Tag Archives: slavoj zizek

The True Utopia of Beautiful Souls

The true utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely; the only way to be truly “realistic” is to think what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossible (363).

The “Beautiful Souls” are the enemy. They are the ones who constantly bemoan their own fate and the fallen state of humanity. All the while though, they remove themselves from the vision of discord. Their hearts are pure—it is the world that is corrupt. We know, however, that these “Beautiful Souls” are the true problem: they are the ones who “really believe” that no matter how bad the system is or will become, it will continue to survive. Its survival is dependent upon this disavowal and divestment of negativity from the Beautiful Soul onto the corrupt world at large. It is through the deliberate erasure of their own participation in “corruption” that the “Beautiful Souls” spur on the current system. Their innocence is not radical: it is ironic.

How are we to think, think through, count, and locate the “impossibilities” of the current system? Here are four axioms:

    The impossible is thinkable.
    The unthinkable is possible.
    That which is thought is either Impossible or Possible.
    What is either Impossible or Possible only comes to be so in the (de)termination of the Act.

The meaning of the word “possible” here means to be actual, to have a positive existence, not just in thought, but in “reality.” Any phenomena that we label “possible” appears (i.e. is counted) on a line of positive values. Thus the “impossible” is that which the system places on a line of negative values. The easiest way to visualize this is a simple line that counts -1, 0, 1: all that is “impossible” will be plotted somewhere between -1 and 0 and all that is “possible” will be plotted somewhere between 0 and 1.

The “unthinkable” is of a different order: it does not rest on phenomenal possibility. For something to be “unthinkable” means that it has no representation in language: it is what escapes symbolization. What is unthinkable is also traumatic,

“not in some vague, trendy way (a whiff of melancholy here, some blurry photos there) but in a technical Freudian sense—trauma defined essentially as the slippage or non-synchronicity of experience: the belatedness or Nachträglichkeit [literally: “deferred action”] which turns the event into a missed event and time itself into a chronic process of self-overreaching” (Comay).

Indeed, all of the actions we might take to improve life for everybody are also seemingly impossible from within the system in which we currently live: we could all stop driving cars, or buying plastic water bottles, or paying bankers and politicians—these are exactly the kind of events that would result in an unprecedented “trauma” (one only needs to see how governments worldwide rushed to aid the failing automobile and financial sectors, while “climate change” took a backseat …).

The thought alone is not enough. It never has been. We must, as Lacan says and Zizek has repeated, not only fantasize the “impossible,” we must also “traverse the fantasy.” Traversing the fantasy is analogous to the notion of “fidelity to the event.” By following the fantasy through to the end we arrive at a place where we can see whether the world that was imagined belongs to the order of the Impossible or the Possible.

Traversing the fantasy, or, determining an idea’s level of “possibility,” is the thing that the Beautiful Souls will never attempt. It would shatter their comfort, their superiority over the corrupt world they do not deign to contaminate themselves with. Even if our ideas fail, success will come in the form of having experienced, first-hand, the unthought and impossible potential of something that could have been.

facebook conversations / fragments

[This post would not be possible without the help of “CUT” and “PASTE.”]

This first conversation was started when I posted a link to an article by Sara Ahmed.

AJRC: hegemonic position is that ‘lib. multiculturalism is the hegemony’. let us take that one step further into ‘hegemonic position is thinking that hegemonic position is: lib. multiculturalism is the hegemony.

that is what i see as the major flaw of what that sara was writing.
literally she was feeling hurt at zizek’s idea and her whole response looks as:
i know you are but what am i!

CHARM: For sure. The conclusion of her response is wrong, but she does bring up the deadlock of liberal anti-racism via prohibition. Racists as a group who need their right to expression & free speech protected!

AJRC: we should look at it lacanianly (i think this is the 1st time anyone has used ‘lacanianly’) and state that every fight against racism is just as bad as racism, because it further promotes the word ‘racism’ itself.

i meant every verbal fight against racism.
and are you sure that free speech is a thing worth protecting? i really do not know if it is or it isn’t.

