I was reading Zizek’s “Against the Double Blackmail” today and I thought I’d share one or two little thoughts.

First, to pick up on what Bill was saying the other day about Zizek constantly pumping out books, I noticed again today that Zizek’s writing generally doesn’t have much of an introduction – and when his books do, they’re pretty short. I think this is in part related to ‘praxis’. That is, ‘I can’t summarize what I’m about to tell you in an introduction because it only makes sense when you have all the examples and arguments in there. It only makes sense in doing it’. And I think that it’s true of Lacan too: He never really gives a summary of what the “Other side of psychoanalysis” is, other than in a few places saying ‘this is the other side of psychoanalysis’ (and each time its something different). I think that the premise behind this is 1) like Bill was saying, Lacan doesn’t have the answer; i.e. he doesn’t have the formulation that will definitively spell out what he’s trying to get at. And as a consequence 2) both he and we can only figure it out by reading and arguing about his book.

But I wonder what the limits of this are. There must be a point where we can say “Lacan is definitely not saying X”; there must be a difference between the internal structure/logic of the argument and a ‘bad’ reading of it. In no way can we endorse that ‘there is no meta-position’ means there’s no truth – that flies in the face of everything Lacan (and Zizek) argue. I suppose, however, that the come-back is “you have to misread it and reflect that misreading back into the original”… which sounds okay, I guess. (I’m resisting!)

The other thing I was wondering is whether or not Zizek’s constant reference to “The other side of the coin” has been eliminated since he began talking about the ‘parallax’. In “Against…” he writes that the difference between 2 perspectives from within the same thing (specifically NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia and the Serbs) are like a Gestalt illusion where you see either the vase or the two faces (he uses a goose/rabbit example). He then goes on to talk about how to break the deadlock between these two dependent positions. This to me sounds like the parallax, and flies in the face of ‘two sides’ in favour of one side that is seen from two perspectives. But I could be making shit up – does anyone remember if he still uses the ‘coin’ metaphor in Parallax?

Oh yeah – and I found a bunch of “flies” (i.e. examples) in this paper that I know I’ve seen elsewhere. Take a look, and if you come across any of them when you’re reading be sure to note the page and post it here.


1) Here’s the article I mentioned yesterday. She’s lays things out with mathemes real nice like.

Graciela Brodsky, The Alchemy of Hysteria


It’s only a few pages, you’ll need to search for the article within the link (starts on page 67 of the PDF)

2) The question that arose that bothered me yesterday was ‘Ok, Lacan lays out all these symbols & we can follow them somewhat, but what, after all, is the point?’ I thought about this last night – isn’t this always THE question with Lacan?

I’m figuring that this question is essentially an external reflection: What is behind the apparent complexity of Lacan’s discourse? What the essence here? What is the Thing he is leading us onto? This question presupposes that the Thing is out there, just awaiting our discovery.

Reminds me of Z’s take on Kant: We ask the question, we experience the radical negativity of no answer, but immediatley realize that this frustrating experience of radical negativity is a negative representation of the Thing itself. So it ‘guarantees’ that the Thing is out there, just waiting to be found, that Lacan does indeed have a point, if we could only get to it. With that guarantee, we set out to find it again. And fail. And again, and fail. Spiraling out, inward, we get caught up in an infinity. You read Kant’s CPR, you can feel his obsessive spiralling, he’s let’s do it once more, another layer, further down the rabbit hole…

And esn’t this the very 1/[a+1/(a+1)…..] that Lacan speaks of? We are certain, in this externally reflective question, that the essence of the matter (objet a) MUST be there, that Lacan does indeed have a point to all this, if we could only peel away all the false appearance.

This is the (necessary) point I got caught up in yesterday (again). Until I gave things one more quarter turn & reached a relective determination with Hegel: The experience of the Thing itself as that radical negativity that one finds so frustrating in the external reflection. That is, this Absolute reflection requires a ‘you are there where It was’ thought. In terms of Lacan’s algebra above, a move from the left side of the infinite series to the right side, which is a simple movement to ‘a’ – as Lacan says, that entire series simply equals ‘a’. The reason you can’t get to the ‘a’ in the series is that the result of the series in each step is always already enfolded in the series itself. No meta-position, which is what one assumes one occupies in asking the question ‘what’s the point?’

