As some of you may recall, I have been toying with the idea that the sinthome is in some way related to the formula for fantasy:  $-a; that is, the formula for fantasy represents a symptomal knot (sinthome) which substantializes the noumenal Thing (this last point may be a bit contentious, but I’m sure discussion will ensue on it).

Here’s a quote from Mladen Dolar’s article, “Beyond Interpellation” (I can bring copies to the next meeting…  this is a must read!), which gives credence to what I propose:

The Lacanian formula for fantasy “correlates the symbolic subject (the one not based on recognition, the empty space that Lacan marks $) and the objectal surplus (objet a); these are the two entities not covered, I think, by the mechanism of interpellation…  The two are also connected in the symptom, although in a different way – Lacan gives it much thought in his last phase through the notion of sinthome.  Symptom and fantasy are two ways to establish a link between the $ and the objet a…” (Beyond Interpellation, p. 91).

This also helps to understand why, in The Parallax View, Zizek conceives $ and a as two sides of the same entity:  $ is the empty place in the Symbolic, and a is the excessive object without a place in the Symbolic.  They are the same entity viewed from two different positions in a ‘parallax view’.  One is subject, the other is substance, but there is a speculative identity between the two:  ‘substance as subject’.  However, they cannot be perceived simultaneously:  “They form a conceptual pair, both opposed and complementary” (Beyond Interpellation, p. 91).  I would argue, then, that symptom and fantasy share a similar relation, which is why analysis focuses on fantasy (dreams and hallucinations, for instance; or, the subject’s sense of ‘reality’) and symtpoms/sinthomes (nervous ‘ticks’; hysterical outbursts, etc. etc.).

The only thing that might discredit this claim is that, in some places, Zizek links the idea of sinthome to the Master-Signifier.  However, I would still argue that fantasy/sinthome occupies the Void of the empty Master-Signifier, thus maintaining my point and linking it to the Master-Signifier.



March 10, 2009

If you all recall, when we met to discuss chapter 1 of Ticklish Subject, we discussed the difference between Kant’s mathematical and dynamic antinomies (p. 41).  This, I think, led us into the discussion of differences between idealism and materialism (on which BTP has posted below).  Now, I’m not sure I entirely understand how this relates to idealism/materialism (still working through some of the details), but if anyone wants to read a very very good article on Kant’s antinomies and the logics of sexuation, I recommend Joan Copjec’s chapter in Read My Desire (1994), “Sex and the Eunthenasia of Reason”.  In this chapter, Copjec begins with a critique of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990) and the problems with its post-Structuralist/Deconstructionist methodology and assumptions.  Copjec’s article is a good defence of psychoanalysis, and the deadlock of sexual difference in psychoanalysis, against post-Structuralism, which refers to Kant’s mathematical and dynamic antinomies to make her case.  I’m still working through some of the ideas in this chapter, and trying to think through some of the critiques she makes against Butler, but I think that it is very useful in this discussion.  It is also probably helpful to read through chapters 2-4 in Tarrying with the Negative (1993), chapters 3 and 4 in For They Know Not What They Do (2nd Ed. 2002), and chapter 6 in The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989) alongside this article (particularly Zizek’s discussions of Kantian antinomies and the logics of judgement).

Another interesting read is Butler’s Psychic Life of Power (1997), which I think is worth reading in anticipation of Zizek’s critique of her and Foucault in chapter 5 of Ticklish Subject (read especially her chapter on Freud and Foucault).


So I’m still thinking over that last paragraph before the section on “The violence of the imagination” (p.45 new edition) where Zizek goes over the idealist and materialist “options” in the form of questions, and I am still not sure if I’m getting what he means by each option, and further, if or how he moves beyond the two. I’ve written out the two options with some questions that arose for me while attempting to summarize. Sorry if my use of some of the terminology is a little rough to you veteran Lacanian/Zizekians, but hopefully my meaning is clear enough to stimulate some discussion.

Idealist and Material Options:

Idealist option: “is the monstrosity of the chaotic aggregate of phenomena just the extreme of our imagination, which still fails to convey the proper noumenal dimension of the moral Law?”

