaginary point of finitude, of the projection of the impossible point of closure (273) – is what sustains the community (the Nazi community, that is), then the Jew can never truly be annihilated. I’m taking a leap here, but this might be sort of the difference between objet a in its ontological form versus its ontic form. This is, perhaps, also why Nazism is not an authentic community: because there is confusion over the ontological form of that which sustains its being, and it ignores, as Heiddeger does, the level of the ‘political’ economy.

He goes on (p. 318), “Perhaps this is where we should locate the ‘danger’ of capitalism: although it is global, encompassing all worlds, it sustains a stricto sensu ‘worldless’ ideological constellation, depriving the great majority of people any meaningful ‘cognitive mapping’. The universality of capitalism resides in the fact that capitalism is not a name for a ‘civilization’, for a specific cultural-symbolic world, but the name for a neutral economico-symbolic machine” like the Matrix. The fact is, he says, that capitalism is really a universal “neutral matrix of social relations”. In other words, it has no community.

On the next page (319), he says, the task today is to form a new world, to propose new Master-Signifiers that would provide ‘cognitive mapping’.” In this sense, I would argue that the task is to form a new, authentic community, which, as he suggests eariler (p. 278), that perhaps an authentic community is the ‘revolutionary collective’. In this case, Communism was an authentic community because it originated with the revolutionary collective. However, I would add that Communism was successful in forming an authentic community only in the sense of its failure. It is only from the point of its failure – finitude – that it “appears to us as intelligible” (273). What I’m interested in, when looking at chapter 6, is the relationship between must and ought. I think that this would be a good place to begin talking about authentic revolutionary community and the formation of worlds.

That’s my 128-bits

– D


4 Responses to “Capitalism is Worldless”

  1. battleofthegiants said


    I’m hoping that chapter 6 acutally approaches/theorizes HOW the economy can be the site of an ‘event/Act’. After slapping Hardt and Negri in interlude 2 for refusing to think through how political and social changes happen, where he is pissed because they instead stood back and said ‘this is just philosophy, we’re only going to say eruptive change is possible and throw up our hands’, Z better not do the same!

  2. The Thing said

    This stuff about the relationship between fascism and late capitalism has my brain in knots.

    1) Both are perverse:

    “‘Jew’ is a fetish which simultaneously denies and embodies the structural impossibility of ‘Society’… This is why it is impossible to designate the totalitarian project as impossible, utopian, wanting to establish a totally transparent and homogenous society – the problem is that in a way, totalitarian ideology knows it, recognizes it in advance: in the figure of the ‘Jew’ it includes [in the form of disavowal] this knowledge in its edifice.” (Sublime 126-7)

    “This is how Miller’s claim of the identity of the analyst’s discourse and the discourse of today’s civilization should be read: as an indication that the latter discourse (social link) is that of perversion… It’s agent, the masochist pervert (the pervert par excellence), occupies the position of the object-instrument of teh other’s desire, and, in this way, through serving his (feminine) victim, he posits her as the hystericized/divided subject who ‘doesn’t know what she wants’ – the pervert knows it for her, that is, he pretends to speak from the position of knowledge (about the other’s desire) which enables him to serve the other; and, finally, the product of this social link is the Master-Signifier, that is, the hysterical subject elevated to the role of the master (dominatrix) whom the pervert masochist serves.” (Parallax 303)

    (and if you don’t believe me, check out how fast the Nazis show up on 304)

    2) But capitalism is worldless while fascism is not

    (see above)

    3) What’s going on?

    Are we talking a difference within perversion itself? (I notice that fetishism and disavowal appear in one place, and being the object-instrument of the Other’s desire appears in the other)

    Could it be the difference between masochism and sadism? (Nazism involves making the Jewish divided subject suffer in the name of the big Other of the fatherland)

    Am I running up against the parallax between economy and politics? (maybe capitalism is a perverse social link at the level of economic, whereas Nazism is a perverse political link)

    Could Jameson have been right that late capitalism is psychotic? (maybe democracy as dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and fascism are both perverse social links, while the neutral universal container of late capitalism is so worldless that it’s foreclosed on castration rather than disavowing it through the fetish)

    So confused…

  3. battleofthegiants said

    Nazism, American capitalism, and communism are all responses to capitalism, i.e. methods of coping with it, of trying to deal with its as ‘Real’. The first two are perverse, but the third? I don’t know… but this makes me think that maybe you’re on the right track with the parallax thing: the list at the top are all political ways of dealing with capital, and essentially leave capitalism alone (is that true of communism, though? Maybe so -the State just becomes a capitalist, rather than individuals?), whereas capital itself is just pure ‘deterritorialization’.

    I think where Z was heading at the end of the chapter was that Hallward/Badiou’s axioms don’t necessarily need to be in the political realm, but in the economic. I think it’s in the Hanlon interview that Z says that to really overcome capital it would be necessary to get past the ‘fetishes’ (his word) of constant growth and increased prosperity. Perhaps a new axiom would take the place of these ‘fetishes’, which is, of course, just another word for the phallus/master signifier?

  4. battleofthegiants said

    But if we take fetish to mean master sig, that means ‘constant growth’ is a fetish that sustains a ‘world’ for captialism. Which makes more sense to me, actually. It makes me want to return to a base/superstructure argument: I.e. Capital has no superstructure particular to it, but it does have a set of unchangable principles that belie it. I.e. constant growth and expansion of markets…

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