Zizek for and against Lefort and the Monarch

October 27, 2008

We were arguing the other day whether or not Zizek sticks with the monarch as the ultimate in politics, or whether that view changes and he switches his stance and puts his eggs in the basket of a Leninist Party. The best way to do this is to compare what he says about Claude Lefort in For They Know Not… and Parallax View.

Here is a section from For they Know Not… about Lefort and democracy:

The paradox of the Hegelian monarch becomes manifest if we locate it against the background of what Claude Lefort called the “democratic invention”: the radical break in the very mode of the performing of power introduced by the emergence of democratic political discourse. Lefort’s fundamental thesis – which has today already acquired the status of a commonplace – is that ith the advent of the “democratic invention,” the locus of Power becomes an empty place; what was before the anguish of interregnum, a period of transition to be surmounted as soon as possible – the fact that “the thrown is empty” – is now the only normal state. In pre-democratic societies, there is always a legitimate pretender to the place of Power, somebody who is fully entitled to occupy it, and the one who violently overthrows him has simply the status of an usurper, whereas within the democratic horizon, everyone who occupies the locus of power is by definition a usurper (For They Know Not..., 267).

And further, in the footnote to this paragraph he writes…

Here we can see how the “democratic invention” accomplishes the operation which Lacan calls the “point de caption” (quilting point). What was at one moment a terrifying defect, a catastrophe for the social edifice – the fact that “the thrown is empty” – turns into a crucial prerogative. The fundamental operation of the “democratic invention” is thus of a purely symbolic nature: it is misleading to say that the “democratic invention” finds the locus of power empty – the point is rather that it constitutes, constructs it as empty; that it reinterprets the “empirical” fact of interregnum into a “transcendental” condition of the legitimate exercise of power (For They Know Not…, 276 n52).

Zizek then goes on to argue that the Jacobins were fighting to keep this place open but in so doing could only accomplish the Terror. While he holds that their project was at base democratic, he writes that their “position of enunciation” was in fact a means of maintaining their own power rather than leaving it open for all to enjoy. “The Hegelian defense of monarchy presents us,” he writes, “with a speculative solution to this Jacobin paradox”:

If, in the Jacobin, his position of enunciation (executor of Power) belies his enunciated (that of being a protector of the empty locus of Power, i.e. of its democratic character), the monarch, on the contrary succeeds in functioning, on the level of enunciation, as an effective protector of the empty locus of Power precisely by assuming, on the level of enunciated, the shape of an unitary, positive Person, that of a Sovereign, guarantor and embodiment of the State’s identity with itself (For They Know Not…, 269-70).

It is immediately after this paragraph that Zizek’s argumentation ends and the text breaks – i.e. there’s a space after this paragraph and then we get what is ostensibly the conclusion of the book (the only other place we find such a break is at the end of the first chapter). Here we get his claim that “…the liberal-democratic project is not yet fully realized,” and it seems to me that this means he was thinking we needed some sort of Hegelian monarch to complete that project, that what was needed to “realize” liberal-democracy was to have someone who semi-permanently occupied the “place of Power.” …And somehow that monarch would be of a non-capitalist nature (more on this below). It is at this point that we should remember that in the preface to the book he writes that what he had yet to purge from this period of his writing were his liberal-democratic biases. He wrote that in 2002, about the time of his self proclaimed ‘Leninist turn.’ Take that into consideration when reading Zizek’s comments regarding Lefort and democracy in this quote from Parallax View – a book which of course has an inverted copy of “Lenin at the Smolny Institute” on the cover, giving the impression that Lenin is writing notes from Freud’s (rather, Lacan’s) chair as ‘the empty subject’ in the other (empty) chair speaks:

This limitation of the critique of fetishism, of the mantra that a fetish is just a contingent ordinary object which fills in an empty place in the structure, has crucial philosophical and political consequences: what this critique misses is the umbilical link that connects the big Other (the formal order, ultimately an empty place) to the small other (the ridiculous/excessive/excremental object, tic, that sticks out of the Other). Where the space of politics is concerned, this reveals the insufficiency of the democratic topos (deployed ad infinitum by Claude Lefort) about the empty Place of Power for the temporary occupancy of which multiple agents struggle; where philosophy is concerned, it reveals the insufficiency of the standard ontology of finitude/contingency, again based on the priority of the empty Place (of the Absolute, this time) over any element that many temporarily occupy it. Although one of the names for this finitude is supposed to be “(symbolic) castration,” what this ontology of finitude/contingency misses is precisely the whole scope of the strict psychoanalytic notion of castration: “castration” designates not only the irreducible gap between the element and the (preceding) empty space this element occupies, but, first and foremost, also the fact that this empty space, which lacks and “natural” element that would occupy it, is strictly correlative to an excessive element which wanders around, lacking its “proper” place – this is strico sensu the “castrated” object, the partial object which sticks out and floats around. To put it in a different way: in a philosophical perspective , we cannot accept the empty place (of the impossible Universality, the place to be filled in – “hegemonized” – by contingent particulars) as the ultimate given; we should hazard a step further and ask how – through what cut in the texture of the living body – this empty place itself emerges (Parallax View, 108-9).

This quote contains almost everything we were discussing on the blog last week. In place of something that would ‘naturally’ fill the gap, you get the ‘part of no part’. That is, in place of Hegel’s monarch – which Hegel describes precisely as natural and immediate – that would fill out the gap, castration creates an exclusion that is, in Marx’s terms, ‘in but not of’: i.e. the proletariat. Liberal “universality” is one “hegemonized” by a particular rather than a singular, which thereby allows for the control of the ideological frame of debate. Rather than accept Lefort’s ideas and with them liberal-democracy, Lefort is derided and we are told liberal democracy’s basis must be questioned.

