Zizek on the York Strike

November 13, 2008

Ha! That got your attention. I should be in publicity…

I was thinking last night, how could we analyse the strike along Zizekian lines? I mean, Zizek’s social, political, cultural etc analysis is usually around the ‘big’ national & global issues of our day. Rightfully so, since he’s writing for a global audience.

But we could analyse much smaller events. It would just be on a smaller scale. So how to do it? What is the ‘vanishing mediator’ here? Who or what is the S1? The phallus? The Other-Thing? Objet (a) as surplus enjoyment? How could we articulate the jouissance that is here, that is so critical for a Zizkian analysis? Etc etc etc….

Obviously, I have some distance from the happenings on the campus, so I can’t really fill in many of the mathemes with ‘concrete’ terms as I experience them, but I’ll take a stab at one formulation that I was repeating yesterday in our reading group.

In For They…(124), Z says that the universal Notion arrives at its being-for-itself, it is positied as Notion, only when – in the very domain of particularity – it reflects itself in the form of its opposite (in an exceptional element which negates the very fundamental features of its notional universality).

He goes on to give the example of the Notion of Man (as one that must struggle to assume his symbolic identity) which arises via the embodiment of Man in general (in the monarch*, who is already who he is, no struggle necessary).

Analogously, the Notion of the union strikers (as those that must struggle & fight for economic equity) only arises via the embodiment of the union strikers in general, in the form of its opposite, in the ________.

What is this exception that reflects the being-for-itself of the Notion? What is this element, the embodiment of which allows the strikers their Notion that they must struggle & fight for what is rightfully theirs? IE, what is this S1 –  objet (a) metonymical combo in the York Strike event? Who or what is he?

Is he the union leader? Is he on the administration side? Is it even a person? Anyone have any ideas on the object-cause of desire as it is expressed in this Strike?

*Use here of the signifier ‘monarch’ is fully intended to rile-up one of my comrades, to ensure at least one spirited response to this post.

30 Responses to “Zizek on the York Strike”

  1. The Universal Singular said

    From the position the university discourse, S2 is obvious, S1 is the state/government (province of Ontario)… the monarch, if you will (big LOL), a is the student body, and $ is the position of the union (hysteric), screaming “That’s not ‘it’!”

  2. sonnyburnett said

    It didn’t occur to me to even use Lacan’s discourses! How obvious that is in retrospect…

    So the demands of the union are fundamentally hysteric? How, precisely, is that self-relating negativity specified?

    “That’s not ‘it’!”
    – What is the ‘That’ and what is the ‘it’?

  3. The Universal Singular said

    question: is it possible to conceive a discourse of the obsessional in the same way as that of the hysteric, perhaps along the same thin line that separates the analyst from the pervert?

    In that way, it could also be claimed that $ is the obsessional, afraid of actually getting ‘it’ because it might not end up being the Real ‘it’.

    In any case, $ is clearly the union as vanishing mediator.

  4. The Universal Singular said

    ‘that’ is the offer made by the university admin., and ‘it’ is the demands of the union in their ‘Notional’ form: i.e., Real, impossible jouissance.

  5. sonnyburnett said

    I used to think I could fruitfully ‘marry’ Z’s Hegelian dialectic with Lacan’s discourses. Still do, but I abandoned it b/c I got too procrustean in my efforts. I think I’ll re-visit this idea.

    I always thought of an ‘obsessional’ logic as somewhat similar to the University discourse. But very loosely. I’m thinking that the obsessional confronts his (a) from an agency of knowledge, but maddeningly only ever producing his own split subjectivity $. I wouldn’t press this too far though.

  6. The Universal Singular said

    Here’s another take: The strike can only be settled through a process of sublimation: when the demands are elevated to the dignity of the Thing, the substantialization of the Real, impossible, jouissance.

    Remember that, according to Lacan, demands are needs articulated in linguistic/symbolic form. However, the satisfaction of demand demonstrates that the subject can be loved (as in the case of the mother satisfying the child’s needs (for food, etc.)). This transforms the satisfaction of demand into desire (for love, for example).

