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?

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6 Responses to “The Unnameable Act”

  1. battleofthegiants said

    I’ll have to look up the reference in Parallax, but it seems to me his resoponse is that the Act is the ‘creation of silence in the midst of all the noize’ from which a ‘creative sublimation’, i.e. the creation of a new order, can come. The silence/noize stuff is in either the first or second chapter of parallax – where he’s talking about Kierkeggard and the sinthome.

    In addition, I think it’s the fourth chapter of The Tick where Z takes up more explicitly his differences with Badiou re: the death drive.

    Bosteels has a paper that’s titled something to the effect of “Badiou without Zizek” – I’ve got a copy on order from the Library, and when we get back to school I’ll try to remember to pass it along. Bosteels is a little rabid (i’ve seen him speak) in his mission to ‘undo’ Zizek’s advancement of Badiou in N.A. He also has a paper in “Lacan: the Silent Partners.” I havn’t read it, though…

    Note, as well, that in Parallax Bosteel’s name is spelt several different ways. Dis!

  2. The Universal Singular said

    That’s the article that Zizek is responding to in this quote.

  3. The Universal Singular said

    I’m familiar with Zizek’s arguments against Badiou in Ticklish Subject… I think with this I’m just more annoyed at the style he uses to refute these claims… in fact, he doesn’t really refute this but explains why he holds this position… but the way he writes makes it seem as though he’s going to say more and I guess I was just looking for that more that I was expecting.

  4. battleofthegiants said

    That’s cause he’s a slippery motherfucker. He can’t give it to you right away – otherwise he’d be the master… he needs to dance first.

    On a side note, the passage in question (that I referenced, and the page number for which I’ll post later) somewhat clarifies the relation between the sinthome and the ‘a’: he writes that the ‘a’ is the externalization of the sinthome (and it’s in CH2, not one…)

    Page numbers later. (I ain’t home…)

  5. The Universal Singular said

    I’m going through chapter two now and I see what you’re talking about… It’s in the sections on Kierkegard and on Versagung (pp. 75-85)… It has a lot to do with what we were talking about at our last meeting before I had to take off…

    Basically the stuff about the contraction of big Other into little other, ‘A’, into ‘a’.

    And also, in response to Sonny, again from the last post, the thing about the Cause for the Left: the idea is that in sacrificing everything for the Cause-Thing, the Cause-Thing itself gets lost. That is, we sacrifice the guarantee of meaning in the Act.

    So, here, we’re dealing with the relation between alienation and separation in the Lacanian sense: in alienation, “I sacrifice everything, my happiness, my honour, my wealth, for the Cause [and then] all of a sudden I realize that I’ve lost the Cause itself.” Then I separate from the Symbolic: I “pass from the big Other to the small other, from A to a, the A’s ‘ex-timate’ core/stain, from the symbolic order (the order of symbolic identifications, of assuming symbolic mandates-titles) to some tiny tic, some idiosyncratic pathological gesture, which sustains the subject’s minimal consistency.”

    He goes on (and I think that this is the most important part): “Just as, when I sacrifice everything for the Cause, I end up losing (betraying) this Cause itself, when I alienate myself fully, without restraint, in the Symbolic, I end up reduced o a tiny excremental object/tic that sticks out and stains the Symbolic” (p. 83).

    The Act is the loss of the guarantee of meaning. We have to take a ‘Leap of Faith’ in order to accomplish an Act: “there is no guarantee that our sacrifice will be rewarded, that it will restore Meaning to our life – we have to make a leap of faith which, to an external observer, cannot but look like an act of madness” (just like the CUPE 3903 strike, btw) (p. 80).

    In the Act, then, “meaning is reduced to the minimal difference between the presence and absence of meaning itself” and “the only ‘content’ of pure Meaning is its form itself as opposed to non-Meaning” (p. 85). This, of course, is how the objet petit a functions as the parallax object: it is the minimal difference itself as an object.

    This is also, perhaps, why Zizek’s theory of the Act has more to do with social change as opposed to teleology!

  6. sonnyburnett said

    US, I think you are on the right track in your (top-most) post above (12-29-08).

    So I’m curious on your take on the strike. It seems its a matter of reading, of one’s slant or of perspective, to view it as an example of an (ethical) Act, a self-relating negativity that justifies itself ultimately only due to the contingency of its enunciation?

    Like you implied with Z’s quote, one might certainly look upon it as an ‘act of madness’.

    Or in Z’s terms, a simple external negative relationship between the law and crime, where although so far, technically, the actions so far are lawful, but to many, they are beginning to appear as criminal.

    Would you say that the strike makes it evident that Law itself is the highest Crime and that this is what makes external obsevers uncomfortable?

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