On this latter point in particular I think his arguments about the foundation of the law that we find in For They Know Not… are more consistently followed through in Parallax than they are in Know Not. In Parallax Zizek is questioning the foundation of Liberal-democracy, whereas in FTKN he’s trying to argue how it L-d could be properly accomplished. Whereas before he thought that liberal-democracy was a project that could be fully realized and capitalism purged from it, by the time he writes the 2002 preface he realizes that liberal-democracy is its own limit: you can’t have liberal democracy without private property.

And we have to remember that in Parallax Z places Bartleby where the monarch was. Rather than someone who stands as the completion of a rational project as the ‘irrational in the core of the rational’, rather than the capricious monarch who must make decisions where otherwise decisions can’t be made (see FTKN, 277, n54), we get Bartleby who refuses to make any decisions at all.

As Lacan does in The Other Side… in regards to the two fathers, Zizek suggests (i.e. makes the theoretical ‘leap’, the ‘wager’) that “the external law which regulates social exchange is perhaps here precisely in order to deliver us from the unbearable deadlock of the inner law run amok…” (FTKN, 240). In a similar line of thought, in the eighth chapter of DoLC Zizek argues that formal democracy (the act of voting) is merely a defense against the ‘truth’ of democracy – the explosion of ‘violence’ that restructures the social space in the interests of those who are ‘in but not of.’ This leads him, of course, to the dictatorship of the proletariat: where liberal-democracy is the dictatorship of the bourgeois, a socialist revolution would transform the state in the interests of workers…

I don’t think this means Zizek gives up on the idea of the monarch, however. He replaces the monarch with the Party. It’s not a mistake that in Terrorism and Communism – a book by Trotsky that Zizek ‘edited’ for Verso in the last year or so – Trotsky makes comments in regards to the Party that are very close to those made by Hegel regarding the monarch. In times of strife, Hegel’s monarch “cuts short the weighing of arguments and counter-arguments (between which vacillations in either direction are always possible) and resolves them by its ‘I will’, thereby initiating all activity and actuality” (Hegel, POR, 317). Keep in mind that the sovereign does not administer but defers to the Executive, and compare Hegel’s comment to Trotsky’s remarks on the Party during war communism:

In the hands of the Party is concentrated the general control. It does not immediately administer, since its apparatus is not adapted for this purpose. But it has the final word in all fundamental questions. Further, our practice has led to the result that, in all moot questions, generally – conflicts between departments and personal conflicts within departments – the last word belongs to the central committee of the party. This affords extreme economy of time and energy. And in the most difficult and complicated circumstances gives a guarantee for the necessary unity of action (Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, 102).

Zizek approvingly alludes to this section in his introduction to the book. So, it seems to me that the logic of the monarch is still operative in Zizek, but he flips it so that the Party doesn’t represent the ‘organic totality’ of society as the State, but the ‘excluded element’, and will act as the lever to a socialist organization of the economy. Which is to say that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and not the monarch is to be – and remember that Marx more or less said this – the left’s ‘vanishing mediator’…


28 Responses to “Zizek for and against Lefort and the Monarch”

  1. sonnyburnett said

    “We were arguing the other day whether or not Zizek sticks with the monarch as the ultimate in politics, or whether that view changes and he switches his stance and puts his eggs in the basket of a Leninist Party.”

    This is how you picked things up & I don’t necessarily agree or disagree.

    My point of emphasis was that Zizek’s logic, his topography, (first concisely ‘summarized’ in his discussions of the Hegelian logic of the monarch), has NEVER changed in his English publishing career. He’s simply gotten better at articulating & illustrating this logic since the days of the brutal final half of the last chapter of Sublime Object. But the SAME logic in that chapter is present up to his most recent book, now in 2008.

    You can justifiably say, if you read one Zizek book, you’ve read them all. That is, if you are reading for his underlying topography.

    Zizek’s major contribution is his innovative reading of the Hegelian dialectic and book to book, chapter to chapter, paragraph to paragraph, he reinterates this 1-2-3 dialectical steps. A Zizekian waltz is present in everything he writes, in whatever illustrations he uses.

    The reason this doesn’t appear so all the time is that he ‘freezes’ on certain steps, in between certain steps, on presuppositions of subjects in step 1, or the posited object in step 2, on how the Thing appears to a subject in step 3, etc and uses this ‘frozen point’ to analyze about a modern Leninist party’s view of the proletariat would be today, or to discuss the vampiric Thing of Capital, or how without surplus capital there is no Capitalism etc etc.

    He says this straight out in an interview I once read. He said that he writes volumes precisely because he is hiding the fact that he is saying the same thing, a simple thing, over & over & over.

    This was my modest point. Certainly his ‘application’ of the nuances of his logic in the realm of politics has changed over time, that he emphasizes this or that now more than he did previously, but why get lost in this all? I guess they make for good talking points in debates, but it seems that at this level, we are just engaged in writing Zizek’s biography, his shifts in political emphasis.

    I’m endeavoring to grasp his underlying topographical structure. To me, there is nothing more important, because otherwise I’d get so easily bogged down in his political analysis. And let’s be honest: Zizek’s political application of his topography is as good or bad as anyone elses – that is, if you don’t have a clue about his underlying logic. And that is easily the case with 99% of the crap out there that is written on his political & social viewpoints.

    I’d like to waltz as he does, I want to learn where to put my feet. That way I can generate my own idiosynchratic emphases, my own pauses between the steps and point and say, “Hey, this logic here is just like the position Obama was taking when he said yesterday…”

    That’s what I was trying to get at with McNally’s talk. Here, I took my three steps, I asked, what, from an Absolute Reflection standpoint, allows him to say what he said? What guarantees the Truth of his Speech?

    Iknow enought that it could only lie in the self-relating negativity of his Speech, and I was endeavoring to spell out some possible signifiers to fill in the logical structure of the point one reaches after successfully taking that 3rd, final, dialectical step. Like, what is the pure presuppostion (the Thing), the purely posited (object a), etc so that we can encircle that Jouissance that sustained his Speech?