    Remember that desire and the Thing are tied together. The surplus enjoyment makes possible the substantialization of the Thing of jouissance. If we lose the surplus, we lose the Thing.

    Through their demands, the strikers are, in a way, saying “love me!”

  7. The Universal Singular said

    Your idea about the obsessional makes sense. The obsessional has knowledge, which makes her more fearful of attaining ‘it’ because she knows that the partial-object will never be ‘it’.

  8. sonnyburnett said

    so ‘it’ is the very FORM of the demands made by the union? That is, the union could ask for 10% wage increases and get it OR for admin to provide them with a dancing grrrls show every 2nd tuesday and the Union would not be satisfied b/c their true desire is the very form that any particular demands take.

    Kinda like, what keeps us obsessionals jouie-cing all over the place in our thought is that we are attempting to think that one unthought thought: the very form of our thought take. Which is what Z says is the definition of Notion (For They…164). That form is where the Truth of the content of our endeavors lie.

  9. The Universal Singular said

    Yes to form, but keep in mind that it is not just a silly demand because, remember, demand is the symbolic form of articulating a need! And the revolutionary subject is a vanishing mediator that elevates needs into substance.

  10. battleofthegiants said

    I think we need to take another tack: the “Monarch” is not the opposition against which one party defines themselves, it is the embodiment of oneself. That is, the “monarch” of the Union would be The executive, rather than the administration of YorkU.

    And this mentality is one of the major problems of the union: rather than each member being a unionist of equal power, people (both members and the administration of York) assume that the executive serves as a representational body that stands in for ‘the rank and file’.

    The York administration, for instance, has for years told 3903 bargaining teams and executives that they were not allowed to take the offered deal back to the membership because the BT and Exec are at the table as representatives who are to make the decisions in the place of the people. What we do is the flip: the people tell the bargaining team and the exec what to do. That is, General Membership Meetings are the “highest decision making body of the Union” – the executive does not fill this role.

    On the members side, those who arn’t involved complain that the BT and the Exec (and the union in general) don’t represent their interests. Their right, but for the wrong reasons. The assumption is that they could get an exec that ‘represented their interests’, when in fact what the union is the the actions of those who are actively involved. If these people got involved, then they would BE the union, and ‘it’ would do what they wanted.

    So, the “monarch” is the idea held by many of the members of the union, as well the administration, that the exec is the head of the union, that it makes all the decisions, that it is immediatly the membership. What the union attempts to do, however, is act as the means by which the members can make the decisions themselves. I.e. organize the meetings that serve as the “highest decision making BODY”.

    Which is also why there are so many (fluid) committees that are not beholden to the executive: people organize themselves. Right now, for instance, people have been organizing daily meetings to discuss issues, different picket lines are given the ability to make their own decisions as to where their lines will be, etc.

    One brilliant moment at the beginning of the strike was at Sentinel Road, when the police dispersed the line into several small, ineffective ones skattered along Pond Road. They were blocking parkings lots! Useless! These strikers got together and decided to move back to Sentinel anyway, and have held the line since. This was a descision make by the people involved, not by some “central committee” that created a party line, and not by “the Law”. This picket (as all the others) is technically illegal.

    In terms of the nature of the demands, the bargaining team is totally caught in the hysterical mode. Several times now we have been in the position where the administration should be doing the talking, but instead the BT drops our demands! That is, the members of 3903 said that they would go on strike if York didn’t give a good deal, and yet the BT said “oh you, York, don’t like our demands. Let us reformulate them so you will like them and give them to us”. That is, they are trying to give the “master” what it wants, and have been unsuccessful in figuring our what that is!

    And the Exec and many members have been on their back about it.

    York wants to smash the Union. They want a group of individuals to be embodied in “the administration” as monarch rather than
    3903 as analyst.

    Our demands still, of course, assume that York has the power to control us, that we couldn’t do run York ourselves. Same with the plan to have co-ordinated bargaining in 2010 – the idea is there to bring the Master’s Master to the table. The next step, of course, would be to evaporate the masters, and start running things ourselves…


  11. sonnyburnett said

    As it stands, it’s a fine argument, placing one’s hopes in spontaneous, communal action of sorts, but this isn’t Zizek.

