David McNally Talk part II

October 25, 2008

That talk last night was the first (leftist economic) talk I was present at in years, certainly the first since I took up Zizek. And the one thing that struck me hard – to the point that all ‘content’ was lost for me in a sense, so that I could only hear it on a lower level hum-like wavelength – was the jouissance that permeated the room, a jouissance that acted as a support for the Talk and for the mildly frenzied Speaker himself, as a support for the audiences’ position of smiling faces & agreeable nodding heads, for the furious note takers, for the documenting photographers….

 In Z’s ‘Language, Violence & Nonviolence’ essay, he says something like, we presuppose a normal standard of non-violence to measure that which we see as a violent act. And that it is this very presupposing of the ‘normal’ non-violent standard that is the highest form of violence.

Using a homologous logic, I propose to read last night – in a broad, brutle, shot-gun style outline of an analysis – like this:

Sitting there last night, I could imagine the Speaker presupposing some non-antagonistic eden of a (socialist) economy with which he could measure the contradictions of the capitalistic crisis against, of the crisis he was endeavoring to outline. And of course what he may overlook is the fact that the greatest antagonism he faces is the one in which he himself generates by presupposing such a non-antagonistic measure with reference to which the current capitalistic crisis appears so antagonistic.

More exactly: the self-relating negativity is precisely the relation of (the antagonism of the capitalist crisis measured against the presupposed ‘normal’ measuring rod of a non-antagonistic socialist eden) to (the presupposed measuring rod of non-antagonistic socialist eden).  Or, the purely posited object a is related to the purely presupposed Thing. The crucial final Hegelian step to take is to equate these two in a speculative identity. Identity is the highest form of contradiction, of negativity, which is a self-relating negativity.

It is this self-relating negativity that generates enjoyment. It is this that which sustained the Speaker and the Audiences’ identitication with marxist, socialist, call-it-whatever-you-want, ideology.

What I realized is that you can certainly enjoy these talks without an Absolute Knowlege of these things, as I did in the past before I met Zizek. (And as I could clearly read on the faces in the room). But that enjoyment is infinitely greater as this knowlege is grasped. And this knowledge must be grasped again & again &….


7 Responses to “David McNally Talk part II”

  1. battleofthegiants said

    I don’t think he was measuring against a socialist Eden – all the numbers that McNally gave were of Capitalism in relation to Capitalism: e.g. Housing-values, for 100 years, matched inflation, but from ’95 to 2000-whatever they exploded to whatever-percent; the value of the financial system has exploded in the last while; the measure of financial-worth to actual material wealth is separated by a ridiculous disparity, etc.

    Following Marx, what McNally did was describe the goings-on of financial capitalism and showed the contradictions that are inherent to it and drive it to crises (i.e. explaining rather than white-washing or merely describing) – and he did this without reference to how it could be better. McNally’s assertion is precisely “another world is possible” – that is, capitalism works this way by definition, but the world need not be capitalist.

    The only point where he offered any hint towards an actual program was when he was prompted – i.e. “all that money could go to people rather than banks”. Again, he didn’t say “socialism will look like X”, he said “we need to think beyond Keynesianism”. He left it open as to what will/can be done.

    Take, for instance, his response to the ‘naive’ question from the floor. What the question was actually about (though the person didn’t use this term) was consumer confidence. He said something to the effect of ‘does it really matter what people do?’ – referring to people not spending. McNally, however, responded to the possibility that this opened up: yes, it does matter what people do on a day to day basis – go out and organize; go out and exercise your ‘political imagination’ and it will change things.

    This is Marxism as an ‘immanent critique’: you don’t make predictions about the future, you assess what’s going, its parts and how they interact, and on that basis ‘imagine’ the possibilities for changing the world that these conditions present…as you’re doing it.

    I think you could talk about the room as one enthralled by a master, however. As much as he said that he wasn’t there to ‘explain everything’, people asked him questions as if he was… and he answered (almost) all the questions…


  2. battleofthegiants said

    Haven’t read it yet, but…


  3. sonnyburnett said

    I’m trying to take seriously Zizek’s notion that enjoyment be taken as a political factor, a factor that sustains our political discourse. This is the subtitle of the book we just read together. This is something I know that I read in your paper on the IJZS site, that Zizek’s breakthru in political analysis is his recognition of jouissance – this is the key to Zizek’s revolution in political analysis.

    So I asked myself, looking back at that political discourse we were participating in last Friday, where does that jouissance lie? What is it supporting? How is it produced?

    Zizek’s wager, in reading Lacan’s “Kant with Sade”, is that, yes, Kant recognizes that if you logically follow ‘content’ along far enough, you end up with ‘form’ as a product that drops out. But what he didn’t recognize, but Lacan did, and thus Lacan’s critique of Kant, is that if you follow ‘form’ along far enough, what falls out is Jouissance.

    (Contra Kant: some guy MAY have his way with the woman precisely BECAUSE the gallows await him outside the door if he does).

    Our Speaker friday in no way occupied a priveleged, necessary position in his marxist analysis of the world economy. I think we all agree on this. So, what, ultimately, does guarantee the Truth of his Speech? Is it not, in the end, precisely the fact that his Identity is self-negating? That it is immanently contradictory?

    So what is this contradiction? Within his speech, how can we – as Zizekian analysts – articulate it?