Hege’s Absolute reflection is an identification with the ‘a’ here, which embodies the entire series, embodies your entire (externally reflective) quetioning/activity in a singularity, this immediacy that no longer requires any further mediation/sublation/posited because it is a presupposition that is not previously posited; more accurately, a presupposition in which the subject presupposes itself as a positing power.

This is Lacan’s strategy throughout his lectures, his writings. He’s playing the analyst on a massive, semi-public scale. And we his readers are obliged (or not) to work past our external reflection of his text. There’s implications for politics here, I’m finding.

3) Headlines today that GM is going to lay off 900 in Oshawa. I recall taking a tour years ago of the plant in my new capacity as a benefits/pension consultant, at a time when such tours were unofficially ‘banned’ by the union – my guilt in sitting in one of the golf carts zooming down the line was double: not only from the angry stares from the gruff, bearded men, but from my own years of marxist leanings that was whispering to me that I was on the wrong side. Although I recall seeing a handmade sign on one work area that alleviated my guilt somewhat. It read “GM: Gulag Motors. If you are happy, you are not working hard enough!” A bit hard sympathize with $34 hour workers likening their situation to Auswitch.

I wanted to raise the ethical question about last weekend’s strke. When I heard that the TTC went on strike, my immediate reaction was this was wrong. They are unruly, selfish disrespectful children & daddy needs to discipline them (which he did on Sunday); they did wrong because they broke their 48 hour promise; they did wrong because they don’t side with the rest of the proletariat & in fact put downward pressure on wages, hurting everyone else; their union is a legal entity (their choice) so they shouldn’t whine about the gov’t in enacting legislation to force them back to work, etc etc…

But none of this answers the question of whether their act was ethical in the Lacanian sense.

Is what they did this past weekend ethical?

Lacan dealt with Ethics 10 seminars back from the one we are reading, but he does speak of the half-said, that enigma, the chimera half-body that disappears when the solution is given. This gives us a clue that the moral law for Lacan has the structure of an enunciation without a statement.

So either we play the game that ethics is the pursuit of the desire of the Other (you try to ‘guess’ the Other’s desire, lose, try again, lose…. all with the aim of making the Other forget that it doesn’t exist). Many non-Lacanians (& Lacanians for that matter) play this game of course

Or you can admit that it is only the subject & his act that creates what the Other (the Law) wants. (Think Oedipus – retroactively creating the symbolic debt into which he was born). Here is where I think we must think the TTC Union’s act of striking. It’s that encounter between the Law they challenged & their own subjectivity that is of interest here, this point that is extimate to both. The Law appears to be separate from their decision, but still it is internal to the sphere of its existence. I heard on the radio today that the decision was actually made by high ranking union officials to ‘discredit’ their own union top dog! Sounds a bit like the brothers got together to kill the primal father & so any Law that was supposedly dropped on them on Sunday by the Capitalist’s so-called executive arm was in truth dropped on them thru their own actions. You get what you ask for in a sense & you didn’t hear them put up much of a fight in going back to work. In fact I heard many reported for work hours before they had to.

I think we have to read the Sunday back-to-work Law as created by their actions, internally to the Union’s subjectivity/activiity. No?

I can’t watch these because I’m on a public computer and have no headphones, but someone on another blog says they show Wright to have some meat behind his slogans – which you don’t got watching Fox News…

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objet a in place of Phi

April 24, 2008

Here is a link on Wikipedia about the Golden Ratio, as well as continued fractions. It’s interesting that the golden ratio is generally represented by phi (the phallus), but lacan replaces is the the a…

The important bit seems to be this (from the continued fractions page):

A property of the golden ratio φ

An interesting result, stemming from the fact that the continued fraction expansion for φ doesn’t use any integers greater than 1, is that φ is one of the most “difficult” real numbers to approximate with rational numbers. One theorem[1] states that any real number k can be approximated by rational m/n with

\left| k - {m \over n}\right| < {1 \over n^2 \sqrt 5}.

While virtually all real numbers k will eventually have infinitely many convergents m/n whose distance from k is significantly smaller than this limit, the convergents for φ (i.e., the numbers 5/3, 8/5, 13/8, 21/13, etc.) consistently “toe the boundary”, keeping a distance of almost exactly {\scriptstyle{1 \over n^2 \sqrt 5}} away from φ

Now, this doesn’t make much sense to me, but it seems that perhaps Lacan is using this equation to show that reaching what’s behind the phi-as-phallus (i.e. the a) is impossible. There is nothing behind it.


