Old interview…

August 8, 2009

Here is a link to a couple of papers on Zizek, and his reponse to those papers.

It’s from around the time of the publishing of The Ticklish Subject. One of the papers (the long one by McLaren) claims that the “Act” comes from a void. I never got that impression. What do people think?


The Real Act


19 Responses to “Old interview…”

  1. The Universal Singular said

    Well, if you think of the ‘act’ in the sense of a coincidence of subject ($) and object (a) (as in Lukacs’ sense of ‘class consciousness’), then I guess, in a way, the act comes from the void ($).

  2. sonnyburnett said

    If the Lacanian subject is a barred S (ie ‘void’), where else would the subject’s act come from?

  3. The Universal Singular said


  4. battleofthegiants said

    I’m thinking more in the sense of ‘voluntarism’, i.e. without respect to concrete conditions. If every situation has its Real,and the act is related to the Real, then it doesn’t come out of ‘nowhere’ but out of the conditions of the concrete situation.

    I might also argue (though I’ve become usure of this) that the act doesn’t come ‘from’ the void but is the void – i.e. the negation of the ‘co-ordinates’ of the situation, the voiding that allows for ‘creative sublimation’. But I’ve just read (somewhere…can’t remember) that the act comes AFTER the ‘clearing of the slate’…

  5. The Universal Singular said

    I think that maybe this kind of question should be put in more concrete terms… I’d rather talk about the ‘act’ in terms of the ought/must situation. I think the real question should be: what is the difference between “this ought to be done and “this must be done”? If it is just ‘ought’, then the ethics of ‘act’ are not certain to bring about social change that is needed. If it is ‘must’, then there is no other choice… this ‘act’ MUST be done! This, I think, is really what void should be in terms of act… an act is Real if it is ethical in this sense of ‘must’ (you could say that it emerges from the void.

    However, I don’t think an act is the void. An act forms a new master-signifier (S1) and is therefore not void ($). The new master-signifier forms a new symbolic order (S2) which retroactively legitmizes the act itself.

  6. The Universal Singular said

    … and in that sense, the act as formation of the new master-signifier is the negation of the negation. The (revolutionary) subject as void is, thus, the ‘vanishing mediator’ (the negation of the ancien regime), while the act is the negation of the negation.

  7. sonnyburnett said

    I think we are on the right track when we consider the inherently retroactive aspect to freedom, which could be said to be a ‘mere’ empty endorsement of a situation that is experienced as impossible in that we find ourselves as ‘cannot not’ continuing to proceed in the direction we have already found ourselves moving in.

  8. battleofthegiants said

    I need textual references.

    You are saying 1) the subject is the ‘voiding’ of the existing ‘co-ordinates’ of the situation, and 2) the “act” is the institution of a new order/new co-ordinates?

    It’s unclear to me how the ‘voiding’ comes about – i.e. is that the moment of ‘formal conversion’, or something else?

  9. sonnyburnett said

    (1) no
    (2) no

    Textual references? This being the core of Z’s logic, any Z book will do!

  10. The Universal Singular said

    Well… I disagree with your answers, SB.

    As Mladen Dolar puts it in his article, “Beyond Interpellation”, “for psychoanalysis, the subject emerges where ideology fails” (p. 78). Remember, the subject ($) in psychoanalysis is the subject of the unconscious. I would argue that the subject is the ‘voiding’ of the existing ‘co-ordinates’ (as BG puts it); or, rather, it is the ‘voiding’ of the existing ideology (the gap in the existing ideology, so to speak: existence of the proletariat, and so on). The first step is, thus, the criticism of ideology. This is the first step towards the ‘voiding’ of the existing order.

    The subject is caught, in a sense, in between objet petit a and the master-signifer (a-$-S1). The opening of the gap comes by way of a coincidence of subject and object (a-$), without the ideological suturing of the master-signifier. This, I think, is the moment of formal conversion, where the subject negates the suturing ideological quilting of the master-signifier, but is still holding onto the fundamental fantasy, which prevents her from moving forward – that is, from ‘acting’.

    In a weird way, the sublime object of ideology attaches the subject to the master-signifier as a kind of belief before belief. That is why risking the negation of the master-signifier means also risking the very kernel of being (the sublime object). This is ‘traversing the fantasy’, and, I would say, also the moment of subjective destitution: when there is nothing left but $.

    The ‘act’ is the institution of a new master-signifier which negates the negation (history is a series of successive S1s, accompanied by successive modes of production; the subject ($) is the non-historical kernel, which is why hysteria (as in the discourse of the hysteric) is non-historical – that’s around page 101 in FTKN); however, the ideal of psychoanalysis and Marxism is to get to a place where everyone can occupy the position of the analyst (a, as opposed to S1 or $). Remember, psychoanalysis is only fully possible/complete in a world where it isn’t needed, just as Marxism is only complete in a world where the revolutionary subject is no longer needed.

