Zizek: film reviewer

kenneth.mackendrick at utoronto.ca kenneth.mackendrick at utoronto.ca
Thu Apr 27 18:07:21 PDT 2000

On Thu, 27 Apr 2000 10:46:24 +0930 Catherine Driscoll <catherine.driscoll at adelaide.edu.au> wrote:

> > Postmodernism, for Zizek, is basically the symptom that we, as analysts of
culture (so to speak), must engage (the postmodern makes a claim to lack nothing, which means that it is constituted by this very lack which it represses, it is sustained by its very denial of its constitutive elements).

> and where are the borders of this -- I gather this is not being referred
only to cultural production? that doesn't make a lot of sense to me -- presuming that postmodern means 'late modernity' oh sorry late capitalism and so on -- how exactly does it claim to lack nothing? where is this claim being made, and presuming that he means in postmodern art and so on then something a hell of a lot more specific than 'late modernity' or 'late capitalism' is involved

Maybe this will help: "Today a radical change has happened in the subject's identification with the symbolic order, the so-called big Other. In postmodern society, people no longer belive in the fiction of the big Other as they did in modern or pre-modern society. But disbelief in the big Other does not simply bring liberation for the subject; it also triggers regression into various forms of violence... these practices... [are] in accordance with the idea that today everything is changeable and that life resembles a computer screen on which the subject can randomly choose his or her identity... The return to [violence] is to be understood as a specific way in which the contemporary subject deals with his or her lack, as will as with the lack in the Other... [as] a symptom of the radical change that has affected subjectivity." - Renata Salecl, (Per)Versions of Love and Hate [from the intro].

"Both modernism and postmodernism conceive of interpretation as inherent to its object: without it we do not have access to the work of art - the traditional paradise where, irrespective of his/her versatility in the artifice of interpreting, everybody can enjoy the work of art, is irreparably lost. The break between modernism and postmodernism is thus to be located within this inherent relationship between the text and its commentary. A modernist work of art is by definition 'incomprensible' - it functions as a shock, as the irruption of a trauma which undermines the complacency of our daily routine and resists being integrated into the symbolic universe of the prevailing ideology; thereupon, after this first encounter, interpretation enters the stage and enables us to integrate this shock - it informs us, say, that this trauma registers and points towards the shocking depravity of our very 'normal' everday lives... In this sense, interpretaiton is the conclusive moment of the very act of reception... What postmodernism does, however, is the very opposite: its objects par excellence are products with a distinctive mass appeal (films like Blade Runner, Terminator or Blue Velvet) - it is for the interpreter to detect in them an exemplification of the most esoteric theoretical finesses of Lacan, Derrida or Foucault. If, then, the pleasure of the modernist interpretation consists in the effect of recognition which 'gentrifies' the disquieting uncanniness of its object ('Aha, now I see the point of this apparent mess!'), the aim of the postmodernist treatment is to estrange its very initial homeliness: 'You think what you see is a simple melodrama even your senile granny would have no difficulties in following? Yet without taking into account ... / the difference bewteen sytmptom and sinthom; the structure of the Borromean knot; the fact that Woman is one of the Names-of-the-Father; etc., etc./ you've totally missed the point!" - Slavoj Zizek, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to ask Hitchcock) [intro].

Basically, postmodernism, for Zizek (and Salecl) consists not in demonstrating that a "game" works without an object, that the play is set in motion by a central abscence, but rather in displaying the object directly, allowing it to make visible its own indifferent and arbitrary chracter... so the pomo version is the 'high-tech' The Haunting where the special f/x are plastered all over the place. There is nothing to fear - we see it all! Contrast this with the b&w version, were there is everything to fear, because we see nothing! In short, postmodernism lacks nothing, because it has everything ("It's all crap, I can believe or disbelieve as I please.") whereas modernism operates within the realm of belief - "The world, and all of us people in it, can be reconciled, even though the ego and id will *never* get along!" (see, it doesn't make any sense - this is the distinction between Adorno and Horkheimer, and Marcuse [for instance] and the disenchanted transgressive Foucault [who isn't limited to disenchantment and trasgression but but bear with the stereotyping]). Ironically, from this perspective Habermas appears quite postmodern, given that his theory ditches the irreconciliation of Freud's notion of the unconscious and loses out on its potentially subversive character, opting for a quasi-transcendental reading of language, and moving two steps toward a "domesticated" critical theory (see Whitebook, Perversion and Utopia, Zizek, Looking Awry for curiousities).

