March 24, 2008

An earlier version of The Sublime Object of Ideology came out in France as Hegel, the most Sublime of Hysterics (which I discovered this week is a quote from The Other Side…). One of the main argumentative threads of the last two chapters of SOI is that while Kant kept avoiding ‘the gap’, Hegel went headlong into it. Z sees Kant as an obsessive, and Hegel as an hysteric. Where Kant feared to tread, Hegel founded a new way of thinking.

Z defines the obessional neurotic as one who keeps acting so that they don’t have to deal with the immanent nothingness that confronts them. Freud says that the obsessional is of an Anal character. In last week’s New York Times there’s a review of a book about Peter Mark Roget – the man who, in addition to discovering ‘persistance of vision’, also created what we now call the thesaurus – who is perhaps a good example of an anal-obsessive. The article’s author tells us that “He took particular pleasure in an ability to control the movements of the iris in his own eye”; that he jumped from job to job, hated uncleanliness, and his obsessional lists were what became the Roget Thesaurus. That is (in speculation, of course) his bouncing around is perhaps symptomatic of his obessional character; it didn’t get him anywhere, just away from where he was. As it stood, his lists didn’t become a book till the end of his life…

What I find interesting about this is that the thesaurus was “Never quite intended as a book of synonyms (Roget thought there ‘really was no such thing,’ given the unique meaning of every word)”. Just like Lacan talking about the verbatim repetition of a story as a way to reach the Real (as opposed to variation which obfuscates the Real) a proliferation of words is a way to miss the ‘thing.’ Rather than getting at the ‘it’ hidden in what you say, rather than simply speaking/writting, you bury it in a flurry of words that don’t mean what you’re saying and thereby dance around the subject.

I think this comes out best in the reviewer’s comments on Sylvia Plath:

Kendall’s faith in the product makes him claim that the Thesaurus can help authors “figure out what they are trying to say.” But just as often the book can provide them with the illusion that they have something to say. Kendall talks affectionately of the young Sylvia Plath’s enthusiasm for the Thesaurus (she calls herself “Roget’s strumpet” in a 1956 diary entry), but he might note that Plath found her real voice only when, in writing the poems in “Ariel” at a white-hot clip, she threw away her studied academic diction and let her own pent-up language spill onto the page.

I wonder if that means Zizek’s constant reference to pop-culture/etc is to yank theory out of thesaurus land (jargon) and into the land of plain speech. Then again, perhaps retaining the same words but having them located in the ‘now’ is a repetition that needs to be retained. Perhaps the leap to pop-culture is the ‘variation’ that obscures, a move that becomes a style and a game rather than a method? I’m not sure the proliferation of movie examples in chapter six added a tonne to the arguments he was making. Then again, part of the schtick is to show how pop-culture/etc are the theatre of enjoyment that keep us anchored to our current situation…

Is this book (or perhaps just the last chapter)’too Zizekian’, in the same way that he uses Bergman on Fellini against Bergman (‘Bergman’s movies started to suck when he started to make ‘Bergman’ movies)? Or is it just ‘mature Zizek’?

Maybe it’s best to think it not at the level of repetition, but at the level of theory as beleif. Are Bergman and Fellini taking their fantasy too literally, as the answer to the question of desire, and so are doomed to repeat it ad nauseum? Or is it the move from hysterical to obessional character? Rather than actively questioning, you just keep repeating the old stuff so you don’t have to deal with it anymore?

A second, unrelated, thought: Whereas in Ticklish and “Lenin’s Choice” he seems to think that we need the ‘party’ to make a political Act happen, it seems to me that this ‘Bartleby’ business is to argue that we don’t need a party to get to the Act, but that the founding of the party, the ‘becoming-Bartleby/analyst’ of as all would itself be the Act…


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