The Unnameable Act

December 29, 2008

Near the end of the first chapter of Parallax View, Zizek refers to a critique made against him by Bruno Boostels.  Boostels, it seems, argues in favour of Badiou against Zizek.  Zizek addresses this critique by stating:  Boostels’s “central Badiouian objection to this topic of death drive qua self-relating negativity… is that, by giving priority to the Act as a negative gesture of radical (self-relating) negativity, as ‘death drive’ in actu, I [Zizek] devalue in advance every positive project of imposing a new Order, fidelity to any positive political Cause…” (p. 64).

What confuses me is Zizek’s response.  It’s not clear to me how Zizek defends himself against this accusation.

Further down he discusses the difference between Badiou’s and Lacan’s conception of Act.  He says:  “for Lacan, the Unnameable is absolutely inherent, it is the Act itself in its excess over its naming” (Ibid).

Am I right to assume that Zizek’s response is that, rather than advancing any “positive project of imposing a new Order” – in order to argue against naysayers such as Boostels – the Act itself becomes its own legitimation?  That is, as a radically negative gesture, the Act is its own guarantee and radical negativity means not advancing some positive project as something that we ‘ought’ do; the Act occurs as something that we ‘must’ do.  In other words, is this a case of the difference between ‘willing nothing’ – willing that nothing should occur – and ‘willing Nothing’ – willing Nothingness, negativity (without guarantees), itself?

Check out this piece coming out of the BBC. (“The New Capitalism” by Robert Peston, 8 December 2008 – click the “click here” link to download the PDF)

My question is, in regards to the talk McNally gave, what would be the major points the two (or more) camps would not agree on? That the economy is a global phenomenon; that the crises is the result of speculation and the separation of debt from the assets to which they are anchored; that there are many groups that are affected/that contribute to this problem? On these points I think they would agree. It seems to me that it is the framing and the conclusions drawn from these facts that are in large part the actual difference:

If the unfettered movement of capital, goods and services is going to survive, if there’s not going to be a retreat into national fortresses that could impoverish all of us over the longer term, we’ll have to find a far better way of monitoring global risks and of bringing governments together to deal with these risks.

Some may see this as a threat to national sovereignty, as the thin end of an anti-democratic wedge that’ll see the world ruled by unaccountable bureaucrats. Reconciling our political traditions with the imperative of making safe the globalised world will be a challenge, to put it mildly. But it’s not a challenge we can shirk.

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Time for a PANEL!

December 9, 2008

Call for Abstracts
Reason and Desire:
Second Annual Philosophy Graduate Student Conference.
University of Guelph

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Graeme Nicholson, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
Conference Date: March 27th and 28th, 2009
The University of Guelph Philosophy Graduate Student Association invites submissions from graduate students from any discipline to explore the concepts of reason and desire. We welcome all submissions that take up these concepts either individually or in relation to each other.

Reason and desire have had a permanent yet variable relationship throughout the history of Western Philosophy. Whether in the work of Plato, Medieval philosophy, Hegel or contemporary Continental and Analytic philosophy, reason and desire have not only fuelled the theoretical content of philosophy, but also the practice of philosophy. The conference will be structured so as to cultivate the space for a working discussion, where we can think through and critique the concepts reason and desire. Given the interdisciplinary climate of the modern university, theoretical exchange between the disciplines can open up new areas of fruitful discussion, pushing us to the threshold of our understanding and enabling us to return to the fundamental questions that concern us.

By embracing the challenge of exploring the complex relationship between reason and desire, it is our intent to provide a space for working through the central aims of philosophy, and the practice of philosophy itself.

Abstracts (600 words) will be accepted until January 23rd, 2009. Abstracts must be submitted electronically in blind-review format to: For more information please visit our website at: or contact us at

Once an abstract is accepted we will request a final paper that must be suitable for a 20 minute presentation (approximately 2,500-3,000 words).