    It’s in the signifiers he used. You can go no further than that. You CAN’T say, ‘Well, he’s just pointing out the facts’ or ‘he’s using the facts in a Marxist way’.

    And your own subjectivity, as a spectator of that Speech on Friday HAS TO be taken into account in your analysis of McNally.

    In a word, we were in a clinic on Friday. What are the results? What is the interpretation to be for the subject?

    How else could you analyze Friday’s discourse?

    How else could you embody object a as the agent in that discourse, in order reach the ethical domain, to have a chance of articulating the Truth?

    As a leftist, as a Zizekian/Lacanian leftist, are you not thereby obligated to psychoanalyze him, the Speaker, via his Speach?

  2. battleofthegiants said

    The argument you’re making is that made apropos Heidegger, and which Zizek rejects in both Parallax View and the first chapter of DoLC. You can’t separate Heidegger’s political actions and writings from his philosophy proper; there was something inherent to Heidegger’s philosophy that drove Heidegger to the political ideas that it did. I don’t see why we should make a different allowance for Zizek, especially when we agree that there is no theory without example, and the example always undermines the theory. What was it that drove Zizek to liberal-democracy? Is his method still actually the same, or has he made a shift that has brought him to the Party rather than the Monarch? Why does he feel it necessary to distance himself from his first two books?

    And I think we can talk about ‘the facts’, and assert that a Marxist re-orders them. It’s the same thing an analyst does: Take the speech of the analysand (Bourgeois economists in the papers), show them the symptom that they think is just a meaningless everyday thing (Marx’s discussion of the central importance of the commodity form – aka the object a) and from there show how looking at the seemingly meaningless thing actually reveals the Real reason the crises came about (Capitalism is driven to these crises systemically because of the contradiction between exchange- and use-value, and the Bourgeois economists do their darn-dest not to admit this fact, focusing on the lack of liquidity rather than why the paper they hold blew up and became worthless in the first place.) That is, like the analyst, the Marxist re-orders the meaning of everything that has been said (the economic numbers) in terms of the symptom (the commodity form).

    McNally doesn’t attack the facts at the level of the facts. He didn’t argue that people’s numbers were wrong (see, they forgot to carry the two!). His argument is precisely that they don’t interpret them properly, that they’re too busy trying to maintain their ‘enjoyment’ (profit) as it is, rather than actually changing things (performing an Act).

    To get back to the idea of a ‘socialist eden’ I think this is one of the moments when taking Zizek’s comments about his edited series “Sic!” seriously: take them for what they have said and not what one might think they met. McNally says “another world is possible”, not “Communism is possible”. That is, the way that capitalists have organized the ‘facts’ (the means of production, for example, would still be means of production even after the capitalist “World” in the Heideggerian/Badiouian sense falls away) is not the only way to organize the facts. “Communism” or “socialism” is in this strict sense, perhaps, the ‘self-relating negativity’ that we’re looking for: It’s not an abstract that needs to be filled with content, it is “another world” that is precisely the negation of the old, and that’s why Marx never gives a positive description of it – it’s not possible to do so. It will only come when we realize that the law is not unchangeable, when we actually act out the belief that “another world is possible” and create another world.

    I also think that’s the proper way to read Zizek’s comment “Communism will win!” – there is no longer any acutally-existing socialism that could ‘win’ a cold-war and destroy capitalism. There is only the possibility of realizing our freedom to create a new world. That is, “freedom will win!”

  3. Joe said

    “hat is, the way that capitalists have organized the ‘facts’ (the means of production, for example, would still be means of production even after the capitalist “World” in the Heideggerian/Badiouian sense falls away) is not the only way to organize the facts.”

    N Pepperell is dealing with this over at Rough Theory now, or at least in passing. In her post on the centrality of wage-labour, at on point she brings up how Marx strived to demonstrate the social character of Capitalism, such as to separate the problem from “the facts” of the Capitalist economy:

    “Since Marx’s theory is aimed at the possibility for emancipatory transformation, he must contest the claim that the problematic characteristics of capitalist production derive from the intrinsic technical requirements of large-scale production. This step, which renders Weber’s analysis intrinsically pessimistic, is one that Marx must avoid – by demonstrating that problematic characteristics of capitalist production have an immaterial base – a base in contingent – and therefore transformable – social practice, rather than in material or technical necessity”

    I wasn’t at the talk, and have not yet read For They Know Not, and it’s been a while since I finished the Phenomenology, but what battleofthegiants says of Zizek’s re-thinking of the Hegelian monarch. What seems at stake is the relationship between the “representative” role of the sovereign, and whether that relates to a kind of social body or the excremental excluded.

  4. battleofthegiants said

    I was rethinking some of this on the bus the other day, and have a couple of corrections:

    The commodity form is the object-cause of capitalism; the symptom would not be the commodity, but the economic crises – i.e. the thing that looks like an aberration that’s independent of the system, and is spoken about as if it can be made to go away and never return, when it is actually an inherent product of the system.

    To respond to Joe, what I’m talking about is exactly the social relations of production. When I say ‘fact’ and that the means of production is a ‘fact’, I’m saying that there will still be a means of production after the revolution, but the social relations that determine how people relate to it and each other (i.e. the MODE of production) would be totally different. In no way would the “Act” come from the development of the means of production; I wasn’t implying some sort of technological determinism.

    And I think your spot-on about the monarch: what I was trying to get at is that Zizek offers that the monarch is the direct embodiment of the state(as does Hegel, of course) and I don’t see how you could reconcile this with the idea of maintaining class-struggle. The state glosses over class-struggle, and gives you the likes of Michael Ignatieff’s “rights are neutral and just help us get along” shtick. Hence Zizek writing that he still had a liberal democratic biases at this point.

    Instead, what he gets to is “party as analyst” or Bartleby. What I need to think through is the relation between the two.