April 24, 2008

This word has been all over The Other Side…, and it’s driving me nuts. It also something that Zizek uses – not only in the bug quote, but also in The Sublime Object…:

…at the level of substance the appearance is simply deceiving, it offers us a false image of the Essence; whereas at the level of the subject the appearance deceives precisely by pretending to deceive – by feigning that there is something to be concealed (SOI, 196).

It seems clear to me that what he’s talking about here is ‘the parallax view’. If that passage doesn’t convince you, check out pages 227-8. It’s also directly tied to Hegel’s notion of reflection, which I wrote a little about earlier.

What I’m suggesting is that when Lacan says ‘level’, perhaps he’s talking about the same thing. The only thing that, at this stage, makes me think that perhaps this is misguided is that in The Other Side… he says that the objet a is “at the level of what is designated by the bar”(157). I thought the a was the gap between the two ‘levels’ of the parallax, but perhaps I’m wrong on that…

Alethosphere/Mass Media

April 24, 2008

Just as a quick note, here’s a quote from The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis that relates to Lacan’s discussion of the “alethoshpere” on page 161 of The Other Side…:

Perhaps the features that appear in our time so strikingly in the form of what are more or less correctly called the mass media, perhaps out very relation to the science that ever increasingly invades our field, perhaps all this is illuminated by the reference to those two objects, whose place I have indicated for you in a fundamental tetrad – namely, the voice – partly planeterized, even stratosphereized, by our machinery – and the gaze, whose ever-encroaching character is no less suggestive, for, by so many spectacles, so many phantasies, it is not so much our vision that is solicited, as our gaze that is aroused (Lacan, 1998, 274).

Z and SW

April 24, 2008

Here’s an article on Star Wars that Z wrote about a year before Parallax… was published. It it he talks about Star Wars and Buddhism, just as in Parallax… , only more condensed.

In light of Bill’s comments on reflection, I’d like to add a little bit to my discussion of the quote I posted earlier:

A materialist… tends to repeat one example, returning to it obsessively. It is the particular example that remains the same in all symbolic universes, while the universal notion it is supposed to exemplify continually changes its shape, so we get a multitude of universal notions circling like bugs around the light, around the single example” (“Schalgend, aber…”, 200).

I was thinking the other day about why we get a multitude of universal notions and the answer comes from Zizek’s discussion of Positing, external and determinate reflections in Sublime Object…. I don’t totally get this stuff, but it goes something like this (with reference to Sophocles’ Antigone): he identifies at least two kinds of truth that need to be warded off because they present dangers. The first is a ‘naïve reading’ that supposes itself to have a direct link to the meaning of the text: ‘When Sophocles writes X, he means precisely Y’. This is of course, a truth that proclaims itself absolute and exclusive of all other readings, an a-historical truth. And I think this is what he calls “positing reflection”. The problem for the person asserting this kind of truth arises, of course, when conflicting readings are made apparent.

While problematizing this first take on truth, this second take presents several dangers as well. For one, the ‘absolute truth’ can be taken as inaccessible to we mere mortals, and each truth assembled as one more facet of that inaccessible ‘whole.’ (This, I think, is the ‘external reflection’.) For another, this take on truth can be reduced to ‘local conditions’: that is, they can be brushed aside with the sweeping motion that declares these truths to be limited to the horizon of their discovery – things that were true then, there, or for that person are true then, there, or for that person only. That is, they can be forgotten here, now, and by us, and our own truth’s raised in their place. This applies, I think, to talking about different ‘cultures’ as well as to different ‘personal narratives’: the Greeks had their version of what the world was and it was true to them but irrelevant to us; any person can narrate their ‘subject position’ and attempt to use it as validation for any number of things (a strategy of validation that could potentially be used by anyone, from an oppressed group to a right/left wing zealot).