CHARM: Free speech, from the position of liberalism, is “worth” protecting…however, if free speech means protection of absurd uses of serious rights (like free speech), then the coordinates of this right need dramatic and radical alteration. The challenge is how to free speech from speech; or in other words, can we distinguish between the speech that is meaningful (even if offensive) and speech that is inherently empty (the so-called “phatic” function of speech)? Although the empty gesture of speech does serve an important social function, too much empty speech diminishes the overall presence of meaning in language; the distinguishing feature of meaning is that not everything has it. Precisely the problem today: everything makes claims to meaning (i.e. advertising), and anything that could be meaningful (e.g. art, literature, etc.) shamelessly proclaims its meaninglessness (e.g. modern fiction, mainstream cinema, etc.), when it is, in fact, already worthless.

This next conversation was prompted after I posted this: “Jazz listeners are the castrati who experience their own mutilation as an aesthetic pleasure. The ‘whimpering’ vibrato or ‘eunichlike sound’ of the jazz singer croons the comforts of impotence – stepping out only so as to step back in line – expressing only the ‘premature and incomplete orgasm’ which keeps on cheating you of the real thing.” _Adorno’s Siren Song_

AJRC: why? did that man ever said x, any x is good?
i’ll begin to suspect that all he ever spoke of was lack of phallus, in lacanian sense.
and only in that sense do i take him seriously.
prove me wrong, if you can

CHARM: although i’m really not interested in debating this with you, i’ll say that adorno’s ideas, while not always my cup of tea, are important. especially his thoughts on “the culture industry” and negative dialectix: he is one of the most prominent marxists, as jürgen habermas will attest to. not only a marxist, but a pretentious obscurantist philosopher, as we all are, or we all wish to be. lacan not excluded from this label.

you should try to see the good in things more often. really: critical negativity produces nothing. in a sea of goodness, this kind of critic finds one flaw and turns it into hell.

and, finally, this is from an essay by comay which is a critique of adorno via the sirens’ from ulysses. though her critique does border on admiration at times, it is easy to see why: she is a hegel specialist after all. her argument, in a nutshell is that adorno, like ulysses, could only resist the temptation of the siren song of modernity by engaging in a pseudo-bondage intellectualism. it is a decent essay.

plus “prove me wrong” isn’t something i can do because you have decided to hate adorno. its like trying to convince a racist that he’s wrong. if it were a matter of fashion, however, like wearing a hideous hat – you might be convinced. but its not.

AJRC: i’ve decided to observe adorno’s work as referring to a much smaller set than he thought he was referring to. i’ve also decided to dislike him, because he represents a move away from dial. mat., because he represents something that today’s academia adores too much without adequate counterpoint (counterpoint to adorno’s philosophy), i do not hate him.

then you speak of ‘pseudo-bondage intellectualism’. i’d go for kant, rather than hegel in referring to adorno. and the fact that kant’s konningsburg is today kalilingrad, then filled with germans, now ethnically cleansed and russian. when a culture produces that level of obsessiveness that kant had had, that is a perfect target for fascist ideas, as in: those evil-others create that type of personality that cannot even associate with us. once characters like kant start appearing in society, other societies observe that characters like kant – precisely because they adhere more to morality than to fun, are not where society in general is headed and those characters like kant result in counteraction in neighboring societies by creating proto-fascist groups.
another fitting thing here is all the story that zizek spoke of that ship where lenininsts have expelled current tzarist inteligentsia after the revolution, and the tzarist inteligentsia writing that they never found out what have they done.
what have they done? they have succeeded and, once their revolution was established power, they allowed for no other revolutions.

by labeling onself in such a fashion, adoring adorno, discourse at the university today suffers from a lack of capacity to recognize fascist ideas, it recognises only ideas of support, never the ideas of change.
i would like to live in a world where such admiration that you say comay gives to adorno is much more criticaly observed.
and i do hate the university fashion of ‘adorno is perfection’.

