Capital vs Capitalism, Part II

April 11, 2008

I’ve started a new post so I could use formatting to make what I wrote clearer…

The Tick

In writing ‘The Tick’ I was being lazy. I just mean The Ticklish Subject… and that big, dumb, blue cartoon character who runs around doing good by being naïve…

Captial vs Captialism: The empty ‘a’

I don’t think we agreed that capital (minus the –ism) was the Real-Real. I think we agreed that primitive accumulation was the Real-Real.

I was going to save this for later when I could better formulate it and give citations, but no – you have to suffer my impressions:

I started to read Z’s forward to They Know Not… yesterday, and there are a lot of parallels to his ‘magnum’ (i.e. Parallax View). I’m only about thirty pages in, but what follows is what I’ve taken from it so far, as it relates to what we’ve been discussing. It revolves around the analyst as the empty ‘a’.

The other day I was thinking about ‘party as analyst’ and Z’s position against Marx’s idea of trying to reach a point of non-alienation after a revolution and the destruction of capital-ism. I was thinking that ‘becoming-analyst’ might mean becoming non-alientated… but of course it doesn’t. Not only is ‘identifying with one’s symptom’ to see the world w/out the big Other, the ‘a’ in the analyst’s discourse is not your own: you become ‘a’ for the analysand. This is what enables Z, in “Lenin’s Choice”, to say that the analysand/party is able to function not because they know all the answers, but because they too are split individuals, just one’s that have come to ‘class consciousness’ – subjective destitution – and can thereby work as analysts for others.

In a footnote to the forward to They Know Not… Z remarks that Lacan’s move to dissolve several of his schools and set up the passe was a Leninst move – an attempt to keep the ‘community of analysts’ from being subject to a master, from being stuck in a transference. That is, it was an attempt to keep the ‘a’ empty. He makes the same comment in Parallax…. I can’t even remember which chapter it is, (it’s probably the last), but there’s a section where Z compares being an analyst to being a totalitarian leader. The difference is that the analyst stands as the ‘a’ with which the analysand must identify, but as an empty ‘a’, i.e. one that has not been filled out with fantasy, and without symbolic or imaginary identifications. This is, as we know, subjective destitution. But it’s also being Bartleby.

Antigone, the young comrade and Bartleby

One of the differences that Z identifies between SOI and They Know Not… is that his position on Antigone in SOI was wrong. (He argues that Antigone’s act is in fact of phallic logic… don’t ask me how – I’d have to re-read that section and I’m away from home.) I think that his move past Antigone is apparent in Parallax too. But instead of Antigone we get the ‘young comrade’ from Brecht’s The Measures Taken – who sacrifices himself in a pit of lime just as Antigone sacrifices herself to the cave. If I remember correctly, Z says in Parallax that this isn’t quite the right way out because it is the obliteration of the act, its being forgotten. This ‘vanishing act’ is what Johnston argues Lacan (and Zizek) are for in his article in the first issue of the IJZS. However, in Parallax he argues that what he wants instead is Bartleby as the act that is never forgotten. That is, we have to get to the empty ‘a’ if we want revolution – i.e. the destruction of capital-ism.

Lenin is Jesus (religion vs materialism)

I mentioned in an earlier post that in “Lenin’s Choice” Z argues that we should ‘embrace the cliché that Marxism is like a religion’, and the link to religion and theory made me super-nervous. What Z does in the forward to They Know Not…, however, assuages me greatly. He argues that the link between religion and materialism is that they are both structurally the same – i.e. they realize the universe/nature are ‘incomplete’, that there is some limit that man can’t reach. This is, of course, the ‘Real-Real’. The difference between religion (and the position Z sees Derrida and Levinas taking) and materialism is that religion fills in the ‘a’ with an identification – i.e. fills it with God – while materialism keeps the void empty. So what we’ve got is what Z sees as the ‘Leninst’ position: Lacan had to keep dissolving his schools so that the ‘a’ would stay open, and he himself wouldn’t be taken as some sort of deity. So to embrace Lenin and the Party as religion is to take it as religion without a god. Or rather, a social organization where everyone is an empty ‘a’. (Everyone a party-member; everyone a Christ?…)