    I do agree that textual references aren’t necessary because this really is the core of Zizek’s thinking! Just re-read SOI, FTKN, TN, ME, IR, PF, TS, PV!

  11. The Universal Singular said

    A couple of things to add:

    When Zizek refers to Sloterdjik’s (spell check) argument about cynical reason in SOI – when he argues that cynicism is the reigning ideology in postmodern capitalism – his point, I think, is that postmodernism is the point at which people have arrived, in a sense, at formal conversion: the reigning master-signifier has been de-sutured (deconstructed, if you will); but there is still some kind of belief attaching subjects of postmodernism to the reigning ideology. This is what the sublime object of ideology is: for example, yes we know the secrets of commodity fetishism, but we still act as though we don’t believe. This is the sublime body of money, the ‘belief before belief’ held together by the fundamental fantasy. This is also why the traditional critique of ideology as false consciousness no longer works. We are not dealing with a false representation of reality, but with a primordially repressed belief, one which holds together our fundamental sense of existence (this idea is also articulated in the first chapter of IDLC).

    What has not yet happened is the traversing of the fantasy… that’s the next step before arriving at subjective destitution: the opening up of the gap of the Real.

  12. sonnyburnett said

    Whenever I read something like “existing ‘co-ordinates’ of the situation,” it gets my back up.

    (Whether or not that is your intent, battle) I immediately hear a marxist-influenced sociologist talking about the necessity of focusing on some supposed objective-real causal historical forces that determine the particular (and substantial) context we find ourselves living in, as well as determining those very subjects – as if this is the only legitimate alternative to the now-discredited conception of a spontaneous, free, self-affecting subjectivity (a subjectivity that Z/Lacan has put back on the table in a new & improved & radical sense).

    I like what you & battle are saying. It’s just I smell the ugly stench of ‘Substance’ everwhere these days and am striving in my own writing to frame things such that that Substance is also not mistaken for anything other than being (ultimately) Subject as well, as Z puts it. An impossible task to be sure. But I can pretend.

    So with that point in mind, the one (technical) issue I’d take with you is, rather than saying the “subject is caught, in a sense, in between objet petit a and the master-signifer (a-$-S1)”….

    I’d substitute S2 for S1. This would remind us that any S2 (as co-ordinates or ‘context’) is only substantial when we have an S1 that re-marks it. Without the S1, the S2 becomes a monstrosity precisely because we can’t seem to find an anchor point that would ground us to some solid land, to allow us to point to THAT objective context. Hence the S2 sans S1 equivalence to superegoic forces in Z’s texts.

    So, the $ as void is to be thought of as the gap between S2 and (a), and the S1 becomes, in this case, a mere signifier with which we refer to that void, as ‘void’ or ‘gap’ or ‘$’.

  13. The Universal Singular said

    I get what you are saying. However, I think it might help to conceive S1 – the master-signifier – as the signifier of the form of the Symbolic itself, while S2 is the content of the Symbolic: the point is to locate those elements in the Symbolic which refer back to the form itself.

    S2 as superego injunction to Enjoy! in postmodernity is kind of like the liberal notion of freedom which completely dismisses the socio-economic substance of classism (in other words, supposedly, since there is no more ‘authoritarian’ Master, we are free to enjoy). But the point is that there is still an S1 of prohibition which limits one’s ability to Enjoy!, which is why postmodernity is an age of anxiety (encounter with the impossible Real of enjoyment – we are told to Enjoy!, but we can’t: we are still prohibited by the Real impossibility of enjoyment).

    This is one reason why Fredric Jameson can legitimately make the association between postmodernism and schizophrenia in the Lacanian sense (as a breakdown of the signifying chain – a phrase he still gets from Deleuze and Guattari): there is a foreclosure of the master-signifier which indicates something of the form of the social.

    So I still maintain that the subject is caught between objet petit a and the master-signifier. It’s only in postmodernism that it appears as though the subject is caught between objet petit a and superego injunction (S2).

    One of the objectives of ideology critique is to show how the content (S2) refers back to the form (S1) itself.

    As far as substance and subject go, again, I think, in Marxian terms, we have to consider the correlation between the objective mode of production (capital) as substance and class struggle as the subject of history. I don’t think you can really separate the two, as you rightly point out, which is why I agree that positivist sociologists and political economists miss the point when discussing class struggle and the criticism of capitalism.

    You can’t just talk about class struggle in terms of the positive substance of socio-economic status. It’s important also to account for the point of negativity in class antagonism, which of course shows itself in times of crisis and not in the ‘normal’ functioning of capital. It’s when positivists only consider class struggle during the ‘normal’ functioning of capital that they begin to add it to the chain of equivalences with other political struggles (such as all those ‘identity politics’ – such as what Ernesto Laclau argues in his second essay in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality – rather than conceiving class struggle as the subject of history – that is, as the void of negativity in the Symbolic: the Real of the social.