CHARM: OK. just so we’re clear, you don’t like the way adorno is received in the academy, no? i must say that no author can help the way he is read.

just out of curiosity, how much adorno have you read? how much frankfurt school in general?

are you saying that kant / adorno are fascists or that they (unconsciously?) gave rise to fascist movements? i really don’t understand the comparison … ? why not label all of german idealism fascist then? again, no author can help the way he or she is read or received.

the admiration comay gives to adorno is not without reservations. she is one of the brightest professors at the UofT, so praise from her is not cheap nor is it one-sided: she does deliver a very sharp critique of adorno’s views on music and the culture industry while at the same time offering a novel reading of ulysses encounter with the sirens. several essays by her are available on JSTOR; she writes on everything from benjamin, bataille, to memory and heidegger, to the french revolution, and the problems with the modern archive. suffice it to say, adorno is one topic among many she has an interest in. if you like the conversation of intelligent women, i would recommend you audit her continental philosophy lecture and speak to her after it.

related to seeing the good in things: we should be more like the ones who are enmeshed in trite vulgarities yet are able to find one good thing that trumps all the bad previously experienced.

on a side-note, morality is one of the forms that fun can take; it is currently being marketed as a new brand of “transgression.” aside from this though, there is no fun without morality (lacan). this is not necessarily fascist … is it?

AJRC: i hate the way adorno is received in the academy, not just dislike. and it is the old school marxist in me that says so. i see nothing that adorno ever did as a promotion of marxism, and i do see most as having anti-marxist effects.
the only thing i read by him is ‘adorno reader’. selections of major stuff. i really tried to read other stuff, while ‘pages’ was open, in the store, but i found myself just being on the defense while reading him, saying in my head to most: no, that is not the way/how things are/…
and that – keeping one single stance, ‘on defence’, was what made me reject him.

i do say that kant/adorno and many others like that, rising as phenomenon by itself, does unconsciously give a rise to maybe not fascism precisely, but certainly something very closely related to it.
and the german idealism was born out of closing of the border france-germany (all the french nobility can trace its roots in german noblity), thus it did have an idea of united-france-and-germany to begin with, and that beginning is a recreation of a particular race.
philosophy without its historical context is meaningless.
it is only in particular times (like the time before the 1st crusade, or the clinton era in 20th century) that philosphy actually is able to perceive beyond borders of the country it gets born in. (i do believe that frankfurt school is simply inaplicable if you go geographically too far away from frankfurt way of thinking, example: it’d never work in either alberta or bc and only partially in toronto.)
what i was telling you about europe: coagulations around either berlin or moscow. today, written and accepted coagulation is around berlin, but, what zizek calls ‘unspoken laws’ falls under moscow jurisdiction (way of thinking about unspoken, way of doing shady business, way of doing anything shady is referred to in russian forms). before the fall of berlin wall, it was the opposite.
frankfurt school disregards this, or at least, i did not find enough within frankfurt school to talk about unspoken and shady business as something relevant in philosophical, moral and fun terms – and i do think it is extremely relevant!
i am not that into frankfurt school. as max weber stated, in response to marx, he said, ok, german worker needs all the knowledge you offer, but take an italian worker. by definition, an italian will be lazier, he will have much less of chains (of bourgeois oppression) to cast off.
that is how i see that rise of frankfurt school, it casts very little shade on me.

the rest that you’re saying, i can dig, i can get, i’m cool with.
you wanna go and audit comay’s class together sometime?

CHARM: your “defensive” reading strategy is what makes “prove me wrong” impossible. its not that you can’t be proven wrong, its that you don’t want to be. this is all OK, except when you ask me to “prove you wrong, if i can.”

i think that historical context is important, but it isn’t the determining factor of a philosopher’s relevance. zizek himself says that, of course, all philosophers were enmeshed in a particular social fabric at the time. the real question is how certain writers (freud, marx, darwin, etc.) were able to “break out” of their historical determination and speak beyond history as it were.

i’ll probably be too busy to attend comay’s lecture, which is really too bad. apparently she also does a graduate seminar which a select few literary studies students are allowed to attend.

AJRC: ok, the ‘prove me wrong’ might have been too much.
i do not believe that any of them have been able to ‘break out’ of their historical context.