    Which also made me think something else on the bus: why not take up the idea that McNally works under “the desire of the analyst”? I think we have here the tension between teacher and the teacher who know’s they must always be taught. How do you tell people what you see is going on, and at the same time make people understand they have the power to do the same thing and don’t have to rely on a ‘master’ to do it? The analyst can ‘just listen’, but class-struggle demands education of some sort as well.

  5. sonnyburnett said

    Where does Z “he feel it necessary to distance himself from his first two books?”

    The monarch is an object that directly coincides with the void of the establishment of the state that he ‘represents’. That is how you can “reconcile this with the idea of maintaining class-struggle.” Identification is the highest form of contradiction, as Z oftens repeats H’s motto.

    To see this is true, you’d only have to reflect on how it is possible for you to have arrived at a couple of corrections to your previous assessment of the capitalist Substance, while on the bus the other day. How, exactly, did the Substance out there, that you are endevoring to pin down with psychoanalytic categories, change, while you were on the bus?

    The very reflective act on your part, prior to the other day on the bus, failed (ie, you made a correction to it on the bus), and it was by that very failed, reflective act, that that which eluded it was retroactively produced. Hence, the inner antagonism of the Substance (which is ‘filled in’ by that very reflective act).

    What gives Zizek ‘license’ to say what he says about the world? Is it not ulitmately contingent?

    One thing that strikes me is that so few Lacanians are politically active. Zizek is quite an exception to this. Why is this so?

  6. battleofthegiants said

    In “Zizek!” he gives room to infer a strange disavowal on his part: when listing his best books, he includes SOI but says that he’s embarrassed of it because it’s too liberal. We have to square this with his opening statements to the 2002 preface to FTKN, the uber-liberal nature of its ending, and his political work in Yugoslavia.

    In the preface he says something to the effect that “if one doesn’t want to talk about FTKN, they shouldn’t talk about SOI.” So how is it that he is able to talk about SOI as one of his best books, and yet not mention FTKN? In the preface he says he needed to purge his liberal bias from that period of his thought – the ending of the book calls out for the realization of liberal democracy. If he’s embarrassed of the liberalism in SOI, should he not similarly be embarrassed of at least the ending of FTKN? Why does it not even get a mention?

    Zizek has been highly criticized for his support of Slovenian succession and his thoughts on Serbia/ians as the cause of the war. This needs to be looked into in more depth: I’ve only seen little tidbits here and there on what people think, and never a sustained argument against him (i.e. little sections in papers and interviews, but never a full paper or full interview on that question alone, never an in depth description of what he has done). One striking thing, after having read Zizek’s papers on the question, as well as several papers and chapters from books on the war, is that Z doesn’t talk about the world-economic climate that precipitated it, instead talking about the role of nationalism. Nationalism was of course a big part of it, but he never mentions the economic facts: that in the early 90s Yugoslavia was in heavy debt to the IMF and World Bank, the world economy took a big dip at the time that had a huge impact on Yugoslavia’s economy, and this allowed the IMF to press one of its (well known) ‘structural adjusment’ programs on the country, which benefited western Europe and the U.S. This climate precipitated the meltdown, making room for the nationalisms that filled the vacuum. To a great extent Slovenia benefited from this: it was the ‘gateway’ to Western Europe for Yugoslavia, and when the breakup began, its government secured control of the borders so that it alone could benefit from economic exchanges with the West.

    There were also many strikes that were happening at the time, but no political movement to consolidate them. That is, there could have been an uprising whos politics were was based on the economic crises, rather than nationalism – had there been a political movement to help it grow. Wouldn’t a Marxist pick up on this economic context? What would make Zizek not think about it? Why would he focus on environmental and youth movements, for example? – becase he was a liberal.

    It’s precisely the question of identification that needs to be addressed here. The state (i.e. its embodiment in the Monarch) is precisely the wrong thing to identify with. In his later books Zizek argues that what is needed is an identification with the extimate element, not with the embodiment of a ‘complete society’ (which is how Hegel describes the Monarch). It seems to me that a ‘complete society’ is what “the realization of Liberal Democracy” (FTKN) is: “No class struggle here, just a whole crew of equal individuals with equal rights under a single state.” Liberal-democracy refuses to deal with class-struggle because it can’t acknowledge it: private property is its basis, is the ‘violent act’ that created it in the first place, and it’s forbidden from conversation (“You can’t change it, so don’t talk about it!” – the logic of forbidding the impossible because it’s not impossible).

    It seems to me the American Presidency is an example of a ‘Hegelian monarch’: some idiot who can make decisions without the legislative or judiciary (veto power). I really can’t see a radical politics in an identification with the American president: “We are all George Bush.” And it doesn’t matter what the name is. “We are all Stephen Harper.” “We are all Jack Layton.” Even “we are all Barak Obama”: as McNally noted, there’s a chance that Obama is precisely what Capitalism needs to tame its ‘unruly elements,’ just as Labour was in England in the seventies.

    This because “We are all the Monarch” is fundamentally an identification with a state that holds everything together, rather than with an element that tears it all apart, negates it, and points to people themselves. It is a politics from above, rather than a grass-roots movement from below.

    And I think it’s probably only Lacanians in North America who we could say aren’t politically active. Sherry Turkle’s book on the history of the Psychoanalytic movement in France shows them to be highly political: many were involved in the anti-psychiatric movement. Many were Maoists – Jacque Alain-Miller, for example, was once a Maoist, and Zizek criticizes him in Parallax for later becoming political in a conservative way. I’d bet that many of the Lacanians in South America are very politically active. Even if they aren’t out on picket lines, if they’re willing to talk about the Israel/Palestine conflict (as Zizek writes in Parallax) they’re political.

    So I’m not sure to what degree would should accept the ‘contingent’ things that Zizek says. Sure, you have to make mistakes to get to the proper reflexive position; but that doesn’t mean we have to accept those mistakes as valid and solidify them into theoretical veracity. That is, we have to be willing to say “Zizek was a liberal made the mistake of putting his faith in liberal democracy and the Monarch.” We have to learn from his mistake, and discuss why he got there, how he got past it, and then turn our attention to the new problems posed by the change.