– Way to deal with this seems to be to attempt to better interpret and incorporate the noumenal dimension, i.e. to expand concepts to be more rational, more in line with this realm (less chaotic), as chaos itself is brought about by the imagination and can be fixed by the understanding? Or by Reason? Though I guess understanding and Reason are not the same…

– Here, imagination itself gives rise to the monstrous as it tears apart the seemingly unified prior state of the Real (pre-symbolic, pre-ontological).

Materialist option: “is the moral Law itself, in its very sublime quality, ‘the last veil covering the monstrous’, the (already minimally ‘gentrified’, domesticated) way we, finite subjects, are able to perceive (and endure) the unimaginable Thing?”

– Here it is not the imagination that gives rise to the monstrous, but the Real itself, imagination then functions to veil it and make it knowable and bearable.

– Is there recognition here that the monstrosity of the Real may have itself resulted from the work of the imagination? Or would this put us back in the idealist position?

The moments of going through the two positions might look like this:

Moment 1: world torn apart by imagination; ‘night of the world’; monstrosity thus seen as function of imagination acting on the world. (Out of curiousity, how does this relate to symbolic castration? It is the same thing?)

Moment 2: world as torn apart; the Real is understood as torn apart and as the monstrous itself that needs imagination to be made sense of or put back together. Is the “dismembered” Real understood from this position as original, in other words, as “naturally” monstrous and chaotic, though from the idealist position the experience of the Real as monstrous is itself a function of the negating imagination?

– Since it is inaccessible to the imagination, Kant tries to locate the monstrous in the noumenal Beyond. In the previous moment, when the “chaotic aggregate” is understood as a function of the imagination, the imagination is seen as failing to properly connect to the noumenal realm, or perhaps as failing to effectively or totally create order out of chaos. The second moment is where the moral Law of the noumenal realm properly enters the picture and can then adjust imagination (and understanding?) to “veil” the chaos or to make it more orderly/intelligible. In the second position, if we recognize this Law as a “veiling” – one that maintains the necessarily indirect access to the Thing – we are identifying the “chaotic aggregate” in the Real, in contrast to the first moment where we see that the chaos is imposed on to the Real via the imagination when it breaks the pre-symbolic, pre-ontological with the ‘night of the world’ or the splitting of the Real into material that can become symbolic.

A question: what the hell is the pre-symbolic, pre-ontological? Is it anything really, or no-thing, hence, creation ex nihilo? How are we to discuss it when our only access to it is from already within the symbolic order (Freud’s Wolfdude eg.)?

Main issues I want to raise:

The materialist position seems like an outgrowth of the idealist position, as it rearticulates the monstrosity created by the idealist imagination as belonging to the Real itself. It naturalizes what it has itself done before it could know what it was doing.

So what is the next step? The materialist position cannot be the final position, because here we suppose that the splitting/breaking/negating imposed by the subject’s imagination in relation to the Real is in the Real itself. But if we instead place it in the subject’s imagination, there we are in idealism again.

I think this calls for some rereading of Hegel’s Phenomenology, or maybe just the next chapter of Ticklish.

If both idealist and materialist options/moments are constitutive of the process of entering the symbolic order, is theorizing the next step only possible phenomenologically, i.e. in terms of moment after moment experience, in which case, what moment comes after the moral Law that veils the monstrous? Is there a way to understand that the imagination and the moral Law veil the monstrous, and that this monstrous that need be veiled is itself created by entering the symbolic order through imagination, without collapsing back into idealism? Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions, or framing them too narrowly with the idealist tendencies I have.

I need someone/thing to save me from this dialectical nightmare. The Big Other perhaps? Just throwing that out there, it’s not that clear to me yet.


Zizek’s Examples

October 20, 2008

Lately, the question of Zizek’s examples has been raised.

