Zizek: film reviewer

kenneth.mackendrick at utoronto.ca kenneth.mackendrick at utoronto.ca
Sat Apr 29 12:24:46 PDT 2000

On Sat, 29 Apr 2000 11:48:59 +0930 Catherine Driscoll <catherine.driscoll at adelaide.edu.au> wrote:

> disbelief in big Others seems to me like a fundamentally good thing what on
earth is the 'return to violence'? was i blinking while we weren't violent?

Ok, a "return to violence' might be a bit awkward - but one could read this to me that because of the rising disbelief in the big Other (big Others) has prompted a new kind of violence, a violence against the self: because there is no big Other (or because the big Other is repressed) the self becomes the new target of annihilation - Salecl draws some examples from radical body alteration movements - cosmetic surgery as a way of life. The idea that she illustrates is something like this: the disbelief in the big Other leaves a hole in our signifying chains. This hole, the lack of a "quilting point" leaves one searching, perversely, for a sense of self (where the fuck is my inner child!) which kinda means tearing the self apart to find something. Again, the notion of "I'm going to pull it all the way back!" Something is lacking, but the lack is denied, so the symptom is a new kind of violence. Perhaps not so new, but the point is well taken methinks.

> I recall the general sense of the quote from the Lacan book, and I have no
problem with it at all -- it's a very useful mode of distinguishing between certain forms of modernist and postmodernist art (although I want to qualify that the shock of modernist art can certainly also be popular, such as the flapper novels and films, or cinema more or less in general, or cars).

This would require a non-mutually exclusive understanding of modernity and postmodernity. If objects of mass appeal (comfort zones) are taken to be postmodern because they lull the critical senses, then it doesn't make sense that modern objects (ie. object as in a way of relating to something) do the same thing... so that would lead to, I suspect, a fair bit of theoretical incoherence. For Zizek, each signifier is to be understood in relation to the signifiers around it - like an Adornoesque constellation. To mix this up a bit would require an interpretive and synthetic move, which is fine, but it isn't Zizek.

And because I'm a twit, I'm drawing this idea out from Habermas's response to his critics who accuse him of "misreading" whatever he touches. His response - "Well, duh - that's the point!!" (not a quote). See his Postscript to Knowledge and Human Interests for details (or not).

> Nevertheless I agree about the difference of interpretative imperative. But
what does this have to do with claims that in 'postmodern society' people 'feel/think' in such and such ways. Nor do I really get how this meshes with the 'radical evil' thesis at all.

The radical evil thesis has to do with a re-reading of Kant avec Sade via Lacan (I have a citation ... here it is: October 51). In postmodernism, the disbelief in the big Other is a kind of perversion. In perversion, the subject locates him or herself as object of the drive, as the means of the other's jouissance. The pervert assuems the position of the object-instrument of the 'will-to-enjoy' which is not her or his own will but that of the big Other. The pervert does not pursue their activity for her or his own pleasure, but for the enjoyment of the big Other. Alenka Zupancic has an exciting reading of this in Cogito and the Unconscious (ed. Zizek) and something similar in Copjec's Radical Evil. So, in Kantian terms, if one fulfills ones duty, then one has performed a duty in the service of the big Other (whatever that [highest] Good might be. In regards to postmodernism, this service is performed but denied. For Salecl, in Spoils of Freedom, she talks about this in regards to John Rawls - and concludes with the idea that politics without the manipulation of enjoyment is an illusion. So the disbelief in the big Other is a kind of hyper-rationality that denies its own constitutive matrix (enjoyment). In other words: disenchantment is a nice idea, but if we actually act out on this disenchanment we end up with a new kind of violence. Peter Dews has an interesting take on this theme in regards to the Frankfurt School, Habermas and psychoanalysis in his book The Limits of Disenchantment. I should also mention Joel Whitebook's text Perversion and Utopia (which has nothing to do with Lacan, but uses this idea against Habermas via Castoriadis).

> >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]).

> I do not get this at all. How is this statement summary of modernism?

Modernism is incomprehensible - like that statement we can be reconciled although we'll never be reconciled. It's an incomphrensible contradiction. Postmodernism, because we don't have to believe in this utopia (which relies on the contradiction - something like the real is not rational and the rational is real [to mess with Hegel]) simply says, "Yeah, that's nice. But you can take it or leave it as you please." The key idea here is that postmodernism denies enchanment which, rendered philosophically, makes for bad politics (universal values don't exist - so you don't have to believe them). Modernist politics, on the other hand, might say something like this: I believe in universalist values, but I don't trust them!

> I don't know what you are saying is *the* difference between A&H/M and F --
I'm not sure I would even know where to start.

I wouldn't know where to start either, especially because my understanding of Foucault is based on Zizek's critique in The Ticklist Subject and Copjec's critique in Read My Desire.

> >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).
> Nor do I understand this. Freud is not about reconciliation -- I agree.
> Habermas is -- yes. Why does this make Habermas seem postmodern?

Ah, Habermas is postmodern, from a Zizekian perspective, because reconciliation COMES OUT OF systematically distorted communication. In other words, the world can be reconciled from the vantage point of complete alientation. Zizek places modernism against this - reconciliation stems from within the substance of a modernity (as incomprehensible).

> Adorno is (however sceptically) about reconciliation. At least if I
understand correctly what you mean by this. So is Heidegger. Foucault is not, Lacan is not. These seem to me to be quite clearly and as they all more or less expressly stated, positions on Enlightenment narratives, in which modernism tends to allow for reconciliation in spite of everything because of its investment in the (however split/alienated) Subject. Maybe I just don't follow you here. I have the flu, and it could be my brain.

Adorno places reconiliation within the substance of modernity, and seeks to provide a dialectical critique of reason. Heidegger I'm not going to comment on, although Zizek has a cool reading of Heidegger in The Ticklist Subject as well. Lacan, read by Zizek, is in with Adorno and Horkheimer, a product of the radical Enlightenment. He notes that Lacan isn't usually read this way, but there seems to be a "revival" of modernist Lacanianisms against the postmodern appropriation. I'm fairly new to Lacan, and I'm certainly out of the loop when it comes to my history of politics... so I can only go by what I've encountered in the last few months (year). So, I'll 'fess to my ignorance and impressionistic musings.

> Does Z use the phrase hystericise? I find this a bit dodgy, though in
general I have nothing against the very familiar tactic of making the familiar strange.

No, he doesn't. I think this is what he's up to. There is an important distinction between neurosis and psychosis. In neurosis, there is still access to the unconscious, in psychosis, this is not the case (this is part of Lacan's return to Freud) (again, this is the stepping stone of Zizek's critique of Butler in The Ticklist Subject).

> why is the unconscious such an important thing to have?

Well, that's the first chapter of my dissertation. Basically I'm arguing that without some sense of the unconscious we end up with psychotic politics. Imagine Habermas's ideal speech situation - pure transparency - everyone using words in the exact same way - no jokes, no metaphor, no affective season disorders - just pure communication and absolute mutual understanding. It's psychotic. The question I'm seeking to address in the first chapter of my dissertation is this: what does it mean to be guided by a psychotic utopian idea? My response, in a nutshell, is: this is not cool. I'm going to follow Joel Whitebook quite closely here (although I disagree with his reading of Lacan).

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

> Really? *That* is the point? Aren't we surrounded by uncertainty?

Zizek sums up the difference somewhere else like this: modernism is incomplete (continues to be written) whereas postmodernism is simply contradictory (ie all is said and done and it doesn't make sense).

Hope you're feeling better.

in symptomathy ken

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