  7. Joe said

    “We have to learn from his mistake, and discuss why he got there, how he got past it, and then turn our attention to the new problems posed by the change.”

    I like this summary, because I think it points back to Zizek’s own interest in Lacan. Maybe Lacan didn’t make a mistake regarding psychoanalysis as Zizek did regarding liberal democratic politics, but Lacan surely addresses what he saw as a mistake in the post-Freudian establishment. Not only does he address it though, he shows in practice and theory how to work through it.

  8. sonnyburnett said

    When I say Z’s topography, that his reading of the logic of the monarch has never changed, the emphasis is on ‘topography’, on ‘logic’. There is absolutely no justification whatsoever for the argument that his fundamental topography has changed. His underlying logic, his reading of Hegelian dialectics, has not changed at all from the late 1980s until the present.

    I’m sure I sound like a broken record here, but when I read secondary accounts of Z’s work, I think this fact is completely overlooked. Or more precisely, it is not understood. Ie, the underlying matrix is not understood and worse: that there even IS an underlying, consistent matrix.

    Z has an underlying logical framework. There is a system to his madness. It’s buried in tons of discussion about film & dirty jokes & politics, sure. But here is the crucial twist that is missed: all this cultural & political discussion in Z’s work is presupposed as ‘secondary’ to his commentators who go ahead anyway and treat it as the primary focus of Zizekian thought!

    Again & again, it must be emphasized, if the fundamental logical matrix of Z isn’t grasped in some form, an exclusive focus on his cultural/political commentary will turn up all sorts of skewed understandings. And really, this shouldn’t be so. From book to book and even w/in each book, he give us dozens of different ways to practice his matrix. For They… is probably THE best book to work through to grasp it., since it uses so few ‘concrete’ illustrations. He gives us the Logic of the Signifier. He gives us the Logic of the Monarch. He gives us the Logic of Marx commodity value. He gives us the Logic of Reflection.

    For They… is a Zizekian workbook. It’s a Zizekian book of exercises for us budding Zizekians who want to learn his new matrix so we can later go our own way & ‘apply’ it as we see fit, on whatever strikes our fancy. Some will analyze Film. Others, politics. Others won’t go beyond the 4 walls of the Clinic. But that ‘application’ is contingent. If any specific ‘application’ of Z’s logic is seen to be ULTIMATELY necessary – up to and including the perceived necessity of a working-class or some other revolutionary movement for societal change – I think his logical matrix hasn’t yet been grasp.

    In a word, to be a Zizekian – and by this I also mean a Lacanian since I find his understanding of Lacan ‘correct’ – there is nothing that says you must be a Marxist or a Leninist or a Maoist or a Film Critic or a Dirty Joke or Opera Critic.

    How can this be? Look at For They… for one obvious answer. What is the final step in Hegel’s 4 judgements, the step that is ‘deeper’ than Necessity? Contingency. Which brings us back to the first step, the Judgment of Existence.

    Contingency has to do with the Void that is the barred Subject. It is the empty place from which we freely, contingently choose. A retroactive freedom, to be sure, but to grasp it, you grasp the formal determination of the Will.

    If Zizek again & again speaks of the Void of the Subject, as $, or as transcendental apperception or as self-relating negativity, or dozens of different ways to expressing the same thing, why does he do so? To simply drive home the fact that we are free, a strange freedom to be sure, but it is the ‘freeist’ of the freedoms we have.

    And there is NOTHING that is necessary about this ‘ultimate’ contingency. That’s the point: The condition of freedom is freedom, and the only way to logically grasp this is to see that the subject is the effects of its own effects. That there is no Cause behind the series of causes & effects we are caught up in, up to and including our looking out at the world & seeing a Marxist exploitation taking place & being called to do something about it.

    I started this reply with only one small point to make & I blew it, but here it is: The monarch has two elements, S1 and objet a. Is not the latter term the extimate element that you say Zizek in his later books argues that we must identify with?

    Again, Z tries to lay out his logical matrix & in the early 90’s often used an illustration of Hegel’s logic of the Monarch, much as he uses other illustrations today. The shifts in illustrations are contingent. And the shifts are homologous. There has not been a shift in the underlying logic.

    What there has been is a contingent shift in his political focus. There is no doubt in this to anyone, even to me – one who doesn’t pay all that much attention to the illustrations other than to test out & sharpen my own understanding of the underlying Zizekian matrix.

    This is really my only point, a modest point I thought, one that I thought was shared amongst us all.

    Am I really alone on this?

  9. Joe said

    Sonny, you are not alone. I see and agree with your point about the underlying logical matrix or system. Adrian Johnston’s preface to his recent “Zizek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity,” which Zizek told me in person is at least as much Johnston’s original insights as anything he takes from Zizek, makes this argument as well.

  10. sonnyburnett said

    Good to know, a relief. Johnston’s text has been on my list since it came out. Might have to move it up in priority.

    What’s keeping you busy these days, Joe? Working on anything theoretical?

    Is there any kind of sizable Zizekian community over there in Seattle?

  11. battleofthegiants said

    I’ve just worked two 16 hour days, so I’m a little spaced, but I just read the intro to Tarrying and it feels like “Zizek” or “Zizekian” has become what he is calling the “Master sig” of a theory that philosophy is supposed to suspend.

    It feels like we’re assuming that behind all the ‘contingent’ content there is some substantial, repeatable, learnable method that could be discovered, only if we studied it hard enough. Instead, I think we should take from Zizek that it is “all on the surface” – that is, it IS all the jokes, politics, and stories, and what you get when you try to distill it into an underlying method is “as much [our] original insight” as some method that Zizek simply repeats with a different pause.