Here is a quote from the Preface to the Routledge Classics Edition of the Enjoy Your Symptom! (2008) where Zizek addresses his use of examples:

“The way I proceed to analyze this impregnation of our daily lives by ideology is the reference to numerous examples – so a note about my (often criticized) use of examples is, perhaps, appropriate here…  The difference between the idealist and the materialist use of examples is that, in the Platonic-idealist approach, examples are always imperfect, they never perfectly render what they are supposed to exemplify, so that we should take care not to take them too literally, while, for a materialist, there is always more in the example than in what it exemplifies, i.e., an example always threatens to undermine what it is supposed to exemplify since it gives body to what the exemplified notion itself represses, is unable to cope with… This is why the idealist approach always demands a multitude of examples – since no single example is fully fitting, one has to enumerate them to indicate the transcendent wealth of the Idea they exemplify, the Idea being the fixed point of reference of the floating examples.  A materialist, on the contrary, tends to repeat one and the same example, to return to it obsessively:  it is the particular example which remains the same in all symbolic universes, while the universal notion it is supposed to exemplify continually changes its shape, so that we get a multitude of universal notions circulating, like flies around the light, around a single example” (pp. xi-xii).

Here is a quote from Iraq:  The Borrowed Kettle (2004):

“… the wager of Marxism is that there is one antagonism (‘class struggle’) which overdetermines all the others and which is, as such, the ‘concrete universal’ of the entire field” (p. 101).

“Here class struggle is the ‘concrete universal’ in the strict Hegelian sense:  in relating to its otherness (other antagonisms) it relates to itself, that is, it (over)determines the way it relates to other struggles” (p. 102).

Based on this, it seems that neither the Universal Particualr (the hegemony of the ruling ideology/the ruling class), nor the Universal Singular (the symptom/proletariat) is ‘concrete’; rather, it is the antagonism between Particular and Singular, the class antagonism/struggle, which is ‘concrete’.

In this case, both the Particular and the Singular are ‘abstract’ and I guess the act of picking sides is the kind of Leap of Faith that Zizek refers to in his polemics on repeating Lenin.  A politics of Truth requires choosing the right side:  the side of the symptom, the Universal Singular – the proletariat.

Here is a quote from The Fright of Real Tears (2001) which, I think, suggests that the Hegelian ‘concrete universality’ is, according to Zizek, the Universal Particular.  That is, the particular content which fills out the empty place of universality:

“This, then, is the Helegian ‘concrete universality’:  at every stage of the dialectical process, the concrete figure ‘colours’ the totality of the process, i.e. the universal frame of the process becomes part of (or, rather, drawn into) the particular content.  To put it in Ernesto Laclau’s terms, at every stage its particular content is not only a subspecies of the universality of the total process:  it ‘hegemonises’ this very universality, the ‘dialectical process’ is nothing but the name for this permanent shift of the particular content which ‘hegemonises’ the universality” (FRT, pp. 23-24).

Greimasian Semiotic Square

October 3, 2008

Here is Greimas’ semiotic square…

This is how it works:

S1 and S2 = opposition

S1 and ~S1, S2 and ~S2 = contradiction

S1 and ~S2 = complementarity

But there is also both S1 and S2.

As well, there is neither S1 nor S2.

If we assign to S1 – masculine, and to S2 – feminine; ~S1 – not-masculine, ~S2 – not-feminine… this is how it works:

There is an opposition between masculine and feminine.

There is a contradiction between masculine and not-masculine, or between feminine and not-feminine.

But masculine and not-feminine, or feminine and not-masculine are complementary.

Both masculine and feminine together is hermaphrodite/bi-sexual.

Neither masculine nor feminine is asexual.

So how does this work with the Greimasian semiotic square that Zizek uses for the four Judgments in FTKNWTD?

Necessary is in the position of S1, Impossible is in the position of S2, Possible is in the position of ~S1 and Contingent is in the position of ~S2.

In this case, the opposition is between Necessary and Impossible.  There is a contradiction between Necessary and Contingent, and between Impossible and Possible.  Necessary and Possible are complementary, as are Impossible and Contingent.  But happens when we have both Necessary and Impossible, or neither Necessary nor Impossible?