    If we want to analyse things along Zizekian logic (and let me be clear – I don’t think I can, as the terms of the dispute are not all that clear to me, so my ‘concretizing’ of Z’s logic would probably be unpersuasive), we must find that reflective determination (see opening pages of Tarrying, Chp 2), that element that reflects our very external refletion of the strike. That is, we have to identify the Christ/Monarch figure here & NOT reject it or ‘overcome’ it, but experience how, in a sense, one can go no further than this. ONCE that experience is had, then we & the strikers operate autonomously, then a ‘true’ freedom is had.

    The last pages of SOI are quite clear about this, how the monarch is the subjective perfomative gesture that transforms a simple mass of people into a rational state. And this monarch point – and here it is extremely important to understand – is the SAME for everyone in that transformed state.

    So to say that each member of some group that is able to call itself a cohesive group is somehow able to ‘make the decisions themselves’ overlooks the crucial constitutive gesture of the monarch-like figure who transformed this aimless mass of people into a cohesive protesting group in the first place.

    The beauty of this all is, there is no need for a massive change of class consciousness. Every single protester in this rational striking group need not have the ‘correct’ marxist perspective. Insisting otherwise reduces things into an unworkable mess. Insisting on ‘action from below’, ‘from the people,’ would delay endlessly the true, revolutionary act – which is precisely the obsessional neurotic’s strategy: to delay confronting or ‘tarrying along with the negative’ to it’s logical conclusion:

    Identification with the element that holds the place of the unbearable traumatic birth from the void, of the birth of the rational state (or group of union/strikers) from nothing. Creatio ex nihilo.

    That monarch-like element is the critical element in any Zizekian analysis of a group’s activity.

    Isn’t there something of an executive, subjective, Pary-constituting gesture of a “Make it so” by Lenin himself in his relation to the Party as it was rising & taking power in Russia?

  12. battleofthegiants said

    At the time of the revolution the Party ranks swelled. So yes, there was the ‘party as immediate decision making body’ element, but then everyone (well, not EVERYone) became a member of the Party. It did not stand apart from people, as does the state; it acutally was the people (Workers Councils, i.e. soviets, rather than Bureaucracy).

    Isn’t the assumption that the Union Executive is the object that makes the union the union the function of the analyst the supposedly holds all the answers/the monarch (i.e. you think they are the ones controlling/guaranteeing the situation) and the creation of a unified mass? Isn’t the realization that the executive does not fill that function, that one can only make things happen by doing them oneself the move from the SSS to the desire of the analyst?

    Isn’t the differece between the Monarch and the party that the monarch is the wholeness of the state as an ‘organic being’, but the party is the embodiment of class struggle and the negative with which we are to Tarry, that the monarch holds things together but the Party tears them apart and opens the space for sublimation?

  13. The Universal Singular said

    “the Notion of Man (as one that must struggle to assume his symbolic identity) which arises via the embodiment of Man in general (in the monarch*, who is already who he is, no struggle necessary).” (Sonnyburnett)

    “the “Monarch” is not the opposition against which one party defines themselves, it is the embodiment of oneself. That is, the “monarch” of the Union would be The executive, rather than the administration of YorkU.” (Battleofthegiants)

    Are you talking about the Hegelian Monarch??? Because it seems clear to me that you can’t even talk about the Monarch unless you are referring to the State. The Monarch is the exception that allows for the actualization of the State. I really don’t think you can even bring up the Monarch in this context unless you are referring to the government or the State.

  14. battleofthegiants said

    Or you could “micro” it and say the admin of York is the “monarch” of the university, the stupid president at the top who makes capricious decisions, who embodies the ‘unity’ of all the faculties…

  15. sonnyburnett said

    It’s an analogy. Monarch is to State what the executive union official is to the union.

    Or any group member that sits in the ‘executive’ chair is to the group.

    This is what I mean by an homologous logic.

    Whatever (else) the group leader is or isn’t to the group, he does fulfill this crucial transformation of a shapeless mass into a coherent group with a definable horizon.