    Which is to say that we can’t just throw out that Zizek was once a liberal, and liberalism was placed into his method and what came out was some version of the monarch. Instead, what I think we have is a Zizek with a faith in Liberalism at the time of the fall of “actually existing socialism”, and so takes a piece of pre-existing theory and jams it into his own. That is, his method is affected by his personal ‘contingencies’.

    I just can’t buy into the idea that there is some underlying, repeating logic that just takes on content, because that deligitimizes content, because it assumes that content has no effect on form, that method is a ‘neutral’ element into which any thing whatever can be plugged…

    Which is what Vernon was more or less saying: Zizek’s method isn’t Kant’s or Hegel’s – he hasn’t just taken then method unadultered and put new content in it. It has been substantially changed by his use of it, and must constantly change because he is changed by what he’s thought before (The whole ‘I don’t realize the full import of an example when I first use it, so I have to return; a bug circling a light” business) …


  12. Joe said

    Trying to find a job, Sonny. When I’m not doing that, I’m reading blogs and books. It’s a tireless way to live. When Zizek came here – I’m actually in Portland – a month ago, there was a good turn out. I’d say a few hundred people packed the top floor of Powell’s downtown location where Zizek was speaking. The only person seriously interested in Zizek is a former professor of mine, who turned me onto Zizek a couple years ago. Most of my friends are of the more cultural studies or post-structuralist bent, but we get along fine. They think Zizek is crazy.

    Theoretically, I’m not as active as I was before, but I’m interested in Zizek’s engagements with Buddhism. I find many things powerfully correct and powerfully incorrect about his assessments. His relatively recent writings about Lacan and Heidegger also have my attention, because that is another way to fold in this question of Buddhism. Heidegger, it is well known, had a good relationship with Japanese philosophers who were also nationalists. Joan Stambaugh, one of Heidegger’s recent translators, is a prolific Buddhist scholar and reads Dogen into Heidegger and vice versa. Needless to say, it is a mess that I’m still wading through.

  13. sonnyburnett said

    Good post, Battle.

    It has occured to me that my ravings about a theoretical core of Z comes across as ‘essentialist’, that I’m embracing the ‘inner necessity’ of Z’s thought, which goes precisely against his thought. I recall either Copjec or Butler accusing Z of secretly harboring a hidden, necessary core to his thinking that he was disavowed or foreclosed and I further recall thinking that she simply did not understand him. So my horror is that I am coming across in precisely that way, misreading Z.

    But what leads me to believe that I am not ‘ultimately’ misreading him is that I don’t, ‘in the end’, harbor the thought that contingency is the necessary, ‘final’ word on Z’s philosophy. I get it that you must, as a necessary first step, enter an ‘external refletion’ where you DO presuppose that there is an ‘essence’ out there, hidden Beyond or Beneath mere appearances, whereby you are thus driven to uncover that secret. It is only afterward that you experience that that search was constitutive of the very ‘essence’ you were looking for. So I search for that hidden, essential logical core of Z’s thought, and only then do I realize that the search for it produced the very thing I set out to uncover.

    I’m sensing that this is my particular reading of Z, that he has this core matrix of logic in which, like a machine, he is able to spin out endless commentary on everything from toilets flushing to Einstein’s theory of relativity. In saying this is the case with Z, yes, I am caught in an external reflection if I continually insist it is so without identifying with this ‘symptom’ of mine, this idiocentric thought – however defensible, however many others share the same viewpoint – whose Truth is ultimately only guaranteed through the very contingency of its enunciation.

    This guarantee to Truth, this ‘ultimate’ stance of insistence on contingency, as being the only guarantee to our enunciated content, is precisely what I think is missing from most all of the Z commentary out there. That is, you can, after you spend countless hours painfully working through the different ways Z presents us with his underlying logic (of the Signifier, of Reflection…), see that the place of Truth hasn’t been experienced by these commentators with respect to their particular commentary. They don’t ‘bring it home’ in a Zizekian way, if I could say it that way. You get this sense that they have licensed themselves with a brand of subjective relativism, something that is quite foreign to Z’s thought.

    I don’t see how we can get away from having a ‘core’ way of understanding Zizek’s thought – and I think THAT is precisely his point. It is only ‘afterwards’ that you experience how that ‘content’ is just a condensation of the ‘form’ of your thought about it. That is what drives us to continously return to his texts for his final word, at least inasmuch as he his our Master.

    So that core logical matrix I speak of is the secret content of the so-called ‘applied’ content, if I can put it that way.

  14. The Universal Singular said

    I’m only about halfway through reading all the comments, but I wanted to make some points of clarification:

    1) In “Zizek!”, Zizek does not say that he is ashamed of SOI because it is too liberal, he says “I’m more and more ashamed of the first one… I’m for democracy in that one!” I think it is important to make a distinction between democracy and ‘liberal democracy’, a la Hayek/Fukuyama, etc. Remember that in In Defense of Lost Causes (and elsewhere), Zizek points out that even the ditatorship of the proletariat is democratic!

    2) In the forward to the 2nd edition of FTKNWTD, Zizek does say that anyone who is not ready to talk about FTKNWTD should not talk about SOI! True, very true! But not because he is ashamed of his political leanings in either! Because he makes many many corrections to SOI in FTKNWTD! In other words, he believes that you can’t discuss SOI without taking into account the corrections he makes in FTKNWTD!

    3) At the end of FTKNWTD, Zizek is not supporting Liberal Democracy. In fact, he is being quite critical of it! He is arguing that this notion of liberal democracy as the ‘end of history’ is completely stupid and that the project of the LEFT is to revive/defend the lost causes of revolution. That is why he advocates an ethics of drive!

    4) I totally agree with the idea that Zizek promotes putting the party as analyst in the place of the master/monarch. Remember that in the discourse of the analyst, the analyst (represented by ‘a’) is in the place of the master. In fact, Zizek starts to argue this in Tarrying with the Negative… I got so giddy about this at yesterday’s meeting and showed the Thing the passage that I’m referring to… we will get there soon enough.