CHARM: nor do i. read closer: what i said is that, despite socio-historical determination, they manage to touch and articulate something universal (e.g. freud: unconscious; marx: ideology …).
perhaps adorno did / did not do this, i don’t consider it important enough to judge whether or not it is true of him.

hey man, don’t worry about it! its simply a matter of “i don’t like him / it.” because you really haven’t provided anything specific regarding adorno except that you don’t like the way the academy has received him and that his writing “simply isn’t the way things are,” to you. for myself: i simply take what i do like and leave the rest for someone to explain to me its merit; whether or not things “really are like that” — i don’t pretend to have any special insight into. they are certainly not as abstract as he often makes things out to be …

the cynical panda

… “There is no special ingredient. It’s only you. To make something special you just have to believe it is special.” This formula renders the fetishistic disavowal (split) at its purest — its message is: “I KNOW very well there is no special ingredient, but I nonetheless BELIEVE in it (and act accordingly).” Cynical denunciation (at the level of rational knowledge) is counteracted by the call of “irrational” belief — and this is the most elementary formula of how ideology functions today.
— Zizek, L it ET, 70

and, unrelatedly, i think sarah palin stole her schtick from peggy hill. though i do think that peggy is a little more “with it” than miss moron is, even if she does impersonate a nun to get a teaching job at a catholic school for a subject she knows nothing about (i.e. esspaniol).

mind’s teeth, addendum (or, how far can we take this?)

Like real teeth, the mind’s teeth must be cared for or they will decay and rot. The kind of “dental hygiene” needed to maintain healthy teeth is to make an appointment with a sound literary critic every four to six months. Not book reviewers, actual critics. In the past this might have meant reading the critical works of Oscar Wilde, Edmund Wilson, G.K. Chesterton, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin. Today, we might read Frederic Jameson or Slavoj Zizek.

The loss of one’s teeth is a catastrophe – but not one that is irreversibly damaging. Today, there are a wide variety of prosthetic options available for neglected teeth, or teeth that have simply “lived their life” (god rest these in peace). Alas! there is no such prosthetic for the mind’s teeth. It is sad that, today, so many minds have let their teeth rot and can no longer chew on any kind of art that is at all difficult to masticate (e.g. Céline, Gombrowicz, the atonal music of Schönberg, etc, etc).

Teeth and the mouth is where the dialectic of nutrition begins. If, as Scarry says, “the purpose of art is to refine the reflexes of language,” the mind’s teeth are of the utmost importance for two reasons. The obvious reason is that we need teeth to chew. Less obviously, teeth are absolutely essential for the way we pronounce words correctly with our mouth. Without healthy teeth (in our mouth or in our mind) we cannot appreciate fine food or fine art; we will not be able to refine the reflexes of our language in either speech or writing. In speech, because our words will be garbled; in writing, because if the mind’s teeth are decayed and rotten, the only art we will be able to ingest will be mushy, tasteless, and barely nourishing – and what can possibly be written about that?

a withdrawn application (or why i want to be “an established theoretical hottie”)

a while ago i tried to join this really nerdy, but super-cool LiveJournal group. (here is a hilarious quote from their profile: “There’s a thin line between being a theory head and giving theory head; we prefer that line not be crossed.”) i didn’t actually fail their application process; i withdrew. a friend of mine also decided to apply when i told him about it; his application did not go well at all. he clashed with the site’s moderators; they asked me about him. it really sucked for everyone. i really wanted to join and, although i don’t think it’s his fault that my application went badly, i may be ready to try to join again.

the application process is as follows: you choose 10 works of theory and “prepare to be deconstructed” by their community. however, as i am a re-applicant, i must choose 50% new material for my list.

here was my original list, in no particular order:

1.eros the bittersweet, anne carson

this is one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors. it is, among other things, a sustained reading of sappho (whom carson also translated as if not, winter). the book’s main focus is on desire and how it is represented in greek poetry and beyond. a must read.

2.sacrifice your love, l.o. aranye fradenburg

a very good book that looks at chaucer from the seemingly antithetical perspectives of historicism and (lacanian) psychoanalysis. her reading of chaucer’s poem, troilus and criseyde, pretty much blew my mind.

3.resistance and the empty archive, julian patrick (from lost in the archives)

this is a short article. it is a very good reading of melville’s bartleby (another favourite). he uses some deconstructionist ideas and a hell-of-a-lotta psychoanalysis to show that the “resistanceless” bartleby is, ultimately, resistance par excellence.

4.fashionable nonsense, alan sokal and jean bricmont

i read this book out of curiosity. it totally changed my theoretical perspective and opened up my eyes to the abuses of certain french postmodern thinkers. although i have not given up on postmodernism, this book helped me to understand that science should not be used to bolster a theory. i especially liked their “deconstruction” of deleuze, whom i have never liked anyhow.