> >By "reading" (there must be a better term for this) the symptoms,

> what's wrong with reading?

I'm "reading" too many "texts" these days... a lot of hermeneutics...

> >Zizek makes some pretty clear distinctions between modernism,
post-structuralism, postmodernism and deconstruction.

> The only Z text I really know is The Sublime Object... and I would have
thought there were distinctions between some of these terms there, which is why the idea that 'it's all the same' for Zizek concerns and confuses me

In the intro to Sublime Object, he outlines a difference between mod, postmod and poststruc... as I recall (end of the intro in a point summary). In Looking Awry he notes that deconstruction is a modernist strategy... along with the critical theory of the Frankfurt School.

> >The Frankfurt School and the deconstructionists, who are "unmasking" the
> >repressive potential of reason through the use of reason (something like
> >that) are on the same side.

> Ok you got me -- why is Adorno unmasking reason through reason...?

To clarify that reason isn't divine liberation (the entwinment of myth and enlightenment) - reason becomes barbaric... to reiterate the dialectic of enlightenment.

[snipped myself by mistake... anyway...]

> But... Derrida's a post-structuralist but how he is 'postmodern'.

JD's mostmodern, not postmodern (that was actually a freudian slip I noticed and altered in retrospection)(anyone who preserves an antagonsistic yet thematic distinction between science and literature is mod in my books). Does JD actually claim to be post-structuralist? I just read an article by Rainer Nagele from '79 (The Provocation of Jacques Lacan: New German Critique no. 16) who seems to think that poststructuralism is a strange term, and opts for deconstructionist instead. Doesn't matter, not really.

> Leaving that aside (please) what does this have to do with hystericization.
What exactly are you convinced of?

Zizek's "impressionistic" style, laughing from one topic to the next, is aimed at the traumatization of something familiar... which isn't all that dissimilar to Adorno. To take something nice and neat and packaged, and mess with it so it makes a little less sense... so he's trying to "hystericize" the subject (What does it mean? How can he say that? No, really? How do I know that's the case? ...). I'm convinced this is part of Zizek's "theoretical finesse."

> >The fusing of the Real and the Symbolic is Lacan's definition of psychosis
> >(Seminar III).

> And, while I'm talking about The Sublime Object, I never thought that was
what Z was saying.

I hope the incorrectness implied here [deleted actually] is for my example and not for Zizek, becaus I'm pretty sure about this definition. For example, the Deep Ecology movement, in its more extreme version, sees the end result of human development as proceeding towards a higher form of consciousness. For Zizek, this is a psychotic fantasy - since it leaves behind the contingent nature of all subjectivity and thereby runs the risk of a loss of freedom... the totalizing fantasy cancels out all freedom in the pursuit of freedom... (I'd place Augustine's City of God here too).

> >In neurosis, the subject is always screwed up and questioning, reflective
(hysteric and so on).

> Hang on, I thought it was unreflective... or neurosis is not postmodern?
> How is this useful? productive? what if I don't think there is any such
> thing as the unconscious at all or don't see access to the unconscious as
> being anything very important to seek after?

Postmodernism for Zizek is psychotic, modernism is neurotic. If you don't think there is anything like the unconscious, then none of this will make a damn bit of sense. The positivists make the same argument against the Marxists - there is no such thing as self-reflection (or reflection at all). The worse of the worse... a positivistic Marxist - not only is there no place for reflection, there's no place for the unconscious either! (yikes!).

> Within what you're saying I'm not sure how the uncanny can be neurotic.
> Unless you're saying it's reflective simply because always relative (to the
> familiar), which doesn't seem very Lacanian.

I'd have to check this in more detail... the strangessness of familiarity qua neurosis. I'm not sure off hand but I'm open to suggestions.

> So why is such certainty about everyone everywhere being applied to the

Because uncertainty would be modern. Yes, it's a tautology. That's the frustrating point.

> -- now don't talk to me about global media...


> I don't think Lacan makes any such distinction so neatly.

Probably not, but because I'm selectively reading Lacan everything comes across crystal.


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