    – Universal Singular

  15. The Universal Singular said

    Just one addition: on page xviii of the foreword to FTKNWTD, Zizek does say that the philosophical weakness of SOI (not FTKNWTD) is tied to the liberal democratic political stance, but that it moves between Marxism and some kind of ‘pure’ democracy. In his later writings he distances himself from the very concept of democracy (that is, in its liberal form, i.e. liberal democracy): democracy as the master-signifier of the contemporary ruling ideology (he talks about this in various places).

    Basically, my point is that, yes Zizek’s writing in SOI leans more towards liberal democracy, but does not support it as such (it is still quite Marxist, if not Communist); and that by the time he gets to FTKNWTD he is already on the road to purging traces of liberal democracy from his political position.

    In SOI, Zizek is basically shifting between the radical democracy of Laclau and Mouffe, and Lefort’s interpretation of Lacan to support the ‘democratic invention’. What the influence of liberal democracy amounts to in this book, I would argue, is basically a defense of ‘democracy’ against ‘totalitarianism’; as if even discussing totalitarianism is anti-democratic. By his later books he starts to address totalitarianism (Nazism/Stalinism), not to defend them, but to understand them better, to move beyond them. To defend lost causes, to repeat rather than return. To re-invent the revolutionary project!

  16. Joe said

    “In fact, Zizek starts to argue this in Tarrying with the Negative… I got so giddy about this at yesterday’s meeting and showed the Thing the passage that I’m referring to… we will get there soon enough.”

    I don’t think Ben Grimm’s rock-hard pragmatic outlook on things could tolerate Zizek.

  17. The Universal Singular said

    Oh… and as far as underlying logic goes: Hegel with Lacan! Basically a Lacanian reading of Hegelian dialectics. What he does now is a Lacanian-Hegelian reading and application of Marxist politics.

    BTW. How is the commodity form the object-cause of capitalism. Is not capital (surplus value) the object-cause of capitalism? Remember that sublimation is when the object is raised to the dignity of the Thing. Capital is imaginary Real, the surplus, which substantializes capitalist/bourgeois society (elevates it to the dignity of the Thing, impossible Real jouissance). The symptom is still the proletariat, the substanceless subject in capitalist society. Economic crisis is simply a trauma which demonstrates the impossibility of (capitalist) society: it is an encounter with the Real as impossible: the real Real. It is an ‘answer of the Real’ in the Symbolic. Trauma announces that this sublime object is not ‘it’, as in the hysteric’s discourse.

    One of the main differences between Zizek’s Lacanian Marxism and the ‘Marxism’ of the Frankfurt school is that Zizek critiques capitalist ideology from the point of capital, while the Frankfurt school looked at ideology from the point of the commodity, identity thinking and so forth.

    What Marx failed to take into account, and where Zizek’s Lacanian Marxism fills in the gap, is the element of surplus enjoyment, or the paradoxes of surplus enjoyment (i.e., its limit).

    I’m just rambling now.

  18. The Universal Singular said

    haha! It took a beat, but I just got that joke about the Thing (in case you don’t know, the avatar for one of our group members is ‘the Thing’… and, yes, I realize how nerdy I am for explaining that after laughing at a joke… I am the guy who has to explain punchlines after everyone has already laughed at the joke).

  19. sonnyburnett said

    “I totally agree with the idea that Zizek promotes putting the party as analyst in the place of the master/monarch. Remember that in the discourse of the analyst, the analyst (represented by ‘a’) is in the place of the master.”

    The monarch does not = the master. The monarch has two bodies. One is S1. The other is (a). The monarch must be conceived of as a metonymical object. S1 is the act in the mode of being. The (a) is the object in the mode of becoming. Understanding this way allows one to see that whether Z puts his political eggs in the basket of the Party or some other entity, the underlying logical matrix is the same.

    BTW, I don’t think Z ever puts this hopes in the monarch as liberating entity. He’s not naive – we have no monarchs anymore. But he goes on about the monarch to simply bring out the underlying logic, to point to Hegel and say ‘this is how I am reading Hegel via the logic of the signifier of Lacan).

    Also, in the analyst’s discourse, the (a) analyst is in the position of the AGENT of the discourse, not the ‘master’s position’, simply b/c the master has no position. It is one of the terms that rotate. In this discourse, we find him in the posiiton of the product/loss of the discourse.

  20. sonnyburnett said

    “haha! It took a beat, but I just got that joke about the Thing”

    Well, it took ME a beat AS WELL AS a Google search for an explanation of the joke….

    Universal, I am in general agreement with your assessment of Z’s take on his own books and his general shift of focus onto a criticism & re-reading of marxism.

    Whereas in his earlier books, I see his necessity of spelling out his innovative topological structure (Reading Hegel via Lacan) & used primarily democracy as his ‘test case’. Whereas now he uses his same topological structure via a new ‘test case’: marxist politics, as you put it.

  21. sonnyburnett said

    “while the Frankfurt school looked at ideology from the point of the commodity, identity thinking and so forth”

    what do you mean by “point of the commodity?” Like a gaze of sorts? I’m not very versed in that school. Actually just started a little reading on their sociological ideas. I did read One Dimensional Man by Marcuse years ago.

  22. The Universal Singular said

    In short, I mean thinking ideology in relation to exchange value or commodification. Like how exchange value makes things appear equal when in fact they are not. This is how somebody like Adorno views ideological thought: ideology reduces difference to sameness; being revolted by the sight of ‘otherness’. So when Adorno criticizes radio music or jazz, he has a problem with the way it all ‘sounds the same’. Ideology coalesces everything into a single identity/unity.

    With Zizek, however, I would argue that the critique of capitalist ideology should not be directed at commodification/the commodity form/exchange value… rather, ideological critique should be aimed at capital, surplus value: the value that is appropriated by the capitalist from the labourer.

    I would argue (against Battle) that capital, not money, is the sublime object of capitalist ideology.