surplus without commodity-money

And this brings me to capital and capitalism. The link between psychoanalysis and Marxism is the commodity-form and the form of the dream. And like Lukacs, Z wants to deduce the form of the party from these two forms (which are really the same form). Now, if we accept my claim in one of my posts under the “Capitalism is Worldless” discussion that the ‘sublime object’ of The Sublime Object of Ideology is in fact money as a commodity, I think we can start to think the difference between capital and capital-ism. If the trick to the end of analysis is to reach subjective destitution, i.e. the emptying of the ‘a’, then it seems to me the dissolution of private-ownership of the means of production (i.e. the end of capital-ism) is to reach a point where we still have capital and we still have surplus production, but without money. That is, the ‘sublime object’ needs to be emptied of its content – money can’t be money anymore, but something else.

Ha! That’s what I mean when I say ‘we can begin to think’ – what the hell would ‘empty-money’ look like?? I know that ‘war communism’ was an experiment with trade without money… I’ll have to look into how it worked, and how well it worked (if at all…).

Positing the presuppositions

I think you’re right SB – I butchered the ‘positing the presuppositions’ business. What I was trying to get at is that there is no ‘noumena’, only ‘phenomena’ (appearance). What I think Z argues is that to take the Real as noumena is to miss the Hegelian twist that he wants to give it, that it’s non-substantial but not transcendental… but you can tell me more Kant in person – that way I can more clearly ask questions.

Addendum: the political/economic parallax

In What is to be done? Lenin writes that there are three sides to the struggle against capitalism: “the theoretical, the political and practical economic (resistance to the capitalist)” (in Essentail works of Lenin, 71). Is Zizek only operating on the first? But in moving his theoretical apparatus towards an argument for the possibility of an ‘event’ coming from the economic side of things in Parallax…, he is attempting to revive the third struggle by moving towards the creation of a new notion of how it might be accomplished. Here is a lengthy quote from “Repeating Lenin”, as it appears on

Lenin the ultimate political strategist should in no way be separated from Lenin the “technocrat” dreaming about the scientific reorganization of production. The greatness of Lenin is that, although he lacked the proper conceptual apparatus to think these two levels together, he was aware of the urgency to do it — an impossible, yet necessary, task.45 What we are dealing with here is another version of the Lacanian “il n’y a pas de rapport…”: if, for Lacan, there is no sexual relationship, then, for Marxism proper, there is no relationship between economy and politics, no “meta-language” enabling us to grasp from the same neutral standpoint the two levels, although — or, rather, BECAUSE — these two levels are inextricably intertwined. The “political” class struggle takes place in the very midst of economy (recall that the very last paragraph of Capital III, where the texts abruptly stops, tackles the class struggle), while, at the same time, the domain of economy serves as the key enabling us to decode political struggles. No wonder that the structure of this impossible relationship is that of the Moebius band: first, we have to progress from the political spectacle to its economic infrastructure; then, in the second step, we have to confront the irreducible dimension of the political struggle in the very heart of the economy.

Here, Lenin’s stance against economism as well as against pure politics is crucial today, apropos of the split attitude towards economy in (what remains of) the radical circles: on the one hand, the above-mentioned pure “politicians” who abandon economy as the site of struggle and intervention; on the other hand, the economists, fascinated by the functioning of today’s global economy, who preclude any possibility of a political intervention proper. Today, more than ever, we should here return to Lenin: yes, economy is the key domain, the battle will be decided there, one has to break the spell of the global capitalism — BUT the intervention should be properly POLITICAL, not economic. The battle to be fought is thus a twofold one: first, yes, anti-capitalism. However, anti-capitalism without problematizing the capitalism’s POLITICAL form (liberal parliamentary democracy) is not sufficient, no matter how “radical” it is. Perhaps THE lure today is the belief that one can undermine capitalism without effectively problematizing the liberal-democratic legacy which — as some Leftists claim — although engendered by capitalism, acquired autonomy and can serve to criticize capitalism.

He then goes on to argue that not only do we need to repeat Lenin, but we also need to repeat Marx – i.e. turn once again to a critique of political economy and reassess how things are run in terms of ‘post-ownership’ – i.e. capitalists no longer own the means of production, but are in a tonne of debt through a chain of corporations and banks… that is, the question may not be as much about the ownership of the means of production, but about the changing relation between private property and the means of production. That is, capitalists don’t own the factories anymore, they own the IP rights to the crops grown from the patented seeds that blow of trucks into farmer’s fields, and so take farmers to court to assert their ownership of the yield…

It’s in the discussion of the ‘parallax’ of politics and economy that Z effectively counters Laclau’s claim that he’s fallen into a base/superstructure model. The economy and politics are irreducible to each other (“No wonder that the structure of this impossible relationship is that of the Moebius band: first, we have to progress from the political spectacle to its economic infrastructure; then, in the second step, we have to confront the irreducible dimension of the political struggle in the very heart of the economy”).

