Dolar, Copjec, Etc…

May 30, 2008

Do you guys know where Z fist talks about “The Subject Supposed to Enjoy”? He takes it from Dolar, and I’m looking for the reference…

In addition, do any of you know the ‘it’ books from the other Lacanian Slovenians? I’m trying to put together a comps list…




I’m in a Parallax… reading group and yesterday we were talking about chapter three, in which Z riffs on Kurosawa’s Rashomon. The discussion took something of a negative turn when the issue of rape came up (the film’s premise centers around a rape and a murder), and I managed to stick my foot (I think it was the left one) in my mouth: after someone’s comment on the passage in question I said “Well, first, It happens” – refering to rape. Before I could get any further, someone said “you’ve totally just depoliticized rape!” I turned deep red and said “No I didn’t!” The intention behind my comment would have become clear (I think) had I been able to continue, but as they say, you’re responsible for what you say, not what you mean.

Where I wanted to go with “it happens” is that it’s perfectly valid to talk about rape. Perhaps even more so given the premise of Kurosawa’s film: Z’s take on the flick is that the drama played out between the three people involved in the murder/rape is a stand-in for the destruction of society that is going on around them. The film, Z argues, ends with the ‘explosion’ of feminine logic, of the not-all that lies behind any ‘world’ (in the Heideggerian/Badiou sense), any horizon of meaning. In addition, that which is one of the most ubiquitous (and ignored) aspects of war is taken to represent the whole. So, it seems to me this is an instance of what Z calls “Infinite Judgement” – if “Spirit is a bone”, then “War is a single instance of rape”.


In the news…

May 28, 2008

Excremetal excess

For some reason In Parallax… Zizek feels the need to excuse what he calls David Lynch’s “reactionary political statements” because of his “extraordinary sensitivity”. The sensitivity in question is to the Polish city of Łódź, which is apparently in a state of post-industrial decay, to which Zizek attributes the status of an Badiou-ian ‘evental site’: “The postindustrial wasteland of the Second World is in effect the privileged ‘evental site,’ the symtptomal point out of which one can undermine the totality of today’s global capitalism” (page 159) . This is in part because “the permanent production of piles of waste” is “one of the key features of capitalism.” Further,

The obverse to the incessant capitalist drive to produce new and newer objects is thus the growing piles of useless waste […] – in these ever-growing piles of inert, disfunctional ‘stuff’, whose useless, inert presence cannot fail to strike us, we can, as it were, perceive the capitalist drive at rest (page 158).

Zizek is obviously here talking about ‘identifying with one’s symptom’, which here means taking into account history (rather, ‘historicism’). But he writes that Lynch wants to gentrify the ‘post-industrial wasteland’ in Łódź, transforming it into a movie studio and “thriving centre of cultural creativity”. One wonders if this is part of his “reactionary” tendency, of it this is something Z endorses. This gentrification could be seen as a defence against “the thing”, or contrariwise, could be seen as a midwife for an ‘event’, born of the ‘evental site’.

It seems to me that the answer is the former. Transforming a decaying industrial area is exactly what happened to the distillery district in the east end of Toronto, as well as other industrial warehouses and factories across the city (401 Richmond, now home to many artists and businesses, used to be a tin-can factory; The ‘candy lofts’ (Condos) on Queen West used to be a candy factory; etc, etc). It seems to me that transforming a wasteland into an artists studio is hardly the advent of an event/act. But I suppose he’s saying the potential is there.

The problem, it seems to me, is that the other ‘piles of waste’ he lumps in with rotting factories are junked cars, piles of computer parts in China, and other useless crap. I find it hard to lump real-estate in with that list. Real estate can be reclaimed, but alot of garbage just can’t be recycled or removed.

Take, for example this article in the May 19th edition of the Globe and Mail: “A sea of synthetic trash.” Apparently there are two gigantic areas of plastic trash just sitting 10 meters under the ocean… areas that amount to 1 and a half times the surface of the United States! This sounds a lot more like “The evil Thing” than does a rotting factory: not only is it monstrously large and inert body, it actually KILLS alot of birds and fish.