What Žižek wants to argue is that there is another option, one that allows the objectivity contained in each successive reading to be maintained without falling into a trap. The assertion that truth is relative is in fact a position that can only be taken from a meta-position. That is, the relativist in effect doesn’t assert that each truth is relative to all the others, but that there is a universal observer for whom it is all relative. Well! That sounds mighty… well, mighty well like God! The alternative that Žižek sees, via Lukács, the alternative to a divine keeper of ungraspable truth (the Big O), is that the truth is nothing but the succession of readings, that there is no whole truth ‘out there’ that can be slowly pieced together. Truth is, instead, radically open – there will always be more readings; re-reading will never come to an end. (I think this is the ‘determinate reflection’) Hence “multitude of universal notions circling like bugs around the light.” Truth constantly changes in response to the activity of those imbedded in history; the social and natural worlds change constantly and are never closed (whole). That is, truth is radically ‘now’. Hence “the universal notion…continually changes its shape”.

I don’t think that all these truths are maintained as they are. Instead, I think we can see in all this the old Marxist assertion that historical materialism’s ‘science’ stems from its ceaseless refinement in the face of political praxis. (The question of what exactly Zizek’s ‘praxis’ is raises its head here…)

So what we get is a vision of history that is neither teleological (racing from a beginning to a predetermined end) nor one of pure contingency, but a world in which it is possible (rather, impossible not) to act. That’s what differentiates Bartleby from the ‘beautiful soul’. The beautiful soul thinks that it’s outside of everything, and doesn’t realize that it’s non-action is complicity.

It’s also a world that includes the unconscious – i.e. Sophocles didn’t now what he ‘really meant’ either.

Given this notion of what history is, to say that ‘Bartleby politics’ is to literally ‘do nothing’ is pretty ridiculous. A strike, for instance, is a “I prefer not to” that involves a lot of action. “I prefer not to work for crappy wages, crappy benefits, etc”. The trick is, of course, to channel this into the destruction of Capitalism rather than a fight for better wages and benefits. And, of course, in Parallax… ‘the Act’ Zizek thinks would be the one for today is Bartleby’s assertion.


(All the reflection stuff is from page 213-4 of SOI. The Lukács stuff is from page 174 of Z’s essay as it appears in Tailism and Dialectic).

Critchley is wrong

April 18, 2008

Critchley has written a letter to Harpers in reponse to Zizek’s review of his book in the LRB. I’ve just read it, and have this to say about it: Critchley is wrong – not to mention maddening.

He quotes Lacan against Zizek, but takes neither Lacan’s not Zizek’s full notion of revolution or psychoanalysis into account. In the Seminar Critchley references (and which we are reading), Lacan does indeed say that the students of ’68 would get a master. What Lacan also says is that revolution is not impossible – he conceives of it in a way that’s not the replacement of one master with another (i.e. the slave becoming a new master, the installment of an authoritarian leader), but the ‘becoming-analyst’ of the slave (hysteric).

And Lacan is overtly Marxist about the whole thing. That is, in Lacan’s view the Hysteric refuses to embody the enjoyment of the master and instead exposes how the master has no power other than through the compliance of the hysteric. This is exactly in line with Marx’s remarks on the king in the first chapter of Capital: i.e. the king is only such because the people act as if he has god-given power. Not only that, it is in line with Marx’s description of exchange and use value – i.e. the body of one commodity stands in for the value of another, while the hysteric REFUSES to embody the surplus-enjoyment of the master. And what is the end of analysis? – the hysteric becoming a psychoanalyst.

And the overtones of what it means to become an analyst are Marxist as well – that is, one is not well-enough off if they know psychoanalytic theory; they have to be a practicing analyst – see his remarks in the first chapter of the second section of The Other Side…: Psychoanalysis can’t help with ethnology, but being an analyst can. This is part of his argument that there is a difference between transmissible knowledge (in this case psychoanalytic theory) and know-how (being a practicing analyst). It’s easy to see here the link between this and Marx/Lenin – it’s not enough to be a Marxist; one must be Leninist and do something! (i.e. put Marxism to work). This is why Zizek laud’s Chavez – He’s doing something that directly challenges the capitalist way of doing things.

It’s also of note that when Critchley quotes Zizek on Chavez he leaves out the important parts – i.e. opening a new form of political space. In addition he fails to fully think through ‘Bartleby’ and Zizek’s ideas on the Leninst party. Z makes the party sound like something everyone would eventually become a member of – i.e. the state would ‘wither’ and become a democracy in a form other than representational or dictatorial. This is where Bartleby stands – to ‘do nothing’ means to not act in terms of the dominant ideology.