    With the selling of labour, the commodification of labour, equivalent exchange becomes its own negation, and the very form of exploitation: the appropriation of surplus-value. (SOI, p. 22)

    Sublimation is the elevation of the object (commodity/money) to the dignity of the Thing (capital). But remember, if we lose the surplus (value/enjoyment – objet petit a) we lose the Thing itself.

    But the existence of the sublime body depends on the symbolic order which gives it consistency. The point is therefore, in ideological critique, to attack the symbolic order, i.e. attacking the political at the heart of the economic.

    I await what I’m sure will be a huge rebuttal from Battle (and Sonny on objet a/Thing, perhaps).

  23. battleofthegiants said

    Let me just say that I’m in the middle of the whole union thing and totally incensed by four of the five points that have been made. More detail notes later, but for now:

    1)I looked up Zizek’s quote in Zizek! and he says “I believed that totalitarianism existed, I beleived in pluralism, etc, What was I thinking?”. The list he gives sound like liberal bias to me! I’ll post the quote later.

    2)part of what he says in the Preface is that one of the major things that needed to be corrected in his thought was it’s ‘dangerous’ occillation between marxism and a liberal bias. I don’t think FTKNWTD is left-out of this.

    3) I don’t see how you can say that Z doesn’t support liberal democracy when he ends the book saying ““…the liberal-democratic project is not yet fully realized” and implies that the Monarch is the one to do it.

    5) I don’t see how you can say Zizek approaches the world via Capital and not the Commodity, when the entire structure of his philosophy is based on the homology of the Commodity form and Enjoyment.

    6) Z definately does NOT give up on democracy. In DoLC he argues that the initial explosion of democracy is an Act that is later covered over by formal democracy. Just like the Descartes/Kant thing we talked about, the initial insight is covered over by later developments and lost, and it needs to be recovered.

    Steam out my ears!



  24. The Universal Singular said

    Read it again… homology between surplus enjoyment and SURPLUS value! Not EXCHANGE value! What is surplus value? Last time I checked it was CAPITAL!

    The limit of desire is desire itself.
    The limit of capital is capital itself!

    I never said he gives up on democracy. In fact, I think I even said that in DoLC he talks about how the dictatorship of the proletariat is democratic.

  25. The Universal Singular said

    Adding to that: yes, there is the homology between the form of the dream and the commodity form, but what Zizek is really after is the UNCONSCIOUS of the commodity form: the ‘other scene’, the exploitation that is veiled by the appearance of free and equal exchange.

  26. battleofthegiants said

    Yeah, sorry about the democracy bit. Reading while half asleep…

    “BTW. How is the commodity form the object-cause of capitalism. Is not capital (surplus value) the object-cause of capitalism?”: My qestion is if the “sublime object” of ideology is Money, is it not also the objet a? The Commodity is that regular, everyday thing that we treat as if it were the most important of objects, the object in which The “surplus value/enjoyment” of capitalism is necessarily embodied. Surplus Value is expressed in money, which is a commodity – the form of which holds the secret to the functioning of capitalism, which is why it is the root of Marx’s system, as well as Zizek’s, just as the “form of the dream” is the distortion that manifests desire – it doesn’t exist independent of that form.

    “So called primitive accumulation” is what you’re talking about: the expropriation of land that births captial, and is left out of bourgouis accounts of Captialism in which profit is argued to be the product of the hard work of the individual, etc. But you guys hammered me a while back when I said the Real was the Unconscious, because the Unconscious is “structured like a language” around an excluded element (the Real). Class Struggle (exploitation) is Real, according to the Z, and so I think we could say it is unconscious, but not THE unconscious. I would reserve that title for the fundamental fantasy – commodity fetishism. “We know Green Queens are just peices of paper…”, yet our entire way of life is sustained by them, and if we realized this, capitalism wouldn’t work.

  27. The Universal Singular said

    I’ll come back to your previous points a bit latter as I’m just about out the door…

    I did want to say something about the quote about liberal-democracy on page 270 of FTKNWTD… My first reaction is: read the entire page, not that one phrase…

    “Is today’s Left therefore condemned to pledge all its forces to the victory of democracy? The irony is unmistakable: up till recently, the Left displayed all its dialectical virtuosity in demonstrating how liberal-democratic freedom is not yet ‘actual freedom’, how an inherent antagonism pertains to it that will ultimately dig its own grave, how all phenomena which appear to liberal-democratic ideology as mere excesses, degenerations, abberations – in short: signs that the liberal-democratic project is not yet fully realized – are stricto sensu its symptoms, points at which its hidden truth emerges…” (FTKNWTD, p. 270).

    There’s more on this page that I think should be added, but I’ll just end there.

    I don’t know about you guys, but it sounds very critical of liberal democracy to me.

  28. sonnyburnett said

    The unconscious ‘form’ isn’t the most radical point in Lacan, and it isn’t equivalent to the Real, ultimately. Although clearly, in an external (masculine) reflection, the ungraspbable unconscious is in the noumenal Beyond & thus it’s tempting to say that the Real is the underlying Thing in a substantive sense.

    In the 2nd chapter we are reading in Tarrying, with his whole discussion of Christ (completely homologous to the his discussion of Hegel’s Monarch), he talks about a relective determination. Whenever he does so, you can bet he now has in mind a determinate reflection.

    It’s only thru this ‘final’ reflective step that we can experience the radicalness of Lacan: that empty point of subjectivity, what Kant called ‘transcendental apperception’. It is from this point that we not only choose our phenomenal selves, but our (noumenal) disposition/unconscious as well.

    Thus the Real isn’t the unconscious. It is more like the process in which we posit something as unconscious. And the reflective determination (Christ, monarch…) holds up & attests to this sponteneity, this radical autonomy of the subject of transcendental apperception ($).

    In THIS manner, we can speak of ‘identifying’ with this element, with Christ or the monarch.

    Z repeats again & again: The highest form of freedom is to choose what is inevitable anyway.

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