Which leaves us at the place we began: What’s the ‘Real of our age’? Does what we’ve been saying still hold true? If ‘economy’ doesn’t mean capitalism, that might be the case: there will still be an economy and a political realm if capitalism is eradicated, but ‘in our age’ it is capitalism that lies between the two; capitalism is the ‘Real’ that is revealed in the move from one side of the parallax to the other (“first we have to progress from… then in a second step, we have to confront…”).

So, my Question now is what is the relation of fantasy to the parallax? Is it that which prevents us from making the first move, or from confronting the ‘irreducible dimension that is revealed’?

My guess is the second…



9 Responses to “Capital vs Capitalism, Part II”

  1. dystopier said

    I agree with the latter. (See many lame ass entry on Fantasy on the circling bug page). But I think this is an important point about fantasy. As a screen, doesn’t it prevent an encounter with the Real (the reality of desire)? Therefore, wouldn’t fantasy prevent us ‘from confronting the “irreducible dimension that is revealed”‘? In terms of parallax, doesn’t fantasy prevent us from realizing that the big Other doesn’t exist, and, therefore, that there is no gaze? I’m thinking in terms of anamorphosis here. Particularly in the sense of symbolic identification/Ego ideal (I(O)) (see SOI page 105).

    Parallax, in this sense, is perhaps the gap between ideal ego and Ego ideal. I have to go back to the graph of desire, but I think this makes sense.

  2. battleofthegiants said

    If we want a ‘definitions’ page I’m down – but I’d like it to remain separate from an ‘examples’ page…

  3. dystopier said

    Oh… okay… makes sense… so lets do a ‘definitions’ page as well.

  4. battleofthegiants said

    To start a new page go:
    mydashboard> write> page

  5. battleofthegiants said

    Somewhere in Parallax… Zizek writes that it is best not to be symbolically dead and biologically alive – then authorities can do whatever they please with you. This is the position he sees Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (“the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks” ) as being in (see the March 24, 2007 NYTimes Article “knight of the living dead). Isn’t this also the same position that Antigone is in? Perhaps this is another reason that Z moves beyond seeing Antigone as ‘the’ ethical figure…

    It also occurred to me today that ‘to do nothing’ a la Bartleby makes sense when you consider that ideology is in one’s actions and not in one’s thoughts. The way to get outside of ideology is to not do! This is obvious, of course… but the link was just made for me.

    Bartleby stands with at least 2 functions: 1) as the cessation of ideological action/belief. 2) as the analyst/becoming analyst of ‘the people’.

  6. battleofthegiants said

    Further along the “Bartleby/Antigone/Comrade” line, I was thinking the other day that it’s not just that we need a ‘Bartleby’ somewhere out there as a ‘party head’, from whom everyone gets a ‘I prefer not to’ reply. Instead, I think it’s more of a ‘we must all be Bartleby’ – which, however, doesn’t mean that we all just ‘prefer not to’. At the end of Parallax… Z writes that unlike Antigone or the Young Comrade, the ethical act is not to be erased – i.e. Bartleby is to be remembered. In _The Measures Taken_, the play in which the Young Comrade appears, we find that he is in fact not played by an autonomous actor. That is, it is the other comrades, telling their story as if it had happened in the past to someone higher up in the party. What happens is that of these 3 (or 4, I can’t remember) actors, one takes the place of the Young Comrade as each part of the story is told. The whole set up looks to me like a ‘staging’ of the split-subject: The 3 comrades have to fill in the place of the thing they have erased. So, if this is the case, and Bartleby is the replacement of the Young Comrade, it seems to me that we all have to have Bartleby at our core…

  7. battleofthegiants said

    Just an another add-on in terms of our conversation today – RE: the university/capitalist discourse. If the product of the university discourse is the alienated subject, and the right side of the graph resembles the formula of fantasy, (and fantasy is for Zizek synonymous with Ideology) then we have a pretty standard version of Marxism on the go: Capitalism alienates the worker from himself, and this is hidden from the worker via fantasy/ideology.