    This logic is everywhere in Zizek. First page of the current chapter we are reading (45): “Every universal implies a point of exception at which its validity, its hold, is canceled.”

    This logic, as well as others, should be considered a Zizekian fundamental.

    I’ll stick my neck out & say that this fundamental Zizekian logical punch is at least used once in every chapter of every book Zizek has ever written. More so in the earlier books since he is developing the masculine sexuation logic of Lacan (from which this logic is taken from); the feminine logic is developed more in the later books.

  16. battleofthegiants said

    I’ve been thinking a little more about this and remembered a couple of the slogans that we’ve been using. At first we took one slogan from the May ’68 student uprising: Demand the Impossible. We then switched to a new slogan, one based on York’s ad Campaign “redefine the possible”: “redefine the reasonable.” Where the former (“demand the impossible”) still stands in the realm of the hysterical, the latter aims at creating a new frame (this slogan is also a riff on York’s assertion that our demands were unreasonable, and stands not as an imperative to the employer but one directed at ourselves) .

    I’ve also noticed my own Hystericization: people keep saying to me that I work a lot and assume that I’m a union organizer. Formally I am a “strike co-ordinator,” and I have been spending a lot of time driving trucks… but have been doing very little organizing. So, when people say these things to me my immediate response is “I’m not that! Why do you keep telling me I’m that?” And I also feel guilty when I’m not up at York doing something, even if it’s just sitting in the Strike HQ. Which is to say that rather than feeling guilty (i.e. ‘ceding on my desire’) I should be doing some actual organizing rather that just sitting in the office or driving the trucks – the latter of which is necessary, the former of which simply assuages my guilt.

    On a similar note, at our last General Membership Meeting (GMM) our bargaining team said it was “embarrassed in front of the employer” because we had “tied its hands” at the previous GMM. What happened was that the BT had told the employer that they would provide them with “framework” of what we were really fighting for (i.e. lower our demands (barf)) and then the GMM mandated that they sit out of bargaining until the employer made the first move. One of the BT members, a long while back, told me that they would be willing to go in front of the labour board and even to jail for fighting for what is right because their “work was easy”, all they had to do was “listen to the membership”. And now we hear that they are “embarrassed” because they listened to the membership?? This again fits into the “hystericization” of the BT, where they feel the need to cowtoe to the employer rather than “redefine the reasonable” and continue on the path that they should.


  17. sonnyburnett said

    What’s BT stand for?

  18. The Universal Singular said

    It’s interesting that you bring up the slogan: “Soyons realiste! Demandont l’impossible” (Be realist, demand the impossible). Isn’t this like the superego injunction: Enjoy! Demand the impossible (Real of enjoyment). That’s why the strike can only end when the object of demand has been sublated into the Thing (the knot of possibility of enjoyment).
    Same with “redefine the possible”: making possible what is impossible: the Thing. But when the possible is substantialized there is surely a feeling of guilt – of making something possible by succumbing to the censorship of the Name-of-the-father. That’s why it is never ‘it’. ‘It’ remains impossible.

    However, I’ve always liked the counter York slogan: “Debate impossible”.

  19. The Universal Singular said

    I think BT is bargaining team

  20. The Universal Singular said

    “Or you could “micro” it and say the admin of York is the “monarch” of the university, the stupid president at the top who makes capricious decisions, who embodies the ‘unity’ of all the faculties…” (Battleofthegiants)

    No! There is no micro-ing it. The admin. is S2, the university, the agent acting in the place of the master/monarch (the truth of S2 is S1, the truth of the university is that it is speaking for the master). The university is like the knave, an ‘unmitigated scoundrel’: “he doesn’t retreat from the consequences of what is called realism; that is, when required, he admits that he’s a crook” (Lacan, Ethics, p. 183).

  21. sonnyburnett said

    I kinda like that, making the admin. (of any organization – edu, military, business) an S2.

    But we may have to distinguish it somewhat from its place in a discourse. I’m thinking along these lines:

    If Z writes that S2 = the bureaucratic thing, it is headless, in that there is no S1 to make it a rational, concise grouping of elements.