Keep in mind that the four Judgments are:  Existence (Impossible), Reflection (Possible), Necessity (Necessary) and Notion (Contingent).  Also, keep in mind that Impossible is Real, Necessary is Symbolic, Possible is Imaginary, and Contingent is the symptom.

After our discussion yesterday, I started thinking about how Zizek often refers to Agamben’s notion of homo sacer and the Sovereign exception.

If you are not familiar with it, homo sacer refers to a social status of exclusion – homo sacer (sacred man) can be killed but not sacrificed.  It is one kind of exception that forms a particular society.  The other exception is the Sovereign exception, something like Sovereign who is exempted from the law, but who binds the law.  The sovereign, in other words, is both inside and outside the law.

Using these terms, and to relate master-signifier and objet a, as well as the relation between universal, particular and singular to politics, I’m wondering if we can think of the people in general as forming some kind of abstract universal, empty set.  The Sovereign exception is added to/subtracted from this set in order to transform the empty set of people into legal subjects/citizens.  In this way, the Sovereign acts as a master-signifier, transforming the abstract universal into a concrete universal, or a Universal Particular.  The sovereign, in other words, serves as the quilting point tying the particular (sovereign exception) to the universal (legal subjectivity/citizenship), and constructs the form of Inclusion.  Exclusion is represented by homo sacer.  At any time, anyone can become homo sacer/outcast.  However, at the same time, legal subjects/citizens have to find support for their own inclusion in society through some externalized obstacle (objet petita a), which represents exclusion.

In Marxist terms, the antagonism between Sovereign exception and homo sacer is one of class struggle.  And, in order to legitimize that concrete universality of legal subjectivity, the class struggle has to be displaced onto some particular exclusion (Jew, Arab, working class, etc.).  The Universal Singular reprsents this particular exclusion as an externalized obstacle, in which legal subjects find support for their own inclusion.  The proletariat is the universal subject insofar as anyone at any time can become homo sacer, i.e. can be excluded so that the set defining inclusion can find support through some exclusion.  The proletariat is, in this sense, the category of Truth, ‘the revolutionary Subject proper’ (Welcome to the Desert of the Real, p. 81); anyone can potentially become homo sacer.

However, as the quilting point that forms the concrete universality of legal subjectivity, the Sovereign exception finds its point of absolute negation in homo sacer.  Would this be a way of thinking the relation between master-signifier and objet petit a?  Objet a as the point of absolute negation of the master-signifier?  Or, in contrast, does the sovereign exception find its point of absolute negation in itself (as an exception that is both inside and outside the law), does the master-signifier, in other words, find its own point of absolute negation in itself; and, therefore, does the objet a represent that which gives support to the set that is defined by the setting of the master-signifier – does homo sacer give support to legal subjectivity?  Put differently, does objet a displace the master-signifier?

Primordial Flesh

September 14, 2008

In On Belief (2001) – and probably elsewhere – Zizek says “the look into Irma’s throat renders the Real in the guise of the primordial flesh, the palpitation of the life substance as the Thing ifself, in its disgusting dimension of cancerous outgrowth.  However, in the second part [of Freud’s dream of Irma’s injection] the comic symbolic exchange/interplay of the three doctors also ends up with the Real, this time in its opposite aspect – the Real of writing, of the meaningless formula of trimethylamine.  The difference hinges on the different starting points:  if we end with the Imaginary (the mirror-confrontation of Freud and Irma), we get the Real in its imaginary dimension, as a horrifying primordial image that cancels the imaginary itself; if we start with the Symbolic (the exchange of arguements between the three doctors), we get the signifier itself transformed into the Real of a meaningless letter/formula.  Needless to say that these two figures are the very two opposite aspects of the Lacanian Real:  tehy abyss of the primordial Life-Thing and the meaningless letter/formula (as in the Real of modern science).  And, perhaps, one should add to them the third Real, the ‘Real of illusion,’ the Real of a pure semblance, of a spectral dimension which shines through our common reality” (p. 81, emphasis added).

The point I want to make with this quote is the following:  I realize that Zizek gives these examples in order to explain the three Reals.  What I’m having trouble with is translating these examples into something that makes sense to me.