    One thing I’m wondering is if Zizek would say the ‘Parallax’ lies between the sides of each discourse (left and right sides) or between top and bottom on one side (or both sides), all of these or neither? If the ‘a’ is the Real, and the real is what lies between the parallax, then possibly neither…or perhaps the parallax lies in a different place based on the discourse.

    If Lacan’s ‘discourse of capitalism’ is the same as Zizek’s Political/economic parallax, is the left side the side of politics, the other of economics? Where the left side is all about the master sig and the signifying chain, it might well be a description of ‘politics’ – the hegemony of meaning in the public sphere, which translates into workers continuing to work. The other side, as we’ve said, is where the workers and their alienation are… but that doesn’t really sound like economics…

    Perhaps it is a matter of science – i.e. historical materialism (political economy?) is a science, but is it a science in Lacan’s sense? If yes, then the whole thing is the economy, while the left side is politics, the right side the individual (the subjective component of the whole puzzle).

    But Lacan says science can make no claims to truth – and Zizek (I think) wants ‘historical materialism’ to resemble the analysts’ discourse, and he certainly holds that it can produce truth. Maybe the problem is that “political economy” and “his. mat.” are not the same thing. I.e. Political economy is a science in the way Lacan means it, and “historical Materialism” is political economy plus the analyst’s discourse (the creation of knowledge through praxis, which allows one to help others ‘come to consciousness’)…?

    The other Thing I was thinking is a point Bill brought up – Lacan just makes these discourses up. And I don’t think Lacan makes any bones about it – he calls them myths. While we were talking, I noticed that Lacan also says something about “mythemes”, which sounds to me like a play on “mathemes” – the components of the graph of desire, the discourses, etc. So, it’s probably a good idea to read the graph of desire paper to see where (if) he says how he derives all this crazy shit… (to get there we might have to start reading some analytic philosophy – i.e. Frege and all the other dudes that seem to come up… Might not be a bad idea… )

    The problem with that idea, I suppose, is the difference between ‘know-how’ and ‘transmittable knowledge’. I.e. you have to be an analyst to get it, and you can never tell the whole truth. You can only ‘get it’ if you’re analyst (i.e. through praxis), and once you’re an analyst you can never fully fill people in on what you know – you have to give two sides and hope the ‘Real’ is revealed in the gap between the two. Just like in “The seminar on the Purloined Letter” – first you get a series of logical models (all the number stuff) and then you have to introduce that to your audience through a piece of art (i.e. Poe’s story)…


  8. The Thing said

    In one of the lecture series, Z talks about the opposite ‘between two deaths’ – biologically dead while symbolically alive – using the song Joe Hill. He especially likes the line (slightly re-written in one off its incarnations) “What they could never kill went on to organize”. Then he shows the scene from Terminator 2 where the T1000, after being frozen and blasted to bits, starts to melt into little pools and flow back together again. Nice image for the revolutionary ‘spirit’ (in the strong Hegelian sense). I agree, fits with his description of ‘Ethics’ as the most problematic Seminar. Too much ‘passion for the real’ (enjoyment of perverse transgression).

    I would suggest that the parallax is in the relationship between discourses. If, in any given discourse, there is an agent (left) and its Other (right), you would have a symmetrical relationship if the Other could talk back. But it can’t, so you don’t. By the time the signifier in the upper right moves to the position of the upper left, everything has changed. You’re already talking to someone else as it were.

    And I would have said that historical materialism is not the same as the discourse of the university, because the S1 imperative is not concealed. In (slightly) more everyday language, science is always claiming to be politically neutral. It just produces knowledge. What you decide to do with that knowledge is your problem. My understanding of his. mat. is that it criticizes this logic, both explicitly acknowledging its own political orientation, and arguing that every position is necessarily political. There is no meta-discourse (whatever the university might tell you)!

  9. battleofthegiants said

    I’ve been rethinking the idea of having both Bartleby and Identifications (which is effectively what I was talking about) at the same time. You can’t be an empty ‘a’ and have identifications at the same time, it seems to me. It makes more sense that it would be more like what Bill was talking about – i.e. you slip in and out of the Bartleby position…

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