    But at the same time, substance has to be taken into consideration as the objective social conditions that generate the proletariat as the revolutionary subject.

    I’m still a bit conflicted as to whether one should wait for the optimal conditions for revolution (what Lenin calls ‘opportunism’). I fear that a premature act ultimately ends up being unethical in the sense of ought as opposed to must.

  14. The Universal Singular said

    … also, S1 is not the signifier of the void. $ is the signifier of the void. S1 is the evasion of the void: the signifier that represents the subject in the Symbolic order in order to evade the void of subjectivity.

    The master-signifier represents the subject for another signifier; it is also the signifier for which all the others represent the subject (this is from the first chapter of FTKN).

    Check out the way Zizek explains the difference between ‘suture’ and ‘interface’ in The Fright of Real Tears. ‘Suture’ just ties the subject to the master-signifier, while ‘interface’ has to do with the way in which the subject is attached to the master-signifier as a result of her ‘passionate attachment’ (belief before belief) to objet petit a. I think he also talks about this in his book on Deleuze.

  15. sonnyburnett said

    I think we have zeroed in on a crucial difference in our reading of L’s mathemes. For me, S2 has everything to do with ‘form’ and is on the ‘side’ of the object, while S1 is on the side of the subject. S1 is the signifier most able to represent the subject, since it simultaneously represents and does not represent the subject, thus signifying more or less satisfactorily the ambiguity of subjectivity. This precise understanding of S1 is developed in the very section you have in mind in your reference to FTKN.

    Viewing S1 in this way would ‘remove’ the hesitancy regarding your question about the optimal timing for a revolutionary act. Grasping the S1 here would be forging an identification with that very hesitancy, that very fear of committing an error by prematurely acting (‘the fear of error is… the error itself’)That is, the immediate realization that this S1 represents you as a hesitant (revolutionary) subject. It would signify your very ‘hesitating-state-of-being’ and the former problem of specifying the status of the act would disappear, or alternatively, reveal itself in its proper dimension: as a void. At that point, you could pick up your pitch-fork and march down the road to the Tsar’s gates. For, by that moment, your decision has already been made (freedom is inherently retroactive) and you would simply be in a hurry to catch up with it.

    Subjectivity is caught between two times and this indeterminate state of being is what S1 re-marks.

  16. battleofthegiants said

    This is why a discussion of ‘co-ordinates’ is necessary – otherwise politics becomes picking up a pitchfork and killing the Czar. Which was, by the way, was the terrorist politics of the Social-revolutionaries: don’t build mass support, don’t mass organize, don’t propaghandize and agitate – kill the Czar and people will wake up! What is this but a solipsistic ‘acting out’? Kill the supposed lynch-pin and the people will reach consciousness!

    A discussion of post-modernism, capitalism, the TTC strike, whatever, is a discussion of co-ordinates. Without it, it’s a liberal politics of personal motivation and individual ethics – i.e. falling firmly into the existing political co-ordinates.

    And if nothing else, the fact that you two don’t agree on elements of theory points to the need for textual reference. We’ve had this argument before: saying Zizek has the same logic through all his books is a substantialization! If the universal is only its re-birth in every context (he says this in “tolerance as an ideological category”), the reference must be made to each context . As I argued when we were reading Tarrying and FTKNWTD: the “logic” of how a progressive politics politics shifts from liberal-democracy to communist party, away from Antigone, clearly signals a shift in how the ‘logic’ works.

    If the ‘logic’ is worked out at the level of the individual, you might get a pitchfork. If you work it at the level of class, you get the party. This is how you can take and leave Hegel: working his logic out at a different level gives you a different logic! This is why Marx is not a footnote to Hegel, but Hegel a footnote to Lenin.

    I can’t see how pitchfork = analyst. That sounds like Reich yelling at his patients to get better.

  17. The Universal Singular said

    I think it’s time to set up our next meeting/readings! May I suggest we start with a short essay in Interrogating the Real: “Between Symbolic Fiction and Fantasmatic Spectre: Toward a Lacanian Theory of Ideology”? And then how about Contingency, Hegemony, Universality?

  18. sonnyburnett said

    So, if Z’s new approach is to analyze via L’s category of jouissance, how does one specify it in terms of ‘co-ordinates’? Exactly how would you articulate the tension in these terms?

    Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to attend our upcoming meetings, with a full course load & all. Though seeing as how few York profs take Z seriously (& thus have not seen to spending much time in understanding his way of thinking), I do consider our time important. I’m pretty conflicted about it all.

    “The only thing that hindered my education was my schooling” (mark twain, i think)

  19. veiledphallus said

    SB, you can do what I did last year and avoid doing any course readings in favour of the Zizek group material!

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