So far, I’m satisfied with my understanding of the real Real as inherent impossibility (i.e. fundamental fantasy, ‘society doesn’t exist’, ‘there is no sexual relationship’, and so forth); and the imaginary Real represents an externalized obstacle that is developed out of this inherent impossibility – it presents a situation of possibility, and it is only this obstacle that is preventing the possible (objet petit a, capital, Jew).

When Zizek says that the Real is presented in the dream of Irma’s injection as the primordial flesh, the cancerous outgrowth, I feel like he is merely using this as an example of inherent impossibility.  Same thing with the idea of meaningless formula…  it seems that it is an example of something that he is trying to get across regarding the symbolic Real.  But what does this mean??  How can this be translated back into the Lacanian theory that he is using?

My guess is that the symbolic Real is the master-signifier, or phallus.  If we start from the real Real as inherent impossibility, we get the imaginary Real as externalized obstacle, and the master-signifier as symbolic Real holds together the Symbolic order in a way that allows us to make sense out of the not-all set of the Symbolic so that the we can imagine that the externalized obstacle really is the thing we are missing, or the Thing that is preventing us from realizing the inherent impossibility.  The master-signifier as symbolic Real (S1), transforms the not-all set into meaningful language, into the symoblic Symbolic, the big Other (S2).  In other words, it is necessary for the master-signifier (symbolic Real, S1) to transform the not-all symoblic set into meaningful language (symbolic Symbolic, big Other, S2), so that it will make sense to people that the externalized obstacle (imaginary Real, objet a) really is the Thing that is preventing that which is imagined as possible (but which is actually inherently impossible, real Real).

When we say, along with Zizek, that fantasy structures reality, it is in this sense that the Symbolic needs to be transformed into meaningful language so that the externalized obstacle (objet a) preventing us from achieving absolute knowledge, in the Hegelian sene, (Real) will make sense to us.


The Three Reals

September 12, 2008

From our discussion yesterday, this is how I conceive the three Reals:

real Real – an inherent impossibility; fundamental fantasy staging the primordial scene of jouissance.  Society doesn’t exist (class struggle).

imaginary Real – externalized obstacle that prevents the subject from realizing her fundamental fantasy; objet petit a; the inherent impossibiity is displaced onto this externalized obstacle. Capital (the limit of capital is capital), the Jew in Nazi Germany.

symbolic Real – the remainder of the lost Thing; the shell that contains the Void; vase in the museum; two faces about to kiss (not the vase).

What does ‘the signifier reduced to senseless formula’ mean, and why is that Real?  Does this mean something like the self-reflexivity of language? or the minimal distance towards literal meaning?  that ‘something’ (what the French call a certain ‘I don’t know what’) in between “natural reality and the properly human symbolic universe of normative commitments” (FTKNWTD:  xii)?  The idea that language is ‘not all’.  The gap between literal meaning and underlying intention.  In other words, the “impossibility inscribed into the very heart of language:  its failure to grasp the Real” (xiv).

Is the symbolic order, the big Other, Real in this sense?  The idea that I don’t know what the big Other wants from me?  I don’t see how the big Other could be the symbolic Symbolic (meaningful language) or the imaginary Symbolic (Jungian symbols).  I would say that the big Other is the symbolic Real, or the real Symbolic, and that this senseless formula is S1 – the Hegelian One – the Master-Signifier, quilting point, point de caption – which fills in the place of the Void?  Or is it the subject that fills in the void?.

My question is:  does the big Other emerge as the remainder that gives consistency to the externalized obstacle that guarantees my Being?  that turns me into a desiring subject?  In other words, does it give consistency to meaningful language?

And does ‘the big Other doesn’t exist’ mean realizing the inherent impossibility; realizing the fundamental fantasy?  Untying the gordian knot of the sinthome?

And is this why the superego is Real, telling me to Enjoy! my fundamental fantasy?  And the less I obey, the more I feel guilty?

Basically, I’m wondering how you guys understand the relationship between Real, Symbolic, Master-Signifier and big Other.