5.lacan to the letter, bruce fink

if you have trouble reading lacan, and, let’s face it, who doesn’t?, then this book is for you. although some of fink’s readings of lacan are suspect at best, he does offer some guidance in reading the more difficult of lacan’s texts, in particular “the lacanian phallus and the square root of negative one” and explanations of lacan’s “graphs” of desire. there is also a very sharp critique of bricmont and sokal’s fashionable nonsense.

6.discipline and punish, michel foucault

admittedly, it is not his best work. my interest in the body and its role in theory is what drew me to this book. disciplinary practices and the discourse around them do more than just punish bodies – they refine the laws meant to deter crime, and they refine criminal activities to better evade the law.

7.forget foucault, jean baudrillard

this book helps us to understand the importance of foucault, despite the title. baudrillard argues that foucault’s discourse is everywhere operative and therefore ineffective as a method of critique. this is somewhat like the analysand who has read too much psychoanalysis and resists analysis with the discourse of the analyst.

8.the body in pain, elaine scarry

this is one of the most important books one can read. scarry not only reads “pain discourse” in an engaging way, she re-reads judeo-christianity and marxism in light of “the production of artifice.” one idea i really liked was the idea of “god” as the prime artifact. it is known that “god,” outside of a dogmatic religious understanding, is a creation of humanity. yet, in all religious discourse, humanity has always attributed its own creation to “god.” this creating of the creator is the primal act of creation, which allows us to “remake” ourselves through the creation of artifact(s).

9.purity of heart, soren kierkegaard

what can i say? this book will help you in anything you attempt to do. it allowed me to quit smoking (twice). kierkegaard’s writing, in addition to being some of the most beautiful writing one can read, is edifying. even outside of the deeply religious context in which it is situated, kierkegaard speaks of a much wider “state of being” – that of being “pure at heart.” although dogmatic or fundamentalist religious types will probably dislike kierkegaard, the average reader cannot help but be struck by his seriousness combined with a certain lightness, which makes his discourse less like preaching and more like conversation with an old friend.

10.on certainty, ludwig wittgenstein

the person who recommended this book to me called it “epistemological soul food,” and i think she is right. wittgenstein is here trying to find out how we can be certain of anything: whether the earth existed 100 years ago, what his address is, whether or not grounds for doubt can lead to grounds for certainty, etc. the point is that even when we are dealing with facts, we may still have reason to doubt. and even when we cannot doubt, this does not mean that we are certain. there is difference between certainty and truth, and this book tries to explain that difference.

i’m thinking of changing my list, as they are allowing some works that might not necessarily be considered “theory” now. here is a draft of a possible list, in no particular order:

1.resistance and the empty archive, julian patrick (from lost in the archives)
2.purity of heart, soren kierkegaard

i will retain these two.

3.wittgenstein, derek jarman

i decided to replace an actual wittgenstein with this film about him. the film is very strange, probably about as strange as ludwig himself was. however, it does go into some of his later thoughts on certainty, language, language games, and truth. it does not go very deeply into any of these subjects. there is “young ludwig” played by a very cute boy and “ludwig proper” played by a very convincing look-alike actor. the film is important as theory because it shows, partially, ludwig’s struggle with his own ideas and his struggles with cambridge and the society there. this film portrays ludwig in a very fictional light, but some of the details are real (one handed piano playing brother, for instance). what we don’t get from reading the tractatus, philosophical investigations, or on certainty is the sense of what ludwig had to go through to achieve these momentous tributes to pure thought. this film shows us what it might have been like.

4.selling out isn’t possible, kevin barnes

i love of montreal’s music. the essay by barnes is against all the “indie-fascists” who say it’s wrong for a musician (or any artist, for that matter) to make money. but it’s more than that, he talks about capitalism as “an interesting challenge,” which i think is a valid view of capitalism.

5.introduction to lost in the archives, rebecca comay

although it is very short – it is profound. she talks about the “trauma” of the archive: “trauma, not is some vague, trendy sense (a whiff of melancholy here, a blurry photo there). but trauma in a technical, freudian sense: trauma as the slippage or non-synchronicity of experience.” why is it that we remember the bad, but often face real difficulty when trying to speak or write about it? if this piece were longer …

6.in search of lost time, marcel proust

i mean, if you ask me something specific about it, i could defend it as theory all day long. memory, forgetting, aesthetics, ethics, cruelty, manipulation, friendship, love, jealousy, death, incest, insanity … – it’s all there in proust.