The way it’s described in the article also makes it a testament to the inter-connectedness of the planet as well as of capitalism: not only are there tonnes of Nike shoes in there that fell from a transport, they describe how a plastic bottle from any city street has the potential to end up in these two garbage sinks in the Atlantic. The question is how could this mess possibly be taken for an ‘evental site’? I guess perhaps the answer is that if people ‘identified’ with it, if everyone rallied around it (politically and not necessarily physically) then perhaps something significant would be done.

This makes me think that we can here see the difference between Laclau and Zizek: You don’t need an external enemy to start a political action, just something (anything) that stands as a symptom…

What I also find interesting here is that this monstrous, killer, floating Thing is made mostly of plastic: That is, it doesn’t biodegrade, but break into smaller and smaller bits. This is to say that our imprint on nature is indellible – it can’t be erased. Like someone interviewed for the article says: there’s just too much of it to get it all, and a lot of it’s too small to even gather up. As a consequence, we can only ever read “the natural” back through the mark we’ve made on it, lest we fall into the fantasy of some perfect homeostatic balance to which we want to return.

Superego supplement…on the job

In the same edition of the Globe there is an article titled “beating up the boss” and is about how the newest fad in corporate “team building exercises” is to take the ‘team’ out for some ultimate fighting…and waterboarding! Apparently some dude in Utah got waterboarded to help him and his ‘team’ better integrate socially. Afterwards the Globe and Mail quotes his boss as saying “You saw how hard Chad fought for air right there. I want you to go back inside and fight that hard to makes sales.” Buddy is now suing his former employer.

In “Lenin’s Choice” Z takes on Fight Club for a while. In particular, he talks about the scene where Edward Norton stands in front of his boss and beats the crap out of himself. From this Z takes the idea that we need to “beat the master out of ourselves”, that it’s not the master that beats us, but us letting the master do so. In this gesture he sees the realization that we don’t need the master to beat us, that we can do it ourselves. Whereas Z sees this self-beating as liberating, taking your employees out to be you up seems to be the opposite: taking it out on your boss because you see them as the problem, when the real problem is in your complying with the world world you’ve (we’ve) made. It, to me, looks like a super-ego supplement, if we frame it in terms of the boss’s comments after the waterboarding: “You see how hard you beat me? Now go out there and beat yourself into working hard as hell for my benefit!”.

Then again, the article ends denying the efficacy of team building at all…

University of comb-over capitalism

This is perhaps not an accurate example of (poorly translated and hence ‘so called’) ‘primitive accumulation’, but with the sub-prime crises in the US, people like Donald Trump are buying up cheap real estate in an attempt to turn huge profits. Not only that, he’s astarted a ‘university’ to teach other people how to do it! Of course, all that the university really does is take people for their ‘tuition’. This, in a superficial way, looks like Lacan’s “university discourse”…


Speaking of movies….

Both Charlton Heston & Frank Sinatra were arguing with me over a picture this morning in a dream. Seems we were involved in a discussion of sorts surrounding the meaning of some image & there was a sense that a more true meaning could be had if we could just round the corner of whatever it was that prevented us from grasping it.

Last night I watched Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore & some of the images evidently carried over into this morning’s dreamscape (I noted thatTony Rome was simultaneously broadcast on another channel).

The former film as you know culminates in Moore’s confrontation with Heston, the then president of the NRA, in the latter’s home. The interview could be read with the Lacanian discourses in mind. Here’s the hysteric Moore ($) addressing the Heston’s phallic power (S1), trying to get the Master to produce something. What? Knowledge (S2). Or at least a desire to know.

What the hysteric accomplishes of course is an exposure of the master for what he really is (& thru this, the repressed truth of the hysteric’s discourse). For us, Heston’s impotence shows thru via Moore’s questioning. You start to see indications that the former is not all that masterful, perhaps never was. He gives some silly answers. Speaks of ‘wise old dead white guys’ & ‘ethnicity.’ And you see behind him a poster/print of his younger self (or is it of a young gun-slinging Clint Eastwood, someone who even in his old age never seems to lose his phallic power? they look so similar) that focuses in/out of the scene & pops in/out from behind Heston’s head – indications of the mastery he once had but now has been lost.