    Isn’t this a bit different than saying the S1 is the repressed truth (what we get with the right side of the University discourse – S2/S1)?

    I kinda picture the Thing as this spinning shapeless set of signifiers that haven’t yet been domesticated by the S1. Analogous to the fem. sexuation logic, where there is no exception to its logic, preventing it from coagulating into a stable set.

    The bureaucratic-admin thing, S2/a, is a traumatic thing because it is not yet ‘mastered’.

  22. battleofthegiants said

    The ‘admin’ works in the place of the “S2”, just as the executive and legislative boides do the work for the monarch. Hegel’s monarch doesn’t run the show, it just emobides all its parts in one, and makes decisions when the 2 other bodies can not. Just like the university president.

  23. battleofthegiants said

    That’s kind of stupid of me to say, really. I don’t know what Shoukri does. But it is not simply that there is a ‘headless administration’ that runs the show. There is a “one” who is at the top and decides the direction the university takes on day to day basis…

  24. battleofthegiants said

    Another recent development is that at the last General Membership Meeting (GMM) a motion was passed that gave the Bargaining Team (BT) carte blanche to do whatever it wants at the bargaining table. There has been an article written by one of the members of the BT of 2g1 floating around recently in which the author writes that bargaining cannot be won by rational argumentation – which is precisely what our BT is now trying to do. I.e. ‘The administration says our demands are too crazy, and won’t talk to us until we lower them’. What this forgets is that the real power is in the strength of the lines and the amount of people outside the union we can get on our side to pressure the employer to capitulate.

    The employer has no reason to give us a ‘rational’ deal. From our perspective, what is most ‘rational’ is for them to give us the money we know they have in their back pockets to give us. From their perspective, what is most ‘rational’ is to wait for us to slit our own throats by slashing our demands until they like what they see, if not ignore us altogether and smash the union by letting us fight amongst ourselves and then force a deal on us, a deal upon which we have to vote (a process which Mike Harris made possible – ‘forced ratification’), which could easily get accepted because many people become disaffected.

    But all this is just a way for me to bring up this little observation: At the last GMM many of us who consider ourselves ‘activists’ were disappointed by what happened: people are rushing to get back to the bargaining table without understanding what they’re fighting for, or figuring out a strategy as to how it will be one. That is, the General Membership has ‘alienated’ itself in the Bargaining Team, which will ‘stand in for them’ and take all responsibility for what goes on. People just assume that the BT directly represents our interests, when in fact they have been bold-faced LYING to us (500 of us at a time) about what they’re doing in their meetings, and that many of them have career aspirations that affect how they bargain.

    In fact, rather than pass several other motions that would have brought strategies to the table, people VOTED DOWN motions that mandated that the Strike Mobilization Committee come up with info on a strategy on how to win the strike. A room full of academics voted down a motion to think out what needed to be done!

    Which finally brings me to my real point: in alienating themselves in the BT, many people felt that all the rifts in the union had suddenly been settled. ‘Finally, now we can all get what we want’ kind of mentality. Yet there are many of us who are unhappy with what has happened. That is, we’re in a circular village and one group thinks it one, happy, community, while another group draws a line down the middle and says ‘there’s a division here and we don’t like what’s happening’.

    Internal struggle is here obfuscated by an alienating “embodiment of [the membership] in general”.

    In other rounds of bargaining the BT has ASKED to have its “hands tied” in order to prevent them from taking to much responsibility on themselves (probably just as much out of fear of reprisal as much as a dedication to democracy). That is, being able to step back to the General Membership to make big decisions allowed the BT not only to ensure that they would not get worn down and accept whatever the employer offered (one tactic of the Admin. is to bargain for days on end for hours on end to tire people out) but also ensure that the large number of people who actually have to live with whatever contract comes down were involved in the process. Hearing what I hear about this BT, that element is more than likely going to be eliminated with this ‘carte blanche’.

    In place of a “Party-like” structure that ultimately has to do what people tell them to do but that does have to make decisions, we get a single ‘body’ that does all the thinking and doing for us.