7.literature and evil (on blake, bronte, kafka, proust), georges batailles

these essays are incredible. if only there were included his “lost essay” on lautréamont! it is funny that (some of) his favourite writers are english, which is surprising for a frenchman. (although i have read that proust’s favourite writer was ruskin, so, go figure.)

8.the marriage of heaven and hell, william blake

it is not known whether or not hegel read blake. however, if you read blake you can almost bypass hegel … (just don’t tell anyone i told you that.)

9.cool memories, jean baudrillard

“theory is never so fine as when it takes the form of a fiction or a fable.” baudrillard said this in one of the cool memories. i love these collections of fragments for many different reasons. i flip through them often to gain some inspiration – they never fail me. my favourites are CM iv and CM v, but they are all pretty good.

10.uncommon visage, joseph brodsky

even though i don’t really dig brodsky’s poetry, this “speech” is absolutely incredible. he says that “aesthetic reality precedes ethical reality.” the emphasis on ethics today is the exact opposite of what brodsky was getting at. if one has no sense of aesthetic judgment, how can one possibly be ethically responsible? having “aesthetic sense” is about reading literature, not simply being literate. even though this gets us into the dangerous terrain of “what constitutes literature,” i think it rings true. first we need to establish the preeminence of creating aesthetic consciousness, and then deciding what is literature and what is not.

hopefully, the next time i apply i can become an “established theoretical hottie.” the essay by kevin barnes is sketchy, as is the entirety of MP’s SLT. however, the barnes’ essay is more theoretical that at first may appear; musicians are perhaps the most often criticized for “selling” their art. i don’t necessarily agree with barnes on the subject, but i do like his defence of his own integrity. yes, he sold his song to outback steakhouse but this did not prevent him from continuing to make the kind of music he wanted to make, the kind of music i still really enjoy listening to. hopefully, i will be able to convince their community that MP established the run-on-sentence as something, if not acceptable generally, then at least having the potential to be pleasing aesthetically.

here are my alternates, in case they decide against one or more of the works i’ve chosen:

object-choice, klaus theweleit

theweleit wrote male fantasies, but i like this little book more. it is humourous, it engages with the music of the era of “free love,” and it shows how people choose their partners. it is a very recent phenomena, he argues. it is lightly psychoanalytic. its other title is “fragment of a freud biography.” it looks at freud’s relationship; hitchcock’s; and heidegger’s. as always, fascism lurks beneath what theweleit is writing but is not as present as in his other works.

straw dogs, john gray

see my review of this book.

the pervert’s guide to cinema, slavoj zizek

this is a movie that is at once informative and entertaining. it is almost like looking awry and everything you wanted to know about lacan but were afraid to ask alfred hitchcock combined into one. films discussed include psycho, blue velvet, mulholland drive, and many others i can’t remember right now.

mother’s of heroes, mother’s of martyrs, suzanne evans

i recently read this book. it is amazing, the canadian-female version of theweleit’s german-male reading of fascism (male fantasies). it looks at the media of canada in the war era (mostly cartoons, newspapers, some sculpture and painting). the only thing wrong with this book is its lack of deep ideological critique. otherwise, it outlines how women are used to recruit men into killing one another, how politicians can manipulate women (with the promise of “enfranchisement”), and how women themselves, despite the strength of “maternal love,” can sacrifice their own children.

the speech and manners of american women, henry james

this is along the same lines as brodsky’s, uncommon visage applied to women in america. james wrote this after returning to america after a lengthy sojourn in europe. he notes how “crude and vulgar” are the speech and manners of his fellow countrywomen (and men, for that matter). he speculates why this is and what may be done about it.

all of the works listed have either had a profound effect on my thinking, or they are works that i simply love and could not imagine living without. a rare few are both.

zizek questionnaire

i found this at lacan [dot] com. it is an interview / questionnaire with none other than slavoj. it is hysterically laughable, like, for serious. i mean, his answers to these questions cannot but put a smile on your face.