Heston eventually cuts the discussion short, we see his short-stepped, fragile, old-man walk & Moore takes a final stab at him. Heston turns, Moore has this picture held up in front of him with both hands. A picture of a 6 yr old girl shot by a 6 yr old boy.

Here we see the repressed truth of Moore’s discourse. An ambivalent image: much too small to cover over the man holding the image ($>a), yet somehow doing just that, momentarily making us forget the obesity that is Moore’s subjective position ($<a). What we end up with is the fantasy framework: ($<>a)

He exposes this (unknowingly) for himself & for us, the viewer. This object, this photo, this truth of the film. And what does he do with his/our truth? He tries one last time to leave it with the castrated master. Props it up outside the house against a pillar, unsuccessfully at first, the object won’t stay in its designated place for long (a breeze moments later will surely knock it over), and walks away back into ‘the real world,’ as he comments in a voice-over.

Is this not an illustration of the complete failure to effectively move into a determinate reflective position on the part of the liberal left? Here we have the truth of its subjective position, of how it needs these external images of violence, of dead children, held away from one’s body, in order to maintain its fantasy framework that allows it to continuously point the finger to the castrated master for producing these objects, overlooking how it is only thru the production of this non-sublated immediacy that allows the left its sublating power? That this immediate object that Moore holds in his hands is the very same object that fills out the empty framework of Moore’s fantasy of exposing the true reasons of gun violence behind those very images of violence that he & his viewers are positing all around themselves?

But here we also have a success, a point where Moore might be seen to meet Heston on potentially another level. It is not when Moore, in his mimicking satire of a gun-loving Heston, comes out of a bank with his new rifle held high above his head because he opened a new account there; but rather it’s at this moment when we see Moore holding the picture of the 6 yr old girl up for Heston. This is where we should hear Heston’s NRA rally-words in a voice-over: “From my cold, dead hands!” That is, the last thing Moore & the viewers, who have invested themselves in this film for the last 2 hours, will let go of is this fanatasy object that gives such wonderful, emotionally-laden form to their own rally-cry that allows them to produce/view such a film with such obvious enjoyment.

So there is nothing for Moore to do than to go back into his ‘real world’ fantasy & pick up where he left off just prior to the Heston exchange. Just before the closing credits, we see him interviewing a young man with a hat that says ‘F___ Everyone’ & then going into a bowling alley for some more sound clips & images on a recent shooting. Moore nevers arrives at the speculative identity: Moore is that picture (Spirit is a bone). In short, he fails to identify with his fundamental fantasy.

Movie Time

May 19, 2008

Seriously, I always thought this globe represented the objet a: You eat the fruit of knowledge and slip away from your mission, you enter into fantasy-romance land, the impossible hour hits, and then you destroy your fantasy to fall into a black nothingness… Yes?



I did a quick search on “spirit is a bone” and found “The Greek Profile: Hegel’s aesthetics and the implications of a pseudo-science (PDF)” by Steven Decaroli.

Decaroli describes how “observational reason”, as one of the first stops reason makes on its way towards absolute knowledge, is the moment in Hegel’s dialectic which people try to make a link between appearance and essence – after having dividing the one from the other. This link is thought such that the exterior that is present to the senses is taken as a reflection of the essence of the surface under observation. And this is, of course, what phrenologists do, positing that facial features are an expression of a person’s character, their essence.

It is the phrenologists who assert that ““the being of Spirit is a bone” (page 208 of Miller’s translation of the Phenomenology) but they are wrong because spirit is dynamic, and as such cannot be found in a static thing like a bone. However, it is this incorrect assertion that drives the dialectic forward…

Based on this (which Decaroli describes in the first 5 sections of his paper), Decaroli argues that for Hegel…

Art, as no longer being relevant to human progress, ceases to be exemplary and remains only a matter of description, not prescription. One of the manifestations of this historical obsolescence is the degree to which beauty can be submitted to an explanation via quantification and measurement (117).