  25. sonnyburnett said

    What is the Other for the strikers?

    Ok, sure, the easy answer is, the Univ Admin.

    But is it?

    Could we not equally say that since the strikers – or, let me generalize the terms here – radical leftists derive the raison d’etre of their activities on, say, Marx or Hakim Bey or Zizek that they have not yet reached a subjective destitution that goes together with the experience that the Other does not exist, that moves them to a legitimate (Lacanian) ethical position for their activities?

    That is, for Lacan, the true ethical position is “an enunciation without an enunciated,” that the only guarantee to the truth of our actions is the contingency of taking them. That we can’t have this fall-back position of “I’m doing this because I believe Marx was right, we workers are exploited.” This may be all well and true, but this isn’t ethical in the Lacanian sense, for the Other is still there, alive & well & providing us a guarantee to our subjective position as good active leftists.

    I don’t know if anyone will see this, as the last reply was to this post was weeks ago, but hell, we only write on this site ultimately to tickle our own fancies, no?

    What’s the consensus, meet once more next week to finish up Tarrying, then take a break for Xmas & New Years, meet up on Jan 7th to start
    Lacan’s Ethics Seminar?

  26. battleofthegiants said

    Re: The Other Doesn’t exist. There are many “Others” in this, both internal and external to the union . There is the University Admin and the corporate bigwigs who are helping (have been helping) transform it into a new means to publicly fund research that makes profit for private interests. There are the students who are against us. There are the political divisions in the union (conservative/left; racist/not-racist; etc). There is also the “alienation” into the BT/Exec I was talking about earlier.

    “The Other doesn’t exist” I think plays out at those moments when people organize themselves to get things done (i.e. don’t wait for ‘the union to take care of them’, not listening to what the Admin wants them to do).

    In another respect, I was thinking about the talk of “what we can win”. One side says we have limits on what we can win; the other says our demands are valid and part of them can be one. My thought, however, is that both of these aspects assume some limit to what could be one, as if we knew what the perameters were… however, in the last round of bargaining, we won more than we even thought possible. Maintaining that thought process might be thinking in the mode of “the other doesn’t exist”…

  27. sonnyburnett said

    This multitute of Others you enumerate have a unifying presupposition, a One. (Precisely as you wrote in the second to last sentence in your slip of ‘one’ for ‘won’ or possibly ‘done’).

    The ‘other does not exist’ is a conscious thought. Our actions speak otherwise, ie it is our unconscious belief in the existence of the other that is the difficult part to come to terms with. That is why it is only through our actions that the Other is created & existent. That is also why, if we want to act ethically, we must identify with that void from which we (transcendentally) choose our unconscious belief in the existence of the Other.

    So if there is a marxist Other that gives ‘legitimacy’ to a strikers activity, this must be fully identified with, else he would have a secret, silent, trans-historical nod from Karl that his struggle is True & Correct, much like the nod religious fanatics get from Allah & Christ.

  28. battleofthegiants said

    Would it be Marx Himself? While Marx said “I am not a Marxist”, Lacan often referred to himself in the third person, going so far as to say “you can be a Freudian if you want, but me, I’m a Lacanian.” Is what Lacan says an assertion of a self-orthodoxy, or a tautology along the lines of “I=I”, where the first I is not equal to the second, where the difference between “lacan” and “Lacanian” is the difference between the man and that which is “in Lacan more than Lacan”, his symptom?

    The red-unionist says “I am Marxist”, or perhaps more properly “A Marxist am I”, for the “place of enunciation” is that of Marx, and the “I” covers it over….?


  29. battleofthegiants said

    Er… the quote is actually “I have come here before launching my Cause freudienne. It is up to you to be Lacanians if you wish; I am Freudian”. So it is “I = Freudian”…


  30. sonnyburnett said

    In the tautologyy, first term is equal to the second. That is the critical, subversive twist. The difference, or more: the outright contradiction between the two, is stated as an identity.

    I think you are refering to the ‘oppositional determination’? Ie, as in the joke, “I have three brothers. Jim, Bob and myself.”

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