    What precisely made the Speech an ‘immanent critique’, as you put it? Or in other words, what makes it, ultimately, a contingent, jouissance-ladden Word?

    Jouissance sustained our Speaker’s Speech. How, precisely, did it so? What were his presuppositions? What was the inner, self-relating negativity aspect of his Speech?

    In a Zizekian analysis, is not the basic first move to articulate this self-relating negativity?

    If we don’t recognize that that external gaze that, as you put it above, “assesses what’s going on” [ie, gazes out at the so-called ‘reality’ of the situation, the Substance] is ALREADY the Substance’s own gaze on itself, [thereby experiencing Substance as Subject], then we miss Zizek’s point and Zizek is reduced to just another dogmatic marxist assured of his analysis because the laws of dialectic history say that it is so.

    Friday’s discourse. Where and precisely how was the jouissance produced that sustained it?

  4. battleofthegiants said

    By ‘immanent critique’ I mean he’s looking at what people are saying and taking it where they refuse to – the same way that Marx did with english political economy. McNally was referencing newspapers and the like (as in the article). He wasn’t going out and gathering his own numbers, but taking those of others and puting a Marxist lens to them. Lenin did the same thing in State and Revolution, for instance. They don’t write from scratch, they take what’s there and push it until it breaks…and they stand in a certain position to be able to do it: all three (Marx, Lenin, McNally) were/are ‘politically engaged’ subjects.

    McNally was near the top of the International Socialists for years, then broke away and helped found the New Socialist Group, which publishes the journal that I’ve linked to above. I’m sure that’s part of his draw. There were also many people from York there, profs and students alike. From what I understand he’s supervising ALOT of students and been teaching for years, so I’m sure that helps.

    So, you might be able to talk about teacher/student dynamics, as well as follower/followed dynamics.

    I watched “Zizek!” last night, and in it he talks about how “the left” always comes to talks looking for the big answer to all their questions. That’s exactly how McNally’s meeting began: he was immediately positioned as the ‘subject supposed to know’. That’s why I was there – I was waiting for a Marxist to explain to me what the crises was all about…

    But he didn’t go into prescription, he didn’t give any big answers as to what needed to be done to transform the crises into a revolution. I was trying to formulate a question that would have made him talk about it, but I couldn’t come up with one that wouldn’t sound pathetic. The best I could come up with was “can you tell us what others have been doing in response to what’s happening?”…

    That’s the best I could do in terms of ‘enjoyment’ in this case.


  5. The Universal Singular said

    I think that another thing to keep in mind is that when Lacan talks about jouissance, or when Zizek talks about Enjoyment, they are not necessarily talking about pleasure. This distinction is made in a few places in Zizek’s work (I think it’s in a footnote in Tarrying with the Negative… I’ll get back to you on this).

    Jouissance, rather, has to do with the impossible, traumatic, Enjoyment. In this sense it is Real (and, yes, it represents the Void of a self-relating negativity).

    When Zizek says that he is a Communist (as he has done in recent interviews) I believe that he is conceiving Communism, not necessarily as some utopian ideal. Rather, I feel that Communism represents, in (his) political discourse, ‘society’ as impossible Real Thing of jouissance.

    In the same way, the phrase “Another World is Possible” (the title of McNally’s most recognized book) alludes to the idea of Communism as impossible, Real, jouissance.

    I believe that McNally’s talk (although he and others might not agree) is part of a Marxist ethics of drive, taking PLEASURE (or satisfaction) in constantly circling around the object (Thing) of jouissance (‘another word’/Communism). This is, in fact, what immanent critique does. However, in order to imagine that another world is possible (creating the possibility out of the impossibility), some externalized (partial) object (objet petit a) or obstacle is posited: capital. This is desire. It is the immanent critique of capital, which McNally is conducting, which gives pleasure to the Left, but it also confronts the desire (capital as obstacle) of the Left (in ‘another world’). Here, then, we have the paradox of desire and drive.

    The fantasy of the Left, which is a screen for this paradox, is the externalization of the obstacle, which transforms the trauma of the impossible, Real, jouissance, into something possible ($a).

    Zizek’s interpretation of Laclau and Mouffe’s ‘radical democracy’ falls perfectly within this framework of an ethics of drive. Radical democracy implies, according to Zizek, the utter impossibility of democracy. What is radical about radical democracy is that it constantly unhinges the basis of political order: by pointing out the Truth of Universal Particular from the perspective of the Universal Singular. As long as there is a point of exclusion, society is impossible. This, more than, anything should demonstrate why Marxism is the worldview of the proletariat; and an immanent critique of capitalism, from the perspective of the proletariat, from the Universal Singular, the symptom, points towards the Truth of liberal democratic society: that it is impossible. Liberal democratic society is not ‘it’ (think of the joke about the conscript searching for his discharge papers). From the perspective of the ‘scientific discourse of the proletariat’ Communism IS ‘it’.

  6. The Universal Singular said

    RE: Pleasure/Enjoyment

    “What should be pointed out here is that enjoyment (jouissance, Genuss) is not to be equated with pleasure (Lust): enjoyment is precisely ‘Lust im Unlust’; it designates the paradoxical satisfaction procured by a painful encounter with a Thing that perturbs the equilibrium of the ‘pleasure principle.’ In other words, enjoyment is located ‘beyond the pleasure principle.'” (Tarrying with the Negative, p. 280 n.1).

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