That is, Hegel thought that while one could not determine an individual’s character by the lumps on their skull, one could look at Greek sculpture and see a quantification, an embodiment of (rather than a reflection of inner-) beauty. As Decaroli tells the story, the difference between Hegel, the aesthetic theory of Hegel’s time, and the phrenologists is that Hegel asserts that one cannot use this embodiment to talk about a dynamic movement (i.e. the intentions of a person) or as a prescription as to how to do things.

I think that’s more or less what Decaroli is arguing, and I think it’s useful for us in a couple of ways. First is at the level of theory and practice: one can describe what’s out there, but can’t use that description as a prescription for action. That sort of knowledge must come from somewhere else – I don’t know Hegel at all, so I can’t say what the next stages of the dialectic look like. If we think about Lacan and Lenin, however, then the answer comes somwhere in the difference between doing and transmitting knowledge of doing (an idea that Lacan builds on top of Kojeve’s version of the master/slave dialectic…).

Second, this may be a germ for one way of thinking the relation between art and Zizek’s and Lacan’s (and Freud’s) use of it in terms of generating theory.My first thought is this: Movies, jokes, operas, literary stories – These arn’t ‘examples of what to do’ but embodiments of the jouissance that is produced in certain arragnements…

Decaroli’s paper is a pretty quick read. It’s shorter than it looks – I avoided all the footnotes, and there are a bunch of pages that are just drawings. Most of the stuff about Hegel’s take on “spirit is a bone” happen in the first four sections, and are taken up again in the last few. I recommend it.

Based on the lumps in this person’s skull, I would guess that they were a union-busting capitalist, prone to exploiting their labour force with a smile…

Or maybe this is an example when ‘spirit is a bone’, while at the same time ‘wealth is the self’

H.S. Harris on the relevance of Hegel today

Protected: Songs…

May 16, 2008

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Adrian Johnston

May 15, 2008

It just came to my attention that Johnston has a new book about Zizek. I’ve read a few of Johnston’s papers, and they were pretty good. Like Zupancic, he was a student of Zizek’s…

“Revulsion is not without its subject: Kant, Lacan, Žižek and the Symptom of Subjectivity”

“There is Truth, and then there are truths—or, Slavoj Žižek as a Reader of Alain Badiou”

“The Cynic’s Fetish: Slavoj Žižek and the Dynamics of Belief

“From the Spectacular Act to the Vanishing Act: Badiou, Žižek, and the Politics of Lacanian Theory”

If you’re going to read any of these, read the last one. ….It’s the only one of these I’ve read actually. So I guess that’s not much of an endorsement. I just mean that it was interesting because he talks quite abit about Lacan’s version of the Act….

And for those of us who haven’t read each other’s papers…

IJZS Graduate Student Special Issue


May 11, 2008

Apparently someone wanted to read our stuff in French…

Radio Rat

May 10, 2008

This article is about the remote-controlled rat that Z was talking about in Parallax…. The article is a little evasive on the point of what the ‘reward stimulus’ is for these rats as they are trained, but seeing as they’re “virtual” it may not be to far-afield to assume that they are just stimulating the ‘pleasure-centres’.

That’s confirmed in this video.

The way Z writes about it in Parallax… it’s as if the rat has no choice as to what to do: “For the first time, the ‘will’ of a living animal agent, its ‘spontaneous’ decisions about the movements it would make, were taken over by an external machine” (page 176). However, as is clear from the article and this video, the rat still has the ability to make decisions. That is, the rat must learn to respond to the stimulus that’s sent, and it’s given dope (i.e. dopamine is released from the pleasure centres) in order to make the decision that the scientists want to see. It seems to me that Z’s ‘reified’ the biological, assuming that it is in fact possible to control people via the piece of meat under one’s skull, via biology alone.

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