New Zizek article in Critical Inquiry 34, pp. 660-682.


Next Meeting…

September 26, 2008

Does anyone mind if we have our meeting a little earlier next week, say around 3pm?  There’s a lecture at York at 6pm that I’d like to go to.

After our discussion yesterday, I started thinking about how Zizek often refers to Agamben’s notion of homo sacer and the Sovereign exception.

If you are not familiar with it, homo sacer refers to a social status of exclusion – homo sacer (sacred man) can be killed but not sacrificed.  It is one kind of exception that forms a particular society.  The other exception is the Sovereign exception, something like Sovereign who is exempted from the law, but who binds the law.  The sovereign, in other words, is both inside and outside the law.

Using these terms, and to relate master-signifier and objet a, as well as the relation between universal, particular and singular to politics, I’m wondering if we can think of the people in general as forming some kind of abstract universal, empty set.  The Sovereign exception is added to/subtracted from this set in order to transform the empty set of people into legal subjects/citizens.  In this way, the Sovereign acts as a master-signifier, transforming the abstract universal into a concrete universal, or a Universal Particular.  The sovereign, in other words, serves as the quilting point tying the particular (sovereign exception) to the universal (legal subjectivity/citizenship), and constructs the form of Inclusion.  Exclusion is represented by homo sacer.  At any time, anyone can become homo sacer/outcast.  However, at the same time, legal subjects/citizens have to find support for their own inclusion in society through some externalized obstacle (objet petita a), which represents exclusion.

In Marxist terms, the antagonism between Sovereign exception and homo sacer is one of class struggle.  And, in order to legitimize that concrete universality of legal subjectivity, the class struggle has to be displaced onto some particular exclusion (Jew, Arab, working class, etc.).  The Universal Singular reprsents this particular exclusion as an externalized obstacle, in which legal subjects find support for their own inclusion.  The proletariat is the universal subject insofar as anyone at any time can become homo sacer, i.e. can be excluded so that the set defining inclusion can find support through some exclusion.  The proletariat is, in this sense, the category of Truth, ‘the revolutionary Subject proper’ (Welcome to the Desert of the Real, p. 81); anyone can potentially become homo sacer.

However, as the quilting point that forms the concrete universality of legal subjectivity, the Sovereign exception finds its point of absolute negation in homo sacer.  Would this be a way of thinking the relation between master-signifier and objet petit a?  Objet a as the point of absolute negation of the master-signifier?  Or, in contrast, does the sovereign exception find its point of absolute negation in itself (as an exception that is both inside and outside the law), does the master-signifier, in other words, find its own point of absolute negation in itself; and, therefore, does the objet a represent that which gives support to the set that is defined by the setting of the master-signifier – does homo sacer give support to legal subjectivity?  Put differently, does objet a displace the master-signifier?

New Book…

September 21, 2008

Here’s another book to look out for…  but I think the release has been delayed.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Slavoj Zizek (But Were Afraid to Ask Alfred Hitchcock) by Laurence Simmons.

Does anyone know anything about the author?

The Seminars of Jacques Lacan

September 19, 2008

Here’s a link to some summaries of Lacan’s Seminars, up to Seminar XVII:  L’Envers de la psychoanalyse (The Other Side of Psychoanalysis), from

This is a comic strip called Garfield Minus Garfield, where the artist takes the little orange piece of shit out of the frame. The comic above reminds me of Robert DeNiro’s “You talkin’ to me” routine. The difference is that DeNiro does this with reference to his mirror-rival and the absent voice, and Jon is talking to the missing object. In place of DeNiro’s impotence appearing as anger and the gun from his sleeve, Jon is embarrassed and “hides his shame.”

Here Jon meets DeNiro as a woman; it’s the ‘object’ that speaks, rather than the subject – You lookin’ at me? This is the object as embodiment of gaze, rather than a missing voice. Jon doesn’t know what to do – “Che Vuoi??” What do you want, object? He needs the other to teach him how to desire… only after the ‘object’ is lost does he figure out what to do.

Something instead of nothing…

From Myth to…

September 18, 2008

The Thing might find this useful…re: Hamlet.