For Zizek ideology isn’t a false consciousness in terms of thought, but an action. That is, if you act is if money really has intrinsic value even though you know it doesn’t, you’re in the throngs of ideology. And in Parallax… Z aligns Bartleby directly with the analyst as the figure who, by letting the analysand do its own work for itself, comes into truth. And this is the function Z attributes to the party – the means by which people can come to the truth of the capitalist system and ACT on it!

I finished reading Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle last night, and I couldn’t help but think of Chavez and the withering of the state. In the third act, a Groucho-Marx (ha!) style figure takes the seat of juridical power and uses it in a robin-hood style – stealing from the rich and giving it to the poor (sounds like Chavez to me! – the person everyone thinks is a clown, but he gives people money for health care, education, etc). The end of the play sees Groucho claim the kingdom as the property of the children of the country and steps down from power. What’s this but Brecht’s version of the withering of the state? Of course Chavez may not end up going in this direction, and there are huge problems with the ways he’s doing things, I’m sure. But to say that this will end in Stalinsim is to fall into teleological thinking. Why not push for the conversion of Chavez’ state into a non-state form, rather than denouncing him as already a Stalin?

Critchley also makes the mistake of 1) thinking that Zizek wants to ‘return’ to Lenin and merely do what he did, and 2) refusing to acknowledge that destroying the state would not have resulted in some communist utopia, but the eradication of Russian socialism. I mean, what does he think war communism was? It was the terrible responsibility of conceeding that the rest of the world is still capitalist and will try to smash what you have done! That is, some 17 countries with some 14 armies were trying to seize Russia for themselves! This was precisely the mistake that Marx saw in the Paris Commune – instead of attacking Versailles and ensuring that the French government couldn’t work with the Germans, they stayed put. The result? Surprise! The Germans came rolling in and massacred the communards! (some 30,000 people, if I remember correctly). Bye-bye, Paris commune!

And that is precisely the position Chavez is in – I read somewhere that the ‘unavailability’ of many basic commodities (i.e. milk and bread) that Zizek references was not the result of a failure in the economy, but a conscious act of the capitalists in Venezuela. And of course, I’m sure the Americans would love to install a puppet in Chavez’s place and get their hands on all that oil!

So, Get off it Critchley. It may well be that Zizek slams you unneccessarily – I can’t say because I havn’t read your book. But you most certainly misrepresent his thought in your crappy letter.



April 17, 2008

Here are some quotes I’ve come across recently that I think shed some light on some ideas that Zizek works with:

1. I was thinking to myself recently, ‘what the hell does it mean to say that the working class is the ‘excluded’ element in capitalism?’ I found my answer in (surprise!) Marx:

A class must be formed that has radical chains, a class in civil society which is not of civil society, a class which is the dissolution of all classes, a sphere of society which has a universal character because its sufferings are universal…, which is, in short, a total loss of humanity and which can only redeem itself by a total redemption of humanity. This dissolution of society, as a particular class, is the proletariat (quoted in the editor’s introduction to The German Ideology, 13).

It comes from “Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”

2. This quote is from Lukac’s Tactics and Ethics and in it I think we can see, perhaps, where part of Zizek’s ‘ethical’ position comes from… or at least that it’s not completely new:

This contrast helps greatly to elucidate the tactics of the revolutionary classes and parties: their tactics are not determined by short-term immediately attainable advantages; indeed, they must sometimes reject such advantages as endangering what is truly important, the ultimate objective. But since the ultimate objective has been categorized, not as Utopia, but as reality which has to be achieved, positing it above and beyond the immediate advantage does not mean abstracting from reality or attempting to impose certain ideals on reality, but rather it entails the knowledge and transformation into action of those forces already at work within social reality – those forces, that is, which are directed towards the realization of the ultimate objective. Without this knowledge the tactics of every revolutionary class or party will vacillate aimlessly between a Realpolitik devoid of ideals and an ideology without real content. It was the lack of this knowledge which characterized the revolutionary struggle of the bourgeois class. An ideology of the ultimate goal existed even here, it is true, but it could not be organically integrated into the planning of concrete action; rather, it developed in a largely pragmatic way, in the creation of institutions which quickly became ends in themselves, thereby obscuring the ultimate objective itself and degrading it to the level of pure, already ineffectual ideology. The unique sociological significance of socialism is precisely that it provides a solution to this problem. For if the ultimate objective of Read the rest of this entry »