“From Myth to Agape”

The Inhuman…

September 17, 2008

The Inhuman: Investigating Continental Thought in the Humanities

October 3-4, 2008
York University, Toronto

Vanier College
Renaissance Room


Cary Wolfe, Rice University
“Before the Law: Animals in a Biopolitical Context”

October 3rd, Senate Chambers RN940, 7: 00 PM

Conference Schedule

Friday, October 3rd, 2008


8: 45 am – 9: 00 am (Renaissance Room 001)
Robert Brown, Sharanpal Ruprai, Joshua Synenko

Return and Retreat of The Uncanny

9: 00 am – 10: 30 am (Renaissance Room 001)
Chair: Dr. Susan Ingram, York

Ofelia’s ‘Act’ and the Sacrifice of Sacrifice in Pan’s Labyrinth (Susan Moore, York)

Obscenity and Anamorphosis in The 120 Days of Sodom (Jeremy Bell, Trent)

The Uncanny Fecundity of the Novel: America between Mourning and Melancholia in Don Delillo’s “Falling Man” (Ricky Varghese, U of T)

Here is a link to the google pages version of Michel Chion’s The Voice in Cinema.  Zizek often refers to this book when discussing Voice as objet petit a, particularly when he’s talking about it in cinema.  Another good book is Todd McGowan’s recent work The Real Gaze:  Film Theory After Lacan, where he focuses on gaze as objet petit a.

Primordial Flesh

September 14, 2008

In On Belief (2001) – and probably elsewhere – Zizek says “the look into Irma’s throat renders the Real in the guise of the primordial flesh, the palpitation of the life substance as the Thing ifself, in its disgusting dimension of cancerous outgrowth.  However, in the second part [of Freud’s dream of Irma’s injection] the comic symbolic exchange/interplay of the three doctors also ends up with the Real, this time in its opposite aspect – the Real of writing, of the meaningless formula of trimethylamine.  The difference hinges on the different starting points:  if we end with the Imaginary (the mirror-confrontation of Freud and Irma), we get the Real in its imaginary dimension, as a horrifying primordial image that cancels the imaginary itself; if we start with the Symbolic (the exchange of arguements between the three doctors), we get the signifier itself transformed into the Real of a meaningless letter/formula.  Needless to say that these two figures are the very two opposite aspects of the Lacanian Real:  tehy abyss of the primordial Life-Thing and the meaningless letter/formula (as in the Real of modern science).  And, perhaps, one should add to them the third Real, the ‘Real of illusion,’ the Real of a pure semblance, of a spectral dimension which shines through our common reality” (p. 81, emphasis added).

The point I want to make with this quote is the following:  I realize that Zizek gives these examples in order to explain the three Reals.  What I’m having trouble with is translating these examples into something that makes sense to me.

So far, I’m satisfied with my understanding of the real Real as inherent impossibility (i.e. fundamental fantasy, ‘society doesn’t exist’, ‘there is no sexual relationship’, and so forth); and the imaginary Real represents an externalized obstacle that is developed out of this inherent impossibility – it presents a situation of possibility, and it is only this obstacle that is preventing the possible (objet petit a, capital, Jew).

When Zizek says that the Real is presented in the dream of Irma’s injection as the primordial flesh, the cancerous outgrowth, I feel like he is merely using this as an example of inherent impossibility.  Same thing with the idea of meaningless formula…  it seems that it is an example of something that he is trying to get across regarding the symbolic Real.  But what does this mean??  How can this be translated back into the Lacanian theory that he is using?

My guess is that the symbolic Real is the master-signifier, or phallus.  If we start from the real Real as inherent impossibility, we get the imaginary Real as externalized obstacle, and the master-signifier as symbolic Real holds together the Symbolic order in a way that allows us to make sense out of the not-all set of the Symbolic so that the we can imagine that the externalized obstacle really is the thing we are missing, or the Thing that is preventing us from realizing the inherent impossibility.  The master-signifier as symbolic Real (S1), transforms the not-all set into meaningful language, into the symoblic Symbolic, the big Other (S2).  In other words, it is necessary for the master-signifier (symbolic Real, S1) to transform the not-all symoblic set into meaningful language (symbolic Symbolic, big Other, S2), so that it will make sense to people that the externalized obstacle (imaginary Real, objet a) really is the Thing that is preventing that which is imagined as possible (but which is actually inherently impossible, real Real).

When we say, along with Zizek, that fantasy structures reality, it is in this sense that the Symbolic needs to be transformed into meaningful language so that the externalized obstacle (objet a) preventing us from achieving absolute knowledge, in the Hegelian sene, (Real) will make sense to us.